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Canadiens vs Leafs recap: Anemic effort leaves Habs looking for answers – Habs Eyes on the Prize

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After a hard-fought 2-1 victory over the Ottawa Senators on Saturday, the Montreal Canadiens had several days off to regroup after a sluggish series against Ottawa. Waiting for them on Wednesday night were the red hot Toronto Maple Leafs, who were coming off a three-game domination of the hapless Vancouver Canucks. After their opening-night clash, both teams had solidified themselves as the class of the North Division, and their two meetings this week were set to have a huge impact on the standings overall.

Toronto was down a handful of players from opening night, missing Joe Thornton, Nick Robertson, and Wayne Simmonds, while Montreal welcomed Joel Armia back to the lineup after his concussion at the hands of Tyler Myers. With the big Finn back in the lineup the Habs made Paul Byron a healthy scratch. Carey Price got the start for the Montreal after getting a day off on Saturday afternoon, with Frederik Andersen getting the call for the Leafs.

While Toronto looked dangerous in the opening seconds, it was Montreal that tallied the game’s opening goal. A smart interception by Jonathan Drouin in the neutral zone allowed him to spring Josh Anderson down the right wing into the Toronto zone. Anderson drove toward the net, letting a seemingly harmless shot go, but the puck found a gap in Andersen’s positioning and went in for Anderson’s ninth of the year.

Montreal continued to press Toronto in all three zones, never allowing the Leafs’ star players to set up shop or to get a clean look on Carey Price. Even in an odd-man rush Toronto failed to trouble Price with any sort of quality scoring chance.

Pierre Engvall’s careless stick sent Montreal to the game’s first power play. Despite dominating the even-strength play for the entire period, the man advantage wasn’t able to create much pressure in their two minutes on the ice.

Montreal’s penalty killers were called on late in the first period as Shea Weber was whistled for hooking Auston Matthews. The short-handed group did their thing once again, including Jake Evans hustling down the ice to help burn time off the clock to escape without a goal against.

A Phillip Danault turnover forced the Habs centre into a hooking penalty of his own, and a flubbed shot by Travis Boyd nearly tied the game. However Montreal’s penalty-killers fought off the late Toronto advantage, leaving just a small bit of power play left to kill off at the start of the second period.

Toronto nearly equalized in their brief power play to start the second as a bang-bang play freed up John Tavares to fire in on Price. The Canadiens’ netminder squeezed the puck in his arm and slowly inched away from the line to deny the Toronto captain a goal.

The Maple Leafs continued to press Montreal as they sought a goal to tie the game, and Montreal’s defence was caught out for long stretches of time, including Alexander Romanov being out for a 2:08 shift. However, the strong skating of Joel Armia drew a holding call against Zach Bogosian, giving Montreal’s power play a second chance to operate. The advantage ended up playing more defence than offence, pushing their current form to just one conversion in their last 13 opportunities after a hot start to the season.

A fracas in front of Toronto’s net sent the play to four-on-four, and the Leafs finally found their breakthrough with the extra space on the ice. After Montreal failed to clear the puck from their zone, a pass made its way to Travis Dermott, and he walked in from the point and wired a shot just under the crossbar and in to tie the game at one goal apiece.

Montreal couldn’t escape the period without one last self-inflicted wound, with Joel Edmundson being called for interference quite literally at the buzzer, but embellishment by Zach Hyman on the same play was called as well, starting the next period at four-on-four.

While Montreal managed to match Toronto for almost the entire two minutes while those players were in the box, a miscommunication allowed Justin Holl all the time in the world to step into a shot and blister a goal by Price. Then 11 seconds later, a flubbed cross-crease pass waffled off of Brett Kulak’s stick, allowing Ilya Mikheyev to get just enough of the puck to push it over the line and double Toronto’s lead.

