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    Tanev calls Martel’s hit on Stecher a dirty play

    Tanev calls Martel’s hit on Stecher a dirty play


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    Oilers wasting Talbot’s resurgence with clumsy power-play effort

    Oilers wasting Talbot’s resurgence with clumsy power-play effort


    EDMONTON — They’re into Phase 2 of the new coach now in Edmonton. The new-car smell has worn off. So when Ken Hitchcock goes off for two days on the state of officiating around his team, it doesn’t result in three power-play goals like it might...

    EDMONTON — They’re into Phase 2 of the new coach now in Edmonton. The new-car smell has worn off.

    So when Ken Hitchcock goes off for two days on the state of officiating around his team, it doesn’t result in three power-play goals like it might have 10 days ago.

    Instead, Edmonton squandered all five power plays it received in the opening 40 minutes Tuesday against St. Louis, and lost a game 4-1 to a team everyone else is beating. Yes, everything isn’t coming up roses for Hitch and his childhood team anymore, further illustrated by one of the stranger video review goals you’ll see in the third period.

    That goal, credited to St. Louis winger Patrick Maroon, stood up as the game-winner in a Blues win that marked the second straight loss by Edmonton, both to clubs that sit well below them in the standings.

    “When they called it a goal, I thought for sure they would call it back. I felt like my pad was pushed in,” said Oilers goalie Cam Talbot. “But, Kyle (Rehman, the referee), give him credit. He thought the puck had crossed the line before my pad was pushed, and gave me an explanation. It just didn’t go our way tonight.”

    If you know Talbot, you know that video review almost never goes his way.

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    “Not so much,” he admitted, a raw topic for Talbot. “Sometimes those calls don’t go your way, but a lot of times they don’t go my way.”

    Despite the fact Connor McDavid did not draw a penalty on the night, the Oilers received five power plays to St. Louis’ three. The Blues scored on one of theirs, however, where the Oilers power play was borderline inept.

    “We lost it on special teams, on the power play,” Hitchcock surmised post-game. “Our problem is that we’re too slow on the flanks. We don’t have enough movement on the flanks and we’ll get that changed. We’re standing still outside the dots and trying to make plays instead of being in attack mode.

    “It’s a 1-1 hockey game — exactly where you want it at home — and we were the first team to crack. That’s unfortunate.”

    This is an Oilers club that has embraced its new coach with mostly adrenaline, climbing into a playoff spot while barely having a chance for Hitchcock to install any of his systems in real time on the practice ice.

    What they’ve learned, they’ve learned in the film room and on the white board. Perhaps that’s why cracks have begun to show, in a 4-2 loss at Vancouver on Sunday and this 4-1 decision at home.

    So they’ll get a day off on Wednesday, and have two full film and practice days on Thursday and Friday. Then Tampa Bay visits for Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday, a late game that could be wildly entertaining heading into the Christmas break.

    “We finally get a chance to get two full team practices with Hitch, and a day off,” said Milan Lucic. “I think the two practices are more important than the day off. It’ll be good for Hitch, and for all of us as players.”

    What Talbot needed, however, was a ‘W.’ He’s now 7-10-2 this season, despite having rehabilitated his game after a poor start. He gave his team every chance on Tuesday, but the team just would not respond.

    “I thought I had a pretty good game,” he said. “You take that one (reviewed goal) out of it, and it’s two (goals) out of 29 (shots). You don’t have a terrible stat line. Instead, you’re three out of 29, and I’m right back where I don’t want to be.”

    It’s been a tough year for Talbot, who endured a personal nightmare last season. Now he’s playing well — and his team musters just 23 shots and one goal at home.

    Them’s the breaks.

    “It’ll star to turn for me at some point, ‘cause I feel like I’m playing pretty good hockey right now.”

    Lightning edge Canucks in physical showdown

    Lightning edge Canucks in physical showdown


    VANCOUVER — Nikita Kucherov scored and added an assist to earn his 50th point of the season to lead the Tampa Bay Lightning to a 5-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday. A feisty Canucks squad kept pace with the Lightning in a heated game...

    VANCOUVER — Nikita Kucherov scored and added an assist to earn his 50th point of the season to lead the Tampa Bay Lightning to a 5-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday.

    A feisty Canucks squad kept pace with the Lightning in a heated game marked with a flurry of fights, but they couldn’t over power the NHL’s No. 1 team.

    Tampa Bay has not lost in regulation since Nov. 27.

    Cedric Paquette, Adam Erne, Steven Stamkos and Ondrej Palat also scored for the Lightning (26-7-2).

    Tyler Motte and Chris Tanev put up goals for the Canucks (16-17-4).

    Anders Nilsson stopped 34-of-38 shots for Vancouver and Andrei Vasilevskiy made 36 saves for Tampa.

    Kucherov opened the scoring 8:40 into the game, getting the puck off the faceoff and firing a shot past Nilsson.

    Frustrated Canucks defenceman Erik Gudbranson broke his stick on the net as Tampa Bay celebrated.

    Lightning centre Brayden Point registered an assist on the play, marking his 150th point in the NHL.

    The Canucks responded to Kucherov’s goal less than a minute later.

    Defenceman Troy Stecher found Motte in front of the net and Motte tipped the puck in past Vasilevskiy to tie up the score.

    The Lightning went up again before the end of the first period, thanks to a move by Danick Martel, who was playing just his second game of the season.

    While spinning away from Vancouver’s Ben Hutton, the left-winger got a seemingly blind pass off to Paquette who was alone in front of the net.

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    Paquette got the puck on his tape and popped it up over Nilsson’s pad.

    The assist was Martel’s first NHL point.

    Midway through the second frame, the Lightning struck again when Canucks right-winger Brock Boeser struggled to clear the puck.

    Paquette found the rubber in front of Vancouver’s net and Erne deflected it in to put the Lightning up 3-1.

    Fists flew throughout the second period, starting with a tilt between Vancouver’s Antoine Roussel and Tampa’s Yanni Gourde.

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    The Canucks left-winger hit the Lightning centre along the boards, sparking a fight that saw Roussel pummel Gourde on the ice before officials could intervene.

    Vancouver defenceman Troy Stecher left the ice and headed to the dressing room after a high hit from Martel, prompting another skirmish.

    By the end of the period, refs had doled out a game misconduct, two fighting majors and three roughing penalties to Tampa Bay. Two Vancouver players were clocked for fighting and four for roughing.

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    Despite all the time spent in the box, neither team registered a power-play goal Tuesday.

    Vancouver got back within one 5:46 into the third period when Tanev snuck a wrist shot past Vasilevskiy during a burst of activity in front of Tampa Bay’s net.

    Stamkos gave his team some insurance over two minutes to go in the game, slipping a wrist shot past Nilsson.

    Palat sealed the game with an empty-netter less than a minute later. Kucherov got the helper, marking his 50th point of the season.

    The Canucks continue their five-game homestand Thursday when they host the St. Louis Blues.

    The Lightning head to Calgary where they’ll take on the Flames on Thursday.

    Canucks’ Stecher hurt after high hit from Lightning’s Martel

    Canucks’ Stecher hurt after high hit from Lightning’s Martel


    The Vancouver Canucks and Tampa Bay Lightning engaged in a spirited contest Tuesday night and not everyone came out unscathed. Troy Stecher was on the receiving end of a high hit from Lightning winger Danick Martel late in the second period and the...

    The Vancouver Canucks and Tampa Bay Lightning engaged in a spirited contest Tuesday night and not everyone came out unscathed.

    Troy Stecher was on the receiving end of a high hit from Lightning winger Danick Martel late in the second period and the Canucks defenceman was unable to return to the game.

    As you can see in the video at the top of the page, Martel appears to make contact with Stecher’s head on a blindside hit near the Tampa Bay blue line.

    Stecher was shaken up, immediately went to the locker room and was ruled out by his team.

    Martel was assessed two minutes for interference on the play. After serving his initial penalty, Martel earned an additional roughing minor when confronted by Stecher’s teammates.

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    Gudbranson goes after Martel for hit against Stecher

    Gudbranson goes after Martel for hit against Stecher


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    Maroon’s controversial third-period goal lifts Blues over Oilers

    Maroon’s controversial third-period goal lifts Blues over Oilers


    EDMONTON — A controversial video review goal left the St. Louis Blues with two points and the Edmonton Oilers still scratching their heads. A goal credited to Pat Maroon early in the third period was the winner as the Blues came away with a 4-1...

    EDMONTON — A controversial video review goal left the St. Louis Blues with two points and the Edmonton Oilers still scratching their heads.

    A goal credited to Pat Maroon early in the third period was the winner as the Blues came away with a 4-1 victory over the Oilers on Tuesday. Maroon’s goal came 2:19 into the final period, as officials declared after a video review that the puck had crossed the line during a goal-mouth scramble, despite the referees not originally calling a goal on the ice.

    "The way it was explained to us was that he pushed on the puck, he didn’t push on the pad," said Oilers head coach Ken Hitchcock. "The pad happened to go with the puck. That was the way it was explained to us. They said they had an overhead view that said the puck was in before the push started. The look that we had was different. So what are you going to do?"

    Maroon said he is simply happy that the goal, just his second of the season, was declared valid.

    "I think the longer it (review) goes, the better it is for us. I think if it goes longer, they’re making a decision if it crossed the line and it went long to see if it was goaltender interference too," he said. "It means a lot. I’ve been struggling a lot and I haven’t been going to the net as much and I haven’t been finding ways to get the puck in the net."

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    David Perron, Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz also scored for the Blues (13-15-4), who have won three of their last four games. Brayden Schenn had three assists.

    "It was a real solid team effort," said Blues interim head coach Craig Berube. "Man to man, everybody was dialled in and played a real solid team game for 60 minutes. Special teams were big, we scored a big power-play goal, the penalty kill was excellent."

    Jesse Puljujarvi replied for the Oilers (18-14-3), who have lost three of their last four and saw a six-game home winning streak ended.

    St. Louis got out in front eight minutes into the first period when Perron beat Oilers goalie Cam Talbot up high with a wrist shot for his 11th goal of the season.

    The Blues had 13 first period shots, while the Oilers only put eight on St. Louis starter Jake Allen.

    Edmonton came close five minutes into the second period, but Connor McDavid ripped a shot off the crossbar. They would get the tying goal a couple minutes after that, however, when Puljujarvi scored on a one-timer blast, a play that withstood a video review for a potential off-side call. Defenceman Caleb Jones picked up his first NHL point with an assist.

    The Oilers came close to grabbing the lead early in the third as a Jujhar Khaira shot got behind Allen before being fished out to safety by defender Joel Edmundson.

    Maroon’s eventual winner came shortly afterwards.

    Then, with Khaira serving a five-minute cross-checking major, the Blues added to their lead with Tarasenko ending a seven-game drought with his 10th of the season.

    Schwartz put the game away with an empty-netter.

    The Blues play the second game of a three-game Western Canada road swing in Vancouver on Thursday. The Oilers are off until Saturday, when they play host to Tampa Bay, the second game of a five-game homestand.

    Notes: It was the second of three meetings between the two teams, with Edmonton winning the first contest 3-2 in a shootout on Dec. 5.

    Raptors trying to strike balance between practice and rest

    Raptors trying to strike balance between practice and rest


    One of the most memorable moments in modern NBA history was former Philadelphia 76ers legend Allen Iverson’s ‘we talkin’ ‘bout practice’ soliloquy delivered at the end of the 2001-02 season. It has lived on for 17 years in GIFs, memes and a...

    One of the most memorable moments in modern NBA history was former Philadelphia 76ers legend Allen Iverson’s ‘we talkin’ ‘bout practice’ soliloquy delivered at the end of the 2001-02 season. It has lived on for 17 years in GIFs, memes and a seemingly endless range of pop culture references since.

    One YouTube clip has been viewed 11 million times. A remix by DJ Steve Porter has been watched 5.2 million times.

    The idea that one of the greatest players in NBA history could sound so nonchalant about what would seem to be an essential part of the job will never get old.

    But Iverson was onto something.

    Here we are nearly two decades later, and we’re still talking about practice or – as it relates to the Toronto Raptors – their lack of it.

    Stream Raptors basketball on Sportsnet NOW Stream marquee NBA matchups from around the league, including over 40 Raptors games. Plus, get the NHL, MLB, Premier League, CHL and more.

    Tuesday, Dec. 18th was a notable day in the Raptors’ season because it marked the club’s first practice in 10 days and just their third in a month.

    Iverson would have loved it. For him, practices simply marked the inconsequential time between games in a long NBA season.

    In the Raptors’ case there’s been little choice.

    When the Raptors finished up their road trip in Denver on Sunday they led the NBA in games played and road games played. It’s been a smorgasbord for fans watching at home, with games coming in waves as the Raptors played 15 times in 27 days between Nov. 20th and Dec. 16th.

    But sacrificed in all of that was practice time. It’s made the Raptors’ ability to keep grinding out wins – they went 10-5 overall and 7-3 on the road during their 15-game stretch while taking on some of the toughest teams in the league – all the more impressive. They get tested again Wednesday night when they host the 20-11 Indiana Pacers in their return to Scotiabank Arena.

    “It’s not the easiest but you have to make your choice: are you taking some time to make sure they are conserving energy for the game or are you going to continue to grind and teach them?” said Raptors head coach Nick Nurse.

    More often than not, the first-year NBA bench boss has chosen to have his players rested and alert rather than try to force-feed distracted minds and tired bodies.

    “Right now we’re trying to keep things moving. We know it’s a long year, so we’re trying to teach as we go and go a little more slowly than we probably would like but it is what it is.”

    Finding the balance between resting and pushing in an unrelenting 82-game schedule has been a top-line conversation within NBA circles for years now. Just last week the Chicago Bulls made headlines when they reportedly threatened to boycott what was supposed to be their fourth practice in a seven-day period (which included three games), as incoming head coach Jim Boylen tried to raise the standard for a team that was 5-19 when he took over.

    Rest is the league’s new performance enhancer. This is the second season that the NBA has tried to inject more off days into the schedule by cutting down pre-season by a couple of weeks and adding the time to the regular season and thus trim down back-to-back games and stretches of three or four games in four or five nights.

    But as an unintended consequence, a more even distribution of games means more potential practice days lost to travel or rest as well: Monday and Tuesday of this week was just the fourth time this season the Raptors have had more than one day off between games and it should be noted that in this case the Raptors’ ‘day off’ on Monday was spent flying home from Denver.

    “It’s the little things [you lose out on],” said Raptors forward CJ Miles, who has seen the emphasis on rest take on much greater significance during his 14-year career. “Talking game plans and that kind of stuff – the big picture – that’s easy to keep doing. It’s the little things – box-out drills or defensive shell drills. Being able to see things on a daily basis makes things easier. And then the amount of work you’re able to do as a unit helps your team.”

    For Nurse it’s a constant adjustment. He’s been a head coach for 23 years at various levels and was an assistant for five years in Toronto before taking over the top job. He has volumes of information and detail he’d love to download into his team but has opted to take a measured approach – quality over quantity.

    Several times since the Raptors’ schedule intensified the team has either cancelled a scheduled practice, made it optional, or chosen not to practice on days when the schedule would have allowed for it. The Raptors didn’t practice the day they left on their recent west coast trip and didn’t practice on either of their off days on the road. Players still come in and train – lifting or getting treatment or doing individual skill or conditioning work – but they can come and go on their timetable and there is no formal group work. Much of that has been transferred to shootarounds or pre-game walk-throughs instead. Technology helps as players can watch relevant video clips on their laptops at home in minutes rather than watching film in bigger batches as a group.

    “We do a pretty good job on game day,” said Nurse. “It’s hard between games when you’ve just come off a tough game and you have another one coming up, it’s hard to get a whole lot of juice out of them physically or mentally … but we’ve been pretty good on game day with a lot of good attention and good pace and just good work. It’s not the easiest but you have to make your choice: are you taking some time to make sure they are conserving energy for the game or are you going to continue to grind and teach them?”

    Nurse is fortunate that he’s got a talented, veteran team. One of the most underrated skills a high-level NBA player needs to have is the ability to pick up and retain information on the fly. They don’t have the luxury of drilling details over and over again in practice – the NBA is a class full of gifted kids and if struggling players don’t seek the extra help they need, they’ll inevitably fall behind.

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    Danny Green is one of the smartest players in the NBA, and the 10-year veteran still puts in extra time to make sure he’s on point because he’s learned that if you expect to get by on what you do in practice – if and when you have them – you’ll fall short.

    “It’s a lot of team film work, individual film work and talking with each other at walk-throughs,” Green claims is the key to surviving without a heavy practice schedule. “Shootarounds help. Shootarounds are more like practices now. … [But] the biggest thing in our league – most pro leagues — is people think guys are dumb. You have to have a very high IQ.

    “Things have to come fast. There are a lot of talented people out here but the biggest thing that is going to help you is watching film and studying your game and studying your opponent. You have to know in a second or two who you’re guarding, who you are closing out to, what his strengths and weaknesses are; do they want to go right or left? What’s their go-to move? You may not guard someone all game and then you have to know: what does [Pacers guard] Cory Joseph do? What about Darren Collison or Victor Oladipo? What are we doing with them in pick-and-roll? Who is setting the pick?

    “You have to have your mind sharp and ready.”

    Practice certainly helps, however. The Raptors have struggled in a number of their losses with shaky execution late in close games, which is hardly surprising given that they have three new starters, a first-year head coach, several players in new roles and a steady stream of injuries that have forced Nurse to tinker with his rotation.

    “Just the set pieces,” Nurse said when asked where he noticed the lack of practice time the most. “There’s some [sets] in that you know, but if a couple of pieces have changed because of injury, you don’t know them anymore. We spent a lot of time today just doing reps [or plays] and guys are like ‘I remember when we put that in, but I haven’t heard it for a while.”

