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‘Measuring-stick series’ or not, time to see how Jets stack up vs. Leafs – Sportsnet.ca

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WINNIPEG — The measuring stick game or series is mostly a media creation, it’s a narrative that players and coaches rarely have any interest in engaging in.

When it comes to the question-and-answer part associated with it, there is very little to be gained by making any such declaration.

This isn’t about providing bulletin-board material or ammunition for other teams, but the simple fact remains that if things don’t go well for the Winnipeg Jets, there will be questions about the cost associated with those losses.

If a team doesn’t measure up, where do they go from there?

Even if it does go well, that doesn’t mean the Jets get to change their approach against the other five teams in the North Division.

As this three-game series between the Jets and the Toronto Maple Leafs begins on Tuesday in Toronto, it doesn’t really matter what you call it or if the parties involved want to play along.

“You’re so much more focused on your life and your journey, where you’re at, so it’s a new experience for us,” said Jets head coach Paul Maurice. “We had a real tough game and now we want to come back and get on the right track again, with the full awareness that we’re going to see a real quality team. Over the course of the year, you see that a lot.

“Every time you play a team that is one or two in the division, you know you have to be at your best to beat them. It’s different this year because there is only one first-place team you see, and you’re trying to chase them. In terms of measuring stick, when you’ll come to the rink, you’ll know the other team has some really high-end guys on their team.”

No, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a season-defining moment for either the Jets or the Maple Leafs, but you can be darn sure that the players, coaches and management teams on both sides are curious to see how they stack up against one another as the midway point approaches.

Even if they’re doing their very best to not get into any sort of verbal sparring contest on a public forum.

“You could say it’s a measuring stick, but I think every team within our division can bring something different to the table. When you play each team nine or 10 times in one season you just have to worry about that individual series,” said Jets forward Paul Stastny. “For us, we lost the first game to them, but they are a whole different team and we’re a whole different team. We’re just excited for the challenge.

“They’ve just got a lot of finishers — like every team — but they don’t need as many chances to produce as many goals. They play a good transition game, they have good puck possession and they have a lot of creativity. All four lines have different guys who play different ways and sometimes it can create havoc, and sometimes if you play it the right way you can create chances for yourself.”

The timing for these games is fascinating, with the Jets coming off a rare blowout loss to the Montreal Canadiens and the Maple Leafs losers of consecutive games to the Vancouver Canucks.

Just last week, the Maple Leafs heard all about how the Edmonton Oilers had an opportunity to make their own statement in the first-place showdown.

Well, that ended with the Oilers getting swept in the three-game series and outscored 13-1 in the process.

Instead of building on that dominant showing, the Maple Leafs hit a rare speed bump, so you can be sure they’ll be looking to get back to the detailed approach that has made them so successful to date.

As for the Jets, they had won six of seven games before getting thumped, so it’s not like you could have made the argument the Jets were trending toward a suspect showing.

This is just the second of 10 meetings between the two clubs and the Jets have played 22 games since the last game against the Maple Leafs.

Although the final score was only 3-1, it was flattering to the Jets thanks to a 35-save performance from goalie Connor Hellebuyck.

The Jets were loose defensively and didn’t ever get their skating legs going or generate much offensively.

“Looking back to that first game, we didn’t play very good that night. We’re a lot better team than what we showed,” said Jets centre Adam Lowry. “We’re getting a lot closer to the identity and the way we want to play — that’s big, that’s fast and kind of imposing our will and that’s from controlling the puck and playing with pace. That’s going to be something we try and do.

“Obviously, the Leafs are rolling. They’ve lost a couple (games), but they’ve had a great start to the year and we know it’s going to be a tough test for us.”

Speaking of Hellebuyck, he will be looking to get locked in after getting pulled for the first time this season.

It’s been an interesting stretch for Hellebuyck, who has allowed three goals or more in seven of his past eight starts.

The numbers haven’t told the whole story either, as he’s sprinkled in a pair of 40-save outings during the same span of time.

The point is that the Jets have dipped to 14th in the NHL in goals against per game (2.83) after occupying a spot in the top 10 for a considerable stretch of time, while the Maple Leafs are holding steady in fifth (2.42).

