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Maple Leafs not focused on coach Keefe job security

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TORONTO — The Toronto Maple Leafs are only focused on improving, not coach Sheldon Keefe’s job security.

“We’re out there trying to win games, that’s all we are thinking about,” defenseman Morgan Rielly said at practice Tuesday.

After a 1-2-2 road trip that ended with a 4-3 overtime loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday, when they gave up a 3-1 third-period lead, the Maple Leafs will play eight of their next 10 games at home beginning against the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET; SN1, TVAS, NBCSP+, ESPN+, SN NOW).

Despite high expectations, Toronto (4-4-2) has started slowly through 10 games, including regulation losses to the Montreal Canadiens, Arizona Coyotes and Vegas Golden Knights, and overtime losses to the San Jose Sharks and Ducks — all teams that did not qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season.

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As for any suggestions that Keefe’s job is in jeopardy, the players do not agree.

“We’re a hockey team that wants to win games,” forward Mitchell Marner said. “Keefe has done an unbelievable job with this team when he’s come in and done what he’s done. If you look at our numbers, we’ve really improved on a lot of things and he’s done an amazing job here. It’s been a lot of fun to play for him. For us, it’s just making sure it starts with our effort, accountability and once we get those two things going, I think we are really going to be moving in the right direction.”

Marner was held publicly accountable by Keefe during the loss Sunday, being benched for a shift after committing two turnovers that led directly to Anaheim goals. He left the bench during a stoppage in play to take out his frustration, but said his discontent stemmed from his poor play, not the benching.

“I take a lot of accountability in myself, and [Keefe] does with everyone here in this locker room,” Marner said. “It doesn’t matter who you are, you have to show every player is accountable regardless, and I’ve got no problem with that at all.”

Keefe is 120-54-21 in 195 games across four seasons since replacing Mike Babcock as Toronto coach Nov. 20, 2019, and the Maple Leafs have lost all three of their playoff series during his tenure. He said he’s not focusing on the mounting pressure.

“My focus solely is just to get our team to play better,” Keefe said. “I think an area we can improve on the most is how connected we are, how we execute coming out of our zone and getting through the neutral zone and just getting on the attack from there.”

The Maple Leafs are built around offensive prowess but ranked 27th in the NHL in goals per game (2.70) entering Tuesday, having scored more than three in a game once. Toronto ranked second with an average of 3.80 goals per game last season, when it went 2-4-1 in its first seven games, then won five straight on the way to finishing second in the Atlantic Division (54-21-7).

Captain John Tavares agreed with Keefe that the path toward improvement offensively starts in the defensive zone.

“We look at the way we are breaking the puck out and just trying to be more efficient there,” Tavares said. “Open up our speed and our ability to get on the attack and on the forecheck and hopefully connect all three zones together.”

Though the players admitted they can sense the frustration among a fan base eager to see the Maple Leafs have success, center Auston Matthews said the fans are not alone in those feelings.

“I think we’re frustrated too,” Matthews said. “I think it’s not a one-way street. We want to be better, win games and play to our capabilities. … We expect a lot from each other.”

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Canadiens @ Oilers: Start time, Tale of the Tape, and how to watch – Habs Eyes on the Prize

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Montreal Canadiens @ Edmonton Oilers

How to watch

Start time: 7:00 PM EST / 4:00 PM PST
In Canada: CBC, Sportsnet 360 (English), TVAS (French)

The Montreal Canadiens will look to add another win on their Western-Canada-plus-Seattle road trip two nights removed from an exciting 2-1 victory over the Calgary Flames on Thursday. The game might have been a one-goal contest, but it would’ve been a lot different if goaltender Jake Allen hadn’t stood on his head, making a whopping 45 saves in the victory, his first since November 19.

Tale of the Tape

Canadiens Statistics Oilers
Canadiens Statistics Oilers
12-10-1 Record 13-11-0
45.8% (24th) Scoring-chances-for % 50,5% (17th)
2,78 (26th) Goals per game 3,42 (9th)
3,39 (22nd) Goals against per game 3,63 (7th)
15,7% (29th) PP% 27,6% (5th)
82,3% (6th) PK% 71,6% (27th)
1-1-0 H2H Record (’21-22) 1-1-0

On Thursday, it was Montreal’s first overall pick from this summer’s draft, Juraj Slafkovský, who opened the scoring on the first shot of the game at 13 seconds, when Calgary all-star goaltender Jacob Markstrom decided to leave his crease to try to play the puck, which inevitably resulted in a poor miscue by the former Vezina nominee.

