EDMONTON — This was the shortest part of a four-game, week-long road trip, but the narrative changed in a hurry for the Maple Leafs.
Between here and Calgary, site of Thursday’s late-game letdown, coach Sheldon Keefe is pondering a couple of lineup tweaks when it seemed he’d settled on something permanent and on the verge of a seventh win in 10 games. Toronto survived a shaky second period against the Flames then gave up three in less than three minutes, the first time all season its lost a game with a second period lead (11-1-2).
Part of the changes for Saturday’s game against the Oilers were based on winger Trevor Moore being close to activation from a shoulder injury, which resulted in Nic Petan shifted to the Marlies roster Friday for the time being. But Keefe detected enough back slide that he’ll turn to fourth liner Frederik Gauthier after sitting four straight games.
“It’s looking that way, we have some decisions,” Keefe said after Friday at a practice rink opposite the Oilers’ workout at Rogers Place. “The Goat’s back in for sure, but I’m not sure about the rest.”
When he does return, Moore will restore a two-way winger to the lineup, but likely won’t out-score some of the forwards such as Kasperi Kapanen and Ilya Mikheyev. Yet Keefe has moved those two around recently in a joint attempt to get them goals and get more from Auston Matthews and William Nylander.
Gauthier would likely bump 36-year-old Jason Spezza for at least a game to give the veteran a break.
The best line for the Leafs of late is the reunited and rejuvenated Zach Hyman, John Tavares and Mitch Marner, yet they were on the ice for two of the goals in Calgary’s rally and were part of the 5-on-3 power play that clanked the post, but was otherwise stymied by the Flames for a minute and a half. A Friday video session and an upbeat team meeting went a long way to flushing the game.
Connor McDavid and the Oilers, smarting from a third straight loss on Thursday in Minnesota, want to reverse what have been three strong starts for the Leafs on their trip. Toronto can’t get cute on offence and see the Oilers sweep back in transition.
“We have to know the game, the score and just manage the puck better,” said Matthews. “A couple of times (in Calgary) we got caught trying to make a bit of a hope play.
“We have to find that happy medium where if we’re up a goal or two in the third period, maybe not try to make the perfect play. Sometimes you have to learn to fight another day, chip the puck in and forecheck.”
STANDING ON GUARD
Give Michael Hutchinson credit for coming to work with a smile on his face as another day of uncertainty about his next start came and went.
He works diligently with goalie coach Steve Briere and does all the video work that Frederik Andersen does to prep for the next opponent.
“You’re always looking for your next opportunity, but for myself it’s not looking too far,” Hutchinson said. “You stay ready, turn practices into games and try not to develop bad habits. Do that and you gain the respect of the guys on the team.”
Not that he hasn’t already. The players know they’ve played some of their worst hockey for the back-to-backs that feature Hutchinson, whose record is 0-5-1. But an .876 save percentage is also indicative of him yet to steal a game for the Leafs.
In confirming Andersen would play against the Oilers — hard to imagine not putting their marquee goalie against McDavid and Leon Draisaitl on Hockey Night — Keefe revealed he’d wanted Hutchinson to go Thursday in Calgary. But Andersen’s heroics in Vancouver two days earlier altered that. The closing half of a back to back against Colorado on Dec. 4 was also on Hutchinson’s schedule until Andersen lobbied Keefe for another chance after losing the first game in Philadelphia.
“We have time off today and Freddy’s workload hasn’t been that great this week, so we’re going back with him,” Keefe said.
Saturday is a rare in-season chance for Leafs defenceman Travis Dermott to see childhood pal McDavid from the York/Simcoe Express. As 8-year-olds, their fathers coached the team. Dermott recalled inviting McDavid to hang out at his house. “He said he couldn’t sleep over because he had to stay home and stickhandle,” Demott said in an earlier interview. “Little things like that sort of set him apart at a young age” … There was a scary moment for Reid Mitchell, the Leafs’ director of hockey and scouting operations on Thursday in Calgary. His small computer tablet slipped off the edge of the narrow press box ledge and fell a couple of hundred feet to the seats below. Thankfully, it was an hour before the game in the near empty Saddledome. “I’d just finished a scouting report,” Mitchell said. “But looking at the screen (reduced to shattered glass with squiggly lines), I didn’t have to worry about anyone reading it” … The Leafs invited local MacEwen University hockey goalie Marc-Olivier Daigle out as their third practice netminder on Friday.
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