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Sens believe they can move forward without Karlsson

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OTTAWA—The Ottawa Senators are determined to prove they can survive and thrive without Erik Karlsson.

Looking to move into a rebuilding phase, ownership and management made the decision to trade their captain, and best player, to the San Jose Sharks on Thursday.

Ottawa Senators head coach Guy Boucher holds training camp in Ottawa on Friday.  (Sean Kilpatrick / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

While the Karlsson trade didn’t come as a surprise, players acknowledged getting it done before the season probably was best.

“It had the potential to be a distraction,” defenceman Mark Borowiecki said Friday as the Senators hit the ice for training camp. “There was a lot of signs kind of pointing in that direction and now it’s just kind of time for us to move on. A time to look inwards here and what do we have to do now to get this thing righted and it gives us a bit of a chance to focus less on that situation and focus more on ourselves.”

The Senators, who finished second last in the league last year, understand life will be more difficult without Karlsson, but have confidence they have enough solid pieces to move forward.

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“Every season is hard, everybody starts from scratch on day one,” said winger Mark Stone. “We’ve got to build every day to generate a foundation that’s going to help us win hockey games and I think there’s a number of guys in this group that are going to help in doing that. I’m excited. We’re back here on day one with everybody and it was a great day and it’s fun to be here.”

The overall message Friday was the remaining veterans are determined to stick together and find the unity that was lacking last season.

“We’re not going to sit around here and drag our lips and mope and feel sorry for ourselves,” said Borowiecki. “Are there going to be tough times? For sure, it’s expected. We’ve got some great ideas, we’ve had some really positive meetings and we had a good, hard session (Friday). The true test is going to be what happens if we go on a five-game slide, seven-game slide. I’m not saying it will happen, but it might and how are we going to react to that as a group. That’s kind of going to be the true test for us.”

Adversity is nothing new for the Senators, who have produced a long line of negative headlines on and off the ice. Matt Duchene pointed out that they’ve been dealing with it for almost a year and joked it seemed to coincide with his arrival last season, when he was acquired in a trade from the Colorado Avalanche.

“Hopefully, it’s not me that’s the problem,” Duchene said with a smile. “Hopefully that’s all gone now and hopefully we can move forward and have a good season. Obviously everybody wants to kind of crap all over us, but we’re going to try and use that as a chip on our shoulder and motivation. We should use it to our advantage.”

The bad news continued Friday when the Senators confirmed centre Jean-Gabriel Pageau suffered a torn Achilles to his right leg during an agility test Thursday and is expected to miss six months.

In a depth chart released Wednesday, the Senators had pencilled in Pageau as their second-line centre. The 25-year-old had 14 goals and 39 points in 78 games last season.

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“That one was a kick for us,” said Duchene of losing Pageau. “He’s such a special player for us too. He’s a guy that plays such a big role and does things that a lot of guys can’t do out there in terms of the grit and the role he plays. That’s going to be really tough to replace.”

The injury will create opportunity as Zack Smith, expected to be on the third line, could move up or Chris Tierney, acquired from the San Jose Sharks as part of the Karlsson trade, could get a chance. Tierney had 17 goals and 40 points in 82 games last year.

With the Senators going with a youth movement, they will likely give Colin White, Logan Brown and Filip Chlapik an opportunity as well.

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Frolik's pair sends Flames past Bruins

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CALGARY — A healthy scratch for the Calgary Flames in their previous game, Michael Frolik scored twice in a 5-2 win over the visiting Boston Bruins on Wednesday.

“It feels good when you can help the team win the game,” the veteran winger said.

Frolik had to watch his teammates edge the Avalanche 3-2 in overtime Saturday in Colorado.

“I didn’t have the start I was looking for, but it’s a long season,” he said. “I just try to work hard in practice, get better every day and hopefully it’s going to turn around.

“Tonight was a good start. Hopefully I can keep going.”

