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Come for the hockey clichés, stay for the beard update

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Get caught up with the Leafs after morning skate today.

NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs at Washington Capitals Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

Today’s post-morning-skate press scrums were the first opportunity for the expanded playoff press pool to get the experience of talking to the Leafs in their own building. And some also got their first taste of Nikita Zaitsev. The Zaitsev experience is my favourite interview.

Zaitsev does not really take to rookie treatment too well. He’s not new, he’s just new to the NHL.

After talking about how he knows he will need some time to feel good after being out for a few games, he was asked his impression of the team so far.

Just like the way we play. I am proud of my team, and I think we did a really good job. That’s it.

The emotion was clear in his voice, but the “that’s it” to tell the interviewer that’s all they’re getting is classic Zaitsev.

He reminded the interviewer that he’s played in playoffs before. “Every year in the KHL.” But he also noted that the speed of the playoffs is faster, while the game is both harder and simpler.

He is comfortable enough now, that he laughed when he begged the press to let him play one NHL playoff game first before he tells them how his KHL experience measured up to it.

He will not discuss his injury, his health status, or answer any questions about recovery. He isn’t rude, but he doesn’t duck the question, he just says he won’t discuss it.

He also had a smile for the conversation about any tips he might have for the Leafs on facing players he knows well like Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Dmitry Orlov. He won’t share them with the press, however. He played on a pair with Orlov at the World Cup of Hockey, so he likely does know his game well.

His beard game, however, is really not good. He’s trying! But at least he’s on a defence corps with Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner, so he won’t feel bad about his results.

And here’s Jake now. The clichés are pretty strong in this interview, but you want to watch for his smile of happiness when he talks about how he’s less nervous now in a big game than the last time he was in the playoffs. I couldn’t help but think of Zaitsev’s huffy comment about being in the playoffs every year. Soon that will be Jake too. Every year.

Beard game: neck and neck with Zaitsev.

So about that expanded press pool. Auston Matthews doesn’t do a lot of these scrums, Lou Lamoriello specifically prevents the rookies from facing too much PR workload, but today he did the real deal in the locker room.

Matthews was asked if he’s ever played in a playoff series before. Shouldn’t the questioner know that? Matthews told him, deadpan, when that was, since the man seemed not to know. He also has all the right phrases quick to hand about playing in the playoffs.

But then, as happens with Matthews, he suddenly brightened up and went off and a more engaging story about his play in the last game.

Beard game: afraid of his face.

Connor Brown rounds out the morning with a spirited recitation of how you play in the playoffs. It’s good.

“Short memory” is an oft-heard phrase, and he would know about this for real. He played in some very forgettable games last year on the Marlies as they struggled to maintain a playoff pace. They all learned a lot from that well beyond interview clichés.

However, the conversation suddenly turned to what he eats. He answered; Brown’s a pro. I don’t know, though, what’s next, a feature on what he wears? Is that really what we’re all dying to know?

Beard game: even without the bonus points for the orange marmalade colour, he’s off the charts winning it right now. Although we haven’t seen Kadri today.