It’s 1-1 between the Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens during a second period that’s not going particularly well for Montreal, and Nick Suzuki has just taken a rush up the ice when the puck gets turned over in the Ottawa end.
Suzuki takes a sharp cut south, gets going in a full sprint to catch up to the play and arrives just in front of Canadiens goaltender Jake Allen to lift Chris Tierney’s stick and take away what would’ve been the Senators’ best scoring chance of the first 30 minutes.
It’s a subtle play, one of the dozens Suzuki customarily makes in any given game. But making it after he won a faceoff, blocked a shot, rushed up the ice and had to rush back offers you a window into the competitive drive of this 21-year-old kid.
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We’re usually talking about Suzuki’s craftiness, his skill, and the tantalizing moves that had him enter Saturday’s matinee as Montreal’s top-scoring centre (11 points in 11 games). But he does tend to get undersold on the will element, and in this game—a 2-1 win built much more on will than skill for a Canadiens side that didn’t play its best—it’s that element of Suzuki’s game which shone brightest.
Spotlight on his play on Tierney; on the first-period battles with former teammate Mike Reilly, who knocked Suzuki down twice in one shift but didn’t get the better of him on the whole sequence; on the way he beat Artem Zub to a loose puck to generate the rebound Josh Anderson buried his eighth goal of the season on for the game-winner; and on the two faceoffs he drew back in the final seconds of play—one of them with the Canadiens down two men, with Ben Chiarot looking on from the penalty box and the Senators icing an extra attacker while goaltender Matt Murray sat on the bench. This was all a direct contrast to how Suzuki played in Montreal’s 3-2 loss to the Senators on Thursday.
The London, Ont., native played a rare bad game, said afterwards that he fought the puck, struggled reading the play, got lost in his own zone and got beat clean in the faceoff circle.
Canadiens coach Claude Julien heard Suzuki’s comments before making his own that night, and then he said he was certain his young centreman would bounce back.
“(I) said that the other day that I’m sure he’s going to bounce back,” reminded Julien after Saturday’s win.
Why was he so sure?
“Just knowing the individual, his character and what we’ve seen from him in the past,” Julien explained.
No mention of Suzuki’s skill there. No mention of his vision, or his playmaking ability. It’s about will, when a player digs in to make a big defensive stop. It’s about will, when a player who’s lost 11 of 15 faceoffs gets into the circle late in the game and pulls back the two you need most.
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Phillip Danault, who had won 52 per cent of his faceoffs but was struggling on his weak side said he told Suzuki to take those last two because they were on the right-hander’s strong side.
“I told Suz to be a little hungrier,” Danault said.
Suzuki obliged. And he was hungrier all game.
Not everyone in a white sweater was. Julien felt a few players on the Canadiens didn’t quite push their chips into the middle, to the point that he felt the need to intervene after the second period to demand more of a commitment.
It’s what was needed with the way the Senators were playing.
“I thought their D were doing a great job of staying on top of us,” said Suzuki. “We had a lot of success with bringing out the puck earlier this season, and in these couple of games we struggled a little bit. They were right on top of us. So we’ve gotta do a better job of finding ways to move the puck out of our end, and you’ve gotta give them credit sometimes.”
We’ll give the Senators the share they deserve—they out-shot Montreal 27-14 over the final 40 minutes and played a simple, hard game that belied their 2-8-1 record coming into Saturday’s action at Canadian Tire Centre. The rest goes to Suzuki, Anderson, Jeff Petry, who scored the opening goal for Montreal, and Allen.
The Montreal goaltender was doing hockey’s version of a shirshasana (that’s Yoga speak for a headstand) in the crease, coming up with 34 saves for his fourth win in five starts.
We suspected it was Julien’s plan to start Allen—the goaltender confirmed he was told he was getting the nod 48 hours before puck drop—and argued on Friday that Julien should alter it to get Carey Price into a rhythm and give him a chance to redeem himself from an off-night Thursday, especially with the Canadiens idle for the next three days.
But the coach stuck his guns, and has to be credited for doing so.
“We knew we had a good goaltender since the first day we got him,” Julien said of Allen, who’s sporting a .940 save percentage. “I know that we don’t have a busy schedule at the moment, but we’re able to keep our two goalies playing and keep them as fresh and as sharp as possible. It’s certain that as we move along there’s going to be more games where you’ll see that this (strategy) will be fruitful for both goalies.”
Price will surely get his shot at redemption Wednesday versus the Toronto Maple Leafs. He’ll have to be much better in a game that will require many other players on the Canadiens to redeem themselves after two relatively causal performances against a much weaker Senators team.