Johnny Gaudreau collected his 100th NHL career goal and rookie defenceman Juusu Valimaki scored his first for the Flames (4-2-0). Matthew Tkachuk scored on an empty net.

Gaudreau crumpled after taking a high hit from Bruins defenceman Charlie McAvoy in the third period. Gaudreau played another shift, but the winger was then pulled from the game for concussion protocol.

Calgary head coach Bill Peters did not have an update on Gaudreau after the game.

Mikael Backlund and Michael Stone each contributed a pair of assists to Calgary’s second straight home win to open the season. Flames goaltender Mike Smith stopped 24 of 26 shots for the victory.

“I like the fact we have the ability to generate offence. Now, we’ll work on other things,” Peters said. “We’re not quite there defensively or our play away from the puck in the neutral zone, but when we get there, we’ll be a much better team.”

Patrice Bergeron countered for the Bruins (4-2-0) with a goal and an assist. Brad Marchand also scored. Bruins netminder Tuukka Rask turned away 24 shots in the loss.

“I don’t think we were as clean as we needed to be obviously against a team that forechecks and checks well,” Boston coach Bruce Cassidy said. “That was clearly an issue throughout the game. Execution wasn’t good enough to beat a good hockey team.”

The trio of Frolik, Backlund and Tkachuk was the dominant forward line for the Flames both scoring and limiting the production of the Bergeron line.

“Fro has been outstanding in practices and his attitude’s been very good,” Peters said. “Everyone wants to play more, everyone wants more opportunity.

“You’ve seen what he did with his opportunity when he got back in the lineup. Took advantage of it.”

Calgary killed off Boston’s two-man advantage to start the third period and maintain a two-goal lead.

Marchand was lightly defended when he scored at 13:45 of the second. He took a pass from the far boards from Bergeron and wired the puck by Smith.

Frolik nearly completed a hat trick on a short-handed breakaway, but backhanded the puck over Boston’s net.

The 30-year-old Czech’s second goal stemmed from a Boston turnover in the offensive zone. Backlund flipped the puck across the slot for Frolik to tap over Rask’s stick at 3:32.

On Boston’s first rush after killing off Calgary’s two-man advantage, Bergeron scored at 2:40 on a give-and-go with David Krejci.

A David Pastrnak goal late in the first period didn’t survive a coach’s challenge by Peters as the Bruins were ruled offside.

Valimaki’s first NHL goal gave the Flames a 3-0 lead at 16:08 of the first period.

With Sam Bennett creating havoc in front of Rask, the 20-year-old’s shot from the top of the circle rolled over the goaltender and over the goal-line.

“I was happy actually finding out it was mine. Pretty awkward moment at the start because I didn’t know it was mine,” Valimaki said. “All the guys on the bench said ‘it’s yours’ and it felt great.”

Gaudreau collected his century goal at 15:20. At the top of the crease, Sean Monahan batted the puck down low to his winger and Gaudreau scored on a sharp-angled shot.

Frolik had half an open net for a target following a nice passing play by Tkachuk and Backlund.

Tkachuk hustled into the offensive zone to backhand the puck to Backlund moving into the slot. Backlund flipped the puck over to Frolik to score at 4:36.

The Flames are at home to the Nashville Predators on Friday.

The Bruins are in Edmonton on Thursday for the second game of a four-game road trip. Cassidy said Jaroslav Halak will start against the Oilers.

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Kawhi Leonard era begins as Raptors top Cavaliers at home to open season

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Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard is stopped by the Cavaliers’ Sam Dekker.

Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

The Kawhi Leonard era began in Toronto Wednesday with the soft-spoken new Raptor being embraced by deafening pregame applause, before he delivered a 24-point, 12-rebound performance in a 116-104 season-opening win over the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The enigmatic superstar played 37 minutes and shot 9-for-22 in his first game as a Raptor, as the Toronto faithful got its first look at the most fascinating and promising roster the franchise has ever assembled. But it was Kyle Lowry who led Toronto in scoring with 27 points – including five three-pointers – as the revamped Raps topped a Cavaliers squad searching for a new identity after the departure of LeBron James.