    Said Miles: “Some plays – no matter how many times you run them in here 5-0 you don’t run them in a game because the situation never comes up and then it does and it’s been seven games since your last practice … it’s hard. There’s a lot that goes into it so it’s nice to have that time.”

    But there’s a reason (among many) Iverson remains an iconic figure among most NBA players. Deep down they can relate: Practice may be necessary, but less is more.

    “I love to play more than we practice,” says Green. “I have no complaints about that at all and I think everyone would agree with that, too. It’s better to play games.”

    Danick Martel lands head shot on Canucks’ Troy Stecher

    Danick Martel lands head shot on Canucks’ Troy Stecher


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    Roussel and Gourde fight after turnbuckle hit

    Roussel and Gourde fight after turnbuckle hit


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    Takeaways: Flames run out of third-period miracles in Dallas

    Takeaways: Flames run out of third-period miracles in Dallas


    The Calgary Flames were due for a clunker. And on that front, they delivered. After going 9-1-1 and winning five of six on the road, the Flames ran out of third period miracles in Dallas, dropping a 2-0 decision to the Stars. The high-powered Flames...

    The Calgary Flames were due for a clunker.

    And on that front, they delivered.

    After going 9-1-1 and winning five of six on the road, the Flames ran out of third period miracles in Dallas, dropping a 2-0 decision to the Stars.

    The high-powered Flames posed very little threat to break Ben Bishop’s shutout in a game the Flames were outplayed and out-shot 28-24.

    In the Flames’ third road game in four nights, Sean Monahan’s top line wasn’t permitted to enter the zone well or buzz around the Stars’ zone much — it was almost as if Ken Hitchcock still coached Dallas.

    The Flames certainly controlled more of the play in the third, a period in which they’ve outscored opponents by 28 goals this year.

    In a scene eerily similar to the team’s most dramatic comeback last week against Philadelphia, in which a Rasmus Andersson point blast with 68 seconds left got the Flames within one, an Andersson blast with one minute left Tuesday rang off the crossbar.

    Alas, Bishop continued his recent mastery over a team he has long dominated.

    One trend remained for the Flames, which was their month-long string of alternating between high-scoring shootouts one night and tight games the next.

    Some takeaways from the night:

    HATHAWAY IN HOT WATER

    Flames winger Garnet Hathaway may face disciplinary action after he prompted Bishop to leave the game with a possible concussion.

    Bishop was playing the puck behind his net when Hathaway clipped the unsuspecting netminder as he skated by. One of the principle points of contact made by Hathaway’s shoulder was Bishop’s head, which is what prompted concussion spotters from the league to pull Bishop from the game with six minutes left in the second period. Hathaway was whistled for interference.

    Bishop came back to start the third, spelling off Anton Khudobin (who stopped three of three shots), which will be taken into account as the league delves into the hit.

    Already unpopular with the Stars for the hit, Hathaway was jumped by Roman Polak late in the second after a mid-ice collision with Tyler Seguin that seemed accidental.

    Polak was assessed a roughing penalty for it, which the Flames obviously didn’t capitalize on.

    We’ll find out Wednesday how the league feels about the hit.

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    LINE DANCING

    James Neal was scratched due to the puck he took in the face late in Saturday’s win.

    He joined Sam Bennett (upper-body injury suffered Saturday) in the press box, prompting Bill Peters to ice a lineup with seven blue liners, including Dalton Prout.

    Up front they played one forward short, which mattered little in the third when Peters went to his traditional three lines anyway.

    With Neal and Bennett out, Austin Czarnik drew the coveted second-line job alongside Mikael Backlund and Matthew Tkachuk, but was quiet all night as the free-agent signing is still struggling to find his way in Calgary.

    Czarnik was on the ice for a Jamie Benn goal and another by Radek Faksa.

    The lines were put in a blender late, to no avail.

    Speaking of playing hurt, Sportsnet play-by-play veteran Rick Ball lost his voice and wasn’t able to do the broadcast, prompting a call from the radio bullpen for Derek Wills.

    Wills and analyst Kelly Hrudey did the broadcast seamlessly, leaving Sportsnet Fan 960 colour man Peter Loubardias to do the radio broadcast solo, which he too handled brilliantly.

    GREAT GOALIE DEBATE CONTINUES

    So, who do you start in Thursday’s top-gun showdown at the ‘Dome against the Tampa Bay Lightning?

    Rittich is (still) red-hot as one of the NHL’s most dependable goalies this year and carried the mail admirably for all three games on the Flames’ road trip through Minnesota (W 2-1), St. Louis (W 7-2) and Dallas.

    Rittich stopped 13 of 14 shots in the first period, beaten only by a redirect into the net by Benn’s skate. All told, he made 26 saves as the Flames best player all night. (The most animated too, as he was seen rubbing the post as a thanks for one of two close calls off the iron by the Stars.)

    He’s played lots of hockey, which is new to him, but has responded well.

    Yet, the coach wants to make sure Mike Smith gets in right away, as he was 6-0 in his last six decisions before getting hurt late in his last start and missing one game.

    Smith was on the bench the last two games and needs to get in soon to continue his momentum, but is Thursday the time to get him his first game action in more than a week? Peters rewarded his troops for back-to-back road wins on the weekend with the day off in Dallas Monday, meaning Smith was denied a chance to get some rust off in practice.

    The Flames also aren’t practicing Wednesday, making it hard to believe they’d stray from Rittich for their first meeting with the NHL’s eastern juggernaut. Perhaps the best way to ease Smith back, following a rest for “general soreness,” is Saturday afternoon at home against St. Louis.

    The optimal situation is (obviously) that both goalies remain hot, which means both have to split the net.

    UP NEXT: Thursday night at the ‘Dome against Tampa Bay.

    Bishop, Khudobin combine for shutout, Stars beat Flames

    Bishop, Khudobin combine for shutout, Stars beat Flames


    DALLAS — Ben Bishop got help from backup Anton Khudobin, and together they made franchise history. Bishop and Khudobin teamed up for the first combined shutout for the Dallas Stars in a 2-0 win over the Calgary Flames on Tuesday night. Jamie...

    DALLAS — Ben Bishop got help from backup Anton Khudobin, and together they made franchise history.

    Bishop and Khudobin teamed up for the first combined shutout for the Dallas Stars in a 2-0 win over the Calgary Flames on Tuesday night.

    Jamie Benn and Radek Faksa scored for the Stars as they dominated the first two periods.

    Bishop was injured with 6:23 remaining in the second period when Garnet Hathaway skated into him behind the net. Khudobin closed out the period with three saves, and Bishop returned for the third, when he made 12 of his 21 stops. Hathaway was penalized for goaltender interference.

    The Stars’ starter underwent the NHL’s concussion protocol late in the second period and into the second intermission.

    "He just kind of hit me in the chin there," Bishop said. "He got me decently good.

    "I passed (the protocol), so I went out for the third. It’s a little easier with the intermission there. I kind of regrouped and got ready for the third."

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    Montgomery said the decision to return was Bishop’s.

    "He said, ‘Yeah. I want to go back in.’ I’m going to let him make that call, especially when he was so calm and in control."

    The combined shutout was the first in the Minnesota North Stars/Dallas franchise’s 51 seasons and the 67th in NHL history, according to the league.

    Later in the second period, after Hathaway hit the Stars’ Tyler Seguin, Dallas defenceman Roman Polak went after Hathaway and drew a roughing penalty.

    The Dallas penalty killers, after allowing three power-play goals at Colorado on Saturday, killed Polak’s penalty and three others.

    "There was an intent there by Hathaway to run into (Seguin), who had no idea he was going to get hit," Montgomery said. "Good job by Roman Polak."

    Dallas returned from an 0-4 trip to win their fifth straight home game. The Pacific Division-leading Flames had won three straight and eight of nine.

    "We had two days off where everyone got to say hello to their kids, their wives, and enjoy the great weather here in Dallas, Montgomery said. "You come with a new refreshed mentality, and I think it showed right from the start."

    David Rittich stopped 26 shots for the Flames.

    The Stars’ 12th shot gave them a 1-0 lead at 12:15 of the first period. Tyler Seguin passed from just behind the goal line to the front of the net, where Benn easily deflected it past Rittich.

    Dallas outshot Calgary 14-6 and won 17 of 24 faceoffs (71 per cent) in the first period.

    "We were poor early," Calgary coach Bill Peters said. "Didn’t win the faceoffs. Therefore, never had the puck and therefore you see the discrepancy in the shots."

    Dallas took a 2-0 lead at 17:17 of the second when the puck went from Martin Hanzal to Faksa in the slot. He put the puck on his backhand and slid it into the right corner.

    For Tuesday’s game, Faksa moved from centring a line to playing left wing on Hanzal’s line.

    "They just had two guys going after Marty, so I tried to go to the net and it bounced to me. I saw the goalie go poke-check and I get kind of lucky I made it."

    Rittich’s season record fell to 11-4-1.

    "He was good again," Peters said. "He gave us a chance, kept us in the game early. He did his job tonight."

    NOTES: In 30 career games against the Flames, Benn has 32 points (17 goals, 15 assists). … After allowing three power-play goals in a loss at Colorado on Saturday, the Stars’ penalty killers were 4 for 4. … Dallas F Jason Spezza missed his first game this season because of strep throat. … Calgary LW James Neal (lower-body injury) also sat out for the first time, missing a chance to play against his former team. C Sam Bennett (upper body) was out for the second game in a row, leaving the Flames with only 11 forwards. . D Oliver Kylington moved up to a forward position as the game progressed.

    UP NEXT

    Flames: Open a two-game homestand Thursday against Tampa Bay.

    Stars: Complete a two-game homestand vs. Chicago on Thursday.

    Mayfield lands huge uppercut to end fight with Crouse

    Mayfield lands huge uppercut to end fight with Crouse


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    Danick Martel’s great no-look spin pass creates goal

    Danick Martel’s great no-look spin pass creates goal


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    Takeaways: Leafs dismantle Devils with mechanical efficiency

    Takeaways: Leafs dismantle Devils with mechanical efficiency


    The only difference? This time the Maple Leafs not only scored the touchdown but converted the extra point as well. Hours before puck drop in New Jersey Tuesday, Mike Babcock called the Devils the “perfect team to be playing here today” as his bunch...

    The only difference? This time the Maple Leafs not only scored the touchdown but converted the extra point as well.

    Hours before puck drop in New Jersey Tuesday, Mike Babcock called the Devils the “perfect team to be playing here today” as his bunch found itself dealing with a minor bout of adversity.

    Toronto’s special teams had taken a dive, its work ethic had been spotty, and the assimilation of William Nylander had been less than seamless as the Leafs entered play having dropped four of their past five.

    Nothing like drawing an opponent with 10 fewer wins, one you shellacked 6-1 the last time you met, to get back on track.

    “We should be biting to get back out there,” John Tavares figured after going 0-fer on the Mothers trip to Florida.

    Ya think?

    The Maple Leafs put this one to bed early, opening a 3-0 lead in the first 13:38 and cruising to a decisive 7-2 victory.

    So what if Toronto’s struggling power play is now 1-for-25? The Leafs dominated at even strength, underscoring the gulf between one of the conference’s best teams and one of its worst with a dismantling that was mechanical in its efficiency.

    “It’s great that we’re fun to watch. I hear that all the time,” Babcock said. “When I hear that we’re machine-like to watch, I’ll be a happy guy.”

    Even the coach should crack a smile after this one.

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    Matthews ‘thankful’ the puck was loose

    No stranger to having a goal called back due to goaltender interference, Auston Matthews shoved defenceman Damon Severson in the crease and pounced on the loose puck to jam home his 17th of the season in the first period.

    Like the rest of us, Matthews admitted he wasn’t quite certain if the goal would hold up once New Jersey challenged, saying he was “thankful” to see the original ruling stand.

    In a statement, the league confirmed that Matthews’ contact with Severson “did not by itself impact [Keith] Kinkaid’s ability to make the save.”

    Rule 69.7 states, in part, the goal should be allowed because “in a rebound situation, or where a goalkeeper and attacking player(s) are simultaneously attempting to play a loose puck, whether inside or outside the crease, incidental contact will be permitted, and any goal that is scored as a result thereof will be allowed.”

    Tavares scores on the rare all-centre 3-on-1

    A day after Kyle Dubas raved that free agent prize John Tavares has exceeded even his new GM’s own high expectations, the superstar registered his eighth multi-point game as a Leaf and his 21st goal, finishing off the ultra-rare 3-on-1 passing play involving three centremen (Auston Matthews and Nazem Kadri drew assists).

    Credit Morgan Rielly for triggering the transition goal by breaking up a Devils rush the other way.

    “We can’t give them easy offence,” Taylor Hall warned earlier in the day.

    Um…

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    Tavares has never enjoyed a 40-goal NHL season. Thriving in his initial return to the New York City area, he’s now on pace for 51.

    “I can’t control everyone’s opinion and what everyone sees,” Tavares told reporters, “but I know how much I gave in my nine years on Long Island, how hard I played, how much I enjoyed playing there, how much I cared.”

    Marleau ties the Rocket

    As Patrick Marleau, now skating on Kadri’s third line, eyes his 16th 20-goal campaign, the dressing-room mentor notched his 544th career goal by driving net-front and converting a Kadri pass. This one tied Marleau with Maurice Richard for 30th on the all-time goals list and made it 3-0 Leafs.

    Yep, he’s going into the Hall.

    “It’s incredible, actually, just to even think about it,” Babcock said. “Other things about tonight I thought were positive were [Connor Brown] getting three assists and [Tyler Ennis] getting a couple of goals. All those things for confidence are great for people.”

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    Let’s start a GoFundMe page for Kinkaid, shall we?

    Poor Keith Kinkaid, the Devils’ starter on a backup’s salary.

    Here’s an incredible statistic: Cory Schneider’s last regular-season victory occurred on Dec. 27, 2017. The goaltender Lou Lamoriello once gave away the right to draft Bo Horvat for returned to the IR this week after going 0-15-3 in his last 18 starts.

    #NJDevils Cory Schneider's injury popped up on Saturday during treatments. He felt well enough to dress as the backup, but after more treatments and consultation with doctors it was best thought to put him on IR, where Schneider will miss a minimum three games.

    — Amanda Stein (@amandacstein) December 17, 2018

    Once considered among the elite, Schneider has a .852 save percentage and 4.66 GAA through nine appearances this season. He still has four years remaining on a contract that carries a $6 million cap hit.

    Much like his previous outing against what he described as a “high-octane” Toronto outfit, Kinkaid got blasted again, giving up five in two periods, including a backbreaker to Rielly with 0.8 seconds left in the second period.

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    As solid as the undrafted, goodnatured, emoji-loving Kinkaid has been, asking a club to make the playoffs without its $6-million goalie winning a game over a calendar year is simply too much.

    Kinkaid is now backed up by Mackenzie Blackwood, a 22-year-old who made his NHL debut in third-period relief and allowed two goals to Tyler Ennis.

    Hall is back, but is he enough? No. No, he’s not

    Taylor Hall returned to action Tuesday after sitting out two games with a “nagging” lower-body injury, but the reigning league MVP can’t do it all himself.

    “I hate missing games,” Hall told reporters after the morning skate. “Against a team like the Leafs, you’re always excited to play them.”

    Hall set up a Nico Hischier strike in garbage time, but beyond New Jersey’s excellent top line (already 82 points combined), there’s simply not enough talent up front to make a difference.

    “His game has really taken another step,” Tavares said of Hall. “He’s their leader, a guy they look to for production, but also a guy who sets the tone. He’s fiery and competitive.”

    Only the spiraling Flyers rank lower in the Eastern Conference standings than New Jersey. Hall stated that the time for moral victories is over, but even one of those eluded the Devils on this night.

    Kruger goes down after taking Hartman’s elbow directly to face

    Kruger goes down after taking Hartman’s elbow directly to face


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    Garnet Hathaway clips Ben Bishop’s head behind Stars’ net

    Garnet Hathaway clips Ben Bishop’s head behind Stars’ net


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    Hart stops 20 shots in NHL debut, Flyers top Red Wings

    Hart stops 20 shots in NHL debut, Flyers top Red Wings


    PHILADELPHIA — Carter Hart had a night he’ll never forget, and the rest of the Philadelphia Flyers had a night they really needed. Hart made 22 saves in his NHL debut and Shayne Gostisbehere and James van Riemsdyk each had a goal and an assist as...

    PHILADELPHIA — Carter Hart had a night he’ll never forget, and the rest of the Philadelphia Flyers had a night they really needed.

    Hart made 22 saves in his NHL debut and Shayne Gostisbehere and James van Riemsdyk each had a goal and an assist as Philadelphia defeated the Detroit Red Wings 3-2 on Tuesday night and made interim coach Scott Gordon a winner in his first game.

    "It was something special tonight to be out there," the 20-year-old Hart said. "I was trying not to think about it before the game. Now, it’s starting to sink in a little bit."

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    Radko Gudas also scored for Philadelphia, which snapped a four-game losing streak.

    The Flyers were playing their first game since head coach Dave Hakstol was fired on Monday, a move that capped a tumultuous few weeks. General manager Ron Hextall was fired last month and new GM Chuck Fletcher ended Hakstol’s four-year tenure after a 1-4 road trip was punctuated by Saturday’s 5-1 loss at Vancouver. The Flyers entered the game last in the Eastern Conference with 28 points.

    "It’s a big relief for everybody," Gordon said.

    Fletcher promoted Gordon from the Flyers’ AHL Lehigh Valley affiliate.

    Dennis Cholowski and Jacob de la Rose scored for Detroit, which has lost four in a row and five of six.

    "We didn’t make it hard enough on (Hart)," Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. "If I was the coach on the other bench, I would have thought it was an easy game for my team."

