After suffering an embarrassing overtime defeat to Ottawa on Monday, the Maple Leafs will have one goal tonight: take care of business against the 4-12-1 Ottawa Senators with a 60-minute effort that nips the latest mini-crisis in Leafs Nation in the bud (7 p.m. EST, Sportsnet).
It appears as though the Leafs needed another lesson on not sleeping on the Senators this year. Ottawa may lack enough proven impact players on offense and quality puck-movers on defense, but they have pride; they aren’t going to go away if you let them hang around and invite them back into the game, and they’re capable of hounding the opposition on the forecheck and forcing an inattentive team into mistakes. Overall, they aren’t a great possession team, but the Senators have managed to produce the seventh-most shot attempts per 60 in the NHL, and they’re eighth-best in expected goals quality.
Of course, while they generally defend reasonably well against the rush, their overall own-zone game and struggles with puck movement off of the backend mean the Sens typically end up surrendering a lot of defensively. That was certainly the case in Monday’s game as the Leafs dominated the five-on-five game. They produced their highest five-on-five xGF total in any single game this season, but their collapse late in the final 21 minutes canceled out their great start.
It clearly doesn’t take much for the Sens to get motivated again the Leafs, and Toronto handed them that opportunity last game with bad giveaways and two very costly penalties. The Leafs simply lost sight of the habits and details needed to close out any NHL team, no matter their position in the standings.
Despite the ugly loss, Sheldon Keefe will keep his lineup the same tonight, in a move that seems to be geared towards a message of: “I”m not changing a thing. We’re responding to this the right way, with the exact same group.”
Pierre Engvall will remain on Kefoot’s wing, while Nic Petan continues to sit, with Travis Boyd and Jimmy Vesey remaining on the bottom line. Vesey, who was brought in because of his decent scoring ability and low-cost, only has two goals and an assist in 16 games, while his xGoal share is only 45%. Seen as a competent finisher who can play a secondary penalty-killing role, he’s received some praise from Sheldon Keefe for his effort and detail in the defensive zone, but it’s clear that his contributions there haven’t been enough to offset his subpar season offensively so far.
With Alex Galchenyuk added to the fold just before Monday’s game and set to practice tomorrow for the first time with Toronto, Vesey should be feeling serious urgency as his margin for forgettable performances is shrinking by the day.
Frederik Andersen, starting again tonight with Jack Campbell still a week-or-so away from returning, received some flak for his role in the loss as the Leafs began to turn pucks over and surrender chances last game. For the most part, it was that he was an easy target more than anything, as it’s hard to blame Andersen on any of the Sens’ last four goals, including the overtime winner. Nonetheless, he — like Tavares and Rielly, as the other two scapegoats on Monday — will want to come up with a big response for his team.
Matt Murray, who hasn’t played since last Thursday, looks to be healthy or close to healthy based on his practice status. However, D.J Smith doesn’t name his starter before games, so there’s no confirmation as of yet.
Game Day Quotes
Sheldon Keefe on his opinion of John Tavares’ season thus far:
You can tell he’s fighting it a bit right now. I focus on the positive things that have come out of his game. To me, in the first ten games or so, I saw him skate as well as I’ve seen in my time here.
Throughout the season, I know we want to focus on his production and all those kinds of things, but we’ve asked all of our players to be more responsible and aware defensively, and he’s been great in that regard. While production offensively is down a little bit here, [goals against] while he’s on the ice have been down. In fact, I know it’s too early in the season to make any determinations on anything, but his goal share is higher than it’s been in a long time.
I see him being above the puck a lot more. I see him [do well] in 50-50 situations where a player has to make a decision of, ‘”Are they going to lean on the offensive side of it and be in a favourable position to make a play offensively,” — I’ve seen him erring on the defensive side in those situations.
When you look at the amount of rush chances we’ve given up, that has reduced in this season compared to historical numbers. Those are the examples that have led to that. John has been excellent in that regard. When we reflected on last season, that was an area I wanted to see him grow in. To me, those decisions have been a lot more responsible on the defensive side.
Keefe on if his team took Ottawa too lightly:
No, I don’t think so. In fact, we had a number of discussions before the game about how difficult the game was going to be. We watched the pre-scout. We had a number of stats that show the strength of Ottawa’s team. They’ve got some areas of their game, especially defensively, where they’re one of the top teams in the NHL in terms of how they defend. They give up virtually nothing off the rush — we got more off the rush [on Monday] than, frankly, we expected. Tonight’s game will be a little bit different in that regard. We’ve got a tremendous amount of respect for them.
Keefe on his opinion of William Nylander’s season thus far:
I’d say something very [similar to what I said about Tavares]. I have a couple of things. The defensive stuff we’ve talked about is a factor. I think Will is right there, too, along the same lines — the amount goals that he’s given up while he’s on the ice has reduced and, again, his goal share is up higher than it’s been in his career.
