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NHL Rumor Rundown: Maple Leafs, Oilers, Canadiens, Lightning, More – The Hockey Writers

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In our Christmas Day version of the NHL news and rumors rundown, we’re focused on the Toronto Maple Leafs and just how critical Jack Campbell will be to their success this season. In Edmonton, there could be a trade to narrow down the right-wing depth on the team. How quickly will Alexander Romanov rise up the ranks on the Canadiens blue line? And, is it worth asking why Nikita Kucherov didn’t elect to have surgery immediately following the end of the 2019-20 season?

Campbell Could Be Key for Maple Leafs

NHL insider Elliotte Friedman joined the hosts of Leaf Off with Rusic and Ziggy recently and talked about just how important three goaltenders will be for the upcoming 2020-21 NHL season. When it comes to the Maple Leafs, Friedman suggested Jack Campbell’s role was “going to be huge.”

The Maple Leafs have 10 back-to-back games this season and Friedman wasn’t sure how many of those games Campbell might start. He pointed to the series against Edmonton in particular in which the Leafs play every other night. Andersen could get all three games but that’s not likely.

NHL insider Elliotte Friedman joined the hosts of Leaf Off with Rusic and Ziggy and discussed the importance of having a strong backup netminder in this condensed 2020-21 NHL season. For the Leafs, who have to hope that Frederik Andersen has a bit more of a consistent regular season that last year, Campbell becomes increasingly important to the Maple Leafs overall success over the course of 56 games.

The Leafs have 10 back-to-back games this season. Friedman was asked how crucial Campbell would be to the Leafs success and he responded, “It’s going to be huge.” He added:

“Now, there’s some of them they ended up getting spread out a bit. It’s going to be interesting. The one I think is most fascinating if the schedule holds is three games with Edmonton, in Edmonton over five days.”

Friedman explained, “Now, there’s some of them they ended up getting spread out a bit. It’s going to be interesting.” He added that not only will the backup become key, but so will the third goalie and on paper the Leafs look pretty good with Aaron Dell. “I think this year, you’re gonna need three guys,” Friedman said.

Related: Canucks 12 Days of Hockeymas: Captain Luongo

Oilers Could Make a Trade Before Season

According to Allan Mitchell of The Athletic, the Edmonton Oilers might be ready to move a forward thanks to a surplus of players at the right wing position. He made these comments while talking about why fans should expect the Oilers to be a 2020-21 playoff team coming out of a Canadian Division.

Edmonton Oilers Zack Kassian, Darnell Nurse, Jujhar Khaira and Leon Draisaitl (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Amber Bracken)

Mitchell writes:

I suspect we get a trade either before the season or early on, as the club has five regulars for four positions. Archibald, a key penalty killer, is on the outside looking in. Unless Puljujarvi struggles badly, a good winger will be in the pressbox opening night.

source – ‘Lowetide: Why fans should expect an Oilers playoff berth in Canadian division’ Allan Mitchell – The Athletic – 12/24/2020

He also noted that Joakim Nygard may get squeezed out of a left wing spot and start the season on the taxi squad, while on defense he notes, “The list could grow.” He said NHL teams love to add extra defenseman and rumours abound that Oilers general manager Ken Holland has his eyes out for an NHL veteran for the blue line.

Finally, since the Oilers have 11 back-to-back games, Mitchell expects third-string goaltender Anton Forsberg to make an appearance during the season.

Related: 4 Headlines for Team Canada Heading Into the 2021 WJC

Romanov Could Jump Up Quickly on Canadiens Blue Line

According to of The Athletic’s Arpon Basu and Marc Antoine Godin, while predicting the line combinations and where players will slot on this very different version of the Montreal Canadiens, the two scribes noted that Alexander Romanov’s advancement up the line up should be worth watching.

Alexander Romanov Montreal Canadiens
Alexander Romanov, Montreal Canadiens, 2018 NHL Draft (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

They write, “Romanov is most likely to be starting on the left side of the third pairing.” But, they also say that could change quickly. They explain:

How Romanov will perform is the big unknown right now. If he takes off the way the Canadiens seem to expect, he might very well force his way into a top-4 role before his rookie season is over. Should that happen, Julien will have a ton of options, the most intriguing one being to put Romanov and his exceptional skating ability on a pair with Shea Weber.

source – ‘Canadiens training camp primer: Projected lineup, battles, taxi squad and more’ – Arpon Basu and Marc Antoine-Godin- The Athletic- 12/21/2020

Interesting Question Worth Asking in Tampa

Right now, it seems like the Nikita Kucherov injury is nothing more than interesting timing, but there are some quetsions that are sure to arise as the playoffs creep closer and Kucherov is listed as available — if, in fact, he turns out to be ready to go.