    Hart was the club’s second-round pick (48th overall) in the 2016 draft. He was 9-5-2 this season for the Flyers’ AHL affiliate at Lehigh Valley, and earned the call-up on Monday after a strong recent stretch in which he went 4-1-0 with a 1.81 goals-against average and .939 save percentage.

    "For a 20-year-old goalie, it was pretty impressive how calm he was," Flyers captain Claude Giroux said. "Good start for him."

    Hart became the sixth goalie to start for the Flyers this season, marking the 14th time in league history a team has used six goalies in a season and the only time it has happened within the first 35 games.

    The rookie netminder wasn’t tested much, and Hart’s best save may have come in the first period when he denied Dylan Larkin.

    "That was a critical save," Gordon said.

    Hart also made a pair of good pad saves at the end of the second period to keep Philadelphia ahead 3-1.

    Hart preserved the win with a strong save of Martin Frk’s slap shot from the left circle with 10 seconds remaining in regulation.

    "That was a great first game for him," Gordon said.

    Detroit tied the game at 1 on a power-play goal by Cholowski 4:12 into the second. He beat a screened Hart on the blocker side with a wrist shot from the slot.

    Philadelphia regained the lead 4:40 later on Gudas’ slap shot from the high slot that got past Jonathan Bernier’s right pad. The Red Wings challenged the goal, arguing that van Riemsdyk’s skate interfered with Bernier’s ability to make the save, but the officials disagreed and the call stood.

    Gostisbehere finished a stellar tic-tac-toe passing setup from Michael Raffl and Nolan Patrick with a wrist shot high over Bernier from the slot to make it 3-1 with 4:43 left in the second.

    De la Rose made it a one-goal game two minutes into the third by beating Hart through the pads from right in front after a quick pass from Frk from behind the net.

    Van Riemsdyk opened the scoring with 1:27 left in the first with a great deflection of Giroux’s wrist shot from in front of the crease.

    NOTES: Detroit G Jimmy Howard (back) was scratched after being injured in warmups. . The teams will meet twice more in the regular season. . Michal Neuvirth backed up Hart. Neuvirth has appeared in just two games this season. Starter Brian Elliott (lower body) is out until at least January. . Flyers RW Jakub Voracek played in his 800th game. … The Flyers continued their dominance of Detroit on home ice, making it 15 straight regular-season games without a regulation loss in Philadelphia. The Red Wings last skated to a regular-season regulation win in Philadelphia on Jan. 25, 1997. The Flyers are 14-0-1 since.

    UP NEXT

    Detroit: At Carolina on Thursday night.

    Philadelphia: Host Nashville on Thursday night.

    Big save, big hugs for Carter Hart in first NHL win

    Big save, big hugs for Carter Hart in first NHL win


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    Tavares, Matthews, Marleau score in first, Leafs rout Devils

    Tavares, Matthews, Marleau score in first, Leafs rout Devils


    NEWARK, N.J. — The Toronto Maple Leafs put on a show for the New Jersey Devils. They came out fast, got contributions from all four lines, their defence and goaltender, and routed the Devils 7-2 on Tuesday night. "I think tonight we came out...

    NEWARK, N.J. — The Toronto Maple Leafs put on a show for the New Jersey Devils.

    They came out fast, got contributions from all four lines, their defence and goaltender, and routed the Devils 7-2 on Tuesday night.

    "I think tonight we came out ready to play," said Maple Leafs forward Mitch Marner, who scored a goal. "We know they’ve got a good team over there … so we knew coming in here was going to be a hard match and I think we came in, got the puck behind them which is what we needed to, and that’s why we were successful."

    This wasn’t much of a game after John Tavares, Auston Matthews and Patrick Marleau scored in the opening 13:38.

    Nazem Kadri matched his career high with three assists, Marner and Morgan Rielly added second-period goals and Tyler Ennis had two in the closing minutes as Toronto embarrassed New Jersey for the second time this season. The win was their seventh in 11 games (7-2-2).

    Frederik Andersen made 27 saves as the Maple Leafs finished a five-game trip with a 2-2-1 record.

    "For us, we hadn’t been getting the results we’ve wanted to get over the past week, week-and-a-half, and it was about time for us to stand up and I thought we responded well," Kadri said.

    Sami Vatanen and Nico Hischier scored for the struggling Devils, who are 3-6-6 in their last 15 games. Keith Kinkaid gave up five goals on 21 shots before being lifted with New Jersey down 5-1 after 40 minutes.

    "Tonight is not something you can just look past," Devils coach John Hynes said. "We have to dig into it and get some answers."

    The Maple Leafs took the lead just seconds after the Devils’ killed off Blake Coleman’s penalty.

    Hischier led a 2-on-1 break into the Toronto zone that Rielly broke up, triggering a 3-on-1 counterattack.

    Matthews sent a pass to Kadri in the right circle, and he found Tavares coming down the middle for his 21st goal at 6:01.

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    Matthews doubled the lead less than two minutes later, depositing a loose puck into an open net. The Devils challenged the call, saying Matthews created the chance for his 17th goal by pushing defenceman Damon Severson into Kinkaid. The goal stood.

    Marleau made it 3-0 with 6:22 left in the period when Kadri’s pass from the sideboard was mishandled by Vatanen and Kinkaid for a tap-in.

    "I don’t know if we maintained it for 60 (minutes) but we really started good, came out, got on the cycle and scored some big goals," Toronto coach Mike Babcock said. "Good win for our team."

    Vatanen scored on a rising slap shot with 1:16 left in the first period but Marner pushed the lead back to three goals, putting in the rebound of Tavares’ shot that banged off the goalpost. Rielly scored from the left circle with less than a second left in the second period.

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    Mackenzie Blackwood, who was called up from Binghamton on Monday when Cory Schneider was placed on injured reserve with an abdominal strain, made his NHL debut gave up the two late goals to Ennis.

    "Our group in here, we can’t take nights off. Tonight was not our best," Devils forward Taylor Hall said. "When we don’t play our best, unfortunately right now, we’re not going to get wins.

    NOTES: The Leafs are 13-5-1 on the road. … Marleau’s goal was the 544th of his career, tying him for No. 30 in NHL history with Maurice Richard of the Canadiens. … Tavares has 14 of his 21 goals on the road. … Marner has 16 points in the last 11 games. … Hall returned to the lineup after missing two games with a lower-body injury. … Vatanen’s goal was his first in 19 games. … Devils have been outscored 13-3 by the Leafs.

    UP NEXT

    Maple Leafs: Open three-game homestand against Florida on Thursday.

    Devils: At Columbus on Thursday.

    Pominville shaken up after colliding with teammate Ristolainen

    Pominville shaken up after colliding with teammate Ristolainen


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    Joe Pavelski rips a beautiful wrist shot top corner on Dubnyk

    Joe Pavelski rips a beautiful wrist shot top corner on Dubnyk


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    Dadonov’s penalty shot trickles through Hutton’s pads for goal

    Dadonov’s penalty shot trickles through Hutton’s pads for goal


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    Gritty Claus takes down Santa in goalie race

    Gritty Claus takes down Santa in goalie race


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    John Tavares finishes pretty 3-on-1 for Leafs

    John Tavares finishes pretty 3-on-1 for Leafs


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    Pang respects Flames but thinks Jets rule the West

    Pang respects Flames but thinks Jets rule the West


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    Tim & Sid: Expensive transfers lead to Jose Mourinho’s downfall

    Tim & Sid: Expensive transfers lead to Jose Mourinho’s downfall


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    Eight Ends: Homan continues comeback GSOC season to close calendar

    Eight Ends: Homan continues comeback GSOC season to close calendar


    CONCEPTION BAY SOUTH, N.L. — The 2018 portion of the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling season has come to a finish and what a way to close out the calendar year. We knew it was going to be an electric event for the Boost National at CBS Arena when...

    CONCEPTION BAY SOUTH, N.L. — The 2018 portion of the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling season has come to a finish and what a way to close out the calendar year.

    We knew it was going to be an electric event for the Boost National at CBS Arena when full-event passes sold out months in advance and in only a few days. Even additional standing room only tickets were hard to come by.

    While Team Gushue was the overwhelming favourite, cheering for good shots by all is what curling fans are known for and they were quickly won over by the likes of Team Mouat, despite the fact they somehow stymied the local lads twice in two days including the quarterfinal elimination match.

    We’re already looking forward to what 2019 has in store with three more events coming up this season.

    Here are our takeaways from the Boost National in Eight Ends.

    1st End: Homan continues comeback GSOC season to close calendar

    Team Rachel Homan is back and they’ve put the locker room on notice.

    The Ottawa-based club captured the Boost National women’s title following a 4-1 victory over Team Kerri Einarson of Gimli, Man., in Sunday’s final. Homan earned her ninth championship in the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling tying Jennifer Jones for the most all-time among women’s skips.

    Homan finished the tournament with a 6-1 record including a decisive 6-2 victory over Jones in the semifinals that featured an amazing double takeout to score three key points.

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    Team Homan closed out 2018 with a vengeance as they also finished runner-up at the Canadian Beef Masters and claimed the Tour Challenge. That’s three consecutive finals and back-to-back championships, not too shabby. Extend that run to the end of last season even and throw in their Humpty’s Champions Cup title defence from late April and that’s four finals with three championships through five events.

    That’s a scorching stretch we haven’t seen from anyone since, well, Team Homan when they won three Grand Slam majors in a row in 2015. Vintage Homan has returned (yes, we’re aware that’s not quite vintage but that’s the joke).

    It’s been a roller-coaster year for Team Homan from the high of heading into 2018 getting to represent Canada at the Winter Olympics to the disappointment of not qualifying for the medal round at the Pyeongchang Games to redemption in the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling. Team Homan started the 2017-18 Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling campaign missing the playoffs in consecutive events and even went 0-5 for the first time ever at the prestigious Players’ Championship. They didn’t even win a playoff game in the series until the aforementioned Humpty’s Champions Cup where they also needed a tiebreaker just to qualify.

    Team Homan is peaking at the perfect time with a busy January ahead featuring the Meridian Canadian Open — an opportunity to crack double-digit title wins and take sole possession of No. 1 — to provincial playdowns on the long road to wear the Maple Leaf once more at the worlds.

    2nd End: Paterson, Mouat leading Scottish revival

    Canada may think they own the game of curling but a couple of Scottish men’s teams are reminding us where the birthplace of The Roaring Game lies.

    Team Ross Paterson and Team Bruce Mouat met in the Boost National men’s final, the first-ever all-Scottish final (men or women) in Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling history. That fact didn’t escape either side as they were aware of the magnitude of the moment with mutual respect between both clubs.

    Team Mouat was on fire heading into the final with an undefeated 6-0 record including a 7-1 rout over Team Paterson, but their opponent got the better of them in the rematch.

    Mouat opened with the hammer and looked to make a hit and roll on a Paterson stone but missed the mark and went through the house untouched. What should have been a deuce turned into a steal and a huge swing that Mouat was unable to pendulum back. Paterson never fell behind and outlasted Mouat 4-3 in an extra end.

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    Full credit to Team Paterson as they not only shook off the bad loss to Mouat in pool play but an 8-1 thrashing at the hands of Gushue. Paterson bounced right back brushing off Olympic bronze medallists Team Peter de Cruz to wrap up the round-robin at 2-2 to qualify and knocked out reigning world champions and Olympic silver medallists Team Niklas Edin in the quarterfinals. A semifinal victory over Team Glenn Howard punched their ticket to the title game.

    What makes their run this weekend even more impressive is it’s only Paterson’s first season as a skip and it’s even caught him by surprise. Paterson has played on tour for many years under the tutelage of David Murdoch, Tom Brewster and most recently with Greg Drummond but this is his first year at the men’s level actually calling the game and with a new team, too.

    In any other sport this is what you’d label a rebuilding year and one where you would expect tons of growing pains, slow starts and rookie mistakes to define their play. That’s not the case here, at all, as Paterson has now joined Mouat, who entered as the defending champion, as the only Scottish men’s skips to win titles in the series.

    3rd End: Einarson taking steps to Grand Slam success

    The fact Team Einarson ended the final on a disappointment shouldn’t take away the week they had reaching the championship game in the first place.

    They persevered and had to battle their way out of a tiebreaker just to qualify. That seemed to spark something as their tiebreaker game against Team Jamie Sinclair was totally lopsided with Einarson earning a 12-0 shutout and scoring all of her points off of steals in just four ends. You don’t start a game stealing back-to-back four-enders unless you’re doing something right and forcing your opponent into doing something wrong.

    An unlikely underdog as the No. 8 seed, Einarson then took on undefeated Team Anna Hasselborg, the reigning Olympic gold medallists, and cooled the red-hot rink down 8-3 to hand them their first and only loss of the event. Einarson scored a five-ender to oust Team Silvana Tirinzoni by an identical score in the semifinals.

    The turning point of this final came early here too as Einarson went for a risk/reward shot in the third end to possibly score a bunch but instead gave up a steal.

    Kerri Einarson goes for the risk but falls short of the reward in one of the pivotal moments from today's women's final. pic.twitter.com/ezcPZYtDjN

    — Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) December 17, 2018

    Einarson was unable to regroup and get on track to generate offence as steals continued to pile on to trail 4-0 with only two ends to go. Even when they did strike the scoreboard in the seventh it was still a missed chance as a draw for two went an inch too far resulting in only a single point and giving Homan a three-point cushion heading into the final frame with the hammer.

    Homan didn’t even need to throw her last as a hit with her first skip stone ran Einarson out of opportunities to steal and force an extra.

    Team Einarson, who won four consecutive World Curling Tour titles, are taking those steps to climb in the Grand Slams from missing the playoffs at the Canadian Beef Masters to reaching the semifinals at the Tour Challenge to a runner-up result at the Boost National. They’re now on the verge of that next step.

    4th End: Glenn’s still got it

    It’s been a renaissance year for Team Glenn Howard, especially in the past couple of months. The Penetanguishene, Ont., club won back-to-back titles on tour recently taking the Stu Sells 1824 Halifax Classic and Nissan Curling Classic with both victories sandwiched by Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling semifinal results.

    And to those saying, “Well, Glenn didn’t actually play in Halifax. They had super spare Adam Spencer that week,” then I’ll counter by adding their runner-up finish at the Humpty’s Champions Cup to close out last season in April.

    The 56-year-old Howard is snubbing the nay-sayers who said he should have retired although he’s not still playing out of spite. He’s competing at the top level and hanging in there side-by-side with his son Scott Howard at third and having fun. What’s not to love about that?

    5th End: The Wizard of Woz

    Matt Wozniak was the super spare of the week (the only spare of the week actually) on Team Brad Jacobs. With Ryan Fry away on personal leave, E.J. Harnden moved up to third and the seven-time Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling champion Wozniak slid into the second spot.

    Jacobs rode the wave from their spirited Tour Challenge title victory from last month plus their Canada Cup win the previous weekend to take the No. 2 seed for the playoffs at 4-0.

    Although it was an unusual set of circumstances, Jacobs enjoyed his time with former rival Wozniak in the mix.

    “Just a great, all-around person I would say,” Jacobs said after the round robin. “We’re having a lot of fun with him. He’s very helpful out on the ice. He’s playing great. …

    “We’re having a blast with him and really enjoying one another’s company. To have played as a team in this event and gone undefeated in the round robin, I know is special for us and I’m sure it’s special for Matt, too.”

    Even having Harnden return to the back end of the lineup where he played prior to Fry’s arrival in 2012 and re-establishing that dynamic with little-to-no prep time for that role was impressive.

    “I know E.J. was excited to move up to third and get the opportunity to play back end,” Jacobs said. “It’s been a long time since he has and he was up for the challenge. He knew that it would be a good test and he even said he’s kind of regaining an appreciation for what it’s like to play back end.

    “The dynamic between him and I has been awesome all week. He’s been very patient with me and very helpful. I would say he’s played fantastic and we’re having a lot of fun in the back end. He really did transition from second to third very seamlessly, so it’s good to see.”

    6th End: Gu gone in quarterfinals, Part III

    There was no party on George Street in St. John’s after this one with Team Gushue falling in the quarterfinals.

    Although this is the third straight quarterfinal exit in the series for Team Gushue, it wasn’t like they underperformed and cracked. The team shot 92 percent in the quarterfinal against Mouat with their skip firing at an outstanding 96 percent clip. In the past being good would be good enough for them but running into the white-hot Team Mouat twice was just too much. Even Kevin Koe, who probably played his best game of the season so far in the semifinals, couldn’t solve Mouat.

    There is pressure playing at home, especially with a full barn of family, friends and fans, but you can’t blame that as they’re ones to embrace that atmosphere more than anything. Just see their 2017 Brier performance for evidence of that.

    The reigning Pinty’s Cup champions are also still in the lead in the points standings this season although Koe has closed to within one with just two events remaining in the race.

    7th End: Sickest shot of the week

    Forget about just the week, Brad Jacobs’ shot against Edin qualifies for shot of the year or even all-time in the series considering both the degree of difficulty and the clutchness of scoring with the last rock of the eight end to push the match into an extra that led to a steal.

    Calling it a double raise in-off doesn’t give it enough credit as Jacobs pinballed around the sheet like a wizard to land shot stone.

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    Although it’s not a shot on the ice, we also have to give credit to Brent Laing and Jennifer Jones’s youngest daughter Skyla for reminding us that curling is just a sport, sometimes even a silly sport, and there are more important things in life.

    Surprise! @jjonescurl #BoostNational #GSOC pic.twitter.com/4w9NB1Vl8N

    — Pinty's Grand Slam of Curling (@grandslamcurl) December 14, 2018

    8th End: Thank u, next

    The Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling returns after the break to kick off the New Year with the Meridian Canadian Open, Jan. 8-13, at the Civic Centre in North Battleford, Sask.

    Tickets are available (and they certainly make for sweet stocking stuffers, just saying) at thegrandslamofcurling.com/tickets.

