TSN Toronto Reporter Mark Masters reports on the Maple Leafs, who trained at the Ford Performance Center on Tuesday ahead of Wednesday’s 2021-22 season opener against Montreal Canadiens at Scotiabank Arena.
With Auston Matthews (left wrist) is out of the squad this week, John Tavares It will be first place in Toronto to start the season. Tavares scored two goals and added three assists in four games that Matthews missed last season.
Nothing really changes,” said the 31-year-old. “I’m just playing my game. Auston has missed a few games in the past and I’ve been through similar circumstances so just keep preparing like I did, understanding my role and responsibility, going there and playing at a high level.”
After sustaining a concussion and a knee injury in qualifying, Tavares made it to training camp this year determined to turn the page over this frightening collision. Corey Berry During the first game of the first round of the playoff series foliage against the Montreal Canadiens last May.
“He looks amazing,” the goalkeeper gushed Jack Campbell. “He didn’t miss a moment. Immediately, at first, he seemed like a guy on a mission. There’s no better way to lead than to get out there and take control, that’s what he’s been doing and we’ll need this from him all year long.”
“John is as focused as I’ve ever seen him,” said coach Sheldon Keefe. “He’s a very focused and committed guy, but I feel he’s taken it to another level.”
A friend remarked, “He put in a lot of hard work.” Jason Spiza. “He did a lot of things to make sure that when he started camp, he felt completely comfortable. He was doing contact drills before then. Johnny is such a detailed guy that there was no effort he didn’t flip and he was ready to go.”
Last year, Keefe spoke about setting new standards higher in Toronto. This year, it’s all about raising the bar, and in that respect, the Tavares is setting the tone.
He’s very personally driven, and he also leads our group,” Keefe said. “We’re pursuing the ultimate goal here, which is to put together a program that will support itself in difficult times.”
“It’s about pushing the envelope and finding ways to stay consistent,” Tavares said. [and] Finding ways to improve and constantly challenging ourselves so that we never feel comfortable with the way we play.”
Foliage looked really good in the regular season last year when they won the Northern Division, but then they wasted their 3-1 lead in the series against the Canadians. Toronto dominated a lot of the play, including a strong stretch late in game 5 and in overtime in game 6.
“There are a lot of teams around the league [and] “Some players who, even though they don’t have the disc and you have the disc, seem to be in control of the game,” Tavares said. “These are small details that, when we get into it more systematically, we can talk about it as a group whether it’s a way of thinking or doing this kind of thing.”
Even at 38, Spezza is still pumped on opening night.
“You remember you’re like nine [years old] before christmas? The Toronto native said with a smile it kind of felt the same way. “It feels great to start a new season and not get old.”
This will be Spezza’s third season with his hometown team, but his first true opening experience. Two years ago, coach Mike Babcock made him a health scratcher on opening night. Then, last season, there were no fans in the building due to pandemic restrictions.
Spezza will bring his parents, Rino and Donna, into the crowd on Wednesday night.
It’s something you don’t take for granted, Spitza said. “It’s so special to play in Toronto. It’s so special to be a part of the house opening. These are all really cool stuff, no matter how old you are or how long you’ve been around. So, I’m going to be excited to go.”
Spezza, who is entering his 19th season in the NHL, will have a new role with the Leafs on Wednesday. With Matthews out at least three games, Spezza moves into that position with the highest power driver unit.
“I’ve played a lot of strength games so I’ll just do what I want,” Spitza said. “We talked about it this morning and touched on options. Obviously, we’d like Matty to be there. He’s an ace in this place, but for now I hope I can do well and get off to a good start.”
How to Play the Force has been described as the #1 area in need of improvement when it comes to the offensive side of the Toronto game. The team went out of the gate last season before fading out hard and sitting 16th overall in strength-playing percentage.
Ilya Mikheev has been filling the unit’s best power play over the last two pre-season games, but he fractured a thumb on Saturday and will miss eight weeks.
