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By benching Siakam, Raptors risked much-needed win to emphasize team culture –



Looking to shake up his team in the midst of a three-game losing streak, Nick Nurse hinted he would be considering some lineup changes.

Maybe it was time to see what rookie point guard Malachi Flynn might be able to contribute to a flailing second unit, or second-year wing Terence Davis, who has been a ghost in the early going.

The crisis, it seemed, was what to do in the minutes Kyle Lowry didn’t play — given that, heading into Toronto’s matchup with the New York Knicks, his team had been outscored by 40 points in the 33 minutes his veteran point had sat.

“I think that the big key is can I find the right combination of guys out there when he goes off or is there a tinkering I can do with who’s out there without him,” said Nurse. “Things like that are where I’m at with it right now. I think you’ll see more of that tonight, different combinations of lineup.”

Nurse didn’t mention the biggest lineup change of all: the decision to sit Pascal Siakam, who Nurse referred to as the team’s “closer” during the fifth-year wing’s struggles down the stretch of Toronto’s loss to Philadelphia on Tuesday night.

At the end of that game, Siakam was seen walking off the floor and down the tunnel after fouling out with 26 seconds left to play.

It wasn’t a good look, especially from a franchise cornerstone. Nurse said he hadn’t seen it in the moment but that it would be addressed.

The moment was addressed emphatically earlier in the day on Thursday, according to sources, when Siakam was informed that he would be in street clothes against the Knicks as a disciplinary measure for his walk off, even as his teammates were looking for their first win of the season.

Whether it was a case of using a hammer to kill a fly, or an admirable example of an organization establishing expectations of behaviour even if it meant sitting one of their best players, might depend on where you sit.

But one way or the other, it worked out as the Raptors got their W with an encouraging 100-83 win over a competitive, young Knicks team to improve their record to 1-3 before they head to New Orleans to take on the Pelicans Saturday night.

It was a strange New Year’s Eve, but a happy one.

Norman Powell got the start in Siakam’s place, as Nurse and the Raptors chose to emphasize rules and culture in the big picture even while playing what Kyle Lowry had referred to as a “must win.”

Powell was part of a three-man gang on the perimeter for the Raptors, as he scored a season-high 17 points on 13 shots while Fred VanVleet put up 25 points and seven assists and Lowry offered 20 and four.

The Raptors held the Knicks to 36 per cent shooting and were able to pull away in the fourth as Chris Boucher gave them a spark in the final quarter with a key triple and a fastbreak dunk. A VanVleet three was part of an 11-0 run that gave the Raptors a 14-point lead with 5:44 left that the Knicks couldn’t overcome. The Raptors’ cause was aided by the Knicks shooting 3-of-36 from three. Among the culprits was Knicks second-year forward RJ Barrett of Mississauga, who scored just 12 points and was 0-of-8 from deep against his hometown team.

His teammates’ showing gave Siakam lots to cheer about on the sidelines and he was active in doing so. If he was upset about being sat out he didn’t let it show. According a source, Siakam was frustrated at not being able to play and help his team, but understood the decision.

It was all in sharp contrast to the mood earlier, when the impression was that things were not all right. First-year Raptor Alex Len said that he could sense the tension as the team dealt with a rare three-game losing streak.

Nurse echoed the sentiment before the game: “They don’t like to lose. They’re invested in this thing and they don’t like the feeling that they’ve had, again, considering all three games we’ve held a double-digit lead and played very well in stretches.”

Whatever is to be made of the decision to sit Siakam, replacing him with Powell certainly seemed to pay off in the early going. Powell was shooting just 4-of-23 before he got the start. Maybe Nurse was hoping it would spark him, given that Powell averaged 18.7 points a game in 26 starts last year.

Powell knocked down his first three shots and had seven points before the game was four minutes old.

And the Raptors managed their minutes without Lowry reasonably well also. In the first quarter they only gave up a point in the two minutes Lowry was out, and in the second quarter broke four minutes — not that New York was all that impressed.

