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Postponed Canucks-Flames game no solace for struggling Markstrom – TSN

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The Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks – two teams with identical records and faint playoff hopes – will be forced to wait to face off after two Canucks players and a Vancouver coaching staff member entered the National Hockey League’s COVID-19 protocol Wednesday.

Several hours after both the Flames and Canucks had their morning skates, word came out from the league on Wednesday evening – less than two hours before puck drop in Vancouver – that their matchup would be postponed. 

The NHL will have an update on Thursday. On Tuesday, Canucks forward Adam Gaudette was pulled off the ice during practice after testing positive and added to the protocol list.

The Canucks and Flames have both fallen short of expectations this season in the North Division, stumbling to the same 16-18-3 record two-thirds of the way through the 2020-21 season.

For the Flames, playing Wednesday evening would have been the last opportunity for starting goalie Jacob Markstrom to salvage a substandard month. In March, he compiled a 4-6-1 record with a 3.02 goals-against average and .890 save percentage.

On Tuesday, the 31-year-old goalie slammed his stick in frustration at the end of practice after allowing a shootout goal.

“It’s my job to keep the puck out of the net, and I’m not doing that to the level where I want,” he said afterwards. “You want to win the goalie battle against the other goalie, and I’m not doing that. That’s really frustrating.”

Early on under Darryl Sutter, it’s clear that the veteran coach’s habit of riding his starting goalies hasn’t gone away.

Since the two-time Stanley Cup winner was hired in early March, Markstrom has started eight of 11 games, with David Rittich mostly getting action on the second half of back-to-backs.

Markstrom’s rough stretch even prompted Sutter to go against a tenant of his coaching philosophy – yanking a starting goalie.

Sutter despises the notion of pulling his goalie from a game.

It’s a belief he’s ascribed to for much of his 1,296-game coaching career that has spanned four decades.

“Not for one shift, second, minute, anything,” Sutter said after a Flames loss on March 17 where Markstrom allowed seven goals on 30 shots against the Edmonton Oilers.

“I’m on-record for this. Every team I’ve ever coached: I do not pull the goalie. I hate pulling the goalie, it’s like benching somebody and I do not believe (in) that. I believe they stick with their teammates and fight their way out of it just like everyone else.”

Less than two weeks later and with the Flames in a tailspin, that quote rings all the more significant. After allowing four goals on 23 shots versus the Winnipeg Jets on Monday, Markstrom was pulled after the second period – a move clearly at odds with Sutter’s stated philosophy.

Since Miikka Kiprusoff retired in 2013, it’s been a steady diet of the likes of Cam Talbot, Reto Berra, Joni Ortio, and Niklas Backstrom (among several others) between the pipes for Flames fans … stopgaps that the organization hoped would turn into long-term solutions, but never ultimately did.

And surely the Flames organization didn’t anticipate facing those familiar questions again so soon after inking Markstrom to a six-year, $36 million pact – the richest contract the team has ever given a goalie – this past off-season. They also standardized their approach to the position, unveiling a goaltending department led by former pro Jordan Sigalet and bringing in ex-NHLer Jason LaBarbera to work with both Markstrom and Rittich.

Early on, the commitment to the pivotal position paid dividends: In January, Markstrom was 11th among 64 NHL goalies in save percentage (.929) and 16th in goals-against average (2.18), and through the first four weeks of the season he had logged more minutes than all but two goalies (fellow North Division netminders Frederik Andersen and Mikko Koskinen).

Since coming out of his crease to charge Canucks forward Tanner Pearson in a race for the puck on Feb. 17 (and subsequently being placed on the injured reserve), however, Markstrom’s play has faltered.

After returning, he’s 4-6-1 while allowing over three goals per game and stopping less than 90 per cent of shots. This year, he’s allowed more than three goals seven times in 26 starts and rarely stolen a game for a team that will effectively be in must-win games through the end of the pandemic-shortened 56-game season.

For his part, Markstrom emphatically shrugged off the notion that the collision with his ex-teammate turned his season in the wrong direction, and Sutter has stood by his starting goalie.

“I’ve coached a lot of really good goalies,” Sutter said. “(Markstrom) has the ability to reach that level of those guys if he sticks with it and works his way through it.”

Markstrom has proven to be capable of that in the recent past. Between 2017-18 and 2019-20, among the 36 goalies with at least 100 starts he was 16th in save percentage (0.914) and 18th in GAA (2.74) while playing more than just six other goalies in the league. He also finished fourth in Vezina voting last season.

“The urge to play better, I would say, is very high,” Markstrom said prior to Tuesday’s flight to Vancouver. “I obviously try to push myself in practice but, at the end of the day, you have to get the work done in the games and I’m not happy with my performance.”

