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Revenge-minded Devon Levi leads Canada into Russia showdown – TSN

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What is Devon Levi feeling on the eve of Canada’s semifinal showdown with Russia? 

“Goosebumps,” the goalie said with a smile. “Can’t wait. I can’t wait to play.”

Levi, a freshman at Northeastern University, earned an invite to Canada’s World Junior camp thanks to a stellar performance at the 2019 World Junior A Challenge in Dawson Creek, B.C. Levi was named tournament MVP as Canada East fell to Russia in double overtime of the championship game. Shakhir Mukhamadullin, who’s also at the World Juniors, scored the winner on the power play.

“It was heartbreaking,” said Levi, who made 39 saves in the final. “I still remember exactly how I felt and hopefully we can do something about it tomorrow … I’m just looking forward to getting a second chance.”

Levi owns the best save percentage at the World Juniors (.967) and shut out the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals. Afterwards head coach Andre Tourigny admitted he wasn’t sure Levi had this type of performance in him.

“I won’t say I knew him and had no doubt,” Canada’s head coach told TSN’s Ryan Rishaug. “We’ve liked him since the beginning. Since he was with us, we love what he brings. We love his energy. We love his focus. We love his attention to detail. We love everything about him, but if I’m telling you, ‘Yeah, I knew before,’ that is not true.”

Canada’s staff wasn’t sure Levi’s play would translate from Junior A to the World Juniors, but the Florida Panthers seventh-round pick has silenced all the questions about the team’s goaltending situation.

On Monday, Levi will see Yaroslav Askarov, the 11th overall pick in October’s NHL Draft, at the other end of the ice and it says a lot about his ascent that Russian head coach Igor Larionov was unwilling to say his team had an edge in net.

“Both teams are equal and there are no advantages,” Larionov insisted. “We don’t underestimate anybody.”

Levi made 23 saves when Canada shut out the Russians 1-0 in a pre-tournament game on Dec. 23. Askarov stopped all 22 shots he faced in two periods of work that night. 

Askarov, who has a .918 save percentage in four games in Edmonton, was at the World Juniors last year, but lost the starting job to Amir Miftakhov and didn’t see the ice in either game against Canada. Levi, meanwhile, re-watched the entire gold-medal game between Canada and Russia as part of his preparation for camp.

“I took a lot of things from it,” he said. “They’re high-intensity games and there are a lot of momentum changes and I’m just ready for highs and lows throughout the game. I’m just excited.”

Levi paid special attention to how Joel Hofer kept Canada in the game even as they trailed throughout much of the tension-filled encounter.

“He was rock solid,” Levi observed. “He did a real good job of managing his emotions. The team went down and he did a good job of shutting the door and giving them a chance to get back in.”

‘Goosebumps, can’t wait’: Levi hyped up for clash with Russia

Canadian netminder Devon Levi discusses the excitement of taking part in the Canada/Russia rivalry as he gets set to face the Russians in the semifinals.

Only three Russian players – captain Vasili Podkolzin, Maxim Groshev and Askarov –  are back from last year’s team, but the sting from the defeat was felt throughout the country’s hockey community.

“They’re going to be coming out for revenge,” noted Connor McMichael, one of six returning players on Canada’s roster. “We’re going to be up for the task.”

Is last year’s loss on the minds of the Russians?

“No doubt about it,” said Larionov. “No doubt.”

McMichael says Tourigny is a similar coach to Dale Hunter, who ran Canada’s bench last year in Ostrava, Czech Republic. But Larionov has implemented a much different style than his predecessor Valeri Bragin.

“It’s day and night,” said Tourigny. “It’s totally different. Different style, different philosophy, different objective in their game. They like to possess the puck. They regroup a lot. They have a good stretch on their breakouts. They got a few breakaways out of it. They still are really stingy defensively, still defend really well. They’re strong on puck. They’re fast. They’re a good team.”

“My coaching philosophy is to bring Russia hockey back to the top,” said Larionov, “and make the players play the game, not work the game. It’s about collective play and about moving the puck quick. That’s the game I want them to enjoy. That’s the game they have to play as little kids when they have no pressure and just go out and have fun.”