It wasn’t a crisp Toronto performance as the revamped squad worked on chemistry, experimented with different five-man rotations and incorporated Leonard, who was playing his first real NBA game since January. But it was still a win.

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“It’s still early. It’s only the first game. We had a lot of mistakes on the defensive end that we could correct, and we’ve just gotta keep pushing,” said Leonard afterward. “Our offense was also stagnant at some times tonight. But our skill level and focus and us playing really hard tonight got us the win.”

Lowry didn’t get overly excited after his solid opening night performance.

“It’s game one, bro. It’s game one,” said the veteran point guard.

Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry moves past Cleveland Cavaliers guard David Nwaba to score in the final seconds of the first half of the team’s season-opener in Toronto on Wednesday, Oct.17, 2018.

Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

The dapper and likable Dwane Casey – or “DC” as in-stadium announcer Mark (Strizzy) Strong used to affectionately introduce him – was no longer patrolling Toronto’s sidelines. He has the most wins of any coach in franchise history.

In his place was Casey’s assistant of the past five seasons, Nick Nurse, now in the big job after Casey’s summer firing and armed with the experiences of a 27-year coaching career – including several head coaching stints under smaller spotlights.

Nurse has been saying the Raptors starting lineups will be fluid this year to capitalize on nightly matchups. Wednesday, he had Kyle Lowry starting at the point, Danny Green at shooting guard, Leonard at small forward, Pascal Siakam at power forward to guard Kevin Love, and Jonas Valanciunas at centre to tangle with Toronto native Tristan Thompson.

To kick off the night, the team was introduced to the beat of a live dancing choir before a packed house decked in free We The North t-shirts. There was no DeMar DeRozan on the team for the first time in a decade, no “De-Bo, from Compton to Canada” hugging teammates and delivering pregame kisses to his young daughters as he always did.

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Instead the mightiest show of applause and affection came for the man they announced last – Leonard, the most fascinating addition in Raptors history. He received an ovation so hearty and loud that Strizzy’s hollering of his name into his always ear-splitting stadium microphone was completely drowned out.

The exuberant welcome from the fans continued every time he touched the ball through much of the first quarter. During the first time out, Raptors game-opps wasted no to time getting a “get to know Kawhi” video on the big screen, educating about the new superstar’s love for Mexican food, his home state of California and the music of Kendrick Lamar. It reinforced his nickname: The Klaw. Valanciunas had another description for his new teammate on Wednesday: Silent Killer.

Also interesting to note, the traditional home opener welcoming remarks to the fans was delivered not by one of the Raptors’ well-known returnees, but by Green, the gregarious newcomer.

There were moments beyond Leonard’s fade-away jumpers, easy moves and rebounding that delighted the crowd and showed depth and promise for this team. There was Lowry, slipping back into his floor sergeant role, even without his friend DeRozan on his wing. There was easy sharp-shooting from Norman Powell that may foreshadow a comeback campaign, Green’s three buckets from deep, and a gorgeous sequence that included a no-look behind-the-back pass from Valanciunas to set up a thunderous cutting dunk from OG Anunoby.

These Cavaliers were a shadow of the squad that bulldozed over the Raps in the playoffs behind the remarkable James before he’d skip town for the Los Angeles Lakers. Without the injured J.R Smith and Larry Nance Jr., Wednesday, the Cavs slipped down to the Raps 60-47 by half-time and only got within striking distance late in the fourth quarter. They made the final minutes uncomfortable on the Raps, but never truly threatened.

Nurse was lukewarm on his first victory as an NBA head coach.

