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Leafs, Canadiens set for emotional miniseries in meeting of North’s best –



The King in the North debate certainly won’t disappear entirely in the wake of this hotly anticipated home-and-home series between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens Wednesday and Saturday.

That Canada’s two most historic hockey fan bases could see fireworks — and, perhaps, some clarity on who is the country’s best team — in these consecutive primetime, nationally televised tilts is reason enough to tune in.

That, for the first time in a long time, the Buds and Habs are simultaneously relevant is the biggie.

It would be dangerous to read too much into the only other time these two division title contenders crossed paths in 2021, on a giddy, delayed opening night devoid of any pre-season.

There was rust to shake off, punches to throw, and new teammates to break in.

We wish you were there to witness all of that pent-up hockey explode into a spirited if sloppy affair. January 13 offered one of those doozies that reminds you we’re in the entertainment business.

The Canadiens looked the more organized and balanced outfit; the Maple Leafs snatched the extra point, by virtue of Morgan Rielly’s 5-4 overtime dagger.

“We were the better team out there,” GTA-born Canadien Josh Anderson asserted post-game, more than once.

Since that night, the deliberation over whether Kyle Dubas or Marc Bergevin has constructed the better squad has occupied our highly regionalized hockey discussions.

A quarter of the way through this abbreviated 2021 campaign, a standings gulf is already forming between Leafs and Canadiens (and Jets) and the rest of the pack.

Can anything be learned by comparing Toronto’s three-game demoralization of the Canucks to the Habs’ two-game demoralization of the Canucks?

Steel sharpens steel. So, surely the players themselves would like to use this Montreal-Toronto set to measure how good they really are. Right?

“You’re not going to like this answer, but I could really care less about what the Leafs are doing,” Montreal’s Brendan Gallagher said. “They’re a very good team. They got their own storyline that they’re following.

“For us, it’s just about playing our game. Obviously, we were disappointed we lost the first game to them. Now it’s a chance to get a little revenge in that aspect.”

Toronto will roll into Bell Centre with two more wins and three more points, but Montreal holds a game in hand and a superior goal differential (+17).

Will the real Jon Snow please stand up?

Both sides have scored exactly 48 goals, yet both are the only teams to have dropped a game to the Ottawa Senators.

One leads the league in power-play goals (Toronto, 15), the other in shorthanded strikes (Montreal, seven).

One boasts the league’s best goal-scoring forward (Auston Matthews, 11), the other the best goal-scoring defenceman (Jeff Petry, six).

The Canadiens fire more pucks (34.5 shots per game, tops in NHL), but the Leafs shoot more accurately (12.4 per cent).

Both organizations believe you get what you pay for.

Toronto invests a league-high $40.5 million of its cap in four game-breaking forwards, and they’re all producing.

Montreal invests a league-high $14.85 million of cap space in its crease, and Carey Price and Jake Allen have delivered a division-best .914 save percentage.

Yet both squads have leaned on their depth to succeed. Toronto has 23 players with at least a point and 14 with a goal. Montreal can dress 19 with a point and 16 with a goal.

The Maple Leafs and Canadiens are the class of the Canadian division just as the old Atlantic Division is the class of the league. With defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay taking a stranglehold of the Central and defending Presidents’ Trophy champion Boston leading the East, Atlantic clubs now lead all three of the divisions to which they were scattered.

How’s this? Five of the NHL’s top six teams, by points percentage, belonged to the Atlantic.

The Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs haven’t faced off in playoff series since 1979, the year Joe Thornton was born.

All it took was a worldwide pandemic and an unprecedented emergency realignment to pit them head-to-head 10 times (minimum) in meaningful games.

“It’s going to be competitive and emotional,” Gallagher said of the ramped-up rivalry.

“But if you don’t enjoy it, I guess you’re playing the wrong sport.”

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Report Cards: Complete team effort from Toronto Maple Leafs ends Oilers' winning streak – Maple Leafs Hot Stove



No Matthews, no problem.

After two periods of stellar play from their goaltender, the Leafs went into the final frame with a 3-0 lead — and played the best defensive period we’ve seen from them this season.

