There will inevitably be a lull in the winning but for now, fans have much to celebrate as we ease into a new decade. Not the least of which is the Toronto Maple Leafs coach, Sheldon Keefe, setting a Maple Leaf record for the best start in a coach’s first 20 games. Keefe’s 15-4-1 record is one win better than Hap Day‘s record of 14-5-1 from the 1940-1941 season.
Toronto Maple Leafs Coach Sets Record
Day’s Maple Leafs started the 1940-1941 campaign with a 14-5-1 record. There was a bit of a dip after that as Day went 1-5-1 (that other 1 was a tie, not a shootout or overtime loss) in the next seven games. The Maple Leafs also lost in seven games that season to none other than the Boston Bruins. While Maple Leaf fans may be about as happy as they can be with the way this season has gone since the Mike Babcock firing, and rightfully so, there will eventually be rough waters. So far, fans can be confident that when things do get tough, Keefe will be able to right the ship quickly by changing things up. That may be by distributing ice time differently, changing or stacking lines, or even when the backup gets a chance to play.
Under Babcock, the Maple Leafs were 0-5-1 without Frederik Andersen in the net. They’re 3-1-0 under Keefe. A lot of that is the team playing better in front of Michael Hutchinson but some of it is Keefe’s decisions on when to play Hutchinson. While Babcock would only play his backup in the second game of a back-to-back set, Keefe has been more fluid and less restrictive with his decisions. The first game Hutchinson won happened to be the second game in a back-to-back scenario, but Keefe didn’t play him in that game for the same reason Babcock played him. Keefe played him in that game because it was against the Detroit Red Wings.
The first move from Babcock’s norm was starting Hutchinson in the first game of a back-to-back. Again a decision made based on the strength of the opponent, in this case, the New Jersey Devils. Then Keefe made a risky move on the night he was to potentially set the record for the best start of a Maple Leafs’ coach after 20 games. He started Hutchinson on a Saturday night against the New York Islanders with no back-to-back scenario in sight.
Go With The Flow
One of the reasons Keefe has been so successful is his willingness to change things due to how people are playing. His fourth line will get more time if they’re playing well, his top lines will get less time if they’re not playing well. The decision to rest Andersen on Saturday night may not have been an on the fly decision like playing time during a game is, but it was a calculated call based on what appeared to be right at the moment.
The Maple Leafs need Andersen to play well in the spring. A major concern has been Andersen’s workload. The question of him being too tired to perform well in the playoffs has been a common topic. If Andersen does indeed need fewer regular-season games to do well in the playoffs, then the Maple Leafs must get more wins out of their back-up. That’s not going to happen if the team pre-picks every start in the pre-season. How teams are playing has to be a factor.
The Islanders aren’t a top offensive team and they’ve had difficulty winning lately, at least compared to how they started the season. It was an ideal time to catch them, and Keefe thought it was a good time to slip in the back-up. He was right and as a result, he’s the winningest coach after 20 games in Maple Leafs history.
Auston Matthews topped all forwards in ice time against the Islanders Saturday at 21:46. It wasn’t the most he’s played in a game, but he was playing well and was rewarded with more ice time than. He finished the game with a goal and an assist. It’s also noteworthy here to mention that Matthews has 17 points in his last nine games and 24 points since Keefe took over. He’s also had more ice time overall in those 20 games.
If we go back to a game in mid-December against the Edmonton Oilers and check the box score, we’ll find Matthews had only 14:34 ice time. That night, if you remember, was a game the third line with Alexander Kerfoot and the unfortunately injured Ilya Mikheyev were ruling the roost. They ended the game with two goals and three points in a 4-1 win. Keefe identified that line as he best that night and adjusted accordingly. It was Matthews’ lowest ice time of the season. His highest was also under Keefe, a full ten minutes higher at 24:48 against the Buffalo Sabres.
It’s not just Matthews that sees his ice time fluctuate. Any player is subject to it as they play well or poorly.