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“Well I think we saw some spurts of some pretty good play but it wasn’t the prettiest painting,” said Nurse. “It was a lot of whistles and a lot of stoppage. We sent them to the line a little too much, and gave up a little few too many offensive rebounds so it was kind of a stop start game. But there was some really good spurts where we broke it open but yeah, we’ve got some room for improvement, that’s for sure.”

Serge Ibaka went 2-10 from the field coming off the bench at centre, something Nurse said he didn’t mind so much given he was active, especially in the glass. Fred VanVleet shot 3-10 early, then recovered with some later buckets and had 14 points on the night. Nurse liked Pascal Siakam’s energetic 13-point performance.

The Raps went 10 players deep on the night, and were without Delon Wright, who sat with a strained adductor. The way this roster is used each night will continue to fascinate.

The bigger test comes Friday night when the Eastern Conference’s heavy early season favourite Boston Celtics visit Toronto.

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Raptors' talent, depth on display during home opener win over Cavaliers

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eason by any means, but the Toronto Raptors talent and depth was on full display as they opened the season with a rather comfortable 116-104 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers at the Scotiabank Arena.
The days of the Cavs giving the Raptors fits ended when LeBron James took his talents to Los Angeles, but this night was not about the visitors in any way.
The Raptors began the evening intent on building the kind of chemistry that will take them on a deep playoff run in about six months. No one expected the Cavs to be much more than a mystery in terms of how they would play without the game’s best player and they weren’t.
They got some good minutes out of Cedi Osman and some strong work from reserve Jordan Clarkson but were otherwise not much of a threat.
All eyes, including those of the Cavs defence, were on Kawhi Leonard, which led to a slow start for the former Spur in his Raptors debut. But he eventually found his stroke, finishing with 24 points and 12 boards.
Kyle Lowry answered any questions about his own desire after losing his best friend — DeMar DeRozan — in the trade that brought Leonard to Toronto. Lowry had a low-key pre-season which perhaps added to the questions.
He answered all of them with a Lowry-like night that included hitting five of six three-pointers while dishing out eight assists in a game-high 27-point night.
Leonard wound up taking a team-high 22 shots in the game and played a team-best 37 minutes, two more than Lowry who got his 27 points on just 12 shots, 10 of them makes.
Without Delon Wright, who was held out with a left adductor strain, Nick Nurse, making his own debut as the Raptors’ head coach, kept his rotation tight with just 10 men seeing the floor for most of the night before Lorenzo Brown and Malachi Richardson got in for the final minute.
If there was an issue that stuck out for the Raptors, it was on the boards where they were outboarded 49-46 but 14-8 on the offensive boards.
The other issue was a huge discrepancy in the free throws. The Raptors attempted just 20 all night and, like the pre-season, weren’t real good when they did get to the line, hitting just 12 of those.
The Cavs meanwhile got to the line 39 times and made 29, also not a great percentage.
The Raps put Kevin Love on the line 14 times, but still limited him to 21 points for the evening.
Again it’s still early and this remains a Raptors team that is still learning to play both together and within the schemes their new head coach has introduced. It’s not supposed to look like a finished product on Day 1 of the season and it didn’t.
“I think we have a good problem,” newcomer Danny Green said. “We have too many guys who are good. Coaching staff is going to figure that out. They have the hardest job right now. They have to figure out who to play where and when. And that’s without Delon, so that is going to be even tougher.”
Green, who knows Leonard better than anyone in that locker room, said fans need to be patient, not just with the team but with Leonard who was playing his first real game since last January.
“He’s healthy and he’s playing but he’s not back to him,” Green said. “He hasn’t played in a whole year. He probably won’t get back to playing in rhythm until December, maybe late November. You have to give him at least a month.”
But there was enough good about this game that the lofty expectations of an Eastern Conference Finals appearance, and maybe further than that, should not be backed away from.

ABOUT THE STARTERS

The starting-lineup question remained a just that  right up to near game time as Nurse took a page out of Dwane Casey’s book and kept it to himself.

