After a frustrating night skating into the cheval de frise the Philadelphia Flyers placed in the neutral zone on Sunday, the Montreal Canadiens needed to approach the offence differently in Game 4. Simply trying to beat that neutral-zone trap one-on-one (or, more accurately, one-on-four) wasn’t working, and there needed to be a new strategy to get past the defences.
From the opening faceoff, it was clear that this was going to be another measured game from both teams. Initial passes were tentative, zone entry attempts probing to see if the defence was just as tough as it had been last game, and no player wanted to give up any ice and be responsible for the all-important opening goal.
The Flyers were the team getting the first shots on goal. Few of them were particularly dangerous, but they clearly had the upper hand in the early going, and the Canadiens weren’t showing the intensity they needed to get out to an early lead ot prevent Philadelphia from settling into its defensive formation.
It wasn’t long before that slight advantage in play turned into a major one for Philadelphia. Promoted to Claude Giroux’s spot on the top line ahead of the game, Michael Raffl was given too much ice to work with when a Montreal transition was halted at the blue line. He had plenty of room to load up with no interfence, and a perfect shot entered the far top corner.
Montreal’s best player in the series, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, tried to get the goal back with an individual effort. Getting around three players proved to be too much — as it has on the majority of the Canadiens’ attempted rushes — and the centre got called for a trip when he tried win the puck back after having his momentum stopped.
The combination of Montreal’s strong penalty kill and a non-creative Flyers power play allowed Kotkaniemi to serve his sentence in its entirety, and Montreal tried to get back in the game. In the first period that often meant having one defenceman cheat toward the offensive zone trying to keep the puck on the offensive half of the ice, and they gave up a few odd-man rushes as a result. Either good defensive plays or poor passing from the Flyers thwarted those chances, and Montreal quickly learned that that strategy wasn’t going to work.
The best chance Montreal had came when Nick Suzuki made a great read to jump past a Flyers forward and intercept the back-pass he attempted to his defenceman. Suzuki turned and found a wide-open Max Domi in about the same spot with the same amount of space as Raffl had used to open the scoring, but Domi was unable to accept the pass, and the play resulted in nothing. The Canadiens went into the intermission down a goal, with the Flyers already established in their neutral-zone trap prepared to simply play out the final 40 minutes.
And play them out they did. The neutral zone proved nearly impossible to navigate, forcing the Habs to the walls, which is precisely what the Flyers were hoping for. The cycle was ineffective for Montreal as the opponent simply pinned players on the boards and took their passing options away. And that was only on the rare occasions the Habs penetrated the blue line in the first place.
Seeing his club unable to generate any offence for four periods, Kirk Muller abandoned the whole concept of forward lines and just sent out various permutations of three forwards. The interim head coach certainly liked what he was seeing from a fourth line consisting of Alex Belzile, Jake Evans, and Joel Armia, and tried to kickstart other players by adding their jump to different lines.
Montreal’s best looks came when a defenceman simply bypassed all the closely checked forwards and carried the puck into the zone himself. Jeff Petry was the best at accomplishing that in Game 4, especially on the first of two power-play opportunities the Canadiens were presented with midway through the second.
As they were still finding a way to create a goal of their own, they saw the lead get extended to two. Philippe Myers got the puck near the wall in the Canadiens zone, and flipped a shot to the net that Price prepared to turn aside into the corner, Unfortunately for the Habs, the shot fluttered off the stick of Brett Kulak, causing it to bounce on its way to the net. Instead of hitting Price’s stick blade and getting swept away, it jumped up above his pad, deflected off the shaft of his stick just under his blocker, and into the net.
Despite turning up the blender to purée, no forward trio had the ability to penetrate the offensive zone on its own in the third. Kotkaniemi and Suzuki took to the ice together on a few shifts, placing the two most creative players on the team together, but also combining two lines into one. Part of the fallout from that move was getting two of their original wingers benched: Jonathan Drouin and, surprisingly, Brendan Gallagher.
Gallagher was displeased with the move, as his comments made clear in his availabiltiy at the conclusion of the 2-0 loss — a second consecutive shutout performance. The player who leads the Habs in shots and scoring chances this series was largely unable to help his team cut into the deficit in the third period until a long presence right at the end. He and Drouin finished with the lowest ice time of any players who started the game in the top nine, at 13:07.
