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JONES: Former Flames head coach impressed with Edmonton Oilers

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First impressions are important.

And Glen Gulutzan is impressed.

The former head coach of the Calgary Flames, now Todd McLellan’s right-hand man on his new Edmonton Oilers coaching staff, wasn’t sure what he was going to see behind former enemy lines with the team on other side of Alberta hockey’s Mason-Dixon line.

He likes what he sees. Really, really likes what he sees.

“I see a real sense of urgency. There’s a real dialed-in-sense. When you’ve been around the league for eight or nine years, you know that usually doesn’t happen. But these guys are really dialed in to get this season going. I see a little different look in this group.”

People say nothing has really changed between this year and last with the Oilers roster and that’s true on the ice — but not behind the bench.

There’s a whole new group there with Gulutzan, Trent Yawney and Manny Viveiros. And they’re an interesting study as the team’s 40th NHL season goes to the post.

McLellan hasn’t taken the new group and filled them in on the pros and cons of his holdover players.

Indeed, he’s done just the opposite.

“Three fresh sets of eyes,” he said. “What that does is that it allows just about every player in the room to have a fresh start. I’ve tried to be passive when it comes to what I or the old staff felt about players, what their demeanour is, how they react to certain situations. I want the new coaches to develop their own opinions. I might be wrong. It breathes fresh life into some other players.”

And what do the fresh set of eyes see?

“A little bit like Trent, coming from Anaheim, our observations were more player related and how the team was perceived,” said the Flames former bench boss.

“Obviously everybody knows Connor McDavid but we told Todd how much other teams respected the skill and also the toughness that was in the group — that Edmonton kind of had a little bit of an intimidation factor with Milan Lucic and Zack Kassian and the guys who played that heavy game. In the West they were kind of a team that could play a little bit both ways with the heavy skill of Connor, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and they had some heaviness and toughness to back it up.

“Todd has kind of let us alone and let us make our own observations. As we plowed through some video in the off-season looking for some strengths and weaknesses, it wasn’t just all about grabbing all the mistakes and looking at them but also looking at all the strengths and what changed from one year to the next,” added the coach who witnessed the Oilers play a near-perfect game against Calgary for openers last year and then come totally unraveled over the next 81 games.

And the conclusions they came to?

“There were a lot of subtle changes. For instance, on the penalty kill, we’re going to have to change some of the pressure points and the trigger points because at times it looked like we were trying so hard to pressure that they were exposing themselves.

“Heading over to the power play, we also looked at the difference between one season and the next and there were a few things. One was that we got pretty predictable. And maybe we were trying to pass it into the net rather than shoot it into the net.

“Five-on-five, we saw some things. We’d slowed down a bit. We want to speed up our game. We changed some transition things and Todd did a lot of that work, really, on his own.”

Gulutzan said while there are definite areas of improvement to try sell the players, the fresh set of eyes offered something else.

“We aren’t going to chess piece these individuals. Our job is to facilitate and get them into positions where their skill gets better looks. Those are subtleties on the power play that we want to put in place in particular. It’s a one-foot league. If you’re out of position by a foot, you’re going to get burned.”

Gulutzan said there’s another first impression here.

“For me it’s the environment. For starters there is Rogers Place. It is the nicest rink that I’ve been in. And the facilities and commitment by the organization to do everything it can to win is certainly evident as I walked through the door, whether it’s what we eat or our video systems or the access we have to training devices, technology and all those things.

“Of any organization this is probably the organization that is most committed to all of that I’ve been around.”

GULUTZAN CHOSE EDMONTON

Despite what happened to the Edmonton Oilers last year, Glen Gulutzen said he’s here because he saw this job as one where it could be a lot of fun for a few years.

“I had a few of opportunities,” said the former Calgary Flames head coach.

“But what drives you as a coach is winning. You want to win a championship. A big part of my decision was to be part of a group that I thought could win. That’s exciting when you look at this group and the players you have.”

No. 1, of course, is Connor McDavid.

“When I met him, I told him ‘I might still be coaching Calgary if you hadn’t played here.’ ”

E-mail: tjones@postmedia.com

On Twitter: @ByTerryJones

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Meadows, Pham lead Rays past Blue Jays

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TORONTO — Blue Jays rookie shortstop Lourdes Gurriel, Jr., really appreciated it when veteran slugger Kendrys Morales came over to congratulate him in Toronto’s dugout.

Turns out, Morales wasn’t speaking about Gurriel.

