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PRE-GAME REPORT: Oilers vs. Kings – Edmonton




EDMONTON, AB – Their history against one another sets the stage, while their potential for another post-season series fuels the animosity.

“There are no surprises here,” Connor McDavid said. “Obviously it’s a big one for us tonight.”

Following their first-round matchup in last season’s playoffs and two regular-season meetings this season, both going the way of the Black & White, the Edmonton Oilers and Los Angeles Kings conclude their regular-season series with an all-important Pacific Division matchup on Thursday at Rogers Place that could be a preview of another first-round matchup in the Stanley Cup Playoffs between the two rivals.


“We’re quite aware of what we’re up against and they have a clear understanding of what they’re up against,” Head Coach Jay Woodcroft said. “Both teams are different than they were in last year’s playoffs. We have different personnel. Both teams have evolved in certain ways, so tonight should be a good matchup.”

The Oilers were pushed to the brink by the Kings in their first-round seven-game series last season, staving off elimination in Games 6 and 7 before winning the Battle of Alberta in the second round and advancing all the way to the Western Conference Final.

The Kings re-tooled in the summer, adding elite winger Kevin Fiala on a seven-year contract from the Minnesota Wild while extending some important pieces to their future in Sean Durzi (two years, $1.7 million), Carl Grundstrom ( two years, $1.3 million), Adrian Kempe (four years, $5.5 million) and Brendan Lemieux (one year, $1.35 million) for another season of growth in the City of Angels.

Los Angeles earned a 3-1 win at Rogers Place in Edmonton earlier this campaign on Nov. 16 before a spirited but sobering 6-3 defeat for the Oilers at Arena on Jan. 9 marked a turning point for the Blue & Orange early in the new year after they fell to the second Wild Card spot with the loss and nine points back of the Kings 42 games into the regular season.

The Oilers struggled on the penalty kill, with the Kings scoring four power-play goals on seven opportunities with the man advantage, while the physicality between the two teams ramped up in the latter stages of the game with a trio of fights.

Video: PRE-RAW | Connor McDavid 03.30.23

“I thought I saw a lot of teammates stick up for each other. I’ve saw a lot of teammates answer the bell and up their physical ante, and I thought it brought us together,” Woodcroft said.

“I think our record since that point speaks for itself.”

Since their January defeat to the Kings, the Oilers own the best points percentage (.758) in the NHL with a 22-5-6 record while LA has been the toast of the League since the All-Star break with a 15-3-3 record despite their franchise-best point streak of 12 games coming to an end on Tuesday with a 2-1 defeat to Calgary.

“I think since post-Christmas our team is really going in the right direction, but that game certainly provided us with an opportunity to come together and I thought we did. We’ll see tonight where we’re at.”

Video: PRE-RAW | Connor McDavid 03.30.23

Thursday will offer a glimpse at what both these two teams at full strength can bring to a potential first-round playoff series.

“Certainly they’re different. They’re healthier,” McDavid said. “They added some pieces, a new goalie and they’re definitely different. As for us, I think we’re just a little bit older, a little more experienced and I think we’re better too.”

The Oilers will have Mattias Ekholm, Evander Kane, Vincent Desharnais and Nick Bjugstad in the lineup to contribute to the lineup this time around, while the Kings bolstered their ranks at the Trade Deadline with Vladislav Gavrikov on the back end and Joonas Korpisalo in between the pipes.

“I thought up until about the Trade Deadline, LA was one of the highest-scoring teams in the League and gave up a lot of goals,” Woodcroft said. “So what they’ve done here over since the All-Star break is they’ve tightened the screws defensively.”

With a victory, Edmonton can jump over the Kings into second place in the Pacific Division while pulling themselves within a point of the lead held by the Golden Knights.

“Certainly more at stake here tonight than any other regular season game, so certainly easy to get up for.”


The 300th goal of Evander Kane’s career on Tuesday night provided the cushion the Oilers needed in a tight one-goal game against the Vegas Golden Knights with six-and-a-half minutes remaining in the second period.