The question will be how both respond to those lengthy stints on the sidelines in Wedneday’s Game 5 — or even if they can have the response Muller is obviously hoping for. Through four games, we’ve learned that leaving things up to the forwards isn’t the answer, and the defencemen are critical to the offensive game. But there is still more effort that Drouin can give, more jam that Gallagher can provide, and more focus that the forwards can show to make sure the few breaks they do create result in scoring opportunities. There are improvements left to be made, and they will have to be made if the Canadiens hope to win Wednesday’s game to stay in the series.
Report: Heat G Dragic tears plantar fascia – TSN
Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic reportedly suffered a torn plantar fascia in his left foot during Game 1 of the NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday night.
Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN confirmed the injury and tweeted that Dragic has been able to put pressure on the foot and hasn’t ruled out returning to play in the series.
The Lakers won the opener 116-98 behind 34 points from Anthony Davis and 25 from LeBron James.
Dragic played 14:50 in Game 1 and contributed six points, three assists and two steals before leaving the game.
Game 2 of the series is Friday night in the Orlando bubble.
Blue Jays' latest implosion shows big changes are needed – The Globe and Mail
The book on the 2020 Toronto Blue Jays went like this – mercurial, prone to gaffes, will surprise you.
They managed all three on Wednesday, especially the last one. Because even the greatest Jays cynic (raises hand) could not have seen this collapse coming.
Toronto is one of those teams that puts a great deal of faith in the big-numbers theory of baseball. Make this little move or that little change and you increase your odds incrementally over time, which may result in 0.15 more wins.
We saw this approach in Tuesday’s Game 1 when cruising starter Matt Shoemaker was pulled early because a computer somewhere said so.
That loss set up for a more mundane approach in Game 2 – roll out your best pitcher, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and pray.
When the Jays spent US$80-million last summer on Ryu, it was a statement of intent. After several years of giving up, they were going to start trying again.
For the most part, Ryu performed as advertised. You could say of him the best thing you can say about any superstar free agent – he earned his money.
But on Wednesday, when it actually mattered, Ryu wasn’t bad. He was much, much worse than that.
Throwing a fastball that drifted toward the plate like a spiked beachball, Ryu could not consistently get north of 90 miles an hour. Without that effective deterrent, Tampa ran wild on all his offerings.
Ryu’s resultant boxscore read like a pitching coroner’s report – seven runs on eight hits in less than two innings, including two home runs.
That was that. All that remained was for the rest of us to spend two hours listening to the homers on the Sportsnet broadcast trying to convince themselves that a seven-run disadvantage against the best team in the American League isn’t that bad. It ended 8-2.
“That’s what happens in the playoffs,” Jays manager Charlie Montoyo said afterward. “Not always the good players hit.”
Amazingly, Ryu was not the worst Blue Jay in this game. Because while he was ineffective (which will occur), Bo Bichette was careless (which shouldn’t).
Bichette made two terrible errors in the early going. The second of them killed the Jays – extending an inning that should have been over and setting up a Tampa grand slam.
“It happens,” Montoyo said.
Bichette is the future of the Blue Jays, but on the evidence of Wednesday afternoon, he isn’t the present. That’s a tidy way of summing up where the Jays are right now.
Is this team good? Yes.
Is it good enough? Not even close.
The risk now is letting one weird season obscure that reality.
The main thing the Jays did this year was changing their fundamental question.
For most of the Mark Shapiro/Ross Atkins era, the question was, ‘When will this team be good?’
Management devoted most of their effort to obscuring the answer. They loved talking about their processes and talent-acquisition stratagems and performance maximization. Anything to avoid giving a deadline.
This year, the question became, “How good can we be?”
During their run at the Yankees in early September, they looked very good indeed. But baseball isn’t about the streaks. What matters is aggregate performance over the longest season in sports.
At what point this year did the Jays seem like a team that could regularly dominate the opposition? That point never arrived.
The team is young, and it plays that way. The players don’t know what they don’t know. They win games they shouldn’t and lose others they should.
In the midst of all this to’ing and fro’ing, Montoyo carries himself like a guy who still can’t believe he’s got the top job. Perhaps because it often feels as though he hasn’t. You think it was Montoyo’s idea to pull Shoemaker in Game 1? Because no fully empowered manager does that.
Do you work well when you feel micromanaged? People who are pressed on too hard are erratic. They may perform in spurts, but they have a tendency to crack when it matters.
How else would you describe what happened on Wednesday? The Jays didn’t lose. They imploded.
