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‘Sometimes it’s tough love’: Bond among Leafs’ Kapanen, Keefe pays off – Sportsnet.ca

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TORONTO — Kasperi Kapanen has said some things.

We all have, of course, but as the 23-year-old Toronto Maple Leafs winger reflects back on his days as an aspiring NHLer he acknowledges that he may have occasionally spoken out of turn with his coach in the American Hockey League.

You know, the same coach who now stands behind the Leafs’ bench: Sheldon Keefe.

“I should have just shut my mouth sometimes,” Kapanen said in a recent interview. “During the game the emotions are high and I might have said something back sometimes.”

He’s quick to point out that it never went too far.

That in those moments where the heat was turned up highest it was always two fiery guys who were chasing the same outcome, rather than two people locked in an adversarial relationship.

Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman talk to a lot of people around the hockey world, and then they tell listeners all about what they’ve heard and what they think about it.

The word “stubborn” comes to mind — especially as it relates to the 2014 first-round draft pick who endured three seasons of yo-yoing between the AHL and NHL before finally establishing himself as a full-time Maple Leaf.

“We certainly weren’t shy about telling each other how we felt,” Kapanen said. “Sometimes I might have kind of stepped over the line a bit, but I think it just shows how comfortable we were with each other and we could kind of tell each other anything. Sometimes it’s tough love.

“We’ve both got some strong personalities, but that’s in the past and we’re doing good now.”

In Keefe’s eyes, there’s been some natural maturation from the player but also a dramatic change in his working conditions.

Most of the friction derived from Kapanen’s desire to reach the NHL as soon as possible, and that decision was not in either man’s hands. All Keefe could do was try to help grow Kapanen’s game to the point where he forced the organization’s hand — which he eventually did in the second half of the 2017-18 season.

“A big part of it, first of all, is that nobody really likes to play in the American League,” Keefe said. “Particularly players of that calibre and that talent. That pedigree. They want to be in the NHL fast so when it’s not happening you’re not always getting the best version of that player when they come to the rink every day.

“That’s a big challenge and that was one for Kappy.”

What he sees now is a player who consistently exudes good energy and works diligently at his craft. He’s a bit of a high-quality utility man that can help plug holes up and down the Leafs lineup, as evidenced by the fact he’s already topped 100 minutes at 5-on-5 this season with four different forwards: Alexander Kerfoot (187:57), John Tavares (160:15), Jason Spezza (156:01) and Pierre Engvall (103:51).

Kapanen can also contribute on both specialty teams and has elite speed, which is why he would be extremely difficult to part with if the Leafs decided to deal from their surplus of forward depth in order to acquire defensive help or a backup goaltender ahead of the Feb. 24 trade deadline.

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The past with Keefe, warts and all, comes with benefits. A coach still adjusting to life in the NHL already knows what buttons to push. And he’s seen Kapanen quietly put together a productive stretch with nine points to show for his last 10 games.

“There’s a history there. There’s, I hope, some trust in it,” Keefe said. “But also you have information — you’re not filling as many gaps in terms of what a player’s been through and what their personality might be and what they might respond to.”

Kapanen made a noticeable impact during Thursday’s 2-1 shootout loss to Calgary by pushing the pace and matching his season high with four shots on goal. His legs felt good and he nearly ended the game in overtime before getting denied on the doorstep by Flames goalie David Rittich.

He also finished a couple checks, which is a point of continued emphasis. The Leafs aren’t a particularly physical team but Kapanen sees that as one of the key elements to his own game.

“This season I haven’t been using my body as much as I should maybe. So, I’m kind of finding it right now,” he said. “I think I just need to get a little pissed off — get a little pissed off and throw the body around.”

As for what fuels that competitive edge?

He tries to summon it from within, rather than, say, looking to take a hit from an opponent.

“It’s mostly probably me just not scoring or just not making any good plays,” Kapanen said. “That’s usually what gets me upset.”

And, with time, he’s learned not to send any of that extra emotion in the direction of his coach.

