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Canadiens @ Flyers game recap: There is a Russian sniper in the house – Habs Eyes on the Prize

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‘Could the third time really be the charm?” the Canadiens asked themselves on Thursday night, entering the City of Brotherly Love for this season’s final battle against the Philadelphia Flyers with two previous overtime losses in mind. Coming into the game, the Flyers had the best home record of any NHL team, a tough thing for Montreal to overcome.

There were three changes to the lineup in comparison to the team that got hammered by Chicago the night before. Cale Fleury became a healthy scratch, with Brett Kulak playing beside Victor Mete on the third defensive pairing. Charlie Lindgren returned to backing up the red-hot Carey Price. We also finally got to welcome back one of the many injured forwards, as Joel Armia was back in action for the first time since Christmas, replacing Jordan Weal. Armia, with 12 goals in 35 outings this season, slotted in to the right of Nick Suzuki and Max Domi on the second line.

Philadelphia gave 27-year old Alex Lyon his first start of the season in goal after gaining promotion from the Lehigh Valley Phantoms just a few days ago due to Carter Hart’s lower-body injury.

Lyon would have his work cut out for him in a first period where Montreal gained the early advantage in the shot column. However, Lyon held up during the game’s first power play following a Nicolas Aube-Kubel trip on Mete. He stood strong when Phillip Danault found Ilya Kovalchuk with a perfect cross-ice pass in the slot for a tap-in. Even though Montreal tried to rattle the inexperienced goaltender, he seemed to be up to the task.

Instead, Philadelphia would take the lead and ruin Price’s hopes of a second straight shutout. Joel Farabee skated into the offensive zone and managed to keep control of the puck working against three Habs defenders. After a chaotic sequence in the slot, the puck bounced back to Farabee, who shoved in the opening goal with 1:13 left until the period break.

Montreal responded swiftly. Eighteen seconds after Farabee broke Price’s shutout, Tomas Tatar reciprocated the favour for Lyon. Ben Chiarot stopped a Montreal dump-in from being cleared back out into the neutral zone. Danault saw Tatar move into the left-wing position while he himself battled the puck against the boards. With a light flick, he gave Tuna the opportunity to beat the sophomore goalie with a wrister for his 17th goal of year.

The Canadiens got an explosive start to the second period, aided by a hooking call on $49-million signee Kevin Hayes. On the following power play, Kovalchuk found Shea Weber at the point. Weber unleashed his mighty slapshot into the traffic in front of the net, creating a rebound off Nick Cousins. Who just happened to be in the right place at the right time for the tap-in? Ilya Kovalchuk, doing what he does best and scoring his second since his arrival to Montreal.

Goals seemed to come in pairs on the evening. Eleven seconds after taking the lead, the Habs scored again. This time, Danault sent the puck into the crease where Artturi Lehkonen came surging in to beat Lyon for his 11th of the season.

Suddenly the Flyers had a two-goal hole to fight back from. They got a chance to edge closer during two minutes of man-advantage time when former Flyer Dale Weise tripped up Ivan Provorov. Montreal held their ground and kept Philadelphia to one single goal scored.

Price continued his formidable week during the final minutes of the second period, effectively stopping Philadelphia from getting back into the contest. With three minutes left to play, Marco Scandella’s stick touched Travis Konecny’s toe ever so slightly, with the latter going down as if someone shot him. Scandella got sent to the box for tripping while his teammates tried to talk some sense into Konecny for the next few minutes.

The shooting statistics had swung in favour of the home team, with Price keeping the Habs’ ship upright, stopping several attempts from James van Riemsdyk and entering the third period with 30 saves on 31 shots.

Ryan Poehling and Jesperi Kotkaniemi seem to be developing a bit of chemistry on the same line, and that includes standing up for each other when needed. When Poehling got drilled into the boards by Flyers defenceman Robert Hagg, Kotkaniemi turned up to defend his teammate, resulting in a surprising fight. The instigator penalty that followed on the Finn was to no delight of Claude Julien and the Montreal bench, especially since Hagg looked ready to go as soon as Kotkaniemi entered his proximity.

Montreal did well to kill off the ensuing penalty and would soon have to repeat that effort when Danault got a two-minute rest in the box for hooking. The Habs’ penalty kill has stepped up its game lately, preventing many of the clear-cut chances we saw them give up earlier in the season. Naturally, it also helps when you have a goaltender who stops whatever gets beyond the defence.

It seems as though we will have a possible lineup problem once Brendan Gallagher returns from injury. Will he take his usual spot next to Danault, or is Montreal better off continuing with Kovalchuk as the third part of the top line? Halfway through the third period, the Russian scored his second of the night and third with the Habs, thereby tying his goal tally from his 17 games with the Los Angeles Kings . This goal was assisted by Danault’s great work from behind the net. Working his way into the slot, Kovalchuk unleashed his wrister over Lyon’s glove and saw the shot go in beneath the crossbar.

