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Canadiens @ Maple Leafs game recap: Just one more to go – Habs Eyes on the Prize

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The Montreal Canadiens’ pre-season march is finally nearing its final stage as the team rolled into Toronto for their third meeting that doesn’t count against the Maple Leafs on Tuesday evening. The lineup still was far from the finished product as injuries, player rotation, and a new goalie shook things up once again.

With Cole Caufield not yet game-ready, Jonathan Drouin slid into his spot on the top line with Tyler Toffoli and Nick Suzuki. Meanwhile, Brendan Gallagher and Joel Armia flanked Jake Evans on the second line, and Ryan Poehling was given third-line duties with Rafaël Harvey-Pinard and Artturi Lehkonen. In net, the newly claimed Samuel Montembeault got the nod to make a full 60-minute debut.

In the early going, Montembeault faced a bevy of chances, including a long-range, seeing-eye shot by Ilya Mikheyev, but he fended them off. Toronto looked like they had taken an early lead one of those opportunities, but Brett Seney had slid right into Montembeault, not allowing him a chance to reset and make the save, so the goal was waved off instantly.

To rub salt in the wound, the Canadiens went right down the ice and opened the scoring with a proper goal. Ben Chiarot crept up along the boards, letting a low-chance shot go on net. Lckily for him, Armia got his stick on the shot, fooling Petr Mrazek as the puck snuck behind him to give Montreal the early edge.

The Habs then immediately went on the game’s first power play with a chance to double their lead, but a shaky effort led to a pair of great short-handed looks by Toronto instead, and that was about it for the Habs’ man advantage.

Toronto’s top-six talent then took over the game, with Nick Ritchie tallying a pair of goals in short order. First he was left wide open in front on net as Gianni Fairbrother vacated his assignment, and all Ritchie had to do was tap home the pass from Mitch Marner to tie the game. Then, with Kaiden Guhle sitting for slashing, it was Ritchie striking again, taking advantage of a stickless Ryan Poehling to rifle a second goal past Montembeault to put Toronto on top.

An Ilya Mikheyev cross-checking penalty allowed Montreal a chance to tie the game, and this time the power play did just that. The first unit failed to get much going, but the second wave broke through with a great screen from Mathieu Perreault. Alex Belzile collected a feed from Chris Wideman, firing it through Perreault to tie the game once more.

Toronto took the lead back shortly before the end of the first period when Mikheyev atoned for his penalty by snapping a shot through Montembeault to put a damper on the end of the opening period.

The start of the second did not go much better for the Canadiens as Toronto went back to the power play and laid total siege to their opponent. Montembeault was up to the task as Toronto pushed the shot differential to an obscene 32-7 advantage with barely five minutes gone in the middle period.

Montreal continued to take ill-timed penalties, this time with Armia heading to the sin bin. The Canadiens’ penalty-killers did well to force Toronto to the outside, but eventually Brennan Menell crept into the slot and finished off a feed from John Tavares to double the Leafs’ lead.

That lead grew to three goals when Semyon Der-Arguchintsev snapped his first of the pre-season into the net, putting the game pretty well out of reach before 40 minutes were up.

Three goals were the difference when the intermission horn sounded, leaving Montreal looking for some kind of pushback in the third period.

They did not get it. Even with an early power play they were unable to cut into Toronto’s three-goal lead. To make matters worse, as Seney exited the box after serving a penalty, he caught a tired Belzile trying to collect a poor pass from Alexander Romanov. Seney pulled away and finished with aplomb, roofing a backhand by Montembeault to put a stamp on the game.

Despite multiple chances on the power play, the Canadiens never really threatened to put a dent into Toronto’s lead as the third period wore on. In fact, the only real highlight for the Habs was Michael Pezzetta finally getting his wish and tossing the gloves off to tussle with Kurtis Gabriel. It was a spirited fight between the two, even with Pezzetta giving up height and weight to his opponent.

