CALGARY — Mitch Marner wanted to adopt more of a shooter’s mentality heading into this season.
When his team needed it from him, the Toronto Maple Leafs forward buried a quick one-timer set up by Auston Matthews at 12:14 of the third period for the eventual game-winning goal in a 4-3 win over the Calgary Flames at Scotiabank Saddledome on Tuesday Night.
“I’ve really been working on that shot with Matts (Matthews),” Marner said. “I know if I can find that spot, Matts is going to find me there.”
The goal came 3:11 after Johnny Gaudreau scored his second goal to erase Toronto’s two-goal lead.
After an opening period that saw the Leafs play with a controlled tempo, the Flames attacked Toronto’s for the second, outshooting Toronto 18-5 in the frame. Calgary continued to apply pressure around Toronto’s net, but Marner’s goal lifted Toronto to a two-game sweep in Calgary.
“Mitch is always looking for ways to get better,” Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said. “All of our best players are.”
It’s nights like these where incremental improvements from the team’s most skilled forwards pave the course of success, particularly on a night where the Flames had the edge in both possession (58 percent Corsi) and expected-goal percentage (59 percent) in 5-on-5 situations.
Marner and Matthews each recorded a goal and an assist. Marner and Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid share the league lead with 12 points. Matthews has scored a goal in each of his last three games.
The Maple Leafs made changes to their lineup in an effort to kickstart their offense. With changes to all four forward lines and the introduction of forwards Joey Anderson and Travis Boyd, Keefe elected to spread out the minutes.
Boyd scored Toronto’s third goal of the game on a feed from Pierre Engvall.
“I thought we were good from the start tonight,” Boyd said of his line. “We really had some good o-zone shifts in the first and even in the second before we ended up scoring.”
Keefe liked what he saw from the fourth line of Engvall-Boyd-Anderson that they skated 8:16 of 5-on-5 hockey, more than the 7:07 the third line of Wayne Simmonds, Alex Kerfoot and Jimmy Vesey logged together.
Given the fourth-liners’ effort, it’ll be hard to justify taking them out of the lineup against the Oilers on Thursday.
The spreading out of minutes resulted in season-lows of ice time for Marner (20:03) and Matthews (18:45).
Simmonds scored his second goal in as many games when he opened the scoring at 3:44 of the first period.
It’s hard to be critical after a pair of wins on the road. Backup goaltender Jack Campbell saved a tired Leafs team in a 3-2 victory on Sunday against the Flames. After a tired effort in that game, Toronto’s lack of pace in the game was a bit mystifying as the team improved to 6-2 this season.
“I thought they did a good job of squeezing us in our defensive zone,” defenseman Justin Holl said. “They had four guys on one side where we were trying to break out so I think we need to do a better job of finding the weak-side D.”
Mikko Lehtonen returned to action after playing two games this season as the seventh defenseman. He logged a season-high 13:03 of ice time but played in just one shift in the third period.
“I would still say we’re uncomfortable,” Keefe said Lehtonen performance. “I think if he were speaking honestly Mikko’s probably a bit uncomfortable, too.”
Defenseman Travis Dermott was a healthy scratch for the first time this season and based on those comments, Dermott probably slots back in for the next game.
Power Play continues to shine
The Toronto Maple Leafs have scored at least one power-play goal in all but one game this season. Matthews scored it at 14:16 of the second period. Toronto has the league’s third-best power play at 41.7 percent.
The numbers didn’t look great, but Andersen made several saves in a busy second period that averted what could have been a disastrous middle frame for the Maple Leafs. One save in particular saw Andersen cut across to make a glove save on Flames forward Elias Lindholm.
With Campbell out for weeks with a leg injury, Andersen may not get the sporadic rest that he was sure to receive with a healthy Campbell backing him up.
The Maple Leafs placed Ilya Mikhevey on the second line with John Tavares and William Nylander. The trio never really found their groove in the game. With the third line barely registering any minutes, I wonder if we see Vesey move back onto that line. Mikheyev tied with Engvall for the lowest 5-on-5 Corsi at 33 per cent. Mikhevey logged 18:25 of ice time compared to 10:43 from Engvall.