We nearly had to start this article with, “Will the Leafs ever score again? My column:”
After getting stonewalled by Dave Rittich for 58.5 minutes, the Leafs were finally able to break through with a greasy William Nylander goal after pulling their netminder. Nylander also scored the game-winner in overtime, which feels oddly poetic after a week of extremely rational discourse on the Swedish winger.
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) February 25, 2021
The final score was 2-1 Toronto, although 95% of this game was played with the scoreboard showing zeroes. Calgary didn’t bury the game’s first goal until there was 3:27 remaining in the third period. It was a true battle of the backups.
Enough preamble. We all know why you’re here. It’s time to hand out some report cards!
Game Puck: William Nylander (RW, #88) — I’ve spent the last week reading and listening to a lot of William Nylander takes. Some are more nuanced than others, but the consistent trend you’ll notice among his critics is their disdain for low-effort plays like these.
That’s a bad look, especially considering the scoreboard.
Kudos to Sheldon Keefe for not making the typical 200 Hockey Men move and benching his star player immediately afterward.
Give Keefe credit – Willy could’ve been a step lower to help on Mangiapane, has been in the dog house … Keefe still has the guy on the ice – as he should – when the team needs to get one back. Not every coach operates that logically and unemotionally
— Justin Bourne (@jtbourne) February 25, 2021
By putting faith in one of his best offensive players with the game on the line, Keefe was rewarded with one of the greasiest goals I’ve ever seen Nylander score.
He somehow gets four separate whacks at it here and somehow finds a way to tuck it home.
His next goal required much more skill.
This is turning into a mini Nylander article — as it should. We’ve been talking a lot about him lately. Tonight’s game gave us a little bit of everything:
- Battling hard along the boards with Mikael Backlund
- Swinging low on the breakout and transporting the puck up the ice
- A frustrating moment defensively
- High-end skill to generate a few goals offensively
By now, I doubt anything I type is going to change your mind on how you feel about Nylander. Frankly, I just think he’s a good hockey player.
Michael Hutchinson (G, #30) — Other than that Alex Mangiapane goal from in tight he had little chance on, Hutchinson was perfect on Wednesday night. His biggest saves of the night came on a Josh Leivo wrister and 3v3 rush by Elias Lindholm.
We’re always dealing with small samples anytime we try to assess backup goaltenders, but that’s a couple of starts in a row where Hutchinson has looked solid.
Alex Barabanov (LW, #94) — I feel bad for essentially writing him off after playing poorly on the fourth line to start the year; he’s looked great in these past two games and is showing some encouraging signs he could be acclimating to the league. Right from Barabanov’s first shift tonight, you could tell he was playing with confidence. He tried that NHL 21 deke where you put the puck between your legs to dance around the defender.
Later in the third, he had a chance to pot the game-winner with a chance in tight off a Hyman pass, not to mention a breakaway shortly afterward where Barabanov almost tucked it five-hole.
Sign me up for more of this Barabanov moving forward.
Travis Dermott (LD, #23) — This was Travis Dermott’s best game of the season and I’m not sure it’s close. The coaching staff rewarded him by playing him over 22 minutes, by far the most they’ve trusted him with this season.
As always, he was making life difficult on opposing forwards by cutting them off early in the neutral zone. What impressed me more was how stable he looked defensively. He was getting his stick in the passing lanes and did a great job taking away the slot.
With Jake Muzzin out, Dermott was able to get some PK2 time with Bogosian. Both defenders did well to prevent Calgary from gaining the zone easily. This aspect of play is huge for Dermott; if he wants to earn more ice time in Toronto, he’ll need to find a way onto that second PK unit.
Auston Matthews (C, #34) — He picked up an assist on that mad scramble to tie the game and another apple in overtime with his drop-pass to Nylander. Earlier in the second period, Matthews showed off some of his new-found speed on what Chris Cuthbert called a “dangerous dash.”
