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O'Reilly ‘getting close’ to returning to Leafs lineup ahead of playoffs

Ryan O'Reilly Toronto Maple Leafs Ryan O'Reilly - The Canadian Press

TSN SportsCentre Reporter Mark Masters reports on the Maple Leafs, who practised at Ford Performance Centre on Friday before travelling to Ottawa for Saturday’s game against the Senators.

Ryan O'Reilly participated in his first practice since breaking the index finger on his left hand on March 4. 

"It feels good," the 32-year-old centre said. "We're progressing. It's not 100 per cent yet and we got to be smart. The goal is to be 100 per cent for the playoffs so being smart with that. It was nice to get out there and skate with the guys. We're getting close."

"It's a big step for him," said head coach Sheldon Keefe. "It's nice to have him with the group. Obviously it brings a lot with his energy and personality. And then, of course, it helps us fill some of the gaps. When you're injured you miss some things and especially for a new guy coming in there's some things that you're covering that he's not up to speed on as much."

O'Reilly skated on the fourth line while wearing a no-contact sweater. 

"Shooting and passing feels great," he said. "It's just the other stuff and the stick battles and all that and just being able to trust it and be 100 per cent strong in that. It's going to come. It is progressing. I feel like I could push it harder, but there's no point. Like, we just have to be smart with it and make sure it heals the right way and that will help me down the road."

"He's feeling really good," Keefe said. "It's just a matter of the doctors being satisfied and making sure we're minimizing risk as much as we can."

After being traded to Toronto from the St. Louis Blues on Feb. 17, O'Reilly played eight games before being felled by an Auston Matthews shot in Vancouver. 

"I saw it was crooked and I kind of knew it wasn't good," O'Reilly recalled of the injury. "I was really disappointed, but I'm here for playoffs so that's all that really matters."

After undergoing surgery on March 7, O'Reilly was told the timeline for his return would be four to six weeks. This coming Tuesday will be the four-week mark, but O'Reilly says there is no target date for his return yet. He does anticipate getting into a few games before the playoffs. 

"Those will be great," he said. "It's good for our lineup, too, just to see how we're going to approach that first game and just for me to get the timing back. You know, you can skate all you want and practice all you want, but the feel of the game and the pushing and the competing and stuff like that, that's something that you can't really replicate."

"He works incredibly hard to make sure he's as close to game ready as he can be without actually playing in the games," Keefe said. 

O'Reilly has played six games as Toronto's second-line centre with John Tavares on left wing. Right winger Mitch Marner played four games on that line while William Nylander got the other two. O'Reilly then played two games as the team's third-line centre prior to the injury. Sam Lafferty was the right winger in both games while Michael Bunting and Alex Kerfoot each got one game beside O'Reilly.  

"This is a guy that, for me, plays with a playoff intensity and playoff intelligence all the time," said Keefe. "He just plays a very, very smart game. In terms of ramping up and getting ready to play in the playoffs, that's just who he is all the time."

ContentId(1.1939029): O'Reilly returns to Leafs practice: 'We’re getting close... got to be smart'


Nylander is tied for the league lead with three 3-on-3 goals this season, but on Wednesday night the smooth-skating Swede's overtime magic evaporated. Nylander committed a turnover that led to Florida's winning goal. 

"I haven't seen it at all so I don't even know what happened," Nylander said. "I just thought I saw a lane and I don't even remember what happened after that."

Nylander has now failed to produce a point in seven of the last eight games. A reporter brought up his production and Nylander interrupted the question.

"It's dead," the winger said with a laugh. 

So, what's his mindset now? 

"I just got to stay positive. I was getting a little irritated at myself, but it's all going to work out in the end. I just got to work hard and that stuff will come."

Nylander, who scored just two 5-on-5 goals in 14 games in March, seems to possess an unshakeable swagger, but admits confidence can be an issue even for him. 

"I mean, obviously sometimes when the puck's maybe not going in or whatever, it might affect the way you think in certain situations. But I try not to let that bother me."

No Leaf was on the ice for more 5-on-5 goals against than Nylander (12) in March, but Keefe sees progress of late. 

"We have seen signs of him skating well and being on the puck," the coach noted. "I think he has a much better understanding at this stage of his career — and certainly in this season with how it has gone for him — of what he needs to do to succeed and how to reconnect with that. It is just a matter of continuing to work through it." 

Nylander has already established career highs in goals (36) and points (81) in 74 games this season. The Leafs, meanwhile, have secured their playoff position. Perhaps it's hard to get up for these games? 

"I couldn't tell you what it is," the 26-year-old said. "Just having a few bad games and then letting that bother me a little too much … just got to regroup and get going again." 

A little family time during Thursday's day off helped. 

"I got my little cousins (seven and 10-years-old) here so that's fun," Nylander said. "Yesterday we actually came here and played some ping pong, soccer and then CN Tower, The Rec Room, a full day yesterday."

