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Tom Brady leads Buccaneers past Washington for 1st playoff victory since 2002 season –



New team, same swashbuckling playoff success for Tom Brady.

Brady threw for 381 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Tampa Bay Buccaneers past Washington 31-23 in their NFC wild-card game Saturday night for their first playoff victory since the 2002 season.

“If you could win 100-0, its going to be the same result in the end,” Brady said. “It’s good to win and advance.”

In his 42nd post-season start and first not in a New England Patriots uniform, Brady made the most of a lack of pressure to carve up the NFL’s second-ranked defence on 22 of 40 passing.

“He is a fighter, he plays hard, works hard and studies hard, and he is the man for the job,” Buccaneers running back Leonard Fournette said.

Brady had to outduel Washington’s Taylor Heinicke, who had a breakout performance in just his second pro start and first in the playoffs in place of injured starter Alex Smith. Heinicke — signed in early December to the practice squad — ran for 46 yards and a touchdown and threw for 306 yards and a score.

“He almost beat us with his legs,” Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians said. “He was very elusive. We knew he was going to scramble around, there was going to be bootlegs and scrambles. We were really hoping for Alex because we knew that part of the game wasn’t going to be in there.”

But Heinicke wasn’t enough to overcome Brady’s brilliance. While Bill Belichick and the Patriots watch from home with their playoff streak snapped at 11 following a 7-9 season, Brady has the opportunity to play in another Super Bowl — in his new home stadium.

The Buccaneers await the result of Chicago at New Orleans on Sunday to see if they’ll be visiting Drew Brees and the Saints or host the Los Angeles Rams next weekend. They’d need a Bears upset to play at home in the divisional round.

“It doesn’t matter,” Arians said. “We’re playing. That’s all that matters.”

Age doesn’t seem to matter much to Brady, who at 43 years, 159 days passed George Blanda as the oldest player to throw a TD pass in a playoff game. A 36-yard scoring connection with Antonio Brown was Brady’s longest in the playoffs since 2011.

Brady was methodical in the first half with 12 completions for 209 yards and wasn’t sacked until the final minute of the second quarter.

Heinicke made things interesting in the third, most notably scrambling for an 8-yard TD by diving at the pylon in the corner of the end zone. The play even got the attention of reigning Super Bowl champion Patrick Mahomes, who tweeted, “Bro what!?!?!”

The series after Heinicke banged up his left shoulder, Brady engineered a 69-yard scoring drive capped by a 3-yard TD run by Fournette. That made it 28-16, which was enough to withstand Heinicke’s attempt to be the unlikely hero.

“We’re thrilled with the win,” Buccaneers receiver Cameron Brate said. “I hate to say that we’re relieved, but at this point we’re just pumped we got the win. No matter how ugly it was, no matter how many mistakes we made, a win’s a win this time of year.”

Allen throws 2 TDs as Bills top Colts

Quarterback Josh Allen and safety Micah Hyde teamed up to make the Buffalo Bills’ losing past history.

Now do you Bill-ieve?

In a season in which the Bills busted numerous slumps, Allen became Buffalo’s first starter in a quarter century to win a playoff game. And Hyde ensured the Bills wouldn’t endure another second-half collapse as happened last year in a wild-card loss to Houston, or last-second touchdown.

With Buffalo the AFC East champions for the first time since 1995 and hosting their first playoff game since ’96, Allen threw two touchdown passes and scored another rushing in leading the Bills to a 27-24 win over the Indianapolis Colts in a wild-card game Saturday.

Hyde batted down Philip Rivers’ desperation pass as time ran out in helping Buffalo snap an 0-6 post-season skid by winning its first playoff game since a 37-22 win over Miami on Dec. 30, 1995.

The past was very much present in Allen’s mind when reflecting on how Buffalo squandered a 16-0 third-quarter lead in a 22-19 overtime loss to Houston in his first career playoff appearance.

Hyde’s pass defence eased memories of the Bills giving up DeAndre Hopkins’ leaping 43-yard touchdown catch in the final seconds of a 32-30 loss at Arizona on Nov. 15. Buffalo has won seven straight since for its longest winning streak since 1990.

And the win came with a limited number of 6,700 fans in attendance for the first time this season.

Allen finished 26 of 35 for 324 yards with a 5-yard touchdown to Dawson Knox and a 35-yarder to Stefon Diggs, which led to the fans chanting “MVP! MVP!” to celebrate the first Buffalo player to lead the NFL in catches and yards receiving.

