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Canadiens Game Day: Dominique Ducharme trying to put his stamp on team – Montreal Gazette

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New head coach has work cut out after being thrown into deep end without a life jacket or a single practice before his first game in charge.

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Dominique Ducharme was thrown into the deep end without a life jacket as new head coach of the Canadiens.

Ducharme didn’t even have a chance to hold one full practice before his first game behind the bench, Thursday night’s 6-3 loss to the Jets in Winnipeg, one day after taking over from Claude Julien

It would have made much more sense for GM Marc Bergevin to have made the coaching move early last week when the Canadiens had a six-day break in the schedule and Ducharme would have had time to make the changes he wants to put in place.

Ducharme had a morning skate before Thursday’s game, a practice on Friday and another morning skate Saturday before the Canadiens face the Jets again Saturday night in Winnipeg (10 p.m., CBC, SN, TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM).

Thursday night’s game was the first of 18 games in 34 days for the Canadiens through the end of March, so there won’t be much practice time for Ducharme. As a result, his morning skates will have to be mini practices.

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After Saturday’s morning skate, Ducharme said his morning skates won’t be as long and won’t have the same physical intensity of a practice, but there will always be a reason why they’re doing something on the ice, whether it be little details in the system or structure with and without the puck.

“Every time we’ll be going on the ice, everything we’ll do will be a reflection of something we want to work on,” Ducharme said in a video conference Saturday morning. “Something specific to the game.”

The Canadiens had a strong start to Thursday night’s game, taking a 2-0 lead in the first period and they were leading 3-1 midway through the second period before things fell apart. The Canadiens are winless in their last four games (0-2-2) and are in fourth place in the North Division with a 9-6-4 record after getting off to a 7-1-2 start to the season.

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The Calgary Flames (10-10-2) beat the Ottawa Senators 6-3 Saturday afternoon to move into a tie with the Canadiens for fourth place. The Canadiens hold three games in hand.

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When asked what he didn’t see from his team Thursday night that he’s hoping to see Saturday night, Ducharme said: “There are many things. You know when we played that first game, we had a meeting the night before. We had one morning skate to prepare. We really explained to the guys a few things that we want to focus on right from the get-go. But we had no time to practise. That’s why I didn’t mind our first half of the game.

“With everything that happened before in the last few hours before we played, I didn’t mind how we reacted at first,” Ducharme added. “But we cracked. We got a better idea of why now, the players. They didn’t understand a little bit more. Tonight I’m confident to see those things that we talked about really taking a big step on maybe four or five things that we talked about.”

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Defenceman Ben Chiarot spoke Saturday morning about Ducharme bringing a fresh, new voice to the team.

“He has a certain way that he wants us to play and a little different style and systems,” Chiarot said. “He’s just been instructing us on what he likes to see defensively first and once we get that in place then we can kind of move forward and out with the puck and what we’re doing with the puck. So it’s just been a lot of instruction on how he wants us to defend and I think that’s what you’ve been seeing the last couple of days.”

Jake Allen will be in goal for the Canadiens Saturday night. He has a 4-2-1 record with a 2.14 goals-against average and a .932 save percentage. The Canadiens were shut out in both of Allen’s regulation-time losses.

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Anderson doubtful for game

Right-winger Josh Anderson didn’t take part in the morning skate and is doubtful for Saturday night’s game after being injured late in the first period of Thursday night’s game. Anderson appeared to be slew-footed by Jets defenceman Dylan DeMelo and fell awkwardly on his back, suffering a lower-body injury.

“The chances are slim for him to be in the lineup tonight,” Ducharme said about Anderson, who has 9-3-12 totals in 19 games. “He’s still getting treatments and things like that. He’s doubtful tonight.”

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Evans ready to return

Jake Evans will take Anderson’s spot in the lineup if he can’t play after being made a healthy scratch for the first time this season on Thursday night.

“Obviously, you want to be playing every time, but I completely understood,” Evans said about Ducharme’s decision to sit him out. “The explanation I got was just a fresh start and a new way of doing things. One of the biggest things that we talked about the night before the game was just being a good teammate. So that was a big thing for me. I understood and I just wanted to work hard and get my chance to get back in the lineup.”

Evans has 2-1-3 totals and is plus-1 in 18 games while averaging 12:04 of ice time and winning 51.3 per cent of his faceoffs. The Canadiens selected him in the seventh round (207th overall) of the 2014 NHL Draft.

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“To be honest, I think my approach every game is to play like it could be my last and if I have a bad game I could be out and never get that opportunity again,” the 24-year-old Evans said. “So it’s never really been about who’s coming up behind me or who could be taking my spot. It’s about me and not throwing away an opportunity like this.”

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Coaching differences

Evans was asked about the personality differences between the 60-year-old Julien and and the 47-year-old Ducharme as coaches.

