BOSTON – Bruce Cassidy feels the need to tinker with a winning lineup.
Just because his Boston Bruins tied the series with Game 4’s 5-3 victory in Toronto doesn’t mean the coach is satisfied.
Enter new fourth-line centre Sean Kuraly, whom Cassidy dubs “a one-man cycle.”
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The 26-year-old will make his series debut Friday after being sidelined since March 21 as he recovered from a fractured right hand.
“There will definitely be energy. That’s what my job is and that’s expected of me, to bring energy, so luckily I’ve got a little bit of that,” Kuraly says.
Adds linemate Chris Wagner: “He’s probably one of the faster guys on our team, if not the fastest.”
Kuraly posted career-highs in goals (eight) and points (21) this season and should be a significant upgrade over the struggling Joakim Nordstrom.
“He’s certainly a hard guy to get the puck from when he’s on,” Cassidy says. “A bit undervalued on paper, can get to loose pucks in our end and get it out of our zone. That’s what we missed the other night.”
Babcock calls Drake curse crazy talk
Superstitious Toronto fans are worried that Drake showing up to Scotiabank Arena in a No. 6 Maple Leafs sweater to watch the home team lose Wednesday has cast a spell upon their squad.
“That’s probably about the craziest thing I’ve ever heard. I’ve heard lot of things since I’ve come here, but that’s one of the craziest things,” Mike Babcock said.
“The game is played on the ice, by us. There’s no curse whatsoever. We’re in a series, and it’s a good series, and we’re excited to be in it and excited to have the opportunity. Anytime anybody wants to come and support us, we’re all in.”
Even if that anybody is a proven jinx.
Leafs pore over penalty kill
The Bruins went two-for-two on their power play Wednesday and have converted on five of their 11 man-advantages in the series. Not a good look.
“It’s a spread power play. It’s easy to sort out, we didn’t sort it out on the top and they ended up outnumbering us on the bottom and, in the end, we gave up an easy one,” Babcock explained.
Zach Hyman says the breakdowns have been uncharacteristic and believes it’s the Leafs’ mistakes, not the Bruins’ expertise, that are the problem.
“We have a lot more to prove. I don’t think we’ve been as bad as the numbers show,” Hyman said. “We’ve got to get back to playing our way and be confident out there and go after them.”
Toronto devoted extra time practising its penalty kill Friday morning, and assistant coach D.J. Smith will hold another PK meeting with his units at TD Garden right before warm-ups tonight.
“Smitty’s done a good job of letting us know what they’re looking for and how we’re supposed to counteract it,” Connor Brown said. “Last game, how they scored their goals, it’s nothing we hadn’t seen before. So it’s up to us to execute.”
Ryan Dixon and Rory Boylen go deep on pucks with a mix of facts and fun, leaning on a varied group of hockey voices to give their take on the country’s most beloved game.
Hyman fine after Marchand hit
There was a collective gasp from Leaf Nation when Hyman missed a shift and appeared in great pain after initiating a hit on Brad Marchand late in Game 4, but the top-line winger assured he’s ready to go, that it was just a stinger.
“It was scary for a second there, but I got up and everything was where it should’ve been. I’m happy that I’m good to go for today,” Hyman said.
Babcock calls Hyman “a tough kid” and reminded that pushing through pain is what springtime hockey is all about.
Dad strength activated
Leafs shutdown D-man Jake Muzzin has joined Toronto’s rapidly swelling Dad Club.
Muzzin’s wife, Courtney, scheduled an induction Thursday in Toronto, and the couple welcomed a healthy baby girl, their first child, to the world.
“It’s been a crazy 24 hours,” said Muzzin, excited for his game-day nap.
Babcock approves of Red Wings hire
Overseeing the final season of Steve Yzerman’s playing career and then working four more years with him as an executive, Babcock thinks the Wings did well to hire the icon as their new GM, under senior VP Ken Holland.
“They’re good friends; they’ll work well together,” Babcock said.