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Habs standout Cole Caufield, who has been mesmerizing fans and brass alike, scored the eventual game-winner, a power-play marker six-and-a-half minutes into the third period for his team-leading 13th goal of the season. The man advantage has been a bit of a soft spot all season, finding itself 29th in the league, and also especially after going zero-for-six earlier in the week against San Jose, it was nice to see it clicking for once.

Thursday’s game was also a homecoming of sorts for Sean Monahan, a former 2013 first-round pick of the Calgary Flames. His return was met with a lot of chants and cheers, as opposed to Kirby Dach’s return to Chicago a week prior. Monahan, who currently sits fourth in team scoring with five goals and 16 points, assisted on both Montreal goals.

Tonight’s opponent, the Edmonton Oilers, saw their three-game winning streak come to an abrupt halt in their last game Thursday night, a 5-3 loss to Kirill ‘The Thrill’ Kaprizov and the Minnesota Wild squad. The Oilers’ one-two punch of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl each had a goal and a helper in the contest, but it didn’t help their cause.

McDavid and Draisaitl have been two of the best players in the game in recent years, and yet again find themselves on pace for record-setting seasons, sitting number one and three in the NHL scoring race, respectively. McDavid’s 19 goals and 43 points through his first 24 games make his numbers last season (44 goals and 79 assists) look like a poor performance for the perennial all-star.

His German counterpart currently has 16 goals and 38 points, making his career-best totals of 55 goals and 110 points also seem well within reach, which makes these two some of the best teammates at the top of the leaderboard since the late-90s when the Pittsburgh Penguins had Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr taking the league down in a fury.

Both Edmonton goaltenders, Jack Campbell and Stuart Skinner, have shared an equal workload with Mike Smith on the Long-Term Injured Reserve list. Campbell, who signed an off-season deal with the Oilers at five years and-$25 million, has put up seven wins, but a league-worst 4.12 goals-against-average.

Last season saw these two squads split the season series, with each road team getting a victory. Edmonton took the first contest, a 7-2 dismantling at the Bell Centre on January 29, and then Montreal exacted revenge on March 5, with a 5-2 victory at Rogers Place.

One bright spot for Habs last year was that of all nine of Edmonton’s goal-scorers versus Montreal, none wore the number 97. McDavid registered zero points across both contests. Just a little optimism that it can repeat itself Saturday in Alberta.

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NHL Buzz: Manson out week to week for Avalanche – NHL.com

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Welcome to the NHL Buzz. The 2022-23 regular season is underway, and NHL.com has you covered with all the latest news.

Colorado Avalanche

Josh Manson is out week to week for the Avalanche because of a lower-body injury.

The defenseman, who sustained the injury in a 6-4 win against the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday, has six points (two goals, four assists) in 21 games this season.

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Andreas Englund was recalled from Colorado of the American Hockey League. He has one assist in four games with the Avalanche this season.

“Englund has played good when he’s been up with us,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said. “I really like what he did when he was up. … Just another big (6-foot-3, 189 pounds), heavy, strong guy that’s been an efficient puck mover for us on the back end.”

Carolina Hurricanes

Teuvo Teravainen could return for the Hurricanes on Saturday one day after the forward was activated off injured reserve.

Teravainen, who has missed the past 10 games with an upper-body injury, has seven assists in 14 games this season.

Carolina plays at the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday (10:30 p.m. ET; BSW, BSSO, ESPN+, SN NOW).

Philadelphia Flyers

Cam Atkinson said he’s getting closer to making his season debut, but the forward remains day to day because of an upper-body injury.

Atkinson added he’s been fully cleared for contact and is not restricted in any way.

“It’s obviously good to be back with everyone and take a little bit of licks and see how I do,” Atkinson said. “Just day to day for me right now.

“It’s been pretty good. A little bit of an adjustment but just working out the kinks. I’m getting close, but not enough to where I think I can help this team right now. But I’m closer than not.”

Atkinson was second on the Flyers in goals (23) and points (50) last season. Entering Saturday, Philadelphia was last in the NHL in goals per game (2.38).

Atkinson said the nature of his injury has allowed him to skate and stay in shape that way but that it might take a game or two for him to get his timing with the puck back to normal.

“If I was playing and if we had a day off, even one day off, even if I played 30 games and I took a day off, I still feel like that next practice my timing is just a little bit off,” he said. “Maybe it’s more mental than not. So obviously not playing any games it’s going to take a game or two to get adjusted, but we’re on a pretty good schedule for me right now. I’ve revved it up a lot and I’m feeling good. I feel like my timing is pretty solid, but you really won’t know until you play a game.” — Adam Kimelman

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World Cup Daily: Timeless Messi is on a mission for Argentina – Sportsnet.ca

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