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Quinton Byfield breaks out with 6 points as Team Canada blanks Team Switzerland at World Juniors – TSN

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All it took was some time on the ice for Quinton Byfield to get back up to speed.

“Definitely in camp not playing hockey for eight-to-nine months definitely affects you a little bit,” Byfield said. I” had to ease myself into it a little bit, almost, and I’ve found my footing.”

After recording just one assist through two tournament games, Byfield exploded for a pair of goals and added four assists as Team Canada dominated Team Switzerland 10-0 on Tuesday night to remain undefeated at the 2021 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship.

Selected second overall at the 2020 NHL Draft by the Los Angeles Kings, expectations were high on Byfield and five other returning players that won gold for Canada at the 2020 World Juniors in Ostrava, Czech Republic. Although the team had scored a combined 19 goals through two tournament games, Byfield’s absence on the scoresheet stood out.

“I told every returning player I was going be extra hard on them,” Canada head coach Andre Tourigny said. “We asked Q to make adjustments and he’s responded. He’s a more mature man than last year.”

Byfield’s performance helped spark Canada to their most complete effort thus far.

Jack Quinn had three assists for Canada (3-0-0-0). Jakob Pelletier scored twice. Dylan Cozens, Philip Tomasino, Ryan Suzuki, Connor McMichael, Cole Perfetti and Kaiden Guhle also scored in the victory.

Devon Levi picked up his first shutout of the tournament with 15 saves despite not being tested for much of the night.

Switzerland (0-0-0-3) struggled to generate an attack against Canada.

Swiss goaltender Noah Patenaude was busy, making 42 saves.

Canada, looking to reignite their offence following a 3-1 win over  Team Slovakia on Sunday, struggled in the early going to get their power-play on track. In the first period, they had a two-man advantage for 1:12 but were unable to beat Patenaude.

Canada wasted no time getting on the scoresheet at even strength. Tomasino scored in his third consecutive game to give Canada a 1-0 lead. A shot from a far distance beat Patenaude over his blocker. Byfield and Quinn picked assists at 1:30 of the first period.

Despite outshooting Switzerland 13-3 after 20 minutes, Canada’s lead was just 1-0.

After going 0-3 in the opening frame, Canada busted through on the power play in the second period.

Cozens deflected a rebound from Perfetti’s quick shot and picked up his rebound before beating Patenaude, and Canada took a 2-0 lead. McMichael picked up a secondary assist at 1:40.

Pelletier made it 3-0 after he picked up a bounce off the boards from Connor Zary. Byfield picked up his second assist for his second point of the game at 8:02.

The floodgates had opened as Suzuki scored on the power play at 13:44. Byfield collected his third assist on the night and Alex Newhook picked up the secondary helper.

Cozens picked up his second point of the night on a centring pass to McMichael for a quick shot to make it a 5-0 lead at 17:53.

Canada outshot Switzerland 24-3 in the middle frame.

“That was our best period, no doubt about it,” Tourigny said of the third.

Byfield continued his offensive output in the third period. He scored Canada’s third power-play goal of the game on a deflection in front of the net at 5:16.

Byfield added his second goal of the game and fifth point of the night less than three minutes later

Perfetti, Guhle and Pelletier’s second goal of the game rounded out the scoring for Canada. Byfield picked up his fourth assist on Pelletier’s second goal.

Byfield had just one assist through two games at the World Juniors before his productive night on Tuesday.

Canada will face its toughest challenge yet when they take on Team Finland to finish preliminary round action on Thursday. .

Switzerland has scored just one goal through three tournament games and needs a regulation win over Team Germany in their final game to avoid elimination.

NOTES: Canadian defenceman Braden Schneider returned to the lineup after serving a one-game suspension for his illegal check to the head of Jan-Luca Schumacher in their 16-2 win over Germany over the weekend. Forward Dylan Holloway also returned after missing the team’s 3-1 win over Team Slovakia on Sunday due to an upper-body injury.

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Chiefs QB Mahomes practises, still in protocol – TSN

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes remained in the NFL’s concussion protocol Wednesday, but practiced in a limited capacity, raising hopes that the reigning Super Bowl MVP can play in Sunday’s AFC title game against Buffalo.

The Chiefs typically breeze through their midweek practice with little contact before ramping things up with their longest workout Thursday, and coach Andy Reid said afterward that fit perfectly with what Mahomes was able to do.

“He looked good,” Reid said. “He’s in the protocol so there’s only certain things he can do, but he took all the snaps and he feels good. So, I mean, we’re just going to follow this protocol as close as we possibly can.”

There are five steps in the league’s return-to-play protocol: rest until signs and symptoms return to baseline clearance to begin cardio; stretching and balance training with medical oversight; an increase in exercises that includes monitored strength training; the resumption of non-contact football activities; and finally, the player is cleared by team physicians and passes an independent neurological exam, at which point he is cleared to practice and play.

