TORONTO — Even without full strength in the control hand on his stick, Auston Matthews had another dominant night at the office.
But hidden beneath a sterling stat line and some well-deserved post-game praise from his teammates was the fact the Toronto Maple Leafs superstar still clearly wasn’t himself. That might sound crazy to suggest after Matthews added two goals to his league-best total, helped his team generate 73 per cent of the expected goals across nearly 17 even-strength minutes and generally starred during Tuesday’s 4-3 loss to the Winnipeg Jets.
Yet it’s true.
And it’s natural to wonder if he’ll be able to keep battling through his right wrist issue or if he’ll be forced to step back and give it more rest in the days and weeks ahead. Matthews is doing everything he can to make an impact even without his most dangerous weapon, including getting to the front of the net where he scored with a deflection and a quick redirect against Connor Hellebuyck.
“I think it just speaks to the calibre of player that he is,” said Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe, who indicated earlier this week that the organization’s most prized asset isn’t believed to be in danger of making things worse by playing through the discomfort.
Matthews is putting together a special campaign despite his injury limitations. He’s scored 20 times in 24 games — good for .83 goals per game, which would be the NHL’s best mark since Mario Lemieux had 35 goals in 43 games (.81) during the 2000-01 season.
Put another way, he’s scoring at a 68-goal pace across a normal year.
And while it’s fair to question how sustainable it might be over the long haul, it’s worth noting that his 19.4 per cent shooting percentage isn’t so far out of whack from his previous career trajectory to suggest a major regression ahead.
However, it’s hard to imagine it continuing while watching him pass up opportunities to shoot. Matthews normally disguises his release and can hit a specific area of the net with uncanny accuracy. But against the Jets, he was barely even loading it up, choosing instead to hover around the slot on the power play in search of loose change from others.
“He’s got extremely good hands in and around the net,” said Keefe. “He doesn’t typically play in those positions, so he doesn’t get as many opportunities as other people, but he’s got a lot of goals – I’ve looked at his career goals – that he scores in around the net.
“That’s what I’m talking about where it’s him just adapting his game a little bit, going to different spaces and he’s good enough abilities and sense to make good on those chances.”
You don’t score 178 times in your first 306 NHL games without being multidimensional, but, incredibly, the NHL says just 16 of those goals have come by tip and four by deflection.
So for now he’s playing a somewhat unfamiliar role.
He’s also trying to manage a wrist and hand injury with the games coming fast and furious — including another three-in-four-day stretch starting with Thursday’s returning meeting against the Jets.
The Leafs have seen Matthews sit out three games this season. They’ve all appeared to be situations where they were being proactive by building in some extra rest and recovery, one back in January against Edmonton and then two more last week against the Oilers after Matthews aggravated a nagging issue while absorbing a crash with the end boards.
With two quieter weeks ahead, he may benefit from taking a step back now to allow for more healing — although Tuesday’s loss was the third in a row for the North Division leaders. And Matthews managed to play more than 22 minutes while going 13-5 in the faceoff dot in addition to his offensive contributions.
“Once you get out there (the pain and discomfort) dwindles away,” said Matthews. “I felt fine today and my legs felt good. We did some good stuff tonight. Obviously, we’d like to get the two points, but I think it’s always a positive when you’re helping the team in different areas of the game.”
That’s been a constant for him all season. Even at less than 100 per cent he’s found another gear.
“Yeah, I mean it’s not even just the production,” said captain John Tavares. “I think his overall game is tremendous in all three zones and such a (positive) influence for us.”
They can only hope he gets back to full strength soon.
Why Aaron Rodgers got away with a fine and three Buccaneers got banned – The Globe and Mail
Aaron Rodgers flaunts the NFL/NFLPA coronavirus protocols and gets a fine that barely shows up in his paycheque.
Antonio Brown and two others do the same and get three-game suspensions.
