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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.

___

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Maple Leafs’ Tavares, Marner reunite on top line with Matthews out vs. Oilers – Sportsnet.ca

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The showdown between the hockey’s most dangerous goal-scorer and its most prolific point-getter has been put on hold until Monday, at the earliest.

Auston Matthews, who leads the NHL with 18 goals, will be sidelined with a nagging wrist injury Saturday in Edmonton as the Toronto Maple Leafs visit Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers.

Matthews aggravated his wrist during Wednesday’s overtime victory over the Calgary Flames when he crashed hands-first into the boards. Matthews completed the game, gathering a pair of assists, but coach Sheldon Keefe shielded his top centre from taking faceoffs.

Listed as day-to-day, Matthews missed the team’s full practice Friday and skated with the reserves Saturday morning at Rogers Arena:

“He’s played through some stuff here all year long, and he’s been a complete stud,” Joe Thornton said.

Toronto (15-4-2) has already missed 55 man-games due to injuries this season, and this will mark Matthews’ second absence against the red-hot Oilers, who carry a five-game win streak into the night.

The Leafs will welcome back a trio of healthy players to their lineup, however.

Shutdown defenceman Jake Muzzin (fractured face bone) will don a full cage, and veteran Joe Thornton (lower body) jumps back into the top six.

Beloved backup goalie Jack Campbell (2-0-0) gets his first start since suffering a leg injury on Jan. 24.

“He’s amazing. He was watching some tape [on the plane], and I was laughing because on every clip he makes the save and he tapped someone that’s closest to him,” Justin Holl said, with a smile. “Like, it doesn’t even matter. It could be me, and I didn’t even do anything on the play.”

Matthews’ injury paves the way for a John Tavares–Mitch Marner reunion on the front line.

“We’ve already played a game this season without Auston against the Oilers. Putting John and Mitch together, they’ve got a long history of playing together, and having Joe available today will give our whole group a boost,” coach Sheldon Keefe said.

Tavares enjoyed his most productive season, 2018-19, with Marner on his wing, and the elite playmaker will try to help the captain out of an offensive funk that has seen Tavares score one goal in his past 10 outings.

Thornton skated alongside that duo Friday, staying on the ice to take extra reps with Tavares.

“He just wants the puck all the time, and I think that’s a good sign,” Thornton said of his fellow No. 1 draft pick.

“He always wants to distribute and handle the puck, and he’s not afraid of the puck coming to him so I like that. And, off the ice, a real good guy, an easy guy to talk to. And when he opens up, he’s a surprising guy. It’s nice.”

The Maple Leafs assigned Kenny Agostino and Timothy Liljegren to their taxi squad for this five-game western road trip, while newly acquired forward Alex Galchenyuk and defenceman Martin Marincin have been loaned to the AHL Marlies.

Liljegren, 21, has impressed early this season, putting up six points through eight games with the Marlies.

“Regardless of his start,” coach Sheldon Keefe notes, “he’s someone we’ve wanted to get some games.”

Saturday’s projected lines:

Thornton-Tavares-Marner
Barabanov-Kerfoot-Nylander
Hyman-Engvall-Mikheyev
Petan-Boyd-Spezza

Rielly-Brodie
Muzzin-Holl
Dermott-Bogosian

Campbell
Hutchinson

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Canadiens changes to watch for under interim coach Dominique Ducharme – Sportsnet.ca

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Will the real Montreal Canadiens please stand up?

The Canadiens’ first 10 games of the season, they were the best team in the NHL. Their last nine games: 29th.

Montreal’s loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday was a microcosm of their season to date. A solid first half followed by a disastrous second half. The Canadiens led 3-1 halfway through Thursday’s game and then fell apart. Winnipeg scored five unanswered goals en route to a 6-3 win.

“We cracked,” said the Canadiens newly appointed interim head coach Dominique Ducharme. “We cracked mentally. We cracked physically.”

It all started well enough. In the first period the Canadiens looked like the early-season team that torched their opponents with quick puck movement and speed. Joel Armia scored twice on quick-ups that caught the Jets defence off guard.

