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Communication key as plane pals Domi, Matthews take off together


The Maple Leafs practised at the Ford Performance Centre in Toronto on Friday. 

Mitch Marner is back on the ice, but not ready to get back into games. 

"He is progressing," said coach Sheldon Keefe. "He skated the last few days. That is progress for sure. The plan is for him to take tomorrow off and get back to it. 

"He is skating. He was out there for a good bit before practice. He is making progress, but he is not available this weekend."

Marner will miss Saturday's home date with the Edmonton Oilers and Sunday's road game against the Carolina Hurricanes. Toronto is 3-1-1 since the winger sustained a high ankle sprain on March 7. 

Finding a replacement for Marner on the right side of the top line hasn't been easy. William Nylander got the first look beside Auston Matthews, but it didn't go well during a game in Montreal on March 9, so he returned to the second line. 

Calle Jarnkrok was the next winger to be promoted, but he got hurt on March 14 in a game against the Philadelphia Flyers and is now week-to-week with a hand injury. 

Pontus Holmberg performed well at first in an audition following the Jarnkrok injury, but then underwhelmed in a pair of subsequent starts beside the NHL's goal-scoring leader. 

Max Domi moved up to the top line early in Tuesday's loss to the Flyers and showed flashes of potential beside Matthews. The duo then took off on Wednesday night in Washington where Matthews matched a career high with five points (two goals and three assists) and Domi set a career high with four assists against the Capitals. 

Domi set up Matthews for a goal on the first shift of the game. What's behind the instant chemistry? 

"I think communication is a big piece," Matthews said. "Something I like to do is just communicate, talk and sort stuff out, ask questions, get a feel for what the other guy's thinking as well. That's a pretty big piece, in my opinion, and I think we've been able to do that in the couple games we've been together." 

Marner and Matthews are often seen having animated discussions during games as they plot their next shift. Of course, that chemistry has been built up over years playing together. 

It helps that Domi and Matthews clicked off the ice well before they linked up on it. They share the same agent in Judd Moldaver. 

"We got to know each other a little bit through that," said Domi. "Both of us love tennis so we got a lot to talk about with that. I'm his No. 1 fan and love getting to know him. He's a great human being. Loves working on his craft and we got a lot of similarities in that sense. Both of us like pushing the pace and both of us want to win so we have fun together for sure." 

Matthews, an Arizona native, got to know Domi a bit when he started his NHL career with the Coyotes. 

"We sit next to each other on the plane," Matthews said. "We enjoy hanging out and all that stuff. We got a great relationship off the ice."

Their game styles also mesh well. Matthews is a two-time Rocket Richard Trophy winner, who is on pace for 69 goals this season. Domi is a gifted passer, who leads the team with 29 assists in 5-on-5 play. 

"There are parts of their game, not unlike Mitch and Auston, that fit very well," Keefe noted. "Max looks to make plays and has the ability to make plays. Any time something is fresh and new and it works well early, you kind of ride that a little bit."

"He's such a smart player out there," Matthews said. "He makes the game easy. He can make plays. He moves spatially well and just communicates a lot out there, so it just makes it easier on myself and [Tyler Bertuzzi] to move into space and try to find each other."

Domi has lined up mostly as a centre this season, but shifted back to the wing following the injuries to Marner and Jarnkrok. 

"We have felt that we have needed more depth and skill on the wings, in particular, so that has changed how we have approached things with Max," said Keefe. "We have benefited from the connection that those guys have made and we'll look to ride that."

ContentId(1.2093777): Communication key as plane seatmates Matthews and Domi take off together


The Capitals had no answer for Toronto's top line on Wednesday and the numbers could have been even more impressive, but a third Matthews goal was wiped out by an offside challenge. 

"Those guys were feeling it," Keefe raved. "Max was outstanding. Auston put on a clinic through most of the game."

Matthews acknowledged the opportunity to trade goals with Alex Ovechkin, who also scored twice in the game, is meaningful. 

"He's the greatest goal-scorer of all time, so it's always fun to play against him still and still watch him get it done and the excitement and passion he gets when he scores goals," Matthews said. 

Another superstar showdown is looming on Saturday as Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl come to town. 

"Always exciting when you play against the league's best," said Domi. "It brings out the best in everyone, competitive nature. Connor and Leon have been at the top of the league for the last little bit and obviously a little extra motivation for someone like [Matthews]."

Although Matthews downplayed the idea of a rivalry between himself and McDavid. 

