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Maple Leafs’ Andersen quells outside concern with stellar game vs. Jets – Sportsnet.ca

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TORONTO — Call off the hounds.

Crazy as it might sound not even a full week into the NHL season, they had already started to gather outside Scotiabank Arena.

All it took was for Frederik Andersen and Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe to acknowledge that the goaltender was not at his best during Friday’s loss in Ottawa for the whiff of controversy to waft through the air.

Presumably, now, that talk should disappear as quickly as it arrived. Andersen was rock solid during a 3-1 victory over the Winnipeg Jets that calmed the waters on a number of fronts.

“It was a much simpler game for Fred and he looked extremely confident and in control here tonight,” said Keefe. “So that gives us confidence as a team and it should give him confidence, too, that whatever he has done to prepare from last game to this one, it benefitted him.”

It had been an unusual 48 hours between starts: Andersen didn’t dress at all for the second half of the back-to-back against the Senators, getting in extra work with goalie coach Steve Briere on Saturday morning before watching Jack Campbell play while Aaron Dell backed up.

That wiped his schedule clean of the typical game-day meetings plus the extra stretching and mental preparation the second goaltender goes through even when not likely to see any action.

“A little new thing we’re trying,” said Andersen. “I think it was good. … I got to stay at the hotel a little bit longer and just come for the game.”

There’s a decent chance it’s a one-off after Dell got claimed by New Jersey from the waiver wire on Monday, leaving Michael Hutchinson to move up to Toronto’s taxi squad as the No. 3 goaltending option.

That won’t bother Keefe since he didn’t think there was any magic in the plan.

All it did was buy his No. 1 guy more time to sharpen his game following training camp that included no exhibition games and a frantic charge towards the season. Still, it was reassuring to see Andersen confidently turn aside 27 Winnipeg shots, arguably the best of them against Mark Scheifele late in a first period where the Leafs controlled zone time but hadn’t yet grabbed a lead.

“It was his best game, for sure, just the way that he tracked the puck,” said Keefe. “He looked super calm in there. I think it’s also not a coincidence that it was probably the easiest night he had in front of him tonight. You know we didn’t give up very much at all and when we did there wasn’t much by way of second chances in around the net.

“We did a much better job in that area.”

There are a couple obvious reasons why Andersen’s play is under such scrutiny. He’s in a contract year and coming off the worst statistical season of his career, for starters. Plus the Leafs explored the goalie market for a replacement before bringing him back this fall.

But, to let you behind the media curtain, it’s also because this has been a non-story for so long and the possibility of intrigue now exists.

Andersen has played 247 games for the Leafs since arriving here in 2016, with Curtis McElhinney next on the franchise’s list during that period with 32 appearances. Campbell has seven games under his belt for the blue and white.

However, with huge expectations and an uncertain future beyond the summer, the tectonic plates are shifting beneath the surface. Any existing loyalties aren’t likely to outlast a run of substandard performance.

And for an offensively-inclined team that has historically struggled to lock games down, you can’t have a goalie fumbling away strong efforts like the one we saw against Winnipeg. That’s where Andersen made some big strides. The Leafs controlled puck possession and the entirety of the second period and still found themselves in a tight 2-1 contest with 20 minutes to play.

“If anything, it made it harder for us in the third period,” said Keefe. “I think hard is good for our team with where we need to grow.”

Andersen is a stay-in-the-moment performer, the kind who would never let you know if he felt outside pressure. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t there.

He turned aside 12 third-period shots and took a second star turn when the buzzer sounded.

There will be more nights off for him than usual with a compressed schedule that includes four games in six days this week, but performances like this will quell the outside concern.

“Freddie’s one of the best in the league,” said Leafs captain John Tavares. “We’ve got so much faith in him. … Just being well sorted defensively without the puck and working to get it back will make life easy on him because we know he’s going to make the saves when it’s predictable and he’s able to challenge and be aggressive and be the netminder that he is.”

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Wayne Gretzky's Father Walter Gretzky Dead at 82 After Parkinson's Battle – TMZ

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Calgary Flames fire Geoff Ward, name Darryl Sutter as new head coach – ESPN

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The Calgary Flames fired head coach Geoff Ward on Thursday night, replacing him with former coach and two-time Stanley Cup champion Darryl Sutter.

The Flames routed the Ottawa Senators 7-3 at home on Thursday night, but Ward’s fate was apparently sealed after going 11-11-2 to start the season. He was officially hired in the offseason after replacing Bill Peters on an interim basis last season.

Overall, Ward was 35-26-5 in his first NHL head-coaching stint.

Sutter has been a head coach for 18 seasons in the NHL with the Chicago Blackhawks, San Jose Sharks, Flames and Los Angeles Kings. Sutter led the Kings to the Stanley Cup in 2012 and 2014, playing a puck-possessing system that made Los Angeles one of the league’s top defensive teams.

