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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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Demko earns shutout as Canucks ride hot start to win over Jets – Sportsnet.ca

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WINNIPEG — When the Vancouver Canucks discovered that screened point shots were getting results, they kept doing it.

By the time the Winnipeg Jets figured things out, it was too late.

Vancouver scored three first-period goals in similar fashion Monday night in a 4-0 victory at Bell MTS Place. Nate Schmidt, J.T. Miller and Nils Hoglander staked the Canucks to an early lead and Thatcher Demko did the rest, making 27 saves for his first shutout of the season.

All three goals came from shots inside the blue line that were tipped, redirected or knuckled past Winnipeg goaltender Connor Hellebuyck.

“When you know you can get yourself into those areas, that’s where the goals are scored,” said Schmidt. “I was proud of our guys for how we got to those areas tonight.”

Elias Pettersson sealed it with an empty-net goal as the Canucks (9-14-2) won for the first time in five games and ended Winnipeg’s four-game winning streak.

“I think top to bottom we had some good efforts tonight,” said Canucks head coach Travis Green.

After being held to one shot on goal over the first eight-plus minutes, Schmidt sent a fluttering shot from the high slot past a screened Hellebuyck at 8:28.

A similar play just 18 seconds later doubled Vancouver’s lead. This time Schmidt’s point shot was redirected by Miller at 8:46.

Vancouver’s second power-play unit used the same formula to extend the lead at 14:50. Tyler Myers sent a wrist shot from inside the blue line that Hoglander tipped to make it 3-0.

Demko, meanwhile, was steady when needed in the Vancouver net. He gave up few rebounds and delivered when the Jets pressed late in the game.

“I think over the last handful of games, our defensive side of things is coming along really nicely,” Demko said. “Tonight was kind of the pinnacle of building up to this point.”

After a sluggish first period, the Jets (13-7-1) seemed more inspired in the second period but had difficulty delivering any sustained pressure.

Mark Scheifele had two decent chances midway through the third period and Blake Wheeler was denied after a crafty deflection on a Sami Niku shot.

The Jets pulled Hellebuyck with over five minutes left in regulation. Winnipeg hit the post on a deflected shot before Pettersson put the game away at 16:26.

The teams will face off again Tuesday night in the finale of the Jets’ four-game homestand.

“You’ve got to have a short memory in this league,” Scheifele said. “You can’t dwell on things too long. You’ve got to get a good sleep tonight and get ready for tomorrow.”

The Canucks had 19 shots on goal and improved to 4-8-0 on the road.

After Tuesday’s game, the Jets will take to the road for 12 of their next 14 games.

The Canucks will return home to kick off a five-game homestand Thursday against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Rogers Arena.

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Mitch Marner magic helps Toronto Maple Leafs navigate injury issues – TSN

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TSN Toronto Reporter Mark Masters reports on the Maple Leafs, who held an optional skate in Edmonton on Monday ahead of their evening game against the Oilers.


Sheldon Keefe smiled when asked about potentially making changes to a winning lineup. 

“Well, I think we’d always make room for Auston [Matthews],” the Leafs coach said. 

Whether Keefe will be able to write No. 34 onto his lineup card tonight in Edmonton remains unclear. The National Hockey League’s leading goal scorer missed Saturday’s game with a wrist injury. 

Matthews stayed out late at Monday’s optional workout and skated hard, which is something only the projected scratches usually do. Toronto’s No. 1 centre still doesn’t appear to be shooting the puck particularly hard. Keefe referred to Matthews as a game-time decision. 

The Leafs played extremely well without Matthews during a 4-0 win on Saturday. 

“A really special player who’s having an incredible year, so any time you have a guy like that out … the whole team has to step up,” said winger Zach Hyman. “We did that.”

The absence of Matthews may open up more shooting opportunities for crafty winger Mitch Marner, who scored his 10th goal of the season on Saturday. 

