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Sports Maple Leafs execute early and often against Blues to kick-start road trip

05:30  08 december  2019
05:30  08 december  2019 Source:   sportsnet.ca

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ST. LOUIS – The heightened emphasis the Toronto Maple Leafs placed on this four-game road trip out west was matched by the execution they delivered early and often in the excursion’s opening game.

All the pre-game chatter ramping up to Saturday night’s test against the defending Stanley Cup champions circled around how difficult the St. Louis Blues’ forecheck is to foil, how challenging their stout defence core is to break through, and how much effort the West’s best pours into every shift.

So, it came as a sweet surprise and much-needed relief that everything the Maple Leafs’ threw at Jordan Binnington’s net went in. Over a shoulder. Through the wickets. Off a leg.

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Binnington surrendered four goals on Toronto’s first eight shots and was yanked from the ice in under 13 minutes as the Leafs cruised to a 5-2 victory in Missouri. Adding injury to insult, Zach Sanford (upper body) left the game injured and Colton Parayko and Robert Thomas each needed stitches after suffering cuts to the face.

Not only did Toronto become the very first club to end a Binnington start before the final buzzer, but the Leafs were able to capitalize in all situations — even strength, power-play (twice) and penalty kill.

After seeing his club muster just one goal in each of its past two outings, both losses, and sniper Auston Matthews extend his season-long goal drought to five games, coach Sheldon Keefe challenged his group to drive away from the perimeter and create more looks in middle ice.

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The Toronto Maple Leafs closed out their Western road trip at 1-3 and fell to their fifth defeat in their last six The Leafs held a lead against the Blues , who had given up a total of four first-period He’s starting to clean up some of his early issues with turnovers and getting caught out positionally, as well.

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That, they did, with Zach Hyman and Matthews each striking twice on bang-bang passing plays shortly after entering the Blues’ zone.

"Just keep shooting. I think for myself the puck’s eventually going to go in," Matthews had vowed heading into St. Louis, understanding the severity of a successful roadie.

"It’s really crucial. We want to separate ourselves from the middle of the pack and pick up some valuable points."

Captain John Tavares hesitated to draw inspiration from last year’s Blues, who spun a dismal start into long-deferred glory after their mid-season coaching change.

"I don’t think we look at it that way," Tavares said. "Every year is just a challenge. It’s a journey, and you’re trying to continue to find ways to improve.

"There’s been plenty of teams over the course of last number of years that don’t always start the best but seem to find their game at some point throughout the year and have success in the playoffs."

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The Maple Leafs got an important gauge of themselves by knocking off the Detroit Red Wings twice, the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings and league-leading Anaheim Ducks in the past couple of weeks. It’s just as hard to see the Leafs completing this trip with a winning record.

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Toronto has to make the dance first, of course, and Saturday was a baby step toward that goal.

The night also gave fans the long-awaited first look at the reunited Hyman-Tavares–Mitch Marner line. It only took until Game 31. And the way that unit controlled play and manufactured prolonged O-zone shifts, it felt like 2018-19 all over again.

"Certainly, we all have a good idea of how we play and our tendencies," Tavares said, "We’ll just continue to go out there and be reliable, all three zones, and obviously we want to be productive and produce."

The goaltending delivered, the special teams were nearly perfect, and their skill took over.

"They’re kinda the polar opposite of us — how they want to play, how we want to play," mused Blues defenceman Jay Bouwmeester.

"We’re kinda strength in numbers; our team play is how we’re successful. With them, they have a lot of guys who don’t need much one-on-one and can hurt you with their opportunities.

"Since their coaching change, they’ve had a little bit different attitude and feeling good, and it translates in their play."

Andersen 36-save performance helps power Maple Leafs past Oilers 4-1 .
EDMONTON — The bottom six forwards stepped up to the plate to give the Toronto Maple Leafs a big road win on Saturday. Alexander Kerfoot had a goal and an assist as the Leafs powered their way to a 4-1 victory over the Edmonton Oilers. Ilya Mikheyev, Frederik Gauthier and Mitch Marner also scored for the Maple Leafs (16-14-4), who have now won three of their last four games. Toronto head coach Sheldon Keefe credited the role players on his team for their efforts on the night.“They were great, they skated, they worked, they made plays, they attacked the net,” he said. “There was a lot of really good things they were doing.

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