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SIMMONS: Have you see a goal better than the one McDavid scored? I haven't – Toronto Sun

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You see it the first time and you’re not sure what to think.

You watch it a second time and it looks even better on the replay.

Then you watch it and stop it and rewind and watch it again in slow motion just to be sure. I was trying to come up with a goal I’ve seen in person that was better than the one Connor McDavid scored against the Maple Leafs on Monday.

I covered a lot of Wayne Gretzky games when he was scoring 200-points regularly with the Edmonton Oilers. I don’t remember seeing anything as fast and slow and quick and skilled as the one McDavid scored on Michael Hutchinson.

I was fortunate to see special Mario Lemieux moments up close — his goal against Boston and Raymond Bourque in the playoffs, his goal against the Minnesota North Stars when he undressed every played on the ice — spectacular goals they were. Those were the best I’d ever seen.

The McDavid goal on Monday was a take-your-breath-away hockey moment. I asked Paul Coffey about it right after the game. He smiled and said: “Don’t ask me. I couldn’t do that. Are you kidding me? Why don’t you ask 99?”

He meant Gretzky.

McDavid has entered that special territory, that short list for players who do things no one else can do, or ever do. I think was the greatest goal I’ve ever seen.

THIS AND THAT

It’s a Toronto thing, saying Auston Matthews is in the Hart Trophy conversation. He may be in our conversation. But around the NHL he’s behind McDavid, Nathan MacKinnon, Leon Draisaitl to name three and if their teams were in playoff positions, Jack Eichel and Patrick Kane would be under stronger consideration, too. And it’s impossible to choose between David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand on the Bruins, who will split votes, as to which would be the MVP choice. So yeah, Matthews is probably in a conversation somewhere, and maybe around the Top 8 at this time, but ahead of whom? … Rick Vaive, Dave Andreychuk and if you can believe this, Gary Leeman, are the only 50-goal scorers in Leafs history. The underappreciated Vaive did it three times, in consecutive seasons, in Toronto. Andreychuk scored his 50 playing alongside Doug Gilmour. After scoring 51 with the Leafs, Leeman scored just 47 the final six years of his career … Matthews needs 19 goals in 37 games to hit the 50 mark. He’s scoring at 63-goal pace since the Leafs made the coaching change … Pekka Rinne scored a goal. Better he should be stopping goals, which he hasn’t done very well this season for the Nashville Predators … All Peter Laviolette does is make teams better. He did it on Long Island, in Carolina, where he won a Stanley Cup, in Philadelphia and in Nashville, where he lost in the final. If I had an opening for a coach, I’d hire him in a second.

HEAR AND THERE

Mitch Marner and Matthews lead the Leafs in points scored per minute, and when you consider that Marner kills penalties and Matthews doesn’t, Marner actually is the leader in the category. Surprisingly, not far behind them is Jason Spezza who, after the initial controversy that began his season, has settled in nicely and is much appreciated around the Leafs as a jack of all trades … Rasmus Sandin dominated the world junior hockey tournament. Up next for him: Dominating the American Hockey League. If he does that, he forces the Leafs to call him up. There’s no pointing rushing him now, at least until next season when they’re going to need him … This much I can tell you: If Mike Babcock was still coaching the Leafs, Pierre Engvall would almost certainly be in the AHL. Babcock didn’t care much for Engvall and Justin Holl, both of whom are showing themselves as NHL players of some value … The Arizona Coyotes have lost 22 games. Phil Kessel has scored goals in just two of those defeats, 11 of them one-goal games. Kessel, with just three even-strength goals, is having an equal-opportunity season, minus-10 at home, minus-9 on the road. No one else on the Coyotes is worse than Derek Stepan’s minus-6 … Thoughts are with Marlies assistant coach Rob Davison, who suffered a grand mal seizure Friday night in Dallas. That’s frightening for all who witnessed this, frightening for Davison and his family … Not enough has been said about the quick release of the Winnipeg Jets’ Kyle Connor. You know Patrik Laine can shoot; you know Mark Scheifele can shoot. I didn’t realize until recently, how high end Connor’s release happens to be.

