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Matthews scores three, Leafs thump Avalanche 8-3 for 15th victory in 17 games – Yahoo Canada Sports

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TORONTO — The Maple Leafs knew there were plenty of built-in excuses.

Just back from a California road trip, the jet lag had yet to lift, bodies were tired, and it had been more than a week and a half since the luxury of a day off — all with one of the NHL’s hottest teams waiting on deck.

None of it mattered.

Auston Matthews scored three times to register the fourth hat trick of his career as the scorching Leafs thumped the Colorado Avalanche 8-3 on Wednesday night.

John Tavares added a goal and two assists for Toronto (17-6-1), while William Nylander scored and set up another. Jack Campbell made 28 saves.

“Really good effort from everybody,” Matthews said. “Playing a really good team with a lot of really dangerous players, you know that they’re gonna get their push and they’re gonna get their opportunities.

“All 20 guys out there did a really good job.”

Jason Spezza, Travis Dermott and Pierre Engvall had the other goals for the Leafs, who have won five straight and are 15-2-0 over their last 17 to take over top spot in the NHL’s overall standings. Michael Bunting added three assists, while Mitch Marner and Alexander Kerfoot chipped in with two each.

“Good preparation coming in, good mindset,” Tavares said. “Good energy, especially coming off the West Coast trip.”

Nazem Kadri, with two, and Samuel Girard replied for Colorado (11-7-1). Jonas Johansson stopped 33 shots as the Avalanche lost for the second time in their last three contests after winning six in a row.

“The energy in the room was that it’d be easy to make an excuse right now,” Dermott said. “But tonight was a game that I think we could really show our character.”

Colorado star Nathan MacKinnon, who had two assists, returned after missing eight games with a lower-body injury, while Kadri suited up at Scotiabank Arena as a visitor for the second time since being traded to the Mile High City in July 2019.

The Avalanche announced shortly before the game No. 1 goalie Darcy Kuemper (upper-body injury) — named as Wednesday’s starter by head coach Jared Bednar following the morning skate — was unavailable.

“That was not the issue,” Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog said. “The issue was we just didn’t play good enough.”

That did mean, however, University of Toronto netminder Jett Alexander dressed as Johansson’s emergency backup for warmups. But the 22-year-old from Bloomfield, Ont., remained in the locker-room area until third-stringer Justus Annunen arrived to witness the carnage up close in the second period.

“I don’t think it was an 8-3 game if we’re being honest,” said Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe, whose team built a 3-0 lead in the first. “We played against a really good team that had some adversity.

“That makes the game feel a lot different than it really was.”

Coming off a trip that saw them sweep the New York Islanders and all three California teams, the Leafs went up 1-0 at 4:31 of the opening period when Tavares delicately fed a pass ahead to Nylander, who ripped his 10th goal of the season.

Toronto went up 2-0 at 7:57 when Spezza tapped home his fifth after the Colorado netminder could only get a piece of Nick Ritchie’s shot.

The Leafs went up by three at 14:24 when Matthews — minus his trademark moustache following a shave for charity — took a feed from Marner and went between the legs and back against the grain to roof his team-leading 11th goal, and fourth in as many games.

“He’s such a special player,” Dermott said. “When he’s hot like this, you just want to put the puck … not even on his tape.

“You put it on his backhand — he’ll make magic out of that.”

Colorado got on the board with 1.2 seconds left in the period when Girard blasted a one-timer past Campbell for his second.

The NHL’s second star in November after going 9-2-0 with a league-leading .959 save percentage, the Leafs goaltender made a number of big stops early in the second period.

But the Avalanche finally broke through to make it 3-2 at 11:57 when Kadri — the league’s third star last month thanks to 21 points in 10 games — swept his eighth past Campbell.

The Leafs got that one back just 47 seconds later when Dermott’s fluttering one-timer beat Johansson upstairs for his first.

Campbell then made terrific saves on Logan O’Connor and Alex Newhook in quick succession before Tavares slipped his own rebound through Johansson for his 11th to match Matthews and push Toronto’s lead back to three at 5-2.

But Matthews retook top spot on the Leafs’ stats page when he collected a pass from Marner in tight and outwaited Johansson for his 12th just 46 seconds into third.

The reigning Maurice (Rocket) Richard Trophy winner then fired his third of the night at 8:41 on a shot that beat the Colorado netminder shortside to continue the onslaught before Engvall and Kadri rounded out the scoring.

“Those first two goals, really good sequences by that line,” Keefe said of the Bunting-Matthews-Marner trio. “Just unbelievable passes by Mitch Marner in both cases.

“On the third one, (Matthews) gets it alone. That’s a pretty good shot … kisses the post.”

Added Campbell: “Auston being Auston. Just spectacular.”

Fans around Scotiabank Arena chanted Matthews’ name after hats rained down on the ice following his hat-trick snipe.

“It definitely gives you chills down your spine,” he said. “It’s just a really special place to play.

“It’s fun when the crowd gets going like that and you play as well we did tonight.”

Notes: The 21 goals the Leafs have scored over their last four games equals the team’s October total. … Kadri’s second goal was the 200th of his career. … Bunting stretched his point streak to five games (two goals, seven assists) to tie Detroit’s Moritz Seider for a longest by a rookie this season. … The Avalanche visit Montreal on Thursday before heading to Ottawa on Saturday. … The Leafs play in Minnesota on Saturday and Winnipeg on Sunday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 1, 2021.

___

Follow @JClipperton_CP on Twitter

Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version had Nazem Kadri’s last name misspelled in one reference.

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Montreal Canadiens place Alex Belzile on waivers, plus other injury updates – Habs Eyes on the Prize

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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.

Jake Allen will undergo an MRI, while Paul Byron and Tyler Toffoli are nearing a return.

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.

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Updates regarding the Canadiens' roster – NHL.com

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GLENDALE – The Canadiens announced the following roster moves on Monday morning.

SHOP: Caufield Blue Socks

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.

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Novak Djokovic could be barred from French Open if unvaccinated – CBC.ca

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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:

Novak Djokovic deported from Australia after losing final appeal

18 hours ago

Duration 2:01

Top-ranked tennis player Novak Djokovic has been deported from Australia after losing his final appeal to not have his visa revoked, meaning he could not compete in the Australian Open. Djokovic’s lack of COVID-19 vaccination has galvanized tennis fans, Australians and become a rallying cry for anti-vaxxers. 2:01

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.

Novak Djokovic plays a forehand during a practice session ahead of the 2022 Australian Open in Melbourne on Friday. A court upheld a decision by the immigration minister to cancel the 34-year-old Serb’s visa on public interest grounds. (Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

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:

Novak Djokovic blames human error for inaccurate travel declaration

5 days ago

Duration 1:52

Novak Djokovic says human error is to blame for an inaccurate travel declaration form that claimed the tennis champion hadn’t travelled for two weeks before arriving in Australia for an upcoming tournament in Melbourne. 1:52

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:

Canadians to watch at the 2022 Australian Open

3 days ago

Duration 3:17

CBC Sports’ Vivek Jacob walks through the Canadian tennis stars you should be watching as they gear up to compete in the 2022 Australian Open 3:17

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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