It’s game day for Team Canada and Newfoundland and Labrador’s Alex Newhook and Dawson Mercer.
Canada is coming off a rest day following a 10-0 routing of Switzerland on Tuesday night.
The New Year’s Eve classic against Finland is Canada’s final preliminary round game, and a win locks Canada into first place in Group A.
Both Canada and Finland remain undefeated after three games and it will be the defending champions’ first real test of the tournament, despite a close game against Slovakia.
Alex Newhook of St. John’s and Dawson Mercer of Bay Roberts have both scored two goals and added three assists for a total of five points each, in three games.
Puck drop against Finland is 7:30 p.m. local time.
GAME PREVIEW: CANADA VS. FINLAND 🇨🇦🇫🇮
Facts and figures to finish off 2020.
— #WorldJuniors (@HC_WJC) December 31, 2020
Canadiens @ Canucks game recap: Montreal overpowers Vancouver in a rout – Habs Eyes on the Prize
On Wednesday night, the Montrea Canadiens and Vancouver Canucks played arguably the most exciting game of the early NHL season. Despite falling 6-5 in the shootout, Montreal overcame some self-inflicted penalty trouble, battling back multiple times to salvage a point in their sloppiest game of the season. A hat trick from Tyler Toffoli, plus goals from Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Brendan Gallagher, helped pace Montreal’s offence.
Claude Julien stressed that the team needs to be more disciplined and toughen up on the penalty kill going forward. Despite the loss, there were no changes to the lineup, and given their play at even strength, it’s hard to argue that there should have been any changes made.
For the Canucks, they were without Travis Hamonic, who was hurt on Wednesday night. Brogan Rafferty drew into the lineup in his place. Also missing was Alexander Edler, who was replaced by Olli Juolevi. Between the pipes it was Jake Allen for Montreal, while Thatcher Demko got the nod for the Canucks.
In need of a fast start, the Canadiens got just that as Kotkaniemi outworked Rafferty along the boards and flicked a puck into the slot. Both Joel Armia and Toffoli missed their initial swings at the puck, but Toffoli connected and fired it past Demko for the game’s opening goal, and Toffoli’s fourth in two games.
The lead was short-lived as a failed clear by both Shea Weber and Tomas Tatar made it to the stick of Tyler Myers. The Canucks defender fired a harmless looking shot toward the net, and Bo Horvat deflected it by Allen to almost immediately tie the game.
The Canadiens followed that up by getting called for a dubious hook, triggering flashbacks to the previous night. Only this time the Canadiens put up the goal on a Vancouver power play, thanks to a brutal turnover by Nate Schmidt. The defender’s pass flubbed off his stick right to Toffoli, who in turn hit a streaking Joel Armia, who fired it past Demko easily.
The Canadiens proceeded to tale another penalty, this time for slashing, and the Canucks made them pay this time. Artturi Lehkonen misread where he was supposed to be covering, and by the time he noticed his mistake, Horvat had the puck and was firing it home for his second of the game, once again erasing the Canadiens’ lead.
Despite some more looks on a power play, Montreal couldn’t break the deadlocked game, and as the horn blew to end the period Joel Edmundson buried Tanner Pearson to take a penalty for his troubles. The teams went into the intermission with two goals each, but Vancouver started the second period with a full two-minute power play.
Once again, it was the Canadiens’ penalty-killing units bringing the pain against Vancouver thanks to sloppy play by the Canucks. Elias Pettersson’s pass was knocked away by Armia, who picked out Toffoli breaking in alone toward the Canucks zone. Armia hit him in stride and with a beautiful hard deke Toffoli fooled Demko, and tucked home yet another goal.
The penalty parade on both sides continued as Myers took a penalty, and then Nick Suzuki was called for a slash. The game continued to be choppy, sloppy, disjointed, and messy, but the Canadiens kept their lead intact.
Then Montreal remembered they were the far better team at even strength and pounded in three straight goals in just over 90 seconds to suck all the wind out of the Canucks’ sails. First it was Jake Allen playing a perfect rebound out of the Canadiens’ zone to Jonathan Drouin who fed it to Suzuki. Suzuki’s shot went up in the air as Demko got a piece of it, but Josh Anderson. trailing the play. choked up on his stick and swung, drilling the puck into the net for a two-goal advantage.