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Bandwagon or 'mental anguish': Calgarians say they'll root for Edmonton in NHL playoffs – CBC.ca

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The Battle of Alberta ended with the Calgary Flames getting knocked out of the series on Thursday — making Edmonton the sole Canadian team left in the Stanley Cup playoffs. 

The Edmonton Oilers emerged victorious in the NHL’s first playoff Battle of Alberta in 31 years. It was a tough loss for Calgarians who were rooting for their home team, but some say they’ll get over the rivalry and root for the Oilers in the fight for the Stanley Cup.

For Flames fan Austin Hill, it comes down to Canadians cheering for their own teams. 

Flames fan Austin Hill says he’ll cheer for the Edmonton Oilers now. (Charlotte Dumoulin/CBC)

“Definitely have to get behind the Oilers,” he said. “When your local team gets eliminated, you have to put your support behind the next Canadian team. It’s the right thing to do.”

It’s bittersweet, though, as the Red Mile on 17th Avenue — the centre for a lot of cheering from bars and restaurants — was quiet Friday morning. 

“I really wanted to feel the energy of Calgary, be down here, 17th, feel the Red Mile,” Hill said. 

“I would love to see the Oilers and [Connor] McDavid do a playoff run. That would be amazing. That would be a great time for the Oilers and Alberta as well.” 

Diehard fans like Brian Baker, who watched the game at the Saddledome, had to take the day off to recover from the loss. 

Brian Baker watched Thursday’s game at the Saddledome. (Charlotte Dumoulin/CBC)

“It was a great game until overtime, and then I didn’t like the ending at all. I had to take today off to recover from the mental anguish of seeing the Oilers go on,” he said. 

“They [the Flames] had a good season. Nothing to complain about there. It would have been nice to see them go further.… I would like to see a Canadian team continue on.” 

Some might call it jumping on the bandwagon, but others call it being a part of a community. 

Australian Thomas Stefoulis, who previously lived in Calgary for a few years, says he thinks Albertans can get past their rivalry, albeit begrudgingly. 

“It just leads to feeling that sort of a sense of community, which I think is very valuable. So even if people want to be bandwagon fans, that’s totally fine. Get involved for the day, get involved in the game. It’s just important for keeping community alive,” he said. 

Kate James-Loth is new to Calgary but already knows where her loyalties lie. (Charlotte Dumoulin/CBC)

Other Calgarians won’t be rooting for the Oilers, or anyone else, for that matter. 

“I feel like because it’s kind of done in the city with the Flames being out, I will probably stop watching,” said Kate James-Loth, who is new to the city but got swept up in the playoff excitement and tuned in to the games. 

“I have to be loyal now that I live in Calgary.” 

With an early end to the series, in Game 5, it’s still unclear who the Oilers will face next, the Colorado Avalanche or St. Louis Blues.

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Jays Win a Close One – Bluebird Banter

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Blue Jays 4 Angels 3

My first Apple TV+ game and there was good and bad. I liked the cleanness of the video. I liked the field noise.

I hated the commentary. They didn’t seem to know anything about the Blue Jays. Talked about Kirk’s speed (speed doesn’t slump), talking about Star Wars way, way too much. The sideline woman talked too much, for my liking.

And they missed action on the field. The Jays’ first run scored while they were showing some set-piece. And they talked to people dressed in Star Wars gear while the game was going on, instead of showing the play.

The game?

A heck of a good game.

Alek Manoah was good, maybe as great as he’s been all season, but good. He gave up a couple of solo homers (Jared Walsh and Tyler Wade taking him deep). And he was hurt by some poor defense. Raimel Tapai had a single get through him, giving the runner an extra base and setting up the Angels’ first run.

Manoah went 6, allowed 7 hits, 3 runs, 2 earned, 0 walks and 9 strikeouts.

He was also helped out by a nice play by Bo Bichette. In the fifth inning, with Mike Trout on third, Walsh ground one at Bo. Bo threw home and Trout was just barely out. Called safe on the field, the replay showed that he was out by the slimmest possible margin. I was surprised that they overturned the call on such a close play.


Offensively? Well, we did enough. Barely enough, but enough.