He has a career coaching record of 634-467-101-83, including 107-73-15-15 as head coach of the Flames from 2002 to ’06, leading them to the Stanley Cup Final in 2004. He also served as the team’s general manager from 2003 to ’10. Sutter has had winning seasons in 15 of his 18 years behind an NHL bench as head coach. His last NHL job was as an advisor to the Anaheim Ducks.

Sutter’s deal with Calgary is for three years.

This is the fifth head coach hired by general manager Brad Treliving since he took over the Flames in 2014. Calgary is two points out of the final playoff spot in the West Division, although the Montreal Canadiens — who fired their head coach last week — have two games in hand.

Ward held court with the media after the win over Ottawa and appeared unaware of his fate.

“We’ve got to get ourselves ready again for another hard hockey game,” Ward said. “We’re really not thinking about what’s happened in the past; we’re thinking about what we need to do to prepare ourselves [for] the next one.”

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Sheldon Keefe, Maple Leafs reflect on cherished memories of Walter Gretzky – Sportsnet.ca

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The coach, the captain, and the superstar all had something to say about hockey’s loss before they fielded questions about their own.

Funny how quick the big things — perspective, legacy, family — can make two mid-season points shrink into the blip they are.

Moments after stepping off the Vancouver ice in defeat, 3-1 by the Canucks, the Toronto Maple Leafs learned that Walter Gretzky had passed away. He was 82 and roundly beloved.

Sheldon Keefe, John Tavares and Auston Matthews each took a moment to pass along their condolences to the Gretzky family.

Like so many Ontarians who grew up hanging around rinks, Keefe had met Wayne’s dad a few times, but one stands out.

Walter visited Pembroke with the NHL Old-Timers when Keefe was coaching the Lumber Kings, and the two had a small time to chat.

Walter always made time to chat.

“The lasting memory I have of that is just him sitting around for what seemed for hours throughout the game, signing autographs and taking pictures with everybody that wanted one, and chatting with anybody who wanted to talk too,” Keefe recalled.

“It was pretty cool to see someone of his stature, what he means to the game, what he’s brought to the game, and to be all the way out in Pembroke, Ont., and taking part in an event like that for people that wouldn’t normally get such an opportunity.”

Tavares, too, met Walter when he was a wee rink rat. His memory can’t quite pin down the year or the place, because hockey’s dad was always around the rinks, immersed in the hockey community. But still, Tavares remembers how Walter made him feel.

“Just his graciousness, big smile, and obviously a passion for the game,” Tavares said. “Just a very gracious man, from what I remember as a kid.”

Slotted in its proper place — below the fold, and well below Walter’s endearing smile — the Maple Leafs’ defeat holds even less meaning.

Build a seven-point lead over your division. Reel off a 10-game point streak. Shut down the most electric player in the game (since, well, Walter’s son) for 180 straight minutes. Do all that, and you can afford a letdown game.

The Maple Leafs arrived late in Vancouver to play their second game in two nights, third in four nights, and fourth in six nights — over three time zones.

Start your third-string goaltender in a matchup like this one, even against the Elias Pettersson–free Canucks, and it’s easy for the NHL’s No. 1–ranked club to write this off as a schedule casualty.

Jake Virtanen — traded a zillion times in the comments section and call-in shows — opened the scoring early by driving to the net around Justin Holl. Pierre Engvall knotted the score at one after taking an Ilya Mikheyev touch pass and driving to the slot.

But Virtanen struck again in Period 2, whipping the winner past Michael Hutchinson off the rush from a cringe-inducing angle.

“As I was going down into the post, I saw his wrists open up and knew he was coming high. From there, I just slipped off the post a little bit,” Hutchinson explained. “It was just a little bit of a mess for me.

“An unfortunate goal at an unfortunate time of the game.”

What didn’t help was Auston Matthews pinging posts or a rested Vancouver side starting Thatcher “Bubble” Demko, who turned away 31 of the 32 shots Toronto funneled his way.

“Demmer’s a great goalie. He’s big, takes up a lot of space, and I think ever since the bubble in the playoffs last year he’s really come into his own,” said Matthews, who knows the California native on a personal level. “He’s an awesome guy and really great person. He played really well tonight.

“Sometimes you’ve just got to tip your hat.”

With Toronto’s own top two goalies both considered day-to-day as they recover from lower-body injuries, the positive news for Saturday’s rematch is that Frederik Andersen will be available.

You can bet the Maple Leafs will have more jump in their legs. Just as you can bet that game, on Hockey Night in Canada, will begin with more tributes to and memories of Walter Gretzky.

Let them flood like a backyard rink.

“It’s a terrible loss of a great man that gave so many terrific things to our game, to our sport,” Keefe said. “Certainly leaves a legacy behind that we will never forget.”

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