Montreal Canadiens fans have had precious little to cheer about this year. That changed on Thursday night at the Bell Centre, though it wasn’t actually an achievement by anyone on the home side that had the fans jumping.
Chants of “Fleury! Fleury!” went up during the final stages of Montreal’s 2-0 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, as Marc-Andre Fleury earned his 500th career victory right in his own backyard. Truthfully, Fleury — who joins Habs legend Patrick Roy (551) and Montreal-born Martin Brodeur (691) as the only goalies with 500 wins — didn’t have to work too hard to lock down this milestone ‘W.’
Natural Stat Trick credited the Canadiens with just two high-danger scoring chances in the entire game and put Montreal’s expected goals total at 0.94.
Have you ever heard of a team winning a game 0.94 to 0?
The punch-less offence was just one storyline for the Canadiens, who’ve lost five straight games and scored one or fewer goals 11 times in 28 outings this year. Here are some other takeaways from a contest that likely made Habs backers want to look away.
Young blue-liner blunders
Alexander Romanov has had some encouraging ups and some predictable downs during his sophomore year. His play against Chicago, though, was pretty rough. Romanov had a defensive-zone giveaway in the first period that did not lead to a goal, but he wasn’t so fortunate in the third. With the Hawks up 1-0, Romanov made a weak backhand feed right through the slot that was intended to find his partner, Ben Chiarot. The pass was soft and off-target, so all Chiarot could do was lunge for it. It ticked off Chiarot’s blade and went right to Henrik Borgstrom, who wired it home from the slot.
Another defenceman, Kale Clague, also had some shaky D-zone plays one game after he had a brutal giveaway that led to a goal against in his Habs debut on Tuesday.
Given this has become a development year for the Canadiens, the club should be prepared to live with mistakes from young players. Romanov plays with speed and spirit, while Clague has always glimpsed some offensive potential. They deserve a long leash.
That said, both players have to know every NHL coach — including Montreal’s Dominique Ducharme — is allergic to the kind of flimsy plays that lead to Grade A chances, no matter what the big-picture circumstances are.
The best chance for Montreal came very early in the second period when the game was still 0-0. Artturi Lehkonen did what he does best, getting in fast on the forecheck and taking advantage of a Chicago turnover. Lehkonen wheeled around the net and sent a pass through the crease right on the tape of Ryan Poehling. Instead of burying a gimmie, though, Poehling misfired off the side of the net.
On balance, Poehling has shown pretty well for the Canadiens this year and he actually skated a season-high 17:25 on Thursday. Still, those are the types of plays you have to cash if you want to keep a prominent spot in the lineup.
A Jake Take
While Fleury was making history at one end of the rink, Jake Allen was once again doing all he can to help an offence-challenged team grind one out. He made a second-period save on Alex DeBrincat — lunging to his left to deny the sniper — that was one of the highlights of the game. Allen’s numbers aren’t sparkling this season, but anyone who’s watched the Habs all season knows he’s been the least of their problems and, more often than not, the only reason they’re in as many games as they are.
On Thursday, Sportsnet’s Jeff Marek listed Fleury alongside Habs Chiarot, Brendan Gallagher and Tyler Toffoli as guys he thought could be on the move at some point this season. So I ask you, what about Allen? With a cap hit of $2.875 million through next season, he brings great value for a goalie you would feel comfortable giving 35 starts to. The Canadiens, presumably, won’t do anything with their crease until there’s more clarity around Carey Price’s return. And, who knows, maybe Allen is the kind of guy they want to hang on to because he paired perfectly with Price and could also serve as a mentor to Cayden Primeau should Price himself move on at some point.
It’s just that, if this becomes a serious rip-it-up situation for Montreal, everything will be on the table and you’d have no problem drumming up some interest in Allen.
Just a quick stick tap to Jonathan Toews, who scored the game-winner versus Montreal for his first regular-season tally since March 5, 2020. Toews missed all of last year with chronic immune response syndrome and it had to be weighing on the captain to be 25 games deep this year without finding the net. Cheers to “Captain Serious” for getting back on the scoresheet.