We’re obviously going to break down some of the offensive plays that helped them get that lead, not to mention Jack Campbell’s 30-save shutout. The real story here to me, though, is Toronto locking things down defensively against Connor McDavid & company en route to a 4-0 victory, a win that included:

  • A goal in each period
  • Going one-for-one on the power play, with zero penalties taken
  • Three 5v5 goals from three different lines
  • A shutout from their backup goaltender

This is a game the Leafs‘ coaches, front office, and fans can all appreciate for a multitude of reasons. Let’s dive into some of those by breaking down each player individually.

It’s time for some report cards!

5 Stars

Game Puck: Jack Campbell (G, #36) — It’s not easy keeping McDavid off the scoreboard, especially when he opens the game like this.

To make matters worse, the Leafs were turning the puck over in some brutal spots early on. Jimmy Vesey and Alex Barabanov each made a tape-to-tape pass to an Edmonton Oiler wide open in the slot — in their own end.

Campbell was forced to stop a lot of Grade-A chances from the slot. He stopped every one of them. The team in front of him helped make life easier in the back half of the game, but we still have to give the man credit for saving all 30 shots thrown his way.

It looks like his teammates agree.

Mitch Marner (RW, #16) — With Auston Matthews out of the lineup tonight nursing a wrist injury, Mitch Marner carried the load offensively. At 5-on-5, he was finding open teammates off the rush.

On the power play, he baited Mike Smith into going down early before skating around the net and finding William Nylander for the game’s first goal.

Soon after that, Marner found himself in a good shooting position off the rush.

You can tell he’s feeling more and more confident in his wrist shot with each passing game. He’s never going to shoot the puck like Auston Matthews, but if Marner can keep working on improvements to his shooting ability, it’s going to open up more options for him as a passer.

That’s a scary thought for a player who already has 10 goals and 22 assists in 22 games this season.

4 Stars

William Nylander (LW, #88) — Part of me always wondered why the Leafs play Nylander at left wing so often. “He’s a right shot, aren’t almost all wingers better on their strong side?”

Then you watch him make plays as a passer from that side of the ice and it starts to make more sense.

That’s a great read by Zach Bogosian to pass it backdoor, but it’s Nylander reversing play to the weak side that opens up all that ice.

Not many players can gain the zone like Nylander and complete an east-west pass afterward, especially when they’re carrying the puck on their off-wing. Full disclosure: Nylander actually played right wing tonight, but with the way he attacks in transition, he’s equally likely to enter the zone from either side.

He also scored that goal on the power play, by the way.

TJ Brodie (RD, #78) — It’s a tall task to defend McDavid 1-on-1 off the rush multiple times a game. Brodie did an excellent job for my money, not letting #97 get around him and getting his stick on the puck most of the time. His most impactful play was a diving poke to create a 2-on-1 goal for Jason Spezza.

Morgan Rielly (LD, #44) — Few players make me think more about the position as a whole than Morgan Rielly. He activates into the play any time he sees an opportunity, often acting as the team’s fourth forward in offensive situations.

This is the OZ movement that makes Toronto so difficult to defend. Rielly has a knack for finding open ice, skating into it, and finding that next pass across the grain for a Grade-A scoring chance.

Rielly accomplished that a few times in this game, not to mention a stretch pass up the ice to Mikheyev, where he shockingly didn’t convert.

Marner’s Linemates — I say this jokingly. John Tavares and Joe Thornton had great games themselves, although it certainly helps to play alongside an all-world playmaker.  Tavares was able to generate two assists, eight shot attempts, and five chances from the slot, both ranking first on the team tonight. After some of the flack he has received, that’s a statement game against touch matchups and without Matthews in the lineup.

Thornton had a couple of great moments himself, most notably his one-touch pass in the neutral zone to get Marner and Tavares in open space for the game’s second goal. I did get a bit worried watching Thornton try to keep up with McDavid on the backcheck, but his playmaking and work down low helped make up for it.

Zach Hyman (RW, #11) — We all expect him to win puck battles and provide big-time value defensively, so no surprises there tonight. What impressed me the most was the fact that Hyman was driving the offense. It wasn’t pretty, but with Mikheyev-Engvall as his linemates, it was never going to be.

Okay, maybe that one was pretty.

The Dermott-Bogosian Pair — It was cool to see Travis Dermott using his skating ability to open up passing lanes from the top of the OZ. He usually isn’t much of a threat from there, but he managed to pull off a few crafty passes from that spot.

