Another strong showing from Toronto’s top forwards.
Despite some less than stellar puck-moving from their defensemen, the Toronto Maple Leafs were able to control the majority of scoring chances on Wednesday night, defeating the Winnipeg Jets by a final score of 3-1.
The reunited top line of Hyman-Matthews-Marner got off to a hot start tonight, getting two pucks behind Connor Hellebuyck in the game’s first 10 minutes. From there, the Leafs were able to settle things down and prevent the Jets’ forwards from generating quality chances, particularly in the third period.
You know the bit by now. I like using individual player grades to help guide my thoughts on these Leafs games, so let’s start with the most impactful.
Game Puck: Mitch Marner (RW, #16) — On nights like these, it’s really fun to evaluate Marner’s play. His creativity with the puck on his stick when he’s skating through dangerous areas is unparalleled on this team.
Who even thinks to make this pass?
He made Logan Stanley look like…Logan Stanley on this play.
All kidding aside, it takes a special talent to break down the opposing team’s structure. Marner pulls off backdoor passes like these with regularity, which is why he picks up so many primary assists.
What impresses me more about his play this season is how responsible he’s become defensively while still providing that elite offense. Dom Luszczyszyn put out his latest NHL Awards ballot today, ranking Marner second in Selke consideration based on his elite defensive numbers.
The Leafs don’t give up many chances when he’s on the ice, thanks in large part to his positioning and active stick to pick off passes. For example, there were multiple times tonight when Marner got himself to the right spot and broke up a pass through the middle of the slot.
If you’re looking to dive into more video on this topic, I’d recommend checking out this article from Scott Wheeler.
Zach Hyman (LW, #11) — It can get repetitive saying the same things about Hyman game after game, but it’s because of his remarkable consistency without the puck. I’m not sure if he’s the best F1 forechecker in the league, but he’s definitely the most impactful player in puck pursuit on Toronto.
There were several times he disrupted opponents’ passes on the breakout, resulting in his line spending more time with the puck in the offensive zone. There’s a reason the line with Hyman always has positive 5v5 metrics; he tilts the ice with his play.
Auston Matthews (C, #34) — Was he the third-best player on his line tonight? It sounds crazy to say. Then again, when Marner is having one of his magical nights and Hyman is wreaking havoc on the forecheck, sometimes you just have to get out of the way and make yourself available as a shooting option.
Matthews accomplished that tonight, which is why he picked up a primary assist off the post and this garbage goal.
They don’t ask how, they ask how many. That last one puts him on pace for 40 goals in 53 games this season.
I say he does it.
Alex Kerfoot (C, #15) — Public Service Announcement: Alex Kerfoot shot the puck.
And it went in!
We’ve all been giving the poor guy a rough time this year, so it was nice to see him have a strong performance tonight. The PK2 duo of him and Ilya Mikheyev has been effective this season. They’ve generated so many chances shorthanded, although the Soupman hasn’t been able to convert on any of those.
Maybe Kerfoot should be looking to shoot more, which was clearly his mentality in this game. I’m so used to seeing zeroes on the scoresheet next to his name in the Individual Shots and Chances column. He fired four pucks towards the net tonight, which makes him less predictable offensively. Sure, some of those are muffins from distance, but I’d rather the defense respect the threat of him shooting than automatically assuming he’s going to pass it, which has been the book on him for years.
Alex Galchenyuk (LW, #12) — Montreal fans must be shaking their heads watching this version of Galchenyuk. He’s been a legitimate presence on the forecheck for Toronto, putting in multiple strides after he crosses the blue line and finding a way to get his stick onto loose pucks.
We all know he’s a skilled player in transition. What we’re not used to seeing is Galchenyuk block a shot in the defensive zone and work hard to get it back. The fact that he’s looked good without the puck in these first few games is an excellent sign, especially considering what he can do with it.
Jack Campbell (G, #36) — Aside from a screened point shot on the power play, “Soupy” was perfect in this game. He made a few big stops on one-timers from Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele, and Kyle Connor. There were a few mad scrambles in front that Campbell had to deal with, but he managed to locate the puck and freeze it for a whistle.
He’s now 7-0-0 as a starter this season for Toronto. Wins are obviously a terrible stat for measuring goaltending performance, so how about .919? That’s his save percentage in 71 starts as an NHL goalie. Not too shabby.
