The Toronto Maple Leafs (optional) and Winnipeg Jets skated at Scotiabank Arena on Thursday.
Kenny Agostino will make his Maple Leafs debut tonight.
“He’s worked really hard and really waited for an opportunity to play,” noted coach Sheldon Keefe. “He’s never complained, just continued to work and has been a real leader and one of, if not the best, players down with the Marlies.”
Agostino posted 49 points in 53 games in the American Hockey League last season and had seven points in eight games with the Marlies to start this season. The 28-year-old hasn’t suited up in the NHL since April 6, 2019, when he played with the New Jersey Devils.
“In the games he’s played with the Marlies, he’s just continued being the player that he’s established himself as in the American League, but he also has NHL experience,” Keefe said. “When we signed him a couple off-seasons ago, he was a guy who was coming off a full season in the NHL and hasn’t really had his chance here yet.”
That changes tonight. Agostino will replace Travis Boyd, who has played in 18 of the past 20 games.
“I haven’t liked what we’ve gotten out of our fourth line here in the last little while,” Keefe explained. “Also, just having a fresh body in at forward, someone that is hungry for his opportunity, we think it might inject something into the group today.”
The Leafs are looking to snap a season long three game losing streak.
“I don’t think there’s any panic in their room nor should there be,” said Jets coach Paul Maurice. “They will be hyper aggressive and they’re going to want to play their best, but I don’t believe Toronto will cross the line into a desperation that makes them weaker where their risk profile changes to the point where you’ll be able to take advantage. They’ll come out hard. We know we got to be better.”
This season, when two teams play in consecutive games in the same arena, the team coming off a victory has a record of 80-66-16 in next game. Toronto, coming off a loss in that situation, is 4-1-0. Winnipeg, coming off a win, is 4-3-0.
Winnipeg edged Toronto 4-3 on Tuesday night, but gave up 39 shots and leaned heavily on goalie Connor Hellebuyck.
“We think we can control parts of our end of the ice a little better than we did,” Maurice said. “From training camp on, this is a piece of our game we need to improve at. We’re also [facing] one of the top two or three teams in the NHL at exploiting those areas, getting the pucks to the net, getting the puck to the slot. This is a huge challenge for us.”
The Jets outhit the Leafs 28-15, but Nikolaj Ehlers believes his team can do a better job of throwing its weight around.
“It’s a matter of playing the way we did and maybe with a little more physicality and getting more pucks to the net,” the winger said.
Tuesday’s victory was Winnipeg’s seventh this season after allowing the first goal of the game, which leads the North Division.
“There’s games where we haven’t played the way we wanted to, but this team, this group, there’s a lot of fight and we don’t give up,” said Ehlers, who had two assists Tuesday. “We’ve been able to come back and win games even though we’re down. We keep working and we work for each other and that’s what makes us a good team.”
Joe Thornton will play regular-season game No. 1,652 in the NHL tonight, moving into a tie with Mark Recchi for sixth on the all-time list.
“I didn’t realize that,” the 41-year-old forward said. “I’ve been playing for a while now and my body feels good. When I’m done I’ll probably look at that stuff a little more.”
The Leafs are wrapping up a busy part of their schedule this week, but Thornton stuck to his usual routine of taking part in the optional morning skate.
“It makes me eat lunch a little bit easier, it makes me nap,” Thornton explained. “Nice little sweat. I’ve always done it. It helps me relax for what tonight brings.”
Thornton was one of only five regulars to hit the ice this morning skating alongside Jake Muzzin, Jason Spezza, Pierre Engvall and Alex Kerfoot.
Thornton has helped keep the mood loose around the Leafs as they navigate their first losing streak of the season. He’s been bestowing different nicknames on his teammates, including ‘Willy Styles’ for William Nylander and ‘Hollywood’ for Jimmy Vesey. Frederik Andersen has been referred to as ‘Fredzilla’ of late, but Thornton denied involvement.
“I didn’t give ‘Zilla his nickname, by the way,” he said with a laugh. “That was not me. I know who did, but it was not me. As a kid running around with my brothers and my cousins, we always had nicknames for each other, so it started at a young age.”
