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Buffalo hopes rising as Bills turn back clock – The Globe and Mail

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Buffalo Bills fans leave Bills Stadium as a mascot waves a flag after an NFL divisional round football game against the Baltimore Ravens on Jan. 16, 2021, in Orchard Park, N.Y.

Adrian Kraus/The Associated Press

On Saturday morning, Terry and Kim Pegula will board the Bills’ charter flight to Kansas City, he with lucky socks and her with cookies she baked for players and coaches. This has become a routine for the couple who own Buffalo’s beloved football franchise.

Terry has worn the same argyle socks every game day since Nov. 29 and since then the Bills have won eight straight. Kim started baking on Sunday mornings to burn off nervous energy, posting pictures on social media. Since this is Buffalo, hundreds of others began to do the same, sending her photos of their own pregame Oreo truffles, Snickerdoodles and white chocolate blondies.

This is something you have to understand about Bills fans. There is almost nothing they won’t do to celebrate their team, even leaping onto flaming folding tables after drinking too much beer.

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The devotion is born from a few things. Buffalo exudes the closeness of a small town, and is also a place where sports teams have mostly failed. The Bills last won a league championship in 1965 when they were in the old American Football League. Does that count? The Sabres have been in the NHL a half-century but haven’t won a Stanley Cup. Buffalo was also home to an NBA team that never won there or in the other two cities to which it has moved.

So it is understandable that the city and the NFL team’s followers – they call themselves the Bills Mafia – are delirious. With a victory over Kansas City on Sunday night, they will be the nearest they have been to winning a Super Bowl since January, 1994, when they lost a fourth consecutive NFL championship game. Most infamously when the field-goal kicker missed what would have been the game-winner with eight seconds left.

Buffalo Bills fans celebrate a touchdown during a game against the New York Jets, in Clarence, N.Y., on Sept. 13, 2020.

Libby March/The New York Times News Service

The Pegulas, who also own the Sabres, two professional lacrosse teams and an American Hockey League franchise, have lived in Buffalo since 1993 and bought the Bills in October, 2014. Kim was installed as their president.

“When you own a team, there is no manual,” she says cheerfully. “What we were taking on was completely unknown. We owned the Sabres, but with the NFL we were elevated to such a bigger stage.”

The season had already begun, so for the first year she went to games and tried to learn the inner workings of the league. She has since taken a more active approach, even sitting in on the pre-draft interview the team conducted with its star quarterback, Josh Allen.

Ms. Pegula has spent the past two weeks making plans in the event the Bills reach the Super Bowl. It has heightened her anxiety. All she wants is for Sunday’s game to be over, and for the city to be rocking afterward.

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The Bills Mafia formed in 2011, when three friends started a fan club as a joke. There are legions of followers now, but since this is Buffalo, they are no ordinary fans.

When quarterback Josh Allen’s grandmother died late last year, they raised $675,000 and donated it to a children’s hospital in her name. A week ago, when Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson suffered a concussion during a loss to the Bills, one Mafia member started a movement to donate to a charity of Jackson’s choice. Almost $500,000 has already been raised.

Dan Kanopski, the fellow who chipped in the first $25, says if he hadn’t done it someone else would have. He lives in Niagara Falls, and lost his job last year as part of the fallout from COVID-19.

“For the last year, the shining light for me has been the Bills,” Kanopski says.

Win or lose, Bills fans are irrepressible. Wolf Blitzer, the CNN anchor, grew up in Buffalo. On Jan. 6, the night of the elections in Georgia, he opened a segment with, “This just in. Go Bills!” Last week, he appeared on a Buffalo sports radio talk show and talked about the perils of being a fan.

“We have known some winning, but we have known a lot of losing, too,” he said.

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Dan Mitchell grew up Buffalo, but has lived in Myrtle Beach, S.C., the past 26 years. He recalls having his heart ripped out by the Bills when he was a kid. And later as an adult, too.

Last year after a few drinks he started a Bills fan podcast that now has more than 11,000 subscribers.

“No matter how hard the Bills are performing, my PTSD from them kicks in and I wonder when everything is going to go down the drain,” he says. “This is the culmination of everything I wanted this team to be. It’s a swan song of my fantasy.”

Greg Tranter was eight years old when he went to his first Bills game on Oct. 24, 1965. As he and his father watched from Row 28 in Section 14 at War Memorial Stadium, Jack Kemp threw two touchdowns and Wray Carlton ran for two others in a 31-13 romp over the Denver Broncos.

Buffalo Bills program.

Courtesy of Buffalo History Museum

The youngster went home with a bobblehead and a program that day, his romance with the team under way. He is 64 now and has been a Bills season-ticket holder since 1984, even though he’s lived in Boston the past 35 years.

In that time he’s missed three home games – one when his mother had cancer surgery, another when his wife had pneumonia, and the last for an important business meeting.

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A former insurance executive, Tranter donated more than 100,000 Bills artifacts he had collected since childhood to the Buffalo History Museum, for which he serves as president of the board of managers. An appraiser estimated the items’ combined value at more than US$1-million.

It includes the bobblehead and $4.50 ticket stub from that first game, the helmet that Scott Norwood wore when he missed the 47-yard field goal that would have won Super Bowl XXV, a box of Doug Flutie Flakes, a garden gnome, hand puppets, a snow blower and lapel pins shaped like footballs that Secret Service agents wore during the 1996 presidential campaign while protecting Kemp, the vice-presidential nominee to Robert Dole.

Tranter has programs from every Bills game played dating from their inaugural campaign in 1960 in the AFL and says he caused a ruckus watching from home this season as the Bills won 15 of 18 games.

“I am so excited, I am just blown away,” he says.

Tranter has been to every Bills Super Bowl, and he and three friends have tickets to the game on Feb. 7 in Tampa.They bought them early, without knowing if the Bills will be there, just in case.

If the Bills lose on Sunday, Tranter says he will probably sell his ticket, which cost him upward of US$7,000. The matchup he dreams about is Buffalo against Tampa Bay.

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“If we beat Tom Brady, it would make up for 20 years of misery,” Tranter says.

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With six coaches out, Sergio Scariolo steps in to lead Toronto Raptors to win – ESPN

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For Sergio Scariolo, this was just another game.

The Toronto Raptors assistant coach slid over into the head coach’s chair, leading the team to a 122-111 win over the Houston Rockets in Tampa Bay on Friday night. The win came despite Toronto being without star Pascal Siakam, head coach Nick Nurse and five other Raptors assistants because of health and safety protocols.

But even with Toronto down another assistant in Chris Finch, who earlier this week became the head coach in Minnesota, the Raptors still had a pretty experienced man on the bench to handle the job.

Scariolo has 25 years of coaching experience overseas, and since 2009 has been the head coach of the Spanish national team, with which he won the FIBA Eurobasket tournament three times (2009, 2011 and 2015) and the FIBA World Cup (2019). He also coached Spain to a silver medal at the 2012 Olympics and a bronze medal at the 2016 Olympics.

So no, this wasn’t his first rodeo.

In fact, Scariolo served as a head coach just last week as he coached Spain for the Eurobasket qualifiers in Poland on Feb. 19 and 21. Spain won both of those games.

“It’s a 3-0 week,” Raptors guard Kyle Lowry said.

Originally quarantining this week after he returned from Poland, Scariolo became available to rejoin the team on Friday, just as the health and safety protocols took out the coaching staff. Scariolo said he got back from Poland on Monday and spent the rest of the week away from the Raptors. He drove to Miami, where the Raptors played on Wednesday, but still stayed separate from the team; he drove back to Tampa in the same car the day after the game.

Scariolo said the team started to put a plan in action Thursday, with the Raptors having reassigned tasks to the coaches who would still be able to be with the team by Friday morning. The team also had to alter its pregame routine because tests didn’t come back on time, so the Raptors had to have one joint film session before getting on the floor without a walk-through.

“So it was kind of reacting every time to something different, but at the end of the day, we got the W, so who cares,” Scariolo said.

Scariolo said he had a video call with Nurse before the game and credited Nurse’s philosophy and the teamwork he has instilled in the coaching staff for helping to make the transition as smooth as possible. He also credited his own experience as a head coach.

“Honestly, it didn’t feel too much difference with the 1,500 games I’ve coached before,” Scariolo said. “I felt that we were prepared getting into the game because everybody made his contribution and this is what it takes in a team sport like basketball.”

Lowry and guard Fred VanVleet tried to downplay the situation as much as possible, but Lowry made sure to grab the ball after the buzzer and present it to Scariolo after the game. Scariolo said that basketball will go next to other balls players have given to him following medal games or other championships throughout his career.

VanVleet said the team tried to keep things the same as much as possible so as not to try to overcorrect something that didn’t need to be corrected.

“I think I kind of came to grips with that pretty early on once they made a decision that obviously those coaches were going to be out. I didn’t really want to overreact to it,” VanVleet said. “I think it’s one of those things that you probably put a little bit too much stock into, but the game doesn’t change.

“The way we need to play doesn’t change. The way we play doesn’t change. So just having a different voice out there, obviously, that’s why you have a strong coaching staff for situations like this. Obviously, Sergio has been a great head coach for a long time. He’s been doing it at a high level, so plugging him in was pretty simple to do.”

The Raptors didn’t release the names of the coaches who missed the game, but Jim Sann, Jamaal Magloire and Mark Tyndale were spotted along the Raptors’ bench and received shoutouts from VanVleet and Lowry after the game.

Scariolo said he doesn’t know how long he’ll serve as the acting head coach, adding that the team will continue to operate on the fly until it knows more. While he had talked to Nurse before the game, he hadn’t talked to him before meeting with reporters postgame. There were more important matters to take care of first.

“I will make sure I get tested first, this is my first test and I don’t want to make a mistake right now,” he said. “We can’t afford it. Then, for sure, we’ll talk.”

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Quick Shifts: Extra motivation in McDavid vs. Matthews? – Sportsnet.ca

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A quick mix of the things we gleaned from the week of hockey, serious and less so, and rolling four lines deep. I missed the “Barbie Girl” song and who knows what’s going to be on when I come back…

1. Mark Scheifele, a shameless hockey nerd, has been binging Canadian division games in his spare time, even the ones that don’t involve him.

The Winnipeg Jets star takes mental notes when he observes the show being put on by this season’s leading point-getter (Connor McDavid) and goal-scorer (Auston Matthews), in particular.

In doing so, Scheifele is heeding advice from the late, great Dale Hawerchuk, who coached the centreman in OHL Barrie.

“Dale always told me: ‘It’s free education.’ You get to learn from them and pick up little things they do and try them at practice the next day. It’s about learning from the best players in the world and trying to add that to your game,” said Scheifele ahead of a three-game Leafs-Oilers series that kicks off Saturday.

“From watching Connor and Auston play, you pick up little subtleties, little passes they’re making, the way that Auston’s shooting the puck, all those little things.”

Appointment television for players and fans alike. But Matthews vs. McDavid may be more fun for us to watch and debate than it is for the participants.

“I don’t know if I’d describe it as fun, but it’s always a challenge,” Matthews said last time the Leafs left Edmonton. “It’s always a challenge going up against that amount of talent and speed coming at you.”

On Friday, McDavid predicted 180 more tight-checking minutes between the two best teams in the North. Edmonton and Toronto are tied 2-2 head-to-head with an aggregate score of 12-12.

“Both teams have that kind of respect for each other where neither really wants to open it up and let the other offensive guys get going,” McDavid says.

Lost on neither side is that an Edmonton sweep would vault the red-hot Oilers over injury-tested Toronto and into first place.

“They’re playing as good as anybody in the league right now,” Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe acknowledges.

A healthy Mike Smith has been a boon to the crease, Edmonton’s depth forwards are chipping in, and coach Dave Tippett is finally seeing an improved defensive commitment.

The Oilers have charged a 11-2-0 run through February.

“Everyone’s buying in and starting to really believe. That’s the main thing,” McDavid says. “When everyone believes in what we’re doing, that’s when it gets real dangerous.”

Despite all the individual awesomeness boiling in the capitals of Alberta and Ontario, team is (finally?) trumping all — in both markets.

McDavid would have you believe he’s not drawing any extra incentive from facing off against the other Hart Trophy favourite.

“There’s obviously guys that you watch and compare yourself to. When you see them doing well, you want to do the same,” McDavid says.

“But I’m a pretty motivated guy. That’s not an issue I have each and every night.”

