After the Toronto Maple Leafs snapped a three-game losing slide with a thrilling 4-3 overtime win to tie this week’s series at 1-1, the rubber match against the Winnipeg Jets airs tonight on Hockey Night in Canada (7 p.m. EST, CBC).
Remarkably, Auston Matthews, despite battling through a wrist injury that is keeping him from shooting anywhere near 100%, is in the midst of another scoring streak with three goals in his last two games.
The fact that he’s remained an elite scoring threat, even when his opponents are now aware of his limitations, is indicative of how dominant Matthews’ boundless offensive repertoire has become. It is rare to ever see Matthews pass up an opportunity to shoot, especially when he has space in the middle of the ice as he did in the example below:
— Maple Leafs Hotstove (@LeafsNews) March 12, 2021
Muzzin ends up with a decent attempt on goal here, but it’s a situation that would normally play out with Matthews using the defender as a screen to pick a corner or force Hellebuyck into a great save.
Despite Matthews’ limitations, Sheldon Keefe doesn’t seem to think the team is risking anything by continuing to play him:
Medically, from what they’ve told me, it’s something that can get better even while he’s playing — that’s why he’s continuing to play. Obviously, when you get rest, it helps the cause but I think he and the medical team have been handling it very well.
To start tonight, Matthews will play with Mitch Marner and Zach Hyman. There are a few things at play with Hyman replacing Joe Thornton on the top line from the start:
- The Leafs have trailed in both games versus the Jets and then moved Hyman up, which has been Keefe’s go-to adjustment throughout the season when the team is playing from behind. In such an important game/series, that’s a trend the Leafs need to reverse. Trailing hockey is often losing hockey, and it leaves the team vulnerable to the Jets’ dangerous counter-punching ability as the Leafs push to even up the game.
- It helps boost a Matthews-Marner duo that isn’t quite as threatening as usual given Matthews’ shooting limitations.
- Hyman, in his last five games, leads the team in individual xG/60 and is the only player on the team without a giveaway. There is no doubt he is worthy of top-line minutes right now more than ever.
Presumably, Thornton will join John Tavares and William Nylander, meaning Alex Kerfoot will join the third line. While he’s missed a lot of time, featuring in only 16 games thus far, Thornton sits 4th on the team in Regularized-Adjusted-Plus-Minus (RAPM) xGA/60 and first in CA/60. Even when he hasn’t been scoring, he usually makes the right play with the puck and his defensive acumen/hockey sense ensures he’s no burden on any line.
The fit next to Tavares is a worthwhile experiment, as his playmaking ability next to two players who can shoot — and on a line that plays at a more methodical and less breakneck pace — seems like a stylistic match.
The only other change for Toronto will be Travis Boyd, unsurprisingly, replacing Kenny Agostino on the bottom line. Agostino played a mere 4:08 last game as the Leafs played a large percentage of the game hunting for a goal.
As the Jets search for the optimal deployment of their impressive top-six forwards, newly-acquired Pierre-Luc Dubois linemates Kyle Connor and Nik Ehlers have been big offensive producers as of late. Both players have two goals and four assists in six games since the beginning of March, while the duo of Mark Schiefele and Blake Wheeler are the team leaders in on-ice xGF/60, with six and four points in those game, respectively.
The Leafs have controlled both games so far, but the danger of this group of forwards if the Leafs aren’t managing the puck properly and limiting odd-man rushes against has been clear to see in the season series to date.
After Connor Hellebucyk pulled off another fantastic performance on Thursday despite the Leafs scoring four times, much to the delight of the Maple Leafs, backup Laurent Brossoit will start for Winnipeg tonight. Brossoit is 4-1-1 on the season with a .923 Sv% and a GSAx of 2.3. Frederik Andersen is expected to start tonight before Michael Hutchinson presumably gets the nod tomorrow against Ottawa.
Game Day Quotes
Sheldon Keefe on Zach Hyman’s game lately:
I don’t think there’s much to say about Hyman that hasn’t already been said. The work ethic that he has and the consistency that he brings with it, in addition to the confidence that he brings now with the puck and hang onto [it], just adds a whole other layer that makes him a very tough player to handle for the opposition.
Keefe on what went “wrong” with Mikko Lehtonen:
Not having exhibition games really made it difficult for any incoming player to get the chance to sort of get the bugs out and adjust to the league, show what they can do, earn some additional trust — all those things. We think, all things considered, we adjusted to the situation and gave him an opportunity to play in the top six. We had Travis Dermott on the outside through training camp, and just made a decision that [Lehtonen] needed more time. That’s how it’s worked out.
He’s definitely a talent and he worked really hard here and waited for his chance. I think, at the same time, we’ve got a number of other people in the organization that didn’t get the opportunity that Mikko had this season. It’ll open up more space and opportunity for them.
At the same time, [Dubas] is able to find a place for Mikko to go — he’s an unrestricted free agent here at the end of the year. It’s a big year for him, so I think there’s something to be said for that as well. We wish him all the best.
Paul Maurice on his group performing poorly in shot- and chance-based metrics:
There’s a whole bunch of different ways the puck can get to your net from that area. I think your opponent has something to do with it. There are teams that generate a lot of slot shots that you never consider particularly dangerous — those are just on the outside, poor angle shots [where] a rebound doesn’t happen.
What you don’t like are the slot shots that you don’t control. Every team has strengths and weaknesses — there are teams that do a really good job of controlling that slot, but they don’t win a lot of games, and then there are teams that win on that alone. You take a look at what your group is, what you’re good at, and where you excel. For us, that’s a challenge. We’ve known that for a while, and the advantage is we’ll score some goals without having a ton of slot shots.
The offense that we do produce, it’s not from throwing pucks at the net all the time, but there are teams that do that. We’ve got more risk in our game than other teams, possibly, and we’re trying to get that right balance in to try to give our goalies a chance to be as good as they are.
Maurice on what the Leafs do well in the offensive zone:
They do a real good job of creating a problem for you before the puck gets to the slot. You look at a lot of the one-on-one play that happens down low, and we want to have layers with that. We don’t want to be man-to-man in the corners where a guy can spin out. They make those plays, and there’s a skill to it.
The other thing to it is: There’s a real willingness on that team now that maybe we didn’t see in years past to go to the net. It holds the [defenseman] and turns it into a four-on-four game, which they really excel at. Looking at the areas that we need to improve, they’re very strong in those areas.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#11 Zach Hyman – #34 Auston Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
#97 Joe Thornton – #91 John Tavares – #88 William Nylander
#65 Ilya Mikheyev – #47 Pierre Engvall – #15 Alex Kerfoot
#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: Scott Sabourin, Kenny Agostino, Martin Marincin
Winnipeg Jets Projected Lines
#25 Paul Stastny – #55 Mark Schiefele – #26 Blake Wheeler
#81 Kyle Connor – #13 Pierre-Luc Dubois – #27 Nikolaj Ehlers
#9 Andrew Copp – #17 Adam Lowry – #82 Mason Appleton
#95 Mathieu Perreault – #11 Nate Thompson – #23 Trevor Lewis
#44 Josh Morrisey – #3 Tucker Poolman
#24 Derek Forbort – #4 Neal Pionk
#64 Logan Stanley – #2 Dylan Demelo
#30 Laurent Brossoit (starter)
#37 Connor Hellebuyck
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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