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Oilers, Maple Leafs electric on offence, but can either improve defence? – Sportsnet.ca

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When COVID concerns put a stop to the 2019-20 NHL season, the Edmonton Oilers and Toronto Maple Leafs sat tied in a telling defensive category, averaging around 2.7 goals against for every 60 minutes of 5-on-5 play. That number doesn’t sound awful, but sprinkle in somewhere between 40-60 power play goals against (as is common in a full NHL season), and suddenly you have to score a whole lot just to get to the break-even number.

I say “tied” for simplicity’s sake, technically the Leafs were .01 worse in that category at 2.71. The Senators were right there with the Oilers and Leafs, while the Panthers, Sharks, Devils and Red Wings were the only teams worse in this stat — AKA the draft lottery teams.

Shots against per 60, unblocked shot attempts per 60, expected goals against per 60, almost all the “fancy” stats had both Toronto and Edmonton in the bottom half of the league.

The Leafs and Oilers stunk defensively, full stop.

Those are all just “against” numbers at 5-on-5 though. By and large, if you sort the numbers for total percentages (like goals for percentage, all strengths), both teams climb into the better half of the league, because if we know anything about these teams, it’s that they can score – particularly the top lines. The Oilers’ special teams were absurdly good last year, and the Leafs have balanced out their weak defensive numbers by playing high event hockey both ways at all strengths.

It’s really those elite guys who compel me to compare these operations at all. The Oilers have two Hart Trophy winners age 25 and under, to go with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Kailer Yamamoto. The Leafs have five players in their top six who went first, first, first, fourth and eighth overall. Both teams go as those groups go, they rely on them to give them a chance, and both teams get shut down when their top names aren’t going.

Both teams have for some years now looked at their back ends, squinted, and said “But if he has a career year, and that guy takes a step, and everyone stays healthy, our D isn’t that bad.”

And so it goes with Edmonton and Toronto. They’re two speedboats constantly using offence to bail water from porous defences, never quite sinking but not winning any important races either. In the sprint-length race that is the 2021 NHL regular season, the team that figures out how to finally patch those holes, rather than bail faster, is far more likely to accomplish their goals than the other.

Just a few months back in the play-in round against the Chicago Blackhawks, the Oilers scored 15 times in four games and won … once. The Leafs have lost three straight playoff series in deciding games, conceding a total of 15 goals against in those three games.

I realize I’m beating the dead horse here, but both teams have long identified their team weakness, and have sought to improve it. The Oilers have drafted well and have prospects on the way, while the Leafs have moved aggressively to add established NHLers to their back end.

What we’re left with at this point is asking what the likelihood is of that improvement happening?

Will the Oilers be able to get those holes patched?

To date this season the Oilers have allowed 15 goals through four games, which is worse than their goals against per game last season, though granted it’s absurdly early.

Their odds took a significant blow when it was ruled that their best defenceman, Oscar Klefbom, would be out for the season, which put them behind the eight-ball immediately.

It also didn’t help that what was likely the Oilers’ off-season plan – signing Jacob Markstrom – fell through entirely, leaving them with a goaltending duo that will almost certainly finish in the statistical bottom-third of the league.

I summed up my questions about the Oilers on Twitter a few nights back:

Sufficient answers never came.

So far this season they’ve already scratched defencemen Ethan Bear and Caleb Jones, in hopes of plugging in more defensive defensemen in Adam Larsson and William Lagesson, but it’s unlikely that’s going to be the long-term fix for this team this year.

There are some positives, though. For one, defending is a mindset and can be coached, and the Oilers have a good one in Dave Tippett. But more than that, I think the Oilers have just had a rough start, and that a pretty good Montreal Canadiens team got the better of them in ways that would be internally eye-opening, but not worthy of panic. Sometimes it’s as simple as “our group can play better than that,” and there’s at least some element of that here.

