Quick Shifts: Why Tyson Barrie’s ‘big year’ needs a boost

All the best plays from the week that was in the NHL, including Sonny Milano's goal of the year candidate, and James Reimer's unbelievable denial of Evander Kane at the doorstep.

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

1. Not-so-fun fact: Tyson Barrie has been quietly enduring his longest scoring drought in nearly six years.

While the other principal in the Canada Day trade, Nazem Kadri, has enjoyed an uptick in production since moving to the Mile High City, Barrie’s offence has suffered a sharp drop-off in Toronto, where the club’s depth of point production has a way of masking individual slumps.

We’re 12 games in, and Barrie is still searching for his first goal as a Leaf. Friday he extended his point drought to nine games. He’s a minus-8 over that span.

“I don’t think it’s anything to worry too much about. You just have to play the right way and continue to play your game and, you know, trust the process and things will work out,” says Barrie, who arrived hot off consecutive 57-point campaigns.

“Obviously, I’m a guy that produces from the back end, and it’s been a bit slow for me to start, so I’m going to get back to it a little bit. I’ve gone through stretches like this in the past.”

The distant past.

Barrie’s longest point drought in 2018-19 was six games. It was four in 2017-18. He never went more than five without getting on the board in 2016-17 and 2015-16. Six in 2014-15. You have to track back to December 2013 for his last dry spell this long.

“I don’t think we have him playing at the level we perceive him to be or he wants to be at. But I don’t think that’s a big surprise,” coach Mike Babcock says.

“Any time you go any place new, and you’re trying to find where your fit is, and especially when you’re a power-play guy, and you don’t get to go out on the first unit like you used to, so now you’ve got to find your way. But Bear is a great teammate, ultra-competitive, wants to be great. When I have these discussions with him, he’s straightforward about it and where he wants to go and so I’m not very concerned.”

Power-play usage is a biggie here. While Barrie’s total ice time per game has actually risen since the trade, Colorado’s PP ice-time leader the past three seasons has seen his use on the man-advantage nearly chopped in half, from 4:03 to 2:11 per game.

Whereas last season he started 72.1 per cent of his shifts in the offensive zone, Babcock is asking Barrie to defend more top lines. Now he’s starting just 53.2 per cent of his shifts in the fun end.

“He’s a guy who’s got a whole other gear,” Babcock says. “But you’re in a new situation. You’ve got to find your confidence in that situation, and you’ve got to make sure you’re not thinking. So, when you go and things are new, and anybody who has had a new job, you know. You do a little too much thinking, and it slows you down.”

The upbeat Barrie admits it’s taking time to adjust to new systems. He’s still finding his groove with partner Jake Muzzin and on special teams.

“You play with certain guys for so long, you get to kind of know their tendencies and you know their habits and where they’re going to be,” he says. “But it’s our job to make it work, make it fit.”

Looming over all of this is the puck-mover’s opportunity to strike it rich on the open market on July 1, the anniversary of his first NHL trade.

“It’s obviously a big year for me,” Barrie says.

“I’ve been in the league a long time, and I’ve had some good years in the past, and you put a lot of pressure on yourself to have a good year going into free agency. You know, it’s still early, so there’s lots of time.

“I’m not a UFA yet. I’m still a Toronto Maple Leaf and trying to make this work here.”

2. One of these things is not like the others.

Of all the hockey sticks lining the Maple Leafs’ rack, one stamped “MANGO” on the shaft is quite peculiar.

To the business end of a practice stick, Andreas “Mango” Johnsson has wrapped three pucks flat to each side of his blade with clear tape, giving his weapon a club-like appearance.

The purpose of these homemade hockey hamburgers at the end of his shaft, he tells me, is to puck handle with a heavier stick, so that “when you dangle with a normal puck, it feels lighter.”

Much like a baseball player taking his on-deck cuts with a weighted bat.

“I usually do heavy pucks. But if I don’t have heavy pucks, I use that stick,” Johnsson explains.

Heavy orange training pucks weigh 10 ounces, four more than a regulation puck.

Johnsson’s arts-and-crafts technique ups that weight significantly. He stole the method from former teammate and longtime Frolunda HC icon Joel Lundqvist, Henrik’s twin brother.

“When I didn’t have heavy pucks, I started doing that because I remembered he did that back home,” Johnsson says.

None of his Leafs teammates have incorporated the trick … yet.

