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Player grades: Oilers can't recover from soft early goal, fall 5-2 to short-staffed Penguins – Edmonton Journal

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Penguins 5, Oilers 2

Fourteen NHL seasons have passed since the last time Pittsburgh Penguins lost in regulation to the Edmonton Oilers. Not since Shawn Horcoff’s hat trick, Jussi Markkanen’s stingy netminding and Chris Prongers 27 minutes of ice time powered the Stanley Cup Finals-bound Oilers to a 3-1 win back in January of 2006 have the Oil toppled the Pens within 60 minutes. Since then Pittsburgh has posted a near flawless 15-0-4 mark with Edmonton scraping out a few regulation ties and some points in gimmick time.

Friday night the homestanding Oilers had a big chance, facing a depleted Penguins squad missing superstar Sidney Crosby and four other regulars who among them account for 35% of the salary cap. Yet after a promising start by the home team, the visiting Penguins went ahead to stay just 8 minutes into the game when third-pairing defenceman Chad Ruhwedel lobbed a 56-foot wrist shot through Mike Smith’s six-hole. The Oilers visibly sagged after that, rebounded in a better second period to cut the deficit to one, but sagged again when Kris Letang bombed home a powerplay goal in the opening minute of the final frame to restore the visitors’ two goal lead. The Pens were in cruise control thereafter, holding the Oil to just one Grade A look in the third period before adding the inevitable empty-netter to seal the deal at 5-2.

Overall the game was fairly close — shots were 28-26 Edmonton, Grade A scoring chances 7 for each club. Those low-event outputs favoured the team with the lead, which was Pittsburgh for the game’s last 52 minutes, 37 of them with a multi-goal bulge including almost the entire third period.

Make it a 3-7-3 mark for the Oil in their last 13 home contests, with all 7 of those regulation losses being by at least 3 goals including the last 3 home games in a row. It’s been tough slogging in the “friendly confines” for two months now.

Player grades

#4 Kris Russell, 4. The brand of hockey he provided — low-event with just 5 shots for, 3 against and no major scoring chances let alone goals during his 13 minutes — would be a lot more useful to a team that was tied or leading.  

#6 Adam Larsson, 6. Played another proactive game with 3 shot attempts, 2 hits and 4 blocked shots, but he was unable to get in the way of Kris Letang’s one-timer on the powerplay that ended the suspense in the opening minute of the third. Nailed another post from distance, something he seems to do fairly often especially when considering how rarely he actually scores. His drive to the net-front helped create some “good chaos” on Sheahan’s goal.

#10 Joakim Nygard, 4. His line did some good work on the forecheck and generated a bit of territorial pressure but nothing dangerous. Took a careless penalty late in the second. In the end it was a wash as each team scored once during the penalty. 1 shot on net, which put him ahead of 5 other Oilers forwards.

#15 Josh Archibald, 6. Played a hard physical game with 8 hits. 0 shot attempts on the night, but did make a key play when he intercepted Evgeni Malkin’s pass, fed the puck ahead to Sheahan and jumped in on the 2-on-1 that resulted in Edmonton’s first shorthanded goal of the entire season. Had one strong defensive stand when he covered off for a pinching D, then wound up covering for the other one as well to be isolated in a one-on-one battle, which he won.

#16 Jujhar Khaira, 4. Played just under 10 minutes, generating 0 shot attempts and chipping in on 0 scoring chances, though he allowed nothing at the other end either. See Russell comment on the usefulness of a quiet game when trailing on the scoreboard.

#18 James Neal, 3. His best weapon is his shot, of which he mustered exactly 0 all night long. Wound up a ghastly -4, while his line largely chased the game, being outshot 12-6 during his 15½ even strength minutes. Part of an ineffective Oilers’ powerplay,

#23 Riley Sheahan, 5. Played 9 minutes at evens during which time the shots on goal were 0-0. Yes, you read that right. He did muster a nice shorthanded goal late in the second to briefly give the Oilers hope, wiring a hard wrister from the slot past Tristan Jarry, but was sucked out of position on the continuing penalty kill early in the third and was tabbed as the major culprit on the clinching goal that followed.