It’s complicated, but in some ways it’s also pretty simple why the Packers quarterback was fined US$14,650, a sum negotiated between the league and the players’ union while developing the COVID-19 protocols. And why Brown, teammate Mike Edwards and former Buccaneers player John Franklin III took a much bigger hit for falsifying vaccination documents.
Rodgers was fined for not wearing a mask in some instances, at a Halloween party and during press conferences. A joint investigation by the NFL and union revealed that he was wearing a mask at other points and complied with the protocols.
Rodgers did mislead the public and the media, but he informed the club – which told the NFL – and his teammates of his status. Indeed, everyone in his ecosystem was aware he was not vaccinated, and he was testing for COVID-19 daily, and social distancing at the team facility. It was those exceptions when he did not do so that led to the fine.
The Packers were nailed for US$300,000 for their lack of oversight in the Rodgers case. Whether that indicates complicity by the organization is a matter of debate.
Tampa Bay was not fined, though it loses an important defensive back in Edwards for part of the stretch run, and doesn’t have Brown, who has missed the past five games with an ankle injury. He also sat out the Bucs’ Week 3 loss to the Los Angeles Rams after testing positive for COVID-19.
The actions of Brown, Edwards and Franklin began during the summer and, according to a person familiar with the case, “were acting like they were vaccinated when they were not.” The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the players’ specific violations have not been announced.
“The league wanted to make an example of these three,” the person said, “and wanted to suspend them six to eight games and they settled on three.”
The agreement was the players would take the three-game suspensions for repeated protocol violations, not appeal, and there would be no public statements about the fake vaccination cards.
Another person with direct knowledge of the case told The Associated Press that all three players now are vaccinated.
“These players put all of their people at risk, and themselves and family members, their teammates and team personnel,” the person said, also speaking on condition of anonymity. “They were not wearing masks when they [needed to] and were not tested every day, acting as if they were vaccinated.”
All 32 NFL teams were visited during training camp last summer and advised of the updated COVID-19 protocols. As early as July 22 the league made a presentation to the clubs to be on the lookout for fake vaccination cards, and noted to the teams the potential for that to happen based on media reports of people buying fake cards. The NFL even placed within the slide presentation the logo of the FBI, stressing that acquiring and using a fake vaccination card is a law enforcement issue that could lead to jail time.
And the players’ association made sure all of its members were aware that they actually falsified a federal document if they had a bogus vaccination document.
However, the protocols do not outline discipline for such a violation. Thus, the negotiations between the league and union that led to the three-game dockings.
There has been speculation that Brown’s history of misconduct, which includes an eight-game suspension in 2020 for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy, led to stiffer discipline. Both the league and union have insisted that is not the case.
The Brown/Edwards/Franklin case is the first disciplinary action with suspensions, and was announced through a joint statement by the NFL and NFLPA, reflecting the seriousness both take with the protocols.
Will there be more such scenarios? With about 95 per cent of NFL players vaccinated – and providing valid and verified proof – the numbers say that’s not likely. By handing down relatively major penalties for such violations, both the league and union hope a loud message has been sent.
Still, imagine if that message has not been heard or heeded, and one or more star players receive suspensions when playoff time rolls around in six weeks.
Senators’ Dorion rephrases state of franchise: Core pieces are in place – Sportsnet.ca
When the Ottawa Senators opened training camp, general manager Pierre Dorion made waves with a declarative statement that the team’s rebuild was “done.”
The Senators finished last season 9-2-1 in their final 12 games, and after four straight years as NHL basement dwellers, Ottawa’s bright young core led by Thomas Chabot, Brady Tkachuk and Tim Stützle, among others, looked ready to take a step up. Dorion felt empowered to make that declaration.
Fast-forward to the quarter-mark of the season, and it’s abundantly clear that’s not the case. The Senators are 32nd in the NHL with a 5-15-1 record, headed once again toward draft lottery sweepstakes for what could be another foundational player.
