Welcome to the NHL On Tap. Three NHL.com writers will share what they are most looking forward to on the schedule each day. Today, their choices from the five games Friday.
Showdown for first in the West
First place in the Honda West Division will be at stake when the Vegas Golden Knights visit the St. Louis Blues for the first game of a back-to-back set (8 p.m. ET; NHLN, SNE, SNO, SNP, TVAS, FS-MW, ATTSN-RM, NHL.TV). The division-leading Golden Knights won six straight before losing their past two games to the on-the-rise Minnesota Wild, so they will be looking to rebound. Vegas will be without goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who was pulled in the third period of a 4-3 loss to the Wild on Wednesday and placed in COVID-19 protocol Thursday. The Blues are one point behind the Golden Knights and 4-0-2 in their past six games. St. Louis forward Vladimir Tarasenko has one assist in two games since returning from offseason shoulder surgery. — Tom Gulitti, staff writer
Wild time for Coyotes
The Arizona Coyotes believe they are good enough to finish in the top four in the eight-team West and make the Stanley Cup Playoffs. One of the teams they’re battling is the Minnesota Wild, who are 9-2-1 in their past 12 games. The game in Minnesota (8 p.m. ET; FS-N, FS-WI, FS-A, NHL.TV) should be a measuring-stick for each as the midpoint of the season approaches. Beyond that, there are great individual storylines to follow. Forward Kirill Kaprizov has been one of the most exciting offensive players the Wild have had in a while, leading them and all NHL rookies with 20 points (seven goals, 13 assists). Goalie Kaapo Kahkonen (11-4-0, 2.19 goals-against average, .922 save percentage, one shutout) has been a revelation and grabbed the No. 1 job from Cam Talbot. Kaprizov and Kahkonen are each a headliner in the discussion for the Calder Trophy given to the player voted rookie of the year in the NHL. For the Coyotes, keep an eye on Jakob Chychrun. Things are falling into place for the defenseman during his fifth NHL season. He is playing more minutes (22:58) than any Coyotes defenseman and has scored 19 points (seven goals, 12 assists), seven off his NHL career high set last season, in 26 games. — Shawn P. Roarke, senior director of editorial
Kings knocking on the door
The Los Angeles Kings are fifth in the West and have an eye on a playoff spot when they visit the Colorado Avalanche (9 p.m. ET; ESPN+, ALT2, FS-W, NHL.TV). I wasn’t sure what to expect from the Kings this season. They’ve been up and down lately (2-2-3 after a six-game winning streak), but I like the makeup of this team, a mix of proven veterans and talented youngsters. They are led by their championship core. Center Anze Kopitar leads the Kings with 31 points (seven goals, 24 assists), followed by defenseman Drew Doughty with 22 points (six goals, 16 assists). Forward Dustin Brown has scored 19 points (13 goals, six assists), tied for third with forward Adrian Kempe (11 goals, eight assists). Young players, including rookie forward Gabriel Vilardi and defenseman Mikey Anderson, have been fun to watch too. The fourth-place Avalanche are 5-2-1 in their past eight games after a 2-1 overtime win against the Coyotes on Wednesday. This two-game set (the Kings and Avalanche also play Sunday) should be fun to watch. — Tracey Myers, staff writer
Vegas Golden Knights at St. Louis Blues, 8 p.m. ET (NHLN, SNE, SNO, SNP, TVAS, FS-MW, ATTSN-RM, NHL.TV)
Forward Max Pacioretty is tied for first for Vegas with 12 goals and is second with 21 points. He scored a hat trick in a 5-4 shootout loss to St. Louis on Jan. 26, the only game played between the teams so far this season.
Arizona Coyotes at Minnesota Wild, 8 p.m. ET (FS-N, FS-WI, FS-A, NHL.TV)
Clayton Keller has scored eight points (three goals, five assists) during a six-game point streak for the Coyotes, who play the first of three straight against the Wild.
Ottawa Senators at Edmonton Oilers, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN+, SNW, TSN5, RDS, NHL.TV)
Edmonton looks to complete a three-game sweep against Ottawa after a 3-2 win Monday and a 7-1 win Wednesday. The Oilers are 6-0-0 against the Senators this season, outscoring them 28-13.
Los Angeles Kings at Colorado Avalanche, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN+, ALT2, FS-W, NHL.TV)
Kings center Anze Kopitar is fifth in the NHL with 24 assists and tied for eighth with 31 points. He is 19 points away from 1,000 in his career.
San Jose Sharks at Anaheim Ducks, 10 p.m. ET (PRIME, FS-SD, NBCSCA, NHL.TV)
The first of a back-to-back set, the Sharks are 2-0-1 against the Ducks this season. San Jose forward Logan Couture and Anaheim forward Max Comtois each has scored three goals in the season series.
Berrettini ends Murray’s comeback at Queen’s
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)
Be Like the King of the North Division and Develop Skills
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.
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.
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.
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.
Australia swim trials calendar shift to reap Tokyo rewards
Australia broke with tradition to hold its swimming trials just six weeks before the start of the 2020 Olympics and former world champion Giaan Rooney said the move could reap rich rewards in Tokyo after disappointments at London and Rio.
Australia has typically held its trials up to six months before an Olympics but that gap has been drastically cut this year with swimmers vying for Tokyo spots this week in Adelaide.
Rooney, who won individual world titles at Fukuoka and Montreal and a relay gold at the 2004 Athens Olympics, said Australia is gearing up for a much improved Games after its swimmers flopped at Rio and London.
“I think we needed to make it work,” she told Reuters. “The shift started about a year ago to bring the trials into line with the rest of the world and qualify five or six weeks before.
“In sport and swimming, six months is a long time,” Rooney added. “From a coaching perspective, it’s much better to know you have chosen the team in form.”
After winning five gold medals at Sydney 2000 and seven in Athens, the Australian team was rocked by accusations of disruptive behaviour by some of its top sprinters at the 2012 Olympics.
Australia won just one gold medal in the London pool and three in Rio five years ago.
Australia knew something had to be done if it was to close the gap on the powerful Americans and moving the trials is part of the strategy.
“I think it’s to make your swimmers more resilient to change,” Rooney said.
“In the USA they get to race every week regardless of illness or breakups and under all circumstances. Nothing rattles them.
“Australia doesn’t have that racing continuity. This is about making sure you are prepared for anything. I think our swimmers are more resilient than they have been in the past decade, COVID is part of this.”
Rooney said there might even be an “upside” for Australia with the Olympics postponed by a year due to the global health crisis, with the emergence of swimmers like teenager Kaylee McKeown, who broke the women’s 100m backstroke world record on Sunday.
“We are now talking about athletes who are not only going to make the Olympics but are medal chances,” Rooney said.
“We wouldn’t have been talking about her this time last year. She might not have been ready for a position on the team. She is now a legitimate gold medal chance in Tokyo once she gets there.”
For all her confidence about Australia’s performance in Tokyo, Rooney was wary of making predictions about a gold rush for her compatriots.
“I think this will be a more successful Olympics for us than Rio in the pool but individual goal medals will still be difficult to come by,” said the 38-year-old.
“The biggest challenge is to make the jump from minor medals to gold.”
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)
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