“When you’re playing with a guy like Auston you’re always trying to find him in spots and not really thinking of shooting,” Marner said after the game. “This year, now, my mindset is still to try and find Auston if I think I can get it to him but, if not, then it’s trying to get it on net and realizing that sometimes a play off a goalie is better than a pass. I’m trying to do that more. I worked on my shot a lot this year and I just feel confident when I’m shooting nowadays.”

The new-look line of Marner, John Tavares and Joe Thornton found instant chemistry. It was the first time Tavares and Thornton lined up together in a game this season. The trio all touched the puck on Marner’s goal. 

“Joe puts himself in a good spot and stretches the ice and [Morgan] Rielly finds him and he finds John in the space that Joe’s created underneath,” Keefe said. “John attacks the middle of the ice and kicks it back to Mitch and drives through the middle of the ice making it harder on the defence and the goalie and it leads to a goal so there’s a lot of things that go into that.”

Marner also picked up an assist on the William Nylander power-play goal. 

More impressive than the offence was the responsible two-way play. Toronto’s top line outscored the Connor McDavid line 1-0 and kept the Oilers captain quiet most of the night. 

“We didn’t really over-complicate things,” Marner said. “We were playing smart with the puck. When we were getting it down low we were talking to each other, finding exits out of corners and off the wall. We got to make sure we keep doing that. The communication throughout our D-zone and getting the puck in our hands to go up the ice with speed was very, very good.”

The whole Leafs team was very good and very disciplined. Toronto didn’t take a single penalty. 

“They played such a good game,” said McDavid, who managed just one shot on net. “They were so solid everywhere. They were never in a desperate situation where they needed to hook or hold a guy. Part of that is us not going hard enough to the net or making enough plays. Another part is them just playing so well and being in the right position all of the time.”

Back pressure key as Leafs aim to frustrate McDavid, Oilers again

Connor McDavid finished Saturday’s game with just one shot as the Leafs shut out the Oilers. T.J. Brodie credits Toronto’s forwards for providing good back pressure and preventing Edmonton’s stars from executing their preferred pull-up plays. Sheldon Keefe anticipates a tougher challenge on Monday. “We’re expecting them to be more like themselves,” the coach said.

Frederik Andersen and Jack Campbell are also listed as game-time decisions. Andersen, like Matthews, stayed out late at the morning skate. Keefe indicated yesterday it was unlikely Toronto’s No. 1 goalie would be ready to return from a lower-body injury on Monday. 

For the second straight day, Campbell wasn’t on the ice. He returned from a leg injury on Saturday and stopped all 30 shots faced, but also looked to be in discomfort after being run into by Tyler Ennis in the first period. 

Michael Hutchinson was in the starter’s net at Monday’s skate and also the first goalie off the ice. He’s 2-1-0 with a .924 save percentage this season. Hutchinson was in net last season when McDavid scored a highlight-reel against the Leafs in Toronto. 

Leafs Ice Chips: Matthews, Andersen, Campbell appear doubtful to play

Auston Matthews is listed as a game-time decision for tonight’s game in Edmonton. The Leafs’ forward skated hard, and stayed late after practice with the projected scratches. TSN’s Mark Masters has more on his status, as well as who could draw in as Toronto’s starting goalie.

The Leafs signed T.J. Brodie in the off-season with these type of matchups in mind. The veteran blueliner stared down McDavid and Leon Draisaitl on Saturday and didn’t blink during 22 minutes and 15 seconds of work. 

“He doesn’t care who he’s playing against,” said Keefe. “It doesn’t rattle him. It doesn’t concern him. He’s comfortable in his own game and realizes he’s got to stay within his skill set and do what works for him. Even if he gets beat or makes a mistake, he’s just going to go back and drink some water and go out and give his best shot the next time out and more often than not it works out for him. That’s why he is who he is in the league.”

Brodie picked up an assist and finished Saturday’s game with a plus-2 rating. The former Flame sees a lot of similarities between current partner Rielly and former running mate Mark Giordano​. 

“They’re both great defensively and look to jump offensively,” the 30-year-old observed. “They’re the type of guys who know how to get open and be available for you to get that outlet pass and, at the same time, they make great, quick passes out of the zone so it’s been a pretty easy transition.” 

