OTTAWA—Paul Maurice’s approach to shootouts is, shall we say, unpredictable.
That’s the way he likes it.
“Having fun with it,” said the Leaf coach, glowing after a solid effort that saw his team beat the Ottawa Senators 3-2 to extend the club’s winning streak to four games, thanks to John Pohl’s decisive backhander.
“With the weight of this point being what it was, I think I maybe expected a quieter bench, more nail-biting. But they were up for it,” said Maurice.
Losing shootouts hurt the Leafs last year, who missed the playoffs by two points. A little more success in the tiebreak format might have led to a playoff spot.
Maurice tries to keep things loose and let the players enjoy the format as much as the fans do. How else do you explain that with every point important for a team with a playoff spot on the line, why Nik Antropov and Tomas Kaberle were among the first three shooters?
No matter that those two missed — Maurice’s formula seems to be working. The Leafs are 3-4 this year in shootouts, a better pace than their 3-7 record last year.
Part of the fun last night came when Pohl was selected.
“I didn’t pick the winning shooter; something happened on the bench,” said Maurice, who sent reporters scurrying to find out what had transpired.
Turns out it was Mats Sundin, who scored the game’s second goal and scored in the shootout after Antoine Vermette had scored for Ottawa, who was behind the Pohl caper. After Alexei Ponikarovsky missed as the fourth shooter, Maurice looked down the bench for a fifth. Sundin was pointing at Pohl.
“I knew when he got the puck he was going to score,” said Sundin.
Pohl wasn’t so sure.
“I’m sure Leaf Nation was like, ‘What the hell is he doing?’.” said Pohl. “Coach does do some crazy things.
“He does occasionally think outside the box and pick a guy probably nobody else would.”
It was Pohl’s first NHL shootout attempt. He scored on a penalty shot Dec..26, beating Minnesota’s Manny Fernandez with a head fake and a backhand. Problem was, Sundin used that same move to beat Ray Emery last night.
“I’m like, ‘That was the move I was going to do,’.” said Pohl. No matter, he sped down the ice, gave Emery a head fake and then put a backhander into the net.
“It worked out against Minnesota, so I tried it again,” said Pohl. “I think tonight I got lucky, because I think it went in his armpit. He read it pretty well. I don’t think my fake was as good as it could have been. But I got lucky and it went through his armpit.”
Now, Pohl says, the move is retired. “I highly doubt I’ll do to it again, because you can’t do the same thing over and over.”
If there’s one thing the Leafs are doing over and over again, it’s winning — four in a row and seven of their last nine.
This was another night of solid checking, hard hitting, anticipating puck movement, timely scoring and outstanding netminding — elements missing during a bad spell in December.
Jeff O’Neill had the other Leaf goal. Andrew Raycroft put on another show, robbing Ottawa in the first and second periods before Daniel Alfredsson and Mike Comrie tied the game in the third. Comrie scored on a breakaway.
“It would have been nice to stop one breakaway in the game, keep it 2-1 and call it a night,” said Raycroft. “But they made two great plays in the third.”