They came back from down seven in the second quarter to go into the half tied 42-42 as the young Knicks, coached by Tom Thibodeau, showed their defensive teeth and continued to get production in all aspects from Julius Randle, who had 13 points on seven shots even as the Raptors limited New York’s shooting as a team.

Regardless of the Siakam situation, Nurse was looking for solutions coming into the game and wasn’t shy about where he would look for them.

He gave significant minutes to Davis in the first half for the first time this season, which created the awkward spectacle of Davis – who is facing seven charges for an alleged domestic assault in the off-season – getting minutes in the absence of Siakam.

Not seeing the floor was the rookie Flynn or sharpshooter Matt Thomas, but Yuta Watanabe did make his Raptors debut. Then out of nowhere came 11 third-quarter points from Len, playing in place of Aron Baynes, who took a hard knock in a collision with Randle. Len spotted up for three corner triples and made them all. Those timely contributions and eight more third-quarter points from Powell allowed the Raptors to take a 71-64 lead into the fourth quarter and Toronto didn’t look back.

The longer-term question is what effect the unusual decision to sit out an all-NBA player will have on the relationship between Siakam and Nurse and the rest of the organization.

It certainly sets an unusual precedent. The only other comparable disciplinary action by the team during Masai Ujiri’s tenure running the team came when Serge Ibaka was suspended for one game on Dec. 29, 2017 after getting into an altercation with one of the team’s support staff on the bus following a road loss in Oklahoma City.

Siakam was not suspended – he doesn’t lose a game cheque – but it was still a significant gesture given what was clearly a moment of frustration for the 26-year-old, who is in the first year of a four-year maximum extension worth $136 million.

The team could have fined him or taken him out of the starting lineup or dealt with it behind closed doors or done nothing at all.

All would have been more common approaches. But as one source put it, the Raptors and Nurse chose to emphasize culture and rules, even potentially jeopardizing a much-needed early season win.

Would Lowry be treated the same way? It’s hard to imagine.

But Nurse made his call. He made a number of them, and the Raptors got a needed win and were able to make a point all in the same night.

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Fresh off Laine blockbuster, Jets dominate offensively to top Senators –



Paul Stastny, Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler each had three-point nights in a 6-3 Winnipeg Jets win over the Ottawa Senators at Bell MTS Place in Winnipeg late Saturday night.

Both players scored a goal and added two assists in the Jets’ win (4-1-0), their third consecutive victory over the Senators (1-3-1). Andrew Copp also added a pair of goals, while Wheeler had three assists.

Kyle Connor and Nikolaj Ehlers also scored for Winnipeg.

Evgenii Dadonov, Brady Tkachuk and Nick Paul each scored a goal for Ottawa in the loss.

Senators goalie Marcus Hogberg made 32 saves in the loss, while Connor Hellebuyck made 18 saves for the Jets.

Ehlers opened the scoring with 5:57 left to play in the first period with a power play goal. Ehlers quickly fired a shot past Hogberg after receiving a pass from defenceman Neil Pionk. Adam Lowry also picked up an assist on the goal.

The Senators’ offence woke up in the second period with three goals. Dadonov tied the game a little over four minutes into the period. It was the Russian’s first as an Ottawa Senator.

Connor would later give the Jets the lead once more, scoring his fourth of the season to make it 2-1. Scheifele and Wheeler each picked up an assist on the goal.

Tkachuk then tied the game with 8:46 to go in the second. Tkachuk retrieved a backhand pass from Austin Watson with a Winnipeg Jet draped behind him. Tkachuk would then spin around and fire on net, beating Hellebuyck between his legs.

Paul gave the Ottawa Senators their first lead of the game with over five minutes to play. Paul fired a shot into the top-right corner of the night for his second goal of the season.

Copp then tied the game in the early stages of the third. Paul Stastny handled the puck in the offensive zone before passing the puck to Copp, who redirected the puck towards goal but hit the post. Copp would immediately bury the puck into the back of the net.

