TORONTO — If Joe Thornton was the second-oldest player in another league, they wouldn’t have let him anywhere near the playing surface for his third game in four nights after a month on the sidelines nursing a fractured rib.
They’d have called it load management and deemed it a mandatory night off.
But hockey’s culture hasn’t fully come around on a practice that’s become standard operating procedure elsewhere and Thornton is above all else a hockey player. So there he was Thursday, 24 hours after playing a season-high 18:15, and wouldn’t you know it he was chiselling another entry into the Toronto Maple Leafs‘ record book.
Thornton became the oldest player in franchise history to register a three-point night during a 7-3 victory over the Ottawa Senators and he needed only the first period to do it. His inspired run alongside Auston Matthews and Mitchell Marner continued with a goal and two assists before the intermission, bumping the Leafs ‘smiles per 60’ rate in the process.
“It’s a blast,” Matthews said of playing with Thornton. “He’s a buzzsaw, he never stops.”
Thornton has an enviable seat to watch two of the game’s most electrifying players, but he’s been no passenger. His movement is more economical than what you get from Marner and Matthews, tightly fixed to the area around the net in the offensive end, and it’s allowing the Leafs to put opponents in the blender.
There was skepticism, if not outright derision, when head coach Sheldon Keefe announced on the first day of training camp that Thornton would be getting top-line reps in Toronto.
Go back and dig up the takes: They ranged from “this will only be temporary” to “this is just a distraction,” without much along the lines of “this should work wonderfully” mixed in.
Except here we are more than five weeks into the season and the Leafs top the NHL with a 13-3-2 record. Were Keefe inclined, he could have easily bumped Thornton down the lineup while easing him in after a 10-game absence but instead he went back to the original plan — seeing him contribute to eight Toronto goals in nine periods against the Senators this week.
“It’s just easy to play with him,” Matthews said. “As we play more and more games and practice and get more touches with each other, the chemistry seems to get better. We just want to keep that going.”
They are generating 65 per cent of the expected goals while playing together and 88 per cent of the actual ones that have gone in the net across 85 minutes. It obviously helps to be skating with Marner, the NHL’s third-leading scorer with 27 points, not to mention its most dangerous sniper in Matthews, who has a ridiculous 16 goals to show for his 17 games.
But Thornton’s ability to win pucks back in transition and extend offensive zone shifts with possession have factored into the success, too. Plus there’s the legendary passing ability that’s already secured his eventual spot in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
That line set the tone in the rubber match of a three-game set with Ottawa that had been much tighter than the Leafs cared for through the first two games.
“I just thought they had a lot of motion, a lot of movement,” Keefe said. “They were very much in sync in terms of how they supported one another and how they moved the puck. And then of course just the skillset that goes with all of those elements.”
Thornton’s three points bumped his season total to eight in his first eight games with the Leafs. At 41 years and 231 days, he wiped away Carl Brewer’s Jan. 7, 1980 record for the oldest Toronto player to have that many points in a game (Brewer was 41 years, 78 days).
“It’s unbelievable, both what he brings in the locker-room and on the ice is huge for us,” said teammate William Nylander. “A lot to learn from the guy. He’s performing every night.”
Thornton could prove to be big value for a cap team this season while playing on a league-minimum $700,000 contract. Of most importance to the Leafs in the near term is how much jump he had following the painful rib injury, and how well he navigated the busy schedule upon his return.
It was clear Keefe didn’t feel the need to keep him on a pitch count. He saw 39 total shifts in the Wednesday and Thursday games.
“I felt fine,” Thornton said. “I think it’s good for me to get a bunch of games in a row like this and just kind of get my timing back. I like rolling every other night and playing lots of games so I think it’s actually going to help me.”
Hockey players are a different breed and they don’t make too many like Thornton.
