It was a moment Blue Jays fans won’t soon forget, and one they will hope eventually represents a passing of the torch from one American League most valuable player to another.
Josh Donaldson, Toronto’s 2015 MVP now with the Minnesota Twins, signing and exchanging jerseys with Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who is vying for his first MVP nod this season, following a three-game series between the two teams.
The pair set up the jersey exchange on Saturday and it caused quite a stir of emotion a day later, the end of an already emotional weekend with Donaldson’s return and the Jays back in a wild-card spot.
There they were — the man who last led the Jays’ World Series hopes and the man fans hope can take Toronto one step further by clinching the top prize.
“He just told me after, ‘Stay focused and keep working hard until the end,’” Guerrero Jr. said post-game of his interaction with Donaldson.
Donaldson, 35, is no stranger to hearing fans at Rogers Centre shout “MVP, MVP” during an at-bat. This time around he received a standing ovation during his first plate appearance of the series but the kinds of cheers he once received were now directed at the 22-year-old Guerrero.
The veteran was all for it. When asked on Saturday if he thought Guerrero deserved to join him and 1987 winner George Bell as Blue Jays MVPs, Donaldson’s answer was clear.
“It should happen,” Donaldson said. “He’s put up (an) astronomical season from the offensive side and he’s contributing on the defensive side. The guy’s got a 1.000 OPS at 22 years old, being a huge contributor.”
Guerrero’s stiffest competition in the race for AL MVP is Los Angeles Angels two-way player Shohei Ohtani, who many believe is a lock for the award as his team’s staff ace and most productive hitter — he is doing something that has never before been seen in Major League Baseball. But Guerrero, who is vying for the Triple Crown as the league leader in home runs, batting average and runs batted in, is mounting a late season challenge for the award as Ohtani navigates some late season troubles.
The Angels star’s numbers at the plate have dipped in the second half of the season and there has been talk of him being shut down from pitching in the final portion of the season because of arm soreness. And then there’s the age-old question: can a player be the most valuable if his team is not headed to the playoffs? Guerrero and the Jays could very well be; Ohtani and the Angels are not in post-season contention.
To Donaldson, there are holes in the argument for Ohtani: he didn’t start every fifth day, the recent injury could cause him to miss most of September on the mound and, as a designated hitter, he doesn’t impact both sides of the game. Guerrero, on the other hand, strikes fear in opposing lineups unlike any other player this season, Donaldson said.
And if the Jays make the playoffs, Donaldson said, that should tip the scales in Guerrero’s favour.
“If you take Vlad out of that lineup, this isn’t the same team,” Donaldson said. “Not that this isn’t a good lineup, because it is. But what Vlad’s doing is … he’s that security blanket for the rest of that lineup (with) what he’s producing. He takes pressure off of everybody else.”
Hearing that kind of praise from Donaldson, who spent the weekend at the ballpark happily reuniting with familiar faces he knew from his four years in Toronto and touting Guerrero’s MVP worthiness to anyone who would listen, left Guerrero nearly speechless but maybe not surprised. Guerrero, who was signed by the Jays the same year Donaldson won the MVP in 2015, said Donaldson has long been supportive of his career.
“Coming from Josh, it’s unbelievable what he said. Especially coming from someone that already won the MVP,” Guerrero said. “Since I was in the minors when he was here, he was always giving me advice, especially in spring training. When I was playing third, helping me out, taking ground balls with him. He’s always been great to me and I really appreciate his comments.”
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Canadiens come up nearly empty against Rangers in home opener – Montreal Gazette
A third-period goal by Alexis Lefreniére proved to be the difference as the New York Rangers defeated the Canadiens 3-1 to spoil the home opener at the Bell Centre on Saturday night.
Lafrenière got behind the defence and Jake Allen had little chance as he converted a perfect pass from Mika Zibanejad to snap a 1-1 tie. The goal at 9:50 came 26 seconds after Jonathan Drouin gave the near-sellout crowd some hope when he ended Igor Shesterkin’s shutout bid. He was set up by Christian Dvorak, who carried the puck behind the net and found Drouin in the slot.
Kevin Rooney completed the scoring for the Rangers with an empty-net goal.
Shesterkin made 31 saves, while Allen stopped 21 of 23 shots.
After a listless first period, the Rangers picked up the pace to start the second and the Canadiens provided some opportunities by taking three consecutive penalties before the period was 10 minutes old. Montreal did a good job killing the first two, but New York got the bounce to take a 1-0 lead on a power-play goal at 9:59.
