James Neal blasts in four in Edmonton Oilers win over New York Islanders - Canadanewsmedia
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James Neal blasts in four in Edmonton Oilers win over New York Islanders

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The now defunct Hockey Digest magazine, a staple for young fans of the 1960s and 1970s, used to have a feature, “The Game I’ll Never Forget” where NHLers recounted that one special game.

I’m sure James Neal, 32, has had many huge matches. He’s been involved in many playoff series, but as regular season games go, his four goal outburst against the New York Islanders on Tuesday night will surely be in the running for his own unforgettable game.

He was King Midas of the Ice Palace with almost every puck he shot transforming into a goal. Yet not one of them was a cheapie.

Of course, the night is all the more memorable because he had a wasted, horrid and humiliating season in Calgary last year, scoring just seven goals the entire year. He now has six in three games for the Oilers. Praise be to Ken Holland, once more, for pulling off that trade.

In the end, the Oilers’ 5-2 win was well deserved with Edmonton outchancing the New Islanders 14 to three (running count).

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Cult of Hockey game or player grades

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Leon Draisaitl, 8. Another beast mode game. Great hustle early on a PK to drive and stab the puck out of the Edmonton zone, then made a nice neutral zone pass to set up a hard-driving McDavid for a “B” scoring chance shot. On the power play, his turnover led to a New York Islanders breakaway and goal. In the second, Draisaitl struck back, setting up Neal for his hattie goal with a beautiful feed into the crease. A moment later more Draisaitl and McDavid magic came as they whipped the puck back and forth across the Royal Road (the centre area of the d-zone) to set up Zack Kassian.

Connor McDavid, 8 He kicked off one of the most gorgeous goal scoring sequences you’ll see this year, firing cross-seam to Draisaitl on the power play. Looking fast and dangerous out there, like he and Draisaitl have found a new level.

Zack Kassian, 7. He fired off a decent power play shot in the first period, then went hard to the net and drained the Oil’s fourth goal.

Tomas Jurco, 6. He was solid with the puck and was rewarded with an assist on Neal’s fourth goal.

RNH, 7. He jumped on a slot pass from Neal early in the game to get off Edmonton’s first Grade A chance of the game. Nuge did enough battling to force a turnover leading to Neal’s goal. A solid effort from RNH, who is a key part of a dangerous Oilers power play crew.

James Neal, 10. Oh, so sweet to see a sniper in action. Neal’s first period bullet was the kind of goal only Draisaitl netted last year. He blasted it in off a bad Derick Brassard turnover. Next, he took his time working a low post passing play on the power play with McDavid before cooly pivoting and firing in a goal. Scored one more on the power play, finishing off the feast that Draisaitl and McDavid’s set on the table before him. His fourth goal came on a nifty one-timer from a sharp angle. In total, Neal had eight shots on net, five of them Grade A’ers.

Jujhar Khaira, 8. I had doubted a line with Khaira and Sheahan had enough speed to get the job done but they proved me wrong this game. I hope they continue to do so. Khaira came out in the first period like the Jujhar Khaira we have always hoped to see, skating hard, using his body and flashing some kill to set up numerous shots and a few Grade A chances. In the second period, his turnover led a dangerous Mathew Barzal opportunity. But he cranked it up again on some impressive shifts cycling the puck as the game went on.

Riley Sheahan, 7. All kinds of good work in the offensive zone from this line. Sheahan won a battle and then screened the goalie as his line got two Grade A chances in quick succession late in the first. But his o-zone turnover led to Anthony Beauvillier breakaway and shot off the post.

Patrick Russell, 7. First took a one-timer pass from Khaira, then tipped the puck on two Grade A chance shots in the first. He worked hard all night and will surely get another game because of it.

Joakim Nygard, 6. He’s got speed and aggression going for him, which we saw as he went hard to the net on a Grade A chance late in the second.

Gaetan Haas, 6. I continue to be impressed with Haas’ defensive acumen. He knows where to position himself to head off trouble, though he did fail to stop the cross-seam pass on the second New York goal.

Markus Granlund, 4. Still pretty darn quiet out there.

Darnell Nurse, 7. He laid down the law early, rubbing out star Isles attacker Mathew Barzal along the boards. Nurse kept it up with a brutal but legal open hit on puck-carrying Leo Komarov, shoulder to chest as I saw it. I had hoped Nurse would crank it up and play better teamed up with a superior passer of the puck like Bear, and that’s what we’re seeing. Nurse is best as a two-way aggressor, not a shut-down d-man.

Ethan Bear, 7. Sharp moves with the puck to get time and space and make a strong pass or clearance. Playing like a 10-year veteran right now.

