TORONTO — The Maple Leafs have lost top-pairing defenceman Jake Muzzin to injury for the remainder of their qualifying-round playoff series against Columbus, but they aren’t in any mood to wallow.
“I believe that in our game in particular, everybody’s replaceable,” head coach Sheldon Keefe told reporters on a Zoom call from the NHL’s Eastern Conference Hub at the Royal York Hotel on Wednesday. “Every single player is valuable, and Muzz certainly is among the most valuable and important people. But we’re going to have guys come in and we’re going to step up and just continue rolling along as a team.”
The Leafs were less than two minutes away from closing out the Blue Jackets in Game 2 on Tuesday night when Muzzin, out killing a penalty, was cross-checked from behind by Pierre-Luc Dubois and tripped head-first into Oliver Bjorkstrand’s knee.
Muzzin stayed down on the ice surrounded by medical personnel for nearly 15 minutes, before being stretchered off and taken to a local hospital accompanied by general manager Kyle Dubas. The 31-year-old has since returned to the Leafs’ bubble and will remain in quarantine and hopeful of a return if Toronto advances.
When play resumed on Tuesday, the Leafs finished off Columbus without Muzzin in a 3-0 shutout, to even their best-of-five series at one game apiece. But with Game 3 and Game 4 looming in the span of 24 hours on Thursday and Friday, there’s precious little time to make adjustments.
“It’s obviously tough. [Muzzin’s] a huge part of our team,” said defenceman Morgan Rielly. “It’s important that we have guys that are willing to take on more responsibility. I don’t think you can replace what he does for our team but I think it’s important to have other guys help [fill] that void. He really offers a lot, but I think it’s a good opportunity for guys to play more minutes, to play in different situations and rise to the occasion.”
Keefe got to work on altering his blue line in Wednesday’s practice, sliding Travis Dermott up to replace Muzzin beside Justin Holl as the Leafs’ top pairing, and adding Martin Marincin to the mix on the third pairing with Tyson Barrie.
Keefe had played Dermott and Holl together late in the regular season when Muzzin had previously suffered a broken foot, and they earned mixed results. Per Natural Stat Trick, in nearly 300 minutes playing together, Dermott and Holl were outscored 12-11 by opponents when on the ice, but held nearly 51 per cent possession.
Regardless, Keefe still felt confident enough to explore that option again.
“Both guys were taking on greater responsibility [back then],” Keefe explained. “Holl had really been doing it most of the season, had taken a big step, in terms of his responsibility and his role. Dermott is evolving and taking on more as it comes. It’s really been injury situations that have given him increased opportunity throughout the entire season and this is no different. [He showed before] just that he can handle that [promotion] when called upon.”
In the 16 games Muzzin was sidelined for due to injury in 2019-20, Toronto still managed a 7-5-4 record, and are at least somewhat familiar in how to get by in his absence. But Muzzin’s impact on the group is felt all over, from inside and outside the dressing room.
During the regular season, Muzzin averaged the third-most minutes among Leafs at 21:36 per game and was their second-most used penalty killer, averaging 2:31 shorthanded per night. That’s part of the reason why Keefe tapped Marincin, and not rookie Rasmus Sandin, to step in for Muzzin – not only does Marincin bring comparable size (his 6-foot-5 frame nearly mirrors Muzzin at 6-foot-3), the 28-year-old also logs heavy minutes on the kill, averaging 1:40 shorthanded in 26 regular season appearances.
“We think that Marty brings some of the elements that Muzz brings,” said Keefe. “Obviously he doesn’t replace Muzz in the intangibles that he brings; he’s a very important player for us. But there are some elements in particular [that Marincin has], like the penalty killing and the size. So there’s some similarities there in terms of what he can provide us and that’s important.”
Marincin hasn’t played in an NHL playoff game for Toronto since 2017, but was a key part of the AHL’s Toronto Marlies’ Calder Cup run in 2018. That’s a far cry from the championship pedigree Muzzin brings to the group, as a Stanley Cup winner with the Los Angeles Kings.
So while everyone may be replaceable in theory, some elements aren’t transferable. In the high-stakes playoff series at hand, Toronto will have to thoroughly test its own perseverance.
“I think [his contributions] start with the off-ice aspect, in terms of being a leader,” Rielly said. “His playoff mentality, he has experience, he’s played in these games before so that’ll be missed. But I think on the ice, just playing tough minutes against the opponent’s top line, playing penalty kill minutes. He’s a big tough guy out there for us that blocks shots, leads by example. We’re going to miss him, but it’s an opportunity for guys to step up and take more responsibility and have an impact.”
Steelers knock out Lock, hold off Driskel, Broncos 26-21 – TSN
PITTSBURGH — A game seemingly in hand suddenly on the cusp of slipping away, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin didn’t overthink things. His team’s defence is built on one principle: attack.
