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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

Shorthanded Leafs defeated in Edmonton

From Official Toronto Maple Leafs

EDMONTON – Connor McDavid continues to show why he has been labelled as a potential generational talent.

McDavid had two goals and three assists as the Edmonton Oilers came away with a 5-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday in a battle between the NHL’s two lowest-ranked teams.

“We needed this,” McDavid said. “There was a lot of pressure on us coming in, playing against a team that was desperate and missing a lot of guys. They played a great game in terms of structure and not giving up too much. But it was a big night for us to start off the homestand.”

Jordan Eberle scored three goals and added an assist for the Oilers (22-29-5), who snapped a three-game losing streak.

Along with a four-assist performance from Benoit Pouliot, the line combined for 13 points.

“I think the more we play together the better we will be,” Eberle said. “Tonight was obviously our best, we put up goals and whatnot. But it was the little plays that I really liked. Coming out of our end, cycling, I thought we did a better job of that. Chemistry is not something you get right away, you’ve got to grow it a bit.”

Oilers head coach Todd McLellan said sometimes all you can do is sit back and watch McDavid, the 19-year-old phenom.

“His performance did all the speaking,” he said. “You turn into a fan as a coach and as players and just admire what he and his linemates did.”

Josh Leivo and Jake Gardiner replied for the Maple Leafs (19-25-9), who have lost three in a row.

“I didn’t mind our game to tell you the truth,” said Toronto head coach Mike Babcock. “We threw the puck away on their fourth goal, which I didn’t like to see, there was no reason to do that. But we got ourselves in a good spot and in the end. We didn’t finish and they did.”

Edmonton scored on the first shot of the game 3:29 into the first period as Benoit Pouliot sent in McDavid on a breakaway and he deked around Toronto goalie Jonathan Bernier to deposit his eighth goal of the season.

Toronto responded eight minutes into the first as Leivo picked the top corner to beat Oilers starter Cam Talbot. Leivo left the game later in the period with an upper-body injury.

Edmonton restored its lead six-and-a-half minutes into the middle frame as Eberle picked up a bouncing puck in front of the net and sent home his 16th of the year.

The Oilers made it 3-1 late in the second on a power play as McDavid spotted Eberle all alone at the side of the net and he potted his second of the game.

Toronto got one back with 15 seconds left in the middle frame as a Gardiner shot appeared to carom off a pair of Oilers before ending up behind Talbot.

McDavid salted the game away with six minutes left, scoring his second of the contest on a shot from the slot.

Eberle added an empty-net goal for his first career NHL hat trick after previously recording two-goal games 17 times.

Both teams return to action on Saturday as the Oilers play host to the Winnipeg Jets and the Leafs travel to Vancouver to face the Canucks.

Notes: Of the players acquired Tuesday in the nine-player trade that sent captain Dion Phaneuf to the Ottawa Senators, only forward Colin Greening was in the Leafs lineup. Milan Michalek (broken finger) and Jared Cowen (hips) did not dress.

Source: Shorthanded Leafs defeated in Edmonton

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

Game Journal: Game 53 – Maple Leafs vs. Oilers

From Official Toronto Maple Leafs

5:50 PM: Tonight’s officials will be Gord Dwyer and Brian Pochmara. Ryan Gibbons and Vaughan Rody will be the linesmen. Those looking to tune in to the game can watch on TSN 4, listen on Sportsnet 590 The FAN and follow the Leafs on Twitter.

5:45 PM: Here are tonight’s projected lineups for the Maple Leafs and Oilers.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Forwards

40 Grabner – 24 Holland – 47 Komarov

38 Greening – 33 Arcobello – 15 Parenteau

26 Winnik – 16 Spaling – 32 Leivo

25 Clune – 56 Froese – 28 Boyes

Defence

2 Hunwick – 44 Rielly

51 Gardiner – 46 Polak

52 Marincin – 20 Corrado

Goaltenders

45 Bernier

34 Reimer

Edmonton Oilers

Forwards

4 Hall – 29 Draisaitl – 16 Purcell

67 Pouliot – 97 McDavid – 14 Eberle

26 Pakarinen – 55 Letestu – 10 Yakupov

44 Kassian – 23 Hendricks – 28 Korpikoski

Defence

2 Sekera – 5 Fayne

25 Nurse – 19 Schultz

88 Davidson – 62 Gryba

Goaltenders

33 Talbot

1 Brossoit


5:40 PM: Peter Holland will skate between Michael Grabner and Leo Komarov tonight as Nazem Kadri is unavailable due to injury. Here’s what he had to say ahead of the game…

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What are your thoughts on going up against Connor McDavid?

