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Thriving in tandem, VanVleet and Siakam becoming one of NBA’s most prolific duos – Sportsnet.ca

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TORONTO – With 3:34 left in what was a laugher of a 122-95 victory on Nov. 28, 2016 over a Philadelphia 76ers team still very much going through “the Process,” a rookie Fred VanVleet checked into the game, sharing the floor with fellow rookie Pascal Siakam for the very first time in the NBA.

Not a lot happened, especially between the two players, as Siakam converted on an alley-oop pass from Norman Powell and VanVleet missed a short runner. However, though no one possibly could’ve known at the time, these three minutes and 34 seconds of Siakam and VanVleet playing together was the beginning of one of the NBA’s most prolific duos.

In total, Siakam and VanVleet have shared an NBA floor for 5,723 minutes and combined for 13,392 points.

Just this season alone, despite Siakam’s early-season absence and Covid protocols keeping both players out for a time, the duo has already played 663 minutes together and scored 1,551 points — making up 11.6 per cent of their minutes and point totals when the two share the floor.

Put in a simpler way: Siakam and VanVleet have both been phenomenal this season and their individual statistics can tell this story very effectively with Siakam averaging 20.6 points, 8.4 rebounds and 4.5 assists while shooting 47.7 per cent from the field, and VanVleet putting up 22 points, five rebounds, 6.7 assists while shooting 40.9 per cent from three-point range on 9.4 three-point attempts per game.

However, had it not been for the synergy and connection that Siakam and VanVleet have forged with each other on and off the floor over the last five and a half seasons, these gaudy individual numbers probably wouldn’t be possible.

“I think just the dynamic of how it has been going really like, I just think about the Milwaukee game where they were kind of just guarding me in the backcourt, you know, I could just throw it ahead to Pascal let them play four-on-four,” said VanVleet after Raptors practice on Monday. “So just trying to give Pascal more spacing and more opportunity. He’s really tough to guard one-on-one. …

“So, for me, with the way that I’ve been shooting the ball and scoring, I think we’re helping each other and him being a playmaker and handling the basketball, I think it’s helping my offence. So, just trying to play off each other, trying to set the tone. I think this is kind of the way that we envisioned that things would go. And it’s gonna be a back and forth, it’s gonna be different guys every night, but obviously me and [Siakam] have been locked in together over the last couple of games. So, it’s big. It’s big for our team. We’ve got to do it. As the leaders of this team, we’ve got to go out there and perform and I think we have a good chance when we do.”

To VanVleet’s point, as part of the six-game winning streak the Raptors have enjoyed, he and Siakam have combined to average 74.5 points, 30 rebounds and 15.7 assists per games on 46.4 per cent from the field and 40 per cent from three-point range.

A stretch of games that perfectly encapsulates the way the two have managed to play off each other, with what appears to be times in games where the two take turns dominating.

“It’s fun,” Siakam told reporters of playing off VanVleet after he helped the Raptors to their sixth straight victory Sunday. “It definitely reminds of us of old times, just being on the floor together and the bench mob and, obviously, winning the championship. It feels good, and I think when we’re all rolling and playing well. It’s fun.”

Even more fun, there doesn’t appear to be any ego between VanVleet and Siakam over who’s getting more touches and shots up. As their coach tells it, the fact that VanVleet has been putting up more shots of late has more to do with matchup than anything else.

“A lot of the volume of shots is dependent on what we’re seeing defensively,” said Nick Nurse. “We’ve had a couple games in a row where we’ve played against two bigs and it’s a dribble-handoff game or a ball-screen game a little more than whatever.”

Regardless of who ends up taking the shot or how many shots they take, an awful lot of those shots are finding the bottom of the hole for both of them and that’s what matters most for the Raptors. With Siakam and VanVleet playing the way they are, and doing it in tandem at that, it makes Toronto a very difficult basketball team to beat.

“I think they’re in a good connection level right now. I think it’s kind of come back. They’re both in rhythm individually, and now they’re in sync together,” said Nurse. “There are a lot of combinations of things they can do together. They’ve kind of always had it. Now it’s at such a different volume because of their status as a team on our roster. We used to kind of use them as unexpected guys to work together when you had a bunch of guys there. Now they’re the main guys, and that’s why the volume has gone up so much.”

