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.
Kobe Bryant, Lakers great and basketball icon, dies in crash – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News
Greg Beacham, The Associated Press
Published Sunday, January 26, 2020 2:47PM EST
Last Updated Sunday, January 26, 2020 11:14PM EST
LOS ANGELES – Kobe Bryant inspired a generation of basketball players worldwide with sublime skills and an unquenchable competitive fire.
He earned Los Angeles’ eternal adoration during his two decades as the fierce soul of the beloved Lakers, and he was respected by basketball fans from every place with a hoop and a dream, including his native Philadelphia and in Italy, his other childhood home.
Less than four years into his retirement, Bryant was seizing new challenges and working to inspire his daughters’ generation through sports and storytelling when his next chapter ended shockingly early.
Bryant, the 18-time All-Star who won five NBA championships and became one of the greatest basketball players of his generation during a 20-year career all with the Lakers, died in a helicopter crash Sunday. He was 41.
The crash occurred in the foggy hills above Calabasas, California, about 30 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles. Bryant was killed, a person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press, and a different person familiar with the case confirmed Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter Gianna also died.
Both of the AP’s unnamed sources spoke on condition of anonymity because few details of the crash had been released publicly.
Authorities said nine people were on the helicopter, and all were presumed dead. No names were released.
Bryant lived south of Los Angeles in coastal Orange County, and he often used helicopters to save time and avoid Southern California’s notorious traffic. He travelled to practices and games by helicopter before his playing career ended in 2016. He continued to use them after retirement as he attended to his new ventures, which included a burgeoning entertainment company that recently produced an Academy Award-winning animated short film.
The basketball world and Los Angeles reacted with an outpouring of pain and disbelief. Bryant is all but certain to be elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame this year, when he is eligible for the first time.
“For 20 seasons, Kobe showed us what is possible when remarkable talent blends with an absolute devotion to winning,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said. “He was one of the most extraordinary players in the history of our game with accomplishments that are legendary … but he will be remembered most for inspiring people around the world to pick up a basketball and compete to the very best of their ability.”
The crash occurred about 20 miles from Mamba Sports Academy, Bryant’s basketball training complex in Newbury Park, California. A youth basketball tournament – the Mamba Cup – was scheduled for a second day of competition Sunday at the facility, and Bryant had attended the opening day Saturday with Gianna.
Bryant and his wife, Vanessa, had four daughters. He had been a vocal booster of women’s sports since his retirement, coaching and mentoring basketball players around the world while also backing women’s soccer and other endeavours.
Bryant retired as the third-leading scorer in NBA history with 33,643 points, all scored in Lakers purple and gold. The self-nicknamed Black Mamba was a prolific, gifted shooter with a sublime all-around game and a relentless, hard-edged work ethic that thrilled his fans and almost everyone else, even those who reviled him.
Taking cues from Michael Jordan, one of his idols, Bryant played with a swagger that compelled him to talk trash, to guard the toughest opponents, to play through pain and to demand the ball at the biggest moments of games.
He didn’t always hit them, but Bryant never stopped trying.
“He had zero flaws offensively,” LeBron James said Saturday night. “Zero. You backed off of him, he could shoot the 3. You body him up a little bit, he could go around you. He could shoot from mid-range. He could post. He could make free throws. … He was just immortal offensively because of his skill set and his work ethic.”
Bryant held the No. 3 spot in the league scoring ranks until the day before his death, when James passed him during the Lakers’ game in Philadelphia.
On Saturday night, James said he was “happy just to be in any conversation with Kobe Bean Bryant, one of the all-time greatest basketball player to ever play. One of the all-time greatest Lakers.”
Bryant always reacted graciously to the achievements of James, his former on-court rival who joined the Lakers in 2018.
“Continuing to move the game forward â†•KingJames,” Bryant wrote in his last tweet. “Much respect my brother.”
Tim Duncan, the San Antonio Spurs great who also retired in 2016, is also expected to be part of the Hall of Fame class that will be announced at the NBA’s All-Star weekend next month. Duncan, now a Spurs assistant, was visibly emotional on the bench during their game against Toronto on Sunday.
Bryant had been spending more time with his daughters since leaving the league. The Bryants’ first daughter, Natalia, turned 17 a week ago. Bianka Bella Bryant is 3 years old, and Capri Kobe Bryant was born last June.
