TORONTO – As his production fell off a cliff and a monkey hopped aboard his back, Tyler Seguin kept buying back into a philosophy that was destroying his stat line.
Since arriving in Dallas, the most familiar face on the Stars has ripped off six consecutive seasons in which he’s tallied between 72 and 84 points.
And yet, it’s this seventh season in green, when he’ll be hard pressed to hit 20 goals and 60 points (and still be a safe bet to lead the club in scoring), that his Stars have all the attributes and attitude of a group primed to make a deep run.
The once run-and-gun Stars — just four years removed from wielding the most potent offence in the NHL — have invested the better part of two years now renovating and refining their identity.
They have emerged as the stingiest team in the West, allowing a mere 2.49 goals per game. And they are more than happy to fly up north, trudge through the snow, and bully and bore their way to a 3-2 regulation victory in Toronto against one of the sport’s most action-packed rosters.
“We played our identity. It can be boring, especially for some of our forwards. It can be boring to the camera. But it works. It produces wins, and we obviously love winning,” Seguin said.
So, is this suffocating, structured, life-sucking style more conducive to playoff success?
“One hundred per cent,” Seguin answered, smiling.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) February 14, 2020
Make no mistake, Seguin was more than a little relieved to finally snuff out his epic 17-game, 71-shot, career-worst goal slump Thursday night in his hometown. So when he pounced on a power-play to strike in the third period, Seguin asked pal Jamie Benn to reach around and chuck the invisible primate off his back.
“Even the last time we played against the Leafs [on Jan. 29], I was thinking about goals a lot. And as of late, I’ve just not became discouraged,” Seguin admitted during the drought.
“I honestly had more people trying to reach out to me… just wondering if I’m OK or whatnot, and I tell them all I’m fine. I’m grinding through it. Our team has been playing well, I know I’m contributing to that, and we have a heck of a hockey team. We are winning games, so it’s definitely still exciting times.”
Stars coach Rick Bowness has a line for individual narratives: “Listen. The most important points are the two points the team gets — that’s what we’re selling.”
To a man, the Stars are buying in wholesale.
And if there’s a lesson Toronto can glean from the guys in green, so be it.
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In a near-perfect first road period, the Stars’ Denis Gurianov beat Frederik Andersen five-hole on the game’s first shot, then Dallas restricted the Leafs to a measly three shots on net.
Purveyors of the game’s gruntier arts, the Stars won the shot-block battle 18-4 and the hit parade 27-12, escaping with a victory despite getting outshot 31-19 by clamping things down and not giving up a single even-strength goal.
“They just play a really structured game. They don’t really give you much. They’re a patient team, they wait on their chances, and they just kind of all fall inside,” Auston Matthews said. “They got a good neutral zone, and they give up the least amount of chances in the NHL.”
Matthews had been flanked by dynamic wingers Mitch Marner and William Nylander to start the contest, but Keefe quickly abandoned the MNM Line when it failed to navigate the Stars’ land mines.
“They’re the kind of line,” Seguin said, “when they’re in the offensive zone, they maybe wait around an extra second to see if the puck gets turned over, so you can sometimes use that to your advantage. Just play them hard, defend hard, and you should get some odd-man rushes.
“If you’re a points guy, offensive guy, it can obviously suck sometimes if you’re looking for that, but we’ve all bought in and we understand the system and our identity and what works, and we go play all these teams that can score a lot of goals and just frustrate them.”
Once these Stars grab a lead, they hold it like a grudge. They don’t wander around cheating for cookies.
“Them getting a lead is huge for their style of play,” Andersen said. “They just try to shut ’er down and make the best of their opportunities.”
Maybe the contrast between the Stars and Leafs is more pronounced because Toronto is coming off a wild, flu-stricken week in which they found ways to squander a series of third-period leads.
Maybe age and experience could be a bigger factor here than some are ready to believe. (The Stars’ game-day dressing room playlist features classics from David Bowie and John Cougar, while the Leafs lean more toward the future classics of Young Thug.)
But there is a sense that the brand of space-limiting, 3-2, lockdown hockey we witnessed in Scotiabank Arena Thursday night is foreshadowing for the post-season aesthetic.
“It will depend on who we play. I don’t think it’s the kind of thing you flip a switch and do overnight. That team has been committed to it all season — they’re doing that as good or better than anybody in the league,” Keefe said. “That’s a real tough team to play against when you’re chasing a game.”
Thing is, they weren’t always this way. Since Seguin arrived, Dallas has a history of whiffing on the playoffs or going one-and-done. A more structured, stifling approach brought the Stars within an overtime goal of upsetting the eventual Cup champions in Round 2 last year.
