Coming off of one of their most complete performances of the season, the Maple Leafs have an opportunity to further pad their divisional lead in round two-of-three of the Toronto vs. Edmonton mini-series (10 p.m. EST, Sportsnet).
The Maple Leafs currently hold a six-point lead over the Oilers in the North Division with a game in hand. The Winnipeg Jets, who have played three fewer games than Edmonton, have the second-best record in the division with a points percentage of .675 to the Oilers’ .609.
The Leafs currently lead the NHL with a PTS% of .773 (16-4-2 record), tying their franchise points record through 22 games. In 103 seasons as a franchise, Toronto has never finished with a PTS% higher than 70%. In this shortened, division-only schedule, they will, at minimum, have a shot at eclipsing that mark for the first time. The only other Canadian teams to not have a season above .700 in franchise history: The Jets and Senators, the two youngest franchises in Canada.
In lineup news, there will be a few unanswered questions until closer to game time. Auston Matthews, who missed Saturday’s game but has remained with the team and has been practicing, is a ‘game-time decision’. Given the injury appears to be to Mattews’ hand/wrist, the team could be taking extra precautions to keep him out longer:
Matthews didn’t look to be taking many hard shots at practice yesterday either.
He is still a game-time decision for tonight. https://t.co/RVzUU4E0eY
— Kristen Shilton (@kristen_shilton) March 1, 2021
With Matthews absent in the last game, there were some impressive performances from further down the depth chart. After sitting out games and receiving limited ice time early in the season, Pierre Engvall has stepped up on a line with Zach Hyman and Ilya Mikheyev. It was telling that when Joe Thornton missed last Wednesday’s game with an injury, the coaching staff decided to move Alex Kerfoot into Thornton’s spot and leave Engvall to center the more defensively-deployed line with Ilya Mikheyev — a sign Engvall has come along way as far as earning Sheldon Keefe’s trust. In 61 games in the NHL, Engvall ranks fourth among current Leafs forwards on the defensive side of evolving-hockey’s goals-above-replacement model. He also ranks slightly above a replacement-level player offensively.
The ‘HEM’ line generated an extended heavy shift that pinned Connor McDavid in his own zone for over a minute on Saturday:
— Maple Leafs Hotstove (@LeafsNews) February 28, 2021
All three Leafs even-strength goals were scored with the Oilers’ top line on the ice, including Zach Hyman’s 4-0 goal in the third period.
McDavid has yet to be held off the scoresheet for more than one game in a row this season, but even if the Leafs can’t repeat the feat, the hope will be to limit him as best they can with a similar formula to Saturday night’s: stay out of the penalty box, stay above McDavid, slow him down through the neutral zone as a five-man unit, and count on strong goaltending when needed.
On that note, Toronto’s goaltending situation uncertain as it gets for tonight. Firstly, Jack Campbell, who earned a shutout on Saturday, missed practice yesterday and did not participate in the optional skate today. Frederik Andersen practiced for an extended period this morning, meaning he’s likely not preparing himself to play tonight. That leaves the Leafs’ third-stringer Michael Hutchinson, who was in Leafs net in practice today, as the most likely of the three to dress. However, there will be no decision made on the starter — or the backup for that matter — until closer to 10 p.m. Eastern time.
After losing his first game in six starts, Mike Smith will return to the bench and Mikko Koskinen will start for the Oilers. The 32-year-old Koskinen is 3-2 in his last five starts with a .914 Sv%.
Game Day Quotes
Sheldon Keefe on Zach Bogosian’s progression this season:
I thought that in the early going, you could tell he was still adjusting to be here in our system and in his role, but I think, for quite some time now, he’s really settled in and he’s provided what we thought and expected to get [from him]. [He’s] been a reliable defender who has brought a level of physicality to our defensive group.
He’s a reliable penalty killer and just a great personality — a great person who’s added to the leadership of our team with the experience he has in the league. Of course, coming off of a Stanley Cup win and all those types of things, he’s definitely brought a lot.
