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Italian star Lorenzo Insigne officially signs with Toronto FC – Sportsnet.ca

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Toronto FC has officially signed Lorenzo Insigne, securing the star Italian striker in one of the most anticipated moves the club has ever made.

Insigne, who turns 31 on June 4, will complete his current season with Napoli before joining Toronto FC on a four-year deal after his current contract expires on July 1.

He will be added to the roster as a Designated Player pending receipt of his International Transfer Certificate, the team said.

“This is a historic and exciting day for our club,” said Toronto FC President Bill Manning in a statement. “Lorenzo is a world class attacking player in the prime of his career. He was a European champion with Italy and has performed on the biggest stages during his club career with Napoli. Lorenzo has the talent to change games. He plays the game with joy and passion, and our fans and supporters are going to love watching him as a member of our team.”

A captain with Napoli, his acquisition represents a swing for the fences for a Toronto team looking to return to its winning ways after a dismal 6-18-10 season in 2021.

The Italian, a Naples native who made his first-team debut with Napoli in 2009, comes with a gilt-edged resume.

Insigne started for Italy in its Euro 2020 final win over England and had two goals at the tournament. He made his debut for Italy in 2012 and has 10 goals in 53 appearances, also playing for his country at the 2014 World Cup and Euro 2016.

TFC has also been linked with 28-year-old Torino striker Andrea Belotti, another Italian international whose club contract is expiring this summer.

At five-foot-four and 130 pounds, Insigne is small but packs a punch. He can play in the attack across the field, but is often deployed as a left winger where he can use his speed, ball skills and powerful shot to great effect.

Champions in 2017 and runners-up in 2016 and 2019, Toronto finished 26th out of 27 teams last year. The vast majority of the franchise’s season-ticket base opted to forgo what little of the season that was played in Toronto, put off by the pandemic and the team’s woeful on-field performance.

Instead they put their hopes — and ticket investment — in the 2022 season.

— With files from the Canadian Press.

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Edmonton Oilers stop bleeding with monster comeback victory against Calgary Flames – Edmonton Sun

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On a seven-game losing streak, with their coach on the hot seat, their goalies being roasted at the stake and the season slipping through their fingers, a centre stage Battle of Alberta was the fork in what has been a long and bumpy downhill road

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There are certain games in a hockey team’s season that mean much more than two points. They are watershed moments that tell us who they are and where they are going.

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Saturday night against the Calgary Flames was one of those games for the Edmonton Oilers.

On a seven-game losing streak, with their coach on the hot seat, their goalies being roasted at the stake and the season slipping through their fingers, a centre stage Battle of Alberta was the fork in what has been a long and bumpy downhill road.

In the end, the Oilers took the road less travelled — one that actually led to a win.

They came back from down 2-0 and rode two goals from Evan Bouchard, an outstanding night from Mikko Koskinen and a third-period winner and empty-netter from Leon Draisaitl to post a life-preserving 5-3 victory.

“It feels great,” said Draisaitl, who also chipped in two assists for a four-point night. “Losing is awful. It sucks. It is not fun. It feels like there is always a cloud around you. We are not where we want to be yet, but this is a start and you have to start at some point. (Koskinen) was amazing. It was a full team effort, a good game for us.”

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For reasons unexplained, the Sportsnet crew only saw fit to name Koskinen the third star, but his 44-save performance was the foundation that made everything else possible.

“He saved the game for us,” said Draisaitl. “He was our best player, not even close tonight. It is great for him. We love him in the dressing room and we love playing for him. He was amazing.”

The Oilers, who came in with six points to show for their previous 15 games (2-11-2), needed this game more than they’ve needed a regular season game in a looong time.

That they might have righted their season at the expense of Calgary makes it sweeter.

“It makes it extra special,” said Draisaitl. “It’s always fun beating our biggest rival in the league. But to be honest, it doesn’t really matter at this point when you are that deep into a slump.

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“You are just looking to get that first win out of the way, it doesn’t really matter who it is against. But it does make it a little bit extra special, for sure.”

Not that the Flames were exactly tearing things up. Prior to their 5-1 win over Florida this week they lost nine of their previous 10 games (the only win coming over lowly Seattle) and were outscored 43-22. So they were at a bit of a crossroads themselves.

But when the flag dropped, Calgary hit the gas first.

