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Eight Maple Leafs set to take part in World Cup

From Official Toronto Maple Leafs

While most people celebrated Labour Day Monday, the cream of the NHL’s crop assembled at training camps in Europe and North America to prepare for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. And, in an indication of the bright future of the organization, the Maple Leafs can boast of a slew of players – and their head coach – who have the honour of competing in the eight-team tournament that will be situated solely at Air Canada Centre in Toronto.

Eight Leafs will participate in the World Cup, and two of the franchise’s most prominent youngsters – defenceman Morgan Rielly and 2016 No. 1 draft pick Auston Matthews, who’ll both skate for the Team North America 23-and-Under group – will remain teammates in the two-week tourney. The same goes for veteran Toronto winger Milan Michalek and returning blueliner Roman Polak, who’ll play for Team Czech Republic. Meanwhile, winger James van Riemsdyk will represent Team U.S.A.; winger Leo Komarov will play for Team Finland; first-year Leafs D-man Nikita Zaitsev will suit up for Team Russia; new Toronto goaltender Jhonas Enroth will represent Team Sweden; and bench boss Mike Babcock (along with Leafs video coach Andrew Brewer and equipment manager Brian Papineau) will guide Team Canada.

New Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen was scheduled to play for Team Europe (an amalgam of players from European teams not noted above) and boost to nine the number of Leafs in the tournament, but Toronto GM Lou Lamoriello announced Monday Andersen suffered an upper-body injury that will sideline him for 3-4 weeks and prevent him from playing in the World Cup. (Andersen is expected to be ready for the beginning of the 2016-17 NHL regular-season.)

In any case, Leafs fans will have at least one member of the organization to keep an eye on in each and every game of the World Cup, which will stage its first exhibition contests in a one-week period (Sept. 8-14). Those games are to be contested in Columbus, Pittsburgh, Montreal, Ottawa, Quebec City, Helsinki, Prague, Gothenburg, St. Petersburg and Washington, D.C. – and all eight teams will play three warmup games apiece in that span before the preliminary round kicks off Sept. 17 at the ACC.

The tournament format features two groups – Group A (consisting of Canada, the United States, Team Europe and the Czechs) and Group B (comprised of Team Finland, the Russians, Team Sweden and Team North America) – and the two top teams in each of those groups will qualify for the semifinals that run from Sept. 24-25. In a new wrinkle to the World Cup (which last was played in 2004 in Toronto), the winners from those semifinals will square off in a best-of-three series taking place Sept. 27, Sept. 29 and, if necessary, Oct. 1.

For many Buds boosters, the tournament will be their first opportunity to see Matthews up close in competition in Toronto. The same can be said for Zaitsev, a 24-year-old who signed with the Leafs after seven seasons in the Russian-based Kontinental League. But the chance to have so many of the organization’s players gaining experience in high-pressure scenarios is the true benefit for the team. Whether it’s Rielly (a 22-year-old who’ll be entering his fourth NHL season this year), van Riemsdyk (who is coming off an injury that limited him to 40 games last season) Komarov (who posted career-bests in a number of offensive categories last year) or anyone else, all Leafs participating in the World Cup can come away from it as stronger competitors when Toronto’s regular season begins Oct. 12 in Ottawa.

And that’s something Leafs fans – no matter which country or team they support at the World Cup – should be excited for.

Source: Eight Maple Leafs set to take part in World Cup

Five Takeaways from Maple Leafs vs. Canucks

From Official Toronto Maple Leafs

Here are five takeaways from the Maple Leafs’ 5-2 victory over the Vancouver Canucks Saturday at Rogers Arena:

Absence of regulars didn’t matter to their replacements.

Playing once again without injured veterans James van Riemsdyk, Nazem Kadri, Tyler Bozak, Shawn Matthias, Joffrey Lupul – as well as Josh Leivo, who’d scored two goals in the two games prior to Saturday night’s tilt against the Canucks, but was hurt Thursday against Edmonton – the Leafs recalled forwards Brendan Leipsic and Jeremy Morin from the American League Saturday. But it was another former Marlie in Mark Arcobello who stepped up in their absence, scoring his first two goals as a Leaf just 17 seconds apart (and 90 seconds after Vancouver’s Daniel Sedin opened the scoring) early in the second period. The 27-year-old Arcobello bounced between four NHL teams last season, but he did everything asked of him at the AHL level this year and now has his first points of the season in his 14th game with the Buds. Head coach Mike Babcock rewards players who take advantage of opportunity, and Arcobello has done enough on this Western Canadian road trip to get more of them in the near-future.

