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Unbeaten Sharks hand sluggish Maple Leafs second loss in a row – Sportsnet.ca

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TORONTO — Jonathan Dahlen scored the winner and Adin Hill made 30 saves as the San Jose Sharks stayed perfect on the young season by defeating the uninspired Toronto Maple Leafs 5-3 on Friday night.

Logan Couture added two goals and an assist, while Timo Meier, with a goal and an assist each, and Erik Karlsson provided the rest of the offence for San Jose (4-0-0).

Jason Spezza, Ondrej Kase and John Tavares replied for Toronto (2-2-1).

Michael Hutchinson stopped 26 shots for the Leafs, who have scored just 11 times in five games to open the schedule.

Auston Matthews, who returned from off-season wrist surgery in Monday’s thrilling 2-1 overtime loss to the New York Rangers, is without a point through two outings.

While the home side had three days off between games, the Sharks played for the third time in four nights, including Thursday’s 2-1 victory against the Ottawa Senators.

Friday’s puck drop was scheduled for 6 p.m. ET with the Leafs set to embark on their first trip to the U.S. since March 2020 right after the game ahead of Saturday’s tilt in Pittsburgh against the Penguins.

After a sleepy opening period, the offensive floodgates in the second period.

Couture scored his second goal of the season at 2:31 after winning an offensive zone draw when he banged home a Marc-Edouard Vlasic wraparound attempt.

Spezza, who lost the faceoff on Couture’s icebreaker, replied when he banged home his second of the year just 56 seconds later on a scramble in front of Hill.

But the Sharks responded 17 seconds after that when Meier fired an innocent-looking shot that found its way through Hutchinson, who got the call with Jack Campbell scheduled to start Saturday and Petr Mrazek (groin) out injured.

Kase evened it up for Toronto once again at 10:24 when he blocked a Tomas Hertl shot and raced in all alone. The Leafs winger beat Hill with a move to the backhand before crashing into referee Wes McCauley, but both got up unscathed.

The visitors took a lead for a third time at 11:55 when Karlsson blasted his second on a bullet upstairs on Hutchinson, who made his first NHL start since April 4, after Matthews threw a blind pass in an attempt at exiting the Toronto zone.

San Jose stretched its advantage to 4-2 just 25 seconds into the third when Dahlen took a pass from Couture and fired five-hole on Hutchinson for his third.

Toronto got its second power play of the evening with eight minutes gone in the period, but couldn’t get much of anything going.

The Leafs got back within one at 13:39 when William Nylander’s shot went off Tavares in front and dribbled over the goal line for his first to make it 4-3.

Karlsson hit the post off the rush with two minutes to go with Toronto pressing at the other end.

Hill then flashed the leather on a Matthews one-timer off a Tavares drop pass, but Couture iced it into the empty net with under a minute to play.

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Nick Ritchie finally scores his first as the Leafs get the jump on the Blue Jackets – Toronto Star

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In the understated words of Nick Ritchie: “It had been a while.”

On a night of highlight plays from Michael Bunting and Jack Campbell, and a scoring streak continuing for Auston Matthews, it finally happened for Ritchie.

It took 27 games and 40 shots but the $2.5-million-a-year free-agent signing finally got his first goal with the Maple Leafs in Toronto’s 5-4 win Tuesday night over the Columbus Blue Jackets.

“It felt good, helping the team, scoring a goal at home, and a win after a couple of losses,” Ritchie said. “It had been a while. Two months. A lot of games. As long of a (drought) as I’ve had in hockey. Feels good to get one. Hopefully I can build some confidence.”

The crowd was particularly supportive when public address announcer Mike Ross announced it was Ritchie’s “first goal as a Maple Leaf” and his teammates seemed happier than Ritchie.

“That’s almost better than scoring, seeing how much your team cares,” he said. “We have a tight team and everyone gets excited for little things.”

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Ritchie had proven himself as a goal scorer, with 15 last year in a shortened season in Boston. He wondered sometimes why he was having trouble scoring in Toronto.

“It’s not an easy league to score in,” he said. “You have to get lucky, too. I had a couple of good chances the last little while. I just had to stay with it. I knew eventually it would finally go in for me.”

Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said he predicted Ritchie would score Tuesday, but admitted he’s been predicting it would be Ritchie’s night for a while.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Keefe said. “I started calling it, then I stopped. It was his birthday the other day. But in the coach’s room before the game, I called it. I thought it would be on the power play.

“I can’t take a lot of credit for it, because I’ve been calling it and calling it. I did feel strongly that today was going to be the day. He’s been very quietly putting up points in the past five games. You could see it coming. He’s had good chances. I’m thrilled for him.”

About the game: Ritchie’s goal, the team’s offence and the play of Alex Steeves and Kristians Rubins. both of whom got into their first NHL games. was about all Keefe liked about the game. But it was a fun one to watch.

Matthews ended the night with two goals and an assist, Morgan Rielly had four assists, William Nylander had a goal and an assist and John Tavares also scored in a game in which the outcome never felt in doubt despite a late-game push by the Blue Jackets.

