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Blue Jays, Montoyo tuning out unknowns to focus on the task at hand – Sportsnet.ca

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TORONTO — Wednesday afternoon, while a frenzied scramble to find a regular season home — potentially homes — played out at levels of the organization above his head, Toronto Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo focused on the task at hand.

That would be preparing an MLB team for a season that begins in less than 48 hours. There’s a pitching rotation to finalize; a bullpen to assemble; a 30-man opening day roster due to MLB by Thursday at 12 p.m. ET. The Blue Jays may not yet know where they’re playing all of their games — but they do know they’ll be playing them. And that provides plenty of tasks for a coaching staff to focus on.

“Two days to go, not knowing where you’re going to play home games — I’ve never gone through something like this,” Montoyo said. “But I know, as a leader, if I’m looking at a leader and you see a leader panicking, that’s just not good. So, we’re not. The coaching staff is not. We’re working hard with these kids just to keep them in a positive mindset. That’s what we’re doing right now.”

Montoyo and the club’s front office made final decisions on that 30-man roster Wednesday, and informed players whether or not they’d made the team shortly before that night’s rain-shorted 2-0 exhibition win over the Boston Red Sox. The Blue Jays did not make those final decisions public, opting instead to announce the roster Thursday when the club has an optional workout scheduled at Tropicana Field ahead of Friday’s season opener against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Of course, most of it’s obvious. Only a few names on the very fringes of the roster stood to be impacted by Wednesday’s decisions, and with 30 spots up for grabs, the club had to make fewer tough calls than it would have at the end of spring training. This time around, the decision came down to whether the Blue Jays would carry 16 pitchers and 14 position players or an even 15 and 15 split.

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If it’s the latter, that could be good news for a swingman who missed out on a rotation spot, like Sean Reid-Foley or Thomas Pannone, or potentially one of Toronto’s non-roster invitees, like Justin Miller or Brian Moran. If it’s the former, that means the Blue Jays felt confident in their starting pitching getting deep into games over the first week of the season, and opted instead to carry some extra infield cover in non-roster invitee Ruben Tejada or an additional outfielder in Billy McKinney.

And things could always change on Thursday. At the club’s optional workout, Montoyo will be getting his first look this spring at Brandon Drury, who’s been on the injured list since the beginning of the month for undisclosed reasons. He never made it to Toronto when the team shifted its training camp to Rogers Centre, continuing to work out at the club’s spring training facility in Dunedin, Fla. instead. If Drury’s in game shape, he could draw in to the roster for opening day.

A decision will also be made Thursday on Lourdes Gurriel Jr., who’s been battling left side discomfort that developed during an intrasquad game earlier this week. Gurriel took batting practice ahead of Wednesday’s game against the Red Sox, and is scheduled to take live batting practice against Tanner Roark Thursday, after which he’ll be reassessed. Montoyo’s optimistic Gurriel will be available come opening day, but if this year has taught us anything it’s that little is ever certain.

What we do know is Chase Anderson will start the season on the injured list, but “should be ready sooner than we thought,” according to Montoyo. That opens a spot in Toronto’s rotation for one of Anthony Kay or Ryan Borucki, with the former slightly more likely to win the job than the latter. Both would be on turn for Sunday’s contest against the Rays and the Blue Jays have yet to name a starter for that game.

Trent Thornton’s also in Toronto’s rotation, and Wednesday’s outing against Boston — he looked sharp over three one-hit innings — lines him up to start Monday against the Washington Nationals, with Roark on turn for Tuesday’s matinee.

You’ll perhaps notice that the name Nate Pearson does not appear within those first five starts for the Blue Jays. And by now you’re surely aware that by leaving him off the roster for those first five games of the season, the Blue Jays can ensure he won’t complete a full year of major-league service in 2020, delaying his free agency until after the 2026 season.

This move is as obvious as it is heartless. Any prudent front office makes it. Particularly during a season in which their club is not expected to contend and has plentiful starting pitching options. And especially not during a season that could be cut short due to pandemic at any moment. If the Blue Jays rostered Pearson from opening day only to watch the season be wiped out, the Blue Jays would have blown a year of contractual control at both the beginning and end of his service clock.

It’s not what you want. And that the Blue Jays are even in a position in which they’re incentivized to keep one of the best young pitchers on the planet off their roster is demoralizing for all involved. Pearson loses out on valuable development time. The Blue Jays lose out on having an uncommonly talented pitcher contribute to their team. Fans lose out on watching him pitch. Baseball loses out on putting its best product on the field. Everyone loses.

