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Blake Wheeler becomes franchise scoring leader, Jets beat Wild – Sportsnet.ca

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ST. PAUL, Minn. — Blake Wheeler admits that returning home to play in Minnesota still feels special after a 12-year NHL career spent playing elsewhere, including the past nine seasons for the Wild’s rival Winnipeg Jets.

With his mom and dad in attendance on Saturday afternoon, it was fitting that Wheeler became his franchise’s all-time leading scorer with another big game in Minnesota.

Wheeler had a goal and assist, Connor Hellebuyck made 31 saves for his third shutout of the season, and Winnipeg beat Minnesota 6-0. Wheeler’s 616 points surpassed the previous mark set by Ilya Kovalchuk, who played for the franchise when it was the Atlanta Thrashers.

“For a guy that works that hard every day, you deserve to have good things happen,” Jets coach Paul Maurice said. “To become the all-time leader in a big game for us, but in his home state and to have his mom and dad here, that is fantastic for him and he’s earned it.”

Patrick Laine had two goals for Winnipeg, which had lost three of their past four games. Mark Scheifele scored for the eighth time in nine games, and Nikolaj Ehlers and Logan Shaw also had goals.

Alex Stalock allowed six goals on 28 shots in goal for the Wild before being removed midway through third period. Devan Dubnyk finished with two saves for Minnesota, which has lost three of four.

The Wild were shut out for the third time this season a game after scoring a franchise record-tying eight goals in a win at Arizona on Thursday night.

“The teams that score a lot of goals one game they usually say, `Geez, I wish we would have saved some for the next game,”’ Minnesota coach Bruce Boudreau said. “But I’m more worried about defending. We gave up five and then we gave up six. You can’t win hockey games when your goals-against average is about 3.5. it’s not going to work.”

Wheeler, who’s played 10 seasons for the franchise after starting with the team in its final season in Atlanta, opened the scoring with a short-handed goal, his 10th of the season. He set the record with an assist in the third on Laine’s second goal.

“I really feel like the product of some good teams and I’ve played on some really good lines,” Wheeler said. “I play a lot of minutes, so I just feel fortunate for the opportunities I’ve had here and the guys I get to play with every night. It’s not going to be long before one of these guys on this team passes me and that will be a good moment too. But it’s a reflection of taking advantage of your opportunities and playing with a lot of really good guys.”

Winnipeg started the game with the league’s worst penalty-kill, but capitalized even when down a man. Along with the short-handed goal, the second of the season for the Jets, Winnipeg had another opportunity in the second when it had three players in alone on Stalock.

The Wild were 0 of 3 on the power-play. They’ve scored on two of their last 29 chances with the man advantage and entered the day 21st in the league on the power-play.

Scheifele’s goal was scored with six seconds left in the first to give Winnipeg a 2-0 lead.

“It’s a poor feeling going into intermission when they score late,” Stalock said. “Never could come back. They won the second period, we talked about just wanting to win the second, they won the second and obviously came out on the third and they kind of put their foot down.”

NOTES: Minnesota was without LW Jason Zucker, who had surgery on Friday to repair a broken right fibula. He’s expected to miss four-to-six weeks. … Wild C Joel Eriksson Ek is nearing a return from an upper-body injury but missed his fifth straight game. … Minnesota C Mikko Koivu missed his 10th straight game with a lower-body injury. … The Wild snapped a 12-game home point streak (9-0-3). Minnesota’s only other regulation loss at home this season was the season-opener against Pittsburgh. … LW Jansen Harkins made his NHL debut for Winnipeg after being recalled from Manitoba of the AHL. and earned an assist on Shaw’s goal. A second-round pick in 2015, he was third in the AHL with 31 points in 30 games when he was recalled on Dec. 18. … The Wild have played the fewest home games in the league this season, starting on the road for 23 of their first 36 games. They have 18 of their next 22 games at home.

UP NEXT

Oilers: Return home to host Montreal on Monday.

Wild: Host Calgary on Monday.