Olivier Bjorkstrand scored twice for Columbus. Sean Kuraly and Max Domi scored late for Columbus — Domi with one second left — to make the result look more flattering for the Jackets than the game really was.

“I didn’t like much about the game in any period,” Keefe said. “We found ways to strike offensively, whether it was on the power play (Nylander, Tavares) or off the rush (Matthews, twice) but, in terms of how we like to play, I don’t think there was a lot to like about the game.

“I’m happy the third period caught up to us, because it should have. Not a good game for us, but a good result. Needed to get back on the right side of it.”

Getting rest: Keefe thought the team was simply tired. They’d been out west for three games, came home for one, and then went back west for two, so it felt like a long trip. Plus the roster was in flux.

Mitch Marner missed his third game with a shoulder injury, suffered in practice Friday. Rasmus Sandin was out with the effects of knee-on-knee injury suffered Sunday in Winnipeg. Travis Dermott, too, was sidelined with a shoulder issue. And Jason Spezza missed the first-game of a six-game suspension for his knee to the head of Winnipeg’s Neal Pionk, whose knee injured Sandin.

“We’re a tired group that needs time,” said Keefe, who gave his team Wednesday off. “We’re a team that needs to regroup itself.”

Quick start: Nylander, Matthews and Ritchie got the Maple Leafs off to a 3-0 lead in a first period they dominated. The led the shot-clock 18-9 after 20 minutes.

Nylander scored on the power play, and Matthews made it 2-0 on a nice feed from Michael Bunting who, with a defenceman draped all over him, pulled off a between-the-legs pass to Matthews, who had an easy tap-in to extend his goals streak to seven straight games. Tavares and Matthews scored seven seconds apart in the final two minutes of the middle frame.

Matthews is on a tear, with 10 goals in his last seven games and 17 on the season. He has rejoined the conversation for the Rocket Richard Trophy, putting himself within striking distance of NHL goal leaders Leon Draisaitl and Alex Ovechkin, who had 21 and 20 as the games began Tuesday.

The new guys: Steeves and Rubins are feel-good stories.

Rubins, who is on Latvia’s short list of potential Olympians, is 23 and worked his way up the Leafs system. Undrafted out of the Medicine Hat Tigers, he started with the Newfoundland Growlers in 2018. He’s six-foot-five and cuts an imposing figure on the blue line.

“Dream come true, just a special night for me,” he said, after being paired with Timothy Liljegren and going minus-1 in 13 minutes and 40 seconds.

Steeves was a standout at Notre Dame last year who kept up his scoring ways with the Marlies, despite missing camp with an injury. Steeves had seven goals in 12 games with the Marlies.

“It was super special, really happy we got the win,” said Steeves, who was minus-1 while playing 8:28. “It was a tangible goal of mine to play for the Leafs this year. I didn’t really have a set date. To get the call this early was special. It wasn’t something I was really thinking about, but I just knew I wanted to get here.”

Roster notes: Veteran defenceman Alex Biega was also among the call-ups, as insurance, due to the litany of injuries. He was scratched for Tuesday’s game … Forward Joey Anderson was returned to the Marlies … Jake Muzzin left the game briefly in the first period after taking a shot off his foot.

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Maple Leafs support Spezza’s appeal, but must ‘press on’ after suspension – Sportsnet.ca

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TORONTO — The way Jason Spezza practised Tuesday morning is the way he always practises.

Smiling and laughing with his Toronto Maple Leafs teammates, you’d have no idea the veteran was only hours away from a significant suspension.

Spezza was slapped with a six-game ban midway through the Leafs’ win over the Columbus Blue Jackets for kneeing Winnipeg Jets defenceman Neal Pionk in the head Sunday.

Through his 19 years and 1,203 games in the league, this marks the first time the 38-year-old Spezza has faced supplemental discipline.

And he is appealing the Department of Player Safety’s ruling.

“Look,” coach Sheldon Keefe said Tuesday night. “I think everybody in this room, everybody in the game knows the character and integrity that Jason Spezza has through his entire career. We do and always will support him. He’s going to weigh his options that he has in this process.

“But from our perspective, it’s important that we just press on here. That’s all we can do.”

Spezza’s initial appeal will arrive on the desk of commissioner Gary Bettman, who seldom overrules his own safety department. Next, Spezza and his camp could take their objection to an independent arbitrator.

These steps take time, and Spezza is available to return to action for the Leafs on Dec. 19 in Seattle.

During Spezza’s in-person (Zoom) hearing, the Maple Leafs argued that (a) this was not kneeing, (b) Pionk was eligible to be checked on the play, and (c) Spezza could’ve delivered a legal check had Pionk not fallen further toward the ice before contact.

Player safety agreed only that Pionk was eligible to be hit. Even so, the department maintains that the onus is on Spezza to get lower to deliver a clean hit and avoid head contact.

Player safety described Spezza’s actions as “reckless and retaliatory” for Pionk’s knee-on-knee hit of Rasmus Sandin earlier in the game, describing the Spezza hit as a “forceful retribution on a player who is in a vulnerable position.”

The department also weighed Pionk’s injury; the Jets announced the defenceman is in concussion protocol.

