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Leon Draisaitl has chance to prove he can carry Oilers without McDavid – Sportsnet.ca



TAMPA, Fla — It’s a tough night for aftermarket ticket sales here in Tampa, as the Connor McDavid-less Edmonton Oilers meet a Tampa Bay Lightning team that’s minus several of its top players.

“Stamkos is out. Cirelli is out. Kucherov is out. McDonagh is out. Rutta is out,” is how Lightning head coach Jon Cooper opened his morning press conference.

That’s Steven Stamkos, Anthony Cirelli, Nikita Kucherov, plus defencemen Ryan McDonagh and Jan Rutta, all announced as lower body injuries. McDavid is out with a quadriceps injury in his left leg, so that means Edmonton’s second leading scorer, and Tampa’s top two scorers, are all absent from tonight’s contest, which opens a three-game road trip for Edmonton.

“You’ve heard me say this before,” began Cooper. “The 22 guys who make your team out of camp aren’t the guys you’re going to play with the whole year. You need depth in your organization.

“It’s playing to a system and ultimately, playing hard. We can’t change,” he said. “You can’t expect someone who scores five or six goals in this league to score 50. But one of our staples is … it’s really not how many you put in the net. It’s how many you keep out.”

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What it also provides is a chance to see who rises to the challenge. A night where a young guy might get a little more of a chance to stake his claim on a roster, with the playoffs around the corner.

“It might be an opportunity to get a little power play time, or a couple of offensive zone starts,” said Oilers rookie defenceman Caleb Jones. “Look at Yamo (Oilers winger Kailer Yamamoto). He’s on the power play last game and he gets one. There’s a guy right there who gets an opportunity to jump up on that unit, and he takes advantage of it.

“We’re going to need that mentality of guys stepping into bigger roles and doing the job. It was Yamo last game, and we’ll see if it’s someone else tonight.”

With McDavid out against Chicago on Tuesday, Leon Draisaitl piled up four points in a 5-3 win. In theory, McDavid’s absence should change the matchup, meaning Draisaitl will see Tampa’s No. 1 defenceman, Victor Hedman, on every shift, rather than Cooper having to make a matchup choice between McDavid’s or Draisaitl’s line.

Did Draisaitl notice a difference versus Chicago on McDavid’s first game on I.R.?

“I’m not a coach. I don’t pay too much attention to the matching and that kind of stuff,” he shrugged. “I think that if you play the right way — you play hard and you play good — then you can be on the ice against anyone.”

This two- to three-week absence of McDavid comes at a crucial point in the season. It’s a chance for Draisaitl to show the hockey world — or those in the hockey world who may not be aware —- that he can carry a team offensively, with or without McDavid.

“You’ve seen the way that happens in Pittsburgh. When one (of Evgeni Malkin or Sidney Crosby) is out, the other one gets more attention,” said Oilers head coach Dave Tippett. “It’s a big challenge for Leon. He’s really engaged right now, and he wants this challenge. He wants to make sure we keep moving along, and we keep getting our points.”

There is some temptation for Tippett to move Ryan Nugent-Hopkins off of Draisaitl’s left wing to centre another line with McDavid out. It’s a temptation the coach is resisting, for now.

“Leon’s line has just been so good, it’s hard to break them up,” he said.

Yamamoto, the right-winger on that line, marvels at Draisaitl’s patience with the puck.

“He’s probably one of the best in the NHL at holding on to the puck. His passing is ridiculous — some of the plays he makes I don’t even see myself, until he makes them,” said Yamamoto, who has a special bond with Tampa centreman Tyler Johnson, a fellow Spokane, Washington native.

“His Mom, I grew up with her teaching me how to skate, and I grew up playing hockey with him. Still skate with him in the summers now,” said the five-foot-eight, 153-pound Yamamoto. It’s a coincidence that Johnson, who is eight years older, would also be an under-sized forward who has had to battle through the stereotypes to make his way in the NHL.

