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Mike Smith’s struggles continue as Oilers keep free-falling – Sportsnet.ca

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“As of late, I haven’t made enough of the Grade-A saves.” — Mike Smith, pregame.

EDMONTON — Deep in his crease and deep into his career, Mike Smith is now officially in a deep hole.

Playing behind an Edmonton Oilers team that isn’t what you’d call air-tight defensively, Smith gave up a softie early on and simply failed to give his team the big save it needed in a 5-2 loss.

“You make one of those breakaway saves, and it’s probably a different game,” sighed Smith, who was beaten on both Pittsburgh breakaways on the night.

Now, clearly, giving up breakaways belies a team that makes mental mistakes, and the first of the two clearly belonged to Oscar Klefbom, who failed to heed calls from the bench that Joseph Blandisi was coming out of the penalty box.

But teams that win get big saves. Teams that lose — and Edmonton has now lost six of seven — talk about all the big saves they didn’t get.

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“You’d like to get a save out of one of those, but they were Grade-A chances,” head coach Dave Tippett said. “Other than the first one.”

Leon Draisaitl went minus-4, the 13th consecutive game he has not been a plus player. He has gone minus-18 in that span.

“In the last couple of weeks, he hasn’t been nearly as good as he was earlier in the year,” admitted Tippett. “He is one of those guys that when we get behind in the game, he gets chasing the game and trying to do whatever he can to get us back in the game. But that leads to a lot of chances against.”

Pittsburgh, playing without Sidney Crosby, Justin Schultz, Patric Hornqvist and Brian Dumoulin, handled a healthy Oilers roster with relative ease. Tristan Jarry was far better in goal than Smith, and the skaters were quicker, played the game faster, and with far more attention to detail than the loose Oilers.

It’s going sideways in Edmonton, and now the red-hot Montreal Canadiens are in for a 5 p.m. MT start on Saturday. Yikes!

“It’s not easy to play a team like Pittsburgh where you have to score three goals in the third period,” Klefbom said. “You’re not giving yourself a chance.”

With the team in free-fall, it is likely time to play Mikko Koskinen three out of every four games, and see if he can handle the load. We would expect that Smith has played his final game in 2019, the way the games are spaced out.

After that, it’s up to the veteran to find his game. Right now, his save percentage is .893 — a few points lower than the .898 he posted in Calgary last year.

“You’ve got to makes saves. You’ve got to make more saves,” Smith repeated. “At important times in games we’re either making too many mistakes, and they can’t get covered up for. Or, myself, I can’t get a big save at the right time in the game. You make one of those breakaway saves, and it’s probably a different game.”

The last time these two teams met, Smith made 51 saves in a 2-1 overtime win. Since that game in Pittsburgh, however, Smith is 2-5 with a ghastly save percentage of .854. The Oilers aren’t exactly the 1995 New Jersey Devils defensively, but Smith’s game has fallen off a cliff.

“You can only do so much,” said Smith, 37. “The numbers impact the way you assess a goalie, from the outside looking in. But you only control what you can control as a goalie. You can’t control what’s going on in front of you, whether it’s deflections or breakaways, power plays, penalty kills.

“The last couple of games I feel like I’ve played pretty well. I just haven’t made those big saves at important times in games. I feel like I’m not letting in soft ones. It’s the important ones, the big saves where it’s a higher (pedigree) chance? You need to make more of those.”

In a 3-2 league, this is the sixth time in eight games the Oilers have allowed four or more goals on home ice. That is in part due to lacklustre goaltending, but more so, defensive mistakes made by a loose team.

It needs to get fixed, or another year outside the playoffs awaits.

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Four-goal explosion in second period powers Canadiens 7-1 over Jets – Montreal Gazette

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It was Montreal’s first win over Winnipeg in four games this season, moving them three points behind the second-place Jets in the Canadian division.

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Carey Price made 28 saves and all four lines contributed at least one goal as the Canadiens defeated the Winnipeg Jets 7-1 Saturday at the Bell Centre.

It was Montreal’s first win over Winnipeg in four games this season and the Canadiens moved three points behind the second-place Jets in the Canadian division. Montreal also enjoys a game in hand.

