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Maple Leafs extend win streak to five games as Marner enters record book



TORONTO — Mitch Marner inexplicably looked to pass with history on his stick and an empty net staring him down.

The Maple Leafs winger then fired another shot wide of the yawning cage in Wednesday’s waning moments, narrowly missing another chance at glory as the Scotiabank Arena crowd groaned.

Marner would get one more opportunity to etch his name in the record books of the team he cheered for as a kid.

This time — finally — he didn’t miss.


Marner scored into an empty net to tie the franchise record by registering a point in 18 straight games after Pierre Engvall put Toronto ahead with 2:27 left in regulation as the Leafs defeated the San Jose Sharks 3-1.

Marner now shares the mark with Darryl Sittler (1977-78) and Eddie Olcyzk (1989-90), but not after some nervous moments.

“Yeah, I mean, did you see me? I can’t wait to talk to my father,” the 25-year-old said when asked if there was a sense of relief. “He’s gonna be like, ‘What the hell are you doing on that pass for the first one? (Leafs winger Michael Bunting), on the bench, when he looked at me couldn’t believe I tried to pass to him, too.

“He was pissed.”

Marner credits Maple Leafs teammates for record-tying streak despite ‘ugly finish’

Marner is the 23rd player in NHL history with a point streak of at least 18 games, putting up seven goals and 17 assists during his red-hot run.

“The first few tries we’re just like, ‘What are you doing? Like, just put it in the net and let’s go home ? let’s get this over with,”’ Auston Matthews, who had the Leafs’ other goal, said of Marner’s late miscues.

“Just really happy that it ended up going in.”

Ilya Samsonov made 23 saves for Toronto (15-5-5), while Alexander Kerfoot had two assists.

Matt Nieto replied for San Jose (8-14-4). Aaron Dell, briefly a member of the Leafs in 2020-21 before getting claimed on waivers, stopped 29 shots with the Sharks on a back-to-back.

“It’s all on me,” said San Jose centre Tomas Hertl, who turned the puck over on Engvall’s goal. “Cost us two points because I made a stupid play.”

Toronto, which was coming off a four-game road sweep of New Jersey, Minnesota, Pittsburgh and Detroit, improved to 8-0-2 over its last 10 games and 11-1-4 over its last 16.

Engvall buried his third goal of the season off a Kerfoot rebound following Hertl’s giveaway.

Marner then had those two chances at the open net before finally burying his eighth with 1:11 left in regulation for his record-tying point that was saluted with a raucous applause in his hometown.

“That meant a lot,” said the product of nearby Markham, Ont. “A kid growing up (here), would have never expected this.”

Samsonov, meanwhile, predicted the streak would continue Tuesday, and the netminder was proven right.

“I looked to the future,” he said with a grin.

“Made it interesting,” Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe added of Marner. “You start to feel like maybe it’s just not going to happen.

“But he stayed with it.”

Marner and Matthews, who set the franchise record with 60 goals on the way to winning last season’s Maurice (Rocket) Richard Trophy, shared a special moment on the bench after the empty netter.

“Been through a lot together,” Marner said. “Obviously want to try to achieve great things together as well. I was with him in those big moments when he had them last year. For him to just be that happy and that excited for me meant a lot.

“He’s my brother.”

The Leafs, meanwhile, have largely been fine minus their injured top-3 defencemen _ Morgan Rielly (knee), T.J. Brodie (oblique) and Jake Muzzin (neck) _ but were lucky to get out of Wednesday’s first unscathed after giving up three breakaways and two dangerous odd-man rushes.

“Nice warmup,” Samsonov joked. “Thank you ? defencemen. I needed a little bit of confidence back.”

Toronto took a 1-0 lead at 4:19 of the second when rookie blue-liner Mac Hollowell, recently elevated from the AHL, found Matthews with a slap pass for his 12th.

“Beautiful play,” Matthews said. “Great vision, great poise.”

