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Sheldon Keefe Post Game, Leafs 5 vs. Canucks 1: "[Auston Matthews] is doing it in all three zones for us since the start of the season" – Maple Leafs Hot Stove



Sheldon Keefe addressed the media after his team’s 5-1 walloping of the Vancouver Canucks, improving the Leafs’ record to 9-2-1 on the season.

On the status of Wayne Simmonds:

No real update here yet. He is still getting looked at and evaluated. We will have that for you guys on Monday morning when we get back together again.

On the consistency of the team’s 60-minute effort:

I don’t know if I would be able to say it was 60-minutes consistent — Vancouver had their pushes — but I did like our start, obviously. We knew the start was going to be really important here tonight. We wanted to establish our game once again. I thought we were able to do that.

Vancouver pushed back pretty hard in the last 7-8 minutes of the first period. We were able to extend our lead in the second, which is really important.

I thought Vancouver put a lot more pressure on us here today. We capitalized when we had our chances. Obviously, the Matthews line was really rolling here today and was just the real difference for us.

On Matthews’ highlight-reel goal:

It just speaks to his ability and how special he is. It happened so fast that I don’t think anybody on the ice was really ready for how quickly he went from going around the defender to putting it in the net. It is impressive.

All season, I really think he has been very good for us, but in these last two games, he has really had jump. If anything, I felt I had gotten in his way a little bit just with us getting into leads and me reducing his minutes. Maybe not reducing his minutes — he has still had pretty good minutes — but disrupting his flow. Times when I normally would get him out there for o-zone starts and shifts in succession, I am holding him back and doing more of a 1-4 rotation. That disrupted his flow a little bit.

In both of these games he played here, he could’ve had four or five. He was really feeling it. That is really good for us, obviously, and good for him that he is having that confidence. He is doing it in all zones for us since the start of the season, and now he is starting to get the consistent rewards around the net. It’s great for him to get that.

On whether it was Mikko Lehtonen’s best showing:

I would say so, definitely. He looked really confident and comfortable out there. I thought his touches of the puck were real efficient. He didn’t have to defend a great deal here today, which I think allowed him to get more comfortable. Definitely, his touches were good — not just the ones that resulted in goals but throughout the game, he was really solid moving the puck.

On the performance of the third line, Vesey – Kerfoot – Mikheyev:

I thought they skated really well. I thought they had the puck a good deal. Just like I did the other night, I’ll have to go back and roll through just their shifts and focus just on them. I’ll have to do that again just to see the detail inside of it.

We have three guys there who are really trying to find themselves offensively. I thought the speed they had on the puck and the work ethic they had, we can’t take that away from them. That makes them effective. In terms of the chemistry of the line, I think they’re still looking to find it.

On whether he expects the third line to score or not get scored on:

It depends on the game. On a night like tonight, obviously, we don’t need them to score. We need them to be harder to play against, to win shifts, and keep our positive progression going as a team. That is what you are looking for. All three are trying to find themselves offensively and are looking to break out a little bit. We are finding ways to win games without that type of offense.

Those guys are still important players for us. All three are penalty killers. We ended up taking too many penalties here tonight and it ended up costing Fred a shutout. I am not sure if we necessarily needed to kill as many penalties towards the end there. I thought they were maybe looking to give them some calls and it cost Fred a shutout, but I thought that our penalty kill has consistently been good for us. When we look at it with our process and how it has gone, we like a lot of things about it. Yet there is one moment, it seems, in each game that will cost us a goal and it is really hurting the overall results of our PK.

Those three guys have all been really important pieces of what we think is a PK that has a good process and, over time, is going to have better results.

On how close the team is to the calibre of play he envisioned:

I think it is close. When you take someone like Joe out of our lineup, it changes a lot of things in terms of what we envisioned. In terms of how we are playing, I think these last couple of games are a little bit more of a reflection of that. We think we have put together two good games here in terms of having some good offensive pieces to our game and really having that connection offensively from our zone through the neutral zone to the offensive zone. I think we were really disconnected in that area, especially on the Alberta trip.

That is matching what I think has been not-perfect detail defensively. The fact that we have done a much better job of defending odd-man rushes and generally not allowing people to get behind us, and pairing that with the offense, it is starting to look like what we expect from our group.

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Great Start from Kikuchi, Jays Beat Rays – Bluebird Banter



Rays 1 Blue Jays 4

Off the top, let’s just acknowledge how great Matt Chapman is with the glove. With almost anyone else at third base, this would have been a different game. In the sixth inning, it looked like Yusei Kikuchi was starting to lose it. He gave up back-to-back singles to start the inning. Then there was a bouncing ball up the third-base line, that Chapman pitched up, touched third and made an excellent throw to first for the double-play. The next batter hits almost exactly the grounder, a fair bit harder (103.1 MPH) that Chapman again grabbed (further) behind the bag and again made a great throw to first, getting the third out. In the seventh, he made a great catch on a popup hit behind third.

Kukichi had a terrific start. Going six innings, he gave up a solo homer, the two singles mentioned above, and one other single, just one walk with eight strikeouts. He was in charge all the way through. He may have had one more inning in him, but I was all for taking him out while things were good. Without Chapman, his last inning wouldn’t have been great.

On offence, two big swings did all the damage. Teoscar Hernandez crushed a no-doubter in the second inning, a two-run shot, 419 feet. And Santiago Espinal had his own two-run homer in the seventh. Not a no-doubter, just over the left-field wall, into the Jays bullpen, caught by David Phelps.

We only had 9 hits on the day. Teoscar (3) and Espinal (2) had 5 of the 9 hits.