Nikita Kucherov Tampa Bay Lightning
Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The problem isn’t so much that Kucherov is severely injured, it’s that the Tampa knew about this injury, why wait until just before the season to announce surgery? If Kucherov was always going to get the work done, why not do so right after the Stanley Cup Finals? Had the Lightning and Kucherov gone that route, he’d have likely been back for part of the regular season and to help the Lightning secure a postseason spot.

Happy Holidays!

Finally, from myself to all of you, Happy Holidays! While this is going to be a strange year and a particularly down time for many of our readers — since visits with family and friends will be far less frequent than in the past, there is hope and a silver lining as far as sports are concerned.

There is so much to watch over this weekend that there should be no shortage of content to sink your teeth into. Stay safe, enjoy and look forward to some tremendous World Junior Championship action!

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Maple Leafs' Andersen quells outside concern with stellar game vs. Jets – Sportsnet.ca

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TORONTO — Call off the hounds.

Crazy as it might sound not even a full week into the NHL season, they had already started to gather outside Scotiabank Arena.

All it took was for Frederik Andersen and Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe to acknowledge that the goaltender was not at his best during Friday’s loss in Ottawa for the whiff of controversy to waft through the air.

Presumably, now, that talk should disappear as quickly as it arrived. Andersen was rock solid during a 3-1 victory over the Winnipeg Jets that calmed the waters on a number of fronts.

“It was a much simpler game for Fred and he looked extremely confident and in control here tonight,” said Keefe. “So that gives us confidence as a team and it should give him confidence, too, that whatever he has done to prepare from last game to this one, it benefitted him.”

It had been an unusual 48 hours between starts: Andersen didn’t dress at all for the second half of the back-to-back against the Senators, getting in extra work with goalie coach Steve Briere on Saturday morning before watching Jack Campbell play while Aaron Dell backed up.

That wiped his schedule clean of the typical game-day meetings plus the extra stretching and mental preparation the second goaltender goes through even when not likely to see any action.

“A little new thing we’re trying,” said Andersen. “I think it was good. … I got to stay at the hotel a little bit longer and just come for the game.”

There’s a decent chance it’s a one-off after Dell got claimed by New Jersey from the waiver wire on Monday, leaving Michael Hutchinson to move up to Toronto’s taxi squad as the No. 3 goaltending option.

That won’t bother Keefe since he didn’t think there was any magic in the plan.

All it did was buy his No. 1 guy more time to sharpen his game following training camp that included no exhibition games and a frantic charge towards the season. Still, it was reassuring to see Andersen confidently turn aside 27 Winnipeg shots, arguably the best of them against Mark Scheifele late in a first period where the Leafs controlled zone time but hadn’t yet grabbed a lead.

“It was his best game, for sure, just the way that he tracked the puck,” said Keefe. “He looked super calm in there. I think it’s also not a coincidence that it was probably the easiest night he had in front of him tonight. You know we didn’t give up very much at all and when we did there wasn’t much by way of second chances in around the net.

“We did a much better job in that area.”

There are a couple obvious reasons why Andersen’s play is under such scrutiny. He’s in a contract year and coming off the worst statistical season of his career, for starters. Plus the Leafs explored the goalie market for a replacement before bringing him back this fall.

But, to let you behind the media curtain, it’s also because this has been a non-story for so long and the possibility of intrigue now exists.

Andersen has played 247 games for the Leafs since arriving here in 2016, with Curtis McElhinney next on the franchise’s list during that period with 32 appearances. Campbell has seven games under his belt for the blue and white.

However, with huge expectations and an uncertain future beyond the summer, the tectonic plates are shifting beneath the surface. Any existing loyalties aren’t likely to outlast a run of substandard performance.

And for an offensively-inclined team that has historically struggled to lock games down, you can’t have a goalie fumbling away strong efforts like the one we saw against Winnipeg. That’s where Andersen made some big strides. The Leafs controlled puck possession and the entirety of the second period and still found themselves in a tight 2-1 contest with 20 minutes to play.

