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Bertuzzi looks to simplify things in second chance beside Matthews


The Maple Leafs held an optional skate at Wells Fargo Center on Thursday.


Tyler Bertuzzi is getting a second chance with Toronto's first line. 

Bertuzzi started the season beside Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, but didn't gain traction and was bumped down the lineup after only five games. 

"We've been talking about this for a while now, revisiting it at some point," coach Sheldon Keefe said. "I don't think Bert's game was in a good space early in the season when it didn't go well, and now it's worth giving it another go here."

When Matthew Knies left last Thursday's game in Boston for precautionary reasons, Bertuzzi moved back into that spot on the left side of the top line. Even with Knies back on Saturday, Bertuzzi remained beside Matthews in Montreal. 

"We haven't played together in a long time," Bertuzzi said. "Slowly got to build that chemistry, and learn a little bit from last game and get better."

Saturday's game didn't go well for the top line, which Keefe attributed, at least in part, to a gruelling schedule. The Leafs played four games in six nights in three different cities last week. 

"We had a hard stretch there," Bertuzzi acknowledged. "It's nice to get those days, a couple practices, a couple days off, and just recharge and get ready for this final push."

Bertuzzi, who has just one assist in the last five games, is hoping to push for more playing time beside Matthews. 

"Trying to get him the puck as much as possible and get in front of the net," Bertuzzi said of his mindset. "He creates space for himself, so let him do his thing and try and find little areas."

Bertuzzi's game seems to be a natural fit for Matthews, which is why he started in that spot after signing a one-year, $5.5-million deal with the Leafs in the summer.  

"It's just about continuing to do what he does well and not overthinking it," stressed Keefe. "That's the big part of it. The things that Bert does really well are the things that players that have success alongside Auston do, which is forecheck, make plays in tight spaces, create turnovers, be good around the net, go to the net, and create more space ... He checks a lot of those boxes, so do those things and do them well."

Matthews has not scored in 5-on-5 play over the past five games. Complicating matters for Toronto's top line is the absence of Marner, who sustained a lower-body injury in Boston last Thursday, and will sit out a second straight game in Philadelphia. 

William Nylander skated alongside Matthews and Bertuzzi in Montreal. Calle Jarnkrok will move to the right side of the top line on Thursday. 

"He's one of the hardest workers I've played with," Bertuzzi said of Jarnkrok. "He likes to get in on the forecheck and create loose pucks. We're both going to be fighting for that No. 1 forechecking spot tonight, so it should be fun."

ContentId(1.2089911): Bertuzzi must avoid overthinking second chance with Matthews


Bertuzzi dropped the gloves with Bruins defenceman Parker Wotherspoon last Thursday. 

"Things are getting chippy," he recalled. "Just something happens. I don't know what happens, but I'm usually due for one or two a year."

That was Bertuzzi's first right of the year, and he clearly got the better of Wotherspoon. 

"Sneaky lefts," said an impressed Ryan Reaves. "It catches people off guard. It doesn't matter if you're ready for it or not, if you don’t fight a lot, you're not used to fighting someone who throws lefts. It's overwhelming at first. He just overwhelms people."

Bertuzzi developed that skill in the Ontario Hockey League where he fought 15 times during the 2011-12 season. 

"I fought a lot in junior, my first two years," Bertuzzi said. "I don't know, I guess I like throwing lefty."

Bertuzzi has fought once in each of the last three seasons. 

"I met my quota for the year," he said. 


Bobby McMann signed a two-year extension with the Leafs on Wednesday. The annual-average value of the deal is $1.35 million. 

"It's pretty sweet," the winger said. "It's something you always dream about, think that would be so cool. You see other guys doing it when you're growing up. You see those multi-year deals. It's special. It's rewarding to know the hard work I put in is being recognized."

It's been a remarkable run for the undrafted 27-year-old forward. 

On Feb. 13, McMann was slated to be a scratch in a game against the St. Louis Blues, but got into the lineup after an illness to John Tavares opened a spot. He promptly scored three goals and hasn't missed a game since. 

"I'm super proud of the journey that I've been on," said McMann, who played in the ECHL as recently as the 2021-22 season. "The fact that it wasn't easy, the fact that maybe many times I was overlooked, it makes it that much more special."

"You don't get to play in the league and come in as a 27-year-old rookie without really believing in yourself, and staying with it, and working incredibly hard," said Keefe. "He's also fought through a number of injuries as well. He's had a hard time staying healthy. A lot of guys, quite frankly, with more ability than Bobby, they quit, or they give up and they don't have the same drive and same habits and same commitment to it. This is obviously a very well-deserved and hard-fought contract."

