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Marner, Tavares and Nylander miss practice as illness hits Leafs room

Mitch Marner and John Tavares Toronto Maple Leafs Mitch Marner and John Tavares - Getty Images

The Maple Leafs practised at the Ford Performance Centre on Wednesday. 

Leafs captain John Tavares and top-line winger Mitch Marner have been joined by William Nylander, the team's leading scorer, in sick bay. All three missed Wednesday's practice. 

"They're not feeling well enough to have it make sense to come in today," coach Sheldon Keefe said. "We'll monitor them through the day. They'll try and get some food down and see where they're at tomorrow."

The Leafs will host the Philadelphia Flyers, who have won four straight games, on Thursday.

Tavares started feeling sick on Monday night while Marner encountered flu-like symptoms on Tuesday. Each player was a late scratch before Toronto's 4-1 win over the St. Louis Blues

"We had a couple of other guys where it was either play them or play short," Keefe revealed. "They kind of battled through it."

Nylander scored the game-winning goal while logging 19 minutes and 38 seconds to lead the team's forwards. 

Managing energy levels at this time of year can be tricky. Leafs centre Auston Matthews, who leads the league with 42 goals, left practice midway through the workout on Wednesday. 

"I had given Auston the option to not even skate today," Keefe said. "The All-Star guys, in particular, kind of grinded through last week. They didn't get a day off coming off the All-Star Game until Friday which was not even a full day off because we had to travel to Ottawa that day. It's been a tough road for those guys. Does that contribute to why Marner and Nylander are sick? I don't know, but we have to be very mindful of that. Auston wanted to skate today, but I wanted to make sure he kept it short."  


ContentId(1.2076056): Leafs Ice Chips: Nylander joins Tavares, Marner in sick bay


Defenceman Morgan Rielly practised in Nylander's spot on the line with Matthews and Matthew Knies.

"I actually thought maybe if I changed his number nobody would notice and just put him out there on right wing," Keefe said with a smile. "We just obviously needed to fill that position today with 11 forwards and seven defencemen [available]. It just helps us get the practice going. It gives some different touches and all those kind of things and maybe something different and helps kind of break up this period of time for him. Something different and new." 

Rielly was suspended for five games by the department of player safety for a high cross-check on Ottawa Senators forward Ridly Greig at the end of Saturday's game. 

Rielly is appealing the decision to commissioner Gary Bettman. 

"There's some hope, quite frankly, that it might be reduced by a game," TSN Hockey Insider Chris Johnston said. "There's really no downside to this sort of appeal."

The last Leafs player to appeal a suspension to Bettman was Jason Spezza, who saw his six game ban reduced to four back in December 2021. 

"That alone tells us it's possible," Johnston said. "It's a bit of a long shot, but in that ruling on the Spezza case one of the factors Bettman cited was the fact he had such a long, distinguished career with no prior incidents whatsoever. That was the main reason and justification for lowering the ban."

This is the first suspension for Rielly, who has played 769 games plus 50 more in the playoffs. 

If Rielly serves the full five-game suspension, he will not return until Feb. 22 in Las Vegas. So, this may be a chance to get the team's ice-time leader a bit of a breather. 

"We've chosen to this point to keep him going, keep him on the ice while we're uncertain of how the situation is going to play out and the period of time and all that," said Keefe, "but I do think it warrants a discussion in terms of how to manage him going forward."

Keefe pointed out the team will lean on Rielly quite a bit down the stretch and the 29-year-old, like Matthews, Nylander and Marner, participated in all the All-Star week festivities. 


ContentId(1.2076043): Rielly practices as a forward as Leafs keep him busy during suspension


News of the Rielly suspension broke right before Tuesday's game. 

"It's tough," said defenceman Jake McCabe. "I'm not going to sit here and b---h and complain about it. It sucks missing one of your leaders and one of your key guys for that amount of games, but we got one win for him and hopefully we can continue to carry that on." 

Following the game, Keefe indicated Brad Treliving would address the media regarding the Rielly suspension on Wednesday. However, the Leafs general manager opted not to speak to reporters after Rielly informed the team he planned to appeal. 

