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Tavares, Marner, Nylander good to go as Leafs look to ground Flyers

William Nylander William Nylander - Getty Images

After missing Wednesday's practice due to illness, forwards John Tavares, Mitch Marner and William Nylander all returned to the ice on Thursday morning and are expected to play against the Flyers. 

"They look like they're good to go, so that's how we're approaching it right now," said coach Sheldon Keefe. 

Tavares and Marner missed Tuesday's game. 

"You've had a couple days since you've been on the ice, so you haven't really been exerting yourself," said Tavares. "But your body's been fighting pretty hard, and you can get pretty drained depending on what you're [at] intake wise – whether it's hydration and food and things like that. It wasn't so bad getting out there this morning, but the next eight hours are still crucial for me to do what I need what I do to be at my best."

Nylander was able to play on Tuesday and scored the game-winning goal against the St. Louis Blues

"It seems they're doing well," Keefe said. "Willy, in particular, who played less than 100 per cent, seems to have bounced back really well."

Marner leads all Leafs forwards in average ice time (21:26) while Nylander is third (20:11) and Tavares is fourth (18:19). Can they handle the same minutes tonight? 

"They haven't missed long, but the type of illness they had, you're not sleeping well, you're not eating well, all that stuff, so we'll monitor it," said Keefe. "You always got to be mindful of it."

ContentId(1.2076847): Tavares, Nylander, Marner shake off illness, good to go against Flyers


The Leafs have won six straight games against the Flyers dating back to November 2021. Five of those wins have come by three or more goals. 

But this is a different Philadelphia team. After finishing 26th overall last season, the Flyers sit third in the Metropolitan Division and have won four straight games since the All-Star break. 

"They've just played hard," said Keefe. "They've played at a playoff level and playoff intensity and playoff mindset from the start of the season. With that, and some good talent and depth, it serves you well. They don't beat themselves. They make it hard to get to your net 5-on-5 and penalty kill, and then they are killing teams in transition. Like, they are as dangerous as anybody on the rush in the entire league. We've had some troubles with that here of late, including the other night against St. Louis." 

The Leafs allowed a season-low 15 shots in Tuesday's win against the Blues, but also got lucky at times. 

"We got away with a bunch that didn't show up," said Keefe. "We broke up plays before it got to our net, or the opposition didn't execute. As well as we played the other night, if we don't improve that area of the game here tonight it's going to be tough."

ContentId(1.2076838): Leafs Ice Chips: Matching Philly's 'playoff intensity'


When Tavares was ruled out on Tuesday afternoon, Bobby McMann got the call to enter the lineup. The 27-year-old winger responded with a three-goal performance. 

"Amazing to see," Tavares gushed. "Created a great opportunity for many guys, and specifically him, and really rose to the occasion. A big two points against a good team and as a group we want to follow that up today."

"I gotta go three goals again," McMann said with a laugh. "No, just sticking with the recipe of working hard and making sure details are right and playing their guys hard and being hard on the forecheck and hopefully everything will keep falling into place."

McMann, who scored just twice in his first 36 NHL games, didn't have a chance to speak with his dad after the hat trick performance on Tuesday night. 

"He has an early bedtime, but I called him yesterday and chatted about it," the Wainwright, Alta. native said. "Being able to relive it with him and talk through it, it was pretty cool."

What did Cecil McMann have to say? 

"He was still a little bit shocked. He thought it was pretty sweet. He watched it again yesterday. He said it was sweet to see each goal individually and how different each one was ... Being able to relive it with him and talk through it, it was pretty cool."

McMann is only the third undrafted Leafs player in the last 30 years to score three goals in a game, joining Jason Blake (Jan. 15, 2009) and Tyler Bozak (March 28, 2015).

With McMann staying in the lineup on Thursday, Ryan Reaves appears to be the odd man out up front. 

ContentId(1.2076860): Leafs' McMann feels momentum after shocking dad with hat trick


Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly will sit out the second game of his five-game suspension for a cross-check that hit Ridly Greig in the head. The Ottawa Senators rookie had taken a big slap shot into Toronto's empty net moments earlier to seal an emotional win. 

"We think it's high," said Tavares of the ban, which Rielly is appealing. "I don't think his intent was to get him as high as he did. We want to stand our ground when situations like that happen, no different than when someone bumps your goalie, sprays your goalie with snow, a shot after the whistle, anything like that ... We loved the response that he showed and sticking up for the group and the way we compete and stand our ground and play for the logo on our chest. He represents that more than anyone in this hockey club. Obviously, we support him greatly and love him as a teammate and how he leads."

Greig's shot and Rielly's reaction sparked a debate around the league. Reaves lamented a change in hockey culture. Flyers coach John Tortorella was asked to weigh in. 

"The young athletes that are in our league right now, oh my God," Tortorella said. "It's a different league. It's a different league and I'm going to be really careful in how I say it."

The 65-year-old then paused before launching into a lengthy answer.  

"Well, it's a dumb league," he said. "I guess the thing with the young athletes is sometimes you have to wait your turn in terms of gaining respect and not wanting everything right now and not expecting everything right now as far as ice time, as far as your contract, whatever it may be. Sometimes it's good to just wait your turn and earn it. I think that's where the athletes have changed. They have entourages around them that I think direct them the wrong way. The hierarchy of a room, the hierarchy of what it is to be a pro and the process you have to go through as a pro I think is lost a little bit with the athlete now. It's something I miss terribly in being in the league for so long, seeing where it's gone to now. Great athletes, great skill, great speed, but the mental and understanding what it is to be a pro and respecting the National Hockey League, that's where I have some struggles."

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Flyers centre Morgan Frost was all smiles after coming off the ice on Thursday morning. 

