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Canadiens 'buying in 100 per cent,' head coach Ducharme says – Montreal Gazette



Under Dominique Ducharme, the Habs play tight defensively, break out of their zone quickly and badger opposing puck-carriers.

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The Canadiens have only played two games following a week off when two of their players were placed on the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol list.

And while they might hit a wall as early as next week — when Montreal begins a stretch of four games every week until the season concludes — there are many aspects of the team’s play that must be pleasing to interim head coach Dominique Ducharme.

“Surprised? It’s always good when you see it happen,” Ducharme said Friday during a video conference before the team conducted a video session and off-ice training workout.

“I thought we were playing some pretty good hockey (before the layoff),” he continued. “We needed to get better in certain areas. Guys have been buying in 100 per cent. I was talking about the team getting better, one step at a time. Now, guys are putting it more together. Guys are feeling comfortable.

“You never know, at one point, when it’s going to really jell.”


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The Canadiens have won three successive games, coming out of the break with a 4-0 victory over Edmonton, followed by a 4-1 win at Ottawa. Montreal (16-8-9) has solidified its fourth-place hold in the North Division heading into Saturday night’s rematch against the Senators at the Bell Centre (7 p.m., CBC, CITY, SN, TVA Sports, TSN Radio 690, 98.5 FM).

The Canadiens held the Oilers to 17 shots while Carey Price recorded his first shutout this season. Ottawa generated only 23 shots, but Jake Allen was denied a shutout following a late third-period power-play goal.

While Montreal continues being paced by the Phillip Danault, Brendan Gallagher, Tomas Tatar line, it’s also getting contributions from unlikely sources.

Winger Paul Byron, twice placed on waivers this season, scored against the Senators after a two-assist effort against Edmonton. And centre Jake Evans had perhaps his best game this season on Thursday with two assists against Ottawa.

All this is happening without injuries to two key players — winger Tyler Toffoli and defenceman Ben Chiarot. Toffoli leads the Canadiens with 18 goals and is tied with Jeff Petry with a team-high 27 points, while Chiarot had been on the first pairing with captain Shea Weber.


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It was only last season the Canadiens seemingly crumbled after Byron and Jonathan Drouin sustained injuries in the same game, followed by Gallagher’s concussion.

“A good team always finds a way … without a superstar player,” Danault said Thursday. “We all stick to the system, game after game. … If we buy into the system, that’s how it works. That’s how you win. That’s what we’re doing. Everyone’s buying in and dedicated to the system.”

The Canadiens are 7-3-5 since Ducharme replaced the fired Claude Julien, the team slowly beginning to seemingly evolve.

“I think we’re finding an identity,” defenceman Brett Kulak said on Friday.

Under Ducharme, the Canadiens play tight defensively and they’re also breaking out of their zone quickly. And it’s not uncommon to see opposing puck-carriers being chased by two Montreal players.


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“He (Ducharme) loves when we play tight and we play hard and fast defensively,” Kulak said. “He also loves it when we get creative offensively, but No. 1 for him is that defensive side of the game, giving the other team nothing, not letting them have any fun in the game, as he likes to say.

“You do that over a certain amount of time as the game wears on, the other team starts getting frustrated and they start forcing stuff. That’s when things open up and scoring chances happen for us.”

Newly acquired centre Eric Staal will have ice available to him on Sunday — although the Canadiens aren’t scheduled to practise — and, according to Ducharme, will play Monday, when the Canadiens host Edmonton, provided the remainder of his quarantine proceeds as planned.


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Ducharme wouldn’t disclose which two players would flank the veteran, although it seems likely Evans will be a healthy scratch. Therefore, it’s likely no coincidence he played so effectively on Thursday.

“You think about it a little bit,” Evans said Thursday. “It’s an honour to put on that jersey. I don’t want to lose that opportunity. You can’t think about all those outside factors. Play your game. That’s what I’m trying to focus on.”

Meanwhile on Friday, the Canadiens reassigned Cole Caufield and Lukas Vejdemo to the team’s taxi squad in order to meet the minimum number of players (4) required. The moves were a paper transaction as neither player is expected to join the team for the time being. Forward Laurent Dauphin and defenceman Xavier Ouellet were reassigned to the Laval Rocket, making them eligible to play Friday against Stockton.

  1. Ottawa Senators defenseman Mike Reilly (5) and Montreal Canadiens right wing Brendan Gallagher (11) chase the puck in the first period at the Canadian Tire Centre April 1, 2021.

    In the Habs’ room: Danault, Gallagher and Tatar pace suddenly hot Canadiens

  2. The Canadiens’ Paul Byron celebrates after scoring short-handed goal in second period of Thursday night’s 4-1 win over the Senators in Ottawa.

    Canadiens Game Day: Coach Dominique Ducharme’s system working for Habs

  3. Laval Rocket defenceman Corey Schueneman grimaces while checking Belleville Senators Filip Chlapik during first period of American Hockey League game in Montreal on Feb. 12, 2021.

