So, that’s what a $6.1-million smile looks like.
So, that’s what a $6.1-million smile looks like.
The biggest smile in the Bell Centre Thursday night was on Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s face after he scored the third goal for the Hurricanes in a 4-1 win over the Canadiens.
It was Kotkaniemi’s first point in three games this season after agreeing to a $6.1-million offer sheet from the Hurricanes that the Canadiens decided not to match and it helped Carolina improve its record to 3-0-0, while the Canadiens fell to 0-5-0.
There were no smiles on the Canadiens’ faces after the game. They have now been outscored 19-4 this season are are 1-for-19 on the power. The Canadiens went 1-for-6 against the Hurricanes with Tyler Toffoli scoring their first power-play goal of the season to cut the Hurricanes’ lead to 2-1 at 17:57 of the second period.
Kotkaniemi deflected in a shot to make it 3-1 at 9:23 of the third period and Sebastian Aho scored his second of the night into an empty net to seal the Carolina victory with 39 seconds left. The same Sebastian Aho Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin tried to get out of Carolina with a five-year, US$42.295-million offer sheet two years ago that the Hurricanes matched. Aho also had an assist.
“It’s tough right now,” the Canadiens’ Nick Suzuki said after the game. “The confidence for our group just seems to be low. There’s plays that we make all the time and we’re just not executing them. It’s definitely a tough patch. We had some of these my first (year) and even last year, these stretches. Good teams find a way to get out of it. We need to really bounce back.”
Suzuki is still looking for his first goal this season, as is every other player on the Canadiens with the exception of Jonathan Drouin (who has two), Chris Wideman and Toffoli.
“This is the NHL … it’s not easy to score goals,” said Toffoli, who led the Canadiens with 28 goals in 52 games last season. “We’re trying. We’re slowly getting there. Not necessarily time’s running out, but we got to come together and capitalize on our opportunities.”
The Canadiens appeared to take a 1-0 lead at 5:33 of the first period when Brendan Gallagher deflected in a point shot on the power play, but the goal didn’t count after a video review for goalie interference.
“It’s such a fine line,” Toffoli said about goalie interference. “I’m not here to complain. But one game it’s a goal and the next game it’s not. It’s definitely frustrating. For Gally, too, that’s how he scores his goals.
“It’s not an easy job,” Toffoli added about the video judges. “Whatever their decision was is what we had to go with and you can’t use that as an excuse. We got to find a way. It’s still early in the game and there’s no excuse for it.”
The Canadiens were outshot 33-28, but they had plenty of chances to score.
“We’re working at it as much as we can,” Josh Anderson said. “There was multiple chances there in the blue paint. We just couldn’t finish the puck. We got a goal called back. But we just got to keep grinding away. We got 20 guys in that locker room each and every night. You got to keep working at it and fight through together and once you do go on a roll from there.”
Suzuki admitted the frustration level is growing in the Canadiens’ locker room as the losses pile up without any wins.
“When everyone gets frustrated you start to get on different pages and that’s never a good thing for a hockey team,” he said. “It’s definitely really frustrating right now. Somehow we have to find a way to get that first one in. But we started the game well, some pucks just didn’t go in the net or they were right in the crease.
“It’s a team game and when a team has success all the players have success and you start having fun,” Suzuki added. “It hasn’t been fun losing all these games. We just need to find our first one and I think we can get the ball rolling and get a pile of confidence back and really help the team out.”
Kotkaniemi looks like he’s having a lot of fun with the Hurricanes. He was at left wing on the first line with fellow Finns Aho and Teuvo Teravainen, logging 12:58 of ice time with three shots and three hits to go along with his goal.
“I like his potential, for sure,” Canadiens head coach Dominique Ducharme said after Thursday’s morning skate when asked what he liked about Kotkaniemi during his time in Montreal. “I think at times he really showed that. Being consistent is hard for a young player and going through those ups and downs. But he’s a good kid. He’s liked by his teammates.
“I’ve said it before, I wish I could have kept working with him but I understand his situation where they put that pile of money on the table for him. He said yes. Who would have said no?”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced today that Canada will launch a diplomatic boycott of the upcoming 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing.
No federal government officials will attend the games. Canadian athletes will still be allowed to compete.
The U.S., U.K. and Australia already have announced they won’t send official delegations to the games — a collective attempt to send a message to China that its human rights abuses have not gone unnoticed.
Speaking to reporters on Parliament Hill, Trudeau said the government is “extremely concerned” by the “repeated human rights violations carried out by the Chinese government.” He said Canada will show its displeasure with the communist regime by withholding the delegates that normally would attend high-profile events like the opening and closing ceremonies.
Asked if he was anticipating any blowback from Beijing for snubbing China as it prepares to host the world, Trudeau said “this should not come as a surprise” to the regime.
“For months, we have been coordinating and discussing the issue with our allies,” he said.
