Auston Matthews skated for about 35 minutes this morning in Edmonton, but didn’t shoot the puck. Toronto’s top-line centre will miss tonight’s game and is still considered day-to-day with a hand/wrist injury.
“It’s not new for us,” said head coach Sheldon Keefe. “We’ve already played a game without Auston and against the Oilers.”
With Matthews sidelined, the Leafs beat the Oilers 4-2 on Jan. 22 in Toronto.
“We just played hard,” Keefe recalled. “We were resilient. Our power play was good for us. You know, everybody just steps up and plays a little bit more and a little bit better. Whether we had Auston or not that was going to be a requirement in a game like this here tonight with an Edmonton team that’s playing very well and is very confident.”
The Oilers have won 11 of 13 games. The hot streak started with an overtime victory against the Leafs on Jan. 30.
“They’re a team that’s firing right now,” said defenceman Jake Muzzin, who returns to the Leafs lineup after missing two games with a facial fracture. “They’ve got good goaltending, the defence is playing well and the stars are playing hard so it’s going to be a challenge.”
When Matthews was out in that game last month, John Tavares and Mitch Marner were reunited and that will be the case again tonight with Joe Thornton slotting in on left wing.
“Just three really good players,” Keefe said. “Putting John and Mitch together, they got a lot of history, have played together well. They’ve done it this season and done it in previous seasons. And having Joe available today will give our whole group a boost.”
Thornton missed the last two games with a lower-body injury.
With Matthews out, Alexander Barabanov is in line for a big opportunity. He skated with Alexander Kerfoot and William Nylander on the second line at Friday’s practice and also got reps on the power play.
“He just looks way more confident with the puck,” observed Keefe. “He’s getting out of our zone and through the neutral zone a lot better … when we look at scoring-chance generation, he’s been among the leaders for us in the last couple games so we want to look to see if he can continue to build upon that.”
The KHL import produced just two shots in his first seven games and sat as a healthy scratch for two weeks earlier this month. Barabanov has fired seven shots on net in the last two games.
“Continued development we’re looking to see from him are in those areas where the puck comes up the wall and he has to make a play in the defensive zone,” said Keefe.
“Bears has had a great attitude the whole time,” said veteran forward Jason Spezza. “I think you’ll see him slowly adapt as the year goes along. It’s not an easy transition.”
Matthews isn’t the only key Leafs forward, who’s been playing through an injury. Zach Hyman has missed two of the last four games following some painful shot blocks off his foot.
“It’s not easy,” Keefe acknowledged. “I know he’s been going through a lot of discomfort and has missed a little bit of time here and there, but he has been able to get through it and will be fine to play today.”
Hyman didn’t take any reps during the special teams drills yesterday at practice remaining on the bench to chat with assistant athletic therapist Jon Geller.
“We all know when he puts the jersey on he plays the same way no matter what and that’s what we’ve come to expect,” said Keefe.
Hyman’s ability to play effectively through the pain – he logged 21 minutes and picked up an assist Wednesday – has allowed Keefe to build a third line that has the makings of a strong energy unit. Hyman skated with Pierre Engvall and Ilya Mikheyev at practice yesterday.
“It’s a lot of speed, a lot of tenacity on the puck,” Keefe said. “We like it on the road especially where match-ups are difficult … It was effective for us in Montreal.”
The Matthews-less Leafs beat the Oilers last month thanks to two power-play goals including the game winner from Tavares. But Toronto’s power play enters this game on a cold streak having gone 0/11 in two games against Calgary this week.
“I don’t think we’ve been as sharp and as deliberate in delivering pucks to the net,” said Spezza. “We’re playing the same teams over and over so similar to a playoff series you’re going to see teams adapt. It’s up to us to be dynamic in changing things up, but also maintaining that structure that gives you success. It’s a little bit of a tightrope where you don’t want to change too much, but you have to adapt night to night.”
Connor McDavid scored a highlight-reel goal on the power play during the Leafs last game in Edmonton. The end-to-end rush left the Leafs shaking their heads.
“We could’ve defended it better,” Hyman said after that game. “I was the first guy up, I got to take away his speed a little bit.”
“I could push him a certain direction better,” defenceman Justin Holl said that night.
