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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

Leafs aim to build on structure

From Official Toronto Maple Leafs

After finishing a five-game road trip that took them through Western Canada last week, the Maple Leafs get to enjoy the comforts of Toronto and the full support of the Air Canada Centre crowd during a four-game homestand that begins Thursday against the New York Rangers. And although the road trip couldn’t be deemed a success and the Buds aren’t where they’d prefer to be in the standings, the mood in the dressing room remains upbeat as the players focus on building for the future.

“I think we’re trending in the right direction,” said centre Nazem Kadri. “Some games we have a hard time staying consistent, but that’s standard for a young team, having those growing pains. It’s adversity, and you can’t just lie down and quit. And that’s something I feel like we’ve really been good at this year. But it seems like we’ll have a few good games, we’ll string them together, then we’ll kind of just lay an egg in the third or fourth game.

“Our work ethic’s there, but we’ve got to stick to the structure, because that’s our safety valve, and that’s the way we’re going to have to win games.”

“We’re getting better,” added goaltender James Reimer. “Obviously, we’d all like to be winning a lot more games, but at the end of the day, you want to do things right. And I think for the majority of the year, that’s what we’ve done. You’re going to have off games and go through tough times here and there, but when you’re playing honest, you feel good about yourself.”

Now, don’t take that to mean the Leafs are in any way satisfied with the way things have gone this year. Players live to put themselves in the most competitive situations, and when the playoffs aren’t a possibility, it can wear on them. That’s certainly true of blueliner Morgan Rielly, who made it clear Toronto’s season – and, more recently, a blowout 7-2 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks Monday – didn’t sit well with him.

“We’re not happy – we don’t want to be where we are, and we’re coming off a game against Chicago that we’re not happy with,” Rielly said. “You want to win games, you want to be in the mix, you don’t want to be at the bottom. Have we made moves forward (this season)? Yeah, probably, but as players, we want to win.”

After the Buds take on the Blueshirts Thursday, they face the Philadelphia Flyers Saturday, the Nashville Predators Tuesday and the Carolina Hurricanes next Thursday to close out the homestand. All four of those franchises have post-season aspirations, and the opportunity to play spoiler will be prominent in the Leafs’ minds.

“That’s something we can look forward to for sure,” Kadri said. “Teams are going to be desperate to get points, especially now with the playoff run, and points being so valuable. Anytime we can steal one or two is going to be helpful for us and from a confidence standpoint as well, just to keep building in the right direction.”

As Kadri noted, consistency – be it game-to-game, or even period-to-period – has been an issue for the Leafs this year. But in their first season under head coach Mike Babcock, Toronto’s players have recognized the growth they’ve experienced both as individuals and as a unit. It’s a relatively small consolation compared to a Stanley Cup championship, but it’s not something to be discounted, either.

“We’ve had times where we’ve had some pretty good stretches,” Rielly said. “We know we can play with teams in this league, we know that we can win games against good teams. It’s just a matter of doing it every night.”

“I feel like we’ve been more consistent than in the past,” added Reimer. “But we’re learning, we’re getting better. Maybe it’s a process we’re going through, but it’s a good process.”

Source: Leafs aim to build on structure

Leafs leading the race to NHL cellar and top prospect Auston Matthews

From The Globe and Mail – James Mirtle

There is an eerie symmetry to the Toronto Maple Leafs drop-offs experienced last season and again this year.

They have come at roughly the same time. And they have been almost as severe.

From early January to mid-February in 2015, the free-falling Leafs recorded just two wins in 19 games (2-15-2) to drop into the NHL’s basement. By June, they were picking fourth overall, high enough to draft London Knights star Mitch Marner.

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

This year, after a 7-2 implosion in Chicago on Monday night, the Leafs are 4-11-2 in their past 17 games, and fading fast. If the draft lottery were held today, they would have the best chance of picking first overall (20 per cent) for the first time since taking Wendel Clark in the top spot in 1985.

The biggest difference between this year and last is that an incredible run of injuries have played a starring role. Between trading captain Dion Phaneuf away to Ottawa last week and the loss of up to eight players at a time to injuries, the Leafs have had a skeletal roster of late.

In Monday night’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks, Roman Polak had the most minutes among defencemen (24). Colin Greening, recently acquired from the Senators, had the most minutes among forwards (17), despite the fact he has spent most of the year in the American Hockey League with Binghamton.

That arrangement didn’t work out so well against the defending Stanley Cup champs.

“We weren’t in the game basically from the start,” coach Mike Babcock lamented, before later adding: “They were just better than us. Period.”

That could be the postgame tale for a while. The Maple Leafs are about to face a run of good teams, with games against the New York Rangers, Nashville Predators, Tampa Bay Lightning and first-place Washington Capitals in the next two weeks. There is also the trade deadline looming on Feb. 29, when even more talent will be traded away.

So yes, things can get worse.