Gurriel had a pair of solo home runs in the Blue Jays’ 11-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday. His brother Yuli Gurriel, senior by 10 years, had a grand slam and a two-run jack in the Houston Astros 11-3 rout of the Los Angeles Angels.

“He told me ‘hey, congratulations!’ and I just said ‘thank you,’ and I thought it was because I hit two homers, but then he told me that my brother also hit two homers,” said the younger Gurriel through a translator. “I’m happy for him but for me as well.”

The Gurriel brothers have never played each other professionally, but will get to on Monday when Toronto open their final home series of the season when the Astros come to Rogers Centre.

“I’m very happy but I’m also curious,” said Gurriel. “It’s a little bit weird. I’ll see how I’m feeling that day.”

The younger Gurriel had a two-run shot in Toronto’s seven-run comeback in the ninth inning of Thursday night’s 9-8 victory over Tampa. His homers on Friday made him the 14th Blue Jay to homer in three consecutive plate appearances and the first rookie to do so.

“I knew when I came back from my injury that sooner or later I was going to start getting the groove back a little bit,” said Gurriel, who twisted his left knee on July 31 and was re-activated on Aug. 24. “I didn’t lose confidence at all. I knew I had it in me.”

Randal Grichuk hit Toronto’s (70-84) other home run. Starter Sean Reid-Foley (2-4) pitched four-plus innings for the Blue Jays, allowing four runs — two earned — on six hits, striking out five. Jose Fernandez, Mark Leiter Jr., Taylor Guerrieri, Danny Barnes and Jake Petricka came on in relief.

Fernandez and Leiter gave up two runs apiece before Guerrieri allowed three. Reid-Foley walked four, while the bullpen combined to walk four more. Guerrieri and Petricka both struck batters as well.

“We walked too many guys, we didn’t help ourselves out at all, that’s for sure,” said Blue Jays manager John Gibbons. “But they hit it. They’ve got good balance, they throw all those lefties at you and if you go lefties they can throw the righties at you.”

Pinch hitter Austin Meadows had a pair of RBI singles for Tampa Bay (86-67), while Tommy Pham tripled and drove in two runs and speedy outfielder Mallex Smith doubled in a run and scored twice himself.

Diego Castillo pitched one inning, giving up first Gurriel’s homer, before getting pulled. Normally a reliever, Castillo’s start was part of a starter-by-committee approach the Rays have used all season. Jalen Beeks (5-1) gave up two runs in his three innings of work, but earned the win before Adam Kolarek, Hunter Wood, Austin Pruitt closed the door.

Gurriel hit his first homer in the bottom of the first, putting a single shot to dead centre. He connected on Castillo’s 99.1 mph fastball, the fastest pitch any Blue Jay has hit for a home run this season.

He hit his second home run of the night in the fourth inning, bringing the 21,167 in attendance to their feet. It was his 11th home run of his rookie season.

___

Follow @jchidleyhill on Twitter

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Toronto Blue Jays vs. Tampa Bay Rays – 9/22/18 MLB Pick, Odds, and Prediction

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Tampa Bay Rays (86-67) at Toronto Blue Jays (70-84)

MLB Baseball: Saturday, September 22, 2018 at 4:07 pm (Rogers Centre)

Tyler Glasnow (2-6) (4.22) vs. Tom Pannone (3-1) (3.78)

The Line: Toronto Blue Jays +120 / Tampa Bay Rays -140 — Over/Under: 9 See the Latest Odds

TV: SUN

The Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays meet Saturday in MLB action at the Rogers Centre.

The Tampa Bay Rays look to stay hot after winning 11 of their last 14 games. The Rays have scored 28 runs in their last three games and four or more runs in 10 of their last 13 games. The Tampa Bay Rays have won 11 of their last 12 games when scoring more than one run. Matt Duffy leads the Rays with 148 hits and 44 RBI while Joey Wendle and Mallex Smith have combined for 172 hits and 94 RBI. Tyler Glasnow gets the ball, and he is 2-6 with a 4.22 ERA and 121 strikeouts this season. Glasnow is 0-1 with a 12.71 ERA and eight strikeouts in his career against the Blue Jays.

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The Toronto Blue Jays look for a victory after splitting their last 12 games. The Blue Jays have scored 13 runs in their last three games and three or less runs in seven of their last 11 games. The Toronto Blue Jays have lost six of their last seven games when scoring three or less runs. Justin Smoak leads the Blue Jays with 121 hits and 77 RBI while Kevin Pillar and Teoscar Hernandez have combined for 232 hits and 111 RBI. Thomas Pannone gets the ball, and he is 3-1 with a 3.77 ERA and 21 strikeouts this season. Pannone is 0-0 with a 6.75 ERA and four strikeouts in his career against the Rays.