“He’s a Spokane kid who went to high school with my sister,” Yamamoto said. “Him going to the (WHL Spokane) Chiefs kind of just paved the way for me, and I followed his footsteps.”

Mike Smith starts in goal for Edmonton, against Andrei Vasilevskiy for the Bolts.

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Raptors must set sights on title defence in final third of season – Sportsnet.ca



TORONTO — On a night when he wasn’t exactly seeing eye-to-eye with the “selective vision” of the officials, Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse huddled his players during a timeout with about five minutes to play and offered the following.

“I said, ‘I’m having as much fun as you guys are. Probably less the way I feel now,’” Nurse said after the Raptors out-paced the Phoenix Suns, 118-101, Friday night. “’But we’ve got to dig in together here and go play.’”

And so the Raptors did on a night when Nurse admits “nobody was having any fun out there.” The game certainly lacked a rhythm, a pace and an aesthetic. But it was one of only 27 — now 26 — remaining for the Raptors prior to the playoffs, and while the first two-thirds of the season has been about simply getting through all the injuries, all the jumbled lineups and all the not-so-fun nights like Friday, the final third will be about putting Toronto’s many distinct pieces in place for a championship defence.

The Raptors will spend the next eight weeks learning just what they have, what works and what doesn’t ahead of the playoffs, when Nurse’s rotation will shrink, his playbook will be more focused, and his team will face a series of do-or-die moments over the NBA’s second season.

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To that end, Nurse said this week that the Raptors would make a point of feeding Pascal Siakam a high volume of touches down the stretch, endeavouring to expose the team’s primary scorer to as many situational challenges as possible. And that began in earnest against the Suns, as Siakam took a quarter of his team’s attempts in a 25-point first half.

He didn’t have much of a break over the last week, fulfilling the many obligations and demands that accompany the honour of an all-star selection. And this year, that included taxing on-court minutes in the actual game itself, which featured a physicality and competitiveness rarely — if ever — seen before.

Of course, playing as hard as Siakam did in the fourth quarter of the all-star game is probably more benefit than detriment. Those are the kind of high-leverage repetitions against the league’s best players he needs to continue his growth. The kind he’ll be asked to excel in two months from now.

They’re also the kind he isn’t likely to get against a struggling Suns outfit relying heavily on the madcap play of Kelly Oubre Jr. But the Raptors continued to force-feed Siakam as the game went on, and he responded with 37 points on 23 used possessions, featuring sharp marksmanship from beyond the arc (he hit 5-of-9 three’s he attempted) to draw out defenders and open up room to cut toward the basket.

“It’s just being aggressive, being assertive. Making sure that I just go out there and show that type of energy every single night,” Siakam said. “Just knowing that you have to go at the other player that’s guarding you every single time. Having that mentality, I think that’s something I have to work on. And coming into the second half of the season, that’s something I want to put an emphasis on.”

On the other hand, aggressiveness is not something that’s lacked in Terence Davis’ game, and Friday was no exception as the undrafted rookie ransacked his way to a 14-point effort off Toronto’s bench.

Even though we should all understand what he’s capable of by now, Davis’ athleticism is still mind-boggling at times, like when he turns a corner on his defender as if he’s running a route downfield and, without breaking stride, finishes a one-handed, reverse lay-up over his head from beneath the basket.

It’s way too early to ponder Nurse’s potential playoff rotation, considering the ever-uncertain status of this team’s health and the different permutations that match-ups can force. But then again, how could Davis not be a part of it? Even with Norman Powell presumably back in the fold, and Nurse’s unwavering belief in Patrick McCaw’s effectiveness well established, Davis has to factor in somehow, doesn’t he?

There will surely be nights when he doesn’t have it, which is an easily managed situation considering Toronto’s depth. But on the nights that he does, Davis’ energy and fearlessness taking in-rhythm, without-hesitation three-pointers — he hit a pair Friday night — can help keep the scoreboard moving in the middle of games.

