No Matthews, no problem.
After two periods of stellar play from their goaltender, the Leafs went into the final frame with a 3-0 lead — and played the best defensive period we’ve seen from them this season.
We’re obviously going to break down some of the offensive plays that helped them get that lead, not to mention Jack Campbell’s 30-save shutout. The real story here to me, though, is Toronto locking things down defensively against Connor McDavid & company en route to a 4-0 victory, a win that included:
- A goal in each period
- Going one-for-one on the power play, with zero penalties taken
- Three 5v5 goals from three different lines
- A shutout from their backup goaltender
This is a game the Leafs‘ coaches, front office, and fans can all appreciate for a multitude of reasons. Let’s dive into some of those by breaking down each player individually.
It’s time for some report cards!
Game Puck: Jack Campbell (G, #36) — It’s not easy keeping McDavid off the scoreboard, especially when he opens the game like this.
To make matters worse, the Leafs were turning the puck over in some brutal spots early on. Jimmy Vesey and Alex Barabanov each made a tape-to-tape pass to an Edmonton Oiler wide open in the slot — in their own end.
Campbell was forced to stop a lot of Grade-A chances from the slot. He stopped every one of them. The team in front of him helped make life easier in the back half of the game, but we still have to give the man credit for saving all 30 shots thrown his way.
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) February 28, 2021
It looks like his teammates agree.
Mitch Marner (RW, #16) — With Auston Matthews out of the lineup tonight nursing a wrist injury, Mitch Marner carried the load offensively. At 5-on-5, he was finding open teammates off the rush.
On the power play, he baited Mike Smith into going down early before skating around the net and finding William Nylander for the game’s first goal.
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) February 28, 2021
Soon after that, Marner found himself in a good shooting position off the rush.
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) February 28, 2021
You can tell he’s feeling more and more confident in his wrist shot with each passing game. He’s never going to shoot the puck like Auston Matthews, but if Marner can keep working on improvements to his shooting ability, it’s going to open up more options for him as a passer.
That’s a scary thought for a player who already has 10 goals and 22 assists in 22 games this season.
William Nylander (LW, #88) — Part of me always wondered why the Leafs play Nylander at left wing so often. “He’s a right shot, aren’t almost all wingers better on their strong side?”
Then you watch him make plays as a passer from that side of the ice and it starts to make more sense.
That’s a great read by Zach Bogosian to pass it backdoor, but it’s Nylander reversing play to the weak side that opens up all that ice.
Not many players can gain the zone like Nylander and complete an east-west pass afterward, especially when they’re carrying the puck on their off-wing. Full disclosure: Nylander actually played right wing tonight, but with the way he attacks in transition, he’s equally likely to enter the zone from either side.
He also scored that goal on the power play, by the way.
TJ Brodie (RD, #78) — It’s a tall task to defend McDavid 1-on-1 off the rush multiple times a game. Brodie did an excellent job for my money, not letting #97 get around him and getting his stick on the puck most of the time. His most impactful play was a diving poke to create a 2-on-1 goal for Jason Spezza.
Morgan Rielly (LD, #44) — Few players make me think more about the position as a whole than Morgan Rielly. He activates into the play any time he sees an opportunity, often acting as the team’s fourth forward in offensive situations.
This is the OZ movement that makes Toronto so difficult to defend. Rielly has a knack for finding open ice, skating into it, and finding that next pass across the grain for a Grade-A scoring chance.
Rielly accomplished that a few times in this game, not to mention a stretch pass up the ice to Mikheyev, where he shockingly didn’t convert.
Marner’s Linemates — I say this jokingly. John Tavares and Joe Thornton had great games themselves, although it certainly helps to play alongside an all-world playmaker. Tavares was able to generate two assists, eight shot attempts, and five chances from the slot, both ranking first on the team tonight. After some of the flack he has received, that’s a statement game against touch matchups and without Matthews in the lineup.