So, what are the keys for Canada against Larionov’s system?

“Probably the biggest difference is their patience with the puck,” said defenceman Jamie Drysdale, who scored the only goal in the pre-tournament game. “So, we’ll need to adapt to that and make sure we have a really good forecheck.”

Drysdale admitted it can be tricky staying on your toes as a defenceman when the Russians are constantly regrouping with the puck.

“It’s definitely a challenge to get your gaps right,” said the Anaheim Ducks first rounder. “We need to make sure we’re sharp with that and making sure we always have our feet moving when we gap up so we never get caught flat-footed. I think that happened to us a couple times in the exhibition game and we have to sharpen up on that.”

Larionov believes his team is up for Canada test: We’re ready for the big challenge

Russia head coach Igor Larionov spoke to TSN’s Mark Masters about what’s at stake for Monday’s semifinal match against Canada, what the keys to the game will be and admitted that his players undoubtedly have last year’s loss on their minds.

Injured centre Alex Newhook skated for about 50 minutes on Sunday as he continues to nurse an upper-body injury. The Boston College product often conferred with Dr. Barry Wiens, the team physician, as he tried out some shots and jumped into the glass a couple times to test his shoulder.

Newhook continues to be listed as day-to-day and his status for the semifinal against Russia is still up in the air, Tourigny said. 

Larionov confirmed that Yegor Chinakhov is good to go for Team Russia after missing the last two games with a lower-body injury.

McKenzie discusses potential return of Newhook, warns Russia is not a one-line team

Heading into its semifinal clash against Russia, the biggest question mark for Canada is the health status of Alex Newhook. James Duthie and Bob McKenzie discuss how Canada deals with his potential return and how the Canadians will try and subdue the potent Russian attack.

With Canada the top seed, Tourigny will have last change on Monday and will likely look to get the McMichael line out against Russia’s top trio of Podkolzin, Rodion Amirov and Marat Khusnutdinov.

After the win on Saturday night, Tourigny was asked whether potting an empty-net goal may help McMichael get back to his high-scoring ways. The London Knights sniper had seven shots and hit three posts against the Finns on New Year’s Eve. But Canada’s coach immediately shifted the conversation and made it clear McMichael’s value goes well beyond his offensive contributions.

“Mikes is an underrated player defensively,” said Tourigny. “He sits in the weeds and reads the play well and he has a good stick and he cuts plays [off] and does a lot of good things.”

Perhaps that explains why Tourigny has opted to keep McMichael in the middle and shift Dylan Cozens, another natural centre, to right wing on Canada’s top line. McMichael made a nice pass to spring Cozens for the opening goal on Saturday. Tourigny also noted that the Washington Capitals first rounder was really reliable on face-offs against the Czechs. 

“I’ve evolved in a large way in that aspect,” McMichael said of his two-way game. “Just being with the Caps last summer and being around those guys [in the bubble] and working with their development team taught me a lot. Watching guys like [Nicklas] Backstrom and how they approach the defensive side, you try and pick out things.”

In a conversation with TSN before the World Juniors, McMichael described what he sees when he watches Backstrom.

“Just how smart he is, his hockey sense. He’s not the biggest guy, but he’s able to get around just using his hockey sense and his stick and that’s kind of the game I play. I’m not the biggest guy, but I feel like I have great hockey sense and a good stick so I’m trying to pick a lot of things from his game. He’s just so responsible and all the coaches trust him, so that’s kind of the game I’m leaning towards and he’s a great role model.”

How will Canada’s lines look against Russia’s balanced firepower?

Canada will renew acquaintances with their foes from Russia who will likely provide the biggest challenge yet for the Canadians at the World Juniors. How will the semifinal clash play out? James Duthie and Bob McKenzie discuss what kind of team the Russians will face on Monday and more.

With Canada struggling to pull away from a stubborn Czech team on Saturday night, Tourigny juggled his lines in the third period most notably promoting Peyton Krebs to the top unit with McMichael and Cozens.