Markstrom is surely relieved that the month of March is over, but there’s no time to dwell on the past as the Flames play their first game of April Friday night against the surging Oilers in Edmonton.

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Boston Bruins Add Offense With Solid Taylor Hall Trade – Boston Hockey Now

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The Boston Bruins clearly understood they had serious deficiencies on their NHL roster this season and credit them for going and doing something about it.

The B’s finished off their Sunday night fireworks ahead of the NHL trade deadline by sending a second round pick and Anders Bjork to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for top-6 winger Taylor Hall and bottom-6 forward Curtis Lazar. TSN’s Darren Dreger, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman and ESPN’s John Buccigross were the first to report about the completed deal between the Bruins and Buffalo Sabres in the hours following the B’s getting stomped by the Washington Capitals, 8-1, at TD Garden.

The Buffalo Sabres retained half of the $8 million salary that Hall signed for prior to the start of the 2021 hockey season.

The 29-year-old Hall is having a terrible season in Buffalo with just two goals and 19 points in 37 games along with a minus-21 rating after he chose to sign a one-year deal with the Sabres during the offseason. But he brings legitimate offensive talent as a former No. 1 overall pick and Hart Trophy winner to a Boston Bruins team that’s ranked in the bottom third of the NHL offensively all season.

The Bruins were one of the suitors for Hall prior to him choosing the Sabres months ago, and now they get him for a deep discount while keeping their own first round picks after making their deadline deals.

Holding onto their own first round pick was a priority for Boston Bruins GM Don Sweeney after spending first rounders at the deadline in two of the last three deadlines in trades for damaged goods Rick Nash and Ondrej Kase.

The 26-year-old Lazar has five goals and 11 points in 33 games as a bottom-6 forward for the Sabres this season and is signed for $800,000 for next season. It seemed clear that something was going on with the 24-year-old Anders Bjork over the last couple of weeks as he was a healthy scratch for five straight games, including Sunday night against Washington, and heads to Buffalo hoping to further develop a game built on speed and skill level that hasn’t translated into offense as of yet.

Hall should fit right into the top-6 with the Bruins as a skilled winger for playmaking center David Krejci, but it remains to be seen how he’s going to fit as another left winger on a team with Nick Ritchie and Jake DeBrusk.

Either Ritchie or DeBrusk is going to have to play the off wing with a Krejci/Hall combo, but that’s a problem that Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy will gladly figure out after being forced to piece together lineups all season due to injuries and offensive inconsistency. With the acquisition of Hall, Lazar and left-handed defenseman Mike Reilly on Sunday night, it would appear the Boston Bruins are largely done with deals ahead of Monday’s NHL trade deadline.

Interestingly enough, the Boston Bruins are set to play the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night at TD Garden.

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Drouin must return to mentality that’s led to success this season – Sportsnet.ca

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It was something Dominique Ducharme said after his Montreal Canadiens played an abysmal game against the Ottawa Senators last week, something that only truly resonated after they lost 3-2 to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday — a game that emboldened the struggle Jonathan Drouin’s currently enduring.

“Ninety per cent of the mistakes we made were mental, and the rest of it was above our shoulders.” the coach said after the 6-3 loss to Ottawa last Saturday, somewhat channelling New York Yankees legend Yogi Berra with this bit of wit and wisdom.

It was hard not to think of those words watching Drouin play the way he did on Wednesday. For much of this season, the talented left winger has played a primary role in Montreal’s success. He’s led them with 19 assists, been tenacious on the forecheck, physically engaged all over the ice, cerebral as always in his execution and, as he’s said on several occasions, relatively unconcerned by whether or not his name has been featured on the scoresheet.

But it seemed clear, after watching Drouin dump a breakaway into Jack Campbell’s chest with one of 32 shots the Maple Leafs goaltender turned aside to set a franchise record with his 10th consecutive win, he had diverted from that. And that affected the way he played the rest of the game.

It was Drouin’s fifth in a row without a point, his 18th without a goal, and he’d have to be a robot not to be suffering the mental wear of not seeing the puck go in more than twice since the season started, the torment of seeing only three per cent of his shots hit the back of the net through 36 games after 10 per cent of them resulted in goals through the first 348 games of his career.

“It is weighing on me where, when I have a chance and miss the goal, I might be trying to score too much,” Drouin said. “It’s something I obviously think about — every player would — and I’ve just gotta put it past me and just keep shooting pucks.”

Ideally, the 26-year-old wouldn’t be thinking about any of this. These are thoughts that weigh a player down and right now the Canadiens are in tough without Brendan Gallagher for the rest of the season and Drouin needs to be light and free to help account for that loss. And in order for him to do that, he needs to focus on what he does best.

