ST. PAUL, Minn. — Not a bad way for the Maple Leafs to hit the mid-point of the 2019-20 regular season.
And Happy New Year indeed.
The Leafs continue to grow under Sheldon Keefe, and continue to win hockey games while adjusting to a higher tempo, offensively-driven system, the latest victory a 4-1 triumph over the Minnesota Wild on New Year’s Eve.
Few teams can say afterward they enjoyed a never-in-doubt win, but the Leafs could claim as much on Tuesday at the Xcel Energy Center, building off a strong first period to improve to 13-4-1 since Keefe replaced Mike Babcock as coach.
“Efficient is a good term to describe it,” Keefe said. “I didn’t think we gave up a lot, especially in the third period when we expected them to push.
“I don’t think we made the best plays all the time through the neutral zone and that slowed us down a little bit.
“But we continued to get the puck back. We thought they would be forechecking us really hard and they would shoot the puck a lot and that didn’t seem to happen a whole lot. Just the way that we retained the puck took the wind out of their sails and we hope that that can continue.”
Overall, the Leafs are 22-14-5 and with 49 points will start 2020 in second place in the Atlantic Division.
The victory, the Leafs’ ninth in 11 games, was highlighted by another goal from Auston Matthews, giving him 27 and putting him on pace for 54. Certainly, if Matthews stays healthy, he should set a career-high, his highest output coming three seasons ago when he scored 40 goals.
As it is, Matthews finished the calendar year with 50 goals in 91 games, including playoffs.
William Nylander, for the first time in his NHL career, has scored a goal in four consecutive games. Nylander, who has had instant chemistry with captain John Tavares, also became the third Leafs player to score the winning goal in three consecutive road games, joining Mats Sundin (2001) and Alexander Steen (2007).
Tavares sealed the win with an empty-net goal with 25 seconds to play.
“Things are building, the confidence is getting better, I think we’re starting to have a really good feel about the way we want to play,” Tavares said of his level of optimism as the new year starts.
“We know we can still be better, but certainly I think the things (Keefe) has implemented have really translated well with the skill set of our team.
“We have responded to this point, there’s a lot of hockey left. We have to keep building from here.”
Matthews gave the the Leafs a 3-0 lead at 8:34 of the second on a power play, finishing a tic-tac-toe feed from Nylander.
The Wild got on the scoreboard at 11:46 on a power play when Ryan Suter, from the point, beat a screened Frederik Andersen.
The Leafs, who play in Winnipeg against the Jets on Thursday, couldn’t have played a much tidier first period.
Not only did Toronto take a 2-0 lead into the intermission on goals by Alex Kerfoot and Nylander, it killed off two penalties and held the Wild to just two shots on goal while the teams played five on five.
Kerfoot opened the scoring at 5:55 not long after Wild forward Zach Parise turned the puck over to Nylander. The Leafs kept control and Tavares eventually found Kerfoot, who snapped a shot over goaltender Devan Dubnyk’s catching glove.
Nylander scored with 31 seconds remaining in the period. Tyson Barrie, behind the goal line, got the puck to the front of the net where Matthews jammed away at it. Dubnyk got turned around, and before he could get set, Nylander put the puck in the open net.
“I think there’s still steps you want to take,” Nylander when asked if he thinks he is all the way back after missing a chunk of last season. “You’re never satisfied, so you want to keep going.”
The Leafs lost Travis Dermott and Pierre Engvall for brief periods, but both returned. Keefe indicated he didn’t think there were any health issues with either.
Toronto outshot Minnesota 29-27.
Matthews will represent the Leafs in the NHL all-star game for the fourth year in a row, and no, he’s not getting tired of the experience.
And at the age of 22, Matthews isn’t anywhere near trying to beg off from the weekend. Washington Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin is skipping the all-star festivities for the second year in a row, while Detroit Red Wings forward Dylan Larkin told reporters on Tuesday that though he is Detroit’s candidate for Last Man In voting, he would rather have the rest than head to St. Louis for the all-star festivities.
Matthews’ family enjoys the weekend as much as he does, but he can see the advantage in having those days to go on a quick vacation and relax.