Added VanVleet: “Like, 99 per cent of the time I know what he’s gonna do and I’m pretty sure he feels the same about me. So, it’s like we kind of know each other pretty well by now.”

Quick dribbles

• VanVleet was named the Eastern Conference player of the week for averages of 30.3 points, 6.5 assists and 4.8 rebounds per game helping the Raptors to a perfect 4-0 record last week.

• With his recent run of success, VanVleet has seen far more attention from opposing defences, including something that’s very funnily familiar to him.

“I’ve been getting a lot of attention, face guarding, we’ve seen a Box-and-One at least a couple times,” said VanVleet. “It’s ironic, for sure, to say the least, but it’s been fun, it’s been a challenge to learn and to adapt and have to stay locked in.”

• As part of Toronto’s six-game winning streak, Siakam has been seen more often playing backup point guard minutes and has seen his playmaking ability grow, averaging 6.4 assists per game during the streak.

Given the versatile nature of his game, this shouldn’t be all that surprising, but seeing how comfortable he is running and initiating the offence is still a little jarring at times. However, according to VanVleet, this has been a long time coming for Siakam.

“I don’t remember there being a moment but by our second year, it was pretty clear on how it was gonna go,” said VanVleet. “Whether there was the summer workouts or just having him bring the ball up the court and seeing him play in open space with the ball, you could see it pretty early.

“I always knew him as a back-to-the-basket guy just because I’ve played against him at New Mexico State and he was a really, really, really good post player on the block, so once he started pushing the break and getting out in transition and stretching to the rim you could see the vision of where it was going and he was obviously a huge part of our Bench Mob success, having him be out there making plays and he’s just continued to grow every year and he’s continuing to get better and I think the sky’s the limit for him in terms of him being that point forward, a guy out on the break making plays and, offensively, getting us organized.”

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Novak Djokovic leaves Australia after losing deportation appeal – CBC.ca

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Novak Djokovic left Australia on Sunday evening after losing his final bid to avoid deportation and play in the Australian Open despite being unvaccinated for COVID-19. A court earlier unanimously dismissed the No. 1-ranked tennis player’s challenge to cancel his visa.

Djokovic, a 34-year-old from Serbia, said he was “extremely disappointed” by the ruling but respected it.

A masked Djokovic was photographed in an Melbourne airport lounge with two government officials in black uniforms. He left on an Emirates flight to Dubai, the same United Arab Emirates city he flew to Australia from.

He has won a record nine Australian Open titles, including three in a row, but this time won’t even get the chance to try.

“I respect the Court’s ruling and I will cooperate with the relevant authorities in relation to my departure from the country,” he said in a statement.

Djokovic said he was “uncomfortable” that the focus had been on him since his visa was first cancelled on arrival at Mebourne’s airport on Jan. 6.

“I hope that we can all now focus on the game and tournament I love,” he said.

The national federation that runs the tournament, Tennis Australia, said it respects the decision of the Federal Court. “We look forward to a competitive and exciting Australian Open 2022 and wish all players the best of luck,” it said in a statement.

A deportation order also usually includes a three-year ban on returning to Australia.

Serbian president denounces ruling

In Serbia, President Aleksandar Vucic said the hearing was “a farce with a lot of lies.”

“They think that they humiliated Djokovic with this 10-day harassment, and they actually humiliated themselves. If you said that the one who was not vaccinated has no right to enter, Novak would not come or would be vaccinated,” Vucic told reporters.

He said he told Djokovic after talking to him “that we can’t wait to see him in Serbia, to return to his country, to come where he is always welcome.”

He did not say whether Djokovic said he would first go to Serbia after his deportation.

Chief Justice James Allsop said the ruling came down to whether the minister’s decision was “irrational or legally unreasonable.”

WATCH | Djokovic says his agent made error on Australia entry form: 

Novak Djokovic blames human error for inaccurate travel declaration

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Novak Djokovic says human error is to blame for an inaccurate travel declaration form that claimed the tennis champion hadn’t travelled for two weeks before arriving in Australia for an upcoming tournament in Melbourne. 1:52

Immigration Minister Alex Hawke welcomed the decision. His office did not immediately provide detail of how or when Djokovic would leave.

