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Raiders’ Gruden says someone played a trick on him with Oakland hat – Sportsnet.ca

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There’s been a lot of change in 2020, it can be hard to keep track.

And while coach Jon Gruden could have easily been forgiven for mistakenly wearing an Oakland Raiders hat instead of a Las Vegas one for the first half of the team’s 30-27 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday, it turns out there may have been some high jinks involved.

“I will say I apologize for not having the right hat on. Somebody played a pretty good trick on me,” Gruden told reporters after the game.

The Raiders are in their first season in Las Vegas after relocating from Oakland following the 2019 campaign.

To make matters potentially even more confusing, Gruden is in his second stint with the Raiders. He first coached the Raiders from 1998 to 2001, before rejoining the franchise in 2018.

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Bills-Ravens: Drafting the best players in playoff matchup – The Athletic

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The Bills and Ravens have a humdinger of a matchup worthy of NBC primetime kickoff on Saturday night. Josh Allen will have to solve the Ravens’ blitz-happy defense, while Sean McDermott and his staff will have to devise a plan to slow down Lamar Jackson and Baltimore’s hellacious running game.

You’ve seen this matchup broken down every which way this week, but we wanted to try something new. So we decided to have a draft centered around the question of which players or coaches are most important to their teams in the matchup.

Here are the ground rules: We will each pick a team of six players and coaches using a snake draft order. Our picks will be made based on who we think will have the biggest impact on the game Saturday night. Loosely, we’re also trying to form a team. We also will add a bonus round of sleepers, choosing an under-the-radar player who could change the game for his team.

The draft will begin in alphabetical order with…

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Easy to point at goalie, defence, but Leafs’ offence yet to find high gear – Sportsnet.ca

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You lose like this to the presumed seventh seed inside the Group of Seven and the arrows will be pointed in familiar directions.

Frederik Andersen looks like an easy target, as does a defensive program that surrendered more goals per game than all but one team invited to the NHL’s summer bubble last year.

But neither touches the heart of the biggest questions facing the Toronto Maple Leafs coming out of Friday’s 5-3 loss to the Ottawa Senators: Why did they veer into the ditch after a solid opening 29 minutes? And where was the offensive wave that’s supposed to be a distinguishing quality for them in this North Division?

Toronto’s 39 per cent expected-goals rate tells us even more than the result, especially since it generated next to nothing at 5-on-5 while playing the back half of the game from behind.

Any potential offensive flow died in transition. And the gold-standard series of shifts with sustained pressure building up to Alex Kerfoot’s 2-1 goal quickly became notable because they couldn’t be repeated while Ottawa roared back to win the first game it was playing in 310 days.

“Scoring that goal for us, if we want to be a team that’s going to accomplish anything, the game should be over from there,” said Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe. “We should be able to take care of the lead and then build on the lead. Obviously, it showed that we’re not there yet.”

They were a long way off against D.J. Smith’s determined group.

That Smith would have his team closely protecting the net front should surprise no one that watched Ottawa battle through a rebuilding season. The Sens’ issues were personnel-related and their personnel improved considerably since March.

But they still boast the kind of defensive corps a team with Toronto’s weapons should be expected to overwhelm — only it didn’t happen nearly enough in the opener of a back-to-back set at Canadian Tire Centre.

Trailing 4-2 entering the third period, the Leafs put just four more shots on Matt Murray while attempting five shot attempts at even strength. That’s why the rush to dissect every defensive breakdown feels a little incomplete.

These are the early days of a weird season that included no exhibition games and a lot of money is being made by those betting the “over” league-wide right now. There’s isn’t much tight, organized hockey being played anywhere right now and, theoretically, that should play directly into the hands of a team like the Leafs.

Yes, they’ve hung eight goals on the scoreboard across two games, but they haven’t tilted the ice nearly as much as desired. Against the Senators they were pushed toward the perimeter and looked too often for the ideal play.

“There’s a great number of goals that are scored in the league that are just randomness,” said Keefe. “You just put the puck to space and try to outnumber the opposition and win loose pucks and that’s really all their goals for the most part came off of situations like that.

“We had great control of the game for long periods of time but didn’t accomplish much with it.”

The coach will have his patience tested during the quick turnaround before Saturday’s game. He’s indicated a desire to give his lines a chance to find some cohesion but must be feeling the itch to rearrange the pieces.

An obvious change would be removing fourth-line winger Alexander Barbanov, who saw just over four minutes in Friday’s game. The taxi squad offers multiple replacement options — one of Nick Robertson, Adam Brooks or Travis Boyd could jump in, or perhaps Keefe might elect to give Mikko Lehtonen or Rasmus Sandin a look as part of a 11F/7D rotation.