Reid didn’t specify which step Mahomes was in Wednesday, but the work he described coincides with the fourth step. If all goes well, that could mean the Chiefs’ quarterback is cleared to participate more fully in practice Thursday or Friday.

“He’s done well up to this point and they just progress you through the day,” Reid said, “so today was limited work and no contact, I think was the schedule for today. And that’s kind of what we’re doing on Wednesday, so it fit perfectly with that.”

Mahomes was hurt in the third quarter of last Sunday’s 22-17 victory over the Cleveland Browns when he was tackled around the neck while keeping the ball on a quarterback option. His head did not appear to strike the ground hard — if at all — and that led to reports that he had tweaked a nerve that runs up the neck.

Chad Henne finished the game and would be the starter if Mahomes was unable to play against the Bills.

“It’s definitely not the easiest if you don’t get the reps during the week,” Henne said, “but mentally you have to stay in it. When Patrick was in last week, during every practice, Matt (Moore) and I are in the back doing our drops, our progressions. That doesn’t change. After practice we get the throws we need that Patrick took and we go about our business.”

The return of Mahomes was only the start of the positive injury news for Kansas City.

Defensive back Bashaud Breeland, who also left the Browns game with a concussion, got in some limited work as the Chiefs moved practice from outdoors inside because of gusty winds.

The availability of their No. 1 cornerback is important with Bills quarterback Josh Allen riding a hot streak and All-Pro wide receiver Stefon Diggs coming to town.

Running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire and wide receiver Sammy Watkins also practiced Wednesday, which means the Chiefs could have a full complement of playmakers regardless of their quarterback for the first time in weeks.

Edwards-Helaire, who was fourth among rookies with 1,100 yards from scrimmage this season, sustained a high-ankle sprain in Week 15 against New Orleans and missed the final two games of the regular season. He returned to practice last Wednesday but was held out the next two days, and he was inactive for the Chiefs’ playoff game against Cleveland.

The injury-prone Watkins hurt his calf muscle in Week 15 against Atlanta. He sat out the regular-season finale and did not practice last week, joining Edwards-Helaire on the inactive list for the Browns.

“It’ll be good to have both of those guys back,” Chiefs wide receiver Mecole Hardman said. “Hopefully they can play with us and take the necessary steps to be fully healthy or healthy enough to get some production from them.”

NOTES: The only player who did not practice in some capacity Wednesday was linebacker Willie Gay Jr. He’s been out with a sprained ankle. … Diggs isn’t the only All-Pro wide receiver on the field Sunday, and Chiefs counterpart Tyreek Hill was sure to make everyone remember it. He continually referenced a dig by Jalen Ramsey from a couple of years ago, when the Jaguars cornerback made it a point to say Hill had been voted an All-Pro as a return specialist as a rookie. “(Diggs) is one of the top receivers in the game and I really respect him,” Hill said, “so we just got to see who has the better game, him or (Travis) Kelce, but I’m still just a return specialist.”

___

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Report: Michael Brantley agrees to two-year deal with Astros – Sportsnet.ca

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Free-agent outfielder Michael Brantley is reportedly staying with the Houston Astros.

According to Fox 26 Houston‘s Mark Berman, Brantley and the Astros have agreed to a two-year deal worth $32 million.

Brantley, 33, has been in Houston since 2019. Last season, he averaged .300 at the plate while hitting five home runs and recording 22 RBI.

The outfielder has made the American League All-Star team four times in his career – once with the Astros in 2019 and three times while in Cleveland. He also won an AL Silver Slugger award in 2014.

The Toronto Blue Jays were previously in discussions with Brantley, with multiple outlets including Sportsnet reporting earlier Wednesday that a deal was in place with the free agent. A Blue Jays team official later refuted the report.

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Oilers, Maple Leafs electric on offence, but can either improve defence? – Sportsnet.ca

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When COVID concerns put a stop to the 2019-20 NHL season, the Edmonton Oilers and Toronto Maple Leafs sat tied in a telling defensive category, averaging around 2.7 goals against for every 60 minutes of 5-on-5 play. That number doesn’t sound awful, but sprinkle in somewhere between 40-60 power play goals against (as is common in a full NHL season), and suddenly you have to score a whole lot just to get to the break-even number.

I say “tied” for simplicity’s sake, technically the Leafs were .01 worse in that category at 2.71. The Senators were right there with the Oilers and Leafs, while the Panthers, Sharks, Devils and Red Wings were the only teams worse in this stat — AKA the draft lottery teams.

Shots against per 60, unblocked shot attempts per 60, expected goals against per 60, almost all the “fancy” stats had both Toronto and Edmonton in the bottom half of the league.

The Leafs and Oilers stunk defensively, full stop.

Those are all just “against” numbers at 5-on-5 though. By and large, if you sort the numbers for total percentages (like goals for percentage, all strengths), both teams climb into the better half of the league, because if we know anything about these teams, it’s that they can score – particularly the top lines. The Oilers’ special teams were absurdly good last year, and the Leafs have balanced out their weak defensive numbers by playing high event hockey both ways at all strengths.