New face Leipsic has dream NHL debut.

The 21-year-old didn’t lead the team in ice time in his first game in hockey’s best league – in fact, he logged only 9:28 Saturday – but did have a couple solid scoring chances early on. And then, at the 3:54 mark of the third frame, he batted in a puck out of the air and past veteran netminder Ryan Miller for his first NHL goal. Leipsic also got the famous rookie treatment of skating on the ice all alone in the warmup, while his amused teammates looked on in the hallway to the dressing room. Leipsic has been one of the Marlies’ best players this year (14 goals and 34 points in 47 AHL games), and it’s safe to say (a) he’ll remember this game for the rest of his life, and (b) he’ll be getting another chance to show what he can do at the NHL level in the weeks and months ahead.

Jake Gardiner once again taking steps forward.

In the three games since losing former defensive partner Dion Phaneuf to a trade to the Senators, Gardiner’s game has grown in leaps and bounds on the offensive end: he had a goal against both Calgary and Edmonton, effortlessly moved the puck deep into Vancouver’s zone and toward Miller to help set up Arcobello’s second goal of the night, and grabbed his second assist of the night on Leipsic’s goal. The 25-year-old blueliner’s confidence is clearly on an upward trajectory, and Toronto’s offence is benefitting from it.

An all-around effort leads to first win of the road trip.

The Leafs hadn’t won in Vancouver since 2003, but despite surrendering the first goal of the game Saturday, Toronto out-shot the Canucks 31-13 through the first 40 minutes of play and made life much easier for netminder James Reimer, who picked up his 11th win of the season by turning aside all but two of the 19 total shots he saw. Babcock stresses that smart, sustained effort can make up for the absence of talent, and on this night, the Leafs in the lineup proved him right.

Savour the win, but not for too long.

The win over the Canucks snapped a three-game losing streak, but the Leafs can’t admire it for very long at all, because their next game is in Chicago against the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks. When last the Buds and Hawks played – Jan. 15 at Air Canada Centre – Toronto was steamrolled 4-1 by a visiting team that got a hat trick from Patrick Kane. And although the Blackhawks have cooled down since then, it will take nothing less than a virtually mistake-proof effort from the Leafs to remain in the win column for the second consecutive game.

Source: Five Takeaways from Maple Leafs vs. Canucks

Leafs’ fill-ins fill Vancouver net: Feschuk

From The Star

VANCOUVER—In the handful of days since the Maple Leafs traded captain Dion Phaneuf, head coach Mike Babcock has been putting a positive spin on a less-than-optimal situation.

For an intensely competitive coach who likes nothing more than to celebrate a nightly victory, Toronto’s roster is nightmarishly short on established difference makers. But Babcock has used the state of affairs as motivational fodder.

“It’s an opportunity for everybody,” Babcock has said.

And in Saturday’s 5-2 win over the Canucks, he wasn’t kidding. In the first period alone the Maple Leafs’ pair of power-play opportunities were handed over to a list of names a fan wouldn’t automatically associate with man-advantage situations. Brendan Leipsic, 21, was making his NHL debut as an emergency call-up — he got nearly two minutes of power-play run. Colin Greening and Mark Arcobello have spent most of the season in the AHL; they were both featured prominently.

Babcock was effectively saying, “Here’s your NHL moment — seize it.”

Leipsic certainly did. Along with logging those power-play minutes, he scored his first NHL goal, batting what turned out to be the third-period winner into the net with a waist-high swat from the slot.

Arcobello seized the opportunity, too, potting a pair of second-period goals in a span of 17 seconds to help the Maple Leafs snap a three-game losing streak. On a night when the visitors put on a possession-game clinic, doubling the shots-on-goal total of the playoff-hopeful Canucks, 38-19, Leafs veterans Leo Komarov and Brad Boyes scored empty-netters to pad the total.

