I’m sure the dilemma facing Leafs coaching staff preparing for the second of back to back games against Anaheim Friday night after the terrific effort against the powerful San Jose Sharks the night before, was an emotional letdown.
The Ducks have recently been on a scoring drought and leading into the home contest against the Leafs where “due.” A blowout loss last game at the hands of the Las Vegas Golden Knights, coupled with the seldom-used backup in the net for Toronto, certainly should’ve added to the Ducks hunger to score.
The opening 10-minutes Toronto picked up where they left off the night before pushing the Ducks into a defensive shell; it seemed after Patrick Marleau gave the visitors an early lead, the home side suddenly woke up. They started to take the game to the Leafs getting shots at the often-shaky Garret Sparks.
The building while only 2/3 capacity was vibrant and the continual increase in Maple Leafs supporters on the road as they get deeper into the season, are making their presence felt. The blue and white sweaters filling the sections at the Toyota Center was very noticeable and the Leafs players themselves had to have fed off the energy in the rink.
Sparks played a decent game and the “goalie gods” graced him with a few hit posts, a couple missed open nets and two brilliant saves from Jake Gardiner and Nikita Zaitsev late in the third. He made the stops he’s supposed to, although he’d like to have the one Pontus Aberg drifted past him late in the second frame back, but as they say the numbers don’t lie, and Sparks is now 3-1 on the season. For Sparks to have any success this year it’s critical he settles down in the net because Anderson needs his workload cut back if the Maple Leafs have any aspirations of going deep in the playoffs this year.
The officials let the ‘players play’ resulting in an entertaining third period setting up an exciting overtime both teams had chances to steal, but the crafty Mitch Marner fed a charging Morgan Reilly who took the perfect feed and made no mistake firing it past John Gibson. John Tavares extended his point streak to 9 games (5 goals 6 assists) with a helper on the Reilly game winner.
The Leafs swept the California swing for the first time since 1995 (lost 10 of last 12 in California).
If that’s not good news enough, watching star forward Auston Matthews in workouts this week he’s not far from returning to action shortly. The Leafs are becoming a very difficult team to play against on the road (9-1) and with 34 back in the lineup teams better get used to the juggernaut of Toronto fans that will continue to invade their Arenas.