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'Powerhouse' Auston Matthews gets physical amid 'MVP-type season' – TSN

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​TSN Toronto Reporter Mark Masters reports on the Maple Leafs, who practised at the Ford Performance Centre on Tuesday before travelling to Montreal for Wednesday night’s game against the Canadiens.


Auston Matthews finished 10th in Hart Trophy voting last season. The Leafs centre is on track to play a more prominent role in the most-valuable-player discussion this year. 

“He’s a special player who’s putting together an MVP-type season,” said veteran forward Jason Spezza

Matthews has scored in eight straight games he’s played in and leads the National Hockey League in goals with ​11.

“He’s playing two-way hockey,” Spezza observed. “He’s up and down the ice. He controls the play and is scoring big goals for us at big times.”

The latest timely tally came in the third period on Monday against the Vancouver Canucks when Matthews blasted a one timer along the ice and past a bewildered Braden Holtby. It was his fifth game-winning goal of the season, which also leads the league. It allowed the Leafs to earn two points on a night when they weren’t at their best. 

Matthews, who described the win as “ugly,” appeared to be frustrated in the second period with the Lady Byng Trophy nominee taking his first penalty of the season. But when it mattered most, Matthews stepped up. 

“He held his composure,” Spezza revealed. “He spoke up a little bit in the room. He’s growing in his confidence as a leader.”

“He’s playing some excellent hockey,” Canadiens goalie Carey Price told reporters in Montreal. “His game speaks for itself. He’s a powerhouse guy and he’s got an amazing shot … It’s fun to watch him play out there when I’m not on the ice with him.”

Price on Matthews: ‘It’s fun to watch him play… when I’m not on the ice with him’

Carey Price talks about Auston Matthews and why they’ll need to limit his time and space on Wednesday. He explains why it’s fun to watch him play as long as he’s not on the ice with him. Josh Anderson talks about their rivalry with the Leafs and why it should only heat up with both teams at the top of the North.

Matthews is an imposing figure at 6-foot-3, but hasn’t always been the most physical player. However, this season he’s landing more bodychecks than ever before. He led Toronto with four hits on Monday.

“It’s tough enough playing against forwards of his calibre,” said Leafs defenceman Travis Dermott, “but when they start hitting and doing stuff that makes your life even harder then it steps to a different level so it’s great to see that coming out of Matty. I’m sure he’ll keep it going and have a few more tricks up his sleeve as well.”

Matthews is at 4.3 hits per 60 minutes so far this year, which is way up from 1.6 last season. The Arizona native always owned a howitzer of a shot, but is now consistently praised by teammates for his attention to detail defensively. 

“He gets in people’s way,” said Mitch Marner. “He’s doing better defensive-wise getting the puck back in our own zone.”

— 

This is the first season Matthews and Marner have started on the same line from Day 1 of training camp. 

“You’re seeing their chemistry really evolve,” said Spezza. “They’re learning to find each other in the soft spots of the rink. They’re two very different players, but they think the game on the same level so they complement each other really well and our team is benefiting from them reading off each other. We’re really seeing, even in practice, that their chemistry is better and better.”

The Matthews-Marner magic was certainly evident on Monday. The game-winning goal came moments after an offensive zone faceoff, which Matthews won. It was a play they clearly had in mind before the puck dropped. 

“Mitch just came up to me and said, ‘Look for me,’ so that’s what I did and then he did the rest with Auston,” said defenceman Rasmus Sandin who picked up a secondary assist on the play. “It wasn’t too hard.”

Marner has now picked up a point in eight straight games. 

“I just try to pop open for him,” Matthews said. “[Zach Hyman] had a really great screen there and I just tried to shoot it as hard as I can. Sandy made a quick play in and out, it just happened really quick.​”

Matthews and Marner were also on the ice for Toronto’s first goal. Marner controlled the play high in the Canucks zone before getting the puck to the net and forcing Nate Schmidt into an awkward situation. The defenceman, who was battling with Hyman, tried to kick the puck away, but instead put it right into the wheelhouse of Morgan Rielly who made no mistake. 

“With the structure we have in the offensive zone, it allows for a lot of movement, a lot of opportunity for players to use their skills and move to different spots,” said coach Sheldon Keefe. “There’s nothing really set in terms of where people should be in our structure. It’s a matter of motion and movement and placing people and, you look at last night as an example, it’s not exactly something you would practice, but it’s well within the structure and things we talk about.”