“Krebsie is a driver on his own line, but yesterday I felt we could give a shot to our team to have a top line with Krebise and Cuzzy and Mikes so I went with that,” Tourigny explained. “I don’t know how many minutes they played, but they played a lot in the third period. With the game on the line, I felt that was the right move.”

“He’s an Energizer Bunny,” said McMichael of the 5-foot-11 Krebs. “He’s small, fast and really skilled. I love playing with him and if we’re playing together tomorrow I’d be really happy.”

Tourigny may revert to a more balanced approach at least to start the game against Russia.

“To have success as a team we need four lines with a lot of intensity,” the coach said, “but when the chips were down for 20 minutes, I felt like we needed a line who I could rely on and those were the three.”

Krebs called the Czech game the most physical one Canada has played so far and that style certainly seemed to suit the Vegas first rounder.

“I’ve liked the game of Krebise a lot throughout the tournament,” said Tourigny. “He brings a lot of energy. His tracking is phenomenal. He creates a lot of possession down low. He makes a lot of plays.”

Krebs lived with Mark Stone in Vegas at the start of last season as he rehabbed an Achilles injury and the pair have been in touch throughout the World Juniors.

“We’ve texted pretty much every game and he’s giving me the odd tip here and there,” said Krebs, who was with the Golden Knights inside the bubble this summer. “I love chatting with him and he’s been great for me. Definitely was a little intimidated going into Vegas with all those studs, but he made the transition a lot easier.”

​The most notable message from Stone?

“He tells me to, ‘Just have fun,’ and also to remember this will be the last time I ever do this. He said, ‘It’s shorter than you think,’ and ‘Come to the rink with a smile on your face every day.'”

Stone led Canada in scoring and won a bronze medal at the 2012 World Juniors, which was the last time the event was held in Alberta. That was also the last year Canada played Russia in the semifinals with the home side falling 6-5 in a wild game.

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Report Cards: Power play stays hot, Andersen sharp as Toronto Maple Leafs earn split vs. Edmonton – Maple Leafs Hot Stove

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We asked for more offense. Well, we got it.

After Toronto allowed three odd-man rushes to Edmonton in the first four minutes, it was clear this game wasn’t going to be as boring as the last time these two teams met. Things did start to tighten up a bit after that, but there was noticeably more space available for both teams to create offense off of the rush.

Thanks to some strong goaltending and offensive pushback, the Leafs were able to prevail in the end, defeating the Oilers by a final score of 4-2, although the last goal was a Mitch Marner empty netter with 0.4 seconds left on the clock.

Let’s be honest, no one reads these for the introductory paragraphs. It’s time to grade some Toronto Maple Leafs!

***

5/5 Stars

Game Puck: Frederik Andersen (G, #31) — This was Andersen’s best start of the season by far. He kept his team in the game with a stellar first period, making crucial stops on odd-man rushes and cross-ice passes. When we go back and look at the two goals, one was a last-second deflection by Connor McDavid, while the other was a brutal turnover to Leon Draisaitl right in front of the crease. It’s hard to blame the goalie for either of those.

Ilya Mikheyev (LW, #65) — If he keeps playing like this, it’s going to be hard to justify not playing him in the top six. The Soupman has looked explosive off the rush this season, blowing by defenders in transition. Here’s a great example of Mikheyev using his speed to create a dangerous chance off the rush.

The pass obviously didn’t connect, but that net drive is a high-percentage play when you’re able to beat your man backdoor. It’s something I’d like to see the Leafs do more of in transition: dish the puck out wide after gaining the zone, then barrel your way to the high-danger area.

Pierre Engvall (C, #47) — He’s clearly one of Toronto’s best 12 forwards. One factor is his contract; Engvall earns $175,000 more than an NHL team can “bury” under the current CBA, meaning he’s quite a bit more expensive than the league-minimum depth options. We’re talking about a team who waived Jason Spezza so they could save $6,000 per day – that cap space matters to Kyle Dubas, Brandon Pridham & company.