"I mean, we see these guys twice a year so I'm not sure there's much of a rivalry there," Matthews noted. "It's two pretty good teams and two Canadian teams so there's obviously a lot of pride there within the organization, the fans. It's more so a media thing. You guys like to push it and stuff and that's fine, but at the end of the day, like, just want to go out there and play our game and continue to take steps moving forward."

In the last meeting between the teams on Jan. 14, Matthews picked up a goal and an assist, but the Leafs fell 4-2 in Edmonton. Draisaitl also scored in the game while McDavid recorded an assist. 

McDavid, who is also represented by Moldaver, leads the NHL with 86 assists this season. 

"I got a lot of respect for him," said Matthews. "As a player, as a person, as a guy that takes on a lot of responsibility with who he is, obviously a lot of respect for him."

ContentId(1.2093772): Matthews highlights respect not rivalry ahead of McDavid showdown


Bertuzzi did not play in the first half of the first period on Wednesday. 

"It was a bit questionable if he was even going to play," Keefe said. "Just before warm-up, he was saying he wasn't feeling right. He went through warm-up, and he still wasn't quite feeling it, but he felt good enough to the point where he was going to stay in uniform."

With Ryan Reaves sidelined by an eye injury, the team didn't have any extra forwards available to draw in. 

"He wanted some time when the game was going, getting out there with the noise and all of the things that go on in the chaos of the game just to make sure he was good," said Keefe. "Once we got through the first TV timeout, he went out for a little skate and thought he was good to go. We put him in the mix."

Bertuzzi set a nice screen on the second Matthews goal of the night in the second period and then added a goal of his own in the third period. 

"That's just kind of the guy he is," said Matthews. "He's a competitor and stuff like that doesn't really seem to slow him down even though it's tough, tough to go through that. So, hopefully he's feeling better and maybe ready to go tomorrow."  

Bertuzzi missed practice on Friday.  

"He is not here in the building today," said Keefe. "He is a little bit worse than he was the other day with different symptoms. He is questionable for tomorrow. He is not ruled out, but he is not well enough to be here today."

In Bertuzzi's absence, Matthew Knies moved up to the top line. 

"I've love playing with Matty," said Domi. "He's awesome. Big guy, competes hard, a lot of speed, really good on the forecheck, goes to the net."

With Bertuzzi missing, Domi moved up to the top power-play unit. He took reps on the flank while Nylander moved lower in the zone. What's the key for Domi in his first look with the first unit? 

"The playmaking side of it, distributing the puck, making [opponents] bite, and giving those guys some more time with the puck is the key," he said. "But when the time's right you got to pull the trigger and shoot and get some rebounds. John [Tavares], Auston and Willy can all score so any time that puck is bouncing around down there it's pretty lethal for them."

The Leafs converted on one of five power-play chances on Wednesday. 

ContentId(1.2093845): Leafs Ice Chips: Bertuzzi (sick) misses practice; Domi joins PP1


Tom Wilson was assessed a double minor for high sticking Noah Gregor in the third period. The Capitals winger, who wildly swung his stick, showed immediate remorse. 

"It was obvious he felt bad about what he did," Gregor said. "Yeah, he said, 'Sorry.'"

The Leafs winger didn't see any malicious intent on the play. 

"I don't think he's trying to slash a guy in the face," Gregor said. "I really don't think anyone in the league is ever trying to do that. Probably a little reckless with the stick and unfortunately got me. It ended up being OK. I'm fine and the league will handle it from here."

On Friday evening, the department of player safety announced Wilson will be suspended for six games. 

What damage did the slash do? 

"Just some teeth," Gregor said. 

He smiled to show a series of cracks. 

Seems painful. 

"No, no, it's fine," he assured. "It was already ones that have been broken before, so they're already dead."

ContentId(1.2093771): Gregor accepts Wilson's apology for face slash: 'He felt pretty bad'


Defenceman T.J. Brodie is set to sit out a second straight game as a healthy scratch. 

"I'd just like to see him clear his head," Keefe said. "That is a big part of it — the mental part of it. He has had a rough go of it from the beginning of training camp all the way through."

Brodie lost his dad, Jay Brodie, to cancer on Sept. 4. 

"Because of the demands that we put on him, he hasn't really had a chance to breathe, regroup, and find himself," Keefe acknowledged. "That is where we are at."

Brodie is second on the Leafs in average ice time this season (21:51). The lefty has spent most of the year on the right side. 

"We added some defensive depth at the trade deadline," said Keefe. "We are in a different position as a team than we were. We get a chance to really help Brods with the mental part of it. We are hoping it re-energizes him, and with that comes an extra step.