Ryan Reaves, who was outspoken on Monday in voicing his displeasure in how the situation was playing out, politely declined to hold court again. The veteran winger noted that his bosses prefer he not rock the boat.  

"It's bad for our business, but I think it's smart business by the Leafs in this case," noted Johnston. "There's no point in pouring more gasoline on the fire."


ContentId(1.2076022): Johnston has the latest on Rielly appealing his five-game suspension


Joseph Woll spoke to the media for the first time since suffering a high ankle sprain on Dec. 7 in Ottawa. The 25-year-old went down after Rourke Chartier sent a harmless-looking shot on net from the side boards. 

"Just kind of in an awkward position there," Woll recalled. "Ended up having to lean over and lean into an awkward position and my ankle just decided it didn't want to. That's really all I can remember from it."

It's been a long road back for Woll, who was in the middle of a strong season with a .916 save percentage in 15 games.

"A lot of emotions come up when you get injured," he said. "It was hard for me to not feel like I was part of helping the team continue to push, so that was definitely a tough thing to deal with."

Woll stressed that it's been a smooth recovery process with no setbacks. He turned around to knock on a wood panel for luck after noting that. 

Wednesday marked Woll's second full practice since the injury. 

"Right now it's just getting back up to speed with playing after two months off," he said. "Since I've been skating it's been a lot of isolated goalie work and the focus, really, the past couple weeks has been transitioning into playing and hopefully turning my brain off a little bit and not having to think about my ankles too much."

Woll was the last player on the ice at practice. He lay out in the crease stretching his ankle while goalie coach Curtis Sanford looked on. This particular type of injury is especially challenging for a goalie. 

"Definitely ankle for a goalie is not an exciting one," Woll acknowledged. "Anything that puts you back in a position that bothers it is difficult, but it's a process and I think I've been making good strides. I can really see the progress from week to week and especially over the last couple weeks."

Woll has already faced a series of injuries in his career, including a previous ankle issue. He's only suited up in 26 career NHL games. 

"Not necessarily bad luck, it's just something that happens," Woll said of the injuries. "Everything ends up having some silver lining to it ... The funny thing about those is you might not know them until a few months after. We'll wait and see on that one. We'll wait and see."

Woll's previous injury experience makes it easier to process the emotions this time around. 

"I really think the greatest development for Joseph has been the mental side of things," said Keefe. "A season ago, he missed training camp. He missed pre-season. He missed the start of the season, started in the American League and came up to the NHL after dominating the American League and really hasn't looked back much since then. He's always had the athleticism and all of that but the mental side and the maturity for him just as a man, but also how he manages his day-to-day as a professional, I think has been the greatest area of growth from him. It makes you feel confident he can manage whatever he's going through." 


ContentId(1.2076051): Woll speaks about ankle injury for first time; inching toward return


There's still no set timeline for Woll's return to game action, but it's starting to become a talking point behind the scenes. 

"In terms of participating in games, he's getting to the point where we can have those discussions and start to map it out a little bit," Keefe said. "[Treliving has] been a little distracted here of late so we haven't had the chance to really nail down some of these things, but I think we're getting close there."

Ilya Samsonov will start on Thursday and is expected to go again on Saturday when the Leafs host the Anaheim Ducks. He skipped practice on Wednesday in order to do some solo work with Sanford. 

Martin Jones skated on his own before practice, but remains sidelined with an undisclosed injury sustained earlier this week.

"He didn't do a lot today," Keefe said. "It was more kind of trying to stay up and running, but certainly not ready to really push himself at this point. It's just a situation that's day-to-day and they got to keep on top of." 

Dennis Hildeby, who has never played in the NHL, dressed as the back-up goalie against the Blues Tuesday.  

The Leafs have a busy schedule next week with four road games, including one back-to-back set. 

"The Jones situation is a factor here in terms of how the plan may need to be changed or adapted in terms of how we projected it out a couple weeks ago," Keefe said. "We'll see how this week progresses here. Between Hildeby, Woll, Jones, there's a lot happening in the goaltending position and the schedule for this week especially is pretty favourable as it relates to goaltending and Samsonov." 