Their production is right there with a lot of teams in the league — and some very elite teams — in terms of their elite players’ five-on-five production. We magnify things here and, again, the expectations are high. Those guys are capable of more — they know that and we know that — but there’s been a lot of good things happening in terms of how they’re contributing to a team that’s gotten off to a very good start.
Keefe on Alex Galchenyuk:
[I’m] trying to get to know Alex’s game a little better and looking at some video and stuff like that. We’ll see how he fits in — we’ll see how it’s going with our [whole] team and determine the type of opportunity he’ll get. With his skill set and what he’s accomplished in the league, we see great potential for him but, obviously, he’s a guy that’s trying to find his way and find his game.
D.J Smith on Erik Brannstrom, who returns to the lineup tonight:
He’ll help us move the puck back there. I think he’s competitive and he can help us get some pucks to the net. He’s just got to do what he did in games prior.
Part of it is, we’ve got to get him in games and develop him.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#97 Joe Thornton – #34 Auston Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
#88 William Nylander – #91 John Tavares – #11 Zach Hyman
#65 Ilya Mikheyev – #15 Alex Kerfoot – #47 Pierre Engvall
#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
#31 Frederik Andersen (starter)
#30 Michael Hutchinson
Injured: Wayne Simmonds, Jack Campbell
Extras: Nic Petan, Alex Barabanov, Scott Sabourin, Mikko Lehtonen, Martin Marincin
Ottawa Senators Projected Lines
#7 Brady Tkachuk – #71 Chris Tierney – #28 Connor Brown
#13 Nick Paul – #36 Colin White – #63 Evgenii Dadonov
#18 Tim Stutzle – #15 Derek Stepan – #19 Drake Batherson
#51 Artem Anisimov – #9 Josh Norris – #16 Austin Watson
#72 Thomas Chabot – #22 Nikita Zaitsev
#38 Mike Reilly – #2 Artem Zub
#26 Erik Brannstrom – #44 Erik Gudbranson
#30 Matt Murray (starter)
#1 Marcus Hogberg
Oilers Alex Chiasson to have hearing over cross check on Maple Leafs Jimmy Vesey – Pension Plan Puppets
Edmonton’s Alex Chiasson will have a hearing today for Cross-checking Toronto’s Jimmy Vesey.
— NHL Player Safety (@NHLPlayerSafety) March 2, 2021
At the 20:00 mark of the Monday, March 1 game between the Oilers and the Leafs, Alex Chiasson was assessed a 5-minute major for cross checking on Jimmy Vesey and a 10-minute game misconduct.
The start of the fracas began late in the third period, when each team bumped the goalie late after a whistle. There was a moment of irate Mike Smith, and then a retaliation bump on Hutchinson.
Which led to this:
And also Zach Bogosian thwarted from a fight with Darnell Nurse. And then there was another scrum at the end of the game. However the television broadcast did not show the incident with Chiasson and Vesey, only this:
We’ll update you with any more news.
That angle we didn’t have:
NHL’s four most surprising teams of 2021 and what makes them tick – Sportsnet.ca
In a 56-game season, everything is moving fast.
Like, can you believe by the time this week is out, the Vancouver Canucks will hit the halfway point of their season? They’ll get there first, but most other teams will follow in the week to come.
This season, 28 games marks the halfway point, which really drives home how important it is to avoid long stretches of losing hockey because just one of those could bury you.
For teams that had lukewarm aspirations this season, a good long run or two could change everything we think about them and put them in a position to surprise. With so many games still to come, there is lots of time to see which of these teams are real and which are a mirage behind a hot start.
Here are four teams who have surprised us this year, and how they’ve accomplished it so far.
The Panthers had some interesting things about them dating back to last season when they brought Sergei Bobrovsky and Joel Quenneville aboard. Florida finished with the sixth-best offence in the NHL last season, but were undone by a porous defence and really disappointing goaltending.
This year they still have a top-10 offence and control a considerable amount more of the shots being taken than they did last year.
But Florida hasn’t accomplished this by pouring more offence on the ice. The defence has been tougher in close to the net and at least one goalie has been steady from the start.
(All stats 5-on-5 from Natural Stat Trick)
Chris Driedger has been among the more unexpected stories of this season so far, with a .928 save percentage that ranks among the best in the league. While Bobrovsky has had some blowup starts along the way, Driedger has been pretty stable and allowed the Panthers to accumulate wins and start with a strong record.
The team is taking a hot hand approach to the position right now and between the two of them and this improved defence, the Panthers have the fifth-best 5-on-5 save percentage after ranking 29th there last season.
There is measurable change to what’s going on in front of Florida’s goalies this season and it tightens up what was their biggest weakness last season without having the offence suffer.
They’re fighting atop this year’s Central Division, and not only by taking advantage of soft points on their schedule either — the Panthers are 7-2-2 against Dallas, Tampa, Carolina and Chicago (who, I suppose, we can no longer count among the weaker matchups on the schedule).