McDavid has three goals and four assists in four games against Toronto this season. What’s the key against the NHL’s points leader tonight?
“It’s more of a five-man effort on the ice and everyone’s trying to stay above him and not give him as much space as he wants,” said Holl. “I think that’ll be a major key tonight and try to stop him before he gets going.”
With McDavid and Leon Draisaitl anchoring different lines, Holl is guaranteed a tough match-up any time he steps on the ice tonight. Draisaitl, the reigning Hart Trophy winner, has really beaten up on the Leafs of late with points in eight straight against Toronto (six goals and six assists in that stretch).
“I try and look at the times I’ve had success against really any elite player in the past and it comes down to doing what I do well, which is keeping tight gaps, first and foremost,” Holl said of his preparation. “It’s easier said than done against dynamic players like this, but that’s going to be the major key for me and trying to kill plays before they begin.”
Jack Campbell will be making his first start since sustaining a leg injury on Jan. 24.
“I was looking over his shoulder on the plane yesterday, because he was watching some film, and I was laughing because on every clip he makes the save and he tapped someone that’s close to him,” said Holl. “Like, it doesn’t even matter, it could be me and I didn’t even do anything on the play, but he gives you a shin tap, which is funny. It’s fun to play in front of someone like that. He does exude positivity.”
Campbell has made one previous appearance against the Oilers on March 26, 2019 allowing three goals, one to McDavid and two to Draisaitl, in relief.
Frederik Andersen skated again this morning and remains day-to-day with a lower-body injury.
Mike Smith missed the previous games against the Leafs this season due to injury, but is expected to get the start tonight. His ability to handle the puck is a point of emphasis for Toronto.
“It’s huge,” said Spezza. “Forechecking is a big strength of our group. We feel that on nights that we forecheck well we generate a lot. I’ve played with Smitty at Team Canada stuff and it’s a huge factor. He can break you out quick and leaves the other team getting frustrated and chasing so it’s important we have good dumps on him today and really try and keep the puck out of his hands because he can be like a third defenceman back there.”
The Leafs have loaned recently-acquired forward Alex Galchenyuk to the Marlies.
“Part of our plan here is to get him playing,” Keefe explained. “It was an easy decision to keep him [in Toronto] and get him playing in an environment where he can just really look to find his game, get comfortable in our surroundings and our systems and things like that and in a place where he can find his confidence and not be so concerned about his place in the lineup.”
Defenceman Martin Marincin was also sent to the American Hockey League. Forward Kenny Agostino and defenceman Timothy Liljegren were called up to join the taxi squad.
Projected Leafs lines for Saturday’s game in Edmonton:
Thornton – Tavares – Marner
Barabanov – Kerfoot – Nylander
Mikheyev – Engvall – Hyman
Petan – Boyd – Spezza
Rielly – Brodie
Muzzin – Holl
Dermott – Bogosian
Boston Bruins Add Offense With Solid Taylor Hall Trade – Boston Hockey Now
The Boston Bruins clearly understood they had serious deficiencies on their NHL roster this season and credit them for going and doing something about it.
The B’s finished off their Sunday night fireworks ahead of the NHL trade deadline by sending a second round pick and Anders Bjork to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for top-6 winger Taylor Hall and bottom-6 forward Curtis Lazar. TSN’s Darren Dreger, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman and ESPN’s John Buccigross were the first to report about the completed deal between the Bruins and Buffalo Sabres in the hours following the B’s getting stomped by the Washington Capitals, 8-1, at TD Garden.
— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) April 12, 2021
The Buffalo Sabres retained half of the $8 million salary that Hall signed for prior to the start of the 2021 hockey season.
After acquiring Hall @ 50% & Lazar for Bjork, the #NHLBruins added $772K Cap Hit for remainder of year.
They have $24K of Projected Cap Space; $100K Annual Cap Hit that can be added, w/ 24 Active on Roster. Sending players to taxi would create more room.https://t.co/2o0hsHzUIy https://t.co/rXiRKKk3lt pic.twitter.com/I7ZRUSmSQp
— PuckPedia (@PuckPedia) April 12, 2021
The 29-year-old Hall is having a terrible season in Buffalo with just two goals and 19 points in 37 games along with a minus-21 rating after he chose to sign a one-year deal with the Sabres during the offseason. But he brings legitimate offensive talent as a former No. 1 overall pick and Hart Trophy winner to a Boston Bruins team that’s ranked in the bottom third of the NHL offensively all season.
