TSN SportsCentre Reporter Mark Masters reports on the Toronto Maple Leafs, who practised at Ford Performance Centre on Tuesday ahead of Wednesday’s game against the San Jose Sharks.
Mitch Marner is a game away from tying the franchise point-streak record of 18 games, which is currently shared by Darryl Sittler (1977-78) and Eddie Olczyk (1989-90). Are friends and family looking to get tickets to Wednesday's showdown with the San Jose Sharks?
"I think so from what my fiance's telling me," the 25-year-old winger said. "My family knows it's a pretty cool deal, pretty big deal but, like I've been saying, it's about winning games here and it's been a lot of fun doing that."
The Leafs are scorching hot right now and no one is hotter than Marner. He's produced at least a point in every game since Oct. 27 (a 4-3 Sharks overtime win in San Jose).
"It's hard to put into perspective, because it's extremely hard to do, especially when teams are preparing to eliminate your opportunities and play you hard," said centre John Tavares, whose career-long point streak of 12 games came in the 2011-12 season. "Just such a smart player. His ability to figure out where the opportunities are, where the time and space is, and how to see the play two, three steps ahead is what makes him elite."
It was during a rush up the ice early in the second period at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit on Monday that Marner sensed one of those opportunities.
"I saw two guys going for a change and I wanted the puck back pretty badly," said Marner. "I was screaming pretty loud for that puck."
"I heard him, for sure," said defenceman Mark Giordano with a laugh. "You can tell a guy's really feeling it when they want the puck all over the ice."
Marner snuck a shot past Ville Husso.
"I tried to come in with speed, go lateral and get it to the net quickly and lucky it went in," he said.
Marner has piled up six goals and 17 assists during this 17-game streak, but teammates are quick to point out the points are a byproduct of his overall play.
"It's unbelievable," Giordano said. "Defensively, as d-men, we notice him a lot just coming back, making plays, breaking up plays on the back check, but also being available for us."
The sequence leading to Marner's goal on Monday started in the defensive end where he had skated back hard to help counter a Wings attack. He made himself available for a pass from Justin Holl and found Calle Jarnkrok with a crisp break-out feed while being pressured. Then Marner hustled up ice.
"We talk about 200-foot players, this is Marner being a 400-foot player," said TSN director of scouting Craig Button.
Marner’s mind for the game and defensive commitment makes him a key part of Toronto's penalty kill. As a result, he's on the ice in every situation, which gives him more opportunities to influence the outcome and, of course, pick up points.
"Everybody knows who Mitch Marner is and they know his tendencies and all those kinds of things," said coach Sheldon Keefe, "but he's a difficult guy to handle, especially because he can get you in so many ways: 5-on-5, power play, penalty kill."
Marner averages 21 minutes and 29 seconds of ice time per game, which is eighth among all NHL forwards entering Tuesday's games.
Marner's streak started in San Jose during the ill-fated California trip. He helped lead them out of those October doldrums.
During this run, Marner has also switched lines. He started with Auston Matthews and Michael Bunting, but has been playing alongside Tavares the last nine games. The left-wing spot on that line has seen a number of players cycle through.
"Just playing really consistent in all areas, not just in the ability to produce," Tavares said.
"He's been very consistent," agreed Keefe. "As you go through a streak like that there's times when you need a bounce or some luck to go your way and I'm sure somewhere along the away that has been the case, but certainly recently he's been making big-time plays at key moments. He's full marks for this streak."
For a kid who grew up here cheering for the Leafs, this record is undoubtedly meaningful. Marner admits it's a strange sensation, though. It's his streak, but hockey is a team game and he owes a lot to his teammates.
"This isn't going to stop, eh boys," he told reporters with a grin after a series of streak questions on Monday night.
"It was more weird on the road," he said after Tuesday's practice. "When I go home I usually play video games with my buddies. On the road, it's a lot of talking with you guys about this whole situation going on. It's nice to be back at home and relaxing and back with my guy [chocolate lab] Zeus, back with my family and just relaxing, not thinking much about hockey and just enjoying the day and trying to get ready for this game against San Jose and try and get myself ready to buzz."