This isn’t new. Other teams have pulled their rosters apart midway through the year en route to a good draft pick. Arizona Coyotes general manager Don Maloney admitted in an interview with Sports Illustrated’s Alex Prewitt the other day that he did as much last season, explaining that “if we were going to be bad, my attitude was, let’s be real bad.”

He then called Connor McDavid, the eventual No. 1 pick, “a pretty big prize for being really bad.”

What’s made the Leafs’ situation unique is the organization has steadfastly refused to recall its best players from the minors. The Marlies are currently the top team in the AHL, with only nine regulation losses in 51 games, and young players such as William Nylander, Kasperi Kapanen, Rinat Valiev, Connor Brown, Nikita Soshnikov and Stuart Percy are better than some of those playing for the Leafs.

Brendan Leipsic showed as much on Saturday against Vancouver, when he was granted his first NHL game and promptly scored his first NHL goal (the winner, no less).

He hardly looked out of place. But he was promptly demoted before their next game.

That’s because Leafs management sees little point in sacrificing development in order to prop up a makeshift NHL roster that was never going to contend this year. Most of the recalls all season have been older non-prospects – Rich Clune, Mark Arcobello and Byron Froese – to the detriment of the NHL roster, and the benefit of Toronto’s lottery chances.

Is that tanking? In the strictest sense of the word, sure. But the Leafs were also only five points out of a playoff spot on Jan. 6 after 38 games, and before all the injuries. They’re still on pace for 73 points, five better than a year ago.

If that’s tanking, it’s Tanking Lite compared with what teams such as the Buffalo Sabres and Coyotes pulled off last season in failed attempts to get McDavid.

In fact, 73 points would be the best finish ever for a last-place NHL team. So if that was Leafs management’s sole intention with the season, they went about it in a curious way.

The way that their year has gone is, in many ways, the best possible outcome. There have been obvious improvements thanks to Babcock. The work ethic is there. And the Marlies have played like world-beaters.

Finishing 30th, thanks to injuries, trades and an insistence on protecting the kids, won’t be a black eye for anyone.

But it does leave the Leafs with their biggest hurdle still to come: beating the Edmonton Oilers in the draft lottery.

Good luck with that.

Follow on Twitter: @mirtle

Source: Leafs leading the race to NHL cellar and top prospect Auston Matthews

Postgame Quotes: Feb. 15, 2016

From Official Toronto Maple Leafs

Tuesday, 02.16.2016 / 12:30 AM ET / News

Toronto Maple Leafs

Here’s a sampling of what the Maple Leafs had to say following a 7-2 loss in Chicago.

P-A Parenteau

They’re a really good team, but there’s no excuses for our team to lose that bad like that. I think we’ve got to come out harder than that and if you play a better team you can’t use that as an excuse every night.

Matt Hunwick

Most of our penalty killers have been with us all year, so it’s our responsibility to know our assignments and know what we’re doing. We got beat in a number of different ways tonight – whether it’s off the rush, in the zone, 5 on 3 – you name it, we got beat tonight. It was a difficult night for our penalty kill and we have to be a lot better.

James Reimer

It just wasn’t our night. We just didn’t have it tonight and they were coming. They got a couple of opportunities and they buried on them. They’ve got some good players so that’s what happens sometimes.

Mike Babcock

Well obviously our penalty kill wasn’t near good enough and we took too many penalties, so we weren’t in the game basically from the start tonight. I thought we played a much better second, an even game but we were down three and they just buried us on the powerplay.

Source: Postgame Quotes: Feb. 15, 2016

Leafs Fall to Blackhawks

From Official Toronto Maple Leafs

CHICAGO – The sellout crowd chanted “M-V-P! M-V-P!” and Patrick Kane cracked a wry grin.

It was a sweet ending to a difficult homestand for the Chicago Blackhawks.

Kane had a goal and three assists, and the Blackhawks stopped a three-game slide with a dominant 7-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday night.

“We’ve been, I don’t want to say struggling offensively, but we’ve been waiting for a game like this,” Kane said.

Andrew Shaw, Brent Seabrook, Artemi Panarin and Teuvo Teravainen each had a power-play goal, helping Chicago salvage the finale of a lacklustre four-game homestand. It was the Blackhawks’ first game since they lost Marian Hossa to a left leg injury, likely sidelining the veteran forward for a couple of weeks.

“It was good that we got something positive leaving here,” coach Joel Quenneville said.

Scott Darling got the start in place of a resting Corey Crawford and made 35 saves, including an outstanding sprawling stop on Nick Spaling in the second period. Two of Darling’s six wins this season have come against lowly Toronto.

Mark Arcobello broke up Darling’s bid for his second career shutout with a rebound goal with 8:54 remaining. Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau added a power-play goal and James Reimer had 25 saves for the Maple Leafs, who closed out a 1-4 road trip.

“Just forget it. We got tattooed, that’s the bottom line,” Toronto coach Mike Babcock said.

