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Toronto Maple Leafs Intrasquad Game Notes & Highlights: Team White 6 vs. Team Blue 3 – Maple Leafs Hot Stove



For the most part, this Team Blue vs. Team White intrasquad game had a pretty good pace to it, although not surprisingly, it got progressively sloppier as the game entered its later stages.

Team White won both the regulation game — by a score of 6-3 — and the OT period thanks to a 3-on-3 goal from Ilya Mikheyev. The two squads split the two shootout contests, with Mikko Lehtonen winning the first one for Team White and Morgan Rielly clinching the second one for Team Blue.

William Nylander led the way with a pair of goals for Team White, while Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews countered with a goal apiece in a losing effort for Team Blue.

The Goals


Take this scrimmage exercise for what it is, but a few quick notes below:

Alex Barabanov displayed a good motor throughout the game for Team Blue, pushing the pace and persistently hounding puck carriers. He also broke through for a breakaway that he couldn’t convert. That line — with Barabanov next to two heavier-footed players in Spezza and Simmonds — will need someone to help push the pace, so that’s an encouraging sign, at least as far as these scrimmages go.

– After the talk about Mitch Marner playing the middle of the power play in between Auston Matthews and Joe Thornton, it was Thornton in the bumper role in between Marner and Matthews in this game. Those concerned about too many playmakers and not enough shooters on that unit weren’t assuaged by this sequence:

Jokes aside, Marner let a number a few shots off on the first power-play opportunity for Team Blue, a few of which missed the net. It was hard to tell if his shot had a little more zip on it than last year — maybe it just seemed that way with a few loud bangs off the end wall — but for those asking Marner to shoot more this season (including the Leafs coaching staff), he did seem more trigger happy in the scrimmage.

Going to need to see more from this unit before they’ll have me convinced of moving both Tavares and Nylander off of the top group.

– At 5v5, the top line had some good sequences. Thornton’s intelligence, strength and presence down low — extending plays on the cycle, dishing, getting to the front of the net — while Matthews and Marner buzzed was visible at different times throughout the night. Jumbo kept up well for the most part. Again, we’ll wait until the real stuff starts before making any real judgments.

– While Marner and Matthews were right there, too, William Nylander might have been the Leafs’ best forward — skating really well, generating turnovers, turning them into offense — and he potted two goals of his own, one on a wicked one-timer on the power play off a Mikko Lehtonen feed.

– Speaking of Mikko Lehtonen, it wasn’t a perfect game in all areas of the ice, but his prowess offensively shone through clearly in this scrimmage, as he was very involved at the offensive end and eager to get pucks to the net, including one for Nylander’s first goal on a tip in front. We should see the coaching staff get Lehtonen involved offensively with softer matchups and some offensive-zone deployment off of the bottom pairing in the early going of the regular season, in addition to PP2 time, as he adjusts to the league.

Jack Campbell put on the best goaltending performance of the three goalies, particularly in the first period, where he was really sharp and turned aside a number of good scoring chances and second opportunities for Team Blue.

– The coaching staff has put an emphasis on shootout practice knowing its weakness in this area last season and the importance of the extra points in the divisional matchups. But it wasn’t exactly a sterling display of shooting prowess tonight — while the goalies were sharp, there were lots of bobbles, failed backhand deke attempts, and not enough picking a spot and letting it rip. The two converted attempts out of the 13 were two good low, hard shots from a pair of defensemen in Lehtonen and Rielly:

1st shootout:

Tavares – missed on a backhand deke
Matthews – stopped on a five-hole attempt
Vesey – stopped on a backhand attempt, glove save by Andersen
Marner – stopped on a low glove side attempt (Campbell)
Nylander – missed, lost control after initially fooling Andersen
Spezza – missed, lost control of the puck early
Lehtonen – scored on a shot low blocker side past Andersen
Barabanov – stopped on his backhand

2nd shootout:

Mikheyev – missed on a backhand attempt
Spezza – missed wide right
Robertson – missed, lost handle going to backhand
Hyman – stopped on blocker side shot
Matthews – stopped on a five-hole attempt

– Harsh words from Sheldon Keefe on Pierre Engvall, especially after a scrimmage: “I expect him to be better, to be honest.” While he scored late on a good play in the neutral zone by Zach Hyman to send him in alone, Engvall turned a puck back into the defensive zone and forked it over to Marner for the Matthews goal in the third period. It doesn’t seem as though the coaching staff would have a ton of confidence in going ahead with this line if Alex Kerfoot can’t go on Wednesday — which may necessitate a rethink of the lines, depending on Kerfoot’s status. Travis Boyd, who had a couple of nice moments in this game, is another option for center cover here, but the depth down the middle past the big two remains a question mark and also ties into the question of where Thornton is best used.

– This Rourke Chartier fellow is a good-looking piece for the Marlies; his pace and puck pursuit definitely stood out (note: he appeared in 13 games for the Sharks last season).

– For me, Ramus Sandin is ready for regular NHL minutes. We saw some nice instances of his evasiveness against the forecheck, and a beautiful reverse check along the endboards against a big lad in Justin Brazeau. The Leafs will have a couple of defensemen worthy of an NHL top six who won’t be playing on Wednesday night by virtue of the numbers game on the blue line.

– Quiet game from him overall, but they’ll have a player with this kind of shot in the press box to start, too:

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Ice Chips: Pittsburgh Penguins F Sidney Crosby remains in COVID protocol – TSN



Keep updated on all the injury news and roster updates from around the NHL with daily Ice Chips.


Montreal Canadiens forward Josh Anderson took part in the team’s morning skate on Thursday, ahead of their game against the Winnipeg Jets.

Following practice, Dominique Ducharme said Anderson will not play against the Jets tonight, but will be assessed for Saturday’s game.

The 26-year-old has missed the last two contests with a lower-body injury.

Scratches: Mete, Anderson (LBI, 2/25)

Taxi: Frolik

Power play:

Weber – Toffoli – Suzuki



Kotkaniemi – Gallagher – Tatar


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'WE FEEL PRETTY GOOD': Maple Leafs make it a sweep against McDavid and Oilers – Toronto Sun



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The series was billed as a first-place showdown with the Maple Leafs, but ended with the Oilers shut down.

In the course of three well-deserved wins, using a trio of different goalies, four flying forward lines and a dominating defence, Toronto left a row of long faces on the Edmonton bench, Connor McDavid’s the most painful.

Wednesday’s 6-1 rout at Rogers Place capped a 13-1 total bill and improved the Leafs’ NHL-best slate to 18-4-2. After a hot February, the Oilers gave up second place in the North Division to Winnipeg while they were being swept.

“A lot of really good things come out of this series for us,” said head coach Sheldon Keefe. “We feel pretty good, how we handled leads, how we built leads. We knew coming in we were playing a team hotter than any other in the NHL and to get results like this was a healthy sign. But as much as we’d like to sit and enjoy it, we’re on the plane now and off to Vancouver.”

While the Leafs have a pair against the Canucks on Thursday and Saturday, league-leading point-getter McDavid was pondering just the third time in his career he’s gone three games without a goal or assist. Fellow front-runner Leon Draisaitl avoided that fate with an assist on Ryan Nugent-Hopkins’ second period goal that ended Toronto’s shutout streak at 148 minutes.


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By then, the Leafs had broken it wide open with three goals in a span of just more than four minutes. Jimmy Vesey had two as the fourth line stepped up, William Nylander, John Tavares, Zach Hyman and Ilya Mikheyev piling on goals. The multi-point players included Jason Spezza with three helpers and they didn’t need Auston Matthews, who was held pointless, in his return from a wrist injury, though he had no apparent troubles shooting or taking faceoffs.

“I think we’re building a really strong bond here as a group,” said Spezza, whose points spurt is moving him on the verge of the top 100 in NHL history. “We’re pushing each other and when you see the standard raised, you want to make sure you’re reaching it.”