If Engvall improves the team’s chances of winning, though, they need to play him. Tonight, he showed off his ability to transport the puck up the ice, which is an attribute they’re sorely missing from their depth forwards at the moment. He also had a couple nice moments in the offensive zone, but it’s his transition play in the neutral zone that really impresses me.

The combination of Mikheyev and Engvall worked really well in this game. If they get to play with a more skilled linemate than Wayne Simmonds, I could see it being an effective middle-six line.

***

4/5 Stars

Alex Kerfoot (C, #15) — Most fans aren’t going to obsessively watch players in neutral zone defence, but it’s a major component of driving results. Kerfoot was excellent in this department on Friday night, getting his stick in the passing lanes and intercepting stretch passes through the middle of the ice. He didn’t get a chance to use his speed for much offensively, but his role this season is to provide value defensively as a checking 3C this season. I’d say mission accomplished in this game.

The Muzzin-Holl Pairing — When was the last time Toronto had two pairings that you genuinely trusted? Every so often, I’ll hear people complain about Jake Muzzin or Justin Holl, but I see a pairing you can put out there for 20-plus minutes a night and not think twice about it.

Holl was more noticeable in this game, which makes sense considering he tends to be the one activating into the play while Muzzin sits back. Both players did a great job boxing out Edmonton forwards in front, keeping things to the outside, and stepping up in the neutral zone when they had a chance.

That’s how you defend the blue line in transition. Holl doesn’t give McDavid any space to operate, which leads to a turnover and odd-man rush the other way. We see these types of plays a lot from Holl, and I don’t see it ending anytime soon.

3/5 Stars

William Nylander (RW, #88) — This was such an up and down game for Nylander, so let’s start with the good. He showed off his puck-carrying prowess, skating from end-to-end to create a few chances off the rush. When Nylander wanted a loose puck, he was able to go get it with a strong stick on the forecheck.

He also did this.

How many open nets is Jimmy Vesey going to be staring at thanks to #88 this season?

Nylander would’ve ended up in the 4 or 5-star club if not for a few ghastly moments vs. Draisaitl.

Earlier in the game, Nylander got beat by Draisaitl for a 2-on-1 rush because he wasn’t moving his feet on the backcheck. Every player has flaws in their game they need to clean up, but with Nylander, they’re so glaringly obvious that I can understand why Leafs fans get frustrated with him at times.

Zach Hyman (LW, #11) — He won the race to beat out an icing call four separate times in this game. That relentless motor on the forecheck is part of what makes Hyman such an effective complementary player. He also got to show off his wheels in the third period.

I don’t remember rookie Zach Hyman making these plays off the rush. He’s come a long way.

Wayne Simmonds (RW, #24) — There was a shift in the first period where he won a puck battle along the wall, made the next pass, then got himself to the front of the net while his four teammates cycled the puck around and created a few chances. That’s more of what we want to see from Simmonds

TJ Brodie (RD, #78) — He wasn’t able to make plays up the ice as often as you’d like, but defensively, I’m really liking what I see from Brodie. He’s done a great job of taking away passes through the middle of the slot. Brodie also has a knack for knowing when it’s the right time to commit to getting down to block a high-quality shot or when it’s time to slide to take away the backdoor pass. He got knocked over by Ryan-Nugent Hopkins on the forecheck prior to the McDavid goal, which isn’t something you love to see, but I’ve been liking his steady game so far this season.

Travis Dermott (LD, #23) — He’s looked much smoother out there this season. After battling back from a shoulder injury last year and never really looking like the same Travis Dermott we remembered from his first couple seasons, I’m hoping this is the year he’s able to take that next step. So far so good for him; he’s looked much more composed with the puck lately.

Coaching Staff — Do we blame the coach when a team comes out of the gate and allows three odd-man rushes in four minutes? Do we give Sheldon Keefe & company credit for righting the ship afterwards? I’m never really sure how to hand out these grades, but I liked the fact that PP1 was top-loaded and the 5-on-5 lines were more or less optimized. Now we just need to find a way to get Mikheyev some more ice time.