Canada's Denis Shapovalov is on to the fourth round of the Australian Open – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News
The Canadian Press
Published Friday, January 21, 2022 7:28AM EST
Last Updated Friday, January 21, 2022 6:40PM EST
MELBOURNE, Australia — Canada’s Denis Shapovalov has a spot in the fourth round of the Australian Open for the first time in his career.
He beat Reilly Opelka 7-6 (4), 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 on Friday to set up a showdown with third-seeded Alexander Zverev of Germany.
The Canadian has been pushed hard at Melbourne Park, averaging three hours 37 minutes of court time per win so far.
“I’ve gotten very familiar with the ice baths the last week,” Shapovalov said with a smile in an on-court interview. “We’ve become very good friends.”
At six foot 11 and 225 pounds, Opelka is an imposing force on the court. He had a 17-10 edge in aces on the 14th-seeded Shapovalov but made 46 unforced errors.
“Early on I actually found a rhythm on his serve,” Shapovalov said. “I was able to chip quite a lot back, so I was happy with that. I think I did a really good of just taking the chances today.
“Obviously it’s really tough to get the rhythm against a guy like that so I’m super happy.”
It was the first career meeting between Shapovalov and the 23rd-seeded American. Zverev, meanwhile, has a 4-2 edge in head-to-head matchups against the Canadian.
“Hopefully I can win,” Zverev said. “It’s going to be a great match.”
Shapovalov, from Richmond Hill, Ont., previously reached the third round at Melbourne Park in 2019 and 2021. The 22-year-old’s best Grand Slam performance was a semifinal showing last year at Wimbledon.
Zverev defeated Maldova’s Radu Albot 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 in third-round play.
“Radu is in great form right now … 1/8I’m 3/8 happy to be through in three sets,” Zverev said.
Ninth-seeded Felix Auger-Aliassime of Montreal was scheduled to play Britain’s Daniel Evans in third-round play Saturday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 21, 2022.
Defense trade targets for the Maple Leafs, Sheldon Keefe's "soft" comment, and how many games should Petr Mrazek start the rest of the way? – MLHS Podcast Episode 38 – Maple Leafs Hot Stove
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Tennis-‘I’m not God! Can’t win every match’ – Osaka proud despite early exit
Naomi Osaka was at peace with herself after yet another failed attempt at defending a Grand Slam title at the Australian Open and the former world number one was especially proud of the way she has managed to mould her mindset to deal with tough losses.
The former world number one crashed out from Melbourne Park after a third round loss in the deciding set tiebreaker to American Amanda Anisimova — the same stage the four-times major winner exited the U.S. Open four months back.
Following the Flushing Meadows defeat, a tearful Osaka told a news conference that she was taking a break from the sport, raising more concern about her mental health struggles that forced her to miss parts of the tennis season.
The soft spoken and self-confessed introvert declared at the start of the 2022 season that she was looking to have more fun on court and enjoy playing the sport.
“I would definitely say I’m proud of myself for this,” the Japanese player told reporters on Friday. “Though to me it didn’t feel like a short amount of time. It felt like ages ago.
“This for me is the biggest step. Even though I lost. I was really focused throughout the entire match, and I didn’t have a dip. So that’s really good. Hopefully as the season continues, I’ll be able to keep this up, and get even better at it.”
It was the fourth time that Osaka had failed to defend a Grand Slam title but on Friday she held two matchpoints against the American – something that also made her proud.
Osaka felt her defeat by 60th-ranked Anisimova showed the depth of women’s tennis.
“I fought for every point. I can’t be sad about that,” Osaka said, adding that she was yet to decide on her schedule before the WTA 1000 event in Indian Wells in March.
“I’m not God! I can’t win every match. The last match that I played in New York I think I had a completely different attitude.
“Of course I lost, but I’m happy with how it went. I just want to go into this year knowing that I’ll play the whole year and I’ll just have the greatest attitude ever.”
(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly; editing by Christian Radnedge)
Canada's Denis Shapovalov is on to the fourth round of the Australian Open – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News
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