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Toronto Maple Leafs feel no panic, regroup at fluff-free practice – TSN



William Nylander

TSN Toronto Reporter Mark Masters reports on the Maple Leafs, who held a practice at Ford Performance Centre on Wednesday ahead of facing the Winnipeg Jets Thursday at Scotiabank Arena in the second game of their three-game series.

A day after losing their third straight game, the Leafs held one of their shortest practices of the season. 

“We got right to it,” said coach Sheldon Keefe of the 20-minute session. “When we have a day like this, you really take out fluff — the warm-up, all of those kinds of things — and get right to what you really need to get done.”

Usually, the team will skate for between 30 and 45 minutes on practice days held a day after a game, but fatigue is a factor right now. Tuesday’s 4-3 loss to the Winnipeg Jets was Toronto’s 17th game in 34 days. And the team just wrapped up a five-game swing through Western Canada over the weekend.

Still, Keefe felt it was important to get on the ice on Wednesday. 

“It’s always tough to come in a day after a game, win or lose, because there is a quicker turnaround,” Keefe acknowledged. “That is a bit of a grind for players and even more so when you are losing. That is why I felt it was important that we skated today. I thought we skated hard for 20 minutes and got done what we needed to get done. The guys are leaving the ice and the building here today feeling good and refocused and ready to go.”

For the first time since Keefe took over behind the bench on Nov. 20, 2019, the Leafs have lost three straight games in regulation. Toronto’s grip atop the North Division has loosened with the Jets, who have played two fewer games, now within five points. The teams face off again on Thursday and Saturday. 

“I don’t think there is any sense of panic here or anything like that,” Keefe said. “Yet, at the same time, we have had very open discussions about things that we have done here that have contributed to us losing versus the things that we did in Edmonton, as an example, that contributed to us winning. The recipe is right there for us. We just have to go out and execute.”

After Tuesday’s defeat, Keefe lamented the fact his team had slipped away from “winning habits” established through a dominant start to the year. Players were abandoning the structure and not managing the puck properly. An errant outlet pass by Morgan Rielly in the third period on Tuesday, for example, led to a turnover and eventually the winning goal by Mason Appleton.   

“The train of thought is this is a blip on the radar and we want to take care of it,” Rielly said. “It’s hard over a quick time span like this to really judge the growth of the group, but the one thing I’ve noticed just about every day is that if we’re playing well we don’t get too high and if we lose a game we don’t get too low. That’s part of maturing together. That’s a good sign for us.”

Leafs Ice Chips: No Matthews or panic at fluff-free practice

Auston Matthews was absent at Wednesday’s practice as he continues to nurse an injured right wrist. Meanwhile, Sheldon Keefe felt it was important to hold a practice amid the team’s first three-game losing streak of the season, and explained afterwards that there is no sense of panic in the room. Mark Masters has more.

Top-line winger Mitch Marner identified a couple key priorities moving forward. 

“Making sure we’re getting out of our zone cleanly,” Marner said. “Obviously our PK. We got to clean that up.”

Toronto’s penalty kill allowed a goal on all three chances the Vancouver Canucks had in two games last week. The Jets converted on one of two chances on Tuesday. 

“We have to get through kills and get them finished,” Keefe said. “We have had a number of them this season where in the last 20 seconds or so, after we had done a lot of good things, it ends up in our net. The first one we gave up from the bad angle in Vancouver — that was an unbelievable kill for us. In fact, we had opportunities to extend our lead and all of a sudden it is in our net. We have to just stay with it. I think that is the biggest thing: stay with it to the very end, compete to the very end.”

This latest rough patch has seen Toronto’s penalty kill drop to 20th in the NHL at 76.6 per cent. 

“Before we went to Vancouver, we had the No. 1 penalty kill in the division,” Keefe pointed out. “We were feeling pretty good about the things that we were doing. It just goes to show it can get away from you quickly … We will continue to clean up the details, but we can’t ignore the fact that there had been a number of positives that had been happening prior to the last three games.”

Auston Matthews is playing through a wrist injury, but the 23-year-old centre suggested the pain isn’t a big factor.

“Once you get out there it dwindles away,” Matthews said after scoring twice Tuesday night. “I felt fine.”

Matthews was absent from Wednesday’s practice. 

“He wanted to skate today,” Keefe revealed. “We thought it was a good opportunity for him to take a rest day.”

