It was a Good Friday for some Leafs hockey.
My apologies for the awful pun. Five minutes of 3-on-3 overtime weren’t enough for the Winnipeg Jets or Toronto Maple Leafs to settle this one, so we had to settle for everyone’s favourite way to end a sporting event: a shootout.
Jason Spezza scored the game-winning goal there, while Jack Campbell made a few more key saves en route to the 2-1 victory. That’s his eighth win in a row this season, which has to be the main storyline coming out of this game considering his stellar performance.
Let’s dive into some individual player grades to help sort out the rest of the game. I think we all know who we’re going to start with.
Game Puck: Jack Campbell (G, #36) — Just when you think his .948 save percentage coming into the game was wildly unsustainable, he stops 31 of the Jets’ 32 shots on Friday night, bringing him up to .951 in his eight games this season. That’s obviously going to fall back down to earth over time, but it speaks to how well he’s played this season.
Campbell was forced to make a few diving saves down the stretch, sprawling across his net to deny backdoor passes. That happened a bit too often for my liking, and I say that referring to the Leafs‘ defensive play in the third period. When your team gives up quality chances, though, it’s your job as a goaltender to come up with those saves.
Mission accomplished tonight for Campbell, who really seems to be solidifying himself as Toronto’s starting goalie moving forward.
Zach Hyman (LW, #11) — Right from his first shift, you can see the type of impact he was having on the game. Hyman’s ability to get in on loose pucks and prevent the opposing defenseman from making the play they want to make is what makes him such a great F1 forechecker.
That type of presence allows his skilled linemates to come in and scoop up the puck with plenty of room to make a play. Hyman also negated two icings with his hustle, a stat that I’m sure he would rank near the top of the league if it was publicly available.
Sportlogiq, we’re going to need your help on this one.
The Muzzin-Holl Pair — I’ve been really impressed with this pairing all season, and tonight was no exception. Jake Muzzin does such a great job defending the rush, breaking plays up before the Jets’ speedy forwards had a chance to gain the zone.
Here’s a quick example.
Muzzin makes plays like these with consistency, which is why his team usually ends up on the right side of shots and scoring chances at 5v5.
Justin Holl has a similar impact defending the rush, using his legs to stay with opposing forwards and often getting his deceptively long stick on the puck to break up plays. On the breakout, he got himself open on the right side of the ice a few separate times to get Toronto out of trouble. From there it was a clean zone entry the other way and sustained pressure.
One final note is that both players looked great on the penalty kill, not allowing the Jets to complete any dangerous passes through the middle of the ice.
Mitch Marner (RW, #16) — Hyman might’ve been the energizer bunny tonight, but Marner was the primary puck carrier. He sliced through the defense on multiple occasions, deking his way into the high slot. Marner wasn’t able to complete those plays with a quality shot, although he was looking to shoot more overall at 5v5.
On the power play, he probably should’ve picked up an assist or two tonight. He completed a seam pass to Auston Matthews at one point, then at 4v3 in overtime he threaded another one to William Nylander. He even put the puck on John Tavares’ tape in tight, but sometimes the pucks don’t want to go in, especially when Connor Hellebuyck is locked in.
Jason Spezza (RW, #19) — His shootout goal was genuinely hilarious, almost losing the puck at one point, regaining control, and then out-waiting Hellebuyck for the deke back across the grain. At 5v5, he picked up another point on his drop pass to Travis Dermott, keeping Spezza on pace as the team’s Points/60 leader.
It also moved him into the Top 100 in NHL history among point producers.
That’s not a bad list to be joining.
Travis Dermott (LD, #23) — Let’s give my man some credit, he scored a goal! Yes, it was a flukey one from the blueline, but like Jeff O’Neill said in his video breakdown, Dermott getting that shot off quickly allows it to get through traffic before the goaltender has a chance to track it.
I’m not advocating for more 0.01 xG shots from the Leafs, but getting pucks through has been a massive concern for Dermott at the NHL level. Here’s hoping that these plays give him some more confidence moving forward. He could certainly use some on the offensive side of center ice.