    Teams and triple knockout brackets for the fifth event and third major of our season will be announced later this week so stay tuned.

    What’s next for Jose Mourinho after Man United firing?

    What’s next for Jose Mourinho after Man United firing?


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    Senators’ Ryan didn’t appreciate Turris’ slash on his hands

    Senators’ Ryan didn’t appreciate Turris’ slash on his hands


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    Oilers’ Connor McDavid stays in his lane when asked about officiating

    Oilers’ Connor McDavid stays in his lane when asked about officiating


    EDMONTON — Patrick Maroon enjoyed a career year on Connor McDavid’s left wing back in 2016-17, scoring 27 goals while watching over the Oilers prodigy when teams tried to mess with him. Tonight, as a member of the visiting St. Louis Blues, it all...

    EDMONTON — Patrick Maroon enjoyed a career year on Connor McDavid’s left wing back in 2016-17, scoring 27 goals while watching over the Oilers prodigy when teams tried to mess with him.

    Tonight, as a member of the visiting St. Louis Blues, it all changes.

    "Connor’s probably the fastest guy in the league, and sometimes you need to hold or grab him a bit," reasoned Maroon. "When I was over on (the Oilers) end I hated it. Now that I’m against him, if I’m out there against him I’m going to try to hold him."

    Seriously?

    "Aw, I won’t be able to catch him anyways."

    Tonight, referees Kyle Rehman and Garrett Rank might as well bring a broom and dustpan to Rogers Place, as they’ll walk into the mess set out by Oilers coach Ken Hitchcock’s complaints over how opposing teams have been allowed to illegally restrain McDavid.

    "Connor is a very unique player. You can’t stop him at the puck," Hitchcock said on Monday. "Where you stop him is before he gets involved in the play. That’s the part that bothers me. A lot of what happens is way behind the play."

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    As for McDavid, he stayed right in his lane Tuesday when asked about how he is officiated.

    "I don’t like to talk about the refs. I never have," McDavid said. "I don’t think anything good is going to come from it. It’s a tough job they have — certainly one I wouldn’t (want) to have."

    Does he notice what Hitchcock notices?

    "The games have been tight checking — (a 4-2 loss in) Vancouver especially," he said. "A lot of teams try not to let me build any sort of speed, so they try to get above me."

    The solution?

    "Keep skating. Keep working hard."

    That’s what you get from McDavid when it comes to the referees. He may have learned this lesson the hard way somewhere along his hockey path, but if he did it was long before he came to Edmonton. Here, he has steadfastly avoided critiquing the zebras.

    "Nothing good is going to come from getting in their face, calling them out or doing all that stuff," he said. "It’s an extremely tough job. The plays happen fast. They’ve got to somehow watch every play that’s going on out there — even away from the puck.

    "It’s something that I definitely wouldn’t want to have to do. I think they do the best job that they can."

    That’s the smart thing to say. No argument there.

    "He just plays," said Hitchcock. "He’s like any other player in the game — he wants his space, and it’s my job to whine and complain. And I’m good at it, so…"

    Red Wings’ Filip Zadina to play for Czech Republic at world juniors

    Red Wings’ Filip Zadina to play for Czech Republic at world juniors


    The Czech Republic will get a big boost at the World Junior Hockey Championship as Filip Zadina‘s agent has confirmed he will play in this year’s tournament. Darren Ferris, Zadina’s agent, told Helene St. James of The Detroit Free Press that his...

    The Czech Republic will get a big boost at the World Junior Hockey Championship as Filip Zadina‘s agent has confirmed he will play in this year’s tournament.

    Darren Ferris, Zadina’s agent, told Helene St. James of The Detroit Free Press that his client will play for the Grand Rapids Griffins, the Red Wings’ AHL affiliate, in a game on Wednesday before reporting to the Czech Republic national team.

    The tournament begins Dec. 26 in Vancouver and Victoria.

    Zadina’s status for the tournament was in doubt after he suffered a groin/hamstring injury in the Griffins’ 5-4 shootout win over the Milwaukee Admirals on Saturday. He missed Sunday’s game against the Rockford IceHogs, but Ferris told St. James the injury was minor and wouldn’t prohibit the 19-year-old winger from representing his country.

    The Red Wings took Zadina sixth-overall in June’s NHL Draft. This season with the Griffins he has eight goals and 17 points in 28 games.

    Zadina made headlines at last year’s world juniors when he scored seven goals in seven games to lead the Czechs to a fourth-place finish.

    Is Jets sniper Patrik Laine becoming a setup man? ‘I hope not’

    Is Jets sniper Patrik Laine becoming a setup man? ‘I hope not’


    To be the best you gotta beat the best and Winnipeg did just that this past weekend. The Jets rode the Lightning and came out on top, putting an end to Tampa Bay’s eight-game winning streak with a thrilling 5-4 overtime victory that sent the crowd into...

    To be the best you gotta beat the best and Winnipeg did just that this past weekend. The Jets rode the Lightning and came out on top, putting an end to Tampa Bay’s eight-game winning streak with a thrilling 5-4 overtime victory that sent the crowd into hysterics.

    The teams traded chances back and forth all night, combining for a total of 89 shots. It was the kind of pressure the vast majority of NHL teams would wilt under, speaking to the resiliency of both squads. It also made for one of the best hockey games Jets fans have seen since the NHL returned to Winnipeg.

    At one time Winnipeg hockey fans dreamed of watching NHL-level hockey back in their own building, but Sunday’s game was at another level. Having grown up going to Jets games in the old arena, I’m familiar with a city whose legends amount to first round playoff losses or championships in less-respected leagues. We are in uncharted territory here as no team from this city has maintained a level of excellence this high for this long at the NHL level.

    Take it all in Winnipeg. You will be talking about this era of hockey for decades to come.

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    Assist: Laine’s dirty word
    Mark Scheifele’s dominance is rightfully commanding a lot of the attention these days, so it comes as a bit of a surprise for some when they realize Patrik Laine is on a five-game point streak. The big Finn is on a rare stretch that’s seen him put up more assists than goals.

    When I asked him about the apples he’s collecting and if the goal-scoring success of his teammates is turning him into an assist man, he responded with classic Laine humour.

    “Nope. I hope not,” he said. “I’m going to take a few assists every once in a while, but I don’t want them too often.”

    Laine’s joking of course, but in a way he’s not. It’s clear in practice and games Laine has a shoot-first mentality. I’m not telling you anything you don’t know.

    What’s surprising is he doesn’t get more assists based solely on rebounds. Part of that would be the confidence he has in his accuracy. Shot graphs I’ve seen make it clear: Laine shoots for the inside of the posts whereas other scorers get pucks through goaltenders and into the meatier part of the net with more frequency. So when Laine’s shot is off it’s often more likely to miss the net than hit the goalie.

    Good ol' @snseanreynolds asked Patrik Laine if his linemate Kyle Connor (3 goals in the last 2 games) was going to turn him into an "assist man."

    Laine: "Nope. I hope not. … I'm gonna take a few assists every once in a while, but I don't want them too often."

    — Kristina Rutherford (@KrRutherford) December 13, 2018

    Secondary scoring surge
    Lost behind the common heroics of the Scheifeles, Wheelers and Laines are some pretty stellar performances by the Jets’ supporting cast. Having a lot of depth is one thing, but having so many of those players at the top of their game is not so easily done. The Jets are making it look simple.

    It starts on special teams where the Jets’ secondary unit has five power play goals in its past five games. Mathieu Perreault is responsible for three of those — he has goals in four straight games and points in five straight.

    Josh Morrissey is also on a tear. Give him eight points over his past five games.

    Morrissey’s been outdone over that stretch by fellow defenceman Dustin Byfuglien, who has nine points over his past five games. That surge has him operating a hair under a point-per-game pace at the ripe age of 33.

    When the league slowly turned smaller and faster and bigger players couldn’t keep up, a lot of people believed Byfuglien would be one of the casualties. Instead he’s thrived.

    In a league with shrinking players Byfuglien’s size advantage only grows, but it wouldn’t work without his skating ability. Head coach Paul Maurice marvels at the big man’s agility and endurance. Since Maurice took over behind the bench in 2014, he says Byfuglien has come to training camp in better shape than the previous season every single time.

    For those searching for the fountain of youth, the legends say it’s to be found right here in Winnipeg. You’ll just have to go through Byfuglien and Blake Wheeler to get to it.

    Brandon Tanev
    If you watched our Sunday night Hometown Hockey broadcast you may have caught our story on Brandon Tanev who took a path to the NHL like no other.

    Tanev’s skill was evident from a young age, but it all came crashing down in his teenage years when the players around him began to sprout and Tanev didn’t. By the age of 15, Tanev was less than five-feet tall resulting in him being cut from his triple-A team.

    Crushed, Tanev quit the pursuit of his hockey dreams and instead played shinny with his friends and a little bit of high school hockey.

    Suddenly at the age of 18, Tanev had a growth spurt, shooting up to his current height of six-feet.

    At 19, Tanev attempted a walk-on at the Junior A level and made the cut. He played 46 games that year with the Markham Waxers of the OJHL and 58 games the following year with the Surrey Eagles of the BCHL. That earned him a ticket to Providence College and a four-year journey that ended in the Friars’ first-ever national championship and an offer from the Winnipeg Jets.

    Nice to see that hustle paying off for Tanev, whose relentlessly direct style has him sitting fifth on the Jets in goal scoring.

    How Nurse speaking out on refs was meaningful for Raptors players

    How Nurse speaking out on refs was meaningful for Raptors players


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    Blackhawks loan Henri Jokiharju to Finnish team for world juniors

    Blackhawks loan Henri Jokiharju to Finnish team for world juniors


    The Chicago Blackhawks have loaned defenceman Henri Jokiharju to Finland’s under-20 national team for the 2019 World Junior Championships, the team announced Tuesday. The event will take place in Vancouver and Victoria from Dec. 26 and Jan 5. ROSTER...

    The Chicago Blackhawks have loaned defenceman Henri Jokiharju to Finland’s under-20 national team for the 2019 World Junior Championships, the team announced Tuesday.

    The event will take place in Vancouver and Victoria from Dec. 26 and Jan 5.

    ROSTER NEWS: The #Blackhawks have loaned defenseman Henri Jokiharju to the Finnish men’s national junior team for the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship.

    The tournament will be held in Vancouver from Dec. 26, 2018 – Jan. 5, 2019. pic.twitter.com/Vr6ECf2C3x

    — Chicago Blackhawks (@NHLBlackhawks) December 18, 2018

    Jokiharju has 11 assists with the Blackhawks this season and is averaging 20 minutes of ice time in 32 games as a rookie. The 19-year-old was the 29th-overall pick in the 2017 draft.

    The 19-year-old played on Finland’s second pairing at last year’s tournament, pairing up with Canucks prospect Olli Juolevi. He finished with four points in five games as Finland lost to the Czech Repubic in the quarterfinals.

    Jokiharju could miss up to eight NHL games during the tournament but is expected to return to Chicago when it’s over.

    Devils GM Ray Shero believes team still has chance at success

    Devils GM Ray Shero believes team still has chance at success


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    What are realistic expectations for Vlad Jr. & Jays in 2019?

    What are realistic expectations for Vlad Jr. & Jays in 2019?


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    Jose Mourinho firing doesn’t fix malaise at Man United

    Jose Mourinho firing doesn’t fix malaise at Man United


    LONDON — The rot runs deep at Manchester United. Firing Jose Mourinho just removes the immediate stench of gloom. With every rebuke aimed — very publicly — at his players or paymasters, Mourinho looked more fixated on picking public fights...

    LONDON — The rot runs deep at Manchester United. Firing Jose Mourinho just removes the immediate stench of gloom.

    With every rebuke aimed — very publicly — at his players or paymasters, Mourinho looked more fixated on picking public fights rather than addressing his own shortcomings.

    Call it palpable discord.

    Chelsea used that phrase when dismissing Mourinho — for a second time — just three years and one day ago. A championship-winning side had been dragged down to a point above the relegation zone. Also, the authority of a rare female doctor of an English Premier League team had been undermined while being publicly humiliated by Mourinho.

    The serial winner became tainted goods. So United knew just what it was getting when it gave the game’s most volatile character a route back into the dugout in 2016.

    The owning Glazer family and Ed Woodward, the vice chairman entrusted with running United day-to-day, ignored the alarm bells in their obsession with racking up social media interactions and Galactico signings.

    But since Manchester City had just hired Pep Guardiola, how else was United to respond in 2016 than by installing its own managerial colossus in the dugout across town? The answer was — and is — to formulate a rational strategy to restore the Red Devils to the pinnacle of English football where Alex Ferguson left them before retiring in 2013.

    Stream Premier League games on Sportsnet NOW Stream weekly matchups from around the Premier League with Sportsnet NOW. Get access to the Premier League, FA Cup, Bundesliga, Scottish Premiership and more.

    Instead, Woodward abandoned the studious transfer strategy honed under Ferguson in tandem with David Gill, who stepped down as chief executive when the manager’s 26-year reign ended. Since then, the record 20-time English champions haven’t come close to winning the league under David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and now Mourinho.

    "The regression of the team led by the manager may be the immediate trigger for today’s action, it is also the result of some poor decisions," the Manchester United Supporters’ Trust said. "Three managerial appointments each with different playing styles and the player investments that they triggered."

    The players knew who was boss under Ferguson. The Scot offloaded David Beckham in 2003 after growing "uncomfortable with the celebrity aspect of his life."

    But Woodward gives the impression of allowing the egos in the dressing room to run the show while churning through managers — three now since 2013 — while indulging the demands of players and agents. Can you imagine Ferguson allowing a player to have personalized advertising on perimeter hoardings during games? That happened when Paul Pogba’s emoji flashed around the field at Old Trafford.

    The midfielder was brought back to Old Trafford from Juventus in August 2016 in time for Mourinho’s first season in a transfer that cost 105 million euros (then $116 million). Mourinho certainly can’t complain about not being backed with cash to spend. Only he did just that when he couldn’t sign a centre back in the summer transfer window — very publicly — and Woodward couldn’t control the outbursts.

    "For us it will be a difficult season."

    That was Mourinho’s forecast after the opening game of the Premier League — a match won against Leicester. It suggested little faith in his own abilities — so much for the Special One? — and set the tone for the next four months of a reign that ended two days after Sunday’s loss to Liverpool.

    You can’t question the mentality of players as often as Mourinho did and expect them to perform for you.

    Mourinho did collect two trophies in his first season at United — the League Cup and Europa League in 2017 — and followed them with the highest finish since Ferguson. But the runner-up placing in May only reinforced Manchester City’s supremacy. Flush with cash from Abu Dhabi — albeit with financial practices under scrutiny by football authorities — City finished 19 points ahead of United.

    That is now the deficit between current leader Liverpool and United in sixth place. Even qualifying for the Champions League looks beyond United this season, with Mourinho’s former Chelsea side 11 points ahead in fourth place.

    United said on Tuesday that Mourinho’s departure allows the club to overhaul the transfer strategy and implement the director of football structure Mourinho opposed. If that was a long-term plan, then why did United hire Mourinho in the first place?

    For all his acumen as a sharp financial operator who ensures the sustainability of a debt-loaded business, Woodward looks increasingly out of his depth on footballing matters.

    United is looking for a fourth permanent manager in less than six years. Previously, the club took four decades to go through as many coaches.

    "They’ve got to reset the football structure within the club," former United captain Gary Neville said on Tuesday. "They’ve got to put more intelligent people in there who understand the football side of things and not just hide behind the manager. They have to look at themselves as well and make sure there is a change."

    If not, the malaise could infect even more of a club past its prime.

    Why Justin Smoak is most attractive trade chip for Blue Jays

    Why Justin Smoak is most attractive trade chip for Blue Jays


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    Team Canada WJC scouting report: Sam Cosentino analyzes the roster

    Team Canada WJC scouting report: Sam Cosentino analyzes the roster


    Heading into the 2019 World Junior Hockey Championship in Victoria and Vancouver, the Canadian team will be looking to repeat as gold medal winners for the first time since they won five times in a row from 2005-2009. Canada has medalled in three of the...

    Heading into the 2019 World Junior Hockey Championship in Victoria and Vancouver, the Canadian team will be looking to repeat as gold medal winners for the first time since they won five times in a row from 2005-2009. Canada has medalled in three of the past four tournaments and in every year when the WJC has been hosted on home soil, the Red and White has come away with a medal.

    With one injury decision yet to be made, this year’s roster is nearly complete.

    But with very few returning players from the 2018 tournament, just how does this year’s team shape up? Sportsnet’s Sam Cosentino gives an in-depth scouting report on the Canadian roster from each position.

    GOALIES

    Michael DiPietro was expected to be the starter for this team dating back to last April when Hockey Canada asked him to head overseas and experience the men’s World Championship. DiPietro, a Vancouver Canucks prospect, has quite the resume having won the Memorial Cup and being named the tournament’s top goalie with Windsor in 2017. DiPietro experienced the bitterness of being cut from last year’s WJC team and should thrive on the big stage.

    Should he fail, Prince Albert’s Ian Scott should be more than capable of handling back-up duties. He’s put up the best numbers of any CHL goalie this season (23-2-0-0, 1.61 GAA, .943 SP, 4SO). The Toronto Maple Leafs prospect will go into the world juniors with a clear mind, having just signed his entry-level deal.

    DEFENCE

    This group is balanced, but does lean a little on the young side. The veterans are steady, but it’s those younger players who should bring more of a dynamic element.

    Montreal prospect Josh Brook plays for Tim Hunter in Moose Jaw and shortly after the CIBC Canada-Russia series, Hunter sat Brook down to get his game back on track. He’s improved markedly on the defensive side and his skating can pace the offence. Brook has the ability to play both sides as a right shot as well.

    Ian Mitchell is a Chicago second-rounder who plays at the University of Denver and adds skill as a right shot.

