SIMMONS: Problems aplenty for Leafs and coach Keefe - Toronto Sun - Canada News Media
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SIMMONS: Problems aplenty for Leafs and coach Keefe – Toronto Sun

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This is the first mini-crisis of the Sheldon Keefe era with the Maple Leafs.

And maybe ‘mini’ is the wrong word to use here. Maybe this is the first real crisis, three losses in a row, three lousy games in a row after looking like a top-5 NHL team .

The worst loss occurred on Sunday night in Sunrise — in the biggest game to date of the regular season, a chance to push the Florida Panthers way back in the standings.

The Leafs didn’t show up. They never announced their presence. They weren’t ready to play. They looked as loose and sloppy and careless as at any time during the final days of Mike Babcock’s regime.

They looked nothing like a team that anyone would take seriously.

Keefe has brought new life and new energy to the hockey club. At first, he seemed almost magician like. The players were looser, happier, seemingly enjoying his unusual possession-style of game, with twists they haven’t seen in the offensive zone.

Then came last Monday and the Edmonton Oilers. And that began Keefe’s first real week of NHL difficulty since he was trying to catch on with the Arizona Coyotes as a winger 16 years ago. The Leafs and Frederik Andersen were rather lost against the Oilers, and too uninvolved against the Winnipeg Jets and then the disaster of Sunday night in Florida where everything from goaltending to effort to structure to accountability disappeared. The new magician: Now you see the Leafs, now you don’t.

And now, Morgan Rielly is out for at least two months. The problems just continue for Keefe.

General manager Kyle Dubas is all locked in to this problematic week as well. His unwillingness or inabilty to add a quality backup goaltender has made the recent difficulties of Andersen all the more unpleasant. Andersen has been pulled in two of his last three starts, only once on merit. But his save percentages in the past three games are .667, .893 and .842. That’s good enough to get you a lottery pick.

In other NHL cities, when the starter hits a bad stretch, the team can turn to the backup goaltender. Michael Hutchinson isn’t that guy. He isn’t good enough to get you out of trouble. Andersen got pulled against the Oilers — Hutchinson gave up three goals on 16 shots. Against Florida, after Andersen was yanked early in the second period, he gave up four goals on 17 shots.

Dubas has stubbornly maintained this isn’t a problem area. It is the single largest welt on his young resume. It has been a problem all season long. It’s more of a problem now with the all-star Andersen struggling to find his all-star form. Tampa can turn to Curtis McElhinney if Andrei Vasilevskiy needs a break. Boston can turn to Jaroslav Halak when Tuukka Rask is off. And on Sunday night, the Leafs lost to somebody named Chris Driedger, an Ottawa Senators draft pick from years gone by, who two years ago was playing for the Brampton Beast. That Chris Driedger.

He would probably be an upgrade on Hutchinson. Just about anyone would. Hutchinson has played 12 games this season for the Leafs, nine as a starter, three as a backup. He has two decent starts, one strong relief appearance, six games you want to forget about. You need more dependability from a backup, especially with Andersen off his game. You need Glenn Healy or Jamie McLennan

This is just one of the problems that have become evident as the Keefe magic is slowly wearing off.

Under Keefe the Leafs still have a 15-6-2 record, a long way from the 9-10-4 team he inherited. That’s 114 point pace compared to 78 point pace. That’s a huge change. But they’re 0-2-1 in the past seven days. Eighteen goals against in the three defeats. The old problems — defensive zone coverages, gap control, inability to win battles on loose pucks, shoddy neutral zone play, too many odd-man rushes against, an overall lack of effort — seemingly came back all at once. And it isn’t one player, one pair of defence, one forward line to fix — it’s the whole team right now.

Keefe’s Leafs are first in the NHL in scoring since he took over as coach. And they’re 11th in goals against in those 23 games, up from 30th when Babcock left. Statistically that works. The goal differential, one of Babcock’s favourite numbers, is +21 since Keefe took over. It was minus-8 under Babcock in the same number of games coached.

But in the last three games, it is minus-9, and it would be worse than that if the Leafs didn’t score some garbage goals after they were way behind.