“That’s a case study in what we’re capable of,” said Rich Clune, another Leaf better known for his work with the Marlies this year, who assisted on Leipsic’s goal. “Getting a win on the road against a highly skilled team like Vancouver — I think we frustrated them, especially early on. I think our work ethic is our key.”

Indeed, for all the minor-leaguers on their bench on Saturday, the Maple Leafs roundly outplayed the Canucks for most of the evening. On the Canucks’ three cracks on the power play, the diligent work of the visitors limited the home team to a combined two shots. Daniel Sedin and Sven Baertschi scored for the Canucks. But Leipsic’s goal turned out to be the difference.

“Lucky to get a stick on it,” said Leipsic, a 21-year-old Winnipegger acquired a year ago in the trade that sent Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli to Nashville.

Clune, who played on Leipsic’s line on Saturday, gave it more credit.

“The hand-eye coordination, you can’t fake that,” Clune said. “That’s a legit goal. I’m so proud of him.”

Babcock described the five-foot-nine Leipsic as “a greasy little guy who’s got real good skill level, tenacity about him.” Clune, who played with Leipsic last season in Milwaukee, said Leipsic has been largely overlooked by Leafs Nation because he plays on a team with higher-profile assets like William Nylander and Connor Brown.

“William Nylander’s the number one guy, rightfully so. But (Leipsic) is a legit prospect behind him,” Clune said. “Maybe it’s even been better for him to fly under the radar. Maybe some people don’t see him coming.”

Leipsic, who didn’t get the benefit of a Friday practice given the emergency call-up that saw him arrive in Vancouver Friday night, became the first Leaf to score in his NHL debut since Nikolai Kulemin did it in the 2008-09 season opener in Detroit.

While the Maple Leafs are in full rebuilding mode, the Canucks, still led by the 35-year-old Sedin twins, are firmly entrenched in a playoff race, coming into Saturday’s game three points out of a Western wild-card spot and likely Canada’s best hope for a representative in the Stanley Cup tournament. So Saturday was an untimely moment for a flat performance, to be sure.

But the Leafs, though they came into the contest in sole possession of the NHL basement and hobbled by injuries that kept the likes of Nazem Kadri, Tyler Bozak, Joffrey Lupul and James van Riemsdyk out of the lineup, deserved the win. If they played what looked like desperate hockey, perhaps it was because Babcock has acknowledged that, for most of the roster, Toronto-based employment is a tenuous thing with the Feb. 29 trade deadline looming.

With plenty of uncertainty in the air, perhaps Arcobello was in his element. The 27-year-old alumnus of Yale University is a burgeoning journeyman; he has played for five different NHL franchises in his most recent two seasons.

“This is a hard league to play in,” Arcobello said. “When you get an open door, you’ve got to take advantage of it . . . You never know when you’re going to get a chance again.”

It was back in the Brian Burke era that the Maple Leafs’ farm team adopted a marketing slogan: “Every Game is a Tryout.” Such is the state of Leafland that the catchphrase suddenly applies on the NHL team, too.

Source: Leafs’ fill-ins fill Vancouver net: Feschuk

Five Takeaways from Maple Leafs vs. Oilers

From Official Toronto Maple Leafs

Here are five takeaways from the Maple Leafs’ 5-2 loss to the Edmonton Oilers Thursday at Rexall Place:

Injury-depleted roster not an excuse in gritty Leafs effort.

Playing without injured veterans Tyler Bozak, James van Riemsdyk, Shawn Matthias, Joffrey Lupul and Nazem Kadri, Toronto was going to be in tough to produce enough offence to beat the high-octane Oilers. But after surrendering the first goal of the game to Edmonton phenom Connor McDavid early in the first period, the Buds answered back with a goal from Josh Leivo to make it 1-1, held the hosts to just three first-period shots on Jonathan Bernier and clawed back from a 3-1 deficit in the middle frame on Jake Gardiner’s second goal in as many games. McDavid scored his second of the night in the third period to put the game out of reach, but they were competitive for the grand majority of the 60 minutes.

