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What the Puck: Playing not to lose is no way to win for Canadiens – Montreal Gazette

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What the Puck: Playing not to lose is no way to win for Canadiens – Montreal Gazette


It has been a tough past seven games for the Habs and head coach Claude Julien appears to be out of ideas.

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How quickly a dream turns into a nightmare.

Of course, our beloved Montreal Canadiens still have time to turn it around, but it’s just as evident that this team has been stinking out the joint since the Feb. 4 loss to the Ottawa Senators. Let’s take a moment to think about the concept that they have lost two games this month to the Sens.

Ottawa is a truly terrible team and is dead last in the NHL for that very reason. They’ve only won five games all season and two of them came against the Habs. I was watching that boring game Sunday and I kept thinking: Other than Brady Tkachuk, who actually plays for this no-name team? On top of that, the Sens won 3-2 in overtime without Thomas Chabot, their best defenceman, in the lineup. Unreal.

And there wouldn’t have been any overtime if not for the heroics of Montreal’s No. 1 goalie, Jake Allen. He was stunning through three periods, only beaten twice on two bizarre, fluky goals, and he was even better in the OT when he seemed to be facing a breakaway every ten seconds. I know the 5-3 loss Saturday wasn’t Carey Price’s fault, but Allen is the team’s best goalie, by far. And as the playoff race tightens, if he continues to outplay Saint Carey, it would be madness not to give him the A-list starts.

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Speaking of Tkachuk, he loves playing against the Habs. Every Sens-Habs game is a statement and the statement is: ‘Hey, Marc Bergevin, you made a big mistake going with Jesperi Kotkaniemi one pick ahead of me in the in 2018 NHL Entry Draft’. And you can’t argue with that statement. Of course, he scored the OT winner Sunday. It’s called rubbing your face in the dirt.

Head coach Claude Julien was right when he said what’s going on is unacceptable, but he’s dead wrong in his analysis of why they’re losing. He’s angrily blaming the players and that’s unacceptable. Julien is the boss and it’s about time he takes responsibility for his team’s crappy play.

Nick Suzuki nailed it in his comments after the loss to the Sens and I can bet you Julien didn’t like hearing Suzuki’s words.

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“I think just overthinking it, playing not to lose, and that’s never a good thing to do,” said Suzuki. “At the start of the season, we were real energized and everyone was having fun, and that got away from us.”

Playing not to lose. That’s exactly what many of us have been saying is Julien’s philosophy.

The players play the game, but Julien had a week to prepare this team for the weekend matchups and they weren’t ready. Whose fault is that? I don’t know what the solution is. I’m not paid US$5 million a year to coach an NHL team. But I do know the solution is not doing the same thing every night to just keep failing.

All Julien has done is switch Tomas Tatar to the Kotkaniemi line and put Tyler Toffoli in Tatar’s place on the Phillip Danault line. That’s a mistake. He did it to try to help Danault, but all he’s succeeded in doing is slowing down Toffoli. You don’t put one of your best goal-scorers with a centre who is having a horrendous season.

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Other than that, Julien tinkers. He puts in Corey Perry. He takes him out. Here’s another piece of advice for the coach. Leave Perry in. Even as a senior citizen, he has more heart and skill than most on this roster.

If all the players looked great in the first ten games and have looked terrible in the last seven, that’s not a coincidence. It’s on the coach. Though it’s also on the fact that five of the first ten games were against the Vancouver Canucks.

So maybe it was an illusion. Watching the Habs against the Leafs, it is clear Julien’s squad doesn’t have the talent to beat these guys on a consistent basis. It had me thinking of all those people — including a few journalists who should know better — who were tweeting a few weeks back that the NHL should just mail the GM of the year award to Bergevin. Those tweets haven’t aged well.

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Maybe it wasn’t the most brilliant idea to build a team around three centres with little experience. Add to that, the one centre with experience, Danault, is a total mess.

It’s pretty bad. And after tomorrow’s game in Ottawa, they’re off to meet the Winnipeg Jets just as Pierre-Luc Dubois has heated up. Yikes!

bkelly@postmedia.com

twitter.com/brendanshowbiz

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Berrettini ends Murray’s comeback at Queen’s

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Berrettini ends Murray’s comeback at Queen’s

Andy Murray‘s grasscourt return was cut short in brutal fashion at Queen’s Club as Italian top seed Matteo Berrettini dished out a 6-3 6-3 defeat to the former world number one on Thursday.

The 34-year-old two-time Wimbledon champion, playing in his first singles tournament on grass for three years, could not handle the ferocious pace of Berrettini as he slid to defeat.

Murray eased past Benoit Paire in his opening match on Tuesday but world number nine Berrettini was too big a step up.

Berrettini’s huge first serve and forehand did most of the damage but the Italian also showed plenty of silky touch on the slick lawns to register his first career win over Murray.

Berrettini, 25, finished the match off with a powerful hold of serve, banging down four massive first serves before sealing victory with a clubbing forehand winner.

He faces British number one Dan Evans in the quarter-final after Evans beat Frenchman Adrian Mannarino.

Murray, a five-time winner of the traditional warm-up event but now ranked 124 after long battles with hip injuries including resurfacing surgery in 2019, has been handed a wildcard for the Wimbledon championships.

Apart from a slight groin niggle, Murray said he was reasonably happy with his condition, considering this was only his third Tour-level tournament of the year.

