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Oilers elevate game in third to beat Canucks

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There it was, on a silver platter.

A chance for a losing team to build on its first win in eight games, Saturday’s heartening 5-3 victory over Calgary still coursing through the veins. An opportunity to build some momentum against a Vancouver team in the throes of a COVID-19 shortage, ripe for a home loss against what was supposed to be a confident Oilers club.

This should be easy, right?

What? The Canucks are starting Spencer Martin in goal?

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Piece of cake, right?

Yeah, right.

Down 2-0 with less than 15 minutes to play on Tuesday, Ryan McLeod slipped a shot between Martin and the near post. It was Martin’s only mistake on a 50-shot night, but by the time they were done the Oilers had fought back for a 3-2 overtime victory.

In recent losing streaks of six and seven games, it was usually Edmonton’s netminder who would surrender that queasy goal at an important moment. But now, after winning two straight games, if ever you wanted evidence that perhaps Edmonton’s luck has turned, look no further than the smelly goal that opened the floodgates in Vancouver.

“It’s 16 games. It’s tough to blame it all on bounces,” Connor McDavid admitted of their woes of late. “We weren’t playing our best hockey, but bounces do go a long way, and ‘Clouder found a way to sneak one through.”

“(Martin) was playing unbelievable, shutting the door all game,” said McLeod, who has five goals in 27 games this season. “It’s just the little squeaker ones that go in first and open the door for the rest of the guys. Early in the shift, I had a chance to shoot and I made a pass. They’ve been telling me to shoot a little more. I decided to shoot.”

From there the Oilers dominated a Canucks team that has been gutted by COVID cases, showing up to play Tuesday with no Bo Horvat, no Tanner Pearson, no Conor Garland and neither of the goaltending tandem of Thatcher Demko nor Jaro Halak.

Cue Martin, the third-stringer who faced an even 50 shots and held Edmonton to two regulation goals. He had preceded McLeod with the Mississauga Steelheads of the OHL, and played against Connor McDavid back in their minor hockey days around the GTA. So the Oilers knew of him, if not how to beat him through the opening 45 minutes.

But once McLeod broke the seal, you could see Edmonton gain life. The Oilers outshot Vancouver 15-9 in the third period and 9-1 in overtime. Leon Draisaitl’s 29th tied the game halfway through the third off a lovely pass by the returning Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and McDavid scored his first since Dec. 31 to capture the second point in overtime.

The Oilers captain has been slumping for a few weeks. The jump has been there, just not the usual production.

“I’ve been a bit snake bit,” he said. “I feel like I’m getting my chances, but haven’t been able to put one away. It was nice to be able to contribute and find a way to score a goal.”

Nice to win two straight, something the Oilers last did in the two games between six- and seven-game losing streaks. They are still right in thick of the Pacific Division race with half a season to go, but only if they can win a goodly share of their games in hand.

“It’s important — we want to get on a little roll here. That’s the main focus,” said McDavid, whose team faces Nashville on Thursday before hitting the road for Montreal, Ottawa and Washington. “It was a big win on Saturday, it’s a big win tonight. We’ve got to keep marching forward.”

It was the second straight game that Edmonton fell behind 2-0 and then battled back to win. “Not exactly a recipe for success,” said McDavid.

They still never score first — this was the 10th straight game and 25th of 28 games they’ve gone down 1-0 — but give the Oilers credit. They dominated this hockey game, outshooting Vancouver 50-27 while garnering 62.5 percent of scoring chances and 81.25 percent of the high danger scoring chances, according to Natural Stat Trick.

Meanwhile, Mikko Koskinen was his usual self in goal. And by that we mean you wondered about one goal, an Elias Pettersson snapper from the outside edge of the circle, but he stopped Tyler Motte on a crucial short-handed breakaway that immediately preceded Draisaitl’s game-tying goal.

In the end Koskinen allowed two, and in a 3-2 league his team won by that exact score. Consider it a game well goaltended.

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Jays Sign Chad Green

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Here I thought the Jays were done signing people this winter, but they have picked up right-handed reliever Chad Green. He’s signed a two-year $8.5 million contract, with options for two more years.

Or it may be more complicated than that:

Green had Tommy John surgery back in May of last year. Apparently, he has already passed his physical.

The options give the Jays some fallback in case he doesn’t come back from TJ being the same pitcher. But if he returns the same pitcher, we have him for the next four seasons.

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Green turns 32 in May. He’s been a Yankee for seven seasons. He has a 3.17 in 272 games. In 2021 he had a 3.12 ER in 67 games and a 31.4% strikeout rate.

Welcome to the Jays, Chad.

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Broncos trade for former Saints HC Payton

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — The Denver Broncos have agreed to a deal with the New Orleans Saints that will make Sean Payton their head coach, a person with knowledge of the accord said Tuesday.

The person, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the teams hadn’t announced the agreement, said the Broncos would send their first-round pick, No. 29 overall, in this year’s draft to the Saints along with a future second-rounder. Denver also will receive a third-round pick in the trade.

Payton remained under contract with New Orleans after stepping down from the Saints last year and working in broadcasting this season.

Payton, 59, went 152-89 in 15 seasons with the Saints and 9-8 in the playoffs. He led New Orleans to a 31-17 win over the Indianapolis Colts in the Super Bowl following the 2009 season. He stepped away last year when quarterback Drew Brees retired.

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The Broncos, who went 5-12 in 2022 and extended their playoff drought to seven years, fired rookie coach Nathaniel Hackett on Dec. 26 after he went 4-11. Interim coach Jerry Rosburg went 1-1.

Payton’s top task will be to get quarterback Russell Wilson back to his winning ways after the 11-year pro had his worst statistical season following his blockbuster trade from Seattle for four premium draft picks and three players.

