DETROIT—The Toronto Maple Leafs made quite an investment in goalie Frederik Andersen last summer—trading a first- and second-round pick to Anaheim to acquire the goaltender and giving him a five-year, $25-million deal.
He is providing quite a return.
Andersen made 22 saves for his second-straight shutout, and Auston Matthews scored early in the first period, as Toronto blanked the Detroit Red Wings 4-0 last night.
Leafs' coach Mike Babcock said the Andersen trade has been “huge” for the franchise's turnaround.
“We knew we needed a goaltender," he noted. ”We didn't know we'd be as fortunate as we have been.
“But we felt we had good, young players and we needed stability in the net.”
Andersen matched his career high with his third shutout of the season. He had three in each of the previous two seasons with the Ducks while splitting starts with John Gibson.
“The guys are doing a great job in front of me right now, which makes my life easier,” Andersen said.
“They are getting into the shooting lanes and keeping the puck away from me.”
Andersen only needed one goal from his teammates to win but got much more.
Roman Polak scored late in the second period, while James van Riemsdyk and Nikita Soshnikov added third-period goals, to give Toronto a comfortable cushion.
The Leafs moved a point ahead of Boston in the Atlantic standings and into third place for the division's third guaranteed spot in the playoffs.
Toronto also has played five fewer games than the Bruins—putting it in a relatively favourable position to make the playoffs for the first time since 2013 and just the second time in 12 seasons.
“These are more than two-point games for us,” Matthews said.
Petr Mrazek stopped 24 shots for the Red Wings.
Detroit had earned a point in the previous six games, tying a season high, but its previous three games were lost in overtime.
The Red Wings started the day tied for last in the Eastern Conference—putting their streak of playing in 25-straight post-seasons in jeopardy.
Matthews' 23rd goal added to his highlight reel from his rookie season 5:30 into the game.
After Detroit defenceman Jonathan Ericsson lost control of the puck in front of Mrazek, Matthews tapped it from behind Detroit defenceman Xavier Ouellet and through his legs.
He then kicked the puck into shooting position with his right skate and lifted a backhander into the net.
“It was in my skates and I was trying to find it and turn around, and Matthews took it out of there,” Ouellet noted.
“He's always at the right place at the right moments.”
Playing in his 600th game, Polak made a savvy play to put Toronto up 2-0.
He shot wide of the net but the puck went off Ericsson's right leg and past Mrazek.
Soshnikov and van Riemsdyk both scored what appeared to be soft goals—beating Mrazek with shots he seemed capable of stopping to keep it a two-goal game.
“We can't give up four goals on a nightly basis and win,” stressed Red Wings' coach Jeff Blashill.
“I know that 100 percent.”
Even if Mrazek did make those saves, however, the Red Wings failed to generate much offence at the other end of the rink.
The Leafs were so dominant at times that it looked as if they were on a power play in even-strength situations.
While killing a penalty in the first period, they swarmed around Detroit's players with the puck so well that they couldn't get a shot off even with an extra skater.
When Detroit had a man advantage in the second period, it had as many shots (one) as Toronto did during the two minutes.
“These guys played last night so we wanted to utilize our speed with them being tired,” Matthews noted.
The Leafs next play in Philadelphia tonight—hoping to improve their 2-7-1 record in the second game when playing on consecutive days.
Elsewhere in the NHL, Edmonton dumped Anaheim 4-0, Vancouver edged Colorado 3-2, and Philadelphia blanked the N.Y. Rangers 2-0.