Klefbom will be sorely missed, and the goaltending is unlikely to become a bright spot, but I do believe that somewhere in this mix is a six-man group that can allow the forwards to do what they do enough – outscore their problems – to keep them at the very least a playoff team:

Nurse-Koekkoek
Russell-Barrie
Bear-Jones
Lagesson-Larsson

I don’t think there’s much reason to believe it’s going to be great defensively in Edmonton. But with all their talent, it only needs to be good.

Will the Leafs be able to get those holes patched?

If you talk to their die-hard fans, they already have. There’s a belief among the fanbase that TJ Brodie puts them in a spot that gives the team a very good top-four (with Morgan Rielly, Jake Muzzin and Justin Holl), and that surely there are enough options amongst the rest to find a good pair (that being Zach Bogosian, Travis Dermott, Rasmus Sandin and Mikko Lehtonen). And it’s possible those fans are right.

The less confident may consider how Rielly defends with an offensive lean, and the name Justin Holl in there – and the odd rough Brodie showing – and go “Yeah, that’s your plan? Those are the materials that are going to keep the water from rushing in?”

Freddy Andersen remains a wild card for this season, but he’s not far removed from playing excellent hockey, so there’s a “wait and see” element in net.

Up front, the Leafs have shuffled their lineup to become more defensively stout as well. John Tavares is being deployed almost exclusively in an offensive role so far this year, leaving the heavier matchups for their newly formed “shut-down” group of Ilya-Mikheyev-Alex Kerfoot-Zach Hyman. It’s another test case, but it’s at least a plan that isn’t just hoping things change on their own, somehow.

The rest of the forward group will never have a defensive bent, but you can at least see the team has made a real effort to patch up their defensive shortcomings of yore.

In the end, that’s all it comes down to for these two talented teams: Will they make keeping the puck out of their own net as much of a priority as putting it in the other one?

There’s no shortage of coaches who’ll tell you that more offence comes when you’re in good positions under the puck, and numerous Stanley Cup contenders over the past decade have proved that true. It’s a tough sell from the coach, though.

As Edmonton and Toronto get set to do battle twice in the next three nights, most fans are excited to see explosions of offence all over the ice.

But I promise you, behind closed doors, both teams are prioritizing the opposite.

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Malaika Mihambo and Dennis Schröder Lead Germany’s Diverse Olympic Team to Paris 2024

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“The goals have definitely not changed,” Malaika Mihambo declared in a recent television interview, reaffirming her determination to compete in the 2024 Olympic Games despite a recent setback from a coronavirus infection. The 30-year-old long jumper aims to defend her Olympic gold medal, which she won in Tokyo in 2021.

While Mihambo is a seasoned Olympian, Paris 2024 will mark a special debut for Dennis Schröder, the captain of Germany’s 2023 world champion basketball team. “It has always been a goal of mine to be at the Olympic Games,” said the 30-year-old Brooklyn Nets player.

Mihambo and Schröder are among the stars of the German Olympic team, which showcases remarkable diversity with around 450 top athletes. This team includes individual talents such as tennis stars Angelique Kerber, the silver medallist at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, and Alexander Zverev, the 2021 Olympic champion in Tokyo. Notable teams include the men’s basketball team led by Schröder, the women’s football team, and the men’s handball team.

Among the experienced Olympic stars is table tennis player Timo Boll, who has won several team medals and is immensely popular in China and beyond. Dressage rider Isabell Werth, with seven Olympic gold medals, aims to match the all-time record of nine gold medals held by Soviet gymnast Larissa Latynina.

Some German athletes, though not yet household names, have garnered attention with impressive performances leading up to the Games. In athletics, the women’s 4×100 meter relay team, decathlete Leo Neugebauer, and marathon runner Amanal Petros stand out. Trend sports also feature promising talents like surfers Camilla Kemp and Tim Elter, and 17-year-old skateboarder Lilly Stoephasius, who will compete in her second Olympic Games.

