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Canadiens fight back to beat Flames 4-3 in overtime – Montreal Gazette

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Max Domi scores winner as Habs improve their record to 5-1-0 in the last six games after battling back from 2-0 first-period deficit.

CALGARY — The Canadiens just missed making the playoffs last season, but they were a fun team to watch and they never gave up.

They created a new identity after finishing 28th in the overall NHL standings the previous season.

After going through an eight-game winless streak earlier this season, the Canadiens seem to have regained the identity they worked so hard on developing last year. On Thursday night at the Scotiabank Saddledome, the Canadiens were losing 2-0 after the first period and 3-2 in the third period before battling back to beat the Calgary Flames 4-3 in overtime on a goal by Max Domi.

The Canadiens now have a 6-2-0 record since that eight-game losing streak (0-5-3) and are 5-1-0 in their last six games, including back-to-back road wins in Vancouver and Calgary to start this Western Canada trip.

Brendan Gallagher, Joel Armia and Nick Suzuki scored for the Canadiens in regulation time against the Flames. Matthew Tkachuk, Elias Lindholm and Olivier Kylington scored for Calgary. The Canadiens outshot the Flames 43-27.

The Canadiens improved their season record to 17-12-6 and moved into second place in the Atlantic Division. They now have a 9-4-3 record on the road.

“When you go through a situation like we did, any team is going to lose a little bit of confidence,” coach Claude Julien said after the game about his team’s eight-game winless streak. “That’s why you talk about being fragile. It seems like every time you turn around the puck’s in your net or something bad is happening. But we’ve worked our way out of it and now we’re playing with obviously a lot of confidence, but also a lot of commitment. I didn’t think our first period was the best, not that it was bad. But second period we came out, we started skating the way we wanted our guys to skate and compete and that made a big difference. The rest of the game was see-saw.

“As a group in that dressing room, we as coaches give a lot of advice and ask for a lot of things,” Julien added. “But there’s a certain amount that happens in that dressing room with leadership and pushing each other and I think this is a group that respects each other to the point where they can push each other without taking it personally. And that’s where I think we’re getting better as a team.”

Tkachuk opened the scoring for the Flames at 7:34 of the first period as the result of a defensive breakdown by Canadiens defencemen Brett Kulak and Jeff Petry with centre Phillip Danault somehow caught alone behind the net. Winger Tomas Tatar scrambled to get in front of the net, but was too late and Tkachuk was left wide open to put the puck past Carey Price.

Suzuki came close to tying it for the Canadiens with three minutes left in the period when Price hit him with a breakout pass near centre ice. Suzuki streaked down the right wing and rang a shot off the goalpost.

The Flames went up 2-0 with only eight seconds left in the first period and Danault sitting in the penalty box for tripping. Lindholm completed a gorgeous tic-tac-toe passing play with Tkachuk and Johnny Gaudreau. Price had no chance. Giving up goals in the final minute of a period has been a big problem for the Canadiens this season.

Gallagher got the Canadiens on the board at 9:46 of the second period when he scored from an almost impossible angle. With his butt basically touching the boards at the goal line to Flames goalie David Rittich’s right, Gallagher fired on the net and somehow it went in on the short side for his team-leading 15th goal of the season.

Armia tied it up at 13:11 of the second period on another shot Rittich probably should have stopped, but the big forward surprised the goalie with a quick release. Armia fired a short-side shot from the high slot without any screen and it went in for his 12th goal of the season, one short of the career high he set last season.

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Armia almost put the Canadiens ahead 3-2 when he went in on a breakaway and rang a shot off the post just under six minutes into the third period. That miss looked like it would prove costly when Kylington scored at 6:25 to put the Flames up 3-2, beating Price with a high shot to the glove side.

But the Canadiens battled back yet again and Suzuki scored a nice deflection goal at the 11:58 mark. The rookie had gone 12 games without a goal. Jordan Weal picked up an assist on Suzuki’s goal after going 15 games without a point.