Both of the Matthews goals against the Jets came from in close. He deflected home a Rielly shot on the power play and chipped in a puck from the doorstep with the goalie pulled for an extra attacker. 

The top line still hasn’t generated an even-strength goal since Matthews returned to the lineup four games ago. Marner has fired 10 shots on net in the last two games, his highest two-game total of the season, but insists he hasn’t had to adjust his game.

“I don’t think it has much of an impact,” said Marner, who is now goal-less in five straight, his longest drought of the year. “I don’t think anything’s really changed with our line. We’re still trying to play the same way as we have all year.” 

Toronto’s top trio drove play on Tuesday with shots favouring the Leafs 10-2 when Matthews, Marner and Joe Thornton were on the ice together at even strength, per NaturalStatTrick. They were matched against the Mark Scheifele line most of the night. 

Matthews finished with a game-high six shots and won 13 of 18 faceoffs. 

“It’s not even just the production,” said captain John Tavares. “His overall game is tremendous in all three zones and such an influence for us. The way he controls the play. The way he competes for the puck. His strength defensively. He continues to battle well in faceoffs. His overall game is really strong.”

Keefe noted the medical staff has determined Matthews won’t make the injury worse by playing. 

“It is not the type of thing where taking a game or two off is going to allow it to fix itself,” the coach said. “I think a lot of players throughout the league are going through it, but you don’t hear about it as much as you would in Toronto with such a great player.”

Jets looking to tighten defensive end to limit Leafs’ chances

After allowing 39 shots against the Maple Leafs in their win on Tuesday, the Jets believe that they can tighten things on the defensive end to limit Toronto’s opportunities. While Winnipeg admits that they expect the Leafs to make adjustments to try and end their three-game skid, they don’t believe it will be anything too drastic.

One theme during the losing streak has been the play of the opposition goalie. Thatcher Demko was excellent in Vancouver while Connor Hellebuyck stopped 36 of 39 shots on Tuesday. 

“They got a Vezina winner in the net so we got to get guys in front and get more tips on net and get those second opportunities,” Marner said.

Frederik Andersen allowed four goals on 23 shots on Tuesday while suffering his first career regulation loss against the Jets. 

Andersen is now 1-2-0 with an .889 save percentage since returning from a lower-body injury. 

“I feel good,” he said. “I think I’m moving pretty well. Pretty much most of my game I like. Of course, the results lately haven’t been there.”

Andersen was asked if he’s motivated to measure himself against Hellebuyck. 

“Yes and no,” the Dane said. “You want to go out and beat the guy at the other end, but as a goalie you know what happens at the other end doesn’t really effect what’s going on in my end. So, my focus is to try to be ready and make the saves I can. Of course, you want to beat the guy at the other end and win.” 

Andersen on ‘Fredzilla’ nickname, facing Hellebuyck

Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen updates how he’s feeling health-wise since returning from a lower-body injury, gives his thoughts on the new nicknames his teammates have given him, and discusses whether he tries to measure himself against reigning Vezina winner Connor Hellebuyck when they square off.

The Leafs are looking for more performances like the one Andersen provided last week in Edmonton when he stopped 26 of 27 shots. After that game, Matthews described Andersen as “Fredzilla.”

Who came up with that? 

“A lot of nicknames are coming from Jumbo,” the 6-foot-4, 238-pound goalie said referencing Thornton. “He’s a nickname machine. He has a lot. He even has nicknames you guys don’t even hear before they come and go. He cycles through them pretty quick. He loves throwing out a good nickname.”

Justin Bieber posted “a love letter to the Maple Leafs” on social media Wednesday. The tweet from the singer features his new song ‘Hold On’ set to Leafs highlights. 

“Biebs is a very special person and an incredibly talented artist,” said Rielly. “When he’s eager to work with the team and spend time around the guys that’s a pretty cool opportunity. We’re very fortunate to play for this organization and I guess that’s one of the things that comes with it.”

Bieber has struck up a friendship with Matthews in recent years. 

“I know his relationship with him is pretty tight,” said Andersen. “It’s fun to have a musical talent like his be a big fan of us and, likewise the other way, a lot of us appreciate his music. I’m looking forward to hearing it.”

