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Maple Leafs’ Galchenyuk shining in audition on Tavares-Nylander line –



TORONTO – Immediately after he was traded to Toronto Maple Leafs, Alex Galchenyuk’s phone illuminated with a welcoming text message from Auston Matthews.

The two top-three NHL draft picks with very divergent career trajectories had developed a relationship over the pandemic off-season, engaging in some exclusive, private skills and skating sessions in Phoenix with Galchenyuk’s father, Alexander Sr., and Matthews’ boyhood trainer Boris Dorozhenko.

On Saturday night, Galchenyuk (now with his seventh franchise) and Matthews (destined to become the face of his first) were integral to the construction of a come-from-behind, 4-3 overtime victory over the dynamic Edmonton Oilers.

Matthews snuffed out his five-game goal drought by scoring his league-best eighth game-winner in the extra frame.

But that opportunity would not have presented itself had Galchenyuk — bumped up to Line 2 mid-game by coach Sheldon Keefe — not played a helping hand in the set up of third-period strikes by linemates John Tavares and William Nylander.

“It’s funny how things work out,” said Galchenyuk, following his first multi-point effort since three teams ago. “Definitely happy to be on the same team.”

If you’ve played any left wing for the Maple Leafs this season, chances are you’ve had a tryout alongside Tavares-Nylander as Keefe searches for a third tenor to make his second line sing.

Jimmy Vesey, Wayne Simmonds, Zach Hyman, Joe Thornton, Alexander Kerfoot, Ilya Mikheyev….

At the risk of drawing conclusions from a four-game, three-point sample size, maybe Galchenyuk is not only the one that sticks, but the one who makes general manager Kyle Dubas wonder if he already traded for his top-nine winger.

That low-risk, high-reward flyer the Leafs GM plucked off the Carolina Hurricanes, in part, because, hey, Galchenyuk was already in Ontario, had already cleared waivers and wouldn’t require an extensive quarantine.

Saturday’s showdown between two-thirds of the North Division’s best was loaded with blinding assist highlights: Connor McDavid’s top-speed, no-look rush pass to Leon Draisaitl. Draisaitl’s no-look, behind-the-back, behind-the-net, give-and-go with Tyson Barrie. And Galchenyuk’s no-look, between-the-legs, backhanded drop pass to Tavares in the slot — on a rush that began off a D-zone draw and which triggered the Leafs’ rally and further endeared castaway Galchenyuk to a Toronto team growing tighter by the win.

“He plays with a lot of energy,” Matthews beams. “He’s really passionate about hockey. He works extremely hard. He cares a lot. He’s been playing great over the games he’s been with us. He works hard every shift, he competes, and you can’t really ask for more. He’s got plenty of skill to go along with that. He made a couple of really nice plays tonight, and a couple of huge goals from that line.”

That line — Galchenyuk-Tavares-Nylander — has now generated 82 per cent of expected goals and 90 per cent of high-danger chances in the 30 minutes it’s been on the ice together.

Keefe had started Simmonds in that spot early, but once the Maple Leafs started getting caved in and lost their legs — and the lead — in the second period, the coach peeked at Galchenyuk’s minimal ice time and gave him a promotion.

“I thought Galchenyuk had played well to that point. I hadn’t used him very much, yet the shifts that he had I thought were good,” Keefe explained post-game.

“Galchenyuk hadn’t done anything to come off of that line. He had played quite well. It was more just about giving Simmonds that opportunity there. Just the way that it works out with how the game was going, needed to make some changes. And it was nice to see that line continue the way that it had been playing.”

Especially nice for Tavares, whose strong work in the D-zone and the face-off circle hasn’t kept critics from noticing his lack of even-strength production.

On a night where the Oilers rolled McDavid and Draisaitl on the same line, conjured up wow moments and still lost, it’s worth remembering that the success of the Maple Leafs rests on the Matthews and Tavares units smacking defenders with a one-two punch at even strength.

Particularly when Toronto’s vaunted power play, now 0 for its past 18, gets stuck in the mud.

“Nice to get one,” said Tavares, up to 10 goals in 34 games. “(Scoring) is a big part of my game, and this year it hasn’t seemed to be as consistent as I’d like.

“I’m still trying to figure some things out. Not a perfect science. Just got to bear down on some opportunities. I’m good around the net at finding rebounds and plays in tight, and I haven’t seemed to get as many of those.”

Tavares credits Galchenyuk’s blend of talent, work ethic and playmaking sense as a complement to him and Nylander.

“He was drafted really high for a reason,” Tavares said.

“He’s had really good success in this league. He makes plays quickly, and great two plays on the two goals that help tie it up. Just the energy that he brings. He won a lot of loose pucks, getting first to pucks and just keeping possession and doing a lot of things like that that just help you just make positive plays and over time wear the opponent down and create the openings that you’re looking for.”

Hockey, as always, is a game of breaks. Of opportunity seized.

