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Report Cards: William Nylander solves Rittich, Toronto Maple Leafs triumph in overtime over Flames – Maple Leafs Hot Stove

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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.

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!

5 Stars

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.

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.

4 Stars

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.

3 Stars

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.

2 Stars

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.

1 Star

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.


Heat Map

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.


Game Score

Game score is a metric developed by The Athletic’s Dom Luszczyszyn to measure single-game performance. You can read more about it here.


Final Grade: B+

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Boston Bruins Add Offense With Solid Taylor Hall Trade – Boston Hockey Now

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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.

The Buffalo Sabres retained half of the $8 million salary that Hall signed for prior to the start of the 2021 hockey season.

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.

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Drouin must return to mentality that’s led to success this season – Sportsnet.ca

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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.

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Scioscia to lead U.S. baseball bid for spot at Tokyo Olympics

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(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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