“I think obviously I need to improve,” Murray told reporters. “I actually felt my movement was actually quite good for both of the matches. My tennis today was not very good today. That’s the thing that I’ll need to improve the most.

“I felt like today that that sort of showed my lack of matches.”

Spanish veteran Feliciano Lopez, who won the singles title in 2019 and the doubles alongside Murray, was beaten 6-2 6-3 by Canada‘s Denis Shapovalov.

(Reporting by Martyn HermanEditing by Toby Davis and Pritha Sarkar)

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Be Like the King of the North Division and Develop Skills

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North Division

It’s been a year unlike no other for Canadian hockey teams, with COVID-19 travel restrictions forcing the creation of a new NHL division made up entirely of Canadian teams. The previous generation of NHL hockey was known as the “Dead Puck Era” because referees tolerated slowing down the game with clutching and grabbing.

The leading scorers today score in jaw-dropping fashion and routinely pull off stickhandling dangles that were unimaginable until only recently. The Canadian team that will win the North Division will be the one with the most skill.

Here are the training aids that will help you develop your skills all year long.

Passers

Innovators like HockeyShot Canada make “passers” so that players can develop pinpoint accuracy and the soft hands necessary to cradle and control a pass when it lands on your stick. The high-quality rubber bands return the puck with the same force which passed it, so you can give yourself one-timers or work on accuracy.

Whether you’re on a two-on-one, sending a breakout pass from the defensive zone, or holding down the blue line on the power play, every positional player needs to pass accurately.

Shooting

A player is lucky to get a few shots on net each game, and they can’t let them go to waste. Until recently, players needed to rent ice in the off-season to practice their shots in realistic game-like conditions.

Now, players can use shooting pads at their home that let pucks glide as they do on real ice. Shooting is perhaps the one skill that requires the most repetition because one inch can be the difference between going bar-down and clanking one wide off the post.

Practice your quick release and accuracy and develop an arsenal of shots, including wrist shots, slapshots, one-timers, and more. The more tools in your tool kit, the deadlier a sniper you’ll be.

Stick Handling

Having the puck on your stick is a responsibility, and you don’t want to cough it up to the other team and waste a scoring chance or lose possession. The ability to stickhandle helps you bide time until a teammate is open, so you can pass them the puck and continue attacking.

If you’re on a breakaway, you may want to deke the goalie rather than shoot if your hands are silky enough. Develop stickhandling skills, and you’ll keep goalies and opponents guessing – being unpredictable helps make a sniper’s job easier.

Of course, you also need to handle the puck in your own zone without causing a turnover. Stickhandling is a crucial skill in all areas of the ice.

When the coach sends you over the board, you need to be prepared for whatever comes your way. Maybe you’ll get the puck in the slot or somewhere else, but when it’s playoffs, you always need to be ready. The Kings of the North Division have all of the above skills and more, and you can too if you practice all year.

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Australia swim trials calendar shift to reap Tokyo rewards

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Australia swim trials calendar shift to reap Tokyo rewards

Australia broke with tradition to hold its swimming trials just six weeks before the start of the 2020 Olympics and former world champion Giaan Rooney said the move could reap rich rewards in Tokyo after disappointments at London and Rio.

Australia has typically held its trials up to six months before an Olympics but that gap has been drastically cut this year with swimmers vying for Tokyo spots this week in Adelaide.

Rooney, who won individual world titles at Fukuoka and Montreal and a relay gold at the 2004 Athens Olympics, said Australia is gearing up for a much improved Games after its swimmers flopped at Rio and London.

“I think we needed to make it work,” she told Reuters. “The shift started about a year ago to bring the trials into line with the rest of the world and qualify five or six weeks before.

“In sport and swimming, six months is a long time,” Rooney added. “From a coaching perspective, it’s much better to know you have chosen the team in form.”

After winning five gold medals at Sydney 2000 and seven in Athens, the Australian team was rocked by accusations of disruptive behaviour by some of its top sprinters at the 2012 Olympics.

Australia won just one gold medal in the London pool and three in Rio five years ago.

Australia knew something had to be done if it was to close the gap on the powerful Americans and moving the trials is part of the strategy.

“I think it’s to make your swimmers more resilient to change,” Rooney said.

“In the USA they get to race every week regardless of illness or breakups and under all circumstances. Nothing rattles them.

“Australia doesn’t have that racing continuity. This is about making sure you are prepared for anything. I think our swimmers are more resilient than they have been in the past decade, COVID is part of this.”

Rooney said there might even be an “upside” for Australia with the Olympics postponed by a year due to the global health crisis, with the emergence of swimmers like teenager Kaylee McKeown, who broke the women’s 100m backstroke world record on Sunday.

“We are now talking about athletes who are not only going to make the Olympics but are medal chances,” Rooney said.

“We wouldn’t have been talking about her this time last year. She might not have been ready for a position on the team. She is now a legitimate gold medal chance in Tokyo once she gets there.”

For all her confidence about Australia’s performance in Tokyo, Rooney was wary of making predictions about a gold rush for her compatriots.

“I think this will be a more successful Olympics for us than Rio in the pool but individual goal medals will still be difficult to come by,” said the 38-year-old.

“The biggest challenge is to make the jump from minor medals to gold.”

 

(Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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