The good news for Habs fans is that there is just one pre-season game left, on Thursday against the Ottawa Senators. Further good news is that Cole Caufield is expected to return to the starting lineup, and the Canadiens should have as close to an opening-night lineup as possible.

It was a tough debut for Montembeault, but it’s hard to pin the loss on him. The team in front of him struggled mightily against Toronto’s stars, but he did about as well as anyone could have expected under that kind of pressure. With Cayden Primeau needing more time as the starter in Laval, Montembeault seemingly has the backup spot locked down until Carey Price returns.

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Canadiens come up nearly empty against Rangers in home opener – Montreal Gazette

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Jonathan Drouin’s goal gave hockey starved Montreal fans their only thrill in a 3-1 loss.

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A third-period goal by Alexis Lefreniére proved to be the difference as the New York Rangers defeated the Canadiens 3-1 to spoil the home opener at the Bell Centre on Saturday night.

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Lafrenière got behind the defence and Jake Allen had little chance as he converted a perfect pass from Mika Zibanejad to snap a 1-1 tie. The goal at 9:50 came 26 seconds after Jonathan Drouin gave the near-sellout crowd some hope when he ended Igor Shesterkin’s shutout bid. He was set up by Christian Dvorak, who carried the puck behind the net and found Drouin in the slot.

Kevin Rooney completed the scoring for the Rangers with an empty-net goal.

Shesterkin made 31 saves, while Allen stopped 21 of 23 shots.

After a listless first period, the Rangers picked up the pace to start the second and the Canadiens provided some opportunities by taking three consecutive penalties before the period was 10 minutes old. Montreal did a good job killing the first two, but New York got the bounce to take a 1-0 lead on a power-play goal at 9:59.

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Chris Krieder was credited with his third goal of the season when he deflected a shot by Zibanejad. Allen stopped the shot, but the rebound went in off defenceman Alexander Romanov.

The Canadiens created two scoring chances later in the second period. Cédric Paquette deflected a shot by Jeff Petry and it was headed to the top corner when Shesterkin made a spectacular glove save.

Two minutes later, defenceman David Savard showed off his puck-handling skills as he weaved his way through the Rangers and tried to find Brendan Gallagher in front. Gallagher was unable to control the pass for a shot and Shesterkin pounced on the loose puck.

The Canadiens’ power play continues to experience problems. Montreal had two power plays in the first period and managed only one shot on goal. They had four shots on a third-period advantage, but the best scoring chance came on a shorthanded breakaway by Zibanejad. The Montreal power play is now 0-for 11 on the season

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There were few opportunities for either team in the first period, which ended with the Rangers outshooting the Canadiens 7-5. Josh Anderson had the best scoring chance when he unleashed a shot from the right faceoff circle. Shesterkin was unable to handle the shot cleanly, but the puck trickled wide. Tyler Toffoli attempted a wraparound late in the period, but Shesterkin sealed off the post.

The game was preceded by words of welcome from team owner Geoff Molson and a drawn-out introduction of the players, coaches, the training and medical staffs and various other members of  the hockey operations department. The loudest ovation was for Drouin, who returned to action this season after taking timer off to deal with anxiety.

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During a break in the first period, the Canadiens announced this will be the final  season for Pierre Gervais as the team’s equipment manager. Gervais, who has been involved in more 3,000 games over a 35-year career, will remain with the team in yet-to-be-determined new role.

This was the first of four consecutive homes games for the Canadiens. They will welcome the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday, followed by the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday and the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday.

phickey@postedia.com

twitter.com/zababes1

  1. MONTREAL, QUE.: September 26, 2021 -- Saturday night's game against the New York Rangers will be the first one with a full crowd at the Bell Centre since March 10, 2020, when the Canadiens lost 4-2 to the Nashville Predators.

    Jonathan Drouin excited about playing in front of fans at Bell Centre

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    Make-or-break season for Canadiens prospect Poehling | HI/O Bonus

  3. Canadiens Shea Weber moves the puck up ice during first period against the Calgary Flames in Montreal on April 14, 2021.

    Hickey on hockey: Weber departure would be feather in Habs’ salary cap

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Canadiens vs. Rangers: Game thread, rosters, lines, and how to watch – Habs Eyes on the Prize

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Montreal Canadiens vs. New York Rangers

How to watch

Start time: 7:00 PM EDT / 4:00 PM PDT
In Canada: CityTV, Sportsnet East (English), TVA Sports (French)
In the Rangers region: MSG
Streaming: ESPN+, NHL Live, Sportsnet Now

We pick the best three comments from each game thread to feature in our Top Six Minutes articles which are published at the conclusion of the game. Be sure to share your best gif or analysis to become a star.

The Montreal Canadiens head to the Bell Centre for the first meaningful action since last season’s Stanley Cup Playoffs. The last game Montreal fans witnessed in person was an overtime victory on Josh Anderson’s second goal of Game 4 in the Final.

Anderson was responsible for that last goal the Canadiens scored in 2020-21, and had a major hand in the first one versus the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday night, but offence has been very difficult to come by for the team since that goal seven minutes into the opener; there’s only been one more since.

As a reaction, lines were juggled in the most recent match in Buffalo, but to little avail. Even so, Dominique Ducharme is sticking with the group he has hoping that his players will quickly find solutions.

The Rangers’ bid to increase their early-season offence was dealt a blow when Ryan Strome was ruled out by the COVID protocol for tonight’s game, knocking one of the top point-producers from a season ago out of action. Both teams will be missing significant offensive pieces as they go for their first win, but one of the clubs is going to avoid a winless start, even if it takes Marek Malik coming out of retirement to end it.

Montreal Canadiens projected lineup

Forwards

Left Wing Centre Right Wing
Left Wing Centre Right Wing
#40 Joel Armia #14 Nick Suzuki #22 Cole Caufield
#92 Jonathan Drouin #28 Christian Dvorak #17 Josh Anderson
#73 Tyler Toffoli #71 Jake Evans #11 Brendan Gallagher
#85 Mathieu Perreault #13 Cédric Paquette #62 Artturi Lehkonen

Defencemen

Left Defence Right Defence
Left Defence Right Defence
#27 Alexander Romanov #26 Jeff Petry
#8 Ben Chiarot #58 David Savard
#77 Brett Kulak #20 Chris Wideman

Goaltenders

Starter Backup
Starter Backup
#34 Jake Allen #35 Samuel Montembeault

New York Rangers projected lineup

Forwards

Left Wing Centre Right Wing
Left Wing Centre Right Wing
Alexis Lafrenière Mika Zibanejad Chris Kreider
Artemiy Panarin Filip Chytil Kaapo Kakko
Sammy Blais Barclay Goodrow Julien Gauthier
Dryden Hunt Kevin Rooney Ryan Reaves

Goaltenders

Starter Backup
Starter Backup
Igor Shesterkin Alexandar Georgiev

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In ever-evolving NBA, Raptors’ length and athleticism opens doors on defence – Sportsnet.ca

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Under head coach Nick Nurse, the Toronto Raptors have always worked to stay abreast of league trends, or even push the envelope on what might be next.

As an assistant coach, Nurse received a considerable amount of credit for overseeing an effort to inject more spacing, ball movement and player movement into an offensive approach that had grown too reliant on DeMar DeRozan’s mid-range isolations. The result was a team-record 59-win season in 2017-18. Nurse also had his fingerprints on the “bench mob” – the high-tempo, aggressive defence-first group that was a big part of the Raptors’ regular-season success.

Since becoming head coach in 2019-19, Nurse’s defensive focus has been more apparent, with the Raptors embracing liberal switching on the perimeter as well as a growing reliance on zone defences – tactics that were less common across the league than they quickly became.