Tyler Bertuzzi saw his goalless drought reach 18 games on Tuesday despite having a series of great chances, including a breakaway. The winger, who fired three shots on net and also hit the post on another attempt, can't remember the last time he had a stretch like this. 

"Probably at some point in my career in Detroit," he said. "Just got to stick with it and keep shooting."

"All you can do is keep telling him, 'Dude, once the first one goes in it's going to come in bunches,'" said centre Max Domi. "I think he believes that. He's playing great right now." 

This is Bertuzzi's longest dry spell since he went 28 games without a goal during the 2017-18 season, which was his second year in the league. 

The 28-year-old from Sudbury, Ont. reiterated that he isn't superstitious and doesn't plan on changing anything. 

"I feel good," Bertuzzi insisted. "Obviously still getting the chances and making the plays and just need one to go in and kind of get that confidence of the finishing part."

Keefe agrees that Bertuzzi is playing well, but also points out that this isn't exactly a new problem. Bertuzzi scored eight goals in 50 games split between Detroit and Boston last season. He has six goals in 50 games this season. 

"Quite honestly, it's not just a this season thing," Keefe said. "It's last season as well. His pace is not a whole lot different than where he was a season ago. You're trying to get him back to be closer to the 30-goal Bertuzzi but we haven't been able to do that. He's been more so what he was last season. So, be encouraged with the chances you're getting, but also value every second that you get in a practice to be prepared for those moments. We have to push him while also encouraging him."

Bertuzzi posted a career-high 30 goals in the 2021-22 season.

Bertuzzi signed a one-year deal with the Leafs in the summer in the hopes of rediscovering his scoring touch while playing beside some elite talent. He started the campaign on the top line, but never seemed to hit it off with Matthews and Marner. He has consistently lined up beside Tavares and Nylander since then. But the goals have not flowed as hoped. Bertuzzi has just one goal in the last 31 games since Nov. 28. 

"He's got to work at his game," Keefe stressed. "He's got to practice. He's got to shoot with purpose. He's got to take every rep at practice and have it be meaningful."

Before Wednesday's practice, Bertuzzi did some skills work with Matthews and Domi. The trio took turns trying out breakaway moves. 

"Just feel the puck, get some shots and just work on a few little things," Bertuzzi said of the session, which was overseen by Patrick O’Sullivan of the player development staff. "Anything to try and help."

Simply being around Matthews, who leads the NHL with 42 goals, is helpful. 

"He's always out there working on things," Bertuzzi observed. "We worked together in the past, and in the summer a bit, just on the shooting aspect, finding areas and shooting it quick off a pass."

Keefe revealed the Leafs recently considered elevating Bertuzzi to the top power-play unit in place of Tavares to help provide a spark. Ultimately, they kept Bertuzzi on the second unit, which usually only gets mop-up duty at the end of power plays.  

"We also have other guys we got to get going," Keefe pointed out. "John had to get going and then he was our most productive power-play guy for the last little bit as we were starting to have those discussions. So you're managing that and that's part of the deal here."

During his 30-goal season, Bertuzzi scored six goals on the power play. 

"The power play has not been a big driver of his offence," Keefe said. "Maybe there's some confidence in the touches that come through that but his stats have been primarily 5-on-5 driven and I don't think that's a whole lot different here in this situation. He can bear down on those opportunities and then be a guy that's really pushing for those minutes rather than us just trying to hand them to him."

How is Bertuzzi dealing with the pressure? 

"Just go home and see my kids, that's it," the father of two, including a newborn son, said. "Just get away and [see] the smiles. We go outside and play in the bush and just get away. That keeps me in a good mindset." 


ContentId(1.2076040): Time with kids helps Bertuzzi take mind off bad puck luck


Timothy Liljegren took Rielly's role on the top defence pair beside T.J. Brodie, who shifted to his natural left side on Tuesday. 

"I liked the pair," said Keefe. "I thought Brodie, in particular, on the left side fared very well. His touches on the break out were much cleaner. He seemed to have a lot more confidence on that side."

Brodie finished plus-three while logging a team-high 23 minutes and 41 seconds.