Thornton said having a good sense of humour helps keep everyone in the dressing room relaxed and that usually translates to a better performance on the ice.
“He’s got more excitement every day than anyone else and so we can all learn from that,” said Kerfoot.
Thornton’s impact on the Leafs is evident on the ice as he’s given the team more of a presence below the goal line in the offensive zone.
“He’s such an effective player still,” observed Maurice. “So smart and has an impact on all his teams [with] the style of play. You see Toronto change sides quite a bit more than maybe in the past. That’s a San Jose thing. That’s a Joe Thornton thing. Those guys in San Jose would rip it from one corner out to the weak-side point all the time. When we [Team North America] played Team Canada at the World Cup, I think they changed sides 16 times and that’s him and that’s the impact he’s had on the game.”
Thornton, who slots in on Toronto’s top line with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, has two assists and five shots in six games since returning from a lower-body injury. He saw his ice time decline late in the recent Western Canada swing.
“As we went through that road trip, starting with the back-to-back with travel into Vancouver and then coming home, you could just feel it affecting the group a little bit and, of course, it’s going to affect Joe as well,” Keefe said. “At the same time, we’ve had more than enough time to adjust to that coming back home here now and we’re expecting everybody to start to turn the corner.”
Maurice has opted for a three-forward alignment in three-on-three overtime. The Jets coach has pointed out that most of the defending in that situation is man-to-man anyway, so you may as well go for the win by icing the most gifted scorers.
“With the type of forwards that they have, you get three of them on there at the same time there’s lots of skill,” Keefe noted. “They’re obviously very dynamic. I think also, at the same time, if you’re fortunate enough to get the puck it presents some opportunities the other way, potentially. I haven’t given it a great deal of thought. There’s enough things to concern ourselves with for the first 60 minutes.”
The Leafs are 2-2 in overtime this season.
Morgan Rielly heaped praise on new defence partner T.J. Brodie.
“What he brings to this team is extremely valuable,” Rielly said. “The way he plays in our end. The way he can move the puck on the break out. His stick in the defensive zone is elite. He’s been very, very good for us and he’s been a huge part of this group on and off the ice. If you watch him play over an extended period of time you’ll really appreciate how he views the game, how he plays defensively and how important he is to me and our whole back end.”
Projected Leafs lines for Thursday’s game:
Thornton – Matthews – Marner
Kerfoot – Tavares – Nylander
Mikheyev – Engvall – Hyman
Vesey – Agostino – Spezza
Rielly – Brodie
Muzzin – Holl
Dermott – Bogosian
Mikko Lehtonen will be a healthy scratch for a seventh straight game. He hasn’t suited up since Feb. 24 when Muzzin was out due to a facial fracture.
“We’ve reached a different phase of the season here,” Keefe said. “I think we gave lots of opportunity to different people early in the season, Mikko being one, at times when maybe we really didn’t have a reason to change the lineup. Obviously, we’re at a point now where this season has definitely got lots of momentum. We’re approaching or right at the halfway point and you’ve got to give yourself the best opportunity to win each day. Everybody really is just going to have to wait for their next opportunity and continue to put in the proper work to do so.
“In Mikko’s case, specifically, we have no doubts or questions about the work that he puts in. He’s extremely committed, extremely focused, works very hard. We’re happy with all of those kinds of things. For the last little while we just haven’t seen a reason to make a change on defence.”
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.
— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) April 12, 2021
The Buffalo Sabres retained half of the $8 million salary that Hall signed for prior to the start of the 2021 hockey season.
After acquiring Hall @ 50% & Lazar for Bjork, the #NHLBruins added $772K Cap Hit for remainder of year.
They have $24K of Projected Cap Space; $100K Annual Cap Hit that can be added, w/ 24 Active on Roster. Sending players to taxi would create more room.https://t.co/2o0hsHzUIy https://t.co/rXiRKKk3lt pic.twitter.com/I7ZRUSmSQp
— PuckPedia (@PuckPedia) April 12, 2021
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.
Drouin must return to mentality that’s led to success this season – Sportsnet.ca
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.
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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