Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin had already noted quarterback Ben Roethlisberger would be out this weekend against the Cleveland Browns as the team prepares for the playoffs. However, the list of Steelers that will be absent continues to grow. The team will also rest edge rusher T.J. Watt, defensive end Cam Heyward and center Maurkice Pouncey, according to Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Watt is a strong contender for Defensive Player of the Year. The fourth-year player out of Wisconsin recorded 15 sacks, 26 tackles for a loss, two forced fumbles and one interception in 2020. Heyward has been similarly impactful for the once 11-0 Steelers. He has made 8.5 tackles for a loss, four sacks and one interception.
Pittsburgh will start Mason Rudolph at quarterback. Rudolph and Browns edge rusher Myles Garrett were involved in a helmet-swinging incident that resulted in Garrett’s six-game suspension to end his 2019 season. Pouncey was the first on the scene to defend his quarterback. Pouncey, a former first-round pick out of Florida, is in his 11th season with the organization.
Rudolph has completed three of four passes thrown for nine yards this year.
Pittsburgh pulled off a necessary comeback last week against Indianapolis after dropping its previous three games. They secured the AFC North title as well as either the No. 2 or No. 3 seed in the AFC playoffs along with Buffalo. Kansas City remains the top seed and neither the Bills nor Steelers can take that from them in Week 17.
Cleveland, on the other hand, likely needs a victory to secure its first playoff trip since 2002. The Browns lost in the wild-card round to the Steelers that year. The franchise is currently dealing with a potential COVID-19 outbreak and could also be without some key players.
Pittsburgh trounced its rival, 38-7 when the teams met earlier this season.
Senators’ blue-collar effort stuns Maple Leafs in season opener – Sportsnet.ca
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.
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.
Canadiens, Canucks underdogs on Saturday NHL odds – Sportsnet.ca
The Montreal Canadiens will be looking to rebound from a 5-4 overtime loss to Toronto when they open a two-game set in Edmonton on Saturday night as small -105 underdogs on the NHL odds at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.
Montreal squandered a 3-1 lead on its way to Wednesday’s season-opening loss to the Maple Leafs, and also rides a three-game losing streak in Edmonton into Saturday night’s matchup at Rogers Place.
The Canadiens showed flashes of the potential that has stoked optimism among Montreal fans entering the new season. Last summer’s surprising playoff performance and offseason additions like Josh Anderson and Tyler Toffoli have made the Canadiens a solid +475 wager to win the North Division at online betting sites as the season gets underway. However, Montreal has been largely outclassed in recent trips to the Alberta capital, with the Oilers outscoring the Canadiens by a 22-13 margin during a 5-1 run.
The Oilers have produced mixed results in season-opening action but enter Saturday’s matchup as -115 favourites. The team never led in a 5-3 loss to Vancouver on Wednesday, but never trailed in Thursday’s victory as reduced -135 chalk, with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl combining for three goals and five assists.
Also on Saturday, the Canucks look to get back into the win column as they visit the Calgary Flames as +115 underdogs, while earlier in the evening the Toronto Maple Leafs wrap up a two-game road series with the Ottawa Senators as heavy -200 chalk.
Vancouver returns to action looking to build on a breakthrough playoff run that took them to within one game of a berth in the Western Conference Final. The Canucks have dropped three of their last four games against the Flames, scoring just three total goals in those defeats, and have alternated between victories and losses while earning the win in three of their past six games at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
And the Canucks could be facing former goaltender Jacob Markstrom, who signed with the Flames as an unrestricted free agent this past offseason. Markstrom won 99 games during seven seasons in Vancouver, but his Calgary tenure got off to a shaky start as the Flames blew an early 3-1 lead on their way to a 4-3 overtime loss in Winnipeg on Wednesday night. Despite that loss, the Flames are listed as -135 favourites in their date with Vancouver.
The Maple Leafs came out flat in a 5-3 loss to the Senators on Friday, and have now fallen to defeat in 10 of their last 14 road dates in Ottawa, which looks to Saturday night as a +170 bet.
The Maple Leafs are a joke – Pension Plan Puppets
The first period got off to a pretty tepid start. The first five minutes of action were characterized by unscreened point shots and board battles that didn’t really lead anywhere. The Leafs had more territorial control, as you’d expect against a team of the Senators quality, but they weren’t really able to turn it into great chances.
About seven minutes in, the Leafs get a break as Derek Stepan fires the puck out of play in his own zone, and they get a power play. The Leafs appear to be persisting with the spread out power play units, breaking up the loaded unit we saw under Keefe last season. The Tavares / Nylander unit got the first 45 seconds, with the Matthews / Marner group finishing it off. The latter looks better than the former, as they were able to maintain great possession in the offensive zone. However, Matt Murray stops the only real chance they generate, a Matthews one-timer off a scramble.
Shortly thereafter, Cedric Paquette holds Alexander Kerfoot, and the Leafs get another power play. And this time, the Leafs score! Nylander passes to Tavares in the bumper spot, who fools a defender by holding for a beat, rather than one-timing. Tavares shoots and the rebound pops up perfectly for Hyman to bunt into the net. 1-0 Leafs.
Matthews’ line came out for the next shift, and like we saw in the Blue/White scrimmage, they’re great at offensive zone puck recovery. This led to a Marner shot off a pass from Matthews, but it’s wayward (to say the least).