“I think they were both great,” he said. “Claude’s been giving me a lot of opportunity and it was great to have him. I guess sometimes you just need a fresh face. Dom’s been a very vocal guy and I think he’s talked with everyone a few times so far. So that’s been good to get that feedback.”

Ducharme, who joined the Canadiens as an assistant coach before the 2018-19 season, has made a point to talk with all his players one-on-one since taking over as head coach.

“I’m trying to talk to 24 guys every day and sometimes it’s just asking how he is and it takes five seconds, 10 seconds,” he said. “Sometimes it’s about the game, it’s about details, it’s about the last game, it’s about progression, many things. We have a way of playing together that we’re putting in place. Within that, every individual here, there’s a reason they’re NHL players and we want them to bring those strengths to our team. But within our structure or our philosophy.”

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Working with Armia

There are games when Joel Armia looks like he should be a star in the NHL and other nights when the 6-foot-3, 212-pound right-winger is the Invisible Man.

You have to wonder if the 27-year-old realizes how good he could be. There’s a reason why the Buffalo Sabres selected him in the first round (16th overall) of the 2011 NHL Draft. He’s the complete package of size, speed, skill and shot. With his size, it’s too bad he doesn’t have a little bit of Brendan Gallagher or Paul Byron in him when it comes to compete level.

Armia scored the first two goals in Thursday night’s game, his first points in seven games since missing seven games with a concussion. Armia has 4-3-7 totals in 12 games.

“Army’s got world-class qualities as a player,” Ducharme said. “You guys saw him … he’s got good size, his skill sets are really, really good. It’s about being consistent and we started working together, me and him. There’s a few things in his game that when he’s consistent doing and when he’s going to do that every time then it’s going to reflect on being that good night in and night out.”

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Weber and Chiarot struggling

After a good start to the season, captain Shea Weber and Chiarot have been struggling as the team’s No. 1 defence pair.

Weber and Chiarot were both minus-2 in Thursday night’s game. Weber has been a minus player in seven of the last eight games and is a team-worst minus-2 for the season, while Chiarot is minus-1.

“I think when we’re defending hard, being hard to play against, moving the puck quick up to the forwards, I think that’s when we’re at our best,” Chiarot said. “Obviously, when the team’s not doing well it’s a reflection of everybody. It’s not one pair, or one line, or one guy. It’s everyone needs to be better when the team’s not winning and me and Shea are no different in that aspect.

“I think at this point it’s so important playing every other day you can’t be reflecting or feeling sorry for yourself on the losses,” Chiarot added. “You have to move forward and you have to be positive. Move forward to the next game and not be carrying the last game with you, especially after a couple of losses. It can weigh you down and slow you down. I think what’s important for our group right now is moving on and just focusing on the next game and not thinking about what’s happened over the last 10 days, two weeks, and remain positive and come out and just play like we know we can because we know we have a good team.”

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The lines

Here’s how the forward lines and defence pairings are expected to look for the Canadiens Saturday night if Anderson doesn’t play:

Tatar – Danault – Gallagher
Drouin – Suzuki – Toffoli
Lehkonen – Kotkaniemi – Armia
Byron – Evans – Perry

Chiarot – Weber
Edmundson – Petry
Kulak – Romanov

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What’s next?

The Canadiens will fly back to Montreal on Sunday afternoon and have an 11 a.m. practice scheduled for Monday at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard.

The Canadiens will play their next three games at the Bell Centre. The Ottawa Senators will be the visitors on Tuesday (7 p.m., TSN2, TSN5, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM), followed by two games against the Jets on Thursday (7 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM) and Saturday (7 p.m., SNE, SNW, CITY, TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM).

The Canadiens have a 3-5-0 record at the Bell Centre this season.

scowan@postmedia.com

twitter.com/StuCowan1

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    Canadiens Notebook: Jake Allen will be in goal for Habs Saturday night

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Clippers look to clean up the little things vs. Knicks

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Taking care of the little things has become a point of emphasis for Los Angeles Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue as his club enters the final week of the regular season.

 

And it will certainly be watched closely during Sunday’s home contest against the New York Knicks.

 

“We’ve been messing around too much,” Lue said. “We have to be a more disciplined, solid team, which we have been all season. But lately we’ve been messing around, playing around with the game a little too much for me right now.”

 

Over the last five games, the Clippers have averaged 16 turnovers a contest, tied for third worst in the NBA. Los Angeles is 3-2 in those contests.

 

The Clippers (45-22) are currently the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference with five games left in the regular season. After the Clippers finish a four-game homestand against the Knicks, they will finish the regular season with four games on the road.

 

Los Angeles is 2-1 so far during the homestand. The Clippers defeated the Knicks earlier this season on the road in New York, 129-115 on Jan. 31.

