Curtis McElhinney – easily the game’s first star in Toronto’s matchup versus Edmonton on Sunday – could have been named the second and third stars as well. OK, honourable mentions go to his goal posts and cross bar.
Still, the netminder was simply that dominant in posting his first shutout of the season, a 1-0 blanking of the Oilers in front of a sellout crowd at Air Canada Centre.
The Leafs, minus Auston Matthews (upper-body injury) scored the only goal of the game just 34 seconds after the opening faceoff. With William Nylander inserted into the centre position on the starting line, the youngster breezed into the Oilers zone then dished off to Jake Gardiner at the left point. Gardiner fired the puck towards the net, and when goalie Laurent Brossoit appeared to smother the puck, Zach Hyman managed to deflect it home for his sixth marker of the year.
From that point forward, it was the McElhinney show. The netminder was flawless for sixty minutes, making 41 saves. Most importantly, he flustered the most dangerous man in the rink, Connor McDavid, at every turn.
In the first period, McElhinney stifled McDavid with a pokecheck as the Oilers superstar barreled towards the goal.
McElhinney’s highlight reel save of the night, and perhaps the season, came in the second period with the Leafs on a power play. With Toronto pressing, the defence gave up a 100 foot breakaway to McDavid. As McDavid went for the backhand, five-hole deke, McElhinney stood his ground, denying the shooter with his left pad.
The Oilers also had the benefit of a two-minute, two-man advantage in the second period, only to be stymied by the Leafs’ penalty killing efforts.
Edmonton failed to get the equalizer in a frantic third period push, sending the Leafs to their third straight win. The visitors outshot their opponents 35-12 over the last two periods.
“I thought our goaltender was really good,” said coach Mike Babcock. “Our penalty killing was outstanding and, in the end, we spent too much time in our own zone. But, it’s a big night on a back-to-back and a big win for us.”
McElhinney, who struggled in his previous appearance on November 25 against Washington, was appreciative of the good fortune that the metal posts behind him provided.
“Sometimes you get lucky and tonight I think there was about four of them. I’ll take those breaks. Obviously, my last game was a tough one for me so this is a nice bounce-back game,” he said.