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VanVleet returns from injury, helps lead Raptors past Wizards – TSN

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TORONTO — Fred VanVleet‘s return to action was a welcome sight for the injury-challenged Toronto Raptors on Friday.

VanVleet returned from a five-game absence because of a knee injury to lead the defending champions to a 122-118 victory over the Washington Wizards despite Bradley Beal‘s impressive 37 points for the visitors.

It wasn’t the most convincing victory for the Raptors, who have won four in a row.

They led by as many as 18 points and surrendered 66 second-half points thanks to eight three-point jumpers by the Wizards. But it was an essential win, considering they lost three key players to injury in Detroit on Wednesday. Leading scorer Pascal Siakam (stretched groin), Marc Gasol (left hamstring strain) and Norm Powell (partially separated left shoulder) each are listed as out.

As a result, VanVleet felt the time was right for his return. He was rusty at time, but good enough for 18 points, nine rebounds and eight assists in 33:38 on the court.

“It was very important,” he said. “I was turning the corner anyway. But to have what three of our top six guys, it’s not very fortunate for our ball club. I tried to get back out there and give our guys a better chance to win. I’d like to think I increased our chances of winning tonight regardless of how ugly it was.

“There’s no magic pill for those guys to get better. We want them to take their time. We have got to band together and do our best given the circumstance.”

Kyle Lowry led the Raptors with 26 points, and centre Serge Ibaka certainly stepped up in Gasol’s absence. He checked in with 23 points, 10 rebounds and a pair of monster blocks in the first half. OG Anunoby added 18.

“We came out, and the ball was going in,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “We were flying around pretty good. We had 25 deflections in the first half, which is a huge number.

“But in the second half, we never got into a rhythm at either end.”

Nurse decided to go with a small lineup in the absence of his key players. VanVleet started at point guard, and Patrick McCaw replaced Siakam.

“It’s going to be a work in progress,” Lowry said. “I think guys will continue to get comfortable every game. We have to continue to have guys step up.

“Having Freddy back definitely helped.”

The Raptors jumped out to an early 11-5 advantage, led 40-23 after the first quarter, and were up 68-52 at the half.

The Wizards closed to within 96-85 after three quarters and roared back to tie the game 107-107 with under five minutes to play after Beal, Admiral Schofield and Ish Smith each hit three-point jumpers.

But McCaw and Lowry hit late three-pointers to put Toronto ahead 116-110 and provide some breathing room.

McCaw had the difficult assignment of guarding Beal.

“I know Beal had 37, but Pat was making it tough on him in some stretches during that game,” Nurse said.

The Wizards lost for the ninth time in 11 outings. Smith finished with 26 points.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 20, 2019.

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Game #3 Review: Toronto Maple Leafs 3 vs. Ottawa Senators 2 – Maple Leafs Hot Stove

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This was a dominant performance by the Toronto Maple Leafs, although it felt a little too close for comfort late in the game.

For the most part, it was the response the Leafs needed as they depart Ottawa with two of the four points on offer this weekend.

Your game in ten:

1.  Jack Campbell didn’t need to be great (17 saves), but he was solid, and that was good enough tonight.

His best work came on the Evgenii Dadonov and Derek Stepan chances with the score at 3-2 late in the game. On the big save on Dadonov, he reacted well with his glove splayed, although I don’t think he knew all that much about the save— Dadonov fired that back against the grain right into the goalie and it struck Campbell in the far shoulder.

I thought the Tim Stutzle goal looked stoppable at first given it went through him on his near post, but it’s a tough one to read with such a uniquely-taken one-timer, and if you watch the replay closely, it looks to me like it was headed for a routine stop into Campbell’s mid-section before it ticked off the top of Zach Bogosian’s stick blade in front and found the 7-hole.

Campbell didn’t have to be outstanding, but he was quieter, steadier, more on his angle, and looked bigger in the net than the Leafs goaltending performances we had seen in the first two games.

