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Maple Leafs’ loss to Flames a reminder of the security Andersen provides – Sportsnet.ca

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TORONTO — Given how well these first 20 games have unfolded, a flat effort by the Toronto Maple Leafs was not on its own any cause for alarm.

The league’s best power play went 0-for-7 during Monday’s 3-0 loss to the Calgary Flames and its hottest goal-scorer, Auston Matthews, failed to register a point for the first time in 17 games. It was bound to happen eventually.

“I think we’ve shown that this is not us,” said Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe, whose team has a league-best .750 points percentage to prove it.

Where there might be some room for worry, however, is the status of No. 1 goaltender Frederik Andersen. He was a surprise scratch at Scotiabank Arena. His replacement, Michael Hutchinson, said he got word early in the day that he’d be drawing his second start of the season against the Flames but there was no prior indication anything was wrong.

Andersen took part in a morning skate with teammates that lasted no more than 10 minutes on Monday — incredibly short by normal standards, but a sensible approach before Toronto’s sixth game in nine nights.

He occupied the starter’s net and everything appeared to be normal. At least until the team announced he was out with a “lower-body injury” less than an hour from puck drop.

And it certainly doesn’t sound like we should expect to see Andersen return to the crease for Wednesday’s rematch with Calgary.

“He’s day-to-day. That’s all I’ve got for you,” said Keefe. “I don’t know what’s going to happen from here.”

Calgary was also down its usual starter Jacob Markstrom, but got a strong performance from David Rittich.

Hutchinson couldn’t quite match it. He recovered reasonably well after surrendering a shaky opening goal that squeaked through his pads and left a tap-in for Sam Bennett. But he didn’t get any run support from teammates who were frequently mishandling pucks and unable to mount much of a sustained offensive push before the third period.

Where the potential concern lies with Andersen is it may be a sign his body breaking down after an extremely busy start to the condensed season. No NHL goaltender has seen more than his 957 minutes 30 seconds of game action and only Edmonton’s Mikko Koskinen has faced more than the 454 shots sent his way.

That’s in large part due to the 10 straight starts Andersen made after backup Jack Campbell went down with a leg injury last month — a string broken last Wednesday when Hutchinson spotted him for a 7-3 victory over the Ottawa Senators.

“It has been a very busy schedule for Fred and he’s been dealing with some things as well that just warranted that he needed to get some time off here, too,” Keefe said then.

This is not how the organization imagined things playing out in the crease, not after bringing Hutchinson back in October to fill the No. 4 slot on the depth chart. Remember that he saw his first tenure with the team ostensibly end when they dealt for Campbell during a game he started and lost at Madison Square Garden in February 2020.

The goal for this season was to work Campbell more regularly into a rotation with Andersen and that plan appeared prudent with two solid performances until he was injured Jan. 24 at Calgary. The Leafs had already lost No. 3 Aaron Dell on waivers to New Jersey by that point and so Hutchinson found himself back in a position to play.

While there’s a major silver lining to be found in their 14-4-2 record, the Leafs are weathering a storm right now. Joe Thornton (upper body), Zach Hyman (foot) and Wayne Simmonds (broken wrist) all missed Monday’s game, as did top shutdown defenceman Jake Muzzin (broken bone in his face).

The team can afford to be patient with Andersen’s injury situation because of its strong start and Campbell’s anticipated return to the lineup in the days ahead. But Toronto won’t want to have to face the more meaningful games to come without him.

It has now won just seven of the 21 games where Hutchinson has been the goalie of record dating back to the 2018-19 season, and Campbell’s strong play as a Maple Leaf has to be weighed against the fact he’s still appeared in fewer than 70 NHL games throughout his entire career.

Andersen is the only proven entity here and he should be handled with care.

In his absence, his teammates get a pass for their low-energy outing against a much more desperate Flames outfit. But it was also a reminder of the security blanket he typically provides them.

“I thought our team played like one that was expecting things to go bad and not go our way today rather than making it go our way,” said Keefe. “I didn’t like our mindset in that sense.”

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Everybody loves Jesse Puljujarvi right now, even his coach, who says: "I love Jesse" – Edmonton Journal

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It’s an ecstatic time fans of the Edmonton Oilers right now.

The team is on a run of 11 wins in 13 games.

Connor McDavid and Leon Drasaitl are one and two in NHL scoring.

Darnell Nurse is one of the NHL’s top scoring d-men.

Mike Smith has the best save percentage of any regular NHL goalie.

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And, perhaps most surprising, all kinds of bit players, role players and unsung Oilers are coming through with strong play, from  grinders Jujhar Khaira, Tyler Ennis and Josh Archibald on the team’s hard-checking Nitty Gritty Dirt Line to Gaetan Haas on the penalty kill to Jesse Puljujarvi, who suddenly looks every bit the fourth overall pick in the 2016 draft.

He’s playing strong two-way hockey on Edmonton’s top line with Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

Puljujarvi has six goals in his last 10 games. He’s taking care of business both in his own zone and as a grinder in front of the opposition net.