Thornton had a couple of great moments himself, most notably his one-touch pass in the neutral zone to get Marner and Tavares in open space for the game’s second goal. I did get a bit worried watching Thornton try to keep up with McDavid on the backcheck, but his playmaking and work down low helped make up for it.
Zach Hyman (RW, #11) — We all expect him to win puck battles and provide big-time value defensively, so no surprises there tonight. What impressed me the most was the fact that Hyman was driving the offense. It wasn’t pretty, but with Mikheyev-Engvall as his linemates, it was never going to be.
Okay, maybe that one was pretty.
The Dermott-Bogosian Pair — It was cool to see Travis Dermott using his skating ability to open up passing lanes from the top of the OZ. He usually isn’t much of a threat from there, but he managed to pull off a few crafty passes from that spot.
Defensively, Toronto’s third pair got stuck out against the McDavid line a few times, which is where Zach Bogosian really stood out. Defense is one of those things that’s so difficult to measure, but if you go back and watch those shifts, that’s defense. Bogosian kept McDavid out of the dangerous areas, getting a body on him when he could.
Jason Spezza (RW, #19) — 2-on-1 with Jimmy Vesey, you’re thinking shoot all the way, right? Jason Spezza went with the move everyone saw coming — and it still worked. He’s been doing the fake slapshot for 20 years and goaltenders are still biting on it.
Maybe it’s because he’s one of the few guys in the league actually willing to let one go from distance. After all, it’s part of the reason Toronto’s second PP unit has been so effective these past two seasons.
Spezza has been quarterbacking that thing from the right wall, and as you saw on that goal, he’s still dangerous in open ice from that right circle.
Wingspan — Ilya Mikheyev and Pierre Engvall deserve each other.
Mikheyev and Engvall are both very tall and very fast.
It feels like their wingspans combine to cover the full width of the ice. There’s no space for opposing forwards to operate when they are out there.
— Kevin Papetti (@KPapetti) February 28, 2021
Defensively, they cover so much ground. Whether it’s an OZ forecheck or NZ trap, it’s super annoying for opposing forwards to skate through a wall of limbs poking at the puck.
Offensively, you probably shouldn’t expect too much. Mikheyev is still launching the puck from distance when he has wide-open ice in front of him.
Engvall has more confidence skating north-south with the puck, but his inability to make that next play after gaining the zone is why he only had five points in his last 42 games.
The Muzzin-Holl Pair — They got out-possessed at even strength to the tune of a lopsided 23-6 in shot attempts, but they broke even and didn’t give up a goal in their 8-9 minutes against Connor McDavid. It is worth noting Jake Muzzin was playing his first game since suffering a broken bone in his face. He made a few great underneath passes in the defensive zone. The pairing spent a little too much time in the defensive zone, although score effects likely play a role here.
As for Justin Holl, we need to give him some credit for coming to the defense of his goaltender on the Tyler Ennis collision.
A common frustration I’ve heard with this Leafs team is that they don’t stand up for each other enough in these instances. Holl answered the bell here, albeit on a 5’9 161lb winger.
Alex Kerfoot (C, #15) — Despite the odd burst of speed here and there, this was a pretty quiet game for Kerfoot. It was also a quiet night for Travis Boyd.
Alex Barabanov (LW, #94) — It’s good that Barabanov is getting more chances from in tight, but he needs to be more ready in those situations. We already mentioned his awful DZ turnover earlier, which resulted in a high-quality chance for Edmonton.
One last thing I wanted to mention was his board-play; he’s getting killed in those parts of the ice. If Barabanov wants to prove he can hang in an NHL top nine (or top 12), he’ll need to stop turning pucks over while getting pasted into the boards.
Jimmy Vesey (LW, #26) — It’s almost a running joke at this point. I genuinely feel bad doing this section now. Aside from his “Big Mistake”, Vesey failed to receive basic passes in transition and get play going in the right direction.
Aside from a bit of PK value, you’ve got to ask yourself what exactly does Vesey do for this Leafs team?
Here’s a quick look at where each team’s shots were coming from at even strength, courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.
Final Grade: A
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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