OTTAWA â€” Curtis McElhinney is already earning praise from his new teammates after one start.
McElhinney, who was claimed off waivers from the Columbus Blue Jackets earlier in the week, made 35 saves as the Toronto Maple Leafs went into Ottawa and downed the Senators 4-2.
“That was unbelievable. He played great and gave us an opportunity to win the game. That first star was definitely well deserved and a solid debut,” said Leafs forward Nazem Kadri, who had a good night himself collecting a pair of goals.
Tyler Bozak, with a goal and an assist, and Connor Brown also scored for the Leafs (20-13-8), who moved into a tie with the Senators for third in the Atlantic Division, right at the halfway point of the season.
“For me it was just going in there and building some trust with the guys. It’s one of those things where you’re trying to figure out what they’re going to play like defensively offensively and that type of stuff, there’s a little bit of sorting out but for the most part I felt comfortable right off the bat,” McElhinney said, adding he likes the look of his new team.
“They’re real fast. It’s unbelievable the speed they have and their willingness to make plays in tight areas so incredible. It’s a lot of fun to be around a youthful group. It feels good to come to a new team and the most important thing is just to get off on the right foot.”
Dion Phaneuf and Kyle Turris replied for Ottawa (22-15-4) while Mike Condon made 23 saves.
Kadri’s second goal of the game gave the Leafs a 3-2 lead just 2:31 into the third period.
Shortly after the Senators got their first power play of the game when Frederik Gauthier went off for tripping at 4:01. Ottawa looked to have the equalizer, but McElhinney made a sprawling save to deny Mike Hoffman on his one-timer.
Minutes later Erik Karlsson hit the post behind McElhinney and, within seconds of that, Brown gave the Leafs a 4-2 lead with a quick shot after Auston Matthews won a faceoff in the Ottawa zone.
Matthews pushed the puck forward off the face off and Brown jumped on the puck and fired a quick shot past Condon.
“It’s nice to pot one on your birthday and it makes it more fun, but I thought we had a good team win,” said Brown, who turned 23 Saturday.
“(Matthews) told me he was going to go forward, and I said maybe we should just win it back, we’re up one. I’m happy he went forward. A lot of the times when you go forward like that it’s just a loss, but I played with one other guy other than Matthews that could do it, and that’s (Connor) McDavid.”
The teams were tied 2-2 through 40 minutes after the Leafs had jumped out to a 2-0 lead with early goals both in the first and second periods, just as they did in the third.
Kadri opened the scoring on the power play when he tucked a rebound underneath Condon at 6:26 of the opening period.
Bozak gave the Leafs a 2-0 just 1:07 into the second when he intercepted a clearing attempt from Bobby Ryan, moved in on the Ottawa goal and waited for Condon to make a move before beating the netminder.
“We made a few mistakes, but what comes out of this game for me is the shots were 37-27, body checks were 38-30 for us, faceoffs were 68 per cent for us, shot attempts were 77-54 for us. We hit a goalie that just stood on his head, and that’s going to happen,” Senators coach Guy Boucher said.
“They were opportunistic we weren’t, and in terms of stats you can’t do much more than that.”
The Leafs were carrying the momentum through the period but that changed when Phaneuf got the Senators on the board at 9:15 of the second.
His point shot hit the posterior of Leafs defenceman Jake Gardiner before eluding McElhinney.
The Senators tied the game at 18:50 when Turris beat McElhinney with a shot far side to the top corner.
Notes: Fredrik Claesson was scratched for Ottawa. Josh Leivo and Garret Sparks were scratches for the Maple Leafsâ€¦Chris Wideman became the 100th player to play in 100 games for the Senators when he suited up against the Leafs Saturday. It was also the 100th game of his NHL careerâ€¦Senators forward Mark Stone remains one assist shy of 100 for his careerâ€¦The Senators play their next three games on the road starting with the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday. The Leafs host the Buffalo Sabres Tuesday.
Darren Desaulniers, The Canadian Press