Josh Leivo on a roll before leaving the game.

Leivo’s first-period goal – a near-identical copy of the one he scored against Calgary on Tuesday – was his second of the year at this level, his second in two games, and an indication he’s got an NHL-calibre shot. Unfortunately, he didn’t return after the first intermission after suffering an upper-body injury, but the 22-year-old is demonstrating he can provide the offence Toronto has desperately been seeking.

Another above-average night for Jake Gardiner.

Yes, his ill-timed pinch led to McDavid’s first goal, and yes, Gardiner gave away the puck on the same play that ended when he scored his fifth of the year, but Toronto doesn’t have many players who have his patience level and creativity with the puck. He’s still got to improve in some areas, but there are few, if any, Leafs blueliners who can do what Gardiner can on offence.

Mark Arcobello leads way in shots-on-net during season-high in minutes.

The Leafs’ two top forwards in terms of ice time Thursday were veterans Leo Komarov (19:13) and P-A Parenteau (18:17), but a close third was Arcobello, who logged a season-best 17:31 while leading Toronto in shots-on-net (seven). The 27-year-old is still looking for his first NHL point of the season after spending most of it with the AHL’s Marlies, but the coaching staff no doubt will be encouraged by his willingness to put the puck on net.

That McDavid kid is pretty good.

The No. 1 pick of the 2015 NHL draft was the odds-on favorite to win the Calder Trophy as the league’s best rookie this year before a lengthy injury hurt those chances. But McDavid has been nothing short of spectacular since he returned to game action Feb. 2, and his two-goal, five-point performance Thursday against the Leafs is evidence he can still win that award in the 26 regular-season games the Oilers have remaining. After Thursday’s game, the 19-year-old has nine goals and 24 points in 19 games, and betting against him keeping up that point pace would be folly.

Source: Five Takeaways from Maple Leafs vs. Oilers

Dion Phaneuf has left Toronto. Who do the Leafs move next?

From The Globe and Mail – James Mirtle

Dion Phaneuf’s tenure with the Ottawa Senators began in Detroit on Wednesday night. On the second defence pair with youngster Cody Ceci, the former Toronto Maple Leafs captain had a different jersey, with a different number (2) and no letter on his chest.

After 423 games as a Leaf – the Senators’ most bitter rival – it was an odd visual.

Dion Phaneuf traded to Sens: A look at his hockey career in numbers (CP Video)

And the Phaneuf trade is only the beginning. More Leafs are likely to follow him out the door, with the majority of roster spots up for grabs in the 18 days left before the NHL’s trade deadline.

It’s expected Maple Leafs general manager Lou Lamoriello will be one of the NHL’s busiest executives the rest of the way. He has nine pending unrestricted free agents (UFAs) on the current roster, and it makes no sense to hold onto any of them if prospects and/or draft picks can be had in return.

The Leafs have also discussed moving winger Dan Winnik and goaltender Jonathan Bernier, who both have one year on their deals beyond this season, in talks with other teams.

Add in the veterans left from the former management’s core – Joffrey Lupul and Tyler Bozak – and the three hefty contracts the Leafs just added from Ottawa on Tuesday and that is 16 players off the current 27-man roster (including injured reserve) who are undeniably available.

That’s a lot of trade calls.

Realistically, how many will be traded? And what can Toronto expect to get?

The unrestricted free agents

There are two groups of rental players the Leafs have to offer teams. The first – namely P.A. Parenteau and goaltender James Reimer – are players that have had good seasons and will be easy to move for something of value.

Reimer is a special case in that he is the only pending UFA who the team is still trying to re-sign. But he could be a valuable short-term option for a team such as Nashville, which is on the postseason bubble and having issues in goal. At the very least, Parenteau and Reimer should be able to garner second-round picks or solid prospects if they’re moved.

The second group comprises players with more limited value. Defenceman Roman Polak could be an exception given how many teams want big, physical-depth defencemen, but even then it’s hard to imagine he’d fetch much more than a third-round pick.