“The pace that he was playing at was opening up the floor,” Nurse said. “And he can just score, man. All he needs is a little space and he can score.”

Friday was an interesting illustration of the Raptors trying to learn what they have in terms of centre depth, as well. Marc Gasol will be on the shelf for some time, and Serge Ibaka can only play so much, which mean Chris Boucher will have plenty of opportunities over Toronto’s next several games to show the club’s front office it doesn’t need to sign a bought-out big prior to the March 1 cut-off for playoff eligibility.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and OG Anunoby will likely see some time at centre as well, undersized as they are. But the optimal situation is that those two remain fours while Boucher takes his opportunity and runs with it, leveraging his energy and athleticism to create defensive disruption like this:

You can’t really teach that. And Boucher did it again in the fourth, sending a Dario Saric three-point attempt into the second row for his fourth block of the night.

Still, Boucher’s minus-five in a 17-point win is telling, as was the fact he played only 14 minutes on a night when Ibaka picked up his fifth foul early in the third quarter. Boucher struggled at times in an admittedly lopsided matchup with Phoenix’s much thicker, much stronger centre tandem. But he’ll keep getting his opportunity, and it’ll be up to him how far he carries it.

“I want Chris to carve out this role and keep it,” Nurse said before the game when asked how he’d deploy Boucher in Friday’s unideal match-up. “We’ll give him his chance. And if it looks good, we’ll let his stint roll and we’ll give him a second stint. If it doesn’t, we start shifting around.”

Now, if the Raptors are at full health during the playoffs, Boucher likely doesn’t leave the bench during meaningful minutes. Maybe if Nurse wants to match up with an uber big lineup. Maybe if Gasol or Ibaka are in critical early foul trouble. Brass tacks, it would take an “if.”

Thing is, the Raptors being at full health is a pretty big “if,” too. It really hasn’t been the case at any point this season. The club’s obviously hoping it’s getting the worst of its adversity over with now. But a heavy workload and previous injuries are fairly reliable predictors of future injury. And the Raptors, who played more games than anyone last season and have been hurt for most of this one, satisfy those criteria. There’s no guarantee Toronto will suddenly hit a run of better injury luck come playoff time.

So, keeping a down-bench player like Boucher well accustomed to Toronto’s on-court rhythm and familiar with the in-game tendencies of his teammates could be a boon sometime this spring. Only so much of that can be accomplished on the practice court. In-game repetitions are paramount. Even against a team still half on vacation like the Suns were Friday night.

And even with Gasol and Ibaka healthy, Toronto’s rebounding at both ends has been a quiet, lurking issue all season. Entering Friday, the Raptors ranked No. 22 across the NBA in offensive rebound percentage and a much-more-concerning No. 26 defensively. Opponents had come down with 29 per cent of available offensive rebounds, which led to the Raptors surrendering an average of 13.9 second-chance points per 100 possessions, the fourth-worst mark in the league.

The problem hasn’t necessarily been put-backs or unnecessary opportunities beneath Toronto’s basket, as the Raptors are actually the second-best team in basketball at limiting opposition paint points, averaging 41.4 per 100 possessions coming into Friday night. Rather, it’s the long rebounds off missed shots that have ended up in the hands of an opponent on the perimeter and created a fresh, 14-second possession.

A lot of that’s luck. You can’t control the behaviour of the ball when it’s out of your hands. It’s going to bounce where it’s going to bounce, and sometimes that’ll be right into the grasp of an opponent. But it’s also a product of Toronto’s run-and-gun approach in transition, as all Raptors know that if they get a head start in the opposite direction off a stop, one of the team’s facilitators is liable to push the ball up to them. An added emphasis on staying home and securing the rebound may be necessary going forward.

Boucher ought to be able to help improve those rebounding numbers, considering his urgency and craftiness beneath the basket. But he’ll have to play better to remain on the floor to do so. Friday, he came up with only one offensive rebound and two on the defensive end. Meanwhile, the Raptors surrendered 10 offensive boards.