But like the minor detail of where half the team’s games will take place this season, it’s just not something Montoyo can spend his energy on right now. His job is to keep the players he has positive, focused, and pulling in the same direction. It’s something he has quite a bit of experience with.

Remember, Montoyo spent nearly two decades managing in the minor-leagues. Seven of those seasons — more than 1,000 games — were spent at the helm of the triple-A Durham Bulls. That’s not an easy level to manage. No player truly wants to be there. Some are on their way up, upset they haven’t reach the big leagues yet. Some are on their way down, upset they’re no longer in the majors. Some are stuck in the middle, upset the game’s overlooked them.

Montoyo took those Bulls teams to the International League finals five times. He won a couple championships. He did it all while his son, Alex, underwent multiple open heart surgeries within his first year of life. Sometimes, Montoyo would fly to Arizona on off-days, spend less than 24 hours with his family, and return to Durham on another cross-country flight in time for the Bulls’ next game.

So, this? This is nothing.

“Honestly, I’ve gone through worse,” Montoyo said. “You just stay positive. This group’s so positive. You saw the game last night. We’re still going to play to win. Wherever that place is, we’re going to do that. I’m really proud of these guys. Nobody’s complaining. They’re just getting ready, working out, getting ready for the game tonight. And we’ll see where we’re going to play.”

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Winners and Losers from Game 2: Morgan Rielly is having an elite playoffs – Pension Plan Puppets

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The Toronto Maple Leafs scored a goal! They won a game! The clouds have parted over the GTA and anything is possible now. Let’s look back at Toronto’s 3-0 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets in game two of their best-of-five series.

When it comes to evaluating the winners and losers from each game, it’s pretty much just arbitrary from me. I’ll incorporate some stats and narratives relevant to the series, but it’s mostly based on how I felt during the game. Let’s get into it, shall we?

Winners

Auston Matthews

The man of the hour, the one that broke the goose-egg, after five grueling periods against the Blue Jackets, of course it was Auston Matthews who got the Leafs off the line. This goal was several scoring chances in the making, the Matthews and Tavares lines were utterly relentless throughout the game and Matthews was the first to be rewarded after tipping in Zach Hyman’s leading pass to him.

It wasn’t an especially creative goal or one that took something special to go in. This was the result of volume. Surely at some point the puck was going to find a speed, direction, and angle that beat Joonas Korpisalo. While for much of the second period Leafs fans were dejected into believing Korpisalo was going for a second shutout — I think Arvind even described Korpisalo as having horseshoes up his ass on the latest B2E Podcast — eventually something was going to go in and it just happened to be this shot.

John Tavares

The numbers say it all for Mr. T. Captain John? John Blue? Mr. T.

At 5v5, five shots, seven shot attempts, six scoring chances, 0.51 expected goals. All top of the charts for the Leafs (both teams, actually).

Across all situations, JT put eight shots on net and had an expected goals of 1.21, a performance he matched only once this season in a game against the Flyers in early December where he also found 0.7 expected goals on the power play. Relative to playoff performances, this wasn’t even Tavares’ best performance in a Leaf uniform. He generated 1.32 expected goals in Game 1 against the Bruins last year on six shots. He scored once in the 4-1 win.

It was agonizing watching Tavares during the game, because we all knew in our hearts that he deserved a game and that it would be an utter tragedy if he didn’t get rewarded for his amazing effort all afternoon. So glad he got the goal, he was determined to get it one way or another. Did anyone else have their jaw drop when they realized there was no one in front of Tavares but the goalie? I was not expecting it at all.

Morgan Rielly

The Leafs would not have won this game without the efforts of Morgan Rielly on several occasions. Among the players who did absolutely everything it took with a preschool supporting cast around him, Rielly was at the top of the list for both teams.

He dragged the second power play unit into the offensive zone and was even found behind the net a few times trying to create some offense while the top unit was on the bench resting up. He was much more active in the defensive zone than in Game 1, which is saying a lot. He was hard on the puck, diving to make plays in front of and behind Frederik Andersen. And then he scored the empty-net goal to seal it! Rielly really deserves every bit of credit you can give him and more.

By the numbers, Rielly led the Leafs in 5v5 minutes (15:52) and all-situations minutes (24:37), was a 61% shot share, 62% expected goals, and 67% of the scoring chances when he was on the ice. Including the Montreal game, Rielly has two goals and four points in his last three games.

