McElhinney shuts door on Canadiens as Leafs extend home win streak
Toronto notches club-record 12th straight victory at Air Canada Centre
Minus their starting goalie, best player and two other regulars, the Toronto Maple Leafs did what they've done a lot lately — pick up a victory at Air Canada Centre.
Curtis McElhinney made 33 saves for his third shutout of the season and rookie winger Andreas Johnsson scored his first NHL goal as the Leafs thumped the lowly Montreal Canadiens 4-0 to extend their club-record home winning streak to 12 straight games Saturday.
Star centre Auston Matthews missed his ninth consecutive outing with a shoulder injury, and netminder Frederik Andersen was sidelined for a second game in a row, but it didn't matter as Toronto once again showed its organizational depth.
"That's what you need," Leafs head coach Mike Babcock said. "You need all your hands on deck."
William Nylander, Kasperi Kapanen and Nazem Kadri provided the rest of the offence for Toronto (43-22-7), which has four straight victories following a four-game slide (0-2-2).
Leafs step up after injuries
The Leafs' run at home is the longest in the NHL this season, surpassing Pittsburgh's 11 straight wins from Jan. 7 to Feb 17.
Veteran winger Leo Komarov (lower body) also didn't suit up for the Leafs following Thursday's strange collision with Nylander in Buffalo, while defenceman Nikita Zaitsev sat out a fourth straight game with an illness to round out Toronto's sick bay.
All the absences didn't matter against an opponent playing out the string.
"Just guys stepping up and coming in the lineup and really contributing," Kadri said when asked how his team keeps humming along. "That's been a strength for us all year.
"We've got key guys out. We'll look for other guys to step up."
The celly says it all. Nothing like career goal No. 1.<br><br>Congrats, <a href="https://twitter.com/11_ands?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@11_ands</a>! <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/NHLFirsts?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NHLFirsts</a> <a href="https://t.co/i9ZfZziunc">pic.twitter.com/i9ZfZziunc</a>—@NHL
One of those guys was Johnsson, the 202nd pick at the 2013 draft, who opened his NHL account with 4:33 left in the third period to make the score 4-0.
He jumped for joy after beating Canadiens goalie Charlie Lindgren from in tight, and seemed a little embarrassed by his celebration afterwards.
"It's just emotion going through my whole body," Johnsson, 23, said with a laugh. "Jumping ... 4-0 [with] five minutes left.
"I don't really know what goes through my mind — just happy feelings."
Lindgren made 45 saves for Montreal (26-34-12) as the Canadiens dropped to 1-5-2 over their last eight.
McElhinney gets SO
McElhinney, who picked up the eighth shutout of his career, got his second straight start and third consecutive win with Andersen still out after taking a blow to the head/neck area in a crease pile up Wednesday against Dallas.
The 34-year-old journeyman secured his 10th win of the season, and is the most comfortable he's felt in his career.
"It's unfortunate it took so long to get to that point," McElhinney said. "But I'm happy where I'm at right now."
On the other side, the injury-ravaged Canadiens were without starting goalie Carey Price (concussion) for a 13th consecutive game, while captain Max Pacioretty (knee) missed his eighth in a row.
Lindgren was the story of the first period with three big stops, including an incredible full-stretch glove save to deny Tyler Bozak on a power play, until Nylander finally broke through moments later.
Jets turned on for <a href="https://twitter.com/kasperikapanen1?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@kasperikapanen1</a> and he makes all of the opportunity. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/MTLvsTOR?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#MTLvsTOR</a> <a href="https://t.co/a60qKYKAh8">pic.twitter.com/a60qKYKAh8</a>—@NHL
With the Leafs still on the man advantage, he took a pass from Jake Gardiner at the top of the right face-off circle and ripped his 15th to snap a 13-game goal drought against the league's worst penalty-killing unit on the road.
Toronto made it 2-0 three minutes into the second when Travis Dermott played a long stretch pass off the boards to Kapanen, who blew past Noah Juulsen down the left before beating Lindgren for his sixth.
McElhinney grabbed an assist on the play after quickly playing the puck to Dermott.
"You throw it up the wall and a lot of times [Kapanen] can just skate onto pucks and make things happen," McElhinney said. "I'll take a point any time I can."
The Leafs netminder had to be sharp with six minutes remaining in the period when Alex Galchenyuk jumped on a horrendous turnover by Leafs defenceman Roman Polak in front.
Toronto's power play on fire
Acquired from Montreal ahead of last month's trade deadline, Toronto centre Tomas Plekanec played his first game against his former team.
He was in the middle of the action later in the second when the Canadiens correctly challenged for goaltender interference with under five minutes left, denying Kapanen his second of the night.
But the Leafs eventually stretched their lead to three with 28.3 seconds remaining in the period when Kadri redirected a Mitch Marner pass into the top corner on a man advantage for his 28th.
Toronto's power play, which entered ranked fifth in the NHL, has now connected on eight of its last 12 chances.
"It seems like every opportunity we get, we cash in," Kadri said. "Heading down the stretch and into the playoffs that's going to be more and more important."