So, some of what the Raptors wanted to work on Friday came through. Some didn’t. What matters is a win, and making the most of an opportunity to continue putting the pieces in place for an impending title defence. Regardless of how much fun the head coach is having or not.

“I didn’t have much fun out there tonight coaching. It wasn’t very enjoyable,” Nurse said. “But when I sit here and look back on it right now, I don’t mind that it got a little tough and tight and we had to bounce back and respond and guard and execute down the stretch.

“It’s a nice little learning moment, I guess. Confidence booster, actually. So, I’m getting happier as I keep talking here. And I know you’re all concerned about my happiness.”

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All-Manitoba, all-Ontario playoff games at the Scotties – CBC.ca



MOOSE JAW, Sask. – The province of Manitoba has produced some of this country’s greatest curlers.

This year’s Scotties in Moose Jaw is once again highlighting it.

Jennifer Jones, who made her way into this year’s championship by winning the Wild Card game one week ago, is into the 1 vs 2 playoff game on Saturday against Team Manitoba, skipped by Kerri Einarson.

It’s a rematch of this year’s Manitoba provincial final – a game Einarson won.

It’s also a rematch of the 2018 Scotties final – Jones won that big prize.

Now the two familiar foes meet again with the winner advancing to Sunday’s championship game.

Einarson has been close to winning Canada’s crown jewel of curling before, and is ranked third in the world right now. They finished with a 9-2 record and other than the two losses, have been superb from start to finish.

Einarson did, however, give up a record-making seven-ender against New Brunswick – something the team isn’t concerned about at all.

“What seven?” Einarson said. “That’s how we look at it. We threw it in the bag. Threw it away. We’re rolling right along now.”

WATCH | Jones punches ticket to Scotties playoffs:

Jennifer Jones’ Wild Card rink beat Robyn Silvernagle’s team Saskatchewan 8-4 to book a spot in the Scotties Tournament of Hearts playoffs. 0:33

Jones has been there, done that. In fact, she’s chasing history in Moose Jaw.

If Jennifer Jones is able to capture this year’s Scotties, it’ll be her seventh. No other skip has done that. She also won the championship the last time it was in Moose Jaw five years ago.

“We’re in a really good spot right now,” Jones said. “All in all, we’re feeling really good but we’re playing some really tough teams.”

The two teams will battle Saturday night inside Mosaic Place.

Another playoff provincial rivalry

So while two Manitoba teams will battle for a spot in the Scotties final, earlier in the day Saturday two Ontario teams will play to stay alive.

The winner plays the loser of Jones versus Einarson while the loser is out of the competition.

Rachel Homan and her Ontario team play Northern Ontario. Skip Krista McCarville, from Thunder Bay, has once again found herself in the final four at a Scotties.

But never before, like Einarson, has she been able to win it all. McCarville lost the Scotties championship game four years ago to Chelsea Carey in Grand Prairie.

There was a time during this week it looked as though the team might miss the playoffs all together after a shocking loss to Nunavut. Since then, they haven’t lost.

The game following that loss to Nunavut, McCarville curled 100 per cent.

WATCH | McCarville throws perfect game against Walker:

Northern Ontario’s Krista McCarville threw a perfect game in a 4-3 wi. over Alberta’s Laura Walker. 0:42

She plays her best with her back against the wall.

“I don’t know what it is. We just need that intensity. We need that focus,” McCarville said.

While McCarville enjoys the pressure, she says she’s taken a different approach to this year’s Scotties.

“I just wanted to have fun this year because when you’re uptight you don’t play well,” she said.

“I honestly feel better this year. Usually I’m so nervous at this point.”

She’s playing free and says her Northern Ontario team has been working toward this moment all season.

“We play for the Scotties. This is where we want to be,” McCarville. “This is what I play for.”

Redemption for Homan?

Consider the last two years for Homan.

There was the disappointment of the Olympics.