A silver lining from a tough night came from the fact his glue guys showed cohesion. Keefe has high hopes for Kerfoot, Zach Hyman and Ilya Mikheyev as a third line and they managed some tone-setting shifts, plus the Kerfoot goal.

“I think that we all play fast, we play hard,” said Hyman. “I thought we had a strong game. I thought we played well together. I like playing with those guys.”

It may only be a matter of time for Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and Joe Thornton — assuming they remain intact. They’ve played big minutes and generated enough chances to have scored a couple goals already but are still looking for their first.

We got a glimpse of what Thornton can offer early in Friday’s game when he stationed himself behind the net and fed Matthews for a chance in close.

“Those little give-and-go plays, we’re just trying to create little wedges, 2-on-1s, and try to find open guys,” said Matthews.

“We’re trying to speed up our game a lot offensively and challenge the net a lot more,” added Keefe. “I mean we just haven’t done that. That’s going to take some time, that’s a big adjustment from a lot of our guys.”

The lack of flow has been noticeable. They’ve played from behind in both games and haven’t yet found a high gear, even while rallying to beat the Montreal Canadiens in Wednesday’s season opener.

Ottawa is supposed to be their easiest mark in the division and yet the struggle was real in Game 2.

“It shows you how tough it is to win in this league,” said Andersen.

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Senators’ blue-collar effort stuns Maple Leafs in season opener – Sportsnet.ca

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The new-look Ottawa Senators promised to play a brand of hockey that would make the home fan base proud.

And while that fan base was scattered around the region Friday night, watching the home opener on TV because of a fan ban during the COVID-19 pandemic, they were surely proud of their upstart Sens putting a 5-3 spanking on the provincial rivals from Toronto.

The Leafs will be looking for revenge in Saturday’s rematch on Hockey Night In Canada.

For Ottawa, it’s one down and 55 more hockey games in Canada to go.

“We enjoy tonight, but tomorrow we have a tough matchup again,” said veteran centre Derek Stepan, who scored in his Senators debut. “The way the schedule is set up you’ve got to have a short term memory. It was a good win but tomorrow we’ve got to put our work boots on because that team is going to come out, they’re going to play hard.”

Riding a second period wave that featured three goals in less than five minutes, the Senators erased a 2-1 Maple Leafs lead and brought home the win with a blue-collar effort in the final 20 minutes.

During that decisive second period, which began with the Leafs holding the play and the puck in Ottawa’s end, momentum seemed to change in a heartbeat. A Brady Tkachuk tip off a Nikita Zaitsev shot, an Austin Watson wrister and a Chris Tierney chip shot during a delayed penalty call produced a trio of goals that had the favoured Leafs reeling.

The Sens held Toronto to 23 shots. Ottawa’s new starting goaltender, Matt Murray, provided a sense of calm throughout.

“I thought the team did a heck of a job keeping them to the outside.” Murray said. “That’s a heck of a team over there, tons of skill. I really liked our effort. We had five guys all over the ice.”

Senators head coach D.J. Smith was pleased with the way his team held its composure, led by Murray, after the Leafs got an early lead.

“We did a pretty good letting the goalie see the puck, we got some timely goals and we found a way to finish it off,” Smith said.

“You can see why (Murray) is an elite goalie in the league,” Smith said. “He doesn’t panic. He just reads the play. He gets scored on, he just goes back to work. And I think that gives our young team a lot of confidence when you’ve got a goalie in there that’s capable of closing games out.”

Wearing their home black jerseys with the retro centurion logo, the Senators looked a little rusty to start — not surprising after 310 days between games. They had to feel OK about heading to the first intermission tied 1-1.

Owners of the NHL’s worst power play last season, the Senators’ revamped unit went to work late in the first period, taking advantage of a 5-on-3 opportunity that resulted from a too-many men-call on the Leafs.

From the high slot, Thomas Chabot ripped a one-timer past Frederik Andersen. Drake Batherson, who continues to be a puck distributor on the power play, fed Chabot so neatly from the corner that Andersen could not get over fast enough to greet the Chabot blast at 19:16 in the first period.

The Leafs had scored a power play of their own midway through the first, with Zach Hyman tapping an errant puck past Murray. Replay officials took a long look before declaring it a keeper. Hyman’s stick was so close to crossbar height, it was one of those plays that could have gone either way and tends to go with the call on the ice — which was a goal.

Ottawa’s defence featured a few misadventures, especially with Christian Wolanin and Zaitsev on the ice, but Murray — playing in his 200th NHL game — was there to bail them out. Wolanin, who had been placed on waivers as recently as Monday before scoring a hat trick in a scrimmage that same evening, was charged with two giveaways in the first period alone. He looked more comfortable taking the puck up ice on the power play, more to his strength than his defensive zone play.