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Maple Leafs’ Robertson to miss about four weeks with knee injury – Sportsnet.ca

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Toronto Maple Leafs rookie forward Nick Robertson, who suffered a knee injury in his NHL regular-season debut over the weekend, will be sidelined roughly four weeks, coach Sheldon Keefe told reporters Monday.

Robertson was injured in the first period of the team’s 3-2 win over the Ottawa Senators after a hit from Drake Batherson.

The 19-year-old Robertson appeared in four of the Maple Leafs’ five playoff games against the Columbus Blue Jackets, scoring one goal. He replaced fellow rookie Alexander Barabanov on the fourth line Saturday and had one shot in 2:20 of ice time before his injury.

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Toronto Maple Leafs Make Tough Decision in Waiving Jason Spezza and Aaron Dell – The Hockey Writers

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We knew the Toronto Maple Leafs were going to have to be creative with the salary cap situation. General Manager Kyle Dubas said there would be a lot of paperwork to file out to stay compliant, but it was just a formality for the most part. But that paperwork started a dumpster fire on Sunday morning. Jason Spezza hit the waiver wire, and within minutes it got worse. Sportsnet’s Chris Johnson spoke with Spezza’s agent, Rick Curran, who said Spezza would “simply retire” if another team claimed him.

What just happened? Spezza has played well as a fourth-line centre. He won all 10 of his face-offs on Saturday night in a win over the Ottawa Senators. He recorded his 600th career assist in the opening game against the Montreal Canadiens. He even played a few shifts on the second line with John Tavares and William Nylander. These facts did not lead anyone to imagine that his hometown team would waive the 37-year-old veteran.

Jason Spezza has been waived by the Toronto Maple Leafs (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

I’m sure Dubas did not come to this decision lightly. It’s a ripple effect of Nic Robertson injuring his knee in the first period of the game on Saturday night. A move had to be made to bring up another player from the taxi squad. According to his agent, Spezza understood the risks of these roster moves when he resigned with Toronto. He was happy to continue to play a depth role and offer leadership.

Rough Ride for Spezza in Toronto

I get that this is business, but you have to feel for the guy. He came to Toronto to pursue his dream of winning a Stanley Cup. In his first game with the organization, Mike Babcock gave the veteran the healthy scratch with several family members in attendance. A move that lit up the Toronto sports commentators for weeks. Now just three games into his second season with the Maple Leafs, he is put on the waiver wire.

It seems unlikely Spezza will be claimed. However, Toronto may lose its third goalie. Aaron Dell has also been put on waivers. Toronto was carrying three goalies to offer more downtime to Frederik Andersen and Jack Campbell. Andersen didn’t dress on Saturday night.

A Move Was Coming

Before Saturday’s game, Sheldon Keefe was asked about his ability to make lineup changes. His answer left it open to this kind of move. “You get the extra goalie insurance the depth there, and of course we value,” said Keefe. “I think when you look at our situation carrying a 21 man roster, and one of those guys is a third goalie, it limits our ability to make lineup changes. But a lot can happen in a season, and things can change quickly.”

Aaron Dell Sharks
Aaron Dell, San Jose Sharks, Nov. 28, 2017 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Those changes did happen quickly. Not only in Toronto, but the Edmonton Oilers are facing challenges. Mike Smith was placed on the long-term injured reserve list. Edmonton lost back-up Anton Forsberg, who had earlier been claimed off waivers. This left Edmonton one minor injury from a disaster in the net. The Oilers have signed two goalies since, but due to quarantine restrictions, they are not available to the team until January 27. Edmonton is 19th on the waiver wire list. Not only that, the Oilers are in Toronto for a game on Wednesday and Friday. It’s hard to imagine that Dell will not be claimed.

We are just three games into the 56-game regular season. We are getting a sense of how difficult it will be for teams and players to manage the new world of quarantine restrictions. Who could’ve predicted that Robertson’s knee injury could lead to a possible retirement of Spezza and could possibly help out a North Division rival? This is the new normal.

