Jason Brough

AP

With three straight losses, the Leafs have ‘let it slip away’

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All of a sudden Frederik Andersen is having a tough time, and so are his Toronto Maple Leafs.

Andersen allowed five goals on 31 shots in last night’s 5-1 loss in St. Louis, where the Blues scored three times in a span of 4:35 during the second period to put the game out of reach for the visitors.

“I’d like to make some more saves and give the team a better chance to win,” said Andersen. “In small periods like that where they come hard and score three, that’s never good. That’s one where you want to help your team out better. Everyone has got to look in the mirror and be better.”

For Andersen, after stringing together back-to-back shutouts, it was his second consecutive rough start. Tuesday in Dallas, he got yanked after surrendering three goals on eight shots in a 6-3 loss to the Stars.

For the Leafs, after a 15-game run that saw them go 11-2-2 and spend time in a playoff spot, it was their third straight regulation loss.

 

“The bottom line is we had a good thing going and we were playing good and we’ve let it slip away here,” said head coach Mike Babcock. “Now you’ve got to fight hard to get it back. There’s no sense feeling sorry for yourself or being frustrated. You’ve got to get your mind in gear, you’ve got to get your game right and you’ve got to play harder. When you do that and you play with structure, you’ll be fine. In the meantime, it’s not going as good as we’d like it to go.”

The Leafs have a big game tomorrow in Boston. With a regulation win, they can climb to within one point of the Bruins for third place in the Atlantic Division, and Toronto would still hold five games in hand.

“It’s going to be a playoff game – it’s not a playoff game, it’s not the playoffs, but it’s going to be an important game to both teams on Saturday night,” said Babcock. “Obviously, if you want this feeling to go away, you have to make it go away. No one is going to make it go away for you.”

Read more: Boston may be without Bergeron on Saturday

P.S. — the Bruins aren’t the only team the Leafs have to be concerned about. There’s another team in the race now: the Florida Panthers, who will get Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau back for tonight’s game against Anaheim.

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High praise for Pavelec after Jets hold off Stars

AP
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DALLAS (AP) Mark Scheifele has hurt the Dallas Stars even more than the other teams in the Central Division.

Scheifele scored two more goals against Dallas and narrowly missed two others, propelling the Winnipeg Jets to a 4-3 victory Thursday night.

At the other end, Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec made a season-high 39 saves.

Scheifele has five goals in four games between the teams this season, with the Jets winning three. He has a seven-game point streak against the Stars, with seven goals and seven assists.

“When you’re playing against teams in your division, you’ve got to buckle down,” Scheifele said. “They’re big points. Especially after the All-Star break, things ramp up.”

Dallas led 2-1 until Scheifele tied the game with 53 seconds left in the first period. He gave the Jets a 3-2 lead during a 5-on-3 power play 5:56 into the second.

The Stars just missed going ahead despite the two-man disadvantage. Jamie Benn, who had a goal and two assists, had a short-handed breakaway.

“Goalie made a good save, and then (I) kind of made a mistake in the defensive end and they put it in the back of the net,” Benn said.

Just 23 seconds later, Scheifele scored from the inside edge of the right faceoff circle.

“Go back a year and a half ago, the number of posts that (Scheifele) hit as a young guy,” Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice said. “He’s got a little more poise with that puck and he’s placing it better.”

Bryan Little gave Winnipeg a 1-0 lead 6:50 into the game. John Klingberg and Benn scored for Dallas barely two minutes apart midway through the first period.

The Stars put a season-high 42 shots on goal.

Pavelec had not faced more than 37 this season. He stopped all 14 shots in a scoreless third period.

“Some high-end ones, too, on high-end shooters,” Maurice said. “The ones he could see and then a few that he didn’t see until late. He was just tracking the puck so well. Best player on the ice.

“Might be the best performance I’ve ever seen by a goaltender while I’ve been behind the bench.”

Pavelec’s teammates blocked 29 Dallas shots, including eight by Toby Enstrom. The Stars had 83 shot attempts to 43 for Winnipeg.

Kari Lehtonen made 25 saves for the Stars, but gave up the puck behind the net and didn’t skate back around in time to stop Nikolaj Ehlers‘ shot for the Jets’ final goal at 12:51 of the second period.

Patrick Eaves scored at 17:58 of the second to pull the Stars to 4-3.

Winnipeg has won a season-high three consecutive games, all on the road. The Jets had nine two-game winning streaks before that.

The Stars also entered on a two-game win streak. The loss left them two points behind Winnipeg, with both teams fighting to climb into playoff position in the Western Conference.

Bergeron is day-to-day with a lower-body injury

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The Boston Bruins host Toronto tomorrow night, and it remains to be seen if Patrice Bergeron will be in the lineup.

The B’s announced this morning that Bergeron will miss today’s practice with a lower-body injury and is considered day-to-day.

Bergeron was hurt in Wednesday’s 5-3 loss to Washington.