“Sky’s the limit,” Montoyo said, sounding far too happy for a manager who’d just lost the way he’d lost. “We’re just kids.”
“Days like today happen,” Bichette said.
There’s no point in self-flagellation, but a few light lashes might’ve suited the result better. It’s great they have all this perspective, but they did just get wiped out.
In the long run, it can be a good thing. That learning experience so-so teams always talk about when they’ve been run over by a much better team. But some things have to change.
For one, this club needs room to breathe. A good first move in that regard would be letting Montoyo do his job without a bunch of baseball-ops wonks sitting in his lap as he does it.
Second, investment. The expansion of the playoffs has widened the contention window for every team in baseball. But it does not follow that every team will do well in this new free-for-all.
The Jays have an opportunity this off-season to marry some experience to their surfeit of innocence. A few steadying hands on the roster might eliminate all the late-game collapses and post-season detonations.
Third and most important, the Jays oughtn’t kid themselves into feeling satisfied. If coming in third in the AL East is cause for celebration, the club should give former managers such as Jim Fregosi, Carlos Tosca and Tim Johnson a call. Someone in Toronto owes them a Champagne shower.
The only way this Jays season can be considered a success if it’s the beginning of actual success in the seasons to come. Not theoretical seasons years from now. Next season.
The short-term goal should be turning that institutional question into a statement: “We’re good.”
How will we know when that’s happened? When this team stops talking as though there’s nothing wrong with losing as long as you’ve won a little bit more than everyone expected.
It's LeBron vs. his old team (and Michael Jordan) in the NBA Finals – CBC.ca
This is an excerpt from The Buzzer, which is CBC Sports’ daily email newsletter. Stay up to speed on what’s happening in sports by subscribing here.
Here’s what you need to know right now from the world of sports:
The NBA Finals tip off tonight
This year’s championship series features a lot of interesting characters and storylines for both avid and casual basketball fans. Here are a few things to know ahead of Game 1 between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Miami Heat at 9 p.m. ET in the Disney bubble:
LeBron James is back — and facing his old team. After a one-year absence when the Lakers missed the playoffs in his first season with them, LeBron will play in the Finals for an incredible ninth time in 10 years and 10th time in his career. He made four straight appearances with Miami from 2011-14, winning the two in the middle. Then he ditched the Heat to return to Cleveland and reached the next four Finals (all vs. Golden State), going 1-3 to bring his lifetime Finals record to 3-6.
It’s also LeBron vs. Michael Jordan. Some basketball fans like to argue that LeBron is the greatest player of all time. Thanks to all those deep playoff runs, the 35-year-old has scored more playoff points than anyone in NBA history, and it’s not even close. He also ranks third all-time in regular-season points — two spots ahead of Jordan. But MJ is the all-time leader in points per game in both the regular season and playoffs, and he also leads LeBron in the all-important category of rings. Jordan went a perfect 6-0 in the Finals and, as that ’90s Bulls documentary series reminded us, James can’t touch him in terms of cultural importance. Some of that might be out of LeBron’s control, but the bottom line is that Jordan is still the GOAT. Though if LeBron adds another title (with his third different team), the debate will heat up again.
The Lakers have the two best players. LeBron was the runner-up to Giannis Antetokounmpo in MVP voting this year, and he has an MVP-calibre sidekick in Anthony Davis. The ludicrously skilled, unibrowed big man leads all Finals players with 28.8 points per game in this year’s playoffs. LeBron is second at 26.7. Both are also excellent defensively when they need to be.
But the Heat have more good players. If you drafted everyone in the Finals schoolyard-style, LeBron and Davis would definitely go 1-2. But L.A.’s roster really drops off from there. Mediocre Kyle Kuzma (10.5 points per game) is the only other Laker averaging double figures in the playoffs. Dwight Howard, Rajon Rondo and former Raptor Danny Green are recognizable names, but they’re just role players at this point in their careers. So in our hypothetical draft, the next four guys picked (at least) would be from Miami. Bam Adebayo is an elite two-way big man, Jimmy Butler is a fearless crunchtime scorer who also does a lot of the unnoticed things that help win basketball games, and veteran point guard Goran Dragic is averaging a team-high 20.9 points per game in the post-season. Plus, rookie Tyler Herro looks like a rising star off the bench. The ace three-point shooter scored a career-high 37 points in Game 4 of the East final and can carry the team for stretches when he gets hot.