“We used left-handed players in camp as placeholders for Auston,” Keefe said. “Mikheev is not available to us now. I thought he did a good job for us in this place. We had to make a decision. Spiza has spent a lot of time throughout his career in this suite. Although he is the right-hand man, we just thought in terms of skill set and experience. And command, he is the man who can intervene well in this place. We will give him this opportunity.”
Mitch Marner left training early after his collision Wayne Simmonds during exercise.
“She took a lightning strike there with Simer,” Keefe said. “It’s just a precaution at this point in time. We’ll stay in the morning and take it from there.”
“You never want to see anyone leave training, especially the guy we rely on so much, so hopefully nothing is too serious and he’ll be ready to go,” Tavares said.
Marner remained on the ice for a few minutes after the impact. He had a chat with assistant sports therapist John Geller on the bench. Then he turned to Keefe to share a few words before leaving.
“I’m not really worried,” Spitza said. “I think it was just my precaution and maybe he wants to rest (smile). I think he’ll be fine. I haven’t spoken to him so maybe I shouldn’t take it lightly, but it looks like it was a very simple thing.”
The Leafs will be using a tandem system in the grid this season. newcomer Peter Marazek, who signed a three-year contract with the Leafs in the summer, has a longer contract than Campbell, but the night job has always been reserved for the incumbent. This will be the first time Campbell will start a season opener in the NHL.
“It’s a great achievement for him,” Keefe said. “He went through a lot to get to this position. He worked very hard. He had to keep believing in himself and dealing with adversity. He earned the trust of our organization here and his teammates. He was fantastic all the way through camp. He accepted a new partner here at Petr and he has done well. With him in regards to this tandem. I’m excited for him for this season. It wasn’t even a question of who would start this match in the off-season and throughout the camp. He never gave us a reason to think of anything different.”
Campbell, who was in the final year of his contract, learned the news via a text message from goalkeeping coach Steve Brier on Monday. Who is the first person to say?
“Actually I haven’t told anyone that, I guess, guys,” Campbell said with a smile.
The Michigan native was the first-round pick in 2010, but struggled under the weight of high expectations and never emerged as the NHL team’s man of choice until last season after Frederic Andersen was injured.
“It definitely feels good to do the work and get rewarded, but it’s just one step,” said the 29-year-old. “I always expected to be in this position, I didn’t do enough to be able to. Now, I only expect it from myself.”
Andersen started in the openers of the last five seasons for the Leafs.
Campbell is a lovable character in the Leafs locker room thanks to his fun-loving personality. Earlier in the training camp, he expressed his desire to organize a group dinner at the Red Lobster. Monday night, he threw a party for his cat.
“My cat’s second birthday,” Campbell said. “It was a great day and a lot of fun. It was amazing. I adopted Buds in January before I got traded [to Toronto] in february . I was always a man of dogs, I wasn’t ready for canine maturity. I felt like it was a huge responsibility, but I’m going to get one very soon here so I’m excited.”
Why the name Bud?
“All of my boys, I call them, buds, so I thought it was perfect for him.”
Toronto finished 24th in penalty shootouts (78.5) last season, but Keefe notes that part of that has to do with scoring.
“Our penalty shootout shootout has huge potential here,” Keefe said. “I think the penalties were underestimated last season with some results. If you only look at the matches Jack Campbell Played, I think we were over 90 percent on penalties, which would have been the NHL’s No. 1 kill penalty over the course of the season.”
Campbell scored an astonishing 0.913 save percentage in 22 games when the foliage was cut short last season. Meanwhile, Andersen (.791 in 24 games), Michael Hutchinson (.889 in eight games) and David Ritich (.750 in four games) are all behind in this department.
Lines in practice Tuesday:
Ritchie – Tavares – Marner
Darsa – Kervot – Nylander
Absenteeism – Kampf – Cassie
Spizza / Amadeo – Simonds
Riley – Brody
Muzzin – All
Sandin – Dermot
Lilgren – Matthews
Power-play units in Training Tuesday:
5 over 4
Wings: Spezza, Nylander
Midfield: Marner (Amadeo after Mitch left)
Wings: Cassie, Involution
The net front: Richie
5 over 3
Wings: Tavares, Nylander
Front Net: Richie