The Colts (11-6) ended a season in which they won 11 games for the first time since 2014, and reached the playoffs for the second time in three years under Frank Reich.

Rivers finished 27 of 46 for 309 yards and had his career playoff record drop to 5-7 in completing his first — and potentially last — season with the Colts as he ponders retirement.

The game wasn’t decided until the final play, when Rivers faced fourth-and-11 from Buffalo’s 47. Rivers heaved a deep pass for T.Y. Hilton, who was surrounded by defenders in the right side of the end zone. Hyde broke through the crowd of bodies, leaping up and batting the ball to the ground.

Rookie kicker Tyler Bass accounted for the decisive points by hitting a 54-yard field goal to put Buffalo up 27-16 with 8:08 remaining.

The Colts responded with a seven-play, 75-play drive capped by a 9-yard touchdown pass to Pascal. After Bass upped Buffalo’s lead to 27-16, the Colts scored less than two-minutes later. Rivers hit a wide-open Jack Doyle for a 27-yard touchdown and Doyle caught a 2-point conversion.

Bills players celebrate after beating the Colts on Saturday. (Adrian Kraus/Associated Press )

The Bills, however, didn’t make it easy. with Allen nearly losing a fumble at midfield when sacked for a 23-yard loss by Denico Autry on first down from the Indianapolis 37. Offensive lineman Daryl Williams, however, recovered, forcing the Bills to punt with 2:30 remaining.

The Colts were limited to a touchdown and field goal in the first half after having all five drives cross midfield and enjoying a nine-plus minute edge in time of possession.

The turning point came when the Colts, up 10-7, were unable to score on four snaps inside Buffalo’s 4. Rivers’ pass for Michael Pittman glanced off the diving receiver’s fingertips on fourth down.

Buffalo responded with a 10-play, 96-yard drive capped by Allen’s 5-yard keeper with 14 seconds left in the half.

A Colts miscue also helped extend the drive. Facing fourth-and-3 from the Colts 26, Allen drew defensive end Kemoko Turay offside with a second left on the play clock.

Rams upset Seahawks despite injuries

A lot of Cam Akers churning yards on the ground and mostly a great Rams defence has Los Angeles moving on in the NFC playoffs at the expense of division-foe Seattle.

Akers rushed for 131 yards and a touchdown, Darious Williams returned Russell Wilson’s interception 42 yards for a score, and the Rams beat the Seahawks 30-20 in the NFC wild-card playoff game Saturday.

The best defence in the league during the regular season carried its dominance into the playoffs — even while missing unanimous All-Pro tackle Aaron Donald for much of the second half. No team was better at limiting yards or points than the Rams (11-6) and they continued to torment Wilson and the Seahawks (12-5).

Seattle’s quarterback was under a siege from the defensive front and a secondary that minus one play never let DK Metcalf or Tyler Lockett break loose. Donald, before leaving with a rib injury, and Jalen Ramsey were superb. But so were other role players such as Troy Reeder, Jordan Fuller and Leonard Floyd.

Floyd had two of the Rams’ five sacks. Two of the others belonged to Donald. The Rams allowed just 278 total yards and 11 first downs.

It added up to sending the Rams into next week’s divisional playoff round, likely at top-seeded Green Bay unless Chicago upsets New Orleans.

Williams’ interception was his third of the season against Wilson after picking him off twice in Los Angeles in November. He jumped a wide receiver screen intended for Metcalf and returned it untouched to give the Rams a 13-3 lead midway through the second quarter.

Akers added a 5-yard TD run just before halftime for a 20-10 lead. It proved enough with a Seattle offence that was disjointed and confused nearly from the start.

Wilson had one of his worst playoff performances. He was 11 of 27 for 174 yards. Wilson connected with Metcalf on a pair of TDs: 51 yards in the first half off a broken play, and a 12-yard TD with 2:28 left to make the score more respectable.

Seattle never played with the lead and was 2 of 14 on third downs. It’s first home playoff game in four years was a dud without its raucous home crowd, and the Seahawks saw their 10-game home playoff win streak snapped.

Their last home playoff loss came in January 2005 to the St. Louis Rams.