Down by two goals, the Habs decided it was time to play hockey again as the offensive attack kicked back into gear to try to overcome the deficit. A bit of luck went the way of the Canadiens as a shot from Ben Chiarot hit a Toronto stick on the way to the net, forcing Andersen to scramble into position. With the goalie down and out, it was Tomas Tatar crashing into the crease to chip the loose puck into the net to get Montreal within a goal with just over three minutes left to play.

A Hyman empty-netter quashed any chance at a comeback, and Montreal would be sent to the showers with a 4-2 loss hanging over their heads after a mostly listless effort. There’s no rest for the team, however, as they take on the Edmonton Oilers tonight at the Bell Centre before heading to Toronto for a rematch with the Maple Leafs.

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Maple Leafs raise the standard with defensive dismantling of Oilers – Sportsnet.ca

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When an injury forced Auston Matthews to miss the first two games of this statement-sending series in Edmonton, Sheldon Keefe reminded his players that they were essentially losing a goal per night from the lineup.

Rather than focusing on where else they might look for it, he wanted the Toronto Maple Leafs to play like they had one less to allow a high-octane opponent and they responded by pitching back-to-back shutouts against the Oilers.

It was natural to wonder, then, if some of the gains might be lost when Matthews returned Wednesday. That subconsciously or not, his presence might see the team loosen the noose they’d strung around their closest pursuant in the North Division standings by cheating for offence or having players down the lineup start deferring to the league’s most lethal scorer.

That’s why the 6-1 dismantling was even more impressive than the victories that came before it at Rogers Place

The Leafs didn’t even need their customary goal from Matthews, who was stymied despite producing a game-high seven shots and 10 attempts. They regained a superstar and just kept on working to keep the puck from getting anywhere near their own net.

“I think the three games here is a good example that we [can] score a lot and still [not want] to give up anything. We’re not just satisfied with leads and winning a couple games,” said goaltender Frederik Andersen, who made 26 saves in his own return from injury.

“We want to keep suffocating them and not really give them anything really. Yeah, show how good we can be for 60 minutes every night.”

You might need a VHS player to find the last time a Leafs team played three better games in a row. Granted, the bar hasn’t been set too high for a franchise that hasn’t won a playoff series since 2004 or played for a Stanley Cup since the last time it won one in 1967.

They are now off to the best start in franchise history with 18 wins and 38 points through 24 games, but something changed during five days in Edmonton. This group raised the standard. Not only did they outscore the Oilers 13-1 while playing two games without Matthews, they did it by giving Jack Campbell, Michael Hutchinson and Andersen each a start in net.

“Three different goalies,” said Matthews. “Three phenomenal games.”

“To win three games like that so decisively, I think it’s a real step of growth for our team,” said fourth-liner Jimmy Vesey, who broke a personal 17-game drought by scoring twice on Wednesday night.

The Leafs boarded a flight to Vancouver for Thursday’s quick turnaround game sitting atop the NHL in points percentage (.792), wins (18), regulation wins (16) and goals per game (3.63). More impressively, they were fourth overall in goals against per game (2.33) and sixth in shots allowed per game (28.6).

All of that talk on Day 1 of training camp about defending the net-front area more fiercely and cutting back on the rush chances against has turned out to be much more than just talk.

“There’s still room for improvement, but I think we’ve definitely made some pretty huge strides from last year into this year,” said Matthews. “That’s obviously positive and I think we’re realizing what it really takes to win and that’s going to be playing well on the defensive side of the puck for us to really break through and play a long time in playoff time.”

The Oilers entered the series with wins in 11 of 13 games and left it looking crushed. They simply had no answers.

Connor McDavid, the sport’s most gifted offensive weapon, failed to register a point in any of the three games. That’s only the third time in his entire NHL career he’s been held without one for three consecutive games.

He saw a steady diet of the Jake Muzzin-Justin Holl defensive pairing and was completely nullified in Wednesday’s finale with just one shot on goal. It didn’t help that Edmonton failed to get a power-play opportunity in the game and had only four in the entire series.

