TSN Toronto reporter Mark Masters checks in daily with news and notes on the Maple Leafs, who practised at Ford Performance Centre on Wednesday ahead of Thursday night’s home game against the Calgary Flames.
Matthew Tkachuk may be among the top agitators in the NHL, but he’s failed to make much of an impression in seven career games against the Maple Leafs, scoring just one goal and taking three minor penalties.
“He knows his stuff probably won’t work on me, because I’ve seen it first hand,” said Auston Matthews, who played two seasons with Tkachuk with the U.S. National Development Program.
Perhaps Matthews and Mitch Marner, who played one year with Tkachuk in the OHL, benefit from being friends with the Calgary Flames alternate captain?
“Maybe a little bit,” Marner said. “I mean, I got to see a lot of his tricks in London so I know a couple things he does after the whistle and stuff like that and it was great when you played with him. I mean, he drew a lot of penalties for you and a lot of power plays.”
Matthews doesn’t think Tkachuk takes it easy on his pals.
“No, I don’t,” Matthews said. “Honestly, I think he doesn’t really take that stuff into account, he goes out there and competes every night, whether it’s against guys that he knows or guys that he’s friends with or not. That’s just the way he is. I think it’s the way it really should be.”
Sheldon Keefe is warning his players not to get drawn into Tkachuk’s game on Thursday night when the Flames pay their one visit of the season to Toronto.
“It’s just being aware of the fact he’s competitive and he’s going to come hard on every puck and all those types of things, but also not to let things go off the rails and become a sideshow,” the Leafs coach advised. “He looks to kind of, you know, change the focus that you might have in a game and that’s not what we want to be about. We want to just focus on what we have to do.”
Tkachuk registered just two shots and a minus-1 rating when the Leafs visited Calgary on Dec. 12. With only one point posted against the Leafs overall, Toronto is actually the team Tkachuk has burned the least in his career. And when it comes to discipline, it was Tkachuk who earned a one-game suspension for spearing Matt Martin, then with the Leafs, back in December 2017.
“You got to be careful around him,” Marner said. “The thing for us is to make sure we stay out of all the stuff after the whistle, nothing’s going to happen, just make sure we’re playing smart.”
And while Tkachuk is taking heat for his hits on Edmonton’s Zack Kassian and how he dealt with the fallout, the Leafs aren’t expecting the 22-year-old to tone things down in the centre of the hockey universe.
“He did the same stuff that he does now in the OHL,” Marner said, “and the most annoying thing is the skill he has in him and how good he is. If you take penalties against him, he could be the one who puts it in the back of your net so that’s the thing that really annoys people.”
“It’s something he feeds off of,” Matthews said. “I saw it first hand for two years. He just likes to compete out there and play on the edge. Obviously, he’s kind of pissed a couple people off on the way doing it, but I definitely think it’s one of those (things) where it’s a guy you hate to play against, but a guy you’d love to have on your team, for sure.”
Keefe is starting to incorporate music into Leafs practices more and more.
“It’s the tempo and the energy,” he explained, “especially on days like this, you’re coming back from a game, it can be a little bit tough to put your gear back on and go out and get some work in so just raising the energy level not unlike what you would do in the gym.”
On Wednesday, video coach Jordan Bean was stationed beside a large speaker in the stands overlooking the ice awaiting signals from Keefe for when to blast the tunes.
“I’m a fan of it, it’s just relaxing,” said Marner, who at one point gestured at Bean to restart the music even without Keefe’s go-ahead. “I’m not sure what other guys think, but I had fun with it.”
Some players aren’t thrilled about the playlist, which on Wednesday featured Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” among other songs.
“He’s got Lady Gaga from 2013 going,” Matthews said with a smile. “I mean, I got nothing against her, I think she’s great, but maybe update the playlist a bit.”
Marner is looking for more of a flow.
“I like all genres so I’m good with anything,” the winger said. “It was just a lot of switching of songs in the middle of the songs, it wasn’t great by our DJ today.”
The playlist, Keefe said, is courtesy Marlies forward Rich Clune, who took responsibility for the music at practices when Keefe ran the bench for Toronto’s AHL team.
“I’d love for the players to take a little bit of ownership,” Keefe said. “They don’t take much ownership even in the locker room to put their own music on and stuff so if they want to take that over, that would be great. We have enough things to worry about.”
In past seasons, Nazem Kadri and Jake Gardiner were the resident team DJs in Toronto so there’s an opening there and Matthews seems keen on stepping up.
“I didn’t know we were going to do the music thing today,” Matthews noted, “so I’m sure old Bean Boy will get an earful from the guys here in the locker room about the playlist he had going on.”
Before practice started and the music got going, Keefe met with the team’s leadership group. The topic: defence.
“That has been the greatest challenge,” he admitted. “We’ve made a lot of strides offensively and we think that puts our team in a better spot, there’s benefits defensively just from that because of how much more we’ve had the puck and we’ve spent a lot more time in the offensive zone. That’s really helped, but as we’ve seen with some of our play recently, breaking some of the habits defensively (is tough).”