Off the ensuing faceoff, a dump-in caught Demko in no man’s land allowing Paul Byron to sneak in and steal the loose puck. Byron fired his pass across the crease and Jake Evans fired his shot off the crossbar and made it a three goal Montreal advantage.
Then, just to add insult to injury, Joel Armia added one more goal before the end of the period, taking a Kotkaniemi feed and dangling around Demko and making it 6-2.
With the game more or less in the bag, Montreal was content to let the game ride out and get out of Rogers Arena without further incident. However, Brandon Sutter had to introduce Alexander Romanov to the NHL first, with the veteran putting the rookie through a spin cycle and lifting a backhand past Allen to make it a 6-3 game.
Montreal then managed an actual self-inflicted wound later in the period, crossing off the “stay healthy” part of the checklist for this game. Shea Weber fired a heavy slapshot on net, and it managed to catch Paul Byron right in the skate boot, knocking him to the ice immediately. Byron needed help to the tunnel, making it seem like it might be a serious injury. He was able to return to the bench after several minutes before then heading back to the locker room.
A late power play gave Montreal a chance to get Toffoli his second hat trick in as many nights, but a fantastic save from Demko denied him the chance.
The game wasn’t without one final horrible moment thanks to Myers. Armia was working along the boards for a puck, and Myers lifted up and into Armia’s head, dropping the Finn and earning himself a five-minute major.
The Habs scored on the ensuing power play, with Ben Chiarot netting the first man-advantage goal of his career, sealing the game for good at 7-3.
Montreal, now with potentially two massive injuries to Armia and Byron may have to dip into their taxi squad for Saturday’s finale against the Canucks. Carey Price and Braden Holtby are the expected starters for the 7:00 PM EST clash.
Leafs star Auston Matthews misses practice ahead of rematch with Oilers – CBC.ca
The Maple Leafs are looking for balance.
And they’re hoping their best player will be part of the solution.
In the wake of Wednesday’s 3-1 loss to Edmonton where Toronto severely limited Oilers stars Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl at 5 on 5, but also failed to offer much of anything going the other way in a plodding, mostly uneventful affair, the Leafs are aiming for more symmetry.
“Just because we’re defending well doesn’t mean we can’t be attacking and playing well in the offensive zone,” said winger Zach Hyman. “You can have both. You don’t have to have one without the other.”
What’s unclear is whether Toronto will have star centre Auston Matthews to help lead the charge in Friday’s rematch at Scotiabank Arena. The 23-year-old took the ice before Thursday’s practice, had a conversation with assistant coach Manny Malhotra and another chat with a trainer before departing ahead of the formal session.
“He just wasn’t feeling great coming off the game,” Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said. “We’ll have an update [Friday] morning.”
Toronto is already minus two options up front with veteran forward Joe Thornton, who suffered an upper-body injury against the Oilers, expected to miss time, and winger Nick Robertson (knee) unavailable. Keefe put his lines in a blender out of necessity Thursday, bumping Hyman into the top-6 alongside John Tavares and William Nylander, while Jimmy Vesey skated in Thornton’s spot with taxi squad member Adam Brooks — a practice placeholder for Matthews — and Mitch Marner.
“We’ll see how it all comes together,” Keefe said. “There’s a lot of things happening. The health of our players in our lineup is one thing. [The] salary cap and how all those things move around affect a lot of different decisions. We’ll see how it all settles.”
WATCH | Leafs fall to Oilers in tight-checking game:
The Leafs gave up a fluke own goal, a power-play effort from Draisaitl that came off a fortunate bounce and an empty-netter in Wednesday’s matchup that, despite a boatload of talent under one roof, never saw the expected fireworks materialize.
“We negated the biggest offensive threats on their team,” Keefe said. “It gave us a chance to win, but certainly we have to deliver on the other side of the puck as well.”
Toronto goalie Frederik Andersen, who seems to be finding his groove after some early hiccups, had a front-row seat to the on-ice chess match — the first of nine meetings between the North Division rivals in this abbreviated season.