Galchenyuk, it seems, needed a club willing to be patient, to pump up his confidence and comfort in the minors, then give him shifts him alongside high-end talent to jolt a revival.

And Matthews, after drilling posts and pounding Mike Smith’s pads all night, needed an OT puck to clink off Draisaitl’s stick and Darnell Nurse’s foot before finally finding twine and quenching his drought.

Next one’s going in, next one’s going in, the Rocket leader kept thinking to himself as his attempts got denied.

“Sometimes those ugly ones help you get out of a big slump,” Matthews smiled.

“Not really how I drew it up, but I’ll definitely take it.”

We could say the exact same for the Maple Leafs’ incorporation of Galchenyuk into their top six.

Funny how things work out.

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Boston Bruins Add Offense With Solid Taylor Hall Trade – Boston Hockey Now



The Boston Bruins clearly understood they had serious deficiencies on their NHL roster this season and credit them for going and doing something about it.

The B’s finished off their Sunday night fireworks ahead of the NHL trade deadline by sending a second round pick and Anders Bjork to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for top-6 winger Taylor Hall and bottom-6 forward Curtis Lazar. TSN’s Darren Dreger, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman and ESPN’s John Buccigross were the first to report about the completed deal between the Bruins and Buffalo Sabres in the hours following the B’s getting stomped by the Washington Capitals, 8-1, at TD Garden.

The Buffalo Sabres retained half of the $8 million salary that Hall signed for prior to the start of the 2021 hockey season.

The 29-year-old Hall is having a terrible season in Buffalo with just two goals and 19 points in 37 games along with a minus-21 rating after he chose to sign a one-year deal with the Sabres during the offseason. But he brings legitimate offensive talent as a former No. 1 overall pick and Hart Trophy winner to a Boston Bruins team that’s ranked in the bottom third of the NHL offensively all season.

The Bruins were one of the suitors for Hall prior to him choosing the Sabres months ago, and now they get him for a deep discount while keeping their own first round picks after making their deadline deals.

Holding onto their own first round pick was a priority for Boston Bruins GM Don Sweeney after spending first rounders at the deadline in two of the last three deadlines in trades for damaged goods Rick Nash and Ondrej Kase.

The 26-year-old Lazar has five goals and 11 points in 33 games as a bottom-6 forward for the Sabres this season and is signed for $800,000 for next season. It seemed clear that something was going on with the 24-year-old Anders Bjork over the last couple of weeks as he was a healthy scratch for five straight games, including Sunday night against Washington, and heads to Buffalo hoping to further develop a game built on speed and skill level that hasn’t translated into offense as of yet.

Hall should fit right into the top-6 with the Bruins as a skilled winger for playmaking center David Krejci, but it remains to be seen how he’s going to fit as another left winger on a team with Nick Ritchie and Jake DeBrusk.

Either Ritchie or DeBrusk is going to have to play the off wing with a Krejci/Hall combo, but that’s a problem that Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy will gladly figure out after being forced to piece together lineups all season due to injuries and offensive inconsistency. With the acquisition of Hall, Lazar and left-handed defenseman Mike Reilly on Sunday night, it would appear the Boston Bruins are largely done with deals ahead of Monday’s NHL trade deadline.

Interestingly enough, the Boston Bruins are set to play the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night at TD Garden.

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Drouin must return to mentality that’s led to success this season –



It was something Dominique Ducharme said after his Montreal Canadiens played an abysmal game against the Ottawa Senators last week, something that only truly resonated after they lost 3-2 to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday — a game that emboldened the struggle Jonathan Drouin’s currently enduring.

“Ninety per cent of the mistakes we made were mental, and the rest of it was above our shoulders.” the coach said after the 6-3 loss to Ottawa last Saturday, somewhat channelling New York Yankees legend Yogi Berra with this bit of wit and wisdom.

It was hard not to think of those words watching Drouin play the way he did on Wednesday. For much of this season, the talented left winger has played a primary role in Montreal’s success. He’s led them with 19 assists, been tenacious on the forecheck, physically engaged all over the ice, cerebral as always in his execution and, as he’s said on several occasions, relatively unconcerned by whether or not his name has been featured on the scoresheet.

But it seemed clear, after watching Drouin dump a breakaway into Jack Campbell’s chest with one of 32 shots the Maple Leafs goaltender turned aside to set a franchise record with his 10th consecutive win, he had diverted from that. And that affected the way he played the rest of the game.

It was Drouin’s fifth in a row without a point, his 18th without a goal, and he’d have to be a robot not to be suffering the mental wear of not seeing the puck go in more than twice since the season started, the torment of seeing only three per cent of his shots hit the back of the net through 36 games after 10 per cent of them resulted in goals through the first 348 games of his career.

“It is weighing on me where, when I have a chance and miss the goal, I might be trying to score too much,” Drouin said. “It’s something I obviously think about — every player would — and I’ve just gotta put it past me and just keep shooting pucks.”