Needing a stop to turn back the surprisingly resilient Denver Broncos, the Steelers dialed up one final blitz in an afternoon filled with them.
Safety Terrell Edmunds raced in unblocked to take down Denver backup quarterback Jeff Driskel on fourth-and-2 at the Pittsburgh 15 with less than two minutes to play to preserve a 26-21 victory Sunday. The sack was Pittsburgh’s seventh of the day.
“That’s just the code we live by,” Tomlin said, later adding, “I wouldn’t necessarily call it a game plan, it’s just our personality.”
A personality his team believes can carry it into January and beyond. There’s still plenty to work on; the Steelers (2-0) committed 10 penalties and turned it over twice.
So the Broncos (0-2) hung around despite losing starting quarterback Drew Lock (right shoulder) in the first quarter.
Driskel led an unlikely comeback despite taking six sacks and absorbing 17 hits. Denver trailed by 14 points at halftime and 12 in the fourth quarter — but was 15 yards away from a stunning upset before Edmunds came off the edge and sent Driskel to the turf one last time.
“I thought in lieu of all the circumstances, going against a good defence, I thought (Driskel) did an admirable job and he’ll only get better if we have to continue with him,” Broncos head coach Vic Fangio said.
Fangio might not have a choice.
Lock wore a sling over his right arm following a very strange case of deja vu. He missed three months in 2019 after injuring his right thumb while stumbling to avoid a sack.
Midway through the first quarter he was tripped up in the backfield by linebacker T.J. Watt and staggered to his right before linebacker Bud Dupree crashed on top of him, driving Lock’s throwing shoulder into the ground.
“I fell on it weird,” said Lock. “I tried to tuck it last second.”
Instead, he fumbled. The Steelers recovered and went downfield for a touchdown while Lock was in the blue medical tent getting evaluated. He attempted to throw the ball but it “felt funny.”
Driskel completed 18 of 34 for 256 yards with two touchdowns and a pick and absorbed that serious pounding. Still, he had the Broncos in position to win it until Edmunds’ No. 34 swallowed him up with the game on the line.
Tomlin will take a somewhat ugly win over the alternative.
“We understand early in the season we’re not going to be perfect (but) we were good enough to win,” Tomlin said.
Ben Roethlisberger threw for 311 yards with two touchdowns and an interception in his second game back from right elbow surgery. The 38 year old connected on 29 of 41 passes, including a rainbow down the left sideline to rookie Chase Claypool that turned into an 84-yard touchdown.
Still, he wasn’t exactly thrilled on a day the Steelers never trailed but struggled to put the Broncos away.
“The good news is when you play poorly and you still win the football game, that’s something to be thankful (for),” Roethlisberger said. “I just need to trust myself making the throws. The guys are in the right spot.”
The Steelers spent a portion of the week dealing with a self-inflicted public relations mess after putting the name of Antwon Rose Jr. — a Black Pittsburgh teenager shot in the back and killed by a white East Pittsburgh Police officer in 2018 — on the back of their helmets last week against the Giants. Left tackle Alejandro Villanueva called an audible and put the name of fallen U.S. soldier Alwyn Cashe on the back of his helmet instead. Villanueva opted to honour Cashe again Sunday while centre Maurkice Pouncey, a longtime police advocate, used the space to pay tribute to fallen officer Eric Kelly, who was killed in the line of duty in 2009.
While all Steelers stood for the national anthem, Claypool, a Canadian, raised his right fist. He said he considers himself a “visitor” in the United States but wanted to provide some sign of unity.
Denver WR Courtland Sutton, who missed the opener against Tennessee because of a sprained shoulder, caught three passes for 66 yards before leaving in the second half with knee and leg cramps. … DE DeMarcus Walker exited in the second half with a calf injury. … DE Dre’Mont Jones left in the second half with a knee injury.
Steelers RB Conner, who left the win over the Giants with a sprained left ankle, finished with 106 yards rushing, including a 59-yard sprint after Edmunds’ sack that let Pittsburgh run out the clock.
Broncos: host Tom Brady and the Buccaneers next Sunday. Brady went 7-6 against Denver while playing for the Patriots.
Steelers: welcome the Texans next Sunday in the first-ever “Watt Bowl.” The game will feature Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt and fullback Derek Watt facing older brother J.J. Watt, the standout defensive end for the Texans.
