Maple Leafs to wrap up road trip against Blackhawks
CHICAGO -- Even with budding star Auston Matthews emerging as the face of one of the NHL's youngest rosters and most storied franchises, the Toronto Maple Leafs are experiencing growing pains.
Toronto will try to come away with a win in the finale of their three-game road trip on Saturday night against the Chicago Blackhawks in a matchup of Original Six clubs.
The Maple Leafs (1-1-2) fell 3-2 at Minnesota on Thursday, one night after seeing a four-goal lead disappear in a 5-4 overtime loss at Winnipeg. However, coach Mike Babcock isn't disappointed.
"I think we've done a lot of good things," Babcock said after the loss to the Wild. "We're .500 after four (games), and so as we grow up here a little bit, we've just got to hang in the hunt as best as we can because we're going to get better fast."
That might be a difficult task against a team that has won three Stanley Cups since 2010. Toronto has been outscored 15-3 in three consecutive losses to the Blackhawks, including a 7-2 setback on Feb. 15 at the United Center where the Maple Leafs surrendered four power-play goals.
Matthews, the top overall pick in last June's NHL Draft, is tied for the league lead with five goals but has just one since his record-setting debut in a loss to Ottawa on Oct. 12.
"It's a learning process. We're still a young team, but we're competing day in and day out, so I think we're heading in the right direction," the 19-year-old center said after the loss to Minnesota.
One player looking forward to Saturday is Toronto defenseman Connor Carrick, who grew up in suburban Orland Park, about 25 miles from the United Center. He scored his only goal of the season in Wednesday's loss to the Jets.
"You want to close the opportunities you get in this league, make sure you finish, stomp on the other team's will, so to speak," Carrick told the Toronto Sun. "It's hard to get the full two points in this league and you just don't want it to slip away. We want to reverse that trend."
After backup goaltender Jhonas Enroth played against Minnesota, Fredrik Andersen will likely face the Blackhawks. In his only start at Chicago early last season while with Anaheim, Andersen surrendered the lone goal in a 1-0 overtime loss.
Chicago (2-3-0) opens a stretch in which it plays four of the next five at home after falling 3-2 decision on Friday at Columbus. Rookie Tyler Motte scored his first NHL goal and Richard Panik, a former Maple Leafs player, produced his fifth in five games to tie Matthews for the league lead.
Panik posted a career-high 11 goals in 76 games with Toronto in 2014-15. He leads Chicago with seven points even though the Blackhawks feature two of the league's dynamic players in Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin.
Last season en route to winning the Hart Trophy as the league's MVP, Kane had four goals and four assists in both wins over Toronto with five of those points coming on the power play.
Panarin, the Calder Trophy winner as the NHL's top rookie in 2015-16, had two goals and three assists in two games against the Leafs.
But a big issue for Chicago this season has been penalty killing. The Blackhawks are last in the NHL, having surrendered 11 goals in 19 short-handed situations.
"We have to hit the reset button and just bear down and find a way to get it done because it's losing us games right now," defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson told the Blackhawks' official website.
Corey Crawford stopped 25 shots Friday. However, with games on back-to-back nights, the Blackhawks could start Scott Darling, who recorded a 1.51 goals-against average while winning both matchups with the Maple Leafs in 2015-16.
Chicago played Friday without Marian Hossa, who became the 44th player in NHL history to score 500 goals in a win over Philadelphia on Tuesday. Hossa is day to day with a lower body injury.
Trevor van Riemsdyk, a healthy scratch the previous three games, left Friday's game with an upper-body injury and could be out "a bit," according to the team.