    L.A. Kings prospect Markus Phillips has been a Team Canada favourite, having gone right up through the Program of Excellence. He’s not flashy, but does his job, and will likely play as a No. 6-7.

    The youth makes this group exciting as Edmonton prospect Evan Bouchard is a late-’99 birthday, another right shot, and started the season by playing in seven NHL games. He thinks the game well, has a bomb of a shot and a unique ability to get that shot through.

    Spokane Chiefs defenceman and New Jersey Devils prospect Ty Smith should thrive in an environment where his minutes will be tamed from what he’s seen in the regular season. He’s an excellent skater and constantly adjusts his game to get better.

    Detroit second-rounder Jared McIsaac has taken to heart what the Red Wings are preaching. They’ve toned his game down and given him an identity where taking care of his own end and moving pucks efficiently are the two key elements.

    Noah Dobson fell to the Islanders at pick 12 this past June and has the potential to be a top-pair player who can do everything at both ends. He’s a future NHL star.

    CENTRES

    Cody Glass just looks like a more confident guy — he’s come out of his shell and will be a leader for this group. He’s in tremendous shape after spending last summer training like a mad man. He’s up over two points per game with Portland (54 in 26 games) and should be a go-to guy for Canada.

    Barrett Hayton is a two-way player whose skill is really starting to emerge. Arizona jumped to take him fifth overall in June and he’s shrugged off an early-season injury to help Sault Ste. Marie get back to the top of the OHL’s western division.

    Nick Suzuki has taken his trade from Vegas to Montreal in stride. He makes plays and is a dual threat with excellent sniping ability.

    Jack Studnicka, a Boston pick who plays with OHL Oshawa, elevated his game in camp the same way he did in Boston’s camp. At his best he’s good on the forecheck, reliable in his own end and can produce at second- or third-line levels.

    WINGERS

    Anaheim prospect Max Comtois is a returning player and can set the tone with his speed and skill. He should epitomize the way coach Hunter wants to play.

    Mississauga’s Owen Tippett is a Florida prospect. While his all-around game has improved, he’s best known for his sniping abilities.

    Jaret-Anderson Dolan has worked extremely hard to come back from a broken wrist and should be ready just in the nick of time.

    Brett Leason is also banged up with a bad hand, but unless it’s completely unusable he’ll continue to write the next chapter in the best individual story in the CHL.

    Shane Bowers is a Colorado prospect acquired through the Matt Duchene deal. He’s the epitome of a two-way centre who can play in any situation and brings a pro-style game.

    Sault Greyhound Morgan Frost is a playmaker extraordinaire. He can slice, dice and dish. He can create gap with good acceleration and edge work. Whenever he’s been asked to produce, he’s answered the call.

    Alexis Lafreniere won’t dazzle to the level you would expect for a player with the hype that surrounds him. He will, however, play a very mature game and will benefit by playing with such high-end players. He won’t start in an elevated role, but if he can capitalize on low minutes early in the tournament, he may play a key role when it counts most.

    MacKenzie Entwistle is a tireless worker, with good size and skating ability. The Hamilton Bulldog, who signed his ELC with Chicago over the summer, can play anywhere in the lineup. He’s used to playing with super-skilled players and has no issue deferring to them — in-fact he thrives on it. He is highly effective on the PK.

    Joe Veleno, a Detroit first-rounder who plays in Drummondville, is at his best when he plays with a physical element. It’s not what you would expect from an exceptional player, but it’s true. When he uses his big frame and skating ability to create havoc on the forecheck he finishes plays in the offensive zone with deft skill. He should follow the path of Max Comtois from last year’s WJC team.

    Can Carter Hart put an end to Flyers goaltending carousel?

    Can Carter Hart put an end to Flyers goaltending carousel?


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    Maple Leafs’ Rasmus Sandin ready for big role with Sweden at world juniors

    Maple Leafs’ Rasmus Sandin ready for big role with Sweden at world juniors


    TTORONTO — Rasmus Sandin often heads over to Timothy Liljegren’s place after the Toronto Marlies wrap up practice. The Swedish defencemen usually just hang out, cook food and sometimes talk about life playing hockey as teenagers more than 6,000...

    TTORONTO — Rasmus Sandin often heads over to Timothy Liljegren’s place after the Toronto Marlies wrap up practice.

    The Swedish defencemen usually just hang out, cook food and sometimes talk about life playing hockey as teenagers more than 6,000 kilometres from home.

    "He’s older, so he’s got to take care of me," Sandin, 373 days younger than Liljegren, said with a cheeky grin in a recent interview. "We spend a lot time together."

    The plan was for Sandin, 18, and Liljegren, 19, to spend even more time together at the world junior hockey championship, but it’s looking increasingly like Sweden will have to settle for just one of the Maple Leafs’ first-round picks at the upcoming tournament in Vancouver and Victoria.

    Liljegren suffered a high ankle sprain earlier this month playing in the American Hockey League, and while he’s continuing to rehab with Toronto’s sports science team, it doesn’t sound like he’ll be healthy in time for the event that begins Dec. 26.

    "It’s certainly understandable that he wants to push to play," Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas said Monday. "I just don’t know that it’s going to be realistic."

    A right-shot defenceman with offensive upside — just like Liljegren — Sandin was always expected to play a big role as part of Sweden’s world junior entry. He now could see even more high-pressure minutes with his AHL teammate’s presumed absence.

    "He’s remained steady for an 18-year-old and a later first-round (selection)," Dubas said of Sandin, the GM’s first-ever draft pick in the top job at No. 29 last June. "He’s been outstanding. I know they’re going to rely heavily on him.

    "It’s going to be a great opportunity."

    Sandin, who played for the Ontario Hockey League’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds last season, has five goals and five assists in 18 games with the Marlies, including a combined three points in back-to-back wins over the weekend before joining Sweden’s junior squad.

    "It was a little different in the beginning, but I’m getting more and more used to it every game," Sandin said of adjusting to the AHL. "I feel pretty confident out there and it feels pretty good.

    "The players are stronger, they’re quicker. You have to make your decisions even quicker."

    Marlies defenceman Frank Corrado, who has been paired with Sandin at different times on the Leafs’ farm team this season, said the organization found a good one.

    "He’s everything you want to see in a young player — great attitude, great demeanour," Corrado said. "He’s not afraid to make plays, he’s not afraid to be creative on the ice. He’s got such a bright future, you can just tell.

    "I see a great kid and I see a great player."

    Sandin said pre-tournament conversations with Sweden’s coaching staff suggested he should expect to carry a lot of the mail on a blue line that will also be without Buffalo defenceman and reigning No. 1 pick Rasmus Dahlin, but does have Adam Boqvist (eighth overall to Chicago in 2018) and Erik Brannstrom (15th overall to Vegas in 2017).

    "It would be good to get (Dahlin), too," joked the outgoing Sandin. "They kind of want me in the same role I get here, maybe even a bit bigger one — playing penalty kill, power play, everything. It’s going to a fun experience.

    "It’s been a dream my whole life to play at the world juniors."

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    Dubas, meanwhile, said Liljegren’s injury is a double blow because he had impressed with the Marlies and was viewed as a potential NHL call-up later in the season for a Leafs team that has had issues moving the puck quickly from the back end.

    The 17th overall selection at the 2017 draft had an uneven inaugural campaign in North America that saw him play at the world juniors and skate as the second-youngest player in the AHL, but he had grown into an important role with the Marlies so far in 2018, registering two goals and six assists in 19 games before the injury.

    "It’s really unfortunate because he’d been having an excellent season," Dubas said. "He moves the puck very well.

    "This is going to set him back for quite a few weeks."

    Sweden, which won silver at last year’s world junior tournament, is in a group that includes the United States, Finland, Slovakia and Kazakhstan. The Swedes open their preliminary round on Boxing Day against the rival Finns in Victoria.

    "Playing for Sweden is always about trying to take a gold medal," Sandin said. "That’s always the goal.

    "We’ll see what happens."

    Dubas and the Leafs will be watching.

    NFL Power Rankings Week 16: Are Chargers tops in AFC?

    NFL Power Rankings Week 16: Are Chargers tops in AFC?


    Technically, the Los Angeles Chargers sit second in the AFC West behind the Kansas City Chiefs — on tiebreaks — despite the fact they’re 11-3 and have already secured a playoff spot. That said, they might also be the best team in the entire...

    Technically, the Los Angeles Chargers sit second in the AFC West behind the Kansas City Chiefs — on tiebreaks — despite the fact they’re 11-3 and have already secured a playoff spot.

    That said, they might also be the best team in the entire conference after beating the Chiefs in a marquee Thursday night matchup.

    See below for how our expert power-rankings panel sorts out this and other late-season conundrums.

    As always, the panel includes editors Geoff Lowe and Craig Battle, as well as staff writers Donnovan Bennett and Emily Sadler.

    1. New Orleans Saints
    2018 record: 12-2
    Last week: 1

    Imagine how relieved Tommylee Lewis feels this morning. He fumbled the ball into the end zone on his first carry of the game last night, giving the Panthers the ball down three with almost two minutes left on the clock. If Cam Newton marches down the field for a TD or field goal, that mistake becomes a permanent bullet point on his resumé (see: Ty Montgomery bringing the ball out of the end zone earlier this season). But his defence bailed him out and now the Saints are one win from securing home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Phew. (CB)

    2. Chicago Bears
    2018 record: 10-4
    Last week: 4

    No team has improved more throughout the year more than the Bears. In Week 1, the Bears lost by a point to the Packers. On Sunday, they beat Green Bay to clinch the NFC North title and a playoff spot for the first time since 2010. The Bears went worst to first as they finished in last in the division last year. (DB)

    3. Los Angeles Chargers
    2018 record: 11-3
    Last week: 5

    The club answered a lot of lingering questions Thursday night. They erased a two-touchdown deficit against the AFC West-leading Chiefs with less than five minutes to go in a game that might end up deciding the division. Coach Anthony Lynn’s gutsy call for a two-point conversion was the exclamation point at the end of a statement game for the playoff-bound Chargers. (ES)

    4. Kansas City Chiefs
    2018 record: 11-3
    Last week: 2

    The class of the AFC West for much of the season has some company atop the division now after losing to the Chargers. They’ve still got the leg up if it comes to a division-record tie-breaker, but this race will go down to the wire. (ES)

    5. Los Angeles Rams
    2018 record: 11-3
    Last week: 3

    Jared Goff threw seven picks through the Rams’ first 12 games. In their last two he’s lobbed six … against zero touchdown passes. Suffice to say, the Rams have lost both. (CB)

    6. Houston Texans
    2018 record: 10-4
    Last week: 8

    It wasn’t pretty, but the Texans left New York with a seven-point comeback victory over the Jets. They now get a tough road matchup with a desperate Eagles team before finishing up at home versus the hapless Jags in Week 17. The division is all but wrapped up. (CB)

    7. Pittsburgh Steelers
    2018 record: 8-5-1
    Last week: 10

    With a big win over the Patriots, the Steelers are in the driver’s seat in the AFC North. If the Steelers split their last two games (at New Orleans, home vs. Cincinnati) then the Ravens need to sweep their last two (at LA Chargers, home vs. Cleveland) to win the division. (DB)

    8. New England Patriots
    2018 record: 9-5
    Last week: 6

    Uncharacteristic mistakes and misplays means the Patriots have lost back-to-back games in December for the first time since 2002. (GL)

    9. Indianapolis Colts
    2018 record: 8-6
    Last week: 12

    Another week, another statement game against a team from Texas. In a matchup of super-hot teams, the Colts blanked the Cowboys 23–0 to stay in the playoff hunt. But with only one AFC wild-card spot up for grabs between them, Baltimore and Tennessee, Indy will likely need to win out. A Week 17 matchup with the Titans looms incredibly large. (CB)

    10. Minnesota Vikings
    2018 record: 7-6-1
    Last week: 13

    The Vikings are locked into second in the NFC North, so a wild-card berth is the only way they’ll make the post-season. Because their seeding in the division is set so are their 2019 road opponents. They will play road games against the Packers, Bears, Lions, Giants, Cowboys, Chargers, Chiefs and Seahawks which could mean as many as five road games against playoff teams next year. (DB)

    11. Dallas Cowboys
    2018 record: 8-6
    Last week: 7

    The shutout loss in Indy highlighted the real concern about the Cowboys heading into the playoffs: Dak Prescott and the offence. Dallas put together three five-minute drives in the first half and came away with nothing. (GL)

    12. Baltimore Ravens
    2018 record: 8-6
    Last week: 11

    Lamar Jackson has led the Ravens’ playoff push, but they aren’t out of the woods yet. By next week, the Ravens could lead AFC North or be eliminated from playoffs. Baltimore can take over first place in the division by winning in San Diego and Pittsburgh losing in New Orleans. The Ravens can be eliminated if they lose to the Chargers and three teams (Steelers, Titans and Colts) all win. (DB)

    13. Tennessee Titans
    2018 record: 8-6
    Last week: 14

    They’re down in the tie-breakers right now, but with a little help from Baltimore’s opponents and a home win over Indy in Week 17, this team can slide into the final wild-card spot. Caveat: When the Titans and Colts met a month ago, Indy won 38–10. (CB)

    14. Seattle Seahawks
    2018 record: 8-6
    Last week: 9

    The bad news is the Seahawks had a major letdown in Sunday’s tilt versus the 49ers and lost in overtime. The good news is the NFC wild-card picture is kind of a mess and, at 8-6, they’re still in the driver’s seat for the first spot. (DB)

    15. Philadelphia Eagles
    2018 record: 7-7
    Last week: 19

    When the Eagles control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball like they did on Sunday, they’re a team that can compete with any in the NFC. Unfortunately, it may be too late to salvage the season. (GL)

    16. Miami Dolphins
    2018 record: 7-7
    Last week: 15

    Despite keeping their heads above water this late in the season, the Dolphins have one of the league’s worst rushing defences and the Vikings took full advantage Sunday. (GL)

    17. Cleveland Browns
    2018 record: 6-7-1
    Last week: 20

    With the Steelers’ win Sunday, the Browns were eliminated from the AFC North race but are still alive for the No. 2 wild card. However, Cleveland’s only path requires a Colts-Titans tie in Week 17, so don’t hold your breath Browns fans. (DB)

    18. Washington Redskins
    2018 record: 7-7
    Last week: 23

    As unlikely as it has seemed over the last eight weeks, Washington is still very much alive in the NFC wild-card race. It’s fair to say, however, we’d all be shocked if this is the team to claim that sixth spot. (GL)

    19. Carolina Panthers
    2018 record: 6-8
    Last week: 18

    The Panthers got gifted a shot to save their season Monday night. All they needed was about 45 yards to get into field-goal range, and they seemed more than willing to use the centre of the field to do it. But Cam Newton’s sore shoulder couldn’t get them there. They’ve now lost six in a row, and their season is essentially over. (CB)

    20. Green Bay Packers
    2018 record: 5-8-1
    Last week: 16

    Aaron Rodgers had his record streak without an interception snapped. With another post-season missed, the Packers should shut No. 12 down for their final two games and let Rodgers fully heal in what has been a lost year. (DB)

    21. Denver Broncos
    2018 record: 6-8
    Last week: 17

    With the loss to the Browns, the Broncos have officially been eliminated from playoff contention. Denver can at least take solace in its rookie class, which includes difference makers on offence and defence in Bradley Chubb and Philip Lindsay. (CB)

    22. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
    2018 record: 5-9
    Last week: 21

    And the playoff-less streak extends to 11 straight years. And hey, speaking of sad Tampa Bay sports stuff, here’s a depressing article about coming to terms with the Rays eventually leaving town. (CB)

    23. New York Giants
    2018 record: 5-9
    Last week: 22

    Just when the Giants were beginning to garner some praise, they lay an egg at home against the Titans. Now eliminated from playoff contention, this team becomes one of the more fascinating to watch this off-season. (GL)

    24. Cincinnati Bengals
    2018 record: 6-8
    Last week: 26

    The Bengals snapped a five-game losing streak, but were still officially eliminated from playoff contention. In hindsight, their fans would prefer superior draft position than the Raiders rather than a win over them. (DB)

    25. Buffalo Bills
    2018 record: 5-9
    Last week: 28

    The Bills never win pretty, but Josh Allen and the offence deserve credit for Sunday’s victory given Buffalo played large portions of the game without a single running back. (GL)

    26. Atlanta Falcons
    2018 record: 5-9
    Last week: 27

    Silver lining for a frustrating campaign: Julio Jones is having what will go down as one of his best seasons in the NFL. He topped 100 catches for the third time in his career Sunday, and is leading the league (by a mile) with 1,511 receiving yards. (CB)

    27. Detroit Lions
    2018 record: 5-9
    Last week: 24

    The Lions lost once again. The good news is the loss was worth at least four spots in the 2019 draft order. Detroit is currently slotted at No. 7. With a win, they’d have been in position to pick 11th. (DB)

    28. San Francisco 49ers
    2018 record: 4-10
    Last week: 31

    With wins over the Broncos and Seahawks in the last two weeks, the 49ers are playing themselves out of a shot at the No. 1 pick, which — even with no need for a long-term solution at QB — could be a really nice bargaining chip for a team with aims at contending sooner rather than later. (CB)

    29. New York Jets
    2018 record: 4-10
    Last week: 25

    Jets fans saw what Sam Darnold is capable of, enjoying the best game of his rookie season Saturday against the likely AFC South champs. Now it’s up to the front office to properly build around him. (GL)

    30. Jacksonville Jaguars
    2018 record: 4-10
    Last week: 29

    This team was 3-1 at one point. The Jags need help all over the offence, and no more so than at quarterback. (CB)

    31. Oakland Raiders
    2018 record: 3-11
    Last week: 30

    No one knows where the Raiders will play next season, which is both unheard of and strangely fitting of the dysfunction surrounding this team. (CB)

    32. Arizona Cardinals
    2018 record: 3-11
    Last week: 32

    You know it’s not a great time for sports fans in the Valley of the Sun when news outlets are writing columns asking Larry Fitzgerald not to retire (and then trying to figure out what other sports he could play). Fitzgerald, by the way, is still getting it done, even in this offence, catching seven of eight targets Sunday for more than 80 yards. (CB)

    Clippers’ pursuit of Raptors’ Kawhi Leonard in headlines this week

    Clippers’ pursuit of Raptors’ Kawhi Leonard in headlines this week


    The Toronto Raptors are in first place in the NBA, coming off a promising road trip that included a season sweep of the defending champion Golden State Warriors, and with plenty of room for improvement as the season continues. Yes, these are high times...

