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Canadiens’ COVID-19 issues a concern across North Division –



Getting nearly a week off in Montreal is something millionaire hockey players would normally jump at.

Not so in 2021.

The Edmonton Oilers were forced to spend plenty of time at the team’s hotel and on the practice ice this week when their three-game series against the Canadiens was postponed after two Montreal players were added to the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol list.

“A lot of sitting around,” Oilers centre Leon Draisaitl said. “A lot of time with the guys.”

Edmonton arrived in Montreal on Sunday for games scheduled for Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Those plans changed drastically when Canadiens forwards Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Joel Armia were placed into protocol Monday, nixing the series opener and signalling the Canadian-based North Division’s first postponement of the truncated season.

The teams’ next two games — as well as the Canadiens’ matchup with the Ottawa Senators scheduled for Sunday — were also subsequently scrapped and will be made up at a later date.

NHL players and team staff are restricted to airports, hotels and arenas when on the road this season, while life at home is basically a mirror image as the league continues to try and keep the coronavirus at bay.

“We’re lucky we had these practice days,” said Edmonton defenceman Adam Larsson, whose team arrived in Toronto on Thursday ahead of a two-game set with the Maple Leafs. “You get out of your room a little bit. Other than that, there’s not a whole lot.

“A little bit of Ping-Pong, a lot of TV shows.”

Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin told reporters Thursday one of the two players in question has a confirmed case of a COVID-19 variant. The decision to postpone was made by medical officials from the league, the NHL Players’ Association and the Canadiens.

While outbreaks and positive tests south of the border have impacted a number of NHL teams and forced schedule rejigging, the North had been relatively unscathed through the first two months of the season before the current situation in Montreal.

And it served as another warning to Canada’s other six clubs how insidious and serious — even with all the precautions — the virus remains with the variant threat and the country’s glacial vaccine rollout.

“It’s a huge reminder,” Leafs winger Zach Hyman said. “Especially with things in the U.S. opening up more and players over there getting the vaccine, we’re in a different boat in Canada. We have to be extra careful.

“Even here, things are starting to open up, the weather’s getting nicer so I’m sure there are temptations to go out. It’s even more important to stay on top of things and make sure everybody in our locker room is staying safe and wearing a mask and doing all the things we’ve been doing.”

Vancouver Canucks blue-liner Nate Schmidt said even though COVID-19 hadn’t impacted the NHL in Canada nearly as much as the U.S., a shutdown of some kind was likely inevitable.

“It’s a little bit of a ghost,” he said. “You never know when and where and how you can get it. It’s something that we’ve been very fortunate to not have to deal with a lot up here.

“A lot of teams have had to go through it. It’s no different to what we’re going through now.”

Bergevin said he expects the schedules for every Canadian team to be adjusted as a result of this week’s postponements. Montreal is currently slated to play in Ottawa on Tuesday, but the Canadiens’ practice facility will remain closed through the weekend.

“Whatever the schedule brings later on, we have to deal with that,” Edmonton head coach Dave Tippett said. “It’s unfortunate that it happened, but it wasn’t something that was unexpected.”

Winnipeg Jets forward Andrew Copp said even the most stringent precautions aren’t foolproof in the NHL’s COVID-19 era.

“The (Canadian) teams have done a pretty good job of not allowing that or doing the best that they can, obviously with a little luck,” he said. “But it was bound to happen.”

The start time for another game between the Oilers and Canadiens on Feb. 11 at the Bell Centre was pushed back an hour after Edmonton forward Jesse Puljujarvi was placed into protocol, but he was deemed eligible to resume team activities two days later.

In all, there have been 41 games postponed in the NHL, with many more rescheduled.

Toronto head coach Sheldon Keefe said the positive tests are a concern for the health of everyone involved, but also the season at large.

“Whether you’re missing players for certain games or games get postponed, and then they’re sandwiched into an already condensed and busy schedule, it becomes a competitive situation,” he said. “It creates some real challenges. We want to do everything we can to not put ourselves in that situation.”

As for actual games, the Oilers and Leafs will both be rested after Toronto played for just the third time in 11 nights Thursday ahead of Saturday and Monday tilts at Scotiabank Arena with first place in the North on the line.

