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Canadiens @ Canucks recap: Habs right the ship thanks to special teams – Habs Eyes on the Prize

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Having several days, and a long flight, to stew over a game in which they were nearly shut out by the NHL’s worst team, the Montreal Canadiens took to the ice needing a better performance versus the Vancouver Canucks.

Claude Julien talked about the things Nick Suzuki could do better after the loss to the Detroit Red Wings, specifically mentioning his need to get more to the inside areas of the offensive zone. The forward seemed to take that criticism to heart, as he was the player to get the first chance of the game by trying to dance around Quinn Hughes, but the Canucks defender got the better of his fellow rookie.

The comments from the coach seemed to have an effect on Suzuki’s linemate, Jordan Weal, as well. The two were working very well together on their first handful of shifts, clearly the best unit for either side in the opening period.

Just after they went to the bench following another strong shift in the offensive zone, Nate Thompson came on and immediately took a penalty. The Canadiens killed it off quite handily, helped by the puck-moving skills of Carey Price, but they weren’t so lucky on a second disadvantage.

With the puck once again in Montreal’s zone, Tomas Tatar made a great play to knock the puck off Jake Virtanen’s stick and into an open patch of ice. As the Canadiens winger raced on to the puck with plenty of ice to skate into, he was shocked to hear the whistle blow, getting a two-minute sentence after Virtanen fell on the initial takeaway.

Artturi Lehkonen had a chance to open the scoring on a short-handed rush, but his miss allowed play to return to his end. Montreal’s penalty-killers all went to one side of the ice to attempt to win the puck in a board battle, but when it was lost they were in no position to defend against shots from the opposite flank. The puck made its way to Adam Gaudette, who had space to walk into from near the top of the circle, and he picked a spot right in the top corner, over Price’s shoulder despite the goaltender staying on his feet, and the Canucks had the 1-0 lead.

Normally, Julien’s tactic to kickstart his team after a rough first period is to put the top line out and let them play a hard forechecking shift in the offensive zone. The coach went with that trio to start the middle frame, but the result wasn’t nearly what he expected, as the Canucks spent the shift in the Canadiens’ end. Once again, it was Suzuki’s line that did that job, getting the puck around the Canucks’ net, with Suzuki pulling off a delayed shot as the most dangerous look.

One of Suzuki’s linemates eventually put Montreal on the board. On the ice with Joel Armia and Max Domi, Nick Cousins found the game’s tying goal, and all three forwards played a part. Armia initially won the puck in the neutral zone, Domi gained the blue line and sent a nifty saucer pass straight ahead to Cousins, and the final touch sent the puck into the net.

Cousins’ next shift didn’t end in celebration. He was called for slashing in an attempt to prevent a clear break in on Price. The Canucks scored after a rebound had popped up high in the air, with Price unable to track it and therefore unable to get in position to block it.

Julien quickly challenged for offside, and a review that took very little time at all discovered one attacker had been a couple of feet over the blue line before the puck was, negating the goal. The infraction had still been committed by Cousins, however, so he had to spend his time in the box. Unlike the second power play the Canucks had in the first period, the Habs killed this one off so they could go back on the attack.

In the offensive zone, the Canadiens found a go-ahead goal of their own, scored off the stick of Joel Armia with Jacob Markstrom occupied with Lehkonen and one of his own defenders in his crease. After looking at the replay, Canucks coach Travis Green decided to launch a challenge of his own.

Replays seemed to show quite clearly that Lehkonen had been pushed into the goalie by defenceman Oscar Fantenberg, but the review dragged on, an ill omen for the Canadiens. Sure enough, despite seeing the video of the goal from several angles, with Lehkonen using nearly every muscle in his body to avoid toppling onto the goaltender, the decision was made to overturn the referee’s original call and wave off the goal.

