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Canadiens vs. Oilers recap: Eric Staal ends the overtime woes in style – Habs Eyes on the Prize

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After a week in quarantine and minimal practice time, Monday night was the debut of Eric Staal for the Montreal Canadiens as they took on the Edmonton Oilers. Playing on a line with Jonathan Drouin and Tyler Toffoli, it was immediately clear that Dominique Ducharme had plenty of faith in the veteran centre. It also meant that Jesperi Kotkaniemi was bumped down the lineup, giving the Canadiens an incredible line of talent down the middle.

In net was Carey Price, who appeared to be no worse for wear after leaving practice that morning after taking a shot off the hand. He was looking to rebound after a disappointing team showing on Saturday against Ottawa.

To say that the Canadiens dominated the first period is underselling what actually happened. With half of the period gone, the Canadiens had allowed just a single shot against, while piling up nine of their own. Then, in an entirely freak accident, the tone of the game changed as Brendan Gallagher left the ice in tremendous pain.

An Alexander Romanov shot came up high, slamming into Gallagher’s wrist area, sending the forward right to the locker room, eventually forcing him from the contest entirely. We’ve since learned that he sustained a fractured thumb on the play, and will miss significant time.

With almost no time left to play in the opening frame, a missed assignment or lack of communication between Shea Weber and Drouin allowed the Oilers to improbably take the lead. Jujhar Khaira worked behind the net, leaving Joel Edmundson behind while Weber and Drouin manned the net-front. Neither Montreal player picked up a wide-open Devin Shore, who had no issues lifting his chance over Carey Price’s glove and putting Edmonton on top heading into the intermission.

While the first period was all Habs, the second was all Oilers as Edmonton relentlessly swarmed Montreal in its own end. As they rolled their lines, Edmonton peppered Price with a number of shots as he battled to see through Oilers in front of his net. When Montreal went back to circling the Oilers’ zone, a roughing penalty on Corey Perry put them short-handed for the first time all night.

On the man disadvantage, it was all Price as the Canadiens’ penalty-killers seemed content to allow Edmonton to repeatedly attack through the slot. Twice it was Price having to come up with massive stops, perhaps none bigger than one in tight on Alex Chiasson right on his doorstep. The Habs did manage to escape without allowing a goal, and even drew a penalty of their own to go on their first power play.

Then Staal immediately took a penalty of his own, canceling the advantage and pushing the play to four-on-four. Neither team managed much of note in that span, then because the Canadiens couldn’t help but make things hard on themselves, Joel Edmundson took a penalty late in the second period.

Price was again the star as Alex Chiasson, somewhat bewilderingly, was left wide-open at the side of Price’s net. Chiasson loaded up his shot and fired … right into the sliding two-pad stack of Carey Price who had miraculously gotten across to steal a surefire goal from the Oilers.

Montreal couldn’t take any momentum from the big save, as Darnell Nurse was fed a perfect pass for a one-timer moments later, and he smoked it right through Price’s defence. With 11 seconds left in the period, the Oilers had doubled their lead.

After suffering a second back-breaking goal at the end of a period, the Canadiens came out of the intermission absolutely flying to try to get on the board. Corey Perry worked the puck into the Oilers’ zone, leaving it for Nick Suzuki who quickly dumped it behind the net for Perry. The veteran winger worked to the net-front area and tossed it right towards a charging Josh Anderson who tipped it over Mike Smith to get Montreal on the board.

The Oilers’ sloppy play in the defensive zone continued to pay dividends for the Canadiens as they struck again just under four minutes later. Paul Byron disrupted a clearing attempt, allowing him to feed the puck right into the slot for Tomas Tatar. The Slovak uncorked a wicked shot right by Mike Smith’s ear and tied the game at two goals a side.

Montreal was handed a late opportunity with a delay of game call in their favour, but just 20 seconds in, a dubious tripping call on a defensive play by Tyler Toffoli once again washed their advantage out. Neither side created much out of the extra ice, or with the Oilers small power-play window that followed, and as the seconds ticked off it appeared the game was destined for overtime.

And overtime it was, with Montreal still seeking their first win at three-on-three this season. Because this season for the Canadiens makes no sense, they somehow won the game in overtime while staring down Connor McDavid. After a dominant shift led by Victor Mete forced the Oilers back on their heels, and a follow-up chance by Jeff Petry, the Oilers took a timeout. After a quick shift featuring Phillip Danault and Paul Byron, Eric Staal hopped back on the ice for another shift. Tyler Toffoli fed him a perfect pass through the neutral zone, and Staal broke in on the right wing and fired off a heavy shot that Smith missed entirely. Staal’s first goal as a Hab ended a long-running overtime drought for Montreal, securing a 3-2 win.

