DETROIT â€” The Toronto Maple Leafs made quite an investment in goaltender Frederik Andersen last summer, trading a first- and second-round pick to Anaheim to acquire the goaltender and giving him a $25 million, five-year deal.
He is providing quite a return.
Andersen made 22 saves for his second straight shutout, third this season, and Auston Matthews scored early in the first period, leading Toronto over the Detroit Red Wings 4-0 on Wednesday night.
Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock said the Andersen trade has been “huge” for the franchise’s turnaround.
“We knew we needed a goaltender,” Babcock said. “We didn’t know we’d be as fortunate as we have been. But we felt we had good, young players and we needed stability in the net.”
Andersen matched his career high with his third shutout. He had three shutouts in each of the previous two seasons with the Ducks while splitting starts with John Gibson.
“The guys are doing a great job in front of me right now, which makes my life easier,” Andersen said. “They are getting into the shooting lanes and keeping the puck away from me.”
Andersen only needed one goal from his teammates to win, but got much more. Roman Polak scored late in the second period and James van Riemsdyk and Nikita Soshnikov had goals in the third to give Toronto a comfortable cushion.
The Maple Leafs moved a point ahead of Boston in the Atlantic standings and into third place for the division’s third guaranteed spot in the playoffs. Toronto has played five fewer games than the Bruins, putting it in a relatively favourable position to make the playoffs for the first time since 2013 and just the second time in 12 seasons.
“These are more than two-point games for us,” Matthews said.
Petr Mrazek stopped 24 shots for the Red Wings.
Detroit had earned a point in the previous six games, tying a season high, but its previous three games were lost in overtime. The Red Wings started the day tied for last in the Eastern Conference, putting their streak of playing in 25 straight postseasons in jeopardy.
Matthews’ 23rd goal added to his highlight reel from his rookie season 5:30 into the game. After Detroit defenceman Jonathan Ericsson lost control of the puck in front of Mrazek, Matthews tapped it from behind Detroit defenceman Xavier Ouellet and through his legs. Matthews kicked the puck into shooting position with his right skate and lifted a backhander into the net.
“It was in my skates and I was trying to find it and turn around, and Matthews took it out of there,” Ouellet said. “He’s always at the right place at the right moments.”
Playing in his 600th game, Polak made a savvy play to put Toronto up 2-0. He shot wide of the net and the puck went off Ericsson’s right leg and past Mrazek.
Soshnikov and van Riemsdyk scored what appeared to be soft goals, beating Mrazek with shots that he seemed capable of stopping to keep it a two-goal game.
“We can’t give up four goals on a nightly basis and win,” Detroit coach Jeff Blashill said. “I know that 100 per cent.”
Even if Mrazek did make those saves, however, the Red Wings failed to generate much offence at the other end of the rink.
The Maple Leafs were so dominant at times that it looked as if they were on a power play in even-strength situations. While killing a penalty in the first period, they swarmed around Detroit’s players with the puck so well that they couldn’t get a shot off even with an extra skater. When Detroit had a man advantage in the second period, it had as many shots (one) as Toronto did during the two minutes.
“These guys played last night, so we wanted to utilize our speed with them being tired,” Matthews said.
NOTES: Detroit F Thomas Vanek returned from a one-game absence because of a lower-body injury. … Toronto D Morgan Rielly missed his fourth straight game with a lower-body injury. … The Red Wings had won their previous three home games that were decided in regulation against Boston, Montreal and Pittsburgh.
Maple Leafs: Play Thursday night on the road against the Philadelphia Flyers, hoping to improve its 2-7-1 record in the second game when playing on consecutive days.
Red Wings: After All-Star break, host New Jersey on Tuesday night.
Larry Lage, The Associated Press