"When you have an extra step, all of a sudden, the puck moves quicker, you are defending less, and all of these kinds of things start to fall into place."

And while Brodie has struggled at times this season, Keefe points out he still has a plus-14 rating, which leads all Leafs defencemen. 

"He has played better hockey than the perception may be," Keefe said. "Plus/minus is what it is, but when you are taking on the hardest match-ups and are still finding ways to be on the positive side, you are doing a lot of good things there. But we and he acknowledge that he could be better."

Brodie, 33, declined an interview request. 

"We need him at his best," said Keefe. "If we have to take a step back for that to be the case, that is what we will do. That is what we are doing right now. The most important thing for us right now is to give him the time he needs to get back to being himself. He is a very, very important piece of our team. When he is at his best, he is as good of a defender as we have and is reliable and consistent as any guy we have. We have to get him back to that."

ContentId(1.2093793): 'We need him at his best': Keefe on sitting Brodie out as part of a 'mental reset'


After missing the last two games due to illness, right-shot defenceman Ilya Lyubushkin returned to practice on Friday. 

"Today was his first day on the ice since the Carolina game [last Saturday]," said Keefe. "He is not going to play tomorrow. We will give it another day and then take it from there."


Reaves missed Wednesday's game after taking a finger to the eye in a fight with Philadelphia's Nicolas Deslauriers on Tuesday. 

"It was weird," the winger said. "I didn't know, really, what it was until I watched the replay. I actually talked to DeLo after the game and he was like, 'Sorry, man, I got my thumb caught in your eye.' I threw one more [punch] and thought I could blink it off. I looked and I saw four or five of him. I'm not LeBron [James], I can't aim at the middle."

Reaves' eye was swollen shut when he left the ice. He didn't return to the game. 

"For like two hours I was seeing like three, four people," he said. "By about the end of the game, it kind of came [back] and then it was just kind of foggy for a bit. I was a little worried for a couple hours because I could not focus my eyes."

Reaves said that he's never taken a finger to the eye in his previous 155 fights, but there's no ill will with Deslauriers. 

"He's one of those guys that, he plays the right way," Reaves stressed. "He's honest. He's given me fights, I've given him fights, so we always chat after games."

Deslauriers requested the fight on Tuesday. 

"He just got back in the lineup, so the first shift he asked me," Reaves revealed. "I said, 'Let's see how the game goes.' And then we were just kind of flat. They scored the first shift and we were kind of flat the next couple, so we crossed paths and he asked me again and I was like, 'Yeah, it's probably a good time.' But unfortunately didn't go the way I wanted it to."

Reaves was back on the ice at practice on Friday, but wearing a visor. He's never worn one in 867 previous NHL games. 

"Horrible," he said with a grin. "I hate it."

"He looks good," Domi chimed in. 

What's the biggest adjustment?  

"Just everything," Reaves said. "Seeing that line at the bottom, which I guess everybody else just ignores, but to me it's just a line down there." 


Leafs goalie Matt Murray took shots from teammates during a pre-practice skills session. 

"A very good sign," said Keefe. "He has been out a little bit with the guys here and there, but today was probably the biggest step he has taken in terms of our guys being out there and him taking part in some of our skill drills and power-play work before practice. It is a great sign. It looks like he is moving well. Obviously, he is a long ways away from being an option for games or anything like that, but it seems like the work he has put in has served him well."

Murray underwent bilateral hip surgery in October. The team announced he would miss six to eight months. 

"He's looking really good," said Matthews. "I really admire the way he comes in every day and he works. It's not easy to do when you're working out by yourself a lot, spending a lot of time alone, spending time with the trainers and stuff like that, and not around the team all the time. It's always nice to see him here. It's been encouraging to see him on the ice and getting back to himself."

ContentId(1.2093822): 'Very good sign': Leafs goalie Murray takes big step in recovery from hip surgery


Lines at Friday's practice: 

Knies - Matthews - Domi 
McMann - Tavares - Nylander 
Dewar - Kampf - Gregor
Robertson - Holmberg - Reaves 

Rielly - McCabe 
Edmundson - Liljegren 
Benoit - Timmins 
Giordano, Brodie, Lyubushkin 


Power play units at Friday's practice: 

QB: Liljegren
Flanks: Matthews, Domi
Bumper: Tavares 
Down low: Nylander 

QB: McCabe
Flanks: Rielly, Robertson
Bumper: McMann
Net front: Knies