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Maple Leafs’ Thornton: ‘Can’t wait to play tomorrow’ after rib injury –



Joe Thornton‘s return to the Toronto Maple Leafs lineup is, at last, on the horizon.

Thornton, who has missed 10 consecutive games with a fractured rib, told reporters on Sunday that he “can’t wait to play tomorrow” against the Ottawa Senators.

“[The injury] was unfortunate, but I feel really good now and I can’t wait to play tomorrow,” Thornton said. “I’ve got the proper pads and I’ve been taking some light hits and some big hits and medium hits. Right now, I feel really good. I have no restrictions.”

During Sunday’s practice, Thornton skated on a line with Auston Matthews and Mitchell Marner, the duo he primarily played with in the first five games this season.

“A lot of the things that I was hoping would happen with the line were happening,” Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said. “Joe, with his skill set and the way he moves the puck, complimented those guys very well. Also, with Joe being a presence down below the hash marks in the offensive zone, he did that very well for them.

“Probably the area that I had underestimated was Joe’s ability to win the puck back. Just the number of times he was tracking guys from behind and with his reach, the way he got his stick on the puck, he created so many loose pucks an turnovers and opportunities for Mitch and Auston going the other way.”

A return tomorrow aligns with Keefe’s initial timeline for Thornton, which indicated he would be out for a month, giving Toronto a boost not just on the ice but off of it as well.

“I think it’ll be a big boost, especially with the vibe in the room and team morale,” Maple Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly said. “He just brings a lot. He’s a great player. Obviously, his career speaks for itself and I think he has great leadership and we’re looking forward to having him back.”

Thornton suffered the injury back on Jan. 20 in a game against the Edmonton Oilers. Early in the third period, he took an awkward hit along the boards and skated to the bench. He went to the locker room and did not return with what was later diagnosed as a fractured rib.

The Maple Leafs placed the veteran pivot on the long-term injured reserve two days after the injury occurred.

The 41-year-old Thornton has one goal and one assist through five games with the Maple Leafs this season, his first with the club after spending the past 15 with the San Jose Sharks.

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The Toronto Maple Leafs' biggest X-Factor, possible lineup tweaks, and standouts on the Marlies – Maple Leafs Hot Stove



Life is good at the top of the NHL standings for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

In this Sunday edition of Leafs Musings, we’ll cover Joe Thornton’s impact and long-term lineup fit, some possible lineup changes/experiments, the latest with the 4-4-0 Toronto Marlies, and check in with a quick note on potential deadline target, Mikael Granlund, in the final thoughts at the end.

Toronto’s Biggest X-Factor

Photo: Nathan Denette/Canadian Press

The biggest X-factor on any team is always the goalie. They play the full 60 minutes and impact the game more than any player ever could. If Frederik Andersen and Jack Campbell put up a .930 save percentage, we all know that the Leafs are going to win a lot of games. If Frederik Andersen and Jack Campbell put up a .890 save percentage, we all know that the Leafs are in trouble. The Leafs are like every other NHL team in that respect.

Apart from the goaltenders, though, Toronto’s biggest x-factor is 41-year old Joe Thornton. The future Hall-of-Fame forward boasts 10 points in 10 games thus far, and the Leafs have dominated when he’s on the ice. It’s tough to complain about him so far, but it’s worth noting that he’s the team’s biggest mystery at this point. I have no idea just how good he really is yet (and you probably don’t, either).

Thornton has only played in 10 of Toronto’s 22 games thus far, all 10 of which were spent with Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews (or John Tavares for one game in Edmonton). The question becomes: How much of his great on-ice results are because of him, and how much is simply due to the fact that he’s riding shotgun with two superstars? Is he legitimately better on that line than Zach Hyman is? I’m a bit skeptical — I think very highly of Hyman — but Thornton is certainly a great passer who excels in the cycle. At this point, I have no idea how sustainable these results are.