Oddly, after the horrible game in Florida, after the Leafs were granted a day in the sun, they were given the day off Monday. Keefe is anything but conventional, but this is all new for him now.

His first NHL predicament. His job to find a way out. The players disgraced themselves Sunday night in Florida. That’s on them. Now it’s time for the coach to fix all that is seemingly wrong.

ssimmons@postmedia.com

twitter.com/simmonssteve

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Quick Reaction: Raptors 122, Hawks 117 – Raptors Republic

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.grade background: #315233; padding: 10px; border: 3px solid #977252; color: white; font-size:35px; font-weight: bold; text-align: center;
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P. Siakam29 MIN, 18 PTS, 6 REB, 1 AST, 1 STL, 6-13 FG, 0-4 3FG, 6-7 FT, 1 BLK, 1 TO, 9 +/-

Siakam was active on defense with one steal and one block, jumping in passing lanes like we are used to seeing him do. Even though his three-point shot wasn’t falling he was able to get to the basket with some nasty spin-moves and could have been even more aggressive.

O. Anunoby21 MIN, 4 PTS, 4 REB, 1 AST, 0 STL, 2-6 FG, 0-2 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, 5 +/-

This was one of those games where Anunoby was invisible for large stretches. He has just six field-goal attempts for four points while getting zero steals and zero blocks on the other end.

M. Gasol23 MIN, 14 PTS, 5 REB, 2 AST, 0 STL, 4-8 FG, 2-6 3FG, 4-7 FT, 0 BLK, 2 TO, -6 +/-

The Hawks made Gasol play at the perimeter instead of under the basket as he prefers, which meant he couldn’t have the type of defensive impact we are used to seeing from him. Still, Gasol played well and should have replaced Ibaka before the Hawks caught up.

K. Lowry29 MIN, 10 PTS, 4 REB, 7 AST, 1 STL, 3-11 FG, 0-5 3FG, 4-4 FT, 1 BLK, 3 TO, 12 +/-

Lowry’s shot wasn’t falling in this one but he dished out seven assists and was a +12 on the night, the best +/- of any starter. He only got to the free-throw line four times and should have been more aggressive attacking Trae Young.

F. VanVleet26 MIN, 20 PTS, 4 REB, 2 AST, 3 STL, 4-11 FG, 1-4 3FG, 11-14 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, -2 +/-

Steady Freddy… The Raptors probably don’t win this one without VanVleet, who guarded Young for large stretches and was super, ultra, insanely aggressive attacking the rim throughout. He was probably too aggressive, having several of his layup attempts blocked, but he got to the free-throw line fourteen times. Nuff said.

N. Powell25 MIN, 27 PTS, 1 REB, 1 AST, 2 STL, 7-14 FG, 6-9 3FG, 7-7 FT, 0 BLK, 3 TO, 10 +/-

Powell was invisible in the first half of this one before exploding for 27 points in just 25 minutes. He was the Raptors only reliable shot-maker in the second-half and the only reason they pulled away in the fourth quarter. Powell is one of the most reliable Raptors on a night-to-night basis, which is nuts.

S. Ibaka24 MIN, 8 PTS, 7 REB, 0 AST, 1 STL, 3-10 FG, 2-6 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, 14 +/-

Ibaka’s foot-speed makes him a good matchup for the Hawks, but his shot wasn’t falling and he didn’t make enough of an impact defensively to justify playing so deep into the fourth quarter.

P. McCaw23 MIN, 2 PTS, 0 REB, 4 AST, 3 STL, 1-2 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, 7 +/-

I know how hard people have been on McCaw but I actually thought he was pretty good in this one. He is clearly not an aggressive player and prefers to facilitate, but he had three steals and four assists in this one and didn’t make many mistakes.

R. Hollis-Jefferson20 MIN, 7 PTS, 11 REB, 3 AST, 1 STL, 3-7 FG, 0-0 3FG, 1-4 FT, 1 BLK, 0 TO, -4 +/-

Rondae was everywhere in this one, for better or worse. He picked up five fouls in just 20 minutes but was active on the boards with a team-high 11 rebounds.