Two Canadians are involved in the series (technically). Both are on the Heat, but it’s unlikely they’ll have much of an impact. Veteran big man Kelly Olynyk has seen his minutes cut from about 19 in the regular season to 12 in the playoffs. He’s averaging six points. At least you’ll see him on the court, though. Rookie Kyle Alexander appeared in only two games this season and hasn’t seen any action at all in the playoffs.
The Lakers are heavy favourites to win. Miami’s lineup is deeper, and it also has the edge in harder-to-measure stuff like toughness, team spirit and coaching (L.A.’s Frank Vogel is fine, but Erik Spoelstra is one of the best in the NBA). The Heat are also (sorry) red hot. Since entering the playoffs as the No. 5 seed in the East, they’ve gone 12-3 — including a stunning five-game takedown of top-seeded Milwaukee. But the Lakers have been great all year. They had the third-best regular-season record in the league and are also 12-3 in the playoffs. Plus, having the clear two best players in the series is, historically, a near-unbeatable formula in the NBA. The betting line reflects that. Though it’s moved a bit in Miami’s favour, the market says the Lakers have around a 75 per cent chance of becoming champions of this very weird NBA season. Read more about the Finals matchup here.
The NFL postponed Sunday’s Titans-Steelers game because of a COVID-19 outbreak. This follows yesterday’s news that three Tennessee players (none of them stars) and five other team personnel tested positive. Another Titans player reportedly tested positive today. Luckily, no one has from the Minnesota Vikings, who played Tennessee on Sunday. But the NFL announced today that it will push back the Titans-Steelers game to either Monday or Tuesday to allow more time for testing. The league also leaked a memo it sent to all teams warning them to follow the mask-wearing rules and other health protocols or risk suspension and/or the loss of draft picks. Read more about the fallout from the Titans outbreak here.
The Genie Bouchard revival continues. For the first time since the 2017 Australian Open, the fallen Canadian tennis star is into the third round of a Grand Slam event. She battled back from a set down to win her second match at the French Open today. Bouchard is ranked 168th in the world. At 26 years old, she’s unlikely to return to the heights she hit in 2014, when she made the Wimbledon final and the semis of two other Slams and reached No. 5 in the world. But she’s having her second consecutive solid tournament after reaching a final in Istanbul earlier this month (caveat: the best players were playing in the U.S. Open at the time). Two other Canadian singles players can reach the third round of the French Open on Thursday: ninth-seeded Denis Shapovalov and 100th-ranked Leylah Annie Fernandez. Read more about Bouchard’s latest win here.
Serena Williams’ window is closing. She dropped out of the French Open today because of an Achilles injury, meaning she’ll finish the year still one behind Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles. With four of the world’s top 10 players opting out of the French, this was a good opportunity for Serena. So was the recent U.S. Open, where she lost in the semifinals of a depleted bracket and played like someone well past her physical prime. Williams turned 39 last week, which is ancient by women’s tennis standards. And by the time the next Slam rolls around (January’s Australian Open), a full four years will have passed since her last major title. Whether she matches Court or not, Serena will go down as the greatest of all time. But it’s looking more and more likely she’ll have to live without the record. Read more about Serena’s latest setback here.
It’s a do-or-die game for the Blue Jays. After dropping their playoff opener 3-1 to Tampa Bay yesterday, the Jays are facing elimination in the best-of-three series. Game 2 was just about to get underway at our publish time. Toronto ace Hyun-Jin Ryu is the starter after getting an extra day of rest to recover from some soreness.
The WNBA Finals are set. League MVP A’ja Wilson had 23 points and 11 rebounds to lead the top-seeded Las Vegas Aces to a 66-63 win last night in the deciding game of their semifinal series. The Aces will face the No. 2-seeded Seattle Storm in the best-of-five Finals, which start Friday night.
Need a goalie? Good timing. The New York Rangers bought out Henrik Lundqvist today. Besides ending his 15-year run with the team, the move puts another Vezina Trophy winner on the free-agent market. Washington’s Braden Holtby is also expected to be available when the signing period opens next Friday, along with 2019 Vezina finalist Robin Lehner. Other potential unrestricted free-agent goalies include Anton Khudobin, who just backstopped Dallas to the Stanley Cup final; Corey Crawford, a two-time winner of the Jennings Trophy for helping Chicago allow the fewest goals in the league; and Jacob Markstrom, who’s coming off a strong year for Vancouver.
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Report: Heat G Dragic tears plantar fascia – TSN
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