Oscar Klefbom, 7. He was moving like $10 million out there until he took a stick in the face from Brock Nelson. But he came back and kept up the solid play. Led the team with almost 27 minutes of playing time. So good right now.

Joel Persson, 6. In first half of the game, he looked tentative making plays. Halfway through the second, though, with Edmonton up 4-1, he finally showed some offensive merit, wheeling deep and around the New York net. He looked more settled after that.

Kris Russell, 7. He made a quick rush and got off a Grade A chances off a Granlund feed in the first. Solid on defence all game.

Matt Benning, 5. Solid but quiet — and nothing wrong with that.

Mikko Koskinen, 6. Not much in the way of difficult shots. He got beat on New York’s first two good chances, but one of them hit the post. Koskinen wasn’t otherwise tested much early, but was nonetheless solid on some hard outside shots with heavy traffic.

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Kipchoge shoes spark backlash

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Early Saturday morning, Eliud Kipchoge became the first person to run under two hours for the marathon. The run accomplished something that many believed to be years away from happening, but this accomplishment has been met with criticism from some experts and spectators in the running community.

There are some who believe that Kipchoge’s attempt was too calculated, too contrived and too much about the shoes. Ross Tucker and Steve Magness are two running experts who have expressed that they believe this accomplishment is about leaps in technology as opposed to leaps in raw marathoning ability. Even Yannis Pitsiladis, who was one of the main scientists behind the initial sub-two push, said to The Times that he couldn’t get behind Saturday’s run, calling it “meaningless.”

Pitsiladis said, “I think it’s all about the shoe now. My life has been dedicated to the sports integrity, but this is the complete opposite. My advisors tell me not to be negative when I talk about this, but it’s not about being negative, it’s about being accurate.”

Magness pointed out in a series of tweets that a jump like this has to be attributed to technology. “That’s not taking away from Kipchoge, but the marathon has taken a quantum leap in the last couple of years thanks to changes in shoe technology. The same athletes who were running roughly 2:04 to 2:05 three to four years ago are now running significantly faster. We saw it with Kipchoge. We just saw it with Bekele. More will follow. Should the shoes be banned? Most likely.”

The IAAF has banned shoes before. The organization’s shoe rules are as follows: “Athletes may compete barefoot or with footwear on one or both feet. The purpose of shoes for competition is to give protection and stability to the feet and a firm grip on the ground. Such shoes, however, must not be constructed so as to give athletes any unfair assistance or advantage.”

They continue, “Athletes may not use any appliance, either inside or outside the shoe, which will have the effect of increasing the thickness of the sole above the permitted maximum, or which can give the wearer any advantage which he would not obtain from the type of shoe described in the previous paragraphs.”

Kipchoge wore a speciality shoe for the marathon on Saturday. This shoe isn’t available to the public, and it wasn’t even given to his 41 pacers. Kipchoge’s shoe was more built-up than previous Vaporflys. The midsole was still cushioned with a carbon-fibre plate and Nike’s ZoomX foam, but there was also a new compartment in the front of the shoe.

Kipchoge shoes spark

Runner’s World reported on an interesting discussion of the shoe on the Believe in the Run site, published last week, who found a 2018 patent application by Nike for something that looks a lot like what Kipchoge wore on Saturday. While cautioning that we can’t be certain this is what he wore, it’s worth taking a closer look at the technology in the patent-application shoe (which Nike calls the alphaFLY), since it goes far beyond either the Vaporfly 4% or the NEXT% (which was worn by the 41 pacers during the run). Not only is the foam midsole more built-up–it contains as many as three layers of carbon-fibre plates, and there are also two stacked chambers in the forefoot which may be filled with air, fluid or foam (or some combination thereof). The site refers to this arrangement as a “club sandwich” of cushioning, and compares the effect to that of a diving board.

It’s hard to quantify exactly how much the shoe is giving to the runner, but based on the volume of criticism, the Nike shoe could face serious scrutiny in the near future.

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Maple Leafs send Rasmus Sandin to the Marlies, recall Kevin Gravel

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Kyle Dubas never takes a day off. Even Thanksgiving. While you are busy prepping your dinner, he made a swap of defenceman with the Marlies. Rasmus Sandin has been sent down to the AHL while they have called up Kevin Gravel.

Kevin Gravel is a 27 year-old, 6’4 left shooting defenceman. He was drafted in 2010 and has appeared in 106 NHL games over that time for both the Kings and Oilers. He has played in three games for the Marlies so far this season.

Rasmus Sandin is the top prospect for the team right now. He’s been used in limited minutes so far this season by Mike Babcock.