The next question becomes: How would he look with John Tavares and William Nylander for an extended run? Toronto’s second line is not producing much offense at 5v5 thus far, and we know that Hyman could play with Matthews and Marner if needed. On the surface, it seems like both Tavares and Nylander would be perfect candidates to benefit from Thornton’s playmaking ability. Thornton is also able to play at Tavares’ pace. Could Thornton be the missing puzzle piece for that line? I have no idea, but it’s worth finding out.

The third question is: Could Thornton drive his own line? Thornton played center his entire career, with play-driving metrics that were quite strong as recently as the 2018-19 season. Is he best-suited to play on the wing at this point in his career? Or could he be a good third-line center who could help replicate what this team had when Nazem Kadri was around? If Thornton looks like the same player he was a couple of seasons ago, maybe he could drive a strong third line, where the Leafs have been looking for answers offensively this season.

At this point, I am still mulling over how good Thornton is and where he fits best. It’s clear that he can be a valuable contributor for this team, but he’s only played in 10 games and they haven’t moved him around the lineup at all. It wouldn’t surprise me if he was still a first-line winger come playoff time. It also wouldn’t completely surprise me if he was a bottom-six center.

I’ll be watching Thornton closely over the next few games. Let’s hope that the strong results with Matthews and Marner continue. If he does switch lines, or perhaps moves back to center, let’s hope that he excels at that, too. He’s been incredibly fun to watch thus far, and for me, he’s Toronto’s biggest X-factor going forward. If he’s the 2018-2019 version of himself, the Leafs are a completely different team for the better.

Possible Lineup Changes

Sheldon Keefe, Toronto Maple Leafs
Photo: Canadian Press

Toronto’s lineup against the Flames on Monday night was mortifying. Injuries to Jake Muzzin, Zach Hyman, Joe Thornton, Wayne Simmonds, and Frederik Andersen obviously hurt this team’s depth, but they didn’t do themselves any favours with their lineup decisions. I’d rather not see Tavares with Matthews and Marner again this season except perhaps situationally within games. Making yourself a one-line team for a whole game just doesn’t make any sense.

John Tortorella’s eyes probably lit up when he saw that the Leafs were going with a stacked first line in game five of the play-in series. Sure, it’s a great line, but the opposing team can put their best checking line out there with their best defensive pairing and treat those shifts like they’re killing a penalty. If that line doesn’t completely dominate, the Leafs probably aren’t going to win.

The stakes were much lower on Monday night, but that’s a lineup that I don’t want to see again anytime soon. Alex Kerfoot can’t be the second line center on a team with Matthews and Tavares, especially if Alexander Barabanov is going to be one of his wingers. Sheldon Keefe loves to experiment — and I tend to agree with him more than I disagree with him — but that lineup was ugly. To his credit, he abandoned the stacked first line after 40 minutes, but I think it was doomed to fail from the start.

The Leafs clearly need more from John Tavares offensively at even strength. He has four primary points at 5-on-5 through 22 games, which is not going to cut it on a team built around having two first lines. Both of his 5-on-5 goals came in 7-3 wins, with one being a tap-in set up by Nylander and the other being a point shot. Sure, his shooting percentage is bound to bounce back a bit, but the Leafs need him to be far more dangerous as a facilitator as well. Perhaps the one-game stint on the first line was Keefe attempting to get him going, but if this team is going to go anywhere, they’ll need him to drive his own line eventually.

At this point, I think they have to at least consider breaking up Matthews and Marner. We know that Marner could play with Tavares and Matthews could play with Nylander. Tavares played well with Thornton and Marner on Saturday night, and if he continues to play with them, we should expect to see an uptick in goals from the captain. We’ve seen Matthews have plenty of success when playing with William Nylander and Zach Hyman in the past. This team is at its best when they have two high-end scoring lines instead of one.

With that being said, the Leafs are 16-4-2 and have time to figure things out. They can give the Tavares and Nylander line a few more games to prove what they can do, but at this point, I think they are at least in the process of considering changes.