It’s also a game that will present Suzuki the opportunity to keep things rolling because he bounced back with one of the most competitive efforts in his short time in a Canadiens uniform.
Suzuki showed his maturity and his poise on Saturday.
“His character, as well,” said Danault. “Suz has been awesome for us so far. He works hard. He knows when he’s playing good or not, which gives him really another step, and he also can push himself to another level.”
Josh Lewenberg: Toronto Raptors improvise on bench with protocols keeping Nick Nurse and staff out – TSN
TORONTO – When Raptors general manager Bobby Webster learned that his team could be without more than half of its coaching staff for Friday’s game, including head coach Nick Nurse, one of the first calls he made was to the franchise’s longest-tenured player, Kyle Lowry.
In a different world, one in which the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement still permitted the use of player-coaches in the league, that may have been a very different conversation.
Despite his wealth of knowledge and experience, and despite the fact that he already does half of the job as a leader on the floor, anyway, the 34-year-old point guard has always insisted that he’s too impatient to ever be a coach. As fun as it would have been to see him try his hand at it – hitting threes and taking charges on the court, while drawing up plays and making substitutions off of it – unfortunately, it was not to be, at least not officially.
“I don’t know if we have the budget to add that to his resume,” Webster joked, before clarifying that, by rule, the league doesn’t allow teams to pay a player to do anything outside of their contract, including filling in as acting coach.
“I’d be a tough coach and I wouldn’t want to coach somebody like me,” Lowry said afterwards, admitting that he would’ve been somewhat intrigued if it were actually a possibility. “So, I’ll pass on that.”
Even still, with Nurse and five of his assistants unavailable due to the health and safety protocols, they knew they could lean on Lowry to bring some stability amidst a chaotic 24 hours for Toronto.
It was late afternoon on Thursday – a rare day off for the Raptors following back-to-back games – when, according to sources, one of the coaches tested positive for COVID-19. With the NBA overseeing the contact tracing process, all of the team’s front-of-the-bench coaches went into quarantine.
By Friday morning, the decision was made. Nurse and five members of his staff would have to miss that evening’s game against Houston, and while they’d be able to continue contributing remotely, the timeline for their return was uncertain. Pascal Siakam, who returned an inconclusive test on Friday, was also a late scratch.
For years, they’ve been a team that’s embodied a ‘next man up’ mentality, but it’s generally pertained to the roster – one player, or multiple players, stepping up when somebody else has left the organization or gotten hurt. Recently, though, it’s been more like ‘next coach up’.
When this unusual and unprecedented season began a couple months ago, Nurse had seven assistants and four player development coaches on staff. Earlier this week, he lost one of those assistants – and his long-time friend – Chris Finch, who took the head-coaching gig in Minnesota. They’ve also had to manage without Sergio Scariolo, who was away from the club coaching the Spanish National Team in the FIBA qualifiers. Fortunately, that meant Scariolo wasn’t subject to the Raptors’ recent contact tracing.
Last weekend, Scariolo was in Poland coaching Spain to a couple of wins. He returned to Tampa on Monday and spent most of the week in isolation. After returning negative tests throughout his quarantine, he was cleared on Friday morning – lucky timing, as it allowed him to step in and help the Raptors out of their bind.
“I think this is a subject for a book more than for an answer,” the 59-year-old Italian said of this past week, following a 122-111 win over the Rockets – his first as an NBA head coach.
“Of course it was different, especially because everything happened so fast today. So we had to readjust tasks, timing, schedule. We had to go a little bit on the fly.”
Scariolo was the natural choice – a veteran in coaching with more than three decades of experience leading teams overseas and internationally, winning Olympic medals and World Cup gold with Spain in 2019.
They also didn’t have many options. Scariolo only had three coaches next to him on Friday – assistants Jim Sann and Jamaal Magloire, who moved up a row from their usual seats behind the bench, and assistant video coordinator Mark Tyndale. Had Scariolo not cleared quarantine in time, Sann would have likely gotten the call, or perhaps they would’ve been more inclined to bring Raptors 905 head coach Patrick Mutombo up from the G League bubble in Orlando, even though his team also played on Friday.
For the Raptors, the bench didn’t feel as empty as it appeared, though.
Even from home, Nurse directed most of the game preparation – he, Scariolo and the rest of the staff had multiple Zoom meetings throughout the day. Adrian Griffin was in charge of scouting the Rockets – the assistants rotate these assignments throughout the season – and made sure Scariolo and company were all caught up. Jama Mahlalela and Jon Goodwillie, who both recently moved up to the front row after Finch left and with Scariolo away, each chipped in.
