I felt a little sorry for Jesperi Kotkaniemi when he stepped on the Bell Centre ice Thursday night and was greeted with boos and an obscene chant.
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.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) March 9, 2021
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.
HOUSTON — Rookie Luis Garcia showed the poise of an October ace, Yordan Alvarez stayed hot at the plate and the Houston Astros earned yet another trip to the World Series, beating the Boston Red Sox 5-0 Friday night in Game 6 of the AL Championship Series.
The Astros advanced to the World Series for the fourth time overall and the second time in three seasons. They won the championship in 2017, a crown tainted by the team’s sign-stealing scandal, before losing to the Washington Nationals in seven games in 2019.
Manager Dusty Baker’s team will open the World Series on Tuesday night, either at Dodger Stadium or home against Atlanta. The Braves lead Los Angeles 3-2 in the NL Championship Series going into Game 6 Saturday night.
Garcia pitched no-hit ball into the sixth inning, leaving to a huge ovation with two outs after a triple by Kike Hernandez. It was an impressive bounce-back performance for the 24-year-old, who started Game 2 and gave up a grand slam in the first inning before leaving with no outs in the second because of discomfort in his right knee.
Alvarez continued his scorching streak, a year after watching at home after surgery to both knees as the Astros came one game shy of reaching the World Series. The slugging designated hitter had four hits, including a triple and two doubles. He led a Game 5 win with three hits and three RBIs.
Catcher Martin Maldonado made the defensive play of the game on a strikeout-throwout double play to end the seventh with Houston ahead 2-0.
It will be the 72-year-old Baker’s second trip to the Fall Classic as a manager and first since leading the San Francisco Giants to the NL pennant in 2002. As a player, he made three trips with the Dodgers, winning it all in 1981.
Boston’s best shot to score came in the seventh. They had runners at first and third with one out in after a single by Alex Verdugo. But Kendall Graveman struck out pinch-hitter Travis Shaw and Maldonado made a perfect throw to Carlos Correa, who was covering second, to beat Verdugo there and end the inning.
Maldonado beat his chest with glee as Graveman and Correa both pumped their fists in celebration to roars from the crowd of 42,718.
Kyle Tucker broke it open with a three-run homer with two outs in the eighth. Television cameras flashed to Houston’s Hall of Fame duo of Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell, who stood together and cheered as Tucker rounded the bases.
Ryan Pressly closed it out in the ninth. The Red Sox, who looked so formidable at the plate at the start of the season, were held to two hits in their final game.
Alex Bregman singled with two outs in the first before the double by Alvarez put the Astros up 1-0. Hernandez was in position to make the catch, but it hit off his arm below his glove and dropped in for the hit.
Consecutive romps by Boston and its bashers made it appear that the Red Sox were in complete control of the series after Game 3, but as the long fly by Alvarez proved, they didn’t have a firm grip on things.
The Astros, buoyed by their young pitchers and rediscovered offense, won the next two games by a combined 18-3 to return home a win away from a World Series. Then their rising 24-year-old stars, Garcia and Alvarez, did the rest.
Houston had a chance to add to the lead in the fourth when Bregman singled and another double by Alvarez left him at third with no outs. But they came up empty after Nathan Eovaldi worked out of the jam.
Alvarez tripled with no outs in the sixth to chase Josh Taylor and Tanner Houck plunked Correa. Tucker then smacked a grounder right at first baseman Kyle Schwarber who tagged Correa for the unassisted double play as Alvarez slid safely into home to make it 2-0.
Eovaldi got the win in a solid Game 2 start but was charged with the loss in Game 4 after giving up the go-ahead runs after coming in with the game tied in the ninth.
On Friday, he permitted five hits and one run as the Red Sox lost a playoff game where he started for the first time after entering the game 5-0 in his starts.
Garcia is the first pitcher to take a no-hitter into sixth of a potential playoff clincher since the Mets’ Noah Syndergaard got two outs in sixth against the Giants in 2016 NL wild-card game.
Garcia allowed Schwarber to reach on a wild pitch after a strikeout to open the game and walked Verdugo with one out in the second. He settled in after that, sitting down the next 13 with five strikeouts, before Hernandez got Boston’s first hit on a triple with two outs in the sixth. Garcia finished with seven strikeouts.
Phil Maton took over and retired Rafael Devers to end the inning.
SIGN OF THE TIMES
Boston manager Alex Cora has heard the speculation that the Astros are relaying signs from the bases and said the Red Sox protect themselves against that.
“It’s not about technology or other stuff,” Cora said. “There’s stuff that happens on the field that you have to be guarded. The same way that teams play defense against us, we play defense against other teams. Not only them we did it against the Yankees, we did it against the Rays. It’s the nature of the game. We’re prepared for that.”