“We knew coming in we were playing against a very good team that was as hot or hotter than any team in the NHL and coming in with lots of confidence, so for us to get results like this is a really good and healthy sign,” said Keefe.

Toronto breaks an opponent’s spirit in a way not captured by shot metrics like Corsi. They have the puck all the time but are content to reload on zone entries and offensive zone shifts rather than just firing low-percentage attempts all night long.

The stat that might best encapsulate what happened during this series in Edmonton is an old-school one which probably would have been held against the Leafs once upon a time: They were outhit 105-58 because the Oilers were in pursuit for most of 180 minutes.

This was an entire team effort.

As I highlighted earlier this week, Kyle Dubas has done an excellent job of balancing his top-heavy salary cap chart with depth players vastly outperforming their pay cheques.

Vesey has been the only off-season signing yet to really bear fruit and even he’s up to four even-strength goals after the two he potted Wednesday. Jason Spezza picked up three assists and now has 15 points on the season — a total that would currently lead a handful of NHL teams.

But this 18-4-2 squad isn’t now earning buzz as a bonafide Stanley Cup contender because of the dazzling offence it produces. That’s not new. What they did in Edmonton is make it look like only one team on the ice was a constant threat to score.

“I think we’re starting to understand what it feels like when we play good defence and we’re able to replicate it a few games in a row here,” said Spezza. “That’s a good sign for our team. We’ll just keep building and moving forward.”

If they can build on this, the sky’s the limit.

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10 things: COVID-wrecked Raptors completely fall apart against Pistons – Yahoo Canada Sports

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Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 129-105 loss to the Detroit Pistons.

One — Yikes: The Raptors were not prepared to play this game, which is understandable with at least a dozen members of the organization in COVID-19 protocol. But to be outplayed to this extent by the Detroit Pistons, who were also without several starters, is unacceptable. The Pistons don’t even have the likes of Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, and OG Anunoby to miss in the first place, so there really isn’t an excuse to not at least compete. This is the worst defensive effort by the Raptors stretching back a decade, and that’s not even hyperbole.

Two — Flat: The Pistons scored 43 points in the first quarter, making 16 field goals and every single basket was assisted. The Raptors actually took a 10-3 lead to start which prompted a quick timeout from Dwane Casey, and the Pistons were nowhere to be seen from that point onward. It was the 73-win Golden State Warriors the rest of the way, with Wayne Ellington playing the role of Stephen Curry, and Svi Mykhailiuk as Klay Thompson, and Mason Plumlee as a more bruising version of Draymond Green. The Raptors, meanwhile, looked like the Pistons.

Three — Mistakes: The Raptors should submit tape of this game to the Basketball Hall of Fame because every coach at every level should show this game as an example of what not to do on defense. Name any mistake, and the Raptors made it. Leaving shooters wide open? Yes. Two players rotating to the same man without communicating? Yes. Giving up open driving lanes for no reason whatsoever? Yes. Doubling the post against a pass-first, score-never center? Yes. Failing to box out and giving up four offensive rebounds on the same play?

Yes. Not giving any effort to defend in transition? Yes. Reaching in at half court when your team is in the bonus? Yes, again. Even high school players would be scolded for the mistakes that the Raptors made, and at no point did they even come close to stringing together three competent possessions.

Four — Worst: The worst offender on the night was Terence Davis, who turned a rare opportunity to start into a showcase as to why he’s normally benched. Davis was a trainwreck on both ends. Offensively, he forced contested shots that were either bricked jumpers, or wild drives that left him on the floor and unable to get back. Defensively, he kept losing Ellington in rotation and was just straight-up guessing on his rotations, which left his teammates completely out to dry. Davis was even committing lane violations, which just speaks to a lack of concentration. He’s making it up as he goes and almost never has a game plan for what he’s about to do.