Defensively, Toronto’s third pair got stuck out against the McDavid line a few times, which is where Zach Bogosian really stood out. Defense is one of those things that’s so difficult to measure, but if you go back and watch those shifts, that’s defense. Bogosian kept McDavid out of the dangerous areas, getting a body on him when he could.

3 Stars

Jason Spezza (RW, #19) — 2-on-1 with Jimmy Vesey, you’re thinking shoot all the way, right? Jason Spezza went with the move everyone saw coming — and it still worked. He’s been doing the fake slapshot for 20 years and goaltenders are still biting on it.

Maybe it’s because he’s one of the few guys in the league actually willing to let one go from distance. After all, it’s part of the reason Toronto’s second PP unit has been so effective these past two seasons.

Spezza has been quarterbacking that thing from the right wall, and as you saw on that goal, he’s still dangerous in open ice from that right circle.

Wingspan Ilya Mikheyev and Pierre Engvall deserve each other.

Defensively, they cover so much ground. Whether it’s an OZ forecheck or NZ trap, it’s super annoying for opposing forwards to skate through a wall of limbs poking at the puck.

Offensively, you probably shouldn’t expect too much. Mikheyev is still launching the puck from distance when he has wide-open ice in front of him.

Engvall has more confidence skating north-south with the puck, but his inability to make that next play after gaining the zone is why he only had five points in his last 42 games.

The Muzzin-Holl Pair — They got out-possessed at even strength to the tune of a lopsided 23-6 in shot attempts, but they broke even and didn’t give up a goal in their 8-9 minutes against Connor McDavid. It is worth noting Jake Muzzin was playing his first game since suffering a broken bone in his face. He made a few great underneath passes in the defensive zone. The pairing spent a little too much time in the defensive zone, although score effects likely play a role here.

As for Justin Holl, we need to give him some credit for coming to the defense of his goaltender on the Tyler Ennis collision.

A common frustration I’ve heard with this Leafs team is that they don’t stand up for each other enough in these instances. Holl answered the bell here, albeit on a 5’9 161lb winger.

2 Stars

Alex Kerfoot (C, #15) — Despite the odd burst of speed here and there, this was a pretty quiet game for Kerfoot. It was also a quiet night for Travis Boyd.

Alex Barabanov (LW, #94) — It’s good that Barabanov is getting more chances from in tight, but he needs to be more ready in those situations. We already mentioned his awful DZ turnover earlier, which resulted in a high-quality chance for Edmonton.

One last thing I wanted to mention was his board-play; he’s getting killed in those parts of the ice. If Barabanov wants to prove he can hang in an NHL top nine (or top 12), he’ll need to stop turning pucks over while getting pasted into the boards.

1 Star

Jimmy Vesey (LW, #26) — It’s almost a running joke at this point. I genuinely feel bad doing this section now. Aside from his “Big Mistake”, Vesey failed to receive basic passes in transition and get play going in the right direction.

Aside from a bit of PK value, you’ve got to ask yourself what exactly does Vesey do for this Leafs team?

Heat Map

Here’s a quick look at where each team’s shots were coming from at even strength, courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.

Game Score

Game score is a metric developed by The Athletic’s Dom Luszczyszyn to measure single-game performance. You can read more about it here.

Final Grade: A

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Canadiens establish building blocks vs. Jets, but key trouble spots remain –



If you want to be half-glass full about it, after five straight losses — and eight in the last 10 games — you could say the building blocks were established in this dominant game the Montreal Canadiens played in Winnipeg on Saturday night.

But the Canadiens lost once again, this time 2-1 in overtime to the Winnipeg Jets, and there’s no telling how they’ll react come Tuesday at the Bell Centre against an Ottawa Senators team that’s beaten them in three of four games this season.

Interim head coach Dominique Ducharme said he told his players they deserved better, that he was pleased with what he saw in their implementation of the strategies he’s advanced since taking over for Claude Julien mid-week.

“It wasn’t perfect,” Ducharme said. “But when I say the game is honest and the points will come back to you, they’re going to come back this season at a point when we don’t deserve two points.”

Maybe he’s right. But who knows?

