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Resolute despite injuries, distractions Leafs winning with consistency – Sportsnet.ca

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The commute across the pedway connecting the JW Marriott to Rogers Place is familiar for anyone who spent time in Edmonton during the NHL’s western bubble last summer.

Heck, it’s already a well-worn path for a group of Toronto Maple Leafs players that have kept things pretty locked down despite the unseasonably warm weather they’ve found on their second business trip through this season.

“For the most part you’re just at the rink and your hotel room,” said Leafs defenceman T.J. Brodie, with a sense of deja vu after spending a chunk of August doing that very same thing in the very same place with the Calgary Flames.

“It’s pretty much the same (as the summer), I guess. Obviously, you can go outside if you want to, but other than that it’s the same.”

Add it to the list of things that made Monday’s 3-0 victory over the Edmonton Oilers so impressive.

In substance and in style, it looked like a reasonable copy of the game they played in the same building 48 hours earlier, right down to the fact they emphatically grabbed another two points with Auston Matthews and Frederik Andersen watching injured from the stands.

In this second of a three-game set, the Maple Leafs were also down goaltender Jack Campbell after he tweaked a previous leg injury while delivering a shutout on Saturday night. No bother. Michael Hutchinson, No. 4 on the team’s depth chart in January, stepped up with another strong performance and stopped 31 shots to make it two Leafs doughnuts in a row.

“I just want to open it up with comments about our goalies. I think the past two nights they’ve been outstanding and I don’t think they get enough credit,” Morgan Rielly said before taking any questions on his post-game Zoom call.

That the backups blanked Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl is a testament to their performance, but also a level of connected play the Leafs struggled to reach last season. They are really settling into a groove and sit at an absurd 17-4-2 — good for an eight-point advantage over Edmonton, head-and-shoulders above the rest in the North Division.

Just as importantly, they are slowly putting to rest some former demons. They have been prone to distractions in years gone by. And this season played amid a pandemic is full of plenty of those for everyone involved.

Yet the Leafs didn’t get satisfied after Saturday’s big win, or get rattled by another night without key contributors, or get knocked off course while spending 72 hours walking back and forth indoors between the hotel and rink.

“That’s been a big area of growth for us,” said Rielly.

“We had a lot of games last year that we were completely dominant, but I think we also had games where we were completely falling apart,” noted Travis Dermott. “I think this year we’re really focused on being consistent and showing up every day — whether we’re playing, whether we’re practising, or whether it’s an off-day and we have to be taking care of ourselves at home — I think everyone is just buying into a team plan that we’re going to be ready to go every day.”

After arguably their most complete win of the season on Saturday, head coach Sheldon Keefe ran an animated practice Sunday afternoon. He believes his team has reached the point where it’s proven that it can defend well, and the decline in high-danger rushes and chances against is a testament to that.

On Monday, they gave up a few more of those than they’d like, but some early saves on McDavid and Dominik Kahun set the table for a 3-0 lead by the first intermission. Zach Hyman and William Nylander continued hot streaks — Hyman with a goal in his second straight game, and Nylander with his fourth in the last three — before Rielly trickled one through Mikko Koskinen on the power play.

That gave Toronto its third win of the season with Matthews out of the lineup, and all three have come against Edmonton. The first, at Scotiabank Arena on Jan. 22, instilled some confidence.

They’ve been winning consistently no matter who goes down.

“We’ve been without Wayne Simmonds for a good period of time here now. We’ve played without Joe (Thornton), now we’re playing without Auston,” said Keefe. “We’ve been playing without (Frederik Andersen), we played without (Jake Muzzin).

“It really forces you to fall back on your structure, play as a team, get guys to step up at key moments.”

There’s no guarantee any of the injured players will be back to close this series out against Edmonton on Wednesday night.

So the challenge may remain constant: Prepare for the NHL’s top two scorers, find a way to compensate for your own lineup losses and keep the mind fresh while walking back and forth on the most boring pedway in hockey.

Oh, and maybe find some time for a socially distant conversation with Zach Bogosian, who lifted the Stanley Cup in Edmonton just over five months ago. He’s got a great bubble story to tell.

“I mean obviously we were here for quite a while. Our meal room at the hotel, that was a little bit of a different scene the night that we won,” said Bogosian. “It’s just cool to be back. Obviously, it’s something I’ll remember forever so, yeah, it’s nice.”

Sometimes there’s a little excitement to be found on the other side of the monotony.

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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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Masters 2021: Tiger Woods says he'll miss Champions Dinner, running up DJ's bill – Golf Channel

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AUGUSTA, Ga. – Dustin Johnson will host his first Champions Dinner on Tuesday night in the Augusta National clubhouse, and he’ll be joined by several past Masters champions.

One former winner who won’t be there is five-time champ Tiger Woods, who is still home in South Florida recovering from a serious car accident in February near Los Angeles. Justin Thomas, who is still working toward his invite to the prestigious dinner, said Woods texted him Friday night and was “bummed” to not be at the Masters this year.

Woods then tweeted Tuesday afternoon that he’ll miss one of his favorite nights of the year.

“I’ll miss running up @DJohnsonPGA’s bill at the Champions Dinner tonight,” Woods said. “It’s still one of my favorite nights of the year.”

Johnson responded to Woods’ tweet, saying: “Will miss having you here. This week isn’t the same without you.”

The PGA Tour announced that the club would leave a seat open for Woods at the dinner, though the tweet has since been taken down.

Johnson will serve a menu including filet mignon, sea bass and peach cobbler.

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