From Pension Puppets
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.
From Official Toronto Maple Leafs
3:40 PM: Tonight’s officials will be Tim Peel and Brad Watson. Vaughan Rody and Greg Devorski will be the linesmen. Those looking to tune in to the game can watch on TSN 4, listen on TSN 1050 and follow the Leafs on Twitter.
3:35 PM: Here are tonight’s projected lineups for the Maple Leafs and Blackhawks.
Toronto Maple Leafs
40 Grabner – 43 Kadri – 47 Komarov
24 Holland – 33 Arcobello – 15 Parenteau
26 Winnik – 16 Spaling – 28 Boyes
38 Greening – 56 Froese – 25 Clune
2 Hunwick – 44 Rielly
51 Gardiner – 46 Polak
52 Marincin – 20 Corrado
65 Shaw – 19 Toews – 14 Panik
72 Panarin – 15 Anisimov – 88 Kane
11 Desjardins – 24 Danault – 86 Teravainen
53 Mashinter – 70 Rasmussen – 48 Hinostroza
2 Keith – 4 Hjlamarsson
57 van Riemsdyk – 7 Seabrook
43 Svedberg – 32 Rozsival
3:30 PM: James Reimer gets the start on Monday in Chicago. Here’s what he had to say ahead of the game…
On the Blackhawks:
They’re a good squad, obviously they’ve got a lot of talent and I think it’s just a case where you play them honest. I think in here the way we’ve been playing the last couple of games, we’ve been playing real solid, real honest hockey. We just need another game like that. They’re a good team over there and we need to be at our best.
What do you remember about Richard Panik?
Real good player, a real good player. He’s a good friend of mine too and so obviously it was sad to him get traded. At the same time you’re happy for him and you want the best for him. He’s got a ton of skill, he’s got a great shot so you’ve just got to be aware of him when he’s out there.
Is there an emphasis on peripheral vision for you tonight against a player like Kane?
Yeah, you always have to be aware of who is out there and what they’re capable of. At the end of the day though, you’re playing against the puck. You always want to let it tell you what it wants you to do and so in any case with skilled players, you’ve got to be sharp and focused and be on your toes.
What’s it like to face 19 shots in Vancouver when you normally see double that?
It’s different, it’s just a different game. You’ve got to make sure you’re always ready. When your team is playing that well you just want to make sure that when they do get their chance that you’re good to go. It’s just a matter of staying in it and watching your team do their thing.
On Leipsic’s deut:
It’s awesome, obviously you’re homers in that sense, you always want the best for people coming out of your province or where you’re from. Any time there’s a Manitoban in the League you’re excited about it and when he’s on your team you’re even more pumped. I hope he can keep it going here and keep his bat ready and hot.
Did you know him at all before he got here?
No, not really. Obviously I knew him when he came to our team and skated with him this summer a little bit in Toronto but I never knew him before that, no.
3:15 PM: Colin Greening gets set for his third game in a Leafs sweater on Monday. Here’s what he had to say following the morning skate…
Is being a physical player important to your success right now?
I think so, especially when you’re on the forecheck. If you look at the game now it’s very fast-moving and in order to keep the puck in the corner and not allow the defensive team to break out quickly you have to stop the puck and a lot of times it’s being physical on the forecheck. That’s a big thing and part of my game is making sure I’m on the forecheck and finishing my hits.
On the team effort to limit Vancouver in the offensive zone:
When you think about it, especially when you think about the Sedins, you have to make sure you can hem the puck in their zone. If they don’t have the puck that bodes well for the team. They have a lot of firepower in Vancouver and it’s going to be the same thing for Chicago. It’s going to be a good challenge tonight but we’re excited.
What’s the fine line with putting pucks in the net on the power play given the chances?
Given that I’ve only been here for two games I don’t really know the difference, I know that I can only speak for my unit. I think that Arcobello and P-A and Morgan and Froese and Boyes have been moving the puck really well. I think we’ve been reading off each other pretty well. We haven’t been holding on to it, getting a lot of shots. I think that’s important too because once you get shots on net it spreads out the PK a little bit. I guess from the limited time I’ve been here that’s what I’ve seen.
