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No passengers riding Maple Leafs’ hot streak: ‘We dominate today’



TORONTO – Forever ago (or maybe it was October), when the Toronto Maple Leafs were lost, fumbling and all out of sorts, head coach Sheldon Keefe leaned hard on one adjective to describe their unrefined brand of hockey: disconnected.

The forwards weren’t helping the defencemen enough, and the blueliners couldn’t time their tape.

Reads, passes, press conferences, body language… little around the team, on or off ice, felt in sync. The coach knew it. They players felt it. And the fans could see it.

Playing for the Leafs was like inviting a blind date to a Dining in the Dark restaurant. The intentions may have been good, but when the lights flicked on, it was a mess.

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My, what a difference a hot streak and some cool confidence can make.

On Thursday, from puck drop to buzzer, from crease to crease, pair to pair, line through line, the Maple Leafs submitted their most complete — most connected — 60 minutes of the season, thrashing the Los Angeles Kings 5-0.

As easy as the Maple Leafs are making wins appear during their 13-game point streak, this wagon run is the product of hundreds of tiny conversations and line tweaks, motivations and decisions.

Like this one, which will surely zip under the radar on a night where Mitchell Marner went full-crank slapshot to extend his record-breaking point streak to 21 games and goaltender-slash-comedian Ilya Samsonov reeled off the Leafs’ second shutout in under 48 hours.

Gotta See It: Maple Leafs’ Marner scores to extend point streak to 21 games

About a week ago, Manny Malhotra pulled Zach Aston-Reese aside for a talk. The assistant coach challenged the fourth-line checker to be more physical, throw more hits. After all, that is a big piece of what attracted Toronto to the winger in free agency.

Aston-Reese took the message to heart and came out hungry to impact the game in the small way a role player can.

Following a scoreless first period, in which the home side dominated possession, Aston-Reese caught L.A.’s Arthur Kaliyev with his head down at centre ice, looking at the puck in his feet, and levelled the King onto a highlight show near you.

Maple Leafs’ Aston-Reese crushes Kings’ Kaliyev, drops gloves with Lizotte

Blake Lizotte rushed to fight Aston-Reese, and the Leaf took him down too.

Instigator Lizotte got dinged for a slashing minor, and Aston-Reese’s fellow bottom-sixer Pierre Engvall sniped on the ensuing power-play.

“That hit and the fight woke up the crowd a little bit,” said Aston-Reese. “I was so happy to see Pierre score there, too. Then the floodgates opened.”

Sixty-six seconds later, Toronto had mounted a 3-0 lead, thanks to hardworking goals from David Kämpf and William Nylander. Comically, PA announcer Mike Ross twice had to stop reading out scorers’ names because Scotiabank Arena was already celebrating a new goal.

Maple Leafs tally three goals in 66 seconds to jump ahead vs. Kings.

One of those four-encore nights for Hall & Oates. And a four-hit evening for Aston-Reese.

By the time Marner and Auston Matthews piled on, the outcome was already a foregone conclusion.

Matthews is happy to gush over his superstar pal Marner, of course: “Nice clap-bomb he had there. I didn’t know he could shoot the puck like that.”

But he, too, understands the valuable connections that must be made between role players like Kämpf and Aston-Reese to the multimillionaire superstars hogging all the headlines and job security in this market.

“Those are the kind of things that happen in the game that make a small difference. They go a long way,” Matthews said of Aston-Reese’s hit.

“Definitely got some energy in the crowd. Then a couple quick goals, and we got them back on their heels.”

Well-rounded team effort leads Maple Leafs to second straight shutout win

Aston-Reese didn’t register a single point. Wasn’t named one of the game’s three stars. And yet it was he who was handed the club’s player of the game belt by former champ Matt Murray.

Are we arguing that the Maple Leafs would’ve lost to the Kings had Aston-Reese not thrown a nasty body check? Of course not. The sharper, more talented squad won the day in a landslide.

We are saying that it’s imperative everyone in that dressing room feels involved — gets connected — if the top-heavy Maple Leafs are to enjoy sustained success come springtime.

On Thursday, there were no passengers.

“Just a full team effort, all around. Those are the types of games that you want to play,” Matthews says.

Adds Samsonov: “D-zone, offensive zone, we dominate today.”

In the wake of his group’s most complete effort, as all his strings seem to be pulling in the same direction, does Keefe kind of wish it was March already?

“Whether I do or not, there’s no point in thinking about it,” Keefe replies, swallowing a sly smile.

“It’s not. So, we’ve got a long road ahead.”

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• Heartbreaking shoulder injury for Nick Robertson, who was set up for a decent run in Toronto’s top six with Calle Järnkrok already sidelined.