All throughout the game you could see the effort Rielly was putting into his shifts and everything he was trying to keep the pressure on the Blue Jackets and give the Leafs good chances. It was heartbreaking to see him on the second power play unit because with all due respect to Jason Spezza and Nick Robertson, he deserves to be on the top unit. I don’t know if it’s politics or that we’ll realize Barrie is completely useless if he’s not on the top unit, but Rielly has earned that role on merit.

In summary, when the Leafs are full-send, Morgan Rielly is probably their best defenseman.

Frederik Andersen

Got the shutout! What more can we say? He had one job and he bloody did it perfectly. Four high-danger shots, 10 medium-danger shots, and six low-danger shots, all saved.

Losers

Nick Foligno

Two penalties and the worst Corsi in the game (28%) isn’t what you’d expect from the defensive specialist captain of the Blue Jackets. Foligno had an awful night. The only player with a worse expected goals than his 17% was linemate Alexander Wennberg who sports an impressive 8%. Big “L” for Foligno, who I felt embodied the Blue Jackets in this game; overwhelmed and easily exposed when they had to push.

The Leafs Power Play

The power play went 0/5 in this game, and while Tavares and Nylander really led the way with some high-value chances, they still need to find a way to break through. Get the puck low and stop pissing around with shots from the edges. Tavares can do it, Nylander can do it, Matthews can do it. Get the puck to them and see if skilled chaos reigns. Oh, and don’t let Tyson Barrie shoot. Or just put Rielly back there. Please.

Mike Milbury

With Don Cherry finally run out of town, Mike Milbury currently holds the trophy for biggest loser in the NHL. Congratulations.

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Sportsnet: Maple Leafs tie series, but Jake Muzzin’s health more important – 680 News

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In a moment like that you think only of the father, the son, the husband and the friend.

The quietest Stanley Cup Playoffs in history fell silent in those 10 minutes from the moment Jake Muzzin fell awkwardly to the ice until he was removed on a stretcher. You could hear absolutely everything inside an empty building, including medical personnel that were able to communicate with an alert Muzzin while instructing him to lie back and remain still.

Then there was the clank of sticks on the ice and boards from the Toronto Maple Leafs and Columbus Blue Jackets, who still had nearly two minutes to run off in a 3-0 Toronto victory on Tuesday afternoon that squared up their qualifying round series.

“It was nice to close it out for him,” said captain John Tavares, who delivered his most memorable performance yet as a Leaf. “But certainly tough to see, especially just how much we love that guy.”

Muzzin is an easy guy to love. There’s an unassuming quality to the way he goes about his business that turned him into a dressing room favourite almost immediately after arriving via trade with Los Angeles in January 2019.

And until there’s a more definitive word on his condition — Muzzin was alert and moving all limbs while being transported to hospital, according to the Leafs — it’s difficult to put the situation in proper perspective.

He was injured on an awkward play. Muzzin was skating behind the net when he got cross-checked by Pierre-Luc Dubois and crashed head-first into Oliver Bjorkstrand. The veteran defenceman initially tried to stand up, but never got back on his skates.

The delay in getting the stretcher out to the far corner of Scotiabank Arena and loading Muzzin on to the spinal board gave everyone a little too much time to think.

“I was beside him there when he did go down and stayed down,” said Leafs forward Mitch Marner, a good friend. “Obviously it’s a little worrisome when you see the stretcher come out, you know a lot of things run through your mind.”

There was certainly a pall cast over a performance the Leafs had good reason to be proud of. They were smothered in Game 1 by Columbus and delivered on their objective to create better opportunities in the offensive zone, controlling more than 60 per cent of even-strength shot attempts and eventually breaking through Joonas Korpisalo’s brilliance in net.

Even if the scary nature of Muzzin’s exit turns out to be precautionary, the Leafs may need to finish this series against the Blue Jackets without him lining up on their matchup pairing with Justin Holl.

Games 3 and 4 go Thursday-Friday and a series-deciding Game 5 would be played Sunday, if necessary.

We are still getting a feel for how things work in this rapidly unfolding playoff tournament. Muzzin had to be removed from the NHL’s secure zone to go to hospital and it’s unclear exactly what kind of quarantine, if any, he’d face in the event he’s able to return inside the Toronto hub.

Protocol dictates that the NHL Event Medical Director has final say on that, although a source suggested that public health authorities would ultimately make the call based on how long he was gone, where he went and how much coronavirus risk he was exposed to.

Playing without Muzzin would rob Toronto of its safest 5-on-5 defensive option and a key penalty killer, not to mention a steadying presence in an emotional time. He’s one of two players in the dressing room already in possession of a Stanley Cup ring and has quietly taken on a leading role behind the scenes, organizing a team trip to a Buffalo Bills game, for example, at the end of training camp.