#25 Darnell Nurse, 5. Helped bring Edmonton back into the game when he fired a good low shot that was tipped home by Kassian, but minutes later he handcuffed his partner with a grenade that turned into a breakaway, and a goal, the other way. Skated well, fired 4 shot attempts at one end, blocked 4 at the other.

#29 Leon Draisaitl, 4. Rang the iron yet again early in the second, his NHL-leading 12th goal post of the season. But his line was lit up for 2 goals against, his group a third just after the expiry of an Oilers powerplay, and a fourth on the empty netter. Make it dash-4 on the night and a ghastly -21 in his last 17 games despite scoring 17 points in that span. Was not a visible culprit on the GA in this one. 3 shots, 7 attempts, but 3 giveaways and a mediocre 5/11=45% on the dot. Drew a penalty and had some decent moments, but not enough of them.

#39 Alex Chiasson, 5. A couple shots, a couple hits, and decent possession numbers, but 0 contributions on Grade A looks and not a lot that moved the needle.

#41 Mike Smith, 3. Allowed an awful-looking goal to open the scoring, a long floater that somehow squeezed under his stick arm and dribbled over the goal line as he dove back in vain (pictured). He had a good look at the point of release, though when the puck subsequently went through a couple bodies in front he lost track of its trajectory and couldn’t close the hole. Just a killer GA before Pittsburgh had generated so much as a single Grade A look. With the Oilers subsequently pushing from behind, Smith was beaten on a pair of breakaways, the Pittsburgh forward beating him across the net on a deke to make the backhand deposit both times. Tough saves, but his team needed him to stop at least one of those and he couldn’t. The final tally, Kris Letang’s one-time rocket, was not on the goaltender, but by that point he had faced 4 Grade A chances and had allowed 4 goals. He made a few stops down the stretch and physically challenged Malkin after the big Penguin had crashed the crease, but the damage was long since done and the netminder’s frustration on full display. 25 shots, 21 saves, .840 save percentage. Make it 5 straight games and 8 of his last 10 below .870, with the Oil losing all 8 of those games. One wonders how much longer Ken Holland will sit on his hands.

#44 Zack Kassian, 6. Scored the Oilers first goal on a nifty goal mouth deflection, had a couple more shots and dished out 4 hits. Among the more visible Oilers on the night.

#74 Ethan Bear, 5. Logged over 22 minutes at even strength to lead the D-corps in that category. Earned an assist on Kassian’s goal with a routine pass at the blueline. Made one critical error when he was unable to control Nurse’s D-to-D pass at the right point, and then failed to contain his man Jared McCann who won the puck battle and sped away unmolested on a 140-foot breakaway that produced the game-winning goal. It’s been a rough couple of weeks for the rookie defender.

#77 Oscar Klefbom, 4. Led both teams with 25:55 ice time including all 4 minutes on the powerplay. He was among 5 Oilers who played the full 2 minutes of the first PP only to be caught out at the end of it and burned for a breakaway by the man coming out of the sin bin, who made no mistake. Lost a battle on the PK on the 4-2. Had 9 shot attempts, 5 of them on goal, to lead the Oilers in both departments. Generated a couple of dangerous looks deep in the zone, the best of them a backhand shot which forced a tough save by Jarry.

#82 Caleb Jones, 5. Third pairing wasn’t the problem. Jones managed 3 shots on net, none of them especially dangerous, but also limited the damage at the defensive end.

#89 Sam Gagner, 4. His weak coverage was part of the issue on the Ruhwedel floater, even as the point shot that resulted was eminently stoppable. Had nothing going offensively, underscored by 0 shots on net.

#91 Gaetan Haas, 5. His line with Nygard and Chiasson largely carried play (shots 9-4 Oilers during his 9½ minutes) but generated nothing of danger. He did have one mid-air tip that narrowly missed the target.