Now, they believe they’ve stumbled upon a blueprint, and they’re aiming higher.
“We should be proud of how we played tonight. I think that’s the recipe,” said Andrew Cogliano, earning the right to spread wisdom after his 1,000th game. “It doesn’t look pretty sometimes, but there’s a reason why we’re third [in the West], and I think good defence and checking well goes a long way.
“Everyone likes to score. We know that. But we saw with St. Louis last year how you win in this league and how good teams win.
“So that’s our identity, and if we want any chance of having success, we need to play like that.”
McDavid’s return puts Ken Holland under spotlight before deadline – Sportsnet.ca
EDMONTON — The eyes averted from the general manager for a moment or two Thursday, when Connor McDavid executed the rare hockey “two-a-day,” skating alone at 9 a.m. and then again with the team at noon.
McDavid would not rule out playing Friday night against Minnesota — “You’ll have to ask the doctors about (a return date). We’re taking it day by day.” — and will be leaving with the team on Saturday for a three-game trip that opens Sunday in Los Angeles.
We’re betting he plays Sunday at the latest, and McDavid’s imminent return coupled with Monday’s trade deadline has veteran GM Ken Holland under the spotlight here in Edmonton — no different than in any hockey town on the map.
“The day I took the job (back in May) I told everybody at the press conference that I hoped on March 1 that we’re playing important games, competing for a playoff spot,” Holland said on Thursday. “We’re probably a little bit above that, but just a little bit. You can say we’re first place in the division, but we’re also five points from being out.
“How has it affected my thinking? I was a seller in Detroit the last three years, and I was a buyer at the deadline for many years. Would I like to do something? Yeah, you like to do something to pitch in.”
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Holland has a dressing room full of players who have come together to win games despite the fact there was $30-million worth of players out of the lineup that lost 2-1 in overtime to the Boston Bruins on Wednesday. They’re looking at their GM to give them another bullet in a Pacific Division that has never been more wide open than it is today.
In the coach’s office sits Dave Tippett, who has done a masterful job creating an all-in atmosphere where the Oilers can now beat you with their stars, or by outworking the opponents with a solid bottom six, a sturdy D-corps and excellent goaltending.
And the owner of a team that has enjoyed one playoff run in the past 13 seasons likely wouldn’t mind a playoff gate or two. All of that is running through the mind of Holland, who is also responsible for building something here that can past — which means not dealing away picks and prospects.
Especially a first-round pick.
“Certainly for a rental,” he said. “I’m not going to spend a first-round pick on a rental.”
The Franchise has missed just five games, and his team went 3-1-1, dropping points only against Tampa and Boston. Top defenceman Oscar Klefbom is on the shelf for another two to three weeks with a shoulder issue. The Oilers were in first place in the Pacific when they awoke Thursday, and have watched Vancouver add Tyler Toffoli, Vegas add Alec Martinez, Arizona add Taylor Hall earlier in the season, and the Calgary Flames free up a load of cap space when they sent Michael Frolik to Buffalo.
Does that make Holland’s trigger finger a little more itchy?
“I did that in my early years as a manager, (when) there was us, Dallas and Colorado,” he said. “Sometimes it helps, quite often it doesn’t help. Today I worry more about our team. I can’t manage against what other teams are doing. I have to factor in the prices, what am I looking for, what’s going to make us deeper and better and at what cost.”
As we wrote yesterday in our deadline preview, a left winger for McDavid is what we believe to be the biggest priority in Edmonton, though a depth centre wouldn’t hurt either.
How does Holland prioritize those needs?
“That’s fantasy hockey,” was his retort. “It depends what’s available, what’s the cost and it’s not like there’s a whole bunch of wingers and a whole bunch of offensive centreman or defensive centres. What’s the cost?
“I’m trying to weigh that in my thought process from when I was hired to a five-year deal. You have to draft and develop people. Some of the younger people have had a greater impact way quicker than I thought. So, I’m trying to decide over the next three or four days how active I’ll be.
“Yeah, I would like to pitch in because the guys in that locker room have worked extremely hard, players and coaching staff, to put us in this position. But I also have to factor in the cost and I would not trade a first-round pick for a rental.”
As for Jesse Puljujarvi, their wayward former No. 1 pick currently playing in Finland, Holland said this: “I haven’t really shopped him and nobody’s really asked.”
Stay tuned. As you can see, there are plenty of wheels in motion in Edmonton these days.
