The NHL season is restarting tomorrow with a light slate of three games to be played. These will be the first games since the extended Christmas break began back on December 21st, other than for the Lightning and Golden Knights who still actually played the one game that day.
Some teams have actually already held practice sessions, including the Maple Leafs who quickly determined they had so many players in COVID protocol that it wouldn’t be possible to field a proper lineup for Wednesday’s scheduled game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, even with reinforcements form the Marlies, so the NHL has agreed to postpone it. Only 16 skaters were actually available to practice yesterday, including the call-ups from the Marlies—more on them below.
Players participating in today's practice:— Leafs PR (@LeafsPR) December 26, 2021
Forwards: J. Anderson, M. Bunting, K. Clifford, P. Engvall, O. Kaše, M. Marner, A. Matthews, N. Ritchie, B. Seney, A. Steeves, J. Tavares
Defencemen: A. Biega, C. Dahlström, J. Holl, F. Král, T. Liljegren
Goalies: I. Scott, J. Woll
The Leafs new first game back will be on New Year’s Day against the Ottawa Senators, which is also a Saturday, so that will make for some good post-hangover TV.
Speaking of those reinforcements from the Marlies, they are part of a revived “Taxi Squad” which the NHL and NHLPA agreed can now be used by all teams to substitute in and out as needed when there are holes in the lineup from players entering COVID isolation protocol, all without the usual messy salary cap complications. We have all the details on how this works in this story:
Maple Leafs practice report: 16 skaters pass the test
And here is the complete Kyle Dubas press conference if you would like to slog through all of his updates on the team and what he has been up to over the break. Note this was recorded early yesterday afternoon, before the NHL confirmed Wednesday’s game is postponed, so he still talks here like it might be happening.
The NHL roster freeze also ends at midnight tonight, so trades can begin as early as 12:00 a.m. Tuesday morning. With so much time on their hands of late, you’ve got to think that several GM’s have dreamt up a whole pile of crazy trade ideas to entertain us!
The World Junior Championship tournament opened up yesterday with four games, including a Canada vs. Czech Republic match that was touch and go for a while, with the Czechs up 3-1 at one point before Owen Power took over and led Canada to victory with a hat-trick; apparently the first ever by a Canadian defenceman in the history of the tournament. Here’s the highlight pack.
Of particular interest to Leafs fans was the late game between the US and Slovakia, featuring 2021 Leafs draft pick Matthew Knies who looked absolutely stellar in his play.
Knies (TOR) opens the scoring for USA.— Kevin Papetti (@KPapetti) December 27, 2021
He's going to have a big tournament. pic.twitter.com/Az9y4rR1Fa
Watch him here as he chips the puck one way and skate around the defender the other way. Our own #1 Knies fan Brigstew says he has seen him make creative plays like this for this NCAA team a few times before.
Knies with a clever zone entry here pic.twitter.com/1r7KkfrmTr— Kevin Papetti (@KPapetti) December 27, 2021
Team Canada has today off, however you can watch the Leafs Finnish prospects Topi Niemelä and Roni Hirvonen play at 2:00 p.m. ET.
IIHF - No team to be relegated at World Juniors
The IIHF Council has voted that no team will be relegated from the 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship ... in the light of the extraordinary COVID-related circumstances. Due to Belarus gaining promotion after winning the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship Division I Group A earlier this month, the 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship will be played with 11 teams with the aim of going back to 10 teams for the 2024 IIHF World Junior Championship.