Price ended the night with 40 saves and Danault had an impressive three assists on a night where they gave Philadelphia what was only their fourth regulation loss at home this season.

The Canadiens will now travel home to face the team from Sin City on Saturday, taking on the Peter DeBoer-coached Vegas Golden Knights, currently working themselves out of a Habs-like losing streak.

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Canada gets off on right foot in World Cup qualifying by sweeping Bahamas – Sportsnet.ca

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Mission accomplished — or at least Stage 1 of the mission.

The senior men’s national team will spread to the four corners of the globe having swept both games from the Bahamas and to get off on the right foot in qualifying for the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup. Canada is 2-0 in Group C after following up their 42-point win over Bahamas on Sunday with a 113-77 win in the second game.

The next qualifying window is Feb. 24-28, so it will be nicer for all concerned to sit on a pair of strong wins for the next three months than the alternative.

Canada was a big favourite and played like it. Their plus-78 point differential could be helpful too in any tiebreaker scenarios.

It was tougher than Sunday’s game with the Bahamas pushing the pace and hurting Canada in transition and on the offensive glass. It was a 12-point game at half and an eight-point game early in the third quarter before Canada separated themselves with an 18-4 run that carried them home.

Kyle Wiltjer led Canada in scoring once again as he put up 25 points in 25 minutes, but he had help as Canada shot 17-of-34 from deep with seven different players counting at least one triple. Canada held Bahamas to just 40 per cent shooting in the second half.

Takeaways:

• There are some merits to the current qualifying format – the soccer-style windows format that spreads the competition over a couple of years compared to the old method where teams would gather for a two-week “Tournament of the Americas” to determine who advanced to the World Cup the following summer. The current version allows more players and coaches to be exposed to the national team program and it helps keep the international conversation going throughout the year, compared to loading it all into the summers.

But man, does it have flaws, and they impact Canada more than any other country as their pros have to travel from Europe and back for a pair of games. It’s no big deal for European teams to assemble during the qualifying windows. How tough was it for Bosnia and Herzegovina’s national team to travel to Bulgaria, or the Netherlands to huff it to Italy? Not that tough.

But how would you like to be Canada’s Anthony Bennett stuffing his 6-foot-8, 270-pound frame into a plane for a 14,230 km trip back to his club team in Jerusalem from Santo Domingo? Or 6-foot-9 Wiltjer buckling up to meet his Turkish team in Spain? Or Kenny Chery and Phil Scrubb sorting out their itinerary from the 13,000 km trip from the Dominican Republic to Saratov, Russia?

That’s why I never take for granted when Canadian athletes make the effort to play for the national team in these windows. It’s no small commitment.

• During the qualifying process for the 2019 World Cup, Canada used 35 different players over six different windows, spread over 15 months. The depth of your program is key. That’s why it was so impressive to see the way the likes of Aaron Best, Kassius Robertson and Bennett played coming off the bench for head coach Nate Bjorkgren.

Best has a G-League season under his belt and has played in some good leagues in Europe but is without a contract at the moment. You wouldn’t know it as Best followed up his 21-point outing Sunday with 10 points and three steals in his 20 minutes; Robertson is a “never leave him” type of deep threat who shot 6-of-13 from three while putting up 24 points over the two games and Bennett chipped in eight points, eight rebounds and a pair of assists Monday, playing easily and unselfishly off the bench.

Who knows if any of the trio will be part of the World Cup team in 2023, but Canada will need those kinds of contributions to get there.

• It’s hard to get easily accessible information on FIBA competition — or at least information that’s easily compiled — so I’m not sure exactly how many games Phil and Tommy Scrubb have played for Canada, but it’s a lot. And so often they deliver.

While Wiltjer has grabbed his share of his attention for his knack for scoring at better than a point per minute and Chery was excellent in both games, Phil Scrubb was quietly superb and brother Tom at his understated best on Monday. Phil followed up his 11 assists on Sunday with a “perfect” game as he made all five of his field-goal attempts including three triples and made a pair of free throws while adding three more assists. Tom had 10 points, eight rebounds, five assists, two steals and a block in his 20 minutes.

The guys know how to play and Canada is lucky to have them.

• I was really impressed with Wiltjer’s passing, which is saying something given he scored 48 points in 45 minutes on 61 per cent shooting (including 60 per cent from three) over the two games.

He had only two assists Monday, but Bahamas ran doubles at him early and often, and he got off the ball with purpose and it unlocked the Canadian offence. Several times it wasn’t his pass that led to an assist, but his quick first look that scrambled the defence and led to an open shot or lane a pass or two later.