***

2/5 Stars

Zach Bogosian (RD, #22) — The 1-on-1 between McDavid and Bogosian went about as well as you’d think.

This is why you shelter #6 defensemen.

The rest of Bogosian’s game actually wasn’t too bad. He delivered a few nice hits in the neutral zone, tied up opposing forwards who were looking for a backdoor pass, and even got himself into some decent shooting positions off the rush. His impact on Toronto’s breakout went about as well as you’d think considering his limited puck-skills and passing ability.

Jimmy Vesey (LW, #26) — Aside from scoring another “freebie” as Ray Ferraro put it, I didn’t have many notes on Vesey. He was able to use his long frame to get his stick on a few passes in the defensive zone, most notably in the 6-on-5 situation late in the game.

John Tavares (C, #91) and Mitch Marner (RW, #16) — They each picked up a goal (Marner’s an empty netter), but overall, they got outplayed by the McDavid line in this game to the tune of 28% possession in the matchup. It’s always a tough task going up against the most dangerous offensive player in the world. That said, you’d hope that your two best (healthy) players could avoid getting hemmed in by #97 at even strength.

The two did connect on this power-play deflection, which ended up being the game-winning goal.

That’s some great hand-eye by Tavares, who’s one of the best in the business in that department.

The 4th Line — Aside from a lucky Adam Brooks goal of his skate on the power play, there wasn’t much to see here. Alex Barabanov cleared the bar of me actually remembering a few plays he made in this game, but again, nothing super dangerous offensively or notable defensively. Jason Spezza made a few nice passes at even strength, whereas Brooks seemed to be fighting the puck for most of the night.

I don’t want to be too mean to a guy who scored his first NHL goal, so let’s at least watch it.

Sometimes hockey is such a weird sport.

***

1/5 Stars

Morgan Rielly (LD, #44) — Burn the tape. Rielly struggled to get the puck going in the right direction on Friday night, spending most of his time in the defensive zone. He had a couple nice sequences offensively, but that was undone by everything he was giving up the other way.


Heat Map

Here’s a quick look at where each team’s shots were coming from at even strength, courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.

When you consider the amount of pre-shot movement and odd-man rushes Edmonton was able to generate in this game, the heat map undersells their shot quality in this game. They outplayed Toronto at 5-on-5, but Frederik Andersen outplayed Mikko Koskinen.


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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How Kirby Yates fits into Toronto Blue Jays' bullpen picture – TSN

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TORONTO — For the first time in six years, the Toronto Blue Jays will head into spring training without a set-in-stone closer.

Back in 2015, it was a 20-year-old Roberto Osuna emerging out of the low minors to claim the role, before he was rightly jettisoned the heck out of Toronto in July of 2018 in exchange for Ken Giles, who held the role to start each of that last two seasons.

This spring, with Giles out for the year and still sitting on the free-agent market, there’s going to be a lot of talk surrounding the ninth-inning role and a lot of eyes watching for a potential bounceback for Kirby Yates and a potential full-season breakout for Jordan Romano.

As of today, it’s Yates, Romano and Rafael Dolis as the clear high-leverage choices for manager Charlie Montoyo, with the front office also on the hunt for another arm to add to that mix, potentially left-hander Brad Hand.

If this were 10 years ago, Yates would have already been named the closer.

But bullpens don’t work the same way anymore and the Jays are one of the teams interested in — but not married to — keeping their roles fluid, a la the creative Tampa Bay Rays.

That doesn’t mean one pitcher won’t end up with the majority of the saves, it just means matchups, rest and a host of other factors will dictate the usage on most nights.

It’s the way things should be done, too.

The ninth inning isn’t always the turning point and doesn’t always have the most important outs, but relievers are also historically creatures of habit and some prefer set roles and knowing exactly how they’re going to be used.

Even though a wonky right elbow and subsequent surgery to remove bone chips in August resulted in a lost season for the soon-to-be 34-year-old Yates, his 2019 season was the reason he was such a coveted reclamation project on the free-agent market.