"Liljegren had some tough moments in the game at different times, but overall did a lot of good things," Keefe said. "There were a number of good things, as you go through the shifts, that you pull out that are very positive for him. You want to clearly keep building on that."

"I thought we played pretty solid," Liljegren said. "I was pretty happy with my game yesterday. I had some bad shifts in the second there, but overall I thought it was a pretty good game."

Liljegren couldn't contain Alexey Toropchenko who deflected a shot past Samsonov for the only Blues goal. 

"Just got to box him out more," the 24-year-old said. "Kind of got to have good timing on it. I went to cross-check him when the shot came so I didn't have his stick and obviously the puck went off his stick. So, just small details like that I got to clean up."

Like on Monday, Liljegren worked with skating consultant Paul Matheson prior to practice. He said it was just regular maintenance of his stride.  

After practice ended, Liljegren spent time working with assistant coach Mike Van Ryn, who oversees the defence. Van Ryn put a net sideways in the slot and had Liljegren shoot around it. 

"Yesterday I got the puck in some good spots, but I couldn't really get the shot through," Liljegren said. "I was working on puck placement on my shots."


ContentId(1.2076023): Leafs' Liljegren looks to clean up details after 'pretty solid' top-pair turn


The Leafs limited the Blues to just 15 shots, which was a season best mark for Toronto. 

"We played a pretty simple game, which is what was required, especially once we got the lead," said Keefe. "We needed guys to step up in different ways. I thought we got a lot of great efforts."

And an unlikely hero emerged. Left winger Bobby McMann was supposed to be a healthy scratch on Tuesday night, but was told around 4:00 p.m. that he would draw in with Tavares ailing. The undrafted 27-year-old proceeded to score three times.

"Very special," McMann said. "Something I didn't think was going to happen 24 hours ago. It's one that I'll remember for a while. All the guys are excited. All the guys are great and that's what makes it fun, they're all a part of it."

McMann was given the player-of-the-game belt amid cheers in the dressing room after he was announced as the game's first star in the building.  

McMann sealed the win with an empty-net goal. The Wainwright, Alta. native simply tried to clear the puck out of the defensive zone, but it bounced off the boards and slowly made its way into the St. Louis net. 

"I kind of thought, 'No way!' Like, no way I had that angle down right," McMann said with a big smile. "I just tried to get it out of the zone, make the smart play and it ended up paying off."

McMann had only scored two goals in his 36 previous NHL outings. 

"You hope that helps with confidence and makes you feel like you belong in the league," Keefe said. "For a guy like Bobby, you want efforts like this and you want the goals to go in, but he is trying to learn to grab onto a role in the league, right? He can score. He has done that at the AHL level, but it has been a challenge in the NHL."

McMann is a late bloomer, who played in the ECHL as recently as the 2021-22 season. It's been a long journey to get to this point. 

"I see it all as just a process," McMann said. "You got to enjoy the moments as they come. Whether it's your first goal, your first game or the first 10 games or whatever, you just try and enjoy that. And then as you get more comfortable I think you can try more things, you get a little more ice time, a little more trust with the coach and then you just keep working because you know if you work on your skills and you get those opportunities, when those opportunities come you're going to be ready for them." 

Samsonov noted that McMann has stayed out late with him a couple times to work on his shot. 

But McMann likely won't be leaned on to score in the Leafs lineup. 

"If you are not going to score — and you are not going to get a hat trick every night — you have to work on all of the other things and do the other things really well," said Keefe. "Be physical. Be defensively responsible. Be trusted. Be able to kill penalties. All of those things can help keep you in the league. Different players figure it out at different times. He is 27 years old and is in his first year in the NHL. He is trying to find his way within a role here. [Tuesday's game] is a great night to give him some confidence and life and to stay in the fight for one of those jobs."


ContentId(1.2075693): McMann goes from healthy scratch to hero for Maple Leafs in win over Blues


Lines at Wednesday's practice: 

Knies - Matthews - Rielly 
Bertuzzi - Domi - Robertson 
McMann - Kampf - Gregor
Steeves - Holmberg - Reaves 

Brodie - Liljegren 
Benoit - McCabe 
Giordano - Lagesson