Then there were the two floor generals, Lowry and Fred VanVleet – a nice luxury for any staff to have in its corner, especially one that’s in flux. Even without the mantle of player-coach, the rest of the team looked to them on Friday, as they do on most days.
“We make jokes about it, but [Lowry] does so much out on the court and he takes on a little bit bigger role [with the bench thinned out],” Webster said. “I’ve spoken to him a number of times, spoke to him this morning, put it in his head, he knew this was a possibility. Obviously with Fred, as well. Those guys are in many ways the de facto coaches out there, so just trying to get it in their head as early as possibly so they could think about it.”
It’s hard to imagine Lowry doing more than he did to propel his team to Friday’s win, which evened its record at 17-17 on the season. With 20 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists, he recorded his 16th triple-double as a member of the Raptors and the 18th of his 15-year career. He needed just nine shots to do it, becoming the 11th player in NBA history to post a 20-plus point triple-double on fewer than 10 field goal attempts. Toronto outscored Houston by 22 points in his 33 minutes and was bested by 11 points when he was on the bench.
“I think that for me, and for Freddy and our organization and everybody, we kind of just we understood the situation,” Lowry said. “We didn’t want to make it over-complicated with everyone wanting to coach and everybody talking and this and that. They kept a semblance of what we usually do, and myself and Freddy you know we’re always coaching the floor anyway.”
“It was about being a professional. We understand what we have to do. We understand the game plan. It’s about doing it right. You learn in this league that you have to be a professional a lot more than anything else. You go in there and you got to prepare yourself. This is our job and this is our lifestyle. This is why we get paid and how we provide for our families, so you have to go out there and be a professional… Wall knew that we had to step up a little bit more and just make sure that we all stay composed and understand what the situation was going to be.”
The Raptors are one of only four teams that still haven’t had a game postponed, but that doesn’t mean their season hasn’t been impacted by the protocols. They’re playing their home games in a different country because of health and safety, after all. They had three members of the organization test positive for the virus in training camp, Norman Powell was questionable for the opener after somebody in his inner circle returned an inconclusive test, and there was that bizarre scene in Brooklyn, when Kevin Durant was out, then in, then ruled out again as a result of contact tracing.
But just when you think you’ve seen it all around the association – the league has already postponed 30 games this season – another curveball is thrown your way. The Raptors are the first team to have their coaching staff decimated by the protocols, and with three games left to play before next weekend’s all-star break, it’s unclear when they’ll get everybody back.
What is clear, though – in Lowry, they have somebody that can help steer them through it.
“This is the situation that we’re in,” said the veteran point guard. “I’m going to be honest with you, I have no stress at all. I don’t stress. There’s no stress. Why would I be stressed for? Things are going to happen, some things you can control, so you control what you can control.”
Quick Reaction: Rockets 111, Raptors 122 – Raptors Republic
|C. Boucher27 MIN, 7 PTS, 8 REB, 2 AST, 0 STL, 2-8 FG, 0-4 3FG, 3-4 FT, 3 BLK, 0 TO, 3 +/-Monsieur Boucher was technically the largest gentleman on the court for the 27 minutes he played tonight, but you only felt that presence on one side of the floor. On D, he did his thang blocking shots, making the lives of Houston guards’ maneuvering in the paint miserable, and holding his own on switches. On O, he didn’t really seem to exist. It was only the fifth time this season that Boucher didn’t hit a three, which is fine, but it never felt like his height threatened Houston. Though, he did grab three offensive boards and wisely advised Coach Scariolo to review his foul on Oladipo.|
|K. Lowry33 MIN, 20 PTS, 11 REB, 10 AST, 1 STL, 6-9 FG, 4-5 3FG, 4-4 FT, 1 BLK, 2 TO, 22 +/-This box is truly not large enough for all of the great things I want, nay, NEED, to say about Lowry’s performance tonight. The Raps were really out of sorts in the first quarter shooting 9/26 with little flow. Then came Captain/Coach/Meta-Brain/Pest Kyle Lowry who took complete control of the second quarter. In the first six minutes, he scored or assisted on at least 18 of their 21 points. Even when alone with the bench, Kyle kept them rolling. He never relinquished control of the game after that. He did all the Kyle-stuff too. He had a charge, a couple of deflections, and took some time to battle WWE SuperStar, David Nwaba, in several micro-altercations. Come the fourth quarter, when Houston finally woke from their two-quarter nap, Kyle kept Toronto calm and collected orchestrating their D and getting the ball in the hands of the right people heaving outlets, zipping skip-passes, and making the extra pass. It was a C-L-A-S-S-I-C Lowry game.|
|N. Powell32 MIN, 30 PTS, 3 REB, 1 AST, 1 STL, 10-15 FG, 4-8 3FG, 6-6 FT, 1 BLK, 3 TO, 15 +/-Powell continues to score like a cool cat sauntering down the fence of an alleyway. His game has such a sweet cadence. Even his dunks can be jazzy smooth. He had an incredibly efficient night, getting to the rim in stride, making the right decisions instead of forcing things, and blazing from three. It was also another night where he avoided making any of those silly “What-was-that-Norm!?” plays. He was the scoring lift the Raptors needed with Pascal Siakam on the sidelines.|