2.  It’s what everyone is going to be talking about, so let’s get it out of the way: Should the Leafs go back to Frederik Andersen on Monday vs. Winnipeg? In my view, yes. I don’t think it’s wise to fuel a goaltending controversy three games into the season — after a short camp and no exhibitions — knowing how critical it is to have Andersen up and rolling if the Leafs have serious designs on winning the division and going deep in the playoffs.

The Leafs gave up more home-free and grade-A chances in both of the games Andersen started. Not that I am excusing Andersen’s play, which we have been plenty critical of here, but it’s just not the move yet at this juncture. The leash should be shorter this year than in past seasons, but not this short.

If the Leafs felt he was getting complacent and needed a kick in the rear / the shock of a benching, then maybe, but that’s not the vibe I’ve gotten about Andersen’s situation. The reports were Andersen was back to Toronto very early this year putting in more work than he ever has to get ready for the season.

That said, I wouldn’t be affording him his customary 10-game slow start if it doesn’t turn around at all this week. Not in a 56-game year, not after his last regular season and playoff qualifier.

3.  You could point out that the Leafs dominated the possession time in both games and you would mostly be right, but it was more than just a little more puck luck tonight (though Mitch Marner got some on his 2-1 goal). The Leafs generated nearly 60% of the expected goals, over 71% of the shot attempts, and 65% of the even-strength shots. The night before, they clocked more zone time than Ottawa but lost both the 5v5 shots share and expected goals battle.

The Leafs were playing faster, generating more off the rush, and spending less time stuck on the perimeter in the o-zone. They spent very little time defending and had fewer breakdowns as a result, although there is still more than enough to clean up there from tonight’s game tape.

Overall, it was a dominant performance, a solid response, and they were full marks for the two points.

4.  I liked how the Leafs didn’t show any panic in their game after the 1-0 Ottawa goal, but I did not like the ending to their game after they appeared to have the two points secure at 3-1.

There was a shift where they were running around prior to Tim Stutzle’s goal, a somewhat soft penalty that Zach Hyman should’ve been more careful about at that juncture of the game, and then a mystifying shift from Mitch Marner coming off of the late Leafs power play.

Marner first didn’t get the puck in deep, turning it over in the neutral zone, and then tried a cutesy pass inside his own slot with the Senators goalie pulled for a mind-boggling turnover that needed a Campbell stick-knob save to ensure Marner wasn’t wearing massive goat horns after a much better game from him overall.

5.  The players the Leafs needed bounce-back games from, they got bounce-back games from, led by the top line and the top pairing. TJ Brodie’s man scored on the 1-0 goal, but he wasn’t playing Nick Paul all that loose, and it was a strange bounce that got caught up in the pants of Paul and fell perfectly for him. The Leafs’ forwards were really slow to close down on the point off of the lost draw, too.

Beyond that, Brodie cut out a 3v1 with a beautiful sweep check — snuffing out the pass and the shot — nicely defended another 2v1 on the PK, generated a number of good defensive stops via shot blocks and good sticks, and sent the nice stretch pass for the Joe Thornton goal for his first point as a Leaf. Two good games and one stinker so far as he adjusts to the new team and partner — encouraging overall.

Brodie’s pairing with Morgan Rielly was a 38% CF, outshot 9-3, outscored 2-0, with an Expected Goals For percentage of 22% at 5v5 last night. Tonight, they were a 68% CF, outshot the Sens 7-4, outscored them 2-1, and finished at 59% xGF.

6.  Travis Dermott saw just 1:50 of ice time with the Leafs in possession of the lead in the third period as partner Zach Bogosian was mixed in next to Rielly and Jake Muzzin at different points. Overall, Dermott clocked less than 9 minutes TOI.

Especially given Brodie hasn’t looked particularly sharp on the power play to me, it feels like the Leafs have nothing to lose mixing in Mikko Lehtonen at this point. I’d expect to see it this week.

7.  Most consistent Leafs through three games: John Tavares and Auston Matthews. Both are initiating contact and playing with a lot of urgency all around. Matthews’ skating is up another level somehow, and Tavares is moving better than where he left off last year.

