OSTRAVA, CZECH REPUBLIC —
Canada eased into last year’s world junior hockey championship.
The host country led its opener against Denmark 3-0 after the first period, 8-0 through two and pumped home six more over the final 20 minutes of a 14-0 romp.
The 2020 curtain-raiser versus a familiar foe should provide a little more drama.
Canada kicks off the under-20 event’s latest instalment Thursday against the United States in a game loaded with skill, speed, familiarity, and perhaps biggest of all, intensity.
“Heated,” Canadian defenceman Jacob Bernard-Docker, a first-round pick of the Ottawa Senators, said of the rivalry. “Two countries that don’t like each other playing against each other.”
Named as Canada’s captain just prior hitting the ice for Wednesday’s practice at Ostrava Arena, Barrett Hayton said watching their predecessors go to battle was part of growing up.
“That’s what you think about when you think of international competition,” said Hayton, who played 14 times with the Arizona Coyotes this season before being loaned to the Canadian setup for the world juniors. “It’ll definitely be an intense game.”
The feeling on the other side is, of course, mutual.
“That rivalry’s one like no other,” said diminutive U.S. sniper Cole Caufield, a Montreal Canadiens’ first-rounder. “It’s country versus country. It’s not just a team versus a team. It’s going to be so special to be a part of it.”
“Neither team likes each other,” added American captain Mattias Samuelsson, a Buffalo Sabres’ prospect and the son of former NHL defenceman Kjell Samuelsson. “It’ll be a good game to start.”
Viewed as the front-runners at the 10-team tournament, Canada and the U.S. sit in a difficult Group B with always-dangerous Russia, the host Czechs and a German program that continues to improve.
Group A, which is being contested in nearby Trinec, includes Sweden, Finland, Switzerland, Slovakia and Kazakhstan.
While in years past there would be build-up ahead of the Canada-U.S. showdown — often on New Year’s Eve — this matchup comes a lot sooner and will give one team a huge edge early.
“You’ve got a big test right away,” said Ty Dellandrea, a Dallas Stars’ first-rounder named as one of Canada’s alternate captains along with fellow centre Joe Veleno and defenceman Ty Smith. “It’ll be good for us to bring our game to the highest level right off the start.”
The Americans beat their northern neighbours 2-1 outdoors in a shootout in round-robin play in Orchard Park, N.Y., at the 2018 event in their last meeting at the world juniors — Canada’s only blemish on the way to winning its 17th gold medal at the teenage showcase.
Other recent results saw the U.S. down Canada 5-4 in a shootout to capture the 2017 final in Montreal after also winning 3-1 in Toronto on New Year’s Eve.
“There’s no putting your foot into the water — you’ve got to go full in,” said U.S. centre Shane Pinto, another Ottawa first-round pick. “It’s going to be a tough one, but I think we’re ready.”
One of five returning players from last year’s stunning sixth-place finish in Vancouver and Victoria, Hayton said wearing the ‘C’ for Canada will be special.
“I was just incredibly honoured,” said the 19-year-old centre. “You idolize the guys who play here.”
Canadian head coach Dale Hunter said Hayton’s professional experience played a factor in the decision.
“He’s a leader,” said Hunter, himself a former NHL captain. “On and off the ice he’s a character kid.”
The coach remained coy about Thursday’s starting goalie, but Nico Daws, a netminder with zero international experience prior to this month, is the odds-on favourite to get the nod.
The undrafted netminder was never realistically on Hockey Canada’s radar before a standout start to the season that has him leading the Ontario Hockey League with a 2.06 goals-against average and a .939 save percentage for the Guelph Storm.
“It’s been crazy,” the 19-year-old said of his last four months. “I still haven’t really taken it all in yet. It’s one of those things … I don’t know if I’ll be able to appreciate it as much as I should until I look back.”
Daws tried to pour cold water on talk of his lack experience on this or any similar stage, but the fact remains along with Joel Hofer, the equally untested presumptive No. 2, Canada’s crease remains a massive question mark.
“It’s a big setting. Very intimidating, I guess you could say,” Daws said. “But I’m just there to stop pucks.”
Hayton, Veleno, Smith, star winger Alexis Lafreniere and blue-liner Jared McIsaac were all part of the Canadian team that went home bitterly disappointed from last year’s tournament after falling to Finland in the quarterfinals — a feeling they want no part of here in the Czech Republic.