All things being equal, you’d think if the Canadiens play anywhere near as well at 5-on-5 as they did against Winnipeg — they out-shot the Jets 37-11 and out-chanced them 36-14 — a win’s in the bag come Tuesday.

But sometimes it takes more than that.

It takes a functional power play to come through in a tight game. It takes a good penalty kill. It takes players digging in and winning key faceoffs.

And this is where the Canadiens were undone against the Jets.

Nick Suzuki said after the game that it takes 60 minutes. “That’s what it’s going to take every night in the NHL.”

But the Canadiens should know by now, with this loss being the fifth one they’ve suffered in extra time this season, sometimes it takes 61 or 62, or more than 65.

This team can bank all the positive that came with its strong play at 5-on-5. It can even hope it carries forward.

But until these four trouble spots — the power play, the penalty kill, faceoffs and 3-on-3 overtime — get at least partially addressed, wins will be harder and harder to come by.

The power play entered the game as the 18th-best one in the NHL. It generated some good opportunities. That it got set up in the offensive zone and that its designed plays were almost perfectly executed, were pluses.

But on two of three shots that hit Connor Hellebuyck, Joel Armia was right there to provide a screen and he shifted out of the way and made the goalie’s job easier. On the other one, Corey Perry parked himself right in front of the Jets netminder and Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s shot somehow (unfortunately) found glove.

The penalty kill found the right balance between passivity and aggression — something it had struggled immensely to do in the games leading up to this one — but a lost faceoff by Jake Evans and a curious decision by Alexander Romanov (who otherwise had an excellent game) to try to play goalie instead of taking his man screened Canadiens goaltender Jake Allen and gave Nikolaj Ehlers a goal.

Moments before that, Phillip Danault won a defensive zone draw clean and the puck went down the ice, and the Canadiens kept it out of their own end for 1:20. But the loss from Evans later was a killer for the 22nd-ranked penalty kill in the NHL.

The Canadiens came into the game with the 28th-best faceoff numbers and made them worse. That element of the game cost them both in regulation and overtime.

The Jets threw three forwards over the boards to start the extra frame, with Paul Stastny at centre and Ehlers and Kyle Connor roving. Montreal countered with Jeff Petry on defence, which makes sense considering he’s been among the three highest-scoring blue-liners in the NHL all season, and Armia was out there because Ducharme said he thought he was one of the Canadiens’ best players in the game.

Danault came on for one reason and one reason only.

“The first thing for me was that they have three forwards, we have to take possession of the puck right away,” said Ducharme. “I don’t want to say exactly what we wanted to do, but if we take possession of the puck and we keep it, I think at one point we can pick the right time with good changes to make them pay.”

It’s a logical explanation, but Danault lost the faceoff cleanly and the Canadiens didn’t touch the puck again until Allen was fishing it out of their net.

He’s been through losing spells like these. The last one he was a part of was with the St. Louis Blues, who spiralled to last in the NHL, fired head coach Mike Yeo, replaced him with Craig Berube and then went on to win the Stanley Cup.

The turnaround, Allen said Saturday, took two to three weeks.

The Canadiens don’t have that much time in this shortened season.

“We finally got all on one page,” said Allen of those 2019 Cup-winning Blues. “I think that’s the biggest thing.”

The goaltender, who made 17 saves against the Jets, saw evidence the Canadiens are almost there.

“I think we’re really gelling here to all get on one page,” said Allen. “I liked what we brought to the table yesterday and today, and obviously tomorrow’s a travel day, but we’ll get back to work Monday.”

But the Canadiens need to win Tuesday for some optimism to really take hold.

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Ontario's Rachel Homan reaches Scotties final for 3rd straight year –



Rachel Homan is in familiar territory in a strange curling season.

She’ll skip Ontario in a third straight Canadian women’s curling championship final Sunday.

  • Watch and engage with CBC Sports’ That Curling Show live every day of The Scotties at 7:30 p.m. ET on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

Homan’s 7-2 win over Saskatchewan and defending champion Kerri Einarson’s 10-9 loss in an extra end to Manitoba on Saturday combined to give Ontario a bye to the final.

“We really wanted to get to the final and see what we can do and to put that Maple Leaf on our back would really be another dream come true,” Homan said.

“We’re going to work and fight hard to the last rock and hopefully we can make more than the other team.”

