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League fines Caps $100,000 for safety violations, as COVID-19 rattles schedule

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fines Caps

(Reuters) – The National Hockey League (NHL) fined the Washington Capitals $100,000 for violating COVID-19 protocols on Wednesday, the first financial penalty related to the novel coronavirus it has handed down.

The NHL said the fine was in response to “player violations” of protocols including “social interactions among team members who were in close contact and who were not wearing face coverings”.

Captain Alex Ovechkin, one of four Capitals players placed on the NHL’s “COVID Protocol Related Absence List” following the incident, apologized and said he would learn from the experience.

“I regret my choice to spend time together with my team mates in our hotel room and away from the locker room areas,” he said in a statement.

The other players added to the list were Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov, and Ilya Samsonov. It is unclear when they will be allowed to return to the ice.

The Capitals said in a statement they had worked hard to establish a “safe environment” to allow the team to compete this season and were disappointed the players had interacted outside of approved areas.

“We accept the NHL’s decision and once again will reiterate the COVID-19 protocols in place to make sure the players are in full compliance moving forward,” they added.

While not the maximum allowable fine under NHL protocol, the hefty figure could nonetheless serve as a warning to teams playing beyond the confines of last year’s quarantined “bubble,” with the league already rescheduling a number of games due to safety concerns since the season kicked off a week ago.

After postponing Tuesday’s game between Carolina and Nashville, the league said on Wednesday the Hurricanes’ schedule was paused through at least Jan. 23, with five players on the absence list.

“As an appropriate precaution, the team’s training facilities have been closed, effective immediately, and will remain closed for players until further notice,” the NHL said in a statement.

“The Hurricanes organization has, and will continue to follow, all recommended guidelines aimed at protecting the health and safety of its players, staff and community at large.”

 

(Reporting by Amy Tennery and Rory Carroll; Editing by Lincoln Feast/Peter Rutherford)

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By the numbers: Canadiens' identity a riddle wrapped in an enigma – Montreal Gazette

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Habs have been the best team in the NHL in 5-vs-5, by a wide margin, but metrics show they need an overhaul in virtually every other area.

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Who are the Montreal Canadiens?

In the wake of the axe falling on head coach Claude Julien and associate coach Kirk Muller on Wednesday, it might be a little while longer before we find a solid answer. With a newly minted interim head coach tag, Dominique Ducharme has an opportunity to resuscitate a season that has gone from a promising 7-1-2 start to a dreadful 2-4-2 slide heading into Saturday’s game against the Jets in Winnipeg (10 p.m., SN, SN360, CBC, TVA Sports, TSN690 Radio, 98.5 FM).

The start of the season for the Canadiens was always a bit of a mirage. No team is going to average 4.4 goals per game for long in a league that averages fewer than three, because there’s too much parity in the NHL. By the same token, the recent stretch in which the Canadiens have averaged just under two goals per game is similarly not fully representative of their play.

Are the Canadiens the juggernaut some observers said they were during their hot start the season? Or are they the awful team we’ve seen in February? The truth is neither, but also somehow both.

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Playing 5-vs-5, the Canadiens have been the best team in the NHL — by a lot. The quality depth that general manager Marc Bergevin assembled and the coaching style of Julien keeping consistent line combinations led to true dominance. Just take a look at the Canadiens’ metrics in goal differential, and the expected-goals model based on the shots they take and give up, crafted by Evolving Hockey.

To read the chart above, being in the top right quadrant means a team is playing well and getting good results, while the top left means a team is playing well, but getting poor results. The bottom right is playing poorly, but getting good results, while the bottom left is playing poorly with poor results.

The Canadiens at 5-vs-5 are ridiculous. They’re controlling over 63 per cent of all goals in that situation and, although they’re getting lucky in that regard, their expected result is still an NHL-leading number at 58.1 per cent. Playing 5-vs-5 is not a problem for this team as they’re dominant in that regard and they get the results they earn. At 5-vs-5, Ducharme is unlikely to make any major changes, and if he does, it might be ill-advised.

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There might be something to be said for giving Jesperi Kotkaniemi more opportunity, perhaps swapping him with Phillip Danault to see how well he can translate his strong production on a per-minute basis into bigger minutes.

What does need a complete overhaul though, is literally everything else. When you take 5-vs-5 hockey out of the equation and look at all other game states, the Canadiens go from contenders for the Stanley Cup to contenders for the draft lottery.

After another disastrous specials-teams failure in a 5-4 shootout loss to the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday, the Canadiens have the worst expected-goals-for percentage away from 5-vs-5 in the NHL, at just 40.8 per cent.