Cora knows better than most about Houston’s sign-stealing history having been the team’s bench coach during the 2017 season when they were found to have violated rules by using a television camera to steal catchers’ signs.
Game 1 of the World Series is Tuesday night where the Astros will host if the Braves advance or Houston will travel to LA if the Dodgers win the NL pennant.
You’d expect a few lineup changes after a 6-3 loss, and the Bruins confirmed today that tonight’s lineup will look a little different.
The main updates:
So basically, you have Blidh in for Foligno, Moore in for Clifton.
Here’s what to expect on your streaming service tonight:
Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – David Pastrnak
Taylor Hall – Charlie Coyle – Craig Smith
Jake DeBrusk – Erik Haula – Tomas Nosek
Anton Blidh – Trent Frederic – Karson Kuhlman
Matt Grzelcyk – Charlie McAvoy
Mike Reilly – Brandon Carlo
Derek Forbort – John Moore
As mentioned in the preview, former Sabre Linus Ullmark will get the start in net.
For Buffalo, Craig Anderson will be in net.
Also, the Sabres will be wearing their white jerseys at home tonight as part of a White Hot Friday promotion — don’t get confused.
I felt a little sorry for Jesperi Kotkaniemi when he stepped on the Bell Centre ice Thursday night and was greeted with boos and an obscene chant.
I felt happy for Kotkaniemi when he tipped a shot from Sebastian Aho for his first goal as a Carolina Hurricane even if it elicited the loudest boos of the evening. The goal gave Carolina a 3-1 lead and some breathing room en route to a 4-1 victory.
The booing was to be expected. When players leave a team, the fans feel betrayed and, with ticket prices reaching astronomic levels, they need a way to vent their frustration in the wake of one of the Canadiens’ worst starts to a season.
But if you look at the circumstances of Kotkaniemi’s departure, you will see the 21-year-old Finn is not the villain in this saga. It’s not a case of a greedy, ungrateful player turning his back on Montreal and following the money. The Canadiens made it easy for Kotkaniemi to switch allegiance.
Kotkaniemi’s development in Montreal didn’t go as planned. The No. 3 overall pick in the 2018 draft had highs and lows and finished his second pro season in the AHL. He didn’t live up to his high draft status and there were questions whether he could meet the demands of an NHL centre.
Head coach Dominique Ducharme set Kotkaniemi’s departure in motion when he had Kotkaniemi in the press box for the opening of the playoffs this year. He was inserted into the lineup for Game 2 vs. the Leafs and scored a crucial overtime goal to force Game 7 in that series.
Kotkaniemi had a good playoff run. He was tied for fifth in team scoring with five goals and three assists in 19 games, he was a shade under 50 per cent in the faceoff circle and he had the second-best shooting percentage among players with 10 or more shots.
But he wasn’t dressed for the final two games. His minus-5 rating played into the decision to bench him, but Cole Caufield and Corey Perry were also at minus-5, while Tyler Toffoli and Nick Suzuki were minus-6.
We can presume that Kotkaniemi was not happy with the way the season ended. And we can also presume that he wasn’t happy with the way his contract negotiations with general manager Marc Bergevin were going. If you thought enough of a player to draft him third overall and you are planning to have him as your No. 2 centre, you’re going to lock him up before he’s available for an offer sheet.
Bergevin has made some shrewd trades and some good free-agent signings, but the only Canadiens first-round pick playing for the team is Caufield. And Kotkaniemi joins Phillip Danault, Andrei Markov and Alexander Radulov on the list of valuable players whose negotiations were mishandled.
The Hurricanes overpaid for Kotkaniemi, but they seem committed to bringing him along slowly and helping him reach his potential. In the meantime, his appearance in Montreal provided them with another chance to snipe at the Canadiens on their Twitter feed.
They posted a picture of Sebastian Aho — who received an offer sheet from Montreal two years ago — with the question: Did the Canadiens lose again? YES.
Female officials on the way: It’s only a matter of time before women are officiating NHL games. The AHL, which serves as a testing ground of NHL rules and procedures, has hired 10 women referees and linespeople this season.
The inaugural group includes Elizabeth Mantha of Longueuil, who has hockey in her blood. Her grandfather, André Pronovost, was part of four Stanley Cup teams with the Canadiens and her brother, Anthony, is a forward with the Washington Capitals.
Mantha, who refereed at the women’s world championship this year in Edmonton, played in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League after a university career that included a national championship with the Université de Montréal Carabins.
Chip off the old block: The U.S. college season is getting underway and one player who has been making waves is Carson Brière who is the nation’s leading scorer, with seven goals and an assist in four games. The Mercyhurst College sophomore is the son of Daniel Brière, who played one season with the Canadiens late in his career.
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