2. The reporter in me loves Sheldon Keefe’s honesty when it comes to Auston Matthews’ nagging wrist injury.

The cynic in me has to wonder: Now that this info is public, will opponents target Matthews’ wrists during these divisional battles?

Too sore to take face-offs toward the end of Wednesday’s overtime win, Matthews took it easy Thursday and Friday. He has not been ruled out of Saturday’s showdown in Edmonton, however.

“He’s just a tough customer. We’re lucky to have him on our side,” Jack Campbell says. “It’s incredible what he’s able to do, whether he’s at 100 per cent or not.”

Adds Joe Thornton: “He’s played through stuff all year long, and he’s been a complete stud. So, we’ll see what happens tomorrow.”

3. The swiftness with which Marc Bergevin dismissed Claude Julien — 18 games in, winning record, positive goal differential — and assistant Kirk Muller (a bigger surprise) had me wondering if the climate is actually more tense on NHL benches these days or if it just feels that way from the press box.

Neil Glasberg is the founder and president of PBI Sports. His agency represents 30 coaches at the NHL level, including Muller. (Check Glasberg’s excellent appearance on the 31 Thoughts podcast from earlier this month.) In other words, he’s in tune with how his clients are feeling.

“I think there is way more pressure this year. You look at the standings now, you’re already starting to see how things are going and how they’re going to shake up. Nobody’s gonna help you — because everyone’s fighting for the same prize,” Glasberg says.

Owners look at the folded seats and worry about money. General managers worry over job security and the difficulty of completing trades under a flat cap. And everyone feels the added stress of the virus. People, in general, are a little more on edge. Why wouldn’t that seep into the hockey world?

Tack on the fact that every game is a four-pointer, practice time is scarcer than ever, and there are 26 fewer games to sort out your lines, and the stressors have been juiced.

No wonder so many healthy scratches and waiver placements have made headlines.

“Every game is so important, and you have no reprieve. Anybody can beat anybody in this league,” Glasberg goes on. “So, you could say that the Ottawa Senators are the worst team in the league. They have the ability to win. They could beat anybody.”

Of the NHL’s 31 head coaches, only 11 are signed beyond 2022.

We’ve already seen smoke in markets from Nashville to Detroit, Vancouver to Calgary.

But just because Julien was dismissed does not necessarily mean some imaginary seal has been broken and there’s more pink slips to follow in-season. (The off-season is another story.) Montreal’s decision, in these eyes, stems from the urgency to make good on a hefty investment to win now and is reflective of Bergevin’s own pressure.

“There’s no first-mover advantage to firing the coach, put it that way,” Glasberg says. “I don’t think it has any impact on anyone else’s decisions…. I doubt a GM wakes up in the morning thinking, ‘OK, now I can toast my guy since somebody else has already done it, and I’m not going to look like a schmuck.’

“And what kind of PR value do you get out of firing somebody in a pandemic when there aren’t a lot of jobs? There’s probably some amount of empathy on behalf of the owners, in general, to hold off terminating people unnecessarily.”

About PR value: When it comes to a major overhaul (i.e., front office, bench) Glasberg believes ownership groups feel significantly more pressure when fans call for change than when members of the media do. Fans can’t throw sweaters on the ice or chant awful things when the losses mount, but a hashtag campaign still get noticed.

Bruce Boudreau — thrice hired, thrice fired — believes the coach about to be fired feels it.

“I think every coach knows when it’s coming. Sometimes you get blindsided a little bit, but you can feel it,” Boudreau told Lead Off this week. “It’s almost like a divorce. All of a sudden, your GM stops talking to you. We stop having those meetings that were so important. They’re more contentious, quite frankly. And he’s asking you questions: ‘Why are you doing this? Why are you doing that?’ ”

4. Loved seeing how quick Marcus Foligno flipped the switch from fury to empathy in his fight with San Jose rookie Nikolai Knyzhov.

“I caught him with the first one, and the second one made him bloody. I know he’s a young kid and probably didn’t know the fighting aspect of it. I just thought it was enough,” said Foligno, who motioned for the officials to intervene mid-scrap.

Post-game, Foligno gave the 22-year-old Knyzhov credit for stepping into ring in the first place, let alone getting his visor bloodied.