Keefe has designed a system that allows his high-end players like Matthews and Marner to freelance in the offensive zone. 

“The key is to allow their instincts to take over,” he said. “That’s a part of who they are and that’s why you want to have players like that so you need to give them that freedom.”

After missing the last two games, Dermott skated on the third pair with Zach Bogosian at practice.

“Just a really fun charley horse,” a smiling Dermott said of his injury. “It’s a little more nagging than you expect it to be when it’s just, technically, a bruise, but the boys here have been great helping me get it figured out, get it loose and getting me back pretty quick. I feel pretty good now and just waiting to get in the lineup.”

Dermott sustained the injury last Thursday when he attempted to avoid a hit by Canucks forward Tyler Motte

“I tried to kind of get out of the way and I left my leg too late behind me,” Dermott said. “I don’t think it was a dirty hit by any means and I take the onus on me for being too slow.” 

Leafs Ice Chips: Mikheyev with Tavares; Dermott returns

Travis Dermott was back at Leafs practice on Tuesday, after leaving Thursday’s game against the Canucks in the first period with what the defenceman described as a ‘fun’ charley horse. TSN’s Mark Masters has more on his return and some of the new-look lines and special teams units at practice.

After Columbus Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella decided to bench newly acquired winger Patrik Laine on Monday night, Keefe was asked for his philosophy on sitting players to send a message. 

“Everything’s situational and it’s usually an accumulation of things,” Keefe said. “You don’t overreact to one incident or one different thing. For me, it’s usually the end of a long line of events that have occurred with a lot of communication and discussion. It’s not something I resort to all that often.”

Keefe acknowledged dealing with a star player is a bit different when it comes to this kind of disciplinary action. A top-line player may miss a shift or two while a depth guy could find himself out of the lineup entirely moving forward. 

“Sometimes an in-game benching, while you’re sending a message to a certain player, it can also work against the team and your ability to win a certain game so there’s a balance there as well,”​ Keefe said.

Keefe played for Tortorella when he broke into the NHL with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2000 and learned a lot from his time around the veteran bench boss.  

“Knowing Torts it would have been lots behind the scenes that would’ve led to such a decision,” Keefe said. “It wouldn’t have been anything abrupt. He’s very purposeful with how he goes about things.” 

Keefe on Torts: ‘He’s very purposeful how he goes about things’

Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe played for John Tortorella during his NHL career and says that when he sends a message by benching a player, it is something that has been built up, and not a knee-jerk reaction. Leafs veteran Jason Spezza also shared his thoughts on being benched over the course of his career and how it is looked at differently now.

Toronto got outshot 27-7 in the first two periods on Monday, but Frederik Andersen held the fort. Although after the game the Dane was more interested in praising his teammates than basking in his first-star performance. 

“I’m really proud of how they stuck with it in those two periods and didn’t start cheating for offence or anything like that,” Andersen said. “They kept being inside, trying to take away time and space and not giving up their defensive commitment to force something.”

Keefe felt like the Leafs did a decent job keeping the Canucks to the outside despite all the shots. Still, Andersen needed to make some big saves, including robbing Justin Bailey on a two-on-one rush late in the first period. 

“I feel focused,” Andersen said. “I feel like I’m moving well, tracking the puck well.”

After allowing nine goals in the first two games, Andersen is rolling. He’s got a .919 save percentage in his last nine starts. 

When Andersen is at his best, what’s he doing? 

“Keeping things simple,” he said. “Small movements and easy tracking. Just being ready, reading the play well and keeping the focus on that one-shot-at-a-time mentality. Obviously, it’s a little bit more complicated than that, but just being on top of the puck and seeing it well is the key to my game to make it look easy. When I play my best it looks easier than at other times. I think that’s the main key.”

NHL: Canucks 1, Maple Leafs 3

The Canucks out shot the Maple Leafs 27-7 through two periods, but Auston Matthews broke the tie by extended his goal scoring streak to eight games and Alex Kerfoot scored 11 seconds after that. Frederik Andersen finished with 31 saves and Mitch Marner’s point streak is now at eight games, as Toronto swept the three-game set against the Canucks.