The Canadiens responded decently well, with a shift in the Canucks’ zone when play eventually resumed, but for much of the remainder of the second period they were trapped in their own end as the Canucks had several chances. Price held his ground under the sudden onslaught, allowing Montreal to get re-engaged. The period came to an end with a bit of sustained pressure for the visitors, though they couldn’t find a go-ahead goal that passed the officials’ scrutiny, either.

To start the third period, the Canadiens were granted a power play just 22 seconds in; their first one after dealing with three for the Canucks in the opening 40 minutes. On that advantage, the Habs drew another one that would have sent them to a five-on-three, but Phillip Danault didn’t need the two additional bodies to make a goal happen.

Just upon hitting the ice after the very infraction that resulted in a second penalty, Danault slung the puck across the slot to Tatar. Tatar made a great fake as if he were going to go across the crease to his backhand, then pulled the puck back to his forehand just as Markstrom bit on the move, leaving the goalie unable to make the save.

With the first power play negated by the goal and the new one beginning, Shea Weber had his first one-time chance stopped, but he drifted in closer to the net as the Habs recovered his rebound. An initial pass from Domi to the captain was blocked, but a second one from Armia made its way to the destination, and Weber released the puck quickly to give the Canadiens a two-goal edge very early into the period.

A Tatar tripping penalty (this one actually deserved) gave the Canucks one last chance on the power play. The Habs may have surrendered one goal to the NHL’s fourth-best man advantage early in the game, but they locked down the two minutes Tatar was in the box to end the night killing three out of the four penalties they were given.

The Canucks’ best chance to reduce the lead came as a spinning shot got behind Price, hit the crossbar, and began rolling along the ice back toward the goal line. Ben Chairot was on the scene to tuck it safely into his goalie’s pads, ending the danger.

Vancouver called Markstrom to the bench with three minutes remaining, spending the first 60 seconds in the Canadiens’ zone but relegated to the perimeter by great defensive positioning. A quick flurry of action in the dying seconds saw pucks either blocked or turned aside by Price, and the game ended with Montreal up 3-1 on the scoreboard.

Overall it was a good night for the Canadiens on special teams, and something they should be able to build some confidence from. The defence has really turned a corner as well. Struggling to keep the puck out of their net in the opening months, they’ve yet to surrender more than three goals in the month of December, and no more than two in their past five games.

Next up is a trip to Alberta to take on a Calgary Flames team that had been doing well after a coaching change until recently. Montreal will hope to keep their offence cold when they battle at the Saddledome on Thursday night.

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Game #3 Review: Toronto Maple Leafs 3 vs. Ottawa Senators 2 – Maple Leafs Hot Stove

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This was a dominant performance by the Toronto Maple Leafs, although it felt a little too close for comfort late in the game.

For the most part, it was the response the Leafs needed as they depart Ottawa with two of the four points on offer this weekend.

Your game in ten:

1.  Jack Campbell didn’t need to be great (17 saves), but he was solid, and that was good enough tonight.

His best work came on the Evgenii Dadonov and Derek Stepan chances with the score at 3-2 late in the game. On the big save on Dadonov, he reacted well with his glove splayed, although I don’t think he knew all that much about the save— Dadonov fired that back against the grain right into the goalie and it struck Campbell in the far shoulder.

I thought the Tim Stutzle goal looked stoppable at first given it went through him on his near post, but it’s a tough one to read with such a uniquely-taken one-timer, and if you watch the replay closely, it looks to me like it was headed for a routine stop into Campbell’s mid-section before it ticked off the top of Zach Bogosian’s stick blade in front and found the 7-hole.

Campbell didn’t have to be outstanding, but he was quieter, steadier, more on his angle, and looked bigger in the net than the Leafs goaltending performances we had seen in the first two games.

2.  It’s what everyone is going to be talking about, so let’s get it out of the way: Should the Leafs go back to Frederik Andersen on Monday vs. Winnipeg? In my view, yes. I don’t think it’s wise to fuel a goaltending controversy three games into the season — after a short camp and no exhibitions — knowing how critical it is to have Andersen up and rolling if the Leafs have serious designs on winning the division and going deep in the playoffs.