“I don’t think there are any words needed,” said Hayton, whose team faces Russia in another headline-grabber Friday. “We all have that fire inside of us.”
The Americans, meanwhile, are equally motivated after losing the 2019 gold medal to the Finns with less than 90 seconds to play in regulation.
“Last year was a heartbreaker,” said Samuelsson, one of five returnees. “That feeling that you had, you don’t want it again.”
Both the U.S. and Canada are sick of practising and playing exhibition games.
It’s time for one to pen the rivalry’s latest chapter.
“This is what you drive for,” Hunter said. “They’re a good team, we’re a good team. That’s what’s going to make it a heck of a hockey game.
“You want that adrenaline. You want to be in the action. That’s what it’s all about.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 25, 2019
Maple Leafs’ Tavares, Marner reunite on top line with Matthews out vs. Oilers – Sportsnet.ca
The showdown between the hockey’s most dangerous goal-scorer and its most prolific point-getter has been put on hold until Monday, at the earliest.
Matthews aggravated his wrist during Wednesday’s overtime victory over the Calgary Flames when he crashed hands-first into the boards. Matthews completed the game, gathering a pair of assists, but coach Sheldon Keefe shielded his top centre from taking faceoffs.
Listed as day-to-day, Matthews missed the team’s full practice Friday and skated with the reserves Saturday morning at Rogers Arena:
“He’s played through some stuff here all year long, and he’s been a complete stud,” Joe Thornton said.
Toronto (15-4-2) has already missed 55 man-games due to injuries this season, and this will mark Matthews’ second absence against the red-hot Oilers, who carry a five-game win streak into the night.
The Leafs will welcome back a trio of healthy players to their lineup, however.
Shutdown defenceman Jake Muzzin (fractured face bone) will don a full cage, and veteran Joe Thornton (lower body) jumps back into the top six.
Beloved backup goalie Jack Campbell (2-0-0) gets his first start since suffering a leg injury on Jan. 24.
“He’s amazing. He was watching some tape [on the plane], and I was laughing because on every clip he makes the save and he tapped someone that’s closest to him,” Justin Holl said, with a smile. “Like, it doesn’t even matter. It could be me, and I didn’t even do anything on the play.”
Matthews’ injury paves the way for a John Tavares–Mitch Marner reunion on the front line.
“We’ve already played a game this season without Auston against the Oilers. Putting John and Mitch together, they’ve got a long history of playing together, and having Joe available today will give our whole group a boost,” coach Sheldon Keefe said.
Tavares enjoyed his most productive season, 2018-19, with Marner on his wing, and the elite playmaker will try to help the captain out of an offensive funk that has seen Tavares score one goal in his past 10 outings.
Thornton skated alongside that duo Friday, staying on the ice to take extra reps with Tavares.
“He just wants the puck all the time, and I think that’s a good sign,” Thornton said of his fellow No. 1 draft pick.
“He always wants to distribute and handle the puck, and he’s not afraid of the puck coming to him so I like that. And, off the ice, a real good guy, an easy guy to talk to. And when he opens up, he’s a surprising guy. It’s nice.”
The Maple Leafs assigned Kenny Agostino and Timothy Liljegren to their taxi squad for this five-game western road trip, while newly acquired forward Alex Galchenyuk and defenceman Martin Marincin have been loaned to the AHL Marlies.
Liljegren, 21, has impressed early this season, putting up six points through eight games with the Marlies.
“Regardless of his start,” coach Sheldon Keefe notes, “he’s someone we’ve wanted to get some games.”
Saturday’s projected lines:
Canadiens changes to watch for under interim coach Dominique Ducharme – Sportsnet.ca
Will the real Montreal Canadiens please stand up?
The Canadiens’ first 10 games of the season, they were the best team in the NHL. Their last nine games: 29th.
Montreal’s loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday was a microcosm of their season to date. A solid first half followed by a disastrous second half. The Canadiens led 3-1 halfway through Thursday’s game and then fell apart. Winnipeg scored five unanswered goals en route to a 6-3 win.
“We cracked,” said the Canadiens newly appointed interim head coach Dominique Ducharme. “We cracked mentally. We cracked physically.”