Bryson DeChambeau tames beastly Bay Hill to win Arnold Palmer Invitational – Golf Channel
Bryson DeChambeau captured his eighth career PGA Tour victory Sunday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Here’s everything you need to know from the very difficult final round at Bay Hill Club and Lodge:
Leaderboard: DeChambeau (-11), Lee Westwood (-10), Corey Conners (-8), Jordan Spieth (-6), Andrew Putnam (-6), Richy Werenski (-6)
What it means: In addition to his U.S. Open triumph, DeChambeau has now won Jack Nicklaus’ tournament (2018 Memorial) and Arnold Palmer’s. He’s also proven to be one of game’s best – if not the best – tough-course players in the world. Bay Hill was a beast on Sunday, with a field scoring average more than 4.6 shots higher than in Round 3. Add this to his dominant performance at Winged Foot and Bryson’s brawn seems best suited for the most strenuous tests.
How it happened: A four-man tournament was reduced to two front-runners when Westwood birdied the par-5 12th to tie DeChambeau. At 11 under, the final twosome was two shots clear of the field. They remained deadlocked until Westwood three-putted from 38 feet at the 14th. Conners did eagle the par-5 16th to briefly get back within one, but promptly bogeyed the 17th. Meanwhile, DeChambeau parred No. 16 and stayed one up on Westwood, who missed a 7-footer for birdie. The two parred No. 17 and when Westwood rolled in a 7-footer for par on 18, it meant DeChambeau had to make his from 5 feet for the win. After backing off once, he emphatically drilled it.
Round of the day: DeChambeau’s 1-under 71. The field averaged more than 75.5 shots in the final round and 71 was the lowest score of the day (shot by three players). After a bogey at the first hole, DeChambeau didn’t drop a shot the rest of the day, parring his final 12 holes.
Shot of the day: There was DeChambeau’s 377-yard tee shot on the par-5 sixth.
There was also DeChambeau’s 50-foot par save at the par-4 11th.
But the Shot of the Day was the winner, the 5-footer for par at the last.
Biggest disappointment, Part I: Spieth. With birdies at Nos. 4 and 6, Spieth was a co-leader. But there were no more red numbers. He bogeyed the eighth hole, made a string of pars, and then bogeyed Nos. 15, 17 and 18. It added up to a 3-over 75 and a T-4.
Biggest disappointment, Part II: Rory McIlroy. The past champion was four back to start the day and never gave himself a chance. He bogeyed the second hole and put two balls in the water off the tee at No. 6. McIlroy finished with 76 but still managed a top-10 when Keegan Bradley, who went 64-78 over the weekend, bogeyed the final hole.
Quote of the day: “I don’t even know what to say to win at Mr. Palmer’s event. It’s going to make me cry.” – DeChambeau
Tiger Woods texts Bryson DeChambeau ahead of API final round – Golf Channel
ORLANDO, Fla. – Before he teed off in Sunday’s final round at Bay Hill, Bryson DeChambeau received a text from a certain eight-time Arnold Palmer Invitational champion.
Yes, Tiger Woods, who is still recovering from serious injuries sustained in a car accident less than two weeks ago in Los Angeles, messaged DeChambeau some words of encouragement.
“Out of the blue and I wasn’t expecting anything,” DeChambeau said. “When I got that text, I’m like, ‘Wow, that’s pretty amazing that he is thinking of me when he’s in his tough times that he’s going through right now.’”
During the text exchange, Woods apparently told DeChambeau to “keep fighting” and “play boldly like Mr. Palmer.”
“One of the things that we talked about was, it’s not about how many times you get kicked to the curb or knocked down, it’s about how many times you can get back up and keep moving forward,” said DeChambeau, who made just one bogey on a brutally tough Sunday, shot 71 and beat Lee Westwood by a shot. “And I think this red cardigan is not only for Mr. Palmer, but I would say it’s a little bit for Tiger as well, knowing what place he’s in right now.”
DeChambeau also reciprocated the well wishes: “I said, ‘Keep moving forward, keep going forward. You’re going to get through it. You’re the hardest working person I’ve ever met, and you’ll persevere through this.”
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