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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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Drouin must return to mentality that’s led to success this season – Sportsnet.ca

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It was something Dominique Ducharme said after his Montreal Canadiens played an abysmal game against the Ottawa Senators last week, something that only truly resonated after they lost 3-2 to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday — a game that emboldened the struggle Jonathan Drouin’s currently enduring.

“Ninety per cent of the mistakes we made were mental, and the rest of it was above our shoulders.” the coach said after the 6-3 loss to Ottawa last Saturday, somewhat channelling New York Yankees legend Yogi Berra with this bit of wit and wisdom.

It was hard not to think of those words watching Drouin play the way he did on Wednesday. For much of this season, the talented left winger has played a primary role in Montreal’s success. He’s led them with 19 assists, been tenacious on the forecheck, physically engaged all over the ice, cerebral as always in his execution and, as he’s said on several occasions, relatively unconcerned by whether or not his name has been featured on the scoresheet.

But it seemed clear, after watching Drouin dump a breakaway into Jack Campbell’s chest with one of 32 shots the Maple Leafs goaltender turned aside to set a franchise record with his 10th consecutive win, he had diverted from that. And that affected the way he played the rest of the game.

It was Drouin’s fifth in a row without a point, his 18th without a goal, and he’d have to be a robot not to be suffering the mental wear of not seeing the puck go in more than twice since the season started, the torment of seeing only three per cent of his shots hit the back of the net through 36 games after 10 per cent of them resulted in goals through the first 348 games of his career.

“It is weighing on me where, when I have a chance and miss the goal, I might be trying to score too much,” Drouin said. “It’s something I obviously think about — every player would — and I’ve just gotta put it past me and just keep shooting pucks.”

Ideally, the 26-year-old wouldn’t be thinking about any of this. These are thoughts that weigh a player down and right now the Canadiens are in tough without Brendan Gallagher for the rest of the season and Drouin needs to be light and free to help account for that loss. And in order for him to do that, he needs to focus on what he does best.

Because the reality is that even though Drouin can score more, scoring isn’t what he needs to do in order to be at his best and really help this team.

“When his feet are moving and he’s making plays, Drou’s a pass-first guy,” explained Jake Allen, who made 29 saves in Carey Price’s absence. “When his feet are moving, his head’s always in it. When his feet are moving, he’s controlling the play, controlling the puck. He’s a guy who really can control the play for a whole line. You want the puck on that guy’s stick and let the other guys do the dirty work and he’ll find them.”

But when Drouin’s feet aren’t moving, there just isn’t enough of that other stuff happening.

When Drouin’s feet weren’t moving, he lost a battle for the puck in the offensive zone and allowed the NHL’s leading goal scorer to start the rush that resulted in the winning play of Wednesday’s game.

Auston Matthews to Mitch Marner, back to Matthews, off Allen and slammed into Montreal’s net by Zach Hyman with 9:39 remaining in the third period, with Drouin watching from just inside his own blue line.

“You give a 3-on-2 to the Matthews line and it’s the kind of play they’re going to make you pay on,” said Ducharme.

Was Drouin still thinking about that shot he didn’t bury in the second period?

It’s understandable if he was, but those are the kind of thoughts he needs to shake right now.

“He wants to do well, and I’m sure it’s getting a little bit in his head,” said Ducharme. “I think the best remedy for him is to be scoring that goal or making that big play, and I think he’s going to be energized by that and less thinking, more acting.

“It is a fine line. Those kind of thoughts is not something that you want to happen. But when you receive that puck and you see the opening and stuff, (the slump) comes back to (your mind). That’s why the mental part of the game is something that’s very tricky. It’s not his will to be thinking that way. Every player who’s going through a time like that will have that thought and scoring that goal will take him to a different level. At those kind of times you need to make it even simpler and being even more inside going at the net and finding a garbage (goal) right there and you put it in and sometimes you go on a little run. It might be that kind of goal that he needs to get that monkey off his back.”

It’s the kind of goal Corey Perry scored twice to give the Canadiens a chance in this game.

But Drouin isn’t Perry, who rightly pointed out after the game he’s made a career of scoring goals that way. And even if Drouin can borrow from what Perry does next time he has a chance like the one Brett Kulak set him up with for that breakaway, there are other ways he can positively impact the game.

You can appreciate that Drouin said he’s putting pressure on himself to score more and help make up for the goals the team will be missing with Gallagher sidelined, but that might not get him to where he needs to be mentally to contribute as much as he already has this season.

What would, though, is a sharp turn towards the mentality he described just days ago. The one that’s enabled him to be a much more consistent player this season than he has in seasons past.

“When I was younger, I’d stay on one game or stay on one play for too long and wouldn’t be able to let it go for a bit or a couple of days,” Drouin said. “But I think for me now it’s can I look at myself in the mirror after a game and did I give my good effort? Was I a part of this game? Was I doing something right in a lot of areas?

“That’s what I do now. I think points are there, goals are there, assists are there, but it’s just about playing that real game and playing to help your team win.”

Drouin’s done a lot of that this season and has a chance to get right back to it when the Winnipeg Jets visit the Bell Centre Thursday.

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Scioscia to lead U.S. baseball bid for spot at Tokyo Olympics

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(Reuters) – Mike Scioscia, who won World Series both as a player and manager, was named manager of the U.S. men’s national baseball team on Tuesday, as they seek a spot at the Tokyo Olympics.

After 19 seasons as manager of the Anaheim Angels, guiding them to their only World Series win in 2002, Scioscia will make his international coaching debut in June when the United States hosts the Baseball Americas Qualifier in Florida.

For the tournament the U.S. will be grouped with the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Nicaragua in Pool A while Canada, Colombia, Cuba, and Venezuela will make up Pool B.

The top two teams from each pool will advance to the Super Round, where the country with the best overall record will earn a spot in the Tokyo Olympic tournament.

Second and third-place finishers will advance to a final qualifier, joining Australia, China, Taiwan, and the Netherlands.

“Mike’s tenure with the Angels’ franchise was nothing short of spectacular, creating and celebrating a culture of success with six division titles, an American League pennant, and its first-ever World Series title,” said USA Baseball Executive Director/CEO Paul Seiler in a statement. “More impactfully, his leadership, integrity, and character are unparalleled in our game, making him the perfect fit for the USA Baseball family.”

The Olympic tournament will take place from July 28-Aug. 7 in Fukushima City and Yokohama.

Hosts Japan, Israel, South Korea, and Mexico have already secured a berth in the six-team field.

 

(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto. Editing by Toby Davis)

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Masters 2021: Tiger Woods says he'll miss Champions Dinner, running up DJ's bill – Golf Channel

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AUGUSTA, Ga. – Dustin Johnson will host his first Champions Dinner on Tuesday night in the Augusta National clubhouse, and he’ll be joined by several past Masters champions.

One former winner who won’t be there is five-time champ Tiger Woods, who is still home in South Florida recovering from a serious car accident in February near Los Angeles. Justin Thomas, who is still working toward his invite to the prestigious dinner, said Woods texted him Friday night and was “bummed” to not be at the Masters this year.

Woods then tweeted Tuesday afternoon that he’ll miss one of his favorite nights of the year.

“I’ll miss running up @DJohnsonPGA’s bill at the Champions Dinner tonight,” Woods said. “It’s still one of my favorite nights of the year.”

Johnson responded to Woods’ tweet, saying: “Will miss having you here. This week isn’t the same without you.”

The PGA Tour announced that the club would leave a seat open for Woods at the dinner, though the tweet has since been taken down.

Johnson will serve a menu including filet mignon, sea bass and peach cobbler.

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