 

The Clippers recently completed a three-game season sweep over their crosstown rivals, rolling the Los Angeles Lakers 118-94 on Thursday.

 

“We’re working on ourselves every day,” Clipper big man DeMarcus Cousins said. “We’re preparing for the long haul, with the playoffs right around the corner. We’re just trying to tune up everything, fix the small mistakes we make on a nightly basis and try to get as close to perfect as we can before this playoff run happens.”

 

New York (37-30) is currently the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference. The Knicks are 2-2 on a six-game road trip that finishes with games against the Clippers on Sunday and the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday.

 

“These games are just testing us,” Knicks forward Taj Gibson said. “Every game is a test. You can’t just sneak into the playoffs. We’re playing some really good teams right now, and it’s only going to make us better.”

 

The Knicks are only a half-game ahead of the Atlanta Hawks (37-31), the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference. New York is looking to hold them off, along with the Miami Heat (36-31) and Boston Celtics (35-32) to maintain home-court advantage in the postseason.

 

All five of New York’s remaining games are against teams headed to the playoffs. With the Knicks in the postseason for the first time in eight years, it’s up to head coach Tom Thibodeau to get his team mentally prepared for the playoffs.

 

“I like these games for our team,” Thibodeau said. “I think it shows us where we are, and what we need to work on. That old saying, ‘Iron sharpens iron.’ And so hopefully we can improve and it will help us down the road.”

 

Thibodeau will continue to be a little shorthanded on the bench, with injured guards Immanuel Quickley (ankle) and Alec Burks (knee) sidelined, along with center Mitchell Robinson (foot).

 

Quickley suffered a sprained ankle earlier this week against the Denver Nuggets. Burks missed eight games earlier due to the league’s health and safety protocols and then suffered a minor knee injury on his return to the floor on Monday that leaves his availability in question. Robinson is out indefinitely after having surgery on his right foot in late March.

 

–Field Level Media

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NHL roundup: Predators clinch playoff berth

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Luke Kunin scored two goals and the host Nashville Predators sealed a playoff spot with a 3-1 win over the Central Division champion Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday.

 

Predators goaltender Juuse Saros made 21 saves and held a shutout into the third period in what was a preview of a first-round postseason series. The teams conclude the regular season with a rematch Monday night in Nashville.

 

Kunin scored in the second and third periods for a 2-0 Predators lead. Mikael Granlund assisted on both goals.

 

Carolina’s goal came from Morgan Geekie less than 1 1/2 minutes after Kunin’s second goal, but Erik Haula sealed the outcome with an empty-net tally. Carolina goalie Alex Nedeljkovic made 27 saves while taking a loss in regulation for the first time in his past nine outings.

 

Maple Leafs 3, Canadiens 2

 

Toronto overcame a 2-0 deficit with three straight second-period goals to defeat visiting Montreal and clinch the North Division title.

 

The Maple Leafs won the final two regular-season games between the teams to take the season series 7-2-1. Jack Campbell made 21 saves for the victory.

 

Pierre Engvall, William Nylander and Mitchell Marner scored for the Maple Leafs. Brett Kulak and Nick Suzuki scored for the Canadiens, who got 23 saves from Jake Allen.

 

Penguins 1, Sabres 0

 

Jeff Carter scored and goaltender Maxime Lagace stopped all 29 shots he faced to lead Pittsburgh past visiting Buffalo as both teams concluded the regular season.

 

Several hours later, Pittsburgh clinched the East Division and home-ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs. The Penguins secured first place after they won and the Washington Capitals failed to record a regulation-time victory against the Philadelphia Flyers.

 

The Sabres finished last not only in the East but also overall in the NHL. Buffalo rookie goalie Michael Houser, pressed into the No. 1 role because of a series of injuries, made 22 saves in his fourth career start.

 

Panthers 5, Lightning 1

 

Alex Wennberg scored three goals to lead Florida past Tampa Bay in Sunrise, Fla., and into a two-point lead on the Lightning in the race for home-ice advantage in their Stanley Cup playoffs first-round series.

 

The two teams conclude the regular season on Monday. Florida needs one point to clinch home ice; Tampa Bay needs a regulation win. Sam Bennett and Jonathan Huberdeau also scored for Florida, and each added an assist. Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 28 shots.

 

The teams amassed a combined 156 minutes of penalty time and nine misconduct penalties. Luke Schenn scored for the Lightning, and Andrei Vasilevskiy took the loss with 30 saves.

 

Capitals 2, Flyers 1 (OT)

 

Conor Sheary scored with 59.4 seconds left in overtime as Washington defeated visiting Philadelphia.