Swimmer Angelina Köhler has recently emerged as a star, winning gold in the 100 meter butterfly at the 2024 World Championships. Köhler, who has openly discussed her ADHD diagnosis, described participating in the Olympics as fulfilling “a very, very big childhood dream.”

As Germany heads to Paris, this diverse and dynamic team aims to leave a significant mark on the 2024 Olympic Games.

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Thomas Müller: The End of an Era for Germany’s Iconic #13

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It is difficult to write something about Thomas Müller that hasn’t been written before, yet at the same time, it is difficult to capture his essence in mere words. That alone is an indicator of his distinctive nature as a person and brilliance as a footballer.

It is said commonly, there will never be another Thomas Müller. And that rings true today more than ever, for Germany, for football.

Germany has dominated world football so often throughout history, each era marked by superstars in their own right. And even then, Thomas Müller remains unique, apart from the rest. The idea of a dominant die Mannschaft in the ‘modern era’ of football immediately prompts the mental image of an overjoyed Müller wearing any variation of the iconic white-black German kits, busy shouting in celebration amidst the euphoria of scoring yet another goal for his country on the biggest of stages.

Efficient, unorthodox, enigmatic – yet somehow simple. Everywhere he needed to be on the pitch, yet he left the greatest of defenders oblivious, unable to predict his next move. A goalscorer and creator simultaneously and equally brilliant at doing both. Unapologetically himself – both on and off the pitch.

You’d never be mesmerized by Müller’s touch, flair, or skills. But you’d be mesmerized nonetheless. Unpredictable off-the-ball movement, a surprise element with the ball, and a shot from such unbelievable angles that you’d never believe how it found the net. And even then what forever remained stuck in the minds of fans and opponents alike was the scene that followed after his heroics in the opposition box — a group of elated Germans heralding around Müller as the scoreboard reads a scoreline just as memorable.

A little boy from the south of Bavaria had a dream and had the entire world watch as he lived it to the fullest. Müller represented his country a total of 131 times and somehow every single time he was a pleasure to watch and a menace to face. The lights were bright, but he shone brighter.

His football was messy but incredibly effective. Tall, scrawny, and the furthest thing from muscular, but it worked to his advantage. He was never the “typical footballer” — concerning both his personality and playstyle. He was so good at everything going forward that the orthodox football terms didn’t apply. No problem for Müller – “Ich bin ein Raumdeuter,” said the star clearing things up about his position and inventing a role in football no one other than himself has or ever will truly master.

Germany’s first game at the 2010 World Cup saw Müller walk onto the pitch with the number 13 on his back. The same number was coincidentally also worn by legendary German striker Gerd Müller at the ‘76 finals. Thomas scored that night — it was the first of 45 goals he would go on to score for his nation. The fans (and notably Gerd himself) were overjoyed to see a German named Müller, squad number #13, scoring for Germany again after so many decades.

Speaking postgame about his first international goal, Müller said while laughing: “I was just trying to boost the sales of the Müller replica shirts!” – the first of many playful Müller interviews after a masterclass for Germany. 14 years and 44 goals later, Thomas has made that jersey number his as much as it was Gerd’s.

Thomas Müller — forever Germany’s beloved #13.

What once was a need to prove himself and do everything in his power to lead his country to victory turned into a feeling of grounded pride for what he’s greatly helped achieve, but the desire to win never died. Müller, even after everything, still put in the same effort he did on day one.

There was never a dull moment watching Müller play for his country. Not everything has changed — over all these years, Müller has had the same playfulness, the same laugh, the same witty statements that never failed to make fans smile. He is just as loveable as a person as he is as a footballer. “I don’t have any muscles – how can I get hurt?”, or “I already have one Golden Boot, what will I do with another?” Müller captivated audiences with both his football and his words.

Müller playing for Germany is what made myself (and so many others) a fan of the beautiful game – because the game was only beautiful when Müller had the ball. A mesmerized young boy and a superstar footballer formed an unlikely, one-sided bond over the television screen a decade ago, and that bond only strengthened over the years.