From CSN New England:

Patrice Bergeron took a Matti Niskanen slap shot directly off the inside of his right knee while attempting to block the shot killing a penalty in the third period, and then spent the rest of the third period leaving and returning to the Bruins bench while only getting on the ice for a couple of brief shifts. Bergeron didn’t speak to the media after the loss, and was spotted with a heavy limp walking out of the visitor’s dressing room following the loss.

After a slow start to the season offensively, Bergeron has really picked it up in the New Year. He has 14 points (5G, 9A) in his last 15 games while centering Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak.

The B’s also provided an update on Tuukka Rask, after the starting goalie said he “popped” his groin “a little bit” late in the Wednesday’s loss. Rask will also miss today’s practice, but the team is simply calling it a maintenance day.

Presumably then, it’s still possible that Rask could start tomorrow against the Leafs in what could be a pivotal game. Boston is trying to fend off both Toronto and Florida for third place in the Atlantic Division, and the B’s only have four games between now and Feb. 18 to pick up much-needed points.

standings

Related: Tuukka Rask has been one busy goalie

Pre-game reading: On the importance of the backup goalie

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— Up top, Jack Eichel knows the Buffalo Sabres have to win a lot of games down the stretch if they want to make the playoffs. But he did not answer any questions about his haircut.

— We’ve written a lot on PHT about the importance of backup goaltending, and how it has the potential to cost bubble teams a playoff spot. Here’s another take on the same topic from Sportsnet’s analytics columnist Dimitri Filipovic, who writes: “Teams tend to be conservative and they prefer the safe back-up goaltending option they’re familiar with because they theoretically know what they’ll get. The issue with that line of thinking is that it generally comes at the expense of actual ability — there’s usually a reason why recycled back-ups haven’t cemented a regular spot for themselves.” (Sportsnet)

Related: Tuukka Rask has been one busy goalie 

— A very enjoyable read from ESPN’s Craig Custance on the short-lived California Golden Seals, who at the very least left some great stories. “Like counting fans one Christmas Eve and finding 976 people in the building. Or the time a woman called the front office to ask what time the game started, only to be asked right back, ‘What time can you get here?'” (ESPN)

— It may not have been his intention, but Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis provided a great reason for the NHL to maintain its participation in the Olympics — even if it means sucking it up and going to the 2018 Games in South Korea in order to get the real prize. “We believe and I believe that China is the next great market for hockey. The Winter Olympics will be played in China (in 2022). The Chinese government, the Chinese people, the universities and secondary schools are committed to the game.” (NHL.com)

— On the future of Ryan Miller in Vancouver, where the 36-year-old netminder is enjoying his best season as a Canuck in the final year of his three-year contract. Said Miller: “I have to talk to management at some point and see if they’re interested in something. They’d have to give me an indication of a guideline — or what the plan will be — and kind of go from there. I’ve become more comfortable here and I’ve been trying to make the best of this year.” (The Province)

— We already wrote about this a couple of days ago, but here’s some clarify from NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly on what Vegas GM George McPhee will soon be able to do, possibly even before the March 1 trade deadline: “(McPhee) can’t acquire players who are still playing in the 2016-17 season. But he can acquire draft picks, unsigned draft choices … and he can start making deals related to the expansion draft.” (Las Vegas Review-Journal)

Enjoy the games!

Mike Babcock still sees William Nylander as a center

AP
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According to Mike Babcock, the plan is still for William Nylander to be a center.

“I see Willie as a center for sure,” the Maple Leafs’ head coach said this morning, per the Toronto Sun.

But if that’s the case, the big question in Toronto remains — When?

Tonight in St. Louis, Nylander is expected to be on the wing, the position he’s played the most as an NHLer.

That’s no major indictment, as Nylander is still only 20. There’s a lot of responsibilities that go with playing center, especially defensively.

Besides, the Leafs already have two established NHL centers in Nazem Kadri and Tyler Bozak, plus a rookie center by the name of Auston Matthews. If Babcock wants Nylander in the top nine, then wing is the only real option when Matthews, Kadri, and Bozak are all healthy.

Still, Babcock did say back in December that Nylander has to get “way better defensively, way more competitive” if he wants to play the middle, and it remains to be seen if the eighth overall pick in the 2014 draft will ever develop the type of two-way game that the coach demands of his centers.

If not, the Leafs will still be in pretty good shape down the middle, with Matthews and Kadri under club control for years to come. But GM Lou Lamoriello may have to think twice about trading a guy like Bozak, who’s only signed through next season before he can become an unrestricted free agent.

Or, if Bozak isn’t part of the future, Lamoriello may have to come up with a new third-line center, either via trade or free agency. While it’s true that Frederik Gauthier is still only 21, the former first-round draft pick has not yet proven he’s an NHLer, let alone a future 3C.

Nylander himself has been the subject of trade speculation this season. After all, Toronto’s blue line could use another top-4 defenseman, and James van Riemsdyk may not possess the value to garner one.

But it would have to be an excellent defenseman for the Leafs to trade a guy as young and skilled as Nylander. Even if he’s never a center, he’s already a pretty productive winger, and that’s not nothing.