 

Lars Eller scored with 40 seconds left in regulation to force overtime. On the game-winner, Sheary took a quick pass from Nic Dowd and fired a shot that trickled between goalie Alex Lyon’s pads.

 

The injury-depleted Capitals were even more short-handed in this contest. T.J. Oshie appeared to hurt his knee late in the second period and was ruled out with a lower-body injury, leaving Washington with only 10 forwards during the third period and overtime.

 

Rangers 5, Bruins 4

 

Mika Zibanejad, Alexis Lafreniere and Vitali Kravtsov scored in a span of less than five minutes during a four-goal third period, and New York completed its season with a victory at Boston.

 

Zibanejad scored again late, K’Andre Miller also had a goal and Pavel Buchnevich had three assists as the Rangers snapped a five-game losing streak. Keith Kinkaid had 28 saves before exiting during the third with an injury. Igor Shesterkin stopped seven shots the rest of the way for New York.

 

Nick Ritchie, David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron scored for the Bruins, whose six-game points streak came to an end. Charlie McAvoy had two assists and Tuukka Rask stopped 18 shots.

 

Islanders 5, Devils 1

 

Brock Nelson scored twice in a span of 3:40 in the second period as New York scored four unanswered goals in a rout of visiting New Jersey in the final regular-season game at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y.

 

Jordan Eberle scored late in the first period, and Nelson struck twice by swatting in a pair of rebounds after New Jersey’s Andreas Johnsson tied the game less than five minutes into the second. Former Devil Kyle Palmieri and Mathew Barzal scored in a span of 37 seconds early in the third as the Islanders halted a three-game losing streak.

 

The Islanders moved within two points of the third-place Bruins. The Islanders visit Boston on Monday night for their final regular-season game, but the Bruins also visit the Capitals on Tuesday night.

 

Senators 4, Jets 2

 

Tim Stutzle posted his first career hat trick to pace visiting Ottawa to a victory over Winnipeg, handing the Jets their sixth consecutive home defeat.

 

Connor Brown also scored and added two assists, Shane Pinto collected two assists and Filip Gustavsson made 27 saves for the Senators. Ottawa, which has long been eliminated from playoff contention, is on an 8-1-1 run.

 

Mason Appleton and Mark Scheifele scored for the Jets, who have lost eight of nine games but remain in third place in the North Division. Goalie Connor Hellebuyck stopped 19 shots.

 

Blue Jackets 5, Red Wings 4 (OT)

 

Max Domi scored with 20.4 seconds remaining in overtime and Columbus won its season finale over visiting Detroit.

 

Domi scored from the slot off a feed from Oliver Bjorkstrand. Cam Atkinson, Bjorkstrand, Eric Robinson and Jack Roslovic scored in regulation for Columbus.

 

Jakub Vrana, Danny DeKeyser, Sam Gagner and Valtteri Filppula scored for Detroit.

 

Wild 4, Ducks 3 (OT)

 

Victor Rask scored with 2:14 left in the extra session to lift Minnesota past Anaheim in St. Paul, Minn.

 

Jared Spurgeon, Ryan Hartman and Nick Bonino also scored, and Cam Talbot made 19 saves for the Wild, who finished 7-1-0 against the Ducks this season. Kirill Kaprizov had two assists for his 13th multi-point game, adding to his franchise rookie records.

 

Rickard Rakell and Max Comtois each had a goal and an assist for the Ducks. Ryan Miller made 21 saves in the final game of his 18-year NHL career.

 

–Field Level Media

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Canada to skip Olympic qualifier due to COVID-19

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Gymnastics Canada said on Friday they have decided not to enter teams in the Pan American Championships being held in Brazil due to health and safety concerns resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The June 4-13 event in Rio de Janeiro was Canada‘s last chance qualifier event for the Tokyo Olympics in men’s artistic, women’s artistic, and rhythmic gymnastics.

“We realize the impact these decisions have on our athletes, especially those senior athletes that have dedicated so many years to their ambition of competing at the Olympic Games,” Gymnastics Canada Chief Executive Ian Moss said in a statement.

“We will do everything we can not only to support all athletes and coaches impacted by this decision through this difficult period, but to also provide hope and opportunity moving forward towards their international goals in the future.”

Canada had the opportunity to qualify one more athlete in men’s and women’s artistic, respectively, and one individual and one group in rhythmic gymnastics at the competition.

The event was also a qualifier for trampoline gymnastics, but there is one more chance to qualify for that discipline at a World Cup competition to be held in Italy in the coming weeks.

Athletes and coaches had the opportunity to appeal the decision and Gymnastics Canada said it went through the Sport Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada arbitration process with these individuals to show transparency around the decision.

The result of the appeal, which ruled in Gymnastics Canada‘s favour, was delivered to all parties on Thursday.

 

(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Christian Radnedge)

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