T. Davis19 MIN, 12 PTS, 4 REB, 4 AST, 0 STL, 5-10 FG, 2-6 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, 0 +/-

Davis made some big shots in the third and fourth quarter to help the Raptors pull away and is a really aggressive shooter whenever he has a sliver of room. Still, he continues to make mistakes defensively.

Nick Nurse

Nurse rolled with the hot hands in this one, but he didn’t really. Powell and Davis were knocking down shots, but I thought he should have brought Gasol into the game for Ibaka much earlier as well as Lowry and VanVleet, who would have been able to find Powell for those shots down the stretch.

Things We Saw

  1. I don’t know what the name of the strip club the Raptors went to last night is called, all I know is that they went to one. The Raptors came out really slow and couldn’t stop Trae Young all game, allowing the hawks to put up 117 on them while they are normally very good defensively.
  2. Norman Powell has saved the Raptors multiple times this year. He has been one of their most reliable shooters and is becoming a heat-check regular. When he’s going it’s really hard to stop him because he is a great at-rim finisher as well as a shooter. He saved the day against the Hawks.
  3. Nurse rolled with his reserved a bit too long and allowed the Hawks to catch up. I understand rolling with the hot hands but the only guys that were actually scoring were Powell and Davis. He could have subbed Ibaka for Gasol and McCaw for Lowry/VanVleet much earlier in order to put the game away instead of running his reserves into the ground and allowing the Hawks to make it close.




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Toronto FC’s Michael Bradley could be out four months after ankle surgery – Sportsnet.ca

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Toronto FC, no stranger to drama, opened training camp with a bang Monday.

First came the unexpected news that captain Michael Bradley was scheduled to undergo surgery Tuesday in New York City on what GM Ali Curtis called a “very severe and complicated ankle injury.”

Bradley was hurt at the Nov. 10 MLS Cup final in Seattle but finished the game and downplayed the injury, saying the right ankle might take two to three weeks “to calm down.”

On Monday, that prognosis stretched to four months.

Adding to the drama was star striker Jozy Altidore, who tossed a medical grenade when he told reporters the Bradley injury had been mishandled by the MLS club.

“Make no mistake. In my opinion, for me, it was handled poorly,” Altidore told reporters minutes after Curtis outlined the injury news. “This was an injury from two months ago and it’s not the first time this has happened (at the club) … For two months to have gone by and now he’s having surgery and to be out ’til June.”

“I don’t think it’s good enough,” Altidore added. “He’s a guy that takes care of himself in an incredible way, an incredible professional … I think he was let down.”

Coach Greg Vanney, his exasperation at Altidore’s comments plain to see, was then left to clean up the mess.

“Jozy has his opinions,” Vanney said dismissively.

Vanney, unfortunately, has firsthand experience of the injury, saying his daughter has suffered a similar issue from gymnastics.

He called it a “contact injury” affecting the area between the ankle and the tibia. And he said it’s not easy to catch, with a specialist not seeing the severity of the injury from initial images.

“I understand that that this is not an easy find and an easy fix,” Vanney said.

“It’s an injury where you feel like you can pretty much do everything,” he added. “But there’s something that just tells you it’s not right and there’s a little bit of annoyance and a pain. So you can be at 95 per cent and feel like everything’s good but that last five per cent just doesn’t feel right.

“And the problem is that that last five per cent, you’re not going to get over it and it’s going to make things worse. Then you have to deal with it and that’s what he’s doing with it now.”

Adding to the injury surprise is the fact Bradley is a workhorse who takes care of his body and is rarely sidelined.

It’s not the first time Altidore, a designated player who made US$6.33 million last season, has taken a pop at the club. Last April he laid into Bill Manning after a game, saying the team president’s ego was hurting player welfare by banning trainer Giuseppe Gueli because of his affiliation with the now-departed Sebastian Giovinco.

Altidore, who has been dogged by injury in his career, apologized soon after and Gueli returned to the club.