“I understand both sides of it,” Matthews said. “A guy like Ovie wanting that extra rest, winning means the most.
“For me, it’s still pretty cool to go. It’s a tremendous honour.”
That Andersen, heading to his first all-star game, will be going will make the event that much more memorable for Matthews.
“Absolutely,” Matthews said. “Very deserving. You could have made an argument for him last year as well. The fact that we’re going to be going, we’re pretty stoked about it.”
Andersen, the first NHL goalie to win 20 games this season, said he has not made it a personal goal to get to the all-star game. Well, sort of.
“Both yes and no,” Andersen said. “If I play the way I can, I should have a good chance to be in there. We do have a lot of good players on this team and very few spots on the (all-star) roster. More guys have been deserving to go over the last few years and that’s just how it is.”
Keefe didn’t have to be told that Adam Brooks played just four minutes 50 seconds in his NHL debut on Saturday. “I thought he was good and I talked to him about the fact that I lost his line there for good chunks of the game,” Keefe said. “It’s on me, not on him. The nice thing I saw him doing was skating and playing with confidence. He’s skating at a higher level now than he has been that I’ve seen him in this time in pro.” Brooks played eight minutes 52 seconds against Minnesota … The Toronto Marlies ended the calendar year on a sour note, losing 4-1 to Cleveland on Tuesday at the Coca-Cola Coliseum. Kenny Agostino scored the Marlies goal, while Kasimir Kaskisuo made 32 saves. Toronto, which dropped to 19-10-2-1, next plays on Friday in Syracuse.
Kansas City mayor, star quarterback want Raptors to make Missouri temporary home – CityNews Toronto
Some of Kansas City’s most famous residents want to call the Toronto Raptors their home team.
On the heels of reports the NBA season will tip off Dec. 22, and with federal and provincial restrictions around COVID-19 potentially keeping the Raptors out of Scotiabank Arena, there’s been rampant speculation about where the 2019 NBA champions will play.
Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas and Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and offensive lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif took to social media to advocate for the Raptors to play there.
Mahomes, the 2020 Super Bowl MVP, posted on Twitter “Bring them to KC!” with a flexed-arm emogi, to which Mayor Lucas replied: “Working on it.”
On Tuesday morning, the mayor wrote: “Good morning, Kansas City! It’s currently 13 degrees colder here than in Toronto (7 degrees Celsius),” with the hashtag “We the North.”
The Chiefs’ right guard Duvernay-Tardif, a medical school graduate from Quebec who opted out of the NFL season due to concerns around COVID-19, replied: “Merci monsieur! Definitely feels like home,” with a happy face.
The T-Mobile Center in Kansas City has close to 19,000 seats for basketball. The 13-year-old downtown arena has hosted games in the NCAA women’s and men’s basketball championships as well as NBA and NHL pre-season games.
Kansas City, Louisville, Ky., Hartford, Conn., and the New York area have been some of the suggestions as temporary home courts for Toronto.
Raptors spokesperson Jennifer Quinn, however, told The Canadian Press on Tuesday “Our focus is on playing in Toronto.”
After the federal government denied the Toronto Blue Jays permission to play at Rogers Centre this season, the Major League Baseball team played home games in Buffalo, N.Y., after politicians from just across the border pitched the city as a temporary home.
All three Canadian Major League Soccer teams have been playing recent home games in the United States. Toronto FC is in East Hartford, Conn., the Montreal Impact are in Harrison, N.J., and the Vancouver Whitecaps are in Portland.
TFC coach Greg Vanney told reporters Tuesday he’d love to have the Raptors in Connecticut.
“I don’t think our hotel could accommodate both of us at the same time, but it would be great to have them nearby,” Vanney said.
The Connecticut experience has been excellent, the coach said.
“For me . . . it’s the living situation, and the field,” Vanney said. “Those are the most important things, and so far the place that we’ve been staying has been phenomenal in terms of the living conditions, the food and everything has been great.”
He said some of the fields have been “touch and go” as the weather gets colder.