The Leafs other pending UFAs – Michael Grabner, Shawn Matthias, Nick Spaling, Mark Arcobello, Brad Boyes, Rich Clune – have had marginal production this year (or spent time in the minors) so they’ll be a tougher sell.

It’s worth keeping in mind, however, that the Leafs somehow found takers for players such as Olli Jokinen (sixth-round pick from St. Louis) and Korbinian Holzer (fifth-round pick from Anaheim) at last year’s deadline. Anything is possible. Especially if Toronto takes back bad money in a deal, as they did in accepting Eric Brewer in the Holzer trade.

The trade bait and vets with big contracts

After moving Phaneuf, the Leafs don’t have many “big” contracts left. Lupul is the team’s highest-paid player at $5.25-million a season, followed by James van Riemsdyk, Bozak and Bernier in the $4.2-million range. The only player on the team signed beyond 2017-18 is defenceman Jake Gardiner, who is 25 years old.

It’s difficult to imagine they could find a taker for Lupul, as he has only 14 points in 46 games and is again on injured reserve. Bozak and Bernier, however, should have some value and could possibly be moved for second- or third-round picks simply to shed more salary.

The Leafs moved Winnik to Pittsburgh before last year’s deadline for a second- and fourth-rounder, which isn’t going to happen again given the season he’s had. A mid-round pick would be a reasonable return this time. It’s also possible the Leafs move Ottawa transplants Milan Michalek, Colin Greening and Jared Cowen, who all have one year left on their deals. Cowen, in particular, could be intriguing for a contending team, as he can be bought out at a low cost in the summer in a transaction that will grant extra cap space in 2016-17.

Who is safe?

It’s unlikely the Leafs trade van Riemsdyk, Nazem Kadri, Morgan Rielly or Gardiner, who will form the nucleus of a roster that is going to get even younger with an influx of a half-dozen or so players from the AHL’s Marlies next season.

Everyone else is an option.

That said, someone has to play with the kids next season. The Leafs have to be careful not to go too scorched-earth by putting young players in over their heads – the way Edmonton did – and ending up mired in the NHL’s basement for several more years.

They’ll get a close-up view of that on Thursday against the Oilers, with something of note on the line: The losing team will claim last place in the NHL standings.

Follow on Twitter: @mirtle

Source: Dion Phaneuf has left Toronto. Who do the Leafs move next?

Injury woes still piling up for ‘offensively challenged’ Maple Leafs

From The Globe and Mail – James Mirtle

There will be no James van Riemsdyk in the lineup. No Tyler Bozak. No Shawn Matthias or Joffrey Lupul.

The goal-starved Toronto Maple Leafs – 27th in the NHL with 2.29 goals scored a game – are now without four of their nine highest-scoring forwards. Their injuries range from broken foot (van Riemsdyk) and concussion (Bozak) to whiplash (Matthias) and the inexplicable “middle-body injury”(Lupul).

So they head out on a four-game road trip through Western Canada and Chicago with a few American Hockey Leaguers in the lineup, and their coach again urging them to win ugly.

“It’s real clear how we have to play with our lineup,” Mike Babcock said before he boarded a plane bound for Calgary, where the Leafs play Tuesday. “We went through that this morning [on video].

“Obviously we’re more offensively challenged. But that doesn’t mean you can’t find ways to win.”

Lately, the Leafs have been finding ways to lose. In their last 13 games, they have three wins (and only one in regulation), all but mathematically wiping out their playoff hopes.

Saturday’s loss to the struggling Ottawa Senators may have been Toronto’s worst of the season, especially given – as Babcock said Monday – it was over “in the first eight minutes.”

The Leafs have been in the NHL’s basement all year, but back in early January, it appeared they might claw their way higher. At that point, they were riding a streak of 15-8-5 and sat only five points out of a playoff spot. Now they’re 12 points back, missing much of their meagre offensive talent, and Babcock has resorted to praising Rich Clune whenever he can (“Clune’s been real good for us”).

Going into the game against the Flames, the Leafs playoff chances sat at 3 per cent (via hockeyviz.com). They had a better shot at getting the first overall draft pick – 8 per cent, or fourth-highest in the league. And the more they struggle to score, the more they’ll lose and the better that pick percentage will get.

