TORONTO – It’s a rare occasion now that William Nylander gets to play against his younger brother Alex in the NHL, but as the Maple Leafs and Chicago Blackhawks prepare to clash on Saturday, the elder Nylander can’t help laughing over the many heated competitions dotting their past.
“Whatever we were doing, if it was soccer, baseball or whatever, it was always a battle,” Nylander said after the Leafs’ team meeting on Saturday. “In ping-pong we would end up in fights. But that was just part of it growing up. Every time I play him now, it’s very special and lots of fun. We went out to dinner last night, and we were joking about it. We’re looking forward to today.”
The Nylander boys come from athletic stock, sons of former NHLer Michael (who will be in attendance at Saturday’s game) and siblings to aspiring tennis pro Jacqueline. Nylander freely admits to “getting [my] butt kicked” when taking the court against his sister, but is less jovial about Alex holding this season’s bragging rights after Chicago topped Toronto 5-4 in their first meeting on Nov. 10.
William scored twice in that game while Alex didn’t make it onto the scoresheet, but those details hardly matter compared to the final score.
“I mean, winning is what counts,” Nylander shrugged. “He’s had them since the last game so we got to get that back.”
Should that happen, Nylander is primed to be very involved. Since the calendar turned to 2020, Nylander has seven points (four goals, three assists) in seven games, adding to his full season total of 42 points (21 goals, 21 assists).
Recently the winger has been finding his way even more to the middle of the ice, and now leads the NHL in goals scored from the net-front area with 17. But while the shift has influenced his output, it’s not something Nylander was particularly focused on changing.
“I haven’t really thought about that part of my game,” he admitted. “It’s just that you know where most of the goals are scored, so the more you’re around that area, the higher the chances are you’ll end up scoring. So you try to find your way there.”
Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe thinks there’s a bit more to his success around the net than Nylander cops to, so much so he’s had the winger take over as the net-front presence on the team’s top power play unit.
“His timing is right on,” Keefe said. “He hangs around in those spaces, so I think his intelligence and his instincts with reading the play and when it’s going to come [are strong]. The [goal] that stands out for me recently was that pass from [Pierre] Engvall the other day; on the backside it looked like the puck was going to leave the zone, but he just kind of hangs back and reads that he might get it back.”
Still, there’s a certain balance to be struck there for the instances where Nylander doesn’t get the puck back, and then isn’t in a great spot as the play moves the other way, but that’s just one part of a learning curve that Nylander is otherwise appearing to ace.
“He’s figuring out that [spot is] where a lot of goals come from and he’s in a really good area to get there,” said Zach Hyman. “And he’s being strong [on the puck] and putting the puck in the net so he’s been great.”
Nylander has also embraced his new position on the power play, in part because it allows for him to be versatile, and even switch around occasionally with John Tavares in the middle of the ice.
“You don’t have to really be stuck in front of the net,” he insisted. “You can also be an outlet down low, so it’s been good.”
When the puck drops on Saturday’s game, Nylander will no doubt try to spy his brother on the other side of the ice, but Alex isn’t the only Blackhawk that’s pulling his attention. Nylander admits to being a long-time fan of Chicago winger Patrick Kane, and still finds new things about him to admire.
“The way he played the game, the way he saw the game; he’s the best scoring player of the last decade,” Nylander said. “You know the level [he’s on] right there. There are obviously things that you notice more playing against him versus on TV, just small little things, but he’s got that elite skill level.”
Now 48 games into his own season, Nylander is just one goal away from matching his career-high of 22, tallied through 82 games as a rookie in 2016-17. He’s also one game away from the Leafs’ bye week and the NHL All-Star Break, seven days away from hockey that will start with a trip for Nylander, Kasperi Kapanen, Frederik Andersen and Jake Muzzin to play golf at Augusta National.
“Muzz is probably the best out of all of us, but we’ll try to beat him there, it’ll be fun,” Nylander said. “We haven’t played in a while so it’ll be fun to get away and play a course like that.”
And when he returns to the ice, Nylander’s hoping not to have skipped a beat. While this year hasn’t been without a few bumps in the road for him, including a second period benching from Keefe on Dec. 21 after one too many defensive lapses, Nylander has seemingly found his way now to a comfortable consistency.
“He’s a good player, and he’s putting himself in good spots,” Keefe said. “I think we’ve had the puck a lot as a team too, and when we do that I feel like it benefits a player like William, and he seems to be confident in that sense that he’s going to have the puck a lot.”
Raptors’ Powell to return vs. Hornets; Ibaka, VanVleet out with injury – Sportsnet.ca
The Toronto Raptors will be without Serge Ibaka and Fred VanVleet when they take on the Charlotte Hornets on Friday, however Norman Powell will make his return from injury, Raptors coach Nick Nurse said before the game.
Nurse also stated that Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Powell will start in place of VanVleet and Ibaka.
Ibaka was previously listed as doubtful due to right knee soreness. He struggled in Toronto’s loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday, finishing with five points on an abysmal 2-for-15 shooting, including a 1-for-10 mark from three-point range.
