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Canadiens distancing themselves from 2020’s failures, growing under Ducharme –



Short history lesson for you: The Montreal Canadiens lose Paul Byron and Jonathan Drouin in the same game, in November 2019, and then proceed to go 15-18-4 until they’re back in February 2020. It’s a stint that features two eight-game winless streaks, with a Brendan Gallagher concussion smack in the middle of it, in case you forgot.

Just hideous.

It’s barely been a year since then, but it feels like it all happened much longer ago — especially on this night, with the Canadiens notching their third consecutive win sans leading-scorer Tyler Toffoli and first-pairing defenceman Ben Chiarot.

It was a 4-1 domination of the Ottawa Senators that was anything but ugly.

So, what’s different? Let’s start with the depth of the roster. Boy, did it shine through on Thursday.

Let us count the ways:

1. Backup Jake Allen was excellent, improving his save percentage to .922. He’s won five of 12 starts and collected points in four of the losses.

2. Byron scored the 10th shorthanded goal of his career, Montreal’s eighth this season, and it was his third point in his last two games. He was on waivers twice this year, but that feels like a distant memory now, too.

3. Victor Mete, a regular top-four defenceman over the last two seasons who had to wait until Feb. 1 to get into a game this season, had an assist and helped the Canadiens control 53 per cent of the shot attempts in just over 14 minutes of ice-time at 5-on-5 from the third pairing.

4. With Eric Staal all but certain to take his job when he comes out of quarantine, rookie Jake Evans played his best game of the season, setting up two goals in style.

5. Tomas Tatar and Phillip Danault, two players in contract years who were relegated to secondary roles and struggled mightily in them through the first half of the season, combined for four points in this game. Danault, who didn’t score a goal for the first 24 games of the season, had one on this night to bring his total to three, and he has eight points in his last four games. Tatar had two assists to keep a five-game point streak alive, over which he’s notched two goals and seven assists.

Depth was supposed to be this team’s superpower — especially in a North Division rife with superstar talent the Canadiens are short on.

“From the start of the year, it’s something we touched on is the depth that our team has and the internal competition,” said Jeff Petry (one guy who’s played like a superstar) earlier on Thursday. “No matter who’s in, who’s out, we feel like we have a lineup that can win every night.”

The Canadiens looked like they were going to do that after rattling off seven wins in their first 10 games, but it was all put in doubt over an eight-game stretch that cost Claude Julien his job as head coach. A stretch that looked far too familiar to that ugly stuff we saw last year.

But that’s starting to feel like it happened ages ago, too. Suddenly, the Canadiens once again look like the team they’re built to be, they’re growing, and that has much to do with interim coach Dominique Ducharme.

“I’ve played behind a few good teams in the past, I’m very fortunate,” said Allen, who won the 2019 Stanley Cup with a St. Louis Blues team with Craig Berube taking over for Mike Yeo as coach mid-stream. “Tonight, I felt like I was behind one of those really good teams again. It’s just the way the guys supported the puck, they were in the right positions. They were patient with it, they dumped pucks in, they didn’t force any plays. It’s not always about just shooting pucks to the net; it’s about being patient with the puck.

“I think it’s obviously taken some time to buy into the system that Dom’s put into place. I’ve been through coaching changes, it takes a couple of weeks, a month. I think things are starting to click and everyone’s buying in. If we can do that consistently, we’ll have a good chance to win every night.”

It took several sleeps to get to this point. An ugly loss or two, some heartbreakers in overtime/the shootout and some hard-fought wins that were anything but perfect before the Canadiens emerged again as the team we thought they were when the season started.

And it took an unexpected one-week break in the schedule, due to two players being placed in COVID Protocol last Monday, to cement what Ducharme has been building as a foundation.

“We knew we had a week off, but nobody took it for granted,” said Danault. “We worked out. Even if it’s not easy — you have a bye week, you want to relax — but we worked out… We also stayed sharp mentally. We had a couple of meetings, and everyone was in on the call, so I think it shows the dedication of our team.”

The way the Canadiens played in Tuesday’s 4-0 win over the Edmonton Oilers and Thursday’s win over Ottawa showed the dedication to the system.

And good dedication comes from a healthy team culture.