Zach Bogosian (RD, #22) — Dermott’s partner on the third pair wasn’t too shabby either on Friday night. Bogosian was at his best on the penalty kill, blocking backdoor passes by “standing in the right spot” as Mike Babcock would say.
As always, Bogosian would go for that pinch or two offensively where he finds himself way deeper in the play than you’d probably like. Then again, for Sheldon Keefe’s possession-style of game to work, all five skaters need to be in constant motion. Keep those legs moving, Bogo!
Auston Matthews (C, #34) — I didn’t love his game defensively tonight; there were a few times he was supposed to be the high forward (F3) and he didn’t get back in time to prevent the 3-on-2 rush. Offensively, though, he was Auston Matthews tonight, generating nine shot attempts and seven chances from the slot, leading the Leafs in both categories.
Alex Kerfoot (C, #15) — Fun fact: rebounds tend to have the highest expected shooting percentage, which makes sense considering the goalie is usually out of position. With that in mind, Kerfoot grabbed a rebound in this game and passed it east-west to Bogosian. It didn’t go in, but that’s a really high-percentage play offensively.
Kerfoot also did this on the cycle, which was pretty impressive.
It doesn’t look like much, but that hit the post. That’s a good job by Kerfoot to create his own shot with his shiftiness, and more importantly, actually shoot the puck when he’s in a good shooting position.
I’ve been liking his game more and more these last few games. It’s good timing, too, with the trade deadline coming up in just over a week.
TJ Brodie (RD, #78) — After taking a hard spill into the boards early, Brodie bounced back and looked like his usual self defensively. He wasn’t able to take away the 2-on-1 pass (for once) after Morgan Rielly pinched a bit too aggressively, resulting in the Leafs‘ only goal against.
That said, Brodie was making calm plays with the puck and appeared to be in the right spots defensively aside from that 2-on-1 rush, at least to my eye test*.
*The same eye test that believed in Travis Dermott, so it could be faulty.
Pierre Engvall (C, #47) — He’s becoming one of the weirder players for me to evaluate lately. I love his tools as a player; watching him skate the puck up the ice like a gazelle on skates is something to behold. He then crosses the blue line and he can’t make a play, which is the infuriating part of watching Pierre Engvall.
There aren’t too many players with his elite size-speed combo, but there are a lot of NHLers who can read the game faster and make the next pass. Whether it’s a 2-on-1 or an opportunity to get the puck across the crease on the cycle, Engvall tends to be late on those decisions, which really hurts his offensive upside as a player.
Maybe you accept the fact that he’ll never be anything more than a bottom-six grinder. I just find that to be a disappointing ceiling for a player who can do the things he can do.
Ilya Mikheyev (LW, #65) — In a similar vein, does anyone expect Mikheyev to convert on a 2-on-1? He got another one tonight and skated himself into the corner, which killed any chance of getting the pass across, eventually resulting in Mikheyev shooting it himself from the hashmarks.
His defensive value is undeniable; forcing turnovers in the offensive zone leads to quality offense. That’s how he set up Tavares for a partial breakaway. Much like Engvall, though, it can be frustrating when Mikheyev finds himself in situations where he has to make an offensive play.
Simply put, I’m not sure if he can, which is weird considering the flashes of skill we saw last season. Part of me wonders if his stick-handling and shooting ability will ever be the same after suffering that nasty wrist laceration.
Morgan Rielly (LD, #44) — Oh Rielly.
You need to take chances to create goals, and no one is a better example of that than Morgan Rielly. He’s still coming out on top in the aggregate this season, but he didn’t make enough positive plays with the puck tonight to make up for that whoopsie.
Joe Thornton (LW, #97) — If he had a different name on the back of his jersey, I’m sure he’d be hearing it from Leafs fans on the internet. Think of the way we treated Jimmy Vesey this season.
Thornton is reaching the point this season where he seems to float in and out of games. There are times the puck will land on his stick and he’ll make a great play, saucing his teammates into an open patch of ice. Then another period will go by and you’ll forget #97 is playing.
