Leafs’ Rielly tak­ing strong start in stride

‘You have to keep do­ing it ’: young de­fender speaks to the im­por­tance of con­sis­tency

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - SPORTS - TERRY KOSHAN

Mor­gan Rielly 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 de­fence­man, 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 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 head coach Mike Bab­cock’s phi­los­o­phy — or part of it — in­volves a what-have-you-done-lately ap­proach, some­thing with which Rielly falls in line. And play­ing with vet­eran Ron Hain­sey 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.”

SOSH­NIKOV STAY­ING

Would for­ward 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. “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 2013-15, 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 played 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 five-game seg­ment of 2017-18.

There’s a men­tal ad­van­tage Bab­cock has used 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.”

The team goal in each seg­ment is to reach six points. The Leafs have earned 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.”

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.

MICHAEL DWYER/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Go­ing into Tues­day, the Maple Leafs’ Mor­gan Rielly was tied for third among de­fence­men with 16 points, putting him on pace to fin­ish with 69 points.

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