“There’s things you do when you’re young to answer the bell, and you have to do it. And you gain a lot of respect from your teammates. So, I’m sure he got that tonight,” Foligno said.

“I thought it was over after the first couple of punches. So, that’s all. I’ve had guys let up on me before, and it’s just kind of the respect code of the whole thing.”

5. The best advice your mother gave you: Keep your head up around Radko Gudas.

The Florida Panthers defenceman is a dang menace this season. As our pal Matt Larkin points out, Gudas’s 98 hits through 18 games would put him on pace for 446 over 82 games. He’d slaughter the NHL record of 382.

“That’s what we needed,” Jonathan Huberdeau told reporters of Gudas. “I think we were missing a defenceman like him. He’s just been great this whole year.”

The next most frequent checker on any blueline? Chicago’s Nikita Zadorov, who has needed three more games played to throw 74 hits.

“He certainly does bring an element of competitiveness and physicality,” said coach Joel Quenneville, who has increased Gudas’s minutes from where they were with Washington last season. “Overall, he’s done a nice job of playing the game. I think his thoughts and his mind have been very effective. He puts himself in a lot of good spots.”

All that physicality is taking a toll, though. Gudas sat out Thursday’s win over Dallas and is day-to-day with an upper-body injury.

6. When a young Mark Fraser dived into GM mode on his NHL video games, he came armed with a specific strategy.

“I played on PlayStation or Sega Genesis. I would make trades to get all the brothers in the league on my team. That’s how I felt represented,” Fraser said Thursday during an excellent Lead Off interview.

“Jarome Iginla was my favourite player growing up. I wonder why, right? He’s got amazing talent and personality. But to see someone who looks like you doing that job allows you to feel that it is possible for you as well.”

Bravo to MLSE for hiring Fraser to the role of player development, equity, diversity and inclusion. He’s excited to act as a connector from the grassroots to the Leafs, eager to “create a more safe and inclusive culture around the game.”

Fraser, 34, has lived it. As a Kitchener Ranger, he recalls being told by a crowd in Erie to stick to basketball. “When I was 14 years old, I was told by some parents in Buckingham, Quebec,” a stone’s throw from his native Ottawa, “to go back to the bush in Africa.”

That wasn’t every night, but it shouldn’t be any night.

For the most part, Fraser says, he felt acceptance through hockey. But the deeper his career got, the more racism he saw. Mounting micro-aggressions and persistent stereotyping.

So, bravo to Fraser for initiating the conversation — and subsequent job opportunity — with MLSE on his own.

In June, Fraser penned the candid and damning “Silence Is Violence” article for The Players’ Tribune. Read it. In July, the Leafs alum reached out to GM Kyle Dubas, knowing a respected powerhouse like MLSE could be a diversity leader in the hockey community and the Toronto community.

Dubas was receptive, off the bat.

“I was thrilled immediately to know, this is a guy who gets it. He fully understands, fully supports the importance of it. Same with Shanny.”

7. Quote of the Week goes to Matthew Tkachuk ahead of the Flames’ miniseries with brother Brady Tkachuk and the coach-killing Ottawa Senators:

“Anybody that thinks we’re going to fight is an idiot.”

It won’t happen, but if it did, it wouldn’t be historic.

Brothers Keith and Wayne Primeau dropped gloves and exchanged blows on April 7, 1997:

[embedded content]

“We were laughing about it,” then-Whalers coach Paul Maurice said at the time (per Sun Media). “It must’ve been pretty tough at the Primeau dinner table when there was only one pork chop left.”

Keith was the winner (HockeyFights.com has him at 74 per cent), but any older brother could’ve told you that already.

“You could tell he was holding back, but he was still hitting me in the head,” Wayne said post-game. “It wasn’t full through with the punch, but I was getting a little bit pissed off. I went to throw an uppercut and it just missed.”

Keith wasn’t happy with how it went down.

“There was some hesitancy, yes. I knew who it was. That’s blood, man. I was real disappointed it happened,” Keith said at the time. “Right away, I came in and called my parents and apologized.”

8. I really like Rob Blake’s patient approach to the Los Angeles Kings’ rebuild since he took the helm, and his approach as the trade deadline nears will be fascinating.