We had 11 hits, 3 extra-base hits (all doubles). We scored:

  • 1 in the second: Bo started off the inning with a ground-rule double in the right-field corner. Teoscar Hernandez beat out an infield single. And Bo scored on Alejandro Kirks’ double-play ball. Not that we got to see it or anything.
  • 1 in the fifth: This time Kirk started it off with a double. Tapia singled him to third. And Lourdes doubled home Kirk (doubling home Kirk from third is about as good a description of Kirk’s speed as you will ever get). Something of a miracle happened that inning. We had two hits with RISP. That’s where the fun ended. With runners on second and third. Cavan (not Kevin as the announcer called him) lined out (bad luck for Cavan, he hit it good), George Springer popped out and Santiago Espinal struck out.
  • 1 in the seventh: Danny Jansen (pinch-hitting), had a one-out single. Bradley Zimmer pinch-ran (a good move as it turned out). Gurriel lined a single to left, Zimmer to second. Matt Chapman (also pinch-hitting) got an infield single to the second baseman and Zimmer came all the way home from second. He has amazing speed. Unfortunately, Springer struck out and Espinal hit a soft fly out.
  • 1 in the ninth: Kirk had an infield single (prompting the commentator to tell us that speed never slumps). Zimmer put down a nice sac bunt (but with all that speed at first, it didn’t have to be that good). And Gurriel singled to right, a ball that bounced past right-fielder Juan Lagares and Kirk scored. Again that would be all we’d get. Chapman struck out and Springer ground out.

Lourdes had 3 hits (can we hope he is out of his slump?). Kirk had 2 hits. Everyone else had 1 hit except for the 3 guys at the top of the order. Springer, Espinal (he did make a very nice play at third base), and Guerrero went 0 for 11, with 3 strikeouts, and 2 walks.


Our bullpen did a great job.

  • Yimi Garcia had a clean inning.
  • Trevor Richards’ clean inning featured 2 strikeouts. He gets his second win.
  • Jordan Romano picked up his 15th save. He struck out the side in the ninth, getting pinch hitter Shohei Ohtani for the last out of the game. I thought it was nice that Angels fans chanted MVP for Romano during the at-bat.

Jays of the Day: Gurriel (.573 WPA), Chapman (.172), Romano (.187), Chapman (.172), and Richards (.102). Tapia came close (.090) but that error cost him a JoD.

Suckage: The top of the order, Springer (-.259), Espinal (-.251) and Vlad (-.159). Manoah had the number too (-.119) but I don’t think that’s fair.

Tomorrow night the Jays go for their fourth win in a row. Yusei Kikuchi (2-1, 3.47) vs. Michael Lorenzen (5-2, 3.05). It is a 10:00 Eastern start.

Of note, Lourdes was miked up, but about all we got was him huffing his way into a double. I was hoping for more.

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Never mind the disallowed goal, Flames couldn’t keep up with the Oilers’ track meet – Sportsnet.ca

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The Calgary Flames built their reputation on Darryl Sutter Hockey – that heavy-forechecking, quality-defending style that smothers opponents and wins back pucks, which makes the burden of creating offence a struggle for their opposition. On the backs of that plan, the Flames allowed the third-fewest goals during the regular season. They were a force.

The Edmonton Oilers can be given no greater compliment than the way the Flames were reduced to playing in the Battle of Alberta, chasing more and more offence to try to keep up with an Oilers top-six that simply could not be stopped. There was a desperation there that we hadn’t seen from the Flames, and by Game 5 I kept thinking, “Just catch the pass and shoot it” rather than trying to rush a one-timer on a hot pass or on one that was in a bad spot. Their usual poise disappeared.

A look at a few of those fanned one-timers in Game 5:

By the end, little of the Flames’ identity was left, not the physical play, not the elite goaltending, or the line of Gaudreau-Lindholm-Tkachuk, which was arguably the best in the league in 2021-22.

The Flames played with offensive impatience, which left room for the Oilers to fly back the other way. Too often it became a track meet, and with that style imposed on the series, the Flames, ironically, were cooked. Rush chances were 11-3 for the Oilers in Game 5.