The Seahawks reached the playoffs under QB Geno Smith in their first year without Wilson, and now they own the Broncos’ No. 5 overall selection in the draft in April.

The Broncos got back into the first round by trading pass rusher Bradley Chubb at midseason to the Miami Dolphins, who sent the Broncos a first-rounder originally owned by the San Francisco 49ers.

That selection, the 29th overall pick, now belongs to the Saints.

Payton was the headliner during this year’s cycle of head coach openings. Just five teams were searching for coaches: the Broncos, Texans, Panthers, Colts and Cardinals.

The Broncos conducted an extensive search, beginning with a virtual visit with Jim Harbaugh, who decided to stay at the University of Michigan. Also considered were Dan Quinn, DeMeco Ryans, Raheem Morris, Ejiro Evero, Jim Caldwell and David Shaw. The Texans hired Ryans on Tuesday.

NFL rules didn’t allow the Broncos to speak with Payton until Jan. 17, more than three weeks after they’d fired Hackett.

Team owner and CEO Greg Penner led the search with assistance from limited partner Condoleezza Rice and general manager George Paton.

Paton led last year’s search and landed on Hackett, one of several decisions that backfired on him in 2022 as Hackett became just the fifth head coach in NFL history not to survive his first season.

Others were the $70 million contract he gave to free agent Randy Gregory, who played in six games and recorded a pair of sacks, and the $245 million contract extension he gave to Wilson before the opener.

Wilson threw a career-low 16 touchdown passes and was sacked a league-leading and career-high 55 times in 15 games for Denver. He has vowed to do everything he can to bounce back in 2023.

Wilson played well for two weeks under Rosburg, giving the team hope that his poor performances last season were an aberration and that maybe his skill set was just a bad fit in Hackett’s offense.

Penner, his wife, Carrie Walton-Penner, and her father, Rob Walton, purchased the Broncos last summer for $4.65 billion, a global record for a professional sports franchise. But the team turned out to be more of a fixer-upper than they expected.

“When we purchased this great franchise in August, this is not the season we were expecting,” Penner said after firing Hackett. “I want to personally apologize to our fans and all of Broncos country. We know that we need to be better and we will.”

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Leafs may have lucked out with timing of Auston Matthews and Matt Murray injuries

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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews and goaltender Matt Murray celebrate after defeating the Colorado Avalanche at Ball Arena in Denver on Dec. 31, 2022.Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY Sports via Reuters

Not that it is ever good to have key players injured, but the Maple Leafs may have caught a break with Auston Matthews and Matt Murray.

With the NHL’s all-star weekend just ahead, both will have more time to nurse what ails them while also possibly missing less action.

Matthews suffered a knee sprain in an overtime victory against the New York Rangers on Jan. 25 and the team’s star centre is expected to be sidelined at least three weeks. It will cause him to miss Saturday’s all-star spectacle in Sunrise, Fla.

Murray, who had already surrendered the starting job in Toronto’s net to Ilya Samsonov, is now plagued by an ankle affliction and it is anybody’s guess when he will return.

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The 28-year-old, whose acquisition was seen as risky owing to his history of injuries, has already missed more than a month with an adductor strain. He has not played 40 games in a season since 2018-19.

“There’s something there that’s going to require time for sure,” Sheldon Keefe, the Maple Leafs’ head coach, said. “We won’t quite know, really, until we come back from the break.”

Toronto has a contest against Boston at Scotiabank Arena on Wednesday before its eight-day recess begins. Its next game after that will be at Columbus on Feb. 10.

Despite a lengthy list of injuries, the Maple Leafs have done well over the first two-thirds of the season. They are 31-12-8, second in the NHL’s Atlantic Division and a shoe-in to reach the playoffs even if 11 points behind the Bruins.

Boston is an almost incomprehensible 38-7-5 but arrives in town with three consecutive losses. A win will boost the Maple Leafs’ faint hopes of catching up.

“You want to go into the break feeling good,” Keefe said Monday after a team meeting and an optional workout for players at the Ford Performance Centre. “We expect a tough game for sure.

“Our job is to keep pace and apply pressure a little more, just like the teams behind us are trying to do to us. It is a great way to go into the all-star break. There is a lot of excitement.”

After an uninspired effort in a loss to Ottawa on Friday, Toronto rebounded to dismantle the Washington Capitals 5-1 on Sunday.

John Tavares recorded two assists in the 1,000th game of his NHL career, Morgan Rielly scored for the first time this campaign and Samsonov recorded 23 saves as he ran his record on home ice to 15-1-1.

“We played today more for John,” Samsonov said after improving his record to 17-5-2 overall. He did not realize Tavares was about to reach a milestone until a pre-game ceremony.

“One thousand games,” Samonov said, pausing, “That’s amazing.”

Rielly, who is respected as an offensively skilled defenceman, had gone without a goal in 35 previous games this season. In the best year of his career, he had 20 goals.

“Mostly, I just feel relief,” Rielly said. “We wanted to respond after a bad game against Ottawa. We weren’t very proud of ourselves when we went home from here on Friday.”

Joseph Woll, who is 12-1 with a .928 save percentage for the Toronto Marlies, has been called up from the American Hockey League as Samsonov’s backup.

With any luck at all, Woll will not be pressed to play thanks to the upcoming prolonged break.

But first the Bruins come to town.

“Every game against Boston is special,” Alexander Kerfoot, the Maple Leafs’ forward, said.

William Nylander had an assist on Sunday and on Monday was named the league’s second star of the week. He leads Toronto with 28 goals and is tied with Mitch Marner for the team lead with 59 points.

“We are just trying to carve our way back to Boston,” Nylander said. “We have to keeping winning games and see what happens.

“The Bruins are on an incredible pace and will be hard to catch but we are going to try our best to do that.”

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