The only place where the Maple Leafs came up short Saturday night was in the team record book.
Pierre Engvall and Auston Matthews scored in the second period, and the Leafs outpaced the stingy New York Islanders 3-0 at Scotiabank Arena despite being outshot 33-23.
The Leafs were going for a team-record 10th consecutive game with four goals or more, but that didn’t happen against an Islanders team that entered the night with the fewest goals against in the NHL (104). They did extend their streak with at least a point to 10 games, with Michael Hutchinson picking up the shutout.
That stretch is part of a historic start to the NHL coaching career of Sheldon Keefe, now 15-4-1 behind the Leafs bench. That’s the best 20-game start ever by a Leafs coach, surpassing Hall of Famer Hap Day, whose club started the 1940-41 season 14-5-1.
Keefe said prior to the game that players are getting more and more comfortable with the changes introduced since he took over from Mike Babcock on Nov. 20.
“There’s been a lot tactically that we’ve discussed offensively that we’ve tried to change,” Keefe said at the morning skate. “I think that … we’re seeing more of that. But at the same time, a lot of what we’re doing is just trying to put the good players in position to succeed and they’ve done well with that. So whether that’s the tactical pieces, or whether that’s ice-time situations that we’re putting them in five-on-five and on the power play … we’re just trying to have the right people out there and give them a chance.”
Matthews made the most of one chance, scoring his 28th goal of the season and ninth in the past six games. Matthews and linemate Mitch Marner didn’t have a shot on goal in the first period. Marner’s assist on the Matthews goal gives him 21 points over his last 13 games.
Engvall, meanwhile, continues to be a feel-good story after firing his sixth goal in 21 games. The Marlies call-up finished a play started by Kasperi Kapanen — who cut down the left side, deked Islanders defenceman Noah Dobson and then threaded a pass by Devon Toews to set up the goal.
The Leafs upped their league-leading goal total to 153, and have now scored the first goal in 15 of 20 games under Keefe.
- Top-drawer Hutch: For the first time this season, Hutchinson was in net even though the Leafs weren’t playing on back-to-back days. He responded with a 33-save performance that was by far his best in 10 NHL games this season. Keefe made the move in part because he wanted to give No. 1 goalie Freddie Andersen an extended rest after two wins on the road this past week. Hutchinson is now 3-0-0 under Keefe, after an 0-5-1 start under Mike Babcock. The Leafs managed just 21 points in the standings when they played their backup goalie last season, the fewest in the Eastern Conference among teams that made the playoffs. “We re aware of the fact we need to get some more games out of our backup, and we just thought today — coming back from the road and looking at it — we felt if we didn’t get Freddie a rest this week, there probably wouldn’t be one until after the (all-star) break,” Keefe said.
- Up next: Monday vs. Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers, 7 p.m.
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