That’s the Canadiens team we saw in their first 10 games. A team that played on its toes, not its heels.

When Montreal is attacking as they did in the first 30 minutes of Thursday night’s game, they are a tough team to handle. Montreal led the NHL in rush chances and goals through its first 10 games of the season. It’s no coincidence that when the offence dried up, so too did the wins.

While the Canadiens excelled at creating and capitalizing off the rush early in the season, those chances faded away as their opponents adapted. The Canadiens adapted as well and more or less made up the difference in scoring chances/expected goals by creating offence in different ways. In the final eight games of Claude Julien’s tenure, Montreal ranked third in cycle scoring chances and first in chances off the forecheck and off rebounds. In-zone offence as opposed to the high-volume off the rush opportunities.

The plan to score goals once set up in the offensive zone under Julien was fairly straightforward. Move pucks low-to-high and shoot from the point with traffic in front of the net. Deflections, rebound chances, screens and recovering loose pucks was the name of the game.

While this strategy did produce a fair amount of quality shots due to the sheer volume of shots the Canadiens produced, Montreal struggled to score goals once defending teams were set up in the defensive zone. The Canadiens simply could not convert these chance types at even a league-average rate. It was rush or bust and the rush was gone. Entering Thursday’s game, the Canadiens had scored 39 per cent of their goals this season off the rush. No team relied more on rush offence than Montreal.

Ducharme hinted that the Canadiens’ strategy in the offensive zone would be tweaked, emphasizing more puck support to give the puck carrier more options. We saw examples of this Thursday night. Midway through the first period Jonathan Drouin had a chance to move the puck to the point, but instead tried to pass it into the slot. Moments later, he worked a give-and-go with Nick Suzuki that created a scoring chance.

Late in the second period, Joel Armia has the puck behind the net and looks for Drouin in the slot, but he’s covered. So, Armia works the puck to the blue line, but instead of a point shot from Shea Weber, Drouin makes himself available in the middle of the ice where Weber hits him with a pass. After fumbling the puck, Drouin stick-handles himself out of trouble for a scoring chance.

These are the type of plays Canadiens fans can expect to see more of under Ducharme.

Whether this in-zone adjustment will prove more effective than the low-to-high, volume-shooting approach Julien favoured remains to be seen. One game is a small sample but sure enough, all three of Montreal’s goals against Winnipeg came off the rush.

That said, how Montreal creates its offence may not matter much if the Canadiens can’t do a better job of keeping the puck out of their own net. Defensive breakdowns and an inability to get a timely save cost the Canadiens more than anything in their loss to the Jets. While Carey Price wasn’t the reason Montreal lost the game, the goal he allowed to Nate Thompson that proved to be the game-winner was the type of deflating goal that can sink a team.

“I just think maybe I’m overthinking things,” Price said after the loss.

Perhaps taking some time to recapture his game is what will serve Price and the Canadiens best right now. When he’s on his game, there are few goalies better in the world. So far this season, Price’s performance has been below average, though.

GM Marc Bergevin acquired Jake Allen to give Price something he has not had in recent years: A competent back-up capable of easing Price’s workload when needed. This might be the time for that. Allen has not only outperformed Price in the seven games he’s played this season, he’s been one of the best goalies in the goalie graveyard that is the North Division.

The last stat on the graphic above — goals saved above expected — shows that Allen is saving his team approximately one goal every three games beyond expected, based on the shot quality and quantity he faces. Price is costing the Canadiens roughly a goal every two games. Among 47 qualified goalies, Allen ranks ninth overall in that statistic, while Price ranks 43rd.

It will take more than one game for the Canadiens to familiarize themselves with how Ducharme wants them to play. Certainly more than one game for the team to start executing with a high degree of consistency. A few more saves at key times might be the difference between a win or a loss in the coming games, which is significant for a team that looks as fragile as the Canadiens do right now.

