Much-needed win for Leafs
TORONTO—Relief came in the form of James Reimer lifting his arms after making a shootout save on Antonie Vermette.
By beating the Phoenix Coyotes 2-1 in a shootout at Air Canada Centre last night, the Toronto Maple Leafs shook off the gloom-and-doom of recent struggles.
“It’s funny how even with an ugly, grind-it-out win like that, you come to the rink tomorrow feeling a lot better about yourselves,” he added.
The Leafs (18-16-3) can feel better about themselves beyond shootout goals by Lupul and James van Riemsdyk, and a couple of stops in that competition from Reimer, who made 34 saves in regulation and overtime.
Instead, this was a victory to savour for stronger play in regulation time and the elimination of the kind of mistakes that led to 10 losses in their previous 13 games.
“I thought individually guys really limited our turnovers and the chances we gave up for them to try and get opportunities,” noted centre Peter Holland, who assisted on Troy Bodie’s first-period goal.
“It just goes to show that when we do execute what we plan on doing, things will fall into place for us.”
Maybe it was about time.
Leafs’ coach Randy Carlyle spent eight-plus hours at the rink Wednesday with the coaching staff on a day off for players devising what he hoped was a plan to turn the team’s fortunes around.
Presented at the morning skate was a blueprint that included a harder forecheck and more aggressive defensive zone play.
For the most part, the Leafs followed that against Phoenix (18-10-6).
A strong forecheck was evident on Bodie’s first goal of the season and first in a Leafs’ uniform, thanks to work from Holland and Jerry D’Amigo.
The puck got out to defenceman Cody Franson at the point, and Bodie was in a perfect spot to put the rebound in on Canadian Olympic candidate Mike Smith.
“[Forechecking is] something we’ve been stressing,” Bodie said. “I think we did a good job of it on the goal.”
Tighter defence than Toronto displayed in a loss two days earlier to the Florida Panthers helped the lead stand up until Martin Hanzal scored 15:08 into the third.
Reimer, who started only because Carlyle said Jonathan Bernier was dealing with an unspecified “ailment,” was satisfied with how his teammates contained the Coyotes and rebounded from a frustrating loss to Florida.
“We all make mistakes,” Reimer said. “We sometimes don’t show up in a way we want to.
“I think you’re judged on how you respond,” he added. “I thought we did a great job tonight.
“We really came collectively and everyone bought in.”
Reimer turned aside attempts from Radim Vrbata and then Vermette in the shootout, but it was Smith’s almost-save on van Riemsdyk in the first round that caused a lengthy review.
Referee Paul Devorski assured Coyotes’ coach Dave Tippett that “110 percent” it was in the net, and video review found it inconclusive so the goal stood.
“You’ve got to take him for his word,” Tippett said.
Like the Leafs, the Coyotes were satisfied with an improved performance—despite this being their third-straight loss.
“We definitely took some good things out of that game,” said Smith, who made 26 saves.
“It’s not all bad,” he stressed. “We did a lot of good things well in the third period there to give ourselves a chance to get a point.”
Elsewhere, St. Louis dumped Montreal 5-1, Colorado beat Edmonton 4-2, Dallas downed Vancouver 4-1, Florida doubled Ottawa 4-2, and Detroit edged Calgary 3-2 (OT).
Pittsburgh beat Minnesota 5-2, Buffalo upended Boston 4-2, Philadelphia topped Columbus 5-4, Tampa Bay doubled Nashville 4-2, and L.A. downed San Jose 4-1.