WATCH: Trudeau announces diplomatic boycott of Beijing Olympic Games
MPs, senators and civil society groups have been pushing the Trudeau government to hold China accountable for its crackdown on democratic rights in Hong Kong and the ongoing abuse of the Uyghur Muslim minority.
Earlier this year, the House of Commons passed a motion branding the violence directed at religious minorities in China’s Xinjiang province as “genocide.” That motion followed a Commons subcommittee report that found China persecutes its Muslim minority through mass detention in concentration camps, forced labour, state surveillance and population control measures — policies the report said are designed to “eradicate Uyghur culture and religion.”
In the motion, MPs also called on the federal government to use its influence to pressure the International Olympic Committee to move the games out of China “if the Chinese government continues this genocide.”
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole said Wednesday his party’s push to relocate the games got “no traction with Mr. Trudeau” and a diplomatic boycott is the next best thing.
While he said he’s horrified by reports of violence in Xinjiang, O’Toole said a full boycott would be unfair to Canada’s Olympic and Paralympic athletes who have trained so hard for the world’s premier sporting event.
WATCH: Conservative leader calls on prime minister to boycott Beijing Olympics
Trudeau agreed that Olympic athletes shouldn’t pay a price for China’s abuses. “They need to have one thing in mind and that’s representing the country to the best of their ability and winning a gold medal for Canada,” he said.
In a media statement, the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) said it “understands and respects” the government’s decision and applauds the effort to “draw an important distinction between the participation of athletes and the participation of government officials.”
The last time Canada pursued a full boycott of the Olympics was in 1980, when Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau blocked athletes from participating in the summer games in Moscow to protest the Soviet Union’s military presence in Afghanistan.
Citing that 1980 move, the COC said “history has shown that athlete boycotts only hurt athletes without creating meaningful change.” The COC said the games will “create an important platform to draw attention” to ongoing issues in China.
Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said the decision to pull diplomats and keep Minister of Sport Pascale St-Onge and others at home was motivated by reports of abuse coming out of Xinjiang, an oil-rich territory in the country’s northwest.
“Clearly it is important for us to send a strong signal to China because we’re extremely concerned about allegations about the Uyghurs,” Joly said.
Joly said she has raised the possibility of a boycott with allies in nearly every meeting she’s had since being named foreign minister in October. She said she will travel to a G7 meeting in the U.K. this weekend to press other holdouts, such as France and Germany, to join the boycott.
“Canada has been playing a leadership role on this — this is in line with our foreign policy. Canada always stands up on questions of human rights,” she said.
Canada-Chinese relations soured after China detained two Canadians — Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig — in an apparent act of retribution for Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou’s 2018 arrest on U.S. fraud charges. In September, the two men were freed by China’s communist regime after the legal dispute involving Meng was partly resolved by U.S. prosecutors.
The western world’s relationship with China has deteriorated over the past two years. China has been accused of covering up early COVID-19 outbreaks and of pushing World Health Organization (WHO) officials to praise its pandemic response rather than scrutinize its actions.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says there will be an announcement later today on the government’s decision about whether to proceed with a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Beijing Olympic Games.
Speaking to reporters on his way into a caucus meeting on Wednesday, Trudeau said it’s important to align with allies – many of whom have chosen not to send government officials to the Games, but allow athletes to continue to compete.
“For the past many, many months we’ve been talking about our approach with allies around the world. We know that on issues like this it’s important to make sure that we are working with our allies…we will have an announcement to make later today,” he said.
The U.S. announced a diplomatic boycott on Monday as a means of protesting against human rights abuses in China towards the Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang province.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that the U.S. has a “fundamental commitment to promoting human rights” and that it “will not be contributing to the fanfare of the Games.”
Since then, Australia and the U.K. have followed suit.
China has denied those allegations and says the boycott violates “the principle of political neutrality of sports established by the Olympic Charter and runs counter to the Olympic motto `more united,”‘ Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told reporters.
Many former diplomats and international security analysts suggest Canada should go further and enforce a full boycott, withdrawing all Canadian presence, including athletes.
Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly also commented on the issue on Wednesday, noting that Canada is acting in a “diligent” manner.
“The most important thing for Canada right now is to make sure that we can have a strong voice on the question of human rights in Xinjiang in China,” she said.
With a file from The Associated Press.
In the understated words of Nick Ritchie: “It had been a while.”
On a night of highlight plays from Michael Bunting and Jack Campbell, and a scoring streak continuing for Auston Matthews, it finally happened for Ritchie.
It took 27 games and 40 shots but the $2.5-million-a-year free-agent signing finally got his first goal with the Maple Leafs in Toronto’s 5-4 win Tuesday night over the Columbus Blue Jackets.