“I saw two teams that definitely locked it down pretty good defensively,” he said. “Great teams do both things well. I think we have that ability. It’s something we want to set the standard to do every night.
Oilers head coach Dave Tippett made the point after his team’s practice Thursday that both rosters have a say in the other’s ability or inability to score at even strength.
“It’s almost funny to me how everybody talked all [off-season] about Toronto and Edmonton have to defend better,” he said of the offensive juggernauts’ past troubles keeping the puck out of their respective nets. “And then Toronto and Edmonton actually defend well, and now they think it’s a bad hockey game.
“It just baffles me sometimes.”
WATCH | Thornton exits with injury:
Leafs blue-liner Jake Muzzin said finding a balance between trying to contain elite skill and pushing forward can be tricky.
“Good players, you’ve got to focus in on them and take away their game,” he said. “But on the flip side, you’ve got to realize we’ve got to focus on us, too, and make plays.
“Maybe [on Wednesday] we focused a little too much on defending.”
As for Toronto’s new line combinations, Hyman said he’s looking forward to suiting up with Tavares and Marner after playing with both separately at different points in their careers.
“Excited to get at it,” Hyman said. “This year more than any year, your depth is going to be tested. Fortunately for us, we have a ton of guys who can move up and down the lineup.”
Keefe said despite the criticism of Wednesday’s performance — it was far from easy on the eye — the Oilers deserved credit for a committed defensive effort.
Now the Leafs need to respond.
“They clearly came in with a plan,” Keefe said. “It was two teams that were trying to respect each other’s strengths and nullify them. Ultimately, as much as we didn’t like our game … we gave ourselves a chance.
“There’s lot of encouraging signs there. We’ve just got to put it all together. We’ll stay at it.”
Toronto Maple Leafs plan to grind their way to more offence in Edmonton Oilers rematch – TSN
TSN Toronto Reporter Mark Masters reports on the Maple Leafs, who practised at Ford Performance Centre on Thursday ahead of Friday’s rematch against the Edmonton Oilers.
The Leafs did a good job limiting Connor McDavid and Hart Trophy winner Leon Draisaitl at even strength on Wednesday night, but it wasn’t enough to beat the Oilers.
“It’s tough,” said defenceman Jake Muzzin. “They got good players. You got to focus in on them and take away their game but, on the flip side, we got to focus on us too and make plays and maybe last night we focused a little too much on defending. I don’t think so. We got to continue doing what we’re doing, but get a little harder, get more pucks to the net, bodies to the net.”
Following the game on Wednesday, Auston Matthews suggested Toronto played it too safe.
“We got to play to win, not to contain two guys,” the centre said.
The Leafs had the edge in shots (6-4), shot attempts (9-6) and goals (1-0) in the 12 minutes that Matthews and McDavid shared the ice at even strength, but ultimately fell 3-1. The Oilers benefited from a flukey bounce on their first goal before striking on the power play and adding an empty netter.
“Last night was a great example of how we were able to not get frustrated and not crack defensively,” coach Sheldon Keefe said. “I thought we stayed with it throughout and that gave us a chance to win the game even though we’re down 1-0 for the vast majority of the game. We stayed with it and that shows the discipline that we have that way.”
The Leafs have made improving defensively a top priority this season with an emphasis on limiting rush chances against.
“We need to find the balance,” said winger Zach Hyman after Thursday’s practice. “Just because we’re defending well doesn’t mean we can’t be attacking and playing well in the O-zone and taking the puck to the net … We need to attack the net a lot more than we have been. We can do a better job of getting to the inside.”
The Leafs have been outscored 9-7 in five-on-five play so far this season and Keefe has urged his players to push the pace on offence.
“We have to really work and grind our way to getting some chances,” Keefe said. “When I say grind, it is not all about chipping and chasing and all of that. It is about challenging defencemen, moving your feet, competing for space, pushing them back and creating space for your teammates. It’s being connected and supporting the puck.”
Generating offence will be even harder if Matthews misses Friday’s game. The 23-year-old left the ice before practice started after consulting with head athletic therapist Paul Ayotte.