The answer to the “is Kerfoot a center or winger?” question is simple: He can play both. Playing on the wing reduces his defensive responsibilities and allows him to show off his offensive skillset a little bit more. The question is: Do the Leafs have a replacement for him at center? The line of Mikheyev, Engvall, and Hyman might combine to have a 1% shooting percentage while playing together, but they play heavy shifts and look strong defensively. It’s fine to give Engvall a longer look there, but at this point, I think I’d move Kerfoot back to the middle eventually. It’s not about maximizing Kerfoot’s point totals; it’s about maximizing the team’s success.

The third line took a serious hit this offseason when they traded Andreas Johnsson and Kasperi Kapanen. At this point, we can’t expect Kerfoot to have success as the third line center if he’s paired with Jimmy Vesey and Ilya Mikheyev. Kerfoot is usually the best player on the third line when he plays there — I don’t think that line magically improves by removing its best player. My preference is Hyman in the top six over Kerfoot.

Let’s put it this way: I’d argue a line of Vesey, Kerfoot, and Engvall won’t suddenly drastically improve if Kerfoot is on the wing and Engvall is at center rather than vice-versa. When people ask “is Kerfoot better on the wing?”, I think they really mean “is Kerfoot better in the top six?”. Like most players, he’s going to have better results with Tavares and Nylander rather than Mikheyev and Vesey, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that playing him there is best for the team.

Essentially, I don’t think that acquiring an average third-line center at the deadline is going to move the dial all that much. I’d rather not give up a second-round pick for the next Brian Boyle or Tomas Plekanec, and it’s difficult to acquire good centers. In looking for a potential difference maker, given the list of players who will likely be available, it’s probably going to be a winger. I’m fine with giving Engvall a chance at center for now and playing Kerfoot with Tavares and Nylander in the meantime, but I think it’s more likely than not that Kerfoot ends up back at center. Unless they want to try Thornton at center, I’m not sure that they have a suitable replacement.

It’s also worth mentioning that Alex Galchenyuk is going to get a chance eventually. Whether he could bring some much-needed offense to that third line is a question the Leafs will want to find out the answer to. I’d play him across from Engvall or Mikheyev to help him defensively, and I wonder if he would pair nicely with Kerfoot.

While I do think Jimmy Vesey is playing a little bit better as of late, he only has four points through 22 games and both of his goals were gifts from Nylander. In a season where Boyd, Petan, Engvall, and Barabanov have rotated in and out of the lineup, I’m not sure what’s keeping Vesey from joining that rotation as well. I certainly don’t know why he was ever on the first power-play unit for even a second. I like having the defensively-responsible Engvall-Kerfoot-Mikheyev line against Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers, but I would probably give Galchenyuk a chance on that line eventually. We’ll see how he does with the Marlies first.

On defense, I’d like to try Dermott with Brodie at some point, but it’s tough to make changes right now given how well the team is playing. They’re both strong stick-on-puck defenders who are difficult to gain the zone against. I also want to get a look at it for future reference, in case they consider moving a defenseman this offseason or in case someone goes down hurt in the playoffs. Knowing they will need to decide whether or not they protect Dermott in the expansion draft, I’d like to give him a chance with a veteran defenseman like Brodie. I’m not in a huge rush to do this, though, as Toronto’s defense looks great right now, but I would like to see it at some point.

If Matthews is back on Monday night, I’d try something like this:

Hyman Matthews Nylander Muzzin Holl
Thornton Tavares Marner Rielly Brodie
Engvall Kerfoot Mikheyev Dermott Bogosian
Barabanov Boyd Spezza

You can flip Marner and Nylander if you’d like.

I’d stack the top power-play unit and let that Kerfoot line take some minutes against McDavid or Draisaitl. Vesey should probably be on the outside looking in at this point. I love the Engvall-Mikheyev duo — they are both tall, fast, and it seems like their wingspans combine to cover the full width of the ice. Opposing forwards don’t have much room to operate when they’re out there.

A Marlies Update

Toronto Marlies v Manitoba Moose

The Toronto Marlies are 4-4 after their season-opening road trip, but they probably deserve a better record. I don’t think their roster is quite as strong as it’s been in previous seasons, but it seems like the NHL taxi squad is hurting AHL rosters for just about every team. It’s nice to see prospects like Nick Robertson and Timothy Liljegren play in a winning atmosphere. Hopefully, the team can play well and win their division.