“It felt good, helping the team, scoring a goal at home, and a win after a couple of losses,” Ritchie said. “It had been a while. Two months. A lot of games. As long of a (drought) as I’ve had in hockey. Feels good to get one. Hopefully I can build some confidence.”
The crowd was particularly supportive when public address announcer Mike Ross announced it was Ritchie’s “first goal as a Maple Leaf” and his teammates seemed happier than Ritchie.
“That’s almost better than scoring, seeing how much your team cares,” he said. “We have a tight team and everyone gets excited for little things.”
Ritchie had proven himself as a goal scorer, with 15 last year in a shortened season in Boston. He wondered sometimes why he was having trouble scoring in Toronto.
“It’s not an easy league to score in,” he said. “You have to get lucky, too. I had a couple of good chances the last little while. I just had to stay with it. I knew eventually it would finally go in for me.”
Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said he predicted Ritchie would score Tuesday, but admitted he’s been predicting it would be Ritchie’s night for a while.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Keefe said. “I started calling it, then I stopped. It was his birthday the other day. But in the coach’s room before the game, I called it. I thought it would be on the power play.
“I can’t take a lot of credit for it, because I’ve been calling it and calling it. I did feel strongly that today was going to be the day. He’s been very quietly putting up points in the past five games. You could see it coming. He’s had good chances. I’m thrilled for him.”
About the game: Ritchie’s goal, the team’s offence and the play of Alex Steeves and Kristians Rubins. both of whom got into their first NHL games. was about all Keefe liked about the game. But it was a fun one to watch.
Matthews ended the night with two goals and an assist, Morgan Rielly had four assists, William Nylander had a goal and an assist and John Tavares also scored in a game in which the outcome never felt in doubt despite a late-game push by the Blue Jackets.
Olivier Bjorkstrand scored twice for Columbus. Sean Kuraly and Max Domi scored late for Columbus — Domi with one second left — to make the result look more flattering for the Jackets than the game really was.
“I didn’t like much about the game in any period,” Keefe said. “We found ways to strike offensively, whether it was on the power play (Nylander, Tavares) or off the rush (Matthews, twice) but, in terms of how we like to play, I don’t think there was a lot to like about the game.
“I’m happy the third period caught up to us, because it should have. Not a good game for us, but a good result. Needed to get back on the right side of it.”
Getting rest: Keefe thought the team was simply tired. They’d been out west for three games, came home for one, and then went back west for two, so it felt like a long trip. Plus the roster was in flux.
Mitch Marner missed his third game with a shoulder injury, suffered in practice Friday. Rasmus Sandin was out with the effects of knee-on-knee injury suffered Sunday in Winnipeg. Travis Dermott, too, was sidelined with a shoulder issue. And Jason Spezza missed the first-game of a six-game suspension for his knee to the head of Winnipeg’s Neal Pionk, whose knee injured Sandin.
“We’re a tired group that needs time,” said Keefe, who gave his team Wednesday off. “We’re a team that needs to regroup itself.”
Quick start: Nylander, Matthews and Ritchie got the Maple Leafs off to a 3-0 lead in a first period they dominated. The led the shot-clock 18-9 after 20 minutes.
Nylander scored on the power play, and Matthews made it 2-0 on a nice feed from Michael Bunting who, with a defenceman draped all over him, pulled off a between-the-legs pass to Matthews, who had an easy tap-in to extend his goals streak to seven straight games. Tavares and Matthews scored seven seconds apart in the final two minutes of the middle frame.
Matthews is on a tear, with 10 goals in his last seven games and 17 on the season. He has rejoined the conversation for the Rocket Richard Trophy, putting himself within striking distance of NHL goal leaders Leon Draisaitl and Alex Ovechkin, who had 21 and 20 as the games began Tuesday.
The new guys: Steeves and Rubins are feel-good stories.
Rubins, who is on Latvia’s short list of potential Olympians, is 23 and worked his way up the Leafs system. Undrafted out of the Medicine Hat Tigers, he started with the Newfoundland Growlers in 2018. He’s six-foot-five and cuts an imposing figure on the blue line.
“Dream come true, just a special night for me,” he said, after being paired with Timothy Liljegren and going minus-1 in 13 minutes and 40 seconds.
Steeves was a standout at Notre Dame last year who kept up his scoring ways with the Marlies, despite missing camp with an injury. Steeves had seven goals in 12 games with the Marlies.
“It was super special, really happy we got the win,” said Steeves, who was minus-1 while playing 8:28. “It was a tangible goal of mine to play for the Leafs this year. I didn’t really have a set date. To get the call this early was special. It wasn’t something I was really thinking about, but I just knew I wanted to get here.”
Roster notes: Veteran defenceman Alex Biega was also among the call-ups, as insurance, due to the litany of injuries. He was scratched for Tuesday’s game … Forward Joey Anderson was returned to the Marlies … Jake Muzzin left the game briefly in the first period after taking a shot off his foot.
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