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From top to bottom, the Oilers are finding a rhythm in the way they play – Sportsnet.ca

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EDMONTON  — On the day we drink Guinness, the Edmonton Oilers made the perfect point. 

Fitted with a 3-0 lead for the second straight game, the Oilers proved this time that they know what to do with it, shutting ‘er down and defeating the Buffalo Sabres 6-1 in a game they controlled from the drop of the puck to the final horn. 

“It was a full 60 minutes. Maybe as good a game as we have played all year,” said defenceman Tyson Barrie, who had a goal and an assist on a plus-2 night. “After two periods we realized that we had played a pretty solid game up to that point and we made a point of coming out and drilling home that last 20 minutes —  to show us what it feels like to play the full game.” 

After leading 3-0 five minutes into the game against Detroit on Tuesday, Edmonton found itself tied 5-5 in the third period before winning 7-5. Two nights later it blunted the Sabres, who were not very good at all. 

“What I saw was what everybody else saw,” said Sabres head coach Don Granato. “That was not a very good game.” 

For his team, perhaps. But the Oilers collected another two points on a what has been a perfect four-game homestand so far, and they’ll try for five straight when they host New Jersey in a Saturday matinee. 

The Oilers rolled four lines right overtop the Sabres on St. Patty’s Day, and as they begin to get their ‘A’ team back from Injured Reserve, Edmonton is finding a rhythm in the way it plays. 

“I thought we got contributions from everybody,” head coach Jay Woodcroft said. “All four lines, three D-pairs, Mike Smith was excellent, the penalty kill was good, we got a shorthanded goal and we scored a power play goal. All facets of the game seemed to be firing on all cylinders, and because we had everybody going, we were able to spread the minutes out nicely tonight.” 

On a night when five different Oilers had two-point nights, Zach Hyman was perhaps their most industrious player on a line with Leon Draisaitl and Jesse Puljujarvi. Hyman was a catalyst all night, the buzz saw that GM Ken Holland envisioned when he lured him in as a free agent last summer. 

“Just when it looks like there are three guys on him, he finds a way to outwork them all. That’s why he was so coveted,” Barrie said. “The thing about him is that he plays the same way every night. You can rely on him.” 

The Oilers’ quest is to get the flightiness out of their game. In a league where everyone seeks consistency they’re no different, seeking an identity that they can roll out one night after the next. 

That means being a better defensive team to go along with the plethora of offence the Oilers possess, with Leon Draisaitl scoring his 40th Thursday and Connor McDavid flying around the ice, simply on a different level than his peers. 

He had two points but left early when he took a late stick in the chops. 

“Yep, sutures and he got zipped up. He’s just fine,” said Woodcroft. “I don’t think he’s getting enough credit for what he’s doing defensively. He makes a lot of really subtle good plays in his own zone. He stops on pucks, and had some really good box outs tonight as well.” 

It’s true: McDavid’s defensive game has found a new level. With him and Draisaitl both playing a proper two-way game — and each of them heating up production-wise — the Oilers are rounding into a team that can beat you. 

“The Detroit game was a good lesson for us,” Hyman said. “It was nice to have learned from that and put it to the test. I thought we were great all the way through (Thursday).” 

A subplot against the Sabres was goalie Mike Smith getting another start, as he continues the journey to finding his game with his 40th birthday set for Tuesday. It’s hard enough for a young forward to overcome the games lost to injury that Smith has endured, and catch up to the pack as everyone else rounds into playoff form. 

But a 40-year-old goalie? 

Oilers fans were wondering if the task was impossible, but they received a ray of hope Thursday on a night that was exactly what the doctor ordered — a game where the shots arrived (mostly) methodically, and rarely in succession. This was a confidence-builder for Smith, beaten only on a quality one-timer by Victor Olofsson. 

He made 28 saves, but was asked to make very few spectacular ones. It’s a game he can build on, and he can thank the skaters for applying themselves against Buffalo the way they had not against Detroit. 

“That is always the goal, to make sure you help your goalie out as much as you can,” Hyman said. “In the first (period) there was a half breakaway and drive to the net and he made the saves on both of those. He just played steady all night and I thought his ability to move the puck… 

“It was great to get him the win and he earned it.” 