The Jets’ inclusion here may be a head-scratcher now, but don’t forget what the outlook was in the Canadian division before the puck dropped in January.
Toronto was one of the favourites. An improved Montreal was a dark horse pick by some, Calgary for others. Even those who had Vancouver taking a step back put them in the running for a playoff spot. And Edmonton, with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, was tough to push down anyone’s board. So it was hard to find a spot for Winnipeg, the fifth-best Canadian team last season, and they tended to slide down projections.
Today, they have the second-best points percentage in the group.
While the Panthers’ improvement can at least in part be directed at the better defence and goaltending, the same can’t be said for the Jets. The sixth-worst team in 5-on-5 shots against per 60 minutes, and the worst team in high danger chances against last season, Winnipeg is ranked exactly the same in both categories so far in 2021.
This team just does not let a bad start get to it, with a league-leading six wins when trailing after the first period.
— Ken Wiebe (@WiebesWorld) February 28, 2021
In fact, the change between their offence and defence splits aren’t all that much between this year and last. They shoot about as often and allow about as much against, both inside and outside of the most desirable areas. They were even one of the better teams when trailing after one period a year ago.
Interestingly, the Jets may just have found a better fit for their style within the North Division. Five teams from this division rank in the bottom nine in shots against at 5-on-5, so they’re not giving a great advantage to any of their competitors by giving up lots there. On offence five North Division teams, including Winnipeg, rank in the top 11 for 5-on-5 goals per game.
But what really makes them stand out is Hellebuyck, who washes away any defensive issues anyway. He can be relied upon for a really heavy workload and, at 27, isn’t at an age where injury or fatigue becomes any more of a concern.
The Jets’ offence is dangerous and can hang with the best the North Division has to offer and, unlike the other top offences in this group, they also have an elite goalie who’s going to steal some games.
The only team in this list that has been outscored at 5-on-5, the Blackhawks might be the surprise team of the season so far.
Finishing 23rd last year and only getting games beyond the regular season because of a unique playoff set up, Chicago was still charting towards a top draft pick and becoming a trade deadline seller this year. Jonathan Toews missed the start of the season and is still out with an unknown illness. After letting Corey Crawford walk, the goaltending appeared to be a mess.
And then Kevin Lankinen appeared and all was well.
Just like last year the Blackhawks allow a ton of shots, though they have somewhat cut down on the most dangerous ones. Lankinen, the undrafted 25-year-old rookie out of Finland, is in the running for the Calder Trophy this season — and we have to wonder if he might end in the Vezina discussion if he keeps this up.
Measuring goals saved above average in all situations from Natural Stat Trick, Lankinen ranks third in the league behind a couple notable names.
On top of this totally unexpected performance, the Hawks are getting others we knew were possible. Alex DeBrincat is back on a full season 40-goal pace after tallying just 19 a year ago, and Patrick Kane is second in league scoring, nine points clear of the next highest-scoring non-North Division player.
They make up for being outscored at 5-on-5 with the league’s best power play, which was 28th and converted just over 15 per cent of the time in 2019-20.
It’s mostly about Kirill Kaprizov, a superstar rookie who, unlike Lankinen, arrived with plenty of fanfare and expectation. He has breathed new life into the Wild and, when he’s on the ice, they play at a pace and with a style we’re not used to in this uniform.
But it’s not just Kaprizov who is changing the face and outlook in Minnesota. For a team that looked to have gone stale in all aspects for some time, it’s refreshing to see a rookie leading them in scoring, and three other players under 25 slotting into the team’s top five scorers.
And now here comes Kaapo Kahkonen, a hyped fourth-round prospect who had a few NHL starts a year ago but spent most of it in the minors, where he won the AHL’s best goalie award. He’s taking over in Minnesota’s net, has strung five wins in a row and had a .923 save percentage in February.
The Wild are a fun story this season and lots is changing there, but it is still being turned over to a young group. We should anticipate some hiccups along the way. While they sit 12-6-1 and third in the West Division (second by points percentage), the Wild haven’t played St. Louis yet, and only saw Vegas for the first time on Tuesday, losing in extra time. So, bigger tests on Minnesota’s staying power are to come.
But the best news from Minnesota this year is a new core is starting to blow in and the early returns are encouraging.
Oilers’ Chiasson to have hearing for cross-checking Maple Leafs’ Vesey – Sportsnet.ca
The incident occurred at the very end of Monday’s 3-0 Maple Leafs win, a game which ended with players on both sides fighting. After the final horn sounded, Chiasson and Vesey were seen talking near the Maple Leafs blue line. Chiasson then cross-checked Vesey in the head twice before officials separated them.
Chiasson was given a five-minute major and a 10 minute misconduct for cross-checking on the play.
The Oilers and Maple Leafs return to the ice Wednesday night for a third-straight meeting. You can watch that game on Scotiabank Wednesday Night Hockey on Sportsnet beginning at 8 p.m. ET/ 5 p.m. PT.
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