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

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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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Large hits three-run homer, Jays beat Phillies – TSN

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DUNEDIN — Cullen Large belted a three-run home run to lead the Toronto Blue Jays past the Philadelphia Phillies 7-1 in exhibition baseball action Saturday.

Large’s blast anchored a five-run inning for Toronto, which finished with 10 hits in a contest that was halted in the seventh.

Kirby Snead (1-0) took the win, allowing no hits and no runs over a 1 1/3 innings. He had a strikeout while issuing two walks.

Toronto used six pitchers in the game. The Blue Jays, who’ve won two straight, face the Detroit Tigers on Sunday.

Toronto also claimed right-hander Joel Payamps off waivers from the Boston Red Sox while designating right-hander Jacob Waguespack for assignment.

Toronto claimed Payamps from Boston on Feb. 11 but the Red Sox claimed him back 11 days later. The six-foot-two, 225-pound pitcher has made four career major-league appearances, allowing three earned runs over seven innings.

Payamps was originally signed by the Colorado Rockies in 2010 and has compiled a 41-43 record and 4.15 earned-run average in 145 minor-league games.,

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 6, 2021.

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Full transcript: Wayne Gretzky eulogizes his late father Walter – CTV News

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TORONTO —
Wayne Gretzky paid tribute to his late father Walter on Saturday in a heartfelt eulogy during the Gretzky patriarch’s funeral in Brantford, Ont. Below is a complete transcript of the eulogy, as transcribed by CTVNews.ca, edited for length and clarity.

Wayne Gretzky: Obviously, with the pandemic that we’ve had, it’s been horrible for everyone throughout the world, Canada, North America. I really want to tell everyone that my dad and my sister and our family were so conscious of it and that COVID had nothing to do with the passing of my father. Unfortunately, a few weeks ago, he sustained a bad hip injury and, as I said earlier, we thought weeks ago that the end was here. He has a tremendous amount of faith. Faith like I’ve never seen, but he had a love for life and he didn’t want to leave. And we were 21 days sitting with him, and just enjoying life and we got a chance, an opportunity to tell stories.

Our grandchildren have… seen my dad after his brain aneurysm, and we were telling them all you’re thankful that you didn’t know him before his brain aneurysm because he was a lot tougher. So it’s been a tough time. I want to thank everyone in the community who dropped off food, who dropped off sandwiches, they knew we were all there for 21 days. My sister was a champ, she was beside him, each and every minute of the day. The grandkids were wonderful. My dad and mom, I know are so proud. So I thought I would tell a couple stories.

I spent the last four nights talking with my wife Janet, thinking what I was going to say and, like I usually do, I try to just kind of wing it and speak from my heart. So years ago, as everyone knows, my dad was such a huge sports fan and hockey guy, and we were playing in a hockey tournament outside of Toronto, and my dad was so proud of the fact we’re going to play against better teams than little towns in this area. On a Friday night, we were going to the tournament and my mom said, ‘No. Walter, we’re going to have this baby this weekend.’ And he said, ‘That’s OK, you can wait till we get back.’

So, Brent was born on the Saturday. We went to this tournament in Whitby, Ontario. We played against good teams like Burlington, Oshawa, Hamilton, Toronto Marlies, Nationals. We won the tournament, we got in the car and we weren’t sure if the car to get us back from Oshawa to Brantford. So we finally got back, and the next day, mom came home with Brent, people were coming by — families, friends, sisters — congratulations on the baby, and every single person would say to my dad, ‘Walter, I can’t believe you missed the birth of your son.’ So our next door neighbour Mary Rosetto came over and she was the last person to come over. She said, ‘Walter, I can’t believe you missed the birth of Brent,’ and when she walked out the door he was so mad, he stood up and grabbed the trophy and he goes, ‘Yes, but we got the trophy.’

So, as time goes on, he was so nice to all the grandchildren. Every grandchild loved him, close to each and every one of them. They understood how important he was not only to our family but to the culture of Canada. He came here, his family as an immigrant. They came here because he wanted a better life. I don’t think I’ve ever met a prouder Canadian than my dad. And all my five children are American, born in United States, and I always tell them you should be as proud of the United States as your grandfather is of Canada, because that’s how much he loves the country.

I always tell my kids there’s nothing better in life than family. My dad would come every year to our summer house. My sons Ty, Trevor, Tristan they had a hockey school and dad would come out, he’d go to the rink, sign autographs like he always does. We were playing golf one day, and he’s picking up golf balls. And I’m like, ‘We have all these golf balls, what are these golf balls for?’

And finally the next day, Ty, Trevor, and Tristan, my friend Mike and Tom, they’re in the fairway, they’re in the rough, they’re grabbing all these balls. And I finally grab them, I said, ‘You guys got to stop grabbing golf balls.’ And they’re like, ‘What do you mean? Your dad wants them for the kids.’ I said, I know he wants them for the kids, but I got to sign them for the kids.’ So I take my dad to the airport at 5 a.m., sure enough we get to the airport and there’s two big bags, and my brother Glen he runs out of the car, he’s going to get a cup of coffee, and my dad goes, ‘You’ll sign these for the kids, right?’ I’m like, ‘Oh my god.’ So there I was signing for hours, but that’s how he was.

He was a remarkable man who loved life, love family. We’d be a way better world if there was so many more people like my dad. Very special. We’re all hurting, this is a tough time. I’m so proud of the fact that so many people have reached out and given him such great tributes because he deserves it. He has a heart of gold and just wonderful. Thank you.

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Ace, bunker hole-out, massive putts all part of Jordan Spieth's third round – Golf Channel

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ORLANDO, Fla. – Jordan Spieth got off to a hot start Saturday at Bay Hill.

After sinking a 20-footer for birdie at the par-4 opening hole, Spieth dunked his tee shot from 223 yards at the par-3 second hole. The hole-in-one was Spieth’s third career ace on Tour, following aces at the 2013 Puerto Rico Open and 2015 BMW Championship at Conway Farms.

“I hit a 5-iron, it was 205 front, 220 hole, and the wind wasn’t blowing very hard, so I was trying to peel it left to right to hold the wind and land it a little right of the hole. I hit it a little thin but it was right on the line I wanted and knowing that the grass was wet, you get some skid, I thought in the air it was going to be pretty good. Certainly not as good as it was,” Spieth said.

Spieth’s birdie-ace start moved him to 8 under, a shot off the lead at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

He then hit his next shot, a tee ball at the par-4 third, into the water, but he rallied to save par by holing a 32-footer.

The fireworks continued on the next par 3, the 201-yard seventh. No ace this time, but a birdie courtesy a 71-foot bunker hole-out.

Spieth then grabbed sole possession of the lead with this 36-foot birdie putt at the par-4 10th.

Spieth would two-putt for birdie at the par-5 12th but that was the end of his scoring. He missed a 6-footer for par at the 14th and an 8-footer for par at the 17th to drop two shots coming in. He finished with a 4-under 68 and, at 9 under par, was two back of leader Lee Westwood.

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