He was flying the rest of the period, up until the point where his hand got jammed awkwardly into the boards. That appeared to make high-skill plays a bit more difficult for Matthews the rest of the way; he missed an easy pass to Nylander the shift right after the collision.
That’s definitely something to keep an eye on. Those hands were made for goal-scoring.
Jason Spezza (RW, #19) — Mitch Marner & Co could learn a lot from watching Jason Spezza’s direct approach on PP entries. He doesn’t overthink things. He just skates north as fast as he can to gain the zone.
He shot it on this play, but usually, he finds an open man right after stepping over the blueline. Spezza had the highest success rate on 5v4 zone entries last season among Leafs players. If I’m Matthews or Marner, I want to learn his secrets.
Team Length™ — Basketball scouts are obsessed with wingspan. Players who have a combination of length and athleticism are super annoying to play against.
On the Maple Leafs, that sounds a lot to me like Pierre Engvall and Ilya Mikheyev. Neither player is a game-breaker offensively, but they’re able to use their speed and length to apply pressure and force turnovers. It can be frustrating to watch Mikheyev fail to convert Grade-A chances on the penalty kill, but at some point, one of those is going to go in…right?
Alex Kerfoot (LW, #15) — It was Kerfoot who completed the 2-on-1 pass across to Mikheyev. Those two have created quite a few odd-man rushes on the penalty kill this season.
At even strength, Kerfoot has looked a lot more explosive in transition, using his speed to carry the puck up the ice. My theory is that John Tavares taking more of the defensive responsibilities at centre has helped open up ice for Kerfoot off the rush.
The 1st Pair — This was a good but not great game from Morgan Rielly and TJ Brodie. The former helped create two of Toronto’s most dangerous chances offensively, while the latter covered lots of ice when he was defending the neutral zone.
Brodie also does a great job of settling things down on the breakout, which I wanted to show by pulling up the following clip.
Again, you can make any player look good or bad by cherrypicking the right clips. It’s worth noting Brodie has a long history of advancing the puck up the ice with possession, which is why I don’t feel too bad sharing this clip.
The 3rd Pair — Early on, I loved Mikko Lehtonen‘s play. He was closing the gap well in transition and starting the breakout out of his own end. Lehtonen also uncorked a big shot on the power play that made it through traffic and appeared to give Rittich some trouble.
Zach Bogosian was excellent on the penalty kill. As we mentioned, that combination of him and Dermott works well when defending the blue line, which has also been the case at 5v5 this season. There were a few plays Bogosian completely botched in the offensive zone, but for the most part, I thought he was doing his job as the Leafs‘ stay at home 3rd pair defender.
John Tavares (C, #91) — One of these days, Tavares is going to score on Rittich. This is not that day. He got robbed in tight again by Calgary’s goaltender on his best chance of the game.
I’m not too worried about a goalie making a big save. What does concern me is the fact that it was Tavares’ only Grade-A scoring chance of the night. He hasn’t looked very dangerous off the rush this season, which was the case again tonight.
We all know Tavares is an elite offensive talent, but he certainly hasn’t been putting up those kinds of results lately.
Mitch Marner (RW, #16) — That tidbit on PP entries in the Spezza section was directed mainly towards Marner. He’s the one Toronto typically trusts to gain the zone for them at 5v4. In his last two games, he’s really struggled in that department.
Marner was excellent on the PK again, although you’d like to see a bit more from him at 5v5.
Zach Hyman (LW, #11) — Aside from a wrist shot that Rittich had to fight off, this was a fairly quiet game from Hyman. As Toronto’s “energy” forward, I’d like to see him bring a bit more in the 6:48 he played against Matthew Tkachuk.
Travis Boyd (C, #72) — He did have a couple of decent passes in this game, along with a strong net drive that resulted in a tripping penalty. Otherwise, I didn’t notice too much from Boyd tonight.
Justin Holl (RD, #3) — Although his pairing put up great results at even strength, I thought that had more to do with his partner. Holl flubbed a few passes on the breakout, which isn’t common for him. He also lost body position on Joakim Nordstrom, leading to a tripping penalty.
