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TSN Toronto Maple Leafs Reporter

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TSN reporter Kristen Shilton checks in daily with news and notes from Maple Leafs practices and game-day skates. The team held a practice at MasterCard Centre on Friday before flying to Pittsburgh.

The Toronto Maple Leafs have gone through their share of offensive and defensive struggles this season. Over the last month, head coach Mike Babcock has been especially quick to pull out the blender and mix up his forward lines as young stars like Mitch Marner and William Nylander have struggled to light the lamp (the two sophomores have seven goals between them in 29 games).

But while Toronto has endured their ups and downs, since the beginning of November the consistent play of goaltender Frederik Andersen has proven to be one of the Leafs’ most valuable weapons.

Putting a brutal October behind him, Andersen found his game at the start of last month. He’s now tied for seventh in the NHL among starters with a .922 save percentage and boasts a 2.03 goals-against average since Nov. 1. Andersen attributes the turnaround to technical and mental adjustments.

“It’s just a really important thing to stay present and for me it’s what I’m trying to do, to keep the focus from game to game,” he said on Friday. “That’s the best approach I’ve had lately. I’ve touched on it before but tracking well, being aggressive on the puck is something I’ve been doing well lately.”

Andersen has had plenty of opportunity to get better at stopping pucks considering the volume that’s been coming his way lately. The Leafs have given up more than 40 shots in three of his last five starts; each ended up a tight contest Toronto won in large part because of Andersen. As of Friday, the Leafs are allowing the third-most shots on goal per game in the NHL (33.96). 

“I think we could probably do a better job of helping him out,” Auston Matthews said. “But he’s been unbelievable for us, making big saves. He’s getting a lot of shots directed towards him and he’s doing a good job of stopping them from getting second-chance opportunities. When they get second-chance opportunities, he’s making big saves.”

Babcock wasn’t prepared to say this is the best Andersen has played since he joined the Leafs via trade in June 2016, but the coach implied he’s seeing positive development in Andersen’s approach.

“The big thing for Andy to understand is its [going] great, but it’s all over and there’s a game tomorrow and you just get ready for the next game and you compete hard in practice,” said Babcock. “If you compete hard every day in practice, it just becomes natural you compete hard in games. If you take practice off, then you become a guy who shows up 50 per cent of the time. Freddie did a good job this summer in his training, he’s doing a good job now and that to me leads to consistency.”


Nazem Kadri has taken to the shutdown role Babcock assigned him last season like a fish to water. Always ultra-competitive when it came to scoring goals, Kadri has combined his offensive gifts with an ability to get under opponents’ skin and put them to good use – especially against world-class players like Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid.

If Kadri has his way, he’ll be matched up against both of them over the Leafs’ set of back-to-back weekend games (Saturday in Pittsburgh, Sunday at home against Edmonton). Toronto won’t have last change on the road, but Kadri has successfully shut down Crosby in previous meetings and would welcome the chance to do so again.

“I love it. Personally for me, it’s fun,” he said. “Those guys push you to bring out your best because if you don’t, they’ll make you look bad. As a team, especially heading into a city like Pittsburgh, knowing what they’ve done the last few years, we’re going to have to be ready.”

Babcock has been a big part of turning Kadri into an effective checking centre. He’s said before the difference in Kadri when he gets a top player to matchup against versus when he doesn’t is striking.

“Naz is a real good player and he’s real competitive and he gets better and better in knowing how to play. It’s an advantage for him,” Babcock said. “Obviously we don’t control the matchup in Pittsburgh. We’ll control it against Edmonton so we’ll have that opportunity [to get him against McDavid].”

As a centre just starting out in his NHL career, Matthews has watched Kadri closely over the last season and a half. Beyond just playing his role down the middle well, Matthews has seen up close how successful an agitator Kadri can be.

“He’s a guy who will go up against anybody, doesn’t care how big or strong you are, he doesn’t mind competing,” Matthews said.  He’s pretty good at what he does. Since he came into the league he’s been a guy who likes to get under your skin and he does a great job of that.”


A day after the Calgary Flames' second-year winger Matthew Tkachuk was suspended one game for spearing Matt Martin, Babcock stressed the importance of having good veterans around the Leafs’ young players.

“I don’t think everyone needs the same amount of time [to grow up], but some guys need more time,” he said. “Sometimes the situation you’re in and the direction you have and the atmosphere you’re around leadership wise helps too. We got real good people in Patty [Marleau] and [Ron Hainsey] and a lot of guys in this room. If everyone is going the wrong way, it’s easy to go the wrong way. If everyone’s going the right way, it’s easier to go the right way. We do our best to have the great people.”

Speaking specifically about Tkachuk, Babcock highlighted another message about the value of the right mentality for players starting out.

“I think you’re allowed to do whatever you have to do to do your job to the best of your ability, but I think you have to put the team first every time,” Babcock said. “Any time you put yourself first, it usually goes bad no matter what you do. You think [Tkachuk] wanted to play in the game last night? You think his team wanted him to? ...Bottom line is he’s a good player. He’s got to play every night.”


Leafs’ practice lines:
Morgan Rielly missed Friday’s practice with “stiffness” but is expected to be fine. Josh Leivo skated in his place. 
van Riemsdyk-Bozak-Marner