“If anything, it made it harder for us in the third period,” said Keefe. “I think hard is good for our team with where we need to grow.”

Andersen is a stay-in-the-moment performer, the kind who would never let you know if he felt outside pressure. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t there.

He turned aside 12 third-period shots and took a second star turn when the buzzer sounded.

There will be more nights off for him than usual with a compressed schedule that includes four games in six days this week, but performances like this will quell the outside concern.

“Freddie’s one of the best in the league,” said Leafs captain John Tavares. “We’ve got so much faith in him. … Just being well sorted defensively without the puck and working to get it back will make life easy on him because we know he’s going to make the saves when it’s predictable and he’s able to challenge and be aggressive and be the netminder that he is.”

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Report Cards: Dominant 2nd period powers Toronto Maple Leafs past Jets – Maple Leafs Hot Stove

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That was a lot fun!

The Toronto Maple Leafs were able to secure their third win of the season with a 3-1 victory over the Winnipeg Jets. This came largely on the back of their second period, where at one point Toronto was outshooting Winnipeg 19-1. That’s obviously not something that’s going to be sustainable over a larger sample, but it was nice to see the Leafs’ top tier talent take over the game for stretches.

To break things down in some more detail, let’s dive into the individual player grades.

***

5/5 Stars

Game Puck: Auston Matthews (C, #34) — There were a few great candidates in this game. I decided to go with Matthews, but there aren’t any wrong answers among Toronto’s $11 million forwards – they were all dominant at even strength.

Matthews did an excellent job of getting to the dangerous areas on the ice, generating eight scoring chances from the slot. One of them was a knuckler off the cross-bar on the power play. When he wasn’t able to get to the middle, Matthews used his speed and length to hold onto the puck and wait for an opening.

I
That’s just silly.

Mitch Marner (RW, #16) — He also had a fantastic game, picking up that rebound goal seen above and an empty netter at the end of the game. What’s funny is I thought his impact on the game defensively stood out more than anything.

We’ve come to expect Marner to make game-breaking plays off the rush, but I don’t think we give him enough credit for how far along he’s come defensively. He has a knack for picking off passes in all three zones, which is part of the reason he’s become such a great penalty killer.

My favourite play of his was this “pick and pass” in the offensive zone.

I
His ability to think the game faster than his opponents is what’s separated him offensively at every level. Watching him develop this aspect defensively has been quite the treat to watch.

John Tavares (C, #91) — I can’t get over his ability to stick-handle through traffic and generate offense from high-danger areas. NHL defenses are designed to not let you get there and Tavares somehow manages to find a way multiple times every game. He fired 9 shots from the slot in this game, a few of them by singlehandedly cutting through the defense and creating his own shot.

Coaching Staff — Playing 11 forwards and 7 defensemen is something I’ve advocated for in the past. Bottom-half-of-the-lineup players hate it, but it gives you a chance to get an extra shift for one of your star players and have some more flexibility on your blue line. Kudos to Sheldon Keefe & company for following in Jon Cooper’s footsteps; I think it’s a good strategy more NHL teams should be implementing. Let’s also give Toronto’s coaching staff some credit for getting another strong 200-foot performance from a team that we know isn’t always the most defensively responsible.

***

4/5 Stars

TJ Brodie (RD, #78) — Transition defense isn’t sexy, but it’s how you prevent goals in the modern game. Brodie wasn’t giving Winnipeg’s forwards any room when they approached Toronto’s blue line, forcing a lot of dump-ins, which led to quick retrievals and breakouts the other way.

He also might’ve saved the game with this slide at 6-on-5.

I
He’s not the dynamic one on his pairing, but I loved what I saw from him in this game. Tight gap defensively, smart passes under pressure in the defensive zone, and boom — you’re up the ice and back on offense.

Zach Hyman (RW, #11) — I still think it’s a bit much to ask Hyman to be the primary driver of offense on Toronto’s third line (at least he’s had to be so far this season). Then again, maybe I need to give the man some more credit.

I
He was able to generate eight shots from the slot in this game, putting him in the Matthews & Tavares neighbourhood. Some of those are jam plays on the power play, but most of the offense Hyman creates is by getting to the dirty areas in the offensive zone, winning the puck back, and driving it through the defense.