I better be ready to skate tonight, some of the highlights I’ve seen he just flies. He makes some great moves at full speed, some great passes and he sees the ice well. I’ve got to get my feet moving and make sure I’m on the defensive side of him most of the time.

Is there a curiosity in playing him?

It’s going to be fun. Obviously he was hurt for a while there but he’s been on a torrid pace before and after. He’s a great player, he’s come in with a lot of confidence and so it’s a good challenge tonight.

What stands out to you as a big challenge playing centre?

Just play a 200 foot game, continue the momentum I’m building in the offensive zone but be solid defensively. That’s how you earn [Babcock’s] trust and take some important faceoffs for him. Play all 200 feet.

On the shuffling of roles between players:

When you have three or four injuries and people coming in and out of the lineup, obviously it creates different opportunities for guys. Obviously I find myself on the top line tonight but I just have to take it and play with the confidence I’ve developed here and do my best to help this team win.

Do you get more comfortable as a winger or are you anxious to get back to the middle?

I’ve flip-flopped so much this year that I’m comfortable playing both positions at this point. It seems like every couple of games I witch back and forth so I’m just trying to find my centre game as quick as I can tonight.

Are you worried about being on a highlight reel when you play a player like McDavid?

You know he has that skill. You don’t want to put yourself in a position where he can use his speed to burn you. You don’t play the puck, play the man against him. It goes back to the basics you learn in minor hockey. If you start watching the puck on a guy like that he’s going to make you look foolish. I’m just going to go out and play my game and hopefully I don’t end up on the wrong side of one of those.



5:30 PM:
Here’s what Matt Hunwick had to say following Thursday’s morning skate in Edmonton…

Leafs TV
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What are the biggest challenges going up against a guy like Connor McDavid?

I haven’t really seen him play too much, obviously I’ve heard a lot of things. I think his speed is one of his biggest assets and obviously he can make plays at top speed. We’ll have to have a good gap tonight and he’s just a dynamic player that we haven’t had the chance to see this year. It’ll obviously be a great challenge for us.

Have you seen any of his highlights?

I don’t watch too much but I’ve seen the one, I think it was against Columbus. That’s the only one I’ve seen. Obviously he’s a special player and an unbelievable play there.

Is there a curiosity as a veteran to play a guy like him?

Yeah, I mean I always like to see the newest guys and he’s a generational type of player is what they’re touting him. I think he has lived up to that billing so far in the short time he has been in the League. It would be better watching him play other teams but tonight we’ll have a firsthand chance to see what he’s all about.



5:20 PM:
Jonathan Bernier is slated to get the start for the Maple Leafs in Edmonton tonight. Here’s what he had to say ahead of the game…

Leafs TV
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What do you know about McDavid?

Obviously he’s very skilled and I’ve seen some goals that he’s scored, he’s got very high skills and I think he makes everyone around him a lot better. We all know as a team we’ve got to be on top of him all night long. It doesn’t change when you play against a guy like Crosby or Ovechkin or all those top guys in the League. You’ve got to make sure you’re on top of them all night.

When you see the highlights are you amazed he’s a teenager?

Yeah, I mean the League has changed. You see a lot more guys now 18, 19 and they come up and they’re more ready than 22, 23 when I started. It’s changed a lot but he’s amazing.

On stopping McDavid’s famous deke:

Well it depends. In a game it all depends on how much time he’s got, if he’s got a guy on his back. When he scored those goals it’s because he was alone with the goalie and I think he had a bit more time to stop and go the other way. I’ve seen that goal and obviously I’ll be expecting it I guess if he comes in on a 1-on-1.

How are you feeling about your game?

I feel good. Like I mentioned, I think since I came back from the [American League] and I’ve just got to — whenever I get the call to go in I’ve just got to make sure I go in and make sure I’m ready and give a good chance to my team to get a good W tonight and move on that long road trip. We’ve got to make sure we’re ready right from the start.

Do you feel you need to step up with a shorthanded lineup tonight?

I just think I’ve got to do my job. Once you start trying to do too much, that’s when you’re getting caught. You’ve got to make sure you’re doing your part and hopefully the guys in front of you are doing their part.



