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Coach Keefe leaning on talent, and it's producing results – Toronto Sun

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Sheldon Keefe knows what Mitch Marner is thinking when the Maple Leafs’ star winger makes eye contact on the bench.

“He gives you a little look over his shoulder wondering if he’s next or if he’s not, a ‘Why-aren’t-I’ kind of thing,” Keefe, the Leafs coach, said on Friday. “Those are the cues you look for from players, especially your best guys. You’re trying to gauge whether they are tired. Sometimes if they’re tired, they don’t want the next shift and they’re telling you by not giving you the eye contact, that they need a little bit more of a breather.

“When a players give you the eyes he’s telling you ‘I’m ready, so don’t slow this down anymore. Let’s get this going.’”

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Does the 22-year-old Marner, whose energy seems boundless, get tired? Keefe wasn’t sure.

“It’s a great question, because it doesn’t appear that he does, frankly,” Keefe said. “He’s very smart with how he conserves his energy, seems to be in great shape and seems to be able to go forever, whether it’s the power-play minutes or the penalty-kill minutes. Sometimes they overlap and there’s not much downtime there for him, but he seems to be able to go.”

Keefe has been using his most talented players more often than Mike Babcock did and that strategy is providing positive results. In Marner’s case, the ice time has gone to 22 minutes a game from 19 minutes 39 seconds under Babcock (including the game against Philadelphia on Nov. 9 when Marner played 7 1/2 minutes before he was hurt).

Marner had 18 points in 18 games with Babcock as coach. With Keefe, Marner has 32 points in 22 games.

There’s more: Marner didn’t play for Keefe until Dec. 4, after recovering from an ankle injury. That night against the Colorado Avalanche, Marner had no points. In the 21 games since, Marner has had at least one point in all but two games.

Marner has put himself in some impressive company while producing under Keefe. In the same span, prior to games on Friday, only Artemi Panarin of the New York Rangers, with 35 points, had more than Marner.

How much has the increased ice time helped in Marner’s production?

“A lot,” Marner said. “Being on the ice more, you get more opportunities to score and you get used to playing against certain people and find out their tendencies and I think it helps.

“There are times when (he gets tired), but I try to make sure that my conditioning throughout the year is always at the top level.”

TAVARES PEERS INWARD

Leafs captain John Tavares will be looking for a bit of a spark on Saturday night against the Ottawa Senators — from himself.

“Coming off the break, I haven’t maybe been as quite as sharp as I’d like to be feeling at times,” Tavares said. “I’ve done a lot of good things and had good stretches and just haven’t been able to finish plays off and be rewarded.”

Tavares was held without a point in Leafs wins in Nashville and Dallas after the bye week, but his lack of production goes back further. He had 11 points in a six-game stretch that ended on Jan. 2, but in the nine games since, Tavares has just five points. And three of those came in one game, against New Jersey on Jan. 14.

“Sometimes it’s the way it goes,” Tavares said. “Sometimes it’s just a bounce here or there and just finishing off some plays.”

Overall, Tavares’ output has slipped from what he accomplished last season, his first with the Leafs after signing a seven-year, $77-million US contract in July 2018.

After achieving career highs with 47 goals and 88 points, Tavares has 18 goals and 41 points in 44 games.

“Part of it is that he is playing with different linemates, not just now but even at the start of the year and didn’t get into much rhythm, like he had the season previous playing with Mitch and Zach (Hyman),” Keefe said. “Their injuries, his injury, all that sort of stuff disrupted his rhythm early.

“The reality is, there is only one puck, and we’re scoring a lot. The things that I’m more focused on with John is all the little things that he does. We’re trying to establish purpose with our play and he’s leading the way. It’s going to hit a point where some of our other guys we will cool off and he’ll heat up.”

LOOSE LEAFS

Contract talks between the Leafs and Jake Muzzin are expected to pick up steam, but as much as Muzzin enjoys playing in Toronto, we don’t get the idea the 30-year-old defenceman would settle for a contract that doesn’t make financial sense for him. Muzzin, heading for unrestricted free agency this summer, is in the final year of a five-year contract with an annual average value of $4 million … Defenceman Travis Dermott didn’t practise on Friday because he was sick, and Keefe was not sure whether Dermott will play against Ottawa. If not, Martin Marincin, who was partnered with Tyson Barrie at practice, will play … The Leafs recalled defenceman Kevin Gravel from the Toronto Marlies, but only to have another body on the ice at the Ford Performance Centre. Gravel, after practice, was loaned back to the Marlies.

tkoshan@postmedia.com

twitter.com/koshtorontosun

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Canada coach John Herdman disputes Croatian counterpart's account of skipped post-match handshake – The Globe and Mail

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Canada head coach John Herdman during a World Cup match against Croatia, at the Khalifa International Stadium, in Doha, Qatar, on Nov. 27.The Associated Press

Canada coach John Herdman is disputing his Croatian counterpart’s account of why there was no handshake after their World Cup game.