“No real update other than he wasn’t feeling great today coming off of the game yesterday,” said Keefe. “He is just going to take the rest of the day here and see how he is for tomorrow.”
Matthews logged 24 minutes and 14 seconds of ice time against the Oilers.
Joe Thornton left Wednesday’s game after taking a hit from Josh Archibald in the third period.
“He’s definitely going to miss some time,” Keefe said. “It is not a day-to-day thing.”
Just before the injury occurred, Keefe replaced Thornton with Hyman on the line with Matthews and Mitch Marner.
“I like Hyman playing in that spot,” said Keefe. “Obviously, we used that a lot yesterday and will continue to use it at times.”
But at Thursday’s practice it was Jimmy Vesey who took top-line reps as Hyman skated with John Tavares and William Nylander.
“With Matthews and Marner and the way they’re playing, they’re able to drive a line together and make it hard on the other team and it allows us to use our depth throughout the lineup,” Keefe explained. “I think Hyman can bring an extra boost to JT and Will.”
After producing at least four shots in each of the first four games, Tavares had just one against the Oilers. Nylander had two.
“They’re two guys I’m really familiar with and I’m excited to get at it with them,” said Hyman. “I don’t know how much I played with them together, but I’ve played with them on different lines and there’s been some great chemistry with each of them so I’m excited to continue that.”
Wayne Simmonds moved up to the third line skating alongside Ilya Mikheyev and Alex Kerfoot.
“It’s going to be great,” said Kerfoot. “He’s really good with the puck down low so I think we just got to get it deep and work them down low. He’s really good around the net, really good behind the net protecting pucks. He’s a big body and we can use that to get open around him and use our speed to open things up a bit.”
In a lineup littered with new faces and changing combinations, Muzzin and Justin Holl have been the one constant. They played together most of last season and put forward a sturdy effort against the Oilers on Wednesday night.
“He’s a little more confident this year,” Muzzin noted of his partner. “We’re talking it out, coming up with plans against different guys on different teams.”
Despite being 28, the late-blooming Holl only has one full NHL season under his belt.
“We can be a little better with the puck,” noted Muzzin. “If we’re a little cleaner, a little quicker then we can defend less. It’s an area we’ve been focused in on and trying to get better at.”
The entertainment value on Wednesday night left a lot to be desired, but Frederik Andersen didn’t mind the view from Toronto’s net.
“I saw two teams that definitely locked it down pretty good defensively,” the goalie said. “I thought both teams did a really good job of that. It’s unfortunate that it didn’t go our way, but just a few tough bounces.”
Andersen is starting to get in more of a rhythm after allowing nine goals in his first two starts. He has stopped 46 of 49 shots (.939) in his last two outings.
“The last couple games, I settled my game down a little bit,” Andersen said. “Just focused a lot on tracking and moving efficiently. That’s been good. They’ve been playing great in front of me as well making things simple and that’s going to help us eventually down the road. I know the offence will come so that’s not any concern.”
Following the loss on Wednesday night, Keefe fumed about the three penalties his team had taken.
”We had a hold, a high stick, a trip,” the coach said. “These are careless penalties that the other team is not taking.”
The Leafs lead the league in penalties taken (24) entering Thursday’s games. They have drawn 19 calls and that minus-five differential is tied for 26th in the NHL.
“We had a couple of power plays. We had a chance to score on those and didn’t,” Keefe noted. “We took some careless ones there that stalled our game even more. A power play like that is going to break through eventually. We gave them too many opportunities.”
The Oilers had the most potent power play in the NHL last season, but started slow this season. After going 0/10 in two losses to the Canadiens, they snapped out of the drought on Wednesday as Draisaitl scored the game-winning goal on the man advantage.
“We got to continue getting up-ice pressure,” said Muzzin. “I thought we did a good job last night. A couple reads down low that maybe we can get better at, but other than that pretty good … The best way to defend it is to stay out of the box.”
Lines at Leafs practice on Thursday:
Vesey – Brooks – Marner
Nylander – Tavares – Hyman
Mikheyev – Kerfoot – Simmonds
Barabanov – Engvall – Spezza
Rielly – Brodie
Muzzin – Holl
Sandin – Bogosian
Dermott – Lehtonen
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