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Hughes returns from freak injury to inject power-play pop for Canucks

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Rookie defenceman Quinn Hughes has dazzled with pace, precision and playmaking.

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Canucks’ rookie hitting all the high notes to propel dominant first unit to its potential

The irony of being injured without being touched is not lost on Quinn Hughes.

The elusive Vancouver Canucks defenceman returned from a left-knee bruise Tuesday, and the odd play that sidelined the NHL rookie for one game is a testament to his skill set, because he knows this much:

Speed kills. Speed thrills. And speed can be a saviour to avoid being caught in the crunching crosshairs.

“Of course, you want to avoid the hits because it’s a long season, and all the times I got hurt the last couple of years — blocked shots and then this — it hasn’t really been from physical play yet,” the 20-year-old standout said when asked to recall what occurred Friday in Anaheim.

“It was just a really weird play and nothing you could do about it.”

Hughes was retreating in the neutral zone at the Honda Center, and while attempting to corral a loose puck during a 28-second shift in the second period, the ankle folded under him.

“A lot of people thought it was my ankle,” added Hughes. “I’m not sure if my foot got stuck in the ice or what happened. It happened so fast and you can’t really tell on the ice. A rut, maybe. I knew I was by myself and it was the blade being stuck in the ice and my knee just went forward. It wasn’t from falling.

“I was pretty worried. I felt a lot of pain in my knee and it was kind of a little bit of a scare because you don’t know what that can be. In the heat of the game, you obviously have stuff going through your brain — what could this be? — but you just have to stay calm and let the doctors do their job. I’m just relieved.”

And so are the Canucks.

They got a similar scare last March when Hughes suffered a bruised ankle with Michigan after blocking a shot in the Big Ten best-of-three quarterfinal series opener against Minnesota. X-rays revealed no structural damage and the ailment had to heal before Hughes made his NHL debut.


Despite the physicality of play at the NHL level, it hasn’t been hits that have sidelined Canucks defensive phenom Quinn Hughes, seen colliding with Derek Grant of the Anaheim Ducks on Nov. 1 at the Honda Center.

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When he took to the NHL ice, there was something special about the seventh overall selection in the 2018 draft. He was already drawing comparisons to the game’s greats, and the Canucks could only imagine how their struggling power play would eventually improve with the diminutive D-man at the helm.

Long a source of scrutiny and bewilderment, the power play erupted for nine goals in seven games heading into Tuesday’s test against the Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues. It included a 4-for-6 performance last Wednesday in Los Angeles and a ninth-overall rating.

Hughes not only had a career-high three power-play assists against the Kings on Oct. 30, eight of his 10 points have come via the man advantage, with one goal and seven helpers. It’s why he’s in the early Calder Trophy conversation.

His absence in Anaheim Friday and San Jose on Saturday was critical. The Canucks went a combined 1-for-8 on the power play and surrendered short-handed goals in each outing. They had trouble getting out of their own zone with pace and precision and seemed stagnant once they gained the offensive zone.

Coach Travis Green was reluctant to start Hughes on the first power-play unit because it’s a lot of responsibility for a young player still trying to find his way in the pro game. But it didn’t take long for the Canucks’ coach to defer to the manner in which Hughes proved early that he could be a game-changer. Replacing Alex Edler on the first unit wasn’t a matter of if, it was a matter of when.

“It’s not surprising,” said Green. “We’ve said it from Day 1 that he’s going to be a top power-play guy, but we wanted to take our time. Part of that is expectation and we wanted him to really understand the power play, and I didn’t want to put him on right from the get-go and have to take him off if it didn’t succeed.

“All of a sudden a young player’s confidence is maybe at a different spot. I want young players to play a lot and in top spots, but it’s my job to protect them and get them into a spot where it’s the right time and keeps the confidence high.

“He has confidence. But he’s also humble and for me that’s important.”

Chris Tanev has benefited in being paired with Hughes at even strength. It forces the veteran blue-liner to play at pace, and escaping the D-zone in a hurry has helped avoid blocking more shots and risking injury.

“You see how good he is, how good he moves and up top how he’s very smart,” Tanev said of Hughes. “You could see it in the preseason. He was very deceptive and it throws a lot of people off.

