TSN Toronto Reporter Mark Masters reports on the Maple Leafs, who practised at Ford Performance Centre on Wednesday ahead of their game against the Carolina Hurricanes at Scotiabank Arena on Thursday.
Erik Kallgren is getting an encore. The 25-year-old will be back between the pipes on Thursday when the Leafs host the Carolina Hurricanes.
“Not a lot of thought goes into it,” coach Sheldon Keefe said. “He obviously earned it last night and the way the guys played in front of him, it was an easy decision.”
Kallgren posted a 35-save shutout against the Dallas Stars in his first career National Hockey League start on Tuesday.
“What I liked the most is I felt comfortable,” Kallgren said. “Even though it was my first start and there’s a lot of things around that, I felt comfortable and felt like I could perform the way I wanted to.”
Thursday will mark one week since Kallgren was recalled from the American Hockey League on an emergency basis after Jack Campbell was forced out of the lineup with a rib injury. Kallgren made his debut that night in a relief performance against the Arizona Coyotes.
“It’s been a surreal week and just trying to enjoy it and embrace it all,” Kallgren said. “It’s a lot, but it’s a lot of fun.”
Kallgren’s phone was flooded with messages following Tuesday’s first-star performance. He didn’t get to sleep until after midnight, which was later than usual.
“A lot of emotions,” he said. “A lot of things to kind of digest.”
Despite being unexpectedly thrust into the spotlight in the centre of the hockey universe, the Stockholm native appears unfazed.
“Toronto, it kind of reminds me of back home,” Kallgren said with a smile. “It feels like I’m almost back in Sweden. Me and my girlfriend have really enjoyed it here. It’s a passionate city for hockey and the interest is a big part of this team. I think it’s fun.”
His new teammates have appreciated Kallgren’s stoic nature.
“Definitely a little bit quieter,” observed winger Mitch Marner, “but he just comes in and does his job. When he’s in that net he comes in with a calmness and you saw that last night.”
“He looked calm,” agreed Petr Mrazek. “I felt like, even in the locker room before the game, he was calm and didn’t seem nervous at all.”
With Campbell out, this was supposed to be Mrazek’s moment. This is, after all, why the Leafs signed him to a three-year deal in the summer. But now the veteran of 292 NHL games finds himself backing up someone who has played in just two.
“It’s a business,” Mrazek said. “He played well the other night. He deserved the win. I’m happy for him.”
Mrazek beat Carolina back on Feb. 7, but won’t get another shot at his old team on Thursday.
“He’s handled it well,” said Keefe. “Petr’s a confident guy and he’s been through this kind of stuff through his career. He’s had some down swings at different times and he’s found his way back. He’s also been a guy who’s shared the net a lot so I think it’s not too big of a disruption for him in that sense.”
Mrazek insists he’s working on the same things he has all season with goalie coach Steve Briere.
“I don’t change anything,” the Czech native stressed. “You just keep working hard in practice and feel good about yourself in net, you know, feel the puck and build your confidence.”
Where’s his confidence level now?
“It is where it was before,” he said. “I trust in the process and going with the flow.”
It’s been a challenging season for Mrazek, who sustained a groin injury in his first start and missed most of the first half of the schedule.
“It’s never fun when you feel good going into the season and then you’re out for two months and everyone’s playing and then you jump into it, but that’s what happens sometimes,” he said. “I don’t look backwards. I look forwards. I work hard and I believe in myself. I know I can succeed.”
Mrazek’s save percentage is .884 through 17 games, which is well below his .909 career average.
“My talk with him has really just been, ‘Use this time to your benefit,'” said Keefe. “Erik’s certainly earned another start so, ‘Use this time to your benefit. Clear your head. Do your work and be ready when your next start comes.'”
Keefe notched win No. 100 behind the Leafs bench on Tuesday and received the game puck from captain John Tavares in the dressing room afterwards.
“It wasn’t on my mind,” Keefe said, “but what I will say about it is that coaches don’t win games. Teams do. From players to staff to everybody that makes up this organization, I am very fortunate to be able to be in this position and to coach this group. If anything, it has provided me with the opportunity to say, ‘Thank you,’ to everybody for the work that they have done.”
Keefe could not have asked for much more in his centennial win. The Leafs bested the Stars 4-0 despite playing without the league’s leading goal scorer in Auston Matthews, who served the first game of a two-game suspension. The performance reminded Keefe of a couple wins by the Matthews-less Leafs in Edmonton last season when they shut out the high-octane Oilers with Campbell and Michael Hutchinson in net.
“A lot of teams in the league don’t have a player the calibre of Auston Matthews,” Keefe said. “Those teams just find a way. We are no different. Last night’s game reminded me a lot of the games we played out in Edmonton when we didn’t have Auston. The way the game felt in terms of how the guys played and competed felt very similar in that sense with the guys just going out and executing at a high level knowing that they needed to do that. It was fun to watch them last night.”
Källy & Coach
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) March 16, 2022
Despite the convincing performance, Keefe will make a change to his forward alignment. Ondrej Kase moved up to the second line at practice skating alongside Alex Kerfoot and William Nylander while Nick Robertson shifted down to the fourth line with Jason Spezza and Kyle Clifford.
“Some of the matchups we will face tomorrow will be different than what we faced last night,” Keefe explained. “Tomorrow is going to be a different beast in terms of what we are up against in those matchups.”
Keefe liked what he saw from Clifford, who was playing his first game since Jan. 19.
“I thought he gave us good energy and good legs,” the coach said. “He was on top of the puck. He is physical. I thought that line did a really good job on the forecheck. It seemed to spend more time in the offensive zone. There were a lot more things that I was looking for from that line that we got.”
Wayne Simmonds will sit out a second straight game as a healthy scratch.
