The Toronto Maple Leafs looked to snap a four-game losing streak at home tonight as they welcomed the St. Louis Blues to town. It was the first meeting between the two teams since February 12, 2009 and the Blues first visit to Toronto since October 13, 2008. St. Louis has won the last two games by a combined score of 9-4.
Neither team is known for its offense, especially considering the Blues only have two players who have scoring in the double digits in goals. Both teams exploded for 10 goals in total, including the shootout winner by Tyler Bozak.
Phil Kessel regained his early season form with two goals on the night, while fellow forwards Kris Versteeg and Colby Armstrong had a goal and an assist each, and defenceman Francois Beauchemin had a pair of assists.
Armstrong opened the scoring 15 seconds into the game after Versteeg’s wrist shot deflected off his back. The goal won’t be appearing on the highlight reels anytime in the near future, but it gave the Leafs the early start that they have been struggling to accomplish this season. Darryl Boyce was also credited with an assist, to give him two helpers on the season and three points in total.
The Blues responded just three-and-a-half minutes later when ex-Maple Leaf Alex Steen fired a low, quick shot past Jonas Gustavsson for his team-leading 14th goal of the season.
Later in the first, David Backes built on the Blues lead by capitalizing on a rebound for his 11th goal of the season and second point of the game at 9:46. Matt D’Agostini created the play that led to a glaring rebound by Gustavsson.
Mikhail Grabovski continued his excellent play by sniping his team-leading 15th goal and his 10th goal in his past 13 games. Fellow forward Clarke MacArthur dished the puck to Grabovski in the slot to earn his 20th assist
The offense came in droves as Versteeg and Kessel scored within two minutes of one another midway through the second period to continue the Leafs hard fought comeback over St. Louis.
Armstrong won a battle behind the Blues net and set up a well-positioned Versteeg, who was untouched in the slot. Following Kessel’s goal, Jaroslav Halak was pulled after surrendering four goals on 20 shots. Backup goalie Ty Conklin — who stopped 11 of 12 Leafs shots in the contest — came in to relieve Halak.
The goaltending chance didn’t stop the Leafs’ offensive outburst. Kessel scored his second of the game and 16th of the season on a breakaway by snapping the puck under Conklin’s arm. Kessel has seven points in his past five games and his two-goal effort gives him the sole possession of the team lead.
Leafs coach Ron Wilson emphasized that the Leafs needed to built a multiple goal lead heading into the second intermission, so they could avoid suffering another comeback at the hands of sloppy third period play.
In a comeback reminiscent of the Team Canada breakdown last night at the World Junior Championships, the Leafs surrendered three goals — from Brad Winchester, Eric Brewer and Matt D’Agostini — in a seven minute span to force overtime.
After regulation, the Blues outshot the Leafs, 44-31. After a scoreless overtime, St. Louis took a 2-1 lead in the shootout on goals by Steen and Brad Boyes. Grabovski tied it with a spinorama move that will surely be talked about and replayed for days to come. Timely saves in the shootout by Gustavsson on D’Agostini and Boyes, along with goals from Versteeg and Bozak lifted the Leafs to their 15th win of the season.
Despite the meltdown in the third period, the Leafs had a strong start to tonight’s game and received balance scoring from all of its forwards. Luke Schenn and Mike Komisarek were solid on defence, with consistent physical play and shot blocking throughout the game. The Leafs managed to be physical without taking any undisciplined penalties as Dion Phaneuf took the Leafs only penalty of the game when he was called for hooking at 4:48 of the second period. Gustavsson looked shaky at times and appeared to fight the puck, but he stepped up when it mattered in the shootout.
Toronto flies out tonight following the game to Atlanta for a meeting with the Thrashers Friday night. The Thrashers won the last meeting between the two teams, 6-3, on December 20th in Toronto. Wilson has yet to announce his starting goaltender for the game.