The Canadiens blew this game open with four goals in the second period.

After Tyler Toffoli scored his 15th goal of the season, Brendan Gallagher scored twice. Both of Gallagher’s goals — his eighth and ninth of the season — were scored from the slot after taking a couple of no-look passes from long-time linemate Phil Danault.

The Gallagher goals brought an end to Connor Hellebuyck’s evening. The 2020 Vézina Trophy winner gave up four goals on 19 shots.

Laurent Brossoit replaced Hellebuyck, but he received a rude welcome when he was beaten by Joel Armia on the first shot he faced.

The game got off to a slow start, but opened up after Mathieu Perreault was sent off for high-sticking Shea Weber midway through the first period. The much-improved Montreal power play didn’t look much-improved as it managed only one shot on goal, but it did provide the Canadiens with some momentum.

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Hellebuyck made a blocker save on Jonathan Drouin, who was sent off on a breakaway by Gallagher’s stretch pass, but Hellebuyck was out of the picture when Josh Anderson opened the scoring at 15:29.

Anderson, who returned to to the lineup after missing three games with a lower-body injury, took advantage of a lucky bounce to give Montreal the lead. Jesperi Kotkaniemi attempted to rim the puck and Hellebuyck went behind his net to cut off the pass. But the puck never got there because it hit a stanchion in the glass and came out to Anderson, who put the puck into an empty net for his 10th goal of the season.

Fourth-liner Paul Byron and defenceman Jeff Petry added goals for Montreal in the third period, while Perreault scored a power-play goal to spoil Price’ shutout bid.

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Dominique Ducharme did some line juggling and put his two top goal-scorers, Toffoli and Anderson on a line with Kotkaniemi. The young Finn responded with what might have been his best game of the season as he distributed the puck well and was a dominant player in the faceoff circle. He won 13 of 15 draws for an 87-per-cent success rate. Danault won seven of his 12 faceoffs and Jake Evans won four of six. The Canadiens as a team won 57 per cent.

The Canadiens flew Sunday to Vancouver, where they face the Canucks to open a six-game Western Canada trip. The schedule maker has done a favour for fans in Montreal because none of the games start later than 8 p.m. ET.

phickey@postmedia.com

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Friends and family mourn Walter Gretzky at funeral in Brantford – Toronto Star

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The world’s most renowned hockey dad, remembered for having a “love for life” and being important to the “culture of Canada” by his legendary hockey son, was laid to rest on Saturday.

Walter Gretzky’s funeral took place at St. Mark’s Anglican Church in Brantford, Ont., but was significantly scaled back from anywhere near the scope and grandeur fitting the mark he left, with capacity limited to 30 per cent due to pandemic protocols.

“I don’t think I met a prouder Canadian than my dad,” Wayne Gretzky said of his father. Dozens of community members, including throngs of youngsters donning hockey uniforms, gathered outside the church, located near the home where Gretzky raised his family.

Wayne told the sombre gathering of family and friends that his father, who suffered a brain aneurysm in the early 1990s and had a decade-long battle with Parkinson’s disease, had sustained a bad hip injury a few weeks ago.

Gretzky clung to life for 21 days, with his family sitting with him, similar to how he fought after numerous other debilitating health complications over the years. He died March 4. He was 82.

“We thought weeks ago that the end was here,” Wayne told the mourners. “He had a love for life and he didn’t want to leave.”

Wayne called his late father a remarkable man who had a “heart of gold.” He said the world would be better off if there were many more people like him.

“It’s been a tough time,” Wayne said.

He thanked the community for leaving food and sandwiches as the family waited for the worst.

Wayne told a fond story about how his father missed the birth of one of his sons, Brent, so that the two of them could attend a tournament in Whitby.

When bothered by family and friends about missing the birth of his boy, an irritated Gretzky responded, “Yes, but we got the trophy,” Wayne recounted.

“Every grandchild loved him,” Wayne said describing Walter’s close relationship to his grandchildren. “They understand how important he was, not only to our family but to the culture of Canada.”

