The Canadian Press
After the worst week for Pro Picks all season — we looked like the Saints, as in unprepared — our confidence isn’t shaken. Well, not too much.Having to start with the slumping Raiders hosting the who-knows-what-they-are Chargers is not the most enticing way to rebound. It’s difficult to find the positives in Sin City — there’s an understatement to some — but clearly Jon Gruden recognized the defensive deficiencies of his team by firing co-ordinator Paul Guenther.“We have to do everything better, honestly,” Gruden said of his defence. “Not just one kind of run. Inside runs, outside runs, the run game. With that said, you have to stop the play-action pass and we have to stop a lot of other things that have been problematic. We’ve got a lot of work to do, but we have good players here.”As for the Chargers, sure they beat Atlanta last weekend, with the Falcons pretty much handing over the win. And they tend to play some better teams close.Las Vegas, No. 16 in the AP Pro32, is a 3 1-2 point favourite over the No. 26 Chargers. Some lukewarm support for Gruden’s bunch.RAIDERS, 27-22KNOCKOUT POOL: At least we got this right in Week 14 with the Seahawks. That leaves us pulling for TENNESSEE.No. 32 New York Jets (plus 16) at No. 6 Los Angeles RamsYes, this is a case of piling it on, exactly what the Rams will do to the winless New Yorkers.BEST BET: RAMS, 40-10No. 18 New England (plus 3) at No. 13 MiamiThe Dolphins usually do well at home vs. the Patriots, but they are so undermanned.UPSET SPECIAL, PATRIOTS 20-16No. 1 Kansas City (minus 3 1-2) at No. 4 New OrleansIt’s unfair to pick this game without knowing Drew Brees’ status.CHIEFS, 24-21No. 3 Buffalo (minus 6) at No. 21 Denver, SaturdayThink the Broncos regret they ignored that QB in Wyoming, Josh Allen, back in 2018?BILLS, 27-15No. 25 Carolina (plus 8 1-2) at No. 2 Green Bay, SaturdayThe Packers have their sights set on that lone NFC playoffs bye.PACKERS, 30-19No. 10 Cleveland (minus 3 1-2) at No. 20 New York GiantsA letdown by the Browns would not be a shocker here.BROWNS, 23-21No. 31 Jacksonville (plus 13 1-2) at No. 11 BaltimoreEven with a letdown here, the Ravens should prevail.RAVENS, 24-16No. 28 Houston (plus 7) at No 8 (tie) IndianapolisAfter that Texans stinker in Chicago, why is this spread so low?COLTS, 30-20No. 24 Detroit (plus 10 1-2) at No. 8 (tie) TennesseeAs with the Saints’ Brees, not knowing Matt Stafford’s status is troubling. So a hedge:TITANS, 30-22 (if Stafford plays)TITANS, 30-15 (if Stafford sits)No. 22 San Francisco (minus 2 1-2) at No. 29 DallasThis line, with the 49ers so banged up, shows how far Dallas has fallen.COWBOYS, 20-19No. 7 Seattle (minus 5) at No. 15 WashingtonImagine this: A Washington win has it at .500 in the NFC East. Sorry …SEAHAWKS, 20-13No. 12 Tampa Bay (minus 5 1-2) at No. 27 AtlantaTom Brady vs. Matt Ryan. No huge comeback needed this time.BUCCANEERS, 27-22No. 5 Pittsburgh (minus 12 1-2) at No. 30 Cincinnati, Monday nightYes, the Steelers have some issues after two straight defeats. This will cheer them up.STEELERS, 30-9No. 19 Chicago (plus 3) at No. 17 MinnesotaSomehow, both of these teams are in the playoff hunt.VIKINGS, 23-16No. 23 Philadelphia (plus 6 1-2) at No. 14 ArizonaKyler Murray and Jalen Hurts should provide some entertainment in this one.CARDINALS, 25-17___2020 RECORDLast Week: Straight up: 7-9. Against spread: 5-9-1Season: Straight up: 136-71-1. Against spread: 103-90-5Best Bet: Straight up: 11-3. Against spread: 7-7Upset Special: Straight up: 6-8. Against spread: 6-6-2___More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFLBarry Wilner, The Associated Press
Habs Headlines: The Canadiens “really do have something” early on – Habs Eyes on the Prize
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.”
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