Positive coronavirus tests among NHL players don’t make Leafs’ Spezza less optimistic — Toronto Sun

In the bubble, Jason Spezza will trust. Read More

Positive coronavirus tests among NHL players don’t make Leafs’ Spezza less optimistic — Toronto Sun

In the bubble, Jason Spezza will trust.

That’s if the National Hockey League successfully advances to Phase 4 of its Return to Play plan in the midst of the COVID-19 global pandemic.

Spezza, the veteran Maple Leafs forward whose rosy outlook and experience carried considerable weight in the dressing room during the 2019-20 regular season, remains confident that the NHL is on the right track to resume games, even with the news late last week that 11 NHL players have tested positive for the coronavirus.

“There’s lots of people everywhere testing positive,” Spezza said on Tuesday during a Zoom call with media. “As players, we realize there is going to be some risk of a positive test.

“I put trust in the league and the PA (NHL Players’ Association) that we’re going to come up with a bubble scenario that will keep everybody safe. The biggest challenge would be getting to that point, because we’re not in a bubble scenario right now.”

The NHL announced five days ago that the 11 positive tests had resulted from the 200-plus NHL players who had been tested since June 8, when team facilities were permitted to open for voluntary training. Postmedia’s Steve Simmons reported that one of those players who had a positive test result was Leafs centre Auston Matthews, who has remained at his off-season home in Arizona to train.

“It probably becomes a bit of a reality check for making sure that everybody is doing everything possible hygiene-wise to make sure we are not spreading it,” Spezza said, speaking of the positive tests in general.

“We knew there was going to be positive tests. It’s probably good there has some positive tests because it gives us some practice on how to deal with it.”

Spezza has been enjoying the workouts at the Ford Performance Centre, skating in a group that includes forwards Kyle Clifford and Kasperi Kapanen, defenceman Calle Rosen and goaltender Eamon McAdam, a former Leafs farmhand who played for Adirondack of the ECHL last season.

As much as Spezza is glad to be back on the ice with an eye toward starting Phase 3 and training camp on July 10, the 37-year-old has taken full advantage of the NHL pause to spend as much time as possible with his wife Jennifer and their four daughters at their Toronto home. To that end, the family has been preparing for the idea that Spezza potentially will be away for at least several weeks, living in the Phase 4 bubble in one of the NHL’s two hub cities once the post-season starts.

“We have had family conversations about it and it’s not going to be easy, especially after having three months of probably the best family quality time I’ve ever had with my kids and wife,” Spezza said. “It’s going to be a big adjustment and there will be some tears involved.

“They understand that Daddy has a dream of trying to win a Stanley Cup and there are not too many more years left. It’s a big family sacrifice and they are on board with it.”

Spezza has been sticking close to home during the pandemic, noting that the Leafs have been helpful in ensuring players and their families have the resources to be safe.

At the same time, players will have to fight the temptation to get some normalcy back in their lives, especially with the NHL determined to hold the playoffs and eventually award the Stanley Cup.

“My bubble is pretty tight as it is and there is not a whole lot of going out and doing things,” Spezza said. “Most of my time has been spent going on walks with the kids, playing outside.

“I have avoided stores. The team did a phenomenal job in helping us with groceries and really doing everything possible to make sure we don’t have to be exposed if we absolutely don’t have to be.

“One of the biggest challenges for players is that as everything around us starts opening up, we almost have to tighten up because we’re going back to play and that is going to be an adjustment for us.

“We have to probably be a little more careful as we get close to training camp.”

tkoshan@postmedia.com

KOSHAN: Passion, optimism drive Leafs’ Spezza during pause brought on by COVID-19 — Toronto Sun

A memory of Jason Spezza stands out — one of many, we can assure you — from his formative days in the Ontario Hockey League. Read More

KOSHAN: Passion, optimism drive Leafs’ Spezza during pause brought on by COVID-19 — Toronto Sun

A memory of Jason Spezza stands out — one of many, we can assure you — from his formative days in the Ontario Hockey League.

We once tracked down Spezza, who would have been 16, in the Mississauga IceDogs’ workout room after practice, riding a stationary bike when the majority of his teammates had left the rink for the day.

That kind of desire never waned in the 20 years since, and it’s part of what’s keeping Spezza encouraged for the return of his beloved sport as the global COVID-19 pandemic continues.

