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A lack of creativity has brought Canadiens’ offence to a grinding halt – Habs Eyes on the Prize



The Montreal Canadiens continue to mismanage the puck in the offensive zone. It is not the first time we’re talking about it and it won’t be the last.

There is nothing wrong with a shot from the blue line — under the right conditions. Those with a heavy net-front presence, more attackers around the net than defenders, and an open shooting lane. The Canadiens have become so entrenched in their ways, however, that they rarely look to see if those conditions are met. As soon as the puck moves high, either to a defenceman or a forward, it slingshots back toward the net. The Canadiens hammer, blast, and smash with little forethought. The puck deflects off shin pads, hits teammates in various body parts, and bounces away from the control of the team.

Ultimately, by firing so much, the Habs only cut their offensive zone time and reduce the quality of their scoring chances.

You can see those tendencies illustrated on the chart below, in the bright-red spots where the blue line meets the wall and in front of the net where the puck ricochets on bodies, but ultimately rarely makes its way in the cage.

Natural Stat Trick

I get it, Montreal wants to make something happen, but they don’t take matters into their own hands with such poor puck management. They simply shoot over and over again and hope for the best, like the gambler who is already massively in debt, but keeps on betting because “the next one will pay off.”

The image below is a shot Phillip Danault decided to take in the first period. The puck came from the stick of Brendan Gallagher so there was a bit of pass movement prior to the release, but Danault’s shot remains a poor decision. The centreman barely crossed the blue line; he’s still at least two stick-lengths away from the slot, and his path there isn’t covered by Oilers defenceman. The opponents’ momentum is carrying them back. The ice in front is open. Danault can walk in and fire from much closer to the net.

Or, much better, he could use the threat of the shot to challenge and attract the defender standing near Gallagher and create a two-on-one with his teammate.

I think this is where Montreal is missing the most offensive opportunities. Teams expect them to fire from far away. They can play off that and confound the opposing defence by holding a release once in a while. The threat of a shot can become even more dangerous than an actual shot. A fake can freeze defenders and open space to walk around them, something we have seen Nick Suzuki pull off many times.

But this play isn’t reserved to highly skilled forwards. Take a look at this sequence.

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Joel Edmundson’s first point shot was a good decision. He got the puck at the top of the zone in a difficult position, and firing released defensive pressure. The second time the puck comes to him, however, he has space. Edmundson can accelerate on his first touch and take the puck down the wall or attract the defender and slide a pass to his partner after faking a release. But, once again, he hammers the puck in the direction of the net. The disc stops short of its course as it deflects on the hands of the defender. The shot could have easily turned into a breakaway the other way. Fortunately, the dice didn’t fall that way.

A few seconds later, Chiarot gains the puck on the other side of the ice. He gets his head up, sees the heavy net-front presence, understands that the puck won’t thread through all those bodies, and goes to work.

He fakes a first release and does it again. The defender flinches, expecting to receive yet another puck in the chest. Chiarot uses the opponent’s hesitation to step wide around him and attacks the net from below the goal line.

His chance of scoring would have probably improved had the forwards in front of the net sprung toward the high slot as he drove in instead of clogging his path to the blue paint, but the effort was more than commendable anyway.

This long-lasting overuse of point shots as a default strategy doesn’t just have repercussions on the scoreboard, but also on the development of the Habs prospects. Alexander Romanov lacks creativity on the offensive blue line. It was a clear weakness as he came through the ranks of Russian hockey, and you see it now with the Canadiens, too. (I wrote this article on his offensive development in January, 2019.)

His combo of high mobility and confidence could serve as the building blocks of a better offensive game, one with more flow and movement, with attacks down the wall, and passes to the slot. But the current offensive system of the Habs just reinforces his bad habits.

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A bit like Danault in the image above, in this sequence, the defence gives Romanov space to at least improve the location of his shot, or better, to take the puck in a lateral slide down the blue line that would stretch the opposing defence and allow one of his forwards to move high, possibly creating a puck exchange to beat a defender; the kind of movement that breathes some life into an offensive-zone presence.

But Romanov doesn’t look at his surroundings, doesn’t scan for a shooting lane, or for a better play. He gets his head down and blasts the puck. It hits a shin pad and creates a three-on-two the other way.

Of course, that is just one play at the very start of his career, but Montreal’s system isn’t tracing him a path to improvement. If he only follows its guidelines, like many rookies do as they try to survive and keep their spot, Romanov won’t receive the necessary push he needs to make the most of his skill set.

I talked about the Canadiens’ need to stay true to their identity in my previous article. But that doesn’t mean distilling down what made them successful in the early parts of the season. Montreal can shoot from the point, but that can’t be a default play. It has to remain a decision every time, a choice informed by a prior scanning of the offensive situation.