On Saturday, Dorion acknowledged that his pre-season statement needs to be rephrased.
“Sometimes the excitement of a season gets to you,” said Dorion. “What I should’ve said is pretty much all the core pieces of the rebuild are in the organization right now.
“Obviously, (I) didn’t foresee us just winning five games after 21 games, but probably how I should have phrased it, and that’s on me, no one else, is that most of the core pieces, I feel we might be one piece away, are in the organization at this point in time.”
The Senators have faced several obstacles out of the gate. In November, 10 players and associate coach Jack Capuano entered COVID-19 protocol, causing three games to be postponed.
Beyond COVID, they’ve also dealt with a plethora of injuries: Colin White (shoulder), Austin Watson (ankle), Shane Pinto (shoulder), Erik Brannstrom (hand) and Josh Brown (upper-body), to name a few.
Dorion pointed to White and Pinto, two centremen who are still out for the foreseeable future, as “monumental losses.”
“When we projected our team, you know, sometimes you can reject losing one guy for 10 games, but at the same time, when you project losing both guys for a majority of the year, we’re going to suffer,” said Dorion.
Ottawa has made minor moves in an attempt to shore up their lack of depth by trading a seventh rounder for Dylan Gambrell and picking up Adam Gaudette off waivers.
“I know at the same time you can go out and make trades where you sacrifice important pieces of your future for immediate help, but I don’t think that was part of the plan. It’s not something that, you know, we can look at doing,” said Dorion.
“I’m not going to lie to anyone here, I’ve had a few sleepless nights. I’ve not enjoyed this stretch of our team, but it’s not by lack of effort. The players are playing hard, but sometimes players don’t play up to their potential and they know that too, and the buck stops with me and I’m not afraid to say that we didn’t anticipate this. But we’re going to battle through this.”
Dorion also cleared up the situation surrounding goaltender Matt Murray, who was shockingly placed on waivers on Nov. 27.
Since joining the Senators via trade and signing a hefty four-year, $25-million deal, the two-time Stanley Cup champion has struggled. This season, he’s gone 0-5 with a 3.26 goals-against average and a .890 save percentage.
Now in Belleville with Ottawa’s AHL affiliate, Murray addressed being sent down earlier this week.
“They just called me in and said they’re going to put me on waivers with the intention to send me to Belleville,” said Murray in an interview with The Athletic’s Ian Mendes. “They said it was a management decision and that’s about all I got.”
On Saturday, Dorion detailed the steps he took to tell Murray he was being placed on waivers, including a “four-to-five minute conversation with an explanation of why” between himself, the Senators goaltender and head coach D.J. Smith.
“We said if someone picks you up, good luck. If not, you’re going to be assigned to Bellville,” said Dorion.
When Mendes asked Murray if Dorion had reached out to communicate with him since the discussion, he said: “Not Pierre, no.”
With Murray still part of the organization, Dorion says he’s still holding out hope for a resurgence.
“We still have faith in Murray. He’s just got to find his game, not be under the NHL microscope, and at some point in time, you’ll be back with Ottawa,” said Dorion.
The Senators take on the Colorado Avalanche Saturday at 7 p.m. ET on Sportsnet ONE.
Vice-skip Darren Moulding leaves Brendan Bottcher’s curling rink – Globalnews.ca
Vice-skip Darren Moulding has left the curling rink led by Brendan Bottcher.
Team Bottcher announced the lineup change on Friday night in a statement posted to Twitter.
The rink said that Moulding is taking time away from curling for personal reasons and that it would announce a new player at a later date.
Moulding disputed the statement in his own tweet saying “‘Personal Reasons’ lol? that’s a head scratcher?. Might have ask whose “personal reasons” those are.”
He added hashtags saying “Don’t believe it” and “lies” to the tweet.
Bottcher’s statement said that the new player would play with the rink for the rest of the season, including defending the Tim Hortons Brier title.
© 2021 The Canadian Press
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