Liljegren has been their best player thus far — by a fairly wide margin. He’s always been a strong transition defender, but his offensive game has grown by leaps and bounds since his rookie season and he’s playing with a ton of confidence right now. He’s taking more chances and effectively rushing the puck up the ice. The Marlies look like a completely different team when he’s out there.

The better Liljegren is offensively, the less pressure there’s going to be on his defensive game at the next level. He actually reminds me a little bit of a shorter (and more offensive) version of Justin Holl, as he can keep up with just about anyone in the neutral zone and continues to get stronger and stronger.

My only minor complaint: On Wednesday night, he was bad on the power play, where he took far too many non-threatening point shots. However, I think that was more of a one-off situation and the Leafs should be very encouraged by his start thus far overall. Moved to the taxi squad yesterday, the 21-year-old prospect has probably been called up because they want to give him a chance to play.

Perhaps good timing for his season debut would be Thursday’s game against the Canucks, which would allow Zach Bogosian some rest during the second half of a back-to-back. If a right-shooting defenseman gets hurt, it makes sense to me to have Liljegren play rather than move Dermott or Mikko Lehtonen to the right side.

Not playing all that well as of late, Nick Robertson only has the one goal through eight games thus far. He does have six assists, although a few of those were quite flukey. He’s averaging close to three shots per game and his shooting percentage is bound to improve, but I don’t think he’s barging down the door for an NHL job at the moment. He’s playing in their top-six and on both special teams, so he’s getting plenty of minutes to help with his development. He is one of their better offensive forwards — and he’s certainly been quite impressive for a teenager — but I don’t think there is a huge rush to call him up right now.

Joey Anderson has definitely been one of the team’s best forwards. He’s legitimately good in the middle of the 1-3-1 powerplay set-up. Like Robertson, he plays on both special teams units and brings a great work ethic to the table. He certainly looks like someone who could make the Leafs next year, although I think he’ll be a bottom-six forward.

The other big standout to me is defenseman Mac Hollowell. While he’s pointless through eight games, he’s a good puck mover who verges on an elite skater. He hasn’t looked out of place in a top-four role and he’s still only 22. At 5’9″, he has a lot to prove to make the NHL level, but I’ve been happy with his performances thus far.

Final Thoughts

Photo: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
  • As a team, the Leafs look so much better defensively this season. It’s a much improved blue line: T.J. Brodie is an excellent stick-on-stick defender, while the Muzzin-Holl pairing has picked up where they left off last season. Tyson Barrie has 18 points in 23 games with the Oilers, but I don’t miss him for a second. The Leafs are fifth (best) in goals against per minute at 5-on-5 this year after finishing 27th in the category last season. They couldn’t get a win from their backup goalie prior to the Jack Campbell trade. With Andersen injured, Michael Hutchinson came close to picking up a shutout on Wednesday night and Campbell kept a clean sheet on Saturday night.
  • The Canadian division is relatively weak, but let’s not get carried away here. A 16-4-2 record is impressive in any division. It’s not like the Leafs can demand to face Tampa Bay or Boston. The Central has the Red Wings, the Blackhawks, a Predators team that has taken a major step backward, and a Stars team that has injury problems. The West has all three California teams plus the Arizona Coyotes. The Leafs are in a division with plenty of offensive firepower. They are legitimately better defensively.
  • The Leafs got Jack Campbell (and Kyle Clifford) for Trevor Moore and two third-round picks. I like Moore, but the Leafs have had no problem finding good depth forwards and Campbell’s $1.65 million cap hit is a bargain. His teammates clearly love playing in front of him, and he’s only allowed four goals in three starts this season. That trade is looking like a complete steal.
  • The Predators are currently playing Mikael Granlund at center. I’ve been watching him closely — his versatility could be a great fit for the Leafs, as they could use him in the middle on the third line to upgrade on Kerfoot, or use his playmaking ability next to John Tavares. I’d be trying to acquire an even bigger name first, but Granlund is near the top of my wish list right now.