Gianna, better known as Gigi, had a promising youth career and a competitive pugnaciousness that reminded everybody of her dad. Bryant sat with her courtside at a Brooklyn Nets game late last year, clearly passing along his wisdom to his daughter.
Bryant told Jimmy Kimmel in 2018 that Gianna wanted to play in the WNBA and recalled how fans would often approach him saying “you gotta have a boy, you gotta someone to carry on the tradition, the legacy.”
Gianna took exception: “She’s like, ‘Oy, I got this,”’ Bryant recalled.
News of Bryant’s death inspired an outpouring of grief around the sports world and beyond, but it was felt particularly painfully in Los Angeles, where Bryant was unquestionably the sprawling city’s most popular athlete and one of its most beloved people. Buildings from downtown to Los Angeles International Airport were illuminated in Lakers purple and gold.
The Lakers’ next game is Tuesday night against the crosstown rival Clippers, but hundreds of fans – many in Bryant jerseys and Lakers gear – spontaneously gathered at Staples Center and in the surrounding LA Live entertainment complex on Sunday, weeping and staring at video boards with Bryant’s image before the Grammy awards ceremony.
“I thought he was going to live forever,” Lakers great Magic Johnson told KCBS-TV. “I thought he was invincible. … There was nobody who took more pride in putting on that Laker uniform than Kobe. Nobody. He was just special. We will miss him and we’ll remember him for his greatness, but let’s not forget how he impacted the world, too.”
Bryant retired as the Lakers’ franchise leader in points, games played, 3-pointers and steals – no small feats on a franchise that has employed many of the greatest players in basketball history.
The NBA kept its games on as scheduled when the news broke. The Spurs and Raptors both took voluntary 24-second shot clock violations at the start of their game in honour of Bryant, who wore No. 24 for the second half of his career.
Several other teams followed up by deliberately taking delays of 24 and 8 seconds, honouring both of his jersey numbers. Many players were seen crying before their games, and James looked emotional on the tarmac when he got off the Lakers’ team plane from Philadelphia.
Bryant’s future appeared to be limitless in retirement, whether in sports or entertainment. He opened a production company shortly after leaving the Lakers, saying he was just as passionate about storytelling as he had been about his sport. He won an Oscar in 2018 for his contributions to “Dear Basketball, ” an animated short about his relationship to the game. He also produced content for ESPN.
In 2003, Bryant was charged with attacking a 19-year-old employee at a Colorado resort. He had said the two had consensual sex, and the charge was eventually dropped when the women declined to testify in a trial. The woman later filed a civil suit against Bryant that was settled out of court.
Bryant went on to become one of the NBA’s most popular players and the face of the Lakers. Winning a record four NBA All-Star Game MVP awards, he was the overall league MVP in 2008 and a two-time NBA scoring champion, but he also earned 12 selections to the NBA’s All-Defensive teams.
He teamed with Shaquille O’Neal in a combustible partnership to lead the Lakers to NBA titles in 2000, 2001 and 2002. He later teamed with Pau Gasol to win two more titles in 2009 and 2010.
A two-time Olympic gold medallist with the dominant U.S. team, Bryant retired in 2016 after scoring 60 points in his final NBA game. In December 2017, the Lakers hung banners retiring his No. 8 and No. 24 jerseys in the Staples Center rafters in an unprecedented double honour.
Bryant looms large over the current generation of NBA players, most of whom grew up either idolizing Bryant or absorbing his work ethic and competitive spirit in the same way Bryant’s generation learned from Jordan. Bryant exemplified and passed on that mentality to James, Stephen Curry and the NBA’s current wave of high-scoring superstars.
After James passed Bryant on Saturday, he remembered listening in awe to Bryant when the superstar came to speak at a childhood basketball camp.
“I remember one thing he said: If you want to be great at it, or want to be one of the greats, you’ve got to put the work in,” said James, who later teamed up with Bryant on the 2008 U.S. Olympic team in Beijing.
Bryant was a basketball superstar for his entire adult life, and he grew up from a teenager to a respected veteran in the unforgiving Hollywood spotlight.