Goals by Brandon Mashinter, Shaw and Seabrook staked Chicago to a 3-0 lead through two periods, and the Blackhawks blew it open with an impressive flurry in the third. Beginning with Panarin’s 19th goal of the season, the defending Stanley Cup champions scored on four of six shots.

Kane made it 5-0 with his 34th of the season, sending a wrist shot past Reimer on the stick side. Teravainen then stopped a 17-game scoring drought with his 10th of the season, and defenceman Viktor Svedberg converted a big slap shot from the low slot at 10:20.

“We had a lot of guys score tonight,” Kane said. “Maybe it gives them some confidence, maybe the whole team confidence offensively. It’s always important in here not to really worry about the offence. We know the goals are going to come.”

The four points matched a career high for Kane, accomplished three times just this season. He had three goals and an assist in a 4-1 victory at Toronto on Jan. 15 and leads the NHL with 82 points.

Duncan Keith added three assists for Chicago, which improved to 22-7-2 at home. Shaw finished with a goal and two assists, and Panarin also assisted on Kane’s goal.

“We haven’t played great,” said Shaw, who played with a cut near his right eye after a mishap during the morning skate. “We weren’t doing the little things right. We weren’t winning those 1-on-1 battles. We came out of that tonight and came out here and had a good first and built on it.”

Chicago was leading 3-0 in the second when Darling dove to grab Spaling’s shot, drawing a big ovation from the crowd of 21,767.

“A lot of things needed to go right,” Darling said. “I went to push (to the side), and my skate just didn’t grip the ice. You’ve just got to do whatever you can to go across the crease.”

Reimer had his own great sequence in the first, getting over to stop a shot by Panarin, and then denying Artem Anisimov in front.

“We probably took too many penalties, but it wasn’t our night, me included,” Reimer said. “We just didn’t have it tonight and they were coming. And they got a couple of good opportunities and they buried them.”

NOTES: Kane, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 draft, became the first member of his draft class to reach 400 assists… Hossa was placed on injured reserve on Sunday. “Hopefully two weeks is probably what we’re looking at,” Quenneville said after Monday morning’s skate… The Blackhawks matched a season high for goals scored, and the Maple Leafs equaled their most goals allowed… Blackhawks D Erik Gustafsson was a healthy scratch for the second straight game.

Source: Leafs Fall to Blackhawks

Game Journal: Game 55 – Maple Leafs vs. Blackhawks

From Official Toronto Maple Leafs

5:00 PM: Paul Hendrick gets you set for tonight’s game with his Maple Leafs Game Preview.

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

Forwards

40 Grabner – 43 Kadri – 47 Komarov

24 Holland – 33 Arcobello – 15 Parenteau

26 Winnik – 16 Spaling – 28 Boyes

38 Greening – 56 Froese – 25 Clune

Defence

2 Hunwick – 44 Rielly

51 Gardiner – 46 Polak

52 Marincin – 20 Corrado

Goaltenders

34 Reimer

45 Bernier

Chicago Blackhawks

Forwards

65 Shaw – 19 Toews – 14 Panik

72 Panarin – 15 Anisimov – 88 Kane

11 Desjardins – 24 Danault – 86 Teravainen

53 Mashinter – 70 Rasmussen – 48 Hinostroza

Defence

2 Keith – 4 Hjlamarsson

57 van Riemsdyk – 7 Seabrook

43 Svedberg – 32 Rozsival

Goaltenders

33 Darling

50 Crawford


3:30 PM: James Reimer gets the start on Monday in Chicago. Here’s what he had to say ahead of the game…

Leafs TV

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…

Leafs TV

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…

Leafs TV

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…

Leafs TV

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?

No.

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.

Source: Game Journal: Game 55 – Maple Leafs vs. Blackhawks

Retro-loving Komarov looks for offence of first half: Feschuk

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.

How old?

“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.”

Source: Retro-loving Komarov looks for offence of first half: Feschuk

Postgame Quotes: Feb. 13, 2016

From Official Toronto Maple Leafs

Saturday, 02.13.2016 / 11:00 PM ET / News

Toronto Maple Leafs

Here’s a sampling of what the Leafs had to say following a 5-2 win in Vancouver over the Canucks.

Mike Babcock

I think we’ve worked real hard on the trip. We could’ve had better success than we’ve had, but tonight we were rewarded. We scored a few goals and were able to keep it out, had good goaltending and we played real hard. Give the guys a lot of credit.

James Reimer

I think that’s got to be one of our best defensive games of the year. We’ve had some good games this year, but as far as shutting them down, they only had a couple chances and they were fortunate enough to bury on a few. But I thought our guys played one of the best games I’ve seen them play.

Brendan Leipsic

On his NHL debut:

It feels amazing. You work this hard all of your life to get to this point, it was a pretty cool experience.

On his first goal:

We were just in on the forecheck and Gards (Jake Gardiner) snapped one on net. For whatever reason it popped up in the air and nobody knew where it was. I just got an eye on it and was lucky to bat it out of the air.

Source: Postgame Quotes: Feb. 13, 2016

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