As a final piece of criticism, if you watch the Mangiapane goal again, you’ll notice Holl had a chance to block the passing lane out front. Multiple things have to go wrong for a puck to end up in the back of the net (i.e. Nylander on that play), but Holl deserves some share of the responsibility, too.
Jimmy Vesey (LW, #26) — I’m starting to feel bad for Jimmy Vesey. For some reason, the Leafs tried him on PP1 tonight. It went about as well you’d expect. With his lack of passing ability, a lot of plays tend to die on his stick.
I don’t hold any personal vendetta against the guy. I just don’t think he’s been a very effective NHL player this season.
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 58 percent of the shots and 54 percent of the scoring chances at 5-on-5. They almost got goalie’d — then Calgary got Nylander-ed.
Final Grade: B+
More people watched Seattle NHL expansion draft on ESPN2 than Cubs-Cards on ESPN – Awful Announcing
In the grand scheme of things, 637,000 viewers nationally is not a huge number for a cable channel with any level of significant distribution. Most things on broadcast TV not only beat that, but beat it by quite a bit, and that kind of number isn’t usually even amongst the top cable broadcasts. However, the news that ESPN2 pulled that number in for its (NHL-produced, but featuring ESPN figures) coverage of the NHL expansion draft for the Seattle Kraken Wednesday night was certainly interesting, especially as so much of the actual news around that draft was reported in advance, and also given that their main-network coverage of the MLB game between the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals drew fewer viewers. Here’s a comparison of Wednesday night sporting events from John Ourand of Sports Business Journal:
Sports TV of note from Weds:
AEW Dynamite on TNT: 1.148 million viewers
Primetime Oly programming on NBCSN: 773,000
PTI on ESPN: 648,000 viewers
NHL Expansion Draft on ESPN2: 637,000 viewers
Cubs-Cardinals on ESPN: 509,000 viewers
— John Ourand (@Ourand_SBJ) July 22, 2021
On the negative side, that draft didn’t even draw the numbers of studio show Pardon The Interruption (however, that airs on ESPN rather than ESPN2; they’re similar in distribution, but many people turn on main ESPN first). It also didn’t draw the numbers of early Olympic programming from NBCSN. On the positive side, it outdrew a national MLB game. And it drew more than the Vegas Golden Knights’ expansion draft five years ago (595,000 on NBCSN for a combined broadcast of that draft and the NHL Awards). And it’s a good sign for ESPN, as this is their first big NHL event they aired under their new deal.
And yes, as Ourand noted in a follow-up tweet, that Cubs-Cards game didn’t have regional sports network blackouts, so Cubs and Cardinals fans could still watch it on their local RSNs. And most probably did, so it likely primarily pulled the national audience that didn’t have those RSNs. But it’s still interesting to see an ESPN2 event outdraw an ESPN event, especially when the ESPN event is a live game and the ESPN2 event is a one-team expansion draft (and one where most of the information was previously available to the public).
If ESPN versus ESPN2 programming decisions were made strictly from a standpoint of what they thought would draw more viewers, this result would go against that. That’s not entirely the case here, as the MLB on ESPN package comes with some restrictions on where games can air. But it’s still interesting to see the NHL expansion draft on ESPN2 outdraw a live MLB game between two prominent teams.
That is also perhaps further evidence that draft “spoilers” don’t always damage the ratings that much. That’s long been a debate, from the NFL’s heavy pushes against pick-tipping to the NBA’s more moderate approach (which sees pick-tipping still happen with some different language, and which hasn’t really led to obvious ratings losses).
In the case of this draft, figures who don’t work for expansion draft rightsholders Sportsnet (Canada) and ESPN (U.S.) reported many of the picks early, with Frank Seravalli (formerly of TSN, now of Daily Faceoff) and Pierre LeBrun (TSN/The Athletic) getting many of those, other national figures getting some more, and local reporters getting some others. So a mostly-full picture was available before the broadcast for those who wanted to find it. But that didn’t stop a significant amount of people from watching this, and that maybe shows that the league pushes against pick-tipping aren’t always that impactful.
