TORONTO – The Maple Leafs have lived off the power play for long stretches this season.
Their penalty kill has been solid, too.
And on a night where Toronto had nothing going with the man advantage, its other specialty team stepped up to fill the offensive void.
Pierre Engvall scored the Leafs’ second short-handed goal of the evening with 4:42 left in regulation Wednesday as Toronto defeated the New Jersey Devils 3-2.
The winger moved in on a 2-on-1 rush with Ilya Mikheyev off serving a double minor for high-sticking, delayed to let a defender slide by and then fired his 11th goal of the campaign.
After watching the Devils open the scoring on the power play, Toronto now leads the NHL with 10 short-handed goals in 2021-22.
“Speed, tenacity,” Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said of what makes his group dangerous down a man. “We’re applying pressure, we’re putting people in bad spots, and our guys anticipate very well.
“Then it’s the instincts of the players.”
Toronto, which went 0 for 3 on the man advantage against the Devils, entered with the league’s best power play and the fifth-ranked penalty kill.
“We do a pretty good job closing it up for the other team,” Engvall added of the Leafs’ plan short-handed. “Good structure there and then we use the speed to create chances.”
Mikheyev, also playing short-handed, and Mitch Marner provided the rest of the offence for Toronto (40-18-5), which got 20 saves from Petr Mrazek.
The under-fire netminder was solid in a game where he didn’t see much action — especially early — after clearing waivers on Monday following a string of ugly starts.
“That’s how hockey is,” Mrazek said. “Things turn around quick.”
Nico Hischier, with a goal and an assist, and Damon Severson replied for New Jersey (24-35-5). Nico Daws stopped 28 shots.
“Our five-on-five play, we had them frustrated,” Devils head coach Lindy Ruff said. “We limited their top guys.
“The couple plays we made five on four absolutely killed us.”
Leafs defenceman Mark Giordano debuted for his hometown team following Sunday’s trade that brought the 38-year-old and forward Colin Blackwell over from the Seattle Kraken.
“I felt good all day,” Giordano said. “I remember coming here when I was a young guy and you had all the nerves.”
Giordano played on the third pair with Timothy Liljegren, while Blackwell skated on the fourth line with Jason Spezza and Wayne Simmonds.
“My comfort level is high when he was out there,” Keefe said of Giordano. “Puck got on his stick and things seem to settle down. You can just tell he’s a veteran.
“He knows how to play.”
Keefe also put Giordano in the starting lineup to ensure he got a proper welcome from the crowd at Scotiabank Arena.
“Any time a coach does something like that for you, it’s well-appreciated,” said the blue-liner. “It was a nice reception.”
Toronto sported the team’s black Next Gen uniform Wednesday, a look created in collaboration with Canadian pop star and diehard Leafs fan Justin Bieber.
“It was a bit different than what I’m used to watching the Leafs, but cool jerseys,” said Giordano, who will have wait a little longer to don the Toronto’s traditional blue and white.
“Just a cool place to play.”
The Devils, who beat the New York Rangers 7-4 on Tuesday, opened the scoring following a low-event first period at 5:03 of the second on the power play when Severson’s pass to Jack Hughes at the side of the net glanced off a sliding Ilya Lyubushkin and through Mrazek’s pads for the defenceman’s ninth.
Coming off Saturday’s 6-3 loss to the Predators in Nashville, the Leafs evened things up short-handed at 12:30 when Mikheyev blew past P.K. Subban and beat Daws for his 13th.
The visitors retook the lead at 13:56 shortly after an Auston Matthews penalty expired when Hischier poked a loose puck home in the crease.
But Toronto responded 58 seconds later when Marner took a pass from Matthews and blasted a one-timer past Daws, who also played Tuesday, to set a new career-high with his 27th of the campaign.
“Been getting myself in good areas and giving myself good opportunities,” Marner said. “A lot of those have gone in.”
Matthews also tied a career-best with his 80th point of the season on the setup, and became the eighth player in franchise history to reach the mark on multiple occasions.
The Devils got a great chance with 7:37 left in regulation when Mikheyev was assessed that double minor for high-sticking, but Mrazek was there to deny Hughes on a nice rush early in the man advantage before Engvall won it.
Mrazek got his first start since the March 13 outdoor Heritage Classic in Hamilton after clearing waivers Monday.
A massive disappointment since signing a three-year, US$11.4-million contract in the summer, his last Scotiabank Arena appearance prior to Wednesday was a disastrous March 10 showing against the Arizona Coyotes when he allowed four goals on 12 shots before being pulled in favour of rookie Erik Kallgren.
“He looked calm, confident,” Keefe said of Mrazek. “A great step for him.”
And a first step for his new teammates.
“It was a hard-fought game, tight game,” Giordano said. “We had to stay patient.
“Our penalty kill was the difference.”
Notes: Jack Campbell, the Leafs’ No. 1 crease option, hasn’t played since March 8 as he works his way back from a rib injury. … Toronto’s Next Gen uniform is the first reversible sweater in North American pro sports and 15th alternate set of threads in club history. … Bieber watched the game from a private suite.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 23, 2022.
Follow @JClipperton_CP on Twitter.
© 2022 The Canadian Press