In 23 games under Mike Babcock this season, the Leafs allowed 3.43 goals per outing, which ranked 24th in the league. In 24 games under Keefe, the Leafs are allowing 3.13 goals per outing, which ranks 19th.
“It’s not just a product of how we’re playing here now,” Keefe pointed out, “we think some of these things have been an issue for quite some time with some of our players and we got to find a way to break that and that’s our biggest challenge and we actually had a meeting about that type of stuff this morning with our leadership group (about) just kind of taking that next step as a team.”
One player leading by example is Matthews. The Arizona native is known for his incredible offensive abilities, but Keefe says what has surprised him the most about the 22-year-old is how good he’s been on the defensive side of the puck.
“The biggest thing I’ve learned (about) him is he’s a very good player defensively, away from the puck,” Keefe gushed, “and when he’s engaged, the way he can track, you saw the one goal in the Winnipeg game that he got, but we’ve got dozens of clips of him doing similar things and some of the best defensive-zone coverage clips that we showed here this morning to the players, he was out there doing a job.”
When Rasmus Sandin arrived at Leafs training camp in September, a No. 38 sweater was hanging in his stall.
“They gave me it in camp. I don’t really think about it too much, but I’ve been getting a little bit of chirps so we’ll see if I can change maybe next year,” the 19-year-old said.
Sandin is the first Leaf to wear the number since Colin Greening in 2016. Per Hockey Reference, the other Leafs to wear No. 38 have been: Frazer McLaren (2013-14), Jay Rosehill (2010-12), Brad Leeb (2004), Yannick Tremblay (1997-1999), David Harlock (1996) and Chris Snell (1994).
What sort of chirps is Sandin hearing?
“Just that the number doesn’t look the best,” he said with a smile.
Sandin wore No. 8 with the Marlies and with Team Sweden at the World Juniors. It’s the same number his older brother Linus Sandin wore. But pending UFA Jake Muzzin owns that digit these days in Toronto.
“It would be tough to move Jake from there,” Sandin said of the veteran.
Sandin’s next preferred option would be 14, but thanks to Dave Keon that number is retired in Toronto.
“I’m not bothered by it too much, to be honest,” Sandin said of the situation. “We’ll see what’s open for next year.”
Muzzin skated on Wednesday for the first time since breaking his foot on Dec. 27. The hope is the defenceman will return in Toronto’s first game after the all-star break on Jan. 27 in Nashville.
“That’s what they’ve talked about for being a potential target,” Keefe revealed. “Obviously, how things go between now and then will dictate that. My understanding is he’s going to stick around and get working over the break.”
Out since Dec. 21 with a concussion, Trevor Moore was cleared for contact and practised on the fourth line on Wednesday. His status for tomorrow’s game is unclear, but Keefe said the left winger is “very close” to returning.
Lines at Wednesday’s practice:
Hyman – Matthews – Marner
Engvall – Tavares – Nylander
Johnsson – Kerfoot – Kapanen
Moore – Gauthier – Spezza
Timashov – Liljegren
Montreal Canadiens place Alex Belzile on waivers, plus other injury updates – Habs Eyes on the Prize
The Montreal Canadiens have placed forward Alex Belzile on waivers on Monday.
The forward will be assigned to the Laval Rocket should he clear waivers. The 31-year-old was pointless in 11 games this season with the Canadiens. He has four goals and seven assists in 16 AHL games this season.
The team also provided several injury updates, as the new Vice President of Communications Chantal Machabée briefed the media before head coach Dominique Ducharme answered questions.
Joel Edmundson is back from Montreal after being in Manitoba and away from the team. There is no timeline on his return, and the same goes with Carey Price.
Joel Edmundson returned to Montreal from Manitoba yesterday. No timeline for his return
— Eric Engels (@EricEngels) January 17, 2022
Jake Allen will undergo an MRI, while Paul Byron and Tyler Toffoli are nearing a return.
Chantal Machabee says Tyler Toffoli will play this week. Way ahead of schedule.
— Eric Engels (@EricEngels) January 17, 2022
Paul Byron will join the Canadiens soon.
— Eric Engels (@EricEngels) January 17, 2022
Brendan Gallagher is skating and is progressing. Could be back in 1-2 weeks.
— Eric Engels (@EricEngels) January 17, 2022
Carey Price is restarting his return to play protocol because he was on break for a long time. Had meeting with the doctor.
— Eric Engels (@EricEngels) January 17, 2022
Cayden Primeau will start against the Arizona Coyotes on Monday afternoon. Laurent Dauphin and Josh Anderson also draw back in the lineup. Michael Pezzetta will be a healthy scratch.
Updates regarding the Canadiens' roster – NHL.com
GLENDALE – The Canadiens announced the following roster moves on Monday morning.