This season, the Canadiens have appeared to be a Jekyll and Hyde team by the division of the schedule, but the split of results has more to do with random variance than anything. They’ve been attacking off the rush less often, but the issues on special teams have been there all along, and they’re only getting worse.

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Part of the issue for the Canadiens here is their league-worst penalty differential, where they’re drawing calls at an average rate, but take more penalties than any team in the NHL. The net result is the Canadiens giving their opponents 0.82 more power plays per game than they get, which doesn’t sound like much, but adds up over time, especially when their play in those situations is awful.

The first step for the new coaching staff needs to be a directive for more discipline from certain players, with Ben Chiarot, Victor Mete and Brett Kulak among NHL leaders in minor penalties per minute played among defencemen. Forwards Josh Anderson and Danault are in the same boat and don’t draw nearly enough calls themselves to even it out.

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Playing with more discipline is a start, but the special teams need a complete overhaul on top of that or the Canadiens will continue to struggle more than necessary.

Part of the needed changes are related to personnel. For example, the Canadiens’ strongest players on the power play last season were when Nick Suzuki and Tomas Tatar played together. This year, they’ve barely seen the ice. The bigger issue for the power play might be philosophical. The Canadiens’ shot leaders on the power play are Shea Weber and Jeff Petry, who are above-average-shooting defencemen, but they’re shooting from the blue line more often than not.

Compare the Habs’ strategy with that of the North Division-leading Maple Leafs, who are tied for the NHL’s best power play. Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Jason Spezza, Travis Boyd, William Nylander, Zach Hyman and Mitch Marner take shots more often than their top shooting defenceman, Morgan Rielly. Shot location matters, and the Canadiens’ power play has been operating like it’s still 2008 when the league has long since moved forward.

Andrew Berkshire is a Montreal-based hockey writer specializing in data-driven analysis of the game.

andrewberkshire@hotmail.com

twitter.com/andrewberkshire

  1. Montreal Canadiens head coach Claude Julien, centre, talks to players during training-camp practice at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard on Jan. 6, 2021.

    Hickey on hockey: Claude Julien’s firing begins and ends with players

  2. Winnipeg Jets' Adam Lowry celebrates a goal by teammate Nate Thompson during third period against the Montreal Canadiens at Bell MTS Place in Winnipeg on Feb. 25, 2021.

    What the Puck: Aura of negative energy envelops fragile Canadiens

  3. Canadiens goaltender Carey Price makes save on shot by the Jets’ Mark Scheifele during first period of Thursday night’s game at Winnipeg’s Bell MTS Place.

    Canadiens Game Day: No coach can win the way Carey Price is playing

  4. None

    Dominique Ducharme era dawns for Canadiens | HI/O Show

  5. Montreal Canadiens left-wing Jonathan Drouin carries the puck over the blue line as Vancouver Canucks defenceman Jordie Benn (8) follows behind in Montreal on Feb. 1, 2021.

    By the numbers: Canadiens’ Drouin hits stride on both sides of puck

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Josh Lewenberg: Toronto Raptors improvise on bench with protocols keeping Nick Nurse and staff out – TSN

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TORONTO – When Raptors general manager Bobby Webster learned that his team could be without more than half of its coaching staff for Friday’s game, including head coach Nick Nurse, one of the first calls he made was to the franchise’s longest-tenured player, Kyle Lowry.

In a different world, one in which the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement still permitted the use of player-coaches in the league, that may have been a very different conversation.

Despite his wealth of knowledge and experience, and despite the fact that he already does half of the job as a leader on the floor, anyway, the 34-year-old point guard has always insisted that he’s too impatient to ever be a coach. As fun as it would have been to see him try his hand at it – hitting threes and taking charges on the court, while drawing up plays and making substitutions off of it – unfortunately, it was not to be, at least not officially.

“I don’t know if we have the budget to add that to his resume,” Webster joked, before clarifying that, by rule, the league doesn’t allow teams to pay a player to do anything outside of their contract, including filling in as acting coach.

“I’d be a tough coach and I wouldn’t want to coach somebody like me,” Lowry said afterwards, admitting that he would’ve been somewhat intrigued if it were actually a possibility. “So, I’ll pass on that.”

Even still, with Nurse and five of his assistants unavailable due to the health and safety protocols, they knew they could lean on Lowry to bring some stability amidst a chaotic 24 hours for Toronto.

It was late afternoon on Thursday – a rare day off for the Raptors following back-to-back games – when, according to sources, one of the coaches tested positive for COVID-19. With the NBA overseeing the contact tracing process, all of the team’s front-of-the-bench coaches went into quarantine.