Even with L.A.’s recent six-game win streak and a playoff spot in the lopsided West there for the taking, the GM has indicated a stay-the-course approach. From an organizational standpoint — especially with playoff gate revenue moot — slow and steady is the smart way to play it.

Blake is reportedly in the market for a young, dynamic left-shot defenceman, and his veteran trade chips may never reach higher value than they hold right now.

Would flawed rosters in go-for-it-mode benefit from the addition of a Jonathan Quick or Jeff Carter, a couple of guys with rings on their fingers who are enjoying nice rebound campaigns?

Would Blake — who already holds seven picks in the first four rounds of the 2021 draft — dare ruffle the room by dealing away from a core that seems to be guzzling from the fountain of youth?

L.A. could enhance any potential return by eating salary here. In our eyes, this is an opportunity to plunder another high pick or decent prospect.

9. Thanks to Bodog, you can actually place bets on which actor will play David Ayres in his upcoming Disney flick.

Hot tip: Steer clear of Chris Pratt. Not a hockey fan.

10. I’m not mad at the NHL for hosting outdoor games at sunny Lake Tahoe. The visuals were spectacular, and the event had people talking, for better or worse.

Whether it was Kevin Hayes’s deep thinking or Alex Pietrangelo fearing an oncoming Nathan MacKinnon, the players delivered some fine mic’d-up moments:

The NHL can dream up these unique big-splash events, but the players’ willingness to play along is critical. Complaints about the world’s longest first intermission were essentially nonexistent.

Little touches like no-nonsense Bruins captain Patrice Bergeron’s idea for the team to dress up in ’90s ski gear, David Pastrnak’s “Barbie Girl” interview, Philipp Grubauer’s going full Karl Alzner with the sunglasses, or Charlie McAvoy’s fun tweet after the fact… they all go a long way.

11. Also well executed was the Pittsburgh Penguins’ celebration of Sidney Crosby’s 1,000th game.

The quantity and quality of tribute videos uploaded from around the hockey world was one thing. His teammates’ all wearing No. 87, all stopping to knot their skates during warm-up — that was priceless.

12. Mitch Marner compared the Maple Leafs’ Matthews–centred game plan to that of youth soccer coaches Will Ferrell and Mike Ditka in 2005’s Kicking & Screaming.

“Get the puck to Matts,” Marner said. “It’s the new, ‘Get the ball to the Italians!’”

[embedded content]

Marner’s analogy inspired me to rewatch Kicking & Screaming with my 10-year-old, and that was the best decision I made this week. Underrated Ferrell classic.

Subsequently, I tumbled down a YouTube rabbit hole and discovered this wonderful behind-the-scenes Ditka story during filming:

[embedded content]

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By the numbers: Canadiens' identity a riddle wrapped in an enigma – Montreal Gazette

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Habs have been the best team in the NHL in 5-vs-5, by a wide margin, but metrics show they need an overhaul in virtually every other area.

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Who are the Montreal Canadiens?

In the wake of the axe falling on head coach Claude Julien and associate coach Kirk Muller on Wednesday, it might be a little while longer before we find a solid answer. With a newly minted interim head coach tag, Dominique Ducharme has an opportunity to resuscitate a season that has gone from a promising 7-1-2 start to a dreadful 2-4-2 slide heading into Saturday’s game against the Jets in Winnipeg (10 p.m., SN, SN360, CBC, TVA Sports, TSN690 Radio, 98.5 FM).

The start of the season for the Canadiens was always a bit of a mirage. No team is going to average 4.4 goals per game for long in a league that averages fewer than three, because there’s too much parity in the NHL. By the same token, the recent stretch in which the Canadiens have averaged just under two goals per game is similarly not fully representative of their play.

Are the Canadiens the juggernaut some observers said they were during their hot start the season? Or are they the awful team we’ve seen in February? The truth is neither, but also somehow both.

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Playing 5-vs-5, the Canadiens have been the best team in the NHL — by a lot. The quality depth that general manager Marc Bergevin assembled and the coaching style of Julien keeping consistent line combinations led to true dominance. Just take a look at the Canadiens’ metrics in goal differential, and the expected-goals model based on the shots they take and give up, crafted by Evolving Hockey.

