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Goaltending, power play still clicking for Canada entering medal round – Sportsnet.ca

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You could say it was a turbulent preliminary round at the world juniors for Canada.

Starting from a 2-0 deficit behind Team USA in the tournament opener on Boxing Day, the Canadians were able to come away with a 6-4 win, but it left behind questions as to how the goaltending would hold up — or who would wind up being the No. 1.

Game 2, a 6-0 loss to Russia, was one of the worst defeats in team history at the world juniors and left the Canadians without two key players: Alexis Lafreniere, the presumed No. 1 overall NHL draft pick this June, left with a knee injury, while Joe Veleno was suspended one game for a head-butting incident. Goalie Nico Daws was pulled, so again questions persisted at the position.

Canada’s third game was much less dramatic, a 4-1 chalk win over the Germans, and it sort of steadied the ship. The team got through the game without two of its key forwards and goalie Joel Hofer seemed to win the starting job in net.

So that Canada’s final preliminary round game had some hectic moments and a record-setting run was maybe not the most surprising outcome. Playing the host Czechs, Canada was able to come away with a one-sided 7-2 win that, after everything, locked them in as the No. 1 seed from Group B and a medal-round date against Slovakia.

But after a very fast start against the Czechs, there was a time it seemed like this game could slip away from the Red and White. It could have happened, if not for their power play and all the opportunities it was given.

Here are our takeaways from Canada’s final game before the medal round:

THE ROCK SOLID POWER PLAY

Coming into the game against the Czechs, Canada’s power-play efficiency rate was humming along at 33.3 per cent, good for second in the tournament. But Canada had only been put on the power play 12 times, which was a tournament low before they met the hosts.

In the first period alone on Tuesday, Canada was given three power plays, including a five-minute advantage after Otakar Sik was given a game misconduct for spearing Bowen Byram in the groin. Team Canada was not going to let this chance pass them by. On the three power plays, Canada managed four goals to come out of the first period with a commanding 4-0 lead.

In fact, the four power-play goals Canada scored (Barrett Hayton, Connor McMichael, Joe Veleno, Nolan Foote) set a team record and tied a tournament record for PP goals in a single period. The U.S. also scored four goals on the man advantage in a single WJC period in 2013.

So now the Canadians leave the preliminary round with the top-ranked power play at 45 per cent, and the best route possible through the medal round. For all the questions they faced before the tournament, the uncertainty in net, and the uphill climb they had to make in battling through their first three games, it’s almost unbelievable Canada wound up as the best in their group.

THE MOMENT IT ALMOST SLIPPED AWAY — AND THEN WAS TAKEN BACK

If there is a troubling takeaway from such a lopsided win, it’s how Canada’s lack of urgency in the second period allowed the Czechs back in it. And if not for one unlucky bounce, this game could have had a much different conclusion.

Just past the halfway mark of the second, the Czech Republic scored twice — once on the power play and once at even strength — just 14 seconds apart. Suddenly a historic first period and a monster lead was cut in half. With the home crowd building in noise and intensity behind them, the Czechs were now only trailing 4-2 and appeared to have all the momentum on their side.

Then fortune went against them.

Seconds after the Czech goal, Canada’s Ty Smith dumped the puck in from the red line, but as Czech goalie Nick Malik left the net to stop it behind the net, the puck took a wild bounce directly to Liam Foudy, who was left wide open in front with not even a goalie left to stop him. The Columbus Blue Jackets draft pick buried the puck to give Canada a 5-2 lead and break any momentum the Czechs were gaining.

The two Czech goals and the Canadian answer all happened within 24 seconds of each other, which set another tournament record for the three fastest goals between two teams in world junior history. It broke the previous record of 26 seconds from a Sweden-Germany game in 1983.

But that’s not all — it got even worse for the Czechs.

The coaching staff decided to challenge the Canadian goal for offside, but when the review came back negative, the Czechs were given another two-minute minor penalty. And before long, Canada had scored another on the man advantage, this time off the stick of Dylan Cozens, to restore their four-goal lead. Cozens was named player of the game for his efforts, which included this goal and three assists.

That was the moment it really felt as though Canada had won the game. The Czechs and their fans were deflated after a furious push in the middle of the second period.

GOOD RESULT, BUT PLENTY TO PROVE

There are lots of positive takeaways from the preliminary round for the Canadians. The questions in net appear to have been answered. Dealing with some adversity, they were able to put together a performance good enough for the No. 1 seed in the group. And, outside of the Russia loss, they showed an ability to find another level and rise to the occasion at critical moments.

But now we’re into the single elimination games and the competition is going to be stiffer. Two of Canada’s three wins have come against teams they’re supposed to beat — Germany and the Czech Republic. And the Czechs were even significantly banged up, missing three 19-year-olds to injury, and losing another mid-game when Sik was given the boot.

However, against the sort of teams that should be challenging for gold, the Canadians have been less impressive.

With a full roster against the Americans they were, on one hand, able to overcome an early two-goal deficit, but later blew a two-goal lead of their own before Lafreniere’s goal in the final minutes led them to victory.

Lafreniere missed his second game in a row Tuesday, and though the outlook for his injury isn’t bad, there’s still no guarantee Canada’s most dangerous offensive player will return. Against the Russians, Canada was absent and lost the physical game — and though Russia will wind up third in Group B, that is not a team anyone should be looking forward to matching up against.

The Canadians will face another one of those “should beat” teams in their first medal-round game against Slovakia on Jan. 2. That should at least lead Canada to a better result than it ended with at last year’s tournament, when Finland ousted them in the first medal-round game. But gold? There’s nothing separating this team from the pack of contenders right now.