Tavares-Nylander — We all know the Leafs are looking to add a player to this line. Justin Bourne wrote about it today, arriving at the same conclusion that I’m sure you have. They don’t need another talented linemate to make them good; they need another talented linemate because they’re so good.
For anyone worried about John Tavares‘ ability to make plays off the rush, I think it’s safe to say he’s finding his groove again.
His stick-handling was on point tonight. There were a few instances where he deked his way into high danger areas of the ice.
William Nylander wasn’t as dynamic at 5v5 as we’re used to seeing, although I loved his composure on the power play. The Leafs put all their stars on PP1 tonight, with Nylander running things from the left half-wall and Marner dropping down below the goal line (technically the “net front,” but he never really stands there).
They didn’t score, but I loved some of the give-and-go sequences Nylander and Marner were able to pull off. Sometimes the two would even switch places, which seemed to really throw off opposing penalty killers.
Jason Spezza (RW, #19) — After breaking free for a 2-on-1 early in the game, Spezza drew a hooking penalty. On the power play, his simple approach to gaining the zone worked well; skate north as fast as you can and then make a pass after stepping over the blueline.
When the Leafs got set up in formation, he was able to thread a cross-seam pass to Galchenyuk, who wasn’t able to corral for the one-timer. Spezza also made an impact on the penalty kill, which isn’t common for him outside of faceoff wins.
These are the type of high-level passes he can still complete at age 37. It’s why he’s been so productive despite his limited usage.
Ilya Mikheyev (LW, #65) — Playing with Pierre Engvall and Wayne Simmonds can’t be easy. No one on that line could complete a pass, resulting in this weird playstyle where the line would try to cycle in the offensive zone but couldn’t create much of anything.
The one clip I did want to pull up was another edition of the Mikheyev Shot Selection Escapades.
You probably thought I was going to show you a floater from the boards. Nope, I’m proud of Mikheyev for getting himself to middle-ice more often in the offensive zone.
This isn’t a Grade-A chance, but it’s a high-percentage play for the Simmonds deflection in front. Considering how often we’ve seen the Soupman skate himself into bad ice and launch 0.01 xG shots from terrible locations, it’s nice to see him take a step in the right direction from a shot quality standpoint.
The Dermott-Bogosian Pairing — A few of my friends messaged me after the game to let me know Travis Dermott only played 7:56 tonight. Thanks, guys — I had no idea.
I actually liked the way Dermott played in the first half. He was assertive with his play up the ice, even completing a few stretch passes. Then in the back half of the game it looked like neither he or Zach Bogosian could complete a pass.
Bogosian made a brilliant pass to Marner right before he danced around Logan Stanley. Then on his next shift he found himself with the puck on his stick in the slot and forgot to shoot. Oh well, what else do you want from your bottom pair?
Coaching Staff — Everyone’s frustrated with the powerplay, and understandably so, but I wanted to give Sheldon Keefe & Co. some credit for actually trying some logical changes to the power play. As I mentioned earlier, Toronto top-loaded PP1 in this game, putting their star forwards on the top unit.
Later in the game, when Marner and Matthews had a bit of trouble on the entries, they tried Spezza on the half-wall instead of Nylander, presumably to help the unit gain the zone – and have more of a shot threat from the left dot.
Did any of it work? No, but I’d encourage the coaching staff to keep trying new things. We don’t see enough of it in this super conservative sport.
Jake Muzzin (LD, #8) — I thought he was Toronto’s most consistent defenseman tonight, which isn’t saying too much. All six of the D when through some ups and downs on Wednesday, although Muzzin was the most stable at defending the blue line against Winnipeg’s dynamic forwards.
Justin Holl (RD, #3) — The pairing as a whole played alright, but again, I’d argue Muzzin was more responsible for that. Holl had a couple of rough passes in his own zone, although he did make a nice few plays with the puck on his stick.
My favourite was the smart turnback he made at the end of his shift later in the third period, understanding that his team had the lead and they didn’t need to force anything up the ice. I know the old-school types hate those turnbacks, but if you can maintain possession while your linemates change, you should do it every time. The other team can’t score if you have the puck.