5:10 PM:
Here’s what Mike Babcock had to say following Thursday’s morning skate in Edmonton…

Leafs TV
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On the lineup:

[Kadri is out] Everybody else that was in the game last game is going to play. Cowen is not going to play. When they did our scan of him or whatever our medical people do, they felt his hips were really tight. He’s not injured or nothing, he practiced today. We’re going to spend the next 10 days doing what we can to loosen his hips up so we can catch him being good when he starts.

What stands out about McDavid when you watch him on film?

He’s an elite player, he can really skate, great speed through the middle, good hockey sense. It looks like he’s going to develop into a real, real good player at the National Hockey League level. I’ve never seen him live so this will be my first chance. He’s a good kid, I met with him prior to the draft and he looks very exciting.

On injuries scrambling the lines:

I don’t think they’re scrambled, I think they’re beautiful, it’s just how you look at it. A new opportunity, an opportunity to get some momentum together. You do what you do. I never thought Holly would be our first line centre tonight but that’s just the way it goes. It’s an opportunity for everybody and the great thing about life is if you grab hold of something it’s amazing what you can do for yourself. Some guys that might not have thought they were playing yesterday are in. Play hard, play well and let’s find a way to get a win.

What would you like to see from Holland at centre?

I like him on the wing just because I think he’s more comfortable. The bottom line is when you play in the middle you’ve got to be real good down low or else you spend too much time down low in your own zone. If you’re good you spend a lot of time in the offensive zone. That’s going to be the challenge, the faceoff circle and playing well without the puck in your own zone so you can spend some time in offence.

How would you assess the team’s achievement in your system through 50 games?

I think a lot of guys are playing really well, it’s just their level of their capability. I think the big challenge for us as a group, and we knew that going in, is to keep improving our roster so that we can get to a spot that we can have a real good run. That’s our plan.

5:00 PM: The Leafs are continue their road trip on Thursday night when they visit the Edmonton Oilers.

The Leafs are coming off of a 4-3 loss to the Calgary Flames on Tuesday night. Peter Holland, Josh Leivo and Jake Gardiner recorded goals for the Maple Leafs while James Reimer stopped 18 shots in the loss. Jonathan Bernier will get the start in Edmonton. It’s his first start since Jan. 27 in Tampa Bay and first appearance since Feb. 6 in Ottawa.

The Oilers last played on Tuesday night and lost 2-1 to the New Jersey Devils. Jordan Eberle had the lone Edmonton goal while Cam Talbot stopped 24 shots in the loss. He will return to the crease against the Maple Leafs on Thursday night.

Stay tuned for comments from Coach Babcock and the Leafs, projected lineups and more.

Source: Game Journal: Game 53 – Maple Leafs vs. Oilers

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

Toronto Marlies on the ice for the AHL All-Star Game Skills Competition

From Pension Puppets

William Nylander keeping his head warm and crashing Josh Leivo’s interview at the AHL ASG 2016

William Nylander in a silly hat, lots of fun video, TJ Brennan as a cameraman, what’s not to love?

Today feels like those Mondays when the Americans make up a reason to have a holiday. Arbour Day or something. Everyone has gone back to work, the party is over, the hangover is almost a memory for them, but they’ve got another day off.

The NHL is getting down to the business of winning games or losing hope, making deals and trading guys, pinning hopes and dreams on new faces or giving up on old ones, but the AHL is still in Syracuse, playing for fun.

Last night was the skills competition, and tonight is the game which you can watch online for free. And it was a lot of fun. They set the right tone of competition, quick format, no awkward interviews and in the AHL, when they skate around pylons, they’re just orange cones, no specially constructed product placements.

Three Marlies were there! William Nylander, Josh Leivo and T.J. Brennan.

And they started off having fun. Hunter Shinkaruk of the Comets was next to Nylander, and whatever Nylander was saying before he was introduced had him laughing, so no worries on those rivals playing together.

Nylander got things rolling with the puck control relay, and the guy on his team that went out ahead of him, Alan Quine a last minute substitute for a Bridgeport teammate, was so fast, Nylander had all day to win it. He is very obviously a smoother skater than most of the all-stars he was on the ice with.

He did not try to blow out his opponent, Mikko Rantanen, instead he was going for a gentlemanly finish, and he almost reenacted the tortoise and the hare for us all. Rantanen is a big, fast fellow.

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Next up was Leivo and Brennan peppering some poor goalie with shots—the AHL ASG does not spare the goalies.