He entered the NBA draft straight out of suburban Philly’s Lower Merion High School in 1996 after a childhood spent partly in Italy, where his father, former NBA player Joe “Jellybean” Bryant, played professionally. Bryant was occasionally estranged from his now-65-year-old father, but reconciled.
Bryant spoke four languages and played a major role in the NBA’s international growth over his two decades in the league, travelling the world and connecting with athletes in other sports and celebrities.
The Lakers acquired the 17-year-old Bryant in a trade shortly after Charlotte drafted him, and he immediately became one of the most exciting and intriguing players in the sport alongside O’Neal, who had signed with the Lakers as a free agent. Bryant won the Slam Dunk Contest as a rookie, and the Lakers gradually grew into a team that won three consecutive championships.
Bryant and Gasol, the Spanish star, formed the nucleus of another championship team in 2008, reaching three straight NBA Finals and winning two more titles.
Between those title runs and before the quiet final years of his career, Bryant accomplished innumerable feats including an 81-point game against Toronto in January 2006. Bryant’s final NBA seasons were dogged by injuries, but he still went into retirement with that jaw-dropping 60-point performance against Utah.
AP Basketball Writer Tim Reynolds contributed to this report.
Basketball star Kobe Bryant, four others dead in helicopter crash – National Post
Kobe Bryant, the basketball superstar who won five NBA championships with the Los Angeles Lakers, was killed in a helicopter crash in California on Sunday morning, officials said. He was 41.
Four other people died in the crash in a remote field around 10 a.m. local time (1800 GMT) about 40 miles (65 km) northwest of central Los Angeles, the city of Calabasas said on Twitter. There were no survivors.
The identity of the other victims was not released.
“This is a moment that leaves us struggling to find words that express the magnitude of shock and sorrow we are all feeling right now, and I am keeping Kobe’s entire family in my prayers at this time of unimaginable grief,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a statement.
First responders put out the flames of the crash site, Los Angeles County Sheriff said, posting a picture of a fire truck and smoke emerging from the brush in a ravine.
Bryant was known to use a helicopter for travel dating to his days as a star player for the Los Angeles Lakers, when he commuted to games in a Sikorsky S-76 chopper, the celebrity news website TMZ said.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration identified the crashed helicopter as a Sikorsky S-76, saying in a statement that the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board would investigate.
Bryant won five NBA championships with the Lakers and was named an NBA all-star 18-times in his 20-year career with the team. He was third leading scorer in league history with 33,643 points until LeBron James passed him on Saturday.
Bryant and his wife, Vanessa, have four daughters: Gianna, Natalia, Bianca and Capri, who was born in June 2019.
Bryant’s star power translated into the entertainment world as he mingled with show business stars in Los Angeles.
In 2018 he won an Oscar for his animated short film “Dear Basketball.”
But he was also accused of sexual assault in 2003 by an employee at a Colorado hotel, tarnishing his reputation and leading to a media storm to cover his trial.
Bryant denied the claims and charges eventually were dropped after the woman refused to testify.
Bryant and his wife Vanessa filed for divorce in 2011 after 10 years of marriage but in 2013 the couple said they had reconciled their differences.
(Reporting by Mekhla Raina in Bengaluru, Daniel Trotta, Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina and Rory Carroll in Los Angeles; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)
LeBron James On Passing Kobe Bryant In All-Time Scoring: 'The Universe Just Puts Things In Your Life' – RealGM.com
LeBron James passed Kobe Bryant for No. 3 on the NBA all-time scoring list during the Los Angeles Lakers’ 108-91 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.
James now has 33,655 points in his career. Karl Malone is in second place with 36,928 points, with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar topping the list at 38,387 points.
“It doesn’t make sense. Just to make a long story short, now I’m here in a Lakers uniform, in Philadelphia, where he’s from. The first time I ever met him, gave me his shoes on All-Star Weekend. It’s surreal. It doesn’t make no sense, but the universe just puts things in your life. And I guess when you live in the right way, when you just give it everything to whatever you’re doing, things happen organically,” said James after the game.
James added that Bryant had zero flaws in his offensive game.
“He had zero flaws offensively. Zero. You backed off of him, he could shoot the 3. You body him up a little bit, he can go around you. He shoots from midrange. He can post. He can make free throws. He has zero flaws offensively,” said James.
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