“(But) In terms of basketball, I assume you find a court and the court is generally the same, so it’s doable.”
Toronto FC’s hotel is across the street from the XL Center in Hartford, a potential home arena for the Raptors. It seats around 16,000 for University of Connecticut basketball games, and is also home to the Hartford Wolf Pack of the American Hockey League.
The Harry A. Gampel Pavilion in nearby Storrs, Conn., seats just over 10,000 and also hosts some UConn basketball games.
The Raptors haven’t played a game at Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena since Feb. 28, a 99-96 loss to Charlotte. The 2019 NBA champions were ousted in the second round of the playoffs by Boston once the season resumed in the NBA bubble at Walt Disney World in Florida.
Dodgers cement legacies by finally capturing elusive World Series title – Sportsnet.ca
Back in February, when the Los Angeles Dodgers first reported to spring training, they had ambitious goals for the year ahead. They had come close to winning it all over the years, only to lose time after time in the playoffs. But by adding Mookie Betts to a team that had won eight division titles in a row, they had legitimate World Series aspirations once again.
Well, it’s happened, just not in the way anyone anticipated. The COVID-19 pandemic shortened the regular season to 60 games, but the Dodgers still had the best record in baseball at 43-17. Playoff wins over Milwaukee, San Diego and Atlanta followed, setting up a World Series matchup with the Tampa Bay Rays.
It took six pitching changes and nearly four hours, but the Dodgers beat the Rays 3-1 Tuesday to defeat the Rays in six games. Now, the Dodgers are World Series champions for the first time since 1988. At long last, it’s time for Clayton Kershaw & Co. to celebrate.
As the champagne starts flowing in Texas, here are some observations from a tightly-contested Game 6…
Legacies on the line
Year after year, the Dodgers have been in the playoffs and year after year they’ve been eliminated – often in painful fashion. If any player has carried the weight of those losses, it’s been Kershaw. And Dave Roberts, the team’s manager since 2016, has faced plenty of criticism of his own.
This year, Kershaw went a long way toward silencing his critics, capping off a stellar month of pitching with a 2.31 ERA and 14 strikeouts in 11.2 innings in the World Series. And while no manager escapes second guessing altogether, Roberts should be able to breathe a little easier now that he has led the Dodgers to a championship.
Also deserving of recognition is Andrew Friedman, the president of baseball operations whose front office sets the standard for combining financial might with player development and acquisition. Along with expensive veterans like Kershaw and Justin Turner, the Dodgers have a pipeline of young players such as Will Smith, Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger and Julio Urias. They don’t part with that young talent often, but when they do, it’s for good reason – the Betts trade, for instance.
Now, they’re all World Series champs. With a talented young core in place more championships may be on the way, but as the Dodgers know all too well, talent is no guarantee of rings in baseball. Regardless, they’ve each accomplished something meaningful.
Meanwhile, the Rays deserve credit for an impressive season of their own. They won their second AL pennant in franchise history, took the Dodgers to a sixth game and enjoyed the continued breakout of Randy Arozarena. For now, though, this loss just stings.
An early hook backfires
Blake Snell was dealing Tuesday, with a fastball that topped out at 98 m.p.h. and three breaking pitches that kept Dodgers hitters guessing. Through five innings, he had allowed just one hit while striking out nine. Better still, he was relatively fresh after throwing just 69 pitches.
But when Austin Barnes hit a one-out single in the sixth inning, the top of the Dodgers’ lineup was coming to the plate and Rays manager Kevin Cash went to his bullpen. Nick Anderson promptly surrendered a double to Betts, threw a wild pitch that allowed Barnes to score and allowed an RBI fielder’s choice to Seager. With that, the Dodgers had a 2-1 lead and the second guessing began. Should Snell have stayed in the game?
Whether Snell would have fared better than Anderson is an open question, of course. Like most pitchers, Snell’s numbers deteriorate the second and third times through the order. In 2020, he didn’t complete six innings a single time. Plus, it was Cash’s stated intention to build an early lead then hand the ball to the bullpen. Within that context, the decision to pull Snell was reasonable.
