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Loss of Horvat, Pettersson enough to render Canucks’ playoff hopes a fantasy – Sportsnet.ca

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The sports mantra “next man up” often seems delusionary to people outside of the team trying to fool itself into believing a major injury shouldn’t matter.

It depends who is injured and who is next up, of course. But most times, injuries matter. And the farther up the lineup they occur, the more they matter, especially for teams without superior depth.

The Vancouver Canucks do not have enough quality depth even when everyone is healthy.

When their captain – literally and figuratively – hobbled off the ice on Monday, Bo Horvat’s apparent leg injury meant there were no healthy centres left from the four who started the National Hockey League season for Vancouver.

Elite forward Elias Pettersson has been out since March 2 with a reported wrist injury that was initially regarded as day-to-day but will be going on four weeks, at least, before he returns. Third-line centre and penalty-killer Brandon Sutter, who had been playing through an undisclosed injury, was unable to play Monday against the Winnipeg Jets. Fourth-line centre Jay Beagle has missed six games with an unknown injury.

Winger J.T. Miller has filled in admirably at centre since Pettersson was hurt, so maybe we’ll see winger Brock Boeser play centre on Wednesday when the Canucks play the Jets again before, mercifully, Vancouver gets a six-day schedule break.

But you don’t have to count through four centres for the injuries to reach a critical mass for Vancouver. Losing Pettersson and now, apparently, Horvat are enough to render the Canucks’ push to cling to the North Division playoff race a fantasy.

Even with inspired moments from Miller and Boeser, and world-class goaltending from Thatcher Demko, it’s hard to see how the Canucks survive for any length without both Pettersson and Horvat.

They lost 4-0 Monday to the Jets, who burst playoff “Bubble Demko” with shots both excellent and lucky. The Canucks hit four posts around Winnipeg goalie Connor Hellebuyck, and as Vancouver coach Travis Green said, it didn’t feel like a 4-0 game.

But the Canucks generated just 22 shots on target, giving them a total of 40 shots in consecutive losses to the Jets and Montreal Canadiens. Even before their improbable four-game winning streak ended with Saturday’s 5-4 shootout loss in Montreal, the Canucks’ five-on-five play had begun to dip noticeably without Pettersson.

Monday was the 10th straight game that Vancouver has been outshot.

And now the Canucks appear to be without Horvat. Green offered a two-letter assessment when asked after the game if he could provide a medical update: “No.” But it looked serious as Horvat, standing in front of the net, was drilled just below his shin guard by teammate Alex Edler’s slapshot when it was only 1-0.

We’ll see what the Canucks can muster over the final 20 games, but if the medical science halts their playoff chase, the end point of Vancouver’s attempt to make the Stanley Cup tournament may well be the quick sequence of events early in Monday’s third period.

A minute after Horvat somehow pushed himself on one leg back to the bench – a couple of players at the Winnipeg bench reached out with their sticks to help propel their wounded opponent off the ice – the Jets doubled their lead when Adam Lowry’s attempted centring pass caromed off Vancouver defenceman Travis Hamonic’s stick and body, arced perfectly over Demko and tumbled into the top corner of the net at 2:07 of the final period.

It was the kind of shot you might see if someone were pitching horse shoes. Blindfolded.

“I knew it went up in the air,” Demko said when asked about trying to locate the puck. “Most times that puck just goes over the net. Or something.”

Three minutes after that, Canucks defenceman Jordie Benn drifted a wrist shot from the point past traffic and Hellebuyck only to ping the crossbar. Two minutes later, Adam Gaudette hit the post. Vancouver struck iron four times in the game.

The Canucks need all the luck they can get, and on Monday they had none.

“I was talking to the team after the game,” Green told reporters. “Sometimes when you lose 4-0, it can give you a different kind of feeling after the game. That’s a good hockey team over there and obviously we’ve got some guys out. But I really thought our guys stuck with it. I’m not sitting here saying we outplayed the other team and we deserved a better fate. But I am saying that it didn’t feel like a 4-0 game and I liked a lot of things in our game.”

But the Canucks are now missing two paramount pieces from their game. Top-six winger Tanner Pearson is also out four weeks with an ankle injury.

“Obviously, it’s not something that you want to deal with,” Demko said of the injuries. “But at the end of the day, it’s part of what’s going to happen to teams. Whoever’s ready to go, they’ve got to step in and we’ve got to go about our business the same way and prepare to win.”

Minor-league call-up Tyler Graovac, whose last NHL game was Dec. 1, 2019, dressed as Sutter’s replacement on Monday and played nine minutes, registering no shot attempts, no hits and went 0-6 on faceoffs.

Beagle was able to skate with the Canucks in a non-contact jersey Monday morning and may be able to play centre on Wednesday. It’s unclear who the next man up is at that position if none of Beagle, Sutter and Horvat can play. Pettersson remains on long-term injured reserve and won’t return until at least the end of the Canucks’ schedule break on March 31.

“It sucks to lose all of our centres at this point,” Miller said. “But this stuff happens. Guys are going to get an opportunity and we need guys to step up.”

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Berrettini ends Murray’s comeback at Queen’s

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Andy Murray‘s grasscourt return was cut short in brutal fashion at Queen’s Club as Italian top seed Matteo Berrettini dished out a 6-3 6-3 defeat to the former world number one on Thursday.

The 34-year-old two-time Wimbledon champion, playing in his first singles tournament on grass for three years, could not handle the ferocious pace of Berrettini as he slid to defeat.

Murray eased past Benoit Paire in his opening match on Tuesday but world number nine Berrettini was too big a step up.

Berrettini’s huge first serve and forehand did most of the damage but the Italian also showed plenty of silky touch on the slick lawns to register his first career win over Murray.