“Australia’s strong border protection policies have kept us safe during the pandemic, resulting in one of the lowest death rates, strongest economic recoveries, and highest vaccination rates in the world,” Hawke said.

“Strong border protection policies are also fundamental to safe-guarding Australia’s social cohesion which continues to strengthen despite the pandemic,” he added.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison welcomed what he described as the “decision to keep our borders strong and keep Australians safe.”

But opposition spokesperson on the home affairs portfolio, Kristina Keneally, said Djokovic was being deported for what he said and did publicly overseas before the government gave him a visa in November.

“This mess isn’t a failure of our laws. It’s a failure of Morrison’s competence & leadership,” Keneally tweeted.

Infection rates have soared in Australia

The pandemic response has become politically charged with Morrison’s conservative coalition seeking a fourth three-year term at elections due by May.

Infection rates have soared across much of Australian since December when Morrison’s government relaxed what had been some of the democratic world’s toughest restrictions on international travel.

“I will now be taking some time to rest and to recuperate, before making any further comments beyond this,” he said.

The court process that Djokovic had hoped would keep his aspirations alive for a 21st Grand Slam title was extraordinarily fast by Australian standards.

Within three hours of Hawke’s announcement on Friday afternoon that Djokovic’s visa was cancelled, his lawyers went before a Federal Circuit and Family Court judge to initiate their challenge to the decision. The case was elevated to the Federal Court on Saturday and submissions were filed by both sides that same day.

The three judges heard the case over five hours on Sunday and announced their verdict two hours later.

There was evidence that Djokovic was to be deported based on Hawke’s assessment that he was considered a “talisman of a community of anti-vaccination sentiment.”

Hawke’s lawyer Stephen Lloyd took aim at Djokovic’s anti-vaccination stance and his “history of ignoring COVID safety measures.”

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Lloyd raised the example of Djokovic giving a French newspaper journalist an interview last month while he was infected with COVID-19 and taking off his mask during a photo shoot. Djokovic has acknowledged the interview was an error of judgment.

The minister cancelled the visa on the grounds that Djokovic’s presence in Australia may be a risk to the health and “good order” of the Australian public and “may be counterproductive to efforts at vaccination by others in Australia.”

Djokovic’s visa was initially canceled on Jan. 6 by a border official who decided he didn’t qualify for a medical exemption from Australia’s rules for unvaccinated visitors. He was exempted from the tournament’s vaccine rules because he had been infected with the virus within the previous six months.

Canadian says ‘political agenda at play’

Vasek Pospisil, a Canadian who won the 2014 Wimbledon men’s doubles title and has worked with Djokovic to form an association to represent players, tweeted: “There was a political agenda at play here with the [Australian] elections coming up which couldn’t be more obvious. This is not his fault. He did not force his way into the country and did not `make his own rules’; he was ready to stay home.”

Pospisil wrote that Djokovic wouldn’t have tried to go to Australia at all and “been home with his family” had he not received the medical exemption.

Djokovic has won nine Australian Open titles, including three in a row, and a total of 20 Grand Slam singles trophies, tied with rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal for the most in the history of men’s tennis.

Djokovic’s dominance of late has been particularly impressive, winning four of the last seven major tournaments and finishing as the runner-up at two others.

The only time he did not get at least to the final in that span was at the 2020 U.S. Open, where he was disqualified in the fourth round for hitting a ball that inadvertently hit a line judge in the throat after a game.

Because Djokovic has withdrawn from the tournament after Monday’s schedule was released, he has been replaced in the field by what’s known as a “lucky loser” — a player who loses in the qualifying tournament but gets into the main draw because of another player’s exit before competition has started.

That player is Italian Salvatore Caruso, who is ranked 150th in the world.


Associated Press writers John Pye in Melbourne, Australia, Howard Fendrich in Washington D.C., and Dusan Stojanovic in Belgrade, Serbia, contributed to this report.