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Spezza conceded a little bit of luck is needed to hold two such prominent scorers to one point in three games, but that it reflects a commitment to team defence everyone realized was needed after last year’s playoffs.

Goalie Mike Smith had been a big part of the Oilers’ run, but he had to track too many buzzing Leafs. He was most irked by Hyman getting close to his crease, while the ‘Zip Line’ of Hyman, Mikheyev and Pierre Engvall helped keep the Oilers smothered. Hyman and John Tavares had power-play goals.

“Skating a lot, being physical,” Engvall said before the game on what’s worked for their unit against McDavid and Draisaitl. “When we lose the puck, we work really hard to not give them something.”

Maple Leafs’ William Nylander scores a goal on Edmonton Oilers’ goaltender Mike Smith during the second period at Rogers Place in Edmonton on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. IAN KUCERAK/POSTMEDIA NETWORK
Maple Leafs’ William Nylander scores a goal on Edmonton Oilers’ goaltender Mike Smith during the second period at Rogers Place in Edmonton on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. IAN KUCERAK/POSTMEDIA NETWORK

The Leafs had been prone to early pressure by the Oilers and only a combination of luck and Frederik Andersen’s goaltending stopped the Oilers from striking first on five early shots in the opening shifts.


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But it was fourth-liner Vesey who wound up with the first period’s only goal. With Alex Kerfoot keeping the puck deep to allow the line change, Travis Boyd and Spezza worked the puck to set up Vesey’s first goal since Jan. 22.

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While the notion of silencing both McDavid and Draisaitl seemed far-fetched at the start of the series, the Leafs were going for the hat trick.

“The goaltending we’ve had has been really solid, that’s first and foremost,” said defenceman Jake Muzzin, who with partner Justin Holl saw a lot of Edmonton’s top forwards the past three games. “And we’ve done a pretty good job taking away time and space and to clog up the middle and force them to the outside.”

Keefe added that in no way are the Leafs resting on their laurels, stressing areas of the game that still need cleaning up during a Wednesday morning meeting.

  1. Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas may be looking to add to his team ahead of the NHL trade deadline in April. CRAIG ROBERTSON/TORONTO SUN

    TRAIK-EOTOMY: Who should the Maple Leafs target at April’s trade deadline?

  2. Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe and one of his great predecessors behind the bench, the late Pat Burns.

    SIMMONS: Maple Leafs’ Sheldon Keefe quickly establishing himself as elite NHL coach

  3. Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Michael Hutchinson (30) makes a save against Edmonton Oilers forward Kailer Yamamoto (56) during the first period at Rogers Place.

    Hutchinson’s performance, defensive effort lead Maple Leafs to another shutout vs. Oilers

Andersen’s record is now 15-1-2 in his career against the Oilers. Michael Hutchinson backed him while Jack Campbell could the start on Thursday in Vancouver.

With such a huge lead on Wednesday, Keefe didn’t have to over-tax the Matthews line with Mitch Marner and Joe Thornton and played Vesey and the bottom six down the stretch. A couple of healthy scratches might also play Thursday.


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Maple Leafs raise the standard with defensive dismantling of Oilers –



When an injury forced Auston Matthews to miss the first two games of this statement-sending series in Edmonton, Sheldon Keefe reminded his players that they were essentially losing a goal per night from the lineup.

Rather than focusing on where else they might look for it, he wanted the Toronto Maple Leafs to play like they had one less to allow a high-octane opponent and they responded by pitching back-to-back shutouts against the Oilers.

It was natural to wonder, then, if some of the gains might be lost when Matthews returned Wednesday. That subconsciously or not, his presence might see the team loosen the noose they’d strung around their closest pursuant in the North Division standings by cheating for offence or having players down the lineup start deferring to the league’s most lethal scorer.