3:00 PM: Leafs defenceman Jake Gardiner has four points in three games on this road trip. Here’s what he had to say ahead of Monday’s game in Chicago…
On his recent offensive output:
I’m not sure, some of the points were a little lucky but I feel pretty confident on the ice now, moving the puck well. It’s kind of weird how that happens, sometimes you lose it for a few games and get it back and I think that’s kind of what happened.
On the keys to jumping into the rush:
Yeah, you’ve just got to pick your spots. A guy like Kane, Panarin, Toews, guys like that, sometimes you’ve got to be a little bit more cautious and if it’s a riskier play, choose your spots.
On duplicating the effort in Vancouver to earn a win tonight:
Yeah, for sure. Just the way our whole team has been played the last three games has been pretty cool, especially with the guys out of the lineup and younger guys stepping up. It has been good for our group.
What’s the key to turning around the power play?
I think we had probably 10 or 12 chances [against Vancouver] and nothing went in. The goalie has been playing well for the other team, I guess. We just haven’t been getting many bounces. We’re happy with the production we’ve had and just hopefully we can get some goals here.
What are you seeing as you finish off that goal in Edmonton?
I don’t know if I ended up hitting that in the end there, I couldn’t really tell because I hit the post with it too. I just saw it going in and thought I’d give it a chance.
2:45 PM: Here’s what Mike Babcock had to say following Monday’s morning skate…
On discipline as a key vs. Chicago:
We’re going to need it obviously. Last time we played them we took six minors, they got two on the power play, but really they got three when the guy just got out. We’ve got to figure that out and we’ve got to play real well. They’ve got a lot of skill in their lineup, they’re a fun team to play against because you find out what the standard is and you’ve got to play well without the puck. It should be a lot of fun for us tonight.
How is Grabner?
Good, he’s playing tonight.
Is Kadri back?
Don’t know, we’ll see tonight.
Was it all hands on deck to keep Vancouver below 20 shots?
I thought we played well and we executed in our own zone so we got to roll around in their zone. That’s what the game is supposed to be about, it’s supposed to be about offence, it’s more fun that way. I thought we were prepared and we executed and we have to do the same here tonight.
Did Leipsic respond the way you like from a player in his first game?
As much as you watch him in the American League — and I watch those guys on TV quite a bit — you don’t know until they get here. Can they handle the pace? Do they have skill? Are they going to be afraid? You don’t really know those things. I thought he was real good in the game he got to play.
Do you get excited or nervous for guys playing their first game?
I get excited for them. The kid scored, I saw it on the replay when I was watching the game. First they made him go out for warmup by himself, which I thought was kind of cool. The second thing is you score and your Mom and Dad and Billets are there so that’s pretty special. The whole thing has to be a real good experience. You work hard to get here and now once you get here and get a taste, you know how hard you have to work to keep staying here and ideally you get here and stay here a long time.
What did Panik lack to make the team?
I don’t think he lacked anything. I think he’s a big guy who skates real good, he’s heavy and is playing well right now for these guys. He played well for us with the Marlies and obviously when he was with the Marlies they decided they wanted to try something else so that’s what they did.
What has the consistent effort of Hunwick meant to the team this season?
I think when you look at guys and good pros who do it right every day it has been a positive thing for us. Obviously him and Polie have been excellent that way, Leo, Grabner. When you look at those guys they play hard every day and they do it right and they’ve been good support for our young people.
How challenging has this trip been with the length and all the injuries and changes?
I don’t know, it’s been a good trip. I got to see one daughter in Calgary, one in Vancouver. To me it doesn’t much matter, we play games and you’ve got to get ready for those games. I think the trip has been spread out, we haven’t had to play back-to-back. We had a travel day yesterday and an off-day, we should be fresh for tonight, there’s no reason — we’ve got an off-day when we get home. Let’s just play.
Is Morin in tonight?