“I’m not sure when it’s going to be, but I’m optimistic that we’re going to get a chance to finish the season,” the Maple Leafs forward said during a conference call with media on Tuesday. “I’m an eternal optimist, so I’m hoping there is going to be a chance to play.”

Yes, Spezza would like to play with the Leafs beyond the National Hockey League’s 2019-20 season, but knows there is no guarantee considering he will be heading for unrestricted free agency.

“It’s not the focus right now by any means, but definitely I feel like I have game left and there is nowhere else I would rather be than to play another year here in Toronto,” Spezza said. “I feel like we are building things with this club and I want to be a part of it.”

Spezza, who will be 37 in June, found a niche under coach Sheldon Keefe long before the NHL paused on March 12. Scratched 10 times with Mike Babcock in charge — including the unnecessary move on the part of Babcock to put Spezza in the press box for the season opener — Spezza was scratched twice in 47 games on Keefe’s watch following the firing of Babcock in November. Spezza became a resourceful bottom-six forward, working his way on to the power play every so often and becoming a veteran that others in the room sought out for advice.

“I just tried to have the mentality that I was going to stay in the fight,” Spezza said. “I didn’t give myself much of an option. I didn’t want to feel sorry for myself.”

From a team standpoint, there were inconsistencies, but the Leafs under Keefe had improved and were sitting in third place in the Atlantic Division with a playoff spot in hand when play halted.

“You don’t want to cruise through the regular season because you need that experience to get you into the playoffs, and we certainly didn’t cruise,” Spezza said. “I think it’s to the benefit of our group. We have a much more mature locker room than we did at the start of the season. There was a lot more ownership. Our young stars are able to have conversations with each other, with other guys on the team that maybe they weren’t comfortable with having early on in the season.

“Now, to have a chance to have a break and look back on things, it will only help us pinpoint what we can do differently and move forward.”

With four young daughters, Spezza and his wife Jennifer have been busy during self-isolation, concentrating on home-schooling during the morning before giving way to family activities later in the day. A lifelong fan of Michael Jordan — Spezza said there are “hundreds” of photos from his youth of him in a Chicago Bulls Jordan jersey, bought during a family trip to Florida — Spezza has been enthralled with The Last Dance, the documentary focusing on the 1997-98 Bulls.

Staying fit also is part of the daily regimen. When hockey resumes, and if it includes Spezza on the ice for the Leafs, you can bet the passion will be a driving force.

“My love for the game has probably allowed me to play as long as I have,” Spezza said. “Hockey is not work to me. As you go through different phases of your career, there are different challenges.

“I love the day-to-day grind and I love the coming to the rink and figuring out what to do that day. The chance to win a Stanley Cup … I’m in it for as long as I can be.

“It’s something I dreamed of as a kid and I would love nothing more than to do it here in Toronto.”

SPEZZA KEEPING EYE TO THE GROUND

Considering that Jason Spezza is regarded by his National Hockey League peers as one of the most dedicated students of the game, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the Maple Leafs forward is consuming as much as he can in regard to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I have kept a pretty close tab on things,” Spezza said. “It’s the nature of how I operate. I like to have a full understanding of what’s going on and I have spent a few hours a day doing some reading and listening to what other leagues are thinking of doing.”

At best, the thinking is sports leagues will return eventually with no fans in the stands, at least to start.

“It also keeps you sharp and hungry,” Spezza said of his interest. “We all know there are bigger things at play right now and the health of everybody is first and foremost, but at some point we will get a chance to play and when we do, it will be exciting. It is important to be aware of some of the things that are being talked about.”

GOLDEN KNIGHTS 4, MAPLE LEAFS 2 POSTGAME QUOTES: “The streak doesn’t really look too pretty, but I thought we made some steps in the right direction today. I definitely think we came ready to play and obviously a great hockey game, too. Fleury played really well down there and I think it could have gone either way. I thought we definitely had something to build on.”–FREDERIK ANDERSEN.

HEAD COACH MIKE BABCOCK

On tonight’s game:
I thought we played a good first, I thought we didn’t win any faceoffs in the second and spent more time in the D-zone. We had lots of chances. I was in here the other night and Fleury was real good the other night. I thought he was real good. We had some chances, hit some posts. I think Petan — I could be wrong, I haven’t seen the replay — I thought the net was empty there and Fleury made a great save. The bottom line is we’ve got to stick with it and just keep grinding. We had a chance on the power play at the end there and we didn’t execute on that. It’s disappointing but I’m always about the process and how hard guys play. We played way harder so I thought that was good. I thought Hyman was back, I thought Mikheyev really had a good step. That was positive for us.

