‘Easy decision’ for Leafs to stick with Jones
The Maple Leafs (optional) and San Jose Sharks skated at Scotiabank Arena on Tuesday.
Martin Jones will make a fifth straight start for the Leafs.
"He's just calm, solid in there," said defenceman Mark Giordano. "You just have confidence. He's just an easy guy to play in front of. You feel that presence for sure when a goalie's really calm and reading plays and you can tell he's feeling it."
With Joseph Woll injured and the struggling Ilya Samsonov demoted to the minors, Jones has brought stability to Toronto's crease. Last week, he won three straight games in California and was named the NHL's second star of the week.
"He's very subtle, very calm in net," said winger Matthew Knies. "A veteran in this league, very composed. It's nice to have a guy who’s had the experience and played in big games to be back there and just make huge stops for us. It's been phenomenal."
Jones, 33, cleared waivers after training camp and started the season No. 3 on Toronto's depth chart. But he has an extensive track record in the NHL and helped the San Jose Sharks reach the Stanley Cup final in 2016.
"He's a big goalie [6-foot-5] and can read the plays," said Sharks leading scorer Tomas Hertl. "He can make big saves in good moments. Even last game in our building, we didn't play greatest game, but he still made crucial saves that could have changed momentum."
Jones stopped 23 of 24 shots to earn the win on Saturday in San Jose. He's 7-3-0 with a .932 save percentage this season in the NHL.
"He knows probably all my tricks," Hertl said with a smile. "He's playing really well. I'm really happy for him."
"He stopped a few too many shots last game," said grinning defenceman Mario Ferraro, who grabbed dinner with Jones last week. "I'm super, super proud of him. I miss that guy a lot but it's exciting to see his success with the Leafs."
Tuesday is the start of a busy stretch for Toronto that will see the team play eight games in 13 days in six different cities.
"There hasn't been really much of a workload in the last little bit," Keefe said. "Going into the game tonight he's only played one game in the last five days. He's feeling good and rested and obviously confident so an easy decision to keep him going."
Current backup goalie Dennis Hildeby has never played in the NHL.
Samsonov, who last played on Dec. 29, practised with the Toronto Marlies on Tuesday.
"Just going to take it a day at a time," said Keefe. "He's on the ice at Marlies practice right now, with those guys, which is a step for him, because he's just been skating on his own and spending some time to himself."
General manager Brad Treliving is overseeing Samsonov’s situation.
"Today was a progression for him and beyond that I'm not quite sure what the plan is," Keefe said.
Woll started skating again this week as he works his way back from a high ankle sprain suffered on Dec. 7.
"No timeline," said Keefe. "This is day two for him. He skated yesterday as well. It's great to see him back out there for sure, but he's a way aways for sure."
William Nylander will play his first game since signing an eight-year, $92-million contract extension.
"I bet here in Toronto it's not easy with all the pressure," said Hertl. "So, for sure, after the big extension he'll be flying on the ice and show why he got the deal."
Morgan Rielly signed his own eight-year contract extension during the 2021-22 season.
"You're just very relieved," the defenceman recalled. "You're very grateful. You're very happy. It's kind of a load off and you kind of carry yourself differently after losing that stress. I'm looking forward to watching him play the rest of the year."
With the deal close to getting done, Nylander scored two goals and added an assist in San Jose on Saturday.
"He looked like a $92-million player that night, bouncing around like he was on a pogo stick," said Sharks coach David Quinn. "He was probably full of excitement as he should've been. He's one of the more dynamic, complete players in the National Hockey League. I was so impressed with his work ethic the other night, the way he was tracking pucks all the way to the end. He earned it."
Nylander has only been held off the scoresheet in four games this season. Saturday, meanwhile, was his fifth three-point game.
"Especially this year, he’s taken his game to another level," said Leafs defenceman Jake McCabe. "Even on off-days, he's at the rink. He's taking care of himself. He's a beast in the gym. He's working his ass off in practice too, before and after, so he's putting in the work."
Treliving urged Nylander to keep doing what he's doing and embrace a greater leadership role.
