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Leafs’ Nylander, Marner red-hot since Keefe’s line-change risk –



Considering how things went last season for the Toronto Maple Leafs’ top line with John Tavares, Mitchell Marner and Zach Hyman, you could be forgiven for being confused by new head coach Sheldon Keefe breaking them up in late-December.

The start of the season without Hyman on the line seemed to throw them all for a loop, and Tavares’ struggle in getting to the net earlier on, along with Marner’s early even strength struggles, really killed all the momentum they built up last season. Even after both Marner and Tavares got their feet under them, and Hyman returned, the magic of last season wasn’t quite re-appearing.

Meanwhile, the combination of William Nylander and Auston Matthews had been the offensive dynamo that had kept the Leafs going before the coaching change, and they didn’t slow down when Keefe came in. But in the interests of getting both his top scoring lines going, Keefe took a bit of a risk.

Flipping centres and putting Matthews between Hyman and Marner, while Tavares got Nylander and Alex Kerfoot. Considering the talent of all the players involved it may not seem like a big risk, but upsetting the apple cart when you’re winning is always a tough thing for a coach to do.

The result? Well Nylander was putting up great underlying numbers with Matthews, but the actual production was just good, nothing astonishing. Since the change, Nylander and Marner are both red-hot offensively, scoring at over a point per game, and the Leafs are rolling.

Points can be deceiving though, how are the two wingers playing since the change compared to what they were doing earlier?

On-Ice Differentials at 5-vs-5.

Nylander has been crushing it all season, with the Leafs seeing massive advantages while he’s on the ice relative to when he’s not. While the change-up at centre has hit him in the shots and shot attempts a little bit, he’s still well into the positives there while the control of quality plays that drive goals has massively improved.

That’s a huge deal considering that Tavares’ numbers in those areas had not been good before this switch was made; the Leafs were controlling just 41 per cent of the inner slot shots while he was on the ice.

Like Tavares, Marner before the switch had been struggling to control play from the inner slot, while posting respectable numbers in shots, shot attempts and slot passes. Since being united with Matthews, Marner’s on-ice differentials look almost identical to Nylander’s, with extreme control of slot passes, especially shots from the inner slot, and taking a slight hit in shots and shot attempts.

Essentially by switching things up, Keefe has sacrificed a bit of quantity in favour of loads of quality, going from one mostly functioning line and a very good top line, to two ridiculously dominant top lines, at least as far as differentials are concerned.

The next question is whether the Leafs’ top wingers are actually getting the individual offensive boosts that their differentials and point production would have us assume?

Individual Offensive Impact at 5-vs-5.

This season has been a bit of a change for Nylander’s on-ice behaviour or style of play in the offensive zone. He’s leaned on shooting more than ever before, closer to the net than ever before, and you would expect that moving into Mitch Marner’s spot would cut into that a little bit, with more focus on playmaking… but you’d be wrong.

Nylander is making more passes to the slot, going from about league average to first-line quality since the swap, but his shooting has gone up more as well. Surprisingly, Nylander still leads all Leafs in inner slot shots on net per 20 minutes this season, and outpacing Matthews in that category is extremely tough to do.

He has seen a drop in both his completed and attempted passes off the rush, but his scoring chances off the rush are up, so it’s more likely that he’s being the one asked to shoot on those plays more often now instead of deferring to Matthews at times. The confidence is at an all-time high, and it shows through in the numbers.

Marner before the centre switch was having a brutal shooting year, barely doing anything from the inner slot and way below average at getting shots on net from the slot entirely. He wasn’t getting cycle changes and wasn’t attacking off the rush much either compared to what you’d expect from him, but he was leading the Leafs in completed passes to the slot by a wide margin.

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Marner isn’t the kind of player you really want in the net front, but getting almost zero chances from that area is still concerning, and his shot numbers have drastically improved since he paired up with Matthews. He’s getting more chances off the rush, completing more passes off the rush and has massively increased his cycle chances as well.

The best news of all for Marner is that this uptick in shooting from better areas hasn’t negatively impacted his playmaking, and in fact he’s been among the league leaders in completed slot passes over the last couple weeks.

With how well this has worked out in the short term, you have to wonder why it wasn’t tested out earlier, but remember that Nylander missed a huge chunk of last season and when he returned to the lineup, the Tavares-Marner combination was among the best in the NHL. Still, it sure looks like Keefe has stumbled on something special here.

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Astros' Garcia to start Game 6 of ALCS against Red Sox –



HOUSTON – Rookie Luis Garcia will start for the Houston Astros against the Boston Red Sox in Game 6 of the AL Championship Series on Friday night with a trip to the World Series on the line.

Garcia started Game 2 and gave up a grand slam in the first inning before leaving with no outs in the second because of discomfort in his right knee. Manager Dusty Baker announced Thursday that Garcia would get the ball for Game 6 and said the Astros are confident the problem is behind Garcia and he’ll be 100% healthy for Friday’s start.

The Astros fell behind 2-1 in the series after two big wins by the Red Sox. But they rode their powerful offence to consecutive victories in the last two games to take the series lead and move within a win of advancing to the World Series for the second time in three seasons.