Bradley injured his ankle in the 32nd minute of the championship game when Seattle defender Roman Torres, attempting a shot, caught the Toronto player on the foot with his follow-through. Bradley subsequently withdrew from the U.S. squad for CONCACAF Nations League games against Canada and Cuba just days later.

He spent much of the off-season trying to rehab the ankle at the club’s training facility.

Curtis, who called going under the knife “the last resort,” put the recovery at approximately four months.

“In Michael’s case, we are going to be careful and cautious about this,” the GM told reporters. “But we’re confident that, once he has the surgery, that he’ll be able to return to play. It’ll take probably approximately four months. Now that could be shorter or it could be lengthier depending on how we manage that process.”

The MLS Cup final represented Bradley’s 200th appearance for Toronto FC in all competitions. A month later the 32-year-old midfielder signed a new deal with Toronto that covers three years plus a club option.

Team officials will be looking to 21-year-old Canadian Liam Fraser to deputize for Bradley.

Players reported Saturday for medicals, arriving on a chilly weekend with a dump of snow. Monday was the first day training was open to the media.

TFC officials had been hoping for a quieter pre-season than last when GM Tim Bezbatchenko left to take over Columbus, star attackers Giovinco and Victor Vazquez departed for greener pastures and Dutch international defender Gregory van der Wiel was sent packing after a training camp bust-up.

That left Curtis, the new GM, with plenty of holes to fill with little time to do it ahead of the regular season. It took until the summer transfer window to fix the roster.

It seemed going into this season that the search for a designated player was going to be the main question mark. Monday added a few more.

Coaches and players leave Thursday for warm-weather training in Orlando through Jan. 29. They then return home briefly before leaving Feb. 5 for Irvine, Calif., for the rest of training camp. They have five MLS pre-season games scheduled from Feb. 8 to 22.

The team opens the regular season Feb. 29 at the San Jose Earthquakes.

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TFC's Bradley (ankle) out three to four months – TSN

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Toronto FC training camp opened with a bang Monday with the news that captain Michael Bradley is scheduled to undergo right ankle surgery and could be out for four months or more.

Adding to the unexpected drama was star striker Jozy Altidore, who said he thought the Bradley injury had been mishandled by the MLS club.

“Make no mistake. In my opinion, for me, it was handled poorly,” Altidore told reporters minutes after GM Ali Curtis outlined the injury news. “This was an injury from two months ago and it’s not the first time this has happened (at the club) … For two months to have gone by and now he’s having surgery and out ’til June.”

Bradley was injured in the Nov. 10 MLS Cup final but at the time the issue was not said to be serious. On Monday, however, Curtis called the injury “very severe and complicated.”

Bradley is slated to have the surgery Tuesday in New York City. Curtis, who called going under the knife “the last resort,” put the recovery at approximately four months.

“In Michael’s case, we are going to be careful and cautious about this,” the GM told reporters. “But we’re confident that once he has the surgery that he’ll be able to return to play. It’ll take probably approximately four months. Now that could be shorter or it could be lengthier depending on how we manage that process.”

Bradley injured his ankle in the 32nd minute of the championship game when Seattle defender Roman Torres, attempting a shot, caught the Toronto player in the foot with his follow-through. Bradley finished the game but subsequently withdrew from the U.S. squad for CONCACAF Nations League games against Canada and Cuba just days later.

At the time, the TFC skipper said the ankle might take two to three weeks “to calm down.”

The MLS Cup final represented Bradley’s 200th appearance for Toronto FC in all competitions. A month later the 32-year-old midfielder signed a new deal with Toronto that covers three years plus a club option.

Players reported Saturday for medicals, arriving on a chilly weekend with a dump of snow. Monday was the first day training was open to the media.

Coaches and players depart Thursday for warm-weather training in Orlando through Jan de. 29. They then return home briefly before leaving Feb. 5 for Irvine, Calif., for the rest of training camp. They have five MLS pre-season games scheduled from Feb. 8 to 22.

The team opens the regular season Feb. 29 at the San Jose Earthquakes.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 20, 2020.

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