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Maple Leafs send Adam Brooks and Timothy Liljegren back to the Marlies – Pension Plan Puppets

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Today, with the Leafs off to a monastery to reflect on their sins for a week, Adam Brooks and Timothy Liljegren will return to a Marlies team that will be very happy to see them.

Last night while the Leafs were doing whatever that was for the first two periods against Chicago, the Marlies were struggling against the Charlotte Checkers, while playing on a tough road trip that tries even great teams. Running on a depleted roster, and outshot 14-7 in the first period, the Marlies ultimately lost in a shootout after Mason Marchment scored all their goals for them. Sometimes a player like Marchment comes back from a short NHL assignment on fire, and they have to hope Brooks and Liljegren will too.

Adam Brooks, who played limited minutes in most of his seven appearances with the Leafs, leaves the NHL (for now) with some good on-ice results. In 52 minutes, he has a Corsi % of 48, but an Expected Goals % of 54, which is very unusual for a depth player. Even, better, Brooks put up very good Expected Goals Against numbers, so he wasn’t just on the ice for a lot of shots against hapless fourth lines.

While Brooks looked a little over his head in some games against very good quality fourth lines, he often looked like he fit right in, and no one is going to suggest that Frederik Gauthier or Dmytro Timashov are quality linemates. He finishes up as at least the equal of Timashov, and we know he has more individual scoring talent. Back in the AHL, he will be given some things to work on, and he’s never shown any sign of not attacking his homework with gusto.

Timothy Liljegren played one game, a blowout where he was the seventh defender, so let’s not read too much into his appearance. He had slightly above average results, which few Leafs did, in 10 minutes on the ice.

Liljegren is desperately needed on the Marlies, as Mac Hollowell left the game last night injured, and his status is uncertain. But more than that, he’s needed because Rasmus Sandin is not joining him back in the AHL.

Sandin appears to be getting an NHL bye-week vacation. He is slated to represent the Marlies at the AHL All-Star Game on January 26, but if the Maple Leafs have no intention of sending him back to the AHL once Jake Muzzin returns to the lineup (which seems like it will be right after the All-Star break) then Sandin might be replaced in that game by another North division defender (Liljegren himself is a possibility).

Sandin has appeared in nine games, so this is the first decision time for the Leafs. One more game, and his contract doesn’t slide. In those games, he has a Corsi % of 56 and an Expected Goals % of 49, but it bears remembering that most of his 115 minutes at five-on-five came in the early part of the year when that sort of extreme erosion of shotshare when weighted for quality was a team-wide problem. For him, that pattern has persisted in his three most-recent games, however.

Sandin’s issue is extremely low Expected Goals For while he’s on the ice, and the first place to look for an explanation for that is his teammates. He’s played mostly with Cody Ceci and Justin Holl, and he shows up as the better player in both pairings. He’s been used through the whole lineup with approximately 30 minutes on-ice together with Alexander Kerfoot, John Tavares and Auston Matthews. He’s also got 22 minutes with Frederik Gauthier. The low quality of offence while he’s been on the ice is attributable first to variance and then to a slightly defensive zone usage. He hasn’t been tossed out in the offensive zone all the time, and has been relied on to actually defend.

The Leafs defence roster is a wide open question right now. Sandin might play the rest of the season; Liljegren might get a return engagement, or the trade deadline might see new faces on the team entirely. For now, all three of these players made positive impressions in NHL play. They just have to build on that, no matter which team they’re playing on.

Note: numbers and concepts from Evolving Hockey and Hockey Viz.

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Raptors’ loss to Bucks a contrast of familiar trends, concerning novelties – Sportsnet.ca

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TORONTO — Things have changed but much remains the same since the last time the two best teams in the Eastern Conference faced off in Toronto.

There was Drake trolling the Milwaukee Bucks and the entire state of Wisconsin, strolling to his courtside seat with not one but two championship belts over his shoulder, a reminder – as if the Bucks needed one – that Drake’s Toronto Raptors won not only the Eastern Conference championship over Milwaukee last May, but that they went on to win the whole thing.

The intensity was there too.

There were bodies hitting the floor, charges being drawn, and the Raptors throwing their whole roster, seemingly, in the path of Giannis Antetokounmpo.

There were a number of Raptors — though not enough in the end — making key contributions from the perimeter as the Bucks remained committed to camping their huge bodies in the paint, daring anyone to finish over them at the rim.

There were differences, though, and they might be concerning if the second-seeded Raptors do end up having to go through the No.1-seeded Bucks to defend their NBA title.

Missing was Kawhi Leonard from the Raptors lineup, and also Marc Gasol – the two Toronto players most responsible for holding down Antetokounmpo and enabling the Raptors to come back from 0-2 and winning four straight on their way to the NBA Finals.

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Would the Raptors be able to contain Antetokounmpo, who seems poised to run away with his second-straight MVP award? Does that remain the formula to upend a Bucks team that has run roughshod over the NBA for nearly two seasons, save for a four-game losing streak to the Raptors at precisely the wrong time – Games 3 through 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals?