Five — Empty: The Raptors also turned to Yuta Watanabe for his first career start, and although he wasn’t actively destructive like Davis, it was still glaringly obvious that Watanabe just wasn’t doing anything. Watanabe is an energy player who is the fifth option regardless of who else is on the floor, and energy players can’t be invisible, because all that’s left to notice is him missing open jumpers or botching a transition layup. Watanabe can be an effective glue player, but there was nothing to be held together tonight.

Six — Silent: The reserves weren’t any better, and were utterly demolished by the Pistons’ reserves. Even the most hardcore NBA fans couldn’t identify Pistons reserve Saben Lee, but now the Raptors will know him as a Chris Paul impersonator, because that’s how badly he torched them. The entire second unit for the Raptors was a drag, as Chris Boucher couldn’t defend a lick at the basket, while the rest of them couldn’t score if their careers depended on it. Matt Thomas broke free at the end for a few jumpers, but he missed every look that actually mattered, and was so porous on defense that career journeyman Rodney McGruder zoomed past him like a Ferrari on Highway 407.

Seven — Wasted: Norman Powell did his best to keep the Raptors alive. He scored at will to start and finished with 36 points on 14-of-20 shooting with five threes. Powell reached deep into his bag to keep pace with the Pistons, including hitting a rare turnaround jumper out of the post, but he couldn’t do it on his own. The Pistons were more physical with Powell in the second half, and oriented most of their help defenders toward cutting off his drives, and yet he was still able to break free. He just ran out of gas in the end, and really, there was no more point in chasing the game. The game cannot be won by one man.

Eight — Valiant: Kyle Lowry tried to support Powell every step of the way. He nailed a handful of pull-up jumpers, baited his way into free throws, set up Aron Baynes for rolling dunks, took a charge in transition, and he even passed up open shots in an effort to get his teammates going. But there is only so much Lowry can do, especially when he was tiring by the third quarter, and at some point his teammates need to match his effort. Lowry can do a lot with very little, but even very little was beyond most of the Raptors tonight.

Nine — Tricks: Acting coach Sergio Scariolo left no page unturned in Nick Nurse’s playbook. He shifted into zone defenses, deploying a triangle-and-two on the Pistons (really, it was that bad) and calling upon every player on the roster who wasn’t a G-League call-up, but nobody answered outside of Lowry and Powell. It’s hard to fault Scariolo for this, as everyone is just trying to do their best. The Raptors were off for several days, then had to call a rare evening practice on Tuesday with Jalen Harris and Donta Hall crashing in last minute, and this was the result.

Ten — Schadenfreude: It’s been three years since the Raptors dismissed Dwane Casey and replaced him with his assistant, and while time heals all wounds, there might always be some bitterness. Casey issued a coach’s challenge on Boucher’s drive with four minutes left and his team comfortably leading by 22, which dragged out a game that was decidedly finished regardless of the review. The Pistons have really relished playing against the Raptors over the past few years, and honestly, it’s good that the players respond so strongly to their coach. Casey is a good man and an energetic coach, and it’s really too bad that he’s stuck in a rebuild.

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Jays’ young arms give glimpse of future, Kluber shows what might have been – Sportsnet.ca

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TORONTO – As Corey Kluber gave the Toronto Blue Jays a glimpse of what might have been in the present, top pitching prospects Simeon Woods Richardson and Alek Manoah offered them an intriguing look at what might lie ahead in the future.

The juxtaposition between the two was front and centre in Wednesday night’s 4-1 Grapefruit League victory by the New York Yankees.

Kluber, the two-time Cy Young Award winner working his way back after consecutive seasons lost to injury, was an off-season target for the Blue Jays before he signed with the Yankees on a one-year, $11-million deal — a high-risk, high-reward add with the potential to impact the AL East landscape.

He struck out three batters over two perfect innings that he described as “pretty solid” afterward, pleased primarily to be getting game-reps in a competitive setting, while adding “obviously it was a bonus that it went well.”