Overall, the 30-year-old has enjoyed one of the best seasons of his career in 2019-20. He’s averaging a career-best 15.9 points to go along with 8.0 rebounds per game.
VanVleet had not previously been on the injury report, however he is also listed as out due to left shoulder pain.
The 26-year-old is averaging 17.6 points and 6.6 assists per game in 48 appearances this year.
Powell, who hasn’t played since Jan. 31 due to a fractured fourth metacarpal on his left hand, figures to shoulder a heavy minutes load right off the bat due to VanVleet’s absence.
Earlier this season, Powell also missed a stretch of 11 games after dislocating his shoulder.
Through 38 games this year, the 26-year-old is averaging a career-high 15.3 points and 3.9 rebounds per game.
The Raptors will also be without Marc Gasol, who continues to be sidelined with a left hamstring injury.
Zamboni driver turned NHL goalie David Ayres given his own hockey card – CTV News
The Toronto-area Zamboni driver who became famous after suiting up at the last minute for the Carolina Hurricanes has now been awarded a hockey card in his honour.
David Ayres, a 42-year-old from Whitby, Ont., joined the Hurricanes as an emergency goalie on Saturday after both their regular goalies left the game due to injury. Ayres went on to make eight saves on 10 shots to help the Hurricanes beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 6-3.
Since the win, Ayres has become an internet sensation, leading to appearances on the TODAY show and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, to name a few. He was went to Raleigh, N.C., where he celebrated “David Ayres Day” in the city by signing autographs from Hurricanes fans and ringing the “siren sounder” before the game.
The stick Ayres used in the game has also been sent to the Hockey Hall of Fame, due to the fact he is now the oldest goalie to win in their NHL debut and the only emergency goalie to ever record an official win in the league.
Ayres’ 15 minutes of fame is not yet over, however, as the trading card company Upper Deck has created a hockey card in his name.
“When we saw the moment, we were blown away by how special it was,” Chris Carlin, head of customer experience at Upper Deck, said in a phone interview with CTVNews.ca.
Ayers is featured in Upper Deck’s “Game Dated Moments” collection, which are cards unveiled on a weekly-basis that highlight notable performances from the past week. Ayres’ card features him standing in the Hurricanes’ net, wearing the team’s jersey and Maple Leafs equipment, while the back of the card tells the story of the game.
Other cards in Ayres’ pack include an Alexander Ovechkin card highlighting his 700th career goal and one about Los Angeles Kings forward Gabriel Vilardi, who scored his first NHL goal just 10 seconds into his first shift.
Carlin said the cards for each week are chosen based on fan requests and that calls for an Ayers card were “like something we’ve never seen before.” It’s already one of their top-performing weekly designs.
“We knew it was a special moment, so it was important for us to dedicate all the resources we had to acquiesce to our fans,” he said.
“There is surprisingly huge demand for a 42-year-old rookie.”
Creating the card didn’t come without its own challenges, however. Because Ayres is not a member of the NHL Players Association, Upper Deck had to secure a deal with Ayres directly for permission to make the card.
“I was surprised myself that we were able to get this done in three days,” Carlin said. “Our window is so tight on these ‘Game Dated Moments’ cards that it’s really a tough one to get done. It’s not the hardest thing to go out and get an image rights deal with someone, but to get it done within three days is pretty much unheard of.”
Carlin said Ayres will also have a “Young Guns” rookie card in his name, which is set for release in mid-May and some autographed cards at a later date.
“We disputed perhaps calling it an ‘old guns’ given his age, because typically the players are anywhere from 18 to 20,” he joked.
Carlin added certain versions of Ayers’ rookie card will only be printed 10 or 100 times, meaning they could hold some serious value.
Oilers' Green (sprained MCL) out 3-4 weeks – TSN
EDMONTON — Newly acquired Edmonton Oilers defenceman Mike Green will miss three to four weeks with a knee injury.
The Oilers announced Friday that Green has a sprained MCL. He was hurt in a loss against Vegas on Wednesday.
The Oilers acquired Green in a trade with the Detroit Red Wings early Monday, hours before the NHL’s trade deadline.
Green was playing his second game with the Oilers when he suffered the injury.
The 34-year-old Calgary native has three goals and eight assists in 50 combined games with Detroit and Edmonton this season.
According to TSN’s Ryan Rishaug, Kailer Yamamoto and Kris Russell will be game-time decisions tomorrow after being re-evaluated. Both players took regular reps in practice.
Trade deadline acquisition Andreas Athanasiou, who left last game with a lower-body injury, is good to go. James Neal skated but is still a ways away from playing and defenceman Oscar Klefbom didn’t skate with the main group.
Zack Kassian returns tomorrow from a seven-game suspension and Mike Smith is expected to start on Saturday against the Winnipeg Jets.
The Oilers (33-23-8) entered Friday night’s action holding the third and final playoff spot in the Pacific Division.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 28, 2020.
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