ST. LOUIS - The shootout was nearly ready to begin when Matt Frattin
whispered a few words of advice into the ear of Ben Scrivens
The 25-year-old hardly needed them.
Scrivens made 38 saves in regulation, two more in overtime and all three in the shootout as the Leafs scratched their way to a 3-2 road victory over the Blues, thus ending a brief two-game losing skid.
"I was giving him the down-low," said Frattin with a smirk, offering a few pointers on the moves of Blues leading scorer TJ Oshie, a former teammate at the University of North Dakota. "He had a great game. He stood on his head. He's definitely showing the coaching staff and management why he should be up here."
It was just the third NHL start and second victory for the former Cornell University star. A week earlier in Columbus, Scrivens was equally brilliant, stopping 38 shots in a 4-1 victory. He struggled two nights later, however, in his first start at home, thwarted for five goals on 14 shots in a blowout loss to Boston. The uneasiness continued in relief of Jonas Gustavsson
on Tuesday when he yielded two goals on seven shots in a loss to Florida.
A lengthy practice in Toronto on Wednesday, much of it spent with goalie coach Francois Allaire helped to smooth over some of the rough spots that had surfaced in his game. "It was just kind of getting back to basics for myself," said Scrivens, who conceded his nervousness prior to the Bruins game. "That was the switch for me was just putting everything else out of my mind and just focusing on stopping the puck in practice and working hard there and having that hopefully translate into the game tonight."
Confidence seemed to build for the rookie netminder as the game wore on. Perhaps a bit tender in the opening minutes, Scrivens settled in behind the Leafs during a dominant first period - Ron Wilson called it the best twenty minutes of the season - during which they scored two power-play goals - John-Michael Liles
and Phil Kessel
- with an onslaught of speed and pressure. From there, the home side took over though, stoked by the fire of new head coach Ken Hitchcock and his pleas for an up-tempo game.
"I thought the first was really quick from our point of view," said Wilson. "We had them on their heels for almost the whole period and then they got their fore-check going [and] we stopped moving the puck quickly. It seems to be our M.O. right now; we'll do something so well for a period and get away from our identity. We've got to work on being a lot more consistent throughout the sixty minutes."
Fortunately for Wilson and the Leafs, Scrivens was on top of his game, helping to secure two points on the road for the fifth time in eight tries this season (5-3-0).
A critical glove stop on Alex Steen
early in the third was one of many that kept the Leafs ahead during the final two frames. Only a wild sequence in the dying moments of the third did Patrik Berglund
finally manage to sneak a second one past Scrivens - Jason Arnott
also scored on a power-play in the middle period - to the tie the game and force extra-time.
A key stop on Alex Pietrangelo
in overtime paved the way for a shootout, which concluded as a clinic in cool with Scrivens calmly stopping Steen, Oshie and finally Matt D'Agostini
to steal the win.
"If I'm in his position, I'm a little nervous there in the shootout," said Tyler Bozak
, who notched two assists in victory. "He handled it so well; all those saves he made were huge. Even throughout the game, there were a lot of chances they had where we kind of let him down and he was there to save us.
"I've seen him play a lot. I knew he was good in college and I played against him in junior so I always knew his ability. He's really proving himself now."
The Leafs were in need of some stability in goal with starter James Reimer
out for the ninth consecutive game and both Scrivens and Gustavsson struggling in previous starts. Wilson was brash in declining to name Scrivens the starter for Saturday's home game against the Senators, but it's a pretty good bet considering Thursday's effort.
"He played great, but I'm not going to get ahead of ourselves here," said Wilson.
"They build a statue, they knock it down and piss on it and then now they'll be out there building it again. So you just have to be reasonable; he's a young kid and if he starts hopefully he's a little more focused this time, but we'll decide. We'll do what's right for the team and both our goalies."
If Thursday is any indication, the decision is rather obvious.
Kessel has been terrific at home this season, simply very good on the road; in eight games at the Air Canada Centre, the 24-year-old has nine goals and 15 points, while away from the confines of home he's totaled three goals and eight points in eight games. Last season, the 24-year-old led the Leafs in road scoring with 17 goals and 34 points, finishing third on the team at home (behind Mikhail Grabovski
and Clarke MacArthur
) with 15 goals and 30 points... Dion Phaneuf
snapped a five-game point drought with an assist on Liles 2nd goal of the season. Phaneuf fed Liles for a snap-shot that beat Jaroslav Halak
continues a strong start to the season. Lupul picked up an assist on Thursday, giving him points (18 total) in all but four games this season... Bozak snapped a six-game point streak with the pair of assists, also finishing at 80% in the faceoff circle (12-15). The 24-year-old is still searching for his first goal of the season.