Because the reality is that even though Drouin can score more, scoring isn’t what he needs to do in order to be at his best and really help this team.

“When his feet are moving and he’s making plays, Drou’s a pass-first guy,” explained Jake Allen, who made 29 saves in Carey Price’s absence. “When his feet are moving, his head’s always in it. When his feet are moving, he’s controlling the play, controlling the puck. He’s a guy who really can control the play for a whole line. You want the puck on that guy’s stick and let the other guys do the dirty work and he’ll find them.”

But when Drouin’s feet aren’t moving, there just isn’t enough of that other stuff happening.

When Drouin’s feet weren’t moving, he lost a battle for the puck in the offensive zone and allowed the NHL’s leading goal scorer to start the rush that resulted in the winning play of Wednesday’s game.

Auston Matthews to Mitch Marner, back to Matthews, off Allen and slammed into Montreal’s net by Zach Hyman with 9:39 remaining in the third period, with Drouin watching from just inside his own blue line.

“You give a 3-on-2 to the Matthews line and it’s the kind of play they’re going to make you pay on,” said Ducharme.

Was Drouin still thinking about that shot he didn’t bury in the second period?

It’s understandable if he was, but those are the kind of thoughts he needs to shake right now.

“He wants to do well, and I’m sure it’s getting a little bit in his head,” said Ducharme. “I think the best remedy for him is to be scoring that goal or making that big play, and I think he’s going to be energized by that and less thinking, more acting.

“It is a fine line. Those kind of thoughts is not something that you want to happen. But when you receive that puck and you see the opening and stuff, (the slump) comes back to (your mind). That’s why the mental part of the game is something that’s very tricky. It’s not his will to be thinking that way. Every player who’s going through a time like that will have that thought and scoring that goal will take him to a different level. At those kind of times you need to make it even simpler and being even more inside going at the net and finding a garbage (goal) right there and you put it in and sometimes you go on a little run. It might be that kind of goal that he needs to get that monkey off his back.”

It’s the kind of goal Corey Perry scored twice to give the Canadiens a chance in this game.

But Drouin isn’t Perry, who rightly pointed out after the game he’s made a career of scoring goals that way. And even if Drouin can borrow from what Perry does next time he has a chance like the one Brett Kulak set him up with for that breakaway, there are other ways he can positively impact the game.

You can appreciate that Drouin said he’s putting pressure on himself to score more and help make up for the goals the team will be missing with Gallagher sidelined, but that might not get him to where he needs to be mentally to contribute as much as he already has this season.

What would, though, is a sharp turn towards the mentality he described just days ago. The one that’s enabled him to be a much more consistent player this season than he has in seasons past.

“When I was younger, I’d stay on one game or stay on one play for too long and wouldn’t be able to let it go for a bit or a couple of days,” Drouin said. “But I think for me now it’s can I look at myself in the mirror after a game and did I give my good effort? Was I a part of this game? Was I doing something right in a lot of areas?

“That’s what I do now. I think points are there, goals are there, assists are there, but it’s just about playing that real game and playing to help your team win.”

Drouin’s done a lot of that this season and has a chance to get right back to it when the Winnipeg Jets visit the Bell Centre Thursday.

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Scioscia to lead U.S. baseball bid for spot at Tokyo Olympics

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(Reuters) – Mike Scioscia, who won World Series both as a player and manager, was named manager of the U.S. men’s national baseball team on Tuesday, as they seek a spot at the Tokyo Olympics.

After 19 seasons as manager of the Anaheim Angels, guiding them to their only World Series win in 2002, Scioscia will make his international coaching debut in June when the United States hosts the Baseball Americas Qualifier in Florida.

For the tournament the U.S. will be grouped with the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Nicaragua in Pool A while Canada, Colombia, Cuba, and Venezuela will make up Pool B.

The top two teams from each pool will advance to the Super Round, where the country with the best overall record will earn a spot in the Tokyo Olympic tournament.

Second and third-place finishers will advance to a final qualifier, joining Australia, China, Taiwan, and the Netherlands.

“Mike’s tenure with the Angels’ franchise was nothing short of spectacular, creating and celebrating a culture of success with six division titles, an American League pennant, and its first-ever World Series title,” said USA Baseball Executive Director/CEO Paul Seiler in a statement. “More impactfully, his leadership, integrity, and character are unparalleled in our game, making him the perfect fit for the USA Baseball family.”

The Olympic tournament will take place from July 28-Aug. 7 in Fukushima City and Yokohama.

Hosts Japan, Israel, South Korea, and Mexico have already secured a berth in the six-team field.

 

(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto. Editing by Toby Davis)

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