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Blue Jays squander another good start from Gausman as offence held in check again – Sportsnet.ca

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TORONTO – This is a time for the Toronto Blue Jays to get greedy and to do that, first they’re going to have to continue the process of getting themselves right.

Settling for two of three against the similarly wayward Seattle Mariners after Wednesday night’s 5-1 loss isn’t ideal, but the dreadful Cincinnati Reds are due for a visit beginning Friday, so the opportunity to bank some wins on the current homestand is still at hand.

Capitalizing on that, of course, is easier said than done and the Blue Jays offence is still scattershot enough that nothing can be taken for granted. No one is doing consistent damage and while general manager Ross Atkins before the game went to great lengths to cap-tip the calibre of pitching his team has faced, this lineup was supposed to give even elite arm fits.

Find-a-way nights like Tuesday’s 3-0 win against the BB-throwing Logan Gilbert need to be a more regular occurrence, and against crafty left-hander Marco Gonzales on Wednesday, all they eked out was a measly Vladimir Guerrero Jr. bases-loaded walk.

Now, that walk was good process, part of Guerrero not expanding the zone, taking what’s on offer and being willing to pass the baton to cleanup man Teoscar Hernandez, who is still working to regain his timing at the plate and grounded out. But when runs are hard to come by, every little missed opportunity becomes more glaring and that’s what happened in the sixth when Gonzales alertly picked off Hernandez at second base after a one-out double.

The score was still 2-1 at the time, the Mariners opened the game up from there and the Blue Jays didn’t threaten again before a crowd of 20,472.

“This is an offence that usually we swing the bats and everybody’s fine and you can come back in a 4-1, 5-1 game. But it seems like now somebody scores four runs and it seems like 10 and that happens when your offence is struggling,” said manager Charlie Montoyo. “When (plays like Hernandez getting picked off) happen, it’s magnified. Just like when a reliever comes in and gives up a run or something, it’s like oh my God. But the guys have been pitching good, it’s a close game every game.”

Gonzales largely leaned on a sinker-changeup mix, mixing in his cutter and curveball just enough to plant the options in the minds of Blue Jays hitters, en route to six innings of one-run ball. But he was also helped by 12 chase swings along with several rips at borderline pitches.


That fits a pattern Atkins acknowledged when he conceded that, “yes, we’ve chased more than we like.”

“But it’s been really good pitching and don’t want to lose sight of that,” he quickly added. “At the same time, when we are good, we’re executing our game-plan exceptionally well.”

Clearly, that’s not happening right now and it’s continuing to cause the Blue Jays to squander good starts, this time another from Kevin Gausman. While not nearly as dominant as he’s been to this point – he got only seven swinging strikes in his five innings of work – he cleverly limited damage while often getting BABIP’d.

“To be honest, a lot of those first inning hits are just good hitting on their part,” said Gausman. “I made my pitch and none of them were hit that hard, but just kind of found their holes. I just knew if I stayed there that I wasn’t going to have another inning like that. I just felt confident.”

The first inning might have been pivotal, as he escaped a bases-loaded, none-out jam by allowing only a Jesse Winker sacrifice fly and he remained unscathed until Cal Raleigh took him deep to open the fifth inning and put the Mariners up 2-1.

Hernandez’s pick off was the Blue Jays’ sixth of the season, pushing them to second most in the majors, and then Trevor Richards, extended into a second inning of work, gave up a two-out single to Adam Frazier and then a two-run homer to Ty France that effectively pushed the game out of reach.

The bullpen, still down Jordan Romano who’s day-to-day with gastrointestinal infection and Tim Mayza, on the injured list getting a second opinion to confirm that his left forearm inflammation is indeed just that, continues to face relentless pressure every night.

According to one of Baseball Reference’s leverage indexes, the Blue Jays began the day tied with Arizona for the most high-leverage relief appearances at 55. Expecting them to be perfect is unfair and too often the offence has forced them into precisely that spot.

Nonetheless, they’ll still go into the off-day at 20-18 after winning a series for the first time this month. Gausman’s performance Wednesday extended what’s been the club’s one steady strength this season, starting pitching, and that’s really been the pillar for the Blue Jays to this point.

