There is a word that Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe has used repeatedly when his team faces a challenge.
The Toronto Maple Leafs had it in the form of goals from Auston Matthews and Alex Kerfoot. Frederik Andersen made 25 saves in a 2-1 win against the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday Night.
“It was clear the way the night was going that you were going to have to earn your offense,” Sheldon Keefe said.
The game carried some tension after the Maple Leafs gave up a four-goal lead in a 6-5 overtime loss to the same team two days ago.
Perhaps a bit trepidatious after the brutal defeat, Toronto looked out of sorts in the opening frame, committing turnovers and missing passes.
Despite the Senators having an edge in shot attempts 21-6 after 20 minutes, Toronto thought they had the only goal of the first period.
Joe Thornton had a goal disallowed when he attempted to put a rebound past Senators goaltender Matt Murray. The problem was Thronton took Murray’s pad along with the puck into the goal. Referee Graham Skilliter immediately waved off the goal at 19:57.
The Leafs settled things down in the second period. Thornton’s bad luck continued when he deflected a Jake Muzzin shot past Murray with a high stick at 4:32, his second disallowed goal of the evening.
“I thought the first one should have been a goal, but I thought the second one might have been a bit high,” Thornton said. “But I thought, let’s try for three. That would have been something.”
It took Auston Matthews nine seconds after Thornton’s second false alarm to break through. He converted a one-timer from Justin Holl at 4:41.
“Right after the high stick, now the boys are saying the puck don’t lie,” Matthews said.
The Senators found an equalizer late in the frame after killing a penalty. Toronto got caught flat-footed when Justin Holl lost his balance pinching in Ottawa’s zone. The turnover resulted in an odd-man rush and Brady Tkachuk beat Matthews to the net for a pass from Chris Tierney totie the game 1-1 at 18:51.
After an even second period where the shot attempts favoured the Maple Leafs 19-8, Toronto dominated the third and was rewarded.
Kerfoot picked up a loose puck on a rebound and banked his shot off of Murray’s mask and the post and into the net for the game-winning goal at 10:46.
Although he didn’t pick up an assist, Thornton helped make the goal posible by creating traffic in front of Murray.
“That goal only happens because he’s in there battling,” Kerfoot said of Thornton’s effort.
To his credit, Murray nearly made the save by making his best Dominik Hasek impression by sprawling his arm out along the goal line.
Toronto possessed the puck in Ottawa’s offensive zone for 3:04 in the third period, per Sportlogiq.
Matthews continues to exert his dominance on the ice this season. He has recorded at least one point in each of his last 14 games. His play on both sides of the ice has impressed the elder Thornton, who is ready to hand out all of the hardware.
“There’s probably two or three guys I’ve played with that does what he does but he’s on a different level,” Thornton said of Matthews. “I think he should be up for, through wherever we are, the Selke, Hart, Rocket, he does so many things and just plays the game the right way.”
Andersen was solid in net and needed the bounce-back performance following Monday’s loss.
Making his 10th consecutive start, Andersen stood his ground when Ottawa came attacking in the opening frame.
Keefe was non-committal about giving Andersen a rest for the rematch between the two clubs on Thursday.
The game wasn’t perfect for Toronto. The long-term issues of John Tavares’ line not putting up goals could look over the team as the season moves along.
Toronto also struggled on the power play once again. It wasn’t that they just went 0-for-3, but they had difficulty organizing themselves in the offensive zone.
But Toronto’s commitment to defense is there.
Whether it’s giving up leads and responding to win the one-goal games or halting a season-high two-game losing streak as they did on Wednesday, there is a lot to like about Toronto’s 12-3-2 start.