Connor McDavid is the best hockey player on earth. He’s having a monstrous season, putting the Oilers on his back and willing them into a playoff position. He leads the league in points, is sixth in goals and is the biggest reason the Oilers have the best power play in the NHL right now.
The Canucks hard-matched 20-year-old Quinn Hughes against him on Monday night. It wasn’t even the first time.
In the first game of the season, the player that led the Canucks in ice time against McDavid at even-strength was Hughes, who was 19 at the time. Head coach Travis Green and defence coach Nolan Baumgartner placed a tremendous amount of trust in Hughes right from day one. But that was in a game where the Canucks were trying to mount a comeback; this was a game where they were defending a lead late in the third period.
Let’s just take a step back and recognize how remarkable that is. The Canucks’ rookie defenceman, who had played just 41 NHL games — half a season — heading into this game, was tasked with shutting down the best player in the world. More than that, Hughes is undersized by NHL standards and known primarily as an offensive defenceman and power play quarterback.
Old-school hockey men would either jump to the conclusion that he can’t play defence or refuse to put him in a position where he might prove that he could.
Instead, the Canucks threw him into the fire and it turned out Hughes was fireproof, which was a huge relief to everyone. Hughes played over 11 minutes against McDavid at even strength, including 1:32 of the final two minutes of the game, defending a one-goal lead. He and defence partner Chris Tanev — can’t forget about Tanev — played McDavid to a standstill, which is remarkably impressive when you consider how fast McDavid skates.
“I knew he was a great skater coming in, I mean, you can tell that from day one,” said Jay Beagle after the game. “But his play away from the park and his reads…it takes a long time for some guys to get that and he has it right away.”
Perhaps it’s that skating ability itself that made the matchup work. Few players in the league can skate with McDavid, but Hughes might be one of those few.
Then, to top it off, Hughes scored the game-winning goal on the power play. I hope you know how lucky you are to have Quinn Hughes, Vancouver. I took a moment to thank the Arizona Coyotes for drafting Barrett Hayton while I watched this game.
- Alex Edler was on the ice against Connor McDavid for just over two minutes at even-strength in this game; in that time, the Canucks out-scored the Oilers 3-0. Edler was like John Wick declaring, “Yeah, I’m thinking I’m back.”
- Okay, so Edler didn’t have much to do with any of those three goals apart from the empty net goal at the end of the game, but it was still nice to see him back in the lineup. He didn’t skip a beat, leading the Canucks in ice time in the first period, though they eased off on the minutes as the game progressed.
- Troy Stecher, who was paired with Edler, was certainly happy to see Edler back. “I’ve watched him my whole life,” said Stecher after the game, a disconcerting reminder that Stecher was just 12 years old when Edler made his Canucks debut.
- The Canucks’ fourth line split the shutdown duties with the Horvat line and played several shifts against McDavid entirely in the Oilers zone. In fact, the Oilers didn’t get a single shot attempt when Jay Beagle was on the ice against McDavid, which is pretty much ideal.
- “We just enjoy doing what we do,” said Tyler Motte. “Shutting down other teams top lines, playing hard minutes. It’s a little bit of an ugly game at times, but we just enjoy doing it and we enjoy doing it together. We just try to have fun with it.”
- Better than shutting down McDavid, the fourth line even chipped in a goal. On an ever-rare offensive zone faceoff, Motte came into the circle when Beagle was tossed out. The puck ended up in skates off the faceoff and Motte dug it out and sent a quick shot on goal. Mikko Koskinen, who had drifted back in his crease after puck drop, left room on the glove side for Motte’s Clamato Caesar shot.
- “I’m probably going to hear about it now from them that they should get out there [for offensive zone faceoffs] more often,” joked Green after the game, though they were mainly out there in a defensive role: Horvat had just been on the power play and he knew the McDavid line would come out after the penalty was over.
- Seriously, Motte was fantastic in this game. He had a great forechecking sequence during a 4-on-4 late in the second, creating a turnover with pressure on Oscar Klefbom in the neutral zone, then battling with Adam “1-for-1” Larsson on the end boards and unceremoniously throwing him to the ice.
- It didn’t take long for the Oilers to respond to the 1-0 goal, as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins blazed past Brock Boeser in the neutral zone, took advantage of a loose gap from Oscar Fantenberg, then caught Tyler Myers playing too deep in the zone. Nugent-Hopkins cut across the slot and all Myers could do was attempt a pokecheck, but Nugent-Hopkins was unpokeable, keeping the puck and beating Jacob Markstrom past his blocker.
- You can’t give the Edmonton Oilers any time on the power play. They put on a free power play clinic early in the second period, which was awfully nice of them, except it resulted in the 2-1 goal, which means it wasn’t as “free” as advertised and was actually pretty costly. We should’ve known from the quotes around the word “free” on the poster.
- The Canucks were confident heading into the third period despite being down 2-1; they felt they were out-playing the Oilers and that a bounce would go their way. When that bounce came, it was for a player that was due a bounce, particularly on home ice: Bo Horvat. He went hard to the net as Tanner Pearson took a shot off the right wing and the rebound just happened to hit Horvat’s skate and go into the net.
