Despite their star power up front with the likes of Auston Matthews and John Tavares, the Toronto Maple Leafs lost six of their first seven overtime games this season.
So coach Sheldon Keefe changed the game plan.
Instead of starting the three-on-three session with Matthews or Tavares at center, Keefe decided to have a defensive forward take the initial faceoff in overtime. The move has paid off, as the Maple Leafs have gone 5-2 in the extra session since, including a 2-1 victory against visiting Minnesota on Friday night.
With a five-game Western swing starting Sunday in Seattle, the Maple Leafs figure to get some more chances to work overtime.
“Overtime was an issue for us,” Keefe acknowledged. “We changed our strategy a little bit in terms of how we started, how we deploy the guys. The luck has gone our way a little bit in terms of getting us more time with the puck.”
William Nylander scored the winner 1:05 into the extra session against the Wild after stealing the puck in Minnesota’s zone. Nylander became the fourth player in Maple Leafs history to score at least three overtime goals in a season (Ken Doraty, 3, 1933-34; Mats Sundin, 4, 1999-2000; Tavares, 3, 2019-20).
“It was a good game,” Nylander said. “These are the kind of games that are going to be coming down the line here, so we’ve got to win these kind of games. It’s more like playoff hockey, so it was good for us.
“Patience is huge. We’re 1-1 through 60 minutes, so you don’t want to worry and try to force plays to make it 2-1. We’ll grind them out.”
The Maple Leafs, who have won four of their past five games, will also travel to Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver before completing the trip in New Jersey. They won’t play a home game until March 11.
“We’re going to be in a lot of those games down the stretch and in the playoffs,” Toronto defenseman Mark Giordano said after Friday’s victory, in which he had three blocked shots to tie Kris Russell for the most in NHL history (2,044). “You gotta take what’s there and not force it, not get frustrated.”
The Kraken are coming off a 6-5 loss to league-leading Boston on Thursday night, their second consecutive defeat.
Seattle’s Matty Beniers scored 40 seconds into the game, which went back and forth the rest of the way. Jaden Schwartz put the Kraken up 5-4 with 4:10 remaining, but Boston’s Brandon Carlo tied it less than 30 seconds later, and Jake DeBrusk scored the winner with 1:38 left.
Beniers, Vince Dunn and Jamie Oleksiak each had a goal and an assist for the Kraken, and goaltender Philipp Grubauer stopped 27 shots.
“I thought we played a good game, honestly,” Beniers said. “They played a good game, too. I think we can build momentum off this. I mean, even though it was a loss, we did a lot of good things, offensively and defensively. So, hopefully we can take the good out of it and keep rolling.”
Added Kraken coach Dave Hakstol: “The compete level was outstanding all the way through the game. There was a lot of intensity in the game. There was pace. Obviously a lot of back-and-forth, especially during the second period (when each team scored three times) and then late in the hockey game.”
Seattle won 5-1 at Toronto on Jan. 5, as Dunn had a goal and two assists and Martin Jones made 26 saves.
–Field Level Media