Opener Matt Wisler pitched a scoreless first. After that, Ryan Yarbourgh pitched the bulk of the game, giving up 8 hits, 4 runs, and 1 walk without a strikeout, in 5.1 innings. I thought Kevin Cash left him in a little too long, but both teams have a lot of baseball ahead this weekend.

Vlad, Chapman and Moreno had 0 fors.

From the pen:

  • Trent Thornton gave up a hit and had a strikeout in the seventh
  • Phelps gave up a walk and got a strikeout in the eighth.
  • Cimber got the save (pitching his third game in a row). His fourth of the season. He finished it with a strikeout.

Jays of the Day: Kikuchi (.258 WPA), Teoscar (.189) and Espinal (.171). I’m giving Chapman an honourable mention, despite his -.076 WPA, for his glove.

No one had the Suckage number. Bo (-.087), Moreno (.080, but deserves points for helping Kukichi navigate the game) and Vlad (-.070) all came close.

Tomorrow we have a day game for Canada Day, a 3:00 Eastern start. Jose Berrios 5-4, 5.86 ERA, is hoping to bounce back from a terrible start. Corey Kluber (3-4, 3.45) gets the start for the Rays.

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Trial of WNBA star Brittney Griner begins in Russia – Al Jazeera English



The trial of United States professional basketball player Brittney Griner, who was arrested in Russia in February after authorities found vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage, has begun in Moscow.

Griner, a Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) all star and two-time Olympic gold medallist, arrived at a courtroom on the outskirts of the Russian capital on Friday for the trial, in which she faces up to 10 years in prison.

Arriving at Khimki City Court in handcuffs, the 31-year-old athlete wore a T-shirt showing guitar icon Jimi Hendrix and was accompanied by three people. US embassy staff were in attendance at the proceedings. Cameras were not permitted in the court.

Two witnesses were questioned by the prosecution: an airport customs official, who spoke in open court, and an unidentified witness in a closed session. according to the state news agency RIA-Novosti. The trial was then adjourned, it said, when two other witnesses did not show up, and the next session was set for July 7.

Alexander Boykov, an attorney for Griner, told reporters outside court that “I wouldn’t want to talk on the specifics of the case and on the charges and to comment on our position on it because it’s too early for it.”

US Charge d’Affaires Elizabeth Rood told reporters at the trial that Griner told her she was “keeping the faith” and that she was doing “as well as can be expected”.

The US State Department has labelled Griner “wrongfully detained” and is negotiating for her release amid tanked relations with Russia in the wake of its invasion of Ukraine. Griner’s arrest came just days before Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered troops into the neighbouring country on February 24.

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On Friday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied the case was politically motivated.

“I can only operate with known facts, and the facts indicate that the eminent athlete was detained with illegal drugs that contained narcotic substances. There are articles in Russian legislation that provide for punishment for such crimes,” he told reporters.

“Only the court can pass a verdict.”

Griner’s detention has prompted concerns that Moscow could use the athlete to seek the release of a high-profile Russian in US custody, with Senator Tim Kaine warning the forward for the Phoenix Mercury could be used as a “negotiating chip”.

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Some of Griner’s supporters have called on the US to offer such a swap.

High-profile figures across the sports world have also called for Griner’s release, with NBA players wearing T-shirts that say “We are BG” at some games.

WNBA players, who are paid considerably less than their male counterparts, are often offered lucrative contracts by the Russian Women’s Basketball Premier League to play during the US off-season.

Some have now left the Russian league, amid Griner’s detention and Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine.

US officials say Griner is one of two citizens wrongfully detained by Russia. Paul Whelan, a former US marine, has been held in Russia since 2018 after being convicted of spying. He has denied the allegation.

Russian news media have repeatedly raised speculation that she could be swapped for Russian arms trader Viktor Bout, nicknamed “the Merchant of Death,” who is serving a 25-year sentence on conviction of conspiracy to kill US citizens and providing aid to a “terrorist” organisation.

Others have suggested that she could be traded in tandem with Whelan.

After Griner’s hearing, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted: “We – and I personally – have no higher priority than bringing her and other wrongfully detained Americans, including Paul Whelan, home.

“We won’t stop working until they are reunited with their loved ones.”

Blinken, when asked Sunday on CNN whether a joint swap of Griner and Whelan for Bout was being considered, sidestepped the question.

“As a general proposition … I have got no higher priority than making sure that Americans who are being illegally detained in one way or another around the world come home,” he said. But he said he could not comment “in any detail on what we’re doing, except to say this is an absolute priority”.

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Kevin Durant Has Suns As Preferred Team In Trade, Heat At No. 2 –



Kevin Durant appears to have the Phoenix Suns atop his wish list following his trade request from the Brooklyn Nets. 

“Phoenix is the place he wants to go, I feel reasonably confident of that,” said Brian Windhorst on his podcast. “I think Miami is second. What I’m not confident over is that Phoenix is going to be able to give Brooklyn what they want. And I’m also not confident in what Brooklyn is going to prioritize.”

Tim Bontemps interjected that he expects Durant to end up with the Suns.

“If you look at these trade, there’s a nexus point between what the player wants and the team wants,” said Bontemps. “Kevin Durant would like to play for the Suns. We can all agree on that. The Phoenix Suns also have a lot of stuff the Brooklyn Nets would want. They’re not going to get Devin Booker in this trade, but they’ve got Mikal Bridges, they’ve got Deandre Ayton they can put in a sign-and-trade, and they have Cam Johnson.”

The Suns also control all of their own draft picks, which makes assembling a competitive trade offer for Durant easier. 

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