#93 Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, 4. Moved up to LW on the McDavid line where he had very little impact on the game, generating 0 shots on net. A couple of passes to set up chances early in the game, very little thereafter. Missed the net from the slot on his one good look on the powerplay. Lost a puck battle just before the 2-0 goal. Took just 1 faceoff as the hand injury that kept him out of the line-up a while back continues to hamper him. Led the forwards with 23:42 in ice time.

#97 Connor McDavid, 5. A few flashes but a quiet overall game by his high standards. Generated a couple of shots on quick opportunities but very little in the way of sustained pressure from his line. Was peripherally involved on Kassian’s goal, working the puck back to the point from where the danger shot was eventually generated. Appeared to score late in the third to cut the deficit to 4-3, but the ref ruled McDavid himself had contacted the goaltender sufficiently to wave it off. Failed to contain the puck at the point on the empty netter. 9/20=45% on the dot, smack dab on the team average for the night. When he and Draisaitl are both held off the sheet, as they were in this one, the Oilers invariably wind up on the short end of the scoreboard.

___

Recently at the Cult of Hockey

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STAPLES: Tippett finally running with the hot hand in Koskinen

McCURDY: Player grades from tight win over Stars 

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Blue Jays’ Game 1 loss hinges on lifeless offence, not pitching moves – Sportsnet.ca

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TORONTO – Keep debating the merits of the Toronto Blue Jays’ pitching strategy all you like, but for Game 1, at least, it worked. Matt Shoemaker and Robbie Ray combined for six innings of relatively uneventful one-run ball, and if ace Hyun-Jin Ryu pitches similarly with his team’s season on the line Wednesday everyone will be thrilled.

That isn’t what cost them their first post-season game since 2016, and it won’t be what costs them the series.

Livestream Toronto Blue Jays games all season with Sportsnet NOW. Plus, watch marquee MLB matchups, the post-season and World Series.

The more glaring concern coming out of Tuesday’s 3-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays is the way lefty Blake Snell overpowered Toronto with a fastball that averaged 95.3 mph, and mixed in his secondary weapons to induce 15 swings out of the zone that led to a foul ball or a miss.

Relievers Diego Castillo, Nick Anderson and Pete Fairbanks also got the Blue Jays to chase, and the departure from the more-disciplined approach is something they’ll need to address before stepping in against Tyler Glasnow with win-or-go-home stakes.

Shoemaker, pitching for the first time since throwing three strong innings against the New York Yankees on Sept. 21, shoved right out of the gate, and was so in control that he needed only 35 pitches to skip through three innings on two weak hits.

That’s why he had to be calmed in the dugout when pitching coach Pete Walker and manager Charlie Montoyo told him he was done. He eventually calmed, perhaps when reminded that this is certainly what looked like the club’s predetermined plan, and Ray took over.

The first batter he faced, Randy Arozarena, ripped a leadoff triple, and after a Nate Lowe strikeout, Ray ripped off a full-count slider to Willy Adames for ball four that just barely squirted through catcher Danny Jansen’s legs as he slid over to block it.

The ball rolled away just far enough for Arozarena to scamper home for a 1-0 lead.

Ray settled in from there with two shutout innings and the Rays were held quiet until the seventh, when Joey Wendle worked a one-out walk off A.J. Cole, who served up a middle-middle cutter that Manuel Margot lined over the wall in left.

The Rays got creative with their pitching deployment, too, pulling Snell with two outs in the sixth despite him allowing only one hit and a walk while striking out nine.

Alejandro Kirk led off the sixth with a single, but was stranded by Castillo, who put on a pair with one out in the seventh. That’s when the Rays turned to Anderson, who got Teoscar Hernandez and pinch-hitter Joe Panik to end the threat.

Toronto finally broke through in the eighth, as pinch-hitter Rowdy Tellez – a surprise addition to the post-season roster – singled, Cavan Biggio doubled and Bo Bichette brought Tellez home with a sacrifice fly. Randal Grichuk followed with a liner to Adames at short, placed well by the Rays, for the final out.

Fairbanks triple-digit fastballed his way around a Lourdes Gurriel Jr. double in the ninth to close things out.