[John Ourand on Twitter]
Cleveland changes MLB team nickname to Guardians after months of discussion – CBC.ca
Known as the Indians since 1915, Cleveland’s Major League Baseball team will be called Guardians.
The ball club announced the name change Friday with a video on Twitter narrated by actor Tom Hanks, ending months of internal discussions triggered by a national reckoning by institutions and teams to permanently drop logos and names that are considered racist.
Together, we are all… <a href=”https://t.co/R5FnT4kv1I”>pic.twitter.com/R5FnT4kv1I</a>
The choice of Guardians will undoubtedly be criticized by many of the club’s die-hard fans.
The organization spent most of the past year whittling down a list of potential names that was at nearly 1,200 just over a month ago. But the process quickly accelerated and the club landed on Guardians.
Social unrest spurred name change
Team owner Paul Dolan said last summer’s social unrest, touched off by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, spurred his intention to change the name.
Dolan is expected to provide more details on the choice and background on the change at a news conference at Progressive Field before Cleveland hosts the Tampa Bay Rays.
Dolan said the new name mirrors the city and its people.
“Cleveland has and always will be the most important part of our identity,” he said in a statement. “Therefore, we wanted a name that strongly represents the pride, resiliency and loyalty of Clevelanders. ‘Guardians’ reflects those attributes that define us.”
In 2018, the team stopped wearing the contentious Chief Wahoo logo on their jerseys and caps. However, the team continues to sell merchandise bearing the smiling, red-faced caricature that was protested for decades by Native American groups.
The name change has sparked lively debate among the city’s passionate sports fans. Other names, including the Spiders, which is what the team was once called, were pushed by supporters on social media platforms.
But Guardians does seem to fit the team’s objective to find a name that embodies Cleveland’s ethos while preserving the team’s history and uniting the community.
Not far from the downtown ballpark, there are two large landmark stone edifices — referred to as guardians — on the Hope Memorial Bridge over the Cuyahoga River.
The team’s colours will remain the same, and the new Guardians’ new logos will incorporate some of the architectural features of the bridge.
The change comes as the Washington Football Team continues to work toward a similar makeover. The franchise dropped its name before the 2020 season and said it will reveal a new name and logo in 2022.
LIVE BLOG: Opening ceremony kicks off 2020 Olympics in Tokyo – Global News
The Olympic Games opening ceremony is typically a chance for competing countries and athletes to show off their pride and culture, but this year will be a little different.
Normally held in a stadium full of ecstatic fans, this year’s ceremony will have international athletes parade around a near-empty venue after it was announced fans would not be allowed to attend because of rising COVID-19 cases in Japan.
Athletes from around the world, including Canada, are taking part in the ceremony for the Summer Games, which will run until Aug. 8.
Canada has sent 370 athletes to the Olympics, the nation’s largest delegation since 1984.
Team Canada names flag-bearers for Tokyo Olympic Games
But only 30 to 40 athletes are marching into the Olympic Stadium, the Canadian Olympic Committee has previously said, saying athletes aren’t allowed into the Olympic Village until five days before they compete.
Many of them will be too close to the start of their competition to join flagbearers Miranda Ayim of the women’s basketball team and men’s rugby sevens co-captain Nathan Hirayama.
The ceremony’s theme is “United by Emotion,” as officials are aspiring to reaffirm the role of sport and the value of the Olympic Games, express gratitude and admiration for the efforts made over the past year, and also bring a sense of hope for the future, the Olympics website says.
Despite all the difficulties the International Olympic Committee has faced to stage the Games amid a global pandemic, president Thomas Bach previously said he believes the ceremonies will be a moment of “joy and relief.”
The event runs from 7 a.m. ET to 11 a.m. ET
You can follow along here.
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
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