SCENE AND HEARD

Now that the Raptors have won an NBA championship, the DeMar DeRozan-returns-to-Toronto storyline becomes less and less intriguing. First time, it was a big deal. On Sunday, meh, it’s just another game in this odd and scrambled Raptors season … If the Miami Heat has any kind of dip in the second half of the NBA season, Nick Nurse has a shot of winning coach of the year. But it’s Erik Spoelstra’s trophy right now … There is something about Oshae Brissett, the 21-year-old from Mississauga who is splitting time between the Raptors and their G League team, that screams NBA. This kid is going to be a player, here or somewhere else … Is anybody else bothered by the Blue Jays hiring of Shane Ferrell, son of former Jays manager John (Benedict Arnold) Ferrell, as director of amateur scouting? … The Houston Astros won in 2017. The Red Sox won the World Series in 2017. What seems rather clear now is that both teams — one managed by Alex Cora, one coached by him — used electronic devices to essentially cheat their way to championship seasons. What the rather invisible commissioner, Rob Manfred, does now can’t possibly match the stench that surrounds those tainted World Series wins … The garage sale shopping has been pushed to the side. The one thing you can’t accuse the Blue Jays of this winter is being cheap. And I liked the re-signing of reliever Ken Giles. Signing him, to me, was a notice of commitment to winning. Trading him would have been almost contradictory in the wake of the Hyun-Jin Ryu signing.

AND ANOTHER THING

I got excited when I first heard the Royals were moving to Canada. I thought that meant baseball was back in Montreal. My all-time favourite Royal: George Brett … Kevin Stefanski, the Minnesota offensive coordinator who is getting interviews for NFL head coaching jobs, is the son of former Raptors and current Detroit Pistons executive Ed Stefanski … One thing about the Rooney Rule in the NFL. If Tony Dungy announced tomorrow he wants to coach again, there would be a lineup of teams wanting to hire him …. So sorry to hear of the passing of legendary Rush drummer Neil Peart. Bet you didn’t know he was the band’s second drummer. The first, the late John Rutsey, was brother to longtime Toronto Sun baseball writer Mike Rutsey … Eddie Olczyk will be in Toronto next Saturday signing copies of his book, Beating the Odds, at the Eaton Centre at 1 p.m. … My big-league commissioner power ratings: 1. Adam Silver, NBA; 2. Gary Bettman, NHL; 3. Roger Goodell, NFL; 4. Rob Manfred, MLB … Having said that, I can’t believe the NBA fined Jimmy Butler for his taunting post-game soliloquy the other night. They should have sent him a cheque and thanked him for his entertainment … In the future, McDavid, Brooke Henderson, Mike Soroka and Alfonso Davies will win the Lou Marsh as Canada’s athlete of the year. And McDavid’s the oldest of the four, he turns 23 on Monday … Born this date 90 years ago: Tim Horton … And happy birthday to Chris Boucher (27), Abdullah the Butcher (79), Nikolai Borschevsky (55), Claude Giroux (32), Nigel Wilson (50), Drew Pearson (69), John Avery (44), Bill Madlock (69), Marian Hossa (41) and Dominque Wilkins (60) … And hey, whatever became of Mason Raymond?

ssimmons@postmedia.com

twitter.com/simmonssteve

*****

Edwin Encarnacion played more than 600 games at third base in the major leagues, not all of them well, with both the Cincinnati Reds and the Toronto Blue Jays. In the early years, the initials of his first and last name rather symbolized his career in the field.

But it seemed the minute the Blue Jays freed him from his difficulty at third — moving him to first base and designated hitter — his time as a big league star began to blossom.

In the eight seasons that followed his move from third base, he hit 42-36-34-39-42-38-32-and 34 home runs. Not just magnificent totals for the quiet man. Nearing the end of his career now, he has been one of baseball’s most consistent and successful power hitters.

So why does this matter now?

It matters because the eye test has met the statistical findings released the other day and after just one big league season, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has been rated as one of the worst defensive players in the game and probably not suited to play third base anymore.

Now, he hasn’t played anywhere near the 600 games it took for stubborn baseball men to move Encarnacion from a position he clearly struggled with to a place he felt confident. Guerrero is just a kid. He turns just 21 in March. His first big league season, for all it was built up to be, was clearly disappointing. But I wonder now, looking back at Encarnacion’s career and it’s straight-line brilliance, if Guerrero wouldn’t benefit offensively from a position change. It’s something the Jays have to be thinking about to make them better offensively and defensively.

*****

When Mike Babcock was fired as coach of the Maple Leafs, Auston Matthews was ninth in the NHL in scoring.

This morning, he is 10th in the NHL in the Art Ross Trophy race, 15 and 16 points behind Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.

