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Ondrej Kase combining physical play with timely goals for the Leafs

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When the Maple Leafs signed Ondrej Kase in July, the thinking was that it might eventually become a bit of a steal if the forward could keep his health intact.

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We’re seeing that now, 16 games into the 2021-22 season.

Not only has Kase scored in three consecutive games for the second time in his National Hockey League career, the 26-year-old is providing the Leafs with a robust flavour each time he goes over the boards.

“You can see his confidence continuing to grow and he’s probably just feeling comfortable within the system, within the team,” Leafs captain John Tavares said.

“He’s starting to get a good feel for how we play. He is very crafty with the puck, has a really good shot, a good release.

“He is competing extremely hard, he is winning a lot of 50-50 pucks, he is putting pressure on the opponent and that’s creating time and space for him. He is contributing in a big way.”

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Before the Leafs played in Buffalo on Saturday night, Kase said he felt he had been better in the previous seven games with his timing and general level of comfort.
Though coach Sheldon Keefe wasn’t thrilled with the way his forwards performed against the Sabres — with an exception of the line of David Kampf between Pierre Engvall and Alex Kerfoot — Kase scored his fourth goal of the season in the second period of the Leafs’ 5-4 win. The only other time Kase scored in three games in a row in the NHL was in December 2017 when he was a member of the Anaheim Ducks.

Kase played in just three games for the Boston Bruins last season because of concussion issues and was not qualified by the club in the off-season.

The one-year, $1.25-million US contract that Kase has with the Leafs is evolving into a bargain for the team.

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At the other end of the spectrum is winger Nick Ritchie, who continues to contribute little.

Like Kase, Ritchie was not qualified by the Bruins despite scoring a career-high 15 goals for Boston in 2020-21.

When Morgan Rielly scored the winner in Buffalo, that left two Leafs who have played in all 16 games — Ritchie and defenceman TJ Brodie — without a goal.
Brodie isn’t paid to score. Ritchie, who got a two-year, $5-million contract with the Leafs, isn’t paid to fill the net every game. But a goal or three by now would have been nice, no?

Instead, Ritchie has been on the ice for just one Toronto goal at five-on-five, and hasn’t made an impact even as Keefe has given the 25-year-old opportunities with the Leafs’ top forwards and on the power play.

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Ritchie has two assists. Considering his wages, that’s not nearly good enough.

A LONGER LOOK FOR WOLL?

We’re curious to see what the Leafs do with Joseph Woll following his 23-save win in his NHL debut in Buffalo.

With Petr Mrazek continuing to nurse a groin injury and not expected back any time soon, do the Leafs stick with Woll as the backup to Jack Campbell, or summon Michael Hutchinson or Erik Kallgren from the Toronto Marlies and return Woll to the farm club?

Keefe has said all three goalies are an option for the Leafs. With another back-to-back set this coming weekend — the Leafs play host to Pittsburgh on Saturday and visit the New York Islanders on Sunday to start a four-game trip — there’s going to be another start on tap for the backup.

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Keeping Woll wouldn’t be the wrong call. In his first NHL start, there wasn’t much indication of nerves on the part of the 23-year-old, who was composed throughout the game. Though he allowed two goals in the third period, Woll remained in the proper frame of mind and saw it through for the victory.

LOOSE LEAFS

After getting Sunday off, the Leafs return to practice on Monday to start preparing for a three-game home stand, beginning with a date with the Nashville Predators on Tuesday. The Predators will arrive in Toronto on a three-game winning streak. It will be Nashville’s first game at Scotiabank Arena since Jan. 7, 2019. The Predators were the Leafs’ scheduled opponent on March 12, 2020, the day the NHL shut down because of the pandemic … Rielly’s goal in Buffalo at 19:48 of the third period was the second-latest game-winner by a Leafs defenceman in team history. Matt Hunwick holds the record, scoring at 19:52 of the third in a 3-2 win in Philadelphia on Jan. 19, 2016. The Leafs record by any position is held by forward Brian Bradley, who scored at 19:58 of the third in a 4-3 Toronto win over Detroit at Maple Leaf Gardens on Feb. 11, 1992 … Rielly, who leads Leafs defencemen in shots on goal with 35, on scoring his first goal of the season: “I feel like early on there were plenty of opportunities, couple of posts and stuff, but it’s about time. Good to get it off your mind.” … Winger Michael Bunting hopes his first goal in seven games, coming in the second period against the Sabres, kick-starts a run. “It’s more relief than anything,” Bunting said. “All it takes is one for that floodgate to open.”

tkoshan@postmedia.com

twitter.com/koshtorontosun

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