TORONTO — The last time William Nylander killed penalties, it was quite possibly a form of punishment.
“It was during practice [last April] in Vancouver, the day after I missed that [team] meeting,” Nylander recounted on Saturday, ahead of Toronto’s final preseason game against Ottawa. “I don’t know [if those were related], but it had been awhile since I’d done it before that; I couldn’t tell you when.”
Nylander won’t have that problem anymore. The Maple Leafs’ winger has gone from punishment to promotion, being groomed to take a bigger role on Toronto’s penalty kill for the coming season.
Coach Sheldon Keefe has been ruminating on the idea since Toronto’s first-round playoff exit last May. He broached the topic with Nylander then and was met with enthusiasm, which Keefe is pleased to see bleeding into Nylander’s preparation for the gig.
“I think he’s been great; he’s embraced it,” Keefe said. “When I spoke with him about it, he had no doubts and no questions, he was ready go. He’s been attentive in the meetings, he’s asked questions. So it’s been really good. These are the kind of things that pre-season is for. Once we get rolling here in the regular season, we’ll see how it all shakes out.”
To Nylander, the appeal of killing penalties is that it translates to more ice time. He’s motivated by guys like Mitch Marner who are able to stay engaged throughout games by virtue of appearing on both the power play and penalty kill.
“I’ve always thought that it would be good, especially when there’s a lot of PKs in game,” Nylander said. “It’s good to get out there to get the legs going and get moving versus sitting on the bench for an extended period of time. And you’re trying to keep the puck out of the net too, which is the most important thing. I was happy that they brought it up. I’m looking forward to it.”
Keefe has been a party to Nylander’s development since the winger came to North America, coaching him with the American Hockey League’s Toronto Marlies from 2014-16, before taking over the Leafs’ bench in 2019. So Keefe knew from watching Nylander’s evolution last season that he was ready for more responsibility.
“I feel like he took big steps in terms of his attention to detail defensively, and his play without the puck in general,” Keefe said. “He was consistently more competitive on the puck, and then you see his skill set within that – he’s strong, he’s quick, he’s got good instincts, he’s got a really good stick to pick off pucks, and of course he’s dangerous in transition. So we’ve just seen some growth in him, and when we see growth in a player, we feel like his role needs to grow as well to reflect that.”
The Leafs’ penalty kill is also going through a period of overall transformation, starting with its structure. Gone is former coach Dave Hakstol, who ran that unit the last two seasons, and his replacement Dean Chynoweth has implemented a fresh philosophy. The hope is that Chynoweth can guide the Leafs’ penalty kill to more consistent success than it had last season, when Toronto finished 24th (78.5 per cent) overall shorthanded.
Alex Kerfoot previously described Chynoweth’s vision for the penalty kill as, “if we’re going to get beat, we’re going to get beat throughout aggressiveness, not passiveness.” To make that work, the Leafs will need a stable of players available to contribute.
“The way we want to kill penalties this season is going to require a lot more pressure, which is going to take a lot more more energy from [individuals],” Keefe said. “So we’re going to need more guys to do it. We’ve got a lot of different options there, we’ve got different people that could contribute there at different times. We’re trying to give ourselves as many opportunities [as possible] to utilize the lineup and the depth in different situations and it’s a competition for those positions as well.”
Keefe identified Ondrej Kase and Auston Matthews as other new players he’d like to see killing penalties this year. Kase has gotten some reps already in the preseason, and if Matthews hadn’t missed so much time rehabbing a wrist injury, he would have been involved in a similar capacity from the get-go.
It’s all part of Keefe’s plan to maximize the Leafs’ best talents.
“Maybe there’s an endless string of penalties and you don’t want your players sitting for too long and you want to get them out there feeling comfortable,” Keefe said. “So we just have this opportunity [in preseason] to gain that confidence that they can do it, and that the coaches believe in them. I think that’s a really healthy thing for our team.”
Nylander is certainly all-in on the assignment, and ready to test his skills in a regular season game. Toronto has been approved to house a capacity crowd for the home opener at Scotiabank Arena on Wednesday, and there’s nothing Nylander would like more than to show off the fruits of his recent efforts.
I’ve been wanting to get going for real since camp started,” he said. “So it’ll be nice to get going with the fans and everything back, it’s going to be a good time. I feel pretty good. But camp is camp, and preseason is preseason. Now I have to translate that into [what’s next].”
NHL great Mike Bossy reveals lung cancer diagnosis – CTV News
Former New York Islanders winger and TVA hockey analyst Mike Bossy is battling lung cancer.
He announced the news in a letter to TVA Sports Tuesday.
“It is with a lot of sadness that I need to step away from your screens, for a necessary pause. During this break I’ll be receiving treatment for lung cancer. (The score is) 1-0 so far, but I haven’t said my last word,” Bossy wrote.
“I intend to fight with all the determination and fire you’ve seen me show on the ice.”
Referring to viewers, he added: “You’ll never be far away in my mind. To the contrary, you’ll have a choice seat and be a part of what motivates me to get better.
“Like all athletes who prepare for the biggest performance of their lives, I’ll need all of my strength and all my concentration.”
Bossy, 64, helped the Islanders win 4 straight Stanley Cup, starting in 1980.
The Montreal native tallied 573 goals and 1,126 points over 10 seasons.
Bossy won the Calder trophy as the NHL’s top rookie in 1978 and the Conn Smythe as the league’s MVP in 1982. He was also awarded the Lady Byng trophy for sportsmanship in 1983, ’84 and ’86.
He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1991.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 19, 2021.
Astros erupt for seven runs in ninth, beat Red Sox to tie ALCS – Sportsnet.ca
BOSTON — Six outs from falling behind 3-1 in the AL Championship Series and facing elimination in Game 5 in Boston — where the Red Sox had yet to lose this postseason — the Houston Astros offence awakened.