    Canadiens sign Rocket defenceman Schueneman to two-way deal in 2021-22

  4. Senators goalie Filip Gustavsson squares up to stop a shot by Canadiens winger Michael Frolik during first period in Ottawa Thursday night.

    About Last Night: Habs don’t fool around in 4-1 victory over Senators

  5. Montreal Canadiens right wing Michael Frolik (67) shoots on Ottawa Senators goalie Filip Gustavsson (32) April 1, 2021.

    Canadiens in complete command during easy 4-1 win over the Senators

  6. Montreal Canadiens centre Jesperi Kotkaniemi carries the puck over the blue line under pressure from Edmonton Oilers defencemen Darnell Nurse (25) and Tyson Barrie in Montreal on March 30, 2021.

    Stu Cowan: Math works in Canadiens’ favour down the stretch


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For Oilers, Archibald’s selfish anti-vaccine stance is not worth the risk –



EDMONTON — One is a player who opted to honour his commitment to his new team in Edmonton. The other, just another selfish anti-vaxxer who is betting on himself, somewhat foolishly.

One is a player the general manager staked his reputation on, with much pedigree and a handful of Stanley Cup rings. A guy who came to town billed as a leader, and then backed it up when he rolled up his sleeve despite obvious misgivings about being vaccinated.

Sure, Duncan Keith should have gotten vaccinated a month sooner. But give him some credit for putting the team — society and the Oilers — ahead of himself. Even if he waited until the 11th hour to do it.

Then there is depth winger Josh Archibald, who will be replaced by Game 1 of the regular season if he doesn’t give his head a shake. He is from that young, conspiracy-oriented demographic that has been suckered in by far-right disinformation, and tweets about idiocy like “the plandemic.”

“I’m happy that he’s going to be part of our team this year, fully vaccinated,” Oilers general manager Ken Holland said of Keith, a player Holland had seriously dug in on to convince him to get vaccinated. Mike Smith took some work, too, we are told, but now both are vaccinated and ready to do what they were brought in to accomplish.

The other player is more selfish than that.

Archibald is a nice, fourth-line penalty killer in a normal season. He’ll get you 10 goals a year. But for this, the third COVID-affected NHL campaign, an unvaccinated Archibald just isn’t worth it.

Holland and head coach Dave Tippett sat down with Archibald on Tuesday and spelled out how many games he would miss and what it would mean to be Canada’s only unvaccinated NHL player. It would cost him up to 40 per cent of his $1.5 million salary. Maybe more.

Now Holland sits, and hopes that Archibald changes his mind before the GM has to send him to AHL Bakersfield. He is virtually untradeable, as Archibald could not play games in Canada for a U.S.-based team, and poses a risk that no fourth-liner can justify.

“There are a team or two out there that have made the decision that unvaccinated players are not welcome at training camp. I have not made that decision as of this time,” Holland said on Wednesday. “I think the player is going through the process to decide. It’s a difficult decision. I’ll give [Archibald] the appropriate time, and I’ll see where I’m at in a week, 10 days from now. We’ll see.”

Editor’s note: With overwhelming consistency, research has shown vaccinations against COVID-19 are safe and effective. Residents of Alberta who are looking to learn more about vaccines can find up-to-date information here. Further details on COVID-19 and the country’s pandemic response are available on Canada’s public health website.

In a strange twist of fate, Keith — who received his vaccination in the United States only this week — is in quarantine until next Friday, while the unvaccinated Archibald is undergoing daily testing while attending Edmonton Oilers training camp.

But here’s the reality of all this: A Canadian team simply can not have an unvaccinated player on its roster.

By Holland’s math, an unvaccinated player who must serve a 14-day quarantine every time he comes over the U.S. border and into Canada, would miss “30-plus games” this season. He’d also miss a ton of practice time, and would lose one-200th of his pay for every day missed due to the federally mandated quarantine.

It would be impossible to hold his place on an NHL roster.

“After you quarantine for 14 days, if we’re playing well you’re not just taking someone out to put that person in,” Holland said. “The number of times we cross the border, it’s going to be very difficult.”

Had Keith and Smith not relented, the Oilers’ season would have been derailed.

Related reading: Edmonton Oilers goaltender Alex Stalock contracted COVID-19 before the shortened 56-game season. Now, the 34-year-old is likely going to miss the 2021-22 season due to a heart condition.

Now that Holland has his starting goalie and No. 3 defenceman in the fold, why on earth would you want an unvaccinated, 13:33-minutes per game player flying on the same charter and inhabiting the same dressing rooms as Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl?

Between the peer pressure, the risk of lost salary, and the ridiculous nature of his stance, I expect Archibald to relent and get the jab. Let’s face it: It’s a business, and there is no moral high ground in sport.

“In July I heard talk that there were 80, 90 unvaccinated players,” Holland recounted. “We had a Board of Governors meeting (Tuesday), and Bill Daly said we’ll be in single digits of players unvaccinated going into the season. So, basically, 70, 80, 90 players eventually made the decision to get vaccinated.”