I still think he needs some rest, which I’m hoping the Leafs will be able to give him after the trade deadline passes. My assumption is that they’re keeping him in the lineup to maximize their cap space. After April 12th, this man needs a night off.
Coaching Staff — I’m not one to panic, but the Leafs’ power play hasn’t been inspiring a ton of confidence lately. The good news is that they rank fourth in the NHL in shots and expected goals at 5v4 since March 1st. They’ve just been shooting zero percent on their last 24 power plays.
I’ll give the coaching staff some credit for trying different things, but throwing Muzzin out on PP2 isn’t exactly the gamechanger I think fans were hoping for. Keefe chose to put his four best forwards on the ice in overtime for the 4v3 power play, which led to a bunch of quality chances.
It’s also worth noting the team has been playing extremely well at 5v5 lately, to the point where they look like one of the truly elite teams in the league. At the end of the day, though, Toronto’s power play is a big part of what the team is built on, and it’s the coaching staff’s job to get that clicking again.
The Tavares Line — Yeesh.
The trio of Alex Galchenyuk, John Tavares, and William Nylander got absolutely filled in at even strength. Their first period was atrocious, although they did start to look more like themselves towards the end of regulation. I’m not going to sugarcoat this; a $20 million line shouldn’t be spending the majority of their night stuck in the defensive zone.
This wasn’t their night.
Wayne Simmonds (RW, #24) — In a similar vein to my Thornton comments, ask yourself what we would be saying if the jersey read “Vesey” instead of “Simmonds” on the following clip.
That’s a terrible play — I don’t care who the player is making it.
Simmonds has been getting stuck in his own end because of turnovers like these on the breakout. He hasn’t looked good at 5v5 since returning from his injury, which is putting it nicely, if we’re being honest.
Here’s a quick look at where each team’s shots were coming from at even strength, courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.
The Leafs controlled 53 percent of the shots and 63 percent of the expected goals at 5v5. That’s another game where they’ve dominated the run of quality chances.
Tweets of the Night
Game managing a hit from behind boarding call against a superstar in OT is certainly an NHL decision.
— Platinum Seat Ghosts (@3rdPeriodSuits) April 3, 2021
“Gotta let the boys play,” I was told.
I’ve seen numbers all over the place, so I wrote about how much money the Leafs can add at the trade deadline: https://t.co/b3rBqnYlIs
— Earl Schwartz (@EarlSchwartz27) April 2, 2021
Do yourself a favour and follow Earl. He knows more about the CBA than I’ll ever dream to — I’m convinced it’s Brandon Pridham’s burner account.
Leafs at 62.5% expected goals tonight at even strength.
They’re at 64.5% over their last seven games, their highest sustained stretch of the season. 5-1-1 record over that time frame.
Their very strong 5-on-5 play is negating the power play issues right now.
— James Mirtle (@mirtle) April 3, 2021
This has been my biggest takeaway from Toronto’s past month. Despite a shooting percentage of zero at 5v4 lately, the Leafs’ elite 5v5 play has been carrying them to some deserved wins.
Throw in a bit more puck luck with the man advantage and we’re looking at a pretty scary team here. Some might even refer to them as a Juggernaut.
Final Grade: A-
For Oilers, Archibald’s selfish anti-vaccine stance is not worth the risk – Sportsnet.ca
EDMONTON — One is a player who opted to honour his commitment to his new team in Edmonton. The other, just another selfish anti-vaxxer who is betting on himself, somewhat foolishly.
One is a player the general manager staked his reputation on, with much pedigree and a handful of Stanley Cup rings. A guy who came to town billed as a leader, and then backed it up when he rolled up his sleeve despite obvious misgivings about being vaccinated.
Sure, Duncan Keith should have gotten vaccinated a month sooner. But give him some credit for putting the team — society and the Oilers — ahead of himself. Even if he waited until the 11th hour to do it.
Then there is depth winger Josh Archibald, who will be replaced by Game 1 of the regular season if he doesn’t give his head a shake. He is from that young, conspiracy-oriented demographic that has been suckered in by far-right disinformation, and tweets about idiocy like “the plandemic.”