In the 22 games with Sheldon Keefe as coach — 15 of them wins — Matthews leads the league in goal scoring with 17, but is just 13th overall in points during that time.

The easy and popular narrative right now is that Matthews is playing significantly better under Keefe than he was under Babcock, whom Matthews clearly had some issues with.  That may be true, but the statistics, though, aren’t quite so clear, even while Matthews is playing 96 seconds more at even strength per game than he was under Babcock – which is basically two additional shifts a game.

In the 23 games Babcock coached this season, Matthews had 27 points.

In the 22 games Keefe has coached 22 with the Leafs, Matthews has 27 points for him.

Same production, different coaches.

Matthews is indeed showing growth in his overall game but he reminds me of a construction project: The foundation is there, the skills and the will are there, but the decorations and furnishing, the final touches still need to come. This is Year 4 and he’s playing well and scoring well and yet there is more of him to give.

This is just the beginning for Matthews under Keefe. The convenient narrative, not necessarily accurate at this time, will come for the long term.

*****

I worry about Bianca Andreescu.

I worry that she is so young and vibrant and talented and full of moxie and already is having the challenge of staying healthy enough to play top-level tennis.

She just announced she won’t be playing the Australian Open this month, the first major since she won the U.S. Open.

This time it’s a knee injury. Last year, she had a shoulder problem. She missed more than half the 2019 season with injuries. And she’s just a kid, just starting out, really.

With good health and good fortune, who knows how many major tournaments Andreescu might win? Her talent is immense as is her toughness and her all-court game is quite unusual and powerful.

But you worry because this is really just the beginning of her second professional season. We underrate the way tennis beats up its athletes and how many players get hurt year after year. We’ve certainly seen an up close example of how Milos Raonic’s career has been altered and flattened by his inability to stay healthy. What would Raonic have accomplished by now with good health? Truth is, we don’t know.

There is this Canadian in all of us that wants Andreescu to be great, not just in one Major, but in a lot of them. That hope is on hold now as she undergoes her latest rehab on the road to the French Open.

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Canadiens come up nearly empty against Rangers in home opener – Montreal Gazette

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Jonathan Drouin’s goal gave hockey starved Montreal fans their only thrill in a 3-1 loss.

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A third-period goal by Alexis Lefreniére proved to be the difference as the New York Rangers defeated the Canadiens 3-1 to spoil the home opener at the Bell Centre on Saturday night.

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Lafrenière got behind the defence and Jake Allen had little chance as he converted a perfect pass from Mika Zibanejad to snap a 1-1 tie. The goal at 9:50 came 26 seconds after Jonathan Drouin gave the near-sellout crowd some hope when he ended Igor Shesterkin’s shutout bid. He was set up by Christian Dvorak, who carried the puck behind the net and found Drouin in the slot.

Kevin Rooney completed the scoring for the Rangers with an empty-net goal.

Shesterkin made 31 saves, while Allen stopped 21 of 23 shots.

After a listless first period, the Rangers picked up the pace to start the second and the Canadiens provided some opportunities by taking three consecutive penalties before the period was 10 minutes old. Montreal did a good job killing the first two, but New York got the bounce to take a 1-0 lead on a power-play goal at 9:59.

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Chris Krieder was credited with his third goal of the season when he deflected a shot by Zibanejad. Allen stopped the shot, but the rebound went in off defenceman Alexander Romanov.

The Canadiens created two scoring chances later in the second period. Cédric Paquette deflected a shot by Jeff Petry and it was headed to the top corner when Shesterkin made a spectacular glove save.

Two minutes later, defenceman David Savard showed off his puck-handling skills as he weaved his way through the Rangers and tried to find Brendan Gallagher in front. Gallagher was unable to control the pass for a shot and Shesterkin pounced on the loose puck.

The Canadiens’ power play continues to experience problems. Montreal had two power plays in the first period and managed only one shot on goal. They had four shots on a third-period advantage, but the best scoring chance came on a shorthanded breakaway by Zibanejad. The Montreal power play is now 0-for 11 on the season

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There were few opportunities for either team in the first period, which ended with the Rangers outshooting the Canadiens 7-5. Josh Anderson had the best scoring chance when he unleashed a shot from the right faceoff circle. Shesterkin was unable to handle the shot cleanly, but the puck trickled wide. Tyler Toffoli attempted a wraparound late in the period, but Shesterkin sealed off the post.

