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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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Montreal showed they can win without Carey Price stealing the game – Habs Eyes on the Prize

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After the Montreal Canadiens stunned the Pittsburgh Penguins to qualify for the 2020 NHL Playoffs, many of the plaudits went to Carey Price in net. While it’s deserved praise, many pundits and fans alike thought that the Canadiens stood no chance against the Philadelphia Flyers unless Price was god-like between the pipes. Two things are true with that after Friday’s game: Price has been out of this world through two games of this series as well, and also didn’t need to be in Friday’s 5-0 shutout.

It sounds strange to say given Price’s shutout, but the Flyers rarely seemed to put Price in a position of danger. Even their few good chances were casually brushed aside by the Montreal netminder. He was mostly great, but based on the play of the Flyers, he wasn’t the biggest factor in Montreal securing a huge victory.

Right from the outset, Montreal dominated possession of the puck. It took Philadelphia 17 minutes to register a shot on net, and in that time Montreal had built up a two-goal lead, and would add another early in the next period. In short, the Habs’ offence came to play in all facets.

Natural Stat Trick

Looking at the above chart, at no point in time did the Flyers mount an even remotely threatening attack, while Montreal jumped into the game and never took their foot off the gas.

This was the best we’ve seen the Canadiens in a long time, and certainly in this post-season. Their Achilles’ heel has been a lack of elite finishing talent, and in Friday’s game they just wore down the Flyers like a river erodes its banks. Sooner or later things break down, and in the case of the Habs it was in the form of goals against Carter Hart and Brian Elliott.

A saying I’ve said multiple times recently is that “goalies can’t score goals” in regard to Price having to do so much on his own. Yesterday at least, he ddin’t have to. Montreal had always put up impressive shot numbers during the season, and now they may be starting to find the back of the net.

The Canadiens can win this series against the Flyers, and they can do it without relying solely on their franchise goalie.

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Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask opts out of NHL playoffs – CBC.ca

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Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask has opted out of the NHL playoffs.

The team announced the change on Twitter on Saturday morning, less than two hours before their third game in their series against the Carolina Hurricanes.

“I want to be with my teammates competing, but at this moment there are things more important than hockey in my life, and that is being with my family,” Rask said in a statement. “I want to thank the Bruins and my teammates for their support and wish them success.”

The Bruins are currently tied 1-1 in their series against the Hurricanes. 

Jaroslav Halak will take over starting goalie duties for the Bruins. 

When the NHL first returned to play, Rask missed the start of the play-in due to COVID-19 concerns. After reports of a cough, he quarantined for two days in his hotel room before being allowed to hit the ice.

Rask hasn’t been shy about his criticism when it comes to the playoff environment in Toronto. While you’re trying to play as hard as you can, he said, the series “doesn’t really feel like playoff hockey out there.”

“There’s no fans, so it’s kind of like playing an exhibition game,” he said, adding that while there can still be scrums after the whistle, “there’s no atmosphere.”

Don Sweeney, the Bruins’ general manager, said Rask’s comments weren’t related to his departure but acknowledged that he was having a “tough time being away in this environment.”

“This is playoff hockey, let’s make no mistake about it,” Sweeney said during a media availability before Game 3 on Saturday. “Tuukka, in his own right, felt that he needed to be elsewhere rather than being here in this current situation.

“He’s the same goaltender that went to the Stanley Cup finals in a Game 7 last year … and he’ll be the same player when we get up and running again next year.”

And while Rask didn’t give any indication to the team that he was “absolutely” going to opt out, Sweeney said the decision didn’t come as a surprise.

“The priority for Tuukka at this point and time — and rightfully so — has to be his family, and we support that,” he said, adding that Rask’s family is healthy and safe. 

The Bruins goalie has three daughters, one of them a newborn.

Rask is one of three finalists for the Vezina Trophy, awarded to the NHL’s top goaltender.

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Alphonso Davies just wowed the world on this goal (VIDEO) | Offside – Daily Hive

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Alphonso Davies has arrived on the global stage.

The 19-year-old Canadian soccer star just wowed fans from around the world setting up a world-class goal in the Champions League quarter-final.

The former Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder who now stars as a left back for Bayern Munich in Germany, Davies’ assist on Bayern’s fifth goal was truly amazing.

Davies danced past two FC Barcelona players before blowing by a defender and setting up a teammate for Bayern’s fifth goal of the match. I repeat, he did this against FC Barcelona, one of the best teams on the planet.

Bayern won the match 8-2 and will play in the Champions League semi-final on August 19.

It’s been a superb season for Davies, who has taken his game to another level. A key player on Bayern’s Bundesliga championship squad, Davies is now widely considered one of the best left backs in the entire world.

Not only did Davies star on the world stage, he did so playing against one of his idols, Lionel Messi.

This is a dream come true for Davies, who said in 2018 he was most looking forward to playing in Champions League matches prior to making the move to Europe.

“At a very young age, every time you hear that [Champions League] song come on, you know something special is about to happen,” Davies told Daily Hive two years ago.

“Whoever made the Champions League is a brilliant guy… Having the top teams from Spain, England, Germany – all over Europe – to play against each other, it’s exciting to watch.”

He just made it more exciting.

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