    The Toronto Raptors are in first place in the NBA, coming off a promising road trip that included a season sweep of the defending champion Golden State Warriors, and with plenty of room for improvement as the season continues.

    Yes, these are high times for the organization and its fan base.

    But there are two big questions that, rightfully, loom over the team, and will for the next five or six months:

    1. Is this team actually different than the Raptors’ other strong regular season teams of recent years, or will they crumble in the post-season?

    2. Will Kawhi Leonard re-sign in Toronto — all but ensuring the Raptors retain their contender status for the foreseeable future — or walk in free agency?

    The latter has been much-discussed this week in particular, on the heels of reports of the Los Angeles Clippers‘ fairly aggressive recruitment of the Raptors star, in which it was reported that Clippers front office brass — including team president Lawrence Frank — have attended roughly 75 per cent of Toronto’s games in part as a means to express their overt interest in signing the former Finals MVP once he becomes a free agent this summer.

    “They’re treating this like a college recruitment,” ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said of the Clippers efforts. “It’s a unique way they’re going about this.”

    Wojnarowski joined Zach Lowe on the Lowe Post podcast over the weekend and discussed the latest status of Leonard’s eventual free agency decision, and the Raptors’ potential road blocks to re-signing their leading scorer.

    “They can’t change the geography, and they can’t change the weather in Toronto,” he said. “Those are always going to be things against them in this. Home and L.A. has been the focus of Kawhi Leonard through all of this.”

    Leonard was asked about Toronto winters last week, and didn’t seem all too concerned.

    “Just wear a jacket,” Leonard said. “We’re in a building. We’re not outside playing in the snow. And it’s good scenery.”

    But on the podcast, Wojnarowski continued to make the case why the Raptors could be in tough to retain Leonard’s services beyond this season.

    “[Selling Leonard on staying with the Raptors] becomes harder with a player who has already won a championship and is thinking about quality of life and where he wants to be,” he said. “Maybe his best chance to win is in Toronto [but] it may not be his No. 1 priority.”

    “They’re the best team in the East — and that’s the only case they can make,” added Lowe.

    Former NBA vice-president Stu Jackson was a guest on The Starting Lineup on Sportsnet 590 The FAN on Tuesday morning, and discussed the latest free agency rumours and why he doesn’t altogether buy that the Clippers would be a preferred destination for a player in Leonard’s situation.

    “Let’s say Golden State and Toronto end up in the Finals,” he said. “As a player do you still make the decision to leave a Finals-level team … and now go away in free agency to the Clippers in the off chance that you get to the Finals? I don’t know, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. Winning cures a lot in the minds of many players.”

    [radioclip id=4378541]

    On Monday, Leonard’s teammate, Kyle Lowry, was asked about whether or not he had any indication of what will happen next summer.

    “There’s no read,” Lowry told Sam Amick of The Athletic. “We don’t have to read him, because he talks to us. He’s our teammate. He’s a guy we talk to every day. He’s awesome. He’s enjoying being back on the floor playing basketball at a high level. That’s what he’s really enjoying.

    “I’ve dealt with this before with DeMar — the speculation — and I will be happy for Kawhi Leonard when he makes his decision,” Lowry continued. “Nothing else matters but his happiness, and that’s how I am, because our brotherhood is too small for us to say this, that and the other (about another player’s free agency decision) Our brotherhood in the NBA is really tiny, and we really all appreciate and support and want each other happy.”

    Leonard, for his part, seems to be uninterested — or unaware — of the ongoing rumours and L.A.’s apparent recruitment tactics. While the Raptors were in Los Angeles to face the Clippers last week, after the game Leonard walked right past Lawrence Frank in a Staples Center corridor with no acknowledgement.

    It was reported in Amick’s story that Leonard said he simply didn’t know who Frank was.

    Leonard is currently averaging a career-high 26.3 points and 8.4 rebounds per game for the 23-9 Raptors.

    Stay tuned.

    Identifying each Eastern Canadian NHL team’s biggest weakness

    Identifying each Eastern Canadian NHL team’s biggest weakness


    Approaching the mid-point of the season, we identified the biggest weaknesses for each of Canada’s Western Conference teams that they could possibly address via trade. Shifting over to Eastern Canada, we’ve got an expected contender, a surprisingly...

    Approaching the mid-point of the season, we identified the biggest weaknesses for each of Canada’s Western Conference teams that they could possibly address via trade.

    Shifting over to Eastern Canada, we’ve got an expected contender, a surprisingly strong playoff bubble team, and Ottawa. Here are each of their weaknesses:

    OTTAWA SENATORS

    The Senators are barely below .500, and a big reason for that is Craig Anderson. His .907 save percentage looks about league average this year, but he’s faced absurdly tough shots all season long.

    In picking out a weakness for Ottawa, there were loads of different stats to choose from, but I thought it made the most sense to keep it simple. Surprisingly, the Sens are a pretty good offensive team, they move the puck well and have a few high-end scorers who can make things happen without much help from Matt Duchene and Mark Stone.

    Where they struggle is defending. They give up by far the most scoring chances in the NHL, and not just at 5-on-5. Making matters worse is the Senators are extremely exploitable in their own zone on passing plays, which means Anderson has had to be active in making reaction saves. No team gives up more scoring chances with pre-shot movement than the Senators, and they’re also bottom five in allowing chances off the rush, chances off the forecheck, and high danger chances.

    All that combines to make it a really tough gig for goalies. The trouble for Ottawa is that I don’t think this is an area they can address with one trade. Part of it is going to be systemic, but a larger part is that the roster, especially the defensive depth, is just awful. Unless you’re a brilliant GM with a bunch of great prospects, that’s not getting solved in one season.

    Tape II Tape Ryan Dixon and Rory Boylen go deep on pucks with a mix of facts and fun, leaning on a varied group of hockey voices to give their take on the country’s most beloved game. Listen Now | Subscribe | Boylen on Twitter | Dixon on Twitter MONTREAL CANADIENS

    The Canadiens are riding high this year after the expectation coming into the season was that they would be amongst the league’s worst teams, with the only saving grace possibly being a return to form from Carey Price. While Price has certainly been better than last season, he hasn’t been great by any stretch, and the Canadiens are firmly within the playoff picture.

    A big reason for that have been hot starts from new acquisitions Max Domi and Tomas Tatar, but established vets such as Brendan Gallagher, Jeff Petry, Jonathan Drouin, and others have been big boosts as well.

    In terms of differentials, the Canadiens are a very strong team. With Price rounding into form and Shea Weber finally healthy, things are looking up, but not everything is rosy.

    The Canadiens’ biggest problem has been an issue that has plagued them for years now: they have a lot of trouble disrupting passes in their own zone and keeping those passes to the outside. Like the Senators, they give up a ton of chances off the cycle, which forces Price to always have to make saves in motion. And while Anderson gets 21 shots from the perimeter to boost his save percentage, Price gets just 17 — the Canadiens limit shots well, just not the right ones.

    Those factors are a big reason why I’m not buying the whole “Carey Price is done” narrative. He’s got a really tough situation to deal with, and while he hasn’t been great, no goaltender has faced a higher percentage of their shots as back door chances over the past two years. Only so much can be expected from one person, and the Canadiens need to find a way to be better in their own zone if they’re going to make the playoffs.

    One way to improve the Canadiens’ results quickly would be to get at least one left-handed defenceman who isn’t best suited for the third paid — they haven’t had one of those since Bergevin let Andrei Markov go. Maybe Victor Mete will get there by the end of the season.

    TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS

    The Maple Leafs are maybe the most dynamic offensive team in the NHL, but that starts with a lot of hoping and praying. They elect to use the stretch pass to exit their zone more than any team in the league and they are actually the worst team in the league at completing those passes.

    Their 12.6 failed stretch passes per 60 minutes are three more than the next worst team in the league: the Detroit Red Wings. This is a big reason why the Leafs spend a bit more time in their own zone than you would expect of a team with that much offensive talent.

    The Leafs do win more than their fair share of contested pucks in the neutral zone and have the seventh-best puck battle win rate there in the NHL. But the problem is puck battles are infrequent in the neutral zone and possession is far more often gained by a player simply getting to the puck first. So as a result, though their neutral zone puck battle stats are strong, Toronto overall recovers less than 50 per cent of loose pucks in this zone despite being great battlers.

    Aside from simply losing the puck and seeing teams come right back at them on the counterattack, the Leafs also lead the NHL in 5-on-5 icings with 6.53 per 60 minutes. That’s a hair over six and a half extra defensive zone faceoffs per 60, meaning Toronto’s 51.8 per cent faceoff winning percentage is put to the test on plays that don’t need to exist.

    My guess on why the Leafs employ this strategy is that they see the benefit of a completed stretch pass getting to their talented forwards as worth far more than a failed one on the stick of an opponent. They could be right, too, but I have a feeling this strategy is a big reason why the Leafs, despite all their talent, continue to tread water in statistics like Corsi, where they’re rarely ever far above 50 per cent despite the obvious talent on the team.

    Mourinho a legendary manager, but Man United deserves better

    Mourinho a legendary manager, but Man United deserves better


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    Why Toronto Maple Leafs signing Gardiner could be ‘long shot’

    Why Toronto Maple Leafs signing Gardiner could be ‘long shot’


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    Sabres, Maple Leafs could be great rivalry for next 10 years

    Sabres, Maple Leafs could be great rivalry for next 10 years


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    18 memorable Montreal Canadiens moments from 2018

    18 memorable Montreal Canadiens moments from 2018


    MONTREAL — Let’s be honest: 2018 might go down as the most forgettable year in the 109-year history of the Montreal Canadiens. Those early days were particularly gruelling, as the Canadiens were in the process of spiralling towards an embarrassing...

    MONTREAL — Let’s be honest: 2018 might go down as the most forgettable year in the 109-year history of the Montreal Canadiens.

    Those early days were particularly gruelling, as the Canadiens were in the process of spiralling towards an embarrassing 28th-place finish in the standings.

    By March, injuries had rendered the team virtually unrecognizable, and all the losing in months prior had damaged the brand — and affected ticket sales — considerably.

    April through August was no picnic for the team’s faithful, either. They first suffered through an unpalatable press conference owner Geoff Molson and general manager Marc Bergevin held to close the 2017-18 debacle, in which the players — who were held accountable over the course of 82 games of mostly losing — were blamed for having a poor attitude while neither executive indicted himself for why things turned out as they did.

    And then there was the Max Pacioretty situation, which was a seemingly interminable standoff between the Canadiens and their captain that bled through the summer months.

    But today we’re going to focus on the positive memories. Considering how much bad there was, it was surprisingly easy for us to find 18 good things to come out of 2018 for the Canadiens. Moments on and off the ice that caught our attention, some of which will have a lasting impact on the franchise for years to come.

    We’ve made our list and checked it twice.

    Enjoy!

    18. Matthew Peca’s hidden piano talent wows teammates and fans alike

    A professional hockey player finds a piano in a Chicago hotel lobby, sits down, and proceeds to slay a perfect, note-for-note rendition of the introduction to Outkast’s “Roses”?

    We’re here for this.

    Not only is he a good looking hockey player, but he also knows how to play the piano! Matthew Peca Ladies and Gentlemen pic.twitter.com/dEfpNP42OV

    — Lamiss (@Lamiss927) December 9, 2018

    17. Carey Price gets huge ovation for passing Jacques Plante for most appearances by a Canadiens goaltender

    It was Price’s 557th start with the Canadiens, setting a franchise record towards the end of the worst season of his career.

    It was a season that saw him booed on several occasions. A season that saw him mock-cheered many times, too.

    That’s why it meant so much to Price, on April 3, when the Canadiens played a tribute video with Patrick Roy and Ken Dryden congratulating him for reaching the milestone and the fans gave him a massive ovation for passing the legendary Plante.

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    We won’t soon forget that scene, nor will we forget Price saying how much he actually needed that support.

    16. Brendan Gallagher hits the 30-goal mark for the first time in his career

    With five games left in the 2017-18 season, Gallagher scored twice to reach — and surpass — the 30-goal mark for the first time in his career.

    It was a nice story. Especially since Gallagher’s two prior campaigns were marred by horrific hand injuries that left him short of the 20-goal mark in both seasons.

    “Those 30 goals are well deserved,” said Canadiens coach Claude Julien on Mar. 26. “It’s an example of what hard work and perseverance and commitment and dedication is all about. He never complains about anything. He goes about and does his job. That’s what you expect from your leaders.”

    15. Canadiens hire Dominique Ducharme as assistant coach

    It was on April 27 that Bergevin announced the man who had coached Team Canada to a gold medal at the 2018 World Junior Championship was joining the Canadiens’ bench.

    A good move for a team that has speaking French as a prerequisite to being the head coach. If Ducharme is Julien’s heir apparent, might as well make him a part of the organization and groom him accordingly.

    Also, Ducharme’s a good offensive strategist, as evidenced by the Canadiens being among the top teams in even-strength scoring this season.

    Tape II Tape Ryan Dixon and Rory Boylen go deep on pucks with a mix of facts and fun, leaning on a varied group of hockey voices to give their take on the country’s most beloved game. Listen Now | Subscribe | Boylen on Twitter | Dixon on Twitter

    14. Canadiens hire Joel Bouchard to coach the Laval Rocket

    The announcement of Bouchard’s hiring, which came three weeks after Ducharme was hired, coincided with the firing of Sylvain Lefebvre, who had failed to bring the team’s AHL affiliate to the playoffs more than once over his six-year tenure.

    Double win for the Canadiens, who were adding a fierce competitor with a very successful track record in Bouchard. Someone who, by all accounts, has a bright future in the organization.

    13. Canadiens hire Luke Richardson to coach the defence

    The July move shored up the Canadiens’ bench and wrapped up a summer’s worth of significant change in the team’s hockey operations department.

    The reviews of Richardson’s performance since the pre-season got underway have been all positive.

    “When I make a mistake, he just keeps it positive and tells me to move on,” said 20-year-old defenceman Noah Juulsen earlier this season. “We’ll watch it later on tape, but during the game he really keeps everyone calm and focused.”

    That can’t be a bad thing.

    12. The world is introduced to ‘Tatar Guy’

    That would be a young Canadiens fan named Derek Toulouse, who stumbled in front of a Hockey Night in Canada camera earlier this season and gave us the gift that keeps on giving:

    We tracked down Tatar Guy to help us out with Best of the Week! (Of course he won)…@Nate13Burleson was all in. pic.twitter.com/c9BaGiezVc

    — Tim and Sid (@timandsid) November 17, 2018

    True story: Bell Centre announcer Michel Lacroix has since changed the way he pronounces Tatar’s last name on goal calls.

    11. Paul Byron signs a four-year, $13.6-million extension

    How could you not be happy for a guy who was originally claimed off waivers by the Canadiens?

    Byron recorded 20 goals for a second straight season in 2017-18 and played out the string on a bum shoulder. Off-season surgery to fix it was supposed to keep him out for the first month of the 2018-19 season, but he rehabbed so aggressively that he was able to start training camp with no restrictions.

    Byron’s reward? A big payday at 29 years old and some well-earned security with the team that values him so much it later named him an assistant captain.

    10. Price passes Roy for second on the all-time Canadiens wins list

    Posting a 33-save shutout to pass your boyhood idol as you climb up the ranks and get within reach of becoming the winningest goaltender in the regular season in Canadiens history? Priceless.

    When Price did this on Oct. 27, it was certainly one of the best moments for the Canadiens in 2018. And it was unquestionably the best moment of the year for him.

    Watch NHL games on Sportsnet NOW Stream over 500 NHL games blackout-free, including the Flames, Oilers, Leafs and Canucks. Plus Hockey Night in Canada, Rogers Hometown Hockey, Scotiabank Wednesday Night Hockey and more. CHOOSE PLAN

    9. Shea Weber named 30th captain in Canadiens history

    It was on Oct. 1 that the Canadiens etched the fabled captain’s ‘C’ on Weber’s jersey, putting him in an elite club with the likes of Maurice Richard, Jean Beliveau, Bob Gainey and Saku Koivu among others.

    It was a special moment that left Weber somewhat speechless, as Bergevin sat next to him and said the decision was unanimous among the Canadiens’ brass.

    8. Bergevin trades Pacioretty for Tatar, Nick Suzuki and a 2019 second-round pick

    Considering how untenable it was for the Canadiens to hold on to Pacioretty after attempting to trade him and making it clear they wouldn’t renew his contract upon expiry in 2019, Bergevin shocked the hockey world with the return he got for his former captain on Sept. 10.

    It looked like a win for Montreal when an A-level prospect in Suzuki — who was drafted 13th overall in 2017 — and a 2019 second-rounder were recouped from the Vegas Golden Knights for the perennial 30-goal scorer who was a year away from unrestricted free agency. Now it looks like a slam-dunk win with Tatar on pace to shatter his previous career highs and out-producing Pacioretty in every category while Vegas still pays some of his salary.

    Tomas Tatar now has 12 goals and 12 assists in 30 games. Career highs are 29 goals, 27 assists and 56 points in 2014-15. On pace for 33 goals, 33 assists and 66 points if he plays 82 this year.