The Bruins were one of the suitors for Hall prior to him choosing the Sabres months ago, and now they get him for a deep discount while keeping their own first round picks after making their deadline deals.
Holding onto their own first round pick was a priority for Boston Bruins GM Don Sweeney after spending first rounders at the deadline in two of the last three deadlines in trades for damaged goods Rick Nash and Ondrej Kase.
The 26-year-old Lazar has five goals and 11 points in 33 games as a bottom-6 forward for the Sabres this season and is signed for $800,000 for next season. It seemed clear that something was going on with the 24-year-old Anders Bjork over the last couple of weeks as he was a healthy scratch for five straight games, including Sunday night against Washington, and heads to Buffalo hoping to further develop a game built on speed and skill level that hasn’t translated into offense as of yet.
Hall should fit right into the top-6 with the Bruins as a skilled winger for playmaking center David Krejci, but it remains to be seen how he’s going to fit as another left winger on a team with Nick Ritchie and Jake DeBrusk.
Either Ritchie or DeBrusk is going to have to play the off wing with a Krejci/Hall combo, but that’s a problem that Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy will gladly figure out after being forced to piece together lineups all season due to injuries and offensive inconsistency. With the acquisition of Hall, Lazar and left-handed defenseman Mike Reilly on Sunday night, it would appear the Boston Bruins are largely done with deals ahead of Monday’s NHL trade deadline.
Interestingly enough, the Boston Bruins are set to play the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night at TD Garden.
Drouin must return to mentality that’s led to success this season – Sportsnet.ca
It was something Dominique Ducharme said after his Montreal Canadiens played an abysmal game against the Ottawa Senators last week, something that only truly resonated after they lost 3-2 to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday — a game that emboldened the struggle Jonathan Drouin’s currently enduring.
“Ninety per cent of the mistakes we made were mental, and the rest of it was above our shoulders.” the coach said after the 6-3 loss to Ottawa last Saturday, somewhat channelling New York Yankees legend Yogi Berra with this bit of wit and wisdom.
It was hard not to think of those words watching Drouin play the way he did on Wednesday. For much of this season, the talented left winger has played a primary role in Montreal’s success. He’s led them with 19 assists, been tenacious on the forecheck, physically engaged all over the ice, cerebral as always in his execution and, as he’s said on several occasions, relatively unconcerned by whether or not his name has been featured on the scoresheet.
But it seemed clear, after watching Drouin dump a breakaway into Jack Campbell’s chest with one of 32 shots the Maple Leafs goaltender turned aside to set a franchise record with his 10th consecutive win, he had diverted from that. And that affected the way he played the rest of the game.
It was Drouin’s fifth in a row without a point, his 18th without a goal, and he’d have to be a robot not to be suffering the mental wear of not seeing the puck go in more than twice since the season started, the torment of seeing only three per cent of his shots hit the back of the net through 36 games after 10 per cent of them resulted in goals through the first 348 games of his career.
“It is weighing on me where, when I have a chance and miss the goal, I might be trying to score too much,” Drouin said. “It’s something I obviously think about — every player would — and I’ve just gotta put it past me and just keep shooting pucks.”
Ideally, the 26-year-old wouldn’t be thinking about any of this. These are thoughts that weigh a player down and right now the Canadiens are in tough without Brendan Gallagher for the rest of the season and Drouin needs to be light and free to help account for that loss. And in order for him to do that, he needs to focus on what he does best.
Because the reality is that even though Drouin can score more, scoring isn’t what he needs to do in order to be at his best and really help this team.
“When his feet are moving and he’s making plays, Drou’s a pass-first guy,” explained Jake Allen, who made 29 saves in Carey Price’s absence. “When his feet are moving, his head’s always in it. When his feet are moving, he’s controlling the play, controlling the puck. He’s a guy who really can control the play for a whole line. You want the puck on that guy’s stick and let the other guys do the dirty work and he’ll find them.”