Now, another massive test awaits as the Habs square off with the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday night in Toronto.

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Seven burning questions entering the Maple Leafs' 2021-22 training camp | Maple Leafs Hotstove – Maple Leafs Hot Stove

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Welcome back! I hope everyone had a nice summer and was able to get outside and enjoy some fresh air after what felt like an extremely long winter.

Naturally, that’s a great segue to the Toronto Maple Leafs


Training camp has officially started, and a new season is on the horizon.

It goes without saying at this point, but the pressure facing the Maple Leafs‘ core players, coaching staff, and management group is greater than it has ever been. They need to advance in the playoffs this season. It’s not hyperbole to suggest that jobs are on the line.

Adding to the tense situation is a disgruntled fanbase that probably won’t be forgetting about five straight first-round exits for the entire regular season. The team is also returning to a difficult division featuring several high-end teams.

The Leafs have a lot of questions to answer this season, and training camp should start providing us with some clues as to how they plan to approach the 2021-22 season.

Here are seven storylines to monitor over the next few weeks.

Will they spread out their talent to create three lines and some depth?


Photo: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

In the offseason, I did a deep dive on the lopsided Leafs’ forward ice-time distribution. In a nutshell, the Leafs are asking their top players to play more than any successful Cup team in the last 12-plus years. In the regular season, Mitch Marner led all forwards in the league in average time-on-ice per game, which still feels a little crazy to write. Is this upcoming season going to be more of the same?

The loss of Zach Hyman is particularly notable in this sense. Not only did he play a ton as well, but he gave the Leafs a credible winger to play heavy minutes on the top line against the opponents’ best. Nobody the Leafs signed this summer credibly gives them an option to replace him.

The new additions are fine gambles — and they will probably even hit on a signing or two — but it doesn’t make them options to play against the Bergeron line, Point line, or the Barkov line for 20+ minutes a night. To some degree, the Leafs’ coaching staff really should try to create three lines, and that means one of their top four forwards would have to play on a de facto third line of sorts.

In that sense, it’s almost strange to picture the Leafs loading up the top six when each of their top two lines would have a clear weak link. In the case of a first line playing 22+ a night, there would be a gigantic leap of faith with the player in this spot, who would be playing well above his head based on previous results (unless, maybe, Ondrej Kase actually stays healthy).

We know that Matthews and Tavares will be the top two centers. Will Marner and Nylander be attached to their hips the whole time, as they have been since Keefe took over the bench? Will they swap Marner and Nylander at any point? Dare we ask, will one of Marner/Nylander be given a line of their own to shape a three-line Leafs attack?

Who will play left wing alongside Matthews and Tavares?


Nick Ritchie, new Toronto Maple Leaf
Photo: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

As we just noted, we know who the top two centers are pretty well no matter what. We have a rough idea of who the right wingers will be (Marner, Nylander, Kase, possibly Nikita Gusev, and maybe even Spezza is rewarded at some point).

The left wing is a completely different story. Nick Ritchie is in the mix and has a reasonable pedigree. Michael Bunting is intriguing, but he is 26 years old and has 26 NHL games to his name. Alex Kerfoot can slot there competently, but the Leafs might not have a suitable 3C if he does. Mikheyev can handle good minutes defensively, but he might not score enough to justify significant ice time alongside a top-end center. And Nick Robertson has the pedigree of a player that can play in the top six someday, but whether or not the time is now is the big question.

It will be interesting to see how creative Keefe becomes with his line building. For example, will he try Nylander on his off-wing at all? He has played there before and has the shot to be dangerous in that spot. The team’s right wing depth is strong if Kase is healthy (again, a massive if). Bumping one over to the left side to push their right-wing talent up a ring on each line is a reasonable idea.

One last note here: The Leafs can also feasibly plan to start the game with certain lines — spreading out their talent and having players playing high up the lineup in the first few periods — before loading up to close out games. It is a reasonable strategy that can be sustainable if managed the right way, and it won’t lead to players playing 2, 3, 4+ minutes more than they should/are capable of.

Maybe a Nick Ritchie starts each game on the top line but is bumped down the lineup in the third period? When Keefe took over as the Leafs’ coach, he moved players around regularly. Last season, he got away from it.