    — Eric Engels (@EricEngels) December 10, 2018

    7. The Canadiens pull out a thrilling 6-4 win over the Washington Capitals at the Bell Centre

    After a year’s worth of mostly terrible games at the Bell Centre, the Canadiens exploded in the third period to come back from down 4-3 and beat the reigning Stanley Cup Champions on Nov. 1 of this season.

    It was a back-and-forth, hard-hitting affair that featured four lead changes, some miraculous saves and some beautiful goals. It was arguably one of the most exciting games ever played at the Bell Centre.

    6. Jesperi Kotkaniemi scores his first goal as a Montreal Canadien

    It was in that wild win for the Canadiens over Washington that Kotkaniemi became the youngest player in the NHL to score a goal this season.

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    The first of his career got the Canadiens on the board. It was a rising wrister from the left faceoff circle. A goal Kotkaniemi — and his fans — will likely remember forever.

    5. The Canadiens move up a spot at the 2018 Draft Lottery

    The odds were that after finishing 28th the Canadiens would be picking fourth overall at the June Draft.

    But when the lottery balls fell into place on April 28, the Canadiens moved up to third, which was essentially the best thing that happened to them between September and May of last season.

    4. Kotkaniemi officially makes the roster

    We’d have never thought it possible after watching him stumble through his first appearance in a Canadiens uniform, when he looked completely lost in a rookie game against the Ottawa Senators.

    But with each passing day after that, Kotkaniemi showed he could handle playing in the NHL as early as this season. And on Sept. 29, the Canadiens made it official they were keeping him.

    3. The Canadiens trade Alex Galchenyuk to the Arizona Coyotes for Max Domi

    The fans were apoplectic about this deal on June 15, with their Canadiens moving a former 30-goal scorer for a player who’d had only 36 goals over his career.

    Little did they know this would be one of the best things that would happen to their team over 2018, with Domi moving to centre and recording more than a point per game over the first 30 of the 2018-19 season.

    We didn’t predict Domi would be that good, but we had an inkling this trade might work out far better for the Canadiens than people expected.

    The 23-year-old has been Montreal’s best player through the final three months of 2018.

    2. Weber returns after 345-day absence

    Off-season knee surgery, which followed a radical ankle procedure, was supposed to keep Weber on the sidelines until at least mid-December.

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    There was a chance the newly minted captain, who was officially shut down in December of 2017, wouldn’t play a game in 2018. Instead he returned on Nov. 27 to rousing ovations at the Bell Centre, and he played over 25 minutes in what ended up being a 2–1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes that night.

    His presence made a considerable difference, however, with the Canadiens registering a season-high 93 shot attempts in the game.

    1. The Canadiens take Kotkaniemi third overall at the NHL Draft

    They caught some people by surprise picking Kotkaniemi as high as they did (check the reaction of the Canadiens fan at 1:40 of the video below):

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    We’re not sure why. Throughout Bergevin’s six-year tenure as GM, he spoke ad nauseam about not being able to trade for or sign an impact centreman. How anyone could think he was going to pass on taking the consensus best centre available at the 2018 Draft is a mystery to us.

    Considering how Kotkaniemi has fared in his first season, we’re thinking it would be hard to find a Canadiens fan who would want Bergevin to go back in time and reverse the decision.

    Can Ovechkin actually flirt with Gretzky’s 894 goals?

    Can Ovechkin actually flirt with Gretzky’s 894 goals?


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    Don’t get too concerned about Maple Leafs’ recent slide

    Don’t get too concerned about Maple Leafs’ recent slide


    Leafs Nation Network’s Bob McGill talks about if players really do just look at their season “one game at a time,” the Leafs’ performance over their past five games, how well Toronto played without Auston Matthews & William Nylander, the Leafs’...

    Leafs Nation Network’s Bob McGill talks about if players really do just look at their season “one game at a time,” the Leafs’ performance over their past five games, how well Toronto played without Auston Matthews & William Nylander, the Leafs’ ailing power-play, and Kyle Dubas publicly stating that he isn’t concerned about offer sheets.

    The post Canucks prove they won’t be pushed around despite loss to Lightning appeared first on Sportsnet.ca.

    3 things we learned in the NHL: Young Senators making an impact

    3 things we learned in the NHL: Young Senators making an impact


    The Ottawa Senators‘ young stars led the way against the Nashville Predators, Sergei Bobrovsky earned his first shutout of the season and the Anaheim Ducks continued to roll on the road. Here are the three things we learned in the NHL...

    The Ottawa Senators‘ young stars led the way against the Nashville Predators, Sergei Bobrovsky earned his first shutout of the season and the Anaheim Ducks continued to roll on the road.

    Here are the three things we learned in the NHL Monday.

    Senators’ youth leads the way

    Brady Tkachuk scored his 10th of the season in the Senators’ 4-3 overtime victory over the Nashville Predators. With that goal, the Senators’ rookies have the highest percentage of their team’s goals so far this season league-wide.

    Not including shootout winners, rookies have scored 31 of the @Senators’ 116 goals this season (26.7%) – by far the highest such percentage among all 31 NHL teams. #NHLStats #OTTvsNSH pic.twitter.com/9Hd3VwuXVP

    — NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) December 18, 2018

    Coming into this game, Nashville had not lost against an Eastern Conference team, and while it overcame a 3-0 deficit, the Senators were able to seal the win with Thomas Chabot‘s overtime goal.

    Two words: Hotsam. Batcho.

    Thomas Chabot pots the @SUBWAYCanada OT winner! pic.twitter.com/6UXhsGmYaJ

    — Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) December 18, 2018

    Chabot’s winner was also his 10th goal of the season, making him the ninth different Senators defenceman to ever reach double digits. The 21-year-old is on pace for 23 goals, which would set a new franchise record for a defenceman. Erik Karlsson still holds the number to beat thanks to his 21 tallies during the 2014-15 campaign.

    With his OT winner, Thomas Chabot becomes the 9th different defenceman in #Sens history to score double-digit goals in a season.

    — Sportsnet Stats (@SNstats) December 18, 2018

    Bobrovsky shutout highlights intense battle between Vegas and Columbus

    With his 28-save shutout against the Vegas Golden Knights, Bobrovsky earned his first shutout of the season and his 13th since the start of 2016-17. That ties him with Pekka Rinne for the most by any goalie in that period.

    Sergei Bobrovsky of the @BlueJacketsNHL recorded his 13th shutout since the beginning of the 2016-17 season, tied for the most among all goaltenders in that span (w/ Pekka Rinne). #NHLStats #VGKvsCBJ pic.twitter.com/j6izUIWqzv

    — NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) December 18, 2018

    Bobrovsky also has the most wins among goalies (91), as well as the third-lowest goals-against average (2.34 GAA) and save percentage (.923) during that stretch.

    This wasn’t the only highlight between both teams as they were also engaged in a serious game of Connect Four on Twitter, which Vegas ended up winning. The teams will meet again on Feb. 9, with each looking to settle their scores both on and off the ice.

    br>

    we're not winning in the game but we still picked up at least one victory tonight

    gg, @BlueJacketsNHL https://t.co/GbIopoY4t7

    — Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) December 18, 2018

    Ducks continue dominant play with another road win

    With their 4-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Ducks have now won nine of their past 10 games and six straight on the road. The Ducks are now one win away from matching their longest win streak in franchise history away from Anaheim.

    9-1-0 in our last 10 games
    Four straight wins
    Six straight road victories, tying the second-longest record in club history!

    https://t.co/idNKFpnrHM#LetsGoDucks pic.twitter.com/NRO31F9kEE

    — Anaheim Ducks (@AnaheimDucks) December 18, 2018

    It has been a battle between the Ducks and Calgary Flames for Pacific Division supremacy this season with the Flames currently holding a three-point lead over Anaheim. After struggling to produce offence at the start of the season, the Ducks have scored three or more goals in seven of their past 10 games.

    Ondrej Kase has scored six goals and six assists to lead Anaheim over this dominant stretch with Ryan Getzlaf second with 11 points and Pontus Aberg third with 10. John Gibson continues to make his case for the Vezina Trophy with a 7-1-0 record over his past eight starts, posting a 2.39 GAA and a .929 save percentage.

    Canadiens can’t solve power-play woes in awful loss to Bruins

    Canadiens can’t solve power-play woes in awful loss to Bruins


    MONTREAL— Let’s get one thing straight before we delve deep into what has to be considered the most mystifying thing about these Montreal Canadiens: There wasn’t one particular thing they could’ve done to avoid losing 4-0 to the Boston Bruins at...

    MONTREAL— Let’s get one thing straight before we delve deep into what has to be considered the most mystifying thing about these Montreal Canadiens: There wasn’t one particular thing they could’ve done to avoid losing 4-0 to the Boston Bruins at the Bell Centre on Monday.

    They were atrocious in nearly every department in a crucial game against their most bitter rivals.

    Effort? Awful. Execution? Non-existent. Excuses? None.

    “They came here on a mission to win, we came here just to play,” said Canadiens coach Claude Julien afterwards, and he had no explanation for why that was the case.

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    The Bruins came to town on the heels of a tough loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday, and they should have been in tough against a rested Canadiens team that had won six of its last eight games. It was expected they’d come flying out of the gates and try to give themselves a lead they could pad and protect knowing every passing second thereafter would be a challenge to their stamina.

    They did their part, the Canadiens didn’t. Point finale.

    Here’s the thing: You have to wonder how different the complexion of this game might have been had Montreal’s power play found a way to capitalize on its chances in the first two periods.

    Canadiens goaltender Carey Price stood on his head through the first 40 minutes and kept his team alive in spite of everything it had done to kill itself in this one. In the first period alone Price made 12 saves after his teammates committed 14 turnovers and lost 60 per cent of the faceoffs, and in the second he held the fort all the way up until the Bruins found the net with 26 seconds left.

    In between, three power-play opportunities were gifted to the Canadiens. They didn’t muster a single quality scoring chance on any of them.

    Mystifying? You bet.

    So is this: The team hasn’t scored a goal in its last 25 man-advantages. It has only one since Shea Weber — the man with the biggest point shot in the NHL — returned 10 games ago. And it has scored on just 14 of 117 chances this season (only three teams in the league have been given more).

    Watch NHL games on Sportsnet NOW Stream over 500 NHL games blackout-free, including the Flames, Oilers, Leafs and Canucks. Plus Hockey Night in Canada, Rogers Hometown Hockey, Scotiabank Wednesday Night Hockey and more. CHOOSE PLAN

    It seems impossible that it could be this bad with one of the league’s most well-reputed strategists running it in Kirk Muller, with a brilliant offensive coordinator in Dominique Ducharme helping him, and with the talented players who have managed to make the Canadiens the second-highest scoring team at five-on-five this season.

    Even still, the lousy power play hasn’t cost the Canadiens their place among the top eight teams in their conference. It has, however, not enabled them to gain a stronger foothold in the playoff picture.

    It cost them against Boston, no doubt. A team that came into Montreal down one point in the standings and left up one.

    And as the games tighten up over the second half, the power play promises to cost the Canadiens more if they don’t fix it in a hurry.

    You have to wonder how close the Canadiens are to finding solutions. Judging by what they’re showing on the ice, they appear very far away. And in talking to them, they seem to know what needs to be done once they’re set up, but appear utterly clueless as to how to consistently establish themselves in the offensive zone.

    “I just think we need to shoot the puck,” said Price. “When things go wrong, it just seems like it’s a pretty simple recipe that everyone seems to come up with. Just get the puck towards the net and just jam it in.”

    Four of Montreal’s 22 shots came on the power play — and no one was close enough to the net to jam in a rebound.

    Julien shared his own thoughts, saying the team hasn’t rethought its strategy going back to last season, when it operated at 21.9 per cent and finished 13th in the category.

    “I think at one point, as much as a coach doesn’t want to point fingers, I think the players have to take ownership,” said Julien. “They’re your best players on your team and they have to start performing. They gotta start shooting pucks and wanting to score goals.”

    31 Thoughts: The Podcast A weekly deep dive into the biggest hockey news in the world with hosts Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek. New episodes every Thursday. Apple Podcasts | Podcatchers | Listen Now

    The Canadiens also need to find a way up the ice that allows them to break into the offensive zone with more consistency. They need better support to win loose pucks and set up their structure.

    And they need to find the desperation that was sorely lacking against the Bruins. The desperation that largely hasn’t been there since the puck dropped in Toronto on Oct. 3.

    “It’s just the little things,” said Brendan Gallagher. “We have to win puck battles. It’s not a strategic problem. It’s just work ethic, compete. We have to find a way to get the puck. We didn’t have enough control of the puck in the zone to put into practice anything that we’ve worked on or talked about. It’s as simple as that. It’s not strategic.”

    Whatever it is or isn’t, it’s a problem. A confounding one.

    Had the Canadiens solved it on this night, it still might not have been enough to save them. They were outshot 35-22 and out-chanced by a wide margin as they gave away the puck 24 times and had it taken away from them another seven.

    “But when you capitalize on those opportunities on the power play down 1-0, you have an opportunity to tie the game and that’s what we’re put out there for,” said Canadiens defenceman Jeff Petry. “It’s to execute and get a big goal at a big time of the game, and we haven’t been able to do that.”

    Saints defence shuts down Newton in win over Panthers

    Saints defence shuts down Newton in win over Panthers


    CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints still have one of the league’s top-scoring offences, but lately it’s the defence that’s been carrying the NFL’s most complete team. On a night when Brees and the offence couldn’t get...

    CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints still have one of the league’s top-scoring offences, but lately it’s the defence that’s been carrying the NFL’s most complete team.

    On a night when Brees and the offence couldn’t get much going and made some uncharacteristic mistakes, New Orleans put the clamps on Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers in a 12-9 victory on Monday night, moving the Saints into position to lock up home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs.

    "I believe in us, game in and game out, first quarter to fourth quarter," defensive end Cam Jordan said. "If it comes down to a crucial play, I believe in us."

    The Saints (12-2) held an opponent to 17 points or fewer for a sixth straight game. They limited Newton to 131 yards passing, sacked him four times and forced two turnovers. Carolina (6-8), which lost its sixth straight, had just 247 yards and 13 first downs. The Panthers’ only scores came on a trick play on fourth down and an interception return on a 2-point conversion attempt.

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    "So proud of the defence," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "I thought they were outstanding. It’s tough to win a division game on the road and we were able to do that."

    Alvin Kamara had 103 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown, and Brees had 203 yards passing for the Saints, who took a one-game lead in the NFC over the Rams. The Saints close the season at home against Pittsburgh and Carolina; the Rams visit Arizona and host San Francisco.

    Newton struggled throwing the ball more than 10 yards downfield because of a lingering sore right shoulder. He said after the game he’s unsure what the injury is, but he mentioned his labrum and rotator cuff as possible issues. He has been limited in practice for weeks and doesn’t have the zip on the ball he normally has.

    So much for his boast that the Panthers were bringing a cup to steal the "juice" from the Saints.

    "(Newton) said something along the lines of they brought their own cup, a juice box or something, I don’t know what it was," Jordan said. "But I do know that he’s got to go back to the refrigerator and pull out a bigger cup."

    The Saints swept three games from the Panthers last season and knocked them out of the playoffs, prompting Jordan to send Newton a bottle of red wine in the off-season, while some other teammates gave him a broom. This loss likely ended Carolina’s playoff hopes again.

    Newton said his shoulder simply isn’t getting better — or worse — and he refused to blame the injury, saying, "I have to be better."

    "Our defence played a hell of a game and we have to reward them," Newton said. "We had two turnovers in the red zone and that comes down to execution."

    TRICK PLAYS

    The Panthers struck first after offensive co-ordinator Norv Turner dug into his bag of tricks.

    On a fourth-and-2 from midfield, Christian McCaffrey got a handoff, took a step toward the line, then stepped back and lofted a perfect pass over the middle to tight end Chris Manhertz, who was 15 yards behind the defence. Manhertz trotted into the end zone for a 50-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead. It was McCaffrey’s first career pass attempt, although he threw two TD passes while at Stanford. He became the first non-QB to throw a TD pass in Panthers history.

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    APPLE’S PICK

    Eli Apple intercepted Newton in the end zone with 10 seconds left in the first half.

    "I knew they were going to take a shot," Apple said. "They ran a fade route. I just tried to get my head around and make a play on the ball."

    COSTLY TURNOVERS

    The Panthers held the Saints in check for most of the third quarter, but the game changed when Panthers receiver D.J. Moore fumbled on an inside handoff. The Saints pounced, capping an 84-yard drive with a 16-yard TD run by Kamara to make it 12-7 early in the fourth quarter. The Saints went for 2, but Brees’ toss was intercepted by Donte Jackson, who took it back nearly 100 yards.

    That wasn’t the only time the Saints cost themselves a scoring opportunity. New Orleans was on the verge of taking the lead late in the second quarter, but James Bradberry intercepted Brees’ tipped pass and returned it to Saints territory.

    And New Orleans whiffed on a potential game-sealing touchdown when Tommylee Lewis fumbled near the goal line, leading to a touchback that gave Carolina one last chance to tie the game with 1:44 remaining. But the Panthers couldn’t move the ball and turned it over on downs.

    McCAFFREY SETS MARK

    McCaffrey broke DeAngelo Williams’ single-season franchise record of 1,636 yards from scrimmage with a rush in the first quarter. He finished with 110 yards rushing and receiving.

    DUBIOUS STREAK

    The loss extended the Panthers’ streak of never having posted back-to-back winning seasons since joining the NFL in 1995.

    OLSEN UPDATE

    Panthers tight end Greg Olsen had surgery on his right foot Monday, his second procedure on the foot in the last 16 months. "Surgery went well and I am on my way towards a full recovery," Olsen wrote on Instagram.