He’s playing so well that he’s even won over his coach, something Puljujarvi never came close to doing with Todd McLellan and Ken Hitchcock in the young forward’s first stint with the Oilers.

“I love Jesse,” said coach Dave Tippett when asked about Puljujarvi. “He’s always having fun. You love to see a guy, when he scores he’s having so much fun, he’s like a kid in a candy store out there. He’s playing really well. He plays hard. He’s around it. He plays hard all the time. He’s come in and he’s really given us a boost. He’s a Top 6 forward that can play in a lot of different situations and I think there’s huge upside on him going forward but he’s been real good for us so far.”

This summer I argued it would be a good idea to try Puljujarvi with McDavid based on their past success together. I became more convinced that Puljujarvi would have some NHL success after watching him in Finland in the fall. He was just so big, fast, skilled and confident, like an aircraft carrier cruising up and down the ice, dominating the battle theatre. At that time I wrote that the 22-year-old Puljujarvi was fairly swaggering with confidence on the ice,  glowing with purpose, shining like a well-cut diamond, a most welcome sight.

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But could he translate that to the NHL? No one could be certain until he actually did it.

Puljujarvi was inconsistent in his early games in Edmonton this winter. He wasn’t helped by playing with a struggling Kyle Turris, but he’s put together a run of solid games on the top line.

His linemates McDavid and Nugent-Hopkins now look to pass to Puljujarvi, something that didn’t happen so much in his previous stint with the Oilers. Nugent-Hopkins even came to Puljujarvi’s defence after Antoine Roussel of Vancouver cheap shotted him with a punch, a sure sign this Oilers team is coming together.

When it comes to the heart and the guts of the NHL game — making major contributions to Grade A scoring chances at even strength, as well as not making major mistakes on Grade A chances against — Puljujarvi is the Oilers best winger.

He’s made 41 such major contributions to Grade A chances in 272 even strength minutes, 2.2 per game.

Next best for Oilers wingers is Nugent Hopkins and Zack Kassian, 1.97 per game, then Dominik Kahun, 1.87 per game. Connor McDavid leads the team overall with 3.1 per game.

Can Puljujarvi keep up the scoring? We’re all starting to believe, most importantly, his coach.

At the Cult

STAPLES: Player grades: Brilliant goaltending at both ends as Oilers beat Canucks

McCURDY: Oilers have depth scoring! Oilers have depth scoring!

STAPLES: How to ramp up Yamamoto’s even-strength scoring

LEAVINS: Player grades in comeback win over the Canucks

McCURDY: Caleb Jones get an opportunity to draw back in

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Raptors coach Nick Nurse will miss Friday's game due to COVID-19 protocols – CBC.ca

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Nick Nurse, head coach of the Toronto Raptors, and five other members of the coaching staff will not be part of Friday night’s game against the Houston Rockets, because of health and safety protocols, the team announced.

“Due to health and safety protocols, six members of the Raptors’ coaching staff, including head coach Nick Nurse, will not be on the bench beginning with Friday’s game vs. Houston. They will continue to work remotely, and details on their return will be communicated when appropriate,” the team said in a statement. 

General manager Bobby Webster will speak to the media Friday at 5:45 p.m. ET, during the head coach’s pregame availability window.

It’s uncertain who will take over on the bench for what was already a shorthanded staff. Chris Finch left the team earlier this week to become head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Adrian Griffin, Sergio Scariolo, Jama Mahlalela, Jim Sann and Jon Goodwillie make up the remainder of Nurse’s coaching staff.

It’s also uncertain how many games the coaching staff will miss. The Raptors host Chicago on Sunday.

The Raptors have been lucky amid the global pandemic with no games postponed or rescheduled. Because of Canada’s border restrictions, they’re playing the season at Tampa’s Amalie Arena.

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Raptors sign Donta Hall to 10-day contract, acquire G-League guard Cumberland – Sportsnet.ca

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TORONTO — The Toronto Raptors have signed forward Donta Hall to a 10-day contract.

The six-foot-10 frontcourt player was expected to be in the lineup Friday for Toronto’s G-League affiliate, Raptors 905, in its game against the Greensboro Swarm.

Hall is averaging 8.9 points, 9.0 rebounds, 1.8 blocks and 23.5 minutes in nine games with Team Ignite of the NBA G League this season.

Hall split the 2019-20 season between the Grand Rapids Drive of the G League and Detroit Pistons and Brooklyn Nets in the NBA. He averaged 4.3 points, 4.2 rebounds and 14.8 minutes in nine games at the NBA level.

Raptors 905 also acquired guard Jarron Cumberland and a 2022 second round pick from the Rio Grande Valley Vipers in exchange for forward Dewan Hernandez.

The six-foot-five Cumberland was selected 12th overall in the 2021 NBA G League Draft by Rio Grande Valley.

Hernandez was selected 59th overall by the Raptors in the 2019 NBA draft. He appeared in six games for Toronto last season, averaging 2.3 points and 2.3 rebounds in 4.7 minutes.

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