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Canadiens establish building blocks vs. Jets, but key trouble spots remain –



If you want to be half-glass full about it, after five straight losses — and eight in the last 10 games — you could say the building blocks were established in this dominant game the Montreal Canadiens played in Winnipeg on Saturday night.

But the Canadiens lost once again, this time 2-1 in overtime to the Winnipeg Jets, and there’s no telling how they’ll react come Tuesday at the Bell Centre against an Ottawa Senators team that’s beaten them in three of four games this season.

Interim head coach Dominique Ducharme said he told his players they deserved better, that he was pleased with what he saw in their implementation of the strategies he’s advanced since taking over for Claude Julien mid-week.

“It wasn’t perfect,” Ducharme said. “But when I say the game is honest and the points will come back to you, they’re going to come back this season at a point when we don’t deserve two points.”

Maybe he’s right. But who knows?

All things being equal, you’d think if the Canadiens play anywhere near as well at 5-on-5 as they did against Winnipeg — they out-shot the Jets 37-11 and out-chanced them 36-14 — a win’s in the bag come Tuesday.

But sometimes it takes more than that.

It takes a functional power play to come through in a tight game. It takes a good penalty kill. It takes players digging in and winning key faceoffs.

And this is where the Canadiens were undone against the Jets.

Nick Suzuki said after the game that it takes 60 minutes. “That’s what it’s going to take every night in the NHL.”

But the Canadiens should know by now, with this loss being the fifth one they’ve suffered in extra time this season, sometimes it takes 61 or 62, or more than 65.

This team can bank all the positive that came with its strong play at 5-on-5. It can even hope it carries forward.

But until these four trouble spots — the power play, the penalty kill, faceoffs and 3-on-3 overtime — get at least partially addressed, wins will be harder and harder to come by.

The power play entered the game as the 18th-best one in the NHL. It generated some good opportunities. That it got set up in the offensive zone and that its designed plays were almost perfectly executed, were pluses.

But on two of three shots that hit Connor Hellebuyck, Joel Armia was right there to provide a screen and he shifted out of the way and made the goalie’s job easier. On the other one, Corey Perry parked himself right in front of the Jets netminder and Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s shot somehow (unfortunately) found glove.

The penalty kill found the right balance between passivity and aggression — something it had struggled immensely to do in the games leading up to this one — but a lost faceoff by Jake Evans and a curious decision by Alexander Romanov (who otherwise had an excellent game) to try to play goalie instead of taking his man screened Canadiens goaltender Jake Allen and gave Nikolaj Ehlers a goal.

Moments before that, Phillip Danault won a defensive zone draw clean and the puck went down the ice, and the Canadiens kept it out of their own end for 1:20. But the loss from Evans later was a killer for the 22nd-ranked penalty kill in the NHL.

The Canadiens came into the game with the 28th-best faceoff numbers and made them worse. That element of the game cost them both in regulation and overtime.

The Jets threw three forwards over the boards to start the extra frame, with Paul Stastny at centre and Ehlers and Kyle Connor roving. Montreal countered with Jeff Petry on defence, which makes sense considering he’s been among the three highest-scoring blue-liners in the NHL all season, and Armia was out there because Ducharme said he thought he was one of the Canadiens’ best players in the game.

Danault came on for one reason and one reason only.

“The first thing for me was that they have three forwards, we have to take possession of the puck right away,” said Ducharme. “I don’t want to say exactly what we wanted to do, but if we take possession of the puck and we keep it, I think at one point we can pick the right time with good changes to make them pay.”

It’s a logical explanation, but Danault lost the faceoff cleanly and the Canadiens didn’t touch the puck again until Allen was fishing it out of their net.

He’s been through losing spells like these. The last one he was a part of was with the St. Louis Blues, who spiralled to last in the NHL, fired head coach Mike Yeo, replaced him with Craig Berube and then went on to win the Stanley Cup.

The turnaround, Allen said Saturday, took two to three weeks.

The Canadiens don’t have that much time in this shortened season.

“We finally got all on one page,” said Allen of those 2019 Cup-winning Blues. “I think that’s the biggest thing.”

The goaltender, who made 17 saves against the Jets, saw evidence the Canadiens are almost there.

“I think we’re really gelling here to all get on one page,” said Allen. “I liked what we brought to the table yesterday and today, and obviously tomorrow’s a travel day, but we’ll get back to work Monday.”

But the Canadiens need to win Tuesday for some optimism to really take hold.

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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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