San Jose responded at 7:26 when Logan Couture fed Nieto for his sixth on Samsonov, who returned to the lineup after missing the last 12 games with a sore knee, before the late drama provided by Marner’s misfires — and eventual history-making moment.

“Definitely kind of start stressing about it,” Marner said. “But you try not to.”

“We were losing it a little bit there,” Matthews added with a smile. “It was getting a little scary.

“Third time’s a charm.”


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Jays Sign Chad Green



Here I thought the Jays were done signing people this winter, but they have picked up right-handed reliever Chad Green. He’s signed a two-year $8.5 million contract, with options for two more years.

Or it may be more complicated than that:

Green had Tommy John surgery back in May of last year. Apparently, he has already passed his physical.

The options give the Jays some fallback in case he doesn’t come back from TJ being the same pitcher. But if he returns the same pitcher, we have him for the next four seasons.


Green turns 32 in May. He’s been a Yankee for seven seasons. He has a 3.17 in 272 games. In 2021 he had a 3.12 ER in 67 games and a 31.4% strikeout rate.

Welcome to the Jays, Chad.


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Broncos trade for former Saints HC Payton



ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — The Denver Broncos have agreed to a deal with the New Orleans Saints that will make Sean Payton their head coach, a person with knowledge of the accord said Tuesday.

The person, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the teams hadn’t announced the agreement, said the Broncos would send their first-round pick, No. 29 overall, in this year’s draft to the Saints along with a future second-rounder. Denver also will receive a third-round pick in the trade.

Payton remained under contract with New Orleans after stepping down from the Saints last year and working in broadcasting this season.

Payton, 59, went 152-89 in 15 seasons with the Saints and 9-8 in the playoffs. He led New Orleans to a 31-17 win over the Indianapolis Colts in the Super Bowl following the 2009 season. He stepped away last year when quarterback Drew Brees retired.


The Broncos, who went 5-12 in 2022 and extended their playoff drought to seven years, fired rookie coach Nathaniel Hackett on Dec. 26 after he went 4-11. Interim coach Jerry Rosburg went 1-1.

Payton’s top task will be to get quarterback Russell Wilson back to his winning ways after the 11-year pro had his worst statistical season following his blockbuster trade from Seattle for four premium draft picks and three players.

The Seahawks reached the playoffs under QB Geno Smith in their first year without Wilson, and now they own the Broncos’ No. 5 overall selection in the draft in April.

The Broncos got back into the first round by trading pass rusher Bradley Chubb at midseason to the Miami Dolphins, who sent the Broncos a first-rounder originally owned by the San Francisco 49ers.

That selection, the 29th overall pick, now belongs to the Saints.

Payton was the headliner during this year’s cycle of head coach openings. Just five teams were searching for coaches: the Broncos, Texans, Panthers, Colts and Cardinals.

The Broncos conducted an extensive search, beginning with a virtual visit with Jim Harbaugh, who decided to stay at the University of Michigan. Also considered were Dan Quinn, DeMeco Ryans, Raheem Morris, Ejiro Evero, Jim Caldwell and David Shaw. The Texans hired Ryans on Tuesday.

NFL rules didn’t allow the Broncos to speak with Payton until Jan. 17, more than three weeks after they’d fired Hackett.

Team owner and CEO Greg Penner led the search with assistance from limited partner Condoleezza Rice and general manager George Paton.

Paton led last year’s search and landed on Hackett, one of several decisions that backfired on him in 2022 as Hackett became just the fifth head coach in NFL history not to survive his first season.

Others were the $70 million contract he gave to free agent Randy Gregory, who played in six games and recorded a pair of sacks, and the $245 million contract extension he gave to Wilson before the opener.

Wilson threw a career-low 16 touchdown passes and was sacked a league-leading and career-high 55 times in 15 games for Denver. He has vowed to do everything he can to bounce back in 2023.

Wilson played well for two weeks under Rosburg, giving the team hope that his poor performances last season were an aberration and that maybe his skill set was just a bad fit in Hackett’s offense.

