The goal horn he set off was loud enough, but Auston Matthews added his own visual wake-up call for fans in the front-row platinum seats on Monday night.
After his second of the middle period, following one of the most mistake-prone opening frames the Leafs have had in this uneven season, he waved his arms, urging patrons out of their expensive seats. He’d just turned a three-goal deficit into a chance at redemption, which Toronto followed in an improbable 6-5 overtime victory.
“After the first period, the (lack of) energy, they booed us and rightfully so,” Matthews said. “But we don’t want them to go to sleep just yet. We crawled our way back in the game.”
When the sliding doors of the dressing room opened on in-house video after the first, people were looking for signs of peeled paint from a fiery intermission speech.
But jeered off the ice and with a social-media storm brewing outside, the Leafs insist they were remarkably composed.
“We wanted to make sure we didn’t get discouraged,” said Mitch Marner. “(Tampa Bay) had two on the power play, but we were happy doing some things, on the forecheck we were pretty good and we had the same number of shots as them.
“We talked about it before. We don’t have any quit in this locker room and have a lot of trust in our group, regardless of the situation.
“But we don’t want to be (in those calamities) every night.”
WHAT AILS ILYA?
Whatever heat general manager Brad Treliving is taking for his free-agent signings so far will be mitigated by refusing to bite on a multi-year deal for Ilya Samsonov. He came into Monday’s start with an awful .871 save percentage, further complicated by four Tampa goals for a total of seven on 16 shots by the Lightning in two disastrous first periods. Until the Russian finds some of the consistency he showed in last year’s first-round playoff win against the Lightning, the Leafs were right to saw off in arbitration for this season only.
Not that he was getting help from teammates early Monday, with disconnects all over the ice and the two power plays, one a bench minor.
Yet that’s twice Joseph Woll has bailed his buddy out against the Bolts and the Leafs now have six wins in the past eight versus a very good team.
LARRY SELLS A STAKE
While the Leafs played to another capacity house on Monday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning, tens of millions of dollars were changing hands in a sale of minority owner Larry Tanenbaum’s partial stake in the giant pro sports conglomerate.
The Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System (OMERS) completed a long-discussed purchase of 20% of Tanenbaum’s Kilmer Sports for $546.8 million. It gives the OMERS pension plan a 5% indirect stake in Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.
After word of a possible OMERS deal got out this past June, there were reports majority owners Bell and Rogers had some reservations and might exercise their option on right of first refusal of Tanenbaum’s shares. The MLSE umbrella includes the Leafs, Raptors, TFC and Argonauts and is valued as a whole at $8 billion US.
But the OMERS deal went through Monday afternoon. The 78-year-old Tanenbaum said in a statement “as an owner of MLSE, I’ve always seen myself as a steward of a public trust, working in service to the fans and the public to build Canada’s most iconic sports teams and win championships.
“Now with this investment by OMERS, I’m thrilled to be sharing this public trust with over 600,000 hard-working Ontarians.
“Today is a good day for the future of MLSE.”
BOLTS ARE ALL IN
In contrast to Leafs players, coaches, fans and critics heating up debate the past few days on how the team can better stand up for itself on ice, it was noted the Lightning rarely have that topic on their front burner.
While Toronto defeated his Bolts in playoffs last year and won the regular-season opener last month, coach Jon Cooper is not altering that physical philosophy, despite a change in his roster as its Stanley Cup stars of the past have begun to age or move out.
“It’s something we instituted early in my tenure, brought in the players that could back that up,” Cooper said Monday morning. “The torch has been passed through the leadership group. I’m a big believer that there’s intimidation still in the game.
“If there’s a chink in your armour and if other teams see it, it can be used against you. We just make sure that doesn’t happen to us. The trust jar gets a little fuller when you do the winning. It’s part of our DNA. As long as I’m here, we’ll never lose that.”
Through the Kyle Dubas years, the Leafs have relied more on developing an ‘organic toughness’ from heavy play down low, puck pursuit and active sticks, while bulking up at playoffs via trades.
Starting this season with more “snot” was new GM Brad Treliving’s goal, importing free agents Ryan Reaves as a policeman and hoping Max Domi and Tyler Bertuzzi added sandpaper and goals. But the new players are still trying to find their way, while the Leafs regressed in that area on defence when Luke Schenn and Justin Holl departed.
Steven Stamkos can’t recall a time in Tampa that his club wasn’t ready for when push came to shove.
“The mindset we’ve always had is that when things happen on the ice, intentional or not, you stick up for yourself and your teammates. You learn that as a young player in this league.”
STICKING WITH NICK
Among the people keeping Nick Robertson’s confidence up during a difficult string of injuries the past couple of years were brother Jason of the Dallas Stars and new Marlies coach John Gruden.
Jason told anyone who’d listen this past summer that Nick would have a big year if not sidetracked again (significant knee, leg and shoulder problems have arisen). Despite not making the team in camp as management prioritized newer draft picks Fraser Minten and Easton Cowan, he was called up Monday after impressing with 11 points in his first nine AHL games.
After so long in recovery mode without regular shifts, he’s played 20 minutes a game on the farm, including power play.
“(Jason) definitely set the path for me, he’s been so successful in the league. And he’s my brother, so I look up to him a lot,” Nick said. “We train very similar and do the exact same things in the summer. It if works for him, hopefully it works for me. I just have to stay healthy.”
A very young Robertson was a minor hockey teammate of Gruden’s son in the Detroit suburbs and thus already had a good connection.
“He lets me be me, he’s a player’s coach,” Robertson praised.
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Three helpers on Saturday brought Mitch Marner to .76 assists per game, now second in franchise history to Doug Gilmour’s .82 … Auston Matthews’s latest hat trick put him at .63 goals a game, fifth in the same per game measurement … Cooper hopes goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (back surgery) will be a little ahead of schedule and return to the lineup around Dec. 1 … Stamkos insists he is not playing through any kind of acrimony after complaining on Day One of Tampa’s camp that he wanted a contract extension settled. The team didn’t budge, insisting it will be addressed next summer. “There’s not much that can be done,” Stamkos said Monday. “We said what we needed to say and here we are, battling for a playoff spot. It was something that was never going to be an issue with me. I’m going out to try and perform every single night whether you have eight years left on your deal of half a year.”