Leafs appreciate ‘love letter’ from Bieber

With avid Maple Leafs fan Justin Bieber releasing a video Wednesday for his latest hit single ‘Hold On’, which he’s calling ‘a love letter to the Maple Leafs’, Morgan Rielly and Frederik Andersen share their reaction to video and explain what the Canadian music sensation has meant to the team.

Lines at Wednesday’s practice: 
Thornton – Boyd – Marner
Kerfoot – Tavares – Nylander
Mikheyev – Engvall – Hyman
Vesey – Agostino – Spezza  
Rielly – Brodie 
Muzzin – Holl
Dermott – Bogosian 
Liljegren – Lehtonen

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In ever-evolving NBA, Raptors’ length and athleticism opens doors on defence –



Under head coach Nick Nurse, the Toronto Raptors have always worked to stay abreast of league trends, or even push the envelope on what might be next.

As an assistant coach, Nurse received a considerable amount of credit for overseeing an effort to inject more spacing, ball movement and player movement into an offensive approach that had grown too reliant on DeMar DeRozan’s mid-range isolations. The result was a team-record 59-win season in 2017-18. Nurse also had his fingerprints on the “bench mob” – the high-tempo, aggressive defence-first group that was a big part of the Raptors’ regular-season success.

Since becoming head coach in 2019-19, Nurse’s defensive focus has been more apparent, with the Raptors embracing liberal switching on the perimeter as well as a growing reliance on zone defences – tactics that were less common across the league than they quickly became.

But basketball’s pace of change hasn’t stalled. You can only pay so much attention to games that don’t matter, but it’s hard not to notice that in pre-season play the Golden State Warriors are putting up an astounding 55 three-point shots a game. Four other teams – Sacramento, Denver, Utah and Oklahoma City are averaging 45 three-point attempts.

For context the only teams in league history to average 45 three-point shots a game were the 2018-19 and 2019-20 Houston Rockets, with James Harden at his gun-slinging peak. A decade ago NBA teams averaged 20 three-point attempts a game. Last season it was 34 and still climbing apparently.

“I don’t know if any of us sat here at some point and said the amount of threes are going to be double … or whatever the number is,” said Nurse. “… It does evolve pretty quickly though.”

Given the value of those shots, a team that wants to be effective defensively must have a plan to discourage them being taken, or at least make them more difficult.

One of the benefits of a roster rounded out with so many players in the six-foot-six to six-foot-nine range – the Raptors only have four players in training camp shorter – is the pressure they can put on perimeter shooters.

The Raptors got a taste of it last season, when six-foot-nine Chris Boucher led the NBA with .84 blocked three-pointers a game and was ranked fourth in the league in the percentage that opponents shot when he was the closest defender. Pascal Siakam ranked second in the league in the number of three-pointers contested after leading that category in 2019-20.

As a whole, the Raptors weren’t especially good at defending the three-point line – opponents shot 37.9 per cent from deep, which was above league average and ranked them 24th overall – but given the range of mitigating circumstances they faced last season it’s probably not something to dwell on. The Raptors led the NBA in that category in 2019-20 when the set a franchise record for winning percentage.

This is a different team with plenty of new faces, but maybe having a roster full of athletic, agile guys in the mould of Boucher and Siakam could pay dividends in a league where it looks like more teams are going to be hoisting threes than ever before.

Raptors rookie Dalano Banton has certainly had the importance of getting to three-point shooters impressed upon him in his weeks-old NBA career, and as a nimble six-foot-nine guard, he can play the part.

“Shot contesting is one of our pillars that we go off of on defence as well as pressuring the ball so guys don’t get easy shots so, running them off the line,” said Banton after practice Friday. “In this league guys make shots and they make it at a high clip so I feel like just doing the best you can to run out at every shot that gets put up by the other team is big for us and being in our defensive stance, just showing length and just discouraging them from making plays they’d make if we weren’t in our right spots.

“…Just being in the right spot is just the biggest part of the battle and showing your hands. Once you’re there, it puts your whole team in a better position to play defence.”

Selling out on three-point shooters takes trust. Actually blocking a shot is rare and smart teams and players will look to pump fake on careless closeouts and look for a side-step three, a chance to penetrate the paint for layups, generate kick-outs to open shooters or simply swing the ball to take advantage of a scrambling defence.

It’s not enough to run at a shooter, it has to be done properly.

