TORONTO — Enough of the single life for James van Riemsdyk.
The veteran Maple Leafs winger on Tuesday night recorded the second hat trick of his National Hockey League career, scoring in every period as the Leafs beat the Nashville Predators 6-2 at the Air Canada Centre.
It was van Riemsdyk’s first three-goal game in a Toronto uniform, as his other trick came for Philadelphia against the New York Islanders in March 2011.
Before his third goal, which was scored on a backhand in the third period after a pass from Mitch Marner, van Riemsdyk put an end to a head-scratching skid. He had not scored two goals in a game in his previous 95 games, dating to January 2015.
The line of Tyler Bozak between van Riemsdyk and Marner continues to be a consistent threat for the Leafs, as it combined for 10 points in the victory, the Leafs’ first against Nashville at home since 2010.
Bozak had three assists, van Riemsdyk had one and Marner contributed a goal and two assists.
Van Riemsdyk and Marner are now tied for the Leafs lead in scoring with 15 points each.
Importantly, after much harping on the defensive side of the game in the past several days, the Leafs held the Predators to 34 shots on goal. That’s still too many to be acceptable, but consider Toronto allowed at least 43 shots in four of its past six games.
The Leafs (7-6-3) had lost three in a row to the Predators (6-6-3) at home, but caught a break when hot Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne was sidelined with a lower-body injury. Instead, they faced Marek Manzanec, who had 29 games on his NHL resume.
The Leafs, who play host to the Florida Panthers on Thursday, improved to 6-2-0 at the ACC in 2016-17. A crowd of 19,342 saw them win at home for the fourth time in the past five games.
William Nylander ended a nine-game goal-scoring drought in the third period with his fifth goal. Leo Komarov, on a tip of a Martin Marincin shot that was going a couple of feet wide, also scored in the third.
The Predators’ Craig Smith kept up with van Riemsdyk as the Leaf went to the net with almost eight minutes gone in the second period, but could not tie up the latter as van Riemsdyk deposited a pass from Bozak into the net for his second goal.
Nashville cut the Leafs lead to 3-2 with under four minutes remaining in the second when Viktor Arvidsson, who seemed to have a legitimate scoring chance on every other shift, scored on a breakaway. The Predators took advantage of a Leafs turnover at the offensive blue line, with Arvidsson racing in and beating Frederik Andersen with a shot to the goalie’s glove side.
The Leafs took a 2-1 lead into the first intermission after scoring 13 minutes apart to go up 2-0.
Marner scored his sixth of the season at 1:04 after using his backside to keep Nashville defenceman Ryan Ellis at bay in the corner. Marner then brought the puck to the faceoff circle to Mazanec’s right and fired a shot through a screen. Marner will score prettier goals long before his NHL career is over, but the way in which he protected the puck against a veteran defender was admirable.
A second effort enabled van Riemsdyk to beat Mazanec high on the glove side for the Leafs’ next goal. Once his first shot was blocked by defenceman Mattias Ekholm, van Riemsdyk stayed on the puck and quickly released another attempt. Bozak drew his second assist on the play.
James Neal scored for the Predators before the end of the period with the kind of defensive breakdown that will keep Leafs coach Mike Babcock wincing in his sleep.
Neal redirected a pass from Ryan Johansen behind Andersen, never mind the fact that the defence pair of Marincin and Matt Hunwick were giving Neal a dual escort to the net. Both could see the whites of Neal’s eyes, but it occurred to neither to try to thwart the scoring chance.
Marincin certainly has had better nights at work. In the second period, he was made to look like a fool by Arvidsson, who danced past him but was stopped by Andersen.