When someone as automatic as Wiltjer can be also such a willing passer, it makes life easier for all concerned.

• The Toronto Raptors and parent company MLSE’s commitment to Canada Basketball is no small thing. From lending facilities for training to helping with marketing efforts to chipping in with funding, Canada’s NBA team has been a significant partner for the national federation.

But it’s not just in money or goods-in-kind. Having Raptors head coach Nick Nurse as the national team coach is meaningful, both for his expertise and the resources he can leverage. And it’s no small thing either that Nurse and the club would be okay to have NBA assistants Bjorkgren and Nate Mitchell leave the Raptors for a week in the middle of the season to coach in the qualifying windows – a duty Bjorkgren and Mitchell will take up again in February.

And now? Back to their day jobs. They’ll be on a flight first thing Tuesday morning and head straight to Scotiabank Arena where the Raptors host Memphis on — fittingly — Canada Basketball night.

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Marc Bergevin's best, worst, wildest moves as Canadiens GM – Sportsnet.ca

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The Montreal Canadiens are simply not the same team today as the one fans watched make an improbable post-season run less than half a year ago and over the weekend the team fired general manager Marc Bergevin after more than nine years with the organization.

“Despite the fact that this journey is coming to an end, I am proud of the legacy I’m leaving within the organization,” Bergevin, 56, wrote in a statement posted to the team’s website. “The current team is much better than the results show, and I am convinced that my successors will be able to rise to the challenge.”

Short-term, that legacy comment might be tough to hear if you cheer for the Canadiens considering five months ago your team was competing in the Stanley Cup Final, whereas just past the quarter-mark of 2021-22 the team ranks 30th in points percentage and are without their captain and franchise goalie.

Long-term, though, the outlook is brighter with Nick Suzuki, Christian Dvorak, Josh Anderson, Brendan Gallagher, Joel Armia, Jeff Petry and David Savard locked up through at least 2025, plus the team’s 2022 draft pick stockpile is in above-average shape with four additional picks currently available as assets.

“The last years have been high in both emotions and learnings,” Bergevin added in his statement. “You have witnessed my journey leading the organization. You won’t be surprised to hear me say it has not been a long, quiet river, and at times, it felt like we were living in a TV show.”

And, like many TV shows, Bergevin’s moves ranged from good to bad to downright wild. So with that in mind and Bergevin’s tenure as Canadiens GM officially over, let’s look back at some of his best, worst and wildest moves whilst he sat in the team’s front office for nearly a full decade.

BEST

It’s pretty much a slam dunk answer that the best overall move Bergevin made for Montreal was acquiring Jeff Petry from Edmonton for second- and fourth-round picks in 2015 and eventually locking him up for an additional 10 cap-friendly contract years. Petry’s 170 points from 2017-18 through to the start of this season ranks 12th among all blueliners in the league.

Another great move from Bergevin was a deal he executed with his former team in 2016. No, the Canadiens weren’t able to re-sign Phillip Danault this past off-season, but that doesn’t negate what a great trade it ended up being for Montreal when Bergevin packaged Tomas Fleischmann and Dale Weise and sent them to Chicago for Danault and a second-round draft pick that became Alexander Romanov.

In 2018, with one year left before Max Pacioretty’s contract was set to expire, Bergevin looked to the future and received Suzuki and Tomas Tatar in exchange for the star winger. Pacioretty has continued scoring in Vegas, but Tatar provided solid depth during his three-year stint in Montreal and Suzuki is a key part of the franchise’s future.

Another recent move that has seen positive early returns was signing Tyler Toffoli to a four-year, $17 million contract two summers ago. The 29-year-old led the team in goals and points last season and is tied for the team lead in points through 23 games this season.

WORST

If you’ve happened to peruse social media over the years whenever Bergevin made a notable move then you likely read (and watched and listened to) copious hot takes lambasting Bergevin for his various decisions.

Obviously, not all criticism was warranted but one move that was universally questioned right from the beginning was when he inked Karl Alzner to a five-year contract worth more than $23 million on the open market in 2017. Alzner was a depreciating asset by NHL standards at the time and the experiment had somewhat predictable results. Alzner only played one full season in Montreal and was placed on unconditional waivers in 2020.

The 2012 NHL Draft wasn’t incredibly rich with NHL all-stars, and Alex Galchenyuk has played close to 600 NHL games, however his selection at No. 3 overall didn’t provide much relative value to Montreal. It was Bergevin’s first draft as GM. Galchenyuk reached the 20-goal plateau twice in his first four seasons, but never developed into the elite top-line offensive threat Montreal had envisioned he’d become after his junior career with the Sarnia Sting.

