Rielly taking strong start in stride
Veteran Leaf defenceman takes long view
MorganRi el ly is aware that he is on track to smash his personal best of 36 points in one National Hockey League season.
The Toronto Maple Leafs defence man, however, doesn’t seek out such information.
“Just when it comes across my phone, when I’m scrolling through Twitter ( and it has been noted by someone else),” Rielly said. “Other than that, no.”
For Rielly, the points are a bonus in a Leafs season that has started with 12 victories in 19 games.
Now in his fifth year on the Leafs blue line, Rielly was tied for third among NHL defencemen before games on Tuesday with 16 points (three goals and 13 assists), putting him on pace to finish with 69 points.
Leafs coach Mike Babcock’s philosophy — or part of it — involves a what-haveyou- done- lately approach, something with which Rielly falls in line. And playing with a veteran of Ron Hainsey’s experience has been a great benefit.
“( The points are) nice, I’m not going to lie to you,” Rielly said. “But it’s so early. When you look at the best defencemen in the league, the best players, they do it consistently over the course of an 82-game season.
“It’s a good start, but it’s important that the next 20 ( games) be as good, if not better, then the next 20 after that, same thing. You have to keep doing it. It’s not a matter of just doing it for 19 games.”
Would f orward Nikita Soshnikov have explored heading back to Europe to continue his hockey career had the Leafs not recalled him from the Toronto Marlies on Tuesday?
That’s one assumption. But Soshnikov’s agent, Dan Milstein, didn’t acknowledge as much when we asked him that in an e-mail.
“Nikita wants to play in the NHL,” was Milstein’s short response.
A clause in Soshnikov’s contract would have allowed him to play in the KHL, where he spent 201315, had he not been on an NHL roster by Nov. 14. That became moot when the Leafs brought him up and sent centre Frederik Gauthier to the Marlies.
The quick 24- year- old Soshnikov doesn’t mind getting his nose dirty and has experience, playing in 67 career games with the Leafs, including 56 last season when he had five goals and four assists.
On the other hand, we’re talking about a player who has been behind Josh Leivo, Kasperi Kapanen and Gauthier on the depth chart among forwards in the organization. Whether Soshnikov plays for the Leafs won’t make or break their season.
Fully recovered from a concussion suffered on March 20 when he was hit by the Boston Bruins’ Zdeno Chara, Soshnikov was second on the Marlies with 12 points in 14 games.
If the Leafs decide to send Soshnikov back to the Marlies this season, he can ask to be loaned to the KHL. But Soshnikov needs three games in the NHL to reach 70 in his career, after which he would require waivers to be sent to the Marlies.
FIVE AND A GAME
The Leafs will complete their fourth five- game segment when they play host to the New Jersey Devils on Thursday at the Air Canada Centre and the worst they could do is end 4-1- 0, which would equal their first fivegame segment of 2017-18.
There’s a mental advantage Babcock has exploited in breaking the season into five-game parts.
“I really like it,” defenceman Connor Carrick said. “Eighty- two hockey games almost sounds ridiculous when you say it.
“I think you can use the reset, artificial or not, and it’s good to manage the games this way. It has fooled me. It’s how I look at the season. It helps keep you focused.”
The team goal in each segment is to reach six points. The Leafs have accomplished at least six points in three of the four segments.
“( The points gained every five games) are like little deposits, little investments,” Carrick said. “Maybe you have a flu bug in January, or a couple of injuries in March (and aren’t as successful).
“You bank them and forget about them and watch them grow come playoff time.”