The Canadians certainly can’t look past Slovakia. A loss to them would leave Canada without a medal in five of the past eight WJCs — extending the country’s worst stretch in tournament history. But, assuming they do move past Slovakia, Canada will likely only see the cream of the crop from then on out, and their showings against those types of teams have been far from flawless. More than half of Canada’s goals have come on the power play this tournament, and they cannot count on being given that many advantages going forward.

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Raptors’ Powell to return vs. Hornets; Ibaka, VanVleet out with injury – Sportsnet.ca

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The Toronto Raptors will be without Serge Ibaka and Fred VanVleet when they take on the Charlotte Hornets on Friday, however Norman Powell will make his return from injury, Raptors coach Nick Nurse said before the game.

Nurse also stated that Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Powell will start in place of VanVleet and Ibaka.

Ibaka was previously listed as doubtful due to right knee soreness. He struggled in Toronto’s loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday, finishing with five points on an abysmal 2-for-15 shooting, including a 1-for-10 mark from three-point range.

Overall, the 30-year-old has enjoyed one of the best seasons of his career in 2019-20. He’s averaging a career-best 15.9 points to go along with 8.0 rebounds per game.

VanVleet had not previously been on the injury report, however he is also listed as out due to left shoulder pain.

The 26-year-old is averaging 17.6 points and 6.6 assists per game in 48 appearances this year.

Powell, who hasn’t played since Jan. 31 due to a fractured fourth metacarpal on his left hand, figures to shoulder a heavy minutes load right off the bat due to VanVleet’s absence.

Earlier this season, Powell also missed a stretch of 11 games after dislocating his shoulder.

Through 38 games this year, the 26-year-old is averaging a career-high 15.3 points and 3.9 rebounds per game.

The Raptors will also be without Marc Gasol, who continues to be sidelined with a left hamstring injury.

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Zamboni driver turned NHL goalie David Ayres given his own hockey card – CTV News

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TORONTO —
The Toronto-area Zamboni driver who became famous after suiting up at the last minute for the Carolina Hurricanes has now been awarded a hockey card in his honour.

David Ayres, a 42-year-old from Whitby, Ont., joined the Hurricanes as an emergency goalie on Saturday after both their regular goalies left the game due to injury. Ayres went on to make eight saves on 10 shots to help the Hurricanes beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 6-3.

Since the win, Ayres has become an internet sensation, leading to appearances on the TODAY show and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, to name a few. He was went to Raleigh, N.C., where he celebrated “David Ayres Day” in the city by signing autographs from Hurricanes fans and ringing the “siren sounder” before the game.

The stick Ayres used in the game has also been sent to the Hockey Hall of Fame, due to the fact he is now the oldest goalie to win in their NHL debut and the only emergency goalie to ever record an official win in the league.

Ayres’ 15 minutes of fame is not yet over, however, as the trading card company Upper Deck has created a hockey card in his name.

“When we saw the moment, we were blown away by how special it was,” Chris Carlin, head of customer experience at Upper Deck, said in a phone interview with CTVNews.ca.

Ayers is featured in Upper Deck’s “Game Dated Moments” collection, which are cards unveiled on a weekly-basis that highlight notable performances from the past week. Ayres’ card features him standing in the Hurricanes’ net, wearing the team’s jersey and Maple Leafs equipment, while the back of the card tells the story of the game.

Other cards in Ayres’ pack include an Alexander Ovechkin card highlighting his 700th career goal and one about Los Angeles Kings forward Gabriel Vilardi, who scored his first NHL goal just 10 seconds into his first shift.

Carlin said the cards for each week are chosen based on fan requests and that calls for an Ayers card were “like something we’ve never seen before.” It’s already one of their top-performing weekly designs.

“We knew it was a special moment, so it was important for us to dedicate all the resources we had to acquiesce to our fans,” he said.

“There is surprisingly huge demand for a 42-year-old rookie.”

Creating the card didn’t come without its own challenges, however. Because Ayres is not a member of the NHL Players Association, Upper Deck had to secure a deal with Ayres directly for permission to make the card.

“I was surprised myself that we were able to get this done in three days,” Carlin said. “Our window is so tight on these ‘Game Dated Moments’ cards that it’s really a tough one to get done. It’s not the hardest thing to go out and get an image rights deal with someone, but to get it done within three days is pretty much unheard of.”

Carlin said Ayres will also have a “Young Guns” rookie card in his name, which is set for release in mid-May and some autographed cards at a later date.

“We disputed perhaps calling it an ‘old guns’ given his age, because typically the players are anywhere from 18 to 20,” he joked.

Carlin added certain versions of Ayers’ rookie card will only be printed 10 or 100 times, meaning they could hold some serious value.

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Oilers' Green (sprained MCL) out 3-4 weeks – TSN

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EDMONTON — Newly acquired Edmonton Oilers defenceman Mike Green will miss three to four weeks with a knee injury.

The Oilers announced Friday that Green has a sprained MCL. He was hurt in a loss against Vegas on Wednesday.

The Oilers acquired Green in a trade with the Detroit Red Wings early Monday, hours before the NHL’s trade deadline.

Green was playing his second game with the Oilers when he suffered the injury.

The 34-year-old Calgary native has three goals and eight assists in 50 combined games with Detroit and Edmonton this season.

According to TSN’s Ryan Rishaug, Kailer Yamamoto and Kris Russell will be game-time decisions tomorrow after being re-evaluated. Both players took regular reps in practice.

Trade deadline acquisition Andreas Athanasiou, who left last game with a lower-body injury, is good to go. James Neal skated but is still a ways away from playing and defenceman Oscar Klefbom didn’t skate with the main group. 

Zack Kassian returns tomorrow from a seven-game suspension and Mike Smith is expected to start on Saturday against the Winnipeg Jets. 

The Oilers (33-23-8) entered Friday night’s action holding the third and final playoff spot in the Pacific Division.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 28, 2020.

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