Of the four teams the Montreal Canadiens were scheduled to play on a pre-Christmas road trip, the Calgary Flames were the hottest, sporting an 8-2-1 record over their previous 11 games. Both of the regulation losses had come in the two most recent games, so the Habs were arriving in Calgary at a good time to take on what is a fairly well constructed squad.
There wasn’t much room for either team to work in the opening 20 minutes. Checking was tight in the first period, with a lot of play in the neutral zone and few quality chances around the nets.
It was after some of that closely contested play that the game’s first goal was scored. Jeff Petry took the puck away from a Flames forward behind his goal line by marking him closely. Attempting to break the puck up the wall moments later, Petry’s passing motion was thrown off by contact with an opponent, and it didn’t go to the intended teammate, but right onto the stick of Elias Lindholm in the slot instead. All of Phillip Danault, Tomas Tatar, and Brendan Gallagher scrambled into defensive positions, but the Flames remained calm, and Brady Tkachuk was picked out on the opposite post to capitalize on the turnover.
Montreal’s best chances of the period came from the third line. First a two-on-one with Nick Cousins and Nick Suzuki saw the former hold the puck to move right into the slot for a shot, getting denied by goaltender David Rittich. A quick forward pass from Carey Price after a Flames dump-in found Suzuki in the neutral zone on a later shift, and the rookie got into the zone for a shot, but had the puck clank off the base of the post.
As momentum seemed to be shifting with a bit of sustained pressure from Montreal, Danault had the puck get behind him at the attacking blue line, and his effort to immediately sweep it away from a Flames player led to a trip instead, putting the Flames on a late power play. The man advantage had plenty of quick passing, and Calgary doubled its lead by making not one, but two passes right across the slot. Johnny Gaudreau moved the puck from the left side to Tkachuk on the right flank of the zone, forcing the defence to shift its focus. The Habs were then unable to react when Tkachuk sent the puck to Lindholm at the back post, and the Flames had a two-goal edge with just eight seconds remaining in the period.
Montreal had a couple of offensive flurries in the opening minutes of the second, but it was a relatively harmless play that created their first goal of the night. After Shea Weber had pinched down below the goal line to play the puck — as he is wont to do this season — the captain moved it over to Gallagher at the side boards. Gallagher saw Danault in front of the net and sent the puck in his direction, but the shot got through the netminder on its own, bringing Gallagher’s goal total up to 15, weeks ahead of the midpoint of the season.
Four minutes later, the Habs had another. Artturi Lehkonen collected the puck at the Flames’ blue line, entered the zone, and passed off to Joel Armia. Armia showed off the powerful release we’ve been seeing a lot this season, blasting the puck into the net so hard only the referee standing below the goal line saw it actually cross the line.
Flames head coach Geoff Ward challenged the play, as Lehkonen had crossed the blue line backwards with his feet entering the zone before the puck. After review, the linesman determined that the forward had been in control of the puck at the time, making player and puck a single unit as far as the offside rules are concerned, and the goal was allowed to stand.
Since they lost the challenge, the Flames were forced to serve a minor penalty for wasting everyone’s time. Montreal didn’t really do much with that power play, but they also didn’t allow Calgary to regroup. After more solid play once the game returned to five-on-five, with some great displays of talent from Ryan Poehling, they soon drew another man advantage. Despite the best efforts of Suzuki on the right-side boards, making passes and taking shots of his own while acting as the quarterback, a third goal wasn’t in the cards.
With the game tied, the Flames held a slight edge to open the third period. At the five-minute mark, Mikey Reilly and Tobias Rieder got into a jousting match in Montreal’s end, both getting time in the box and sending the game to four-on-four.
The open space nearly allowed Montreal to grab their first lead of the night. Armia went in alone on a breakaway, and got a good low shot away, but was denied by Rittich. Brett Kulak’s follow-up shot was aimed for the far corner, but the trajectory was off, sending the puck around the boards. Max Domi tried to ensure the sequence would continue, but that’s about as deep as his thought process seemed to go. He tried to stickhandle around three defenders, and when he realized that wasn’t going to work he tried to lay the puck across to where he hoped a teammate was stationed, but found the stick of Noah Hanifin instead.