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6 Maple Leafs takeaways: ‘Roller coaster’ win over Blues full of thrills – Sportsnet.ca

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The Toronto Maple Leafs fly home having swiped five of a potential six points against three of the West’s best five teams — Colorado, Vegas and St. Louis — on this road trip.

But after earning then losing 3-1 leads in every one of those heavyweight tests, the path to secure those points was anything but tidy.

To dish the Blues their first regulation home loss in 14 games Saturday, Toronto needed to come from behind twice. They needed to win the first third period of this rocky roadie. And they needed one more save than the other guys in an 11-goal thriller waged by two of the top three teams by save percentage in the NHL.

“I don’t know when’s the last time, if ever, Jack Campbell in a Leafs jersey given up five in 22 shots,” said a bewildered Sheldon Keefe, after a wild 60 minutes of swearing and emoting.

Both head coaches blew their timeout before the game was half over. Momentum shifted violently. And the stars came to play in Toronto’s edgy and entertaining 6-5 victory.

“It’s crazy. I mean, roller coaster ride,” Mitch Marner said post-game, still abuzz. “Third period, dug in. We knew it wasn’t gonna be easy, and it’s a hell of a road win.”

“Just back and forth, up and down, bit of roller coaster,” Auston Matthews agreed. “But we found a way to win, and we’re going home with two points — which is all that matters.”

Welcome back, Marner

So what if Marner hadn’t scored a goal since November? Hadn’t registered a point since suffering a fluke shoulder injury at practice? Or hadn’t played a game in a week due to COVID protocol?

When he rejoined the group for Friday’s practice in Arizona, his teammates commented on how refreshed and upbeat the video-game junkie looked after all that time stuck at home playing virtual-reality tennis and golf on the new Oculus system he treated himself to.

“A lot of pep, a lot of energy. I think he really missed the guys,” Matthews said. “If anybody can kind of bounce back and be as much of himself as possible, it’s definitely him.”

Marner made good on his linemate’s prediction, beating Jordan Binnington high-glove with a pretty unassisted effort and cueing up Matthews’ third-period tying goal on the power-play with a deceptive pass from behind the net.

“I thought he was great tonight. Don’t forget, he hasn’t played in a while,” Keefe praised. “Good legs. Whether it was his goal or the big-time pass he makes on Matthews’ power-play goal to tie the game, that’s what Mitch does. He’s a game-breaker like that.”

As ever, the pass-first Marner wants to be a dual-threat because he believes that if goalies respect his shot, that can only present Matthews with more quality looks, too.

“I know I can score. I’ve done it a lot of times, and I got to make sure I get that mindset that I can score,” Marner said.

“I can be that threat.”

Liljegren gets a souvenir

Promoted to the top four alongside Jake Muzzin with Justin Holl in COVID protocol, rookie Timothy Liljegren picked a fine time to register his first NHL goal — a one-timed blast from the point that sailed through so much traffic, he didn’t even see it bend twine.

“That’s a bullet. Good for him,” Marner exclaimed. “He’s always kind of stone-faced, but he comes with great energy. He’s a fun guy to be around. It’s a hell of a goal. It’s a rocket.”

The Leafs bench erupted. Jason Spezza made sure to go fetch the puck, which Liljegren says he’ll find a special place for in his condo back in Sweden. And buddy Rasmus Sandin rubbed Liljgren’s head while Sandin’s father, Patric, tweeted in celebration:

Meanwhile, Keefe was oblivious to the goal’s personal significance.

The coach has been on the bench for the vast majority of the defenceman’s North American games since being drafted in 2017 and had seen him score for the Marlies on multiple occasions.

“I wasn’t really even aware that it was his first one, but it certainly was a great one,” Keefe smiled. “And we’re thrilled for him.

“He played a great game today. Moved the puck really well. Helped us on the breakout. Got us out of trouble sometimes. At times got himself in trouble, but then bailed himself out. Yeah, it was great for him.”

Matthews outduels O’Reilly in elite matchup

Yes, Ryan O’Reilly may have outscored Auston Matthews heads-up 2-1 on this night, but there was no mistaking whose line felt better about the result.

The Bunting-Matthews-Marner unit out-chanced the opposition 14-6 at even-strength; Matthews himself whipped a game-high eight pucks on net; and all three members of Toronto’s top line scored.