ATP Marseille: Felix Auger-Aliassime Saves 3 MP, Beats Pierre-Hugues Herbert – ATP Tour
#NextGenATP Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime saved three match points on Thursday, battling through a slew of tweeners and screaming forehands to overcome Frenchman Pierre-Hugues Herbert 6-0, 6-7(6), 7-6(9) in a two-hour, 40-minute thriller at the Open 13 Provence that the players nor fans watching will soon forget.
The seventh seed steadied himself well after letting slip one match point in the second-set tie-break, eventually triumphing on his sixth match point to reach the quarter-finals in Marseille. Auger-Aliassime, who lost to Herbert in straight sets two weeks ago in Montpellier, struck 16 aces and won 85 per cent of his first-serve points as he continues his pursuit of a maiden ATP Tour title.
The 19-year-old Canadian has now saved multiple match points in his first two matches at this indoor ATP 250 event, erasing two of them in his first-round victory against Italian Stefano Travaglia. Auger-Aliassime will next play Belarusian Egor Gerasimov, who upset third seed David Goffin.
For a moment, it seemed destiny was on Herbert’s side. The Frenchman not only hit a tweener lob on set point in the second set to force a decider, but he struck another clutch tweener to help escape pressure on serve deep in the third set.
Then at 6/6 in the ensuing tie-break, Auger-Aliassime played a perfect point and crushed an overhead into the open court. But on the full stretch, Herbert blasted a forehand pass down the line that the diving Canadian couldn’t handle, giving him a match point on his own serve. The Frenchman was unable to muster the courageous tennis he played under pressure during the rest of the match, pushing a backhand into the net.
On the other two match points Auger-Aliassime faced — at 5/6 and 7/8 in the same tie-break — the teen showed no fear, dictating with his forehand and then blasting an unreturned serve down the T. Felix finished off his victory with an ace out wide, letting out a roar of “Allez!”
It is a key week for the Canadian, who last year reached his first ATP Tour final in Rio de Janeiro as the World No. 104. He has since reached three additional tour-level championship matches, including one last week in Rotterdam (0-4).
Auger-Aliassime’s next opponent, Gerasimov, is a qualifier who ousted Goffin 6-4, 7-6(5). Goffin battled hard, getting back on serve in the second set after the Belarusian served for the match.
But the in-form World No. 72 played too well from the baseline, triumphing after one hour and 33 minutes behind three breaks of serve. Gerasimov reached his first ATP Tour final earlier this year in Pune.
Did You Know?
With Denis Shapovalov and Vasek Pospisil also into the last eight in Marseille, it is the first time three Canadians have reached the quarter-finals in an ATP Tour event since 1990 Rio de Janeiro where Martin Laurendeau (QF), Andrew Sznajder (Finalist) and Martin Wostenholme (SF) did it.
2021 Scotties tickets on sale on Friday – Tbnewswatch.com
THUNDER BAY – As Krista McCarville and company inch their way toward a spot in the championship round at the 2021 Scotties Tournament of Heats, tickets for the 2021 event in Thunder Bay are about to go on sale.
Curling Canada on Wednesday announced the first 2,000 ticket packages will be available through a pre-sale, for $395 plus fees, starting on Friday morning at 10 a.m.
A limited number of VIP tickets, priced at $429, will also be up for grabs.
Diane Imrie, vice-chair of the 2021 Scotties Tournament of Hearts said the announcement suddenly makes things real.
“My phone has been blowing up, my email has been blowing up because pre-sale tickets went on sale today,” said Imrie. “Curling Canada sent out the notification to people and people are buying their tickets and are getting ready for the 2021 Scotties.
“And it’s perfect timing because Krista is doing great out in Moose Jaw, so we’re hoping she’ll do exactly the same next year here in Thunder Bay.”
For now, only full week packages will be made available.
A block of weekend single-day tickets are expected to be put on sale in October.
“These are full-event packages right now and it’s a great deal, if you think about all those games you get to see for a great price,” Imrie said, “It’s tickets for everything.”
Kent Maarup, vice-chair facilities for next year’s event, said it’s a great day for curling.
He cautioned the public not to wait too long, because the next block of tickets won’t be nearly as large is this one.
“We have to keep so many for media and also for families and everybody else. So they hold off a good 500 tickets just for that,” Maarup said.
Tickets will be available online and at the Fort William Gardens box office as well. Tickets can also be ordered by phone at 625-2929. Tickets prices are subject to standard facility and ticket service fees.
Imrie said she expects information on volunteers will be made public in the coming weeks, but encouraged anyone interested to sign up as soon as possible at that time as the opportunities will be open to curling fans across the country.
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