Galchenyuk was traded to the Coyotes for Max Domi straight up in 2018. In 2020, Domi and a third-round pick were flipped to Columbus in exchange for Josh Anderson. Essentially, in relatively quick succession, Bergevin turned 2012’s No. 3 pick into the player selected 95th overall in the same draft.

Speaking of third-overall selections, Bergevin took Jesperi Kotkaniemi ahead of Brady Tkachuk, Quinn Hughes and others in 2018. Considering how that saga eventually ended (more on that below) it could be considered another L.

Although there’s certainly high hopes for Cole Caufield, Bergevin’s consensus best first-round selection with the Canadiens was when he chose defenceman Mikhail Sergachev with the ninth-overall pick in 2016. Sergachev only played four regular-season games with Montreal before he was traded to Tampa Bay for Jonathan Drouin. Sergachev has averaged more than 30 points and 18:30 minutes of ice-time per season with the Lightning and helped them win two Stanley Cups. Meanwhile, Drouin has a paltry 12 total goals since the 2018-19 campaign.

The selection of Logan Mailloux with the team’s 2021 first-round pick at the NHL Draft this past July was also a head-scratcher – for an entirely different set of reasons – and worth mentioning here.

Mailloux was criminally convicted and fined by Swedish authorities in December of 2020 for distributing without consent a photo of a woman performing a sexual act. The teenaged defenceman, a player with the OHL’s London Knights, released a statement prior to the 2021 NHL Draft asking teams to not select him. Suffice it to say Bergevin taking a prospect under these circumstances – in the first round no less – was awful optics and Bergevin was publicly panned for it.

WILDEST

When you include draft pick swaps, Bergevin made around 100 trades during his time in Montreal and none were bigger or more out-of-the-blue than when he traded P.K. Subban to Nashville for Shea Weber – one of three blockbuster moves on June 29, 2016 that shook up the NHL landscape in an exhilarating 23-minute sequence.

The kneejerk reaction from a large chunk of hockey media and fans alike was to quickly dub the Canadiens losers in the deal. Subban, after all, was the 2013 Norris winner and a finalist again in 2015 before he set a career high in goals and became a three-time Norris finalist in his second year with the Preds. Subban’s stock dropped in the years following as Weber settled in as a leader in Montreal’s locker room, was named captain in 2018 and helped lead a run the Cup final before injuries forced him away from the game.

That was quite the week for Bergevin in the summer of 2016 since five days earlier he traded Lars Eller to Washington for a pair of second-rounders and spent a pair of second-round picks to acquire Andrew Shaw from Chicago. The picks Montreal received from the Capitals didn’t turn into any viable NHL-calibre asset and one of the picks the Blackhawks got turned into Alex Debrincat.

Two days after adding Weber, Bergevin signed Alexander Radulov to his first NHL contract in several years after a notorious split from the Predators and leaving for the KHL four years prior.

While the Weber-Subban trade will go down as his most notable and wildest overall, another unexpected action (or inaction) was Bergevin deciding to not match the offer sheet Kotkaniemi signed with Carolina in September, just prior to the 2021-22 season.

There seems to be talk annually about which RFAs might sign an offer sheet, but it’s usually just hot air, and when it’s not teams usually quickly decide to match. Bergevin didn’t, Kotkaniemi left and Bergevin ended up using a compensatory first-round pick to swing a trade for Christian Dvorak so one day, with the benefit of hindsight, that offer sheet fiasco could could go down as a win for the franchise and one of Bergevin’s final lasting marks on the team.

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Soccer: Ronaldo hits back at ‘lies’ about Ballon d’Or rivalry with Messi

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Cristiano Ronaldo has hit back at comments made by Ballon d’Or organiser Pascal Ferre, saying the editor-in-chief of France Football “lied” about his rivalry with Lionel Messi.

Ferre told the New York Times on Friday that Manchester United forward Ronaldo’s sole ambition was to retire with more of the awards for the world’s best player than Messi.

Argentine Messi, who joined Paris St Germain on a free transfer from Barcelona during the close season, beat Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski and Chelsea midfielder Jorginho to claim a record-extending seventh Ballon d’Or award https://www.reuters.com/lifestyle/sports/messi-claims-record-extending-seventh-ballon-dor-2021-11-29.

“Pascal Ferre lied, he used my name to promote himself and to promote the publication he works for,” Ronaldo, who has won the award five times, said in an Instagram post on Monday.

“It is unacceptable that the person responsible for awarding such a prestigious prize could lie in this way, in absolute disrespect for someone who has always respected France Football and the Ballon d’Or.”

France Football did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment on Ronaldo’s post.

“I always win for myself and for the clubs I represent, I win for myself and for those who love me. I don’t win against someone,” added the Portugal forward.

“The biggest ambition of my career is to leave my name written in golden letters in the history of world football.”

 

(Reporting by Aadi Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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