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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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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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