On what needs to be changed on the penalty kill:
We’ve got to keep it out. I didn’t think we were that bad tonight on it, to tell you the truth, but they got two on it so that’s not good enough. We’ve just got to keep working at it, we’ll spend more time at it. Maybe early in the year when we didn’t skate as much in the pregame skates, we should have spent more time doing it. We did that because we were trying to keep our guys fresher and the science part of it, but, in the end, you’ve got to execute on those things so that’s on me.

On how deflating it is to give up a goal immediately after tying the game:
It’s disappointing, obviously. We turned the puck over and they came in and shot it in. I still thought we were resilient. We talked about it before the game, we have to show good mental toughness and just keep grinding every shift, shift after shift, whether it goes good or bad. We’ve been guilty of when it goes bad, when they score, we wilt. There’s no sense doing that, just keep playing. I’ve been around a long time, you’re in lots of situations where you don’t win for a while and you end up having a real good year. Just keep grinding.

FREDERIK ANDERSEN (33 SAVES)

On the team’s play tonight:
The streak doesn’t really look too pretty, but I thought we made some steps in the right direction today. I definitely think we came ready to play and obviously a great hockey game, too. Fleury played really well down there and I think it could have gone either way. I thought we definitely had something to build on.

On how the team is processing the current stretch:
We had a good talk yesterday to try and improve and I thought we answered pretty well today. It could have gone either way, I think. I got outplayed a little bit by Fleury down there. That happens. Again, I thought we had some good things to keep going.

ZACH HYMAN (1 GOAL)

On tonight’s game:
I think there’s a lot of positives to take away from today. I think when you’re losing, it’s hard to stay the course but I think we played really well today. We had our chances when the game was on the line there. It was a tight game; we just couldn’t finish it. We need to be better on the PK, better on special teams there. It was good to get a powerplay goal. I think we took a big step today even though we lost. The next game is going to be really important for us but I think that we can build some confidence from this game moving forward.

On what the team can take away from tonight’s game:
I think we didn’t quit. I think that we stuck with it. You go down 3-1, you can kind of pack it in, but I think we were strong throughout that third period and really pushed back. Fleury made a big save on [Petan] there, [Mikheyev] hit the crossbar. These aren’t excuses, this is just reality. They won the game but I think that we had a chance to win that game, we were in the game the whole way through and we didn’t quit so I think that’s really important and something to build off of moving forward.

JASON SPEZZA (1 GOAL, 1 ASSIST)

On if the team can take some positives out of tonight’s loss:
Yeah, definitely a much better effort. It was good hockey game. We lost the special teams battle and that ends up being the game. It’s something to build off of but it’s frustrating. We need to get a win here; it doesn’t matter how it is. If it’s ugly, we’ve got to find a way to get a win.

On what the team needs to do moving forward:
Just work. We can’t take a step back. We laid an egg of a game in Pittsburgh. A better effort tonight, but when you go through these losing streaks, it always seems like it’s harder to dig yourselves out of it, just like when you’re winning it’s easy to keep winning. We can’t take a step back next game. We’ve got to watch the tape and see what we can do better and keep moving forward.

JOHN TAVARES (20:05 TOI)

On tonight’s game:
I thought we were right there. We had a great opportunity in the third and we just didn’t maximize it so we’ve just got to regroup and find a way to get it done.

On his third period hooking penalty:
Yeah, I just got caught trying to lift his stick. Obviously, I’ve just got to try to be smarter and not get my stick caught up.

On Marc-Andre Fleury’s save late in the third period:
It was obviously a great save and a great opportunity. We had some really good looks in the third and we’ve got to find a way to put those in. Give him credit, he made it tough and made some good saves.

On the team’s mindset at the moment:
We want the results. We just want different results. We want to win. It’s obviously frustrating when you’re not getting them and I think we’ve talked about resolve and resiliency and trying to stay with it. It’s all we can do is continue to move forward and find ways to get better and get the job done when we have opportunities like this.

GOLDEN KNIGHTS 4, MAPLE LEAFS 2 POSTGAME NOTES: “Jason Spezza put the Maple Leafs on the board at 7:26 of the third period and later had the primary assist on Zach Hyman’s third-period goal. Spezza has goals (2) and points (2-1-3) in two consecutive games. All three of his goals in 2019-20 have been scored on the road.”