Keefe’s success comes from a few things. The players like him and they like the game he wants them to play. That’s probably first and foremost. Everyone is better when they’re doing something the way they want to do it. There’s less focus on cycling the puck and getting dirty in the corners and less pressure to play physical. There’s more focus on puck possession, playing keep away, getting creative and allowing the players the freedom to play their style.
It’s still a question if the method of play Toronto has adopted will be successful through four rounds of playoff hockey. Can the Maple Leafs beat the St. Louis Blues that way? Kyle Dubas is betting they can, but for Keefe what’s more important is buying into the plan. A plan can be built to perfection, but if it’s not executed, it will fail miserably. The only way to know if the Maple Leafs can win with Dubas’ model is to try it wholeheartedly. That’s what they’re doing now, that’s what Keefe is allowing them to do and what Babcock could not.
Willingness To Change
The other success factor for Keefe is his ability to make changes based on how players are playing on both his Maple Leafs and the opponent. That willingness to change is monumentally important. It’s not changing the overall plan, but adjusting within it. It’s where ice time increases and decreases come in, it’s why Matthews is playing a lot more with Mitch Marner since Keefe took over.
If the Maple Leafs can’t beat a team like the Blues when it matters, that willingness to change will have to expand beyond the Toronto Maple Leafs coach. Dubas will need to re-think parts of his vision. Considering Keefe was a Dubas hire and that they’re of the same mindset, it will be surprising if Dubas doesn’t consider changing his vision. At least a litter as the Maple Leafs see what this high flying team is capable, or not capable of, in the playoffs.
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Video: UFC 254 preview show – MMA Fighting
With UFC 254 just hours away, MMA Fighting’s Mike Heck, Jose Youngs, Alexander K. Lee and E. Casey Leydon break down the top storylines from Saturday’s event on Fight Island in Abu Dhabi, including the main event for the undisputed UFC lightweight title between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Justin Gaethje.
For Tiger Woods, Friday's progress at Zozo outweighed the score – Golf Channel
THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – It wasn’t the 26 putts.
It wasn’t the 10-for-13 performance off the tee.
It really wasn’t even the score: a second-round, 6-under 66 that was 10 shots better than his sloppy start to the week at the Zozo Championship.
If Tiger Woods is being honest at this juncture in his unparalleled career, success isn’t measured on the scorecard so much as it is with the unquantifiable minutia.
This week, for example, was a chance for Woods to defend a PGA Tour title for the first time since 2014 on a course that he has owned. In a decade of Hero World Challenges played at Sherwood Country Club, Woods never finished outside the top 2, and after matching Sam Snead’s mark of 82 Tour titles at least year’s Zozo Championship, this would, on paper, check all the boxes for potential success.
But this is a different Tiger.
He wants to win and, yes, second still sucks. But in the grand scheme of life imitating art, he’ll take progress.
Like the rest of us, 2020 hasn’t been kind to Woods. He has just a single top-10 finish this year, and that came way back in January at Torrey Pines. Woods has played just five events since the pandemic restart in June. So, while Thursday’s 4-over card wasn’t where he’d hoped to be, understand that the number was only a part of the equation.
That progress came on Friday. He birdied three consecutive holes starting at No. 4, bounced back with another at No. 11 and played his last three holes in 2 under. Although he finished the day right where he started, a dozen shots off the lead, he had something to build on.
“It just snowballed into a high number [on Thursday]. I was never really able to get any kind of momentum going because I played the par 5s so poorly. Today was different,” Woods said. “Got off to a much better start and kept rolling.”
That’s the minutia. After playing Sherwood’s five par-5s in 3 over on Thursday, Woods was a more respectable 4 under on Day 2. It’s always more complicated than it appears, but for Tiger, the two-day turnaround can largely be traced to his play off the tee.
He was more accurate. He was more aggressive. He was more capable of working the ball in both directions.