“Culture takes so long to change, and it’s so hard to do. It’s hard work, and it’s not always fun work,” Danault said. “But we worked on it a lot (over the last year) and I think the arrival of Dom really helped us polish the little details that were missing.”

Combine that with the depth and the internal competition and you’re getting somewhere.

And when the results start to come from that, like they have over the first three consecutive wins since January, that creates belief.

“It’s really important,” said Ducharme. “I mean, when you put things in place and guys start to feel the impact into the game, that’s where the belief grows. And our guys are doing a great job. We said it before, we have a great group of guys — they’re a united team and they want to have success. They’re playing with the right mindset and the right attitude right now. We’ll keep that and we’ll make our game better every day.”

It’s what the Canadiens weren’t able to do a year ago, but something they must continue to do right now — with 23 games to play in 40 nights to not only lock down a playoff spot but to establish themselves as a top team.

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Drouin must return to mentality that’s led to success this season –



It was something Dominique Ducharme said after his Montreal Canadiens played an abysmal game against the Ottawa Senators last week, something that only truly resonated after they lost 3-2 to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday — a game that emboldened the struggle Jonathan Drouin’s currently enduring.

“Ninety per cent of the mistakes we made were mental, and the rest of it was above our shoulders.” the coach said after the 6-3 loss to Ottawa last Saturday, somewhat channelling New York Yankees legend Yogi Berra with this bit of wit and wisdom.

It was hard not to think of those words watching Drouin play the way he did on Wednesday. For much of this season, the talented left winger has played a primary role in Montreal’s success. He’s led them with 19 assists, been tenacious on the forecheck, physically engaged all over the ice, cerebral as always in his execution and, as he’s said on several occasions, relatively unconcerned by whether or not his name has been featured on the scoresheet.

But it seemed clear, after watching Drouin dump a breakaway into Jack Campbell’s chest with one of 32 shots the Maple Leafs goaltender turned aside to set a franchise record with his 10th consecutive win, he had diverted from that. And that affected the way he played the rest of the game.

It was Drouin’s fifth in a row without a point, his 18th without a goal, and he’d have to be a robot not to be suffering the mental wear of not seeing the puck go in more than twice since the season started, the torment of seeing only three per cent of his shots hit the back of the net through 36 games after 10 per cent of them resulted in goals through the first 348 games of his career.

“It is weighing on me where, when I have a chance and miss the goal, I might be trying to score too much,” Drouin said. “It’s something I obviously think about — every player would — and I’ve just gotta put it past me and just keep shooting pucks.”

Ideally, the 26-year-old wouldn’t be thinking about any of this. These are thoughts that weigh a player down and right now the Canadiens are in tough without Brendan Gallagher for the rest of the season and Drouin needs to be light and free to help account for that loss. And in order for him to do that, he needs to focus on what he does best.

Because the reality is that even though Drouin can score more, scoring isn’t what he needs to do in order to be at his best and really help this team.

“When his feet are moving and he’s making plays, Drou’s a pass-first guy,” explained Jake Allen, who made 29 saves in Carey Price’s absence. “When his feet are moving, his head’s always in it. When his feet are moving, he’s controlling the play, controlling the puck. He’s a guy who really can control the play for a whole line. You want the puck on that guy’s stick and let the other guys do the dirty work and he’ll find them.”

But when Drouin’s feet aren’t moving, there just isn’t enough of that other stuff happening.

When Drouin’s feet weren’t moving, he lost a battle for the puck in the offensive zone and allowed the NHL’s leading goal scorer to start the rush that resulted in the winning play of Wednesday’s game.

Auston Matthews to Mitch Marner, back to Matthews, off Allen and slammed into Montreal’s net by Zach Hyman with 9:39 remaining in the third period, with Drouin watching from just inside his own blue line.

“You give a 3-on-2 to the Matthews line and it’s the kind of play they’re going to make you pay on,” said Ducharme.

Was Drouin still thinking about that shot he didn’t bury in the second period?

It’s understandable if he was, but those are the kind of thoughts he needs to shake right now.

“He wants to do well, and I’m sure it’s getting a little bit in his head,” said Ducharme. “I think the best remedy for him is to be scoring that goal or making that big play, and I think he’s going to be energized by that and less thinking, more acting.