What has been the process been like in Toronto thus far?
Well, I didn’t say I was looking forward to the pain so let’s get that straight. I was looking forward to the challenge and it’s been exactly what you expected. I think the thing that has been real good is Lou and Shanny have been real patient and we all know what the plan is on game day, you expect to win, you expect to prepare to win and you expect to win. The rest of the days you follow your plan and what your plan is and do it long term. All you’ve got to do is look at the Hawks. To build up a 10-year run, you went through some tough times for a long time to get the skillset where you need it. That’s what we have to do right now. We’re in the process of doing it.
2:30 PM: The Maple Leafs wrap up their four-game road trip on Monday night when they visit the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center.
The Leafs are coming off of a 5-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday night. Brendan Leipsic had his first NHL goal and Mark Arcobello scored his first two goals as a Leaf while Brad Boyes and Leo Komarov added solo tallies. James Reimer stopped 17 shots to earn the victory. He starts again in Chicago.
The Blackhawks last played on Saturday night and took a 3-2 loss to the Anaheim Ducks. Brent Seabrook had both goals for Chicago while Corey Crawford made 41 saves in the loss. Scott Darling is slated to get the start in goal against Toronto.
Stay tuned for updates from Coach Babcock, the Leafs, projected lineups and more.
From The Star
Puck drop: 8:30 p.m.
TV: TSN 4
Radio: TSN 1050
Key matchup: Leo Komarov vs. Patrick Kane.
A game after irritating the Sedin twins into frustration, Komarov and the rest of Toronto’s makeshift first line — which, for the past two games with Nazem Kadri on the shelf, has been centred by Peter Holland and rounded out by Michael Grabner — will take a step up in class and do its best to slow down Kane. The league’s leading scorer, Kane has 33 goals and 78 points, 15 points clear of his nearest challengers heading into Sunday’s action.
Need to know: The Leafs finish a four-game Western Conference road trip that has seen them travel without veteran forwards Tyler Bozak, Joffrey Lupul and Shawn Matthias . . . Former Leaf Richard Panik joined Jonathan Toews and Andrew Sharp on the Blackhawks’ top line when Chicago lost Marian Hossa to a lower-body injury on Saturday . . . The Hawks have scored just four goals over the last 10 periods . . . The last time the Maple Leafs met the reigning Stanley Cup holders, they had won nine straight games before a 4-1 victory at the Air Canada Centre made it 10. That hot streak ended a few weeks ago after 12 consecutive victories. Since that high point, the Blackhawks are 4-5-1.
Up next: Thursday vs. New York Rangers, 7:30 p.m.
From The Star
For aficionados of hockey gear, there’s always something fresh coming through the pipeline. Manufacturers design it. Marketers hype it. Star players endorse it.
It can be magnetic stuff for the type of person who craves the latest and greatest. Maple Leafs forward Leo Komarov is not that type of person.
For the past handful of years, for instance, he was famous for wearing an old model of skates. How old?
“Really old,” Komarov said. The skates were made by Graf, trimmed in white leather, released around 2006. Komarov liked them so much that, as the company launched new model after new model, he stockpiled a collection of his preferred ones. How many pairs?
“Many,” Komarov said. “The skate was really good. Nothing wrong with it. But it’s a business. They switch it up every year, trying to sell more. So that’s what happened. I stayed with those. And I kind of loved them.”
This is one of the many reasons hockey people love Komarov. Mike Babcock, the Maple Leafs coach, calls Komarov “a zero maintenance” player. While ex-captain Dion Phaneuf burned through new skates at an amazing rate — Phaneuf said a while back that he broke in a new pair “every 10 days to two weeks” — Komarov usually kept his scratched-up, floppy-tongued pairs for most of two months. It only enhanced his reputation as a no-muss grinder that his skates were likely the cheapest in the NHL, clearance-rack specials in a league where footwear worth around $1,000 is now the norm.
