Maple Leafs Notebook: Roy injects ‘extra fire’ in Toronto; Woll ‘not anywhere close’

New York Islanders head coach Patrick Roy talks about forward Mathew Barzal and discusses how he encourages Barzal to play his game within the constructs of his system and is happy to see him buying in so fast.

TORONTO — Like a weak wrister from a bad angle, Montreal Canadiens legend Patrick Roy kicked away a question Monday about his return to rival Toronto and his walk past the Hockey Hall of Fame to the rink on a game day.

“I have a lot of things to worry about,” the new head coach of the New York Islanders said. “What I did in the past, there’s nothing about me right now. It’s all about our team. And this is where my focus is.”

As evidenced by the pace and purpose of the Isles’ morning skate ahead of their return-from-break date against the streaking Maple Leafs, Roy is dedicated to his immediate mission of motivating a rather mediocre group back into the postseason.

“The DNA of our team is hard work,” Roy said. “And that’s what a lot of our guys have been saying to me. We just want to go back to that.”

The fiery Roy has been thrown directly into the flames upon his long-yearned-for NHL return. New York has already drawn the contending Stars, the Cup champ Golden Knights, the Cup finalist Panthers in his first four games behind the bench. And the only supposedly lighter opponent — the Canadiens — marked a rather heavy emotional return to Montreal.

Now one of the league’s weaker penalty kills comes into Toronto, with the all-star-studded Leafs riding a high and Auston Matthews earning Player of the Week honours.

“Pretty challenging. But I’m pleased with what I’ve seen,” said Roy, 1-2-1 since taking the reins.

“Limiting the offensive team in our zone, in those four games we’re No. 1 in the NHL. So, I feel like this is a good sign. This is progression. This is something we think we could build on.”

[brightcove videoID=6346297815112 playerID=JCdte3tMv height=360 width=640]

Veteran Matt Martin says Roy is urging the group to attack and defend more as a five-man unit, and to be more active in across the blueline.

“We haven’t dialed in everything yet, but he certainly has a plan — and he expects us to execute it correctly,” Martin said. “He’s exactly, in a lot of ways, like how he played. Just the energy and the passion for it.

“He’s demanding. He wants us to play the right way. And then he’s also fun and personable at the same time. I think that was kinda his whole thing as a goalie as well. When things weren’t going well, you’d see him go a little off the rails and crazy, and then also have a lot of fun and just love to win. For him, it’s just all about winning and all about the team. We’ve enjoyed that messaging so far.”

Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe has already lost two overtime games on Long Island this season, and with Toronto’s own playoff fate uncertain, he’s guarding against another letdown on home ice.

“You’ve just seen them play with more aggression, more pressure on the puck defensively,” Keefe said of Roy’s tweaks. 

“Any time you get a player of that magnitude that commits himself to coaching and has success with it, it’s a great thing. Obviously, he’s got great passion for the game as well. So, it’s good for him to get another opportunity.”

Both the Leafs and Islanders stress the value of shaking off any bye week rust or all-star hangover and get back to business as quickly as possible this week.

Ex-Hab Max Domi says he got to meet Roy — and earned great appreciation for that legacy he doesn’t want to discuss — during his two seasons in Montreal.

“As a coach, he’s showing that he’s bringing a lot of intensity. So, that’s a good team over there that has a little bit of extra fire with the new coach,” Domi said. “And we’re gonna match that because we’re gonna be going for sure.”

Adds Martin: “We gotta get going right away, and we need to win games.”

When will Woll return?

Two months will have passed since Joseph Woll — Toronto’s youngest, cheapest and most consistent goaltender — played a game. Could three months go by before his return from the high-ankle sprain he suffered in Ottawa?

Though the rookie remained dedicated to his rehab through the bye week, he is still skating solo and, Keefe said Monday, the Leafs are targeting the middle of month for his participation in full team practice.

The organization is exercising high caution here, something afforded by Martin Jones and now Ilya Samsonov pitching in some strong performances in relief.

“He’s not anywhere close to us considering him for game action,” Keefe said. “It’s more ramping up towards full participation in practice and then making a determination from there.”

Stray thought: Do the Leafs — a team tight to the cap and maxed out with 23 players on their roster — keep Woll on IR until they’re through the trade frenzy and have a clearer picture of their cap situation?

[brightcove videoID=6346298355112 playerID=JCdte3tMv height=360 width=640]

Bertuzzi chops his flow for the children

“Shocked, for sure,” Domi said, upon noticing teammate Tyler Bertuzzi‘s bye-week haircut. “I got one too, but not as aggressive as Bert did.”

The formerly flowy Bertuzzi donated his Sudbury Saturday Night special to Wigs for Kids, a Michigan charity that gathers hair for children enduring chemo therapy.  

“It’s incredible. I mean, that just speaks to who Bert is. Great guy. Great teammate. Everyone loves him. And he doesn’t do stuff to get recognized for it. That’s just who he is,” Domi said.

This marks the second time Bertuzzi has donated his locks through hairstylist Alyssa Bellestri. And the timing worked well as he and his family returned home to the Detroit area over the break for some quiet time with their new baby boy.

“It’s a yearly thing. It’s obviously tough for the kids and the families, and little things like that make a difference. Instead of just cutting it off and putting it in the garbage, might as well donate it to them,” Bertuzzi said. “The guys kinda gave me some pretty good looks.”

Maple Leafs deep in Atlantic ‘dogfight’

Though the Maple Leafs hold three games in hand, only one point separates them, the Red Wings, and the Lightning in a crowded middle pack of the Atlantic Division.

Domi says the guys were looking at the schedule and realized roughly 20 of their final 35 games are against teams positioned to make the playoffs.

“It’s going to be a challenge, and we’re definitely not a stranger to accept that,” Domi said. “I mean, this is when hockey is fun. This is when you start to separate, and you can see better start to come into their own. The weaker teams start to fall off. So, this is what we play for, right? To be in a situation right now to get a dogfight and then just keep chipping away.” 

Despite a couple minor injuries, Morgan Rielly points to Toronto’s good health and three-game win streak setting them up to for a strong stretch run.

“We’re very competitive,” Rielly said. “You can just kind of tell the mindset of the guys is that we expect to be better here.”

Keefe believes their nothing-guaranteed situation in the standings is “healthy” for the group’s focus and should keep their habits sharp. Remember, last winter the Leafs and Lightning looked destined for a Round 1 matchup months before the playoffs began.

The coach sees benefits in some midseason urgency.

“It’s going to demand the absolute best from us,” Keefe said. “It is going to be challenging, I expect, right till the end.”

[brightcove videoID=6346292850112 playerID=JCdte3tMv height=360 width=640]

One-Timers: An MRI revealed an undisclosed injury suffered by Leafs’ depth centre David Kämpf before the bye week in Winnipeg. He will not play at all this week and should be considered day-to-day next week…. The Islanders are hopeful of the double return of injured top-four defencemen Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech. Both are game-time decisions Monday…. Toronto starter Ilya Samsonov will have a chance to extend his and the Maple Leafs’ win streak to four games. “He’s earned the net,” Keefe said…. Ex-Leaf Pierre Engvall on his first game back in Toronto: “I think it’s going to be fun.”… Bobby McMann is off IR and ready to go.

Maple Leafs projected lines Monday vs. New York Islanders

Knies – Matthews – Marner

Bertuzzi – Tavares – Nylander

Robertson – Domi – Gregor 

McMann – Holmberg – Reaves 

Rielly – Brodie 

Benoit – McCabe 

Giordano – Liljegren

Samsonov starts


When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.