More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL
Kirk has HR, four hits, Jays beat Yankees – TSN
BUFFALO, N.Y. — Rookie Alejandro Kirk became the first catcher 21 or younger since Johnny Bench with at least four hits that included two for extra bases, and the Toronto Blue Jays beat the Yankees 11-5 Monday night to drop New York 1 1/2 games behind Minnesota for home-field advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Kirk, who played at Class A last season and made his debut Sept. 12, singled in the third off Michael King, doubled in the fourth against Jonathan Loaisiga, singled in the fifth off Nick Nelson and hit an opposite-field homer to right in seventh off Chad Green for his first four-hit game.
“He’s always looking for a pitch to hit, and he did that today,” Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo said.
Speaking through a translator, Kirk called his big night “unbelievable.”
“I was just feeling so comfortable tonight,” he said.
Bench accomplished the feat as part of a five-hit game for Cincinnati at Philadelphia on Aug. 3, 1969, according to STATS.
Randal Grichuk hit his first homer since Aug. 28 and drove in two runs for the Blue Jays.
New York had won 10 straight before Sunday’s 10-2 loss at Fenway Park. The Yankees allowed 10 or more runs in back-to-back games for the first time since July 25 and 26, 2019 against Boston and lost for the third time in four games this year against the Blue Jays in Buffalo. Center fielder Aaron Hicks had trouble with the sky and the lights and allowed a fly ball to drop between himself and right fielder Aaron Judge.
New York (31-23) dropped 4 1/2 games behind Tampa Bay (36-19) for the AL East lead. The Yankees are in position to be the fifth seed in the playoffs and would play at Minnesota (33-22).
“Today was rough, but we’re good, we’re where we need to be,” Yankees slugger Giancarlo Stanton said. “We’ve got to try to solidify this these last few games to get home field. We know that.”
Judge also said he sees no reason for concern as the post-season approaches.
“The guys are still competing,” Judge said. “That’s all you can ask for.”
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. had three hits and three RBIs while Teoscar Hernández and Bo Bichette each drove in a pair as the Blue Jays (28-26) won their second straight following a season-worst, six-game losing streak. Toronto is on track to be the No. 8 seed and open the playoffs at the Rays.
“They did a lot of their damage with two strikes,” manager Aaron Boone said. “The inability to put guys away tonight really cost us.”
King (1-2) gave up five runs and five hits in 2 2/3 innings. Eight of 10 batters reached against Loaisiga, including one on a catcher’s interference call on Gary Sánchez. Loaisiga asked that a rosin bag be brought to the mound with the bases loaded. Boone said he would speak to Loaisiga to make sure he hadn’t needed the rosin bag sooner in that inning.
Blue Jays right-hander Matt Shoemaker was activated off the injured list before the game to make his first appearance since Aug. 21 at Tampa Bay. He allowed one run and three hits in three innings.
Right-hander T.J. Zeuch (1-0) allowed one run in 3 1/3 innings.
Plate umpire Chad Fairchild was hit on the face mask by a foul tip in the top of the second. Fairchild left the game between innings, with Paul Nauert moving behind the plate. Extra umpire Sean Barber replaced Nauert.
Blue Jays: RHP Ken Giles will have Tommy John surgery, likely causing him to miss all of 2021 and impacting the deal he will receive as a free agent this off-season. … RHP Nate Pearson (elbow) threw a 25-pitch bullpen before the game and is to be reevaluated Tuesday.. … RHP Julian Merryweather (elbow) was placed on the 10-day IL to make room for Shoemaker. … 1B Rowdy Tellez (right knee) jogged on the field and hit in the cage before the game. Tellez will take batting practice Tuesday. … RHP Jordan Romano (strained right middle finger) will throw a bullpen session Tuesday.
Boone said RHP Domingo Germán will not join the Yankees for the post-season because Germán will not be able to get ready in time after completing an 81-game ban for violating Major League Baseball’s domestic violence policy. He also missed the final nine games of the 2019 regular season and all nine of New York’s post-season games.
Yankees RHP Gerrit Cole (6-3, 3.00) will face Blue Jays RHP Tanner Roark (2-2, 6.41) on Tuesday. Boone said Cole will likely throw to catcher Kyle Higashioka instead of Sánchez. Cole has a 3.91 ERA in 46 innings working with Sánchez and a 0.90 ERA in 20 innings with Higashioka. Cole and Higashioka have worked together in each of Cole’s past three starts. For Roark, it will be his third consecutive start against the Yankees.
More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Oilers' Leon Draisaitl captures Hart, Lindsay as NHL reveals award winners – CBC.ca
Being named the NHL’s most valuable player was a bit anticlimactic for Leon Draisaitl.
After all, for the Edmonton Oilers star, it was an odd hour when news emerged that he had won both the Hart Memorial Trophy and the Ted Lindsay award.
“It’s about 1:15 in the middle of the night right now so my family’s sleeping,” Draisaitl told reporters on a video call from his home in Germany.