The Rams pulled off the upset without a healthy quarterback for more the three quarters of the game. John Wolford started for the second straight week but suffered a neck injury when he dived head first in the first quarter and was hit in the helmet by Jamal Adams’ shoulder. Wolford was taken to a local hospital as a precaution.

Jared Goff took over less than two weeks after undergoing surgery on his right thumb; he was injured in the Week 16 loss to Seattle. Goff didn’t do anything spectacular but also avoided major mistakes.

Goff was 9 of 19 for 155 yards. He capped the victory with a 15-yard touchdown pass to Robert Woods with 4:46 left after Seattle’s D.J. Reed fumbled a punt.

Akers, the Rams’ rookie ball carrier, was outstanding after not playing two weeks ago. Akers had the best rushing day by a Rams running back since Marshall Faulk went for 159 against Philadelphia in January 2002.

The Rams finished with 164 yards rushing.

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So… Now what? – Thoughts on Wednesday’s changes – Habs Eyes on the Prize




The Montreal Canadiens made the decision to move on from Claude Julien and Kirk Muller, the proper choice, but one with ramifications down the entire organizational ladder. Alex Burrows was plucked from Laval to move on up to the NHL bench with Dominique Ducharme and Luke Richardson.

Burrows was running the Laval power play for the last two seasons, and quite successfully as a first-time coach. In the 2019-2020 season the Rocket finished 8th in the AHL in PP% and are sitting 13th at the time of Burrows’ promotion. The Rocket man advantage functions far differently than the Canadiens, allowing more free-flowing in the offensive zone to create open shooting lanes. In his first year the team could run shots through Charles Hudon, or Xavier Ouellet, but neither player stayed tethered to one spot on the ice, opting to find soft areas to operate in.

In Montreal the big shooting pieces, aka Shea Weber, plant themselves and almost stubbornly refuse to leave. Ironically when Weber did move his shooting lanes against Ottawa he found the back of the net twice, but going forward it will be Burrows job to try and find ways to utilize the Habs best shooter.

The creativity shouldn’t just stop at revitalizing the power play either, if Chantal Machabée is to be believed (and there’s no reason she shouldn’t be) it was Dominique Ducharme’s offensive mind that drove the Canadiens earlier in the season. We saw a Canadiens team that played with pace, drove hard to dangerous areas, and played unafraid hockey. Whether it was Claude Julien overruling Ducharme or the players overthinking during the losing streak, putting the guy who had them playing exciting hockey back in charge seems like the right play.

I guess my final thought is that the onus for Claude Julien getting fired being on Carey Price’s shoulder feels extremely unfair. At five on five, Price has been more than fine with a .920 SV% (Jake Allen clocks in at .945), but his overall numbers take a massive hit when you factor in the penalty kill. While killing just five on four penalties, Price has a .841 SV% (Allen drops to .900), and before we go and fully blame Price let’s add context.

Somehow, the Canadiens in equal amounts of shorthanded time, have just left Carey Price out to dry, while providing Allen far better coverage in front of him. It’s a bizarre circumstance, but the team across the board isn’t doing what it needs to on the penalty kill. Price can be better on the penalty kill, this is absolutely true, but with the current system he’s being forced to guess where he needs to be or second-guess where his teammates might be in their coverage.

The team is good enough that they don’t need Carey Price to be otherworldly, but if Price is giving you a .920 type of season and you can’t kill any of the penalties you’re taking it’s more than just his fault right now.

For me personally, I’m excited to see a non-retread coach hired. Ducharme was someone I wanted to coach the AHL club during Sylvain Lefebvre’s reign of errors. I think he’s got the pedigree at lower levels to make this a successful next step, and it’s very interesting to see how highly the organization thinks of Alex Burrows as well.

To quote a WWE theme song: It’s a New Day, Yes it is.


My first reaction is that this is a fresh start for a lot of players. There is a lot of competition for spots in the lineup, both at forward and at defence. I am not expecting insane changes when he doesn’t have a full practice under his belt before the team’s first game, at least not in terms of lineup. What I am expecting to see, however, is a difference in mindset. There will be some changes there for sure.

A fresh start is always exciting because of the hope it brings. Anything is possible.

I am looking forward to seeing how Ducharme settles into the role. Head coach of the Montreal Canadiens is a hard job to jump into, but so is coaching the Canadian World Junior team at home… Which is something he did as well. He coached the 2017 team to a silver medal in Montreal, and then won gold the next year.