None of this is a surprise. The Leafs were almost certainly going to be awful this year, and they knew it. It’s early February, and already the organization’s focus is firmly on next season and beyond. In recent days, for example, the Leafs have been heavily scouting two prospects in Finland (Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi) who are projected to be selected at the top of the draft.

A stop in Switzerland to shadow potential No. 1 pick Auston Matthews – the 18-year-old phenom who has a remarkable 24 goals in 31 Swiss league games – is also likely in order.

So the problem with all the injuries isn’t that the Maple Leafs will lose. They were already doing that in fine fashion. What’s troubling is that it’ll be more difficult to trade players such as Matthias or Bozak if they’re banged up.

Lupul? At 32 years old (going on 42) with two years left on a huge contract, he is unmovable.

JVR, meanwhile, is likely staying put, given he was turning into a legitimate star through the first 40 games (van Riemsdyk’s importance to the team is best measured by how brutal the Leafs’ offence has been without him).

All these losses open up considerable holes in an already thin lineup. At Monday’s practice, Babcock had crazy things going on, like Clune on the power play, but he also had Mark Arcobello in a prominent role for the first time in months. Josh Leivo was on the power play, and Brad Boyes was cemented in the lineup, albeit on the fourth line.

Perhaps those four get more minutes and show more than they have to date? Perhaps that shows, in Leivo’s case, that he can play in the NHL as a regular-season regular, or that, in the case of everyone else, there might be some low-end trade value there?

It’s tough searching for reasons to watch the Leafs right now, but that might be one.

Or you can tune in simply to see the latest source of Babcock’s exasperation. You might want popcorn.

“I’m dying for someone to score a goal,” Babcock said. “If you’ve scored in the past, you’re going to get an opportunity to do something.”

And even if you haven’t, step right up.

Follow on Twitter: @mirtle

Source: Injury woes still piling up for ‘offensively challenged’ Maple Leafs

Marlies will try to bring their offence to the NHL

From The Star

The Toronto Maple Leafs have been struggling to score, managing two goals or fewer in 10 of their last 13 games. The Toronto Marlies lead the American Hockey League in goals.

So as the injury bug hits the Leafs again — the parent club will have to do without forwards Tyler Bozak, Joffrey Lupul and Shawn Matthias — they’re going to see if minor-league success can translate to the NHL.

The Leafs recalled Mark Arcobello, Josh Leivo and Rich Clune on Monday. Arcobello leads the Marlies with 20 goals in 34 games.

“He shoots it in the net,” said Leafs head coach Mike Babcock, whose team has struggled on offence since James van Riemsdyk was lost to a foot injury Jan. 9. “I haven’t seen it yet here but we talked about that. We expect all the new guys to be good.”

The injury news wasn’t good for Bozak, who took a hit to the head in Ottawa on Saturday and left the game to undergo part of the league’s mandated concussion protocol.

Babcock said Bozak didn’t partake in Monday’s practice because he “wasn’t feeling well.” Matthias, the coach said, was suffering from “whiplash,” while Lupul “doesn’t have an upper body injury, and he doesn’t have a lower body injury, so let’s call it a middle body injury.”

None of the injured players travelled with the club as it left Monday for Tuesday’s game in Calgary. Bozak and Matthias could rejoin the team at some point during the four-game road trip, depending on their respective recoveries.

Lupul, however, was placed on injured reserve Monday, meaning he will be sidelined for seven to 10 days.

Even with the additions of Arcobello, Leivo and Clune, the Leafs jetted off to Calgary with the bare minimum 12 forwards, with no extra bodies in the case of an injury. They could make a cap-friendly move Tuesday and call up a fourth player from the Marlies, who do not play again until Saturday.

Meanwhile, all three call-ups were thrust onto the Leafs’ power play Monday — at least for practice reps.

For Arcobello, lean times with the Leafs could mean a boom time for him. The key is to reproduce the scoring levels he has shown in the AHL.

“Every time you get an opportunity up here (NHL), it’s up to you … I’m dying for guys to score some goals,” Babcock said.