Then there was the disappointment of last year’s Scotties final, when she had two shots to win the championship, only to come up short.

This past summer, she gave birth to her first child, a baby boy.

It has been an emotional roller coaster for Homan and yet she continues to curl at an incredibly high level – now in another playoff battle at the Scotties.

WATCH | Homan wins championship round opener:

Rachel Homan’s Ontario rink defeated Northern Ontario’s Krista McCarville 9-4 to open the championship round at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts. 1:01

“A Scotties is a grind and a long week,” Homan said. “We’re going to try and outlast the rest of them.”

Homan has won the championship three times, her last title coming three years ago in St. Catharines.

She’d love nothing more than to get back to another title game.

“You have to stay in the moment. We’re all top teams and we’re all battling. We’re just staying in the moment,” she said.

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Einarson, Homan, Jones clinch playoff spots in Tournament of Hearts – CTV News



Manitoba, Ontario and the Jennifer Jones wild-card team secured playoff berths at the Canadian women’s curling championship Thursday.

Manitoba’s Kerri Einarson, Ontario’s Rachel Homan and six-time champion Jones separated themselves from the pack with two wins apiece on the first day of the championship round to get to 8-1.

The trio will jockey Friday for seedings in Saturday’s Page playoff. Einarson faces both Jones and Homan.

“Those two teams are playing really well also, so we’ll have to keep doing all the good things we’re doing,” Einarson said.

Northern Ontario’s Krista McCarville (6-3), Saskatchewan’s Robyn Silvernagle and Prince Edward Island’s Suzanne Birt (5-4) and defending champion Chelsea Carey and B.C.’s Corryn Brown (4-5) will scramble for the fourth and final playoff spot.

Three-time national champion Homan faces Silvernagle Friday afternoon and Einarson at night.

A top-two ranking at the end of play Friday is an advantage.

First and second meet in the Page playoff between the top two seeds with the winner advancing directly to Sunday’s final.

The loser drops to the semifinal to face the winner of the third and fourth seed in Sunday’s semifinal.

“We wouldn’t be happy just coming out and not playing well and limping into the three-four (playoff),” Homan said.

“That’s not what we want. We want to make sure we’re coming out and giving it our all and trying to win those games.”

Jones meets Einarson in an all-Manitoba matchup Friday afternoon and caps the championship round against McCarville.

Her rested wild-card team downed a depleted Silvernagle 8-3 on Thursday.

Homan doubled Carey 8-4, Einarson downed Birt 9-4 and McCarville edged Brown 7-6 in an extra end.

Silvernagle and B.C.’s Brown won morning tiebreakers Thursday to avoid elimination and then played back-to-back draws in the championship round.

Including the previous evening’s loss to Northern Ontario, the host province played in four straight draws.

“Your third game of the day, you’re definitely going to have both mental and physical fatigue,” Silvernagle said. “Especially when last night was maybe a five-hour sleep. We’re running on very little sleep.”

Jones shook hands after eight ends in an afternoon 10-5 win over Carey and again at night against the host province.

“We couldn’t ask to be in a better position than we are right now,” the skip said. “All in all feeling pretty good, but we’re playing some really tough teams, so we have to feel really good.”

Her team was stingy without last-rock advantage Friday, allowing the opposition to score two with the hammer in just three ends.

“It’s just trying to control the front of the house and the front of the tee line,” Jones said. “We’ve been making a lot of really good draws around some guards and making them make some really hard shots, which is the key to success really.

“You want them making harder shots than you.”

The championship round was incorporated into the format of the national women’s and men’s curling championship in 2018.

Instead of a straight round-robin in which each team plays all others, 16 teams are divided into two seven-game pools with eight emerging for the championship round.

Silvernagle beat New Brunswick’s Andrea Crawford 9-7 in a morning Pool A tiebreaker.

Brown locked up the last berth in Pool B with a 5-4 tiebreaker win over Nova Scotia’s Mary-Anne Arsenault.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 20, 2020.

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