To start this training camp, Keefe expressed optimism about the team’s improved depth. Let’s see how he manages it.

Who is the third line center?


David Kampf of the Maple Leafs
Photo: Jerome Miron/USA Today Sports

This is a bit of a conundrum. Alex Kerfoot struggled last season as the third line center but handled himself well alongside Tavares and Nylander on the left wing. He also played well at center beside Nylander in the playoffs. Maybe he just needs to play with a puck carrier such as Nylander, allowing him to use his speed to forecheck and create turnovers. He can easily be one of the two top-six left wingers, but whether he can adequately center a third line without a top player on his flank is a different question.

If it’s not Kerfoot at 3C, who are the other options? The Leafs gave Kampf a two-year, $1.5 million AAV contract and he is in fact a natural center. If it’s not Kerfoot, he seems to be the logical next man up. Kampf is good enough defensively, but can the Leafs use a player in that spot if he is only putting up 20 points over a full season? There is a certain level of productivity needed to justify the ice time, and 20 points is not it.

For some reason, Spezza is often mentioned in the center conversation, but he hasn’t been a full-time pivot for at least three seasons now. There isn’t much reason to believe he could suddenly shift back there at age 38 while his skating falls off. I don’t think the Leafs coaching staff is even remotely considering him as an option in this spot.

Pierre Engvall played 3C at times last season and can do it. The question with him — and it’s one Keefe seems keenly aware of based on his poking and prodding of the player — is which Engvall is showing up each night? When he’s on his game, Engvall is a good third-line center. When he’s not, he’s borderline unplayable.

Adam Brooks also flashed a little offensively. If the Leafs want to have an offensive third line, he’s certainly a candidate. Of all the options, he might actually have the highest offensive upside in this type of role. Can he handle the defensive responsibility of a third-line role (where he wouldn’t be nearly as sheltered as he was in the 4C spot alongside Spezza and Thornton)? Can he produce consistently enough to outweigh any lapses on the other side of the puck?

How will the forward group round out?


Pierre Engvall, Toronto Maple Leafs
Photo: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

By my count, the players guaranteed to start game one of the season in the top 12 are (in no particular order):

  1. Matthews
  2. Tavares
  3. Marner
  4. Nylander
  5. Kerfoot
  6. Ritchie
  7. Mikheyev
  8. Kampf (they didn’t pay him 1.5×2 just to sit him)
  9. Spezza

The final three spots are anyone’s guess. Keefe has consistently sat Pierre Engvall, so while I’d like to think he can be a contributor as a checker and possibly a center, history has shown us that Keefe has no problem making him a healthy scratch.

Bunting is unproven, so while he will get a shot at some point, you can’t necessarily etch it in stone to start game one of the season.

As a respected veteran, Simmonds will likely get into the game one lineup based on pedigree alone, but you can also quite easily envision the team’s best possible lineup not including him (that said, a two-year contract with an NTC almost certainly guarantees Simmonds is playing in game one, if we’re being realistic).

Kase will be in there if he’s healthy, but I will not bet on that anytime soon given his history.

Gusev is on a PTO and has had some success in the league – given he’s competing against a number of players with inconsistent track records, it’s quite easy to see him making the team.

You also have Adam Brooks and Kurtis Gabriel in the mix. And then there’s Robertson, who is probably the biggest wildcard among the forwards. If he’s ready to play a full NHL season and contribute, the domino effect on the Leafs’ forward depth would be notable.

All in all, that’s eight players vying for the final three spots. This should be a good battle.

Will the top two pairings stay the same?


Toronto Maple Leafs, Jake Muzzin, Ilya Mikheyev
Photo: Canadian Press

The Leafs were set-and-forget with their top four last season – Rielly paired with Brodie the whole time, as did Muzzin with Holl.

This year, they don’t have a veteran anchoring the third pairing. At some point, they have to start wondering about Muzzin’s injuries in the playoffs (two consecutive years of missing series-deciding games). Are they going to set the top four again and run with it, or are they going to move these pairings around at all?

Maybe an injury forces the team’s hand at some point during the season and they opt to keep the top four rolling as is. Maybe they get proactive and spread out the unit a little bit, trying out new combinations within the top four (Muzzin – Brodie, Rielly – Holl, for instance). Maybe they spread out the wealth among the entire top six, reuniting pairings in high-leverage situations (to close out periods, or in the final 10 minutes of a game, etc.).