The Leafs gave up more home-free and grade-A chances in both of the games Andersen started. Not that I am excusing Andersen’s play, which we have been plenty critical of here, but it’s just not the move yet at this juncture. The leash should be shorter this year than in past seasons, but not this short.

If the Leafs felt he was getting complacent and needed a kick in the rear / the shock of a benching, then maybe, but that’s not the vibe I’ve gotten about Andersen’s situation. The reports were Andersen was back to Toronto very early this year putting in more work than he ever has to get ready for the season.

That said, I wouldn’t be affording him his customary 10-game slow start if it doesn’t turn around at all this week. Not in a 56-game year, not after his last regular season and playoff qualifier.

3.  You could point out that the Leafs dominated the possession time in both games and you would mostly be right, but it was more than just a little more puck luck tonight (though Mitch Marner got some on his 2-1 goal). The Leafs generated nearly 60% of the expected goals, over 71% of the shot attempts, and 65% of the even-strength shots. The night before, they clocked more zone time than Ottawa but lost both the 5v5 shots share and expected goals battle.

The Leafs were playing faster, generating more off the rush, and spending less time stuck on the perimeter in the o-zone. They spent very little time defending and had fewer breakdowns as a result, although there is still more than enough to clean up there from tonight’s game tape.

Overall, it was a dominant performance, a solid response, and they were full marks for the two points.

4.  I liked how the Leafs didn’t show any panic in their game after the 1-0 Ottawa goal, but I did not like the ending to their game after they appeared to have the two points secure at 3-1.

There was a shift where they were running around prior to Tim Stutzle’s goal, a somewhat soft penalty that Zach Hyman should’ve been more careful about at that juncture of the game, and then a mystifying shift from Mitch Marner coming off of the late Leafs power play.

Marner first didn’t get the puck in deep, turning it over in the neutral zone, and then tried a cutesy pass inside his own slot with the Senators goalie pulled for a mind-boggling turnover that needed a Campbell stick-knob save to ensure Marner wasn’t wearing massive goat horns after a much better game from him overall.

5.  The players the Leafs needed bounce-back games from, they got bounce-back games from, led by the top line and the top pairing. TJ Brodie’s man scored on the 1-0 goal, but he wasn’t playing Nick Paul all that loose, and it was a strange bounce that got caught up in the pants of Paul and fell perfectly for him. The Leafs’ forwards were really slow to close down on the point off of the lost draw, too.

Beyond that, Brodie cut out a 3v1 with a beautiful sweep check — snuffing out the pass and the shot — nicely defended another 2v1 on the PK, generated a number of good defensive stops via shot blocks and good sticks, and sent the nice stretch pass for the Joe Thornton goal for his first point as a Leaf. Two good games and one stinker so far as he adjusts to the new team and partner — encouraging overall.

Brodie’s pairing with Morgan Rielly was a 38% CF, outshot 9-3, outscored 2-0, with an Expected Goals For percentage of 22% at 5v5 last night. Tonight, they were a 68% CF, outshot the Sens 7-4, outscored them 2-1, and finished at 59% xGF.

6.  Travis Dermott saw just 1:50 of ice time with the Leafs in possession of the lead in the third period as partner Zach Bogosian was mixed in next to Rielly and Jake Muzzin at different points. Overall, Dermott clocked less than 9 minutes TOI.

Especially given Brodie hasn’t looked particularly sharp on the power play to me, it feels like the Leafs have nothing to lose mixing in Mikko Lehtonen at this point. I’d expect to see it this week.

7.  Most consistent Leafs through three games: John Tavares and Auston Matthews. Both are initiating contact and playing with a lot of urgency all around. Matthews’ skating is up another level somehow, and Tavares is moving better than where he left off last year.