The decision to go with the Shoemaker/Ray tandem over Ryu in Game 1 is among the most polarizing in recent Blue Jays playoff history. A good comparable came in Game 4 of the 2015 AL Division Series, when then-manager John Gibbons pulled R.A. Dickey with two out in the fifth and a 7-1 lead over the Texas Rangers, bringing in David Price in a call that locked in Marcus Stroman as the starter in the decisive fifth game.

While few understood that call, before that game Gibbons watched the Kansas City Royals rally from a 6-2 deficit to stave off elimination with a 9-6 win over the Houston Astros, and was determined to not give the Rangers any life.

This time, the Blue Jays were dealing with vastly different circumstances, facing an opponent eight games better than them in the standings and deeper on a number of levels. That prompted the club to holistically examine how to attack a three-game series – a first for Major League Baseball – and they determined that “in this scenario, Game 1 seemed much less significant than in a traditional scenario, significantly different,” Atkins said.

“We viewed the advantage (in) being able to put our most consistent piece in the middle of those potentially 27-plus innings, as we thought through our strategy, with the added benefit of getting an extra day rest for Hyun-Jin Ryu, an extra day of rest for Taijuan Walker, and then giving our bullpen the chance to be its strongest on Game 1 and Game 3.”

That bucks conventional thinking, fuelling the debate. Since the wild-card era began in 1995, teams that win Game 1 are 126-49 in the series, regardless of round or length, which is why Ryu seemed like an automatic, if he didn’t physically need an extra day.

The Blue Jays and Ryu both said that wasn’t the case, but part of their calculations was that an inability to bring the Game 1 starter back again in a best-of-three – as opposed to making two starts in a longer series – minimized some of the incentive. Another factor was that pitching in Game 2 would still allow Ryu to pitch the opener of the division series, should they get that far.

Also, the Blue Jays felt that if the Rays stacked their lineup with left-handed bats against Shoemaker, putting in Ray would force them to surrender platoon advantage against the lefty, or the righty relievers to follow him later.

Cleverly, Rays manager Kevin Cash countered that by only stacking left-handed batters – Yoshi Tsutsugo and Brandon Lowe – in the first two spots of the order, alternating righties and lefties from there. They only made one move during Ray’s three innings – hitting Hunter Renfroe for Tsutsugo in the fifth.

These types of machinations are part of why the Blue Jays hired Montoyo, after first pursuing his staff-mate on the Rays in Rocco Baldelli, who instead opted for the Minnesota Twins’ managerial opening.

Montoyo brought with him a window into the Rays’ highly respected methodology, so perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that the Blue Jays sought to emulate it.

“That’s one thing I got in every interview I did, it was about the opener and the Rays and the things that they did,” Montoyo said. “So it wasn’t only Ross, it was also with the other teams that (I) interviewed with because credit to the Rays, they’re so creative and what they do is different. At first it looks like, ‘What are they doing?’ But they’re not afraid to take a chance. And that’s what we’re doing here. We’re trying to be creative playing one of the best teams in baseball. That’s why we’re doing what we’re doing.”

In terms of giving themselves a chance, it worked, but in the way it really matters, the final result, there’s going to be little solace in that for the Blue Jays.

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GameThread – Wild Card Game #1: Jays at Rays – Bluebird Banter

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The Blue Jays have somehow made it to the postseason, and as someone who wasn’t around here during the 2015 and 2016 runs, I’m thrilled to be here for this one (as strange as it is).

We have some added info and updates:

Here are today’s lineups. Kirk will DH, Villar gets the start at 2nd Tesocar bats 6th.

Poll

Will this series make it to a game 3?

  • 59%

    Most definitely

    (62 votes)

  • 20%

    Nope, Jays in two

    (22 votes)

  • 20%

    Nope, Rays in two

    (21 votes)



105 votes total

Vote Now

Poll

How many innings will Matt Shoemaker pitch tonight?

  • 42%

    0-3

    (40 votes)

  • 38%

    4

    (37 votes)

  • 15%

    5

    (15 votes)

  • 3%

    6+

    (3 votes)



95 votes total

Vote Now

Poll

Who will have the best offensive night tonight?