ContentId(1.1939025): Nylander on 'dead' production: 'I was getting a little irritated at myself'


Before the Panthers scored in overtime on Wednesday, Matthews had a couple glorious chances. 

"I don't know what happened on the one I tried to take across," the centre said. "Maybe mishandled it there last second. He made a nice save there on the second try, but I'll take those opportunities any chance I can get. In my mind, those are going in more often than not."

Matthews tried to beat Alex Lyon low glove side on the second chance. He scored on Sergei Bobrovsky with a similar shot last week. 

"Honestly, Bob and I looked at that," Lyon told reporters after the game. "He scored on Bob like that in Florida so we talked about that a lot and how he's so good at moving to the net front quickly and then coming high and going low glove. To me, one of his signature moves. I tried to anticipate it and it worked out, but such a dangerous player like that you just try and do the best you can."

The Leafs and Panthers will play again on April 10 in Florida.

ContentId(1.1938512): Matthews on OT chances: 'In my mind, those are going in more often than not'


Toronto failed to convert on four chances against Florida's 27th-ranked penalty kill. 

"Just a little bit disconnected," Matthews said. "Maybe overcomplicating things at times instead of just keeping it a little more simple and breaking them down at the start and then letting things open up. We really could have used a boost from our power play at certain times throughout the game to allow us to gain a lead or carry some more momentum coming out of the power play. That's on us."

The Leafs generated just five shots in those eight man-advantage minutes. 

The top unit hit the ice ahead of Friday's practice to work with assistant coach Spencer Carbery. 

"It's one game," said Nylander. "Who cares about that game. I mean, we've had good stuff. You can just look at the last game and see little adjustments that we can make to make it better. Other than that I don't think we have to worry too much about it."

Toronto is converting 25.2 per cent of the time this season, which is tied for second overall behind the Edmonton Oilers (32.4 per cent) in top spot. The Leafs finished first overall last season (27.3 per cent) when Carbery took over as the power-play architect. 

"He's connected with our best players there and really helped to put together a scheme to challenge those guys and put together the information they need," said Keefe. "Also, I think he's fit in really well with the rest of our staff. Manny Malhotra and he work really well together and then Dean Chynoweth, too. Spencer's a tremendous coach, who works very hard and it won't be long until he's answering these questions." 

ESPN's Emily Kaplan declared Carbery to be "one of the buzziest names on the coaching circuit" in her latest article on those most ready for a promotion.

ContentId(1.1938492): Keefe predicts power-play architect Carbery will be a head coach soon


Before Wednesday's game, Keefe revealed that Toronto's goalie splits are on his mind. Ilya Samsonov has been better at home (.927 save percentage in 23 games) than on the road (.892 in 14 GP). Matt Murray has been better on the road (.915 in 16 GP) than at home (.880 in 9 GP). 

What do the goalies make of it? 

"I don't know," said Murray. "Honestly, it's not really my business to make anything of it ... Once you get to the rink you try to keep to the exact same routine. It's obviously different playing in a more hostile building. There's differences for sure but that's not really of any importance to me. I try to prepare myself the same way I always do."

"I'm prepared the same for home game and away game," echoed Samsonov. "Just this season, we have what we have. In Washington, probably my away record better. Here it's home record is better. I don't want to focus on this."

Samsonov is correct. In three seasons with the Capitals, he was 35-17-6 on the road (.655 points percentage) and 19-13-3 at home (.586). 

The Leafs play in Ottawa on Saturday before hosting the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday. Keefe refused to reveal his goalie plan for this weekend.

ContentId(1.1939034): Leafs goalies Murray, Samsonov downplay strange home/road splits


Murray allowed four goals on 27 shots in a 5-3 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes last Saturday. 

"He did a good job for us," Keefe said after the game in Raleigh. "But, of course, it is difficult to win with any sort of regularity if you have to score four. Matt has to find a way to keep one or two of those out. That is just the bottom line."

It was the seventh time in eight starts that Murray allowed four goals. But the 28-year-old insists he is happy with the state of his game since returning from an ankle injury on March 4.  

"I like where it's at," he said. "Just trying to keep building. Like I've said since I came back a couple weeks ago, I felt like I've been building and getting better and better each and every game and going in the right direction and that's what this time of year is all about."


Samsonov allowed three goals on 29 shots in Wednesday's loss, but felt good in his first game in more than a week. 

"My mind never change," he said. "It doesn't matter – a goal or save or good game or bad game – I need to try to stay in the middle. Not a lot of emotion up and down, yeah, just stay focused. I stay focused on the next moment."

Samsonov feels like he's doing a better job of managing his emotions this season. 

"I try to work with this," he said. "I'm still young, 26, yeah, I still learning every day. I try to get better every day. This is what I need right now."

Samsonov just became a dad, which is helping in this department.  