The latter is worth noting, especially with the Masters looming three weeks away. Unless Woods makes a dramatic schedule change and adds the Houston Open to his dance card – something he’s flirting with at least publicly – this will be his final tune-up before the year’s final major. It was an 11th-hour epiphany that propelled him to victory at last year’s Masters and allowed him to start moving the ball from right to left more consistently.
“I feel like I’m able to draw the ball a little bit better. And I need to get a little bit more sharp with it, start setting up a little bit higher than I am right now,” Woods said. “There are a couple holes that I do like setting it up and hitting high draws and I’ve done that. At Augusta I’m going to have to do that a lot more often than I am here.”
It would be an unspoken party foul for Woods, or any other player, to outright call another Tour event a tune-up for the Masters, but in this case, it is. A dozen strokes back on a course built for speed and birdies, there’s little chance of Woods collecting No. 83 this week.
But with the Grand Slam jewel awaiting, he can ready his game. He can practice that high draw and envision how it would play on, say, the 10th hole at Augusta National.
“No. 6 [at Sherwood] is a lot like No. 10, setting up, trying to hit that high tomahawk draw down there, I was able to do it yesterday and today,” he said. “So yes, there are a couple shots that yeah, I do look at that are similar to what I’m going to face at Augusta. I’ve got a few weeks out, so yes, imaging some of those shots already, and I have been for quite a while, ever since the U.S. Open.”
Forgive Woods for not being overly excited after his bounce-back, 6-under round. It’s the high draw off the sixth tee and a back that looked impressively lithe on Friday that he cares about at this juncture.
“I am moving a lot better. Having four weeks off was good, training sessions have been good, so everything’s kind of turned around,” he said.
Tiger was pleased with his game and his score on Day 2, but it was his progress that made him smile.
Buehler leads Dodgers over Rays for 2-1 series lead – TSN
ARLINGTON, Texas — Walker Buehler pitched in the World Series like the Los Angeles Dodgers’ aces of old.
Think Sandy Koufax, Fernando Valenzuela and Orel Hershiser, all leaders of title runs.
Now Buehler has the Dodgers two wins from the championship that has eluded them since 1988.
Buehler struck out 10 over six innings in a pulsating performance, and Los Angeles beat the Tampa Bay Rays 6-2 on Friday night for a 2-1 World Series lead.
“Being a big-game pitcher and really succeeding on this stage, there’s only a few guys currently and throughout history,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “He’s in some really elite company,”
Justin Turner homered in the first inning against a surprisingly hittable Charlie Morton, who was chased in the fifth.
Austin Barnes, the Dodgers’ No. 9 hitter and catcher, added a sixth-inning homer against John Curtiss. He became just the second player to drive in runs with both a homer and a sacrifice bunt in the same Series game.
He’ll probably remember the home run most.
‘It’s a cool little stat, but it’s not easy to barrel the ball up against all these really good pitchers,” Barnes said.
Los Angeles overwhelmed Tampa Bay in all phases, leaving the Rays’ scuffling offence with a .206 batting average and 11 runs in the Series. The Rays’ .133 average (6 for 45) against Clayton Kershaw, Tony Gonsolin and Buehler is the lowest through three Series games against a team’s starters since the Boston Red Sox held the Philadelphia Phillies to .129 in 1915, according to STATS.
Julio Urías, a hard-throwing Mexican left-hander in a Dodgers lineage dating to Valenzuela, starts Game 4 on Saturday night, while the Rays start Ryan Yarbrough, who relieved in the first game.
Thirty-eight of 59 previous teams that won Game 3 for a 2-1 lead went on to take the title.
Justin Turner and Austin Barnes homered for the Dodgers, who have outhomered the Rays 7-4 in the Series and opponents 25-16 in the post-season. Barnes also drove in a run with a squeeze, the second player with RBIs on a bunt and home run in a Series game behind Héctor López of New York Yankees in Game 5 of 1961.