Brennan doing accuracy shooting:

And the grand finale was this amazing scrum of guys rolling in on breakaways one after the other, while the goalie whipped from one post to the other to try to make saves. Eric Comrie is amazing. He let in two goals all night, in all the events combined, and he’s in this event as a replacement for Winnipeg’s even better goalie prospect.

It was a fun night, and our own Bob McGill very nearly said Kristers Gudlevskis correctly at least twice.

Here’s his debut as cameraman, and a wrap on the day with Todd Crocker and Bob McGill. Stick around for some on-ice interviews with the Marlies boys and some stupid puck tricks.

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If you want to know who won what, you can read all about it. The fans and the players had fun, that was the important part.

Source: Toronto Marlies on the ice for the AHL All-Star Game Skills Competition

The Marlies kept trying to lose and finally succeeded

From Pension Puppets

The Marlies scored one less goal than the Binghamton Senators in their last game before the All-Star break, the kind of lazy good-team problems the Maple Leafs are striving to acquire.

For the Marlies, it’s tough at the top, where the challenge for the rest of the regular season is to stay there.

I feel like I’ve said that before.

A tale of two teams

The Marlies are the top team in the AHL. I could enumerate the ways they are the best: the goals for, the goal differential, this percentage, that measure, this stat, that calculation, but they all come out the same. The Marlies are an elite team that’s had a lot of luck and have won the overwhelming majority of their games so far.

So far.

They have two and a half more months to play.

Frölunda, Andreas Johnson‘s team, is also atop their league and has an amazing goal differential; they shoot the puck like crazy and have four real lines that can all play at a high level. They are elite, lucky, and they’ve won the overwhelming majority of their games. And among that elite team, Johnson, at 21, and Artturi Lehkonen at 20 are the young stars that are working every day to get to the NHL.

The rest of the team may have once dreamed of it, some of them have tried and found their home in Sweden instead, and for them the league they play in is their league; the games are a point unto themselves; the championship is the reward at the end of the season, and leaving is not the mark of success.

Frölunda are showing the signs of a sluggish desire to just get on with it, get to the playoffs, get this year over, win the cup and turn the calendar to next year so they can do it again. They’ve dropped a couple of stinkers lately—big losses, a couple of shutouts where they just skated around bored for 60 minutes. They’ve won a couple like that too.

For Johnson, this is his last year there. He is proving himself, and wants to win, but he has his eyes on a higher goal.

They have a month and a half to go before the playoffs.

The Marlies have a lot more than two guys who are yearning to escape. They have nearly a roster full. They are more than just William Nylander and Kasperi Kapanen, two guys who hope they will see the NHL this year and every year after.

There is Mark Arcobello, patiently scoring more and more and winning awards.

There is Nikita Soshnikov working on the bottom six and trying to prove what he can do, taking every chance to get on a better line and making the most of it.

There’s Connor Brown, doing a very good job of reminding everyone who he is with points in every game since he’s been back.

There is T.J. Brennan, ripping up the record books and rewriting them anew on this his fourth AHL team. On none of those has he been as dominate over three seasons as he has on the Marlies. He’s tasted the coffee in the NHL, but he’s never stuck, and it’s easy to just decide that’s it, he hasn’t got it, but if the 26-year-old defenceman leading the league in scoring isn’t up to it, are you sure all those kids are a lock?

There’s also Zach Hyman, who didn’t stick with the team that drafted him, nor did Brendan Leipsic or Scott Harrington. There’s a handful of Toronto draft picks in Josh Leivo, Viktor Loov, and Rinat Valiev. And all of them want out. They don’t want to ever again ride five hours home from Grand Rapids, Michigan.

And they’re collectively playing pretty bad hockey lately.

The Marlies roared along for the last few games, winning while being outshot and putting on a terrible power play and giving up a league-leading number of shorthanded goals. They have been winning by betting big, risking big, and outscoring their opponents with contemptuous ease.

Lately, the defence has been falling to ruins, the goalies have been working like single mothers with two jobs, and still they win.

Or they did.

An afternoon at the Ricoh Coliseum

Saturday afternoon in Toronto, on the afternoon after that ride home from Grand Rapids, they didn’t outscore their problems. Not quite.

