The Leafs lost a key faceoff man. And then their composure.
The circumstances added up to a 3-2 defeat to the Anaheim Ducks on Monday night at Air Canada Centre, concluding a five-game homestand over which Toronto compiled a 1-2-2 record.
Tyler Bozak, a key fixture for Mike Babcock’s squad on draws, missed the game with a lower-body injury. As a result, Fredrik Gauthier was recalled from the AHL Marlies to fill the gap in the centre position.
But, the man nicknamed The Goat was indeed the goat on not one, but two faceoff losses on the penalty kill.
With the Leafs holding a 1-0 lead in the second period, Nikita Zaitsev took a roughing penalty, resulting in a faceoff on which Gauthier was beaten by Ryan Getzlaf. The Ducks captain was then a beneficiary of a pinball-style shot that deflected off blueliners Roman Polak and Morgan Rielly to tie the game.
The teams proceeded to exchange goals when a pivotal moment occurred midway through the third period. Zach Hyman’s retaliatory penalty – a punch to the head of Josh Manson that resulted in a minor for roughing – led to Anaheim’s fifth power play of the game. The opportunity was practically an early Christmas gift for the second-best power play in the NHL, and once again Gauthier lost the draw, cleanly, this time to Ryan Kesler.
Three seconds later, defenceman Cam Fowler wired a howitzer past ex-Ducks goalie Fredrik Andersen for the eventual game-winner.
Overall, the Leafs won just 21 of 63 faceoffs, an abysmal 33% success rate.
“It’s always nice when the coach puts you out there in a critical situation,” Gauthier said. “But that one faceoff (versus Kesler) cost us the game, but other than that, it was good.”
Babcock echoed his frustration at his team placing themselves in the unfavourable situation of having to kill five penatlies. “We don’t have enough discipline. The bottom line is you’ve got to have better discipline or you hurt yourself,” he said. “Our players should have more discipline than we had tonight if we want to win.”
The defeat overshadowed a magnificent one-handed deflection goal from Auston Matthews, who opened the scoring in the game with his team-leading 15th goal of the season.
Nazem Kadri also found the back of the net for the Leafs, getting a fortuitous bounce off ex-teammate defenceman Korbinian Holzer.
Josh Leivo, along with Gauthier, made his 2016-17 season debut. Toronto was missing Ben Smith due to a lower-body injury.
Anaheim goalie John Gibson had a strong 33-save outing for the victory.
The game marked the return of Randy Carlyle to Air Canada Centre for the first time as a visiting coach ever since he was dismissed from the same capacity behind the Leafs’ bench in January 2015.
In 2016, Rob wrote “Hockey’s Enforcers: A Dying Breed”, now available at Chapters and Indigo stores everywhere.