“You feel for the kid. He gives everything he has to the game,” Keefe said. “Feels a little differently when it’s a young guy like him, and he’s had his fair share of injuries each year that he’s played professionally. Tough thing for him.”

Robertson will bounce back. It’s what he does.

Maple Leafs’ Robertson heads to dressing room with help favouring his right shoulder

• Leafs superfan Justin Bieber was in the house — and sitting with the commoners. (Usually, he’s spotted up in the suites when he attends.)

Did Auston Matthews catch a glimpse of his famous friend’s outfit?

“Hard to miss,” Matthews smiles.

The Biebs joined the players in the dressing room to celebrate post-game.

• Aston-Reese had to answer Lizotte’s request to fight after this open-ice hit of puck carrier Arthur Kaliyev.

Should it be necessary to drop the gloves after a clean check?

“I was ready for it,” Aston-Reese shrugs. “Any time there’s a big hit, I think it’s just the culture. If your buddy, your teammate, gets hit hard, you’re gonna stick up for him. I have no problem with it. It’s part of the game. You just have to be ready to answer the bell.”

• Ten-year pro Logan Shaw, 30, was named captain of the Marlies, taking over duties from Rich Clune. He has 25 points through 22 games, on track for his most productive AHL season.

“The Leafs organization is what I watched growing up,” says the Nova Scotia native. “It’s not an easy league. You’re on the bus for long hours, and sometimes it can get pretty crappy, but I just want to make sure that everyone knows that I’m there to support them. I’m on an American League deal, so I’m here to help those guys.”

Coach Greg Moore was impressed by Shaw’s effort to build relationships with everyone within the Marlies from the outset of camp: “Really strong emotional intelligence of just knowing what’s needed and how to feel out moments. And he’s just super competitive, and he backs it up on the ice. [He] demands a lot of himself and demands a lot of the team.”

• Marner keeps saying Kämpf deserves much more credit than he receives.

“It’s huge for me, from a guy like him,” Kämpf says.

In addition to his stellar defensive play, the $1.5-million bargain centre is producing at an 11-goal, 32-point clip. He’s on track for his greatest offensive season.

Toronto is undefeated in regulation (14-0-1) whenever Kämpf scores a goal.

Maybe it’s time to talk extension.

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Bedard earns attention, rave reviews at CHL –



LANGLEY, British Columbia — Connor Bedard was the center of attention during the 2023 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game at Langley Events Centre on Wednesday.

The 17-year-old forward with Regina of the Western Hockey League, and projected No. 1 pick in the 2023 Upper Deck NHL Draft, had a bit of a home-ice advantage. He grew up about 30 minutes away in North Vancouver.

“I’ll have a good amount of people there,” Bedard said before the game. “I think some relatives. Obviously, my sister, my parents and some buddies for sure. I should have a decent crowd.”


Tom Bedard, Connor’s father, was relishing the rare chance to see his son in person; Regina is a 20-hour drive.

“My wife (Melanie) actually is in Regina with Connor, so she gets to go to a few more games,” Tom said. “I get out five or six times a year but it’s difficult. It’s nice to have things close to home.”

It was a good show for family and friends. Bedard had a game-high six shots on goal for Team Red in a 4-2 loss to Team White.

The only people watching Bedard as closely as his family was the opposition.

“Keeping him off the scoreboard, that was kind of a team goal,” Team White goalie Scott Ratzlaff said. “Just making sure he’s always covered, making sure we’ve got eyes on him. It was good.”

There was a fair amount of physical play aimed at Bedard, including Team White defenseman Lukas Dragicevic taking a cross-checking penalty against him 20 seconds into the first period. Bedard also had a game-long, trash-talking conversation with Team White defenseman Oliver Bonk.

The frustration led to Bedard taking a penalty for cross-checking Bonk at 16:30 of the third. Bonk said the back-and-forth wasn’t anything malicious, more about the respect for Bedard’s ability to take over a game.

“He’s the best [2005-born player] in the world right now,” Bonk said. “It was good to get him off the ice for two minutes for our guys.”

Bedard (5-foot-10, 185 pounds) is used to physical play and won’t shy away from it. He was a presence in front of Team White’s goal on most of his shifts and had no problem battling in all areas of the ice.

“It’s hockey,” Bedard said. “It’s competitive and you’re allowed to hit so you’ve always got to expect that. It’s a contact sport and you’re going to get hit and you’re going to give hits. That’s part of it and it was good.”