“I’m happy that he’s going to be part of our team this year, fully vaccinated,” Oilers general manager Ken Holland said of Keith, a player Holland had seriously dug in on to convince him to get vaccinated. Mike Smith took some work, too, we are told, but now both are vaccinated and ready to do what they were brought in to accomplish.
The other player is more selfish than that.
Archibald is a nice, fourth-line penalty killer in a normal season. He’ll get you 10 goals a year. But for this, the third COVID-affected NHL campaign, an unvaccinated Archibald just isn’t worth it.
Holland and head coach Dave Tippett sat down with Archibald on Tuesday and spelled out how many games he would miss and what it would mean to be Canada’s only unvaccinated NHL player. It would cost him up to 40 per cent of his $1.5 million salary. Maybe more.
Now Holland sits, and hopes that Archibald changes his mind before the GM has to send him to AHL Bakersfield. He is virtually untradeable, as Archibald could not play games in Canada for a U.S.-based team, and poses a risk that no fourth-liner can justify.
“There are a team or two out there that have made the decision that unvaccinated players are not welcome at training camp. I have not made that decision as of this time,” Holland said on Wednesday. “I think the player is going through the process to decide. It’s a difficult decision. I’ll give [Archibald] the appropriate time, and I’ll see where I’m at in a week, 10 days from now. We’ll see.”
Editor’s note: With overwhelming consistency, research has shown vaccinations against COVID-19 are safe and effective. Residents of Alberta who are looking to learn more about vaccines can find up-to-date information here. Further details on COVID-19 and the country’s pandemic response are available on Canada’s public health website.
In a strange twist of fate, Keith — who received his vaccination in the United States only this week — is in quarantine until next Friday, while the unvaccinated Archibald is undergoing daily testing while attending Edmonton Oilers training camp.
But here’s the reality of all this: A Canadian team simply can not have an unvaccinated player on its roster.
By Holland’s math, an unvaccinated player who must serve a 14-day quarantine every time he comes over the U.S. border and into Canada, would miss “30-plus games” this season. He’d also miss a ton of practice time, and would lose one-200th of his pay for every day missed due to the federally mandated quarantine.
It would be impossible to hold his place on an NHL roster.
“After you quarantine for 14 days, if we’re playing well you’re not just taking someone out to put that person in,” Holland said. “The number of times we cross the border, it’s going to be very difficult.”
Had Keith and Smith not relented, the Oilers’ season would have been derailed.
Related reading: Edmonton Oilers goaltender Alex Stalock contracted COVID-19 before the shortened 56-game season. Now, the 34-year-old is likely going to miss the 2021-22 season due to a heart condition.
Now that Holland has his starting goalie and No. 3 defenceman in the fold, why on earth would you want an unvaccinated, 13:33-minutes per game player flying on the same charter and inhabiting the same dressing rooms as Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl?
Between the peer pressure, the risk of lost salary, and the ridiculous nature of his stance, I expect Archibald to relent and get the jab. Let’s face it: It’s a business, and there is no moral high ground in sport.
“In July I heard talk that there were 80, 90 unvaccinated players,” Holland recounted. “We had a Board of Governors meeting (Tuesday), and Bill Daly said we’ll be in single digits of players unvaccinated going into the season. So, basically, 70, 80, 90 players eventually made the decision to get vaccinated.”
Some because they didn’t want to lose the salary, and some because they put their team and others before themselves.
There is one player left on a Canadian team who puts himself before everything else, and his name is Josh Archibald.
Kiermaier on getting hit by pitch by Blue Jays' Borucki: 'Oh yeah, it was intentional' – Yahoo Canada Sports
The Tampa Bay Rays clinched a spot in the postseason on Wednesday, but that was the secondary story against the Toronto Blue Jays.
During the game prior, Rays centrefielder Kevin Kiermaier was the centre of attention as he from Toronto catcher Alejandro Kirk, which the Rays refused to hand back to the visiting club. Less than 24 hours later during the series finale between the two AL East teams, Kiermaier re-entered the spotlight as he was struck by a pitch thrown by Blue Jays reliever Ryan Borucki in the eighth inning.