The forward finished Leon Draisaitl’s feed off a zone entry emphatically, shaking the twine in an eventual 7-4 victory for the Oilers with his first goal in five games since recording a hat-trick on Mar. 18 in Seattle. Kane has five goals and an assist in the 10 games since he returned from a nine-game injury absence on Mar. 9 against the Bruins.

The Oilers can feel like more of a complete team with Kane in the lineup after the 31-year-old wasn’t an option for Edmonton during their last meeting with Los Angeles at the turn of the new year.

Video: PRE-RAW | Mattias Ekholm 03.30.23

“Probably just more physical, bigger, faster — all the things that his game is all about,” McDavid said. “He plays with a lot of pace. He’s a big, strong guy. He gets on the forecheck hard and I wouldn’t want to be a D going back to retrieve pucks with him out there.”

Kane’s tally against the Golden Knights was one of four even-strength goals for the Oilers as they continue to get healthy and grow their game in advance of the playoffs with well-rounded scoring at five-on-five and on the power play.

“We’ve gotten healthier, so you’re starting to see the full complement of what we have,” Woodcroft said. “We’re still not yet at full health, but when you return someone like Evander Kane… I think you’re seeing people slotted into the proper batting order up front and it gives the coaching staff more options, allows for easier accountability when it comes to performance and those types of things.”


Netminder Stuart Skinner occupied the starter’s net at the morning skate and is the Oilers projected starter to face the Kings for Thursday’s important Pacific Division tilt.

Skinner matched Mike Smith (April ’22), Tommy Salo (March ’03), Grant Fuhr (Dec. ’87) and Andy Moog (Jan. ’83) for the most wins in a calendar month by an Oilers goaltender with his ninth win in March on Tuesday against the Golden Knights. The 24-year-old already surpassed Fuhr’s record for most wins by an Oilers rookie netminder rookie season (28) and is working towards beating the Hall of Famer’s single-season rookie record of 28 wins, already 24-14-5 this campaign.

“Coming in as a young guy and then becoming an All-Star, that’s the progression, right?” Zach Hyman said of Skinner. “I don’t know how many people had Stu as an All-Star on their ballot when the season started, but I think that’s credit to him and just working at his craft and just getting better every day. He deserves it.”

“He’s been playing amazing, and we’re lucky to have him.”

Video: PRE-RAW | Zach Hyman 03.30.23

— Jamie Umbach,


STREAM: 7:00 p.m. MT; televised on Sportsnet West

Oilers Team Scope

The Oilers enter Thursday night’s contest fresh off one of their most impressive performances of the season against the Vegas Golden Knights on Tuesday.

Edmonton picked up the 7-4 win over the Pacific Division rivals, dominating the division leaders for large stretches of the contest. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored a goal and added four assists to extend his point streak to nine games and bring his season total to 96 (35G, 61A) on the year.

The teams traded offence in the first period, with goals from Nugent-Hopkins, Evan Bouchard, and Leon Draisaitl negating a pair of Vegas goals from Jonathan Marchessault and William Karlsson. It was the second period where the Oilers turned up the heat on the Nevada side, outshooting the Golden Knights 21-6 and outscoring them 3-1 in the middle frame. Darnell Nurse notched his 10th of the year, giving the Oilers 12 double-digit goalscorers this season. Evander Kane finished off an incredible feed by Draisaitl, who undressed the Vegas defender before sliding the puck over to the Oilers sniper for goal 14 of Kane’s season.

Hyman notched the final goal of the frame, finishing off a Nugent-Hopkins feed for his 33rd of the year. The Oilers chased Golden Knights starter Jonathan Quick from the crease after two period, scoring six times on 34 shots against the former Kings goaltender.

Brett Kulak added the Oilers lone third period goal, firing a shot off the post and in after coming out of the penalty box to cap off the scoring for the Blue & Orange. Stuart Skinner won his 24th game of the season, making 18 saves on the night, and bringing the Oilers within three points of the Western Conference lead.

“I think a lot of people in this crowd right here might have wrote the Oilers off when it comes to where we’re going to finish,” Head Coach Jay Woodcroft said after the game. “As you hear me say every single day, we try to take it one at a time. We’re going to get on our plane, get back to Edmonton, have a good rest day tomorrow, and make sure we’re ready for a really good Los Angeles Kings team. We know what we’re up against in them. We want to show well against a really good team and the points will take care of themselves. We just want to get our game in order.”