It was a miserable start for the Oilers, who were losing puck battles and leaving guys wide open around their net en route to a well-deserved 2-0 deficit after 20 minutes. That made it 13 goals against in the last five periods dating back to the five-goal third-period collapse against Ottawa.

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Things looked pretty bad at this point.

It turned in the second, though, starting with a pair of point shots on the power play from Bouchard.

“I thought our second period was good,” said Connor McDavid, who ended his three-game drought with a pair of assists. “We really dictated the pace of the period, drew a few penalties and our power play was able to capitalize.

“The power play is big part of the game and we were able to get ourselves back in it, to just scratch and claw to find a way to get a win.”

Brendan Perlini and Noah Hannafin traded goals before the second intermission and it was 3-3 after 40.

All the Oilers had to do was win the final period. That was no gimme after giving up nine goals in the third period of their last two games, but the game was still up for grabs.

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The Flames pushed first, outshooting Edmonton 8-2 through the first 11 minutes, but Koskinen kept it 3-3 with a handful of key stops, none better than a diving save for the ages on Dillon Dube.

“I think it is my top save in the NHL,” he said. “When you think about the situation and where we are, we really needed the win and we got it so we have to be happy for that.”

That set the stage for Draisaitl’s winner on a brilliant rush at 14:29.

“We were down 2-0 after the first, but we kept talking that we believed and that we were gong to come back and that is what happened,” said Koskinen. “It was a full team effort. I was really proud of the team.”

SIDELINE NEWS

In what seems like a never-ending drip of injuries and illnesses, the Oilers were without Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (leg), Zach Hyman (protocol) and defenceman Tyson Barrie (upper and lower body injuries, but the middle is said to be OK). Zack Kassian also sat this one out with a non-COVID illness.

Stuart Skinner emerged from COVID protocol in time for the game but they kept him on the bench as a backup given that he hadn’t been on the ice in six days.

Twitter.com/rob_tychkowski
rtychkowski@postmedia.com

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Shapovalov beats Zverev in straight sets, advances to Australian Open quarterfinals – TSN

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Canada’s Denis Shapovalov continued his run at the Australian Open with a dominant straight-sets upset victory over Alexander Zverev in the fourth round Sunday.

Shapovalov of Richmond Hill, Ont., defeated the third-ranked Zverev 6-3, 7-6(5), 6-3 to advance to the quarterfinal.

The 22-year-old Canadian, ranked 14th, will face No. 6 Rafael Nadal in the next round. The Spaniard earned his spot in the quarterfinal with a straight-sets victory against Adrian Mannarino.

Shapovalov had never made it past the third round at the Australian Open.

The Canadian was aggressive in the match and constantly challenged the uninspired Zverev. He managed to overcome 11 double faults in the match.

Shapovalov completely dominated the third set, which ended with Zverev sending a return into the net. He fist-bumped in celebration.

Shapovalov needed two hours 21 minutes to defeat Zverev – his quickest match of the Grand Slam tournament so far. His previous three matches lasted more than three hours each, with his second-round victory over South Korea’s Kwon Soon-woo going four hours 25 minutes across five sets.

But it was a much more consistent, composed performance that saw Shapovalov make relatively fast work of Zverev.

He put serious doubt in the German’s mind when he broke his opponent on the very first game of the second set. Zverev destroyed his racket in anger, smashing it multiple times against the court.

The Canadian went on to lose serve twice to go down 5-3 in the second set before breaking Zverev right back to eventually force a tiebreak. In that tiebreak, Shapovalov nearly let a 5-1 lead slip away but he held on for the 2-0 set lead.

The upset was brewing early on when Shapovalov broke the German’s serve on the fourth game to go up 3-1. He served out from there for the comfortable 6-3 opening-set win.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 22, 2022.

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Spencer Martin carries Canucks to shootout against Panthers – Vancouver Is Awesome

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On Friday night, the Vancouver Canucks showed exactly why it is so difficult to predict the outcome of a single hockey game.

On paper, the Florida Panthers should have dominated this game. Sure, they had just played the night before and were missing one of their top forwards, Sam Bennett, to injury. But they’re also the highest-scoring team in the NHL, with a deep bench that should’ve been able to easily absorb the loss of Bennett. They cruised to a 6-0 win over the Edmonton Oilers in their previous game and were able to limit the ice time of some of their best players to lessen the impact of games on back-to-back nights.