I

***

3/5 Stars

Justin Holl (RD, #3) — If you don’t mind scrolling back up to Matthews’ section, check out how far down Holl skated in for that one-timer. Most defensemen play it safe and fire a low-percentage shot from the boards or blue line in that situation, but Holl had the presence of mind to jump into the slot and significantly boost his team’s chances of scoring.

Now, he didn’t look great on the goal Toronto gave up, but we’ll break that down in more detail when we get to Kerfoot’s section.

Joe Thornton (LW, #97) — There was one point where Thornton found himself on the left wall of the power play. He made a gorgeous little feather pass to Matthews in the middle of the ice for a quality chance. The rest of his game was pretty quiet, although we did get to see his usual solid board play and heady passing in the offensive zone.

William Nylander (LW, #88) — After an underwhelming first period, Nylander opened up the game with this pass to Tavares.

I
That’s a fortuitous bounce to land on his stick, but man did he get Connor Hellebuyck to bite on that fake shot. Nylander did a good job of stripping pucks in the offensive zone with some well-timed stick checks, although I’d like to see him move his feet a bit more often towards the end of his shifts.

Ilya Mikheyev (LW, #65) — The box score numbers don’t reflect how strong Mikheyev was on the backcheck in this game. He’s such a powerful skater when he gets going, which is what allows him to seemingly skate through defenses when he wants to. His limited offensive skillset is going to prevent him from converting on those chances as often as you’d like, but he’s a guy I’d trust out there in almost any situation because of how responsible he is defensively.

Jason Spezza (C, #19) — Are we really obsessing about faceoffs again? I’m glad Spezza is winning draws at an elite level – it gives the Leafs a specialist option on special teams – but let’s remember that even-strength faceoffs don’t really matter that much. What happens after the faceoff is much more important, and frankly, I’d like to see more from Spezza in that department offensively.

Zach Bogosian (RD, #22) — Was that Erik Karlsson wearing #22 for Toronto? In all seriousness, Bogosian had his best shift of the season when he was circling around the offensive zone, getting himself into open ice and making the next pass. I’d love to see him show off some of that edgework more often in the offensive zone. The rest of his game wasn’t anything special, but it wasn’t an abject disaster, which should keep Leafs Twitter off of his back for another…48 hours?

Travis Dermott (LD, #23) — There weren’t too many stand-out moments for Dermott aside from what I thought was a soft holding penalty*. He did have a few nice slip passes on the breakout and smart keep-ins at the offensive blue line.

*At some point, I’ll need to acknowledge my Dermott bias

Mikko Lehtonen (LD, #46) — It’s tough to evaluate a #7 defenseman who plays less than 7 minutes, but I really liked this play Lehtonen made on the breakout to get Hyman into open ice.

I
We’ll see if Toronto’s coaches ever trust Lehtonen enough defensively to get him some more minutes. When the puck is on his stick, he clearly has some talent.

Frederik Andersen (G, #31) — Aside from Kyle Connor’s snipe off a cross-seam pass, Andersen wasn’t really tested in this game. This was probably his most difficult save.

I
That’s two games in a row the Leafs have been able to limit their opponents to very few Grade-A scoring chances. Based on history I doubt that’s going to last, but it’s certainly been nice to see for once.

Morgan Rielly (LD, #44) — I love it when Rielly jumps up in the play as a fourth forward to help give his team numbers off the rush. I hate it when Rielly takes unnecessary shots from the blue line, especially when he’s on the ice with the world’s best 5-on-5 scorer.

I’m also not a fan of how often he gets burned off the rush.

This happens far too often for a player with his skating ability. He made some incredible plays off the rush offensively, but there are still quite a few flaws in Rielly’s game I’d like to see him correct.

***

2/5 Stars

Alexander Kerfoot (C, #15) — Justin Bourne had a great breakdown on Twitter explaining how Kerfoot blew his coverage on the Kyle Connor goal.

We’ll show you the clip below, but keep an eye on #15 and remember he’s centering what’s supposed to be the Leafs’ checking line.

I
I’ve watched this play more times than I’d like to admit. Personally, I’d like to see Holl react a bit quicker there on the pass through the middle of the slot, but Bourne’s right. Kerfoot needs to take his defensive role more seriously. It’s part of the reason I was shouting at my TV when he nearly got caught for an odd-man rush with a 1-goal lead and 10 minutes remaining.