Kings Team Scope

The Los Angeles Kings head up the road to Edmonton after a 2-1 defeat to the Calgary Flames on Tuesday night. The loss ended a 12-game point streak for the Kings and allowed the Oilers to draw within a single point of the California club.

Defenceman Sean Durzi scored the Kings only goal of the evening, his eighth goal and 37 point of his so-far career-best campaign.

The Flames saw goals by Andrew Mangiapane and Walker Duehr, while Jacob Markstrom made 32 of 33 saves to pick up the win. In goal for the Kings was Joonas Korpisalo, who was acquired at the trade deadline in the deal that sent Jonathan Quick to Columbus (before being swiftly dealt to Vegas) and has been stellar since the move. The Finn is 4-1-1 as a member of the Kings, with his lone regulation loss coming in his 30-save performancer against the Flames.

“On our behalf there wasn’t a lot of zone time, yet we had some really good scoring chances, long chances that had us looking at Markstrom, and he made some really good saves,” Kings coach Todd McLellan said after the game. “At the other end, we spent too much time in our end, and I thought our game management for the first time in a long time was poor.”

By The Numbers

The Oilers come in to Thursday’s contest with a 7-0-1 record in their last eight, with 40 goals for during that stretch… In the Oilers eight-game point streak, their power play has operated at 42.3 per cent… If the season were to end today, the Oilers would set the NHL’s all-time record for power-play efficiency at 32.7 per cent… Edmonton has earned at least a point in 28 of their last 33 games, with a 22-5-6 record and a .758 points percentage… The Oilers have recorded at least a point in 14 of their last 15 home games… Connor McDavid, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Leon Draisaitl all enter Thursday’s contest with a point streak of at least nine games…

The Kings 12-game point streak which was snapped in Calgary was the longest in franchise history, breaking the record of 11 games set on three different occasions… The Oilers and Kings have the two best point percentages in the month of March, with only three regulation losses between the two teams… Los Angeles penalty kill has been a weakness for Todd McLellan’s team lately, allowing a PPG against in their last five games… The Kings have allowed a PPG in 47 of their 74 games this year… Los Angeles has been involved in 36 one-goal games this season, the third most in the NHL….

Injury Report

OILERS – Oscar Klefbom (shoulder) is on IR; Mike Smith (undisclosed) is on IR; Ryan Murray  (undisclosed) is on IR; Ryan McLeod  (undisclosed) is day-to-day.

KINGS – Akil Thomas (undisclosed) is on IR; Gabriel Vilardi (undisclosed) is day-to-day.

— Michael Arcuri,


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Bontis says he’s apologized to Sinclair, doesn’t remember insult



Former Canada Soccer president Nick Bontis told the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage Thursday that while he doesn’t remember insulting Christine Sinclair during a meeting last year, he has reached out to the women’s national team captain and apologized.

Sinclair testified before the committee on Mar. 9 and said that she had never been as insulted as when Bontis asked a colleague what Sinclair was “bitching about” during a labour negotiating session.

“While I do not recall using the language she referenced, I don’t dispute it, and my exact choice of words is not the point,” Bontis told the committee. “What matters is that she felt that I treated her concerns disrespectfully. I feel terrible for making her feel this way… It was a mistake, I take responsibility for it, and I regret it.”

Bontis made his comments during a 90-minute hearing in which committee members discussed the business of soccer with Bontis, Concacaf president Victor Montagliani, who was president of Canada Soccer from 2012-17, and Canada Soccer CFO Sean Heffernan.


Bontis testified that he left his position as Canada Soccer president on Feb. 27 after the 13 presidents of Canada’s provincial and territorial soccer federations requested his resignation. He said he still doesn’t know why they sought his ouster.

“I asked for reasons,” Bontis said. “I wanted an explicit opportunity to actually have both them explain it to me, and for me to explain where we were at in addition to my presidency. I was not afforded that opportunity. At that point I tendered my resignation.”

The hearing saw several sharp exchanges.

At one point both Montagliani and Bontis refused to answer Liberal MP Anthony Housefather’s questions about how much money they are paid by Concacaf, the soccer confederation for North and Central America and the Caribbean.