The Leafs embarrassed the Oilers on home ice in a three-game sweep earlier this month, but Edmonton rebounded by going 7-2-0 over its next nine before arriving in Montreal last weekend. Toronto, meanwhile, is just 3-6-0 over that span and held a two point lead on the Oilers and Winnipeg Jets atop the division heading into Friday’s action.

“You obviously want to send a message,” said Draisaitl, whose team is 2-5-0 against the Leafs with their final regular-season matchups on deck. “We want to beat them and show them that we’re a good team, too.”

And that team, according to Larsson, has become a lot closer this season — including over the past week.

“We’ve spent a lot of time together,” he said. “You’re pretty much with the team the whole time on the road. It’s been good for us.”

The last week wasn’t a break the Oilers wanted or really needed, but one they were prepared for in the most unique of campaigns.

“If you’d gone through the year without any interruptions, you would have been grateful,” Tippett said. “But you probably would have been surprised. We’re just taking it as part of what this season is. It’s not a normal year.

“It’s just part of what we have to deal with.”

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Drouin must return to mentality that’s led to success this season –



It was something Dominique Ducharme said after his Montreal Canadiens played an abysmal game against the Ottawa Senators last week, something that only truly resonated after they lost 3-2 to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday — a game that emboldened the struggle Jonathan Drouin’s currently enduring.

“Ninety per cent of the mistakes we made were mental, and the rest of it was above our shoulders.” the coach said after the 6-3 loss to Ottawa last Saturday, somewhat channelling New York Yankees legend Yogi Berra with this bit of wit and wisdom.

It was hard not to think of those words watching Drouin play the way he did on Wednesday. For much of this season, the talented left winger has played a primary role in Montreal’s success. He’s led them with 19 assists, been tenacious on the forecheck, physically engaged all over the ice, cerebral as always in his execution and, as he’s said on several occasions, relatively unconcerned by whether or not his name has been featured on the scoresheet.

But it seemed clear, after watching Drouin dump a breakaway into Jack Campbell’s chest with one of 32 shots the Maple Leafs goaltender turned aside to set a franchise record with his 10th consecutive win, he had diverted from that. And that affected the way he played the rest of the game.

It was Drouin’s fifth in a row without a point, his 18th without a goal, and he’d have to be a robot not to be suffering the mental wear of not seeing the puck go in more than twice since the season started, the torment of seeing only three per cent of his shots hit the back of the net through 36 games after 10 per cent of them resulted in goals through the first 348 games of his career.

“It is weighing on me where, when I have a chance and miss the goal, I might be trying to score too much,” Drouin said. “It’s something I obviously think about — every player would — and I’ve just gotta put it past me and just keep shooting pucks.”

Ideally, the 26-year-old wouldn’t be thinking about any of this. These are thoughts that weigh a player down and right now the Canadiens are in tough without Brendan Gallagher for the rest of the season and Drouin needs to be light and free to help account for that loss. And in order for him to do that, he needs to focus on what he does best.

Because the reality is that even though Drouin can score more, scoring isn’t what he needs to do in order to be at his best and really help this team.

“When his feet are moving and he’s making plays, Drou’s a pass-first guy,” explained Jake Allen, who made 29 saves in Carey Price’s absence. “When his feet are moving, his head’s always in it. When his feet are moving, he’s controlling the play, controlling the puck. He’s a guy who really can control the play for a whole line. You want the puck on that guy’s stick and let the other guys do the dirty work and he’ll find them.”

But when Drouin’s feet aren’t moving, there just isn’t enough of that other stuff happening.

When Drouin’s feet weren’t moving, he lost a battle for the puck in the offensive zone and allowed the NHL’s leading goal scorer to start the rush that resulted in the winning play of Wednesday’s game.

Auston Matthews to Mitch Marner, back to Matthews, off Allen and slammed into Montreal’s net by Zach Hyman with 9:39 remaining in the third period, with Drouin watching from just inside his own blue line.

“You give a 3-on-2 to the Matthews line and it’s the kind of play they’re going to make you pay on,” said Ducharme.

Was Drouin still thinking about that shot he didn’t bury in the second period?

It’s understandable if he was, but those are the kind of thoughts he needs to shake right now.

“He wants to do well, and I’m sure it’s getting a little bit in his head,” said Ducharme. “I think the best remedy for him is to be scoring that goal or making that big play, and I think he’s going to be energized by that and less thinking, more acting.

