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Player grades: Edmonton Oilers fire but fall short, 4-2 to Avalanche in crucial Game 3 – Edmonton Journal



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Avalanche 4, Oilers 2

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Edmonton Oilers gave what they had on Saturday night, but once again it wasn’t enough to get the better of Colorado Avalanche.

It was a game with wild ebbs and flows, even before the first minute was over let alone the full 60. The first whistle of the game signified an Oilers goal. The second, a major penalty. From there, a back and forth affair with the Avalanche ultimately gaining the upper hand and skating away with a 4-2 win.

The Avalanche had a heavy advantage on the shot clock for the third straight game, this time 43-29 for a cumulative 130-90 through 3 games. By our count at the Cult of Hockey, the Avs held a 17-11 edge in Grade A shots and a 10-5 bulge in the best of those, the 5-alarm chances.

Player grades

#2 Duncan Keith, 5. A little lost at sea on the second Avs goal but hardly the major culprit on the play, though it was his careless icing off a clean possession that led to the d-zone faceoff in the first place. Otherwise fairly quiet. Played 19:33 including 4:27 on the PK. 0 shot attempts.

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#5 Cody Ceci, 5. Steady Eddy was beaten on just 1 Grade A shot against. Had a great look of his own off an RNH feed but his hard wrist shot just missed the short-side post. 18:28 including 4:19 on the PK.

#6 Kris Russell, 6. Came in as the 7th defender and did what he usually does in 10 solid minutes, over 4 of them on the PK. 4 hits, 2 blocked shots.

#10 Derek Ryan, 5. Best thing he did was sell out to stay onside on the McLeod rush that became the 2-2. Earned an assist for an early pass on the play. Also chipped in 3:39 on the penalty kill. 0 shot attempts, 2 giveaways, and a paltry 3/12=25% on the dot.

#13 Jesse Puljujarvi, 5. Played a solid game in a middle 6 role, chipping in on 2 Grade A shots while allowing nothing the other way. His wraparound try set up a dangerous rebound chance for Foegele who very nearly cashed.

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#18 Zach Hyman, 7. Made a terrific play along the wall to first win the puck, then chip a pass to McDavid who finished the play just 38 seconds in. Otherwise a standard hard-working night with 5 shot attempts, 3 of them on goal, 4 hits and a takeaway. Played 19:40 in all including 6½ minutes on special teams.

#22 Tyson Barrie, 6. His pairing with Kulak had the puck moving north for the most part. His best moment was a third-period blast through the double screen of Puljujarvi and Hyman that Pavel Francouz somehow got a piece of. Smoked Logan O’Connor with a nice hit. 7 shot attempts, 2 hits, 1 takeaway, 1 block.

#24 Brad Malone, 5. Surprise addition to the line-up was brought in for his physical play and penalty-killing. Provided both with 4 hits and 3:17 on the kill, nearly half of his total ice time of 6:40. Picked up 12 minutes in penalties in garbage time for a legit penalty and what appeared to be a somewhat bogus misconduct.

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#25 Darnell Nurse, 4. By far his best performance of a very tough series. Led the d-corps with 21:28 TOI including a whopping 5:42 on the PK, while his 8 hits were 3 more than any other player on either club. But his game will be most remembered by the own-goal that tied the score 1-1 late in the first, as Nurse tried to cut off a slot pass only to have it carom past a flailing Smith and just inside the short side post. Also took a penalty for a careless clearing pass which went over the glass.

#27 Brett Kulak, 7. Statistically the best of the Oil’s 7 defencemen, posting boxcars of 0-1-1, +1,  6 shot attempts, 4 hits, 1 takeaway, 1 block and strong possession metrics. His 15:34 of ice time included 4:24 on the PK. Making a strong bid for a contract extension right here in his home town of Edmonton.

