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Maple Leafs raise the standard with defensive dismantling of Oilers – Sportsnet.ca

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When an injury forced Auston Matthews to miss the first two games of this statement-sending series in Edmonton, Sheldon Keefe reminded his players that they were essentially losing a goal per night from the lineup.

Rather than focusing on where else they might look for it, he wanted the Toronto Maple Leafs to play like they had one less to allow a high-octane opponent and they responded by pitching back-to-back shutouts against the Oilers.

It was natural to wonder, then, if some of the gains might be lost when Matthews returned Wednesday. That subconsciously or not, his presence might see the team loosen the noose they’d strung around their closest pursuant in the North Division standings by cheating for offence or having players down the lineup start deferring to the league’s most lethal scorer.

That’s why the 6-1 dismantling was even more impressive than the victories that came before it at Rogers Place

The Leafs didn’t even need their customary goal from Matthews, who was stymied despite producing a game-high seven shots and 10 attempts. They regained a superstar and just kept on working to keep the puck from getting anywhere near their own net.

“I think the three games here is a good example that we [can] score a lot and still [not want] to give up anything. We’re not just satisfied with leads and winning a couple games,” said goaltender Frederik Andersen, who made 26 saves in his own return from injury.

“We want to keep suffocating them and not really give them anything really. Yeah, show how good we can be for 60 minutes every night.”

You might need a VHS player to find the last time a Leafs team played three better games in a row. Granted, the bar hasn’t been set too high for a franchise that hasn’t won a playoff series since 2004 or played for a Stanley Cup since the last time it won one in 1967.

They are now off to the best start in franchise history with 18 wins and 38 points through 24 games, but something changed during five days in Edmonton. This group raised the standard. Not only did they outscore the Oilers 13-1 while playing two games without Matthews, they did it by giving Jack Campbell, Michael Hutchinson and Andersen each a start in net.

“Three different goalies,” said Matthews. “Three phenomenal games.”

“To win three games like that so decisively, I think it’s a real step of growth for our team,” said fourth-liner Jimmy Vesey, who broke a personal 17-game drought by scoring twice on Wednesday night.

The Leafs boarded a flight to Vancouver for Thursday’s quick turnaround game sitting atop the NHL in points percentage (.792), wins (18), regulation wins (16) and goals per game (3.63). More impressively, they were fourth overall in goals against per game (2.33) and sixth in shots allowed per game (28.6).

All of that talk on Day 1 of training camp about defending the net-front area more fiercely and cutting back on the rush chances against has turned out to be much more than just talk.

“There’s still room for improvement, but I think we’ve definitely made some pretty huge strides from last year into this year,” said Matthews. “That’s obviously positive and I think we’re realizing what it really takes to win and that’s going to be playing well on the defensive side of the puck for us to really break through and play a long time in playoff time.”

The Oilers entered the series with wins in 11 of 13 games and left it looking crushed. They simply had no answers.

Connor McDavid, the sport’s most gifted offensive weapon, failed to register a point in any of the three games. That’s only the third time in his entire NHL career he’s been held without one for three consecutive games.

He saw a steady diet of the Jake Muzzin-Justin Holl defensive pairing and was completely nullified in Wednesday’s finale with just one shot on goal. It didn’t help that Edmonton failed to get a power-play opportunity in the game and had only four in the entire series.

“We knew coming in we were playing against a very good team that was as hot or hotter than any team in the NHL and coming in with lots of confidence, so for us to get results like this is a really good and healthy sign,” said Keefe.

Toronto breaks an opponent’s spirit in a way not captured by shot metrics like Corsi. They have the puck all the time but are content to reload on zone entries and offensive zone shifts rather than just firing low-percentage attempts all night long.

The stat that might best encapsulate what happened during this series in Edmonton is an old-school one which probably would have been held against the Leafs once upon a time: They were outhit 105-58 because the Oilers were in pursuit for most of 180 minutes.

This was an entire team effort.

As I highlighted earlier this week, Kyle Dubas has done an excellent job of balancing his top-heavy salary cap chart with depth players vastly outperforming their pay cheques.

Vesey has been the only off-season signing yet to really bear fruit and even he’s up to four even-strength goals after the two he potted Wednesday. Jason Spezza picked up three assists and now has 15 points on the season — a total that would currently lead a handful of NHL teams.

But this 18-4-2 squad isn’t now earning buzz as a bonafide Stanley Cup contender because of the dazzling offence it produces. That’s not new. What they did in Edmonton is make it look like only one team on the ice was a constant threat to score.

“I think we’re starting to understand what it feels like when we play good defence and we’re able to replicate it a few games in a row here,” said Spezza. “That’s a good sign for our team. We’ll just keep building and moving forward.”

If they can build on this, the sky’s the limit.

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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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