But any plan can fail, even one as seemingly sound as handing the ball over to a pitcher with a 0.55 ERA. In this case, the Rays’ best intentions were no match for the Dodgers’ lineup, setting up ‘what ifs’ for years to come.
An early hook pays off
While Snell certainly had a case for staying in the game a little longer, his outing feels like a throwback compared to that of his counterpart, Tony Gonsolin. Roberts had the bullpen up in the first inning and pulled Gonsolin in the second after just five outs.
From there, six relievers combined to close out the win: Dylan Floro, Alex Wood, Pedro Baez, Victor Gonzalez, Brusdar Graterol and Urias. Wood was effective in the middle innings, with two scoreless, hitless frames, and Urias dominated at the end.
The pitchers themselves deserve the most credit, of course, but don’t forget about Roberts, whose bullpen management has often been questioned as the Dodgers have been eliminated year after year. This time, far fewer critics will be second guessing his work.
Turner positive prompts questions for MLB
It was revealed after the game that Turner left Game 6 because he tested positive for COVID-19. Now the diagnosis raises the question of whether others in the organization have been exposed to the virus, especially since Turner was on the field for some of the Dodgers’ post-game celebrations despite the positive test.
In one way, MLB caught a lucky break with the Dodgers’ Game 6 win. What would have happened in Game 7 if others had been exposed? But the positive test for Turner also serves as a reminder of how thin the margins for error were all season long. As MLB prepares for the 2021 season, there’s plenty more work to be done on this front to ensure the health of players, staff and fans.
Even more history for Arozarena
With his first-inning home run off of Gonsolin, Arozarena became the first player in baseball history to homer 10 times in a single post-season. With each home run that he hit, Arozarena’s month became more impressive…
• Arozarena became the first rookie in 81 years to hit three homers in a World Series. Before him, outfielder Charlie Keller of the 1939 Yankees was the last one to do it, and while Keller’s accomplishments have mostly been forgotten, those three homers were a sign of what was to come. Over the course of the next decade, Keller would hit .281/.406/.521, make five all-star teams and average 30 home runs and 109 RBIs per 162 games played.
• Arozarena now has more playoff home runs than regular season home runs (seven in 2020, eight for his career).
• He has more playoff home runs than anyone on the team that traded him hit during the entire 2020 regular season. After trading Arozarena and Jose Martinez for prospects Matthew Liberatore and Edgardo Rodriguez on January 9, the Cardinals had very little power in their lineup this year. Outfielder Tyler O’Neill and infielder Brad Miller tied for the team lead in homers with seven apiece.
• Though he’s now a household name, Arozarena could still be named Rookie of the Year in 2021. In fact, at this point, he has to be considered the favourite.
Canadiens add Toffoli, Anderson, Edmundson to take next step – NHL.com
After the NHL Draft, free agency and other offseason moves, NHL.com is examining where each team stands in preparation for the 2020-21 regular season, which is targeted to start Jan. 1. Today, the Montreal Canadiens:
The Montreal Canadiens weren’t shy about revamping their roster following a surprise appearance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
They agreed to a four-year contract with free agent forward Tyler Toffoli, a four-time 20-goal scorer in the NHL; traded for forward Josh Anderson, defenseman Joel Edmundson and goalie Jake Allen; and agreed to a six-year extension with forward Brendan Gallagher on Oct. 14 that prevented him from becoming an unrestricted free agent after this season.
“We put a team on the ice that we believe is going to be competing better than it was last year,” general manager Marc Bergevin said. “The backup goalie (behind Carey Price) was important for us. Overall, I think getting a big power forward was important (Anderson is 6-foot-3, 222 pounds). I think some goal scoring was also important, and bringing a defenseman with size and grit (Edmundson is 6-4, 215) that can eat some big minutes was also important.”
[RELATED: Complete Team Reset coverage]
The Canadiens strengthened a roster led by emerging centers Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi that helped them reach Game 6 of the Eastern Conference First Round against the Philadelphia Flyers after they finished the regular season with a .500 points percentage (31-31-9). Kotkaniemi scored four goals in 10 postseason games after the 20-year-old scored six in 36 regular-season games and finished the season with Laval of the American Hockey League. Suzuki scored three goals against the Flyers, including two in Game 6, and the 21-year-old tied forward Jonathan Drouin for the Montreal postseason lead with seven points (four goals, three assists).
