ST. PAUL, Minn. — Belief.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are cooking with gas as the calendar turns over to 2020 and the biggest reason for their dramatic in-season turnaround is the spirit in the dressing room. They’ve morphed from a talented group that was underachieving to a confident pack that simply wins out of habit during a tumultuous 41-game stretch.
And as they hit the halfway mark Tuesday with a comfortable 4-1 victory over the Minnesota Wild, they had every reason to believe that even better things lie ahead.
“We’re just going to keep playing,” said captain John Tavares. “I mean obviously things are building. The confidence is getting better.
“I think we’re starting to have a really good feel of the way we want to play.”
They were sitting below the playoff cut-off line when Sheldon Keefe replaced Mike Babcock on Nov. 20, and have been the NHL’s best since — topping the league in wins, points, point percentage and goal differential.
Now some of that can be chalked up to a softer schedule, but it’s easy to spot other key factors as well.
Most notably, the big-money forwards are all producing commensurate with their pay cheques. That is the linchpin to this entire operation. Keefe has shuffled the deck by playing Mitch Marner alongside Auston Matthews, and William Nylander alongside Tavares — experiments his predecessor rarely, if ever, tried — and it’s resulted in those players spilling ink all over the score sheet.
“To be honest, this one here has really happened sort of organically,” said Keefe. “I mean I had it in the back of my mind, just to see what Auston and Mitch, and what John and Willy would look like. But it happened organically just in a game and then it clicked and we’ve just stayed with it.
“Hopefully stick with it for a bit.”
There’s no reason to consider a shakeup when it goes this good.
Tavares is fresh off being named the NHL’s third start of the week and made a great set up on Alexander Kerfoot’s opening goal against the Wild, before hitting an empty net late.
Nylander picked up his sixth goal in as many outings before finding Matthews with a pass so good the Leafs sniper didn’t see it until it was on his stick — reacting quickly to score his 27th of the season and his 11th in 11 games.
“I just saw him back door and I kind of knew he would be open so I just tried to get it over there,” said Nylander, now on pace for a career-best 34 goals and 70 points.
Matthews is building a monster campaign that is bound to put him in contention for league-wide hardware if it continues. We are officially on 50-goal watch in Toronto for the first time in more than a quarter century now that he’s smashed through the halfway point on pace for 54.
Then there’s Frederik Andersen, who turned aside 26 shots in Minnesota one day after he was named to the NHL all-star game for the first time. Most important to him is the league-best 20 wins he’s managed to this point, which is a sign that he’s wavered a little less than many of his teammates.
“I think we’re just finding ways to win,” said Kerfoot. “I mean we’ve got a belief in our group right now where, whether we’re up in a game or down in a game, we believe that we can beat anyone and we believe that we’re going to find a way no matter situation we’re in.
“When you’ve kind of got that attitude and you’ve got that belief it can go a long way.”
The success has been fuelled by a change to the team’s game plan — with players encouraged to hold on to the puck for long stretches in the offensive zone and be selective with their shots.
But as Tavares noted it also comes down to the high-end players performing as they’re expected to, which didn’t always happen in the fall either because of injury or other factors.
They’re rolling now.
In the last two weeks the Leafs have come back from two-goal deficits to earn a victory over Carolina and get a point against the New York Rangers. They rallied from 4-3 down in New Jersey to win in overtime.
And they’ve occasionally been in control from start to finish — which is how things felt on a festive New Year’s Eve inside Xcel Energy Center.
“We’ve handled all sorts of situations, right?” said Keefe. “A lot has happened in the short amount of time that I’ve been here, but I think all of that will serve us well.”
“If anything, there’s more of a belief,” veteran Jason Spezza said this week. “‘OK stick with it. What we’re doing works. Stick with it.’ The Rangers game, I don’t think we get a point there maybe a month ago. Like even the start of with Keefer, the belief wasn’t there.
“Now we believe that we can come back in games, you never feel like you’re out of it. Like that game felt like we were going to tie it up. It felt like it was only a matter of time.”
With a new year and a second half still to be played, everything suddenly seems possible.
Best sports betting sites on hockey, basketball and Canadian football
Canada is a country that has encouraged and promoted sport with adequate facilities. For this reason, the participation of people who practice it professionally or in an amateur way is high. Among the most popular sports are ice hockey, basketball, baseball and Canadian football.
Canada’s national sport is ice hockey, which has won many awards in national and international competitions. The number of fans of this sport is high. So much so that when the national team participates in a world championship or the Winter Olympics, everything comes to a standstill. People go home or to different places in order to watch the live broadcast. The best-known teams are: the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens.
Another sport that has been gaining followers and has positioned itself as the second in popularity, is baseball. The iconic team is the Toronto Blue Jays. A team of Canadian origin that competes in the North American Major League. Their home is the Rogers Centre, which is considered an architectural gem.
With regard to basketball, the best-known team is the Canadian NBA franchise “The Toronto Raptors” that play in the Air Canada during the season that runs from November to June. Finally, Canadian football, although not very popular, has the Canadian Football League. Its most prominent team is the Toronto Argonauts. They also have a team playing Major League Soccer in the United States: the Toronto Football Club.