Leafs lines at Tuesday’s practice: 

F

Hyman – Matthews – Marner 
Nylander – Tavares – Mikheyev
Vesey – Kerfoot – Engvall
Petan – Boyd – Spezza 
Barabanov – Brooks

D

Rielly – Brodie 
Muzzin – Holl
Dermott – Bogosian 
Lehtonen – Sandin

G

Andersen 
Hutchinson 
Woll

*Injured players Joe Thornton and Nick Robertson also took part in practice. 

Leafs power-play units at Tuesday’s practice: 

PP1

Rielly 
Matthews – Petan – Marner 
Hyman 

PP2

Brodie 
Nylander – Tavares – Spezza 
Mikheyev

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In the Habs' Room: Canadiens played a perfect game — till they 'cracked' – Montreal Gazette

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It was unreasonable to think Dominique Ducharme could produce a turnaround after one morning skate.

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Dominique Ducharme and his staff have a lot of work to do.

It was unreasonable to think the new head coach could produce a turnaround after one morning skate, but the Canadiens didn’t look much different than they have over the past two weeks leading up to the dismissal of Claude Julien.

The Winnipeg Jets rallied from a 3-1 deficit to beat the Canadiens 6-3 Thursday at Bell MTS Place.

Ducharme said the Canadiens played a perfect game for 30 minutes before they “cracked” — mentally and physically.

Carey Price hasn’t been very good this season, but Ducharme gave him a vote of confidence by starting him. When asked to evaluate Price’s performance — six goals on 31 shots — Ducharme said the $10.5-million man was “like the team, he’s part of the team.” That means he was good at the start and not so good as the game went on and the Jets increased the pressure.

The Canadiens need Price to be a great goaltender but he’s not even good right now. After Thursday’s blitz, he has a 5-4-3 record with a 3.13 goals-against average and an .888 save percentage. In the past, a struggling Price has been able to step away and work with goaltending coach Stéphane Waite but, with the compressed schedule, that’ s a luxury the Canadien can’t afford.

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Ducharme said the Canadiens have to get better at both ends of the ice.

“I think we can be much better with the puck breaking out,” Ducharme said. “We have to be making stronger plays. That doesn’t mean throwing the puck away. We have to be stronger in our decisions, making high-percentage plays in our zone.

“Defending the zone, I thought we did a pretty good job early in the game (but) the more it went, the more we were backing in,” added Ducharme. “There were less turnovers in the neutral zone, less counters, not playing as fast. It all comes together.

“We’re a little fragile right now.,” said Ducharme. “It’s normal. We have to find a way to control the things that we have the ability to control. We didn’t do good work in that aspect of the game. We made mistakes that led to scoring chances and goals.”

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Jonathan Drouin noted that Winnipeg has some talented players on their top two lines but one of the themes going into this season was the Canadiens’ depth and their ability to roll four lines.

The depth was in play Thursday as Joel Armia started the game on the fourth line and scored two  first-period goals.

But the depth took a hit when Josh Anderson left the in the first period with an undisclosed injury.

Ducharme said the injury was a double whammy because Anderson is a talented player and his absence forced the coach to double-shift Armia and Corey Perry on the No. 2 line with Drouin and Nick Suzuki.

Ducharme said he didn’t think the injury was serious but more tests will be needed before he is cleared to play in Saturday’s rematch between the Jets and the Canadiens.

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The game provided a boost of confidence for Phil Danault, who was reunited with longtime linemates Tomas Tatar and Brendan Gallagher. Danault was on the ice for nearly 22 minutes and finished the game as a plus-1 although he struggled in the faceoff circle, winning only nine of 22 draws.

Faceoffs continue to be a problem for the entire team. The Canadiens won only 40 per cent of their draw and the only centre over 50 per cent was Suzuki, who won seven of 13 draws. Jesperi Kotkaniemi won only one of six.

phickey@postmedia.com

twitter.com/zababes1

  1. Canadiens goaltender Carey Price is beaten by Jets forward Kyle Connor in Winnipeg Thursday night.

    New coach, same old Canadiens as they fall 6-3 to the Jets

  2. Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin watches his team's game against the Toronto Maple Leafs during second period in Montreal on Feb. 10, 2021.

