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Report: Blue Jays still trying to sign outfielder Michael Brantley –



With George Springer secured, the Toronto Blue Jays are still trying to sign free-agent outfielder Michael Brantley, according to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic.

Brantley is represented by the same agency as Springer and the pair were teammates for two seasons with the Houston Astros.

Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro and general manager Ross Atkins have history with Brantley when they were in Cleveland. Shapiro acquired the now 33-year-old in the CC Sabathia trade with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2008.

Brantley, 33, batted .300/.364/.476 with five home runs and 22 RBI in 46 games with the Astros last season.

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Oilers find out exactly where they stand after another shutout loss to Leafs –



EDMONTON — This, Oilers fan, is a good thing.

Just 24 games into a 56-game season, your team just found out where it stands. Above the Calgary Flames, Vancouver Canucks and Ottawa Senators, but well below the Toronto Maple Leafs, apparently.

Outworked, outscored and severely out-goaltended in the second game of this three-game “Battle for First Place” in the North, the Maple Leafs beat Edmonton for fun again, following up Saturday’s 4-0 shellacking with a 3-0 win on Monday.

Is there another level that the Oilers need to to get to?

“Obviously there’s another level we have to get to,” said Darnell Nurse, “Because we haven’t won the last two games.”

The Oilers had been hot, and rightfully happy with their game. Feasting mostly on the Sens, Canucks and Flames, they had won 11 of 13 games, eight of nine and five straight before meeting the Leafs.

Now? They’re 0-2 against teams that are a lock to make the playoffs.

“We know the level that we need to play at,” Nurse said. “But, there are nights where you come out here and you’re not snapping it around the way you were on a five-game win streak. We have to find a way to win those games.”

But this is good, remember. Better to find out now, not yet halfway into the season, where you stand.

Might as well take this cold, hard slap in the face, then get back to work and try to become a team that works as hard, plays as structured, and capitalizes on its chances as well as Toronto does. Because clearly, the road to Stanley goes through Toronto when you’re coming out of the North.

That’s our take, anyhow. Head coach Dave Tippett, whose club was 2-2 versus Toronto before dropping these two games, sees his team as going through an inevitable dry period in the course of a season.

“We’re in a little rut,” Tippett said. “It seems like nothing you’re shooting is going in the net. Point shots, deflections, you can usually find one or two of those in a few games. But it’s not going in for us right now.

“There’s not a lot of juice in our group right now. (They’re) down on some energy, down on some emotion. Unfortunately it’s come at a tough time for us. This should be a big series against Toronto, and we just haven’t played very well.”

It was the first time since 1954 that Toronto has shut out the same opponent (Detroit) in back-to-back games. And it is the first time in this hockey writer’s memory that he would say the Leafs have perhaps conquered their defensive woes.

Toronto has had a great regular-season team for some time, able to outscore its mistakes and capitalize on the long grind of a regular season with its copious skill. But it has lost in the playoffs because the Leafs could never do this — absolutely shut down an opponent with solid team defence.

In administering their second one-sided beating of the Oilers in three days, the Leafs did it without Auston Matthews, while playing third-string goalie Michael Hutchinson. Toronto scored on its first two shots against a hapless Mikko Koskinen and took a 3-0 lead into the first intermission.

Then the visitors locked it down like a good team does. The Oilers upped their desperation, but a Leafs team that used to try to extend a 3-0 advantage into a 7-0 margin has changed. Now, three goals are enough, as Toronto cements its North Division lead, ahead of second-place Edmonton by eight points.

Hutchinson outplayed Koskinen, who was awful for Edmonton.

And the top two scorers in the NHL? Well, through two games Connor McDavid is minus-3, Leon Draisaitl is minus-2, and neither has a point.

“We’re not going to get ourselves down in this room,” said Nurse. “The two games haven’t gone the way we wanted them to go, but what are we going to do? Kick ourselves while we’re down and mope around?

“We know we’re a good team, capable of winning hockey games against any team in this league. That’s the mindset we need to keep.”

The mindset, we would hope, is to give some credit to the Maple Leafs and strive to play the kind of team game they have thrown at Edmonton here.

It reminds me of a quote Nurse gave me in a feature story back in February.

“You always think you’re working hard,” he said. “Coming into the league I always thought I was one of the hardest workers. But over the course of the quarantine and last summer, I showed myself that there is a whole other level of hard work to get to.”

A whole other level to get to.

Are there seven words that more aptly describe the Edmonton Oilers right now?

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Three first-period goals pace Canucks to victory over Jets – TSN



WINNIPEG — When the Vancouver Canucks discovered that screened point shots were getting results, they kept doing it.

By the time the Winnipeg Jets figured things out, it was too late.

Vancouver scored three first-period goals in similar fashion Monday night in a 4-0 victory at Bell MTS Place. Nate Schmidt, J.T. Miller and Nils Hoglander staked the Canucks to an early lead and Thatcher Demko did the rest, making 27 saves for his first shutout of the season.

All three goals came from shots inside the blue line that were tipped, redirected or knuckled past Winnipeg goaltender Connor Hellebuyck.

“When you know you can get yourself into those areas, that’s where the goals are scored,” said Schmidt. “I was proud of our guys for how we got to those areas tonight.”

Elias Pettersson sealed it with an empty-net goal as the Canucks (9-14-2) won for the first time in five games and ended Winnipeg’s four-game winning streak.

“I think top to bottom we had some good efforts tonight,” said Canucks head coach Travis Green.

After being held to one shot on goal over the first eight-plus minutes, Schmidt sent a fluttering shot from the high slot past a screened Hellebuyck at 8:28.

A similar play just 18 seconds later doubled Vancouver’s lead. This time Schmidt’s point shot was redirected by Miller at 8:46.