8.  Alex Kerfoot has had some good moments through three games as well, including a nice goal on Friday and a penalty draw to set up the Matthews goal tonight after he broke in alone. He blended into the background in too many games last year, but he has shown good bursts of pace and has been more involved offensively.

The real test of the Leafs’ depth: What happens if they pull the trigger on Hyman and/or Mikheyev moving up into the top six (Hyman was up there for the o-zone draw preceding Marner’s goal tonight)? Kerfoot will need to be more of a driver more consistently than he was last season if he loses Hyman, in particular.

9.  Speaking of the team’s depth, this news is really unfortunate for Nick Robertson, who was flying on his first shift and might have given the fourth line a shot in the arm if given the chance.

The Leafs are thin on the LW, especially if Alex Barbanov isn’t a capable regular for them. It seems to me that Sheldon Keefe is going to have to give Pierre Engvall a chance again at some point. He may not be a center, but I think he could give the team up to 10 decent minutes utilizing his size and speed up and down the wing. Keep in mind Jason Spezza might not stick at center for all 56-games this year, too, so having the option they ran in the playoffs last summer might be necessary. I’m already starting to think about the deadline needs here, if I’m honest.

10.  After three goals against in the first two games, the Leafs’ penalty kill came away with a clean sheet despite five Senators power-play opportunities, including 1:21 of a 5-on-3, allowing the Leafs to win the special teams battle (on Matthews’ power-play goal). Justin Holl and Jake Muzzin both played huge minutes here (5-6 minutes apiece, and they were also solid at 5v5). Part of it was the Senators looking static on the PP at points, but the biggest thing for the Leafs was their execution on faceoffs. They won five of six defensive-zone draws shorthanded, with Jason Spezza winning all four of his right-side draws and Auston Matthews winning his one draw on the left.


Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Ottawa Senators


Heat Map: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Ottawa Senators


Game Highlights

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Can Raptors keep winning with such instability at center? – The Athletic

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There was a period in Toronto Raptors history when the starting centre seemed to change every game. Maybe you’ve heard about it recently. The 2005-06 season is, after all, the benchmark for poor starts to a Raptors season. In the wake of the Vince Carter trade, the team opened 0-9, starting Loren Woods, Rafael Araujo, Aaron Williams and Matt Bonner at the five. Throughout the season, they’d also try Pape Sow, Antonio Davis and Chris Bosh.

That team was marked not only by rotating centres but also by centres with incredibly short leashes. Williams averaged 9.3 minutes as a starter, Woods 13.5, Araujo 13.8 and Sow under 20, even once the tank was very clearly on.

The tank is not on for the Raptors this season, but they are decidedly borrowing from a lesser era for the franchise. On Saturday, Aron Baynes started at centre and played just four minutes. This came one game after he started and played eight, and after Alex Len totalled 14 minutes over two starts.

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Canadiens score a gusher of goals to beat Oilers – Montreal Gazette

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Carey Price made 34 saves and Jeff Petry and Tomas Tatar each scored two goals as the Canadiens rolled to a 5-1 victory over the Edmonton Oilers Saturday at Rogers Place.

Price was the major reason why the Edmonton power play, which ranked No. 1 in the NHL last season, went 0-for-3. He made 10 of his saves while the Oilers were enjoying the man advantage.

After a slow start, the Canadiens set the tone for this game in the first period. They dominated the play and outshot Edmonton 15-9, but had to settle for a 1-0 lead on a power-play goal by former Oiler Petry.

The Montreal power play has been much better in the early going and Petry’s goal was an example of a great individual effort. His shot from the right faceoff circle hit goaltender Mikko Koskinen on the chest and the puck bounced in the air. Petry batted it down as he circled behind the net and scored from the left side.

The Canadiens had a couple of other scoring chances in the first period. Brendan Gallagher and Jesperi Kotkaniemi both hit posts and Koskinen made a big save on Tyler Toffoli early in the period.

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