I don’t think he’ll wait long to put his stamp on the team. It won’t happen overnight (literally) but the team has two games in Winnipeg before coming back home. By the time the Canadiens host the Senators on March 2, I would expect it to be a different looking team than the one that played the two previous games.

I am curious what the players will say after a few days with Ducharme in charge. This is a guy the players know well. He’s been on the staff for a few years. That may make it easier for him to implement some of his adjustments. He also knows the players well, which is an easier transition than if he was a complete outsider.

Marc Bergevin talked a lot about communication. It’s something that stands out when I watch Joël Bouchard. Bouchard and Ducharme have worked a lot together, from the Montreal Junior, to the Canadian World Junior team. The two are also very similar. I recently re-read this story from when both were hired, and you can see the similarities.

I think there will be some changes that will happen quickly, but I also think some of the benefits to Ducharme taking over will be felt longer-term as well. That’s what Marc Bergevin is counting on and there’s a reason why he was chosen for this role, and all the other roles before this one where he had success.

The NHL is a different ball game, sure, but I always saw Ducharme as a future NHL coach, and I am looking forward to seeing what he does with the opportunity.

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Evaluating Sheldon Keefe on the Maple Leafs – Pension Plan Puppets



It’s always a tricky bit of business to judge NHL coaches. The standard method in the league itself as practiced by GMs is to fire coaches when their own chair in the executive suite starts to feel like the seat in their Lexus after the seat heater got left on too long. And the standard method in the league for ownership to use to fire GMs is to chomp their metaphorical cigars call it a results-based business and fire them when the win/loss record tips to losses for too long.

The problem with all of that is the illusion of results-oriented judgement is just another way for men making more and more money out of a losing NHL team to shout, “It’s not my fault!” in a way that their own bosses/shareholders/personal willingness to lose money can be placated with. Eventually that stops working too, and the real problems need to be fixed.

When Sheldon Keefe was given the keys to the Maple Leafs, the next thing that happened was Kyle Dubas traded for a decent backup goalie and then another defenceman after the acquisition of Jake Muzzin less than a year before Keefe took over. Those three changes, and a recent offseason of player signings as well, make it difficult when looking back to sort out what was down to the coach, and what the changes on the team.

I call this sort of analysis post hoc, ergo propter hockey, and there is a huge appetite for explaining a largely unexplainable game by pointing at whatever thing has changed recently and asserting with total certainty that that’s the cause. That plus too much faith in the standings leads us all measuring with a faulty ruler. What does an NHL coach really do? How much do the affect the game? Is it all about motivating the players, group dynamics or what?

I don’t know, so I’m asking other people.

You could say that a bad coach can ruin a good team, but a great coach can’t make a bad team good. Do you think that’s true, and to what extent can a coach boost a good team to greatness?

Fulemin: All coaches are judged by expectations, and expectations are set by roster quality. We look at the names on the team first and estimate how good it ought to be, and if the actual results diverge from that, we attribute it to coaching greatness or lack thereof. This sounds like I’m just being glib here, but I really mean it: the Jack Adams is awarded on this basis every year. My suspicion is that the vast majority of NHL coaches don’t have a huge impact in either direction, except in really emotional circumstances where the team has given up or when it’s excited to play for somebody new. The biggest impact, I think, is that a well-suited coach can get a grinder team to play aggressive defence and that’s probably the best way to get a lot out of a grinder team. Shorter version: however good you think the New York Islanders are compared to their results under Barry Trotz ought to be your answer for maximum coaching impact.

Arvind: As usual, I’m going to be annoying and equivocate. No coach could turn the staff of PPP into a competitive NHL hockey team. However, I do buy that there are coaches who can get more than others would out of a given NHL-quality roster, depending on the skills of that roster (and obviously, the opposite holds too). The degree to which this occurs is tricky, and hard to analyze. The quintessential ‘coaching up’ example in recent NHL history is Gerard Gallant with the Vegas Golden Knights. It’s hard to allocate precise amounts of credit for their unexpected success between Gallant coaching up a roster of players who were not thought of as particularly great, and the players themselves being better than we initially thought.

