Maple Leafs lean on Hutchinson to eke out overtime win over Senators

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Sheldon Keefe was right: DJ Smith and the Ottawa Senators weren’t going to make it easy on the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday. But despite entering the (relatively) harrowing coin-flip scenario that is overtime, the Leafs sewed up the two points they oh-so needed to make up some meaningful ground in the Atlantic Division chase.

But the 2-1 win secured on a power-play goal from Mitch Marner in the bonus period was made possible only because of the superb performance from previously-maligned, now apparently uber-confident backup netminder Michael Hutchinson. He made 24 saves, several of the highly-difficult variety, and prevented the Sens from pulling away in a game the visitors were so close to seizing on multiple occasions.

Jason Spezza scored the only regulation goal for Toronto in his first Battle of Ontario appearance as a member of the Maple Leafs (scratched on opening night, remember?), and was maybe the team’s best skater. He has two goals in his three games coming out of the bye week, and is creeping up on a double-digit scoring season, now sitting at eight.

A massive game awaits Monday with the Florida Panthers in town.

Until then, four points:

Slamming the door shut

Downright brilliant in last two starts and a winner in each of his last four, Hutchinson has reversed his fortunes this season with the Maple Leafs, and potentially thwarted a trade for a new backup netminder.

In fact, the opportunity might be there to completely remedy his dismal record under Mike Babcock to start the season before the Leafs even reach the trade deadline. It’s expected that we will see Hutchinson in each of the next two weekends with back-to-backs installed liberally into the schedule, and maybe even a third time with the Leafs basically playing every-other night throughout February.

That means even after stomaching two losses for Frederik Andersen in relief appearances this month, the opportunity could still be there for Hutchinson to even his current 4-7-1 record before Leafs management finalizes its roster for the stretch run.

While it may be more likely that he just earn a majority share of the points at stake in his starts (besides, the record for a backup is somewhat trivial anyway), you might not put it passed him based on his form at present moment.

‘Internal accountability’

It appears Sheldon Keefe is set on making an example of Kasperi Kapanen. Like, really making an example.

Social media was abuzz when the Leafs held the speedy forward and potential trade chip out of the lineup without any indication of an injury or the illness that seems to be afflicting the room. And when everyone was led to believe that Keefe would share his rationale after the game, the coach would only reveal that it was an issue of accountability, and explained that Kapanen will have to explain for himself when the Leafs reconvene on Monday.

Holding a player out of the lineup is one thing, but making him tuck his tail between his legs and explain to the media why he’s being disciplined is another.

Suffice to say, Monday’s morning skate should be a scene.

One more term?

I wrote a little bit about Spezza’s incredible value following the win earlier this week in Nashville — which, of course, he underscored with a bullet tonight.

But it was actually before the goal, when “Vintage” danced from one end of the rink to the other only to be stopped in full flight by Craig Anderson, when another consideration popped into my head:

What will next season bring the 36-year-old?

Maybe the simple assumption was that Spezza’s willingness to accept a minimum salary to suit up for hometown team was a one-time deal, a swan song of sorts. But it’s clear that Spezza still possesses the ability, and certainly the utility is there for the Maple Leafs.

It’s a luxury for the Leafs to seamlessly send him up and down the lineup in times of injuries or episodes of internal accountability. And despite the load management and games that go by without really any opportunity, Spezza is still on pace for double-digit goals and 35-plus points.

All for 700K.

Where can they sign up for that again?

Overtime innovation

Just a quick acknowledgement to Keefe, who again zigged when the rest tend to zag by sending out the four best forwards at his disposal to attack the Senators on the 4-on-3 overtime opportunity.

It took the $40-million quartet 14 seconds to cash.

More of this.

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