|F. VanVleet38 MIN, 25 PTS, 4 REB, 4 AST, 3 STL, 6-23 FG, 5-11 3FG, 8-8 FT, 0 BLK, 2 TO, 4 +/-Freddy had a tough one. Yes, he was a major part of the Raptors’ victory. But for large stretches of the game he seemed frustrated and bothered by all those long Rockets’ arms. More than once he got to the paint and lost the ball or got stuffed or did something desperate. Desperate is so unattractive. If it weren’t for getting to the line 8 times, that would have been a very ugly one for FVV. That said, he brought it on the defensive end. And, for that, I love him forever and for always. Oladipo and Wall are tough tasks; they both ended with a meh 9/21.|
|OG. Anunoby27 MIN, 11 PTS, 3 REB, 5 AST, 0 STL, 5-8 FG, 1-3 3FG, 0-0 FT, 1 BLK, 3 TO, 12 +/-I was very disappointed with OG tonight. Not for how he played, because he played as OG always plays: strong, tempered, and selective. You can’t fault a guy for that. But this was a chance for him to really fill in for Pascal. FVV and Kyle were going to be busy with the Rockets guards; OG had free rein to go to work. He scored two buckets early and it looked like, “Okay, here we go. OG time.”, but then he picked up two personal fouls early and lost his mojo. But, again, I can’t be mad. He, like Freddy, is so vital to the Raptors defensive scheme that in any bad offensive night he makes it up in spades on defence.|
|D. Bembry23 MIN, 13 PTS, 4 REB, 2 AST, 1 STL, 4-6 FG, 0-1 3FG, 5-5 FT, 0 BLK, 2 TO, -3 +/-Bembry is like that plant you have out back and every time you go and check on it, you’re like “Woah! Did that grow.” His game is flourishing alongside the Raptor core. He moves so well off the ball and is a great complement to how Kyle and Fred like to play the game on both ends of the court.|
|Y. Watanabe17 MIN, 4 PTS, 4 REB, 1 AST, 0 STL, 2-6 FG, 0-3 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, -5 +/-I genuinely am shocked to see that Yuta was on the court for 17 minutes tonight. He had one wicked Euro step for a lay-up, but other than that, I am having trouble recalling Yuta minutes. Sorry, Yuta.|
|T. Davis16 MIN, 3 PTS, 3 REB, 2 AST, 0 STL, 1-5 FG, 1-4 3FG, 0-0 FT, 1 BLK, 0 TO, 2 +/-TD had an absolutely monstrous block! Nothing too distinguishable for Terrence otherwise. It was another night where I felt like he could have done so much more, but just didn’t.|
|A. Baynes15 MIN, 9 PTS, 6 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 4-8 FG, 1-1 3FG, 0-0 FT, 1 BLK, 0 TO, 5 +/-Baynes always seems to get the award for ugliest looking play of the game. He blew a layup early, and then had this weird personal vendetta against PJ Tucker where he tried to take him one-on-one at the top of the key and then ballet-shot-putted the ball towards the hoop. Needless to say, it did not end well. Baynes played fine considering, but I was always left disappointed that he wasn’t smashing Rockets more down low.|
|P. McCaw4 MIN, 0 PTS, 1 REB, 1 AST, 0 STL, 0-0 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, 2 +/-I do love Pat’s willingness to move the ball around. Perhaps, he does it a bit too much, but in one play he passed up a shot, drove, and kicked to a wide open OG who missed the three, Pat got the offensive rebound and immediately whipped it back cross court to Norm who drove in for the dunk. I want Pat to succeed and stay on the floor for longer because I think he has a really unique style of play.|
|S. Johnson2 MIN, 0 PTS, 1 REB, 1 AST, 0 STL, 0-1 FG, 0-1 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, 1 +/-Can’t give too strong a letter grade on two minutes of play, but he did have two nice defensive stands at the top of the zone. I have admitted before that I have been on Stanley Johnson Island for a long time now. And there is where I will stay.|
|P. Siakam0 MIN, 0 PTS, 0 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 0-0 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, 0 +/-Late scratch due to COVID health and safety protocols.|
|Nick Nurse No Nick tonight. He and five other coaching staff were held out of the game due to COVID health and safety protocols. I mean how can I criticize a guy who had, what, an hour to prepare for his first head coaching gig? Sergio Scariolo, fresh out of quarantine himself, stepped up in Nurse’s stead and, rightfully, earned his first win as an NBA head coach (even though, technically, I think it goes to Nick). The Raptors started off a little shaky, and that’s forgivable considering the circumstances, but by halftime, the game was well-in-hand. Sergio platooned FVV with the bench and did the same with Kyle. It had mixed results, but I always love when a coach puts his faith in his bench and sends them out there wholesale. Why not? Especially, in the middle of February facing a weaker team like Houston. The Raps bent a bit in the fourth, but they did not break, and that’s all that matters. Oh, and he nailed his first coach’s challenge ever! Yay, Sergio.|
THINGS WE SAW
- That game just felt flat. Houston looked like a student in a microeconomics lecture who sleeps through the whole thing until they hear “this will be on the exam” and perks up for the next ten minutes. When Houston did perk up, Toronto had trouble keeping Wall and Oladipo out of the paint. They didn’t finish a lot of their takes, but it was concerning to see the ease in which they were getting to the hole.