Am I being pressured? Do I have space to skate the puck and improve the location of a shot? Is there a seam to the slot or down the wall? Is a shooting lane open? Is there a teammate in a position to tip the puck? Are forwards outnumbering defenders near the net? These are some of the questions players have to ask themselves before they receive the puck at the top of the zone.

All in all, puck management isn’t the only issue for the Canadiens right now, but the team won’t get out of its funk until they start using each other in more productive ways.

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Sabres select Owen Power with No. 1 pick in 2021 NHL Draft –



The NHL draft turned Michigan maize and blue Friday night. And there’s a Hughes sibling reunion set to happen in New Jersey.

The Buffalo Sabres opened the draft by selecting Wolverines defenceman Owen Power with the top pick, and were immediately followed by the expansion Seattle Kraken choosing Michigan centre Matthew Beniers at No. 2. It marked the first time since 1969 that teammates went with the first two selections.

Three picks later, the Wolverines became college hockey’s first program to have three teammates go in the first round after the Columbus Blue Jackets selected Michigan winger Kent Johnson fifth.

“Extremely excited for Owen, Matty and their families. Its’ already a great night for Michigan Hockey. Go Blue,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson texted to The Associated Press after the Kraken made their selection.

That’s not all, however. Luke Hughes, who is committed to playing at Michigan, was chosen fourth overall by the the Devils, where the defenceman is united with brother Jack, who was the No. 1 pick in the 2019 draft.

Hughes watched the draft on his family’s living room couch with both of his NHL-playing brothers, rounded out by Quinn, who was selected seventh overall by Vancouver in 2018. Jack Hughes immediately jumped up and began hugging Luke upon hearing Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald announce the pick.

Ontario junior centre Mason McTavish was the only player without Michigan ties to round out the top five, after he was selected third overall by Anahiem.

The draft was held remotely for a second consecutive year due to the coronavirus pandemic, with commissioner Gary Bettman hosting the draft in New Jersey, where he introduced teams to make their selections from their home arenas.

On a day the Sabres traded Rasmus Ristolainen to the Philadelphia Flyers, general manager Kevyn Adams continued his offseason bid to overhaul a struggling franchise by choosing the stalwart defenceman’s heir apparent. Power is listed at six-foot-six and 213 pounds and was the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau’s top-ranked North American prospect. After scoring three goals and adding 13 assists in 26 games during his freshman season at Michigan, the 18-year-old Power cemented his draft stock by helping Canada win the world hockey championships.

From Mississauga, Ontario, Power is leaning toward returning to school for his sophomore season, something Adams has said would not play a factor into his selection.

“Not thinking about it too much right now, trying to enjoy the night. That’s something I’ll worry about later,” Power said of his future, while surrounded by his family and friends in his backyard.

As for a message to Sabres fans, he said: “I’m super excited to be part of the franchise and ready to get going.”

Power was the third player drafted first directly out of college, joining Michigan State forward Joe Murphy in 1986 and Boston University goalie Rick DiPietro in 2000. And he became the 16th defenceman to go No. 1 since 1970, and first since the Sabres chose Rasmus Dahlin at No. 1 in 2018.

Power and Dahlin have similar two-way, play-making skills, and will have the opportunity to form the backbone of a retooled defensive unit for years to come.

Beniers was ranked sixth overall among North American prospects. He had 14 goals and 24 points in 24 games for the Wolverines.

In 1969, Rejean Houle and Marc Tardif were Montreal Junior Canadiens teammates, who were selected with the first two picks by Montreal. In 1963, Garry Monahan and St. Michael’s Juveniles teammate Peter Mahovlich were selected first and second.

The Sabres made a splash earlier by adding a second first-round pick, 14th overall, and defenceman Robert Hagg in dealing Ristolainen to Philadelphia.

The trade is part of Adams’ bid to rebuild through youth after Buffalo finished last in the overall standings for a fourth time in eight seasons and extended its playoff drought to an NHL record-matching 10th year.

The acquired pick from Philadelphia is actually 13th in the draft order after the NHL stripped the Arizona Coyotes of their first-round pick, 11th overall, for testing players in violation of league’s combine policy.

The Coyotes, however, moved back into the first round by acquiring the Canucks’ pick, ninth overall, in a five-player trade that sent Arizona captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson to Vancouver earlier in the day.

The first European players selected were from Sweden in back to back selections. Defenceman Simon Edvinsson went sixth to the Detroit Red Wings, followed by under-sized forward William Eklund, who was chosen seventh by the San Jose Sharks.

