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Canadiens’ loss a tough pill to swallow, but progress under Ducharme continues –



Two things immediately come to mind in the aftermath of the Montreal Canadiens‘ most complete effort since their last one against the Vancouver Canucks.

First, Jake Allen saying, after a 2-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Feb. 27, that when Craig Berube took over from Mike Yeo and went on to coach the St. Louis Blues to the 2019 Stanley Cup, it took a good two weeks for him and his teammates to all get on the same page and on board with the plan the new coach was selling. The second is Canadiens coach Dominique Ducharme, two days later—and just five after taking over for head coach Claude Julien—saying his team was ahead of schedule in adopting his strategies.

It would be easy to lose sight of the progress the Canadiens have made since after a 2-1 shootout loss to the Canucks. This was a game Carey Price and the Canadiens deserved, one they had stolen away by a mistake in the final minute that wasn’t even egregious and a breakaway move in the shootout Bo Horvat deserves full credit for, and that had to be tough to swallow.

But what the Canadiens should take out of it was that for a third consecutive game, after his struggles cost his goaltending coach Stephane Waite his job last week, Price was nearly perfect. What they should be able to build on was their efficiency on the power play, where Jeff Petry’s goal gave them a 1-0 lead.

Another takeaway was how they played on the penalty kill, stifling over a minute of 5-on-3 pressure from the Canucks towards the end of the first period. And what they should harness is the way they controlled the game over the first 59 minutes—hounding the Canucks on the forecheck and backcheck and giving them very little breathing room—because that is exactly how Ducharme wants them to play.

“I thought we deserved better,” said Phillip Danault. “If we play the same every game, we give ourselves a chance to win every game.”

You often hear stuff like that when a team plays well but loses, but just as important as this being accurate is the fact that Danault and the rest of the Canadiens feel that way.

There’s no time to be discouraged. Not with the schedule as jammed as it is, and certainly not with as much on the line as there is each night in the North-Division race.

The Canucks pulled to within three points of the Canadiens while the Edmonton Oilers jumped three ahead with a win over the Ottawa Senators. Both teams are giving up several games in hand to Montreal, but they’re forcing the Canadiens to make the best of that opportunity and forcing them to not wallow over a game they lost but should’ve won.

The Canadiens had their chances at a convincing win Monday. Tyler Toffoli, who has 15 goals this season, missed a hat trick of them. Brendan Gallagher’s four shots were stopped. And the NHL’s second star of last week, Thatcher Demko, matched Price save for save and made one more in the shootout.

But when Petry said, “I think the style of play was the way we want to play,” boy, was he ever right. And it’s been building since Ducharme took over, with the team having taken six of eight points available in the standings over its four games coming into Monday’s at Rogers Arena, with a power play that’s been humming along at over 40 per cent under new assistant coach and former Canucks player Alex Burrows, and with a penalty kill that has eliminated more than 80 per cent of the opposition’s chances.

Even in overtime, where the Canadiens have now failed to generate a goal in each of their seven attempts, there was improvement on this night.

“It wasn’t perfect,” said Ducharme, but he also rightfully pointed to a puck-possession strategy being implemented that could bear fruit soon. One that would’ve worked better if not for two loose plays in which the Canadiens turned over the puck while they were in full control of it.

It’s why when Price was asked what the team could do better there, he sarcastically laughed and said, “Score first, probably.”

Outside of that, and the missed chances to make this one a laugher, the Canadiens built on the good they established in a 7-1 win over the Jets last Saturday.

“We’re just eliminating plays,” said Price. “Trying to eliminate their speed. When you’re on top of your game and you’re working in unison, the system works.”

And when it broke down, there was Price. He turned three top-quality chances from Canucks sniper Brock Boeser aside and made other hard saves on Boeser’s teammates look easy.

An overaggressive play from the Canadiens in the neutral zone left Adam Gaudette some room with Demko on the bench and the Canucks skating 6-on-5. The Vancouver sniper wired a slap shot from inside the circle that clanked off the far post and went in to tie the game 1-1 with 41 seconds to play.

Ducharme called it “the perfect shot from where he shot it.”

“The percentage of that puck going in is not really high, but it did,” he added.

But the coach also said this about how Montreal played the game: “I don’t think we gave them much tonight…

“Without the puck, the way we’re coming back and applying pressure, forcing plays and creating turnovers, we’re doing a good job. So a lot of good things…

“We’ll be back on Wednesday and making sure we take what we’ve done in the last four-five games and we keep making it better.”

The Canadiens hadn’t played as well since a 5-3 win over the Canucks at the Bell Centre on Feb. 2.

In truth, they played better in this one, and did so against a Vancouver team that has been much better of late. And if they play as well against the Canucks in less 48 hours, they’ll walk away winners.

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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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