They played the division basement-dweller Binghamton Senators, and they were each as bad as the other. They took 8 penalties each, scored five regulation goals each. They each had a short-handed goal, and the Senators won it on a goal on a breakaway in overtime after one of the Marlies blew a skate on the play in his own end and fell down. A fitting end to a game that cast no glory on anyone.

The Marlies outshot the Senators—they aren’t so far gone, they couldn’t do that—37-29, giving Garret Sparks a save percentage of .793.

They gave up so many odd man rushes, turnovers, easy giveaways, and I guess it was buy one get one free day at Ricoh?

This isn’t a one off aberration. They’ve been drifting in this direction for weeks, and some of that is injuries pulling the better guys out of the lineup, and some of it is just the difficulty you have when the team is so good they score more goals than even the good teams most of the time.

Bob McGill the Marlies colour commentator was wondering how you tell these guys to tighten it up, when they usually win even when they play so loose? A good question. Ask Alain Vigneault. Maybe he knows. Not that the Marlies are the hollow-cored New York Rangers. They usually do outshoot their opposition not just out-goal them.

Getting the Marlies back on track may be a harder task than Frölunda has with their team of slightly bored overachievers, however.

It’s not a terrible problem to have, being so good you’re struggling to execute your system well night after night, but it is a problem. And it’s a hell of a skill to bring to a team that’s never had this dilemma before if you learn the trick of it.

A cautionary tale

This is what Nate MacKinnon said about Jonathan Drouin recently:

“Our junior team, we lost five games all year, we had the puck the whole game,” MacKinnon said. “We were playing offense for two years, we didn’t really play any ‘D.’ So that’s tough. I don’t know you can really expect lockdown ‘D’ when you first come into the league. You can always work on your ‘D’ but you can’t just become an offensive force.”

And he’s not wrong. But where do you start to learn that more complete game? Something you can use when you don’t have a team of above average players every night. Something you can use to get yourself into a position to succeed when your coach hasn’t got the means to put you there. Something that will carry you when your cap-strapped team downgrades your linemates or your rebuilding team hasn’t got the horses to win much.

It’s not junior hockey, he’s right about that too.

For MacKinnon it was the NHL. He very much did it the hard way. But the New Toronto Maple Leafs don’t do things that way, they tell us. Not unless they have to, like they will with Mitch Marner.

So it had better be the AHL, the league most guys are trying to leave. And it better be now before they start leaving one way and another.

Nice problems to have

Sheldon Keefe has some things to accomplish. He’s got to bring Nylander back into the lineup; he’s got Connor Brown chomping at the bit to play—and he was as guilty as any guy out there of sloppy defensive errors. He might have Josh Leivo—who had as many shots on goal on Saturday as he had shots of any kind in 4 games for the Leafs—and who made a lot of sloppy definsive errors.

Keefe’s also got Mark Arcobello and T.J. Brennan, who need to see a carrot on the end of the stick or they might stop carrying the goal-scoring burden for the team most nights. (Between the pair of them they have 19% of the Marlies goals. Add in Nylander and Leivo, and you get to 34%. The offence isn’t quite so spread out on this team as we tell ourselves.)

Keefe’s got to get them all to tighten up and play better than they need to. And he has to convince them it’s for their own good. Because it is.

So far, he’s been very good at doing that. Let’s see if he can keep doing it once the All-Star Break is over.

Source: The Marlies kept trying to lose and finally succeeded

From the Branches: All-Star edition

From Pension Puppets

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

All-Star things happened last night. All-Star things will happen tonight. Also tomorrow. Things.

Happy Sunday! The NHL All-Star game is happening today. William Nylander, T.J. Brennan, and Josh Leivo will also be appearing in the AHL All-Star game today and tomorrow. Should be boring as fun as a fake fake cheese fountain. Some very brief links for you today, because I’m phoning it in there isn’t much going on.

Front Page

NHL All-Star Skills Competition 2016 results in Leo Komarov’s “own” words
The only ASG recap you need to read, really.

LA to host 2017 NHL All Star Game, NHL likes Montreal better than Toronto
Title says it all.

Three Marlies at the 2016 AHL All-Star game
Link to the stream inside.

Other news

Philadelphia Flyers Top 25 Under 25 Midterm Update: Nos. 15 to 11 – Broad Street Hockey
The only bit of non-All-Star/game news I could find.

Finally, the skills competition happened yesterday. In lieu of a proper recap (I was watching real hockey–Les Canadiennes played the Calgary Inferno), I leave you with this picture:

Source: From the Branches: All-Star edition