The Hart is given to the player deemed by members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association to be the most valuable player to his team each year and the Ted Lindsay is passed out annually to the league’s most-outstanding player, as chosen by fellow members of the NHL Players’ Association.
WATCH | Oilers’ Draisaitl takes home pair of awards:
The NHL’s annual awards ceremony is generally a glitzy affair held in Las Vegas, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s honours were announced at an empty Rogers Place in Edmonton.
Receiving the honours was still special, said Draisaitl, who led the league with 110 points (43 goals, 67 assists) in the regular season, earning the league’s Art Ross Trophy in the process.
“At the end of the day, it’s still the same meaning behind it. It means the same thing for me,” said the 24-year-old native of Cologne, Germany.
“It obviously would have been nice to share it a little bit more with my family and actually have the awards happening. But these are obviously weird times for everyone. So I’m just as happy with it.”
Draisaitl beat out Colorado Avalanche centre Nathan MacKinnon and Artemi Panarin of the New York Rangers for both awards.
While Draisaitl and teammate Connor McDavid were offensive juggernauts once again this year, the Oilers lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in the qualifying round, marking the third season in a row that the team has missed out on the playoffs.
Draisaitl would trade awards for Stanley Cup
Being MVP doesn’t take the sting out of another lacklustre season, Draisaitl said.
“It’s a nice personal reward, but there’s nothing that comes ahead of the Stanley Cup. It’s the same for every player in the league. And if I could hand those two or three awards back in for a Stanley Cup, I would do so in a heartbeat and I think so would everyone else,” he said.
“It’s a nice day. I’m proud and I’m happy, for sure. But my goal at the end of the day and my career is to win a Stanley Cup.”
Three other awards were doled out on Monday, including the Vezina Trophy, given to the NHL’s best goalie as chosen by the league’s general managers.
Winnipeg Jets netminder Connor Hellebuyck received this year’s honours.
The 27-year-old from Commerce, Mich., posted a 31-21-5 record with a 2.57 goals-against average and a .922 save percentage in the regular season. He led all goaltenders in games played (58), shots faced (1,796), saves (1,656) and shutouts (6).
WATCH | Jets’ Hellebuyck wins Vezina Trophy:
Winning was almost a relief after coming second for the award in the 2017-18 season.
“This year was just such a mental grind but also so fun,” said Hellebuyck, who’s team was ousted from playoff contention by the Calgary Flames in the qualifying round.
“I would have liked for playoffs to go a little bit better, but when I’m looking back on this year, I’m going to say we did some great things.”
Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask and Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Tampa Bay Lightning were also up for the Vezina this year.
There are a lot of good goaltenders in the NHL, Hellebuyck said, but the Winnipeg netminder is already planning to defending his title again next season.
“I’m looking forward to the fight to get back into Vezina talks next year,” he said. “And I’m going to enjoy this one while I have it.”
Preds’ Josi named top defenceman
Roman Josi of the Nashville Predators took home defenceman of the year honours on Monday, edging out John Carlson of the Washington Capitals and Victor Hedman of the Lightning.
The 30 year old is the first Swiss-born player to win an individual NHL award.
“It’s always been a dream of mine and from a personal standpoint, it’s pretty surreal that I’ve actually won this. And it’s definitely a dream coming true,” he said.
Josi led Nashville in scoring through the regular season with 65 points (16 goals, 49 assists).
“Personally, every year you try to prepare for the season, you try to be the best player you can be, you try to work on things in the summer,” he said. “I think if every guy tries to be the best player, that means your team’s going to have a lot of success.”
WATCH | Rookie of the year honours go to Avalanche’s Makar:
Avalanche defenceman Cale Makar took home this year’s rookie of the year title.
Hockey legend Wayne Gretzky announced the winner, noting in a video message that he didn’t win the award as a young player.
“It really bothers me,” Gretzky said.
For 21-year-old Makar, getting the award from Gretzky was almost as good as the honour itself.
“I’ve never met him before, so that was a pretty surreal moment for me,” he said.
Makar dazzled in his first full NHL season, registering 50 points (12 goals, 38 assists) and leading all rookies with 0.88 points per game.
He beat out Vancouver Canucks defenceman Quinn Hughes and Chicago Blackhawks left-winger Dominik Kubalik to capture the trophy.
Makar had kind words for Hughes on Monday, saying that along with Miro Heiskanen of the Dallas Stars, there’s an exciting group of young blueliners making their way in the NHL.
“I’m very honoured to even be considered in that group,” Makar said. “They’re both exceptional players. I love watching both of them. There’s so many things you can pick from their games to help myself as an individual. So I’m excited to see where their futures can go. And hopefully we can take d-men to another level.”
Steelers knock out Lock, hold off Driskel, Broncos 26-21 – TSN
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