Chris Krieder was credited with his third goal of the season when he deflected a shot by Zibanejad. Allen stopped the shot, but the rebound went in off defenceman Alexander Romanov.
The Canadiens created two scoring chances later in the second period. Cédric Paquette deflected a shot by Jeff Petry and it was headed to the top corner when Shesterkin made a spectacular glove save.
Two minutes later, defenceman David Savard showed off his puck-handling skills as he weaved his way through the Rangers and tried to find Brendan Gallagher in front. Gallagher was unable to control the pass for a shot and Shesterkin pounced on the loose puck.
The Canadiens’ power play continues to experience problems. Montreal had two power plays in the first period and managed only one shot on goal. They had four shots on a third-period advantage, but the best scoring chance came on a shorthanded breakaway by Zibanejad. The Montreal power play is now 0-for 11 on the season
There were few opportunities for either team in the first period, which ended with the Rangers outshooting the Canadiens 7-5. Josh Anderson had the best scoring chance when he unleashed a shot from the right faceoff circle. Shesterkin was unable to handle the shot cleanly, but the puck trickled wide. Tyler Toffoli attempted a wraparound late in the period, but Shesterkin sealed off the post.
The game was preceded by words of welcome from team owner Geoff Molson and a drawn-out introduction of the players, coaches, the training and medical staffs and various other members of the hockey operations department. The loudest ovation was for Drouin, who returned to action this season after taking timer off to deal with anxiety.
During a break in the first period, the Canadiens announced this will be the final season for Pierre Gervais as the team’s equipment manager. Gervais, who has been involved in more 3,000 games over a 35-year career, will remain with the team in yet-to-be-determined new role.
This was the first of four consecutive homes games for the Canadiens. They will welcome the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday, followed by the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday and the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday.
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How to watch
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The Montreal Canadiens head to the Bell Centre for the first meaningful action since last season’s Stanley Cup Playoffs. The last game Montreal fans witnessed in person was an overtime victory on Josh Anderson’s second goal of Game 4 in the Final.
Anderson was responsible for that last goal the Canadiens scored in 2020-21, and had a major hand in the first one versus the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday night, but offence has been very difficult to come by for the team since that goal seven minutes into the opener; there’s only been one more since.
As a reaction, lines were juggled in the most recent match in Buffalo, but to little avail. Even so, Dominique Ducharme is sticking with the group he has hoping that his players will quickly find solutions.
The Rangers’ bid to increase their early-season offence was dealt a blow when Ryan Strome was ruled out by the COVID protocol for tonight’s game, knocking one of the top point-producers from a season ago out of action. Both teams will be missing significant offensive pieces as they go for their first win, but one of the clubs is going to avoid a winless start, even if it takes Marek Malik coming out of retirement to end it.
Montreal Canadiens projected lineup
|Left Wing||Centre||Right Wing|
|Left Wing||Centre||Right Wing|
|#40 Joel Armia||#14 Nick Suzuki||#22 Cole Caufield|
|#92 Jonathan Drouin||#28 Christian Dvorak||#17 Josh Anderson|
|#73 Tyler Toffoli||#71 Jake Evans||#11 Brendan Gallagher|
|#85 Mathieu Perreault||#13 Cédric Paquette||#62 Artturi Lehkonen|
|Left Defence||Right Defence|
|Left Defence||Right Defence|
|#27 Alexander Romanov||#26 Jeff Petry|
|#8 Ben Chiarot||#58 David Savard|
|#77 Brett Kulak||#20 Chris Wideman|
|#34 Jake Allen||#35 Samuel Montembeault|
New York Rangers projected lineup
|Left Wing||Centre||Right Wing|
|Left Wing||Centre||Right Wing|
|Alexis Lafrenière||Mika Zibanejad||Chris Kreider|
|Artemiy Panarin||Filip Chytil||Kaapo Kakko|
|Sammy Blais||Barclay Goodrow||Julien Gauthier|
|Dryden Hunt||Kevin Rooney||Ryan Reaves|
|Igor Shesterkin||Alexandar Georgiev|
In ever-evolving NBA, Raptors’ length and athleticism opens doors on defence – Sportsnet.ca
Under head coach Nick Nurse, the Toronto Raptors have always worked to stay abreast of league trends, or even push the envelope on what might be next.
As an assistant coach, Nurse received a considerable amount of credit for overseeing an effort to inject more spacing, ball movement and player movement into an offensive approach that had grown too reliant on DeMar DeRozan’s mid-range isolations. The result was a team-record 59-win season in 2017-18. Nurse also had his fingerprints on the “bench mob” – the high-tempo, aggressive defence-first group that was a big part of the Raptors’ regular-season success.