The returns were mixed but, from the Raptors’ point of view, concerning. The Bucks won 108-97, dominating most of the second half after the Raptors were the better team early. The Bucks improved to 50-9 while playing on the second night of a back-to-back and their third game in four nights. The Raptors dropped to 42-16 and lost for just the third time in their past 20 games.

Antetokounmpo was unruffled by Drake, first of all.

“That’s good. He cares about me,” he said when asked about the on-going troll job by the Raptors’ Global Ambassador. “I really don’t [care about him]. I’m just here to win games and help my team win. That’s all.”

And for the most part, he showed signs of becoming increasingly comfortable with the all-hands-on-deck defensive the approach that the Raptors used against him in the playoffs and saw him struggle mightily over the Bucks final four-game swoon.

He finished with a relatively modest – for him – 19 points on 5-of-14 shooting. But he did have eight assists (along with 19 rebounds), a total that could have been much higher had his Bucks teammates shot better than 12-of-38 from the three.

Still just 25 years old, Antetokounmpo is gaining confidence dealing with multi-layered defensive approaches like the Raptors executed so well in the playoffs and were showing him again on Tuesday night.

“So I started the game getting the ball on the block, seeing immediately a guy coming off the catch double teaming me. ‘OK, cool. Tonight is not going to be the night,’ said Antetokounmpo. “So I’ve got to find guys … and guys can knock down shots. If guys don’t shoot the ball, it can find me back and I can attack. That’s my mindset.”

It’s been a process. Antetokounmpo is both driven and hugely talented. Going around a problem rather than straight through it doesn’t come naturally.

“Coach Bud says I’m stubborn,” Antetokounmpo says. “One of my best qualities is that I’m stubborn. One of my worst qualities is that I’m stubborn. So when you start the game I want to come out aggressive. … They were sending second guys, they were defending really well. But there’s sometimes you’ve got to mature, and say OK, tonight is not the night. You’ve got to find your open guy and coach Bud has helped me with that a lot. So I’ve tried to be mature and not force stuff as much as possible.”

And this is where the Raptors – and the rest of the NBA – could have a problem come May or June.

Antetokounmpo, who worked himself into a lather two hours before the game while working on his shooting and ball-handling, is improving in all aspects of his game.

And defensively, the Bucks remain a formidable machine, relying on Antetokounmpo and Brook and Robin Lopez to deter any all attacks at the rim. The three of them combined for 10 blocked shots, five by Brook Lopez and three by Antetokounmpo.

With the paint shut down, the Raptors needed to punish the Bucks from beyond the arc, and they didn’t. Toronto shot 35.2 per cent from the floor and 18-of-52 from three. Raptors star Pascal Siakam was 5-of-9 from deep, but just 1-of-5 from anywhere else.

“They’re good. They’re a good defensive team. They clog the paint,” said Raptors guard Fred VanVleet who was 5-of-14 from the floor and 3-of-9 from three, while Kyle Lowry was 1-of-7. Serge Ibaka was 1-of-10. “They give us those shots. Those are our shots. Sometimes you make them and sometimes you don’t.

“… All in all, we know that they’re a great defensive team. At the same time, I don’t think like anybody is thinking we didn’t get the shots we needed to get to beat them. Didn’t make enough plays, didn’t do enough. And that’s a great team, so you’ve got to play up to their level in order to get a win like that.”

Trailing by 13 to start the fourth quarter, Toronto cut the Bucks’ lead to five midway through the period, but couldn’t answer when the Bucks surged back. A corner three by Antetokounmpo put Milwaukee up by 10 with less than two minutes to play and Toronto was stymied from there.

The Raptors’ first goal was not to get blown out. The Bucks came into Scotiabank Arena with a point differential of 12.2 per game – on pace for an NBA record.

The Bucks specialize in blowing teams out early, which is why they can afford to play Antetokounmpo 30.7 minutes night, which makes his 29.9 points, 8.8 rebounds and 4.3 assists averages all the more remarkable.

Forcing Antetokounmpo to play 38 minutes on the second night of a back-to-back was a small victory in itself.

And Toronto controlled big chunks of the game, holding Milwaukee without a field goal for the first two minutes and Antetokounmpo off the board for the first four minutes. Of course the only team in the NBA with better defensive metrics than the Raptors are the Bucks. Midway through the first quarter, the score was tied 10-10.

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Toronto led 27-25 at the end of the first quarter, holding the Bucks to 40-per-cent shooting and Antetokounmpo to five points on 1-of-3 shooting as they built a wall on the free-throw line to block his path to the rim and then swarmed him with a variety of double teams once his momentum was stalled.

Same old, same old.

And the Raptors had some new elements begin to come into play as their emerging bench looked determined to prove their worth in the Eastern Conference showdown. Their plans were signalled loudly when spindly Chris Boucher flew through the lane for a spectacular put-back dunk over Antetokounmpo in the first quarter and then drew a charge on the Bucks star a few plays later. Boucher was feeling it, and added a pair of triples to put up a quick 10 points in just over nine minutes of action.