When Domi was asked after the game if the Canadiens are starting to play like they did last season, he responded: “As far as we’re concerned we’re just worried about this year. Nothing else matters. We know what we have in this locker room. We want to play for each other. Everyone’s here to win hockey games and that’s all that matters. Confident group right now.”

“The Western road trip is a big turning point in the year,” Domi added. “If we can come away with as many points as possible in this roadie going into a couple of days off at Christmas, I think that’s what winning teams do. We’re finding ways to win right now, so we just got to keep it going.”

The Canadiens flew to Edmonton after the game and will look for their third straight road win Saturday against the Oilers (7 p.m., SNE, CITY, TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio).

scowan@postmedia.com

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Why need for roster flexibility forced Maple Leafs’ hand in latest moves – Sportsnet.ca

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TORONTO — The price of much-needed roster flexibility was a piece of the goaltending depth Kyle Dubas amassed this off-season.

The Toronto Maple Leafs lost goaltender Aaron Dell on waivers Monday before he even had a chance to play for the team. The closest Dell got was serving as Jack Campbell’s backup in Ottawa on Saturday night and now he’s off to New Jersey, where the Devils have been searching for more help since Corey Crawford’s retirement in training camp.

Toronto knew it had little chance of sneaking a 31-year-old with more than 100 games of NHL experience through the waiver wire, especially in this marketplace. There have been five goaltender claims since the NHL season began and it’s believed Edmonton was going to grab Dell if New Jersey didn’t take him first.

The move was necessitated by the fact the Leafs were only able to carry 18 skaters under the salary cap ceiling and lost Nick Robertson to a left knee injury that will sideline him for at least the next four weeks.

“[Robertson] had an MRI yesterday. The results we got back … I guess we would classify it as good news considering how it was looking,” Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said before Monday’s game against Winnipeg. “But he is going to miss some time.”

Stream 38 Toronto Maple Leafs games this season with Sportsnet NOW. Plus, SN NOW+ subscriptions now include access to NHL LIVE!

The fact Robertson will miss at least 24 days and 10 games allows him to be placed on long-term injured reserve while he’s out. In waiving Dell and veteran centre Jason Spezza, who cleared and was assigned to the taxi squad in a paper move, Toronto was able to get just under the $81.5-million cap ceiling before placing Robertson’s salary on LTIR.

That should make it easier to move players back and forth from the taxi squad, giving Keefe more options to work with in the coming month. He put that directly to use by bringing up Mikko Lehtonen for his NHL debut against Winnipeg as part of an 11F/7D rotation.

“We want to get him going here today and really try to get a feel for how he can compete in the league, and give him a chance to do that,” Keefe said of Lehtonen. “The greatest challenge for players like him is the nature of training camp and no exhibition season is you can’t really get the kinks out, you can’t make the adjustments, you can’t make the mistakes in those games that don’t matter and then have it cleaned up by the time you’re playing for real.”

It shouldn’t be long before Rasmus Sandin, Travis Boyd and Adam Brooks jump up from the taxi squad and get some playing time as well.

Depth is necessary to get through every season, but the challenges are even greater with the compressed schedule and the lingering threat of positive COVID-19 cases.

That’s part of the reason why the Leafs brought in both Dell and Michael Hutchinson on one-way contracts in October despite already having Campbell and Frederik Andersen in-house.

“We did that before we knew what the schedule was exactly going to look like and we just wanted to make sure that we had as much depth as possible,” Dubas said earlier this month. “Not knowing the way that things were going to be, we just felt that having as many capable NHL goaltenders was going to be important.”

Hutchinson moves up to the No. 3 role with Dell on his way to New Jersey.

That could wind up being a big opportunity for him career-wise but it had to be tinged with a whiff of disappointment. Dell only got to pull on the Leafs sweater in an intra-squad scrimmage during training camp and to serve as the backup over the weekend, and never put his Felix Potvin-inspired pads in any real action as a result.

“He’s a quiet guy that just goes about his business and stays ready,” said Keefe. “That’s really what you’re looking for in terms of personality and how he’s handled himself. … He’s an established goaltender in the league and we knew when signing him that it would be difficult to get him through waivers if it came to that.