Penner, his wife, Carrie Walton-Penner, and her father, Rob Walton, purchased the Broncos last summer for $4.65 billion, a global record for a professional sports franchise. But the team turned out to be more of a fixer-upper than they expected.

“When we purchased this great franchise in August, this is not the season we were expecting,” Penner said after firing Hackett. “I want to personally apologize to our fans and all of Broncos country. We know that we need to be better and we will.”


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Leafs may have lucked out with timing of Auston Matthews and Matt Murray injuries



Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews and goaltender Matt Murray celebrate after defeating the Colorado Avalanche at Ball Arena in Denver on Dec. 31, 2022.Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY Sports via Reuters

Not that it is ever good to have key players injured, but the Maple Leafs may have caught a break with Auston Matthews and Matt Murray.

With the NHL’s all-star weekend just ahead, both will have more time to nurse what ails them while also possibly missing less action.

Matthews suffered a knee sprain in an overtime victory against the New York Rangers on Jan. 25 and the team’s star centre is expected to be sidelined at least three weeks. It will cause him to miss Saturday’s all-star spectacle in Sunrise, Fla.

Murray, who had already surrendered the starting job in Toronto’s net to Ilya Samsonov, is now plagued by an ankle affliction and it is anybody’s guess when he will return.


The 28-year-old, whose acquisition was seen as risky owing to his history of injuries, has already missed more than a month with an adductor strain. He has not played 40 games in a season since 2018-19.

“There’s something there that’s going to require time for sure,” Sheldon Keefe, the Maple Leafs’ head coach, said. “We won’t quite know, really, until we come back from the break.”

Toronto has a contest against Boston at Scotiabank Arena on Wednesday before its eight-day recess begins. Its next game after that will be at Columbus on Feb. 10.

Despite a lengthy list of injuries, the Maple Leafs have done well over the first two-thirds of the season. They are 31-12-8, second in the NHL’s Atlantic Division and a shoe-in to reach the playoffs even if 11 points behind the Bruins.

Boston is an almost incomprehensible 38-7-5 but arrives in town with three consecutive losses. A win will boost the Maple Leafs’ faint hopes of catching up.

“You want to go into the break feeling good,” Keefe said Monday after a team meeting and an optional workout for players at the Ford Performance Centre. “We expect a tough game for sure.

“Our job is to keep pace and apply pressure a little more, just like the teams behind us are trying to do to us. It is a great way to go into the all-star break. There is a lot of excitement.”

After an uninspired effort in a loss to Ottawa on Friday, Toronto rebounded to dismantle the Washington Capitals 5-1 on Sunday.

John Tavares recorded two assists in the 1,000th game of his NHL career, Morgan Rielly scored for the first time this campaign and Samsonov recorded 23 saves as he ran his record on home ice to 15-1-1.

“We played today more for John,” Samsonov said after improving his record to 17-5-2 overall. He did not realize Tavares was about to reach a milestone until a pre-game ceremony.

“One thousand games,” Samonov said, pausing, “That’s amazing.”

Rielly, who is respected as an offensively skilled defenceman, had gone without a goal in 35 previous games this season. In the best year of his career, he had 20 goals.

“Mostly, I just feel relief,” Rielly said. “We wanted to respond after a bad game against Ottawa. We weren’t very proud of ourselves when we went home from here on Friday.”

Joseph Woll, who is 12-1 with a .928 save percentage for the Toronto Marlies, has been called up from the American Hockey League as Samsonov’s backup.

With any luck at all, Woll will not be pressed to play thanks to the upcoming prolonged break.

But first the Bruins come to town.

“Every game against Boston is special,” Alexander Kerfoot, the Maple Leafs’ forward, said.

William Nylander had an assist on Sunday and on Monday was named the league’s second star of the week. He leads Toronto with 28 goals and is tied with Mitch Marner for the team lead with 59 points.

“We are just trying to carve our way back to Boston,” Nylander said. “We have to keeping winning games and see what happens.

“The Bruins are on an incredible pace and will be hard to catch but we are going to try our best to do that.”


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