Tkachuk leads Ottawa over Toronto; Leafs’ Murray misses start with undisclosed injury
D.J. Smith is confident his group can go on a run in the second half of the season.
The Senators head coach got an effort against one of the NHL’s top teams he’ll hope to bottle moving forward.
Brady Tkachuk scored twice and Anton Forsberg made 31 saves as Ottawa thumped the Toronto Maple Leafs 6-2 on Friday night.
The Senators entered 12 points below the playoff cutline, but put in a fast, energetic performance against an Eastern Conference powerhouse that was second best in almost every facet after the first period.
“Any time you beat a top-end team, you build confidence,” Smith said. “We just want to be consistent and play well and not worry about the standings — just do what we do.
“Play the right way, have some fun, win some hockey games and see what happens.”
Claude Giroux, with a goal and an assist, Thomas Chabot, Drake Batherson and Derick Brassard had the other goals for Ottawa (22-23-3). Tim Stutzle added two assists as the Senators picked up their first victory at Scotiabank Arena with fans in attendance since October 2018.
“We faced a lot of adversity this year,” said Tkachuk, whose club has been without No. 1 centre Josh Norris (shoulder) much of the campaign. “We’re just trending in the right direction.”
William Nylander and Joey Anderson replied for Toronto (30-12-8), which was minus Auston Matthews because of a knee sprain that will keep the star centre out at least three weeks.
Ilya Samsonov, who was scheduled to get the night off, made a surprise start and finished with 28 saves as the Leafs suffered just their fourth regulation home loss of 2022-23.
Matt Murray was slated to see his first action in goal since Jan. 17, but occupied a seat at the end of the bench instead of Toronto’s crease.
Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said afterwards something Murray has been dealing with on the injury front “flared up” and he was unavailable.
Keefe, who added the situation wasn’t related to the groin injury that cost the netminder 15 games in the fall, indicated if Samsonov had been hurt in his fifth straight start and sixth consecutive appearance, Toronto would have been forced to turn to an emergency backup.
“We put (Samsonov) in a terrible spot,” Keefe said. “And then we didn’t take care of him.”
Matthews, who will miss next week’s NHL all-star game in Florida, suffered his injury in Wednesday’s 3-2 overtime victory against the New York Rangers. The Leafs dropped to 31-17-2 when the reigning Hart Trophy winner is out of the lineup since picking him first overall at the 2016 draft.
“We took our foot off the gas,” Nylander said. “Unacceptable.”
Tied 2-2 in the second period, Ottawa grabbed its third lead of the night on a power play when Brassard’s centring pass went in off Toronto defenceman Timothy Liljegren for his seventh goal of the season.
The Senators then made it 4-2 at 16:37 when Batherson ripped his 15th off a turnover.
“Back to hard work,” Samsonov said. “And more concentration.”
Tkachuk put things to bed 3:32 into the third when he sniped his 18th upstairs before Giroux made it 6-2 with his 17th at 14:53.
“You can’t lose like that on home ice,” Keefe said. “You can’t have a goalie that’s been giving us absolutely everything, comes in a tough spot, and then you have a performance like that in front of him in the second and third.
“It should eat at us, but we’ll forget about it very quickly.”
Ottawa opened the scoring at 1:32 of the first when Chabot b his eighth — and first in 18 games — with the teams playing 4-on-4.
Toronto tied it at 7:15 when Anderson fired his second shortside on Forsberg.
The Senators went up 2-1 just 23 seconds into the second when Tkachuk tipped his 18th past Samosonov after the Leafs turned the puck over.
But Toronto responded on a power play at 2:44 when Nylander swatted home his 27th from the crease before Ottawa turned it on.
“That’s huge for us to have that confidence,” Tkachuk said handling the Leafs in impressive fashion in their rink. “This is a top team the last bunch of years.
“To be able to play our game and play a full 60 minutes, it’s something to build on and something that we want to continue to get better at.”
KEEFE ON MURRAY
The former Senators netminder was supposed to see action for first time since allowing four goals on eight shots 11 days ago against Florida. Samsonov replaced Murray that night and held the fort for Toronto to secure a comeback overtime win before going 3-0-1 over the Leafs’ next four. Traded to Toronto in the summer, Murray was also set to face Ottawa back in October, but suffered the groin injury during that kept him out until mid-November. Keefe said Friday morning Murray has handled the situation well as he waited his turn. “He’s put his work in,” Keefe said. “He wants to play. He’s a proud guy. Both these guys are competing for the net.”
Senators: Host Montreal on Saturday.
Leafs: Host Washington on Sunday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Jan. 27, 2023.
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