“Just playing the game the way you practice — running guys off lines and the next guy helping and making the next play,” says Banton. “So, it’s just about the offence having to make the next play, not giving them that shot or that layup, having to make them make that extra pass. The guy behind you is gonna help, we’re all playing defence in one line together so we’re all trying to work in a tandem and move where we have to move and rotate to the right spots.”

It’s music to Nurse’s ears. The goal of his scheme, he says, it to challenge every shot, everywhere.

“It’s kind of icing on the cake when we get a block [on a three-pointer],” he said. “I think I’m really more concerned that we’re making a heavy contest. Obviously the block is the heaviest of all contests. We just want to make sure we make it contested. It goes to hustle and hard play: You’ve got to keep playing the whole possession. Sometimes you’ve got to fire out, fire out, fire out.

“Every now and then you get put in rotations and some teams are really good in making you do it. But you’ve got to do it. That’s just an effort and hustle thing that we want the heavy contest. Chris [Boucher] has certainly got a knack, incredible timing on that stuff. I’m not sure it’s teachable or transferable … What we teach and what we drill every day is heavy contesting.”

Changing times call for changing measures – and maybe a lot of long, athletic guys flying around at the three-point line like never before.

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Blue Bombers beat Elks to clinch playoff spot – TSN



EDMONTON — Zach Collaros threw two touchdown passes as the Winnipeg Blue Bombers defeated the Edmonton Elks 26-16 on Friday night to become the first CFL team to clinch a playoff berth.

Winnipeg (9-1) captured its seventh straight victory and improved to 7-0 within the West Division. Collaros finished 15-of-24 passing for 210 yards with an interception to remain the CFL’s passing leader (2,565 yards) but is also tops in TD passes with 15.

This marks the fifth straight season that Winnipeg, the defending Grey Cup champion, has made the playoffs.

Edmonton (2-7) suffered its fifth straight loss and dropped to 0-5 at home this season.

Edmonton’s defence forced a safety at 9:31 of the first quarter, then came up big five minutes later as Trumaine Washington intercepted Collaros in the end zone. The Bombers closed out the opening quarter with a 37-yard Ali Mourtada field goal.

The Elks responded with Sean Whyte’s 34-yard field goal at 11:22 of the second.

Winnipeg took the lead with three minutes left in the first half as a 47-yard completion to Kenny Lawler set up Collaros’s five-yard TD strike to Andrew Harris. But Harris appeared to suffer an injury to his right knee and did not return as Brady Oliveira finished up with 105 yards rushing on 16 carries.

Whyte kicked a 25-yard field cut Winnipeg’s half-time lead to 10-8.

Mourtada converted from 27 and a career-high 43 yards to start the third. Edmonton tied it 16-16 on Taylor Cornelius’s 11-yard TD toss to Shai Ross. Backup quarterback Dakota Prukop added the two-point convert.

Rookie Cornelius got the start as incumbent Trevor Harris was a healthy scratch.

Moments after Elks defender Aaron Grymes couldn’t hang on to an easy interception opportunity, Collaros hit Rasheed Bailey on a 48-yard completion before finding him on a five-yard scoring strike six minutes into the fourth.

Mourtada cemented the win with a 23-yard field goal with 50 seconds remaining.

Winnipeg hosts the B.C. Lions next Saturday while Edmonton has a bye week before returning home against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Oct. 29.

NOTES: Harris being sidelined while healthy has led to speculation the Elks are actively shopping their veteran quarterback on the trade front… Lawler returned to the lineup after being suspended by Winnipeg for its last game for an impaired driving arrest… The actual attendance appeared to be far beneath the announced 24,276 fans.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 15, 2021.

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With a timely home run, Carlos Correa delivers Game 1 of ALCS to Astros –



HOUSTON — Carlos Correa paused a few seconds at the plate, tapping the spot on his wrist where a watch would be, after hitting a tie-breaking home run in the seventh inning that propelled the Houston Astros over the Boston Red Sox 5-4 Friday night in the AL Championship Series opener.

“It’s my time,” he screamed before trotting around the bases.

That it is.

And if his time with the Astros runs out at the end of this season, the star shortstop sure is making this an October to remember.

Correa teamed with Jose Altuve to do just enough to overcome the heroics of Kike Hernandez, who starred with his bat and glove for the wild-card Red Sox.

Altuve tied the game with a two-run shot in the sixth before Correa connected off losing pitcher Hansel Robles with two outs in the seventh to put the Astros ahead 4-3.