Though they disagree with the ruling, the Maple Leafs wish to avoid excuses or finger-pointing while Spezza sits.

“We’ve got to have guys come in and play and accept more responsibility,” Morgan Rielly said. “And I think we’ve got the depth to do that.”

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Sheldon Keefe after a 5-4 win over Columbus: "It is not a good game for us, but it is a good result" – Maple Leafs Hot Stove

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Sheldon Keefe, Toronto Maple Leafs post game

Sheldon Keefe addressed the media after his team’s 5-4 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets that improved the Leafs’ record to 18-7-2 on the season.


On the team’s performance:

We found ways to strike offensively, whether it was on the power play or on quick chances off the rush, but in terms of how we like to play and how we have played, I don’t think there was a lot to like about the game tonight in any of the periods. I am kind of happy, frankly, that the third period catches up to us because it probably should have.

It is not a good game for us, but it is a good result, obviously. We get back on the good side of it. It is a funny game to play, too, for our guys given we had such big leads at different times. It is all a part of it.

What it tells me, honestly: We are a tired group that needs time. Coming back from California and ending up out in Minnesota and Winnipeg, coming back late at four in the morning the next day… I feel like our team still needs to regroup itself. We are going to take a day off to do that tomorrow.

On Nick Ritchie scoring his first of the season:

Love it. It has been a long time coming. I said to him on the bench that I can’t take a lot of credit because I have been calling it for quite a while now that tonight was going to be the night, but I did feel quite strongly today was going to be the day for him.

He is very quietly playing well here. Coming into tonight, he had four points in his last five games. You could just see it coming. He has had some really good chances. I am thrilled for him, and the team is thrilled for him as well.

On when he began to call Ritchie’s first goal each night:

It has been a while. I started. I stopped. It was his birthday the other day, and we called it that day. In the coach’s room before the game… I thought it was going to be on the power play, though. I am glad it worked out the way it did. It is a good goal for him and a good goal for the team.

On Jason Spezza’s six-game suspension despite his sterling reputation around the league:

Everybody in this room and everybody in the game knows the character and integrity that Jason Spezza has and has played with his entire career. We do and always will support him. Obviously, he is going to weigh his options that he has in this process.

From our perspective, I think it is important that we press on here. I think that is all we can do. That’s what we did tonight. I liked that we came out, played, and got our win without him. That is what we need to continue to do; not make excuses or point fingers.

We will continue to press on and Jason will go through his process.

On the play of Alex Steeves and Kristians Rubins in their NHL debuts:

I thought those guys gave us good shifts. I liked their game. I am going to have to watch some of the details back. In terms of the confidence they both showed with the puck, I liked that.

For the first game for them especially, it is a strange situation.  I guess you can look at it either way — maybe you have less time to think about it, or whatever — but there were no practices even with the team. In Steeves’ case, in particular, he wasn’t in our camp and didn’t know any of our guys. The guys don’t know him. He was just kind of dropped in here.

I thought [Steeves] played with confidence and his game got better throughout. He has some good details to his game. He is a smart guy. He plays with a good conscience out on the ice. I thought it was a good game for both of those guys.

On Auston Matthews’ scoring heater:

Not much surprises me anymore. I don’t think it should surprise anybody what he is capable of. That is the calibre of player that he is.

Obviously, the first goal is a pretty high-end play by Bunting to get that puck to him. That was great to see. He works to get to that spot to score and be there for that goal, and then he gets one down the wing.

Those are the kinds of pucks that haven’t gone in for him this season, so it was great to see that. When those kinds of plays start falling for him, it is obviously great. He is building great momentum here.

On Wayne Simmonds’ fit on the Matthews line:

I don’t know if I ended up juggling it at all. I was happy with how it was going. Obviously, we built the lead early, so there was a lot more reason to just continue managing the bench the way I was — kind of keeping guys rolling. I didn’t feel the need to necessarily change it.

Simmer has worked hard. He has played good hockey for us. It was a good chance tonight with how the game went to get him more consistent reps there and get more time. I thought he did a good job.

On whether Steeves and Rubins will stick around with the team:

We are going to take a day off tomorrow and regroup ourselves. There has been a lot going on around here between injuries and suspensions. We will take our time and see where the roster is at and where the injured guys are at. Obviously, some are going to be long term, but Dermott is making great progress here. We will have to see where he is at.

I know some of our guys are going to skate tomorrow — nobody who played tonight, but some of the guys like Dermott are going to skate. We will have to see where we are at and where the roster is at.

I have kind of lost track with it, to be honest. They just let me know who is eligible tonight and we put the lineup together. We will regroup, obviously. We have a very good team coming here on Thursday that we have to get ready for.

On Bunting’s contributions on the Matthews line:

He has been great. He is gaining more and more confidence in himself and in his role playing with Auston. The line hasn’t had Mitch here now for a few games. For him to make a play as he did is going to help his confidence all the more.

He himself — take the chemistry with Auston and playing on that line away — is just playing good hockey. He is playing with lots of urgency and lots of competitiveness. He keeps finding ways to generate offense and get points. We are feeling good about his game.

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