TSN Maple Leafs reporter Kristen Shilton checks in daily on TSN.ca with news and notes from Maple Leafs practices and game-day skates. The Maple Leafs held a practice at MasterCard Centre on Monday.
- Frank Corrado is normally among the first players out when the Maple Leafs take the ice for practice, but he was conspicuously absent on Monday. Not long after the team began drills, it was announced that Corrado had been sent to the Toronto Marlies for a two-week long American Hockey League conditioning stint. The Marlies are slated to play seven games by Jan. 14, and if the Maple Leafs don’t need to recall him Corrado should dress for them all. He’s only played in one NHL contest this season, a 4-1 loss in Pittsburgh on Nov. 12. “We could have sent him earlier,” coach Mike Babcock said of the timing of the stint. “I wanted him to be part of the Centennial Classic — whether he got to play in it or not, just be part. We talked to him awhile back and said this is how it would work out. Ideally we’ll stay healthy and he’ll get to play the whole swath of games available to him. That gives him a better chance of an opportunity to jump in.” Corrado voiced his displeasure last month about the lack of playing time he’s seen this season, claiming Babcock was keeping him out because he doesn’t like him. Players have to agree to be loaned to an AHL club for conditioning. Toronto also returned centre Byron Froese to the AHL, leaving them with a 21-man roster.
- Auston Matthews scored his 19th goal of the season in the third period, and his 20th in overtime to seal the 5-4 victory for Toronto in Sunday’s Centennial Classic. The Leafs’ four-goal third period in that contest was sparked by Matt Martin’s fight with Detroit’s Steve Ott early on, and when the entire team piled onto the ice to celebrate at the end, Martin said Matthews sought him out with an important message. “Right after [Auston] scored that goal when we were in the huddle, he grabbed me and said, ‘You pumped me up,’ Martin said. “For me that was pretty impressive after scoring the overtime goal in the outdoor game, the first thing you think about was to say something like that. It’s pretty special. He’s a hell of a player and off the ice he’s just as special. He’s going to be a good leader for this team for a long time.” The size of Martin’s four-year contract and his four points over 36 games has led to grumbling among some fans, but there’s no confusion for Matthews. “He’s a guy you want on your team,” he said. “[Martin] gives 110 per cent every game or practice, doesn’t matter what it is. He’s one of our leaders here.” And Martin’s mere presence is doing exactly what Babcock hoped it would when the team signed him, even if his playing time has dipped since Ben Smith went down with injury and the fourth line isn’t in rotation as much. “We don’t get pushed around, ever,” Babcock said. “We don’t get slapped or abused and we did last year all time. [Martin]’s doing a real nice job for us and is an effective player for us.”
- As the first rookie to reach 20 goals, Matthews has perhaps exceeded expectations as far as where his point totals would be early in the season. It’s no secret that his linemates – Zach Hyman and Connor Brown – have been an integral part of what make Matthews so impactful. They create space for him, and as his reputation around the league has intensified, Matthews generates room for them by drawing multiple players to him on the rush. That trio has been the Maple Leafs’ most consistent on their recent five-game winning streak. “I think we’ve really jelled more and more as we’ve played together,” Matthews said. “Lately we’ve been really finding each other well in those open areas. [Hyman and Brown] work hard so they create as well for me. Brown can make plays and Hyman is a worker and is really good behind the net with this pop plays, which you saw with Connor’s goal [on Sunday]. We’re hard to play against. We’re comfortable playing against any line any night.” With a player of Matthews’ calibre in the fold, Babcock has stressed time and again that given how important the wingers are to Matthews’ success, they deserve more credit. “I think the line is good,” he said. “We spend a lot of time here talking about Matthews and [William] Nylander and [Mitch] Marner and we don’t spend as much time talking about Hyman and Brown and how hard they work and how competitive they are. But it’s become a real good line for us that can play against anyone.”
- While they’re still three points off where they’d like to be in their segment-based system, the Maple Leafs are firmly in the playoff hunt, with a few games in hand on most of teams they’re trying to muscle past. They haven’t played a team in the playoff picture since Dec. 19, but there’s an upcoming stretch of opponents who will present a better challenge of where they’re at, starting with the Washington Capitals on Tuesday. “We need to do a better job of holding onto leads. It’s not a strength of ours it seems,” Martin said. “But we are definitely very resilient. We have a lot of guys who can step up in big moments, but there are a few things we can clean up to be a better hockey team.” It would be easy to caution the young group against getting too focused on the idea of making the playoffs without underlining how important their execution will be in getting there, but Martin thinks their recent history will keep the Maple Leafs even-keeled. “Ten, 12 days ago we were a .500 team at the bottom of the standings,” he said. “In this season things can change quickly so we have to take it one game at a time and continue to build.”
- The Maple Leafs’ trip to D.C. and then the New York area will be the team’s annual dad’s trip, with players’ fathers joining them on the road. Even though Matthews lives with his father in Toronto, he says it’s a special thing to be able to have him on the road for a few days. “Your family has made such a big sacrifice and commitment to you, it’s nice to have a trip for them,” he said. “All the dads are looking to have a good time so hopefully it’ll be a good trip for everyone and they can soak it all in.”