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#29 Leon Draisaitl, 5. Continues to battle through physical issues which were not helped by the above incident involving Nathan MacKinnon. Jay Woodcroft called it a slewfoot; though I see no involvement of the feet, what’s going on with MacKinnon’s upper leg and hands is less clear. Judge for yourself. The ref did and saw no infraction. The upshot was that Draisaitl limped down the tunnel for a time and was decidedly less than fully effective thereafter. He did managed to draw both Colorado penalties, no mean feat on this night, but also took 1 of his own. 2 shots on net including a good one after a terrific rush, but wasn’t able to create much off the pass. 12/24=50% on the dot. Played 24:29.

#37 Warren Foegele, 5. Provided 9 minutes of solid grinding, with 1 (dangerous) shot, and 3 hits.

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#41 Mike Smith, 6. A very difficult game to grade. Saw plenty of rubber and dealt with most of it with a variety of Gumby-esque saves, occasionally even standing on his head (see: feature image up top). A tad unlucky on the first 2 Colorado goals, the first of which deflected off Nurse’s stick. It leaked through just inside his short-side post despite Smith’s best efforts to seal off the hole after having first committed to the cross-ice pass. The second bounced off McDavid’s skate and right to the goal scorer, Valeri Nichushkin, who was able to float a change-up against the grain and past the scrambling netminder. The game-winner on the other hand was a shot that needed to be stopped and instead found the five-hole right along the ice. Made a fabulous blocker save to rob Nichushkin on a 2-on-1 minutes later, but by then the damage was done. To his credit he was by far the biggest reason the PK went 5-for-5, turning aside all 16 shots he faced during the 11½ minutes the Oilers were shorthanded. His best save of those 16 might have been the an emergency recovery, two-pad stack style, after his own mishandle of the puck. 42 shots, 39 saves, .929 save percentage.

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#44 Zack Kassian, 5. Got the push to the McDavid line, with whom he played 6 of his 9 minutes on the night. Nearly jammed one home in the first. But was one of the defensive culprits on the 2-1 when he lost a battle just inside Edmonton’s zone after a lost faceoff. 2 shots, 5 hits.

#71 Ryan McLeod, 8. A terrific 2-way effort that saw him earn 17 minutes of ice time including 5:21 on the PK to lead all forwards. Had a great chance off a splendid rush early in the second where he was robbed by Francouz; seconds later chipped in on the Foegele jam play. Briefly gave the Oilers hope when he scored the 2-2 on another rink length dash in the third, though in truth his shot from outside home plate should likely have been stopped. Rewarded with some 6v5 ice time down the stretch. 3 shots on net with the Oilers controlling the flow of play during his minutes.

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#75 Evan Bouchard, 4. Was a dinged goal post away from being the hero, only to be caught out the other way seconds later on what became the winning goal. Bouchard took a bad angle to the puck and once J.T. Compher outbattled him for it, the veteran Av had a clear path to the net. Also beaten on the 2-1 goal when he couldn’t contain Nichushkin in the slot, screening his own goalie in the process. Allowed a partial breakaway by Rantanen after a mishandle just inside the o-zone. Some good moments too including 4 shots on net.

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#91 Evander Kane, 3. Put his team in a big hole when he was whistled for a 5-minute penalty for the above infraction vs. Nazem Kadri in the game’s first minute. Hard to disagree with that call given the video evidence; I thought he was fortunate to remain in the game (Kadri didn’t) and suspect he may not be available for the next one. 2 shots, 4 hits, but boxcars of 0-0-0, 5 PIM, -3 tell the tale of a difficult night.

#93 Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, 5. Oilers controlled shot attempts to the tune of 17-6 during his 12+ minutes at 5v5. Just 1 shot himself, and lost a couple of battles at key moments, notably to a stickless Mikko Rantanen in game’s final minute that resulted in Colorado’s last zone clearance. Took a thin penalty for holding MacKinnon’s stick.

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#97 Connor McDavid, 6. Got the game off to a great start with a nifty goal just 38 seconds in, but that was it for the production. Was on the ice for all 4 Avs goal, and while his most significant involvement was a spot of bad luck when a puck deflected off his skate and right across the slot to the goal scorer, this after first losing the d-zone face off. Nearly put the Oilers ahead in the third when he jumped on a deflected Barrie point shot, but Francouz got the better of him with a superb glove grab. Led the Oilers with 26:47 in ice time and 4 shots on goal, but for the second straight game struggled to find open ice .