Vancouver’s second power-play unit used the same formula to extend the lead at 14:50. Tyler Myers sent a wrist shot from inside the blue line that Hoglander tipped to make it 3-0.

Demko, meanwhile, was steady when needed in the Vancouver net. He gave up few rebounds and delivered when the Jets pressed late in the game.

“I think over the last handful of games, our defensive side of things is coming along really nicely,” Demko said. “Tonight was kind of the pinnacle of building up to this point.”

After a sluggish first period, the Jets (13-7-1) seemed more inspired in the second period but had difficulty delivering any sustained pressure.

Mark Scheifele had two decent chances midway through the third period and Blake Wheeler was denied after a crafty deflection on a Sami Niku shot.

The Jets pulled Hellebuyck with over five minutes left in regulation. Winnipeg hit the post on a deflected shot before Pettersson put the game away at 16:26.

The teams will face off again Tuesday night in the finale of the Jets’ four-game homestand.

“You’ve got to have a short memory in this league,” Scheifele said. “You can’t dwell on things too long. You’ve got to get a good sleep tonight and get ready for tomorrow.”

The Canucks had 19 shots on goal and improved to 4-8-0 on the road.

After Tuesday’s game, the Jets will take to the road for 12 of their next 14 games.

The Canucks will return home to kick off a five-game homestand Thursday against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Rogers Arena.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 1, 2021.

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Resolute despite injuries, distractions Leafs winning with consistency –



The commute across the pedway connecting the JW Marriott to Rogers Place is familiar for anyone who spent time in Edmonton during the NHL’s western bubble last summer.

Heck, it’s already a well-worn path for a group of Toronto Maple Leafs players that have kept things pretty locked down despite the unseasonably warm weather they’ve found on their second business trip through this season.

“For the most part you’re just at the rink and your hotel room,” said Leafs defenceman T.J. Brodie, with a sense of deja vu after spending a chunk of August doing that very same thing in the very same place with the Calgary Flames.

“It’s pretty much the same (as the summer), I guess. Obviously, you can go outside if you want to, but other than that it’s the same.”

Add it to the list of things that made Monday’s 3-0 victory over the Edmonton Oilers so impressive.

In substance and in style, it looked like a reasonable copy of the game they played in the same building 48 hours earlier, right down to the fact they emphatically grabbed another two points with Auston Matthews and Frederik Andersen watching injured from the stands.

In this second of a three-game set, the Maple Leafs were also down goaltender Jack Campbell after he tweaked a previous leg injury while delivering a shutout on Saturday night. No bother. Michael Hutchinson, No. 4 on the team’s depth chart in January, stepped up with another strong performance and stopped 31 shots to make it two Leafs doughnuts in a row.

“I just want to open it up with comments about our goalies. I think the past two nights they’ve been outstanding and I don’t think they get enough credit,” Morgan Rielly said before taking any questions on his post-game Zoom call.

That the backups blanked Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl is a testament to their performance, but also a level of connected play the Leafs struggled to reach last season. They are really settling into a groove and sit at an absurd 17-4-2 — good for an eight-point advantage over Edmonton, head-and-shoulders above the rest in the North Division.

Just as importantly, they are slowly putting to rest some former demons. They have been prone to distractions in years gone by. And this season played amid a pandemic is full of plenty of those for everyone involved.

Yet the Leafs didn’t get satisfied after Saturday’s big win, or get rattled by another night without key contributors, or get knocked off course while spending 72 hours walking back and forth indoors between the hotel and rink.

“That’s been a big area of growth for us,” said Rielly.

“We had a lot of games last year that we were completely dominant, but I think we also had games where we were completely falling apart,” noted Travis Dermott. “I think this year we’re really focused on being consistent and showing up every day — whether we’re playing, whether we’re practising, or whether it’s an off-day and we have to be taking care of ourselves at home — I think everyone is just buying into a team plan that we’re going to be ready to go every day.”

After arguably their most complete win of the season on Saturday, head coach Sheldon Keefe ran an animated practice Sunday afternoon. He believes his team has reached the point where it’s proven that it can defend well, and the decline in high-danger rushes and chances against is a testament to that.

On Monday, they gave up a few more of those than they’d like, but some early saves on McDavid and Dominik Kahun set the table for a 3-0 lead by the first intermission. Zach Hyman and William Nylander continued hot streaks — Hyman with a goal in his second straight game, and Nylander with his fourth in the last three — before Rielly trickled one through Mikko Koskinen on the power play.

That gave Toronto its third win of the season with Matthews out of the lineup, and all three have come against Edmonton. The first, at Scotiabank Arena on Jan. 22, instilled some confidence.

They’ve been winning consistently no matter who goes down.

“We’ve been without Wayne Simmonds for a good period of time here now. We’ve played without Joe (Thornton), now we’re playing without Auston,” said Keefe. “We’ve been playing without (Frederik Andersen), we played without (Jake Muzzin).

“It really forces you to fall back on your structure, play as a team, get guys to step up at key moments.”

There’s no guarantee any of the injured players will be back to close this series out against Edmonton on Wednesday night.

So the challenge may remain constant: Prepare for the NHL’s top two scorers, find a way to compensate for your own lineup losses and keep the mind fresh while walking back and forth on the most boring pedway in hockey.

Oh, and maybe find some time for a socially distant conversation with Zach Bogosian, who lifted the Stanley Cup in Edmonton just over five months ago. He’s got a great bubble story to tell.

“I mean obviously we were here for quite a while. Our meal room at the hotel, that was a little bit of a different scene the night that we won,” said Bogosian. “It’s just cool to be back. Obviously, it’s something I’ll remember forever so, yeah, it’s nice.”

Sometimes there’s a little excitement to be found on the other side of the monotony.

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