“Stevie is a fan favourite in Detroit like no other. I remember one night in overtime or the shootout, he jumped over the boards, the place started to shake. When you’ve done what a guy like him has done for a franchise, you’ve earned the right for people to feel like that about you, and he’ll do a great job.”
Yzerman to Detroit, Joel Quenneville to Florida — the Atlantic Division is getting stacked with championship hockey minds.
“That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Don’t you want to be in the best and beat the best?” Babcock said.
“That’s what elite sports is supposed to be about. It’s not supposed to be about finding someone soft to play against.”
Specialness of Raptors veterans will help replace Kawhi, Green
The Toronto Raptors didn’t just lose the NBA’s best two-way player, Kawhi Leonard, in the off-season, though that’s all everyone seems to talk about. The defending champions also saw one of the premier two-way role players, Danny Green, head to Los Angeles
Green had a tremendous season for Toronto, shooting a scorching 45.5% on three-pointers (third in the NBA) while also garnering plenty of All-Defensive team votes.
Though he struggled in the playoffs, Green was still a huge contributor toward the success of the team, both on and off of the court.
“He’s very consistent with the things that he’s going to do on the floor,” Marc Gasol told the Toronto Sun.
“He’s very vocal. Very positive. He doesn’t take things personal. He’s a veteran guy who has been around but has come up also through hard times and has been coached hard in his previous years (by Gregg Popovich in San Antonio) and knows what it takes to play at the highest level. And he was very good for us,” Gasol said.
“The general public doesn’t really notice what the other guys (besides Leonard) do (and) Danny’s one of those guys,” said Fred VanVleet.
He’s not flashy, his game isn’t very sexy, but I don’t know what he shot, 45% from three? Something crazy like that, at a high clip, played 80 games, played every night, guarded the best players on the other teams and he’s just solid every night,” VanVleet said. “You know what you’re going to get … (and) just having that experience here – He didn’t do a lot of preaching and teaching, he just was here and (led) by example and we’ll miss that.”
But life must go on. Nobody is singing a woe is me tune in Toronto.
“We don’t have that luxury (to bring back the full championship roster) so we have to find a new approach and a new path to get back there,” VanVleet told a few reporters in the lead-up to opening night.
“Just from a mental approach, there’s no chance for a championship hangover. If we don’t get it done it won’t be because we relaxed … We still have a lot to prove and we want to do it again,” he said.
With Leonard and Green gone there will be opportunities for everyone else to expand their games and their roles. From Pascal Siakam, to Gasol, VanVleet, Norman Powell and OG Anunoby, to Kyle Lowry likely looking more like the guy who averaged over 21 points a game from 2015-17 than the one who dropped to 14.2 a year ago, things are going to change.
“I always say it’s addition by subtraction and it’s great because those guys are going to bring something different than what (was lost),” Gasol said, not meaning it to be insulting in any way to Leonard or Green.
“I think the biggest thing is seeing how we key in offensively without those two guys,” VanVleet said. “Defensively I feel very comfortable … but offensively it can be a little tricky,” he said.
“It’ll take some time to figure it out, but I think having those two guys out is going to be a little bit more opportunity and also a chance to spread it around a little bit.”
Head coach Nick Nurse seems extremely confident with the group that he’s got for a number of reasons.
“I think there’s a specialness to some of these guys. And maybe it’s because they won or whatever, or maybe it’s just who they are,” Nurse said.
“To me, Marc Gasol is a really special player. Like, really special. Kyle Lowry, really special. Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam. I mean, there’s a lot of guys. There’s IQ, toughness, competitiveness, skill, fight, that are at levels that, well as a coach you kind of dream about having guys like that,” he said.
“And it shows when the group of them goes out together you see a level of smart basketball. A level of competitiveness and a toughness and those are important things.”
Bianca Andreescu makes Canadian history by reaching No. 4 in rankings
Bianca Andreescu has become the highest-ranked Canadian tennis player in WTA Tour history.
The 19-year-old from Mississauga, Ont., jumped one spot to No. 4 in the rankings on Monday following a week off.