Who wins the final spot in the top six on defense?


Rasmus Sandin of the Toronto Maple Leafs
Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images

On defense, I’ll comfortably project that Rielly, Brodie, Muzzin, Holl, and Dermott are all locks to start the season. Perhaps the inclusion of Dermott might shock some, but he’s coming off of a quietly solid season and has now played over 200 games in the league. It would be unexpected to me if not one but two rookies completely bumped him out of the starting six.

That leaves Rasmus Sandin vs. Timothy Liljegren. On one hand, Sandin has the better pedigree and has played more in the NHL. On the other, the Leafs might like the handedness with the rightie Liljegren (and he has also been a good player in the AHL — I don’t want to take anything away from him there).

After Zach Bogosian departed, the Leafs left this open to competition (they also signed Alex Biega for depth), and it’s presumed the intention here is to give both young defensemen a real chance to crack the lineup. They will both play at some point. This one will be more about who seizes the opportunity when it’s presented.

This also bleeds into the previous point – it’s possible the Leafs want to pair up these young defensemen with veterans and decide to insulate them rather than having a kids pairing, even if they would be sheltered.

How will the goaltending tandem be managed?


Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Calgary Flames, Jack Campbell
Photo: Larry MacDougal/Canadian Press via AP

I’m really fascinated to see how this goaltending tandem plays out, particularly in this market.

Years ago, the Leafs ran a James Reimer and Jonathan Bernier tandem, which was actually a fairly reasonable duo on paper (in their first year together, the Leafs were 10th in 5v5 save percentage, although they dropped to 22nd in their second year). The whole time, there was a non-stop storyline around who should start and who was the better goalie.

Now, Petr Mrazek arrives in a fairly similar situation: brought in to split starts with an inexperienced goalie coming off a strong season and a good showing in the playoffs. Bernier was brought in to be the guy, and while I wouldn’t necessarily say the same about Mrazek, he is born in the same year as Campbell and is signed for the next three years. He’s not coming in to simply accept the back seat.

There are plenty of great examples of 1A/1B goalie tandems working – Mrazek himself just came from a situation like that! – but this is not Carolina. Who should start will be a story throughout the season.

How will the goalies handle it? How will Keefe manage it? Is there going to be a preference for giving the net to the goalie who performed really well last season, or the netminder signed to a fairly sizable three-year contract?

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For Oilers, Archibald’s selfish anti-vaccine stance is not worth the risk – Sportsnet.ca

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EDMONTON — One is a player who opted to honour his commitment to his new team in Edmonton. The other, just another selfish anti-vaxxer who is betting on himself, somewhat foolishly.

One is a player the general manager staked his reputation on, with much pedigree and a handful of Stanley Cup rings. A guy who came to town billed as a leader, and then backed it up when he rolled up his sleeve despite obvious misgivings about being vaccinated.

Sure, Duncan Keith should have gotten vaccinated a month sooner. But give him some credit for putting the team — society and the Oilers — ahead of himself. Even if he waited until the 11th hour to do it.

Then there is depth winger Josh Archibald, who will be replaced by Game 1 of the regular season if he doesn’t give his head a shake. He is from that young, conspiracy-oriented demographic that has been suckered in by far-right disinformation, and tweets about idiocy like “the plandemic.”

“I’m happy that he’s going to be part of our team this year, fully vaccinated,” Oilers general manager Ken Holland said of Keith, a player Holland had seriously dug in on to convince him to get vaccinated. Mike Smith took some work, too, we are told, but now both are vaccinated and ready to do what they were brought in to accomplish.

The other player is more selfish than that.

Archibald is a nice, fourth-line penalty killer in a normal season. He’ll get you 10 goals a year. But for this, the third COVID-affected NHL campaign, an unvaccinated Archibald just isn’t worth it.

Holland and head coach Dave Tippett sat down with Archibald on Tuesday and spelled out how many games he would miss and what it would mean to be Canada’s only unvaccinated NHL player. It would cost him up to 40 per cent of his $1.5 million salary. Maybe more.

Now Holland sits, and hopes that Archibald changes his mind before the GM has to send him to AHL Bakersfield. He is virtually untradeable, as Archibald could not play games in Canada for a U.S.-based team, and poses a risk that no fourth-liner can justify.