That the outing came against an opponent that represented a path not taken over the winter didn’t seem to matter to the 34-year-old, who didn’t offer much about the level of consideration he gave to the Blue Jays.

“Any of the teams that were interested in me, I (don’t think) I closed the book on them by any means,” he said. “I listened to everybody and tried to gather all the information we could and came to the decision we did in the end. I don’t think that changes the way I would have approached tonight, whether they would or would not have been interested this off-season. Either way, you only play for one team and the other 29 of them are the opponents, so trying to go out there and do the best I can for my team and my teammates.”

The same went for Woods Richardson and Manoah on that latter part.

Even though neither has pitched above A-ball, both promising right-handers have fast-track repertoires, displayed over a combined four innings of one-hit, one-walk work against a regular-season-quality lineup.

Woods Richardson, a 20-year-old who served as part of the return for Marcus Stroman, got the start and as he listened to the Yankees lineup being announced – D.J. LeMahieu, Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks, Giancarlo Stanton, Gleyber Torres, Brett Gardner, Gary Sanchez, Jay Bruce and Derek Dietrich – it struck him that, “they’re actually in the box, you’re not watching guys on TV no more, you’re actually facing them.”

Quickly he reset, throwing mostly a four-seamer that averaged 92.7 m.p.h. and topped out at 94.6, and a curveball that generated two whiffs, including a third strike on Stanton in the second. Not bad for his Grapefruit League debut.

“It was just don’t try to do too much and be myself on the mound, you know?” Woods Richardson said of his self-talk as he took the field. “You might have seen me head-bobbing and shaking my head. It was just trying to be myself as much as possible and be as comfortable as possible. And yet, even though the adrenaline is coming in, anticipation of the game is coming, I still had to take a deep breath, get on the mound, attack the strike zone and just be myself.”

Manoah, the 23-year-old first-rounder in 2019, picked up right from there.

After Bruce’s single to lead off the third, Manoah struck out Dietrich on a 97.8 m.p.h. fastball that was his hardest of the outing (he averaged 96.8) and then induced a LeMahieu double play. Manoah opened the fourth by hitting Judge, but then struck out the side by catching Hicks looking at a slider, freezing Stanton with a sinker and getting Torres on a slider in the dirt.

It was big boy stuff, something Manoah said he was prepared for after the Blue Jays “threw me into the sharks” during live batting practice by pitting him against George Springer, Marcus Semien, Bo Bichette and Rowdy Tellez.

“For me, that was a really exciting moment to be able to throw against a Silver Slugger, MVP finalist and guys who played in some big games,” he said. “When I went into that outing I was extremely amped up. The location of my pitches wasn’t as great. So tonight going in, I was able to use some of that adversity and some of that experience and, ‘Hey, we’re going to face a good lineup tonight, but stay within yourself, your stuff is good, your stuff plays, go out there and just compete, man. Just have a good time and whatever happens, happens. … That was the headspace.”

Similarly impressive is how both young pitchers weren’t content to simply soak in the atmosphere, instead trying to leverage every bit of the opportunity before them.

Even before taking the mound, Manoah closely watched the Yankees hitters, “looking for tendencies.”

“Are guys watching the ball all the way into the mitt? Are they swinging at first pitches? Are they biting on sliders? What what kind of approach are they having?” he continued. “That kind of will tell me how the day is going to go for me. If I got guys that are going to swing at first pitches, hey, we’re going to throw that sinker in there and let’s get some ground balls. If we’ve got guys [who] are going to spit a little bit, hey let’s get more of the plate, let’s get them in a count where we’ve got them handcuffed a little bit, 1-2, 0-2.”

Woods Richardson also made a point of watching Kluber dice up the Blue Jays, focusing on the way “he attacked the zone and the way he could (use) his pitch selection to control the strike zone, and get guys to miss, and just to see how a former Cy Young winner operates. It was cool to match up against him for my first outing.”

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