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Maple Leafs come alive in win over Red Wings after Keefe shocks the system

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TORONTO – The night before Halloween, Sheldon Keefe elected to “shock the system” of his underachieving group.

And not unlike Frankenstein’s monster, the reassembled parts came alive.

At least in the offensive zone.

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The Toronto Maple Leafs coach pulled a rare trick out of his bag, scrambling his top four defencemen, busting up his go-to shutdown pair, and sitting a healthy Justin Holl in favour of Timothy Liljegren.

“Instead of reducing his role or minutes, we thought we’d shock the system here and take a step back — because he’s an important player for us,” Keefe said. “I haven’t made any guarantees about whether he’s going right back in. We’ll see how he plays.”

Toronto’s much-improved defensive effort of 2020-21 has yet to find its groove in October.

And although the Leafs routinely outshoot their opposition, the odd-man rushes and easy net access they surrender is concerning enough to bench a player they protected in the Seattle expansion draft.

So, a message was sent, and the experiment yielded success.

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Though far from perfect, the refreshed blue line duos and a breakout game by the Alexander Kerfoot–John Tavares–Mitch Marner line secured Petr Mrazek his first victory as a Leaf — 5-4 over his former employer, the Detroit Red Wings.

Still, there was a handful of candy corn spoiling what should’ve been a pillowcase overflowing with full-size Snickers.

Every time the Leafs snagged or increased a lead, they let a tired Wings team — playing without their top scorer — streak back and make it close.

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“The win should feel better than it does,” Keefe said. “But let’s not kid ourselves. It’s hard to win games, so I’m not going to stress about it too much.”

The Maple Leafs struck first with a mere 13.4 seconds remaining in the first frame.

Jake Muzzin took a pass from new partner T.J. Brodie and worked the puck down to the circles, where he fired a puck through traffic and beat Thomas Greiss.

Muzzin’s strike was Toronto’s first goal by a defenceman all season, and Keefe revealed that a Muzzin-Brodie shutdown unit was something the staff has been curious about trying for a long time.

“I thought it was Muzzin’s best game of the season,” Keefe said.

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Muzzin had entered a team-worst minus-8 and had becoming a growing source of concern, at least outside the dressing room.

“For a guy that has been so good for so long, you have confidence that he’s going to find it,” Keefe assured. “We’re just talking him through it. Reassuring him. Challenging him. But he doesn’t need too much of that because he’s a very self-aware guy.”

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Toronto’s self-assured play in the first, during which they doubled their visitors in both scoring and high-danger chances, gave way to a more even second and a nail-biting third.

Tavares, seemingly agitated by a borderline high hit, committed a slashing penalty on Michael Rasmussen that opened the door for Filip Zadina to unleash a power-play wrister and tie the score.

But the Leafs stormed back with a power-play goal of their own with just 18 seconds left in the middle frame. When their out-of-sync first unit failed to gain any traction, it was Jason Spezza’s second group that took care of business.

Spezza, who had drawn a slash from Rasmussen, delivered a smart slap-pass to Michael Bunting in the slot, and Scarborough’s own tipped it home to restore the lead.

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Tavares wasted no time doubling the advantage. On the first shift of the third, he created some space for himself behind Greiss’s net and fed Alexander Kerfoot for a one-timer in the slot.

The won’t-quit Red Wings struck back on the next shift, thanks to a tally by game-day callup Joe Veleno in his first NHL appearance of the season.

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But Kerfoot returned the favour to Tavares on a pretty 2-on-1 rush, and the captain made no mistake, bending the twine and registering his third point of the night.

“John Tavares was all over it tonight,” Keefe said.

Again, Detroit narrowed the gap to one, courtesy of a Vladislav Namestnikov crease-crasher.

But Marner scored the eventual winner late, snuffing out a 16-game drought that stretches back to May 8.

Tavares enveloped his winger in hug and some encouraging words.