“It is a fine line. Those kind of thoughts is not something that you want to happen. But when you receive that puck and you see the opening and stuff, (the slump) comes back to (your mind). That’s why the mental part of the game is something that’s very tricky. It’s not his will to be thinking that way. Every player who’s going through a time like that will have that thought and scoring that goal will take him to a different level. At those kind of times you need to make it even simpler and being even more inside going at the net and finding a garbage (goal) right there and you put it in and sometimes you go on a little run. It might be that kind of goal that he needs to get that monkey off his back.”

It’s the kind of goal Corey Perry scored twice to give the Canadiens a chance in this game.

But Drouin isn’t Perry, who rightly pointed out after the game he’s made a career of scoring goals that way. And even if Drouin can borrow from what Perry does next time he has a chance like the one Brett Kulak set him up with for that breakaway, there are other ways he can positively impact the game.

You can appreciate that Drouin said he’s putting pressure on himself to score more and help make up for the goals the team will be missing with Gallagher sidelined, but that might not get him to where he needs to be mentally to contribute as much as he already has this season.

What would, though, is a sharp turn towards the mentality he described just days ago. The one that’s enabled him to be a much more consistent player this season than he has in seasons past.

“When I was younger, I’d stay on one game or stay on one play for too long and wouldn’t be able to let it go for a bit or a couple of days,” Drouin said. “But I think for me now it’s can I look at myself in the mirror after a game and did I give my good effort? Was I a part of this game? Was I doing something right in a lot of areas?

“That’s what I do now. I think points are there, goals are there, assists are there, but it’s just about playing that real game and playing to help your team win.”

Drouin’s done a lot of that this season and has a chance to get right back to it when the Winnipeg Jets visit the Bell Centre Thursday.

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Scioscia to lead U.S. baseball bid for spot at Tokyo Olympics



(Reuters) – Mike Scioscia, who won World Series both as a player and manager, was named manager of the U.S. men’s national baseball team on Tuesday, as they seek a spot at the Tokyo Olympics.

After 19 seasons as manager of the Anaheim Angels, guiding them to their only World Series win in 2002, Scioscia will make his international coaching debut in June when the United States hosts the Baseball Americas Qualifier in Florida.

For the tournament the U.S. will be grouped with the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Nicaragua in Pool A while Canada, Colombia, Cuba, and Venezuela will make up Pool B.

The top two teams from each pool will advance to the Super Round, where the country with the best overall record will earn a spot in the Tokyo Olympic tournament.

Second and third-place finishers will advance to a final qualifier, joining Australia, China, Taiwan, and the Netherlands.

“Mike’s tenure with the Angels’ franchise was nothing short of spectacular, creating and celebrating a culture of success with six division titles, an American League pennant, and its first-ever World Series title,” said USA Baseball Executive Director/CEO Paul Seiler in a statement. “More impactfully, his leadership, integrity, and character are unparalleled in our game, making him the perfect fit for the USA Baseball family.”

The Olympic tournament will take place from July 28-Aug. 7 in Fukushima City and Yokohama.

Hosts Japan, Israel, South Korea, and Mexico have already secured a berth in the six-team field.


(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto. Editing by Toby Davis)

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Masters 2021: Tiger Woods says he'll miss Champions Dinner, running up DJ's bill – Golf Channel



AUGUSTA, Ga. – Dustin Johnson will host his first Champions Dinner on Tuesday night in the Augusta National clubhouse, and he’ll be joined by several past Masters champions.

One former winner who won’t be there is five-time champ Tiger Woods, who is still home in South Florida recovering from a serious car accident in February near Los Angeles. Justin Thomas, who is still working toward his invite to the prestigious dinner, said Woods texted him Friday night and was “bummed” to not be at the Masters this year.

Woods then tweeted Tuesday afternoon that he’ll miss one of his favorite nights of the year.

“I’ll miss running up @DJohnsonPGA’s bill at the Champions Dinner tonight,” Woods said. “It’s still one of my favorite nights of the year.”

Johnson responded to Woods’ tweet, saying: “Will miss having you here. This week isn’t the same without you.”

The PGA Tour announced that the club would leave a seat open for Woods at the dinner, though the tweet has since been taken down.

Johnson will serve a menu including filet mignon, sea bass and peach cobbler.

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