TSN Toronto reporter Mark Masters checks in with news and notes from Maple Leafs practices and game-day skates. The team skated in Toronto on Monday ahead of Tuesday’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
- Auston Matthews leads the Leafs with eight points while linemate William Nylander is second with seven. What's working so far? “We really complement each other well,” Matthews said. “We always look for each other out there. Hyman out there, he's always working, getting pucks back for us. We kind of just let our skill take over and I think the chemistry on the ice has really grown in each game we've played together.” Both Matthews and Nylander prefer playing centre and want the puck on their stick, but so far they're sharing it well. “It's the same for both of us,” Matthews said. “When he has the puck, I want to get to a position where he can give it to me and when I have the puck he gets in a position for me to give it to him. We want to create offence and that's the biggest thing for us.” Asked specifically about Matthews and Nylander, head coach Mike Babcock made sure the other player on that line received praise. “Well, [Zack] Hyman gets them the puck. So, let’s not get carried away with all that other stuff,” the coach said. “Hyman goes and gets it, gives it to them and stands in front of the net. That's not a bad thing.”
- Nylander and Matthews were asked to compare their instant chemistry to other linemates they've had in the past. Nylander noted that he's never played with someone quite like Matthews, but said the way they're clicking reminds him of when he partnered with David Pastrňák in Sweden (Sodertalje). Matthews said that Nylander somewhat reminds him of Robert Nilsson, another Swede, who he played with last year in Zurich. "They're a little bit different, but both similar with their vision," Matthews explained. "They find areas to get you the puck in a position that not many other players can."
- Josh Leivo (lower body) practised with his teammates for the first time since the season started. He's still working on his conditioning and isn't ready to return to game action.
- On Tuesday, Steven Stamkos will play his first NHL game in his hometown since turning down overtures from the Maple Leafs as well as other teams and re-signing in Tampa over the summer. What reception is he expecting at the Air Canada Centre? “People are entitled to do whatever they want. I made the decision to stay with the team that drafted me and brought me up as an 18-year-old kid and it's my second home now so there's no regrets.” Jon Cooper believes Stamkos should get a warm welcome. “He just represented Canada in the World Cup so I'd hope he'd get a really good reception,” the Lightning coach said.
- Last season, Stamkos was peppered with questions about his future when he played at the ACC. So, is this trip easier, because he doesn't have to deal with inquiries about the situation? “I'm answering questions about it right now!” he said with a laugh. Well, this will be the last time, right? “I doubt it. I doubt it. But, no, I get what you're saying. This year, obviously, having gotten the contract done there's no distractions. You're coming to the rink with a clear mind.” Stamkos has five points in five games helping Tampa start 4-1-0.
- Babcock admits that the Leafs got on their heels during a third period collapse in Winnipeg on Wednesday. He also noted that the group got off to a slow start in Chicago on Saturday. "I thought the first 10 minutes we wanted some guys’ autographs," the coach observed. But other than that, Babcock isn't buying the idea that his team's inexperience is the root cause of the 1-2-2 start. In fact, Babcock likes the way his young players are handling things. He blames veteran players for the third and fourth goals in Chicago. “We didn't give up many chances in the third, but we gave up two layups. We didn't give our goalie a chance to make the save ... We got to learn to keep it out of our net and it wasn't goaltending. Let’s not leave here and say, ‘Oh that was goaltending.’ That was all on us.”
- After Saturday's loss, Babcock revealed that it's his goal to have the Leafs gain six points in each five-game block. “So we got to find a way over these next segments to get seven points in one of these segments to make up what we just dropped,” Babcock said. Toronto's next five games are: home to Tampa Bay, home to Florida, at Montreal, at the Islanders and home for Edmonton. “The red flag is the goals against," Babcock said. "I like that we score lots and we're entertaining, but I like winning too so you got to keep it out.”
* Lines at practice: