Back-to-back wins against Western Canadian teams gave the Montreal Canadiens a little bit of breathing room coming into Edmonton on Saturday night. Claude Julien chose to stick with the same lineup that had beaten the Calgary Flames in overtime on Thursday, meaning Mikey Reilly stayed paired up with Cale Fleury, while Riley Barber and Ryan Poehling flanked Nate Thompson on the fourth line.
Standing between Carey Price and a third consecutive win? A top-heavy Oilers team led by the league’s most dynamic duo Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, a team currently placed third in the Pacific, with their hopes set on a playoff run. Edmonton has chosen to split the goaltending duties between Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen this year, with Koskinen getting the nod last night from coach Dave Tippett.
Montreal emphasized before the game how important it was to not attract unnecessary penalties. The Oilers rank second in the league on the power play, with a scoring efficiency which borders on 30%. A duo like McDavid and Draisaitl doesn’t need additional help, considering how difficult they are to stop already at five-on-five.
Less than two minutes into the first period they demonstrated exactly how difficult they are to stop even at full strength. A breakaway in the neutral zone led to a two-on-two opportunity against Shea Weber and Ben Chiarot. McDavid served Draisaitl right on the blade, the puck found its way in behind Carey Price, and Montreal was down a goal early.
The first penalty of the game was dispensed to Jordan Weal when his stick unfortunately got stuck between the legs of an Oilers defenceman, resulting in a tripping call. It was an opportune moment for the home team to double its lead, but the Habs’ penalty kill made one of their best efforts of the season, not only stopping Edmonton from scoring but actually refusing to concede a single shot against Price during the two minutes. Instead, Artturi Lehkonen had a good chance to tie it up after a line change gave him free space in the offensive zone. Koskinen was able to make the save that time after an initial flub, but overall the penalty kill showed a positive sign for the Canadiens.
That joy was, however, shortlived. Near the middle of the period, Max Domi lost control of the puck as he was trying to bring it out into the neutral zone. His team was also on the move, causing major problems on defence. Chaos erupted in the Montreal crease. The defenders were unable to clear the puck which eventually found its way out to Ethan Bear. Bear shot it back in toward the net where Josh Archibald had his blade in the right place to beat Price.
Half a minute after the 2-0-goal, Phillip Danault got called for holding right after a faceoff and things were looking mighty bleak for the guests from Québec. This time, surely the stars would align and provide a third goal of the night.
On cue, a third goal was about to come. But not of the kind we were expecting. Former Oiler Jeff Petry took care of a mistimed cross-ice pass and took off in the offensive direction. Being a three-on-one, most people, including Koskinen, were expecting Petry to move the puck over to either of his teammates. Instead, he released a quick wrister toward the far post that Koskinen let in beneath his glove.
With the short-handed goal, the Habs were right back into a game which had felt lost for most of the first period. But that is the beauty of this Montreal team: they never quit.
Montreal picked up their game toward the end of the period, fueled by their goal. Momentum continued into the second, where they held Edmonton without a single shot on net for the first eight minutes.
Nick Cousins drew a penalty on Caleb Jones, when the latter held the former up against the boards behind the goal. During the power play, their first of the night, the Canadiens would tie the game up at two. Petry, traded from Edmonton to Montreal for a bag of peanuts in March of 2015, showed his true value once again when he blasted one from the blue line into the havoc in front of the Oilers’ net. Danault got the goal, his eighth of the year, steering Petry’s shot past Koskinen in mid-air. Both of Montreal’s goals thus far had come on special teams; one each on the penalty kill and the power play.
In an effort to get his team to wake up, Zack Kassian picked a fight with Ben Chiarot, ending with both of them sitting out the following five minutes. Once their punishment was over, Weal got sent to the box for a second tripping minor of the night. This time, Connor McDavid got his chance and he took it. Weber tried to clear the puck by passing it up the zone. Once the pass was intercepted, Draisaitl found McDavid in the neutral zone straight in front of the net. Neither Danault nor Weber could keep up with McDavid’s pace, and once alone with Price he made no mistake.
The Canadiens ended the period with massive pressure against the Oilers’ defence, spending the vast majority of the last two minutes well established in Edmonton’s zone. Unfortunately, the pressure did not lead to a change on the scoreboard, meaning that the home team would enter the third period with a 3-2-lead.
That lead would not last for long. Lehkonen found Max Domi on a surge forward. Demonstrating silky smooth hands, Domi pushed himself and the puck in between Bear and Darnell Nurse before snapping a wrister past Koskinen. The Habs had bounced back from a late-game deficit once again. The second assist went to Petry, thereby registering his third point of the night.
Next up: another tripping call against Montreal and Cale Fleury. Just as the penalty was ending, a shot from Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was tipped by Price back up toward his own goal. First, the referee signaled that the puck had gone in off the deflection and the Edmonton fans cheered. The following replay proved a clear ricochet off the crossbar followed by a Price recovery. The goal was revoked and Montreal’s fans cheered instead.
Edmonton would eventually get their fourth goal of the night, as a strange backspin bounce gave Archibald and Riley Sheahan a two-on-one against Brett Kulak. Sheahan got the score, giving him only his third of the year but his second this week.
Montreal did their best trying to tie it up for a third time, but Sheahan’s goal would prove to be the decisive one. It also did not help having to play an additional two minutes on the penalty kill, after Cousins had been called for interference behind his net on breakout. The Canadiens fell for the first time on their road trip, a 4-3 defeat.
The Habs will now have to reload and recharge for their last outing before Christmas, facing off against the Winnipeg Jets at Bell MTS Place on Monday night.
Blue Jays agree to three-year deal with OF Brantley – TSN
The Toronto Blue Jays have not added Michael Brantley, yet.
Contrary to earlier reports, ESPN’s Jeff Passan writes there is no agreement in place as of yet between the two sides. He notes the Blue Jays are still in on Brantley, and could still reach a deal with the veteran outfielder.
After the Jays reached a six-year, $150 million agreement with Springer late Tuesday night, TSN Blue Jays Reporter Scott Mitchell tweeted there were “legit legs to the Michael Brantley package deal” and the Blue Jays are very open to it.
Mitchell noted Tuesday night that adding Brantley, a 33-year-old left fielder, would create an outfield logjam, but the Jays could use the surplus to upgrade their pitching on the trade market.
Brantley had been the mark of consistency at the plate during his lengthy big league career and that continued once he arrived with the Houston Astros after the 2018 season.
Brantley has hit .309 combined over the past two seasons, good for eighth best in baseball over that span.
Prior to his tenure in Houston, Brantley is known for the 10 seasons he spent with Cleveland, appearing in 1,051 games during that time period. He is a four-time All-Star and a one-time Silver Slugger Award winner (2014).
Brantley was originally selected by the Milwaukee Brewers in the seventh round of the 2005 MLB Draft and arrived in Cleveland in a 2008 trade deadline deal that saw left-hander C.C. Sabathia head to Milwaukee.
Edmonton Oilers coming apart at seams through first four games of season – Edmonton Sun
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There’s no word on whether one of them is Maple Leafs Zamboni driver David Ayres.
With Stuart Skinner as the current backup, having a total of zero games of NHL experience, the Oilers are going to be relying heavily on Koskinen, who looked better in the second game against Montreal, but still gave up two soft goals in the loss — one on a wrist shot from the blue line and the other from behind the goal line.
“Yeah of course this is not what we wanted and we can’t get frustrated,” said Koskinen, who has faced 145 shots and conceded 15 goals. “It’s only four games done and we have to keep the work ethic and find a way to win games. It’s going to be a long push and we need to be ready when we play against the Leafs in a few days.”
The Oilers are going to need better than a 3.80 goals-against average and .897 save percentage to get back into the hunt. They’re also going to need the power play to be much better.
A unit that scored once on every three opportunities last season, has two goals on 18 man-advantage situations this year and has already given up two shorthanded goals.
Not having James Neal on the top unit hurts, but Barrie has not made the impact expected yet and his biggest contribution to date was not inadvertently breaking up a drop pass from Draisaitl to McDavid, which led to a highlight-reel goal against the Vancouver Canucks.
“I think we have to shoot the puck more,” Tippett said. “We had some chances but you’ve got to bury some of those chances. Montreal’s doing a good job around the front of your net and you’ve got to pay the price to score. And we didn’t bury the chances and we didn’t shoot the puck enough.
“You look at the two games, I think we had 10 power plays and we came out minus-2 on power plays. That’s an area that should be one of our strengths but it wasn’t the last two games.”
The Oilers can’t rely on McDavid and Draisaitl scoring four points per game to win. The supporting cast put together by Holland on a shoestring budget, after paying the top three forwards $27-million combined, has to start punching above its weight.
If they can’t, then those four playoff spots in the North Division could pull away in a hurry.
On Twitter: @DerekVanDiest
Rivers retiring after 17 seasons in NFL – TSN
Veteran quarterback Philip Rivers told Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune he is retiring after 17 seasons in the NFL, 16 with the Chargers organization.
Rivers spent the 2020 season with the Indianapolis Colts, leading the team to the playoffs before losing to the Buffalo Bills in the Wild Card Round.
The 39-year-old threw for 4,169 yards, 24 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions.
Prior to his lone season in Indianapolis, Rivers played 16 seasons with the Chargers split between San Diego and Los Angeles.
Rivers was drafted fourth overall by the New York Giants in 2004 before getting traded to the Chargers as part of a deal for Eli Manning.
An eight-time Pro Bowler, Rivers finished his career with 63,440 yards, 421 touchdowns, and 209 interceptions. He ranks fifth all-time in the NFL in both passing yards and touchdown passes.
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