Some because they didn’t want to lose the salary, and some because they put their team and others before themselves.

There is one player left on a Canadian team who puts himself before everything else, and his name is Josh Archibald.

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Kiermaier on getting hit by pitch by Blue Jays' Borucki: 'Oh yeah, it was intentional' – Yahoo Canada Sports



The Tampa Bay Rays clinched a spot in the postseason on Wednesday, but that was the secondary story against the Toronto Blue Jays.

During the game prior, Rays centrefielder Kevin Kiermaier was the centre of attention as he snatched a dropped data card from Toronto catcher Alejandro Kirk, which the Rays refused to hand back to the visiting club. Less than 24 hours later during the series finale between the two AL East teams, Kiermaier re-entered the spotlight as he was struck by a pitch thrown by Blue Jays reliever Ryan Borucki in the eighth inning.

Borucki was ejected after the umpires met to review the struck batter, which then caused Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo and a very red-faced pitching coach Pete Walker to storm onto the field.

Walker was also tossed from the game for his outburst.

Kiermaier didn’t let up after the 7-1 victory, focusing on the late-game dramatics.

“Oh yeah, it was intentional,” Kiermaier said of the incident. “Pretty much almost went behind me. I thought it was a weak move, to be quite honest. It’s over. It didn’t hurt by any means, so I don’t care. Whatever. We move on. We got a series win, and I hope we play those guys, I really do.”

When Kiermaier was asked why he wants to face the Blue Jays again, it was mysterious to say the least. “The motivation is there,” he said. “That’s all that needs to be said.”

Despite Kiermaier being so sure it was intentional, Montoyo had a different idea of what happened, but was certainly sympathetic to the Rays’ reaction.

“Pete’s reaction told me everything about it,” the Blue Jays manager said. “He missed. He hit him, but I understand what it looks like. I understood how the Rays got upset about it. That thing was on for two days.”

With just 10 games remaining in the regular season, Toronto is on a hot Wild Card race with fellow divisional rivals Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees. The two clubs involved in the ruckus will not face each other again unless the Blue Jays earn a spot in the postseason and are able to beat their opposition in that single-game playoff matchup.

As if the MLB postseason wasn’t dramatic enough, now there’s an underlying narrative ready to boil over at any moment if the two face each other in a series.

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Eichel stripped of Sabres captaincy, placed on LTIR – TSN



Jack Eichel is no longer captain of the Buffalo Sabres.

Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams said Thursday morning Eichel has been stripped of the ‘C’ after three seasons in the role.

“I spoke to Jack two days ago, I spoke to the team yesterday and addressed this, Jack Eichel is no longer the captain of the Buffalo Sabres,” Adams said. “From our perspective, the captain is your heartbeat of your team, and we are in a situation where we felt we needed to make that decision.”

Adams added the Sabres will not have a captain this season.

Adams also confirmed that Eichel will start the season on long-term injured reserve as he remains in a holding pattern with the team on how to best treat his neck injury.

“I think we would all agree that we were hoping to avoid surgery…unfortunately, yesterday Jack did not pass his physical. At this point, Jack is not willing to move forward with what our doctors are suggesting…we will continue to work toward a solution,” Adams said.

TSN Hockey Insider Darren Dreger reported Wednesday that there is nothing close on the trade front for Eichel, who has been looking for a trade throughout the off-season.

“Well, it’s tough to pinpoint a timeline but we do know there is ongoing discussions with Jack Eichel’s agent Pat Brisson and Kevyn Adams, the general manager of the Buffalo Sabres. They’re on good terms, they have an excellent relationship,” Dreger said on Insider Trading. “We also know that Jack Eichel will start the regular season on LTIR. Now, he saw a team of specialists over the course of the off-season. Some encouraged the artificial disc replacement surgery; however, the Buffalo Sabres remain adamant that the fusion surgery is the best option.

“It’s possible that Eichel gets traded and has the disc replacement surgery under the blessing of a new club, but there’s no guarantee and it doesn’t seem like anything is real close on that front.”

Eichel was limited to 21 games last season due to the neck injury and there has been a long-standing dispute with the team this summer over how to treat the injury.  

The 24-year-old centre has been the subject of trade talk since the end of last season and his former agents released a statement in July trying to spur a trade. He switched agents to Pat Brisson in August.

“What’s critically important to make sure is clear is that we’re in control of this process,” Adams said in July, prior to the statement from Eichel’s then-agents. “We have a player under contract. We don’t feel any pressure.

“If there’s a deal out there that we feel is the right thing for the Buffalo Sabres, that’s going to help us improve – whether that’s improve right away or improve down the road, those are all the things weigh – we’d be open to it. But we’re not in a position where we feel we’re just going to do something to do it. That doesn’t make any sense.”

Eichel had two goals and 18 points in 21 games last season and has five years remaining in the eight-year, $80 million contract he signed with the Sabres in 2017.

He had served as captain of the Sabres since 2018.

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