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Jets lose ground to Maple Leafs in North Division but gap not insurmountable –



WINNIPEG – In this latest fact-finding mission, the Winnipeg Jets were able to unearth an important discovery.

Despite dropping a 2-1 shootout decision to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday night, the Jets cracked the code on one of the toughest assignments in the NHL – finally finding a way to contain the top line of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and Zach Hyman.

The checking-plus line of Andrew Copp, Adam Lowry and Mason Appleton not only held that high-octane trio off the scoresheet, but delivered the lone goal for the Jets, who once again found a way to regroup following a regulation loss with a determined effort.

A quick look at the top of the North Division standings shows the Jets now trail the Maple Leafs by four points (with Toronto holding a game in hand) and have 18 games remaining in the regular season.

The gap is not insurmountable, especially with four head-to-head meetings left in the season series.

However, by sweeping this two-game set – even with the benefit of a penalty-shot contest in the finale – the Maple Leafs withstood this latest challenge to the North Division throne.

Just how wide is that gap between the Jets and Maple Leafs?

“Not that far off,” said Copp. “I mean, a 1-1 game goes into overtime and a shootout. Last game, we weren’t our best in the first period, but outside of that, I think we really liked our game. So I don’t know.

“We take five of six there, they get four of four here. It’s going to be back and forth the entire year we feel like. We have a lot of confidence in our group so if we end up in a playoff series against them at some point we will be confident in our team and go from there.”

What is it that separates the Jets and Maple Leafs right now?

“I don’t think we know yet. I don’t think you can tell,” said Jets head coach Paul Maurice. “There’s two teams with a lot of firepower up front that are trying to play a better defensive game, maybe, than they did last year. Certainly not the goaltending, because they were really good at both ends. Made big, big saves. While there wasn’t the free-flowing offence that we’ve seen in the past between Toronto and Winnipeg, there was quality offence in kind of bursts out there where the goalies were the difference.”

The Jets will take Saturday off before hitting the ice for a quick skate on Sunday, then welcome the Ottawa Senators for a rescheduled game on Monday night.

Finding a way to recharge the batteries is paramount for a Jets team that survived a stretch of 17 games in 30 days in March, while playing in four different time zones.

Going into this first-place showdown, one of the prominent storylines surrounded how the Jets would try to find an advantage when having the last change for the first time against the Maple Leafs this season.

Well, it turns out having the choice of who to match up against the Matthews line didn’t make much difference early, but the switch to the Lowry line yielded some important results.

Since Maurice made the move late in the first period on Wednesday, the Jets didn’t allow another point to the trio.

Much has been made of the strides the Lowry line has taken when it comes to adding an offensive element to the equation this season.

Copp (12) and Appleton (nine) have already established career highs for goals, while Lowry (seven goals) has bounced back impressively after an injury-plagued campaign.

“They’re great. (Lowry) and (Copp) have been tremendous in their time together over the last number of years. They allow us to run our bench a certain way,” said Jets captain Blake Wheeler. ”They bring a heaviness to our lineup for sure and Mason Appleton has been one of my brightest, biggest surprises of the year. He just works hard every single game. He’s fit in incredibly well on that line. He’s a little bit like Brandon Tanev in a way just with the energy and speed he brings. So a great line. A huge weapon for our team.”

Holding the Maple Leafs to just four goals in the two games (not including the shootout marker) and not allowing a power-play marker is something the Jets are encouraged by – even if it only led to a single point in the standings.

“We were focused on the other end of the ice. We did a good job in our defensive zone,” said Wheeler, quick to focus on the positives when asked about the limited offensive production. “We checked them extremely well. If their goal is going to be a knuckler from the point that just finds its way, so be it. Our goaltender was outstanding. Some of those saves in overtime were just incredible.”

As important as the Lowry line has been to a Jets team that already has six double-digit goal scorers in the lineup, this two-game stint reinforced the importance of getting some additional offensive output from its top guns in these marquee matchups.

The Jets were limited to just one other goal in the series, a power-play marker from defenceman Josh Morrissey on Wednesday night and that one came after surrendering a shorthanded marker.

As the Jets continue to search for chemistry among the top-two lines, that process remains very much a work in progress.

While there have been flashes since the latest change was made three games ago, the Maple Leafs did their part to neutralize the Jets’ top-three goal scorers, Mark Scheifele, Nikolaj Ehlers and Kyle Connor.