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“It hasn’t come as easy for him production-wise, but his game is still so effective and solid for us in so many areas,” Tavares said. “Eventually he was going to break out, and it was just great to see him get it. Just happy to see it. He deserved that one.”

Ding-dong, the witch is dead.

It took nine games, but the Maple Leafs’ offence was the difference. They thumped Detroit 21-6 in high-danger chances, per NaturalStatTrick.com.

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This unassertive team that had yet to score four in a single game, hung five on their opponent. And they needed every last one of them.

“Go! Leafs! Go!” chants rang out on the eve before All Hallows’ Eve, and with back-to-back wins, suddenly Toronto’s record (4-4-1) looks a little less frightening.

“Some mixed emotions,” a terse Muzzin said at the podium. “You know, we’ll take the win. We did a lot of good things. But we definitely have to tighten some things up and play better with the lead, that’s for sure.”

Fox’s Fast 5

• Red Wings rookie defenceman Moritz Seider wears No. 53 because he just so happened to watch Herbie the Lovebug the day before he was asked to pick his number.

Seider already has eight assists through his first nine NHL games. On Saturday, he killed penalties, teed up Zadina on the power play, and finished a plus-1 in 22-plus minutes. This after logging 26-plus minutes Friday.

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This six-foot-four kid is a blast to watch. He has poise well beyond his 20 years of age.

• Rasmus Sandin is thrilled his parents, Patric and Helena, flew over from his native Sweden this week to take in all five games of this homestand. Patric religiously stays awake from 2 a.m. to 5 a.m. to catch his son’s games live. Rasmus says Patric “gets more nervous than I do” for puck drop.

• Grand Rapids Griffins leading scorer Joe Veleno carpooled all the way from Michigan with GM Steve Yzerman. Oh, to be a fly on the (inside) windshield for that four-hour drive.

“I was a little bit shy, and I really didn’t know what to talk about. He made up most of the conversation,” Veleno said, following his two-point NHL night. “Once I got to spend a bit of time with him in the car, I was a little more comfortable.”

Veleno took a nap, and the two listened to the Michigan–Michigan State football game on the radio, not “Holiday Road.”

“It definitely means a lot to drive with Steve Yzerman. I guess it’s a story I can tell in the future.”

The Red Wings fell to 0-2 in Canada, where leading scorer Tyler Bertuzzi is unavailable to play because he is not vaccinated against COVID-19.

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• Prior to puck drop, Keefe showed his players the viral clip (below) of the Red Wings selling out on shot-blocks in desperate attempt to stay in their battle against the undefeated Florida Panthers Friday. (The Wings nabbed a loser point in that one.)

“A really quick snapshot of the type of mindset that Detroit has,” Keefe said. “That sense of urgency. They’re competing at a very high level early in the season.”

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• Short-lived Maple Leafs centre Mike Amadio (0-0-0 in 3GP) got scooped off waivers Saturday by the Vegas Golden Knights, marking the second depth forward Toronto has lost to the wire in this young season (Adam Brooks, Montreal).

Amadio didn’t need to catch a flight. The Knights were already loading their gear into Scotiabank Arena as the buzzer sounded on the Leafs-Wings game Saturday.





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MLB Insider Shows Off A Legendary Padres Trio

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The San Diego Padres made it all the way to the National League Championship Series last year.

That’s not their ceiling as an organization, and they made an emphatic statement about that in the last calendar year by adding Juan Soto and Xander Bogaerts.

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They want to make the World Series and win their first trophy in franchise history, and are making all the moves to put themselves in the best possible position to fight for it.

They have put together an incredibly talented trio of Latino hitters, perhaps the best and most impressive in MLB history.

Many people in the comments said that Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz and Pedro Martinez on the 2004 Boston Red Sox was the most talented Latino trio, but as far as position players go, Fernando Tatis Jr., Manny Machado, and Soto have a really strong case.