“It is a fine line. Those kind of thoughts is not something that you want to happen. But when you receive that puck and you see the opening and stuff, (the slump) comes back to (your mind). That’s why the mental part of the game is something that’s very tricky. It’s not his will to be thinking that way. Every player who’s going through a time like that will have that thought and scoring that goal will take him to a different level. At those kind of times you need to make it even simpler and being even more inside going at the net and finding a garbage (goal) right there and you put it in and sometimes you go on a little run. It might be that kind of goal that he needs to get that monkey off his back.”

It’s the kind of goal Corey Perry scored twice to give the Canadiens a chance in this game.

But Drouin isn’t Perry, who rightly pointed out after the game he’s made a career of scoring goals that way. And even if Drouin can borrow from what Perry does next time he has a chance like the one Brett Kulak set him up with for that breakaway, there are other ways he can positively impact the game.

You can appreciate that Drouin said he’s putting pressure on himself to score more and help make up for the goals the team will be missing with Gallagher sidelined, but that might not get him to where he needs to be mentally to contribute as much as he already has this season.

What would, though, is a sharp turn towards the mentality he described just days ago. The one that’s enabled him to be a much more consistent player this season than he has in seasons past.

“When I was younger, I’d stay on one game or stay on one play for too long and wouldn’t be able to let it go for a bit or a couple of days,” Drouin said. “But I think for me now it’s can I look at myself in the mirror after a game and did I give my good effort? Was I a part of this game? Was I doing something right in a lot of areas?

“That’s what I do now. I think points are there, goals are there, assists are there, but it’s just about playing that real game and playing to help your team win.”

Drouin’s done a lot of that this season and has a chance to get right back to it when the Winnipeg Jets visit the Bell Centre Thursday.

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Scioscia to lead U.S. baseball bid for spot at Tokyo Olympics



(Reuters) – Mike Scioscia, who won World Series both as a player and manager, was named manager of the U.S. men’s national baseball team on Tuesday, as they seek a spot at the Tokyo Olympics.

After 19 seasons as manager of the Anaheim Angels, guiding them to their only World Series win in 2002, Scioscia will make his international coaching debut in June when the United States hosts the Baseball Americas Qualifier in Florida.

For the tournament the U.S. will be grouped with the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Nicaragua in Pool A while Canada, Colombia, Cuba, and Venezuela will make up Pool B.

The top two teams from each pool will advance to the Super Round, where the country with the best overall record will earn a spot in the Tokyo Olympic tournament.

Second and third-place finishers will advance to a final qualifier, joining Australia, China, Taiwan, and the Netherlands.

“Mike’s tenure with the Angels’ franchise was nothing short of spectacular, creating and celebrating a culture of success with six division titles, an American League pennant, and its first-ever World Series title,” said USA Baseball Executive Director/CEO Paul Seiler in a statement. “More impactfully, his leadership, integrity, and character are unparalleled in our game, making him the perfect fit for the USA Baseball family.”

The Olympic tournament will take place from July 28-Aug. 7 in Fukushima City and Yokohama.

Hosts Japan, Israel, South Korea, and Mexico have already secured a berth in the six-team field.


(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto. Editing by Toby Davis)

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Masters 2021: Tiger Woods says he'll miss Champions Dinner, running up DJ's bill – Golf Channel



AUGUSTA, Ga. – Dustin Johnson will host his first Champions Dinner on Tuesday night in the Augusta National clubhouse, and he’ll be joined by several past Masters champions.

One former winner who won’t be there is five-time champ Tiger Woods, who is still home in South Florida recovering from a serious car accident in February near Los Angeles. Justin Thomas, who is still working toward his invite to the prestigious dinner, said Woods texted him Friday night and was “bummed” to not be at the Masters this year.

Woods then tweeted Tuesday afternoon that he’ll miss one of his favorite nights of the year.

“I’ll miss running up @DJohnsonPGA’s bill at the Champions Dinner tonight,” Woods said. “It’s still one of my favorite nights of the year.”

Johnson responded to Woods’ tweet, saying: “Will miss having you here. This week isn’t the same without you.”

The PGA Tour announced that the club would leave a seat open for Woods at the dinner, though the tweet has since been taken down.

Johnson will serve a menu including filet mignon, sea bass and peach cobbler.

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