Recently at the Cult of Hockey

STAPLES: Hard truth — Oilers getting stomped by Avs. What can be done?

STAPLES: Player grades from a disappointing Game 2

McCURDY: With Nurse struggling, how can Oilers coaches cope?

LEAVINS: Player grades from Game 1 debacle in Denver

McCURDY: The building of the Oilers and the Avalanche

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Just the beginning? Why Canada’s soccer stars could be better yet in 2026



When the hosting of the 2026 soccer World Cup was awarded to a tri-nation bid of the USA, Canada and Mexico, there was no shortage of eyebrows raised at one of those names. Given that a qualifying place is automatically bestowed upon a host nation, there were plenty of people ready to argue that Canada’s spot in the tournament presented a risk of becoming a farce. Granted, the fact that this year’s version of the four-yearly classic is being hosted in Qatar softened that line of attack, but the general feeling was that while the USA and Mexico could justify their place, the same was not true of their co-host.

It was with a mixture of relief and cheerful vindication, then, that the Maple Leafs topped CONCACAF qualifying for the 2022 competition and will therefore be in Qatar not only as qualifiers on merit but as an intriguing dark horse to progress beyond the pool stage. As for 2026, their place as hosts is not just reinforced as a deserved spot, but may be a springboard for a team that has a chance to become a big fish in the CONCACAF pond. This 2022 Canadian side is good – but there are reasons to think it could be better next time.


The talent isn’t just good: it’s young, too

Perhaps the most recognisable name in the present Canadian national team is Alphonso Davies. Aged 21, he has made a place in the Bayern Munich side his own, and already has a Champions League winner’s medal. And let’s reiterate: he’s only 21. Few would argue with the statement that Davies is one of the best left-backs in Europe, and he has time on his side to get better. By the time his country kicks off in its first World Cup finals game on home soil, he’ll still be just 25, which is still a few years short of the prime age for a player in his position.

In attack, the strike partnership of Cyle Larin (27) and Jonathan David (22) is also youthful, and that’s without mentioning Tajon Buchanan, who’s completed his first season with Club Brugge and is considered to be a contender for a move to a bigger European club, possibly off the back of this year’s tournament. It’s no exaggeration to say that any one of those four would walk into the USMNT right now – and have the potential to get local fans seeking out a list of the best legal betting sites in Ontario to back them for glory in the short and medium term.


There are more prospects waiting to make an impact

Let’s not get carried away by saying there are names in the frame who are better than the four mentioned above – the thing about potential is that it doesn’t always come to fruition. However, it’s fair to say that the production line that gave us Davies, Buchanan and co. hasn’t been resting on its laurels. Hot on their heels is Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty, a right-sided attacker who featured heavily for Toronto FC early this season before requiring surgery that kept him out for a while. He’s just 18, and has already been selected for national squads – but it is possible that this year’s big tournament might be too early for him.

Ralph Priso, a defensive midfielder from the same club, and Liam Millar, who has enjoyed a very decent season at Swiss club Basel, are also seen as solid prospects who could add to the riches Canada will have at its disposal in 2026. At 19 and 22 respectively, they could yet make an impact this year.


2022 will bestow experience

Last, but by no means least, the fact that Canada will be in Qatar this winter has benefits beyond simply being there. Playing in matches of this level of prestige is an invaluable experience that players can call on in the future. Facing Belgium, Croatia and Morocco, they’ll already be playing against better opposition than they’ve beaten to qualify. Even if they make it no further than the first round, it will improve them as players to be at a World Cup. With their qualification for 2026 already ensured, they can focus on building from that.

A lot can happen in four years. Maybe in 2026, we’ll be looking at the national team and wondering why they haven’t kicked on. Nothing is certain. However, given the excellent development we’ve already seen John Herdman achieve with this team, there are more reasons to be optimistic than pessimistic.