As in many places in the world, Canada is not left behind with the evolution of sports betting and you can find a wide variety of online platforms from which you can make a bet legally.
The best Canadian betting sites are those companies that have licenses in countries with demanding regulations, which allows you to verify their reliability and security. Among the most prominent are: Bodog and bet365.
These betting sites give you the opportunity to place your bet through an online betting app for mobile phones and for the most demanding customers, they allow you to compare the best odds, events or betting options. Fortunately, most of these online bookmakers are for people over the age of 18, thus promoting responsible gambling.
Work remains for Canucks, Markstrom on deal – TSN
It appears a contract extension between the Vancouver Canucks and goaltender Jacob Markstrom is far from a done deal.
TSN Hockey Insider Pierre LeBrun wrote Friday he’s been told there’s still “lots of work be done” for the two sides to reach a deal.
“Will be fascinating if/when they get a deal done to see where the number is at,” LeBrun added.
Markstrom, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, has an 18-13-3 record with a career-best .916 save percentage and a 2.71 goals-against average. The 29-year-old carries a $3.67 million cap hit in the final season of a three-year, $11 million deal signed with the Canucks in 2016.
The Swedish netminder has a career record of 105-115-31 with a .910 save percentage and a 2.80 GAA.
Drafted by the Florida Panthers in the second round of the 2008 NHL Draft, Markstrom was traded to the Canucks in 2014 in the trade that saw Roberto Luongo head back the other way.
Live results of 2020 NHL All-Star Skills Competition – Sportsnet.ca
The 2020 NHL All-Star Skills Competition takes place Friday night with some of the game’s brightest stars getting a chance to let loose a little, have fun with their peers and showcase their all-world talent in a series of competitions.
Wondering what all the events are about? Sportsnet’s Sonny Sachedeva gets you set with this visual primer.
Below are the live results from the six-event showcase.
Barzal dethrones McDavid in Bridgestone NHL Fastest Skater
Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres — 13.540 seconds
Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche — 13.895 seconds
Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers — 13.215 seconds
Mathew Barzal, New York Islanders — 13.175 seconds
Chris Kreider, New York Rangers — 13.509 seconds
Anthony Duclair, Ottawa Senators — 14.005 seconds
Travis Konecny, Philadelphia Flyers — 14.113 seconds
Quinn Hughes, Vancouver Canucks — 14.263 seconds
Bud Light NHL Save Streak
David Rittich, Calgary Flames
Tristan Jarry, Pittsburgh Penguins
Jordan Binnington, St. Louis Blues
Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning
Frederik Andersen, Toronto Maple Leafs
Jacob Markstrom, Vancouver Canucks
Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals
Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets
Honda NHL Accuracy Shooting
Jaccob Slavin, Carolina Hurricanes
Tyler Bertuzzi, Detroit Red Wings
Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers
Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida Panthers
Nico Hischier, New Jersey Devils
Tomas Hertl, San Jose Sharks
Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues
Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets
Elite Women’s 3-on-3 presented by adidas
American All-Stars (hometown):
Kacey Bellamy (Westfield, Mass.)
Alex Carpenter (North Reading, Mass.)
Kendall Coyne Schofield (Palos Heights, Ill.)
Brianna Decker (Dousman, Wis.)
Amanda Kessel (Madison, Wis.)
Hilary Knight (Sun Valley, Idaho)
Jocelyn Lamoureux-Davidson (Grand Forks, N.D.)
Annie Pankowski (Laguna Hills, Calif.)
Alex Rigsby Cavallini (Delafield, Wis.)
Lee Stecklein (Roseville, Minn.)
Canadian All-Stars (hometown):
Meghan Agosta (Ruthven, Ont.)
Mélodie Daoust (Valleyfield, Que.)
Ann-Renée Desbiens (La Malbaie, Que.)
Renata Fast (Burlington, Ont.)
Laura Fortino (Hamilton, Ont.)
Rebecca Johnston (Sudbury, Ont.)
Sarah Nurse (Hamilton, Ont.)
Marie-Philip Poulin (Beauceville, Que.)
Natalie Spooner (Scarborough, Ont.)
Blayre Turnbull (Stellarton, N.S.)
Enterprise NHL Hardest Shot
Mark Giordano, Calgary Flames
Seth Jones, Columbus Blue Jackets
Shea Weber, Montreal Canadiens
Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning
Elias Pettersson, Vancouver Canucks
John Carlson, Washington Capitals
Gatorade NHL Shooting Stars
Women’s Elite All-Star (CAN) — TBD
Women’s Elite All-Star (USA) — TBD
David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins
Matthew Tkachuk, Calgary Flames
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks
Tyler Seguin, Dallas Stars
Brady Tkachuk, Ottawa Senators
Ryan O’Reilly, St. Louis Blues
David Perron, St. Louis Blues
Mitch Marner, Toronto Maple Leafs
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