Quick Shifts: Maple Leafs’ Matthews, Marleau ‘expect a lot more’

Chris Johnston thinks the Jets may come into Toronto a little weary to play their fourth game in six nights and the Maple Leafs should take advantage of it.

A quick mix of the things we gleaned from the week of hockey, serious and less so, and rolling four lines deep.

1. On a midsummer night in humid Toronto, Auston Matthews gave his initial thoughts of his new winger, road-trip dad and future Hall of Famer Patrick Marleau.

“I’m excited about it. Me and Patty are really close. He’s been in the league for so long. He such a smart player. For his age, he still skates like the wind. He put up really good numbers last year — a guy that can finish,” Matthews beamed.

“To play with a guy of his calibre, what he can do on the ice, it’s pretty exciting for myself.”

And yet the finish Marleau, now 39, flexed in back-to-back 27-goal campaigns — plus another four times in the Leafs’ seven-gamer versus Boston in the playoffs — hasn’t exactly leapt from the starting blocks.

Ten games deep, the Maple Leafs’ most senior member has yet to score at even-strength or with Matthews on the ice (Marleau’s lone goal came on the second power-play unit).

My “AM to PM all day” tweet is gathering dust in a drafts folder.

It’s not a big deal, yet.

“We expect a lot from ourselves and definitely want to take another step,” Matthews said Friday.

The club is a shiny 7-3, Matthews is pacing the scoring race, and Marleau, who also has four assists, has played fine. But only that.

The man to Matthews’ right, Kasperi Kapanen, has been a bigger story — and Marleau’s underlying numbers are less than flattering.

Despite starting 60 per cent of his shifts in the offensive zone, the 1,585-game veteran’s possession metrics (47.3 CF%) are the lowest they’ve been since the stat began being catalogued 11 years ago.

“We’re challenging them to cycle the puck more and spend more time in the O-zone,” said coach Mike Babcock, something the Hyman-Tavares-Marner trio has had more success with.

“Less time rush, more time O-zone. Because your rush goes away as the year goes on.”

Quietly, one gets the sense Marleau is starting to feel the pressure of keeping up with his 21-year-old centreman.

“Getting a chance to play with someone of his calibre of skill, the way he sees the ice, it’s an extremely good opportunity for myself to be out there,” Marleau said. “I just try to complement him as best I can.”

We needn’t remind Leafs critics that Marleau still has one more year, his age 40 season, remaining on a virtually buyout-proof contract, a portion of which he’s paying back in intangibles.

“Patty Marleau is an unbelievable pro, unbelievable person,” Babcock reiterated.

“Not only is he here to play his own game and focus on his own game and get that better, he’s here to help the rest of us get better. He’s a good sounding board for me, he’s real good for the young guys, he knows what’s important.”

Part of that is connecting with his adopted son — on the ice.

2. In terms of severity, how does William Nylander’s contract impasse stack up against recent RFAs who’ve not only sat out camp but refused to put pen to paper weeks into the regular season?

• P.K. Subban and the Montreal Canadiens signed on Jan. 28, 2013 (nine days after a lockout-shortened puck drop)

• Hampus Lindholm and the Anaheim Ducks signed on Oct. 27, 2016 (11 days after puck drop)

• Andreas Athanasiou and the Detroit Red Wings signed on Oct. 20, 2017 (16 days after puck drop)

• Jacob Trouba and the Winnipeg Jets signed on Nov. 7, 2016 (22 days after puck drop)

Nylander and the Maple Leafs have not signed as of Oct. 27. That’s 24 days — and counting — after puck drop. We’re in tricky territory here.

The last RFA to sit this long, Ryan O’Reilly (then of Colorado), played in the KHL, signed an offer sheet, came back, and was ultimately traded.

Yes, the true deadline to sign is Dec. 1, but it’s rare we even sniff November without a bridge deal.

3. Oh, to be in the cross-hairs of a Braden Holtby death glare.

When the Washington Capitals goaltender gathered a puck in his glove and lobbed it over the glass, intending the souvenir for one of the young children with outstretched arms, a much older and taller young man snagged it instead.

Holtby guilt-stared the guy down for a full seven seconds, but to no avail.

In Toronto, as part of their pre-game routine, Matthews and Mitch Marner — always the final Maple Leafs to leave the ice after warm-ups — each flip a puck to a youngster pressing the glass.

“There’s always kids there. I know when I was a kid and I was doing the same thing, I always wanted a puck,” Matthews said. “It usually makes their night.”

