No James Reimer? No problem – at least on this night.
With the Toronto Maple Leafs starter up in the press box watching on as he recovers from a knee injury, it was backup Ben Scrivens that turned in calm, capable performance in goal on Saturday night, earning his first career shutout in a 3-0 win over the Ottawa Senators.
After a shaky couple of starts early on this season, Scrivens now appears poised to be able to hold down the fort, potentially starting every game for the two or three weeks Reimer is expected to miss.
While Ottawa came into the night missing several key players and still reeling over the loss of star defenceman Erik Karlsson for the rest of the season after he suffered a gruesome cut to his Achilles tendon earlier in the week, the Sens’ AHL-filled roster still had plenty of solid scoring chances, especially in a shot-happy middle frame.
Scrivens had to be sharp from basically the start of the second period on, making 29 of his 34 saves in the final 40 minutes in his best game of the young year.
“He’s playing the position that has the largest effect, positive or negative, on your night,” Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said after the win, Toronto’s fifth in its last six games. “He stood tall. He made some big stops. He was in good position. He battled hard.”
“Obviously it feels good,” Scrivens said. “Any goalie will tell you a shutout is a team stat and the guys definitely helped me out big time.”
Scrivens got some of that assistance really early on from an unlikely source at the other end.
The Leafs new look fourth line (with Mike Brown added fresh off the IR and Colton Orr bumped up to the third unit) opened the scoring just three minutes in when enforcer Frazer McLaren deflected a point shot in for just his second career NHL goal.
That led into a long and laborious period that could have served as a 20-minute cure for insomnia given how few chances there were either way.
It didn’t help that the night was started off with a 50th anniversary tribute to the Leafs team that won the 1963 Stanley Cup, with even the presence of long estranged former captain Dave Keon failing to move the noise needle in the building.
There was polite applause, but aside from some loud boos reserved for the Senators – who emerged from the tunnel mid-ceremony – the cavernous silence that’s becoming a trademark at the Air Canada Centre was again evident.
“I knew the names because of my avid interest as a young kid who probably had some of their hockey cards from the Quaker Oats box or something,” Carlyle said of the ’63 Leafs, many of whom were on hand at the game.
Carlyle also explained why he kept his team in the dressing room during the pregame ceremony, the type of which can be common for Toronto.
“We’re never going to cast a negative upon the history of the Toronto Maple Leafs,” he said. “But right now we’re about us. We’re going to try and create some of our own [success]. We’re trying to gain respect. That’s all it is. It’s not any disrespect to anybody else.”
Thankfully for the game’s entertainment value, Ottawa came alive in the second to add a little intrigue, peppering Scrivens with 19 shots (to just 10 for the Leafs) but were not able to beat him with any of them.
The seesaw battle then turned Toronto’s way for good midway through the third, as Phil Kessel and Co. stormed out and picked up the 2-0 goal when Dion Phaneuf wired a pass off Tyler Bozak’s big toe in the slot and in through a crowd.
The play was eerily reminiscent of a disallowed goal two weeks earlier in a 4-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes, one in which Bozak shuffled his skates toward the goal as the puck came towards them.
On Saturday, however, it was reviewed and ultimately ruled good, with the small turning movement of Bozak’s foot not ruled a kick by the officials.
That proved to be more than enough of a margin in a relatively mild Battle of Ontario, especially with Scrivens coming up big during a late penalty kill to make sure the lead stood up the rest of the way.
After Nazem Kadri had a 3-0 marker called off when the referees ruled they play had been blown dead, John-Michael Liles finished things off with a long bomb empty-netter to put a bow on the victory in the final minute.
“We think it was pretty much a premature whistle,” Carlyle said of Kadri’s no-goal.
Scrivens, meanwhile, improved his season stats to 3-3-0, a 2.23 goals-against average and .927 save percentage, which isn’t far off the type of numbers Reimer had been putting up as the No. 1.
“They had their odd-man rushes, they had their chances and he stood tall in there,” Bozak said. “He played a heckuva game for us. We had our lapses, but he was there to keep us in it.”
The win moves the Leafs to two points up on their provincial rival and within a point of Montreal for the Northeast Division lead. They flew to Florida late Saturday night for a two-game series with the Panthers and Lightning beginning Monday.
With 18 points after 15 games, Toronto is on pace for 58 points in the shortened 48-game season. It’s expected that it’ll likely take somewhere in the 55 range to make the postseason.
“To qualify for playoffs, it’s usually a marathon,” Carlyle said. “Maybe this year it’s more of a sprint, but the games are going to get tougher and the points are going to get a lot tougher to get as we go deeper into this season.”