8.  Alex Kerfoot has had some good moments through three games as well, including a nice goal on Friday and a penalty draw to set up the Matthews goal tonight after he broke in alone. He blended into the background in too many games last year, but he has shown good bursts of pace and has been more involved offensively.

The real test of the Leafs’ depth: What happens if they pull the trigger on Hyman and/or Mikheyev moving up into the top six (Hyman was up there for the o-zone draw preceding Marner’s goal tonight)? Kerfoot will need to be more of a driver more consistently than he was last season if he loses Hyman, in particular.

9.  Speaking of the team’s depth, this news is really unfortunate for Nick Robertson, who was flying on his first shift and might have given the fourth line a shot in the arm if given the chance.

The Leafs are thin on the LW, especially if Alex Barbanov isn’t a capable regular for them. It seems to me that Sheldon Keefe is going to have to give Pierre Engvall a chance again at some point. He may not be a center, but I think he could give the team up to 10 decent minutes utilizing his size and speed up and down the wing. Keep in mind Jason Spezza might not stick at center for all 56-games this year, too, so having the option they ran in the playoffs last summer might be necessary. I’m already starting to think about the deadline needs here, if I’m honest.

10.  After three goals against in the first two games, the Leafs’ penalty kill came away with a clean sheet despite five Senators power-play opportunities, including 1:21 of a 5-on-3, allowing the Leafs to win the special teams battle (on Matthews’ power-play goal). Justin Holl and Jake Muzzin both played huge minutes here (5-6 minutes apiece, and they were also solid at 5v5). Part of it was the Senators looking static on the PP at points, but the biggest thing for the Leafs was their execution on faceoffs. They won five of six defensive-zone draws shorthanded, with Jason Spezza winning all four of his right-side draws and Auston Matthews winning his one draw on the left.


Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Ottawa Senators


Heat Map: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Ottawa Senators


Game Highlights

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Can Raptors keep winning with such instability at center? – The Athletic

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There was a period in Toronto Raptors history when the starting centre seemed to change every game. Maybe you’ve heard about it recently. The 2005-06 season is, after all, the benchmark for poor starts to a Raptors season. In the wake of the Vince Carter trade, the team opened 0-9, starting Loren Woods, Rafael Araujo, Aaron Williams and Matt Bonner at the five. Throughout the season, they’d also try Pape Sow, Antonio Davis and Chris Bosh.

That team was marked not only by rotating centres but also by centres with incredibly short leashes. Williams averaged 9.3 minutes as a starter, Woods 13.5, Araujo 13.8 and Sow under 20, even once the tank was very clearly on.

The tank is not on for the Raptors this season, but they are decidedly borrowing from a lesser era for the franchise. On Saturday, Aron Baynes started at centre and played just four minutes. This came one game after he started and played eight, and after Alex Len totalled 14 minutes over two starts.

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Canadiens score a gusher of goals to beat Oilers – Montreal Gazette

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Carey Price made 34 saves and Jeff Petry and Tomas Tatar each scored two goals as the Canadiens rolled to a 5-1 victory over the Edmonton Oilers Saturday at Rogers Place.

Price was the major reason why the Edmonton power play, which ranked No. 1 in the NHL last season, went 0-for-3. He made 10 of his saves while the Oilers were enjoying the man advantage.

After a slow start, the Canadiens set the tone for this game in the first period. They dominated the play and outshot Edmonton 15-9, but had to settle for a 1-0 lead on a power-play goal by former Oiler Petry.

The Montreal power play has been much better in the early going and Petry’s goal was an example of a great individual effort. His shot from the right faceoff circle hit goaltender Mikko Koskinen on the chest and the puck bounced in the air. Petry batted it down as he circled behind the net and scored from the left side.

The Canadiens had a couple of other scoring chances in the first period. Brendan Gallagher and Jesperi Kotkaniemi both hit posts and Koskinen made a big save on Tyler Toffoli early in the period.

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