The Canadiens get another crack at the Jets Saturday night on Hockey Night in Canada. We’ll see which Habs team shows up. The first half team that plays on its toes or the second half version that plays on its heels.

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With six coaches out, Sergio Scariolo steps in to lead Toronto Raptors to win – ESPN

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For Sergio Scariolo, this was just another game.

The Toronto Raptors assistant coach slid over into the head coach’s chair, leading the team to a 122-111 win over the Houston Rockets in Tampa Bay on Friday night. The win came despite Toronto being without star Pascal Siakam, head coach Nick Nurse and five other Raptors assistants because of health and safety protocols.

But even with Toronto down another assistant in Chris Finch, who earlier this week became the head coach in Minnesota, the Raptors still had a pretty experienced man on the bench to handle the job.

Scariolo has 25 years of coaching experience overseas, and since 2009 has been the head coach of the Spanish national team, with which he won the FIBA Eurobasket tournament three times (2009, 2011 and 2015) and the FIBA World Cup (2019). He also coached Spain to a silver medal at the 2012 Olympics and a bronze medal at the 2016 Olympics.

So no, this wasn’t his first rodeo.

In fact, Scariolo served as a head coach just last week as he coached Spain for the Eurobasket qualifiers in Poland on Feb. 19 and 21. Spain won both of those games.

“It’s a 3-0 week,” Raptors guard Kyle Lowry said.

Originally quarantining this week after he returned from Poland, Scariolo became available to rejoin the team on Friday, just as the health and safety protocols took out the coaching staff. Scariolo said he got back from Poland on Monday and spent the rest of the week away from the Raptors. He drove to Miami, where the Raptors played on Wednesday, but still stayed separate from the team; he drove back to Tampa in the same car the day after the game.

Scariolo said the team started to put a plan in action Thursday, with the Raptors having reassigned tasks to the coaches who would still be able to be with the team by Friday morning. The team also had to alter its pregame routine because tests didn’t come back on time, so the Raptors had to have one joint film session before getting on the floor without a walk-through.

“So it was kind of reacting every time to something different, but at the end of the day, we got the W, so who cares,” Scariolo said.

Scariolo said he had a video call with Nurse before the game and credited Nurse’s philosophy and the teamwork he has instilled in the coaching staff for helping to make the transition as smooth as possible. He also credited his own experience as a head coach.

“Honestly, it didn’t feel too much difference with the 1,500 games I’ve coached before,” Scariolo said. “I felt that we were prepared getting into the game because everybody made his contribution and this is what it takes in a team sport like basketball.”

Lowry and guard Fred VanVleet tried to downplay the situation as much as possible, but Lowry made sure to grab the ball after the buzzer and present it to Scariolo after the game. Scariolo said that basketball will go next to other balls players have given to him following medal games or other championships throughout his career.

VanVleet said the team tried to keep things the same as much as possible so as not to try to overcorrect something that didn’t need to be corrected.

“I think I kind of came to grips with that pretty early on once they made a decision that obviously those coaches were going to be out. I didn’t really want to overreact to it,” VanVleet said. “I think it’s one of those things that you probably put a little bit too much stock into, but the game doesn’t change.

“The way we need to play doesn’t change. The way we play doesn’t change. So just having a different voice out there, obviously, that’s why you have a strong coaching staff for situations like this. Obviously, Sergio has been a great head coach for a long time. He’s been doing it at a high level, so plugging him in was pretty simple to do.”

The Raptors didn’t release the names of the coaches who missed the game, but Jim Sann, Jamaal Magloire and Mark Tyndale were spotted along the Raptors’ bench and received shoutouts from VanVleet and Lowry after the game.

Scariolo said he doesn’t know how long he’ll serve as the acting head coach, adding that the team will continue to operate on the fly until it knows more. While he had talked to Nurse before the game, he hadn’t talked to him before meeting with reporters postgame. There were more important matters to take care of first.

“I will make sure I get tested first, this is my first test and I don’t want to make a mistake right now,” he said. “We can’t afford it. Then, for sure, we’ll talk.”

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