Pierre Engvall (C, #47) — His inability to complete a pass off the rush was frustrating to watch tonight, especially considering how much speed he’s able to build up when he gets those legs churning in transition. Defensively, he was very solid once again, which is really why you want him out there. I’d just like to see him make more plays after stepping over the blue line.
Joe Thornton (LW, #97) — Does anyone in the NHL need a night off more than Joe Thornton? Carter Hart maybe? Taylor Hall? It’s a short list.
Jumbo Joe had a few decent moments against the Jets, mostly stick checks defensively along the boards. I’m a big fan of his upside as a passer in Keefe’s system, but if you look at his play over the last couple weeks, he’s dropped off considerably since the start of the season.
Brandon Pridham needs to accrue all the cap space he can muster, so maybe Thornton will have to wait until after the April 12th trade deadline before he gets a night off. I just feel bad for the 41-year-old veteran. He looks like he could use some rest.
The Rielly-Brodie Pair — This wasn’t their night. Morgan Rielly and TJ Brodie spent the majority of their shifts stuck in their own end. Most of that was self-inflicted; they were turning pucks over on the breakout, which isn’t like them. Brodie, in particular, was really struggling in this game, although he did make a few nice defensive plays to prevent backdoor passes.
Here’s a quick look at where each team’s shots were coming from at even strength, courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.
The shots were even at 5v5, but Toronto dominated in the shot quality department, controlling 63 percent of chances from the slot and 73 percent of the expected goals.
Tweets of the Night
The Leafs defending leads from the past four years. A giant improvement this season. pic.twitter.com/OKoTRm3RuR
— Nick DeSouza (@NickDeSouza_) April 1, 2021
Red = lots of shots from that location, Blue = not many.
This is something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. Despite their reputation, Toronto has actually reduced chances against by a significant margin when they’re holding those dreaded one-goal leads in the 3rd period.
These aren’t the Leafs of years past.
Imagine telling someone a couple years ago the Leafs would be rolling out a PP unit of Spezza-Thornton-Simmonds-Galchenyuk-Brodie
— Justin Bourne (@jtbourne) April 1, 2021
2013 me would’ve jumped for joy! (2021 me is still quite happy with these players)
— Mahesh K (@MaheshNYCTO) March 31, 2021
Apologies for the profanity, but this genuinely made me laugh out loud.
Kyle Dubas said the following on March 16. The Leafs have now responded to their tough stretch with a 4-1-0 run.
Your move, Kyle. pic.twitter.com/sL07pboczN
— Anthony Petrielli (@APetrielli) April 1, 2021
It’s Taylor Hall SZN, folks.
Final Grade: A
Motor racing-Canadian Grand Prix cancelled for second year
(Reuters) -The Canadian Grand Prix scheduled for June 13 at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal has been cancelled for the second year in a row, CBC Radio reported on Thursday although Formula One said discussions remained ongoing.
With the spread of new COVID-19 variants and Canada battling to contain a third wave of the virus, Montreal public health authorities concluded that even if run behind closed doors without spectators the risks were too high, reported the CBC.
F1 officials, according to the CBC, wanted to bypass the mandatory 14-day quarantine for the hundreds of staff, crew members and drivers and rely on private medical staff and have the entire operation run in a bubble.
The race is scheduled to follow on immediately from Azerbaijan, whose grand prix is scheduled for June 6 in Baku and is due to go ahead after also being cancelled last year.
“We are continuing our discussions with the promoter in Canada and have no further comment,” an F1 spokesperson told Reuters.
The Autosport website quoted a spokesperson for the Canadian promoter as saying the radio report referred to “a document of recommendations from public health.
“We as an organisation have not had confirmation from our public health officials and won’t comment until we get an official confirmation.”
Canada, with some of the world’s toughest travel rules, obliges its citizens and residents arriving from abroad to self-isolate for 14 days.
International arrivals are required to quarantine for up to three days in a hotel.
One of Canada‘s biggest sporting events, it would mark the second consecutive year the grand prix has been removed from the F1 schedule due to the spread of COVID-19.
Media reports have suggested Turkey is on standby to be slotted in as Canada‘s replacement.
The Istanbul circuit is logistically convenient for freight coming from Baku and was brought in last year also at short notice to bolster a calendar ravaged by the pandemic.
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto/Alan Baldwin in London; Editing by Ken Ferris)
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.