Arcobello, who tied an NHL record by playing with four different teams in 2014-15 (Edmonton, Nashville, Pittsburgh, and Arizona), had 17 goals in 77 games last season. Nine of those goals came in the final 27 games with Arizona.

Those numbers attracted the Leafs, who signed him to a one-year deal in July. But Arcobello went goalless in 11 games this season before being sent to the Marlies. There, he and Leivo are among the top 10 in AHL scoring.

“I think there was … and I think there still is (opportunity),” Arcobello said. “I was given a good look (with the Leafs), I had a slow start for some reason, and now there’s another chance.”

Babcock characterized the jump from the AHL to the NHL by comparing defencemen in the two leagues. “They face regular defencemen in the AHL,” he said. “In the NHL . . . you’re facing trees.”

“I have to get out there and shoot more, I have to trust my abilities,” Arcobello said. “Getting sent down is a bit of a blow to your confidence, but coming up again should be a boost.”

Source: Marlies will try to bring their offence to the NHL

Leafs prepare for Western Conference swing

From Official Toronto Maple Leafs

Once you become a Maple Leafs player, you almost instantly reach a recognition level among the public that takes some adjusting to. But even veteran Leafs are sometimes surprised at the power the Blue & White has in making you familiar to perfect strangers – and not just in Toronto, either.

Take goaltender James Reimer, for instance. The 27-year-old has become accustomed to Torontonians recognizing him in and around the city, but he was taken aback when, during a vacation that took him to one of the world’s greatest tourist attractions, he was spotted by people who knew exactly who he was.

“A couple years ago, we were on the second level at the Eiffel Tower, and someone came up and said hello,” Reimer said of a summer trip to Europe he and wife, April, embarked on. “I think they were people from Toronto, though, so I’m not sure if that really counts, but there you go.”

Oh, it counts, alright. The vast reach of and emotion behind Leafs Nation is always something to behold, and one night early in Reimer’s six-year NHL career, when the Buds were in Edmonton to take on the Oilers, still stands out as especially remarkable for him in that regard.

“The most surprising thing I’ve ever had, was, I think it was my second year, and my first game in Edmonton,” Reimer said. “We stepped on the ice, and the place erupted. And it was the only time in my career where the crowd noise has surprised me. I stepped on the ice and I was like, ‘Oh, Edmonton must be stepping on the ice at the same time,’ but there was no sight of them. They were just cheering for us, and it was loud. It was crazy; it was like a home game.”

Reimer and his teammates will be back in Edmonton on Thursday of this week as part of a four-game road trip that also includes stops in Calgary Tuesday, Vancouver Saturday and Chicago Monday. As always, Leafs jerseys will be seen in each of those cities, and after a less-than-ideal showing against the Ottawa Senators over the weekend, Toronto’s players are intent on giving all the team’s fans much more to cheer about.

“We didn’t love our start and we didn’t love our game in general,” Leafs centre Nazem Kadri said of Toronto’s 6-1 defeat at the hands of the Senators Saturday. “I feel like we didn’t execute the game plan, we didn’t give ourselves a good chance to win. So we talked about having a good response, and getting as many of the eight points as we can get on the road.”

“Right now, the biggest thing for us is that we bounce back and start playing our style again,” added defenseman Morgan Rielly. “We’ve got to get back to what makes us successful: that’s hard work, playing our style and being accountable. Practice today was about getting back into our routine, working hard and looking forward to playing tomorrow.”

The injury bug has bitten into the Leafs in recent days, and as a result, centre Tyler Bozak, winger Joffrey Lupul and forward Shawn Matthias won’t be making the trip out west. That’s opened up opportunities for forwards Josh Leivo, Mark Arcobello and Rich Clune – all of whom were recalled from the American League’s Marlies on Monday – and head coach Mike Babcock is hoping they (or anyone, at this stage in the season) takes advantage of it. His team’s ability to produce offence has taken a big hit beginning with the injury-related absence of winger James van Riemsdyk, and he’ll take help from anyone who can help the group regain their confidence with the puck.