To read the chart above, being in the top right quadrant means a team is playing well and getting good results, while the top left means a team is playing well, but getting poor results. The bottom right is playing poorly, but getting good results, while the bottom left is playing poorly with poor results.

The Canadiens at 5-vs-5 are ridiculous. They’re controlling over 63 per cent of all goals in that situation and, although they’re getting lucky in that regard, their expected result is still an NHL-leading number at 58.1 per cent. Playing 5-vs-5 is not a problem for this team as they’re dominant in that regard and they get the results they earn. At 5-vs-5, Ducharme is unlikely to make any major changes, and if he does, it might be ill-advised.

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There might be something to be said for giving Jesperi Kotkaniemi more opportunity, perhaps swapping him with Phillip Danault to see how well he can translate his strong production on a per-minute basis into bigger minutes.

What does need a complete overhaul though, is literally everything else. When you take 5-vs-5 hockey out of the equation and look at all other game states, the Canadiens go from contenders for the Stanley Cup to contenders for the draft lottery.

After another disastrous specials-teams failure in a 5-4 shootout loss to the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday, the Canadiens have the worst expected-goals-for percentage away from 5-vs-5 in the NHL, at just 40.8 per cent.

This season, the Canadiens have appeared to be a Jekyll and Hyde team by the division of the schedule, but the split of results has more to do with random variance than anything. They’ve been attacking off the rush less often, but the issues on special teams have been there all along, and they’re only getting worse.

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Part of the issue for the Canadiens here is their league-worst penalty differential, where they’re drawing calls at an average rate, but take more penalties than any team in the NHL. The net result is the Canadiens giving their opponents 0.82 more power plays per game than they get, which doesn’t sound like much, but adds up over time, especially when their play in those situations is awful.

The first step for the new coaching staff needs to be a directive for more discipline from certain players, with Ben Chiarot, Victor Mete and Brett Kulak among NHL leaders in minor penalties per minute played among defencemen. Forwards Josh Anderson and Danault are in the same boat and don’t draw nearly enough calls themselves to even it out.

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Playing with more discipline is a start, but the special teams need a complete overhaul on top of that or the Canadiens will continue to struggle more than necessary.

Part of the needed changes are related to personnel. For example, the Canadiens’ strongest players on the power play last season were when Nick Suzuki and Tomas Tatar played together. This year, they’ve barely seen the ice. The bigger issue for the power play might be philosophical. The Canadiens’ shot leaders on the power play are Shea Weber and Jeff Petry, who are above-average-shooting defencemen, but they’re shooting from the blue line more often than not.

Compare the Habs’ strategy with that of the North Division-leading Maple Leafs, who are tied for the NHL’s best power play. Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Jason Spezza, Travis Boyd, William Nylander, Zach Hyman and Mitch Marner take shots more often than their top shooting defenceman, Morgan Rielly. Shot location matters, and the Canadiens’ power play has been operating like it’s still 2008 when the league has long since moved forward.

Andrew Berkshire is a Montreal-based hockey writer specializing in data-driven analysis of the game.

andrewberkshire@hotmail.com

twitter.com/andrewberkshire

  1. Montreal Canadiens head coach Claude Julien, centre, talks to players during training-camp practice at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard on Jan. 6, 2021.

    Hickey on hockey: Claude Julien’s firing begins and ends with players

  2. Winnipeg Jets' Adam Lowry celebrates a goal by teammate Nate Thompson during third period against the Montreal Canadiens at Bell MTS Place in Winnipeg on Feb. 25, 2021.

    What the Puck: Aura of negative energy envelops fragile Canadiens

  3. Canadiens goaltender Carey Price makes save on shot by the Jets’ Mark Scheifele during first period of Thursday night’s game at Winnipeg’s Bell MTS Place.

    Canadiens Game Day: No coach can win the way Carey Price is playing

  4. None

    Dominique Ducharme era dawns for Canadiens | HI/O Show

  5. Montreal Canadiens left-wing Jonathan Drouin carries the puck over the blue line as Vancouver Canucks defenceman Jordie Benn (8) follows behind in Montreal on Feb. 1, 2021.

    By the numbers: Canadiens’ Drouin hits stride on both sides of puck

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