McMann made his NHL debut last season and picked up one assist in 10 games with the Leafs. The Colgate University product was hampered by an injury throughout the campaign. He was cut at training camp and cleared waivers before starting the year in the American Hockey League. 

"There's definitely times when you're playing in the East Coast and you feel like you maybe don't deserve to be there or you feel like you have more to offer, and there's times when maybe you're not getting the ice time that you want and those things are out of your control, and I learned pretty quickly that those things don't matter. It matters that you continue to work and continue to grow your game, because when you get that opportunity, if you have the skills and have that compete and have those details, that's what's going to matter, and then you can seize those opportunities."

Negotiations between the Leafs and McMann started a couple weeks ago. 

"I think it got finalized over the course of a day or two once we were throwing numbers out there," he revealed. "So, it happened quick, and it was exciting, but I'm glad it got done."

It didn't happen quick enough for his parents. 

"I don't know if they ever thought I would get to this point," McMann said with a smile. "I think they wanted me to sign it a little earlier in the negotiation, but I made them sweat it out a little bit. They were super happy with it." 

McMann could have become an unrestricted free agent this summer. 

"I know I really like it here," he said. "I really like the coaches. I really like the role that I have. I think I can carve out a nice spot on this team and try to contribute to the talent that we already have. I like where I'm at and I like the treatment here and all the things this team has to offer, so I'm super excited to stay."

McMann is currently slotting in on the third line beside David Kampf and Knies. That line was impressive on Saturday, with McMann delivering a big goal against the Canadiens. 

"He's had these big moments that, as he gets more comfortable, you'll see more of them," said Keefe. "In terms of the role he's been playing for us now, I think that's a good sign of what he is and what he will be through his career. But, as he gets comfortable, I think you'll see more of the ability to get to the net and score and do the things he showed to do very well in the American League."

McMann scored 21 goals in 30 AHL games last season. He has 10 goals in 40 games with the Leafs this season. He's fifth on the team in goals per game behind only Matthews, Nylander, Marner and Tavares. 

"I can get a lot better," McMann said. "I'm never complacent. There's a lot of work to be done still and that's a part that I love and that's gotten me to this point is loving the work and loving the grind and just putting the work in."

The work continues on Thursday in Philadelphia. McMann feels a little extra fired up for this game. 

"You just get a little more adrenaline," he said. "A little bit more excitement knowing that security is here and knowing that this is a team I want to play for."

ContentId(1.2089916): McMann's long journey makes Leafs extension even sweeter


John Tortorella will not be on Philadelphia's bench on Thursday as he serves the second game of his two-game suspension. The Flyers edged the last place San Jose Sharks 3-2 on Tuesday. 

How much of a difference does it make when the head coach isn't on the bench? 

"Probably less than you think," Keefe said. "I think a lot of the work that goes into coaching is done before the games, in-between periods, and at practice days and all those kind of things."

Associate coach Brad Shaw and assistant coach Rocky Thompson will run the bench in Tortorella's absence.  

"They've got a great coaching staff over there that's very capable," Keefe said. "Torts voluntarily stepped off the bench last year and gave lots of experience to those guys. So, didn't seem to affect them the other night and I'm sure it won't here today either."

Tortorella didn't coach from behind the bench in five of the final nine games last season. 

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The Leafs beat the Flyers 4-3 in overtime on Feb. 15 in Toronto. What does Keefe want his team to remember from that game? 

"Just how tough it is to get to their net," he said. "They're going to defend well. They're not going to beat themselves."

The Flyers rallied from 3-1 down in the third period. 

"They're a resilient group," Keefe said. "They stayed with it to the end and came back on us. They got a lot of really good elements to their game that have allowed them to have success this season and build confidence."

Philadelphia is sitting in third place in the Metropolitan Division.  

"Young players have come a long way and they believe in what they're doing," Keefe said. "So, certainly going to make you fight for everything that you're trying to accomplish." 


Projected Leafs lineup for Thursday's game: 


Bertuzzi - Matthews - Jarnkrok 

Domi - Tavares - Nylander 

Knies - Kampf - McMann 

Holmberg - Dewar - Reaves 


Brodie - McCabe 

Rielly - Lyubushkin 

Edmundson - Liljegren 


Samsonov starts