The Montreal Canadiens were reeling to start the night in Winnipeg, giving the Jets the kind of opportunities that could have effectively ended the game before 10 minutes were even played.
But Canadiens coach Claude Julien challenged a Patrik Laine goal for offside and chastised his team while the play was being reviewed. The goal was reversed, but the Jets scored shortly thereafter on the power play.
The thing is, the complexion of the game had already changed dramatically.
Before it had, Carey Price turned miracles in Montreal’s net. He stopped Winnipeg’s franchise leader in points, Blake Wheeler, on consecutive shots in Seconds 16 and 19 of the first period.
Saves that followed on Mason Appleton, on Laine and on Nikolaj Ehlers were otherworldly.
Julien had seen enough, and he went off while Laine’s goal was in the process of being overturned. The Canadiens then shook off Kyle Connor’s power-play goal, and they went on to dominate the Jets—outshooting them 39-14 and outscoring them 5-1 for a 6-2 win.
Big win? They are all in this insane race taking shape in the Atlantic Division.
The Canadiens sit in third place. Earlier in the day, the Toronto Maple Leafs secured their hold on second with a win over the Carolina Hurricanes, and the Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Florida Panthers in regulation while the Buffalo Sabres were losing to the Ottawa Senators to stay within one point of both the Panthers and the Sabres, who rank just behind the Canadiens.
If this was supposed to be the most crucial trip of Montreal’s season—a four-game jaunt through Western Canada—a 3-1 record on it, with wins over Vancouver, Calgary and Winnipeg, could have serious implications when all is said and done. In the short term, that success has allowed the Canadiens to keep pace in a race that can shift a team from second place in the division to sixth on any given night.
And there’s no chance, absolutely no chance at all, that the Canadiens could have done that without what Price offered in these four games before the Christmas break.
A power play that can win the Canadiens games
Price and Julien were instrumental in the way this game got turned around early, but a power-play goal for Canadiens leading scorer Tomas Tatar in the 16th minute of the first period put a strong wind into Montreal’s sails.
It was the team’s first power play of the game and, after nearly a minute and a half of excellent puck movement and sustained pressure in the offensive zone, they capitalized on it with a perfect play between Tatar, Nick Suzuki and Jeff Petry.
One chance, one goal. Think about that.
This team, with much of the same personnel as it had a season ago, missed on its only other opportunity of the game, but has now scored on seven of its last 17 power plays over the last 10 contests. This team, which ran one of the worst power plays (13.2 per cent) since power-play statistics started being recorded by the NHL, is winning games thanks to its power play.
The Canadiens are doing this in spite of the fact that they’ve been given the 30th-most power-play opportunities in the NHL. They’re doing it without one of their most potent offensive weapons in Jonathan Drouin, who’s been out with a wrist injury since Nov. 15.
Impressive, no doubt.
Truly impressive? On the road, the Canadiens have managed to operate at 28.2 per cent, which is better than 29 other teams in the league.
This was all so unforeseeable when the season began close to three months ago, but here we are.
• We’re here because the chemistry the Canadiens have developed on the power play is undeniable. And that chemistry was typified by the play between Tatar, Suzuki and Petry.
Watch it first, then allow me to explain:
No one on the Winnipeg side knew Suzuki was making that pass.
But, you know who did know? Tatar.
As soon as Petry gets the puck back to Suzuki, Tatar steps into the seam. He does it because he knows if there’s one player who might fake a shot and pull off a perfect bullet pass through a stream of sticks and legs, it’s Suzuki.
That is chemistry.
• Phillip Danault, with two goals in the game, pulled to within three goals of his career high of 13. There are 45 games left to play.
At five-on-five, the Canadiens controlled 75.61 per cent of the shot attempts in the game with Danault on the ice.
Why? To start with, Danault won 13 of the 18 faceoffs he took in the game.
Then he, Tatar and Brendan Gallagher just dominated—whether they had to face Mark Scheifele’s line with Connor and Laine or Wheeler’s with Ehlers and Jack Roslovic.
Danault also led the Canadiens with seven shots on net.
The Victoriaville, Que., native is on pace for 65 points, and he’s picking up support (outside of Montreal) in the mid-season conversation about the Selke Trophy.
• Here’s what Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin said about Max Domi in Vancouver, just hours before the team started this road trip: “What he did last year, we saw what he was capable of offering, so I don’t know why he wouldn’t be able to do it again. Sometimes a player thinks too much. It’s hard to get into a player’s head, but I’m not here to go after Max. I think he’s still a useful player to the organization and I’m sure he’ll come out of it.”
When Bergevin said this, Domi was stuck on six goals, 14 assists and 23 points through 33 games.
Since then? Domi notched two assists in the win over the Canucks, scored the overtime winner in Calgary, scored a beautiful goal in the 4-3 loss to the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday, and scored a goal and added an assist in Winnipeg.
Suddenly, the plucky 25-year-old is on pace for 20 goals and 58 points.
That’s good news for Domi, given that he had 28 goals and 72 points in a breakout campaign last season and that he’s playing for a new contract right now. But it’s better news for the Canadiens, who need the Domi they saw in Winnipeg from here to the end of the season—and hopefully beyond.
• Victor Mete, back from an ankle injury that kept him out of 10 Canadiens games, played 13:04 and finished plus-1 against the Jets.
• Former Jet Joel Armia left the game with an upper-body injury. His last shift came in the eighth minute of the second period, and there was no update on his status afterwards.
Armia is one goal from his career high (he scored 13 last season) and he’s been one of Montreal’s most consistent and best players. The team and its fans will be hoping his injury isn’t too severe.
The Canadiens will resume play in Florida on Dec. 28. From there, they’ll play the Lighting on the 29th and the Hurricanes on the 31st to finish off this season-long road trip.
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)