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

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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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Everybody loves Jesse Puljujarvi right now, even his coach, who says: "I love Jesse" – Edmonton Journal

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It’s an ecstatic time fans of the Edmonton Oilers right now.

The team is on a run of 11 wins in 13 games.

Connor McDavid and Leon Drasaitl are one and two in NHL scoring.

Darnell Nurse is one of the NHL’s top scoring d-men.

Mike Smith has the best save percentage of any regular NHL goalie.

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And, perhaps most surprising, all kinds of bit players, role players and unsung Oilers are coming through with strong play, from  grinders Jujhar Khaira, Tyler Ennis and Josh Archibald on the team’s hard-checking Nitty Gritty Dirt Line to Gaetan Haas on the penalty kill to Jesse Puljujarvi, who suddenly looks every bit the fourth overall pick in the 2016 draft.

He’s playing strong two-way hockey on Edmonton’s top line with Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

Puljujarvi has six goals in his last 10 games. He’s taking care of business both in his own zone and as a grinder in front of the opposition net.

He’s playing so well that he’s even won over his coach, something Puljujarvi never came close to doing with Todd McLellan and Ken Hitchcock in the young forward’s first stint with the Oilers.

“I love Jesse,” said coach Dave Tippett when asked about Puljujarvi. “He’s always having fun. You love to see a guy, when he scores he’s having so much fun, he’s like a kid in a candy store out there. He’s playing really well. He plays hard. He’s around it. He plays hard all the time. He’s come in and he’s really given us a boost. He’s a Top 6 forward that can play in a lot of different situations and I think there’s huge upside on him going forward but he’s been real good for us so far.”

This summer I argued it would be a good idea to try Puljujarvi with McDavid based on their past success together. I became more convinced that Puljujarvi would have some NHL success after watching him in Finland in the fall. He was just so big, fast, skilled and confident, like an aircraft carrier cruising up and down the ice, dominating the battle theatre. At that time I wrote that the 22-year-old Puljujarvi was fairly swaggering with confidence on the ice,  glowing with purpose, shining like a well-cut diamond, a most welcome sight.

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But could he translate that to the NHL? No one could be certain until he actually did it.

Puljujarvi was inconsistent in his early games in Edmonton this winter. He wasn’t helped by playing with a struggling Kyle Turris, but he’s put together a run of solid games on the top line.

His linemates McDavid and Nugent-Hopkins now look to pass to Puljujarvi, something that didn’t happen so much in his previous stint with the Oilers. Nugent-Hopkins even came to Puljujarvi’s defence after Antoine Roussel of Vancouver cheap shotted him with a punch, a sure sign this Oilers team is coming together.

When it comes to the heart and the guts of the NHL game — making major contributions to Grade A scoring chances at even strength, as well as not making major mistakes on Grade A chances against — Puljujarvi is the Oilers best winger.

He’s made 41 such major contributions to Grade A chances in 272 even strength minutes, 2.2 per game.

Next best for Oilers wingers is Nugent Hopkins and Zack Kassian, 1.97 per game, then Dominik Kahun, 1.87 per game. Connor McDavid leads the team overall with 3.1 per game.

Can Puljujarvi keep up the scoring? We’re all starting to believe, most importantly, his coach.

At the Cult

STAPLES: Player grades: Brilliant goaltending at both ends as Oilers beat Canucks

McCURDY: Oilers have depth scoring! Oilers have depth scoring!

STAPLES: How to ramp up Yamamoto’s even-strength scoring

LEAVINS: Player grades in comeback win over the Canucks

McCURDY: Caleb Jones get an opportunity to draw back in

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Raptors coach Nick Nurse will miss Friday's game due to COVID-19 protocols – CBC.ca

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Nick Nurse, head coach of the Toronto Raptors, and five other members of the coaching staff will not be part of Friday night’s game against the Houston Rockets, because of health and safety protocols, the team announced.

“Due to health and safety protocols, six members of the Raptors’ coaching staff, including head coach Nick Nurse, will not be on the bench beginning with Friday’s game vs. Houston. They will continue to work remotely, and details on their return will be communicated when appropriate,” the team said in a statement. 

General manager Bobby Webster will speak to the media Friday at 5:45 p.m. ET, during the head coach’s pregame availability window.

It’s uncertain who will take over on the bench for what was already a shorthanded staff. Chris Finch left the team earlier this week to become head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Adrian Griffin, Sergio Scariolo, Jama Mahlalela, Jim Sann and Jon Goodwillie make up the remainder of Nurse’s coaching staff.

It’s also uncertain how many games the coaching staff will miss. The Raptors host Chicago on Sunday.

The Raptors have been lucky amid the global pandemic with no games postponed or rescheduled. Because of Canada’s border restrictions, they’re playing the season at Tampa’s Amalie Arena.

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Raptors sign Donta Hall to 10-day contract, acquire G-League guard Cumberland – Sportsnet.ca

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TORONTO — The Toronto Raptors have signed forward Donta Hall to a 10-day contract.

The six-foot-10 frontcourt player was expected to be in the lineup Friday for Toronto’s G-League affiliate, Raptors 905, in its game against the Greensboro Swarm.

Hall is averaging 8.9 points, 9.0 rebounds, 1.8 blocks and 23.5 minutes in nine games with Team Ignite of the NBA G League this season.

Hall split the 2019-20 season between the Grand Rapids Drive of the G League and Detroit Pistons and Brooklyn Nets in the NBA. He averaged 4.3 points, 4.2 rebounds and 14.8 minutes in nine games at the NBA level.

Raptors 905 also acquired guard Jarron Cumberland and a 2022 second round pick from the Rio Grande Valley Vipers in exchange for forward Dewan Hernandez.

The six-foot-five Cumberland was selected 12th overall in the 2021 NBA G League Draft by Rio Grande Valley.

Hernandez was selected 59th overall by the Raptors in the 2019 NBA draft. He appeared in six games for Toronto last season, averaging 2.3 points and 2.3 rebounds in 4.7 minutes.

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