The game was preceded by words of welcome from team owner Geoff Molson and a drawn-out introduction of the players, coaches, the training and medical staffs and various other members of  the hockey operations department. The loudest ovation was for Drouin, who returned to action this season after taking timer off to deal with anxiety.

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During a break in the first period, the Canadiens announced this will be the final  season for Pierre Gervais as the team’s equipment manager. Gervais, who has been involved in more 3,000 games over a 35-year career, will remain with the team in yet-to-be-determined new role.

This was the first of four consecutive homes games for the Canadiens. They will welcome the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday, followed by the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday and the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday.

phickey@postedia.com

twitter.com/zababes1

  1. MONTREAL, QUE.: September 26, 2021 -- Saturday night's game against the New York Rangers will be the first one with a full crowd at the Bell Centre since March 10, 2020, when the Canadiens lost 4-2 to the Nashville Predators.

    Jonathan Drouin excited about playing in front of fans at Bell Centre

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    Make-or-break season for Canadiens prospect Poehling | HI/O Bonus

  3. Canadiens Shea Weber moves the puck up ice during first period against the Calgary Flames in Montreal on April 14, 2021.

    Hickey on hockey: Weber departure would be feather in Habs’ salary cap

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Canadiens vs. Rangers: Game thread, rosters, lines, and how to watch – Habs Eyes on the Prize

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Montreal Canadiens vs. New York Rangers

How to watch

Start time: 7:00 PM EDT / 4:00 PM PDT
In Canada: CityTV, Sportsnet East (English), TVA Sports (French)
In the Rangers region: MSG
Streaming: ESPN+, NHL Live, Sportsnet Now

We pick the best three comments from each game thread to feature in our Top Six Minutes articles which are published at the conclusion of the game. Be sure to share your best gif or analysis to become a star.

The Montreal Canadiens head to the Bell Centre for the first meaningful action since last season’s Stanley Cup Playoffs. The last game Montreal fans witnessed in person was an overtime victory on Josh Anderson’s second goal of Game 4 in the Final.

Anderson was responsible for that last goal the Canadiens scored in 2020-21, and had a major hand in the first one versus the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday night, but offence has been very difficult to come by for the team since that goal seven minutes into the opener; there’s only been one more since.

As a reaction, lines were juggled in the most recent match in Buffalo, but to little avail. Even so, Dominique Ducharme is sticking with the group he has hoping that his players will quickly find solutions.

The Rangers’ bid to increase their early-season offence was dealt a blow when Ryan Strome was ruled out by the COVID protocol for tonight’s game, knocking one of the top point-producers from a season ago out of action. Both teams will be missing significant offensive pieces as they go for their first win, but one of the clubs is going to avoid a winless start, even if it takes Marek Malik coming out of retirement to end it.

Montreal Canadiens projected lineup

Forwards

Left Wing Centre Right Wing
Left Wing Centre Right Wing
#40 Joel Armia #14 Nick Suzuki #22 Cole Caufield
#92 Jonathan Drouin #28 Christian Dvorak #17 Josh Anderson
#73 Tyler Toffoli #71 Jake Evans #11 Brendan Gallagher
#85 Mathieu Perreault #13 Cédric Paquette #62 Artturi Lehkonen

Defencemen

Left Defence Right Defence
Left Defence Right Defence
#27 Alexander Romanov #26 Jeff Petry
#8 Ben Chiarot #58 David Savard
#77 Brett Kulak #20 Chris Wideman

Goaltenders

Starter Backup
Starter Backup
#34 Jake Allen #35 Samuel Montembeault

New York Rangers projected lineup

Forwards

Left Wing Centre Right Wing
Left Wing Centre Right Wing
Alexis Lafrenière Mika Zibanejad Chris Kreider
Artemiy Panarin Filip Chytil Kaapo Kakko
Sammy Blais Barclay Goodrow Julien Gauthier
Dryden Hunt Kevin Rooney Ryan Reaves

Goaltenders

Starter Backup
Starter Backup
Igor Shesterkin Alexandar Georgiev

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In ever-evolving NBA, Raptors’ length and athleticism opens doors on defence – Sportsnet.ca

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Under head coach Nick Nurse, the Toronto Raptors have always worked to stay abreast of league trends, or even push the envelope on what might be next.

As an assistant coach, Nurse received a considerable amount of credit for overseeing an effort to inject more spacing, ball movement and player movement into an offensive approach that had grown too reliant on DeMar DeRozan’s mid-range isolations. The result was a team-record 59-win season in 2017-18. Nurse also had his fingerprints on the “bench mob” – the high-tempo, aggressive defence-first group that was a big part of the Raptors’ regular-season success.