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS (9-10-4 – 22 Points) vs.

VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS (11-9-3 – 25 Points)

TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 19, 2019

 123OTFINAL
TORONTO0022
VEGAS0134

GAME SUMMARY         |           EVENT SUMMARY        |           FACEOFF SUMMARY


ON THE SCORESHEET

  • Jason Spezza put the Maple Leafs on the board at 7:26 of the third period and later had the primary assist on Zach Hyman’s third period goal. Spezza has goals (2) and points (2-1-3) in two consecutive games. All three of his goals in 2019-20 have been scored on the road. He has three points (1-2-3) in two games against Pacific Division opponents. Tonight’s game is his second multi-point performance of the season.
  • Zach Hyman scored Toronto’s second goal of the night on the power play at 12:47 of the third period. Hyman’s goal is his first of the season in four games played. In 2018-19, Hyman established a new single-season career-high for goals scored (21).
  • Ilya Mikheyev had the lone assist on Spezza’s third period goal. Mikheyev has six points (2-4-6) in 10 road games this season. He has three points (1-2-3) in four games against Pacific Division teams.
  • Tyson Barrie collected the secondary assist on Hyman’s third period goal. Barrie’s assist is his seventh of the season and second on the power play. The assist is his first point against a Western Conference opponent this season.
  • Frederik Andersen stopped 33 shots in the loss.

SHOTS ON GOAL (5-on-5 in brackets)

 1st2nd3rdOTTOTAL
TORONTO9 (9)8 (8)16 (15)33 (32)
VEGAS10 (10)17 (14)10 (8)37 (32)
      

SHOT ATTEMPTS (5-on-5 in brackets)

 1st2nd3rdOTTOTAL
TORONTO15 (15)18 (18)33 (24)66 (57)
VEGAS18 (18)32 (27)17 (14)67 (59)

ON THE ROAD AGAIN

Record on the Road3-7-0 (10 Games)
All-Time Record vs. Vegas4-2-0-0 (6 Games)
All-Time Record vs. Vegas on the Road1-2-0-0 (3 Games)
Record vs. Western Conference4-3-0 (7 Games)
Record vs. Pacific Division3-1-0 (4 Games)

MAPLE LEAFS LEADERS

Shots6 (Hyman, Nylander)
Shot Attempts(Nylander)
Faceoff Wins13 (Tavares)
Faceoff Win Percentage100% (Petan – 1 won, 0 lost)
Hits5 (Gauthier)
Blocked Shots(Dermott)
Takeaways(Matthews)
TOI24:13 (Rielly)
Power Play TOI2:55 (Four players tied)
Shorthanded TOI1:06 (Gauthier)
Shifts28 (Muzzin)
5-on-5 Shot Attempt Percentage66.7% (Matthews – 24 for, 12 against)
  

RECORD WHEN…

Opponent scores first6-9-3
Tied after 14-2-2
Trailing after 20-6-1
Score one power play goal2-3-2
Allow multiple power play goals1-3-1
Outshot by opponent4-7-3
Tuesday2-2-1

OF NOTE…

  • The Maple Leafs went 0-for-2 on the penalty kill and went 1-for-2 on the power play tonight.
  • Pierre Engvall played in his first career NHL game.
  • Auston Matthews was 5-for-6 (83%) when taking defensive zone faceoffs.
  • Morgan Rielly was on the ice for a team-high 32 Toronto shot attempts-for at 5-on-5 tonight. He finished the game with a 5-on-5 shot attempt percentage of 57.1 percent (32 for, 24 against).
  • John Tavares won 71 percent (5 won, 2 lost) of his defensive zone draws.

UPCOMING GAMES:

  • Thursday, November 21, 9:00 p.m. at Arizona Coyotes (Sportsnet Ontario, FAN 590)
  • Saturday, November 23, 7:00 p.m. at Colorado Avalanche (Sportsnet, TSN 1050)
  • Wednesday, November 27, 7:00 p.m. at Detroit Red Wings (Sportsnet, TSN 1050)
  • Friday, November 29, 4:00 p.m. at Buffalo Sabres (TSN4, FAN 590)
  • Saturday, November 30, 7:00 p.m. vs. Buffalo Sabres (Sportsnet, TSN 1050)