Tim Stützle had been quiet (hard to blame him, given the power plays of the Leafs), but he draws a slashing penalty on Travis Dermott. The power play led to the first real work for Frederik Andersen in the game, and he handles it ably. Politely, the Leafs gave him another chance to demonstrate his prowess, as Joe Thornton caught Thomas Chabot with a high stick with about two minutes remaining.
Hyman got a breakaway that he was unable to convert on, and afterwards, the Leafs took another bench minor for too many men. This resulted in a minute-long 5v3 that the Senators needed about half of to capitalize on. Drake Batherson finds Chabot for a one-timer, and he pounds it by Andersen. 1-1 game.
The rest of the period passes without incident, as the Leafs attempted to kill off the part of the bench minor.
In general, the 1-1 score is relatively fair. The Leafs haven’t generated much at 5v5, and what they have generated was almost entirely from the Matthews group. However, the Senators have generated even less. Both teams got reasonable chances via their power plays, and took advantage.
The second period started with Ottawa having a 40 second power play. However the Leafs manage to kill it without issues. It’s worth noting that Matthews didn’t get any PK time.
About five minutes in, the Mikheyev-Kerfoot-Hyman line hems the Senators in for about 90 seconds. Because it’s those three, there were precisely 0 dangerous shots, but hey, it’s better than spending time in your own zone. The shift afterwards, Justin Holl and Thornton somehow found themselves on a 2-on-1. Presumably shocked, Holl did literally nothing and the chance evaporated.
That said, the Leafs looked better in terms of territorial advantage and pressure in this part of the game. That said, they still didn’t really generate a large amount of great chances, especially when Matthews and his crew isn’t on the ice.
But sometimes, you don’t need great chances to score. Alex Kerfoot wired one in from the point, with Hyman and Mikheyev both providing effective screens. 2-1 Leafs.
Shortly after the Kerfoot goal, the Sens generated a mad scramble in front of Andersen that did not inspire confidence in the Leafs’ ability to lock this game down, but the puck stayed out. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the ensuing shift, where a Nikita Zaitsev shot from the right half-boards is tipped by Brady Tkachuk. 2-2 game, and the Sens aren’t going away quietly.
Joe Thornton then displayed some of the superlative skills he still has. He managed to box out a Sen below the net, and found a darting Matthews at the netfront. Matt Murray makes a great save to keep it tied. On the other end, the Leafs don’t get quite as good goaltending.
Nick Paul made a good play to get the puck off the boards in the offensive zone, finding Braydon Cobourn, who drops it off to Austin Watson. His shot from the right circle goes bar down, and it’s 3-2 Sens.
It’s a great shot, don’t get me wrong… but in a game where the Leafs have gotten more chances, you’d like Andersen to make a big save here.
The period then went from bad to worse for the Leafs. On a delayed penalty, Chris Tierney shovels a rebound into the net while facing the wrong way. 4-2 Senators and this is not ideal at all. While I’d say the Leafs have gotten more chances than the Senators on the whole, they’re not creating tons of golden chances offensively. And the few chances that the Sens are getting are basically right in front of the net, and pretty high value.
With three minutes to go, the Leafs received a chance to atone for some of their sins, with Chabot getting the gate for high sticking. Did they take it? Reader, they did not. Instead, Nylander turned the puck over in his own zone, and Spezza took a penalty as a result.
Toronto escaped the second without further damage.
Like the second period, the third started with Ottawa on the power play, and like the second, nothing happens in that time. Two minutes in, Chabot took another penalty, this time for holding. However, Toronto was unable take advantage of the power play.
At this point, Keefe started busting out the line blender, with Hyman moving up to join Tavares and Nylander.
After a pretty unforced icing from the Leafs, Brodie turns the puck over behind his own net. Derek Stepan finds Batherson in front, and his shot results in a loose puck that Stepan tucks home himself. 5-2 Senators.
The Leafs then loaded up their top unit power play with the five guys who you would expect to see there. It immediately paid off as Tavares absolutely rips a wrister home on a broken play. 5-3 Senators, and the Leafs have a glimmer of hope.
I gotta be honest. The fact that when the chips are down, the Leafs move Vesey off Tavares’ wing and play their five best players on the PP suggests that maybe they should do that from puck drop, instead of waiting until their win probability is in single digits.
After Dermott iced the puck under literally zero pressure, he then failed to clear the puck on the ensuing shift. As usual, the Leafs were terrible in their own zone, which led to a great chance for Erik Gudbranson, of all people. Andersen made a great save to keep it superficially close.
Nylander capped off a brutal performance by giving the puck away and then taking a high sticking penalty to kill off any chance of a comeback. After a strong opening night from him, this was a game to forget.
Nothing happens the rest of the game. I mean, maybe something did, but I paid as much attention as the Leafs evidently do when south of their own blue line. Final score, 5-3 Senators.
One thing I want to be clear about here. The Senators have not executed a smash and grab. They are basically going even with a team that they are far worse than on paper. There are universes where this performance resulted in a win for the Leafs, but Ottawa was by no means undeserving of the result here.
This third period is especially bad. Maybe the Leafs deserved better in the first two frames, but they’re in the position they’re in. To have a third period where you generate nothing offensively at 5v5, trailing, against a team like the Senators is inexcusable. Just a straight up terrible effort.
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