That’s why the 6-1 dismantling was even more impressive than the victories that came before it at Rogers Place

The Leafs didn’t even need their customary goal from Matthews, who was stymied despite producing a game-high seven shots and 10 attempts. They regained a superstar and just kept on working to keep the puck from getting anywhere near their own net.

“I think the three games here is a good example that we [can] score a lot and still [not want] to give up anything. We’re not just satisfied with leads and winning a couple games,” said goaltender Frederik Andersen, who made 26 saves in his own return from injury.

“We want to keep suffocating them and not really give them anything really. Yeah, show how good we can be for 60 minutes every night.”

You might need a VHS player to find the last time a Leafs team played three better games in a row. Granted, the bar hasn’t been set too high for a franchise that hasn’t won a playoff series since 2004 or played for a Stanley Cup since the last time it won one in 1967.

They are now off to the best start in franchise history with 18 wins and 38 points through 24 games, but something changed during five days in Edmonton. This group raised the standard. Not only did they outscore the Oilers 13-1 while playing two games without Matthews, they did it by giving Jack Campbell, Michael Hutchinson and Andersen each a start in net.

“Three different goalies,” said Matthews. “Three phenomenal games.”

“To win three games like that so decisively, I think it’s a real step of growth for our team,” said fourth-liner Jimmy Vesey, who broke a personal 17-game drought by scoring twice on Wednesday night.

The Leafs boarded a flight to Vancouver for Thursday’s quick turnaround game sitting atop the NHL in points percentage (.792), wins (18), regulation wins (16) and goals per game (3.63). More impressively, they were fourth overall in goals against per game (2.33) and sixth in shots allowed per game (28.6).

All of that talk on Day 1 of training camp about defending the net-front area more fiercely and cutting back on the rush chances against has turned out to be much more than just talk.

“There’s still room for improvement, but I think we’ve definitely made some pretty huge strides from last year into this year,” said Matthews. “That’s obviously positive and I think we’re realizing what it really takes to win and that’s going to be playing well on the defensive side of the puck for us to really break through and play a long time in playoff time.”

The Oilers entered the series with wins in 11 of 13 games and left it looking crushed. They simply had no answers.

Connor McDavid, the sport’s most gifted offensive weapon, failed to register a point in any of the three games. That’s only the third time in his entire NHL career he’s been held without one for three consecutive games.

He saw a steady diet of the Jake Muzzin-Justin Holl defensive pairing and was completely nullified in Wednesday’s finale with just one shot on goal. It didn’t help that Edmonton failed to get a power-play opportunity in the game and had only four in the entire series.

“We knew coming in we were playing against a very good team that was as hot or hotter than any team in the NHL and coming in with lots of confidence, so for us to get results like this is a really good and healthy sign,” said Keefe.

Toronto breaks an opponent’s spirit in a way not captured by shot metrics like Corsi. They have the puck all the time but are content to reload on zone entries and offensive zone shifts rather than just firing low-percentage attempts all night long.

The stat that might best encapsulate what happened during this series in Edmonton is an old-school one which probably would have been held against the Leafs once upon a time: They were outhit 105-58 because the Oilers were in pursuit for most of 180 minutes.

This was an entire team effort.

As I highlighted earlier this week, Kyle Dubas has done an excellent job of balancing his top-heavy salary cap chart with depth players vastly outperforming their pay cheques.

Vesey has been the only off-season signing yet to really bear fruit and even he’s up to four even-strength goals after the two he potted Wednesday. Jason Spezza picked up three assists and now has 15 points on the season — a total that would currently lead a handful of NHL teams.

But this 18-4-2 squad isn’t now earning buzz as a bonafide Stanley Cup contender because of the dazzling offence it produces. That’s not new. What they did in Edmonton is make it look like only one team on the ice was a constant threat to score.

“I think we’re starting to understand what it feels like when we play good defence and we’re able to replicate it a few games in a row here,” said Spezza. “That’s a good sign for our team. We’ll just keep building and moving forward.”

If they can build on this, the sky’s the limit.

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