- I am worried about the Raptors’ depth. DeAndre’ is winning me over, but that old adage of “who are your seven guys come playoff time” leaves me wondering if he makes the cut. TD certainly doesn’t. Nor Yuta. I don’t know what to think of Baynes these days. I am not saying find me the panic button or anything of that magnitude. All I am saying, is the Raptors lean a lot on FVV, Siakam, Lowry, and, so far, Normy. If one of those guys sputters – or is out like Siakam was tonight- there aren’t a lot of options left. Food for thought.
Homan tops Carey to open Scotties championship round – Sportsnet.ca
CALGARY — The favourites set the tone in championship pool play Friday at the Canadian women’s curling championship.
With a few surprise teams making the eight-team cut, perennial contenders Rachel Homan, Kerri Einarson and Jennifer Jones posted afternoon victories and showed why they’re good bets to reach the playoffs.
“With only three teams advancing, you can’t have very many losses to advance,” Jones said. “So we know that and we know we’re going to have to play every game as though we have to get that W and hopefully we perform well.”
Homan’s Ontario team stole a point in the 10th end for a 7-6 victory over Chelsea Carey’s Team Wild Card One and then came back for an 8-7 win over Quebec’s Laurie St-Georges in an extra end.
That left Homan in top spot at 9-1 with Einarson, the defending champion, who topped Saskatchewan’s Sherry Anderson 10-6 before eliminating Carey from playoff contention with a 9-3 rout.
Jones’s Manitoba team earned a split on the day to sit in a tie for third place at 7-3 with Alberta’s Laura Walker. Jones posted a 12-8 win over Beth Peterson of Team Wild Card Three before dropping a 7-5 decision to Walker.
“I guess mandatory is a good word for it,” Walker said of the win. “We needed it and I’m proud of the way we went out there and got it.”
With Anderson sitting out the nightcap with an injury, alternate Amber Holland threw fourth stones for Saskatchewan. She dropped a 10-9 decision to Peterson in an extra end that left both teams tied with Quebec at 6-4.
Earlier, Walker edged St-Georges 7-6 in an extra end. Saskatchewan and Quebec had an unexpected share of the Pool B lead after the preliminary round.
Carey (5-5), who’s filling in at skip for Tracy Fleury this week, barely missed a runback double-takeout attempt with her final shot against Homan, who put the pressure on with two protected stones near the button.
“They hung in there with me and we made some good ones in the end,” Homan said of teammates Emma Miskew, Sarah Wilkes and Joanne Courtney.
Jones, who’s aiming for a record seventh Scotties Tournament of Hearts title, stole five points in the 10th for her afternoon victory. Einarson was also tested early in that draw before a late deuce sealed the win.
Two more draws were set for Saturday at the Markin MacPhail Centre. The top three teams in the eight-team pool will reach the playoffs on Sunday.
The second- and third-place teams will meet in an afternoon semifinal for a berth in the evening final against the first-place team.
The Hearts winner will return as Team Canada at the 2022 national playdowns in Thunder Bay, Ont. The champion will also earn a berth in the Olympic Trials in November at Saskatoon.
The men’s national championship — the Tim Hortons Brier — starts March 5 at the same Canada Olympic Park venue. The Hearts is the first of six bonspiels to be held at the arena through late April.
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