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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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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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