I asked Matthews if what happened to Holtby happens to him, some grownup flexing his seniority and reach.

“Yeah, it has. I think I ended up getting another puck and making sure the kid got it. I’ve seen that with baseball, too, where the old adult guy steals the puck or ball from the kid,” Matthews replied.

“You’re an adult, right? You know the feeling, what it’s like to get a puck or a baseball or whatever. I don’t know why that happens so often.”

4. The conversation turned to the homemade signs fans present during warm-ups. Matthews gets a kick out them.

“I like a lot of them. They’re pretty clever. They come up with some good stuff,” he said with a smile.

The best one?

“I think some guy made a sign — I was injured; it was in Columbus [last season] — and it said I think hot dogs are a sandwich or something like that. That was a pretty good one. I ended up seeing it on Twitter the next day, but that was a pretty funny one.”

Which begged an important follow-up question: “Is a hot dog a sandwich?”

“No,” Matthews scoffed.

That settles it.

5. In the opinion of the Oilers’ Todd McLellan, Connor McDavid is the reigning Best Hockey Player in the World.

In the opinion of the Penguins’ Mike Sullivan, that honour is still the property of Sidney Crosby, who never fails to rise with the stakes.

Both coaches are giving the right answer, throwing support behind their best chance to remain employed.

The mic’d-up version of Crosby’s 6-5 Ryan Strome–posterizing overtime winner Tuesday is magic.

The adulation bursts like a geyser from his teammates: “What a goal!” “He’s still got it!” “Beautiful, buddy!” “DaDaDa DaDaDa!” “That’s nasty!”

Even more remarkable is that Crosby’s highlight-reel backhander arrived after 120 consecutive minutes of keeping new-jack centres Auston Matthews and McDavid off the score sheet at even-strength.

“Sid is the most driven athlete I’ve ever been around. I watch him every day, and the detail associated with his preparation process, he’s committed to being the best player he can be,” Sullivan said. “Not only is he an elite player, but he’s willing to put the work in to continue to try to be the best he can be. I’ve grown so much admiration and respect for him over the years I’ve been coaching him because I have the privilege of watching him on a daily basis put the work in to be the player he is.

“It’s not by accident. He’s a real accomplished player. He’s deserving of all the accolades he’s achieved. He’s certainly the heartbeat of this team.”

Find you someone who talks about you to strangers the way Mike Sullivan talks about Sidney Crosby.

Sullivan says Crosby is constantly requesting video to pore over and critique.

“He’s always looking for ways to improve in areas of his game where he thinks he can be better. He leaves no stone unturned. He takes care of himself physically, he trains so hard on and off the ice. He’s a student of the game in the film sessions,” Sullivan goes on.

The student has become the teacher. Low key, Crosby is the closest thing the modern game has to a player-coach. Word to Reggie Dunlop.

“He always bringing ideas to the coaching staff. We learn as much from Sid as he learns from the coaching staff with just the way he thinks the game and his attention to detail,” Sullivan adds. “He’s such a privilege to coach because of his commitment to be the best player but also his want and his passion for wanting the Penguins to win championships.”

6. Gotta love these U.S. contenders taking extended Western Canadian road trips in the name of team bonding (hey, the dollar goes further).

Last weekend, the Penguins descended upon Banff. Earlier this week, the Capitals had themselves a time in another party ski town — Whistler.

After gearing up in flannel, their first stop was an axe-chucking tournament at Forged Axe Throwing, a more aggressive substitute for the club’s annual darts contest.

Note that Tom Wilson is making himself useful by shooting video of Alex Ovechkin chucking hatchets in his best Pemberton dinner jacket:

“The team showed a huge talent for the sport,” Forged owner James Anderson said. “T.J. Oshie’s kill shot was incredible.”

Indeed. You can hear one teammate call out, “Top cheese!” before Oshie slams his target:

Wait. There’s an encore.

The Night Caps followed up with a village visit to Dubh Linn Gate Irish pub, and Holtby — who comes by his musical chops honestly — grabbed a guitar and stole the stage.

Life as a champion must be something to sing about…

7. Speaking of songs, later tonight at Scotiabank Arena the Maple Leafs will pay tribute to the immortal Stompin’ Tom Connors by hosting the induction of “The Hockey Song” into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame.

The good ol’ puck anthem, which took Connors all of 13 minutes to write, has been played at Leafs home games for 45 years, and — unlike “Cotton Eye Joe” — we don’t mind one bit. (Before we hopped aboard the Hall & Oates wagon, we once made a passionate, 20-point argument that Stompin’ Tom own the Leafs goal song.)