Since becoming head coach in 2019-19, Nurse’s defensive focus has been more apparent, with the Raptors embracing liberal switching on the perimeter as well as a growing reliance on zone defences – tactics that were less common across the league than they quickly became.

But basketball’s pace of change hasn’t stalled. You can only pay so much attention to games that don’t matter, but it’s hard not to notice that in pre-season play the Golden State Warriors are putting up an astounding 55 three-point shots a game. Four other teams – Sacramento, Denver, Utah and Oklahoma City are averaging 45 three-point attempts.

For context the only teams in league history to average 45 three-point shots a game were the 2018-19 and 2019-20 Houston Rockets, with James Harden at his gun-slinging peak. A decade ago NBA teams averaged 20 three-point attempts a game. Last season it was 34 and still climbing apparently.

“I don’t know if any of us sat here at some point and said the amount of threes are going to be double … or whatever the number is,” said Nurse. “… It does evolve pretty quickly though.”

Given the value of those shots, a team that wants to be effective defensively must have a plan to discourage them being taken, or at least make them more difficult.

One of the benefits of a roster rounded out with so many players in the six-foot-six to six-foot-nine range – the Raptors only have four players in training camp shorter – is the pressure they can put on perimeter shooters.

The Raptors got a taste of it last season, when six-foot-nine Chris Boucher led the NBA with .84 blocked three-pointers a game and was ranked fourth in the league in the percentage that opponents shot when he was the closest defender. Pascal Siakam ranked second in the league in the number of three-pointers contested after leading that category in 2019-20.

As a whole, the Raptors weren’t especially good at defending the three-point line – opponents shot 37.9 per cent from deep, which was above league average and ranked them 24th overall – but given the range of mitigating circumstances they faced last season it’s probably not something to dwell on. The Raptors led the NBA in that category in 2019-20 when the set a franchise record for winning percentage.

This is a different team with plenty of new faces, but maybe having a roster full of athletic, agile guys in the mould of Boucher and Siakam could pay dividends in a league where it looks like more teams are going to be hoisting threes than ever before.

Raptors rookie Dalano Banton has certainly had the importance of getting to three-point shooters impressed upon him in his weeks-old NBA career, and as a nimble six-foot-nine guard, he can play the part.

“Shot contesting is one of our pillars that we go off of on defence as well as pressuring the ball so guys don’t get easy shots so, running them off the line,” said Banton after practice Friday. “In this league guys make shots and they make it at a high clip so I feel like just doing the best you can to run out at every shot that gets put up by the other team is big for us and being in our defensive stance, just showing length and just discouraging them from making plays they’d make if we weren’t in our right spots.

“…Just being in the right spot is just the biggest part of the battle and showing your hands. Once you’re there, it puts your whole team in a better position to play defence.”

Selling out on three-point shooters takes trust. Actually blocking a shot is rare and smart teams and players will look to pump fake on careless closeouts and look for a side-step three, a chance to penetrate the paint for layups, generate kick-outs to open shooters or simply swing the ball to take advantage of a scrambling defence.

It’s not enough to run at a shooter, it has to be done properly.

“Just playing the game the way you practice — running guys off lines and the next guy helping and making the next play,” says Banton. “So, it’s just about the offence having to make the next play, not giving them that shot or that layup, having to make them make that extra pass. The guy behind you is gonna help, we’re all playing defence in one line together so we’re all trying to work in a tandem and move where we have to move and rotate to the right spots.”

It’s music to Nurse’s ears. The goal of his scheme, he says, it to challenge every shot, everywhere.

“It’s kind of icing on the cake when we get a block [on a three-pointer],” he said. “I think I’m really more concerned that we’re making a heavy contest. Obviously the block is the heaviest of all contests. We just want to make sure we make it contested. It goes to hustle and hard play: You’ve got to keep playing the whole possession. Sometimes you’ve got to fire out, fire out, fire out.

“Every now and then you get put in rotations and some teams are really good in making you do it. But you’ve got to do it. That’s just an effort and hustle thing that we want the heavy contest. Chris [Boucher] has certainly got a knack, incredible timing on that stuff. I’m not sure it’s teachable or transferable … What we teach and what we drill every day is heavy contesting.”

Changing times call for changing measures – and maybe a lot of long, athletic guys flying around at the three-point line like never before.

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