- Was it a kick? “That’s not a kicking motion, absolutely not, I was just stopping,” declared Horvat. “I’m a terrible soccer player, so I wouldn’t have been able to kick that.”
- That was Horvat’s first goal on home ice all season and it seemed appropriate that it was a deflection. “I knew one was going to go off my ass or off some part of my body,” said Horvat, before joking that his ass would have been better, because then he could have celebrated the goal instead of being stuck waiting to find out if the goal would be overturned.
- This was my favourite moment of the game. It’s a little hard to see here, but from my vantage point it was clear as day: Hughes put his stick in Tanev’s back and tried to push him to the puck carrier. The sheer chutzpah for a rookie like Hughes to think, “I know where Tanev needs to be defensively and I’m going to literally push him into position,” is incredible.
- Tanev was having none of it. He didn’t budge. Heck, he probably thought it was an Oilers player trying to get position on him in front of the net.
- The Oilers may have the best power play in the league, but the Canucks aren’t far behind, and they showed why midway through the third period. The Oilers’ penalty kill seemed to underrate the threat of Hughes’ shot from the point, which is understandable when Elias Pettersson is lurking around the PetterZone, but Hughes showed why that was a mistake, unleashing a one-timer bomb that ripped past a Horvat screen to give the Canucks the 3-2 lead.
- The Canucks had a couple good chances to seal the game away late in the third: Jake Virtanen got robbed on a backdoor feed by J.T. Miller, while Jay Beagle lofted a breakaway chance over the net on a rolling puck. Finally, with the net empty, it was an unlikely hero who finished off the Oilers: Loui Eriksson.
- Edler made a nice play down low to pick up a loose puck and feed Pearson on the boards, then jumped up in the play to take Pearson’s return pass. He could have gone for the empty net himself, but Edler is as unselfish as they come. He instead gave the puck to Eriksson, who gently guided the puck in with a big grin on his face. Merry Christmas, Loui Eriksson. Merry Christmas.
- Finally, I had to ask Stecher about an odd moment in his stellar mic’d up video from earlier in December. At one point, he said from the bench, ““Nice pencil, Leivs!” which isn’t hockey slang that I’m familiar with. Stecher smirked and all he would say is, “A pencil is more of a chirp than anything, so I’ll keep that one quiet.”
Maple Leafs’ Robertson to miss about four weeks with knee injury – Sportsnet.ca
Toronto Maple Leafs rookie forward Nick Robertson, who suffered a knee injury in his NHL regular-season debut over the weekend, will be sidelined roughly four weeks, coach Sheldon Keefe told reporters Monday.
Robertson was injured in the first period of the team’s 3-2 win over the Ottawa Senators after a hit from Drake Batherson.
The 19-year-old Robertson appeared in four of the Maple Leafs’ five playoff games against the Columbus Blue Jackets, scoring one goal. He replaced fellow rookie Alexander Barabanov on the fourth line Saturday and had one shot in 2:20 of ice time before his injury.
Toronto Maple Leafs Make Tough Decision in Waiving Jason Spezza and Aaron Dell – The Hockey Writers
We knew the Toronto Maple Leafs were going to have to be creative with the salary cap situation. General Manager Kyle Dubas said there would be a lot of paperwork to file out to stay compliant, but it was just a formality for the most part. But that paperwork started a dumpster fire on Sunday morning. Jason Spezza hit the waiver wire, and within minutes it got worse. Sportsnet’s Chris Johnson spoke with Spezza’s agent, Rick Curran, who said Spezza would “simply retire” if another team claimed him.
What just happened? Spezza has played well as a fourth-line centre. He won all 10 of his face-offs on Saturday night in a win over the Ottawa Senators. He recorded his 600th career assist in the opening game against the Montreal Canadiens. He even played a few shifts on the second line with John Tavares and William Nylander. These facts did not lead anyone to imagine that his hometown team would waive the 37-year-old veteran.
I’m sure Dubas did not come to this decision lightly. It’s a ripple effect of Nic Robertson injuring his knee in the first period of the game on Saturday night. A move had to be made to bring up another player from the taxi squad. According to his agent, Spezza understood the risks of these roster moves when he resigned with Toronto. He was happy to continue to play a depth role and offer leadership.
Rough Ride for Spezza in Toronto
I get that this is business, but you have to feel for the guy. He came to Toronto to pursue his dream of winning a Stanley Cup. In his first game with the organization, Mike Babcock gave the veteran the healthy scratch with several family members in attendance. A move that lit up the Toronto sports commentators for weeks. Now just three games into his second season with the Maple Leafs, he is put on the waiver wire.
It seems unlikely Spezza will be claimed. However, Toronto may lose its third goalie. Aaron Dell has also been put on waivers. Toronto was carrying three goalies to offer more downtime to Frederik Andersen and Jack Campbell. Andersen didn’t dress on Saturday night.
A Move Was Coming
Before Saturday’s game, Sheldon Keefe was asked about his ability to make lineup changes. His answer left it open to this kind of move. “You get the extra goalie insurance the depth there, and of course we value,” said Keefe. “I think when you look at our situation carrying a 21 man roster, and one of those guys is a third goalie, it limits our ability to make lineup changes. But a lot can happen in a season, and things can change quickly.”