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Returning Serena Williams ousted at Wimbledon after shocking 1st round loss – CBC Sports



Serena Williams began — and ended — her comeback at Wimbledon after 364 days out of singles competition looking very much like someone who hadn’t competed in just that long. She missed shots, shook her head, rolled her eyes.

In between, there were moments where Williams played very much like someone whose strokes and will have carried her to 23 Grand Slam titles. She hit blistering serves and strokes, celebrated with arms aloft.

Returning to the site of her last singles match, which she had to stop after less than a set because of an injury on June 29, 2021, and seven of her major championships, the 40-year-old Williams came within two points of victory. But she could not finish the job against an opponent making her Wimbledon debut and bowed out with a 7-5, 1-6, 7-6 (10-7) loss to 115th-ranked Harmony Tan of France.

“It’s definitely better than last year,” Williams said. “That’s a start.”

Asked whether this might have been her last match, Williams replied: “That’s a question I can’t answer. I don’t know. … Who knows? Who knows where I’ll pop up?”

With her older sister, Venus, jumping out of a guest box seat at Centre Court to celebrate the best points, Serena Williams was oh-so-close to pulling out a topsy-turvy match that lasted 3 hours, 11 minutes and was contested with the retractable roof shut for the last two sets.

‘When I saw the draw, I was really scared’

“For my first Wimbledon, it’s: Wow. Just wow,” said the 24-year-old Tan, who recalled watching Williams on TV as a youngster.

“When I saw the draw, I was really scared,” Tan said with a laugh, “because it’s Serena Williams. She’s a legend. I was like, `Oh, my God, how can I play?”‘

This is one indication of how things were at the get-go: Of Tan’s first 11 points, only one came via a winner she produced. Others came via errors by Williams, either forced or unforced.

While Williams — who wore two pieces of black tape on her right cheek; the reason was not immediately clear — recovered from dropping the opening two games to lead 4-2, she reversed course again and allowed Tan to quickly climb back into that set with her mix of spins and slices.

When Tan pulled even at 4-all by striking a down-the-line backhand winner, she celebrated with a yell; that shot was so good that even Williams felt compelled to applaud.

Tan came into the day with a 2-6 career record at all Grand Slam tournaments. Clearly enjoying herself — and the setting, the moment, the way it all was going — she broke to lead 6-5 with the help of a cross-court forehand winner, looked at her guest box, raised a fist and waved her arms to ask for more noise from a crowd that was loudly backing Williams.

Soon enough, a forehand passing winner gave Tan that set. At that point, it seemed reasonable to ask: Could Tan pull off by far the biggest victory of her career? Might Williams exit a major in the first round for only the third time in 80 appearances (the previous were a loss at the 2012 French Open and that mid-match retirement at Wimbledon last year)?

The latter is what happened, of course, although Williams certainly played spectacularly in the second set. She won a monumental game to lead 2-0, breaking after 30 points and 12 deuces across almost 20 minutes when Tan shanked a forehand into the chair umpire’s stand.

In a blink, then, it was 5-0 and sure seemed as if Williams was on her way.

Her serves picked up pace and became more accurate, too: After winning just 57% of her first-serve points in the first set, she claimed 80% in the second. Her other strokes were better-calibrated: After making 22 unforced errors in the first set, she made 13 in the second.

In the third set, Williams was two points from advancing while serving for the match at 5-4 but couldn’t get closer.

Williams has spent more than 300 weeks ranked No. 1 but currently is 1,204th on account off all of that time off and thus needed a wild-card invitation from the All England Club to enter the bracket.

“If you’re playing week in, week out, or even every three weeks, every four weeks, there’s a little bit more match toughness,” she said. “But with that being said, I felt like I played pretty OK on some of `em. Not all of ’em. Maybe some key ones I definitely could have played better. You’ve got to think if I were playing matches, I wouldn’t miss some of those points.”

Still, Tan was a point from victory at 6-5, and Williams erased that with a forehand winner — beginning a seven-point run that not only sent the match to a tiebreaker but put her ahead 4-0 in it.

Yet Tan would not go gently. She grabbed five points in a row for a 5-4 lead in the new final-set tiebreaker format adopted this year by all four tennis majors: first to 10 points, win by two.

