The Toronto Maple Leafs put forth an excellent effort for the second game in a row on their four-game road trip with a 4-1 victory over the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena on Tuesday, but as with their win over St. Louis on Saturday, a good portion of the credit for the wins should go to goalie Frederik Andersen.
Against the Blues, the Leafs starter made a number of key saves early in the first to prevent the home team from taking the lead and allowing Toronto to gain momentum by scoring the first goal. In Vancouver, Toronto played well defensively early on, but leading in the third, the club could not effectively neutralize the Canucks attack and continued to make critical turnovers and errors that allowed a number of excellent offensive chances. The Canucks had four breakaways in the third period, but Andersen stopped all of them and 38 shots total for his 15th victory of the season.
“It just gives our team confidence. We know if we make a mistake (Andersen is) going to be there. We don't want to have to rely on him like we did on the breakaways. It's great that he was up to the challenge for us of course, those are game-changing saves that you need.” Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said after the game. “We feel pretty strongly that when teams are going to threaten from the perimeter, Freddie is going to handle those quite easily. That's seemingly the case here of late, so that's really good for us, but then he made game-changing saves when we needed them.”
John Tavares scored twice, Auston Matthews notched his club-leading 19th goal of the season, and Zach Hyman added an empty netter for Toronto.
The Leafs captain has been streaky since returning from a finger injury in early November, with seven points in six games, followed by a four-game pointless stretch, then three multi-point games in a row, and another three games without a point, before scoring his 11th and 12th goals of the season and adding an assist on Matthews tally.
The concern for the Leafs in spite of two straight victories is how reliant they are on Andersen to make big saves to keeping in the win column. That fact makes the task of winning with backup Michael Hutchinson or anyone else besides Andersen a big issue going forward. Toronto has earned all but one point this season with Andersen between the pipes.
It does not appear that any teams are willing at this point of the season to deal a backup goalie unless the Leafs are willing to surrender a high draft pick or a young prospect. Toronto may have to wait until at least January for teams to fall out of the playoff race before they can find an experienced netminder that can steal games if their defense does not improve significantly. The Leafs clearly need Andersen playing the way he has recently to have a good chance to advance in the playoffs, but that may not be possible unless they find a #2 that can give the starter a respite during the second half of the season.
Toronto has a day off before facing the red-hot Flames in Calgary on Thursdsay.
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