Steely-eyed like Hershiser, who won MVP honours of the 1988 Series, Buehler has supplanted Kershaw as the Dodgers’ ace. He showed no indisposition from the blister on his right index finger that has bothered him.
He has allowed one run in 13 Series innings that include seven scoreless in Game 3 against Boston two years ago. He improved to 2-0 with a 1.80 ERA in four post-season starts that include the win over Atlanta in Game 6 of the NL Championship Series last weekend.
“I’ve taken the failures that I’ve had and tried to learn from them a little bit,” Buehler said.
The 26-year-old right-hander started 15 of 21 batters with strikes and threw strikes on 67 of 93 pitches. Buehler didn’t allow a hit until Manuel Margot’s one-out double in the fifth. Willy Adames then drove in Margot with another double.
Tampa Bay’s only other hit off him was Austin Meadows’ leadoff single in the sixth.
“You can see the fastball just pop through the zone,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “Other than a few breaking balls here or there, it was very much a there it is, hit it approach. You totally understand and appreciate why he’s so talented.”
Rays batters were kept off balance by his mix of 59 four-seam fastballs, 14 knuckle-curves, 12 sliders and eight cut fastballs. He became the first pitcher in the Series with 10 or more strikeouts in six or fewer innings.
“That might have been the best I’ve ever seen him,” Barnes said.
Blake Treinen and Brusdar Graterol followed with a perfect inning apiece. Kenley Jansen finished the four-hitter, giving up Randy Arozarena’s record-tying eighth post-season homer.
Morton, a right-hander who turns 37 on Nov. 12, had entered unbeaten in seven straight post-season decisions, one shy of Orlando Hernandez’s record, including wins in five consecutive post-season starts. But he took the loss, allowing five runs and seven hits in 4 1/3 innings — more than the four runs total he gave up in his previous five post-season starts combined.
No Rays starter has finished the fifth inning in their last five Series starts since Matt Garza in Game 3 against Philadelphia in 2008. Tampa Bay repeated its pattern of a dozen years ago, losing the opener, winning the next game and dropping the third.
“I wasn’t particularly sharp,” Morton said. “I felt like I was able to get two strikes pretty quickly with a lot of guys and just not able to put them away.”
Turner put the Dodgers ahead on Morton’s 14th pitch, turning on a high 94.8 mph fastball with a 1-2 count and driving the ball 397 feet over the left-field wall. Turner’s home run was the 11th of his post-season career over 69 games, tying the team record set by Duke Snider over 36 games with the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers from 1954-59.
Los Angeles extended the lead to 3-0 in the third when Morton hit Corey Seager on a toe with a pitch, Turner doubled and Max Muncy drove a cutter into centre for a two-run single.
After singles by Cody Bellinger and Joc Pederson, Barnes drove in a run with the safety squeeze to first baseman Ji-Man Choi, the first RBI bunt in the Series since the Rays’ Jason Barlett in Game 2 in 2008 and the first since for the Dodgers since Billy Cox in 1953.
Mookie Betts followed with a two-out RBI single that made it 5-0, and Barnes homered off John Curtiss in the sixth. Five of the Dodgers’ first six runs scored with two outs, raising their total to nine of 18 in the Series and 50 of 87 in the post-season.
“Obviously there’s two outs, but you can still build an inning not giving away at-bats,” Betts said. “That’s how you win a World Series.”
Betts stole two bases, giving him three in the Series and six in the post-season.
Arozarena tied Barry Bonds (2002), Carlos Beltrán (2004) and Nelson Cruz (2011) for homers in a post-season and set the rookie record for hits with 23, one more than Derek Jeter in 1996.
Urías pitched three perfect innings for the win in Game 7 NLCS win. He is 4-0 with a 0.56 ERA in one post-season start and three relief appearances, allowing one earned run and seven hits in 16 innings with 16 strikeouts and three walks.
Yarbrough threw 19 pitches in the opener, his only action since pitching five innings against Houston on Oct. 13.
More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
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