Sandin is waiver exempt and could be recalled at any time. Kevin Gravel cleared waivers and will now remain waiver exempt for nine NHL games played or 29 days on the NHL roster.

The move creates more LTIR room — there should be just under $400,000 when the assignments are final — but was not necessary to allow the eventual recall to active duty of Travis Dermott. It is worth noting, that at $700,000 in AAV, Gravel is the lowest-cost defender after Justin Holl.

Sandin has now accrued six NHL games played. More than three more, and this season will “burn a year” of his ELC and it will not slide. If he stays in the AHL, his contract will expire in 2023 instead of 2022. If the assignment to the AHL is permanent, or is meant to last at least until the NHL trade deadline, we should expect to see Sandin loaned in December to the Swedish national team for the World Junior Championship.

Sandin had a highly successful season with the Marlies in 2018-19, earning 28 points in 44 games, most of that time as only an 18 year-old.

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The Marlies’ next game is Wednesday. The Leafs play the Wild at home tomorrow.

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Flames losing to Vegas Golden Knights

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LAS VEGAS — If you make at least two trips each year to Sin City, you’ve gotta win eventually.

Right?

That’s certainly what the Calgary Flames are hoping.

After Saturday’s 6-2 thumping from the Vegas Golden Knights, the Flames are now winless in five all-time visits to T-Mobile Arena, home to a skilled and speedy team that always seems to get a boost from a boisterous and boozy crowd.

There are other NHL squads that have never picked up two points on The Strip, but not with so many cracks at it.

The Flames are the only Pacific Division posse that has never left Vegas a winner.

They have scored a grand total of six goals in this raucous rink. They have allowed 21.

This could be their new Anaheim.

“We didn’t play hard enough,” seethed Flames head coach Bill Peters after Saturday’s shellacking. “Until we start to play hard, and play hard for 60 minutes, it’s going to be up in the air all night long or you’re going to get blown out. We’ve got to develop a little bit of a work ethic here.

“We’re disappointed the way we’ve played. We haven’t played hard enough. We’re well aware we haven’t played hard enough and we haven’t played hard enough on a consistent basis.”

The Golden Knights’ fifth goal Saturday really summed up this evening.

A pair of Flames forwards, Sam Bennett and Mark Jankowski, crashed into each other in the defensive zone and both tumbled to the ice.

Amidst that chaos, Rasmus Andersson’s breakout pass missed the target.

Moments later, fourth-line thumper Ryan Reaves squeaked a shot through the five-hole on what should have been a routine stop for David Rittich.

This 24-save showing was Rittich’s worst performance of the fall. He had company.

“If you make mistakes against a team like that, they’re going to punish you. And that’s what they did,” Andersson said, taking the blame for Reaves’ goal. “We have moments where we’re really good, but we haven’t really found our game for 60 minutes yet.”

Tomas Nosek, Mark Stone, William Carrier, Paul Stastny and Cody Glass also rippled twine for the Golden Knights, while Andersson and Johnny Gaudreau were the only guys who could solve Marc-Andre Fleury at the other end.

The Flames insisted that a solid start would be key to snapping out of their Sin City skid, but the hosts managed to crank the volume just 3:24 in, with a crease-crashing Nosek cleaning up the leftovers as Rittich searched for the puck after a save on Carrier’s initial effort.

Andersson evened it up early in the middle stanza, jumping into the attack and ripping a short-side shot past Marc-Andre Fleury on a two-on-one rush.

Only 33 seconds later, Gaudreau tried to thread a pass to linemate Elias Lindholm, but a back-checking William Karlsson instead deflected the puck into the back of his net.

That lead lasted barely two minutes before Stone — his older brother, Michael, patrols the blue-line for the Flames — swatted home his own rebound for the equalizer.

It was all Golden Knights from then on.

The locals pulled ahead on Carrier’s top-shelf backhander, then started to pull away when Stastny found the five-hole for a marker that could cost Rittich a few winks of sleep.

Reaves’ third-period strike, which completed a hat-trick for the Golden Knights’ fourth line, wasn’t any better. The late goal by Glass glanced off Calgary’s captain Mark Giordano.

“I think we started playing the right way for a couple of minutes, and we got rewarded for it, and then we went kind of back to cheating for offence,” said Flames off-season addition Milan Lucic. “And once we started turning the puck over and not covering up, we gave up some odd-man rushes and it ends up in the back of our net. You know, it’s one of those games early on that you can learn a lot from, and that’s what we need to do with a quick turnaround.”

Backup netminder Cam Talbot will be between the pipes as the Flames cap this three-game roadie with Sunday’s clash against the Sharks in San Jose (8 p.m. MT, Sportsnet One/Sportsnet 960 The Fan).

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