  • 6%

    Biggio

    (6 votes)

  • 15%

    Bichette

    (15 votes)

  • 9%

    Hernandez

    (9 votes)

  • 26%

    Kirk

    (25 votes)

  • 19%

    Guerrero

    (18 votes)

  • 19%

    Gurriel

    (18 votes)

  • 0%

    Jansen

    (0 votes)

  • 2%

    Villar

    (2 votes)

  • 1%

    Grichuk

    (1 vote)



94 votes total

Vote Now

GO JAYS GO

We are glad you are here, and hope you feel welcome. As a reminder, we have rules. Mostly it’s “don’t be terrible,” but these days it’s also, “please debate about baseball and not the coronavirus.” If a moderator asks you to stop doing something, please stop. If you want to discuss the rules, don’t do it in the thread. Email Tom instead. We also have a BBB Glossary full of GameThread lingo you can find here.

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LeBron James, Pat Riley put legacies on the line in NBA Finals – Sportsnet.ca

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Decades of NBA lore are built on rivalries — epic, titanic, ego-driven clashes that lend context, subtext and the weight of history to what are otherwise just games.

People pay for that stuff, and the league and its players have cashed in, with money spilling in so quickly that it can barely be counted, let alone spent.

It’s good versus evil; pride and prejudice, and pride going before the fall. It’s Celtics-Lakers; Bird-Magic; Michael vs. the Pistons, Shaq vs. Kobe, KD vs. the Warriors and LeBron over everyone.

Some of it is straight out of the Vince McMahon playbook: storylines that keep the plot twisting through never-ending winters until games that matter finally arrive, at which point the hype machine kicks it up another notch.

If there is a podcasting odd couple, this might be it. Donnovan Bennett and JD Bunkis don’t agree on much, but you’ll agree this is the best Toronto Raptors podcast going.

But some of it is real. Some of it is based on men of giant accomplishments and massive, never-satiated ambitions coming together and pulling apart like tectonic plates on ephedrine, the league’s foundations quaking along the way.

So yeah, the Miami Heat facing the Los Angeles Lakers has some juice to it.

This time it’s not an on-court rivalry that lends the final series of the NBA’s most unusual season its weight — though on paper the young, upstart Heat testing themselves against LeBron James and his insta-dynasty Lakers has all the ingredients to make it suitably delicious.

But what could make it memorable and a new plot point in the league’s decades-long drama is the way it pits two of sport’s most significant, preening, powerful, proud and successful figures against one another.

Heat president Pat Riley is 75 and his Goodfellas-inspired, slicked-back hair has long gone gray. But even in the bubble and wearing a mask, behind a glass partition, he has a presence. When current Heat star Jimmy Butler is looking for approval, he looks up into the stands, devoid of fans, for a post-game thumbs up from Riley. The Heat figurehead is the former Lakers role player turned coach turned executive turned living legend, the one who rode shotgun for Jerry West on the floor; earned Magic Johnson’s trust from the bench before pushing him too far and losing that war of wills after five championships.

Cast out from L.A., Riley perfected bully ball with the New York Knicks in the 90s, very nearly toppling Jordan in the process, before bolting for Miami, where he has somehow fused L.A. cool with New York edge, South Florida weather and no state income tax to create an NBA destination out of almost nothing.

It was Riley’s presence that attracted James after the kid from Akron was all grown up and looking to leave home. Riley plunked down a bag with the nine championships he’d won as a player, coach and executive and promised James he’d win a bunch more if they joined forces in Miami. James, without a title to show for seven years as a good soldier in Cleveland, followed the sun.

It was a perfect union – the world’s greatest player with the NBA’s most recognized superstar whisperer; the coolest, most gangster executive in the game with one more legend to pour his wisdom into. But after four Finals appearances and two championships, James was ready to graduate.

Pat Riley is Pat Riley because he’s his own man. He followed his basketball vision and in Miami created something in his image. “Heat Culture” is Riley: toughness, accountability, loyalty and no compromises.