But it was not for a lack of quality scoring chances, as the Jets watched Jack Campbell improve to 8-0 on the season by making two more saves in the shootout than his good friend Connor Hellebuyck.

Hellebuyck was brilliant once again for the Jets, making 37 saves as he appeared in his 300th NHL game.

“We played a very good game. We shut them down,” said Hellebuyck. “If this was the playoffs, we’d still be in overtime right now waiting for a break. We played the right way and we ran into a hot goaltender. You can’t be too mad about the result because we put a good game forward.”

Hellebuyck remains the great equalizer – and could ultimately be the difference-maker should these two teams clash in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

“Par for the course. I think he’s the best in the league, and we’re lucky to have him,” said Copp. “He makes big save after big save, especially on that penalty kill in overtime. He’s just so solid back there and we have all the confidence in the world in him.

“It’s nothing we didn’t already know, but it just further shows just how elite he is.”

Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe took some time during his post-game zoom availability to offer a compliment about the Jets — and this didn’t sound like hollow praise.

“They’re a good team that makes it hard on us,” said Keefe. “We just come away from these two games with, I think, an even greater respect for their team and what they’re capable of and just how good we need to be able to be to beat them in regulation.”

While it’s true the Maple Leafs have taken four of the six meetings so far, two of them required extra time (so the Jets are 2-2-2 in the season series).

There are still plenty of things for the two teams to learn about one another before the end of the regular season.

It won’t take long for the Jets to get another crack at the Maple Leafs as they’ll meet on April 15 at the end of a five-game road trip.

But before the Jets get that chance, they must prepare to face a hardworking Ottawa Senators team in three of the next five games and also see how things shape up against a Montreal Canadiens team that is rolling after dealing with a Covid scare.

Things suddenly look a lot more congested in the North, with the Jets and Edmonton Oilers tied for second place with 47 points, but the Canadiens actually slipping ahead of both teams in winning percentage (.621 to .618) while needing to make up five games in hand.

After missing the final two periods of Wednesday’s game with an undisclosed injury, Jets captain Blake Wheeler kept his iron man streak alive, appearing in his 193rd consecutive game.

When asked to elaborate about what knocked him out of the game and left his availability as a game-time decision, Wheeler chose instead to keep the intrigue alive.

“I’d prefer not to,” said Wheeler, who has missed only six games in 10 seasons with the Jets. “But I appreciate the concern.”

Wheeler’s durability throughout the course of his career has been impressive.

“Yeah, he’s the heart of our team,” said Jets defenceman Neal Pionk. “And I didn’t realize it, I guess, until I got here but he’s for sure one of the tougher guys I’ve played with. I mean, to see the stuff that he’s battled through, to see the minimal games that he’s missed throughout his career and then finally getting to play with him, I see why now and how tough he is.”

The Jets revealed some injury news earlier in the day, announcing that defenceman Nathan Beaulieu had undergone successful surgery to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder.

Beaulieu was already dealing with a broken bone in his hand after blocking a shot from John Tavares in a game against the Maple Leafs on Mar. 9.

“Three broken bones last year, another one this year, the shoulder, scratching and clawing to kind of be a player for us. He’s a really important part of that room because of it,” said Maurice. “The people that invest a lot, that give a lot to their teammates…it’s so painful when they go down.

“But once we kind of knew what he was dealing with, the next question is can we make it right, can we get him back to where he’s, you hope. He had a good surgery, so that brings some positivity into it. Those things are tough rehabs and they take a long time. But we believe that when he’s done he’s going to be back, and he deserves that right. The one thing we know about (Beaulieu) is he’s not going to milk it. He’s going to be back the day he’s supposed to be back and ready to play, for sure.”

With the NHL trade deadline coming up on April 12, the Jets were already in the market to bolster the defence corps.

And with Beaulieu sidelined for the rest of the season, including the playoffs, the need to add to the blue line remains the top priority for Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff.

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For Oilers, Archibald’s selfish anti-vaccine stance is not worth the risk –



EDMONTON — One is a player who opted to honour his commitment to his new team in Edmonton. The other, just another selfish anti-vaxxer who is betting on himself, somewhat foolishly.

One is a player the general manager staked his reputation on, with much pedigree and a handful of Stanley Cup rings. A guy who came to town billed as a leader, and then backed it up when he rolled up his sleeve despite obvious misgivings about being vaccinated.

