COVID hits Maple Leafs schedule, Tavares and Matthews consider impact of Olympics

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EDMONTON – The Maple Leafs, thanks to COVID, will get a little break expected this week.

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For Leafs captain John Tavares, it’s hard not to look ahead and reflect on the impact the virus could have on the Beijing Winter Olympics in February, especially the participation of players from the National Hockey League.

The Leafs had lunch at their hotel Monday morning with the news that their game against the Calgary Flames on Thursday was postponed after six Flames players and a member of the coaching staff entered the COVID protocol.

It creates a wedge between the Leafs’ meeting with the Oilers on Tuesday and a meeting with the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday, on what was originally a four-game trip. He’s three now, with the Leafs scheduled to make their maiden trip to Seattle to face the Kraken Extension on Sunday.

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With 31 points in 28 games, Tavares has been a key contributor to the Leafs for much of the season and has shown off for the Canadian Olympic team. Continuing cases of COVID in the NHL, as well as what could be restrictive regulations if a player tests positive in China, including a possible five-week quarantine before returning home, made Tavares think.

“We’re all hoping to go, but clearly I think things are a little more difficult than they were,” Tavares said after the Leafs practice at Rogers Place. “There are definitely questions we want to look at and have answered.

“You’re talking about a five-week quarantine, that’s really long.”

Being stuck in China, potentially, as the NHL continues after the Olympics is something Tavares has little interest in considering.

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“It’s extremely difficult to understand this,” Tavares said. “And then how do we get home and what this challenge presents. We want to go to the Olympics feeling good, even though we know it will be a different experience, and you don’t have something like that hanging over your head to worry about.

“It’s a big business, and we’ll see where it all goes and what the best decision is for us.”

Said Auston Matthews, who was one of three players originally named to the US roster: “Right now I’m just playing by ear. I would love to go and would love to compete, but there are definitely some things that many of us would like to see answered and some questions that we would like to see answered.

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More urgent in the immediate sense for the Leafs is the game against the Oilers. Winger Ilya Mikheyev, recovering from thumb surgery, looked fine to make his regular season debut as he trained on a line with center David Kampf and Pierre Engvall, while defenseman Travis Dermott, who missed four games with a shoulder problem, was on a pair with Justin Holl.

Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said decisions regarding Mikheyev and Dermott would be made on Tuesday. Winger Nick Ritchie has a non-COVID illness, Keefe said, and remained in Toronto when the team traveled on Sunday. Ritchie will not play against the Oilers and will join the team when his health improves.

Jack Campbell will start in goal.

With the game against Calgary postponed, the Leafs were still thinking about their schedule for the next few days before facing the Canucks.

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The Leafs have been successful in avoiding any major COVID issues, but the virus and its influence are not being cast aside by Keefe.

“The level of concern has increased, and not just in this case, as it has had a direct impact on our schedule,” Keefe said. “There have been enough closed teams, even one, two or three cases around the tag team.

“It seems like it’s happening more frequently this season than last season. He caught our attention.

“Everyone has been vaccinated and you have peace of mind. But at the same time, whether the matches are canceled or not, the players are not available, and that in itself impacts the season. There are the health impacts. There are the competitive elements of it.

“There are many reasons to continue to keep in mind that we are in a pandemic and we are doing what we can to stay healthy, do our part for our communities, but also do our part for our team,” to stay healthy and available. ”

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ALWAYS HARD SLUMPING OILERS

EDMONTON – A season-high five-game losing streak, the Edmonton Oilers are exactly where the Maple Leafs want them.

Not enough.

Leafs defenseman Travis Dermott, who is looking to return to the Toronto lineup after overcoming a few shoulder issues, summed it up nicely.

“I think you’d be pretty stupid to have an easy night out with these guys, just looking at their lineup,” Dermott said. “You have to show up every night or you will have beautiful highlights the next morning. “

Dermott was wary of Connor McDavid since they were opponents at the Timbits level, although Dermott got a break when he was McDavid’s teammate for two seasons with the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League. .

Dermott injured his left shoulder – the same one that had surgery in 2019 – during recent training. He missed four games.

“We wanted to be careful,” Dermott said.

“The week off helped me clear things up and make sure my body is ready to go and my mind has confidence in my body. I feel good to go.

-Terry Koshan

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