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Saints’ Drew Brees mum on future after playoff loss to Buccaneers

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NEW ORLEANS — Nearly two hours after the New Orleans Saints’ season had ended, Drew Brees stood on the Superdome field in street clothes, throwing passes to his children while his wife, Brittany, captured images of those moments with her cellphone.

Brees routinely throws the ball around with his kids after home games, but after a 30-20 playoff loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday night, he lingered longer than usual — and there was no telling whether that familiar postgame scene would play out again.

Two days after Brees’ 42nd birthday, his 20th NFL season ended with statistically his worst playoff performance.

Brees threw three interceptions, his most in 18 post-season appearances. His 134 yards passing were a career-playoff low. And because of COVID-19 restrictions, there were fewer than 4,000 fans in the 73,000-seat Superdome to bid him farewell — if indeed it was his final game in a Saints uniform.

For now, Brees won’t say. But he’s also said nothing that would lead one to believe he’s prepared to play next season, his last under contract.

“I’ll answer this question one time and that is that I’m going to give myself an opportunity to think about the season, think about a lot of things just like I did last year and make a decision,” Brees said.

That decision for the NFL’s all-time leader in yards passing will come after a fourth straight season that saw the Saints (13-5) win 11 or more games and go to the playoffs, only to come up short of the Super Bowl.

This season, Brees missed four games with multiple broken ribs and a punctured lung, but came back in time to see New Orleans through to its fourth straight NFC South crown and a convincing playoff victory over Chicago in the wild-card round.

“I would never regret it. Never. No complaints, no regrets,” Brees said. “I’ve always tried to play this game with a great respect and a great reverence for it, and I appreciate all that this game has given to me.

“There are obviously so many incredible memories and so many incredible relationships that have come as a result of playing this game,” Brees continued. “You find out so much about yourself and you have to fight through so much when you play this game. And I’d say this season I probably had to fight through more than I’ve ever had to in any other season in my career, from injury to all the COVID stuff, to just crazy circumstances. And it was worth every moment of it. Absolutely.”

Brees said the way this season ended “won’t have anything to do” with his decision on whether to retire.

As for what will go into the decision, Brees said, “I’ll keep that to myself right now.”

Saints coach Sean Payton seemed to be taking his cue from Brees when he, too, sidestepped a question about what his decade-and-a-half relationship with Brees has meant to him.

“That’s probably for another press conference,” Payton said. “Obviously he’s been tremendous for this team, this city. I could go on and on, but let’s wait and answer that at the right time.”

Other teammates didn’t wait, though.

“He’s been everything you could imagine a leader could be,” said Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan, Brees’ teammate since 2011. “He’s the first one in, the last one out. Every stereotypical leadership core value you think of, Drew has. He exemplifies everything that he does in terms of wanting to be a better teammate.”

Veteran linebacker Demario Davis said playing with Brees has meant “everything” to him.

“When I came to New Orleans, I wanted to help Drew Brees win another Super Bowl because I feel like he deserves it for the accomplishments that he’s had,” Davis said. “I wanted him to have some more championship trophies on the mantle.

“He’s a great teammate, a great leader, a great man, a great husband and a great father,” Davis added. “He’s just an example for all us to try to emulate.”

Brees, who brought the Saints their only Super Bowl appearance and win in the 2009 season, is not only the all-time leader in yards passing with 80,358, but also completions 7,142. He began this season first in touchdowns, but is now second with 571, behind the 581 of Tampa Bay’s Tom Brady, who is moving on to his 14th conference title game at age 43.

When the game ended, Brees greeted a couple of Bucs players, including Brady, who he’s known since college, and then pointed to the stands and blew kisses as he jogged to the tunnel leading to the Saints locker room. When he first emerged from the locker room back onto the field in street clothes, he shared a long embrace with Brittany while his three sons and daughter played nearby.

“I always soak in the moment and I’m looking up at my family and blowing kisses to my wife and my daughter and fist-pumping my boys,” Brees said. “They’ve become so much a part of this as my kids have gotten older, and they are so invested in this as well. That’s what makes the moment special, to be able to share it all together.”

Source: – Sportsnet.ca

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