After tying it in the eighth inning on Jose Altuve’s solo homer, the Astros bullied the Boston bullpen for seven runs in the ninth to win 9-2 on Tuesday night and even the best-of-seven playoff at two games apiece.
“This is one of the great things about baseball,” said the Astros’ 72-year-old manager, Dusty Baker. “When you’re dead in the water and things aren’t going good, and then all of a sudden, boom, boom, boom, and you got seven runs.
“That’s what they’ve been doing to us this whole series,” he said. “And we’re capable of doing that as well.”
Jason Castro looked off a potential third strike from Nathan Eovaldi before driving in watch-tapping Carlos Correa with the go-ahead run in the ninth, then the AL West champions kept on scoring to guarantee themselves at least one more game back home.
Game 5 is Wednesday in Boston, with Games 6 and 7 back in Houston on Friday and, if necessary, Saturday.
The Red Sox are 5-0 after playoff losses under manager Alex Cora.
“We’re feeling pretty confident,” said Eovaldi, the Game 2 winner who made his first relief appearance since 2019. “That’s been one of our strengths is being able to turn the page and come in tomorrow.”
In a series that had been dominated by offence — especially Boston’s, which has hit 10 homers in the series, including a record-setting three grand slams to turn Games 2 and 3 into routs — the teams traded first-inning home runs.
Alex Bregman hit a solo shot into the Green Monster seats, then Xander Bogaerts topped it with a towering, two-run drive onto Lansdowne Street in the bottom half to give the Red Sox a 2-1 lead.
Then, the pitchers took over.
It was still 2-1 when Altuve homered against Garrett Whitlock to tie it in the eighth. It was his 21st career postseason home run, breaking a tie with Derek Jeter for third-most in baseball history and trailing only Manny Ramirez (29) and Bernie Williams (22).
Eovaldi, making his first relief appearance since he was coming back from an injury two years ago, came on for the ninth and gave up Correa’s leadoff double.
The Red Sox thought they were out of the inning when Eovaldi’s 1-2 breaking ball appeared to catch the plate for strike three on Castro. Still alive, Castro singled in Correa to give Houston the lead.
“Yeah, a lot of people thought it was a strike,” Cora said. “It was a good game until the end, right? We were one pitch away from ending that inning, and it didn’t happen, and then they scored seven.”
Michael Brantley hit a three-run double off Martin Perez. Yordan Alvarez added an RBI single. Perez’s throwing error on Correa’s infield single allowed a run to score, and Kyle Tucker singled in another run.
Houston has scored 36 runs with two outs in the postseason, including 18 of its 22 in this series.
“We knew with this team that we’re playing we wanted to pad the lead,” Baker said. “And pad the lead we did, you know what I mean? That one run might not have stood up, especially in this ballpark.”
The Red Sox, who were the first team in major league history to have double-digit hits six straight times in a single postseason, had just five on Tuesday — two of them when already trailing by seven in the ninth.
Nick Pivetta allowed just one more hit after Bregman’s homer before leaving with a 2-1 lead through five innings. Eovaldi took the loss, allowing four runs while getting just two outs.
Kendall Graveman, the fifth Houston pitcher, threw two scoreless innings for the win. The Astros had special praise for Cristian Javier, who pitched three scoreless innings to get them through five as Houston’s bullpen delivered 7 2/3 shutout innings.
“What the relievers did today was amazing,” Altuve said.
It was the third straight game the Red Sox got five or more innings from a starter, and the third straight that the Houston starter didn’t make it out of the second inning; Zack Greinke got just four outs on Tuesday.
Astros: CF Jake Meyers, who injured his left shoulder crashing into the wall in the Division Series clincher, was originally listed in the starting lineup but “wasn’t quite ready yet,” Baker said. Chas McCormick started in centre instead.
Red Sox: Schwarber appeared to tweak his left hamstring on a swing in the fourth inning. He limped out a groundout and remained in the game.
Game 5 is Wednesday at 5:08 p.m. Chris Sale will start for the Red Sox after allowing one run over 2 2/3 innings in Game 1. Framber Valdez goes for Houston. He gave up two earned runs in 2 2/3 innings during the series opener.
Golf-Olympic gold medallist Schauffele pumped for Zozo Championship in Japan
AmericanXander Schauffele returns this week for the Zozo Championship in Japan nearly two and half months after winning the gold medal at the Tokyo Games and the 27-year-old said he is looking to grab a “special” victory at the PGA Tour event.
The tournament returns to Japan at the Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club on Thursday after last year’s edition was moved to California due to COVID-19 restrictions.
The $9.95 million event will feature Asia’s first Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama, two-time major winner Collin Morikawa and Schauffele, who won gold for the United States at the Tokyo Olympics in August with a one-stroke victory.
Schauffele, whose grandparents reside in Japan, said winning at the Zozo Championship would be a huge honour for his family.
“I’m very excited,” Schauffele, who also won the Ryder Cup with the United States last month, said on Wednesday.
“Winning here would be really cool. It would be really special to sort of win twice in Japan, especially since I don’t live here.
“I think it would be a huge honour for my family if I was able to do that and I’m going to do my best this week.”
American Morikawa, whose father is of Japanese descent, said he is looking forward to playing in front of an energetic crowd with 5,000 spectators allowed each day.
“These are some of the best fans,” Morikawa said. “I remember my first tee shot out here two years ago when there were fans on stools and lined up five, six people deep.
“They would cheer for you walking to tee boxes, hitting every tee shot whether it’s good or bad.
“They bring so much energy. I’ve said it since we returned from COVID, it’s just really good to see people out here again.”
(Reporting by Manasi Pathak in Bengaluru; editing by Kim Coghill)
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