John Tavares plans to play in Wednesday’s season opener.
“The butterflies never change no matter how many times you go through it,” the centre said with a smile. “Being Toronto-Montreal, there’s nothing like it as well. It should be a blast. The start of another journey.”
“It gives the team a jolt and a boost for a sure,” said coach Sheldon Keefe. “His talent and what he brings to our team makes us that much more dynamic and harder to check and defend and all that and then he’s our captain so having that presence right from the start of the season is always good.”
Initially, Tavares was expected to miss the first few games after sustaining an oblique strain early in training camp, but following a pair of practices this week the 32-year-old is convinced he’s ready. Why?
“Just the way I felt in the contact,” Tavares said, “especially with the group here the last couple days and the intensity of that physical [play] and how I responded afterwards. It only continues to feel better and better so that’s a really good sign.”
Tavares will start in his usual spot on the second line and on the top power-play unit, but Keefe expects the Mississauga, Ont., native to be “a little behind” after only playing in one pre-season game on Sept. 24. Tavares, though, isn’t worried.
“I believe in my game and trust myself,” he said. “A lot of work [was] put in throughout the off-season and the early part of camp before the injury and then even just during the rehab time and the past week here with the amount of times I’ve been on the ice maximizing each rep and each opportunity to get myself ready. It is what it is. It’s a long season, a long grind and I’m just focused on being ready for tomorrow.”
Keefe pointed out that the Leafs have the type of team that can insulate players like Tavares, Pierre Engvall (foot injury) and Rasmus Sandin (contract stalemate) who missed part of training camp.
“We have a really deep team and a really good team,” noted Keefe. “We don’t need any one guy coming into the lineup feeling like they have to take on too much. That is the nice thing about our group: We can allow guys to come in, ease their way back in and take it from there.”
Canadiens winger Juraj Slafkovsky will make his NHL debut on Wednesday. During the NHL combine, Slafkovsky named Auston Matthews as his favourite player to watch.
“He’s just good all over the ice, even in the D-zone,” Slafkovsky said in June. “He’s good everywhere and he can score a lot of goals.”
What impression has the latest first overall pick made on Matthews?
“He looked pretty good in the [pre-season] game we played in Montreal,” said Matthews. “He’s so big and powerful out there. He’s a really solid player all around.”
Matthews set a record with a four-goal NHL debut back in 2016. He’s been a fast starter in his NHL career posting nine goals and three assists in five season-opening games.
“It’s the first game of the season so I think it’s pretty self explanatory why it means a lot and it’s exciting,” Matthews said. “It’s the start of a new journey, a new season so kind of a clean slate.”
Matthews missed the first three games last season as he continued to recover from off-season wrist surgery.
Is this the best goalie tandem Keefe has had as Leafs coach?
“We were well aware of the fact that we really needed to help both guys [Matt Murray and Ilya Samsonov] get on track, but when I look at the talent and the experience, I would definitely put it that way,” the coach said. “We have obviously had guys with ability here in the past, but I look at Murray’s time in the league, his accomplishments, the experience he has in winning the Stanley Cups and being a part of great teams. Samsonov was a high first-round pick [22nd overall in 2015] and performed as a starting goalie in the playoffs last year. We have two guys who really give us confidence there.”
Murray will get the season-opening start.
“It means a lot,” said the Thunder Bay, Ont., native, who grew up cheering on the Leafs. “There’s definitely a lot of excitement for me getting that first game and looking to get off on the right foot.”
“He has earned it,” said Keefe. “At the same time so has Samsonov, but in Murray’s case, he is the guy with more experience. I think it is just natural for me to do it that way. We just think it is important to give Murray the first game.”
Defenceman Mark Giordano, 39, will open the season as the quarterback of the second power-play unit.
“He has a lot of experience there,” Keefe explained. “We really like what he brought to that unit when he came in last season. He is a little more willing to shoot the puck from the top and does a good job there with that. When the second unit gets out there, they don’t have a lot of time. Having a little more of a shot mentality there is important.”
The Leafs will have two defencemen on the second unit at times and Sandin, 22, did take some reps on the flank during Tuesday’s practice.
“We want to use both,” Keefe said. “There is a different skill set and a different experience. Gio, being here from day one of camp, has worked with that group and all of those kinds of things. It is just a little more natural for that to just flow into the season. We will continue to work Rasmus into it.”
Lines at Tuesday’s practice:
Bunting – Matthews – Marner
Nylander – Tavares – Malgin
Engvall – Kerfoot – Jarnkrok
Aston-Reese – Kampf – Aube-Kubel
Rielly – Brodie
Muzzin – Holl
Giordano – Sandin
Power play units at Tuesday’s practice:
1st unit: Rielly, Matthews, Marner, Nylander, Tavares
2nd unit: Giordano, Jarnkrok, Malgin/Sandin, Kerfoot, Bunting
5-on-3: Matthews, Tavares, Nylander, Marner, Rielly/Bunting
Seattle Kraken to release Shane Wright for World Juniors – TSN
The Seattle Kraken have loaned forward Shane Wright to play for Team Canada at the upcoming World Junior Championship in Halifax and Moncton.
Wright, 18, is expected to report to Team Canada in Moncton on Thursday, according to TSN Hockey Insider Darren Dreger.
The 6-foot centre is fresh off scoring his first NHL goal on Tuesday night against the Montreal Canadiens in a 4-2 loss for the Kraken. He has a goal and an assist in eight NHL games this season. He had four goals in five games during a conditioning stint with the AHL’s Coachella Valley Firebirds.
Drafted fourth overall by Seattle in June, Wright is the sixth player in Canadian Hockey League history to be granted exceptional status to join the OHL a year early. He won CHL Rookie of the Year in 2020. The Burlington, Ont., product had 32 goals and 62 assists in 63 games with the Kingston Frontenacs in 2021-22.
Internationally, he captained Canada to gold at the 2021 IIHF U18s, where he was second in tournament scoring with nine goals and 14 points in five games. Wright was named to the 2022 World Juniors team but only played in two games before it was cancelled. He did not participate in the rescheduled tournament in August where Canada won gold.
The tournament is set to run from Dec. 26 to Jan. 5. Canada kicks off its tournament on Boxing Day against Czechia on TSN at 6:30 p.m. ET/3:30 p.m. PT.
Palestinian flag waved on pitch as Morocco celebrates historic World Cup win
Following a dramatic penalty shootout, Morocco became the first Arab side to make it to the World Cup quarterfinals.
This is the second time Moroccan players have raised the Palestinian flag after winning a match. Morocco’s player Jawad El Yamiq raised the Palestinian flag while celebrating his country’s 2-1 victory over Canada last week.
Moroccan football fans were also seen waving a “Free Palestine” banner during the North African country’s 2-0 victory over Belgium in Group E earlier in the tournament.
Regulations from FIFA, soccer’s global governing body, prohibit the use of banners, flags and fliers that are deemed to be political, offensive and/or discriminatory in nature.
“The promotion or announcement of political or religious messages or any other political or religious actions, inside or in the immediate vicinity of the stadium, by any means, is strictly prohibited before, during and after matches,” FIFA regulations state.
Football authorities have occasionally issued fines for displays of the Palestinian flag inside grounds.
The flag bearing move was hailed by Arabs on social media, as users from Libya, Morroco, Egypt and Saudi Arabia celebrated the Moroccan win.
Videos on social media also show Palestinians celebrating Morocco’s win in the streets of several cities in the West Bank and in Gaza.
With CBT 'not an obstacle,' Blue Jays can avoid Judge drama with Guerrero and Bichette – Sportsnet.ca
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