Forwards Rafael Harvey-Pinard and Jesse Ylonen were assigned to the Laval Rocket.
Meanwhile, defenseman Gianni Fairbrother has joined the Rocket and returned to training, having completed his period of isolation required by the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol.
The Canadiens will face the Coyotes in Arizona on Monday, January 17.
Novak Djokovic could be barred from French Open if unvaccinated – CBC.ca
Novak Djokovic returned home Monday after being thwarted from defending his Australian Open title only to face a new predicament: He could be barred from the French Open this year, too, if he’s still not vaccinated against COVID-19.
A plane carrying the No. 1-ranked player touched down in his native Serbia, closing at least the first chapter in a dizzying drama that has resonance in the world of elite sports, Australia’s pandemic politics and the polarized debate over the coronavirus shots.
A handful of fans waving the Serbian flag greeted him at Belgrade’s airport. Djokovic has an almost iconic status in Serbia, and many there felt he was poorly treated by Australia.
But his troubles may not be over yet: He could be barred from the French Open this year, under a new law intended to exclude the unvaccinated from stadiums and other public places. Much could change between now and the start of the Grand Slam tournament in late May, but that raised the spectre the recent saga in Australia would be not just a blip but an ongoing challenge for the athlete, who is increasingly being held up as a hero by the anti-vaccine movement.
A member of the French Parliament, Christophe Castaner, said the new law will apply to anyone who wants to play in the French Open — a reversal of earlier plans to create a “bubble” around the tournament.
“To do your job, to come for pleasure or leisure, to practice a sport, it will be necessary to present a vaccine. This will be valid for people who live in France but also for foreigners who come to our country for vacation or for a major sports competition,” Sports Minister Roxana Maracineanu told BFM television on Monday.
But some details of the law are still being hashed out, including how it will deal with people who have recently recovered from COVID-19, as Djokovic has. The question is how recent the infection must be to qualify for an exemption to vaccination rules. France’s sports ministry said Monday once the law is in place, there will be no exceptions until further notice.
WATCH | Djokovic deported from Australia after losing final appeal:
Djokovic is also the defending champion at Wimbledon, which begins in late June. But so far, England has allowed exemptions from various coronavirus regulations for visiting athletes, if they remain at their accommodation when not competing or training. The U.S. Tennis Association, which runs the U.S. Open, has said it will follow government rules on vaccination status.
It’s also not clear when Djokovic could head back to Australia. Deportation can lead to a three-year ban on returning to the country, although that can be waived, depending on the circumstances.
For now, a warm welcome awaits Djokovic, who has overwhelming support in his native Serbia where his closest family lives. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has accused the Australian government of “harassing” the top-ranked tennis star and urged him to return home.
Denied entry to Australia
“God bless you Novak,” read one of the banners held by the fans at the airport as he was whisked through the passport control and customs and then driven by his brother Djordje to his apartment in Belgrade.
The official Tanjug news agency reported that Djokovic’s mother, Dijana, said her son will remain in Belgrade in the coming days and won’t make statements for the media.
WATCH | Djokovic says his agent made error on Australia entry form:
Djokovic’s Australian saga began when he was granted an exemption to strict vaccination rules by two medical panels and the tournament organizer in order to play in the Australian Open because he had recently recovered from COVID-19. He received a visa to enter the country through an automated process. But upon arrival, border officials said the exemption was not valid and moved to deport him.
The initial news that the star had been granted the exemption sparked anger in Australia, where strict lockdowns in cities and curbs on international travel have been employed to try to control the spread of the coronavirus since the pandemic began.
More than 95 per cent of all top 100 men and women tennis players in their tours’ respective rankings are vaccinated. At least two other men – American Tennys Sandgren and Frenchman Pierre-Hugues Herbert — skipped the Australian Open due to vaccine requirements.
In the end, Australian authorities revoked Djokovic’s visa, saying his presence could stir up anti-vaccine sentiment and kicking him out was necessary to keep Australians safe. He was deported Sunday, a day before the tournament got underway in Melbourne.
Djokovic has won nine titles there previously. He had hoped this year to secure his 21st Grand Slam singles trophy, breaking the record he shares with rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal for the most in the history of men’s tennis. Federer is not playing while recovering from injury, but Nadal is competing.
WATCH | Canadians to watch at Australian Open:
As the legal battle played out in Australia, Djokovic acknowledged he had attended an interview in Belgrade in December with journalists from L’Equipe newspaper after testing positive for the coronavirus. He later described this “an error” of judgment.
Asked if Djokovic would face any penalties for flouting his isolation while being infected when he returns to Serbia, Serbian officials said he would not because the country is not in a state of emergency.
Djokovic is a national hero in Serbia, whose president had called the court hearing in Australia “a farce with a lot of lies.”
“Novak, welcome home, you know that we all support you here,” said Snezana Jankovic, a Belgrade resident. “They can take away your visa, but they cannot take away your Serbian pride.”
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