The reveal really doesn’t mean much as Nurse has made it clear the identity of the starters from game to game will be fluid.

Starting in Game 1 were the expected Lowry and Leonard. Danny Green was also in there along with Pascal Siakam at power forward and Jonas Valanciunas at centre.

Valanciunas wasn’t that much of a surprise with Tristan Thompson always expected to start for Cleveland and a matchup that fits the Raps centre.

Siakam with the starters was a bit of a surprise, not because he wasn’t an option but just because he’s meant so much to that second unit that the feeling was he might stay there.

There’s no question the Raptors struggled to contain Love in last year’s four-game Cleveland playoff sweep. Serge Ibaka had plenty of opportunities to show he was up to the task in that series, and didn’t, so him not starting wasn’t a surprise. The one man we thought would start who didn’t was OG Anunoby but having missed the bulk of the pre-season attending to a family matter might explain that one.

AND THE ROTATION

As promised Nurse didn’t stick with his starters for very long. Part of it were two quick fouls for Siakam who came out for Anunoby, but Nurse wasn’t kidding when he said he wanted to try different combinations.

Well before the first quarter was over, he had already used 10 different Raptors in the game, including Norm Powell, who had five points in six minutes and looked much more like the aggressive and attacking player that was on display two seasons ago.

QUICK HITS

Weird choice with newcomer Green addressing the crowd before the game. Normally, that’s reserved for a familiar face to the fanbase. Green might not be totally familiar, but it won’t be long before he is. So, it was a little odd that he would wind up doing that, but certainly it was not a bad choice. Honestly thought Lowry was a natural for that gig … Slow start for Leonard, who easily had the best pre-game ovation of the night. Leonard took a while to find the range but, once he did, he was solid. His first bucket as a Raptor came when Lowry gave up an easy layup to pitch it back to the trailing Leonard for his own relatively easy lay-in … The game ops crew is doing its best to provide a window into the rather quiet Leonard. They have a feature called Keeping Up With Kawhi that provides some insight into the man. No word on how often this feature will be used …. Good indication of the difference a year makes with Anunoby came midway through the first quarter when he made a steal at one end and then went the length of the floor shrugging off George Hill before hammering down a dunk. A year ago, he more than likely would have been looking to pass off … Cavs rookie point guard Collin Sexton, who already is getting a lot of rookie-of-the-year attention, was schooled by Fred VanVleet on a few occasions in the first quarter. When Sexton tried to respond to the pressure with more effort, he just wound up getting into foul trouble.

FIVE THINGS WE LEARNED

  1. The Lowry we know and love
    Kyle Lowry may still be bothered that the Raptors traded away his best friend and one of their most loyal employees in DeMar DeRozan but it’s not going to change his approach on the court. Lowry was far and away the best of the Raptors on the night scoring a game-high 27 points on 10-of-12 shooting including five of six attempts from behind the arc. He was vintage Lowry.

2. JV passes the passing trest
Jonas Valanciunas the passer is a real thing. The Lithuanian big man had three assists on the night, none more impressive than dropping one off to OG Anunoby in traffic under the basket who let the defence fly past him and then threw down a thunderous dunk.

3. Ibaka has his problems
Serge Ibaka had a tough night shooting. He didn’t get his first make until mideway through the fourth quarter finishing the night 2-for-10 from the field. He wound up fouling out with 26 seconds remaining.

4. Leonard will need some time
Kawhi Leonard, despite his 27 points is still working his way back to form. He missed a ton of uncontested shots an  in-rhythm Leonard normally hits. Having not played a real game since last January, it’s going to take him some time to get back to the Leonard we all expect to see.

5. And so will the LeBron-less Cavs
The Cavs are in for a long season. Yes, they were missing two key pieces in J.R. Smith and Larry Nance Jr., but learning how to play without LeBron James is not going to be a quick process. This group has relied on him for so long it’s going to take a while to figure it out.

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