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Mark Masters

SPORTSCENTRE Reporter

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TSN Toronto Reporter Mark Masters reports on the Maple Leafs, who practised at Ford Performance Centre on Thursday ahead of Friday’s rematch against the Edmonton Oilers.
 
The Leafs did a good job limiting Connor McDavid and Hart Trophy winner Leon Draisaitl at even strength on Wednesday night​, but it wasn't enough to beat the Oilers. ​​
 
"It's tough," said defenceman Jake Muzzin. "They got good players. You got to focus in on them and take away their game but, on​ the flip side, we got to focus on us too and make plays and maybe last night we focused a little too much on defending. I don't think so. We got to continue doing what we'​re doing, but get a little harder, get more pucks to the net, bodies to the net."
 
Following the game on Wednesday, Auston Matthews suggested Toronto played it too safe. 
 
"We got to play to win, not to contain two guys," the centre said. 
 
The Leafs had the edge in shots (6-4), shot attempts (9-6)​ and goals (1-0) in the 12 minutes that Matthews and McDavid shared the ice at even strength, but ultimately fell 3-1. The Oilers benefited from a flukey bounce on their first goal before striking on the power play and adding an empty netter. ​
 
"Last night was a great example of how we were able to not get frustrated and not crack defensively," coach Sheldon Keefe said. "I thought we stayed with it throughout and that gave us a chance to win the game even though we're down 1-0 for the vast majority of the game. We stayed with it and that shows the discipline that we have that way."
 
The Leafs have made improving defensively a top priority this season with an emphasis on limiting rush chances against.
 
"We need to find the balance," said winger Zach Hyman after Thursday's practice. "Just because we're defending well doesn't mean we can't be attacking and playing well in the O-zone and taking the puck to the net ... We need to attack the net a lot more than we have been. We can do a better job of getting to the inside."
 
The Leafs have been outscored 9-7 in five-on-five play so far this season and Keefe has urged his players to push the pace on offence.  
 
"We have to really work and grind our way to getting some chances," Keefe said. "When I say grind, it is not all about chipping and chasing and all of that. It is about challenging defencemen, moving your feet, competing for space, pushing them back and creating space for your teammates. It's being connected and supporting the puck."

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Generating offence will be even harder if Matthews misses Friday's game. The 23-year-old left the ice before practice started after consulting with head athletic therapist Paul Ayotte. 
 
"No real update other than he wasn't feeling great today coming off of the game yesterday," said Keefe. "He is just going to take the rest of the day here and see how he is for tomorrow."
 
Matthews logged 24 minutes and 14 seconds of ice time against the Oilers. 

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Joe Thornton left Wednesday's game after taking a hit from Josh Archibald in the third period. 
 
"He's definitely going to miss some time," Keefe said. "It is not a day-to-day thing."

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Just before the injury occurred, Keefe replaced Thornton with Hyman on the line with Matthews and Mitch Marner. 
 
"I like Hyman playing in that spot," said Keefe. "Obviously, we used that a lot yesterday and will continue to use it at times."
 
But at Thursday's practice it was Jimmy Vesey who took top-line reps as Hyman skated with John Tavares and William Nylander
 
"With Matthews and Marner and the way they're playing, they're able to drive a line together and make it hard on the other team and it allows us to use our depth throughout the lineup," Keefe explained. "I think Hyman can bring an extra boost to JT and Will."
 
After producing at least four shots in each of the first four games, Tavares had just one against the Oilers. Nylander had two. 
 
"They're two guys I'm really familiar with and I'm excited to get at it with them," said Hyman. "I don't know how much I played with them together, but I've played with them on different lines and there's been some great chemistry with each of them so I'm excited to continue that."
 
Wayne Simmonds moved up to the third line skating alongside Ilya Mikheyev and Alex Kerfoot. 
 
"It's going to be great," said Kerfoot. "He's really good with the puck down low so I think we just got to get it deep and work them down low. He's really good around the net, really good behind the net protecting pucks. He's a big body and we can use that to get open around him and use our speed to open things up a bit."

In a lineup littered with new faces and changing combinations, Muzzin and Justin Holl have been the one constant. They played together most of last season and put forward a sturdy effort against the Oilers on Wednesday night. 
 
"He's a little more confident this year," Muzzin noted of his partner. "We're talking it out, coming up with plans against different guys on different teams."
 
Despite being 28, the late-blooming Holl only has one full NHL season under his belt. 
 
"We can be a little better with the puck," noted Muzzin. "If we're a little cleaner, a little quicker then we can defend less. It's an area we've been focused in on and trying to get better at."

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The entertainment value on Wednesday night left a lot to be desired, but Frederik Andersen didn't mind the view from Toronto's net. 
 
"I saw two teams that definitely locked it down pretty good defensively," the goalie said. "I thought both teams did a really good job of that. It's unfortunate that it didn't go our way, but just a few tough bounces."
 
Andersen is starting to get in more of a rhythm after allowing nine goals in his first two starts. He has stopped 46 of 49 shots (.939) in his last two outings. 
 
"The last couple games, I settled my game down a little bit," Andersen said. "Just focused a lot on tracking and moving efficiently. That's been good. They've been playing great in front of me as well making things simple and that's going to help us eventually down the road. I know the offence will come so that's not any concern."

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Following the loss on Wednesday night, Keefe fumed about the three penalties his team had taken. 
 
​"We had a hold, a high stick, a trip," the coach said. "These are careless penalties that the other team is not taking." 
 
The Leafs lead the league in penalties taken (24) entering Thursday's games. They have drawn 19 calls and that minus-five differential is tied for 26th in the NHL. 
 
"We had a couple of power plays. We had a chance to score on those and didn't," Keefe noted. "We took some careless ones there that stalled our game even more. A power play like that is going to break through eventually. We gave them too many opportunities."
 
The Oilers had the most potent power play in the NHL last season, but started slow this season. After going 0/10 in two losses to the Canadiens, they snapped out of the drought on Wednesday as Draisaitl​​ scored the game-winning goal on the man advantage. 
 
"We got to continue getting up-ice pressure," said Muzzin. "I thought we did a good job last night. A couple reads down low that maybe we can get better at, but other than that pretty good ... The best way to defend it is to stay out of the box."

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Lines at Leafs practice on Thursday: 
 
Forwards
Vesey - Brooks - Marner 
Nylander - Tavares - Hyman
Mikheyev - Kerfoot - Simmonds
Barabanov - Engvall - Spezza 
Anderson 
 
Defencemen
Rielly - Brodie 
Muzzin - Holl
Sandin - Bogosian
Dermott - Lehtonen
 
Goaltenders
Andersen 
Campbell
Hutchinson