“It’s real clear how we have to play with our lineup,” Babcock said after practice. “We were really rolling there when James was with us. Obviously, we’re more offensively-challenged (now), but that doesn’t mean you can’t find ways to win. Play well without the puck, check real hard and compete real hard, score on your power play, stay out of the penalty box. So there’s lots of good ways to go about it. I think there’s a real challenge for us, and we’re excited about doing it.”

And, no doubt, Leafs Nation out west, and everywhere else, will be excited to see them.

Source: Leafs prepare for Western Conference swing

Five Takeaways from Maple Leafs vs. Senators

From Official Toronto Maple Leafs

Here are five takeaways from the Maple Leafs’ 6-1 loss to the Ottawa Senators Saturday at Canadian Tire Centre:

Early defensive lapses hang Reimer out to dry.

For more than a few games this season, Leafs goalie James Reimer made a slew of great stops to keep his team in a competitive position when their focus wasn’t where it needed to be early on. Unfortunately, the Buds gave him little-to-no defensive support to start Saturday’s game, and the Sens scored three times in the first seven-and-a-half minutes before Jonathan Bernier took over in net. Toronto’s first-period struggles are nothing new at this stage, but it’s clearly not an easy fix.

Bernier solid in relief of Reimer.

Bernier didn’t enter the contest under ideal circumstances, but the veteran made several huge saves, turned aside 14 of 17 Ottawa shots, and finished the night with an effort that couldn’t be questioned.

Toronto’s penalty-killers were perfect, but nothing worked on the power play.

The Leafs limited the Senators to three power plays and didn’t allow a goal, but weren’t able to capitalize on any of the four man advantages Ottawa gave them. The absence of injured winger James van Riemsdyk doesn’t help their power play unit, but no NHL power play thrives simply because of one player. Toronto can’t accumulate a large number of high-quality chances in close, and in today’s NHL, that usually means goals won’t follow.

Leafs’ offence remains a problem.

The Buds’ only goal was scored by winger P-A Parenteau (his 13th of the season and second in his past three games), but it came far too late – in fact, it was the final goal of the evening – to make any difference. Much like their struggles at the start of games, Toronto’s problems generating offence are well-known at this stage of the season. In the 31 regular-season games that remain, they’ll need to be better at grinding out goals, or suffer a similar fate as the one they did in Ottawa.

A day to regroup before a challenging Western trip begins.

With very little in the way of positives to take from this night, the Leafs will head back to Toronto, practice at home Monday, then depart for a four-game Western road trip for games against the Flames, Oilers, Canucks and defending-champion Blackhawks. Three of those four opponents currently are out of a playoff position, but Toronto’s players will need to re-establish a tighter defensive game in short order to beat any of them.

Source: Five Takeaways from Maple Leafs vs. Senators

All Nylanders are alike, and none are Maple Leafs forwards

From Pension Puppets

The only thing Sportsnet got right here is that Nazem Kadri plays for the Leafs. That’s a very low bar.

… So did Sportsnet just decide to mentally take a vacation in lieu of the All-Star Break a little early, or what?

The above Sportsnet screencap, brought to us by Reddit user /u/GreatName, is baffling for so, so, so many reasons.

First off: asking who has been the best forward on the Maple Leafs this season, and posing it as a question between Nazem Kadri and William Nylander, makes no sense. Kadri is on the Leafs, yes; Nylander is on the Marlies, so he can’t even be eligible as an answer. (And how’s he at 37% there? He has literally never played a game for the Leafs.)

And all of that is without going into the other candidates. You know, like James van Riemsdyk, who was doing pretty well prior to his injury. Or, you know, current leading scorer and All-Star Leo Komarov. But okay…

Second: that’s an Alexander Nylander highlight they were showing. As in William’s brother. As in not William Nylander. Alexander plays for the Mississauga Steelheads. He’s playing for them in that screencap. So again: not a Leafs forward. Or even Leafs properly, considering this is his draft year, and there’s no guarantee he follows his brother to Toronto at all.

… But it would be nice, wouldn’t it? And then you could just say “Nylander” and nobody would question the highlight you pull up.

Though it would probably be a few years until both were actually playing for the Leafs, which just brings us right back to the original problem: what was Sportsnet doing, anyway?

Source: All Nylanders are alike, and none are Maple Leafs forwards