‘It doesn’t rattle him’: Brodie helps Leafs handle elite opposition

T.J. Brodie has been assigned to cover other teams’ best players this season. His calm demeanor and chemistry on and off the ice has earned high praise from his coaches and teammates.

Hyman is playing through some discomfort right now after blocking a couple of shots off his foot. 

“You can battle through a little bit of pain,” he said. “I feel like I am able to skate and do all the things that I can do otherwise. It’s more painful not playing, to be honest, when you’re out and you’re watching games.”

Hyman, who missed a couple games with the injury, blocked another shot on Saturday. 

“It’s part of the game,” he said. “You don’t have enough time to think, ‘Oh, I should get out of the way on this one.’ When you’re out there playing, you’re not hurt or injured or anything, you’re just playing the game so you don’t think about it. For me, just go out there and do my job and if there’​s an opportunity to block a shot then get in the lane.” 

Hyman wears plastic coverings on his skates, but the initial shot that hurt him hit him in a vulnerable spot. 

“The second time I was lucky I was wearing shot blockers so that definitely helped,” he said.

Hyman on dealing with shot blocks: ‘It’s more painful not playing’

Coming off of a lower body injury, Zach Hyman hasn’t held back sacrificing his body by blocking shots despite the possibility of aggravating his foot, claiming that it is just part of his job. ”It’s more painful not playing.”

— 

Jason Spezza snapped a 10-game goal drought in style on Saturday. The 37-year-old completely fooled veteran Oilers goalie Mike Smith.

“That was a sweet move,” said linemate Travis Boyd. “We were joking a little bit about how that’s his trusty, old go-to move from back in the day. He really got Smith to bite on that fake and that was a sweet move.”

“Wow! What a treat it was to watch that,” Campbell gushed after the game. “He does it in practice so it was nice to see it on our end.”

It was career goal No. 346 for Spezza. How is he able to keep goalies guessing on his go-to move? 

“He sells the shot really well,” Boyd said. “A lot of people fake a shot, but it’s kind of quick and it doesn’t actually fake anyone out. You can kind of read that it’s a fake. He sold the fake on the slap really hard and then just pushing it that few feet before he shot it gave him that whole side and really locked up Smith.”

Leafs projected lines for Monday’s game: 
 
Thornton – Tavares – Marner 
Barabanov – Kerfoot – Nylander
Mikheyev – Engvall – Hyman 
Vesey – Boyd – Spezza 
 
Rielly – Brodie 
Muzzin – Holl 
Dermott – Bogosian 
 
Hutchinson 
Woll 

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Watt to sign with Cardinals on reported 2-year, $31M deal – theScore

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J.J. Watt is signing with the Arizona Cardinals, he announced Monday.

The three-time Defensive Player of the Year and former Houston Texans defensive lineman will ink a two-year pact worth $31 million, $23 million of which is guaranteed, a source told Ian Rapoport of NFL Network.

Watt hit free agency early because the Texans released him from his contract. The 31-year-old asked out of Houston after growing disgruntled with the organization’s culture.

In the desert, Watt will join a squad that features former Texans co-star DeAndre Hopkins, who began recruiting him following his release. Arizona missed the playoffs for a fifth straight season in 2020 and is entering a pivotal third year under head coach Kliff Kingsbury.

The Cardinals now have a pair of high-profile pass-rushers in Watt and Chandler Jones, though the latter could become a casualty of the declining salary cap. General manager Steve Keim said recently that he won’t cut Jones, but that was before he landed Watt.

Watt had only five sacks in 16 games last year, but he was still proficient in generating pressure. His 101 career sacks rank 31st in NFL history. Watt’s greatest concern is the injury bug, which has limited him to eight games or fewer in three of the past five seasons.

The Cardinals were seldom mentioned as a possible landing spot for Watt, who reportedly drew offers from numerous teams. The Cleveland Browns, Green Bay Packers, Buffalo Bills, and Pittsburgh Steelers were speculated to be his top suitors.

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