But when Drouin’s feet aren’t moving, there just isn’t enough of that other stuff happening.
When Drouin’s feet weren’t moving, he lost a battle for the puck in the offensive zone and allowed the NHL’s leading goal scorer to start the rush that resulted in the winning play of Wednesday’s game.
Auston Matthews to Mitch Marner, back to Matthews, off Allen and slammed into Montreal’s net by Zach Hyman with 9:39 remaining in the third period, with Drouin watching from just inside his own blue line.
“You give a 3-on-2 to the Matthews line and it’s the kind of play they’re going to make you pay on,” said Ducharme.
Was Drouin still thinking about that shot he didn’t bury in the second period?
It’s understandable if he was, but those are the kind of thoughts he needs to shake right now.
“He wants to do well, and I’m sure it’s getting a little bit in his head,” said Ducharme. “I think the best remedy for him is to be scoring that goal or making that big play, and I think he’s going to be energized by that and less thinking, more acting.
“It is a fine line. Those kind of thoughts is not something that you want to happen. But when you receive that puck and you see the opening and stuff, (the slump) comes back to (your mind). That’s why the mental part of the game is something that’s very tricky. It’s not his will to be thinking that way. Every player who’s going through a time like that will have that thought and scoring that goal will take him to a different level. At those kind of times you need to make it even simpler and being even more inside going at the net and finding a garbage (goal) right there and you put it in and sometimes you go on a little run. It might be that kind of goal that he needs to get that monkey off his back.”
It’s the kind of goal Corey Perry scored twice to give the Canadiens a chance in this game.
But Drouin isn’t Perry, who rightly pointed out after the game he’s made a career of scoring goals that way. And even if Drouin can borrow from what Perry does next time he has a chance like the one Brett Kulak set him up with for that breakaway, there are other ways he can positively impact the game.
You can appreciate that Drouin said he’s putting pressure on himself to score more and help make up for the goals the team will be missing with Gallagher sidelined, but that might not get him to where he needs to be mentally to contribute as much as he already has this season.
What would, though, is a sharp turn towards the mentality he described just days ago. The one that’s enabled him to be a much more consistent player this season than he has in seasons past.
“When I was younger, I’d stay on one game or stay on one play for too long and wouldn’t be able to let it go for a bit or a couple of days,” Drouin said. “But I think for me now it’s can I look at myself in the mirror after a game and did I give my good effort? Was I a part of this game? Was I doing something right in a lot of areas?
“That’s what I do now. I think points are there, goals are there, assists are there, but it’s just about playing that real game and playing to help your team win.”
Drouin’s done a lot of that this season and has a chance to get right back to it when the Winnipeg Jets visit the Bell Centre Thursday.
Scioscia to lead U.S. baseball bid for spot at Tokyo Olympics
(Reuters) – Mike Scioscia, who won World Series both as a player and manager, was named manager of the U.S. men’s national baseball team on Tuesday, as they seek a spot at the Tokyo Olympics.
After 19 seasons as manager of the Anaheim Angels, guiding them to their only World Series win in 2002, Scioscia will make his international coaching debut in June when the United States hosts the Baseball Americas Qualifier in Florida.
For the tournament the U.S. will be grouped with the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Nicaragua in Pool A while Canada, Colombia, Cuba, and Venezuela will make up Pool B.
The top two teams from each pool will advance to the Super Round, where the country with the best overall record will earn a spot in the Tokyo Olympic tournament.
Second and third-place finishers will advance to a final qualifier, joining Australia, China, Taiwan, and the Netherlands.
“Mike’s tenure with the Angels’ franchise was nothing short of spectacular, creating and celebrating a culture of success with six division titles, an American League pennant, and its first-ever World Series title,” said USA Baseball Executive Director/CEO Paul Seiler in a statement. “More impactfully, his leadership, integrity, and character are unparalleled in our game, making him the perfect fit for the USA Baseball family.”
The Olympic tournament will take place from July 28-Aug. 7 in Fukushima City and Yokohama.
Hosts Japan, Israel, South Korea, and Mexico have already secured a berth in the six-team field.
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto. Editing by Toby Davis)
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