Sportsnet Tonight

In year 17 of his NBA career, LeBron James is still peaking up to his prime

September 28 2020

But James took his lessons and wanted to improvise, play his own tune and win on his terms. When James left Miami to go back to Cleveland, he was following his own muse, looking to close his own circle and bring a championship back to the most un-Miami place in the league — taking what he learned and bringing it home.

Riley wasn’t having it. He wasn’t used to people saying “No” to him, let alone South Beach. For a moment he lost his cool. He lashed out.

“This stuff is hard. And you go to stay together, if you’ve got the guts,” he said after the Heatles had come up short against the San Antonio Spurs in 2014, triggering the break-up, and plenty of hard feelings. “And you don’t find the first door and run out of it.”

It was a ridiculous thing to say. All James was doing was taking his career into his own hands, launching himself on a trajectory few athletes in any sport have ever aspired to, let alone pulled off. James went back to Cleveland and completed one of the greatest stories in all of sports – bringing a title to his (adjacent) hometown after 52 years of being kicked around or forgotten by the coastal elites. He engineered a comeback from 3-1 against the Golden State Warriors, one of the greatest teams in NBA history. Along the way, James found his voice as a philanthropist and an activist — and proved that he didn’t need Pat Riley to be the primary figure in the NBA.

Riley couldn’t help but be chastened.

“I had two to three days of tremendous anger (after James left),” Riley told Ian Thomsen in 2018’s “The Soul of Basketball,” acknowledging that he hadn’t spoken with James since.

“I was absolutely livid, which I expressed to myself and my closest friends. My beautiful plan all of a sudden came crashing down. That team in 10 years could have won five or six championships.

“But I get it. I get the whole chronicle of (LeBron’s) life.

“While there may have been some carnage always left behind when he made these kinds of moves, in Cleveland and also in Miami, he did the right thing,” Riley told Thompson. “I just finally came to accept the realization that he and his family said, ‘You’ll never, ever be accepted back in your hometown if you don’t go back to try to win a title. Otherwise someday you’ll go back there and have the scarlet letter on your back. You’ll be the greatest player in the history of mankind, but back there, nobody’s really going to accept you.’”

In the moments before Game 7 in 2016, Riley reached out to James, via text: “Win this and be free.”

James never responded. He didn’t need Riley’s affirmation, but from the winner’s circle, he let on the vindication his third title provided.

“When I decided to leave Miami — I’m not going to name any names, I can’t do that — but there were some people that I trusted and built relationships with in those four years (who) told me I was making the biggest mistake of my career,” James told ESPN at the time.

“And that s— hurt me. And I know it was an emotional time that they told me that because I was leaving. They just told me it was the biggest mistake I was making in my career. And that right there was my motivation.”

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Having paid his debt to Cleveland, James eventually set out to make one more bold move in a career defined by them, leaving to join the Lakers in the summer of 2018, all while making a masterful long play to recruit the greatest teammate of his career, Anthony Davis.

After a season in limbo, it has worked out perfectly. The Lakers have been the best team in the West all year and have looked stronger as the playoffs have gone on.

But while Riley may have begun to show his age in the decade since he brought James to Miami as the centrepiece of what he thought would be a dynasty that would challenge the Lakers’ historical hegemony, he hasn’t lost any of his edge.

Since James left, Riley has been rebuilding on the fly: adding, positioning, developing and drafting. This past off-season he pounced and found a new soulmate in Jimmy Butler to lead his hand-picked crew of young talent.

The Heat have grown before everyone’s eyes, including Riley’s, as he looks down approvingly from behind his mask.

Now one more test: will Riley’s new team, built in James’ wake, be able to hand James one more bitter Finals disappointment, a seventh loss — this time to his former mentor — obscuring his three championships?

Or will James have the last laugh, winning his fourth title with his third team and proving that Riley needed him more than the other way around?

There are legacies at stake, and history, and two of the NBA’s proudest, vainest and most successful characters are awaiting one more chapter to be written.

But only one of them is one the floor. Advantage, LeBron.

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