Besides, the Canucks’ lineup was a wreck.

With six players in the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol, the Canucks were missing all three of their top-scoring forwards — J.T. Miller, Bo Horvat, and Conor Garland. More importantly, both Thatcher Demko and Jaroslav Halak were unavailable, forcing the Canucks to go to the farm for the third-string goaltender.

That goaltender was Spencer Martin, who last played in the NHL back in 2017. He played all of three games for the Colorado Avalanche and didn’t win any of them, posting an .865 save percentage. 

Martin has been in the AHL ever since and never been particularly good. Even at just 26 years old, it must have seemed difficult to keep the dream of getting back to the NHL alive.

But then the Canucks traded for him. He joined the Abbotsford Canucks in the AHL, where they already had two prospect goaltenders vying for time, Michael DiPietro and Arturs Silovs. But he worked with Canucks goaltending coaches Ian Clark and Curtis Sanford and gradually, as the season progressed, he outplayed both prospects, earning starts ahead of them.

“This organization is rich with goaltending prospects,” said Martin after the game. “To come in and join them and work with them, it was a good experience. I got some time at the beginning of the year where I wasn’t playing much to work with Clarky and Sandman in Abbotsford and that, I think, is a huge reason why I feel comfortable in the game now.”

So, when the Canucks needed a goaltender, they turned to the guy with a .921 save percentage in the AHL instead of one of their prospects with a sub-.900 save percentage.

“I just felt incredibly blessed,” said Martin after the game. “I know how hard it is to get to this level and how many experiences it takes to get opportunities…it felt incredible to get an opportunity.”

Martin came through. 

On paper, this game looked like it should’ve been a blowout, but, against the most dangerous offensive team in the NHL, Martin stopped 33 of 34 shots to get the game to overtime and earn his team a point, then to the shootout to give them a chance to earn another one.

“I love when American League players that have played there for a while get opportunities and show what they can do,” said head coach Bruce Boudreau, who spent a great deal of time in the AHL himself as a player. “There’s a lot of good players that get overlooked because of their age or for whatever reason and they’re really good players. 

“So, for Spencer to come in and play a game like that against the highest-scoring team in the league, I thought it was really impressive.”

Indeed it was. I, for one, was impressed when I watched this game.

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  • Martin plays a very aggressive, athletic style that is common among undersized goaltenders, who have to put in a little more effort than a big goaltender to cover the net. Only, Martin is 6’3”, which was a bit jarring to discover. He plays like he’s 5’10”. But hey, if it works, it works. On Friday night, it worked.
     
  • Martin’s most chaotic moment came midway through the second period, when he was forced to scramble when a point shot was blocked. We’ll call it controlled chaos, though, as he kept his wherewithal enough to shoot out his left pad and kick the puck off of Ryan Lomberg’s stick before the Florida forward could even shoot the puck. Then he got the net knocked into the back of his head for good measure.
  • The kick save before the player could shoot makes me think of one of the NBA’s great unheralded defenders, Shane Battier, who used to “block” shots by knocking the ball out of his opponent’s hand as they were bringing the ball up into a shooting position, preventing them from getting a shot in the first place. He wouldn’t get credit for a block on the box score, even if the end result was the same. Like Battier, Martin didn’t get credit for a save for kicking the puck off Lomberg’s stick. 
     
  • This should have been Martin’s first career NHL win but his counterpart in the Panthers net matched him save for save. It was another Spencer: Spencer Knight. The difference is that Knight was a first-round pick for the Panthers and Martin was acquired for “future considerations,” which I don’t think have ever actually materialized.
  • The player Knight stymied the most was Nils Höglander, who had multiple Grade-A chances for the Canucks but couldn’t find the weak point in Knight’s armour. Höglander finished with a game-high six shots on goal on a line with Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser, but couldn’t get a goal.
     
  • Höglander’s best chance came in the second period after he made a nice defensive play to break up a Panthers chance in the slot. He and his linemates broke the other way and Pettersson sucked in the defenceman, then made a nifty move to evade the defender’s stick and send Höglander in alone on Knight, who deflected Höglander’s lancing shot away with his shield. Er, I mean blocker.
  • With Horvat and Miller out, the Canucks put together a ramshackle power play with Tanner Pearson and Alex Chiasson joining Pettersson, Boeser, and Quinn Hughes. Of course, Pearson and Chiasson immediately factored into the opening goal: Pearson tipped a Hughes point shot and the pluck fluttered up off Chiasson’s hip and into the net. Unlike Shakira, Chiasson’s hips did lie, fooling Knight completely. 
     