Correa, who has been with the Astros since being selected first overall in 2012, becomes a free agent at season’s end and it seems likely that he won’t remain in Houston.

Correa has a history of big hits for Houston that includes 18 postseason home runs, several of them in key, late situations.

“Playoff time, baby,” Correa said.

“We want to be in the spotlight,” he said. “We want to be in the moment.”

Hernandez, who won a World Series with the Dodgers last year, homered twice among his four hits and likely saved multiple runs with two terrific catches.

His second homer came off closer Ryan Pressly to start the ninth and cut the lead to 5-4. But Pressly retired the next three batters to get the save.

Game 2 is Saturday in Houston.

Ahead 4-3, the Astros loaded the bases with no outs in the eighth when Hirokazu Sawamura plunked Martin Maldonado. Houston added some insurance when Yuli Gurriel slid in just before the tag to score on a sacrifice fly by Altuve that made it 5-3, beating a terrific throw by Hernandez.

Hernandez has been red hot for the Red Sox this October, with 13 hits in his last four games to set an MLB record for most hits in a four-game span in one postseason. He passed Billy Hatcher (1999), Marquis Grissom (1995), Hideki Matsui (2004) and Randy Arozarena (2020), who all had 11.

“Enrique is en fuego,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said.

Chas McCormick singled with one out in the sixth before Altuve became the fourth player in MLB history to hit at least 20 postseason homers with his shot to left-center off Tanner Houck that tied it at 3.

Hernandez opened a three-run third with his soaring homer to centre field to tie it at 1-all.

Xander Bogaerts walked with one out and Rafael Devers singled. J.D. Martinez hit a grounder to Altuve for what should have been a routine play. But the ball grazed his glove and rolled between his legs to allow Martinez to reach and Bogaerts to score to put Boston up 2-1.

Hunter Renfroe then hit an RBI double to left field to extend it to 3-1 before Houston’s two brightest stars came through late.

“Experience matters,” Correa said.

Altuve and Correa, connecting again for a team trying to reach the World Series for the second time in three years. The Astros also won the championship in 2017, a crown tainted by the team’s sign-stealing scandal.

Both teams leaned heavily on their bullpens after both Boston starter Chris Sale and Houston’s Framber Valdez were chased in the third.

Ryne Stanek got the last out of the seventh for the win.

“We stay in the moment. You win, you turn the page, you prepare for tomorrow. You lose, you turn the page, you prepare for tomorrow,” Cora said.

“We lost the first three games of the season to Baltimore, and we felt like Game 4 against Tampa was the season, to be honest with you. We’ve been living like this for a while, so we’ll be ready for tomorrow,” he said.

Sale, who was tagged for five runs in one inning in his previous start against Tampa Bay in the AL Division Series, permitted five hits and a run in 2 2/3 innings Friday. Valdez gave up six hits and three runs — two earned — while also getting just eight outs.

The Astros led 1-0 after Altuve scored on a sacrifice fly by Yordan Alvarez in the first.

For the next few innings it looked like it wouldn’t be the Astros’ night.

Houston loaded the bases with one out in the second, but Altuve struck out before Sale escaped the jam with a huge assist from Hernandez in center field. Hernandez, whose MLB debut came when he subbed for Altuve late in a game in 2014, sprinted to rob Michael Brantley with a diving catch in shallow center to end the inning.

The Astros had runners at first and second with two outs in the fifth when Hernandez struck again. He made a back-handed grab in right-center on a ball hit by Kyle Tucker to leave them empty-handed once more.

Hernandez even seemed surprised he made the grab, contorting his face into a shocked look after the ball hit his glove.


Boston’s Nathan Eovaldi (1-0, 2.61 ERA) will have a homecoming of sorts Saturday when he starts opposite rookie Luis Garcia (0-0, 16.88). Eovaldi grew up in the Houston suburb of Alvin, also home to Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan, and visited the Astrodome and Minute Maid Park often growing up.

“It’s definitely one of my favorite ballparks to pitch in,” Eovaldi said.

Saturday will be his third start this postseason. He struck out eight in 5 1/3 innings and got the win in the wild-card victory over the Yankees. He also started Game 3 of the ALDS but did not factor in the decision in a 6-4 Red Sox win.

Garcia struggled in a Game 3 start in the division series, permitting five runs in just 2 2/3 innings of a 12-6 loss.

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