The Flames rushed the other way, with Johnny Gaudreau speeding into the zone, pulling up along the boards, and finding Oliver Kylington racing up with a head of steam. Gaudreau fed his defenceman, and Kylington notched his first goal of the year to put his side back on top.
It could have been the back-breaker for a Habs team that had already been forced to overcome a two-goal deficit, but that wasn’t the case. With eight minutes to play in regulation, Suzuki engaged in a bit of fencing with Derek Ryan at the top of the crease to get his stick on top. It proved to be a key manoeuvre, because moments later a shot-pass came in from Cousins, and Suzuki was able to rotate his blade to the perfect angle to deflect the puck over Rittich’s shoulder but still under the crossbar, tying the game with his seventh goal of the year.
As time wound down on the third period, Montreal seemed content to secure the point, but the Flames were going for the win. Price had to make a few critical saves to keep his team alive, getting in front of everything the home side could muster. With three seconds on the clock and a faceoff in Montreal’s zone, Calgary pulled off a nearly perfect play, getting the high-danger chance they were hoping for. The puck glaced off Shea Weber and headed toward the net, but it found iron rather than mesh, and the game continued on to overtime.
In the extra frame, Montreal held the majority of the possession. The team wasn’t finding many chances to attack the net, and spent most of their time regrouping in the neutral zone. Tatar managed to get two decent chances, though neither was successful.
Montreal lost an offensive-zone draw late in overtime, and that led to a massive advantage for Calgary, with the extra point on the stick of Lindholm. The forward was denied by a great save from Price, and then it was Montreal’s turn to catch the opposition on its heels.
Domi was the one to collect the puck, and he carried it all the way down the ice and over the blue line. Having done a full lap of the rink, he didn’t try any dangles, but decided rather to load up a slapshot, pounding one beyond the reach of Rittich to give Montreal a 4-3 overtime victory.
The Canadiens have now won five of their last six games (it’s nice to be able to dismiss that debacle versus the Detroit Red Wings like that) and have secured at least a split on their four-game Western Canadian road trip. The Habs will look to do better than that when they take on the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday evening; a matchup of elite skill versus strong depth.
Berrettini ends Murray’s comeback at Queen’s
The 34-year-old two-time Wimbledon champion, playing in his first singles tournament on grass for three years, could not handle the ferocious pace of Berrettini as he slid to defeat.
Murray eased past Benoit Paire in his opening match on Tuesday but world number nine Berrettini was too big a step up.
Berrettini’s huge first serve and forehand did most of the damage but the Italian also showed plenty of silky touch on the slick lawns to register his first career win over Murray.
Berrettini, 25, finished the match off with a powerful hold of serve, banging down four massive first serves before sealing victory with a clubbing forehand winner.
He faces British number one Dan Evans in the quarter-final after Evans beat Frenchman Adrian Mannarino.
Murray, a five-time winner of the traditional warm-up event but now ranked 124 after long battles with hip injuries including resurfacing surgery in 2019, has been handed a wildcard for the Wimbledon championships.
Apart from a slight groin niggle, Murray said he was reasonably happy with his condition, considering this was only his third Tour-level tournament of the year.
“I think obviously I need to improve,” Murray told reporters. “I actually felt my movement was actually quite good for both of the matches. My tennis today was not very good today. That’s the thing that I’ll need to improve the most.
“I felt like today that that sort of showed my lack of matches.”
Spanish veteran Feliciano Lopez, who won the singles title in 2019 and the doubles alongside Murray, was beaten 6-2 6-3 by Canada‘s Denis Shapovalov.
(Reporting by Martyn HermanEditing by Toby Davis and Pritha Sarkar)
Be Like the King of the North Division and Develop Skills
It’s been a year unlike no other for Canadian hockey teams, with COVID-19 travel restrictions forcing the creation of a new NHL division made up entirely of Canadian teams. The previous generation of NHL hockey was known as the “Dead Puck Era” because referees tolerated slowing down the game with clutching and grabbing.
The leading scorers today score in jaw-dropping fashion and routinely pull off stickhandling dangles that were unimaginable until only recently. The Canadian team that will win the North Division will be the one with the most skill.
