What a wild league this is.
The Montreal Canadiens collected three points over an eight-game span from the middle of November through the beginning of December, and with their win on Thursday night in Calgary they capped a 6-2-0 run and took control of second place in the Atlantic Division.
You just never know what you’re going to get in this NHL.
On this night, there was no way of predicting anything about the game between the hometown Flames, who wore white, and the visiting red-dressed Canadiens.
Stream NHL games on Sportsnet NOW
Stream over 500 NHL games blackout-free, including the Flames, Oilers, Leafs and Canucks. Plus Hockey Night in Canada, Rogers Hometown Hockey, Scotiabank Wednesday Night Hockey and more.
It started with Calgary, who came into the game ranked dead last in the NHL in first-period goals, opening up a 2-0 lead over the first 20 minutes.
Then Flames goaltender David Rittich, who appeared infallible through the first half of the game, let a Brendan Gallagher shot from an impossible angle squeak through him.
Joel Armia tied the game for Montreal on a goal that was challenged for offside and easily could have been considered offside. Earlier this season in Montreal, Boston’s Charlie Coyle kicked a pass up to his stick but crossed the line before the puck caught up to his blade, and the goal that came off this skill play was disallowed on review because it was deemed he wasn’t in full possession of the puck. And on Thursday, in Calgary, Montreal’s Artturi Lehkonen tipped a pass to himself and crossed the line before the puck caught up to him, but it was deemed on a review he was in possession.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) December 20, 2019
It was Lehkonen who set Armia up for his 12th goal of the season and the Canadiens got a power play on the failed challenge from Flames head coach Geoff Ward. Go figure.
After that, who would have predicted the Flames, who were 4-0-1 when tied after two periods, would take a 3-2 lead and then squander it and eventually lose it 4-3 in overtime to the Canadiens, who came into the game with a 4-6 record at three-on-three?
Not I. But here we are…
Julien continues to show trust in Suzuki
With two minutes left in the third period, Canadiens coach Claude Julien had Nick Cousins, Nick Suzuki and Jordan Weal on the ice for a neutral-zone faceoff and motioned for them to make a change as soon as the puck was dropped.
On came Montreal’s top line of Tomas Tatar, Phillip Danault and Gallagher.
Because Julien wanted to put Suzuki on with Cousins and Nate Thompson in the final minute. Yes, the coach with a (long-time) ill-perceived bias towards older players wanted his 20-year-old centreman on the ice in that pivotal situation.
Here we have yet another example of what coaches need to do in order to win games in today’s NHL and Julien is complying. They have no choice but to trust their young players, and the rewards of doing so often outweigh the pitfalls.
It helps that Suzuki is a rookie Julien referred to as “low maintenance” just last week.
Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman talk to a lot of people around the hockey world, and then they tell listeners all about what they’ve heard and what they think about it.
“He’s a good rookie, a smart rookie, and there’s been a lot of those coming through the league,” Julien said. “He’s having a good year so far. He’s shown progression since the start of the season. There’s still some areas we’d like to see him improve on, and that will come with time. It’s not because of a lack of something, it’s experience and him finding his way through this league.”
Last Saturday, following 2-1 loss to the Detroit Red Wings, Julien said he felt Suzuki was one of several players he wanted to see more on the inside of the action as opposed to on the perimeter, and he added that the young star in the making shouldn’t get ahead of himself and start buying the hype around his game and thinking he’s already a star.
But after a strong performance for Suzuki in a 3-1 win over the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday, the kid was arguably Montreal’s best skater in Calgary and Julien didn’t hold him back.
Suzuki had tied Thursday’s game at 3-3 at the end of the 12th minute of the third period, making a brilliant tip off a Cousins shot from the sideboards. It was his team-leading sixth puck on net and it resulted in his seventh goal of the season.
And Suzuki’s shift in the final minute of the third, and the one he got in overtime, put him up to 17:28 of ice time for the game, which is exactly as much as leading-goal scorer Gallagher played.
To say the London, Ont., native’s development is coming along well would be understating it. And Julien—and the other Montreal coaches, and Suzuki’s teammates—deserve as much credit for that.
• Canadiens goaltender Carey Price was beat for three goals for the first time in six games, but had no chance on any of them. Matthew Tkachuk and Elias Lindholm scored tap-ins on cross-crease passes, and Oliver Kylington capped off a beautiful play from Johnny Gaudreau in the third period for his first goal of the season.
Meanwhile, without Price, the Canadiens would have had no chance at gaining one point in the standings, let alone two. He made remarkable saves throughout, finishing the game with 24.
In the second, Price made a brilliant stop on Tkachuk, who pulled the puck between his own legs and tried to beat the Montreal goaltender over his right shoulder. That kept the game at 2-0 Calgary and gave the Canadiens a chance to get back into it a couple of minutes later with Gallagher’s goal.
And in the third, Price’s point-blank toe-save on a T.J. Brodie one-timer was out of this world and it kept the score knotted at 3-3.
Senior Writer Ryan Dixon and NHL Editor Rory Boylen always give it 110%, but never rely on clichés when it comes to podcasting. Instead, they use a mix of facts, fun and a varied group of hockey voices to cover Canada’s most beloved game.
• One of the reasons 20-year-old Ryan Poehling was sent down to the American Hockey League’s Laval Rocket after his first four games with the Canadiens this season was because there was no room at centre and he looked terribly out of place on the wing, where he had never played before at any other level of hockey.
Well, it’s a clear sign of Poehling’s greatest skill—his hockey sense—that he has played exceptionally well on the wing since return from Laval four games ago. He’s looked so good at the position that Julien was asked on Thursday morning if that’s where he belongs.
“I’m not going to write off the fact that he can’t play centre,” Julien said. “But it’s nice to see those guys being able to be versatile because you need that. If something happens at centre and I need somebody, I know he can play there. There’s a lot of other guys, too, on our team, whether it’s (Jordan) Weal and that, we have a lot of guys who can play that position. But it’s not a bad thing for him to be able to play there right now.
“Maybe a little less responsibilities down low, although he’s been good at it. It just gives him an opportunity to play more energetic (and) forecheck. Instead of coming from low in your end, he’s up a little higher so his forecheck is valuable. He’s a big body, which we can certainly use, and he’s physical on the forecheck and also a big body going to the front of the net. So that’s been a good asset for us.”
Poehling was a good asset against Calgary.
• The game-winner off Max Domi’s stick was his seventh goal of the season, his first in 12 games and just his third goal in his last 22. Meanwhile, it was his 23rd point in his 35th game, which isn’t quite as disappointing as some have made it out to be.
Granted, Domi’s on pace for only 54 points after registering a career-high 72 a season ago. But it’s fair to say the 25-year-old misses Jonathan Drouin (injured on Nov. 15 and expected to be out until at least mid-January) more than just about anyone else on the Canadiens.
The Canadiens travel to Edmonton, where they’ll take on the Oilers on Saturday. They’ll be rested, but the Oilers will play against the Pittsburgh Penguins at 9 p.m. ET on Friday before playing at 7 p.m. ET on Saturday against Montreal.
Berrettini ends Murray’s comeback at Queen’s
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)
Be Like the King of the North Division and Develop Skills
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.
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.
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.
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.
Australia swim trials calendar shift to reap Tokyo rewards
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)