"Your leadership is on the ice, it's the habits, it's the work ethic," said Keefe. "It's being the example and that's really where he's taken the biggest step. Often times he's leading the way in all the things we want to do, and a lot of nights has put the team on his back."
The Leafs don't want to make a lineup change but might have to because an illness has crept back into the room. Nick Robertson, who has sat out the last two games as a healthy scratch, may draw back in against the Sharks.
The message from the coach?
"Be confident and feel good about what you've done," Keefe said. "He's found ways to produce for us. He's shown he can play in the league. I also don't know that he's really fully separated himself from the pack and that's the next piece. I've talked to him about the importance of taking care of the puck and being able to execute plays. He's an offensive guy, so when there's a chance to make a play or a pass or a shot on goal, to me a lot of those plays have slipped off his stick or haven't quite been smooth, so that's disrupted the offence, which leads to having to defend more. That's the next stage for him."
Speedy winger Noah Gregor, who almost always takes part in the optional skate, did not hit the ice on Tuesday morning.
The Sharks have lost 11 straight games in regulation.
"One of the things we've been doing is gaining a little respect through this process even though we haven't won in a while," Quinn said. "That's one of the things we talked about today. When you earn respect over the course of a hockey game winning usually follows it. I'm pretty sure Detroit respected us even though we lost that game [5-3 on Jan. 2]. I'm pretty sure Winnipeg respected us after that night [a 2-1 loss on Jan. 4]. But after that game against Toronto, there wasn't a lot of resistance from our end of it."
Quinn felt his team lost its composure after Toronto opened the scoring on a five-on-three power play.
"We looked like we played on our heels and afraid," the coach said. "Not physically afraid, but we've played a lot of great teams this year. We've seen everybody and this is one of the great teams in the league and I was a little bit surprised because that that crept into our game. It hadn't been in our game where we were a little bit intimidated and that crept in a little bit ... There just wasn't a lot of pushback. I'm not talking fighting; I'm talking about pace."
San Jose called up tough guy Scott Sabourin, who will draw into the lineup on Tuesday. Sabourin played one game for the Leafs during the 2020-21 season.
It's a homecoming trip for Ferraro, who missed last year's game in Toronto due to injury.
"I'm pretty excited to play here again," the 25-year-old Toronto native said. "It's been a while, a couple years, but it's special. I got a lot of cousins, friends who reach out and say they're coming to the game, so it makes me more motivated to have a good night."
Ferraro averages 22 minutes and 25 seconds of ice time to lead the Sharks.
"He's probably played the best hockey of his career over the last seven weeks," said Quinn. "He's just played with a level of confidence and calmness to his game. He's such a great skater and a physical player that sometimes he gets very busy and one of the things he's done is he's really settled his game down. He's played with confidence with the puck. He's shown more composure with the puck. He's really playing a much more complete game."
It was a tough World Juniors for Leafs prospects Fraser Minten and Easton Cowan, who were part of the Canadian team that was eliminated in the quarterfinals. But the Americans inside Toronto's dressing room certainly enjoyed seeing their country climb to the top of the podium.
"Fantastic," McCabe said with a smile. "We have a lot of Swedes in here too, so it was nice to rub it in their face a little bit."
McCabe captained Team USA to a gold medal at the 2013 World Juniors in Ufa, Russia.
"Time flies," he said. "I remember the feeling very well. It's a pretty sweet feeling. It was pretty special to win a World Championship like that at that top stage and kind of, frankly, propelled me to professional hockey as far as confidence goes."
McCabe isn't 100 per cent sure where his gold medal is.
"Honestly, I've moved so much in the last four years, I don't even know where it is right now," he admitted. "It's probably back home in Wisconsin in my closet somewhere. Maybe my kids have messed with it too. I don't know. I'll have to grab that when we get home this summer."
Leafs lines at Monday's practice:
Knies - Matthews - Marner
Bertuzzi - Tavares - Nylander
Holmberg - Domi - Jarnkrok
McMann - Kampf - Gregor
Rielly - Brodie
Benoit - McCabe
Giordano - Liljegren
Lagesson - Timmins