The 31-year-old was initially unsure about his move to Toronto — “I was living in a hotel with three dogs and a pregnant wife,” he said earlier this year. “Yeah, there was a lot of s— going on” — but wound up signing a $22.5-million, four-year extension with the Leafs back in February rather than pursuing free agency.

He’s started making a home here. And he spoke during the COVID-19 pause about the silver lining of spending more time with one-year-old daughter Luna and wife, Courtney, which is the kind of thing you remember when they bring the stretcher out in an empty arena.

“There’s a lot of bigger things than hockey, especially outside this world,” said Leafs forward Mitch Marner. “His family’s definitely a major priority and you’ve got to make sure you’re able to play with your kids.”

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Flames flip switch on series, recent playoff fortunes in Game 3 vs. Jets – Sportsnet.ca

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EDMONTON – Early in the second period of a game and series that could’ve gone either way, the Calgary Flames flipped a switch.

A switch that could ultimately mean lights out for a battered Winnipeg Jets club that was dominated in Tuesday’s Game 3 by a Flames team that turned back the clock to remind everyone why they were good enough to win the West last regular season.

Tied 1-1 in the series and after 20 minutes of play, the Flames pieced together a seven-minute stanza that saw relentless pressure from its top three lines and power play that resulted in four goals.

One was ultimately taken away by a challenge, but by the end of their flurry the Flames were well on their way to a dominating 6-2 win that has them on the brink of eliminating a team for the first time in five years.

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This, for those who forgot, was the exact moment everything fell apart for the Calgary Flames last playoffs, losing by an identical 6-2 score in Colorado and getting punted in five.

“I think the best way to learn how to win at this time is to go through it,” said Matthew Tkachuk, whose goal was a significant part of the Flames second-period binge.

“I’ve had two quick exits and in my first two playoff series that I was a part of, we were 1-8. And last year, for example, we were on our high horse after Game 1. They got momentum from Game 2 and never gave it back to us. So, the momentum shifted after last game. The Jets came out with a big push and played really well and deserved to win. It was up to us to answer their push from last game and to get ourselves back into the series.”

The first answer came 18 seconds after the Jets opened the scoring, when Elias Lindholm redirected the first of three Flames power play markers on the day. Resilient.

The breakout fans have been waiting for all year came five minutes into the middle frame when Andrew Mangiapane’s steal from Connor Hellebuyck behind the net fed Mikael Backlund for an easy finish that kickstarted an onslaught.

One minute later, a Milan Lucic goal was disallowed due to goalie interference by Dillon Dube, followed by a Sean Monahan power play goal one minute after that.

More bounce back.

Andrew Copp and Tkachuk traded goals within the following few minutes for a 4-2 lead the Flames easily protected from there.

“In the second I thought we took a big step and separated ourselves from the Jets,” said Backlund, whose line with Tkachuk and Mangiapane dominated all night long, racking up five points and 11 shots.

“I thought we took charge. Pretty even first period, and I felt everyone wanted to take charge then. We sat back more in Game 2 and today we got back to the aggressive mindset we had in the first game.”

The top line added seven points and nine shots as Lindholm, Gaudreau and Monahan did the bulk of their damage with the extra man.

Lucic eventually scored one that counted on the power play, capping an effort from the third line that included plenty of punishment dished out, including a hit on Mathieu Perreault that knocked him from the game, joining Mark Scheifele, Patrik Laine and Mason Appleton on the sideline.

So complete was the effort, Geoff Ward couldn’t name his best skater when pressed.

“I thought our goalie was our best player,” said Ward, whose club didn’t need many big saves from a quietly efficient Cam Talbot, who made 33 stops.

“You take a look at our top two lines, they were all in on scoring. I thought our scoring was balanced through our lineup. I would have to say that all of our key people were big contributors for us today. So it’s tough for me to pick one. We certainly got it done by committee today.”

Added Tkachuk, “the guys expected to score scored, the guys expected to make great plays made them, and the guy expected to make the saves made them.”

Nothing was missing, which is saying plenty for a team known for failing to elevate its game when it matters most.

Tuesday’s effort was as good as any the team pieced together in this long, crazy season.

It was eerily reminiscent of the team that topped the West with 107 points last year – a club that could roll with any adversity by scoring with anyone, clawing back against anything and stopping almost everything.

Unlike this juncture last year, this day there would be no adversity – just dominance.

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