WINNIPEG — Given his pain threshold, when Blake Wheeler leaves a game due to injury, eyebrows are raised and there is genuine cause for concern.
The Winnipeg Jets captain has a long track record of durability and a willingness to play through pain, so when Wheeler didn’t come out for the second period of Wednesday’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, it was such an unusual sight.
In the 10 seasons since relocation, Wheeler has missed only six games — an astonishingly low number when you consider how hard he plays.
Wheeler took a high stick from Maple Leafs forward Pierre Engvall that resulted in a minor penalty, but he came out for the power play, so the injury was not related to that play.
The exact nature of the ailment is unknown, which means there’s truly no way of knowing the significance — at least not yet.
“He’s a rock for us. He does so much,” said Jets centre Mark Scheifele. “He’s our heart and soul. So, to see him not come back is tough.”
Earlier this season, Wheeler did his best to play through an undisclosed injury and Jets head coach Paul Maurice provided a passionate defence of his play and his leadership.
Wheeler’s value stretches well beyond what ends up on the scoresheet – and he’s produced plenty of offence during his tenure.
“Obviously he’s the leader of our team, he’s the heartbeat of this team,” said Jets defenceman Josh Morrissey, who scored the lone Jets goal on the power play. “He’s been in this organization for a long time, that guy for us. Aside from his obvious talents and what he does for us on the ice, he’s the heartbeat of our team. Not having him out there is tough and it sucks. We’ve played without him before. I don’t know what’s going on with him, I haven’t heard anything.
“At the end of the day that stuff happens and you have to respond. But when you see your leader go down, your captain, the guy who embodies everything that we want to be here, it’s tough.”
Wheeler has 10 goals and 26 points in 37 games this season and recently was put on a line with Pierre-Luc Dubois and Paul Stastny as Maurice was looking to test out a new combination.
“You need to get through these games with an idea of what changes could you make to your lines when you play different teams when you get into a series and something isn’t working,” said Maurice. “That’s what the regular season is all about. Getting to figure out how you need to make adjustments with your team to deal with, as it stands today, either Toronto, Edmonton or Montreal. So that’s the learning process that we’re trying to go through right now.”
The tinkering figures to continue for the time being, depending on how long Wheeler might be sidelined.
In the short term, it likely opens the door for Jansen Harkins to jump into the lineup.
Harkins, who has been limited to 12 games this season and hasn’t played since Feb. 19, has been waiting patiently for his opportunity and now it’s a matter to find out how the pieces might best fit.
Initially, moving Andrew Copp back into the top-six probably makes the most sense since he’s already been used in that role this season.
Mathieu Perreault could also be under consideration for a bump, though he is likely to reunite with Adam Lowry and Mason Appleton, while Harkins likely slots in on the fourth line with Nate Thompson and Trevor Lewis.
No matter what deployment Maurice opts for, the Jets will be taking a do-it-by-committee approach and one of the biggest changes will come on the power play, where Wheeler plays a role as an important distributor down low and as a net-front presence.
As for this first-place showdown, the Jets came out flat and didn’t have much energy in the opening period, as the Maple Leafs built a 2-0 cushion that probably would have been wider were it not for the play of Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck.
When the Maple Leafs opened the door by taking three penalties in the second period, the Jets appeared poised to try and cut into the deficit, but instead Alex Kerfoot found himself on a breakaway and extended the lead.
For all of the discussion going into the contest about how the Jets might try and create some match-up issues with the Maple Leafs as they had last change for the first time in this season series, that aspect of the game ended up mostly being moot.
By winning the opener of this two-game series, the Maple Leafs established a bit of breathing room at the top of the North Division standings, building a three-point cushion over the Jets and four points over the Edmonton Oilers.
With five more head-to-head meetings left to go between the Jets and Maple Leafs, there’s plenty of time left to determine who might earn home-ice advantage.
“I mean you want to win, right? You want to win your division. You want to beat the best, so I don’t know if it has too much of an influence on the playoffs but it’s just something you want to do,” said Copp.
“You want to be atop your division…Last change is good but it also doesn’t dictate the game, so I don’t think there’s too much on the line in terms of having an advantage over one another.”