Borucki was ejected after the umpires met to review the struck batter, which then caused Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo and a very red-faced pitching coach Pete Walker to storm onto the field.
Walker was also tossed from the game for his outburst.
Kiermaier didn’t let up after the 7-1 victory, focusing on the late-game dramatics.
“Oh yeah, it was intentional,” “Pretty much almost went behind me. I thought it was a weak move, to be quite honest. It’s over. It didn’t hurt by any means, so I don’t care. Whatever. We move on. We got a series win, and I hope we play those guys, I really do.”
When Kiermaier was asked why he wants to face the Blue Jays again, it was mysterious to say the least. “The motivation is there,” he said. “That’s all that needs to be said.”
Despite Kiermaier being so sure it was intentional, Montoyo had a different idea of what happened, but was certainly sympathetic to the Rays’ reaction.
With just 10 games remaining in the regular season, Toronto is on a hot Wild Card race with fellow divisional rivals Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees. The two clubs involved in the ruckus will not face each other again unless the Blue Jays earn a spot in the postseason and are able to beat their opposition in that single-game playoff matchup.
As if the MLB postseason wasn’t dramatic enough, now there’s an underlying narrative ready to boil over at any moment if the two face each other in a series.
More from Yahoo Sports
Eichel stripped of Sabres captaincy, placed on LTIR – TSN
Jack Eichel is no longer captain of the Buffalo Sabres.
Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams said Thursday morning Eichel has been stripped of the ‘C’ after three seasons in the role.
“I spoke to Jack two days ago, I spoke to the team yesterday and addressed this, Jack Eichel is no longer the captain of the Buffalo Sabres,” Adams said. “From our perspective, the captain is your heartbeat of your team, and we are in a situation where we felt we needed to make that decision.”
Adams added the Sabres will not have a captain this season.
Adams also confirmed that Eichel will start the season on long-term injured reserve as he remains in a holding pattern with the team on how to best treat his neck injury.
“I think we would all agree that we were hoping to avoid surgery…unfortunately, yesterday Jack did not pass his physical. At this point, Jack is not willing to move forward with what our doctors are suggesting…we will continue to work toward a solution,” Adams said.
TSN Hockey Insider Darren Dreger reported Wednesday that there is nothing close on the trade front for Eichel, who has been looking for a trade throughout the off-season.
“Well, it’s tough to pinpoint a timeline but we do know there is ongoing discussions with Jack Eichel’s agent Pat Brisson and Kevyn Adams, the general manager of the Buffalo Sabres. They’re on good terms, they have an excellent relationship,” Dreger said on Insider Trading. “We also know that Jack Eichel will start the regular season on LTIR. Now, he saw a team of specialists over the course of the off-season. Some encouraged the artificial disc replacement surgery; however, the Buffalo Sabres remain adamant that the fusion surgery is the best option.
“It’s possible that Eichel gets traded and has the disc replacement surgery under the blessing of a new club, but there’s no guarantee and it doesn’t seem like anything is real close on that front.”
Eichel was limited to 21 games last season due to the neck injury and there has been a long-standing dispute with the team this summer over how to treat the injury.
The 24-year-old centre has been the subject of trade talk since the end of last season and his former agents released a statement in July trying to spur a trade. He switched agents to Pat Brisson in August.
“What’s critically important to make sure is clear is that we’re in control of this process,” Adams said in July, prior to the statement from Eichel’s then-agents. “We have a player under contract. We don’t feel any pressure.
“If there’s a deal out there that we feel is the right thing for the Buffalo Sabres, that’s going to help us improve – whether that’s improve right away or improve down the road, those are all the things weigh – we’d be open to it. But we’re not in a position where we feel we’re just going to do something to do it. That doesn’t make any sense.”
Eichel had two goals and 18 points in 21 games last season and has five years remaining in the eight-year, $80 million contract he signed with the Sabres in 2017.
He had served as captain of the Sabres since 2018.
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