At crunch time, when Williams has excelled so often on so many big stages, she faltered. Tan came through.

Next for Tan is a second-round match Thursday against No. 32 seed Sara Sorribes Tormo of Spain. Sorribes Tormo advanced by defeating American qualifier Christina McHale 6-2, 6-1.

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Vlad Gets Walk-Off Single, Jays Beat Red Sox – Bluebird Banter



Red Sox 5 Blue Jays 6

What a great bottom of the ninth. Down a run:

  • Alejandro Kirk, pinch-hitting, led off with a single. He’s having a fairy tale season.
  • Bradley Zimmer pinch-ran for Kirk. Zimmer is worth the roster spot for this role.
  • Springer walked to move Zimmer to second. Great at-bat.
  • Bo singles the other way on the first pitch of his at-bat. Tie game. Just amazing.
  • And Vlad gets the walk-off single, after taking two balls off the plate. One of those wonderful moments that we’ll remember all season.

Before the ninth, there were good parts to that game, just not enough of them.

Ross Stripling was very good. 5 innings, 5 hits, 2 earned, 1 walk with 3 strikeouts. He did give up a home run to Trevor Story (a line drive that I didn’t think would stay high enough to clear the wall). And a run in the fifth, Christian Vazquez led off with a single, Franchy Cordero followed with a double. But Ross got a pop out, ground out (scoring the run) and pop out.

He was helped out by some nice defense. In the first, Gabriel Moreno threw out Rob Refsnyder trying to steal second, for a nice strikeout/throwout double play. And in the second inning , Raimel Tapia made an amazing catch on an Alex Verdugo line drive. Tapia ran a long way to make a great diving catch. I don’t think there is any way George Springer could have made the same catch starting from the same spot.

And we did well against Michael Wacha, scoring 4 runs off 7 hits and 3 walks in 5 innings against a guy who came into the game with a 2.34 ERA.

We scored:

  • Three in the first: Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero each took a one-out walk. Teoscar Hernandez doubled home Bo (just a foot short of a home run, and a few inches above Alex Verdugo’s glove (see picture above). And Matt Chapman doubled home two more.
  • One in the third: Lourdes Gurriel led off with a double. A Santiago Espinal single moved him to third and he scored on Gabriel Moreno’s single. It would have been nice to score more but Tapia struck out.

We had runners on most innings. Tapia led off the second with a walk. Teoscar singled to lead off the fifth (but then was doubled off first when he, running on a pitch that was popped up, didn’t get back to first very quickly). Tapia and Springer had back-to-back two-out singles in the sixth. Vlad led off the seventh with a single. But we didn’t bring any of them home.

We had 13 hits. Everyone in the starting lineup had a hit. Santiago (ending a long 0 for), Vlad and Teoscar had two hits each.

Things didn’t go so well for our bullpen:

  • Adam Cimber allowed just a hit in his inning.
  • Trent Thornton gave up a two-run home to Rob Refsnyder, which tied the game. Refsnyder hitting a home run is hard to believe. He was useless with the bat for us.
  • Tim Mayza got the last out of Trent’s seventh. But he gave up 3 hits and the go-ahead run in the eighth.
  • Matt Gage got the last two outs of the eight on one swing. Christian Arroyo lined one that Espinal caught and tossed to second to double up the other Christian Red Sox player.
  • Jordan Romano pitched a scoreless ninth, giving up just a walk.

Jays of the Day: Bo (.265 WPA), Vlad (.245), Springer (.149), Kirk (.134, all on the pinch hit), Springer (.091) and Gage (.087). Let’s give honorable mentions to Tapia for that catch and Espinal for the catch on the lineout in the eighth. That was huge.

Suckage: Mayza (-.261), Thornton (-.249) and Gurriel (-.147, leaving 4 runners on base).

Tomorrow night we go for the sweep. Alek Manoah (9-2, 2.05) vs. Nick Pivetta (8-5, 3.25). Pivetta, being a good Canadian boy should let the Jays win.

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