The biggest question coming out of Wednesday’s 3-1 loss to Toronto wasn’t how the Jets would rebound in the rematch on Friday, it centred around just how long Wheeler might be out of the lineup.
Maurice did leave open the possibility that this might be an if Wheeler actually misses time situation — and not necessarily how much.
“Just wasn’t feeling right so we wanted to be careful with it,” said Maurice. “Truly, I don’t know. He may be back on the ice full-on the next game. It’s not COVID-related. We just wanted to be real careful with him, and he may be back and never miss a shift again. So it’s wide open right now.”
The situation is fluid and very much up in the air and with the Jets not skating on Tuesday, there won’t be an update of any kind provided until Friday morning at the earliest.
Only time will tell.
The Jets desire to add a defenceman before the April 12 NHL trade deadline was nearly heightened when Derek Forbort left the game in the first period after bumping knees with Dubois after the Maple Leafs first goal.
But Forbort missed only a few shifts before coming back and finishing the game.
Boston Bruins Add Offense With Solid Taylor Hall Trade – Boston Hockey Now
The Boston Bruins clearly understood they had serious deficiencies on their NHL roster this season and credit them for going and doing something about it.
The B’s finished off their Sunday night fireworks ahead of the NHL trade deadline by sending a second round pick and Anders Bjork to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for top-6 winger Taylor Hall and bottom-6 forward Curtis Lazar. TSN’s Darren Dreger, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman and ESPN’s John Buccigross were the first to report about the completed deal between the Bruins and Buffalo Sabres in the hours following the B’s getting stomped by the Washington Capitals, 8-1, at TD Garden.
— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) April 12, 2021
The Buffalo Sabres retained half of the $8 million salary that Hall signed for prior to the start of the 2021 hockey season.
After acquiring Hall @ 50% & Lazar for Bjork, the #NHLBruins added $772K Cap Hit for remainder of year.
They have $24K of Projected Cap Space; $100K Annual Cap Hit that can be added, w/ 24 Active on Roster. Sending players to taxi would create more room.https://t.co/2o0hsHzUIy https://t.co/rXiRKKk3lt pic.twitter.com/I7ZRUSmSQp
— PuckPedia (@PuckPedia) April 12, 2021
The 29-year-old Hall is having a terrible season in Buffalo with just two goals and 19 points in 37 games along with a minus-21 rating after he chose to sign a one-year deal with the Sabres during the offseason. But he brings legitimate offensive talent as a former No. 1 overall pick and Hart Trophy winner to a Boston Bruins team that’s ranked in the bottom third of the NHL offensively all season.
The Bruins were one of the suitors for Hall prior to him choosing the Sabres months ago, and now they get him for a deep discount while keeping their own first round picks after making their deadline deals.
Holding onto their own first round pick was a priority for Boston Bruins GM Don Sweeney after spending first rounders at the deadline in two of the last three deadlines in trades for damaged goods Rick Nash and Ondrej Kase.
The 26-year-old Lazar has five goals and 11 points in 33 games as a bottom-6 forward for the Sabres this season and is signed for $800,000 for next season. It seemed clear that something was going on with the 24-year-old Anders Bjork over the last couple of weeks as he was a healthy scratch for five straight games, including Sunday night against Washington, and heads to Buffalo hoping to further develop a game built on speed and skill level that hasn’t translated into offense as of yet.
Hall should fit right into the top-6 with the Bruins as a skilled winger for playmaking center David Krejci, but it remains to be seen how he’s going to fit as another left winger on a team with Nick Ritchie and Jake DeBrusk.
Either Ritchie or DeBrusk is going to have to play the off wing with a Krejci/Hall combo, but that’s a problem that Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy will gladly figure out after being forced to piece together lineups all season due to injuries and offensive inconsistency. With the acquisition of Hall, Lazar and left-handed defenseman Mike Reilly on Sunday night, it would appear the Boston Bruins are largely done with deals ahead of Monday’s NHL trade deadline.
Interestingly enough, the Boston Bruins are set to play the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night at TD Garden.
Drouin must return to mentality that’s led to success this season – Sportsnet.ca
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.
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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