By Friday morning, the decision was made. Nurse and five members of his staff would have to miss that evening’s game against Houston, and while they’d be able to continue contributing remotely, the timeline for their return was uncertain. Pascal Siakam, who returned an inconclusive test on Friday, was also a late scratch.

For years, they’ve been a team that’s embodied a ‘next man up’ mentality, but it’s generally pertained to the roster – one player, or multiple players, stepping up when somebody else has left the organization or gotten hurt. Recently, though, it’s been more like ‘next coach up’.

When this unusual and unprecedented season began a couple months ago, Nurse had seven assistants and four player development coaches on staff. Earlier this week, he lost one of those assistants – and his long-time friend – Chris Finch, who took the head-coaching gig in Minnesota. They’ve also had to manage without Sergio Scariolo, who was away from the club coaching the Spanish National Team in the FIBA qualifiers. Fortunately, that meant Scariolo wasn’t subject to the Raptors’ recent contact tracing.

Last weekend, Scariolo was in Poland coaching Spain to a couple of wins. He returned to Tampa on Monday and spent most of the week in isolation. After returning negative tests throughout his quarantine, he was cleared on Friday morning – lucky timing, as it allowed him to step in and help the Raptors out of their bind.

“I think this is a subject for a book more than for an answer,” the 59-year-old Italian said of this past week, following a 122-111 win over the Rockets – his first as an NBA head coach.

“Of course it was different, especially because everything happened so fast today. So we had to readjust tasks, timing, schedule. We had to go a little bit on the fly.”

Scariolo was the natural choice – a veteran in coaching with more than three decades of experience leading teams overseas and internationally, winning Olympic medals and World Cup gold with Spain in 2019.

They also didn’t have many options. Scariolo only had three coaches next to him on Friday – assistants Jim Sann and Jamaal Magloire, who moved up a row from their usual seats behind the bench, and assistant video coordinator Mark Tyndale. Had Scariolo not cleared quarantine in time, Sann would have likely gotten the call, or perhaps they would’ve been more inclined to bring Raptors 905 head coach Patrick Mutombo up from the G League bubble in Orlando, even though his team also played on Friday.

For the Raptors, the bench didn’t feel as empty as it appeared, though.

Even from home, Nurse directed most of the game preparation – he, Scariolo and the rest of the staff had multiple Zoom meetings throughout the day. Adrian Griffin was in charge of scouting the Rockets – the assistants rotate these assignments throughout the season – and made sure Scariolo and company were all caught up. Jama Mahlalela and Jon Goodwillie, who both recently moved up to the front row after Finch left and with Scariolo away, each chipped in.

Then there were the two floor generals, Lowry and Fred VanVleet – a nice luxury for any staff to have in its corner, especially one that’s in flux. Even without the mantle of player-coach, the rest of the team looked to them on Friday, as they do on most days.

“We make jokes about it, but [Lowry] does so much out on the court and he takes on a little bit bigger role [with the bench thinned out],” Webster said. “I’ve spoken to him a number of times, spoke to him this morning, put it in his head, he knew this was a possibility. Obviously with Fred, as well. Those guys are in many ways the de facto coaches out there, so just trying to get it in their head as early as possibly so they could think about it.”

It’s hard to imagine Lowry doing more than he did to propel his team to Friday’s win, which evened its record at 17-17 on the season. With 20 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists, he recorded his 16th triple-double as a member of the Raptors and the 18th of his 15-year career. He needed just nine shots to do it, becoming the 11th player in NBA history to post a 20-plus point triple-double on fewer than 10 field goal attempts. Toronto outscored Houston by 22 points in his 33 minutes and was bested by 11 points when he was on the bench.

“I think that for me, and for Freddy and our organization and everybody, we kind of just we understood the situation,” Lowry said. “We didn’t want to make it over-complicated with everyone wanting to coach and everybody talking and this and that. They kept a semblance of what we usually do, and myself and Freddy you know we’re always coaching the floor anyway.”

“It was about being a professional. We understand what we have to do. We understand the game plan. It’s about doing it right. You learn in this league that you have to be a professional a lot more than anything else. You go in there and you got to prepare yourself. This is our job and this is our lifestyle. This is why we get paid and how we provide for our families, so you have to go out there and be a professional… Wall knew that we had to step up a little bit more and just make sure that we all stay composed and understand what the situation was going to be.”