  • Martin was very appreciative of the goal, which was delightful. We don’t often see goaltenders celebrate goals and now I’m thinking we should always see goaltenders celebrate goals.
  • Martin held strong for two periods but the Panthers struck on an early third period power play on a bit of a soft call on Höglander. It was a broken play: Matthew Highmore knocked down a saucer pass and it just happened to go straight to Sam Reinhart, who tucked in the puck as Martin was sliding across to play the original pass. It was frustrating to see the Canucks penalty kill finally breaking up a cross-seam pass only to have it immediately backfire.
     
  • One of the weaknesses of Pettersson’s game has been faceoffs but he’s been gradually getting better. Still, he lost his first seven faceoffs in this game and he started taking turns on faceoffs with Boeser. There didn’t seem to be a rhyme or reason — the right-handed Boeser wasn’t taking all of the faceoffs on his strong side, for instance — but it seemed to work: Boeser only went 3-for-8 but Pettersson went 7-for-10 the rest of the game.
     
  • Pettersson’s calm under pressure, on the other hand, is a clear strength. This moment in the third period when Pettersson recovered a poor pass from Tyler Myers is a perfect example, as he eludes three Panthers players to patiently maintain control until he can make a pass, which just happened to lead to a drawn penalty. 
  • On the power play, Pettersson showcased some more outrageous skill. After double-clutching on a pass to Hughes at the point, Pettersson recovered to make a ridiculous move underneath a sliding Eetu Luostarinen to keep the possession going.
  • Tyler Myers gave all of Canucks nation a collective heart attack in the final minute of the game. With the score tied and the Canucks just trying to get the game to overtime, he sent a puck right up the middle of the ice from behind his own net, turning it over and forcing Martin to make another aggressive save at the top of the crease. To increase the difficulty, Matthew Highmore also tipped the shot on its way to the net. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think they didn’t like Martin.
  • It’s obvious why Tyler Motte has so many fans in Vancouver, aside from his laudable openness about his mental health. On the ice, Motte gives his all, all the time. This sequence was fantastic, as he stole the puck in the neutral zone, drove back into the offensive zone for a scoring chance, probably should’ve drawn a penalty, then delivered a huge hit on the forecheck.
  • Still, that doesn’t mean that Motte should be a go-to option in overtime. He came on for the second shift of overtime after Pettersson and Boeser. More inexplicably, the next two forwards on were Highmore and Juho Lammikko. I know the Canucks were missing three top-six forwards, but really?
     
  • It was pretty predictable: Lammikkko and Highmore, along with Oliver Ekman-Larsson, got hemmed into the Canucks zone for over three full minutes. To their credit, they managed to avoid getting scored on but it was a pretty clear illustration that whatever their strengths may be, they definitely do not extend to 3-on-3 overtime.
     
  • Part of the justification Boudreau made for putting Motte, Highmore, and Lammikko on in overtime is that he thought their speed would be an asset, but if you’ve watched a lot of 3-on-3 overtime, you know that despite the open ice, it’s not typically all that fast. In fact, it’s usually pretty methodical, with skilled players controlling possession and looking for ways to crack open the other team’s three-man structure. Speed rarely enters into it.
     
  • Honestly, I’m okay with Motte in overtime. He does have some skill when he’s got space to use it and, with the players they had out of the lineup, Motte was an acceptable option. But Lammikko and Highmore are literally the last two players I would use in that situation.
     
  • Meanwhile, Höglander, who was one of the Canucks’ most dangerous forwards, didn’t see a single second in overtime. Neither did Vasily Podkolzin. Boeser got just the one shift.
     
  • Boeser did get to go first in the shootout and made it look easy with a quick deke to the backhand. Pettersson and Hughes were less successful with their own attempts and two Panthers shooters scored on impressive moves, particularly Aleksander Barkov, who somehow shot a backhand with just one hand on his stick.
     
  • “I’ll have to see the replay there because he made a really interesting move,” said Martin. “Hopefully, I didn’t look too bad.”
     
  • Yeah, like the guy who made 33 saves on 34 shots against the highest-scoring team in the NHL could look bad. Sure. Pull the other one. 
     

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