Rasmus Sandin recently missed four games due to a non-COVID illness.
“It was tough,” the 22-year-old defenceman said. “I was pretty sick when I was at home. The first couple days were a little tough.”
“It took him a while to bounce back,” said Keefe. “It probably took longer than expected for him to even feel comfortable to leave his condo.”
When Sandin got back on the ice last week, it was a challenge to get up to speed.
“The heart rate was up and I felt like I hadn’t been on the ice for a while,” he admitted.
As a result, Sandin was held out of games against Seattle and Arizona.
“We were able to keep him out and give him an opportunity to build his strength and weight back up,” noted Keefe.
Sandin returned to the lineup on Sunday and appeared a bit rusty in the outdoor loss to the Buffalo Sabres. On Tuesday, though, he looked more like himself. Sandin scored a nice goal in the first period against Dallas. The play started when he knocked down Alexander Radulov in the defensive end.
“I saw Radulov coming at me and I thought he was going to try to hit me so I was just trying to hit him back and I was a little bit stronger [now] so it was good,” he said. “It’s coming back very quick. I’m enjoying being around the group again and playing some good hockey.”
“I really liked his game last night,” said Keefe. “I thought he and [Timothy] Liljegren both were really good.”
Jake Muzzin participated in practice for the first time since sustaining a concussion on Feb. 21.
“It is a good step,” said Keefe. “He probably did a little bit more out there than they wanted him to, which is a good sign in terms of how he is feeling. Definitely, it is a positive step.”
Muzzin is eligible to come off the long term injured reserve for Saturday’s game in Nashville, but the team is going to be really cautious considering this is his second concussion in the last couple of months.
“You are probably going to see, in the next little bit, him take a bit of a step back here now just to make sure he is feeling good,” Keefe said. “I am not expecting him to be playing here in the next little while, and certainly not this week.”
As he serves his suspension, Matthews has been working as part of the penalty kill during special teams drills.
“It is just about keeping him busy because he is not on the power play in the prep for tomorrow,” Keefe said. “I wouldn’t read anything into it, but I think there is definitely great potential and opportunity there for him.”
Matthews actually got a brief look on the penalty kill early last season.
“We have kind of pulled back on it,” Keefe said. “We started with it a little bit last season, but ultimately, especially this season, we feel really confident and comfortable with the penalty killers we have. It allows us to share the minutes a little bit better. Obviously, Auston plays a lot so if we can take something off of his plate with the depth that we have, we think it makes sense.”
Matthews is averaging 20 minutes and 47 seconds of ice time per game, which is second on the team among forwards behind only Marner, who plays on both special teams units.
Toronto’s penalty kill is fifth overall this season (84.5 per cent).
With Matthews out, Kase has moved up to the top power-play unit.
Leafs second PP unit scores
Auston Matthews, who has one more game to serve on his suspension, working with the PK during the drill
Michael Bunting loving it pic.twitter.com/KVif5KwcZ9
— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) March 16, 2022
“It’s a great feeling,” he said with a smile. “You have four great players there. I try and do my best.”
Kase, who plays in the middle/bumper spot, cashed in with a man-advantage marker on Tuesday night via a one-timer off a Morgan Rielly pass.
“I missed one in the second period so I was upset there,” Kase said with a grin. “Mo gives me the second chance.”
Kase now has four power-play goals this season, which ranks fifth on the team.
“He just works extremely hard,” said Marner. “He finds himself in good little spots there, quiet spots where he can get that quick release off.”
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) March 16, 2022
Lines at Wednesday’s practice:
Bunting – Tavares – Marner
Nylander – Kerfoot – Kase
Mikheyev – Kampf – Engvall
Clifford – Spezza – Robertson
Rielly – Lyubushkin
Brodie – Holl
Sandin – Liljegren
Muzzin – Dermott
Power play units at Wednesday’s practice:
Flanks: Marner, Nylander
Net front: Tavares
Flanks: Robertson, Spezza
Net front: Bunting
Novak Djokovic shares message to Australian Open runner-up Elena Rybakina – Tennis World USA
Novak Djokovic congratulated Australian Open runner-up Elena Rybakina on “an amazing tournament.” On Saturday, 23-year-old Rybakina fell just short of landing her second Grand Slam title. In the Australian Open final, Rybakina was up by a set before 24-year-old Aryna Sabalenka stormed back to win 4-6 6-3 6-4.
Six months ago, Djokovic and Rybakina lifted titles at Wimbledon. “@lenarybakina, amazing tournament,” Djokovic captioned his Instagram Story.
Novak Djokovic congratulates Aryna Sabalenka and Elena Rybakina
Djokovic congratulates Rybakina
Rybakina has now made Grand Slam finals in two of the last three Major tournaments.
After winning Wimbledon and finishing as runner-up at the Australian Open, Rybakina admits her confidence levels have increased and she now believes even more that she can win Grand Slams. “For sure, that’s the goal, to be in the second week of all the Grand Slam, to play finals.
I mean, now I have more confidence of course even after this final. I just need to work hard, same as I did during pre-season and actually throughout the years, be healthy, and for sure the results are going to come. I would say I’m trying to not think about expectations and everything.
Still after a great pre-season like this I was thinking I should show it on the court. Then, of course, the results are going to be there. First few weeks was not that great…but I think in the end it’s just confidence to go forward, to keep on working.
I feel now good physically also. I know if I’m going to keep on working, the results are going to be (good),” Rybakina said after the match, per Tennis Majors. Rybakina has proved over the last six months that she has what it takes to be a legitimate Grand Slam contender.
En route to reaching the Australian Open final, Rybakina defeated world No 1 Iga Swiatek. It will be interesting to see how will Rybakina do after a strong Australian Open run.
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