The Rays are 4-0 in their last 4 Saturday games, 37-18 in their last 55 during game 3 of a series and 2-5 in Glasnows last 7 starts. The Blue Jays are 5-2 in their last 7 vs. American League East, 4-2 in their last 6 games vs. a right-handed starter and 5-2 in their last 7 overall. The Rays are 11-4 in the last 15 meetings and the under is 7-2 in the last 9 meetings.

I’m not looking to back either one of these pitchers, so I’d avoid this game. But if forced to pick, I’d side with the Rays. Glasnow has been rather tough to hit this season, as he’s allowing a .208 batting average overall and a .185 batting average on the road. The Tampa Bay Rays have also been one of the hotter teams in the game over the last couple of weeks as there’s still a mathematical chance of them sneaking into the playoffs. The Rays have also owned the Blue Jays in recent meetings. I’ll lay the cheap price with the Rays on the road if forced to pick this game.

Tampa Bay Rays -140

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Toronto 20-12 Widnes: Widnes relegated from Super League

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Last Updated: 22/09/18 10:12pm

Adam Sidlow looks to take on the Widnes defence.

Adam Sidlow looks to take on the Widnes defence.

Widnes’ seven-year stay in Super League came to an end as they were beaten 20-12 by promotion-chasing Toronto at the Lamport Stadium.

The Vikings have flirted with relegation all year and ended the regular season eight points adrift at the foot of the table with just three wins.

They were handed the chance of a reprieve via the Super 8s Qualifiers but made the worst possible start with a home defeat by London Broncos and, although they grabbed a lifeline with victory over Halifax a week ago, defeat in Toronto sealed their fate.

With Toulouse and London Broncos also claiming victories over Super League opponents in round six, it means the make-up of the top tier in 2019 will now be decided in the last weekend of the season.

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Cummins hails Widnes character

Cummins hails Widnes character

Salford host Toulouse on Thursday while Toronto, who finished eight points clear in the Championship, play Leeds at Headingley on Friday and London Broncos are at home to Halifax next Saturday.

The Vikings led 6-0 against the Wolfpack after second rower Chris Dean, back in the side after recovering from injury, offloaded from the tackle to get full-back Joe Mellor over for the game’s opening try after 11 minutes.

Krisnan Inu added the conversion and also kicked a penalty after Toronto second rower Cory Paterson had brought the home side level with an 18th-minute try.

Harrison Hansen of Widnes Vikings is tackled by Chase Stanley, Andrew Dixon and Ashton Sims of Toronto Wolfpack. Harrison Hansen of Widnes Vikings is tackled by Chase Stanley, Andrew Dixon and Ashton Sims of Toronto Wolfpack.

Harrison Hansen of Widnes Vikings is tackled by Chase Stanley, Andrew Dixon and Ashton Sims of Toronto Wolfpack.

The home side were temporarily reduced to 12 men in the 24th minute when centre Chase Stanley was sin-binned for a crusher tackle on winger Owen Buckley, but they managed to regain the lead in his absence after a cut-out pass from Gareth O’Brien got winger Matty Russell over in the corner.

O’Brien failed with the conversion attempt and was also wide with a penalty as the Wolfpack reached the interval 10-8 in front.

Widnes regained the lead two minutes into the second half when Liam Finn’s delayed pass got Dean through a hole in the Wolfpack defence for his side’s second try and the game became frantic as both sides strove to gain the ascendancy.

Cory Patterson of Toronto Wolfpack celebrates a try with teammates. Cory Patterson of Toronto Wolfpack celebrates a try with teammates.

Cory Patterson of Toronto Wolfpack celebrates a try with teammates.

Paterson thought he had scored his second try, but a last-ditch tackle from Sam Wilde forced the ball from his grasp over the line and at the other end Harrison Hansen forced his way over from close range, only to lose his grip on the ball.

The lead changed hands for a fourth and decisive time in the 56th minute when Toronto half-back Blake Wallace darted over from dummy half on the last tackle and O’Brien’s conversion made it 16-12.

The Vikings were then denied when forward Chris Houston was held up over the try line and it proved to be their last chance as O’Brien’s two late penalties secured the win for the hosts.

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