But this season Komarov faced at least a couple of gear-related problems. For one, Lou Lamoriello, the incoming GM known for team rules that prioritize uniformity, frowns upon outliers who wear skates with white trim. No big deal. Komarov simply asked the equipment staff to paint the white parts of his skates black. Problem solved, mostly.
“The only thing — you hit the boards and (the black) comes off,” Komarov said one day this season, examining the paint peeling and flaking away to reveal white leather.
Another issue: By last month, Komarov was down to the final pair of size 8 1/2s in his collection of circa-2006 skates. So this month he began breaking in a new pair — late-model Grafs wrapped with all-black leather. As the Maple Leafs wound their way through a four-game Western Conference road trip that concludes Monday in Chicago, Komarov said he was still getting accustomed to the new boots.
“It’s probably never going to be the same,” he said the other day, a little forlornly.
Other things have changed in Komarov’s world of late. The quadrilingual Finn opened the season on an offensive tear. Through his opening 32 games he scored 15 goals, an unsustainable pace that saw him nearly double the eight goals he scored in 62 games the season before, a total that was then his career high for an NHL season. But in Komarov’s 22 most recent games — a stretch that has included his first trip to the all-star game — he has managed just three goals, the third coming on an empty net in Saturday’s 5-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks.
“I need to do something out there. I’m not doing anything,” Komarov said last week. “I don’t know what happened. That’s what I’m trying to figure out. Sometimes it’s bouncing in, sometimes it’s not.”
Saturday’s game, which saw the Leafs snap a three-game losing streak, saw Komarov doing plenty beyond producing points, most notably playing key minutes on a penalty kill that held the Canucks to two shots on goal in six minutes with the manpower edge. Komarov, playing on the first line alongside Peter Holland and Michael Grabner, also antagonized the normally stoic Henrik Sedin into targeting him with a gloves-on punch that drew a roughing penalty. And along with tapping in that empty-netter, Komarov also zinged a wrist shot that beat Canucks goaltender Ryan Miller, only to hit the post.
“No luck, you know?” Komarov said after the game. “But it’s okay. Just need to keep working.”
Komarov’s relentlessness certainly sets an important standard for the procession of fresh-from-the-AHL prospects that have begun to populate the Toronto lineup. And it could also make him an attractive acquisition for a playoff-bound team between now and the Feb. 29 trade deadline.
“Anything can happen,” Komarov said.
If a player’s presence in any situation is ultimately fleeting, perhaps that’s why Komarov values the relative permanency of another piece of vintage gear in his locker. His jock strap, a Jofa model with a tattered waistband, is decidedly retro.
“It’s really, really old,” Komarov said.
He’s had it, he figures, since he was 15 or 16. At age 29, this particular plastic cup has been preserving his wellness for nearly half his life.
“Why wouldn’t I keep it?” he said. “It’s not broken yet, so it’s fine.”
From Official Toronto Maple Leafs
VANCOUVER _ Mark Arcobello scored his first two goals of the season 17 seconds apart and Brendan Leipsic added his first NHL goal in his first game as the Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the Vancouver Canucks 5-2 on Saturday night.
James Reimer made 17 stops and Jake Gardiner added two assists for Toronto (20-25-9), which entered play last in the overall standings and won in regulation for just the second time since Jan. 6. Brad Boyes and Leo Komarov added empty netters.
The Maple Leafs, who came in on a three-game slide and were just 3-10-2 over their last 15, stunned the hockey world by trading captain Dion Phaneuf to Ottawa earlier this week, and iced an injury-depleted lineup that included a number of youngsters and minor leaguers.
Daniel Sedin and Sven Baertschi scored for Vancouver (22-21-12), which had won two in a row to get back in the Western Conference playoff race after dropping four straight. Ryan Miller made 33 saves.
Up 2-1 after two periods and leading 31-13 on the shot clock, Toronto stretched its advantage to two at 3:54 of the third. Leipsic, an emergency injury callup from the AHL, batted the puck home in front of a helpless Miller after Rich Clune‘s initial shot bounced high off a Vancouver defender.