It’s really those elite guys who compel me to compare these operations at all. The Oilers have two Hart Trophy winners age 25 and under, to go with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Kailer Yamamoto. The Leafs have five players in their top six who went first, first, first, fourth and eighth overall. Both teams go as those groups go, they rely on them to give them a chance, and both teams get shut down when their top names aren’t going.

Both teams have for some years now looked at their back ends, squinted, and said “But if he has a career year, and that guy takes a step, and everyone stays healthy, our D isn’t that bad.”

And so it goes with Edmonton and Toronto. They’re two speedboats constantly using offence to bail water from porous defences, never quite sinking but not winning any important races either. In the sprint-length race that is the 2021 NHL regular season, the team that figures out how to finally patch those holes, rather than bail faster, is far more likely to accomplish their goals than the other.

Just a few months back in the play-in round against the Chicago Blackhawks, the Oilers scored 15 times in four games and won … once. The Leafs have lost three straight playoff series in deciding games, conceding a total of 15 goals against in those three games.

I realize I’m beating the dead horse here, but both teams have long identified their team weakness, and have sought to improve it. The Oilers have drafted well and have prospects on the way, while the Leafs have moved aggressively to add established NHLers to their back end.

What we’re left with at this point is asking what the likelihood is of that improvement happening?

Will the Oilers be able to get those holes patched?

To date this season the Oilers have allowed 15 goals through four games, which is worse than their goals against per game last season, though granted it’s absurdly early.

Their odds took a significant blow when it was ruled that their best defenceman, Oscar Klefbom, would be out for the season, which put them behind the eight-ball immediately.

It also didn’t help that what was likely the Oilers’ off-season plan – signing Jacob Markstrom – fell through entirely, leaving them with a goaltending duo that will almost certainly finish in the statistical bottom-third of the league.

I summed up my questions about the Oilers on Twitter a few nights back:

Sufficient answers never came.

So far this season they’ve already scratched defencemen Ethan Bear and Caleb Jones, in hopes of plugging in more defensive defensemen in Adam Larsson and William Lagesson, but it’s unlikely that’s going to be the long-term fix for this team this year.

There are some positives, though. For one, defending is a mindset and can be coached, and the Oilers have a good one in Dave Tippett. But more than that, I think the Oilers have just had a rough start, and that a pretty good Montreal Canadiens team got the better of them in ways that would be internally eye-opening, but not worthy of panic. Sometimes it’s as simple as “our group can play better than that,” and there’s at least some element of that here.

Klefbom will be sorely missed, and the goaltending is unlikely to become a bright spot, but I do believe that somewhere in this mix is a six-man group that can allow the forwards to do what they do enough – outscore their problems – to keep them at the very least a playoff team:

Nurse-Koekkoek
Russell-Barrie
Bear-Jones
Lagesson-Larsson

I don’t think there’s much reason to believe it’s going to be great defensively in Edmonton. But with all their talent, it only needs to be good.

Will the Leafs be able to get those holes patched?

If you talk to their die-hard fans, they already have. There’s a belief among the fanbase that TJ Brodie puts them in a spot that gives the team a very good top-four (with Morgan Rielly, Jake Muzzin and Justin Holl), and that surely there are enough options amongst the rest to find a good pair (that being Zach Bogosian, Travis Dermott, Rasmus Sandin and Mikko Lehtonen). And it’s possible those fans are right.

The less confident may consider how Rielly defends with an offensive lean, and the name Justin Holl in there – and the odd rough Brodie showing – and go “Yeah, that’s your plan? Those are the materials that are going to keep the water from rushing in?”

Freddy Andersen remains a wild card for this season, but he’s not far removed from playing excellent hockey, so there’s a “wait and see” element in net.

Up front, the Leafs have shuffled their lineup to become more defensively stout as well. John Tavares is being deployed almost exclusively in an offensive role so far this year, leaving the heavier matchups for their newly formed “shut-down” group of Ilya-Mikheyev-Alex Kerfoot-Zach Hyman. It’s another test case, but it’s at least a plan that isn’t just hoping things change on their own, somehow.

The rest of the forward group will never have a defensive bent, but you can at least see the team has made a real effort to patch up their defensive shortcomings of yore.

In the end, that’s all it comes down to for these two talented teams: Will they make keeping the puck out of their own net as much of a priority as putting it in the other one?

There’s no shortage of coaches who’ll tell you that more offence comes when you’re in good positions under the puck, and numerous Stanley Cup contenders over the past decade have proved that true. It’s a tough sell from the coach, though.

As Edmonton and Toronto get set to do battle twice in the next three nights, most fans are excited to see explosions of offence all over the ice.

But I promise you, behind closed doors, both teams are prioritizing the opposite.

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