    Stu Cowan: Players forced Canadiens GM’s hand in firing of Julien

  3. MONTREAL, QUE.: SEPTEMBER 14, 2018 -- New Montreal Canadiens assistant coach Dominique Ducharme speaks to players during training camp practice at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard on Friday September 14, 2018.  (John Mahoney} / MONTREAL GAZETTE) ORG XMIT: 61367 - 9188

    New Canadiens coach Dominique Ducharme looks calm, cool and confident

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Canadiens vs. Jets recap: Winnipeg spoils Dominique Ducharme’s debut – Habs Eyes on the Prize

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Coming off an overtime loss to the Ottawa Senators that led to the firing of head coach Claude Julien and associate coach Kirk Muller, the Montreal Canadiens hit the road to take on the Winnipeg Jets. But a change behind the bench couldn’t spark the Habs, as the Jets spoiled Dominique Ducharme’s debut with a come-from-behind 6-3 victory.

The Ducharme era began on a promising note, as Montreal reverted to playing a style of hockey that had made them so successful at the beginning of this season. The Canadiens pressured early, using their speed and forechecking to force the Jets to fall back into their own zone.

Having moved away from needlessly dumping and chasing the puck, the Habs instead concentrated on providing more puck support. The defensive core also got in on the action, playing more aggressively and allowing the Canadiens’ offensive lines to challenge Connor Hellebuyck often in the opening minutes of the game.

This strategy would pay off just over halfway through the period, when Alexander Romanov made a heads-up play to spring Joel Armia, who ripped his fourth goal of the season past Hellebuyck to give the Canadiens a 1-0 lead.

Armia would strike again with less than three minutes left in the period, when he redirected a nifty pass from Jonathan Drouin to double Montreal’s lead.

Though the home team did show some flashes of life throughout the opening frame, Carey Price cooly shut down any scoring chances to keep the Jets off the scoreboard to end the period with a 2-0 lead.

The Canadiens’ momentum began slowly unravelling in the second. The Habs were dealt a tough blow, losing Josh Anderson to injury, and the forward did not return to the game. Though Montreal once again pushed early and often, Winnipeg used the first intermission to regroup and counter-attack against a porous Canadiens defence.

Kyle Connor took advantage of a defensive breakdown to cut Montreal’s lead in half just under five minutes into the frame on the Jets’ first man advantage of the night, when a delay of game penalty was called against Shea Weber.

The Habs responded with a power play marker of their own shortly after, when Neal Pionk was sent off for high-sticking Nick Suzuki. Jesperi Kotkaniemi blew past Nathan Beaulieu to set up a two-on-zero situation with Tomas Tatar, and the Slovak had no trouble burying his fifth of the season to restore Montreal’s two-goal lead.

But that did little to deter the Jets, who used their new-found confidence to go on the offensive. Winnipeg’s persistence paid off just over halfway through the second, when Connor’s wristshot beat Price to cut the Canadiens’ lead back down to one.

Less than three minutes later, Blake Wheeler’s shot was redirected through traffic to tie the game at three apiece. The two goals scored in under five minutes by Winnipeg took the wind completely out of Montreal’s sails, as the team struggled to regain the dominant form it had shown during the opening frame.

Frustration started seeping in as the Canadiens couldn’t respond with a goal of their own, and instead ended the period taking an unnecessary penalty. Jeff Petry was called for roughing Andrew Copp, and the Jets opened the third period on the man advantage.

Though the Habs were able to successfully kill off that penalty and a subsequent high-sticking call against Ben Chiarot, the team put up little resistance to the home team’s offensive pressure. This tepidity would come back to haunt Montreal, when Nate Thompson slipped a shot through Price’s pads to give Winnipeg its first lead of the game — on a goal that Price would definitely like back.

Both teams continued to exchange penalties in the third period. Wheeler was called for hooking Tatar just over seven minutes in, while just under three minutes later Joel Edmundson was given two minutes for slashing Mark Scheifele’s stick away.

Though neither team was able to score on the man advantage, Pierre-Luc Dubois extended his team’s lead seconds after the Edmundson penalty expired. Dubois made quick work of a Canadiens turnover in their own zone and took advantage of scrambling defensive work to extend Winnipeg’s lead to 5-3.

Trying to put some life back into his team, Corey Perry fought Nikolaj Ehlers, but his efforts went to waste as Montreal continued to play more passive hockey and eventually ended up surrendering an empty-net goal to Scheifele.