“Here we are.”

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Maple Leafs’ Robertson to miss about four weeks with knee injury – Sportsnet.ca

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Toronto Maple Leafs rookie forward Nick Robertson, who suffered a knee injury in his NHL regular-season debut over the weekend, will be sidelined roughly four weeks, coach Sheldon Keefe told reporters Monday.

Robertson was injured in the first period of the team’s 3-2 win over the Ottawa Senators after a hit from Drake Batherson.

The 19-year-old Robertson appeared in four of the Maple Leafs’ five playoff games against the Columbus Blue Jackets, scoring one goal. He replaced fellow rookie Alexander Barabanov on the fourth line Saturday and had one shot in 2:20 of ice time before his injury.

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Toronto Maple Leafs Make Tough Decision in Waiving Jason Spezza and Aaron Dell – The Hockey Writers

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We knew the Toronto Maple Leafs were going to have to be creative with the salary cap situation. General Manager Kyle Dubas said there would be a lot of paperwork to file out to stay compliant, but it was just a formality for the most part. But that paperwork started a dumpster fire on Sunday morning. Jason Spezza hit the waiver wire, and within minutes it got worse. Sportsnet’s Chris Johnson spoke with Spezza’s agent, Rick Curran, who said Spezza would “simply retire” if another team claimed him.

What just happened? Spezza has played well as a fourth-line centre. He won all 10 of his face-offs on Saturday night in a win over the Ottawa Senators. He recorded his 600th career assist in the opening game against the Montreal Canadiens. He even played a few shifts on the second line with John Tavares and William Nylander. These facts did not lead anyone to imagine that his hometown team would waive the 37-year-old veteran.

Jason Spezza has been waived by the Toronto Maple Leafs (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

I’m sure Dubas did not come to this decision lightly. It’s a ripple effect of Nic Robertson injuring his knee in the first period of the game on Saturday night. A move had to be made to bring up another player from the taxi squad. According to his agent, Spezza understood the risks of these roster moves when he resigned with Toronto. He was happy to continue to play a depth role and offer leadership.

Rough Ride for Spezza in Toronto

I get that this is business, but you have to feel for the guy. He came to Toronto to pursue his dream of winning a Stanley Cup. In his first game with the organization, Mike Babcock gave the veteran the healthy scratch with several family members in attendance. A move that lit up the Toronto sports commentators for weeks. Now just three games into his second season with the Maple Leafs, he is put on the waiver wire.

It seems unlikely Spezza will be claimed. However, Toronto may lose its third goalie. Aaron Dell has also been put on waivers. Toronto was carrying three goalies to offer more downtime to Frederik Andersen and Jack Campbell. Andersen didn’t dress on Saturday night.

A Move Was Coming

Before Saturday’s game, Sheldon Keefe was asked about his ability to make lineup changes. His answer left it open to this kind of move. “You get the extra goalie insurance the depth there, and of course we value,” said Keefe. “I think when you look at our situation carrying a 21 man roster, and one of those guys is a third goalie, it limits our ability to make lineup changes. But a lot can happen in a season, and things can change quickly.”

Aaron Dell Sharks
Aaron Dell, San Jose Sharks, Nov. 28, 2017 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Those changes did happen quickly. Not only in Toronto, but the Edmonton Oilers are facing challenges. Mike Smith was placed on the long-term injured reserve list. Edmonton lost back-up Anton Forsberg, who had earlier been claimed off waivers. This left Edmonton one minor injury from a disaster in the net. The Oilers have signed two goalies since, but due to quarantine restrictions, they are not available to the team until January 27. Edmonton is 19th on the waiver wire list. Not only that, the Oilers are in Toronto for a game on Wednesday and Friday. It’s hard to imagine that Dell will not be claimed.

We are just three games into the 56-game regular season. We are getting a sense of how difficult it will be for teams and players to manage the new world of quarantine restrictions. Who could’ve predicted that Robertson’s knee injury could lead to a possible retirement of Spezza and could possibly help out a North Division rival? This is the new normal.

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