Ideally, the 26-year-old wouldn’t be thinking about any of this. These are thoughts that weigh a player down and right now the Canadiens are in tough without Brendan Gallagher for the rest of the season and Drouin needs to be light and free to help account for that loss. And in order for him to do that, he needs to focus on what he does best.

Because the reality is that even though Drouin can score more, scoring isn’t what he needs to do in order to be at his best and really help this team.

“When his feet are moving and he’s making plays, Drou’s a pass-first guy,” explained Jake Allen, who made 29 saves in Carey Price’s absence. “When his feet are moving, his head’s always in it. When his feet are moving, he’s controlling the play, controlling the puck. He’s a guy who really can control the play for a whole line. You want the puck on that guy’s stick and let the other guys do the dirty work and he’ll find them.”

But when Drouin’s feet aren’t moving, there just isn’t enough of that other stuff happening.

When Drouin’s feet weren’t moving, he lost a battle for the puck in the offensive zone and allowed the NHL’s leading goal scorer to start the rush that resulted in the winning play of Wednesday’s game.

Auston Matthews to Mitch Marner, back to Matthews, off Allen and slammed into Montreal’s net by Zach Hyman with 9:39 remaining in the third period, with Drouin watching from just inside his own blue line.

“You give a 3-on-2 to the Matthews line and it’s the kind of play they’re going to make you pay on,” said Ducharme.

Was Drouin still thinking about that shot he didn’t bury in the second period?

It’s understandable if he was, but those are the kind of thoughts he needs to shake right now.

“He wants to do well, and I’m sure it’s getting a little bit in his head,” said Ducharme. “I think the best remedy for him is to be scoring that goal or making that big play, and I think he’s going to be energized by that and less thinking, more acting.

“It is a fine line. Those kind of thoughts is not something that you want to happen. But when you receive that puck and you see the opening and stuff, (the slump) comes back to (your mind). That’s why the mental part of the game is something that’s very tricky. It’s not his will to be thinking that way. Every player who’s going through a time like that will have that thought and scoring that goal will take him to a different level. At those kind of times you need to make it even simpler and being even more inside going at the net and finding a garbage (goal) right there and you put it in and sometimes you go on a little run. It might be that kind of goal that he needs to get that monkey off his back.”

It’s the kind of goal Corey Perry scored twice to give the Canadiens a chance in this game.

But Drouin isn’t Perry, who rightly pointed out after the game he’s made a career of scoring goals that way. And even if Drouin can borrow from what Perry does next time he has a chance like the one Brett Kulak set him up with for that breakaway, there are other ways he can positively impact the game.

You can appreciate that Drouin said he’s putting pressure on himself to score more and help make up for the goals the team will be missing with Gallagher sidelined, but that might not get him to where he needs to be mentally to contribute as much as he already has this season.

What would, though, is a sharp turn towards the mentality he described just days ago. The one that’s enabled him to be a much more consistent player this season than he has in seasons past.

“When I was younger, I’d stay on one game or stay on one play for too long and wouldn’t be able to let it go for a bit or a couple of days,” Drouin said. “But I think for me now it’s can I look at myself in the mirror after a game and did I give my good effort? Was I a part of this game? Was I doing something right in a lot of areas?

“That’s what I do now. I think points are there, goals are there, assists are there, but it’s just about playing that real game and playing to help your team win.”

Drouin’s done a lot of that this season and has a chance to get right back to it when the Winnipeg Jets visit the Bell Centre Thursday.

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Scioscia to lead U.S. baseball bid for spot at Tokyo Olympics



(Reuters) – Mike Scioscia, who won World Series both as a player and manager, was named manager of the U.S. men’s national baseball team on Tuesday, as they seek a spot at the Tokyo Olympics.

After 19 seasons as manager of the Anaheim Angels, guiding them to their only World Series win in 2002, Scioscia will make his international coaching debut in June when the United States hosts the Baseball Americas Qualifier in Florida.

For the tournament the U.S. will be grouped with the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Nicaragua in Pool A while Canada, Colombia, Cuba, and Venezuela will make up Pool B.

The top two teams from each pool will advance to the Super Round, where the country with the best overall record will earn a spot in the Tokyo Olympic tournament.

Second and third-place finishers will advance to a final qualifier, joining Australia, China, Taiwan, and the Netherlands.

“Mike’s tenure with the Angels’ franchise was nothing short of spectacular, creating and celebrating a culture of success with six division titles, an American League pennant, and its first-ever World Series title,” said USA Baseball Executive Director/CEO Paul Seiler in a statement. “More impactfully, his leadership, integrity, and character are unparalleled in our game, making him the perfect fit for the USA Baseball family.”

The Olympic tournament will take place from July 28-Aug. 7 in Fukushima City and Yokohama.

Hosts Japan, Israel, South Korea, and Mexico have already secured a berth in the six-team field.


(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto. Editing by Toby Davis)

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