As Müller announces his international retirement today, it is difficult to fathom that we might never see such an icon play for Germany ever again. We might never see him celebrate or joke around in the Germany shirt. We might never see someone represent everything German football stood for as well as Müller did. We might never see him film a challenge video with Mats Hummels at the German camp. And we might never forget the heartbreak of his last game for Germany.

Yet we as fans can look back on one of the greatest international careers of all time. His antics on the world stage are some of the best highlights of a career filled with highlights. There is no need to mention his countless achievements for his country – he is the most decorated German player of all time after all. Even then, Müller, who has always had impeccable timing knew exactly when it was his time to depart. He didn’t want to push it or ever make things about himself.

Müller’s iconic moments turned into unforgettable games. Those unforgettable games made legendary tournaments. And those legendary tournaments? They are the crown jewels of an illustrious career.

So here is a thank you, from the bottom of our hearts – thank you for showing us what football is really about. Thank you for some of the greatest memories a football fan could ask for. Thank you for always giving everything on the pitch, and finally – thank you for being yourself. We will never forget Thomas Müller in the iconic German white. Danke, Thomas.

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Missed Opportunities Plague Yankees in 6-4 Loss to Rays

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NEW YORK — The New York Yankees fell to the Tampa Bay Rays 6-4 on Sunday afternoon, continuing a troubling trend of failing to capitalize on scoring opportunities. The loss came despite Aaron Judge’s efforts, including his MLB-leading 35th home run of the season.

The Yankees’ inability to hit with runners in scoring position (RISP) was the primary issue. In the first inning, hits from Juan Soto and Aaron Judge loaded the bases, but Gleyber Torres and Alex Verdugo couldn’t drive in any runs. Soto then grounded into a double play to end the second inning with the bases loaded.

Aaron Judge hit a three-run homer in the seventh inning, his 35th of the season, bringing the Yankees within two runs. However, his contribution was not enough to overcome the deficit. Marcus Stroman pitched 5.1 innings, allowing three runs (two earned) on five hits, including two home runs. He struck out five and did not walk any batters. Despite his solid performance, he received minimal run support.

Gleyber Torres made a critical error in the fourth inning, leading to a run. His 0-for-4 performance at the plate dropped his batting average to .229, adding to the Yankees’ woes. Yankees manager Aaron Boone was ejected after disputing a strike call on Alex Verdugo. This marked his 38th career ejection and fifth of the season.

Soto’s ninth-inning RBI double provided some hope, but it was too little, too late. The Rays’ Jose Caballero homered in the ninth, extending their lead and sealing the victory.

The Yankees began the series with a 6-1 win on Friday but faltered with a 9-1 loss on Saturday, followed by Sunday’s 6-4 defeat. This inconsistency has been a recurring issue for the team. Despite the loss, the Yankees (59-42) remain two games behind the Baltimore Orioles (60-39) for first place in the AL East, as the Orioles also lost 3-2 to the Texas Rangers.

Aaron Judge commented, “No weight. I’ve got good guys behind me. It’s baseball. You’re going to go through some ups and downs, and you’re going to click for a little bit, but there’s months where other guys are going to carry this team and there’s months where I’ve got to pick it up and carry the team, and it’s all part of it.”

Marcus Stroman reflected, “It’s hard to be incredible for 162. I think we have a lot of confidence … how good (Soto has) been — all year, him and Judge — I think we’re kind of losing sight of how incredible those two guys have been. So they can’t do everything, each and every single time. We can’t put all the pressure on them.”

Aaron Boone added, “This game’s hard for us right now, and we’ve got to find a way. We know we’re better than this, and we’ve got to come ready and salvage a series tomorrow.”

The Yankees will aim to split the series against the Rays in the final game on Monday at 1:05 p.m. ET. With their recent struggles in key situations, the team must find a way to improve their performance with runners in scoring position to turn their season around.

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