Here are the training aids that will help you develop your skills all year long.
Innovators like HockeyShot Canada make “passers” so that players can develop pinpoint accuracy and the soft hands necessary to cradle and control a pass when it lands on your stick. The high-quality rubber bands return the puck with the same force which passed it, so you can give yourself one-timers or work on accuracy.
Whether you’re on a two-on-one, sending a breakout pass from the defensive zone, or holding down the blue line on the power play, every positional player needs to pass accurately.
A player is lucky to get a few shots on net each game, and they can’t let them go to waste. Until recently, players needed to rent ice in the off-season to practice their shots in realistic game-like conditions.
Now, players can use shooting pads at their home that let pucks glide as they do on real ice. Shooting is perhaps the one skill that requires the most repetition because one inch can be the difference between going bar-down and clanking one wide off the post.
Practice your quick release and accuracy and develop an arsenal of shots, including wrist shots, slapshots, one-timers, and more. The more tools in your tool kit, the deadlier a sniper you’ll be.
Having the puck on your stick is a responsibility, and you don’t want to cough it up to the other team and waste a scoring chance or lose possession. The ability to stickhandle helps you bide time until a teammate is open, so you can pass them the puck and continue attacking.
If you’re on a breakaway, you may want to deke the goalie rather than shoot if your hands are silky enough. Develop stickhandling skills, and you’ll keep goalies and opponents guessing – being unpredictable helps make a sniper’s job easier.
Of course, you also need to handle the puck in your own zone without causing a turnover. Stickhandling is a crucial skill in all areas of the ice.
When the coach sends you over the board, you need to be prepared for whatever comes your way. Maybe you’ll get the puck in the slot or somewhere else, but when it’s playoffs, you always need to be ready. The Kings of the North Division have all of the above skills and more, and you can too if you practice all year.
Australia swim trials calendar shift to reap Tokyo rewards
Australia broke with tradition to hold its swimming trials just six weeks before the start of the 2020 Olympics and former world champion Giaan Rooney said the move could reap rich rewards in Tokyo after disappointments at London and Rio.
Australia has typically held its trials up to six months before an Olympics but that gap has been drastically cut this year with swimmers vying for Tokyo spots this week in Adelaide.
Rooney, who won individual world titles at Fukuoka and Montreal and a relay gold at the 2004 Athens Olympics, said Australia is gearing up for a much improved Games after its swimmers flopped at Rio and London.
“I think we needed to make it work,” she told Reuters. “The shift started about a year ago to bring the trials into line with the rest of the world and qualify five or six weeks before.
“In sport and swimming, six months is a long time,” Rooney added. “From a coaching perspective, it’s much better to know you have chosen the team in form.”
After winning five gold medals at Sydney 2000 and seven in Athens, the Australian team was rocked by accusations of disruptive behaviour by some of its top sprinters at the 2012 Olympics.
Australia won just one gold medal in the London pool and three in Rio five years ago.
Australia knew something had to be done if it was to close the gap on the powerful Americans and moving the trials is part of the strategy.
“I think it’s to make your swimmers more resilient to change,” Rooney said.
“In the USA they get to race every week regardless of illness or breakups and under all circumstances. Nothing rattles them.
“Australia doesn’t have that racing continuity. This is about making sure you are prepared for anything. I think our swimmers are more resilient than they have been in the past decade, COVID is part of this.”
Rooney said there might even be an “upside” for Australia with the Olympics postponed by a year due to the global health crisis, with the emergence of swimmers like teenager Kaylee McKeown, who broke the women’s 100m backstroke world record on Sunday.
“We are now talking about athletes who are not only going to make the Olympics but are medal chances,” Rooney said.
“We wouldn’t have been talking about her this time last year. She might not have been ready for a position on the team. She is now a legitimate gold medal chance in Tokyo once she gets there.”
For all her confidence about Australia’s performance in Tokyo, Rooney was wary of making predictions about a gold rush for her compatriots.
“I think this will be a more successful Olympics for us than Rio in the pool but individual goal medals will still be difficult to come by,” said the 38-year-old.
“The biggest challenge is to make the jump from minor medals to gold.”
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)