Homan is a three-time winner of the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in 2017, 2014 and 2013. In the third trimester of her pregnancy, she’ll try for a fourth.

Homan and Einarson owned identical 10-2 records at the conclusion of the championship round Saturday.

Homan’s 7-4 win over Einarson in a Pool A game Thursday was the tiebreaker giving Ontario the higher playoff seeding.

Einarson has a place in Sunday afternoon’s semifinal as the second seed.

The defending champs await the winner of a morning tiebreaker between Manitoba’s Jennifer Jones and Alberta’s Laura Walker, who were both 9-3.

WATCH | Manitoba’s Jennifer Jones sets up tiebreakers with Alberta’s Laura Walker:

Jones led Manitoba to a 10-9 win over Team Canada to set up a tie breaker against Alberta on Sunday. 0:56

“Personally, it’s pretty huge for me not to play three games tomorrow,” Homan said. “I knew we were ready to do whatever it took to be in that final.

“Thankfully the way it fell, we were able to get that bye, get some rest, get our feet up and just prepare for the final tomorrow.”

The COVID-19 pandemic wiped out most of the competitive curling season.

Homan’s team arrived in Calgary incorporating new second Sarah Wilkes and adjusting to the shift of Joanne Courtney to lead without the benefit of 50 to 60 games behind them this winter.

“I think we’ve faced a lot of adversity like every team here trying to show up and put together the best performance we can under the circumstances,” Courtney said.

“I’m really proud of how we’ve supported each other and kind of just stayed tough. Lots of gritty wins, lots of gritty ends. Any time you get a chance to play in a final, it’s a huge honour.”

WATCH | That Curling Show celebrates Curling Day in Canada

From Watson Lake, Yukon to Kirkland, Quebec and even south of the border to Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, Colleen Jones and Devin Heroux are showing you some of the best outdoor curling rinks in Canada. 1:59:06

Walker took three losses into the championship round, but won a fifth straight game Saturday to keep the host province in contention for the national women’s curling crown.

Alberta came from behind to cap the championship round with a 9-4 win over Chelsea Carey’s Wild Card One.

“I think our confidence is high,” Walker said. “To run the table in the championship round is a pretty special thing I think for us to have just done.”

Six-time champion Jones avoided elimination by drawing for the extra-end win over Einarson.

Her Winnipeg foursome must win three games Sunday for Jones to claim a record seventh title.

“Adrenalin usually takes you through those games,” Jones said. “We didn’t play a lot of games coming in. We’re well-rested.

“Hopefully we’ll be able to play three. At the end of it we’ll be tired, but I think when you’re playing, you’ll be fine.”

This is how Canadians celebrate the roaring game

That Curling Show features fan-submitted photos and video to celebrate Curling Day in Canada 2:34

The 2021 Tournament of Hearts is one of four Curling Canada events to be held in a spectator-free, controlled environment at WinSport’s Markin MacPhail Centre.

The pandemic thwarting many provincial and territorial playdowns prompted Curling Canada to add two wild-card teams to the Hearts field for a total of 18, which in turn shrunk the playoff window.

Instead of the traditional four teams in a Page playoff, only three advance.

Einarson is attempting to win the first back-to-back Hearts titles since Homan in 2013-14.

Sunday’s victor earns $100,000 in prize money and a return trip to the 2022 Tournament of Hearts in Thunder Bay, Ont., as Team Canada.

The runner-up earns $60,000 and $40,000 goes to the third-place team.

Kerri Einarson has a place in Sunday afternoon’s semifinal as the second seed. The Defending champ await the winner of a morning tiebreaker between Manitoba’s Jennifer Jones and Alberta’s Laura Walker, who are both 9-3. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

The winner doesn’t have a world championship, however, in which to wear the Maple Leaf.

The March 19-28 tournament in Schaffhausen, Switzerland was cancelled by the World Curling Federation because of the pandemic.

The 2020 world championship in Prince George, B.C., was called off for the same reason, so Einarson wasn’t able to represent Canada there.

Beth Peterson’s Wild Card Three (7-5) finished with a 10-3 win over Quebec’s Laurie St-Georges (6-6) on Saturday.

Wild Card One, with Carey filling in at skip for Tracy Fleury, and Saskatchewan’s Sherry Anderson also finished 6-6.

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