The Jets would take the lead on a power play goal from Stastny with 4:15 left to play. Prior to the goal, Senators forward Derek Stepan lifted the puck out of play and was later called for a delay of game penalty. Stastny would soon take advantage with his first goal of the season.

Copp added a fifth goal for the Jets seconds later as he whacked at the puck several times in front of Hogberg, eventually earning his second of the night.

Stepan fired a puck from distance to put his team within one, but the goal was reviewed and eventually waved off after a Senators player was offside.

The Jets would eventually put it out of reach thanks to an empty-net goal from Scheifele with 2:09 to play in the third.

Winnipeg will be back in action Sunday night against the Edmonton Oilers. Ottawa will play the Vancouver Canucks Monday night.

NOTES: Earlier today, the Jets acquired centre Pierre-Luc Dubois and a 2022 third-round draft pick from the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for winger Patrik Laine and centre Jack Roslovic…Blake Wheeler’s assist on Kyle Connor’s second period goal was the 500th of his career.

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Canadiens 5, Canucks 2: Lacklustre performances becoming too common – The Province



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But as has been the case too often through the first week and a half of the season — an astoundingly short period that also feels like it’s taken forever — they couldn’t put enough together and then surrendered two goals in the third to the Habs, settling the game for the visitors.

“Frustrating, for sure,” Pettersson said about losing the way they did, as both goals came off turnovers by the Canucks.

“We’ve got a lot of things to work on. I need to be better, play better defence.”

Head coach Travis Green tried to put a positive spin on his team, saying he liked the effort over the first 50 minutes.

“Sometimes when you’re not on top of your game, you’re looking for a better game. I thought we got a better game out of our group,” he said. “By good game, I don’t mean we were out and creating all kinds of chances, but I think we stuck with it.”

The Canadiens’ goals were scored by Nick Suzuki, Corey Perry, Brendan Gallagher, Jonathan Drouin and Joel Edmundson into an empty net, while Pettersson and Höglander scored for the Canucks.

It was also the 350th career win for Habs goalie Carey Price.

Here’s what we learned …

Vancouver Canucks’ Elias Pettersson battles for the puck with Montreal Canadiens’ Paul Byron as the Canucks host the Canadiens on Saturday at Rogers Arena. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG

You know he needed that

Pettersson has had a rough start to the season. He mostly hasn’t looked himself. There have been moments of confidence — like his between-the-legs effort on a breakaway on Wednesday that didn’t lead to a goal — but mostly he’s looked to be squeezing his stick too hard.

Finally, Saturday, he got a bounce, making a perfect tip of a point shot by Jordie Benn, deflecting the puck down toward the ice and past Price into the Montreal net.

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FRIESEN: Jets failed with Laine, top to bottom – Winnipeg Sun



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He didn’t mention he never did find a centre that would best utilize Laine’s talents until, ironically, the day he traded him.

Dubois might be that player. We’ll never know.

Cheveldayoff was quick to point out Laine played with No. 1 centre Mark Scheifele last season, but it was an analytical failure. OK.

It doesn’t take an advanced stats whiz to see Cheveldayoff has constructed a roster that doesn’t leave much wiggle room for Laine’s next contract. Instead of finding a way to make it work, he sent him packing.

Down on the dressing room floor, Wheeler was asked about his leadership role through all this, acknowledging, perhaps a little vaguely, he could have handled the rising star better on occasion.

“If I have any regrets, my regrets would be some of the frustrations that took place over the years,” the captain said, quickly adding he and Laine never fought, never yelled at each other.

So the regret?

“Maybe I could have communicated a little better instead of just getting frustrated,” Wheeler said, explaining when he did get frustrated with Laine, he just clammed up.

In the next breath, he says if anything he coddled the kid.

Ultimately, Wheeler didn’t think he could have made things better.

If the captain and the GM didn’t want to bear the brunt of the responsibility, the head coach claimed to be more than willing.

“That’s the environment that you’re trying to create for each player is for them to feel like they have the opportunity to be at their best,” Maurice said. “We were constantly trying to work on that, trying to constantly get to the point where Patrik appreciated who he was playing with and the opportunity he was given.

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