Despite the physical play, Bedard still displayed his game-breaking ability. With Team Red on the power play in the first period, he wheeled through the high slot and fired a shot on net that Ratzlaff saved. Midway through the second, Ratzlaff had to make a spectacular pad save to stop Bedard at the net on a give-and-go with Zach Benson.

“The goalies played well and obviously it would have been nice to see a few go in, but it didn’t happen,” Bedard said.

Ratzlaff also plays in the WHL, for Seattle. Though it was his first time facing Bedard in a game, he knows exactly what he’s capable of doing.

“He’s just so dynamic, and he’s just good from anywhere,” Ratzlaff said. “You think, ‘Oh, I’ve got to commit because he’s going to shoot,’ and then he makes a pass backdoor right on the guy’s tape. So, I think just being ready for anything because he’s just so good and just patient with the puck so he can really create, turn nothing into something.”

Bedard said his focus now returns to Regina, where he leads the WHL in goals (39), assists (42) and points (81). Since being held off the score sheet in the season opener, he has a point in 32 straight games. He’s No. 1 in NHL Central Scouting’s midterm ranking of North American players presented by BioSteel and almost a certainty to hear his name called first at the 2023 draft at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville on June 28.

“When you look, you can see his similarities with his quickness, offensive smarts, that go up to the Connor McDavid level, but then just the pure substance and overall makeup of his game is reminiscent of Sidney Crosby,” said Dan Marr, vice president of Central Scouting. “He’s right up there with those players that are going to be all stars and win a lot of hardware moving forward.”

Bedard has said the draft is something he’ll worry about down the road. Now that all the attention from the Top Prospects Game has passed, he’s focused on helping Regina reach the WHL playoffs.

“I want to win in Regina,” he said. “We’ve been playing well of late, [won] four of the last five, so we want to keep that going and I’m excited to get back and get to work.”

Listen: New episode of NHL Draft Class

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Still affected by carjacking, Mitch Marner speaks out on mental health –



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Quick Reaction: Raptors 113, Kings 95 – Raptors Republic



S. Barnes38 MIN, 7 PTS, 6 REB, 10 AST, 2 STL, 3-8 FG, 0-2 3FG, 1-2 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, 22 +/-

Scottie was finding his teammates all night long, one of the stronger defensive performances from Scottie tonight as well, first game without double digit points in quite some time but he impacted the game in other ways.

O. Anunoby31 MIN, 11 PTS, 3 REB, 2 AST, 2 STL, 4-9 FG, 3-6 3FG, 0-0 FT, 1 BLK, 1 TO, 24 +/-


Solid shooting night for OG who was able to really impact this game defensively by being a menace in the paint, did some great stuff against Sabonis.

P. Siakam35 MIN, 26 PTS, 11 REB, 7 AST, 2 STL, 11-24 FG, 2-8 3FG, 2-2 FT, 2 BLK, 1 TO, 15 +/-

Great night for. Pascal, defense was very impactful as he mucked up a lot of Sacramento’s acts through Sabonis, he was hitting his teammates all night, cleaned up on the glass, and kept the pressure up late with his scoring.

G. Trent Jr.36 MIN, 16 PTS, 5 REB, 3 AST, 1 STL, 7-15 FG, 2-6 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, 13 +/-

Gary’s shot wasn’t all the way there tonight but he still managed to get a couple down, had some good looks in transition.

F. VanVleet38 MIN, 17 PTS, 4 REB, 5 AST, 4 STL, 7-16 FG, 2-9 3FG, 1-1 FT, 2 BLK, 2 TO, 20 +/-

Fred didn’t shoot the ball well tonight but he still put up 17, had a game high 4 steals tonight which is a testament to his impact on that end tonight.

P. Achiuwa28 MIN, 19 PTS, 5 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 9-12 FG, 1-3 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 3 TO, 3 +/-

Great night on both ends for Precious, really impactful defensively, had some great finishes as a roll man and see created.

C. Boucher22 MIN, 16 PTS, 6 REB, 0 AST, 1 STL, 7-11 FG, 2-4 3FG, 0-0 FT, 3 BLK, 0 TO, -3 +/-

Great spark off the bench and made his presence felt at the rim on both ends of the floor, great energy tonight.

J. Hernangomez12 MIN, 1 PTS, 1 REB, 1 AST, 0 STL, 0-2 FG, 0-2 3FG, 1-2 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, -4 +/-

Didn’t really standout tonight.

Nick Nurse

Great game plan for Sacramento, never let Sabonis get comfortable, great minutes for Precious and Boucher.

Things We Saw

  1. One of, if not the strongest defensive performances from Toronto this season holding this high powered offense to 50 at halftime and 95 for the full game, really encouraging.

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