It all started well enough. In the first period the Canadiens looked like the early-season team that torched their opponents with quick puck movement and speed. Joel Armia scored twice on quick-ups that caught the Jets defence off guard.
That’s the Canadiens team we saw in their first 10 games. A team that played on its toes, not its heels.
When Montreal is attacking as they did in the first 30 minutes of Thursday night’s game, they are a tough team to handle. Montreal led the NHL in rush chances and goals through its first 10 games of the season. It’s no coincidence that when the offence dried up, so too did the wins.
While the Canadiens excelled at creating and capitalizing off the rush early in the season, those chances faded away as their opponents adapted. The Canadiens adapted as well and more or less made up the difference in scoring chances/expected goals by creating offence in different ways. In the final eight games of Claude Julien’s tenure, Montreal ranked third in cycle scoring chances and first in chances off the forecheck and off rebounds. In-zone offence as opposed to the high-volume off the rush opportunities.
The plan to score goals once set up in the offensive zone under Julien was fairly straightforward. Move pucks low-to-high and shoot from the point with traffic in front of the net. Deflections, rebound chances, screens and recovering loose pucks was the name of the game.
While this strategy did produce a fair amount of quality shots due to the sheer volume of shots the Canadiens produced, Montreal struggled to score goals once defending teams were set up in the defensive zone. The Canadiens simply could not convert these chance types at even a league-average rate. It was rush or bust and the rush was gone. Entering Thursday’s game, the Canadiens had scored 39 per cent of their goals this season off the rush. No team relied more on rush offence than Montreal.
Ducharme hinted that the Canadiens’ strategy in the offensive zone would be tweaked, emphasizing more puck support to give the puck carrier more options. We saw examples of this Thursday night. Midway through the first period Jonathan Drouin had a chance to move the puck to the point, but instead tried to pass it into the slot. Moments later, he worked a give-and-go with Nick Suzuki that created a scoring chance.
Late in the second period, Joel Armia has the puck behind the net and looks for Drouin in the slot, but he’s covered. So, Armia works the puck to the blue line, but instead of a point shot from Shea Weber, Drouin makes himself available in the middle of the ice where Weber hits him with a pass. After fumbling the puck, Drouin stick-handles himself out of trouble for a scoring chance.
These are the type of plays Canadiens fans can expect to see more of under Ducharme.
Whether this in-zone adjustment will prove more effective than the low-to-high, volume-shooting approach Julien favoured remains to be seen. One game is a small sample but sure enough, all three of Montreal’s goals against Winnipeg came off the rush.
That said, how Montreal creates its offence may not matter much if the Canadiens can’t do a better job of keeping the puck out of their own net. Defensive breakdowns and an inability to get a timely save cost the Canadiens more than anything in their loss to the Jets. While Carey Price wasn’t the reason Montreal lost the game, the goal he allowed to Nate Thompson that proved to be the game-winner was the type of deflating goal that can sink a team.
“I just think maybe I’m overthinking things,” Price said after the loss.
Perhaps taking some time to recapture his game is what will serve Price and the Canadiens best right now. When he’s on his game, there are few goalies better in the world. So far this season, Price’s performance has been below average, though.
GM Marc Bergevin acquired Jake Allen to give Price something he has not had in recent years: A competent back-up capable of easing Price’s workload when needed. This might be the time for that. Allen has not only outperformed Price in the seven games he’s played this season, he’s been one of the best goalies in the goalie graveyard that is the North Division.
The last stat on the graphic above — goals saved above expected — shows that Allen is saving his team approximately one goal every three games beyond expected, based on the shot quality and quantity he faces. Price is costing the Canadiens roughly a goal every two games. Among 47 qualified goalies, Allen ranks ninth overall in that statistic, while Price ranks 43rd.
It will take more than one game for the Canadiens to familiarize themselves with how Ducharme wants them to play. Certainly more than one game for the team to start executing with a high degree of consistency. A few more saves at key times might be the difference between a win or a loss in the coming games, which is significant for a team that looks as fragile as the Canadiens do right now.
The Canadiens get another crack at the Jets Saturday night on Hockey Night in Canada. We’ll see which Habs team shows up. The first half team that plays on its toes or the second half version that plays on its heels.
With six coaches out, Sergio Scariolo steps in to lead Toronto Raptors to win – ESPN
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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