The Raptors are one of only four teams that still haven’t had a game postponed, but that doesn’t mean their season hasn’t been impacted by the protocols. They’re playing their home games in a different country because of health and safety, after all. They had three members of the organization test positive for the virus in training camp, Norman Powell was questionable for the opener after somebody in his inner circle returned an inconclusive test, and there was that bizarre scene in Brooklyn, when Kevin Durant was out, then in, then ruled out again as a result of contact tracing.

But just when you think you’ve seen it all around the association – the league has already postponed 30 games this season – another curveball is thrown your way. The Raptors are the first team to have their coaching staff decimated by the protocols, and with three games left to play before next weekend’s all-star break, it’s unclear when they’ll get everybody back.

What is clear, though – in Lowry, they have somebody that can help steer them through it.

“This is the situation that we’re in,” said the veteran point guard. “I’m going to be honest with you, I have no stress at all. I don’t stress. There’s no stress. Why would I be stressed for? Things are going to happen, some things you can control, so you control what you can control.”​

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Quick Reaction: Rockets 111, Raptors 122 – Raptors Republic

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HOU Rockets 111 Final
Box Score
122 TOR Raptors

C. Boucher27 MIN, 7 PTS, 8 REB, 2 AST, 0 STL, 2-8 FG, 0-4 3FG, 3-4 FT, 3 BLK, 0 TO, 3 +/-Monsieur Boucher was technically the largest gentleman on the court for the 27 minutes he played tonight, but you only felt that presence on one side of the floor. On D, he did his thang blocking shots, making the lives of Houston guards’ maneuvering in the paint miserable, and holding his own on switches. On O, he didn’t really seem to exist. It was only the fifth time this season that Boucher didn’t hit a three, which is fine, but it never felt like his height threatened Houston. Though, he did grab three offensive boards and wisely advised Coach Scariolo to review his foul on Oladipo.

K. Lowry33 MIN, 20 PTS, 11 REB, 10 AST, 1 STL, 6-9 FG, 4-5 3FG, 4-4 FT, 1 BLK, 2 TO, 22 +/-This box is truly not large enough for all of the great things I want, nay, NEED, to say about Lowry’s performance tonight. The Raps were really out of sorts in the first quarter shooting 9/26 with little flow. Then came Captain/Coach/Meta-Brain/Pest Kyle Lowry who took complete control of the second quarter. In the first six minutes, he scored or assisted on at least 18 of their 21 points. Even when alone with the bench, Kyle kept them rolling. He never relinquished control of the game after that. He did all the Kyle-stuff too. He had a charge, a couple of deflections, and took some time to battle WWE SuperStar, David Nwaba, in several micro-altercations. Come the fourth quarter, when Houston finally woke from their two-quarter nap, Kyle kept Toronto calm and collected orchestrating their D and getting the ball in the hands of the right people heaving outlets, zipping skip-passes, and making the extra pass. It was a C-L-A-S-S-I-C Lowry game.

N. Powell32 MIN, 30 PTS, 3 REB, 1 AST, 1 STL, 10-15 FG, 4-8 3FG, 6-6 FT, 1 BLK, 3 TO, 15 +/-Powell continues to score like a cool cat sauntering down the fence of an alleyway. His game has such a sweet cadence. Even his dunks can be jazzy smooth. He had an incredibly efficient night, getting to the rim in stride, making the right decisions instead of forcing things, and blazing from three. It was also another night where he avoided making any of those silly “What-was-that-Norm!?” plays. He was the scoring lift the Raptors needed with Pascal Siakam on the sidelines.

F. VanVleet38 MIN, 25 PTS, 4 REB, 4 AST, 3 STL, 6-23 FG, 5-11 3FG, 8-8 FT, 0 BLK, 2 TO, 4 +/-Freddy had a tough one. Yes, he was a major part of the Raptors’ victory. But for large stretches of the game he seemed frustrated and bothered by all those long Rockets’ arms. More than once he got to the paint and lost the ball or got stuffed or did something desperate. Desperate is so unattractive. If it weren’t for getting to the line 8 times, that would have been a very ugly one for FVV. That said, he brought it on the defensive end. And, for that, I love him forever and for always. Oladipo and Wall are tough tasks; they both ended with a meh 9/21.

OG. Anunoby27 MIN, 11 PTS, 3 REB, 5 AST, 0 STL, 5-8 FG, 1-3 3FG, 0-0 FT, 1 BLK, 3 TO, 12 +/-I was very disappointed with OG tonight. Not for how he played, because he played as OG always plays: strong, tempered, and selective. You can’t fault a guy for that. But this was a chance for him to really fill in for Pascal. FVV and Kyle were going to be busy with the Rockets guards; OG had free rein to go to work. He scored two buckets early and it looked like, “Okay, here we go. OG time.”, but then he picked up two personal fouls early and lost his mojo. But, again, I can’t be mad. He, like Freddy, is so vital to the Raptors defensive scheme that in any bad offensive night he makes it up in spades on defence.

