Kids help Leafs snap skid

The Canadian Press
Jonas Siegel

TORONTO—Nikita Soshnikov wasn’t scared.
Or so he said and looked in the first shootout attempt of his NHL career.
The Leafs’ exciting 22-year-old rookie held the puck on his backhand before flinging it between the pads of Islanders’ goalie Thomas Greiss.
It was the shootout winner in a 4-3 Leafs’ victory—one that helped the club avoid a season-long seven-game losing streak.
Toronto had lost six-straight coming into the game, including the last five by a single goal.
Soshnikov was one of three rookies to shine in the victory—just the sixth in the past 28 games for the Leafs (6-18-4).
Nineteen-year-old William Nylander scored the game-tying goal in the dying minutes of regulation time while 23-year-old Zach Hyman also found the back of the net for the second time in as many games.
“First couple games you’re obviously a little bit star-struck because this is what you’ve been dreaming of since you were little,” Hyman noted.
“But once you settle in, you realize that they’re just hockey players as well and you feel you can compete against them.”
It was the first game the Leafs have won since recalling the three youngsters, as well as the recently re-assigned Kasperi Kapanen, from the Toronto Marlies last week and a helpful glimpse into the future for Leafs’ head coach Mike Babcock.
Babcock has never suffered the 44 losses Toronto has currently in any of his previous 12 NHL seasons.
“My mindset, is it different? Yes,” Babcock noted yesterday morning.
“On the off-days, you can think about big-term picture and all that,” he added.
“On game days, let’s win a game.”
Nylander helped make that happen.
With father and former NHL centre Michael Nylander on hand at Air Canada Centre, the former eighth-overall pick pushed home a rebound past Greiss with 1:13 left in regulation, tying the score at 3-3.
The Leafs’ head coach felt it was the finest game of his young career “by a mile.”
Babcock would have preferred not to have Nylander playing centre in first tour of the NHL, but was forced to because of injuries.
He believed Nylander to be more engaged last night—skating forcefully for the first time.
Soshnikov and Hyman have impressed from the start.
“They’re real players, they’re going to play,” Babcock stressed.
“They’re just too good and too hard and too fast and too much work ethic,” he noted.
“Those guys will play.”
An undrafted free-agent signing of the Leafs last spring, Soshnikov has scored twice in his first six NHL games while pounding out 21 hits along the way.
His electric shootout move against the Islanders came from the arsenal of former Calgary Flames’ prospect Yiri Trubachev, whom Soshnikov briefly played with in the KHL.
Soshnikov has employed the move in the AHL this season.
Hyman, a teammate previously with the Marlies, knew it was coming and told veteran NHL’ers Brooks Laich and Ben Smith as much on the bench.
Hyman, a Florida Panthers’ draft pick traded to Toronto last summer, shovelled a rebound past Greiss to knot the score at 1-1 midway through the first.
He managed a similar marker two days earlier against the Buffalo Sabres for his first NHL goal.
John Tavares opened the scoring on a breakaway.
Celebrating his 22nd birthday, Morgan Rielly also scored for the Leafs while Nick Leddy and Ryan Strome replied for New York.
Another one-goal loss would have been the sixth-straight for Toronto—a franchise record that ultimately was avoided.
“We’ve been close every night I’ve actually been up, so I think it was nice to get the win tonight,” Nylander said.
Elsewhere in the NHL, Calgary edged Nashville 3-2 (OT), Vancouver nipped Arizona 3-2 (OT), St. Louis shaded Chicago 3-2 (SO), Colorado blanked Anaheim 3-0, and L.A. topped Washington 4-3 (OT).