Sure, Duncan Keith should have gotten vaccinated a month sooner. But give him some credit for putting the team — society and the Oilers — ahead of himself. Even if he waited until the 11th hour to do it.

Then there is depth winger Josh Archibald, who will be replaced by Game 1 of the regular season if he doesn’t give his head a shake. He is from that young, conspiracy-oriented demographic that has been suckered in by far-right disinformation, and tweets about idiocy like “the plandemic.”

“I’m happy that he’s going to be part of our team this year, fully vaccinated,” Oilers general manager Ken Holland said of Keith, a player Holland had seriously dug in on to convince him to get vaccinated. Mike Smith took some work, too, we are told, but now both are vaccinated and ready to do what they were brought in to accomplish.

The other player is more selfish than that.

Archibald is a nice, fourth-line penalty killer in a normal season. He’ll get you 10 goals a year. But for this, the third COVID-affected NHL campaign, an unvaccinated Archibald just isn’t worth it.

Holland and head coach Dave Tippett sat down with Archibald on Tuesday and spelled out how many games he would miss and what it would mean to be Canada’s only unvaccinated NHL player. It would cost him up to 40 per cent of his $1.5 million salary. Maybe more.

Now Holland sits, and hopes that Archibald changes his mind before the GM has to send him to AHL Bakersfield. He is virtually untradeable, as Archibald could not play games in Canada for a U.S.-based team, and poses a risk that no fourth-liner can justify.

“There are a team or two out there that have made the decision that unvaccinated players are not welcome at training camp. I have not made that decision as of this time,” Holland said on Wednesday. “I think the player is going through the process to decide. It’s a difficult decision. I’ll give [Archibald] the appropriate time, and I’ll see where I’m at in a week, 10 days from now. We’ll see.”

Editor’s note: With overwhelming consistency, research has shown vaccinations against COVID-19 are safe and effective. Residents of Alberta who are looking to learn more about vaccines can find up-to-date information here. Further details on COVID-19 and the country’s pandemic response are available on Canada’s public health website.

In a strange twist of fate, Keith — who received his vaccination in the United States only this week — is in quarantine until next Friday, while the unvaccinated Archibald is undergoing daily testing while attending Edmonton Oilers training camp.

But here’s the reality of all this: A Canadian team simply can not have an unvaccinated player on its roster.

By Holland’s math, an unvaccinated player who must serve a 14-day quarantine every time he comes over the U.S. border and into Canada, would miss “30-plus games” this season. He’d also miss a ton of practice time, and would lose one-200th of his pay for every day missed due to the federally mandated quarantine.

It would be impossible to hold his place on an NHL roster.

“After you quarantine for 14 days, if we’re playing well you’re not just taking someone out to put that person in,” Holland said. “The number of times we cross the border, it’s going to be very difficult.”

Had Keith and Smith not relented, the Oilers’ season would have been derailed.

Related reading: Edmonton Oilers goaltender Alex Stalock contracted COVID-19 before the shortened 56-game season. Now, the 34-year-old is likely going to miss the 2021-22 season due to a heart condition.

Now that Holland has his starting goalie and No. 3 defenceman in the fold, why on earth would you want an unvaccinated, 13:33-minutes per game player flying on the same charter and inhabiting the same dressing rooms as Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl?

Between the peer pressure, the risk of lost salary, and the ridiculous nature of his stance, I expect Archibald to relent and get the jab. Let’s face it: It’s a business, and there is no moral high ground in sport.

“In July I heard talk that there were 80, 90 unvaccinated players,” Holland recounted. “We had a Board of Governors meeting (Tuesday), and Bill Daly said we’ll be in single digits of players unvaccinated going into the season. So, basically, 70, 80, 90 players eventually made the decision to get vaccinated.”

Some because they didn’t want to lose the salary, and some because they put their team and others before themselves.

There is one player left on a Canadian team who puts himself before everything else, and his name is Josh Archibald.

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Kiermaier on getting hit by pitch by Blue Jays' Borucki: 'Oh yeah, it was intentional' – Yahoo Canada Sports



The Tampa Bay Rays clinched a spot in the postseason on Wednesday, but that was the secondary story against the Toronto Blue Jays.