“I feel like we have a beast-calibre guy going any given day,” said Gausman. “More than that, we have a lot of different looks that are coming at teams. From the left side (Yuseii) Kikuchi throws 97 with a split and then you got (Hyun Jin) Ryu from the left side, too, and it’s a completely different pitcher. Then there’s Jose (Berrios) and obviously (Alek) Manoah, all those guys are completely different. So I think we match up really well against a lot of lineups because of it.”

That’s an excellent starting point and it has them sixth in the American League as they approach the quarter-mark of the season. The Blue Jays will need their offence to come around to be better than that.

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Undaunted by history, Flames and Oilers will craft their own Battle of Alberta legacy – Sportsnet.ca

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CALGARY — A throng of media-types three times the size as normal welcomed Matthew Tkachuk and the rest of the players to the podium yesterday with questions about a rivalry they know very little about. 

What they do know is they’re in the middle of something special, which Tkachuk got a hint of his very first NHL game. 

“My first memory was the first game in the new rink in Edmonton,” he said. “Everybody was in their seats for warmups. I thought that was pretty crazy. As I was skating out on the ice, I don’t remember perfectly, but Gretzky and Messier were out there doing a few laps or something. I’m 18 years old, thinking, ‘I don’t think I’m ready for this.’” 

A large majority of the players in this series weren’t born when the last BOA series was 31 years ago, sparking shrugs from most of them when asked about what they knew of the hockey played back then. 

“Not much,” said Elias Lindholm, 28. 

“It wasn’t on in Sweden, so nothing,” added Jacob Markstrom with a grin, as he was a one-year-old then. 

“Just big moments in NHL history,” said Tkachuk. “I’m serious when I say I didn’t know about it until I got drafted. It’s gotten bigger the last few years with both teams playing a lot better and maybe meeting each other in playoffs, and here we are.” 

Tkachuk’s brother, Brady, has been busy riling up fans in the Dome and throwing out t-shirts in support of his brother’s club. The Senators captain was also seen hoisting a child on his shoulders as part of his celebrations. 

 “I’m surprised his parents let him go on Brady’s shoulders,” laughed Tkachuk. “I think that was kind of a spur of the moment thing.” 

Call Your Shot? 

The beauty of The Battle has always been that just when you think they’re going to have a Pier 6 brawl all night long, the Flames and Oilers give us an incredible night of high-skill hockey. And just when you settle in for some buckled down, defensive hockey, you get a goalie fight or — like on a whacky Saturday night earlier this season — a 9-5 shootout

This season, Edmonton beat Calgary 5-3 and 5-2, and the Flames won 3-1 and 9-5. Neither team won on the road. 

“I think you’ve seen both sides when we played each other in the regular season,” said Connor McDavid. “You’ve seen low-scoring, tight-checking games. Obviously the last time we were in here it was a 9-5 gong show, pretty much. We want to be a checking team and that’s the brand that they want to play as well. 

“I think you’ll see low-scoring nights and nights where there are a couple more goals, but I would expect it to be a pretty tight-checking series.” 

Asked if he still had friends on the Oilers, Milan Lucic smiled. 

“For the next however many days? No.”  

Next question. 

Asked how he thought Edmontonians feel about Wayne Gretzky’s prediction the Flames would win, Lucic chuckled. 

“I’m sure they don’t like it, but he’s just giving his expert opinion,” he said, putting an emphasis on the word expert. 

Battle Goes Net Front 

The Calgary Flames are the bigger team — there’s no dispute there. And if it comes down to fisticuffs, Calgary is in a better spot, with their toughness centred nearer the bottom of their lineup in Milan Lucic, Brett Ritchie, Erik Gudbranson and Nikita Zadorov, while two of Edmonton’s toughest guys are 25-miniute man Darnell Nurse and top six left winger Evander Kane. 

As such, the Oilers want to make this series about speed.  

“We want to be the first mover. We want to put an emphasis on speed,” said head coach Jay Woodcroft. “For us, speed trumps perfection.” 

Calgary is not L.A., when it comes to size and the ability to control net fronts at either end of the ice. The Zadorov-Gudbranson pairing is vastly bigger and tougher than anything the Kings had, and up front the Flames have players like Lucic and Ritchie (if he dresses), tough players who go to the net hard. 

How do the Oilers go about winning the net front battle at both ends of the ice?  

