The Maple Leafs’ momentum continued to build Saturday with their third win in a row – a 4-2 victory over the Vancouver Canucks at Air Canada Centre. Although a lot of things are going their way at the moment, they’re still focused on areas of their game that require work, including how to maintain their pressure on the opposition when they already have a lead.
That proved to be a problem for the Buds against the Canucks. After building a 3-1 lead early in the third period, the Leafs sat back and allowed Vancouver to fire 25 shots on goalie James Reimer. Vancouver had two goals disallowed after video review, and if the referee’s interpretation had gone against Toronto either time, the final result could easily have been different.
Although head coach Mike Babcock is happy to have his fifth win as Leafs bench boss, that’s a part of the group’s approach he’s targeting as the team moves forward.
“When you’re a team that knows how to win, you come out and play the game like it’s tied and you just keep going for the next one, and just keep playing,” Babcock said. “And when you don’t, you get on your heels and stop making plays, flipping pucks into the neutral zone so they can come again. Don’t get me wrong, we had tons of chances in the third, too. But I thought we could’ve showed more poise in the third with the lead.”
That said, Leafs players are feeling more confident with every game, and now have at least one point in six of their past seven contests. They know they’ve dug themselves a hole in the standings earlier in the year, but they’re fully bought into Babcock’s system and aren’t intimidated by any opponent at this stage.
“We’re playing well,” said goalie James Reimer. “Sometimes we make some mistakes, and sometimes we get off our game, but we get back on, and we keep battling. One thing that’s kind of been underlined throughout the past couple games here is our compete. Even if we’re making the wrong plays or turning pucks over, we’re still competing to get back. When we compete, we’re a good team.”
“Even just starting from camp, just becoming more familiar with the system and the structure that he wants us to play with, we keep getting more confident with that,” said winger James van Riemsdyk, who opened the scoring Saturday with his sixth of the season. “Obviously we didn’t get the results we wanted to early, but we stuck with that, guys are working at it, and we’re giving ourselves a chance every night.”
“We’re happy with the result,” added Shawn Matthias, who scored one of Toronto’s four goals. “We’re getting better every game, it’s nice to have put three (wins) together now, and we’ve got a big game tomorrow night. It’s a tough schedule, back-to-backs, but the boys are going to enjoy it tonight and be ready tomorrow.”
The Leafs also got goals from P-A Parenteau and Joffrey Lupul – who scored the 200th of his career and sixth of the season – and Reimer stopped 43 Canucks shots to boost his record on the year to 5-2-3. But the challenge doesn’t get easier from here. Toronto now moves on to continue a particularly tough stretch of the schedule, flying to Manhattan immediately after the win to take on the New York Rangers Sunday, then returning home to face the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday. By the time they finish, they’ll have played five games in eight days, and although that’s bound to take a toll on players physically and mentally, Babcock said they have to cope as best they can.
Not that he’s especially happy with the schedule-maker, that is.
“I've never seen a schedule like this in my whole life,” Babcock said before the game Saturday. “You do the math on the back-to-backs and you go through the whole thing. I really believe scheduling, you can get yourself eight extra points during the year by scheduling right. You've got to look after yourself the best you can. I don't worry about back-to-backs, I don't think about it. We get ready to play today, try to win the game.”
The more they play, the more the Leafs look like they believe they have a genuine shot at winning each game.