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Health Canada received more Johnson & Johnson data on same day as U.S. approval –



Health Canada on Saturday received additional data required to inform its decision on Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine — the same day the shot was approved in the United States.

“We were waiting on some manufacturing data, and that came in yesterday. So we’re starting to look at that,” Dr. Supriya Sharma, Health Canada’s chief medical adviser, said Sunday on Rosemary Barton Live.

“It’s really difficult to predict exactly when we might make a final decision because it really depends on that data. But we’re looking at … the next couple of weeks.”

The data received on Saturday is what health regulators need to ensure that “every dose of the vaccine that comes off the production lines meets quality standards,” Sharma wrote in an email to CBC News.

The approval timeline depends on that information, but it also depends on whether regulators need to discuss any questions that arise with the manufacturer. Work that happens in the final stages of review — including finalizing a risk-management plan for monitoring the vaccine after authorization — must also be completed.

The two-week approval target takes those steps into consideration but doesn’t account for unexpected issues that could crop up, Sharma said.

The government authorized the use of a third vaccine, the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot, on Friday.

WATCH | Johnson & Johnson vaccine approval could come in the next couple of weeks:

Health Canada’s chief medical adviser, Dr. Supriya Sharma, said the agency is waiting on manufacturer data to make a determination on Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose COVID-19 vaccine, but contingent on that data, approval could come in the next few weeks. 9:23

Single-dose shot makes for easier rollout

In a global trial, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which was cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Saturday, was found to be 66 per cent effective at staving off moderate to severe illness and was 85 per cent effective at preventing the most serious outcomes. 

Canada has ordered 10 million doses of the vaccine, with options for up to 28 million more. 

The best vaccine for an individual is [the] one that you can get.– Health Canada chief medical adviser Dr. Supriya Sharma

“In terms of the committee meeting that the FDA had, we had observers there as well, so all of that helps make for a more efficient review,” Sharma told CBC chief political correspondent Rosemary Barton.

While the vaccine was approved as a one-shot regimen, the company is also testing the efficacy of administering two doses of its product.

“If a vaccine is only only dose, then that makes it easier for administration. You don’t have to do the followup to record people and track them down to get the second dose,” Sharma told Barton. “So all of that helps, but what really helps the most is getting as many vaccines authorized and get that supply in as quickly as possible.”

Not a question of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ vaccines

Now that more vaccines are earning approvals, Sharma said a “narrative” has emerged where people assume one shot confers better protection than another.

Efficacy, she said, simply means determining whether “something does what it’s supposed to do.” As far as COVID-19 vaccines are concerned, that means comparing one group of people who receive the shot against another group of people who didn’t and contrasting the number of cases in both groups.

“When we look across all the vaccines, the major five that are under review and authorized, if you look at that subsection that matters most — severe disease, hospitalizations, dying of COVID-19 — all of these vaccines are equally protective,” Sharma explained.

The chief medical adviser cautioned against pitting one shot against another, something she said can only happen in a “head-to-head” trial, which would see two vaccines being tested together in the same trial.

“The best vaccine for an individual is [the] one that you can get. That’s pretty simple,” she said.

“For people who are sitting back and waiting for another vaccine, I would say the longer, and the more people, who do that, the more we’re all going to be sitting at home if we’re lucky to have a home.”

You can watch full episodes of Rosemary Barton Live on CBC Gem, the CBC’s streaming service. 

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Jets’ resiliency contributing to team’s success in close games –



WINNIPEG – Perhaps it was fitting the topic of resilience was on the plate of Paul Maurice in the hours leading up to puck drop.

The head coach of the Winnipeg Jets couldn’t have predicted his high-scoring team would only be able to generate two shots on goal in the third period of a tie game and 19 overall, forced to hang on for dear life, just to get to overtime and to bank the single point that accompanies it.

Maurice couldn’t have known he would have to dig into his bag of tricks to employ the aggressive three-forward approach to start the bonus hockey portion of the evening – a strategy that has now worked perfectly twice after Saturday’s 2-1 overtime triumph over the Canadiens that came 36 seconds into the extra session.