Do his buddies ever bring up hockey?
"No, no, they're smart," he said. "It's usually not hockey. It's Call of Duty or something about fantasy football or just having fun with each other."
Marner isn't focused on the streak, but teammates are enjoying it.
"Oh, yes," said smiling goalie Ilya Samsonov. "Stay f—king hot! He's going to do it."
Samsonov spoke to the media for the first time since sustaining a knee injury while trying to stop a Brad Marchand penalty shot on Nov. 5.
"I feel hurt in my knee and the next attack I feel my knee is not moving great," he recalled. "It's so loose. I feel bad. I try [to play through it] in second period. I'm done second period and doctors say, 'No more.'"
Samsonov accompanied the team during the recent road trip and is making good progress.
"The last couple days I feel no pain," the 25-year-old said. "I'm so excited and ready to play."
"Today was a big step for him," said Keefe. "It is not an overly extensive practice, but he was still able to get some work in a team setting with a little bit of 5-on-5 in front of him. That is part of his progression."
Samsonov, who signed a one-year deal in the summer, was playing really well before getting hurt (6-2-0, .921 save percentage). Any frustration that the momentum he built early in the year got stalled?
"Ah, yes, but this life," he said. "This is hockey life. I need to stay professional. I feel good right now. I've not lost a lot. I skated on second or third day after injury. I skated all the time. I feel good. My confidence, my conditioning is pretty normal."
"In terms of where he goes from here, we will just call him day-to-day at this point," said Keefe. "For any player's recovery, you kind of want to see how he is the day after he pushes it. We will get a better sense tomorrow, maybe, of what the next step looks like."
Matt Murray did some work with goalie coach Curtis Sanford, but didn't stay out for the main practice after facing a season-high 44 shots in Detroit. He's projected to start on Wednesday against the Sharks.
Conor Timmins took part in his second practice since being acquired in a trade last week. He has yet to get in a game.
"He is a guy we have taken it slow with," said Keefe. "He was not a guy who was playing every day in the NHL. He wasn't playing much at all. At the time we got him, it was three days in a row where he hadn't skated. We really only had morning skates since coming here."
Timmins has not played since wrapping up an American Hockey League conditioning stint on Nov. 20. He has suited up in six AHL games and two NHL games this season.
Timmins skated as the seventh defenceman during his first practice with the team last Friday in Minnesota, which was a short session. Timmins was paired with Victor Mete on Tuesday. They also partnered at the 2018 World Juniors in Buffalo.
"We took another step in terms of getting him an actual partner in the practice and being able to work together there," Keefe said. "We will just continue to work with him and make a decision on an appropriate time to get him in."
Keefe sees great potential in the 24-year-old right-shot defenceman.
"The puck comes off of his stick really nice, whether it is making a pass or shooting it on the net," the coach observed. "There are some real good offensive tendencies there. He is a smart player."
Rasmus Sandin scored his first goal of the season on Monday. Relieved?
"Oh yeah," he said with a smile. "I've had lots of opportunities these 24 games."
Sandin's seeing-eye shot from the point eluded Husso as Bunting tried to get a deflection on it.
"I mean, it was a rocket to the top corner," Sandin said with a small smile. "It felt great to get that first goal out of the way, for sure."
It took 34 games for Sandin to score a goal last season.
T.J. Brodie and Morgan Rielly, who are out with injury, are now the only Leafs to dress in 10 or more games and not score.
first goal of the season for Sandin pic.twitter.com/faGT75OPXN— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) November 29, 2022
Lines at Tuesday's practice:
Bunting - Matthews - Nylander
Jarnkrok - Tavares - Marner
Kerfoot - Holmberg - Engvall
Aston-Reese - Kampf - Robertson
Giordano - Holl
Sandin - Liljegren
Mete - Timmins