Since becoming head coach in 2019-19, Nurse’s defensive focus has been more apparent, with the Raptors embracing liberal switching on the perimeter as well as a growing reliance on zone defences – tactics that were less common across the league than they quickly became.
But basketball’s pace of change hasn’t stalled. You can only pay so much attention to games that don’t matter, but it’s hard not to notice that in pre-season play the Golden State Warriors are putting up an astounding 55 three-point shots a game. Four other teams – Sacramento, Denver, Utah and Oklahoma City are averaging 45 three-point attempts.
For context the only teams in league history to average 45 three-point shots a game were the 2018-19 and 2019-20 Houston Rockets, with James Harden at his gun-slinging peak. A decade ago NBA teams averaged 20 three-point attempts a game. Last season it was 34 and still climbing apparently.
“I don’t know if any of us sat here at some point and said the amount of threes are going to be double … or whatever the number is,” said Nurse. “… It does evolve pretty quickly though.”
Given the value of those shots, a team that wants to be effective defensively must have a plan to discourage them being taken, or at least make them more difficult.
One of the benefits of a roster rounded out with so many players in the six-foot-six to six-foot-nine range – the Raptors only have four players in training camp shorter – is the pressure they can put on perimeter shooters.
The Raptors got a taste of it last season, when six-foot-nine Chris Boucher led the NBA with .84 blocked three-pointers a game and was ranked fourth in the league in the percentage that opponents shot when he was the closest defender. Pascal Siakam ranked second in the league in the number of three-pointers contested after leading that category in 2019-20.
As a whole, the Raptors weren’t especially good at defending the three-point line – opponents shot 37.9 per cent from deep, which was above league average and ranked them 24th overall – but given the range of mitigating circumstances they faced last season it’s probably not something to dwell on. The Raptors led the NBA in that category in 2019-20 when the set a franchise record for winning percentage.
This is a different team with plenty of new faces, but maybe having a roster full of athletic, agile guys in the mould of Boucher and Siakam could pay dividends in a league where it looks like more teams are going to be hoisting threes than ever before.
Raptors rookie Dalano Banton has certainly had the importance of getting to three-point shooters impressed upon him in his weeks-old NBA career, and as a nimble six-foot-nine guard, he can play the part.
“Shot contesting is one of our pillars that we go off of on defence as well as pressuring the ball so guys don’t get easy shots so, running them off the line,” said Banton after practice Friday. “In this league guys make shots and they make it at a high clip so I feel like just doing the best you can to run out at every shot that gets put up by the other team is big for us and being in our defensive stance, just showing length and just discouraging them from making plays they’d make if we weren’t in our right spots.
“…Just being in the right spot is just the biggest part of the battle and showing your hands. Once you’re there, it puts your whole team in a better position to play defence.”
Selling out on three-point shooters takes trust. Actually blocking a shot is rare and smart teams and players will look to pump fake on careless closeouts and look for a side-step three, a chance to penetrate the paint for layups, generate kick-outs to open shooters or simply swing the ball to take advantage of a scrambling defence.
It’s not enough to run at a shooter, it has to be done properly.
“Just playing the game the way you practice — running guys off lines and the next guy helping and making the next play,” says Banton. “So, it’s just about the offence having to make the next play, not giving them that shot or that layup, having to make them make that extra pass. The guy behind you is gonna help, we’re all playing defence in one line together so we’re all trying to work in a tandem and move where we have to move and rotate to the right spots.”
It’s music to Nurse’s ears. The goal of his scheme, he says, it to challenge every shot, everywhere.
“It’s kind of icing on the cake when we get a block [on a three-pointer],” he said. “I think I’m really more concerned that we’re making a heavy contest. Obviously the block is the heaviest of all contests. We just want to make sure we make it contested. It goes to hustle and hard play: You’ve got to keep playing the whole possession. Sometimes you’ve got to fire out, fire out, fire out.
“Every now and then you get put in rotations and some teams are really good in making you do it. But you’ve got to do it. That’s just an effort and hustle thing that we want the heavy contest. Chris [Boucher] has certainly got a knack, incredible timing on that stuff. I’m not sure it’s teachable or transferable … What we teach and what we drill every day is heavy contesting.”
Changing times call for changing measures – and maybe a lot of long, athletic guys flying around at the three-point line like never before.
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