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More people watched Seattle NHL expansion draft on ESPN2 than Cubs-Cards on ESPN – Awful Announcing



In the grand scheme of things, 637,000 viewers nationally is not a huge number for a cable channel with any level of significant distribution. Most things on broadcast TV not only beat that, but beat it by quite a bit, and that kind of number isn’t usually even amongst the top cable broadcasts. However, the news that ESPN2 pulled that number in for its (NHL-produced, but featuring ESPN figures) coverage of the NHL expansion draft for the Seattle Kraken Wednesday night was certainly interesting, especially as so much of the actual news around that draft was reported in advance, and also given that their main-network coverage of the MLB game between the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals drew fewer viewers. Here’s a comparison of Wednesday night sporting events from John Ourand of Sports Business Journal:

On the negative side, that draft didn’t even draw the numbers of studio show Pardon The Interruption (however, that airs on ESPN rather than ESPN2; they’re similar in distribution, but many people turn on main ESPN first). It also didn’t draw the numbers of early Olympic programming from NBCSN. On the positive side, it outdrew a national MLB game. And it drew more than the Vegas Golden Knights’ expansion draft five years ago (595,000 on NBCSN for a combined broadcast of that draft and the NHL Awards). And it’s a good sign for ESPN, as this is their first big NHL event they aired under their new deal.

And yes, as Ourand noted in a follow-up tweet, that Cubs-Cards game didn’t have regional sports network blackouts, so Cubs and Cardinals fans could still watch it on their local RSNs. And most probably did, so it likely primarily pulled the national audience that didn’t have those RSNs. But it’s still interesting to see an ESPN2 event outdraw an ESPN event, especially when the ESPN event is a live game and the ESPN2 event is a one-team expansion draft (and one where most of the information was previously available to the public).

If ESPN versus ESPN2 programming decisions were made strictly from a standpoint of what they thought would draw more viewers, this result would go against that. That’s not entirely the case here, as the MLB on ESPN package comes with some restrictions on where games can air. But it’s still interesting to see the NHL expansion draft on ESPN2 outdraw a live MLB game between two prominent teams.

That is also perhaps further evidence that draft “spoilers” don’t always damage the ratings that much. That’s long been a debate, from the NFL’s heavy pushes against pick-tipping to the NBA’s more moderate approach (which sees pick-tipping still happen with some different language, and which hasn’t really led to obvious ratings losses).

In the case of this draft, figures who don’t work for expansion draft rightsholders Sportsnet (Canada) and ESPN (U.S.) reported many of the picks early, with Frank Seravalli (formerly of TSN, now of Daily Faceoff) and Pierre LeBrun (TSN/The Athletic) getting many of those, other national figures getting some more, and local reporters getting some others. So a mostly-full picture was available before the broadcast for those who wanted to find it. But that didn’t stop a significant amount of people from watching this, and that maybe shows that the league pushes against pick-tipping aren’t always that impactful.

[John Ourand on Twitter]

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Cleveland changes MLB team nickname to Guardians after months of discussion –



Known as the Indians since 1915, Cleveland’s Major League Baseball team will be called Guardians.

The ball club announced the name change Friday with a video on Twitter narrated by actor Tom Hanks, ending months of internal discussions triggered by a national reckoning by institutions and teams to permanently drop logos and names that are considered racist.

The choice of Guardians will undoubtedly be criticized by many of the club’s die-hard fans.

The organization spent most of the past year whittling down a list of potential names that was at nearly 1,200 just over a month ago. But the process quickly accelerated and the club landed on Guardians.

Social unrest spurred name change

Team owner Paul Dolan said last summer’s social unrest, touched off by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, spurred his intention to change the name.

Dolan is expected to provide more details on the choice and background on the change at a news conference at Progressive Field before Cleveland hosts the Tampa Bay Rays.

Dolan said the new name mirrors the city and its people.

“Cleveland has and always will be the most important part of our identity,” he said in a statement. “Therefore, we wanted a name that strongly represents the pride, resiliency and loyalty of Clevelanders. ‘Guardians’ reflects those attributes that define us.”

In 2018, the team stopped wearing the contentious Chief Wahoo logo on their jerseys and caps. However, the team continues to sell merchandise bearing the smiling, red-faced caricature that was protested for decades by Native American groups.

The name change has sparked lively debate among the city’s passionate sports fans. Other names, including the Spiders, which is what the team was once called, were pushed by supporters on social media platforms.

But Guardians does seem to fit the team’s objective to find a name that embodies Cleveland’s ethos while preserving the team’s history and uniting the community.

Not far from the downtown ballpark, there are two large landmark stone edifices — referred to as guardians — on the Hope Memorial Bridge over the Cuyahoga River.

The team’s colours will remain the same, and the new Guardians’ new logos will incorporate some of the architectural features of the bridge.

The change comes as the Washington Football Team continues to work toward a similar makeover. The franchise dropped its name before the 2020 season and said it will reveal a new name and logo in 2022.

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