“The issue is that the organization that I am the president of has a policy with respect to not disclosing that number,” Montagliani said, pointing to “security and safety issues throughout our confederation.”

“I’m uncomfortable in sharing that number for privacy reasons,” Bontis said.

All three witnesses were questioned about Canada Soccer’s media and sponsorship contract with Canadian Soccer Business.

Under the terms of a contract negotiated in 2017-18, CSB pays Canada Soccer a guaranteed fee annually between 2019 and 2027 in exchange for the rights to sell both broadcasting and corporate sponsorship rights to the men’s and women’s national teams.

In 2019, that fee was $3 million, according to a copy of the contract obtained by TSN.

Canada Soccer board member Paul-Claude Berube confirmed during a March 22 committee hearing that in 2022, CSB generated $8.2 million in sponsorships. Canada Soccer has 14 national corporate partners listed on its website, and CSB receives all of the revenue from those agreements.

CSB’s guaranteed payment to Canada Soccer climbs each year, topping out at $3.5 million in 2027. The contract, which was signed by Steve Reed (Canada Soccer’s president from 2017-20), says CSB has the right to extend the deal for an additional 10 years, and if it triggers that extension, must pay Canada Soccer at least $4 million per year from 2028 to 2037.

Montagliani defended the contract.

“The lack of interest and support from media corporations meant that Canada Soccer had to spend its own money for our women’s and men’s national teams to be shown on networks such as TSN, Rogers and CBC rather than allocating that to the grassroots,” he said.

“…Of course, Canadian corporations are private entities and can make choices as they wish. But it was obvious when I was president of Canada Soccer that we needed to take a different route and seek out new commercial partners – not only to encourage investment, but to encourage ambition. That meant looking beyond the usual suspects to find new, more dynamic partners with the appetite and willingness to build domestic football for the long term.”

NDP MP Peter Julien pressed Bontis on Canada Soccer’s decision before the men’s World Cup in Qatar to spend $11,000 on bespoke suits for the organization’s board members.

“I can confirm that a couple years back, when I was elected president, that I had been wearing a suit that was issued to me for 10 full years,” Bontis said. “The suit was in very bad shape. We travel a lot as directors. I think I wore it on average 30 times a year over 10 years – that’s 300 times. It was shredded, it was in disrepair.

“…The suits were for all 14 directors of the board and they amounted to $791.00 dollars each. The suits were custom suits with Canada Soccer branding.”



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Blue Jays win dramatic opener over Cardinals



ST. LOUIS – Opening day or not, that was a lot. Nineteen runs on 34 hits. A combined 14 pitchers and 384 pitches. A steady stream of late-game leverage. A three-hour 38-minute time of game in spite of the pitch clock and not including Adam Wainwright’s surprise two-plus minute take on the Star-Spangled Banner before the festivities started.

And at the end, star power versus star power. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. first stemmed a St. Louis Cardinals rally in the seventh inning with a brilliant stab of a Tommy Edman chopper before making an off-balance throw home to save a run, then fought off 102.9 m.p.h. Jordan Hicks heat for a two-run single that put the Toronto Blue Jays up 8-7 in the eighth. Then it was a Lars Nootbar walk, a Paul Goldschmidt double and a two-run Nolan Arenado double off Yimi Garcia in the bottom half that restored a 9-8 lead for the defending National League Central champs.

George Springer becomes first Blue Jay ever to record five hits on Opening Day

Not even Ryan Helsley, the other fire-breathing dragon in the Cardinals bullpen who came up in trade discussions between the clubs during the off-season, could hold that lead as he walked Whit Merrifield to open the ninth, Kevin Kiermaier followed with a base hit, George Springer flared an RBI single just into shallow left and Guerrero delivered a go-ahead sac fly.

Finally, Jordan Romano, the eighth Blue Jays pitcher of the day, put a lid on the madness, locking down a bonkers 10-9 season-opening victory before a festive crowd of 47,649 at Busch Stadium.


These teams didn’t dip their toes into 2023, they cannonballed straight into the deep end.