For all the talk about the Maple Leafs’ potent offence (which is second in the NHL at 3.46 goals per game), it’s their commitment to getting the puck back defensively that has caught the attention of teams across the NHL — and specifically in the North Division.

With recent history as a guide, high-event hockey figures to be on the agenda, with an abundance of skill sure to be on display.

Resisting the urge to get into a game of trading scoring chances and staying disciplined will be essential if the Jets are to make up any ground in the standings this week.

“It’s going to be important to contain their speed. They’re a terrific transition team, they feast off turnovers and they’ve got some real high-end talent up front,” said Lowry. “So, it’s going to be important that we try and get some zone time on them. To try and limit the free chances that they get just by careless plays by us. So, it’s managing the puck properly and staying out of the box. They have a lethal power play as well.”

That power play is leading the NHL, with an efficiency rate of 31.2 per cent, so even on the rare nights when the Maple Leafs might not be operating at full potential, special teams have supplied a boost.

As the Jets find themselves in the chase position, it will be interesting to see how they respond.

It’s an area they’ve been able to excel at so far, posting a record of 6-0-1 coming off a loss.

Avoiding consecutive losses in regulation is one of the reasons the Jets have been able to stay within striking distance of first place, while so many of the other teams in the North have endured lengthy dry spells or gone through a crisis or two.

Whether you want to call it a measuring stick series or not, this figures to be appointment viewing.

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Which of the Canadians Picked in the 2021 NFL Draft Will Thrive This Season?

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It was a good NFL Draft for Canadian players in 2021.

Some four stars from north of the border were selected by NFL franchises in the free agency pick ‘em, and that is tied as the highest number of Canadians drafted in the 85-year history of the event.

Of course, the hope is that these young talents are more than just filler and roster depth, but can any of the quartet make the breakthrough into the big time?

Here’s a look at which of the NFL’s newest Canadian additions can shine in 2021/22.

Jevon Holland

The defensive back was the number 36 pick in the Draft by the Miami Dolphins, who beat off a number of rivals in the hunt for the Coquitlam native.

A versatile defender, Holland is a former Jim Thorpe Award semi-finalist thanks to his exploits in the NCAA back in 2019 with the University of Oregon.

He sat out the 2020 campaign, but representatives from dozens of NFL teams were in town to watch Holland go through his paces at the Oregon Pro Day.

The 21-year-old is following in the footsteps of his father Robert, who turned out for the Detroit Lions, and he is expected to force his way into the starting line-up at the Dolphins. And, who knows, maybe Holland could go all the way in his first season, with Miami priced at +2500 in the Super Bowl 2022 American football odds.

Benjamin St-Juste

When you’re six foot three, 205 pounds and still able to run 40 yards in 4.51 seconds, it goes without saying that you have the physical credentials to succeed in the NFL.

Benjamin St-Juste is the man that can, and he will bolster the roster at a Washington Football Team that will be looking to improve upon their playoff showing in 2020.

The 23-year-old may only have been a third-round pick, but he comes with a burgeoning reputation thanks to a successful time at the University of Minnesota. An All-Big Ten special mention in 2019, more than 50 NFL recruitment personnel attended the college’s pro day – largely to catch a glimpse of St-Juste going through his paces.

Both Brian Gutekunst and Jon Robinson made the trip but, in the end, it was Washington who snapped up the powerhouse from the Draft.

Chuba Hubbard

The third Canadian to be drafted in 2021 was Chuba Hubbard, who became the first Canadian running back to be selected from the Draft in 25 years.

It’s the Carolina Panthers who have taken a chance on the 22-year-old and with his credentials, you can see why. Hubbard finished eighth in the voting for the Heisman Trophy in 2019 after a stellar campaign – he served up 2,094 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns, an NCAA best. He was named the Big 12 Conference Offensive Player of the Year.

While running backs are not the hottest of properties in the Draft, Hubbard provably has the talent to cross into the end zone with regularity – the Panthers might just have got their hands on an unheralded gem here.

With these three Canadians taking the step up to the NFL, the future of the sport north of the border looks in safe hands.

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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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