We have seen lots of excellent Latino trios such as the one in Boston in the year they broke the Bambino curse; Ivan Rodriguez, Rafael Palmeiro and Alex Rodriguez from 2001-02, and plenty more.

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However, Soto, Machado (who was born and raised in Miami but has Dominican heritage and has played with the Dominican national team), and Tatis all have MVP potential.

All of them can win the award any given year.

They are all incredibly talented, and although they haven’t won their first World Series as a trio yet (Soto has, four years ago with the Washington Nationals) they will be one of the strongest contenders in the National League this year.

If the three (plus Bogaerts) remain healthy, San Diego will be very tough to beat and very fun to watch.

The post MLB Insider Shows Off A Legendary Padres Trio appeared first on The Cold Wire.

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Top Mets Prospect Is Learning From A Key Veteran

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The New York Mets have certainly made sure to prioritize the catching position at all levels.

They signed Omar Narvaez this offseason, who has several years of MLB experience, they have a solid backup in Tomas Nido, and drafted Kevin Parada in the first round last year.

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The most exciting catcher in the Mets organization, however, is Francisco Alvarez.

The young Venezuelan made his MLB debut last year after hitting 18 Double-A home runs and nine at Triple-A.

He didn’t get much playing time in the majors, but sure made his presence and his power known.

With Narvaez and Nido in the fold and several options to be the designated hitter, it’s unclear if Alvarez will open the season on the active roster.

He is, however, preparing like a major leaguer: he started his routine earlier, and he is working on his skills as a catcher with Narvaez, his countryman.

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Most scouts agree on the fact that Alvarez has the bat to be a major leaguer, at any position.

However, there are conflicted reports about his ability to stay behind the plate.

Obviously, he will have more value to the Mets if he can stick as a catcher, and he is working with Narvaez to make sure he is prepared for spring training.

Scouts grade Alvarez’s raw power as a 70 in the 20-80 scale: that’s an incredible grade.

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His catching skills, however, are more like a 40, which would be a hair below-average.

With work, reps, and discipline, he could become an asset behind the plate.

That would be a dream scenario for the Mets.

The post Top Mets Prospect Is Learning From A Key Veteran appeared first on The Cold Wire.





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Giannis Antetokounmpo And The Bucks Are On A Roll

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The Milwaukee Bucks easily defeated the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday night, beating them with a powerful 127-108 final.

The team was led by Brook Lopez, who had yet another dominant game with 24 points and 9 rebounds.

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But Giannis Antetokounmpo, the team’s unquestionable leader, was once again in fine form and playing like the MVP candidate he is.

He scored 24 points, 13 rebounds, and 8 assists.

That means that over his last ten games, Antetokounmpo has scored an average of 33 points, 14.4 rebounds, and 5.8 assists on a 57.3% field goal percentage.

Not surprisingly, his team has gone 10-0 during that time.

Are the Bucks once again the most exciting and promising squad in the East?

The last time the Bucks lost was on January 21, when Antetokounmpo sat out and the Cleveland Cavaliers took them down, 114-102.

Since then, they have been on an eight-game winning streak.

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Antetokounmpo has been incredible this season, which is very impressive since he has long been one of the greatest basketball players alive.

But this season, he is playing with a resurgent desire to make it all the way to the NBA Finals.

He has stepped up and is taking his team to new heights but the rest of the team is right behind him and helping out in noticeable ways.

Jrue Holiday is scoring 19.1 points, Bobby Portis was making 14.4, while Brooke Lopez and Khris Middleton are also scoring double digits.

Every team wants someone like Antetokounmpo on the roster but they can only achieve true postseason greatness if the entire team is playing hard.

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The Bucks have a busy week ahead, taking on the Los Angeles Lakers, Clippers, and Boston Celtics in the upcoming days.

Will Antetokounmpo’s latest surge continue during that time?

The post Giannis Antetokounmpo And The Bucks Are On A Roll appeared first on The Cold Wire.





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