“It’s a guarantee that adversity is coming and it’s a guarantee that stretches of time, whether it’s a period or a game or a week, that’s going to happen to you in the NHL,” Maurice said after the morning skate. “And your ability to have resilient leaders that come in the next day after a tough day and go back to work and not let themselves slip into despair or worse, disbelief in the fact that you can win. That would be the intangible that I think I value the most.”

Instead of lamenting an off night, the Jets could take a deep breath, knowing they had found a way to win when they clearly weren’t at their best.

That’s ultimately what building resilience is all about.

“You’ve got to go through a little bit of adversity. You’ve got to fail a little bit and you’ve got to realize what it feels like to lose and to lose tight games or big games,” said Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck, who was an essential piece in the process, turning aside 40 of 41 shots on goal that he faced. “You’ve got to remember how bad it feels and maybe that gives you a little boost and a little bit of extra energy when you really need it.”

Although he didn’t reference the specifics in his statement, it seemed clear that part of what Hellebuyck was referencing were the two earlier losses the Jets suffered in the final 10 seconds of regulation time.

Those are the types of heartbreaking moments that can lead to self-doubt if you let them linger.

But that’s not something the Jets have allowed to happen with regularity.

Instead, they’ve made a habit of being able to rally and to put deficits behind them – winning six times when trailing after one period.

That’s a testament to the Jets depth up front and offensive flair, but there is also a correlation to the belief the Jets have in their masked men.

“There’s a lot of confidence in our room,” said Jets centre Andrew Copp. “Like the other night, we’re down two but we feel like we can score on any given shift. I think we have a lot of confidence in our offensive game and are able to come back and a lot of confidence in our goaltender to keep us in it, not let that lead get to three or four. On any given night it can kind of be any line and we’ve kind of proved that over the course of the season so far.”

The only shot to sneak past Hellebuyck on Saturday night was a sharp-angle special, a bank job from behind the goal line by Nick Suzuki.

For many teams that don’t employ a Vezina-calibre netminder, it was the type of marker that can be deflating or even back-breaking.

The kind of goal that potentially opens the floodgates.

For Hellebuyck, it merely heightened his focus.

“It was one of those goals that you could do that 99 out of 100 times and it’s not going to go in,” said Hellebuyck. “I got caught on the one, which seems to be a theme this year, but I felt good in the game and just followed it up on the save to add momentum to me.”

This isn’t a one-off either.

Hellebuyck has built enough of a reservoir of resources to lean on in this department, not allowing a single moment to knock him off track.

“There’s a sense though, in our room, that when Connor gives up a goal like he did, you’re going to have a really, really hard time getting the next one,” said Maurice. “There’s a faith in our goaltender.”

That faith is well-founded and it’s an important part of the Jets success, as they won for a fourth consecutive and improved to 13-6-1 through 20 games of this 56-game schedule.

The Jets aren’t a finished product and they aren’t without flaws as they approach the midway point.

They also aren’t letting the pack run away from them either, they’re actually beginning to create a bit of separation.

At a time that was supposed to start providing a few clues about where the Jets actually stand in the North Division, they’ve found a way to take some important steps forward as they prepare for a two-game set with the Vancouver Canucks on Monday and Tuesday to round out this four-game homestand.

The Jets are tied for third in goals for per game (3.55), eighth in goals against (2.60 goals against per game) and boast a goal differential of plus-16, good for third in the NHL and behind only the Tampa Bay Lightning (plus-30) and Toronto Maple Leafs (plus-23).

Building blocks are being put down and this group is learning how to win – which isn’t necessarily as easy as it sounds.

Especially on a night when the Jets were clearly not clicking on all cylinders against a desperate Canadiens team that made a coaching change earlier this week.

“You’re going to have games like that,” said Jets centre Paul Stastny, who delivered the OT winner on Saturday. “When things aren’t going your way, you’ve just got to find a way. Whether you get a point or two points, sometimes you grind those wins out or sometimes you grind those overtime points out, and (Saturday) was a perfect example of that.”

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