TORONTO (AP) — Tyler Bozak and the Toronto Maple Leafs spent a lot of time chasing the puck.
It was the kind of possession game the Minnesota Wild want to play: one that frustrates an opponent.
“They got the puck a lot of the time, so it’s kind of hard for you to get shots when they’re cycling on you,” Bozak said.
In the end, it didn’t matter. The Leafs were outshot 37-14, but had some opportunistic offense in a 4-1 victory on Tuesday night.
“Minnesota’s a team that eliminates chances and shots big time,” said Toronto goaltender James Reimer, who made 36 saves.
“You watch any game they play, and you’re lucky if you get 20 shots on them. I wasn’t expecting us to get 40 on net tonight, but what we do so well is even though we don’t get the most amount of shots, we capitalize on our chances and that was the case.”
The Leafs improved to 6-1-0, continuing their best start since 1993 when they opened 10-0.
Coach Randy Carlyle said despite his team’s good start that the Leafs can’t continue this level of play and expect the same results.
“Some nights we’re going to get our butt kicked playing like this,” he said.
Sparked by four early power plays, Minnesota carried the momentum everywhere except the scoreboard.
That’s because the Leafs scored on their first shot, a tap-in from the crease by Bozak after a tic-tac-toe passing play with Dave Bolland and Cody Franson 4:24 into the game, and on their third shot, a by Trevor Smith at 13:51.
Reimer could relate to Minnesota goaltender Darcy Kuemper, who was chased from the game after allowing Mason Raymond to score Toronto’s third goal on its seventh shot. Josh Harding faced just seven shots the rest of the way.
“Honestly I kind of feel sorry for Kuemper,” Reimer said. “That’s a tough first start of the year to come into where you’re not getting much chances and then all of a sudden there’s a tic-tac-toe in front and then a breakaway. You can’t get into a rhythm. For him, his game was by far the hardest out of any of us three.”
Minnesota coach Mike Yeo knew it was tough on his goalie.
“To sit there and watch that game, he knows he’s putting more and more pressure on himself,” Yeo said. “And he’s cold. So we’re not pinning this on him by any means. It was a tough situation for a young goalie. He’ll get a chance to bounce back.”
Said Kuemper: “Really everything couldn’t have gone much more poorly for me tonight. I just feel really bad for the guys because they battled so hard tonight and had a heck of a game and probably deserved a better fate.”
Making his first appearance since being pulled Oct. 5 against Ottawa, Reimer was tested early because of penalties.
“I think as a team you’d rather face less because every shot is a chance for the puck to go in,” he said. “But as a goalie, you like to feel the puck and get those shots. You don’t want necessarily scoring chances but shots. It’s nice to get in the game but at the same time a couple less power plays would’ve been good, too.”
The Wild took four penalties, but Toronto scored on two of those three power plays.
The shot disparity did not provide the Wild with any moral victories.
“There’s no consolation in us coming here and saying, ‘Oh we outshot them, we outplayed them,'” forward Zach Parise said. “We didn’t win.”
Yeo said he has been part of 4-1 losses, “but not many of them felt like that.”
Toronto benefited from timely goals and timely saves from Reimer.
On one occasion, he stopped Mikael Granlund after the puck hopped over Phil Kessel’s stick and on another made a save on Torrey Mitchell following a neutral-zone turnover by Dion Phaneuf.
“By no means was that our identity, what we want to play like out there,” said Raymond, who scored an empty netter when Kessel let the puck go in without touching it in front.
“We weren’t real good in a lot of areas, but we also found a way to win. As we keep saying, we aren’t going to take away from our wins, but there’s definitely lots of room for improvement.”
Carlyle is seeking improvement as the wins keep coming.
“Again, we’re in a situation that it’s hard to be critical when you’re getting points,” he said. “We’re not going to continue to accept what’s happening, but we have to find a way to mold this from a different angle that our level of play has to increase.”
Notes: James van Riemsdyk was scratched from the Leafs’ lineup because of an upper-body injury that forced him to leave the morning skate early. Smith, who was recalled from the AHL’s Toronto Marlies, replaced him in the lineup while Troy Bodie was a healthy scratch. … Defensemen Mathew Dumba (healthy) and Keith Ballard (injured) were scratched by the Wild in favor of Marco Scandella and Nate Prosser. Minnesota can play Dumba up to five more games before deciding whether to keep him around or send him back to the Red Deer Rebels of the WHL.
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