“My secret,” he smiles.

Johnsson is a man of many nicknames. Coach Babcock calls the 5-foot-10 winger “Little John” to differentiate him from Tavares. Others simply go with “Johnny.” In Sweden, he goes by “Antti.” But most use “Mango.”

“It’s nothing about the fruit. It’s a bit more complicated than that,” Johnsson says. (Sadly, it’s nothing about Chris Kattan’s Saturday Night Live character, either.)

“It’s from high school. Man and then go. ‘Go’ means ‘nice guy’ so we call each other that.”

Mango, Johnny, Little John, Antti… Andreas doesn’t have a preference what they call him.

“As long as they call me,” he grins.

3. I got a chuckle out of an unusual but heads-up play by Cam Atkinson during the tied third period of Monday’s Columbus Blue Jackets–Maple Leafs tilt.

With Leafs defenders tired and the Jackets buzzing on the cycle, Frederik Andersen knocked off his right post accidentally on purpose, hoping for a whistle.

An astute Atkinson, however, reached over and reaffixed the post to its moorings so Columbus’s dangerous down-low possession could continue. (No goal was scored.)

Brilliant. And totally legal.

I knew officials and goalies could reattach a loose net, but wasn’t sure an opponent could.

I checked with director of officiating Stephen Walkom. He encourages this behaviour because it keeps the flow going.

“It was kind of Cam to fix it quickly and good of Freddy to make sure it was secure,” Walkhom says. “Nothing in the rules that prevents the use of common sense, and this is a good example.”

You can do that.

4. Andersen speaks so softly and carefully that I often don’t realize the strength of his words until I type them out.

The dramatic overtime finish of last Saturday’s Leafs-Bruins thriller overshadowed the goaltender’s rather pointed post-game comments about getting steamrolled by Boston’s David Backes, who was all fired up after a week of healthy scratches.

Not only was Andersen peeved about the hit, he wasn’t pleased that Leafs defenceman Martin Marincin earned a coincidental minor for coming to his defence and throwing Backes in a headlock. (Fun fact: Marincin incorporates mixed martial arts into his off-season training regimen. Seriously.)

“It’s a tough battle for goalies. I don’t think we have much to say right now. I think the refs are trying to call it their way, and even when Marty goes in and (roughs) a little bit, he gets kicked out too,” Andersen said. “So it’s tough to police yourself.

“It’s a defensive play for a goalie. You can’t protect yourself. You’re worried about the puck. It’s maybe something to look at.”

5. Mitch Marner has publicly dedicated this season to Hayden Foulon, a seven-year-old girl who died last weekend.

Hayden was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia when she was 22 months old. Marner’s relationship with her dates back to 2015, when the then–London Knights star toured the Children’s Hospital at London Health Sciences Centre and was struck by her bravery.

“It’s hard to put into words, our relationship,” Marner said. “She was a special friend to me. By the end of it, it really felt like her family was a part of my family. We’ll still get them down here (to Scotiabank Arnena) as much as we can, talk to them, see how much we can help throughout this process.

“Anyone who got to know Hayden or got to see her, you left with a smile on your face,” Marner said. “She meant a lot to the people around the world that got to meet her, and it’s something that’s very unfortunate that happened. That’s why we do the things we do, try to raise money to try and stop these things and try to help people live out their full life. She was a battler, and she’ll always be remembered by me.”

After speaking about Hayden, Marner was overcome with the response from people wanting to know how they can help. He’s raising contributions through his fund to the LHSC and Pediatric Oncology Group of Ontario:

6. Even with Travis Dermott expected in the lineup next week, the Maple Leafs are keeping a watchful eye on the demoted Rasmus Sandin.

The 19-year-old wunderkind is back to skating heavy minutes in all situations for the AHL-leading Marlies (6-0-0), putting up four points in his first three appearances.

Babcock intended to sit down with the defenceman and Marlies coach Sheldon Keefe this week.

“When guys go down, what we normally do is we get together – the player and the two of us – and we go through the clips and we give them a development plan,” Babcock said.

“The good thing about the Marlies, different than lots of American League teams, their games are on TV, so we can watch them half the time just sitting in our office getting ready for the game.”

If I’m Sandin, I’m bringing a couple clips to that meeting myself:

7. John Tortorella let his old-school flag fly this week, as he is wont to do.

And, honestly, we agree with the coach. We’d like to see a little more nasty in hockey.