Berrettini, 25, finished the match off with a powerful hold of serve, banging down four massive first serves before sealing victory with a clubbing forehand winner.

He faces British number one Dan Evans in the quarter-final after Evans beat Frenchman Adrian Mannarino.

Murray, a five-time winner of the traditional warm-up event but now ranked 124 after long battles with hip injuries including resurfacing surgery in 2019, has been handed a wildcard for the Wimbledon championships.

Apart from a slight groin niggle, Murray said he was reasonably happy with his condition, considering this was only his third Tour-level tournament of the year.

“I think obviously I need to improve,” Murray told reporters. “I actually felt my movement was actually quite good for both of the matches. My tennis today was not very good today. That’s the thing that I’ll need to improve the most.

“I felt like today that that sort of showed my lack of matches.”

Spanish veteran Feliciano Lopez, who won the singles title in 2019 and the doubles alongside Murray, was beaten 6-2 6-3 by Canada‘s Denis Shapovalov.

(Reporting by Martyn HermanEditing by Toby Davis and Pritha Sarkar)

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Be Like the King of the North Division and Develop Skills

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North Division

It’s been a year unlike no other for Canadian hockey teams, with COVID-19 travel restrictions forcing the creation of a new NHL division made up entirely of Canadian teams. The previous generation of NHL hockey was known as the “Dead Puck Era” because referees tolerated slowing down the game with clutching and grabbing.

The leading scorers today score in jaw-dropping fashion and routinely pull off stickhandling dangles that were unimaginable until only recently. The Canadian team that will win the North Division will be the one with the most skill.

Here are the training aids that will help you develop your skills all year long.

Passers

Innovators like HockeyShot Canada make “passers” so that players can develop pinpoint accuracy and the soft hands necessary to cradle and control a pass when it lands on your stick. The high-quality rubber bands return the puck with the same force which passed it, so you can give yourself one-timers or work on accuracy.

Whether you’re on a two-on-one, sending a breakout pass from the defensive zone, or holding down the blue line on the power play, every positional player needs to pass accurately.

Shooting

A player is lucky to get a few shots on net each game, and they can’t let them go to waste. Until recently, players needed to rent ice in the off-season to practice their shots in realistic game-like conditions.

Now, players can use shooting pads at their home that let pucks glide as they do on real ice. Shooting is perhaps the one skill that requires the most repetition because one inch can be the difference between going bar-down and clanking one wide off the post.

Practice your quick release and accuracy and develop an arsenal of shots, including wrist shots, slapshots, one-timers, and more. The more tools in your tool kit, the deadlier a sniper you’ll be.

Stick Handling

Having the puck on your stick is a responsibility, and you don’t want to cough it up to the other team and waste a scoring chance or lose possession. The ability to stickhandle helps you bide time until a teammate is open, so you can pass them the puck and continue attacking.

If you’re on a breakaway, you may want to deke the goalie rather than shoot if your hands are silky enough. Develop stickhandling skills, and you’ll keep goalies and opponents guessing – being unpredictable helps make a sniper’s job easier.

Of course, you also need to handle the puck in your own zone without causing a turnover. Stickhandling is a crucial skill in all areas of the ice.

When the coach sends you over the board, you need to be prepared for whatever comes your way. Maybe you’ll get the puck in the slot or somewhere else, but when it’s playoffs, you always need to be ready. The Kings of the North Division have all of the above skills and more, and you can too if you practice all year.

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Australia swim trials calendar shift to reap Tokyo rewards

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Australia broke with tradition to hold its swimming trials just six weeks before the start of the 2020 Olympics and former world champion Giaan Rooney said the move could reap rich rewards in Tokyo after disappointments at London and Rio.

Australia has typically held its trials up to six months before an Olympics but that gap has been drastically cut this year with swimmers vying for Tokyo spots this week in Adelaide.

Rooney, who won individual world titles at Fukuoka and Montreal and a relay gold at the 2004 Athens Olympics, said Australia is gearing up for a much improved Games after its swimmers flopped at Rio and London.

“I think we needed to make it work,” she told Reuters. “The shift started about a year ago to bring the trials into line with the rest of the world and qualify five or six weeks before.

“In sport and swimming, six months is a long time,” Rooney added. “From a coaching perspective, it’s much better to know you have chosen the team in form.”

After winning five gold medals at Sydney 2000 and seven in Athens, the Australian team was rocked by accusations of disruptive behaviour by some of its top sprinters at the 2012 Olympics.

Australia won just one gold medal in the London pool and three in Rio five years ago.

Australia knew something had to be done if it was to close the gap on the powerful Americans and moving the trials is part of the strategy.

“I think it’s to make your swimmers more resilient to change,” Rooney said.

“In the USA they get to race every week regardless of illness or breakups and under all circumstances. Nothing rattles them.

“Australia doesn’t have that racing continuity. This is about making sure you are prepared for anything. I think our swimmers are more resilient than they have been in the past decade, COVID is part of this.”

Rooney said there might even be an “upside” for Australia with the Olympics postponed by a year due to the global health crisis, with the emergence of swimmers like teenager Kaylee McKeown, who broke the women’s 100m backstroke world record on Sunday.

“We are now talking about athletes who are not only going to make the Olympics but are medal chances,” Rooney said.

“We wouldn’t have been talking about her this time last year. She might not have been ready for a position on the team. She is now a legitimate gold medal chance in Tokyo once she gets there.”

For all her confidence about Australia’s performance in Tokyo, Rooney was wary of making predictions about a gold rush for her compatriots.

“I think this will be a more successful Olympics for us than Rio in the pool but individual goal medals will still be difficult to come by,” said the 38-year-old.

“The biggest challenge is to make the jump from minor medals to gold.”

 

(Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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