“There are a team or two out there that have made the decision that unvaccinated players are not welcome at training camp. I have not made that decision as of this time,” Holland said on Wednesday. “I think the player is going through the process to decide. It’s a difficult decision. I’ll give [Archibald] the appropriate time, and I’ll see where I’m at in a week, 10 days from now. We’ll see.”


Editor’s note: With overwhelming consistency, research has shown vaccinations against COVID-19 are safe and effective. Residents of Alberta who are looking to learn more about vaccines can find up-to-date information here. Further details on COVID-19 and the country’s pandemic response are available on Canada’s public health website.


In a strange twist of fate, Keith — who received his vaccination in the United States only this week — is in quarantine until next Friday, while the unvaccinated Archibald is undergoing daily testing while attending Edmonton Oilers training camp.

But here’s the reality of all this: A Canadian team simply can not have an unvaccinated player on its roster.

By Holland’s math, an unvaccinated player who must serve a 14-day quarantine every time he comes over the U.S. border and into Canada, would miss “30-plus games” this season. He’d also miss a ton of practice time, and would lose one-200th of his pay for every day missed due to the federally mandated quarantine.

It would be impossible to hold his place on an NHL roster.

“After you quarantine for 14 days, if we’re playing well you’re not just taking someone out to put that person in,” Holland said. “The number of times we cross the border, it’s going to be very difficult.”

Had Keith and Smith not relented, the Oilers’ season would have been derailed.


Related reading: Edmonton Oilers goaltender Alex Stalock contracted COVID-19 before the shortened 56-game season. Now, the 34-year-old is likely going to miss the 2021-22 season due to a heart condition.


Now that Holland has his starting goalie and No. 3 defenceman in the fold, why on earth would you want an unvaccinated, 13:33-minutes per game player flying on the same charter and inhabiting the same dressing rooms as Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl?

Between the peer pressure, the risk of lost salary, and the ridiculous nature of his stance, I expect Archibald to relent and get the jab. Let’s face it: It’s a business, and there is no moral high ground in sport.

“In July I heard talk that there were 80, 90 unvaccinated players,” Holland recounted. “We had a Board of Governors meeting (Tuesday), and Bill Daly said we’ll be in single digits of players unvaccinated going into the season. So, basically, 70, 80, 90 players eventually made the decision to get vaccinated.”

Some because they didn’t want to lose the salary, and some because they put their team and others before themselves.

There is one player left on a Canadian team who puts himself before everything else, and his name is Josh Archibald.

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Kiermaier on getting hit by pitch by Blue Jays' Borucki: 'Oh yeah, it was intentional' – Yahoo Canada Sports

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The Tampa Bay Rays clinched a spot in the postseason on Wednesday, but that was the secondary story against the Toronto Blue Jays.

During the game prior, Rays centrefielder Kevin Kiermaier was the centre of attention as he snatched a dropped data card from Toronto catcher Alejandro Kirk, which the Rays refused to hand back to the visiting club. Less than 24 hours later during the series finale between the two AL East teams, Kiermaier re-entered the spotlight as he was struck by a pitch thrown by Blue Jays reliever Ryan Borucki in the eighth inning.

Borucki was ejected after the umpires met to review the struck batter, which then caused Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo and a very red-faced pitching coach Pete Walker to storm onto the field.

Walker was also tossed from the game for his outburst.

Kiermaier didn’t let up after the 7-1 victory, focusing on the late-game dramatics.

“Oh yeah, it was intentional,” Kiermaier said of the incident. “Pretty much almost went behind me. I thought it was a weak move, to be quite honest. It’s over. It didn’t hurt by any means, so I don’t care. Whatever. We move on. We got a series win, and I hope we play those guys, I really do.”

When Kiermaier was asked why he wants to face the Blue Jays again, it was mysterious to say the least. “The motivation is there,” he said. “That’s all that needs to be said.”

Despite Kiermaier being so sure it was intentional, Montoyo had a different idea of what happened, but was certainly sympathetic to the Rays’ reaction.

“Pete’s reaction told me everything about it,” the Blue Jays manager said. “He missed. He hit him, but I understand what it looks like. I understood how the Rays got upset about it. That thing was on for two days.”

With just 10 games remaining in the regular season, Toronto is on a hot Wild Card race with fellow divisional rivals Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees. The two clubs involved in the ruckus will not face each other again unless the Blue Jays earn a spot in the postseason and are able to beat their opposition in that single-game playoff matchup.

As if the MLB postseason wasn’t dramatic enough, now there’s an underlying narrative ready to boil over at any moment if the two face each other in a series.

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