“There are things that we can do defensively, and things that we can do offensively,” Woodcroft said. “Something that we talked about (Tuesday) was that the team that’s going to come out on top is the one that’s willing to pay the price. The one that’s willing to do it harder, and for longer.” 

In the end, as one would expect, the challenge gets steeper as a team moves from Round 1 to 2. The Kings took Edmonton to seven games, but Calgary presents a must greater impediment. 

“Yes, it’s a new challenge, a new task,” the coach said. “A complete different animal, a team that’s at the top of the Pacific Division for a reason. They do a lot of things really well. We’re gonna have our hands full.” 

The phones of Flames alumni have been blowing up the last few days, sparking Joel Otto to say, “Us old guys are relevant again.” 

“I think it’s important for the province. I’m a Calgarian now — lived here since the late 90’s — and understanding the passion between the two cities and how important it is to ‘one-up’ one another,” said Otto. 

“They used the word hate but it’s a grudge match.” 

Incidentally, the last Flames player to score an OT winner in Game 7 at home was Otto 33 years ago, which was a somewhat controversial deflection off his skate. 

“I’ll tell all my grandchildren it was similar to what Johnny did,” he laughed. 

“There aren’t a lot of comparisons other than it was Game 7.”

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Player strike brings CFL to tipping point – CBC Sports

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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.

For a third straight year, the CFL schedule has been interrupted. Players on seven of nine teams launched a strike on Sunday, when the collective bargaining agreement signed just ahead of the 2019 season expired. Elks and Stampeders players are set to join tomorrow when Alberta’s labour laws allow.

At this point, the 2022 interruption remains minor, with the only damage being delayed training camps. The first pre-season game will likely be cancelled if there’s no agreement today. The regular season, slated to begin June 9, remains salvageable — if also a little too close for comfort.

But the latest league tension only underlines the rough recent past of Canadian football. The 2020 season was cancelled when the CFL, under the guidance of commissioner Randy Ambrosie, failed to get its ducks in a row in the wake of COVID-19. Ultimately, players weren’t paid and the league is said to have lost between $60 and $80 million.

Even the 2021 campaign was postponed and shortened as a result of the virus, leading to a Grey Cup in December. Many said the level of play dropped off in 2021, as reflected in lacklustre offences and attendance concerns throughout the league. Meanwhile, the fate of the Atlantic Schooners, introduced as an expansion team ahead of the 2018 Grey Cup, remains unclear nearly four years later.

The field is empty but the stadium screens still show signs for the Ottawa Redblacks’ training camp at TD Place in Ottawa. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Contrast that to the Canadian Elite Basketball League. The fledgling organization, which began play in 2019, could likewise have crumbled under the pressure of the pandemic. Instead, led by former CFL player Mike Morreale, it organized a two-week Summer Series in 2020 and returned with a full slate of games in 2021. For the upcoming 2022 season, three expansion clubs will bring the team total to 10 — one more than the CFL.

For now, the CFL’s work stoppage does not appear overly contentious. The sides broke off talks over the weekend, but there’s already a mediator in place who can facilitate negotiations as soon as they’re ready to return to the table. After Ambrosie revealed the league’s latest offer on the weekend, officials from both sides have been unavailable — though Tiger-Cats players picketed outside of Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton yesterday.

In an open letter, Ambrosie wrote that the proposal included an increase of $18.9 million in guaranteed salaries over seven years. However, The Canadian Press said a closer examination of the proposal revealed that projection to be well off — with additions of at least $100,000 to the salary cap each year beginning in 2023, the true number would be $5.4 million. The CFL’s proposal also included a minor increase in minimum salary and allowed Americans in their fourth season with the same team or their fifth in the league to count toward the Canadian ratio. Read more about the league’s proposal here.

While the union has mostly kept its demands quiet, earlier league proposals that included no increases to the salary cap and the complete eradication of the Canadian ratio (which requires 21 players, including seven starters, per team to be Canadian) offer a hint at their platform issues.

The only other player strike in CFL history occurred during training camp in 1974, but was settled in time for the regular season. Maybe by the time the 2022 Grey Cup rolls around in November, the current strike will be viewed as nothing more than a speed bump in a successful return-to-normal season.

But if games are missed for the third straight year, the viability of the CFL itself could be up for debate.

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