It only took a $5.5 million base salary to land him, but he could earn up to $4.5 million in additional incentives.

If he looks anything like two years ago when he closed out 41 games for the San Diego Padres with a dominant splitter leading to a 1.19 ERA across 60 appearances, he’ll be worth every penny and will likely end up with the majority of the saves.

“I think I need to first prove I’m healthy, and then I need to prove I’m still myself and capable of doing it,” Yates said. “I think if I can go out there and do those two things, I think I have a good opportunity of being able to get that ninth inning. But it is what it is. I’ll take any role I can get, as long as I can go out there and pitch and do my job and help us win. If I’m pitching in the eighth inning and there’s somebody better for the ninth inning, that’s totally fine. If I’m locked in and doing my stuff, that means the guy that’s getting that ball in the ninth inning is going to be pretty good and that’s all you want in the ninth inning.”

It’s impossible to know if Yates can get back to that level until he’s on a mound facing hitters in camp, but the fact he never relied on huge velocity is encouraging if he can simply find the feel for his splitter again.

Calling it one of the best pitches in baseball when it’s working is not a stretch.

The problem with relievers is they come and go and you just never really know.

Yates went from being claimed off waivers twice in seven months in 2016/17 to being the best closer in baseball two years later.

“I think it was about halfway through 2017,” Yates said of when he found the feel for the splitter, a pitch that was still fairly new at the time. “I had thrown it enough in a big-league game and faced enough good big-league hitters to where I felt every time I threw a good one, it worked. It was just about being able to throw those good ones more consistently. The more I threw it, the better it got.”

Health and finding that pitch again are the two obvious keys for Yates in 2021.

A season like 2019 would have him primed to re-enter the free-agent market next winter as one of the top options.

“I think when I’m healthy I can go out there and attack hitters and kind of dictate at-bats,” Yates said. “I think that’s one of those things that I’ve gotten pretty good at the last few years. I think I’m getting smarter as a pitcher as I get older and needing that opportunity to apply that on an every night basis is very important to me and especially being able to re-establish myself and prove myself.

“I’ll find out everything once I get to spring training and face hitters and I get to really judge where I’m at. As far as right now, I feel really good.”

For Montoyo, the perfect bullpen scenario likely involves some combination of Dolis and Yates residing in the eighth and ninth innings, with Romano being used as the fire extinguisher — the arm called upon to put out hot-spots in key situations — if he looks anything like he did before last year’s freak finger injury.

But it’s worth repeating: You really just never know with relievers from year to year.

Like Dolis’ emergence last year on an under-the-radar free-agent deal, Tyler Chatwood, who signed a one-year contract for $3 million this week, could also play a role if he takes to the shift to the bullpen after being a starter for the majority of his career.

Then there’s lefty Ryan Borucki and potentially Julian Merryweather, who looks like a future closer type if the Jays can’t successfully turn him into a starter.

Add in another free-agent arm like Hand, Jake McGee or Trevor Rosenthal and it’s suddenly a formidable group of high-leverage options on paper.

In the end, performance usually sorts out the pecking order.

“It’s just about communication and understanding what your job is that night,” Yates said about today’s role-less bullpen usage. “Whether it’s going to be the seventh, eighth or ninth, I think I’ve done it all where I know how to prepare for it.

“The more guys you can rely on, the better because that takes the load off everybody else and it kind of makes it easier for everybody to settle down into roles and kind of understand what situation they’re going to pitch in. I think when you can do that, it’s easier for guys to prepare and kind of understand what their role is and how to go out there and get their job done.”

As for what led Yates to pick the Blue Jays over a number of other suitors, it was the young core and the front office’s pitch.

A few hours later after Yates agreed to terms, they made the big splash late Tuesday night. 

“When you sign a guy like George Springer, it’s like, boom, OK perfect, this is awesome,” Yates smiled. “It’s just exciting to be a part of that, a team that’s trying to push really hard to go to the next level.”​

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Tavares scores power-play winner as Leafs sneak by Oilers

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TORONTO — John Tavares scored the winner on a power play in the third period as the Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the Edmonton Oilers 4-2 on Friday.

