By Lori Bennett
After a shaky start to the season, the Toronto Maple Leafs are back to their winning ways, and this is being led by Mitch Marner. In a win on Wednesday night, Nov. 30, Marner tied a franchise record held by Darryl Sittler and Ed Olczyk when he scored an empty net goal to register a point in 18 consecutive games. With that, the win the Leafs improved to a 15-5-5 record on the season.
The Leafs appear to have righted the ship without making any major moves, at least in the short term. As the trade deadline approaches, GM Kyle Dubas will almost certainly add a major piece that is necessary to take the Leafs to the next level and save his job. A game-changing defender who is built for the playoffs should be high on his list.
The Pittsburgh Penguins lost a game-changing defender this week when Kris Letang was sidelined due to a stroke. The 35-year-old, a 962-game veteran and three time Stanley Cup champion, has battled multiple health issues throughout his career. This was not even his first stroke, with the first occurring in 2014, and he also has a concussion history and had a career-threatening neck surgery in 2017. While a giant hit to the Pens, the bigger concern is obviously for a young man with a family who is in a significant health crisis.
On Thursday, the Ottawa Senators missed the deadline to come to terms with restricted free agent Alex Formenton. In accordance with the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the Sens had until 5 p.m. EST on Thursday to sign him or Formenton would not be eligible to play for the rest of this season. The RFA scored 18 goals in 79 games for Ottawa last season, his first full year in the NHL. He rejected his qualifying offer from the Sens in the summer, and since then there has been no apparent urgency to get him under contract.
As the deadline approached, hockey insiders were reporting Ottawa had made him available by trade for a second round pick, which is what they used to draft him. It feels like there is a bigger story behind the scenes, and some have speculated that Formenton may be implicated in the Team Canada 2018 World Junior team’s sexual assault investigation. A connection has not been confirmed or denied, and likely will not be until the investigation has concluded.
The Montreal Canadiens limped into Calgary – literally – on Thursday to begin their west coast road trip and a nasty December schedule. For his first game back since the summer trade, Sean Monahan arrived in a walking boot. It wasn’t serious, Monahan was able to play, and received a warm welcome from the Calgary crowd. Mike Hoffman and Brendan Gallagher were both out due to injuries, and Rem Pitlick was recalled from Laval, but not in time for the game. This left defenseman Chris Wideman playing on the fourth line, and that looked as impressive as it sounds.
Monahan was in the starting lineup and assisted on the opening goal by Juraj Slafkovsky just 13 seconds into the game. He added an assist on a third period power play goal from Cole Caufield that turned out to be the winner in a 2-1 game.
Jake Allen was outstanding, making 45 saves in a Habs win where the Flames mostly dominated a shorthanded team.
Thursday night was Hockey Hall of Fame night in Vancouver as the team honoured former Canucks Daniel and Henrik Sedin and Roberto Luongo, all named to the Hall this year. An inspiring pre-game ceremony was followed by an uninspiring Canucks performance in a 5-1 loss to the Florida Panthers.
Earlier in the week the Canucks made the news when recently fired Assistant Coach Rachel Doerrie filed a human rights complaint claiming the Canucks organization discriminated against her based on her gender and disability. The management group in Vancouver has denied the allegations, but we have not heard the last of this one.
In Tampa Bay, Steven Stamkos is making the headlines for all the right reasons. On Thursday he assisted on a Nick Paul goal in a Lightning win over the Philadelphia Flyers. The assist was the 1000th point of Stamkos’ career, making him the first in franchise history to reach 1000 career points.
With a quarter of the season done, the Toronto Raptors have a record of 11-10 and are in seventh place in the Eastern Conference. They managed to hold on to a .500 record despite playing without Pascal Siakam for three weeks, which is a small miracle. Siakam returned to the line-up last week, and immediately made an impact in a win against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Raptors will now look to climb up in a wide open East.
Blue Jays Babble
Off-season business continued for the Toronto Blue Jays this week as they hired Don Mattingly to join manager John Schneider’s staff as bench coach.
Mattingly had a productive 14-year playing career as a first baseman with the New York Yankees. He retired in 1995 and has been involved in coaching and managing since 2004, most recently as manager of the Miami Marlins. At the end of the 2022 season, Mattingly and the Marlins mutually agreed he would not return for the 2023 season.
With Schneider due to begin his first full season as manager, Mattingly brings a wealth of experience to the bench coach role, the role Schneider himself filled for the Jays before he was named manager in the middle of last season.