Blue Jays’ Romano strikes out Nootbaar to seal wild Opening Day win over Cardinals

“Definitely crazy,” said Romano, who struck out Edman and Nootbar during a ruthless 12-pitch, three-up, three-down ninth. “Going into today, I just felt it was going to be a dogfight all day, two pretty good teams going at it and yeah, it was a pretty crazy game.”

Such was the depth of drama at the end that the rough outings for all-stars Alek Manoah and Miles Mikolas, each of whom lasted only 3.1 innings and allowed five earned runs, could be easily forgotten.

In between there was so much to take in, from Manoah finding his velocity but taking damage on two mistake pitches that ended up in the seats, to the Blue Jays’ off-season upgrades to their outfield defence and baserunning helping to make the difference in the end.

“It just lets us know that everything that we’ve talked about, everything that we’ve preached, it matters,” said Springer, whose sliding catch on a Brendan Donovan liner in the second saved at least one run, if not more. “Stuff like that doesn’t show up in a box score but guys know it. It’s a long year and it’s hard to do it all the time. But that’s the style of game that everybody expects to play.”

Blue Jays’ Springer makes spectacular diving catch to prevent Cardinals run

Daulton Varsho didn’t steal any hits in left field, but he cleverly cut off a couple of balls headed to the wall in left to prevent runners from advancing an extra 90 feet as a complement to his RBI double in the first and left-on-left sacrifice fly in the fourth. Kiermaier, meanwhile, stole an RBI single from Tyler O’Neill with a sliding catch in the eighth and then made a tremendous read on Springer’s flare in the ninth, sprinting first to third and catching the Cardinals so off-guard they threw behind him to second base.

“Once the ball was probably mid-flight I knew it was going to drop in,” said Kiermaier. “With my speed, I can take a little bit longer than probably most guys to judge what’s going to happen because you can’t have that ball be caught and me get doubled off. This is where experience plays a huge part. I knew it was going to fall, got to third and Vladdy drove me in a couple guys later.”

Guerrero demonstrated his versatility at the plate during the two late rallies, fighting off Hicks’ big velocity in the eighth and then adjusting when Helsley threw him back-to-back sliders in the ninth, allowing him to capitalize on Kiermaier’s pivotal dash.

Blue Jays pre-season goals on full display in ‘gong show’ opening day win over Cardinals

“I love it,” said manager John Schneider. “I mean, we’ve been seeing (Kiermaier) do that against us for however many years and he’s thinking a step ahead. Things like that, like we’ve been saying from Day 1, how can you make your teammates’ life easier? And it’s a whole lot easier hitting with a runner at third with less than two outs. Not everyone can do that. He’s an elite base runner. … Things like that, if you just do it consistently, it all adds up. If it means one win, if it means five – great. All things considered, love the way they did it.”

Manoah loved the way his team fought back but not the two pitches that really cost him, a first-pitch fastball that Canadian slugger O’Neill pummelled over the wall in right-centre for a two-run homer in the third that cut an early Blue Jays lead to 4-3 and a lazy 0-2 slider that Donovan took deep for another two-run homer in the fourth.

“I didn’t get beat on good pitches. I got beat on bad pitches,” said Manoah. “That’s an easy adjustment.”

More important is that after sitting 91 with his fastball during the season, he averaged 94 against the Cardinals, getting four whiffs on his four-seamer and six more with his sinker. His slider was more of the issue this time out, but the more important takeaway is that he was more himself from a process perspective in his 85 pitches.

‘They got my back’: Manoah praises Blue Jays offence in tough start vs. Cardinals

“Thank the lord spring training is over,” Manoah quipped when asked about his fastball returning to normal. “Stuff felt really good. Mechanics felt really good. Really, really trusting the way my legs were working and my arm was on time. Everything felt really good. So make those little adjustments here and there and continue to compete as hard as I can. That was at a high level today and it felt good to be out there competing and grinding as hard as I can.”

Manoah was far from the only one in a game that included six lead changes, five of them from the sixth inning on.

“When it goes to that situation, the other team responds every time that you score, it shows what courage and what we can do as a team overall,” said Varsho. “It’s just a lot of fun playing that baseball because we can do a lot of different things that a lot of teams can’t.”

A wild season opener demanded the Blue Jays do all of it.




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