“Honestly, it’s unbelievable to see the additions we’ve been able to make,” Gallagher said. “Every one of them is going to play a key role on our team, and to be able to have that many pieces is pretty exciting. So when I’m sitting there thinking about where you want to be, you add those pieces on top of what we had as a group and what we were building, you talk about the young talent coming up, it’s pretty exciting right now for anyone around the Montreal Canadiens organization.”
Here is what the Canadiens look like today:
Tyler Toffoli, F: The 28-year-old, who agreed to join Montreal on Oct. 12, scored 44 points (24 goals, 20 assists) in 68 games for the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks last season, including 10 (six goals, four assists) in 10 games after he was traded to Vancouver on Feb. 17. He scored four points (two goals, two assists) in seven postseason games. … Josh Anderson, F: The 26-year-old agreed to a seven-year contract Oct. 8, two days after he was acquired in a trade from the Columbus Blue Jackets. He was limited to 26 games last season because of a shoulder injury and did not play in the postseason. … Alexander Romanov, D: The 20-year-old agreed to a three-year, entry-level contract July 13. He had seven assists and was plus-21 in 43 games for CSKA Moscow of the Kontinental Hockey League last season. … Joel Edmundson, D: The 27-year-old agreed to a four-year contract Sept. 16, four days after he was acquired in a trade from the Carolina Hurricanes. He had an NHL career-high 20 points (seven goals, 13 assists) in 68 games last season and scored one goal in four postseason games. … Jake Allen, G: The 30-year-old signed a two-year contract extension Oct. 14 after being acquired in a trade from the St. Louis Blues on Sept. 2 to back up Price. He was 12-6-3 with NHL career-bests in goals-against average (2.15) and save percentage (.927) in 24 games (21 starts) last season. He went 2-1-1 with a 1.89 GAA and a .935 save percentage in five postseason games (four starts).
Max Domi, F: Traded to the Blue Jackets with a third-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft for Anderson on Oct. 6 and signed a two-year contract with Columbus the next day. He scored 44 points (17 goals, 27 assists) in 71 games last season and had three assists in 10 postseason games.
On the cusp
Jake Evans, F: The 24-year-old agreed to a two-year contract Sept. 23. He played 13 regular-season games and six postseason games for Montreal in 2019-20, when he led Laval with 38 points (14 goals, 24 assists) in 51 games. … Ryan Poehling, F: The 21-year-old could be the third-line center behind Suzuki and Kotkaniemi if he earns a full-time role in the NHL. He scored two points (one goal, one assist) in 27 NHL games and 13 points (five goals, eight assists) in 36 AHL games. … Cole Caufield, F: The 19-year-old scored 36 points (19 goals, 17 assists) in 36 games for the University of Wisconsin and will return there in 2020-21.
What they still need
Their power play to improve. The Canadiens were 22nd in the NHL last season at 17.7 percent. They are counting on Suzuki and Kotkaniemi to take on more prominent roles, and for Drouin to build on his strong playoff showing.
Toffoli, Anderson and Allen each has sneaky fantasy appeal. Toffoli has scored at least 23 goals in four of the past six seasons and should have a spot in the top six and potentially on the first power-play unit. Anderson could finish among the top 100 players in the League with his rare category coverage after being one of two players (along with Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin) with at least 25 goals (27) and 200 hits (214) in 2018-19. Allen could have strong peripherals in a backup role to Price. — Rob Reese
Tomas Tatar — Phillip Danault — Brendan Gallagher
Tyler Toffoli — Nick Suzuki — Josh Anderson
Jonathan Drouin — Jesperi Kotkaniemi — Joel Armia
Paul Byron — Ryan Poehling — Artturi Lehkonen
Ben Chiarot — Shea Weber
Joel Edmundson — Jeff Petry
Victor Mete — Alexander Romanov
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