Herdman had antagonized the Croatian camp with a heated postgame message to his players after Canada’s opening 1-0 loss to Belgium at the soccer showcase. Asked in a pitch-side interview what he had said in a postgame huddle to his players, Herdman replied: “I told them they belong here and we’re going to go and eff – Croatia. That’s as simple as it gets.”

That prompted a stern lecture from Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic on the need for respect. And after Croatia beat the Canadians 4-1 Sunday, Dalic was asked if he had a chance to shake hands with Herdman following the final whistle.

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“I did not see the other head coach after the match,” he said through an interpreter. “When I lose I always congratulate the winner. He was not there and that’s his way of doing things. He’s obviously mad. He is a good coach. He is a high-quality professional. But it will take some time for him to learn some things.”

Herdman, whose postgame news conference preceded Dalic’s on Sunday, disputed that account Wednesday when asked about it.

“Look, we shook hands before the game. So that happened,” he said. “At the end of the game, the usual process – no different than [with Belgium coach] Roberto Martinez. You shake hands with the coach, then you go shake hands with the referee.

“When I turned round, [Dalic] was already off down the touchline, which is his right to do. He’s celebrating. He’s just beaten Canada. It was a big celebration for him. He was off and I couldn’t get to shake his hand. I went into the field, shook the ref’s hand, shook players’ hands. And didn’t get to see him.

“That moment’s gone. We’re into process now – team huddle, see your fans, flash interviews, calm yourself down so you don’t say anything and move on.”

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Argentina coast past Poland 2-0 to top World Cup Group C – Al Jazeera English

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Second-half goals from Alexis Mac Allister and Julian Alvarez cap a return to form for the South American giants.

Argentina coasted past Poland in a 2-0 victory on Wednesday night to top Group C and confirm their place in the last 16 of the World Cup, signalling a return to form for the South American giants after a poor start to this year’s tournament.

Alexis Mac Allister and Julian Alvarez’s second-half goals capped a dominant display by coach Lionel Scaloni’s charges at Stadium 974 – which was packed to the rafters with tens of thousands of raucous Argentinian supporters – to set up a clash with Australia on Saturday.

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After a goalless first 45 minutes, Mac Allister got on the end of Nahuel Molina’s cross just one minute into the second period and, despite making weak contact, he saw his shot creep over the line with Polish keeper Wojciech Szczesny beaten.

The second goal was the result of patient buildup play which saw Argentina shift the ball around before Enzo Fernandez made a defence-splitting pass for Julian Alvarez, who found space in the box and smashed it into the top corner to effectively kill the game in the 67th minute.

Poland were lifeless throughout but managed to also squeeze through to the knockout phase on goal difference at the expense of Mexico, who beat Saudi Arabia 2-1 in Group C’s other match.

They will meet defending champions France in the last 16 on Sunday.

Argentina's Alexis Mac Allister scores their first goal
Mac Allister opened the scoring for Argentina immediately after half-time [Issei Kato/Reuters]

Messi misses from the penalty spot

The first half’s defining moment came in the 39th minute when Argentina captain and talisman Lionel Messi failed to convert from the penalty spot on his record-breaking 22nd World Cup match, one more than the late Diego Maradona managed for La Albiceleste.

Poland were up in arms when Argentina were awarded the penalty after a VAR check for a foul on Messi when Szczesny’s glove brushed his face as the Paris St Germain forward rose up for a header at the far post.

But Szczesny was up to the task and despite the Argentina fans raising the decibel levels inside the arena, he kept his composure and guessed correctly, diving to his left and using one hand to swat aside Messi’s effort.

Not to be deterred, Messi never stopped surging forward and he was a menace to Poland all throughout the game with his dribbling ability and vision.

His glittering performance stood in stark contrast to that of Poland’s star striker Robert Lewandowski, who was deprived of service and virtually anonymous for the duration of the match.

Messi, 35, has admitted this will likely be his last World Cup outing while Lewandoski, 34, has said he is unsure if he will make it to the 2026 edition in North America but would like to do so.

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Maple Leafs extend win streak to five games as Marner enters record book – Sportsnet.ca

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