A strong performance in the opening period became completely undone as the Canadiens gave up five unanswered goals to drop this game to the Jets. Montreal will need to re-group and figure out a way to stanch the bleeding, when they face off against Winnipeg again this Saturday.

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Ex-US Olympics gymnastics coach kills himself after abuse charges – Al Jazeera English

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A former United States Olympics gymnastics coach with ties to disgraced sports doctor Larry Nassar killed himself on Thursday, hours after being charged with turning his Michigan gym into a hub of human trafficking by coercing girls to train and then abusing them.

John Geddert faced 24 charges that could have carried years in prison had he been convicted. He was supposed to appear in an Eaton County court, near Lansing, but his body was found at a rest area along Interstate 96, according to state police.

“This is a tragic end to a tragic story for everyone involved,” Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said.

Nessel earlier announced  Geddert was charged with several crimes, including sexual assault, human trafficking and running a criminal enterprise. The charges were the latest fallout from the sexual abuse scandal involving Nassar, a former Michigan State University sports doctor now in prison.

Geddert, 63, was not arrested and transported to court. Rather, Nessel’s office allowed him to show up on his own.

“We had no indication that Geddert intended to flee or hurt himself or others. We had been in contact with his attorney and were assured of his cooperation,” Nessel spokeswoman Kelly Rossman-McKinney said.

Calls seeking comment from lawyer Chris Bergstrom were not immediately returned.

Geddert was head coach of the 2012 US women’s Olympic gymnastics team, which won a gold medal. He was long associated with Nassar, who was the Olympic team’s doctor and also treated injured gymnasts at Twistars, Geddert’s Lansing-area gym.

Among the charges, Geddert was accused of lying to investigators in 2016 when he denied ever hearing complaints about Nassar. But the bulk of the case against him involved his gym in Dimondale and how he treated the young athletes whose families paid to have them train under him.

The charges against Geddert had “very little to do” with Nassar, said Assistant Attorney General Danielle Hagaman-Clark.

Geddert was charged with using his strong reputation in gymnastics to commit a form of human trafficking by making money through the forced labour of young athletes.

“The victims suffer from disordered eating,” Nessel said, “including bulimia and anorexia, suicide attempts and attempts at self-harm, excessive physical conditioning, repeatedly being forced to perform even when injured, extreme emotional abuse and physical abuse, including sexual assault.

“Many of these victims still carry these scars from this behaviour to this day,” the attorney general said.

Nessel acknowledged the case might not fit the common understanding of human trafficking.

“We think of it predominantly as affecting people of colour or those without means to protect themselves … but honestly it can happen to anyone, anywhere,” she said. “Young impressionable women may at times be vulnerable and open to trafficking crimes, regardless of their stature in the community or the financial wellbeing of their families.”

Geddert was suspended by Indianapolis-based USA Gymnastics during the Nassar scandal. He told families in 2018 that he was retiring.

Victims and others look on as Rachael Denhollander, the first gymnast to publicly accuse Nassar of sexual abuse in 2016, speaks at the sentencing hearing for Larry Nassar [File: Brendan McDermid/Reuters]

USA Gymnastics said in a statement late on Thursday news about the charges against Geddert would “lead to justice through the legal process”.

“With the news of his death by suicide, we share the feelings of shock, and our thoughts are with the gymnastics community as they grapple with the complex emotions of today’s events,” the organisation said.

On his LinkedIn page, Geddert described himself as the “most decorated women’s gymnastics coach in Michigan gymnastics history”. He said his Twistars teams won 130 club championships.

But Geddert was often portrayed in unflattering ways when Nassar’s victims spoke during court hearings in 2018. Some insisted he was aware of the doctor’s abuse.

Sarah Klein, a gymnast who trained under Geddert for more than 10 years and was assaulted by Nassar, said the coach’s death was an “escape from justice” and “traumatising beyond words”.

“His suicide is an admission of guilt that the entire world can now see,” said Klein, a lawyer.

Rachael Denhollander, the first gymnast to publicly accuse Nassar of sexual abuse in 2016, said she was proud of the women who stepped forward against Geddert.

“So much pain and grief for everyone,” she said on Twitter after his death. “To the survivors, you have been heard and believed, and we stand with you.”

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