“Guys go to forecheck him and they don’t know whether he’s going left or right. He might spin off or throw it (puck) behind his back. He’s got the full bag of tricks and I love it. It gets me up the ice, allows me to play aggressive and it’s been a good match so far.”

bkuzma@postmedia.com

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Alex Ovechkin’s hit should get a review from the NHL

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Friday night’s game between the Canadiens and Capitals was a very fast-paced and entertaining affair. The Habs had one of their best performances of the year, but unfortunately there was one negative moment that I feel needs to be singled out.

Alex Ovechkin came off his feet to hammer Jonathan Drouin, and it was quite disgusting.

Claude Julien said after the game that he didn’t feel there was contact with the head. I’d argue that there is, but it wasn’t the primary point of contact, so you can’t really judge it as targeting the head.

What it is, however, is a blatant charge.

He very clearly comes off his feet to hit a defenseless player. He isn’t egregiously late, but the puck isn’t on Drouin’s stick by the time he makes contact either, so he’s gaining no advantage possession-wise. At any rate, it’s a textbook charge, and inexplicably went uncalled by the officials at the time.

The official in the half-piston spot inside the Capitals zone should be embarrassed that he didn’t make the call. He’s literally staring at it. I’m stunned that he could watch that happen and think it was okay. I’d love to hear him explain how it isn’t a penalty, because he shouldn’t be allowed to officiate another hockey game at any level if he even tries to defend that no-call.

Let’s hear from the man himself, who thought it necessary to defend the hit by reminding us all that hockey is not the same as dancing.

Gee, Alexander, thanks for reminding me I didn’t accidentally put Black Swan on my television. You’re definitely not a ballerina, but you broke the rules of hockey with that hit, plain and simple.

A good example of a hockey play would be the goal you scored in the third. When it comes to your hit on Drouin, you come off your feet to obliterate a defenseless player. Hits are supposed to be an effort to take possession of the puck from the recipient, which you obviously can’t do when you fly through the air for said hit and end up landing on top of the recipient.

It’s a hockey play only in the sense that it happened in a hockey game. That is you putting a hurt on another player, which I’d argue is tantamount to intent to injure.

And if it is a ‘hockey play’ as you say, Mr. Ovechkin, how deliciously ironic is it that your hit woke the Habs up and preceded a four-goal period for your opposition?

Plays like this don’t belong in hockey. As a Habs fan I almost wished they had a Ryan Reaves to send out there and do some reciprocal damage. Shea Weber probably could have taken that role and rearranged Ovechkin’s face, but luckily the team instead rallied together and decided to punish the Capitals on the scoreboard, where it really hurts.

If the Habs had a pure goon on their roster to go take revenge, they’d have a roster spot occupied by someone incapable of providing the speed with which they dismantled the best team in the league. In retrospect, I’m glad that they don’t, because they put on a hell of a performance in the wake of the hit.

But the NHL should take a second look at this, and since they probably won’t go the route of a suspension, at least levy a fine to say that you’re not okay with this behaviour. Send some sort of message that even if you’re a superstar, you can’t just go around taking runs at people.

Because doing nothing sends a message that teams should soldier up to punish those hits themselves, and you set the game of hockey back in time.

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Charge dropped against Toronto Raptors fan who made vulgar comment about Ayesha Curry

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Tristan Warkentin made a lewd remark that was directed at Ayesha Curry, seen here on Oct. 8, 2015, while staring directly into the camera. Rich Fury/The Associated Press

A Toronto Raptors fan who made a vulgar comment on live television about Ayesha Curry, wife of NBA star Stephen Curry, has been ordered to stay away from both her and the reporter to whom he made the comment.

Prosecutors on Friday dropped a mischief charge against Tristan Warkentin, who has instead agreed to a common-law bond that orders him not to associate with Curry or CP24 reporter Kelly Linehan.

Warkentin also received counselling related to sexual harassment, court heard.

His lawyer, Richard Addelman, said outside court that his client “said some things and now he’s apologized for those things.”

Warkentin, standing beside his lawyer, declined to comment.

Linehan was interviewing Raptors fans after the team lost Game 2 of the NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors on June 2. She asked Warkentin about the vibe in Jurassic Park, where thousands of fans gathered to watch Raptors playoff games on big screens outside Scotiabank Arena.