Similarly, a coach can take a strong roster and push them to greatness. He’s a persona non grata at this point, but Mike Babcock took a strong 2007/2008 Red Wings roster and contributed at least to some degree to one of the most dominant Stanley Cup champions in the post-2005 lockout. Again, it’s hard to know the degrees. Was Babcock elevating those players, or were they just better than we thought? The one robust mathematical attempt I’ve seen to isolate coaching impact on 5v5 play is Micah McCurdy’s work, where over multiple year periods, coaches top out at providing an estimated 3-4% boost to the xG differential of a team. Obviously, this ignores one of the more obvious ways coaching staffs can improve a team, which is through special teams strategy.

Katya: I don’t think I’d trust an answer that didn’t equivocate on this to some extent. I think that coaches are kind of like goalies. They aren’t really part of the team, but they affect what the team does, and they often get the credit or blame for outcomes where it’s not warranted. The Vezina used to be a GAA award, straight up, so they are lauded on how good the skaters are as well. And like a goalie the extent to which they can be bad is infinite, but the range of good ones is very tight, hard to identify and predict and subject to a lot of mythologizing.

Also, I do seriously wonder if for regular season results, the person creating and maintaining the power play might be the single most import coach there is. Imagine if Montreal had a good power play, for example.

Brigstew: I actually wrote out a completely different answer, realized I didn’t like it at all and then re-wrote this. I guess I think of it as if a given roster of players on a team has a theoretical maximum potential for how good they can be. That will take into account the system they play, their motivation to try their best at any given time, and the development of them as players (mostly for younger guys). There’s other stuff too, like health, but none of those have to do with coaching. Let’s say that this theoretical potential starts at 100%. I do think that great coaches can get a team to that 100% for most of the time. Good coaches can get them close, to varying degrees. Bad coaches sink them. That’s more philosophical I suppose, but I guess TL;DR I don’t think a great coach can make a bad team good. He can only make them as good as the best they can be.

Hardev: This article is long so I’ll be short. I think a good coach can mask deficiencies caused through roster building. If a team has poor shooters, work to increase volume. If a team doesn’t have the ability to do either, limit chances against. If they’re the 2014 Rangers, don’t make them look like a turtle with an ass the size of Henrik Lundqvist.

Is it player performance, motivation, group dynamics or is it systems, personnel choices and player usage that matters?

Fulemin: I think motivation—ability to get buy-in, specifically—is most of it. Motivation is a more complex thing than just cracking the whip until the players play right, to be clear. It’s getting the players to follow the system effectively and instinctively, which there are many roads to. I think an NHL system effectively executed is going to be better than one executed half-heartedly, even if the latter is theoretically better. This is probably a variation on my feeling that most coaches don’t make that much difference because it’s very hard to be a brilliant motivator game in, game out over a long stretch; you see a bounce when a new coach busts in partly because the previous guy was likely fired in the depths of a PDO slump and partly because the team gets a new lease on life and chance to prove themselves. But sustaining that commitment longer term is tough.

Arvind: All of the above, but to different degrees with different teams and personalities. The way I view it is that a coach is essentially the manager of a small business. The content of what they’re trying to implement matters, but so does the messenger and the way the message comes across. Some coaches are not cut out for the talents and personalities of certain teams, even if they have great ideas systemically.

Katya: Okay the coach as boss is an interesting metaphor because we’ve ported the sports concept of teams and team dynamics into workplaces, often where it doesn’t belong. But sometimes, in some workplaces, you just need to get out of people’s way. I think of Jon Cooper here, and this is partly lore, because none of us have played for the Tampa Bay Lightning, but he has managed, most of the time, to handle a team playing at their peak for a very long time, with boring meaningless regular seasons and then a need to switch to playoff mode very well. And I don’t say that because they won last year, but because of the long period they’ve been in striking distance.

On player usage, I think most coaching choices are largely non-factors, but dumb ones can sink a team more than smart ones will really help. Players will play as they play. I actually think the worst thing a coach can do is expect players to do things they are not capable of or that cannot lead to success. That’s when what seems like motivation becomes demoralizing. Biggest example of that I can think of is Patrick Roy (who is popular with most players) who created a system guaranteed to lose.

Brigstew: Motivation I think is something that coaches have the most impact on. A coach is essentially a player’s boss, or manager. I think we all know from experience in our working lives that a good manager can have you working at your best, and a bad manager saps your motivation to try as hard as you could. Usage and personnel choices I think do matter as well, especially since it can impact motivation. Deciding to play Hyman higher in the lineup makes sense because he is genuinely great at making a line work, and that’s more important for your top lines. Deciding to stack all your stars on one line, leaving the rest of them to be essentially third/fourth lines, is not a good coaching decision, Sheldon.