Adam Brooks, with his first in the NHL, Jimmy Vesey, and Mitch Marner, into an empty net, had the other goals for Toronto (4-2-0), which got 30 saves from Frederik Andersen. William Nylander added two assists, while Marner had one of his own for a two-point night.

Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl replied for Edmonton (2-4-0). Mikko Koskinen stopped 25 shots.

Tavares tipped his fourth goal of the season, and second of the two-game set with the Oilers, off Marner’s shot after some sustained pressure on the man advantage.

The Leafs were minus two-thirds of their top line with both Auston Matthews and Joe Thornton out injured. Head coach Sheldon Keefe said before the game Matthews is day-to-day with “upper-body soreness” following Wednesday’s 3-1 loss to the Oilers, while Thornton will miss at least four weeks after fracturing a rib in the same game.

Edmonton, meanwhile, activated winger James Neal, who was previously on the NHL’s list of unavailable players due to COVID-19, off injured reserve for his first action of the season.

Down 2-1 through two periods, the Oilers got even 50 seconds into the third when McDavid, who grew up just north of Toronto in Newmarket, Ont., scored his second-ever goal at Scotiabank Arena when he deftly tipped Ethan Bear‘s point shot past Andersen for his fourth of the campaign.

The Leafs got a power play midway through the third when Toronto’s new top line of Tavares, Marner and Zach Hyman, with the latter forcing Koskinen to stretch and make a save.

But the Edmonton goalie could do nothing on the Tavares winner at 11:46 after making another terrific stop on Toronto’s captain moments earlier on the man advantage.

Andersen shut the door from there with Koskinen on the bench before Marner iced it with his fourth into an empty net as Toronto held on for its fourth victory in six outings to open the abbreviated 56-game schedule.

With the Leafs minus Matthews and Thornton, Keefe went back to 12 forwards and six defenceman after dressing an extra blue-liner the last two games. Brooks, Pierre Engvall and Alexander Barabanov dressed up front, while Mikko Lehtonen was scratched on the back end.

The Leafs got a power play early in the second period, but Oilers grabbed a 1-0 lead at 5:12 when Kailer Yamamoto threw the puck in front where Draisaitl fished it out of Nylander’s skates and jammed home his second of the season, and second in as many games.

But Toronto got that one back on the same man advantage 43 seconds later when Jason Spezza fired a puck into the slot that glanced off Brooks and in for the Winnipeg native’s first NHL goal in his eighth game.

Andersen then made a good stop outwaiting Jesse Puljujarvi on a break before Toronto pushed in front at 11:16 when Alexander Kerfoot intercepted an Adam Larsson pass behind Edmonton’s net and quickly fed Nylander, who in turn patiently found Vesey to bury his second.

The Oilers secured that 3-1 midweek victory on a night where both teams’ high-powered attacks featuring Matthews, McDavid and Draisaitl were neutralized by both sides’ strong commitment to defensive structure and an unwillingness to take offensive risks in a North Division chess match.

Friday’s opening 20 minutes was nearly as tight-checking, but there were a couple of chances at either end. Yamamoto, who was credited with Wednesday’s opener after the Leafs flubbed the puck into their own net, forced a good stop out of Andersen less than 30 seconds in.

Leafs winger Wayne Simmonds then had an opportunity denied by Koskinen from the slot. Edmonton’s Zack Kassian took a pass off the rush from McDavid that Andersen just got a piece of with the shaft of his stick.

McDavid had another rebound effort denied by Andersen before Simmonds saw his redirection smothered at the other by Koskinen as the teams headed to the locker rooms without finding the range.

Notes: Toronto placed Thornton on long-term injured reserve, where he joined rookie winger Nick Roberston (knee). … The Oilers now head to Winnipeg for two against the Jets beginning Sunday before hosting the Leafs for another two-game set beginning Thursday. … Toronto opens a four-game Alberta road trip Sunday in Calgary against the Flames.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 22, 2021.

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Source:- TSN

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