Gretzky was remembered as a man of faith who cherished family, hockey and church. The gathering also heard how he treated everyone equally and was willing to volunteer his time and raise money for charities.

“Walter was great with kids, our kids, and all those kids he coached in minor league over the years, and those kids who came up to him for an autograph,” said Tim Dobbin, the former parish priest at St. Mark’s who presided over the funeral.

People lift hockey sticks to pay their respects across the street where Walter Gretzky's funeral service was being held in Brantford, Ont., on Saturday, March 6, 2021.

Wayne tweeted the news of his father’s death on behalf of the family late Thursday:

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“He bravely battled Parkinson’s and other health issues these last few years but he never let it get him down … He was truly the Great One and the proudest Canadian we know. We love you Dad.”

Walter Gretzky rose from humble beginnings to become the patriarch of this country’s most legendary hockey family.

Wayne honed his skills in a backyard rink that Walter built for his children and neighbourhood kids. It was dubbed “Wally Coliseum.” That’s where he taught his sons the basics of the game.

Walter was born on the family farm in Canning, Ont., in 1938, where his mom made “good, old country Polish food,” including perogies that were “second to none,” he wrote in his autobiography, “On Family, Hockey and Healing.” His father, from Russia, specialized in making wine.

Wayne Gretzky (centre) poses with the Stanley Cup with father Walter and brother Glen after the Edmonton Oilers won the Stanley Cup in Edmonton, May 19, 1984.

Walter went to work for Bell Canada as a technician after finishing school, and is reported to have lost hearing in one ear after an on-the-job injury. He stayed with the company until 1991, when he retired after 34 years.

Wayne had barely learned to walk when Walter had him out on his backyard patch of ice, teaching him to skate.

His eldest son became a child phenomenon at hockey, annually scoring hundreds of goals and skating rings around older, stronger kids.

Walter also coached two other sons. Keith Gretzky is assistant general manager of the Oilers. Brent Gretzky played 13 games in the NHL, all with Tampa Bay, and played a season in the Maple Leafs system when the top farm team was in St. John’s, N.L.

Friends recalled that Walter was also an astute coach of other boys in the Brantford minor hockey system, including former Boston Bruins tough guy Stan Jonathan.

Kids at the 2007 Wayne Gretzky international hockey tournament in Brantford knew where to go for an autograph.

In 2007, he was named to the Order of Canada, recognized for his contributions to minor hockey and support for numerous charities and non-profits, including the Canadian National Institute for the Blind and the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

In 2010, he carried the Olympic torch hours before the opening ceremony of the Vancouver Winter Games.

That same year, an elementary school in Brantford was named in his honour.

Walter Gretzky’s wife, Phyllis, died in 2005. He leaves behind daughter Kim and sons Wayne, Keith, Glen and Brent.

With files from Star staff

Jason Miller is a Toronto-based reporter for the Star covering crime and justice in the Peel Region. His reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative. Reach him on email: jasonmiller@thestar.ca or follow him on Twitter: @millermotionpic

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Large hits three-run homer, Jays beat Phillies – TSN

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DUNEDIN — Cullen Large belted a three-run home run to lead the Toronto Blue Jays past the Philadelphia Phillies 7-1 in exhibition baseball action Saturday.

Large’s blast anchored a five-run inning for Toronto, which finished with 10 hits in a contest that was halted in the seventh.

Kirby Snead (1-0) took the win, allowing no hits and no runs over a 1 1/3 innings. He had a strikeout while issuing two walks.

Toronto used six pitchers in the game. The Blue Jays, who’ve won two straight, face the Detroit Tigers on Sunday.

Toronto also claimed right-hander Joel Payamps off waivers from the Boston Red Sox while designating right-hander Jacob Waguespack for assignment.

Toronto claimed Payamps from Boston on Feb. 11 but the Red Sox claimed him back 11 days later. The six-foot-two, 225-pound pitcher has made four career major-league appearances, allowing three earned runs over seven innings.

Payamps was originally signed by the Colorado Rockies in 2010 and has compiled a 41-43 record and 4.15 earned-run average in 145 minor-league games.,

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 6, 2021.

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