D. Bembry23 MIN, 13 PTS, 4 REB, 2 AST, 1 STL, 4-6 FG, 0-1 3FG, 5-5 FT, 0 BLK, 2 TO, -3 +/-Bembry is like that plant you have out back and every time you go and check on it, you’re like “Woah! Did that grow.” His game is flourishing alongside the Raptor core. He moves so well off the ball and is a great complement to how Kyle and Fred like to play the game on both ends of the court.

Y. Watanabe17 MIN, 4 PTS, 4 REB, 1 AST, 0 STL, 2-6 FG, 0-3 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, -5 +/-I genuinely am shocked to see that Yuta was on the court for 17 minutes tonight. He had one wicked Euro step for a lay-up, but other than that, I am having trouble recalling Yuta minutes. Sorry, Yuta.

T. Davis16 MIN, 3 PTS, 3 REB, 2 AST, 0 STL, 1-5 FG, 1-4 3FG, 0-0 FT, 1 BLK, 0 TO, 2 +/-TD had an absolutely monstrous block! Nothing too distinguishable for Terrence otherwise. It was another night where I felt like he could have done so much more, but just didn’t.

A. Baynes15 MIN, 9 PTS, 6 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 4-8 FG, 1-1 3FG, 0-0 FT, 1 BLK, 0 TO, 5 +/-Baynes always seems to get the award for ugliest looking play of the game. He blew a layup early, and then had this weird personal vendetta against PJ Tucker where he tried to take him one-on-one at the top of the key and then ballet-shot-putted the ball towards the hoop. Needless to say, it did not end well. Baynes played fine considering, but I was always left disappointed that he wasn’t smashing Rockets more down low.

P. McCaw4 MIN, 0 PTS, 1 REB, 1 AST, 0 STL, 0-0 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, 2 +/-I do love Pat’s willingness to move the ball around. Perhaps, he does it a bit too much, but in one play he passed up a shot, drove, and kicked to a wide open OG who missed the three, Pat got the offensive rebound and immediately whipped it back cross court to Norm who drove in for the dunk. I want Pat to succeed and stay on the floor for longer because I think he has a really unique style of play.

S. Johnson2 MIN, 0 PTS, 1 REB, 1 AST, 0 STL, 0-1 FG, 0-1 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, 1 +/-Can’t give too strong a letter grade on two minutes of play, but he did have two nice defensive stands at the top of the zone. I have admitted before that I have been on Stanley Johnson Island for a long time now. And there is where I will stay.

P. Siakam0 MIN, 0 PTS, 0 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 0-0 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, 0 +/-Late scratch due to COVID health and safety protocols.

Nick Nurse No Nick tonight. He and five other coaching staff were held out of the game due to COVID health and safety protocols. I mean how can I criticize a guy who had, what, an hour to prepare for his first head coaching gig? Sergio Scariolo, fresh out of quarantine himself, stepped up in Nurse’s stead and, rightfully, earned his first win as an NBA head coach (even though, technically, I think it goes to Nick). The Raptors started off a little shaky, and that’s forgivable considering the circumstances, but by halftime, the game was well-in-hand. Sergio platooned FVV with the bench and did the same with Kyle. It had mixed results, but I always love when a coach puts his faith in his bench and sends them out there wholesale. Why not? Especially, in the middle of February facing a weaker team like Houston. The Raps bent a bit in the fourth, but they did not break, and that’s all that matters. Oh, and he nailed his first coach’s challenge ever! Yay, Sergio.

THINGS WE SAW

  1. That game just felt flat. Houston looked like a student in a microeconomics lecture who sleeps through the whole thing until they hear “this will be on the exam” and perks up for the next ten minutes. When Houston did perk up, Toronto had trouble keeping Wall and Oladipo out of the paint. They didn’t finish a lot of their takes, but it was concerning to see the ease in which they were getting to the hole.
  2. I am worried about the Raptors’ depth. DeAndre’ is winning me over, but that old adage of “who are your seven guys come playoff time” leaves me wondering if he makes the cut. TD certainly doesn’t. Nor Yuta. I don’t know what to think of Baynes these days. I am not saying find me the panic button or anything of that magnitude. All I am saying, is the Raptors lean a lot on FVV, Siakam, Lowry, and, so far, Normy. If one of those guys sputters – or is out like Siakam was tonight- there aren’t a lot of options left. Food for thought.

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