That pushes her one spot ahead of her career-best No. 5 ranking, which tied a Canadian record set by Eugenie Bouchard in 2014.
Ranked outside the top 150 entering the season, Andreescu rocketed up the rankings with tournament wins at Indian Wells, Calif., and Toronto followed by her first Grand Slam win at the U.S. Open in New York last month.
Andreescu had a 17-match win streak snapped when she lost a quarterfinal match to Naomi Osaka at the China Open earlier this month.
The Canadian is scheduled to return to action at the WTA Finals, which begin on Sunday in Shenzhen, China.
Milos Raonic reached No. 3 in the men’s rankings in 2016, the best ranking achieved by a Canadian man.
On the men’s side, Denis Shapovalov of Richmond Hill, Ont., jumped seven spots to No. 27 after capturing the Stockholm Open on Sunday for his first career ATP Tour title.
Montreal’s Felix Auger-Aliassime is the top Canadian at No. 18.
Raonic has dropped to No. 32.
Shapovalov, Auger-Aliassime and Raonic all are entered in the Erste Bank Open this week in Vienna, Austria.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 21, 2019.
Mike Babcock out coached the Bruins
At the beginning of the Maple Leafs 4-3 OT win over the Boston Bruins, I thought it was odd that Mike Babcock had switched Mitch Marner and William Nylander. I worried about how the Leafs were going to keep up with Boston’s depth and not lose out because of it. If only one line was able to produce, and it went up against the Bergeron line, the team wasn’t going to succeed.
Babcock’s solution was much more complicated than rolling four lines and it was brilliant.
Babcock said Leafs settled on lines strategy v Bruins two days ago
Matthews-Nylander – Offensive zone
Matthews-Marner – Match-up situation v Bergeron
4th line – Match-up v Bergeron in D-zone
“I wasn’t going to explain all that to ya (smiles) would’ve been a waste of time”
— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) October 20, 2019
Babcock and his coaching staff get an A+ for their effort and creativity last night because they were able to have their best matchup line (Matthews and Marner), while also maximizing Nylander’s time with the top line. Alex Kerfoot was a man on a mission and showed us that he’s much better at driving play than we thought he was. That goal he scored was fully deserved.
Jason Spezza wasn’t used much, but Frederik Gauthier and his mates killed it last night, they were super impressive. They beat the Bergeron line when they needed to, gave the Leafs positive and energetic minutes against the depth, and allowed Babcock to be super creative with his top-eight forwards.
I’m less worried about the playoffs on Sunday than I was on Saturday.
Oh, and Mike Babcock (and all of you yelling at me) were right about Dmytro Timashov. I was wrong. He’s a fun little bugger.
Auston Matthews played 23 minutes and 12 seconds tonight in the Leafs first game without John Tavares. He’s only played more once in his NHL career.
— Jonas Siegel (@jonassiegel) October 20, 2019
Here is the recap from the game I just talked about. It’s from Seldo so proceed with caution.
During the intermission, Nic Petan was brought up by Elliotte Friedman. The Leafs might be looking for a trade partner here. Gosh, I hope no one has any opinions about this in the comments.
From our friend-enemies at MLHS, the difference between reasonable and ridiculous takes and why you’re at fault for it.
For those who like to “hate watch” things, have fun with O-Dog’s ridiculous takes on… John Tavares?
Mike Babcock on Andreas Johnsson, who missed the third period with a leg injury: “I think he’s going to be fine. The X rays were negative, we’ll see in the morning. He might not practice tomorrow but he’ll be back in.”
— Kristen Shilton (@kristen_shilton) October 20, 2019
From the Marlies, Kasimir Kaskisuo recorded his first shutout of the season in a 2-0 win over the Cleveland Monsters. Darren Archibald got his first as a Marlie and Egor Korshkov scored his fifth goal in five games. The Marlies are 5-0-0 to start the season and remain *perfect* on the penalty kill to start the season.
Just kidding. Freddy Gauthier for Captain.
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