Leafs find young and not-so-young answers to old questions about defense

One is a 25-year-old rookie goaltender, the other a 38-year-old veteran defenseman. But, together, Erik Källgren and Mark Giordano have helped give the Maple Leafs something they have been craving in their end — stability.

“For good reason, we’re celebrating Auston (Matthews) and the run Mitch (Marner) is on, but there’s a ton of really good things happening all around our team and throughout our lineup,” Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said after Saturday’s 3 -2 win over Montreal.

“Add another one to the list tonight because I thought Erik Källgren was outstanding… This was his best game, at least the most comfortable I felt on the bench with him in there. I have stopped two of their best players (Cole Caufield on a breakaway, and Josh Anderson point blank). I did a tremendous job.”

Källgren is 5-2-1 in nine games since being recalled from the Marlies when both Jack Campbell and Petr Mrázek were injured. With a 2.78 goals-against average and a .904 save percentage, he has helped the Leafs win without having to do what they did for much of February and March — outscore their defensive and goaltending mistakes.

The Leafs are on a 7-0-1 streak, have clinched their sixth consecutive playoff berth, and are looking as solid defensively as they have all season.

“We have 10 games left (in the regular season),” Keefe said. “We’ve been preparing, acting as though we’ve been a playoff team for a long period of time now. But to have that official speaks to the process the guys have been working on, and allows us to focus and zoom in on making sure our game is right.

“The energy and vibe are good. The things we’ve asked them to do, to adjust and focus on, they’ve really embraced it. We’ve played some really good defensive hockey here. It’s not perfect, at times you see that, but we consistently put ourselves in position to win games.

“In Dallas, we played a good game and gave up a lead. We talked about that, one-goal leads, and how we want to be better. It just so happens we had the same situation (Saturday), and I thought our third period, with the exception of when (Brendan) Gallagher got in behind us (on a breakaway that Källgren stopped), was flawless. We didn’t give up very much at all.”

Toronto is now 8-1-1 in the 10 games Giordano has played since landing in a trade with Calgary at the deadline, and 3-0-1 in one-goal games.

“It feels (there are fewer) times where teams can wear us out shift over shift,” Keefe said. “We seem to be able to put a fire out quicker because we have guys on each pair who have the ability to do that. Certainly Gio is one of the best we have at that.”

Maple Leafs defenseman Mark Giordano and goaltender Erik Källgren have helped settle down the team's play in its own end.  Toronto is 8-1-1 since Giordano's arrival.

Although Giordano spent close to a decade with TJ Brodie in Calgary, Keefe has paired the veteran with Timothy Liljegren, Justin Holl and Jake Muzzin since his arrival. Each has improved after long periods of inconsistency this season.

Keefe’s confidence in Giordano was obvious Saturday when he had him on the ice in the final minute with the Leafs nursing a one-goal lead and Montreal on the power play.

Källgren, meanwhile, had a bounceback game after being pulled earlier in the week in a wild 7-6 overtime loss to Florida. Källgren revealed Saturday that he left the game after taking a puck on the jaw.

“I felt better (against Montreal),” he said. “I wasn’t really satisfied with my game the last couple of times. It was nice to get the win.”


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