“Physicality? You don’t even use that word in our game anymore. It’s such a no-hitter league,” Tortorella said. “Going running around looking for people, that’s not going to help us. We just have to play a real strict game as far as limiting ice. And when the opportunity’s there and you get a chance to bang some people? Absolutely.”

Tortorella’s group in Columbus has remained remarkably consistent in terms of hits per game, averaging 21.3 in 2017-16, 21.2 in 2018-19, and up to 21.6 so far in 2019-20.

The coach says some sandpaper is essential to his bench’s identity, but it can’t come at the risk of creating an odd-man rush the other way.

“I miss some of the old-school stuff,” Tortorella went on. “I miss that grind, the banging and the stuff that comes with it. I miss a little bit of that. We still have a hell of a game. I’m not certainly going to be derogatory about that. It’s a faster game, it’s a quicker game, we just got some tremendous athletes, but some of the old-school stuff, it’s always bothered me that that’s been gone.

“I just think the whole game itself in the National Hockey League, it’s a different game now. You look at guys: Even if it’s a good hit, people put their arms up because they got hit. You know, that’s what’s aggravating.”

On the subject of agreeing with things that come out of John Tortorella’s mouth, we second this motion:

8. Dying a faster death than physicality or interest in the shootout is the morning skate, and for good reason.

We love this little breakdown of a habit from Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan:

9. After I spitballed some potential trade suitors for Taylor Hall if — big if! — the Devils play themselves out of contention by February and the impending UFA opts not to extend his contract, a couple sources suggested the Ducks should come with an asterisk, noting that Hall and Anaheim coach Dallas Eakins shared some trying times in Edmonton together when the organization was enduring a ton of churn.

Time and experience can be wonderful healers.

It was also pointed out that Bob Murray may wish to take a more patient tact with his group, considering all of the young talent on the rise.

Although Hall doesn’t hold a no-trade clause, it would be surprising if Devils GM Ray Shero — who’s maintained open communication with his superstar all the way — didn’t orchestrate a move to appease Hall, failing priority No. 1, which, we must still believe, is to re-sign him.

Hall’s agent, Darren Ferris, is set to meet with Shero again in November, according to Pierre LeBrun.

10. You don’t have Michael Raffl on your fantasy team. But if you did have Michael Raffl on your fantasy team, you’d be irked at Michael Raffl’s recent bout with honesty.

The 30-year-old Flyer was credited with two goals in Philadelphia’s 6-2 win over the Vegas Golden Knights, but after the game he told reporters he didn’t tip Ivan Provorov’s shot. He didn’t want credit, even though it would’ve represented his first two-goal outing since March 15, 2016.

The hockey gods, they’re watching.

So is the league. At Raffl’s request, the goal was reviewed closer and given to Provorov.

11. The fringes of the NHL landscape is littered with tiny tales of struggle.

When I was in Detroit a couple weeks ago, Red Wings veteran defenceman Jonathan Ericsson came off the ice tired after another optional morning skate before a game he wouldn’t be playing.

Ericsson, 35, was drafted by Detroit with the final pick (291) of the final (ninth) round in 2002, but nagging hip and back ailments had kept him out of action since March 28. His last point was in January.

He carried the demeanour of the next aging Red Wing on the way out as he admitted that going for a skate sometimes make his condition worse. He was crossing his fingers that he wouldn’t feel achy later that afternoon.

“I think I feel pretty good, and a couple steps back again,” Ericsson said, candid, polite, but decidedly downbeat.

“It’s been frustrating. It’s been a lot of injuries. I’m just trying to get back as soon as possible. It’s a new injury, but it’s also involving older injuries. It goes hand-in-hand,” he went on. “When it first happened, I thought I had more of a timeline, but I didn’t stick to that timeline.”

Ericsson’s perseverance through pain paid off Wednesday, when he appeared in a pro game again, a 3-0 victory for the AHL Grand Rapids Griffins, more than a decade after he’d originally graduated from the farm club.

There’s not a flood of feel-good stories around the Wings these days, but Ericsson’s refusal to give up is certainly one.

“I want to get called up again, obviously,” he told reporters. “But the first thing that comes to my mind after this game just is, it’s a lot of fun to play hockey. So I was just glad I could play a game. It was a while ago.”

12. Sliding into the weekend like…

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