The Astros won the championship in 2017, a crown tainted by the team’s sign-stealing scandal, before losing to the Washington Nationals in seven games in the 2019 World Series.

The Red Sox previously announced that Nathan Eovaldi would start Game 6. Eovaldi got the win in a solid Game 2 start but was charged with the loss in Game 4 after giving up the go-ahead runs after coming in with the game tied in the ninth.

The Astros got eight terrific innings from Framber Valdez in a 9-1 win in Game 5. The performance gave Houston’s taxed bullpen a much-needed break after relievers pitched 29 1/3 innings combined through the first four games.

Baker said Jake Odorizzi would be available for long relief Friday if needed. Odorizzi threw 82 pitches in four innings in Game 2 after taking over following the injury to Garcia.

Baker also said rookie center fielder Jake Meyers, who hasn’t played this series after injuring his shoulder in the final game of the ALDS, probably wouldn’t return to the lineup in this series. He said Meyers could pinch-run or pinch-hit but isn’t ready to return to the field. Fellow rookies Chas McCormick and rookie Jose Siri have filled in at center against the Red Sox.

Houston is without ace Lance McCullers Jr. for this series because of a flexor pronator muscle strain in his right arm. Baker said Thursday that McCullers still hasn’t resumed throwing, so it’s unclear if he would be available to return if the Astros were to advance.

If necessary, Game 7 would be Saturday night in Houston.

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NFL Prop Picks For Browns vs. Broncos: Bet This Donovan Peoples-Jones Over/Under On Thursday Night Football – The Action Network




Jason Miller/Getty Images. Pictured: Donovan Peoples-Jones #11 of the Cleveland Browns celebrates after a touchdown

Sean Koerner, our Director of Predictive Analytics, is highlighting his favorite player prop for every primetime game throughout the 2021 season. He has a 428-326-6 (56%) all-time record on NFL bets he’s tracked in the Action app.

Broncos-Browns Prop Bet

Donovan Peoples-Jones Under 2.5 Receptions

Editor’s Note: Now that Odell Beckham Jr. is officially active, Browns player props are off the board at most books.

Peoples-Jones has been on fire over the past two weeks, posting lines of 5/70/0 & 4/101/2 against the Chargers and Cardinals, respectively. However, I believe it’s time to “sell high” on him as he’s due for some regression.

He’s caught a ridiculous 86.7% of his targets this season despite seeing an aDot of 15.7. Players with an aDot that high typically average a catch rate in the 57-60% range.

There are a few other reasons why my projections are lower for him compared to the market:

  • Case Keenum is starting in place of Baker Mayfield tonight. Peoples-Jones has shown great chemistry with Mayfield over the past couple of games. The QB change seems like a setback for him.
  • Weather could be a factor tonight. Steady winds of approximately 20 mph are expected with the possibility of some occasional rain. That would (in theory) negatively impact a high-aDot player like Peoples-Jones.

  • Jarvis Landry is making his return from IR. He should be Keenum’s main target tonight, while the TE group should also see an increase in target share after a season-low five targets as a group last week. I also expect RB/WR Demetric Felton to have an expanded role tonight and he has been heavily targeted (37.5% of routes run) when on the field this season.

I’m projecting DPJ for 2.3 receptions tonight with a median projection of 31.5 receiving yards (market is currently at 38.5) — I’d give this under about a 60% chance of hitting. He’s the type of player who could clear his yardage prop on a couple of deep catches, so the safer play here is to take the under for his receptions, especially since we are getting + money. I would bet this down to -105.

Pick: Donovan Peoples-Jones Under 2.5 Receptions (+115) at BetMGM

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Canadiens fans welcome Kotkaniemi back to Montreal with boos, vulgar chant – Yahoo Canada Sports



Carolina Hurricanes forward Jesperi Kotkaniemi (82) was not welcomed back to Montreal with open arms. (Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports)

The Carolina Hurricanes were in Montreal on Thursday night to face the Canadiens at the Bell Centre, marking the return of Jesperi Kotkaniemi, who was at the centre of petty off-season drama after signing an offer sheet with the Canes.

In true hockey fashion, the Bell Centre crowd greeted the 21-year-old with boos and taunting chants.

The Canadiens acknowledged the former third-overall pick by displaying him on the jumbotron, which in turn sparked another wave of disapproval from the near-sellout crowd.

It was Kotkaniemi who got the last laugh, though, tipping in a goal in the third period for his first point with the Hurricanes — much to the delight of Hockey Twitter. Carolina ended up walking away with the 4-1 victory, keeping Montreal winless on the season.

The native of Pori, Finland appeared in 171 games for the Habs over three seasons, scoring 22 goals and notching 40 assists. He also registered 12 points in 29 playoff games, including five goals in Montreal’s run to the Stanley Cup Final last season.

Carolina tendered an offer sheet to Kotkaniemi in late August, offering a one-year contract at $6.1 million. Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin chose not to match, and Montreal received a first- and third-round pick as compensation.

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