He was just setting the tone.

Little-used sharpshooter Matt Thomas got some run in the second quarter, with Nurse finding suitable matchups with the Bucks’ crew of smaller wings. Just one game removed from scoring an NBA career-high 17 points in mop-up duty against the Indiana Pacers, Thomas knocked down three triples on three chances in his seven minutes of floor time in the first half and added a couple of clever assists as the Bucks’ defence began to overreact to him outside the line.

The Raptors went up nine early in the second quarter and were up 12 with just under three minutes to play in the half after Ibaka found a cutting OG Anunoby for a dunk that Giannis couldn’t get to the rim in time to defend.

The Bucks pushed back, finishing the second quarter on an 11-2 run, but the Raptors still had a 52-50 lead to start the third quarter. Things threatened to get out of hand at that point as the Bucks’ top-rated defence began to tighten and Toronto had a hard time scoring in the third. They shot 7-of-20 from the floor and made five turnovers as Milwaukee won the period 34-19 and entered the final frame leading 84-71.

The Raptors couldn’t close the gap. For now, it doesn’t matter. They have until May to see if their rivalry with Milwaukee will have a different ending.

But if Antetokounmpo is beginning to feel like he might be on the verge of figuring out how to manage his own stubborn nature and the kind of defences with which Toronto has had so much success, the Raptors – and the rest of the NBA – could be in a lot of trouble.

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Emergency goalie given hero's welcome at 'David Ayres Day' in North Carolina – CTV News

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TORONTO —
Emergency backup goalie and hockey sensation David Ayres visited North Carolina on Tuesday to celebrate “David Ayres Day” in Raleigh and receive an honorary residency from the state for his show-stopping performance on the ice.

Ayres, a 42-year-old Zamboni driver from Whitby, Ont., joined the Carolina Hurricanes as an emergency goalie on Saturday night when both the team’s regular goalies left due to injury. Ayres made eight stops on 10 shots and helped the Hurricanes secure a 6-3 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs.

With the win, Ayres became the only emergency goalie to register an official win in the National Hockey League and became the oldest goalie to win in their NHL debut.

“They took my stick yesterday after the game and put it in the Hall of Fame because I broke a record there, which was cool,” Ayres told reporters on Tuesday. “I wasn’t expecting that.”

Since the win, Ayres has become an internet sensation and appeared on several national morning and late shows in the U.S. On Tuesday, Ayres recounted how he was walking onto the set of “Fox & Friends” while finishing up a telephone interview with another outlet.

“I had to ask a couple times: ‘Who am I talking to now?’ before I even went on because I didn’t have the itinerary in front of me,” he said.

Ayres arrived in Raleigh, where the city has declared Tuesday “David Ayres Day.” He’s scheduled to attend the Hurricanes home game Tuesday evening.

Ayres will be available for autographs before the game and will serve as the game’s “siren sounder,” a tradition at Hurricanes games where local celebrities turn a crank to set off a siren and pump up the fans in attendance.

“I can’t wait, this is going to be so much fun,” he said. “I just hope that I’m doing it right.”

The Hurricanes will be selling David Ayres shirts, with proceeds going to the Carolinas division of the National Kidney Foundation. Ayres received a kidney transplant in 2004.

“I want to make sure that everyone else knows that just because you have a kidney transplant or something like that, it’s not the end of the world,” Ayres said.

Ayres also hinted that he might be involved in the “storm surge,” a unique tradition where Hurricanes players celebrate home wins with funny and clever celebrations at centre ice.

In the past, the players have played basketball, tossed Halloween candy into the stands and brought famous boxer Evander Holyfield on to the ice for a pretend boxing match.

“I would be all over that, even if I had to slide like a penguin on the ice,” Ayres said.

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper has also named Ayres an “honorary North Carolinian” on Tuesday. According to the official declaration, Ayres and the Hurricanes embodied the state’s motto of “to be rather than to seem” with “their resiliency on the way to a critical win in the playoff hunt.” 

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Leafs D Muzzin (hand) leaves game early – TSN

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Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Jake Muzzin left Tuesday night’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the third period with a hand injury, the team announced. 

 The 31-year-old left the game after blocking a shot with his hand, he had a goal in the game before exiting. 

The injury comes just one day after he signed a four-year contract extension. 

Muzzin was scheduled to become a free agent in July and carries a $4 million cap hit this season, the last of a five-year deal signed with Los Angeles in 2014. The extension will make Muzzin the Maple Leafs’ highest-paid defenceman next season, coming in ahead of Morgan Rielly, who carries a $5 million cap hit through 2021-22.

The 30-year-old has six goals and 23 points 53 games with the Maple Leafs this season while averaging 21:43 of ice time per game.

The Maple Leafs acquired Muzzin, a Stanley Cup winner in 2014, from the Kings for Carl Grundstrom, Sean Durzi and a 2019 first-round pick on Jan. 28, 2019.

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