By the second period, Ottawa’s bench had seen enough and Zaitsev was paired with Chabot and Wolanin with Erik Gudbranson.

Even without the noisy fans of both Ontario camps, the Senators vowed to be rowdy. Feisty. Led by their chief ramrod, Tkachuk.

“We still have skill, but our look is being physical, we aren’t going to take anything from anybody,” Tkachuk said. “I think we’ve got one of the toughest teams in the whole league.

“Our goal is to make life tough on the opponent, try to impose our will.”

Tkachuk’s new centre, rookie Josh Norris, had a sweet night after earning a spot during camp. Norris was solid at both ends and picked up a pair of secondary assists.

The Norris-Tkachuk-Batherson line produced seven points, a slick debut for a trio that averages just over 21 years of age.

Stepan finished off a physical foray by Tkachuk and Batherson down low to score Ottawa’s fifth goal, putting the game out of reach. Leafs captain John Tavares rifled a bar-down shot to make the score more respectable.

Though he didn’t figure in the scoring, Senators rookie Tim Stützle did not look out of place in his NHL debut. The birthday boy made smart decisions with the puck, had a couple of “wow” moments with dazzling moves and consistently found the open man. He played just under 12 minutes. It showed that Stützle has played in the German men’s league as he was not physically intimidated.

“You can clearly tell he’s going to be a stud,” Tkachuk said of Stützle.

Eerie scene

In a normal year, a Battle of Ontario meeting to launch a season would have had all the requisite trimmings, backed by a healthy dose of hate.

Torrents of spectators wearing the blue-and-white of the Maple Leafs and red-and-white (with a mixture of black jerseys) of the Senators would have streamed into the building in a raucous parade of expectation.

Three hours before game time, the keenest of fans would have lined up along the red carpet on the arena plaza to greet players, staff and management as they entered the building, high-fiving the faithful in the sort of carefree, pre-virus ritual that feels like another world now.

On Friday, players entered through a back entrance at their leisure and closer to game time, media drove past the empty lots and parked crazily close to a Gate 2 entrance to get their temperatures taken and check off a COVID-19 health form.

Inside, the Canadian Tire Centre was eerily empty, but dressed up as smart as possible with bold red vinyl sheeting on the seats behind the player benches. When Matt Murray led his new Senators team out for the warmups, like Pavlov’s dogs, we anticipated a roaring crowd that simply wasn’t to be heard.

Defensive leader Chabot knew things would be “different” in this coronavirus season, but also that players were ready for it.

“At the end of the day, we just feel fortunate to be able to play,” Chabot said.

“For us as hockey players, we’re happy to be back on TV, to give people something to watch and to cheer for. Obviously we know our fans will be watching us every night. It’s important to go out, play our ass off and work as hard as we can.”

White, Galchenyuk and Reilly scratched

Head coach D.J. Smith promised to reward the fittest, hardest-working players in camp with starting jobs. Three veterans who didn’t make the grade were centre Colin White, forward Alex Galchenyuk and defenceman Mike Reilly.

White is the most surprising of the three, considering he is part of the youth movement at 23, and signed a six-year deal in 2019 with an AAV of $4.75M.

Smith said the other four centres — Norris, Stepan, Tierney and Artem Anisimov — had better camps, but with 56 games in 113 days, “there will be guys in and out” of the lineup.

“It’s a big story today but Colin is going to be a big part of this and help us win hockey games going forward,” Smith said.

Smith had been complimentary of White’s play early, but he also cautioned the media that some players would fall back when the tempo was increased late in camp. White put on weight and muscle in the off-season in an attempt to come back stronger. In the end, both White and centre prospect Logan Brown drifted out of the picture — Brown demoted to AHL’s Belleville Senators. White could be back in the lineup as early as Saturday night.

Galchenyuk, 26, was picked up in the off-season on a one-year, $1.05M deal. He has fallen off from his early, productive years with the Montreal Canadiens, the team that selected him third overall in 2012.

Reilly, 27, came over from Montreal via trade last season as a depth defenceman and doesn’t figure in Ottawa’s long-term plans.

Happy birthday, ‘Jimmy’ Stützle?

Tkachuk noted that he and housemate Norris got up in the morning and sang a birthday tune to Tim Stützle, their newest tenant.

“Right when we woke up we sang a little Happy Birthday for Jimmy,” Tkachuk said.

Clearly, ‘Jimmy’ is a new room nickname for Stützle, who turned 19 on opening day.

“My birthday is going to be pushed back,” Stützle said. My focus is on the game.”

Stützle became the fourth teenager in NHL history to make his NHL debut on his birthday. But he’s the only one to do it in a Battle of Ontario game.

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