Those changes did happen quickly. Not only in Toronto, but the Edmonton Oilers are facing challenges. Mike Smith was placed on the long-term injured reserve list. Edmonton lost back-up Anton Forsberg, who had earlier been claimed off waivers. This left Edmonton one minor injury from a disaster in the net. The Oilers have signed two goalies since, but due to quarantine restrictions, they are not available to the team until January 27. Edmonton is 19th on the waiver wire list. Not only that, the Oilers are in Toronto for a game on Wednesday and Friday. It’s hard to imagine that Dell will not be claimed.
We are just three games into the 56-game regular season. We are getting a sense of how difficult it will be for teams and players to manage the new world of quarantine restrictions. Who could’ve predicted that Robertson’s knee injury could lead to a possible retirement of Spezza and could possibly help out a North Division rival? This is the new normal.
Saints’ Drew Brees mum on future after playoff loss to Buccaneers
NEW ORLEANS — Nearly two hours after the New Orleans Saints’ season had ended, Drew Brees stood on the Superdome field in street clothes, throwing passes to his children while his wife, Brittany, captured images of those moments with her cellphone.
Brees routinely throws the ball around with his kids after home games, but after a 30-20 playoff loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday night, he lingered longer than usual — and there was no telling whether that familiar postgame scene would play out again.
Two days after Brees’ 42nd birthday, his 20th NFL season ended with statistically his worst playoff performance.
Brees threw three interceptions, his most in 18 post-season appearances. His 134 yards passing were a career-playoff low. And because of COVID-19 restrictions, there were fewer than 4,000 fans in the 73,000-seat Superdome to bid him farewell — if indeed it was his final game in a Saints uniform.
For now, Brees won’t say. But he’s also said nothing that would lead one to believe he’s prepared to play next season, his last under contract.
“I’ll answer this question one time and that is that I’m going to give myself an opportunity to think about the season, think about a lot of things just like I did last year and make a decision,” Brees said.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) January 18, 2021
That decision for the NFL’s all-time leader in yards passing will come after a fourth straight season that saw the Saints (13-5) win 11 or more games and go to the playoffs, only to come up short of the Super Bowl.
This season, Brees missed four games with multiple broken ribs and a punctured lung, but came back in time to see New Orleans through to its fourth straight NFC South crown and a convincing playoff victory over Chicago in the wild-card round.
“I would never regret it. Never. No complaints, no regrets,” Brees said. “I’ve always tried to play this game with a great respect and a great reverence for it, and I appreciate all that this game has given to me.
“There are obviously so many incredible memories and so many incredible relationships that have come as a result of playing this game,” Brees continued. “You find out so much about yourself and you have to fight through so much when you play this game. And I’d say this season I probably had to fight through more than I’ve ever had to in any other season in my career, from injury to all the COVID stuff, to just crazy circumstances. And it was worth every moment of it. Absolutely.”
Brees said the way this season ended “won’t have anything to do” with his decision on whether to retire.
As for what will go into the decision, Brees said, “I’ll keep that to myself right now.”
Saints coach Sean Payton seemed to be taking his cue from Brees when he, too, sidestepped a question about what his decade-and-a-half relationship with Brees has meant to him.
“That’s probably for another press conference,” Payton said. “Obviously he’s been tremendous for this team, this city. I could go on and on, but let’s wait and answer that at the right time.”
Other teammates didn’t wait, though.
“He’s been everything you could imagine a leader could be,” said Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan, Brees’ teammate since 2011. “He’s the first one in, the last one out. Every stereotypical leadership core value you think of, Drew has. He exemplifies everything that he does in terms of wanting to be a better teammate.”
Veteran linebacker Demario Davis said playing with Brees has meant “everything” to him.
“When I came to New Orleans, I wanted to help Drew Brees win another Super Bowl because I feel like he deserves it for the accomplishments that he’s had,” Davis said. “I wanted him to have some more championship trophies on the mantle.
“He’s a great teammate, a great leader, a great man, a great husband and a great father,” Davis added. “He’s just an example for all us to try to emulate.”
Brees, who brought the Saints their only Super Bowl appearance and win in the 2009 season, is not only the all-time leader in yards passing with 80,358, but also completions 7,142. He began this season first in touchdowns, but is now second with 571, behind the 581 of Tampa Bay’s Tom Brady, who is moving on to his 14th conference title game at age 43.
When the game ended, Brees greeted a couple of Bucs players, including Brady, who he’s known since college, and then pointed to the stands and blew kisses as he jogged to the tunnel leading to the Saints locker room. When he first emerged from the locker room back onto the field in street clothes, he shared a long embrace with Brittany while his three sons and daughter played nearby.
“I always soak in the moment and I’m looking up at my family and blowing kisses to my wife and my daughter and fist-pumping my boys,” Brees said. “They’ve become so much a part of this as my kids have gotten older, and they are so invested in this as well. That’s what makes the moment special, to be able to share it all together.”
Source: – Sportsnet.ca
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