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

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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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Berrettini ends Murray’s comeback at Queen’s

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Andy Murray‘s grasscourt return was cut short in brutal fashion at Queen’s Club as Italian top seed Matteo Berrettini dished out a 6-3 6-3 defeat to the former world number one on Thursday.

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)

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Be Like the King of the North Division and Develop Skills

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North Division

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.

Passers

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.

Shooting

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.

Stick Handling

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.

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Australia swim trials calendar shift to reap Tokyo rewards

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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)

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