Apparently, there was also a goal disallowed, but the things below are about how the Oilers got the Flames in a position where one play not going their way could mean the end of the series, and their season.

How did the Oilers do it?

McDavid-Draisaitl

I was tempted to skip over this obvious point because you, the reader, are well aware of what Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl do. But I just couldn’t. How could I? Everything about the Oilers hinged on this, with two players combining for **checks stats** – no, that can’t be right – **checks again** 29 points in five games. They set all kinds of records.

The Flames got much better at slowing down McDavid in Games 4 and 5, but it took all their focus and attention, which opened them up everywhere else.

Depth contributions from Kane, Hyman, RNH

In Game 5, Zach Hyman had one goal and two assists for three points, he was plus-4, he had seven shots, he played nearly 24 minutes, he led the team in hits, he had a big blocked shot, there’s just not much more I can say about this guy.

In the summer, I use a plastic oar to stir my kids’ kiddie pool and get the water going in a “whirlpool,” and that’s what happens when Hyman is on the ice. He’s an oar, and he gets the play going in the direction he’s skating whenever he’s out there.

With McDavid and Draisaitl sucking up all the attention – as they have in years past – the question was asked of the Oilers depth: when those guys see all the best defending, can you capitalize on your extra space or weaker opposition?

Hyman said yes. Evander Kane said yes; he’s on pace to threaten the all-time playoff goals record of 19 (he has 12, so if they Oilers play two more rounds … ?). Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had six points in five games; the Nuge said yes too.

McDavid and Draisaitl were like a collective boxer doing so much damage to the body in the early rounds that their opposition starts to drop their hands, while these guys were suddenly free to take shots at the head.

Good coaching

I thought Oilers coach Jay Woodcroft showed a willingness to be flexible and go away from what’s worked if it wasn’t working on a given night. Case in point: Kane had been on an unbelievable run alongside McDavid, as mentioned above. It would’ve been easy to leave him in that role, no matter what. This is speculation on my part, but I don’t think the Oil loved how Kane defended a Flames set breakout early in the game, followed by his positioning on the Andrew Mangiapane goal. Whether it was that or something else, Woodcroft bumped Kane off that line for Hyman, who did … all the things I mentioned in the section above. It was the perfect change in a game McDavid didn’t have an inch of room and couldn’t create much or drive play. Hyman did it for that line at times.

I also given Woodcroft credit for sticking with what would give the team the best chance in the big picture: Mike Smith over Mikko Koskinen. After Game 1, he could’ve bailed on Smith and been justified. Then Game 2 starts with two softies, where you’d think he’d have a hair trigger, but he stuck with Smith yet again. The roller coaster Mike Smith Experience includes the type of highs you need to get by great opponents, and Woodcroft gave their team the chance to see that through.

An exposed weakness, and a surprise goaltending slump

Flames coach Darryl Sutter gave a telling response in a post-game when he talked about their “inexperienced defence.” They don’t have guys who’ve seen deep runs playing D for them, and, in the end, the little defensive gaffes made just enough room for the Oilers (a miscommunication with Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm on the OT winner cost them) to expose them. In Game 5, the Oilers had 18 slot shots to the Flames’ nine.

The Flames needed goaltending to bail them out, but Edmonton has had Jacob Markstrom’s number all year. He ended up posting just an .852 save percentage in the series, and the crease was supposed to be where the Flames had a clear advantage. I haven’t heard it said much lately, but McDavid is in an awkward body position on that OT winner and doesn’t get a ton on it. They needed a few more saves from Markstrom.

When all is said and done, the Battle of Alberta was decided because the Oilers’ best players had their ‘A’ games, and that dictated everything that came next from the Flames. Calgary was reduced to counterpunching, when it had been used to coming out swinging.

In the NHL, the sport’s all-time greats almost always find their way to a championship, as at some level they become all their opponents can think about and the team around them is free to rise up. That’s what’s been happening for the Oilers, and no matter who their next opponent is, that game plan has every chance of being effective in yet another round.

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