Baertschi buried a rebound with 1:47 left in regulation for his 11th, but Boyes, with his sixth, and Komarov, with his 18th, scored into empty nets as Toronto collected its first win in Vancouver since November 2003 to snap a seven-game losing streak.
Leafs fans decked out in blue and white chanted “Go Leafs Go” as the final seconds wound down before the Toronto players spilled over the boards to celebrate a complete victory.
After a scoreless first where Toronto held a 16-7 edge in shots, the Canucks grabbed the lead 3:18 into the second. Jannik Hansen stole the puck behind the Leafs net and fed it in front to Sedin, who buried his 22nd of the season and first in seven games.
Arcobello, who was pointless in 13 games before Saturday, got that one back 1:09 later when he jumped on a Canucks turnover and ripped a shot past Miller.
In the third game of his most recent callup, Arcobello then gave his team the lead just 17 seconds later when Gardiner drove past Radim Vrbata and Arcobello shovelled the loose puck past Miller.
Toronto had been outscored 15-6 in its last three games, and nearly went up 3-1 on an extended 5-on-3 power play, but Morgan Rielly saw one shot hit the post before Miller snagged another with his glove.
Reimer didn’t have a lot to do at the other end until Emerson Etem tested him with a one timer from the slot and Bo Horvat tried to beat him upstairs on a wraparound.
The period was accented by a tussle between a clearly frustrated Henrik Sedin and Komarov that had the Vancouver captain taking swings at the Leafs forward.
The Canucks, who have now failed to win three in a row six times this season, donned black throwback jerseys that featured the “flying skate” logo the club abandoned after the 1996-97 season as part of 20th anniversary celebrations for Rogers Arena.
Notes: The Canucks announced Friday that defenceman Alexander Edler and forward Brandon Sutter will miss at least six weeks each after suffering injuries in Tuesday’s 3-1 win over Colorado. Edler was hurt blocking a shot with his foot, while Sutter broke his jaw after taking a puck to the face. … Leafs centre Nazem Kadri sat out for a second night in a row with a lower-body injury. … Henrik Sedin played his 1,141th game for the Canucks to pass team president Trevor Linden for the all-time record.
Source: Leafs Win In Vancouver
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.
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.
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
40 Grabner – 24 Holland – 47 Komarov
38 Greening – 33 Arcobello – 15 Parenteau
26 Winnik – 16 Spaling – 32 Leivo
25 Clune – 56 Froese – 28 Boyes
2 Hunwick – 44 Rielly
51 Gardiner – 46 Polak
52 Marincin – 20 Corrado
4 Hall – 29 Draisaitl – 16 Purcell
67 Pouliot – 97 McDavid – 14 Eberle
26 Pakarinen – 55 Letestu – 10 Yakupov
44 Kassian – 23 Hendricks – 28 Korpikoski
2 Sekera – 5 Fayne
25 Nurse – 19 Schultz
88 Davidson – 62 Gryba
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…
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…
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.
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.
From The Star
There will be a price at which keeping James Reimer makes sense.
The key for the Maple Leafs is to be disciplined, determine that price and stick to it.
Similarly, there will be a price at which it would make sense to part with forward Leo Komarov at the trade deadline.
The key, again, is for the Leafs to be disciplined and stick with that asking price.
The common ground between these two very different personnel decisions — and all the others the Leafs face over the next few months — is discipline.
You can give Reimer too much in salary and term just to avoid having him walk out the door, and in a different way you can accept too little in trade for Komarov just to add something in futures that goes with the rebuilding program.
Discipline. Not easy to have when emotions start running high.
Part of the reason Brendan Shanahan found Lou Lamoriello so appealing, while others found him to be a curious fit as general manager for the Toronto organization, is that Lamoriello is regarded as an executive who believes in structure and a team philosophy and never gets persuaded to do something in a moment of high emotion he wouldn’t otherwise do.
Since joining the club in August, the former New Jersey hockey czar has been almost invisible. Part of that is because Shanahan already was the front man for the organization and Mike Babcock the face of the hockey department when Lamoriello was hired. And part of it is because in a year in which there have been very few trades and transactions in the NHL, a lot of GMs have flown under the radar.