That’s when Warkentin made the lewd remark that was directed at Ayesha Curry, whose husband plays for Golden State, while staring directly into the camera. The camera operator pulled away quickly and the audio went silent, but not before Warkentin used profane language on live television.

Stephen Curry – whose wife is an actress, celebrity cook, author and television personality who grew up in Markham, Ont. – later called insults against his family “stupid.”

Toronto police launched an investigation asking for the public’s help to identify the man. A few days later, police charged Warkentin with mischief by interfering with the lawful operation of property.

There have been a string of incidents involving the same profane taunt across the country, usually directed at female reporters and often at sporting events.

A similar incident outside a TFC soccer game in Toronto on CityNews in 2015 led to the firing of a Hydro One employee, although he was later rehired by the utility.

In one bad week in November 2017 for CHCH reporter Britt Dixon, she was harassed three separate times by men yelling the obscenity. In one case, Dixon was interviewing a Hamilton police officer who then arrested the man and charged him with causing a disturbance.

In Halifax in December 2017, CTV reporter Heather Butts was broadcasting live from a pub during a hockey game when Nash John Gracie made a crude gesture and uttered the same sexually explicit comment. He was charged with one count of public mischief and one count of causing a disturbance. Gracie later pleaded down to community service as part of a restorative justice process.

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Canadiens win 5-2 against Washington

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With the win over the team with the best record in the NHL, the Canadiens have earned at least one point in eight of their last nine games (7-1-1).

WASHINGTON — The Canadiens backed up a strong performance by Carey Price with a four-goal explosion in the second period and defeated the Washington Capitals 5-2 Friday at Capital One Arena.

With the win over the team with the best record in the NHL, the Canadiens have earned at least one point in eight of their last nine games (7-1-1).

Price has had his problems with Washington, but he made 25 saves to boost his career record against the Capitals to 8-14-5.

Canadiens’ Cale Fleury and Capitals’ Richard Panik battle for the puck at Capital One Arena on Saturday, Nov. 15, 2019, in Washington, D.C. Patrick Smith / Getty Images

The floodgates opened for the Canadiens after a strong forecheck led to the first Montreal goal at 6:33 of the second period. Pressure from Shea Weber and Ben Chiarot forced T.J. Oshie into a turnover as he tried to exit the Washington zone. Brendan Gallagher picked up the loose puck and Tomas Tatar, who was filling in for a banged-up Jonathan Drouin, found Phillip Danault alone in front, and he showed patience as he faked a shot and then lifted a backhander over rookie goaltender Ilya Samsonov’s glove.

Weber beat the 22-year-old goaltender with a shot from the left faceoff circle at 9:16 and Samsonov looked weak when Jordan Weal beat him on a backhander to the far post at 11:42. Weal was returning to the lineup after four games as a healthy scratch.

The Canadiens enjoyed the first power play of the game and, while they didn’t score, they gained momentum and made it 4-0 seconds after Garnet Hathaway retuned to the ice. Rookie Nick Suzuki was credited with the goal when his attempt to set up Gallagher in front caromed off a defender.

It appears the Canadiens see an inordinate number of backup goaltenders, but Samsonov is already pencilled in as the No. 1 next season because cap-challenged Washington can’t afford to re-sign Braden Holtby, who will be an unrestricted free agent in July.

Samsonov, who had a 5-0-1 record coming into the game, was tough to beat in the first period. The Canadiens had the better of the play, outshooting the Capitals 15-8 on the strength of a flurry when they fired five shots on Samsonov in the final minute. Washington’s best scoring chance came midway through the period when Evgeny Kuznetsov hit a post.

The Canadiens did a good job of containing Alex Ovechkin, but he scored a power-play goal in the third period to end Price’s shutout bid. Ovechkin has made life difficult for Price and the Canadiens throughout his career. He has 32 goals and 53 points in 49 games against Montreal. He has scored 21 of those goals in 26 games against Price.

Kuznetsov scored on a breakaway with less than five minutes to play and the Capitals pulled their goalie. Price made made a save on Richard Panik to preserve the two-goal lead and Tatar scored an empty-netter to cap a four-point night.

Drouin was blindsided by Ovechkin early in the second period. He left the ice on his own power, but immediately went to the dressing room. He missed the rest of the period, but returned for the third.

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