Jimmy Vesey (RW, #26) — He made a clever pass on the penalty kill to turn a 2-on-1 into an Ilya Mikheyev breakaway. When it comes to his impact at 5-on-5, though, I have to be honest – I’m just not seeing it with Jimmy Vesey. He’s failing to make skilled plays off the rush; pucks seem to die on his stick in the offensive zone; aside from a few nice backchecks, I don’t really see what he does to drive results.

Wayne Simmonds (RW, #24) — As much as I love the idea of Wayne Simmonds, watching him get caved in at 5-on-5 every night is a worrying trend.

You don’t need to be a stats nerd to know that’s bad.

Jake Muzzin (LD, #8) — He did have a few big hits on Nik Ehlers and Blake Wheeler, although the only play fans will remember is Muzzin’s turnover in the defensive zone that led to a goal against shortly afterwards. I’m never a fan of overreacting to one “big mistake” an NHL defenseman makes in any given game, but even if we excluded that turnover, this wasn’t Muzzin’s best night.

He looked hesitant on the breakout, circling back and forcing those dreaded stretch-pass dump-ins instead of making the pass north up the ice when he had the chance.


Heat Map

Here’s a quick look at where each team’s shots were coming from at even strength, courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.

Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Winnipeg Jets

The Leafs controlled 61 percent of the shots and 70 percent of the scoring chances at even strength. Pretty, pretty, pretty good.


Game Score

Game score is a metric developed by The Athletic’s Dom Luszczyszyn to measure single game performance. You can read more about it here.Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Winnipeg Jets

Final Grade: A

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Montreal Canadiens down Edmonton Oilers to sweep series – Sportsnet.ca

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EDMONTON — Shea Weber‘s goal held up as the game-winner as the Montreal Canadiens beat the Edmonton Oilers 3-1 Monday night.

Rookie Alexander Romanov and Arttuti Lehkonen also scored for Montreal (2-0-1), which beat Edmonton (1-3-0) for the second time in three nights.

The Habs also trounced the Oilers 5-1 on Saturday.

Goalie Jake Allen made 25 saves in his debut for the Canadiens

Montreal’s penalty kill was key in the victory, shutting down Oilers snipers Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl on seven power plays.

Mikko Koskinen stopped 31-of-34 shots for Edmonton.

He conceded a short-handed goal 12:15 into the third period after Lehkonen broke up a pass in his own zone and sprinted up the ice with the puck on his stick. He put a quick snap shot past Koskinen for his first of the season, and put Montreal up 3-0.

Edmonton clawed a goal back with just over two minutes to go, though, with Devin Shore popping a snap shot past Allen for a short-handed tally.

Koskinen allowed one to get past earlier in the game on a Montreal power play with seconds to go in the second period.

Edmonton had the man advantage when McDavid was called for hooking, leading to 1:20 of 4-on-4 hockey before the Habs got a 40-second power play to close out the frame.

With about 11 seconds left on the clock, Montreal’s Jeff Petry drove through the slot and Shore careened into Koskinen.

Meanwhile, Weber launched a shot from the side of the net and Koskinen made the initial stop. He couldn’t control the rebound, though, which bounced back out to Weber. The defenceman batted it in off Koskinen’s back as he lay in the crease with Shore underneath him.

The goal was instantly called off, with the official saying Petry caused goalie interference when he sent Shore crashing into his netminder.

Montreal coach Claude Julien elected to challenge the call and, upon review, the officials agreed, giving Weber his first goal of the season and a 2-0 lead for Montreal.

Montreal already had a first-period tally from Romanov, who opened the scoring 9:53 into the game with a shot from just below the blue line. The puck rocketed through traffic and past Koskinen stick side for the Russian rookie’s first NHL goal.

Montreal selected Romanov, 21, 38th overall in the 2018 draft.

The Canadiens scored on one of its five power plays.

Montreal had to kill off three penalties in the first period alone, including more than 30 seconds of 5-on-3 play.

Edmonton had some promising opportunities across the stretch — including a big shot from McDavid that ricocheted off the knob of Allen’s stick — but the Habs didn’t surrender a goal.

As a crucial part of the penalty kill, Weber played 9:10 in the first frame alone.

Montreal will open a three-game series with the Canucks in Vancouver on Wednesday. The Oilers will be in Toronto the same night to battle the Leafs.

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