Internally, however, his presence has been very much felt, whether it’s clearing people off the team’s charter flights, bringing a cone of silence around ongoing talks over player contracts or plugging many of the leaks to the media that always made the Leafs a team around which there was oodles of juicy speculation.
Compare last year, with all the peculiar incidents and rampant rumours, to this year, in which the Leafs have become a much more businesslike operation with few distractions.
That’s just the way Lamoriello likes it.
Now, it’s time for the 73-year-old native of Rhode Island to step into the spotlight. The Leafs have some big decisions to make in the coming weeks, and while Shanahan likes a group approach in which many voices are heard, he didn’t hire Lamoriello to be part of the chorus. He hired the man who drafted him to lead the way and make sure the Leafs have the discipline to stick to the rebuilding project Shanahan began last season when he fired GM Dave Nonis, dismissed a large group of scouts, traded Phil Kessel to Pittsburgh, drafted London Knight star Mitch Marner and hired Sheldon Keefe to coach the AHL’s Marlies.
Lamoriello, in turn, wasn’t ready to step back and be a senior consultant in New Jersey while new GM Ray Shero ran the team. He still wanted to be in the thick of the action, so much so he was willing to accept a position in which he reports to Shanahan, his former employee.
Now, he’s got work to do.
The decision on Reimer, for example, will be a fascinating one. The netminder is having a terrific season, and as an unrestricted free agent in July could leave the Leafs with nothing if he signs with another team. Calgary, with Brian Burke as president, looms as an interested suitor.
The easy answer is to pay Reimer whatever it takes to keep him and for as many years as he wants. But that would have major ramifications on the team’s cap picture for years to come for a goalie who has had lots of ups and downs. Lamoriello, who had his share of cap problems in New Jersey, will try to sign Reimer, but not at any cost.
With Komarov, Roman Polak, Shawn Matthias, P.A. Parenteau and other Leafs potentially available to teams prior to the Feb. 29 trade deadline, Lamoriello has to balance the value of those players as Leafs next season with their value in picks and/or prospects.
Komarov, in particular, has had a great season and has been the most consistent Leaf. You can expect the Leafs to set a high price — a first-round pick? — and to not lower that price when emotions start running high at the deadline just to make it appear like they are making things happen.
Beyond that, it’s going to take some cool heads around the Air Canada Centre in July if local lad Steven Stamkos ends up going all the way to unrestricted free agency. There is, like Reimer, a salary and a term that will make sense, even if Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment decides it is willing to pay a premium to land a marquee name at a time when television numbers are down and the ticket market has grown a little soft.
You can say the Leafs should pay anything to get Stamkos. But paying anything for one player could severely hinder their ability to grow a team that can, once it gets back into the Stanley Cup playoffs, sustain that level of competitiveness for years.
Lamoriello once signed Ilya Kovalchuk, a deal that helped his team get to a Cup final but also caused him major headaches. He knows what it’s like to have stars like Scott Niedermayer and Zach Parise and then lose them to other teams. He also had a knack for years in New Jersey of making players like Martin Brodeur understand the big picture and sometimes take a little less to allow the team to be stronger.
Dealing with Stamkos, if it comes to that, won’t make his knees buckle, and he’ll be able to say “no” if a bidding war does emerge and the numbers get too crazy, which is a massively important thing for any sports executive to be able to do.
There were those who said Lamoriello was past his prime in Jersey and needed to be replaced. You can bet he heard that, and while he’ll deny letting outside forces shape his actions, he’s a proud man who believes in certain principles and believes he can help make the Leafs a winner again.
He’s been a quiet, behind-the-scenes presence with the Leafs this season. He’s about to become much more prominent.
Damien Cox is a broadcaster with Rogers Sportsnet and a regular contributor to Hockey Night in Canada. He spent nearly 30 years covering a variety of sports for the Star, and his column appears here Saturdays. Follow him @DamoSpin.