"Always special to come back," the 24-year-old from forward Aurora, Ont. said. "I wouldn't have always gone on for the morning skate, but I think just to go out there and get on that ice again, it's always a special feeling for me."

Frost will have around 20 family and friends in the building tonight, including his dad. Andy Frost enjoyed a 17-year run as the Leafs public address announcer, which ended in 2016. 

"The first thing I do is look up to where the Foster Hewitt [Gondola] sign is," Morgan said of the press box. "That's where my dad's booth was, and when I'd come to the games I'd sit in the press row there, so always remember that area. And then just looking around, so many memories growing up ... He doesn't get to watch me play too often, so when I get to come here I want to play well for him, and it brings back a lot of memories for him also. Kind of weird that I would be coming to work with him growing up and now he's coming to watch me work, so it's pretty cool."

The Frost family enjoyed a special moment earlier this season during the team's fathers' trip. Andy was asked to read out the starting lineup in the dressing room before a game in Nashville. 

"It was pretty electric," Morgan said. "I think the boys liked it. Some of the guys who grew up in Toronto like Scottie [Laughton] and other guys, they grew up listening to my dad, so they were pushing for him to do it. I was pretty surprised he was full go on doing it. That was a cool moment, something '’ll always remember ... I feel like he kind of put the mic down, but he said it was the last time he'll do it. He came out of retirement."

ContentId(1.2076836): Flyers' Frost looks to put on a show for dad in Toronto homecoming


It's also a homecoming game for Flyers defenceman Sean Walker, who is from Keswick, Ont. 

"Always exciting," said the 29-year-old, who admired Mats Sundin growing up. "It will be good to get out there and get the first shift out of the away."

Like Frost, Walker expects to have around 20 family and friends in the building. The game isn't the only talking point for them. Walker owns a prominent place on TSN's trade bait list and is expected to be moved before the March 8 deadline. 

"Some of the rumours, some of the places that they were talking about, some people get excited about, but I try not to think about it," said Walker. 

Are his friends particularly excited about the potential of a deal with the Leafs, who are looking to bolster their blueline? 

"Maybe," Walker said with a smile.

How is he dealing with the speculation?

"You put it at the back of your mind," he said. "It's a good problem to have for me personally."


"I'm going to be a UFA [unrestricted free agent] so, personally, it's a good problem to have, that teams want you and you're being talked about," Walker said. "But it's something you put in the back of your mind."

ContentId(1.2076800): Flyers' Walker calls trade talk 'good problem'; pals excited about Leafs rumours


Sean Couturier was named the 20th captain in Flyers history on Wednesday night. 

"We felt it was time," general manager Daniel Brière told TSN Hockey Insider Pierre LeBrun. "The team has taken a big step forward this season in maturity. And a big reason why is Sean Couturier being back in the lineup after missing almost close to two seasons.

“You know, I think it makes sense. Earlier this season, not naming a captain, part of the reason was Torts hadn’t got a chance to know Sean really well, but everybody around the team was telling him that he was captain material. But Torts wanted, I assume, to get to know him better. And at this time, the way we’ve been playing and evolving this year, and the way Sean has been carrying himself throughout the season, after coming back from a long hiatus, it was time. I’ve seen him grow from being drafted when he was 18 years old to today. Just maturity from an early age. You just knew that at some point he would be captain material."

The 31-year-old centre underwent a second back surgery in October 2022. Couturier was told the timeline was three to four months and he was hoping to get back in the lineup during the season. 

"I was a little bit frustrated and miserable to be honest," Couturier said, "but looking back it might be a good decision. I've been feeling great all year. Now that it’s behind me it's done with."

"He was a pain in the ass for me last year because he wanted to play," Tortorella said. "He did nothing but complain to me about this, that, the other thing, so I wasn't sure how it was going to go ... but he's been strong. He's just been strength in there as far as settling things down at certain times, so this is a good time to give him the reins."

Couturier received a congratulatory text from predecessor Claude Giroux on Wednesday night. He learned a lot from Giroux and Hall of Fame defenceman Chris Pronger, who was his first captain in Philadelphia.   

"One of my first practices, I came down on a 2-on-1 and it was on him, and I slowed down and slowed down and passed it backdoor and he wasn't too happy," Couturier said. "He came up to me, he's like, 'You can't slow the game down like that. It's the NHL here. It's fast. In a game, this won't happen.' And he was right. Sometimes in practice you can do some things, but they don't relate to games. He was all about making sure we get good habits in practices and games. That's one thing that stuck out early on."

Couturier only played a handful of games with Pronger, but the big blueliner made a big impact. 

"Just his presence in the room. The way he would talk, whenever he would speak up, it was a big presence, that's for sure. He was all about being a good pro and being hard all the time and doing the right, little things in practices and making sure those translate into games."

ContentId(1.2076839): New Flyers captain Couturier reflects on lessons from Giroux, Pronger


Jake McCabe needed stitches after absorbing a late hit from Stars winger Mason Marchment last week. There was no call on the play although Marchment was later fined for interference.

On Tuesday, the Leafs defenceman again took a big hit, which opened up the wound. Again, no call. Your humble correspondent wondered if any frustration was creeping in. 

"You guys are trying to get me to start complaining about the officials," McCabe said with a smile. "I'm not going to do it, Mark. So, I'm just going to continue to keep putting a smile on my face and competing." 


Mark Giordano missed Saturday's game due to a lower-body injury. He was able to suit up on Tuesday, but the foot issue is so bothersome that he's been unable to hit the ice for morning skates. 

"It's not overly comfortable for him to have a skate on right now," said Keefe. "He's fine when he has it on, but the on and off and all that stuff doesn't serve him well on the same day in particular."

The 40-year-old almost always skates. It's long been a part of his game-day routine. 

"He's reluctantly stayed off," Keefe said with a smile.