Hardev: They’re all tied together. Performance ties to systems (within the bounds of randomness), motivation ties to usage, and group dynamics ties to personnel choices.

Does Sheldon Keefe make the Leafs better (not better than the previous coach, but better than they’d be with some imaginary average-quality coach)?

Fulemin: I haven’t seen a convincing case that he makes them either much better or much worse. I resolutely want to avoid any more Babcock discussion for the rest of my life, and I’m sorry to ignore the parenthetical, but since he’s the only other coach this version of the Leafs has had: the team looks like a somewhat possession-heavier version of about the same thing it did under Babcock. Which is progress, I suppose. If Keefe has a mark in his favour I think it’s that he genuinely is very flexible and gives lots of chances to different combinations, which theoretically should pay off when come playoff time he’s found the best answers with his given personnel…but it didn’t seem to help against Columbus and he also routinely tries things that I think are silly. So we’ll see.

Arvind: I think so, though not by an enormous amount. It’s hard to criticize the W/L ratio in Keefe’s time as a coach. The numbers are solid, if not elite, and they seem to match up with a roster that I’d consider between the 5th and 10th best in the league. The elite power play helps a lot, and while that may not strictly be Keefe’s doing, I’m crediting it to him since it’s his coaching staff.

Katya: I’m really, really not sure about this one. I think his system is complex, and okay, does anyone remember this?

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If you just let the Leafs play as they play, would you get the moment when they go from the Farandole to grooving to Bowie? Or would you get chaos? Is Count Adhemar scowling away there every hockey coach ever? And is he, when it comes to hockey, right to scowl?

Something happened to the Leafs, and they went from this team that a Dallas Stars fan once called puck-a-doodle-doo that was like Patrick Roy’s misguided system only good, and it was fun, and I miss it. I want to see that with Muzzin and Brodie there to guard the back door. None of this is an answer, but that’s how I feel. There’s been three games already this season where I turned the sound off and played Iggy Pop’s Chairman of the Bored instead. Oh, and the Talking Heads’ Road to Nowhere. And it’s not a case of defensive success is boring to watch because the Leafs have not pulled up the red carpet that invites the opposition to cruise down the slot.

Brigstew: Thus far I am of the opinion that Keefe is an okay coach. He has some interesting ideas to manage the best and worst of the team. I don’t think he is a great coach by any means. I don’t think he has unlocked the utmost potential of the roster, but at least to his credit I do think he is good at having them motivated… at least compared to before.

Hardev: He is/has been the average-quality coach. Some things have been good, others bad, on the whole medium. He’s not going to sink this team or carry it to the promised land. That comes down to the things we talked about at the end of last playoffs.

What one thing would you like to see the coaching staff do that they don’t?

Fulemin: If they could convince the team to stop turtling when they get a multi-goal lead, that would be great. I know this is the lament of many fans of many teams and it may just be a fact of life given that they’re not a great in-zone defensive team, but the Leafs bleed chances against at an absolutely incredible rate once they’re up two. Look!

Arvind: I’m speaking with a lot of ignorance here, but for the sake of preserving Matthews and Marner somewhat, I’d like to get a little closer to equalizing the time between the first and second lines. The John Tavares / William Nylander duo has good overall numbers, even if they pale in comparison (especially offensively) to Matthews / Marner. They’ve received justified criticism, especially within the lens of how they match up to the good 5v5 teams in the division (a notable chunk of Tavares’ and Nylander’s strong overall 5v5 results come from games where they wipe the floor with Ottawa and Vancouver).

It makes us a worse team in the short-term to play Matthews / Marner less, but in a pretty compressed season, lowering the burden on them in lower leverage environments could be useful.

Katya: Shooot! I’m not sure if this is coached or if it’s something about this division, but they’ve now gone so far from the all point shots bad times to endless searches for the perfect high-danger chance. The only teams that have done that over a lot of time are the Wild and the Canes and that hasn’t worked out so great.