Tim Hicks will belt out a cover rendition, and Tom Connors Jr. will be presented with a plaque.

8. Impressive Stat of the Week, from the winningest team in the West: By shutting out the Oilers Sunday, the Nashville Predators improve to 9-1-2 in the dreaded second half of back-to-back games.

9. Cam Talbot doesn’t look like a man prepared to let go of his stranglehold on the title of Most Starts Per Season. Edmonton’s undisputed No. 1 led his peers with 73 starts in 2016-17 and 67 in 2017-18. With Talbot making his eighth consecutive start Thursday, the Oilers are the only club yet to play their backup.

Part of that is Coach McLellan’s instance on either winning or going out on the backs of his best players (see: McDavid now logging more ice time than roughly half the league’s No. 1 defencemen). Part of that is schedule-driven; this weekend marks Edmonton’s first back-to-back, as the Oilers travel to Nashville and Chicago.

At $2.5 million, unproven import Mikko Koskinen is a pricey break-in-case-of-emergency option.

The 30-year-old rookie will finally slide in cold Saturday against the Preds, only the most powerful team in the NHL.


10. While Edmonton is making do with one goalie, two Metropolitan clubs are now carrying three.

Veterans Michael Neuvirth (Philadelphia) and Scott Darling (Carolina) returned to their respective clubs Thursday after brief, one-win conditioning stints in the minors.

Because the Flyers (James van Riemsdyk, Michal Raffl, Samuel Morin) and Hurricanes (Victor Rask) have roster players riding IR, there is no immediate roster crunch, but carrying three netminders can get old fast. There’s not enough net to go around.

Watch the wire.

If Calvin Pickard (Philly) or Petr Mrazek or Curtis McElhinney (Carolina) hit waivers, their NHL experience and friendly cap hits suggest they’re unlikely to clear.

Toronto would get first stab at ex-Leafs Pickard and/or McElhinney.

11. Besides requiring me to do a triple spell-check, what do Henri Jokiharju and Dennis Cholowski have in common?


They’re both rookie defencemen holding their own on the top pairings and power-play units of Original Six franchises. They both have six points, skate more than 20 minutes a night alongside proven defenders, were drafted late in the first round, and they still have fewer than 6,000 Twitter followers combined.

Partner Mike Green, to Detroit reporters, on Cholowski: “Such great talent, and he provides multiple dimensions back there. Very diverse, which is what we need.”

Coach Joel Quenneville, to Chicago reporters, on placing Jokiharju with future Hall of Famer Duncan Keith: “All aspects of his game — his gap, his presence in the puck area, his decision-making offensively and defensively, supporting the attack. Looked like he has played the game for a long, long time at this level.”

We’ll know how to spell their names soon enough.

12. And now for something heavy but important.

The inaugural Pejcinovski Legacy Gala was held Thursday, honouring the lives of Krissy, Roy and Vana Pejcinovski, who were tragically murdered earlier this year.

Vas Pejcinovski spoke publicly for the first time since the sudden loss of his children and ex-wife.

Among the 600 guests who raised in the ballpark of $200,000 for the Pejcinovski Family Memorial Fund were Maple Leafs Garret Sparks and Zach Hyman.

Hyman met Vas, Roy’s father, and Veronica, Roy’s older sister, when the surviving family members of the 15-year-old Don Mills Flyers goaltender were invited into the Leafs dressing room back in March.

Zach’s younger brother, Shane, and Roy played on the same minor hockey team.

Before he passed, Roy told Shane that Zach was the Leaf he most cheered for.

“It’s such a tragic thing to happen. It’s just terrible,” Zach told me Friday. “Shane knew him, and Roy texted him when I first got called up. He was so happy for me.

“Again, last night, [Vas] said how he used to watch Leafs games with Roy and that was one of the highlights of their day and how I was one of his favourite players. So it meant a lot for me to go there and show my support and see the family. It was an amazing gala. There was a ton of people there, and they raised a lot of money.”

Hyman said he’s always known how meaningful a simple gesture like showing up at a fundraiser during a night off can be to help someone in the community.

“I knew it all along, because I knew what the Leafs meant to me as a kid and what it would mean to me to meet a Toronto Maple Leaf,” Hyman explained.

“So when you grow up in the city, you know how much it means to kids. Not just kids, but to everybody.”

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