"More positive," he said. "Smiling every day and after the game it doesn't matter. You come to the home and see this baby, you feel great. You don't have time for mad. It's so good." 

Did Murray offer up any advice on fatherhood? 

"I just told him to enjoy every second of it because it's fleeting and it goes by extremely quick especially when they're that small," Murray said. "You blink your eyes and my daughter's two now. It feels like a week goes by and now she's a real person. So, I just told him to enjoy every second."

ContentId(1.1938496): 'I'm still young': Samsonov learning to manage emotions in Leafs crease


Noel Acciari skated on Friday, but the gritty forward did not join the group for practice.

"Acciari's plan today was to get back implemented with the group in the pre-practice setting and work with guys there," Keefe said. "There was never a plan for him to be in practice. He is not going to be available this weekend. We will just continue to inch him along."

Acciari sustained a neck injury during Sunday's 3-2 win in Nashville. 

"It is a bit of a whiplash situation he is dealing with," Keefe said. "He has been feeling good. He was probably wanting to do a little bit more today, but because we are not going to play him this weekend, it made sense to be a little more cautious with it."


Wayne Simmonds missed practice due to an illness. Radim Zohorna, who was acquired from the Calgary Flames on trade deadline day, was called up on an emergency basis. 

"I don't know a lot," Keefe said of the 6-foot-6, 220 pound Czechia native. "Because of the Simmonds situation, it kind of crept up on us late. He arrived at the building late. It was kind of rushed getting him here and diverting him from Marlies practice to here."

It's unclear if Simmonds will be ready to play in Ottawa, which means Zohorna could be pressed into action. He played eight games with the Flames this season. 

"Certainly, it is nice — if we are going to use him — that we got him into a practice and got him familiar here," said Keefe. "He didn't even know how to get into the building — or get to this side of the building, I should say. He is new to me and new to all of our staff on this side of the building. There is a lot going on there for him, but it is certainly beneficial to get him into practice."

Zohorna, who wore No. 53, skated on the fourth line with Zach Aston-Reese and O'Reilly.

ContentId(1.1939063): Leafs Ice Chips: Acciari out with whiplash; Zohorna called up


Leafs prospect Fraser Minten opens the Western Hockey League playoffs as the third-line centre on the Kamloops Blazers. 

"I've done a good job of being versatile for the team and helping out in all areas," the 18-year-old said of his season. "We've gone through times where our top players are gone and I'm playing first-line minutes and then recently, with the depth we have added, playing more of a bottom-six role and killing penalties and trying to contribute whatever way I can. So, overall, I think it's been really good for my development to be put in all sorts of roles."

Minten's ability to adapt is one reason why he was a co-winner of the Blazers Dean Evason Award for inspirational leadership and ability. He shared the honour with captain Logan Stankoven. 

"I'm pretty well respected in the dressing room," Minten said. "Everyone sees the way I work hard and I like to be vocal and that contributes to guys following me at times."

Minten posted 31 goals and 36 assists in 57 games. He also won almost 54 per cent of his faceoffs this season, which was up from just under 46 per cent last season. 

"I spent some more time focusing on the technique involved," Minten explained. "Last year was my first year playing centre in a few years. This year I knew I was going to play centre as well so I got some tips in the summer from some of the Leafs guys and some of the staff there ... Tavares gave me some good tips. Same with Malhotra. They were really big on just trying to use your power and get low rather than worrying about knocking the opponents stick out of the way or anything like that. Just going for a strong, clean sweep."

The Leafs like what they're seeing from their top pick in the 2022 NHL draft (second round, 38th overall).

"It's been very positive," Minten said of the feedback. "They're very happy with how I've been able to fit in with my team in whatever way and make an impact."

Whatever happens in the WHL playoffs, Minten will be at the Memorial Cup, which Kamloops is hosting. 

"I'm very, very excited about it," he said. "It's really lucky. There's not a ton that you can do to get yourself host other than to be lucky with the timing so very grateful to get a chance at that. A great history with Memorial Cups here in Kamloops, too, so I know the city will be behind us. It will be tons of fun. I've kind of grown up with the last two years with this group of guys so it's kind of our last shot. Hopefully we can close it out with good memories and winning."

ContentId(1.1937095): Versatile Leafs prospect Minten gearing up for Memorial Cup run


Lines at Friday's practice: 

Jarnkrok - Matthews - Marner 
Kerfoot - Tavares - Nylander 
Bunting - Kampf - Lafferty 
Aston-Reese - O’Reilly - Zohorna

McCabe - Brodie 
Giordano - Holl 
Rielly - Schenn 
Timmins - Liljegren 


Special teams work in Friday's practice: 

Rielly, Matthews, Marner, Nylander, Tavares 

Giordano, Jarnkrok, Kerfoot, Lafferty, Bunting 

Rielly, Matthews, Marner, Nylander, Tavares, Bunting