Matthews now has a ridiculous road streak of goals in 10 straight (12 total), and his 25th of the season vaults him into a tie with Alex Ovechkin for second overall in the Rocket race.

“It starts with myself. I was horrendous defensively tonight. Wasn’t hard enough to play against,” O’Reilly said. “We got what we deserved.”

Matthews’ most noteworthy play was by design.

On an offensive draw, the Leafs centre knew the onetime Selke winner would try to pull hard and inside on the backhand, so he instructed Bunting to charge to the net and whacked the faceoff forward toward Binnington’s crease.

The quick surprise caught the Blues off-guard and worked like a charm.

“It was a great play by him. It was really smart,” O’Reilly said. “It was a tough one to eat.”

Mikheyev’s run of good fortune continues

On a seesaw night that packed plenty of high-end skill and creativity into the first 10 goals, the 11th was a weak one by a player enjoying a strong season.

Hard on the puck all night, Ilya Mikheyev threw a puck toward Binnington with under four minutes in regulation that seemingly went right through the goaltender.

Mikheyev himself didn’t realize it was a good goal until he saw John Tavares celebrate. Keefe didn’t either, until he saw the referee point and caught Binnington’s dejected body language.

“Funny how that one ends up being the difference-maker. We’ll certainly take it,” Keefe said. “Those are the types of goals that go in when you have a season [2020-21] full of basically no luck.”

Is luck the difference this year, Mikheyev?

“It’s luck.”

Feels better, doesn’t it?

“I think so, yes.”

Back-to-back road trips

Even though the Maple Leafs don’t have a home game on the docket until Jan. 26, the club flew home after this western swing for some family time and practice days prior to jetting to New York City for Wednesday’s game against the Rangers.

After switching time zones four times in eight days, Keefe says it was “a no-brainer” to squeeze in some quiet time in Toronto before heading back to the States.

“It’s a nice little reset. Get to see your family and the cats,” Jack Campbell said.

Sandin has something else fluffy in mind.

“I can’t wait to get home to my own bed — my own pillow especially,” the Sandman said. “I’ll tell you, they can be very different. I need to learn from this and bring my own for next road trip. I can’t wait to get home to my own. It’s just perfect.”

Ho-Sang is automatic

Meanwhile, down in the AHL, Josh Ho-Sang executed a celebration even more entertaining than his go-ahead goal…

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Player grades: Edmonton Oilers collapse in miserable loss to Ottawa Senators – Edmonton Journal

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The Edmonton Oilers played a great game for two periods, they really did. But then the Oil collapsed in the third period with the defensive pairing of Evan Bouchard and William Lagesson on for three straight goals against.

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Lagesson and Bouchard first allowed an odd-man rush and a goal against.

Then young goalie Stu Skinner coughed up the puck for a goal.

Then Bouchard screened Skinner on Ottawa’s fourth goal.

Edmonton tied it up, but after Cody Ceci took a penalty, Ottawa won it on a power play goal, with the final score 6-4.

Brutal loss and brutal way to lose it.

“We come in, work ourselves to a 3-1 lead and we just five it away,” Connor McDavid said after the game.

The scoring chances were 21 for the Oilers, just nine for the Sens ( running count ).

Connor McDavid, 7 . He made major contributions to 10 Grade A shots but didn’t get one point. This wasn’t his night. His puck control was iffy to start, including him losing the handle on a break-in chance. But his hard charge up the ice led an Ottawa penalty and a 5-on-3 power play. He could not beat a sprawling Matt Murray in the first on an open 5-on-3 slot shot. How did he miss? Maybe some rust. On Ottawa’s fourth goal, he got in to deep to his own zone, allowing the Sens to move the puck easily into shooting position.

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Leon Draisaitl, 8.  He also was great on the attack, making major contributions to ten Grade A shots. He was dangerous on the 5-on-3 but got it done on the 5-on-4 in the first, winning a huge battle in the corner, then feeding Kassian for a goal, one of many such battles won and great feeds he made all game.

Zack Kassian, 6. Excellent slot shot in the first to score Edmonton’s first goal. Solid game.