Brigstew: I know we all hated Babcock for his extreme lack of roster flexibility, and we wanted him to try out certain things more often. I feel like Keefe is the polar opposite. He’ll try tons of weird shit, seemingly just like throwing a bunch of stuff at a wall and seeing what sticks. But I wish he’d be smarter with it, and not go so bonkers. Trying out a 7D lineup and then saying he almost immediately regretted it (for good reason) does not instill faith in me that he will make well thought out decisions and experiments. And it’s one thing to say he only does it in the regular season, but I happen to remember what he did in game 5 against Columbus which he also just did against Calgary and I don’t have faith that he can reign in his impulsivity when it’s really fucking important to do something you know will work as well as it can.

Hardev: This is a nitpick but I feel Nylander has been underused at 5v5. Play him more with Tavares, maybe sometimes with Matthews? On the power play we’ve seen them give teams different looks, why not do that at 5v5? Mix the top-four up around on occasion, maybe you’ll find a better look against a specific opponent, or at the very least it keeps everyone on their toes.

What one thing would you like to see them stop doing?

Fulemin: Running a super line to start games. Tavares-Matthews-Marner is something you do in the last ten minutes when you plan to play that trio for six of them. Don’t do it in the first period.

Arvind: Playing Nylander at LW. I know he did it last year with success, but it’s been more dogmatic this year, to my eye. I feel like it neuters his puck carrying and passing too much, and in particular, it makes it harder for him and Tavares to pass to one another, as they have to make and receive passes between each other on their backhands.

Katya: Give up the dream of a shutdown line with Alex Kerfoot as the centre and Ilya Mikheyev on it. The idea seems to be to lighten the load on Tavares/Nylander, and as Arvind tells you above, it’s not working. Somewhere in the soul searching after the defeat at the hands of the Blue Jackets, the Leafs decided they needed to pull back from Kyle Dubas’ lean in to offence. I wonder if they pulled too far back?

Brigstew: Messing around with the third line. This is something that’s had a lot of experimentation and nothing so far has seemed to really work. Having a lot of injuries to most of your third/fourth line depth hasn’t helped, but man I’d like to see them get to a point where they can have a better impact. They’re not really shut down-able, but neither are they big offensive threats for putting up points. Pick a path, find a solution that works the best out of all the others, and stick with it until Dubas can find someone better to fill the hole.

Hardev: Stop giving up goals. Boom, fixed the team! That was easy.

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Canadiens at Winnipeg Jets: Five things you should know – Montreal Gazette



This will be the first meeting this season between the Habs and the Jets, who hold the No. 3 spot in the North division, one point ahead of Montreal.

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Here are five things you should know about the Canadiens-Jets game at Bell MTS Place in Winnipeg on Thursday (8 p.m., TSN2, TSN3, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM):

The matchup: This will be Dominique Ducharme’s first game behind the bench as the Canadiens’ head coach and he takes over a team that has lost five of its last six games, although Montreal did salvage a couple of points in overtime and shootout losses to the last-place Ottawa Senators this week. This will be the first meeting this season between the Canadiens and the Jets, who hold the No. 3 spot in the Canadian division with 23 points, one point ahead of Montreal.

Do we have a goaltender controversy? It will be interesting to see who gets the start in goal for the Canadiens. Carey Price and his US$10.5-million cap hit started the season as No. 1, but Jake Allen, who was brought in to ease Price’s workload, has been a better netminder. Price made several spectacular saves in Tuesday’s 5-4 loss to Ottawa, but also let in a softie from Brady Tkachuk that tied the game and he let in two goals on three shots in the shootout. He has a 5-3-3 record and has some of the worst numbers of his career — a 2.95 goals-against average and an .893 save percentage.

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Reunion time for Drouin: Ducharme and Jonathan Drouin have some history and it will be interesting to see what effect the coaching change has on Drouin’s performance and whether Ducharme can persuade him to shoot more. Drouin played for Ducharme as a junior with the Halifax Mooseheads and they were together for a Memorial Cup win in 2013, although the star of that team was Nathan MacKinnon, who is starring for the Colorado Avalanche. Drouin had a good start with a goal and 10 assists in 13 games, but he went four games without a point before scoring his second goal of the season on Tuesday.

Some bright spots: Newcomer Tyler Toffoli is living up to his reputation as a sniper and he scored his team-leading 12th goal on Tuesday. Auston Matthews (18) and Connor McDavid (13) are the only players who have scored more goals this season. And Shea Weber used his booming shot to score twice, but it would have been nice if he had been able to score on the power play. The Canadiens went 0-for-3 Tuesday and are 0-for-10 in their last six games. Montreal has one power-play goal in its last 22 opportunities.

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