During the game prior, Rays centrefielder Kevin Kiermaier was the centre of attention as he snatched a dropped data card from Toronto catcher Alejandro Kirk, which the Rays refused to hand back to the visiting club. Less than 24 hours later during the series finale between the two AL East teams, Kiermaier re-entered the spotlight as he was struck by a pitch thrown by Blue Jays reliever Ryan Borucki in the eighth inning.

Borucki was ejected after the umpires met to review the struck batter, which then caused Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo and a very red-faced pitching coach Pete Walker to storm onto the field.

Walker was also tossed from the game for his outburst.

Kiermaier didn’t let up after the 7-1 victory, focusing on the late-game dramatics.

“Oh yeah, it was intentional,” Kiermaier said of the incident. “Pretty much almost went behind me. I thought it was a weak move, to be quite honest. It’s over. It didn’t hurt by any means, so I don’t care. Whatever. We move on. We got a series win, and I hope we play those guys, I really do.”

When Kiermaier was asked why he wants to face the Blue Jays again, it was mysterious to say the least. “The motivation is there,” he said. “That’s all that needs to be said.”

Despite Kiermaier being so sure it was intentional, Montoyo had a different idea of what happened, but was certainly sympathetic to the Rays’ reaction.

“Pete’s reaction told me everything about it,” the Blue Jays manager said. “He missed. He hit him, but I understand what it looks like. I understood how the Rays got upset about it. That thing was on for two days.”

With just 10 games remaining in the regular season, Toronto is on a hot Wild Card race with fellow divisional rivals Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees. The two clubs involved in the ruckus will not face each other again unless the Blue Jays earn a spot in the postseason and are able to beat their opposition in that single-game playoff matchup.

As if the MLB postseason wasn’t dramatic enough, now there’s an underlying narrative ready to boil over at any moment if the two face each other in a series.

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Eichel stripped of Sabres captaincy, placed on LTIR – TSN



Jack Eichel is no longer captain of the Buffalo Sabres.

Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams said Thursday morning Eichel has been stripped of the ‘C’ after three seasons in the role.

“I spoke to Jack two days ago, I spoke to the team yesterday and addressed this, Jack Eichel is no longer the captain of the Buffalo Sabres,” Adams said. “From our perspective, the captain is your heartbeat of your team, and we are in a situation where we felt we needed to make that decision.”

Adams added the Sabres will not have a captain this season.

Adams also confirmed that Eichel will start the season on long-term injured reserve as he remains in a holding pattern with the team on how to best treat his neck injury.

“I think we would all agree that we were hoping to avoid surgery…unfortunately, yesterday Jack did not pass his physical. At this point, Jack is not willing to move forward with what our doctors are suggesting…we will continue to work toward a solution,” Adams said.

TSN Hockey Insider Darren Dreger reported Wednesday that there is nothing close on the trade front for Eichel, who has been looking for a trade throughout the off-season.

“Well, it’s tough to pinpoint a timeline but we do know there is ongoing discussions with Jack Eichel’s agent Pat Brisson and Kevyn Adams, the general manager of the Buffalo Sabres. They’re on good terms, they have an excellent relationship,” Dreger said on Insider Trading. “We also know that Jack Eichel will start the regular season on LTIR. Now, he saw a team of specialists over the course of the off-season. Some encouraged the artificial disc replacement surgery; however, the Buffalo Sabres remain adamant that the fusion surgery is the best option.

“It’s possible that Eichel gets traded and has the disc replacement surgery under the blessing of a new club, but there’s no guarantee and it doesn’t seem like anything is real close on that front.”

Eichel was limited to 21 games last season due to the neck injury and there has been a long-standing dispute with the team this summer over how to treat the injury.  

The 24-year-old centre has been the subject of trade talk since the end of last season and his former agents released a statement in July trying to spur a trade. He switched agents to Pat Brisson in August.

“What’s critically important to make sure is clear is that we’re in control of this process,” Adams said in July, prior to the statement from Eichel’s then-agents. “We have a player under contract. We don’t feel any pressure.

“If there’s a deal out there that we feel is the right thing for the Buffalo Sabres, that’s going to help us improve – whether that’s improve right away or improve down the road, those are all the things weigh – we’d be open to it. But we’re not in a position where we feel we’re just going to do something to do it. That doesn’t make any sense.”

Eichel had two goals and 18 points in 21 games last season and has five years remaining in the eight-year, $80 million contract he signed with the Sabres in 2017.

He had served as captain of the Sabres since 2018.

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