Ryan McLeod, 5. Sweet feed to Bouchard in the first. He made a fine defensive stop on Brady Tkachuk in the second. He failed to cut out the pass to the slot on Ottawa’s third goal.

Jesse Puljujarvi, 6. He and Hyman came out strong on the forecheck, popping and protecting pucks. He won the puck to kick off the sequence leading to Kass’s power play goal in the first. His stretch pass was crucial to Edmonton’s fourth goal.

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Zach Hyman, 7. One of his better games. His hard work in the first saw him puck protect to set up McLeod, who sent a cross ice dart to Bouchard for a shot off the post. On Edmonton’s 5-on-3 in the first, he jammed two shots on net from the crease and set up McD in the slot, but no goals. He made a huge cross-ice dart to Nurse on Edmonton’s fourth goal.

Derek Ryan, 4 . Bad mistake on the first PK, allowing a wide open slot shot to goal scorer Josh Norris. He was one of four Oilers in the corner there. Everybody on the ice, in other words. But Ryan and his mates did better on Edmonton’s second kill in a tense and close game. And he was decent at even strength.

Warren Foegele, 6 . His high flying flip pass sent in Yamamoto for a breakaway and goal in the second. He almost clicked on a wrap-around shot in the third.

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Kailer Yamamoto, 6. He made a failed and early o-zone pinch that led to an early 3-on-2 rush for Ottawa, which was not a great way to start his game. He almost scored in the second off a sweet Duncan Keith feed. Scored a great breakaway goal. He lost a battle leading up to Ottawa’s second goal.

Devin Shore, 4. He barely played, did little.

Colton Sceviour, 4 . He allowed the cross-ice pass on Ottawa’s winning power play goal. You can’t allow that pass at that moment.

Brendan Perlini, 6. He gobbled up and snapped in a slot shot in the second for Edmonton’s third goal. A sniper’s snipe.

Darnell Nurse, 8. He ripped nine shots on net to lead his team. I liked this new partnership with Ceci, in part because I pushed it hard two weeks ago. But it makes sense to give the most minutes to Edmonton’s two best defenders on the left and right side. Brilliant rush through the Sens in the first but the new Edmonton Express could not score. He darted into the slot again later in the second for a solid shot. Huge goal, obviously, to tie it up in the third.

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Cody Ceci, 5. The pass went right through him on Ottawa’s first goal. Tipped on net a tricky shot off a great Draisaitl backhander on the second. His battle won in the defensive slot kicked off the scoring sequence on Nurse’s goal. But he got his stick up trying to lift Josh Norris’s stick and took a tough third period penalty, leading to Ottawa’s winning goal.

Duncan Keith, 7. Super solid game. He made a wickedly fine cross ice dart of a pass to set up Yamamoto for a slot shot in the second. Even better he walked the line like Johnny Cash late in the second, then fed it into the slot to Perlini for a goal. He kept a clean sheet on defence at even strength, not making a mistake on one Grade A shot against, but it would have been swell if he had blocked the shot on Ottawa’s fifth goal.

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Tyson Barrie, 6. He and Keith snapped the puck around smartly all game, but Barrie had a few hiccups. Bapped the puck out of the rink, took an early penalty and the Sens scored. His early turnover let to Tyler Ennis moving in and cracking it off the top bar.

Evan Bouchard, 3. He put a slot shot off the post after moving in deep in the first. He got sucked over a bit to the puck carrier on Ott’s second goal, allowing the pass over to Adam Gaudette. On Ottawa’s fourth goal, he screened Skinner.

William Lagesson, 2 . He lost an n-zone battle to allow Ottawa in for its second goal. Big mistake in a big moment. He also failed to take the man on Ottawa’s third goal. If his agent wonders why he’s not in the line-up more often, it is plays such as these two.

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Stuart Skinner, 3. An iffy game. Not good enough. He got beat on one of Ottawa’s two Grade A shots in the first but made a tricky save to start the second off a tipped shot. A moment later he fought off a slot shot. But after having little traffic in the first two periods, he got beat twice early in the third, first on an Ottawa fast-break, then after he made a wretched turnover behind the Edmonton net. Ottawa’s fifth goal was a tough shot but if Skinner had been sharper he might well have had it.

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