Keefe on Mitch Marner’s dominance this season:
Mitch is a very good player in both ends of the ice, first of all. When you’re looking and linemates and teammates, [the first thing is] do you do your job? Are you reliable in that? Mitch certainly is.
If someone makes a mistake, can you make up for it through effort or intelligence? Mitch has both.
Of course, when he has the puck, the way he sees it — if you get open, he finds you and creates his own space. That’s really what good players do. It comes back around, the chemistry he and Auston have shown this season along with Joe.
Keefe on T.J Brodie’s consistent impact this season:
I like that he just doesn’t care who he’s playing against. It doesn’t rattle him, it doesn’t concern him. He’s comfortable in his own game and realizes that he’s got to stay within his skill set and do what works for him.
He does it differently than other players, and that’s part of what’s made him successful in the league. The other part of it is, even if he gets beat or makes a mistake, he’s just going to go back and drink some water and give it his best shot the next time out. It more often than not works out for him. That’s why he is who he is in the league.
Keefe on the importance of Pierre Engvall and his growing role:
With Pierre, we see great potential there. We’ve seen it before — I saw it with the Marlies, and I saw it last season at different points when he played for us. He didn’t start the [play-in] series against Columbus, but he came in and played down the middle and did a really nice job for us on that fourth line.
We knew, and I knew, he was going to be an important piece for our team here this season. We’ve made things harder on him to earn that opportunity, mainly because I just feel like a player with his skillset, size, speed, physicality and the potential he has — I don’t even know if he realizes how good he can be. We didn’t want to hand him anything. He needed to work at it and he needed to understand that there are areas of his game he can continue to get better at.
Even in the game the other night, I thought he did a terrific job and that line was excellent. There’s still a number of things in his game that show me room for growth and improvement. That’s exciting for me as a coach and for us as a team. It should be exciting for him as well.
We gave him a slower start to this season here and created some adversity for him to really try to get the absolute best out of him when his opportunity came, which, for me, was inevitable.
Oilers head coach Dave Tippett on adapting to different play styles within the division:
There’s situations in each game that dictate [what happens]. You’re on transition, you get openings — if you’re [playing against] structure, real tight structure, you have to read and react. That’s just part of the game. It goes both ways.
Tippett on the baseball-style schedule this season:
You go into the series and you do a little pre-scout, but you make adjustments as you go along each game. It’s a unique situation; it’s more like a playoff-style mentality. I think the players enjoy it. I think they like having the ability to get into a kind of mini-series and get ingrained in it and know who you’re playing against to make those subtle adjustments that happen in a series.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines*
*Lines will be confirmed at game time
#97 Joe Thornton – #91 John Tavares – #16 Mitch Marner
#94 Alexander Barabanov – #15 Alex Kerfoot – #88 William Nylander
#65 Ilya Mikheyev – #47 Pierre Engvall – #11 Zach Hyman
#26 Jimmy Vesey – #72 Travis Boyd – #19 Jason Spezza
#44 Morgan Rielly – #78 T.J Brodie
#8 Jake Muzzin – #3 Justin Holl
#23 Travis Dermott – #22 Zach Bogosian
#30 Michael Hutchinson
#36 Jack Campbell
Injured: Wayne Simmonds, Frederik Andersen, Auston Matthews
Extras: Kenny Agostino, Scott Sabourin, Nic Petan, Timothy Liljegren, Mikko Lehtonen
Edmonton Oilers Projected Lines
#93 Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – #97 Connor McDavid – #13 Jesse Puljujarvi
#21 Dominik Kahun – #29 Leon Draisaitl – #56 Kailer Yamamoto
#63 Tyler Ennis – #16 Jujhar Khaira – #15 Josh Archibald
#52 Patrick Russell – #91 Gaetan Haas – #39 Alex Chiasson
#25 Darnell Nurse – #22 Tyson Barrie
#82 Caleb Jones – #6 Adam Larsson
#75 Evan Bouchard – #74 Ethan Bear
#19 Mikko Koskinen (starter)
#41 Mike Smith
Injured: Oscar Klefbom, Zach Kassian, Slater Koekkoek, William Lagesson
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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