But basketball’s pace of change hasn’t stalled. You can only pay so much attention to games that don’t matter, but it’s hard not to notice that in pre-season play the Golden State Warriors are putting up an astounding 55 three-point shots a game. Four other teams – Sacramento, Denver, Utah and Oklahoma City are averaging 45 three-point attempts.

For context the only teams in league history to average 45 three-point shots a game were the 2018-19 and 2019-20 Houston Rockets, with James Harden at his gun-slinging peak. A decade ago NBA teams averaged 20 three-point attempts a game. Last season it was 34 and still climbing apparently.

“I don’t know if any of us sat here at some point and said the amount of threes are going to be double … or whatever the number is,” said Nurse. “… It does evolve pretty quickly though.”

Given the value of those shots, a team that wants to be effective defensively must have a plan to discourage them being taken, or at least make them more difficult.

One of the benefits of a roster rounded out with so many players in the six-foot-six to six-foot-nine range – the Raptors only have four players in training camp shorter – is the pressure they can put on perimeter shooters.

The Raptors got a taste of it last season, when six-foot-nine Chris Boucher led the NBA with .84 blocked three-pointers a game and was ranked fourth in the league in the percentage that opponents shot when he was the closest defender. Pascal Siakam ranked second in the league in the number of three-pointers contested after leading that category in 2019-20.

As a whole, the Raptors weren’t especially good at defending the three-point line – opponents shot 37.9 per cent from deep, which was above league average and ranked them 24th overall – but given the range of mitigating circumstances they faced last season it’s probably not something to dwell on. The Raptors led the NBA in that category in 2019-20 when the set a franchise record for winning percentage.

This is a different team with plenty of new faces, but maybe having a roster full of athletic, agile guys in the mould of Boucher and Siakam could pay dividends in a league where it looks like more teams are going to be hoisting threes than ever before.

Raptors rookie Dalano Banton has certainly had the importance of getting to three-point shooters impressed upon him in his weeks-old NBA career, and as a nimble six-foot-nine guard, he can play the part.

“Shot contesting is one of our pillars that we go off of on defence as well as pressuring the ball so guys don’t get easy shots so, running them off the line,” said Banton after practice Friday. “In this league guys make shots and they make it at a high clip so I feel like just doing the best you can to run out at every shot that gets put up by the other team is big for us and being in our defensive stance, just showing length and just discouraging them from making plays they’d make if we weren’t in our right spots.

“…Just being in the right spot is just the biggest part of the battle and showing your hands. Once you’re there, it puts your whole team in a better position to play defence.”

Selling out on three-point shooters takes trust. Actually blocking a shot is rare and smart teams and players will look to pump fake on careless closeouts and look for a side-step three, a chance to penetrate the paint for layups, generate kick-outs to open shooters or simply swing the ball to take advantage of a scrambling defence.

It’s not enough to run at a shooter, it has to be done properly.

“Just playing the game the way you practice — running guys off lines and the next guy helping and making the next play,” says Banton. “So, it’s just about the offence having to make the next play, not giving them that shot or that layup, having to make them make that extra pass. The guy behind you is gonna help, we’re all playing defence in one line together so we’re all trying to work in a tandem and move where we have to move and rotate to the right spots.”

It’s music to Nurse’s ears. The goal of his scheme, he says, it to challenge every shot, everywhere.

“It’s kind of icing on the cake when we get a block [on a three-pointer],” he said. “I think I’m really more concerned that we’re making a heavy contest. Obviously the block is the heaviest of all contests. We just want to make sure we make it contested. It goes to hustle and hard play: You’ve got to keep playing the whole possession. Sometimes you’ve got to fire out, fire out, fire out.

“Every now and then you get put in rotations and some teams are really good in making you do it. But you’ve got to do it. That’s just an effort and hustle thing that we want the heavy contest. Chris [Boucher] has certainly got a knack, incredible timing on that stuff. I’m not sure it’s teachable or transferable … What we teach and what we drill every day is heavy contesting.”

Changing times call for changing measures – and maybe a lot of long, athletic guys flying around at the three-point line like never before.

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