    INJURIES

    Saints centre Max Unger left the game in the first half after being evaluated for a concussion and did not return. He was replaced by Cameron Tom.

    UP NEXT

    Saints: Host the Steelers on Sunday.

    Panthers: Host the Falcons on Sunday.

    Donte Jackson intercepts Drew Brees for rare 2-point conversion return

    Donte Jackson intercepts Drew Brees for rare 2-point conversion return


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    Gallagher calls loss to Bruins maybe ‘worst game of his career’

    Gallagher calls loss to Bruins maybe ‘worst game of his career’


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    Lopez furious as Bulls and Thunder get into fight

    Lopez furious as Bulls and Thunder get into fight


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    Bobby Ryan, Kyle Turris have spirited fight in Ottawa

    Bobby Ryan, Kyle Turris have spirited fight in Ottawa


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    Panthers roll dice, McCaffrey passes for touchdown on trick play

    Panthers roll dice, McCaffrey passes for touchdown on trick play


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    Taj Gibson uses shoe to try and block layup

    Taj Gibson uses shoe to try and block layup


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    Dec. 17, 2018: Luc Robitaille

    Dec. 17, 2018: Luc Robitaille


    The Los Angeles Kings President, Hall of Famer and highest-scoring left winger in NHL history joins Jeff and Elliotte for a wide-ranging discussion covering everything from his draft day to playing with all-time greats to winning Stanley Cups as a player...

    The Los Angeles Kings President, Hall of Famer and highest-scoring left winger in NHL history joins Jeff and Elliotte for a wide-ranging discussion covering everything from his draft day to playing with all-time greats to winning Stanley Cups as a player and an executive to serving a loyal fan base.

    31 Thoughts: The Podcast is presented by the GMC Terrain. GMC — we are professional grade. www.gmccanada.ca.

    This episode was produced by Amil Delic and Ryan Walsh

    . Audio Credits: ABC, CBC, Fox Sports, IIHF and Sportsnet.

    The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the hosts and guests and do not necessarily reflect the position of Rogers Media Inc. or any affiliate.

    MLB Rumour Roundup: Tulowitzki drawing interest from several teams

    MLB Rumour Roundup: Tulowitzki drawing interest from several teams


    Troy Tulowitzki has reportedly drawn some suitors, Manny Machado enters a pivotal week in his free-agency process and a couple of left-handed pitchers might be on the move. The Las Vegas Winter Meetings are now in the rear-view, leaving the baseball...

    Troy Tulowitzki has reportedly drawn some suitors, Manny Machado enters a pivotal week in his free-agency process and a couple of left-handed pitchers might be on the move.

    The Las Vegas Winter Meetings are now in the rear-view, leaving the baseball world with more questions than answers, and plenty of rumours.

    Teams in on Tulo

    At least three clubs have reportedly shown interest in Tulowitzki, according to multiple reports.

    The 34-year-old was released by the Toronto Blue Jays during the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas after being pestered by injuries and undergoing multiple surgeries over the past two seasons.

    The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal says the Pittsburgh Pirates might pursue Tulowitzki, as current Pirates manager Clint Hurdle worked with the five-time all-star during his time with the Colorado Rockies.

    Currently making MLB headlines for the Machado pursuit, the New York Yankees might also be a fit for Tulo, per Rosenthal, as New York lost shortstop Didi Gregorius to Tommy John surgery during the off-season. If the Yankees fail to sign Machado, a major-league-minimum contract with the two-time silver slugger might make sense.

    Fancred’s Jon Heyman reports that the Chicago Cubs have also been in contact with Tulowitzki and plan on scouting him in the upcoming weeks.

    Cubs are one of the teams that has at least been in contact with Tulo, and they will send a scout to a workout. There are others though, so they aren’t necessarily the favorite. His agent told @susanslusser there are 6 teams and they will narrow field soon.

    — Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) December 15, 2018

    Tulowitzki was also linked to the Oakland Athletics in previous reports, but Rosenthal says the team is set on Marcus Semien at shortstop and will not try to sign the two-time gold glove winner.

    Meetings with Manny

    The Machado pursuit is getting stiffer, as the shortstop reportedly has meetings scheduled with the Chicago White Sox and Yankees this week, according to Fancred’s Jon Heyman and the New York Post‘s George A. King III.

    Machado also expected to meet with chisox next week, likely early in week. At least philly is in too. In a yanks vs chisox battle, here are the edges: yanks: team, tradition, location, position (SS vs likely 3B for chisox); chisox: $, years, brother in law.

    — Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) December 16, 2018

    The free agent is expected to talk to White Sox representatives on Monday while the meeting with the Yankees is scheduled for Wednesday.

    Manny Machado and Yankees have meeting scheduled for Wednesday in New York

    — George A. King III (@GeorgeAKingIII) December 16, 2018

    Machado’s brother-in-law, first baseman Yonder Alonso, was recently traded from the Cleveland Indians to the White Sox, which could influence the shortstop’s decision when signing with a new team. The club is also in a good position to offer a profitable, long-term contract, but might require Machado to return to third base in order to better address the team’s infield needs.

    The Yankees, on the other hand, need a shortstop, as Gregorius is expected to miss the entire season, and wouldn’t require the free agent to switch positions.

    According to Heyman, the Philadelphia Phillies are also in pursuit of Machado, even after acquiring shortstop Jean Segura from the Seattle Mariners via trade.

    Kikuchi in Cali

    Japanese left-hander Yusei Kikuchi is in Los Angeles for meetings with potential suitors, according to the Los Angeles Times‘ Dylan Hernandez.

    Kikuchi is reportedly open to hearing offers from all 30 MLB teams.

    Sports Nippon: Yusei Kikuchi boarded an LA-bound plane for meetings with potential suitors. Asked if he's OK with all 30 teams, he replied, "Of course." Said he still hasn't received any formal offers. https://t.co/PPIX1FOHSZ

    — Dylan Hernandez (@dylanohernandez) December 16, 2018

    The 27-year-old had a successful eight-year career in Japan, posting a 2.81 ERA, a 74-48 record and an average of eight strikeouts per nine innings during that time. Fans and media members have speculated on whether it’s possible Kikuchi will join fellow Japanese pitcher and AL Rookie of the Year Shohei Ohtani on the Los Angeles Angels, but no offer has been made public so far.

    Kikuchi has until Jan. 2 to sign a contract with an MLB team.

    Mets out on Realmuto

    After actively examining trade options to acquire Miami Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto, the New York Mets signed free agent Wilson Ramos to a two-year deal last week and officially backed out of the Realmuto race. According SNY’s Andy Martino, the Marlins’ demands were deemed too high by the Mets front office, especially in terms of major-league-ready talent.

    The Mets did everything they could to get Realmuto, but Marlins wouldn't budge off needing significant talent off the major league roster. Mets felt they had to move on.

    — Andy Martino (@martinonyc) December 16, 2018

    Recently hired general manager Brodie Van Wagenen has made it clear that the Mets want to stay competitive even after a 2018 season that saw the team finish with a 77-85 record, and trades involving impactful players like Noah Syndergaard — largely rumoured to be available last month — would be unlikely at this point.

    The 31-year-old Ramos finished with a .306/.358/.487 slash line, 70 RBIs and 15 home runs between the Phillies and the Tampa Bay Rays last year.

    Realmuto slashed .277/.340/.484, with 74 RBIs and 21 home runs for the Marlins.

    Giants listening to Bumgarner offers

    Although the San Francisco Giants aren’t expected to pursue any notable free-agent names in the off-season, the team is reportedly open to trading left-hander and four-time all-star Madison Bumgarner, according to reports by The Mercury News‘ Kerry Crowley.

    Bumgarner missed the first 60 games of the 2018 season after fracturing his pinky during spring training, but is still considered one of the most dominant left-handed pitchers in the majors. Crowley reports that the Giants might wait until the July non-waiver trade deadline to give the pitcher time to recover and build value before moving him.

    The Giants have also reportedly considered contacting the Blue Jays for a deal involving outfielder Kevin Pillar.

    Reassessing the Matt Duchene-Kyle Turris blockbuster

    Reassessing the Matt Duchene-Kyle Turris blockbuster


    Kyle Turris returned to Ottawa Monday, which meant two things: 1. The Capital City Condors hockey team, comprised of developmentally challenged youth, would be out in full force to see their former honourary captain. 2. The opportunity would arise to...

    Kyle Turris returned to Ottawa Monday, which meant two things:

    1. The Capital City Condors hockey team, comprised of developmentally challenged youth, would be out in full force to see their former honourary captain.

    2. The opportunity would arise to update the blockbuster three-way trade a little more than a year ago, which sent Turris from the Senators to Nashville and Matt Duchene to Ottawa from Colorado.

    Unfortunately, Duchene is still recovering from a groin injury suffered Dec. 6 against the Montreal Canadiens and could not face Turris and the Preds for a second time in the past week. Duchene did skate with his teammates on Monday and could be in the lineup as early as Friday, when Ottawa visits New Jersey. Turris himself just returned from a nagging injury that kept him out of the Predators’ lineup from Nov. 25 to Dec. 12.

    There was a time when teams made “hockey trades” that involved just players, not contracts or expiring contracts, picks or prospects. Those trades were easy to assess based on the performance of the players involved.

    Modern trades can take years to assess, while the fine details of the transactions take shape. The Duchene/Turris swap is one of those that will shake out permutations for years to come as draft picks are made, prospects flourish or flop and the Senators either sign Duchene to a fat, long-term deal or trade him for futures.

    Watch NHL games on Sportsnet NOW Stream over 500 NHL games blackout-free, including the Flames, Oilers, Leafs and Canucks. Plus Hockey Night in Canada, Rogers Hometown Hockey, Scotiabank Wednesday Night Hockey and more. CHOOSE PLAN THE DEAL

    The three-way trade on Nov. 5, 2017 broke down this way: Ottawa received from the Colorado Avalanche centre Matt Duchene, while Nashville got Turris. In addition, the Avalanche received from the Senators a conditional first-round pick (which evolved to be Ottawa’s first-round pick in 2019), a 2019 third-round pick, plus prospect Shane Bowers and goaltender Andrew Hammond. The Avs also got a 2018 second-round pick from Nashville along with defenceman Samuel Girard and centre Vladislav Kamenev.

    While they gave up a lot to get him, including their 2019 first-round pick without imagining they would so quickly be in rebuild mode, the Senators have been thrilled with Duchene’s play. Although he needed some time to settle in (and stop hitting goal posts), Duchene finished 2017-18 strong and has been better than a point-per-game player this season (12-22-34 in 29 games) as a pending unrestricted free agent.

    Before the game against Nashville, Senators head coach Guy Boucher was lamenting the loss of Duchene in his lineup (Ottawa is 2-2-1 in his absence).

    “You’re missing your top centre, he’s more than a point-per-game guy,” Boucher said. “You’re not expecting to score as many goals and have to try to play tighter games.”

    Boucher said there is a “trickle effect” to losing a player like Duchene. You lose not just his production, but also allow opponents to zero in on Mark Stone’s line, especially on the road, where the Sens don’t have last change.

    “It’s not just points, there’s momentum (from Duchene’s line), more offensive zones,” said Boucher. “There’s a trickle effect.”

    Senators general manager Pierre Dorion has made it clear he plans to sign Duchene, 27, to a long-term deal. If and when he does, the trade can be further reassessed. Meanwhile, the clock continues to tick toward Duchene’s free agency. Duchene has said repeatedly that he loves it in Ottawa, but he has also said he wants to be on a contending team after years of losing in Colorado. The Senators won’t be a playoff team this season, but are hoping to rebuild around Duchene, Stone and defenceman Thomas Chabot.

    31 Thoughts: The Podcast A weekly deep dive into the biggest hockey news in the world with hosts Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek. New episodes every Thursday. Apple Podcasts | Podcatchers | Listen Now TURRIS ‘STABILIZES’ THE LINES

    Turris, 29, just returned to play in Nashville’s past two games, against Vancouver and New Jersey. He recorded an assist and played 17:07 in the overtime win over the Canucks. In 25 games, Turris has 17 points.

    “It takes a bit of time to get the rust off and get back into the rhythm,” Turris said, while standing in his bare feet for a hallway scrum with familiar Ottawa media. “You have to get your timing back, I’m just trying to do that. Tonight I will have lots of energy, be excited.”

    Few teams have been hit as hard with injuries as Nashville, still missing star forwards Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidson and defenceman P.K. Subban. There is no timetable on their returns. The Predators’ depth has managed to weather the storm, as they remain second in the Western Conference with 45 points off a 22-10-1 record.

    “It’s great to have (Turris) back in the lineup,” said Predators head coach Peter Laviolette. “He provides some balance on our lines.

    “When you remove pieces throughout your lineup and are looking to replace those pieces, and are looking in different directions, having him back in there really just stabilizes all the lines.”

    When healthy, the Predators are a Stanley Cup contender and Turris provides important centre depth behind Ryan Johansen.

    AVS REBUILT FROM TRADE

    Duchene must feel a bit like his former Colorado teammate Ryan O’Reilly, who left the struggling Buffalo Sabres in a trade with St. Louis only to see the Sabres reborn with Jeff Skinner and added depth in their lineup. A similar thing happened with Duchene, the Avs and the Senators. At the time of the trade, Colorado was a rebuilding club while the Senators were coming off a trip to the Eastern Conference final. Now, Colorado has a powerhouse top line of Mikko Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog and sit third in the Central Division with 42 points. And it’s Ottawa that is in future mode.

    Girard, acquired from Nashville, has been a steadying influence on the Avs blue line, playing 20-plus minutes per game on the top pair alongside Erik Johnson. Rookie Kamenev shows potential. That second-round pick from Nashville was later flipped to Pittsburgh for a third- and a fifth-round selection, used to draft Finnish goaltender Justus Annunen and Russian defenceman Danila Zhuravlyov.

    Centre Shane Bowers, acquired by Colorado from Ottawa in the deal, will represent Canada in the upcoming World Junior Championship. The 19-year-old from Halifax has five goals and eight points in 15 games for Boston University this fall. Bowers was drafted 28th overall by the Senators in 2017.

    Goaltender Hammond, the erstwhile Hamburglar, signed a one-year contract with the Minnesota Wild and has been steady with the AHL Iowa Wild.

    The old saying in hockey is that the team that got the best player won the trade. But while Ottawa and Nashville received the big name players in the Turris/Duchene trade, Colorado quietly made significant additions to its roster in moves that should continue to pay dividends down the road.

    Nashville will have more to say if the Preds can win a Cup.

    Ottawa’s Dorion hopes his next big announcement has something to do with a Duchene extension.

    Why threat of an offer sheet doesn’t faze Leafs GM Kyle Dubas

    Why threat of an offer sheet doesn’t faze Leafs GM Kyle Dubas


    TORONTO — Kyle Dubas views the risk of an offer sheet with about as much concern as you or I might devote to the possibility of getting caught in a downpour while wearing a rain jacket. Sure, it might happen. But is it really that big of a deal? “Our...

    TORONTO — Kyle Dubas views the risk of an offer sheet with about as much concern as you or I might devote to the possibility of getting caught in a downpour while wearing a rain jacket.

    Sure, it might happen. But is it really that big of a deal?

    “Our salary cap situation is set up that we could defend any of those threats with no worry at all,” Dubas said Monday. “I know that they’ve become a huge topic of late, but I spend zero per cent of my time having any worry about that.

    “If a team wants to go down that path with us, that’s the way it goes.”

    Now it behooves the Toronto Maple Leafs general manager to project confidence on this particular issue, especially with colleagues watching closely and seemingly little progress having been made on contract extensions for Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner so far.

    However, he raises an important point here — one often overlooked when the topic is broached by fans or members of the media.

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    The Leafs currently have just $56 million in cap commitments made for next season. With an anticipated salary cap ceiling of $83 million for 2019-20, and a collective bargaining agreement that permits teams to exceed the ceiling by 10 per cent each summer, Toronto projects to have about $35 million in available space on July 1.

    In other words: More than enough to match league maximum deals for both Matthews and Marner, should rival teams choose to extend offer sheets in that amount.

    Of course, Dubas doesn’t intend to let either situation get anywhere near that point after just negotiating with his other marquee young forward, William Nylander, right up until the final minutes of the signing deadline on Dec. 1.

    Not only has the GM identified extending Matthews and Marner as a top priority, but he also views it as a necessary step before addressing other issues such as the future of defenceman Jake Gardiner, a pending unrestricted free agent.

    “It will be our intention to try to get those [done] as soon as possible,” said Dubas. “We want to avoid the situation we were just in [with Nylander]. We’re completely in control of that this time, in that there’s no excuse that I can’t say ‘well I wasn’t doing this job a year ago.’ So we have to continue to work away with them.

    “It will be our intention well before July 1 that we have an agreement and both players are here long term. One way or another we’ll get to that point. So it’s all good.”

    The spectre of a rarely used offer sheet has drawn considerable discussion around the league thanks to a tidal wave of young talent that’s taken over the sport while still playing on entry-level contracts.

    Increasingly, those players are looking to get paid on their second deal. An offer sheet could be a means used to achieve that aim, especially since we’re talking about RFAs who don’t hold arbitration rights.

    In addition to Matthews and Marner, the list of players in that group includes league scoring leader Mikko Rantanen of the Colorado Avalanche, plus Tampa’s Brayden Point and Calgary’s Matthew Tkachuk, each among the top-20 point producers. You also have Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor of the Winnipeg Jets, Vancouver’s Brock Boeser and Carolina’s Sebastian Aho, among others.

    “When I look around the league right now, for whatever reason it seems like the Toronto Maple Leafs are the only team that’s going to be the target of an offer sheet,” said Dubas. “It seems interesting to me, but there’s about a third of the teams in the league that have a very highly talented restricted free agent. And some of them have more than one, as we do.”

    Stream Maple Leafs hockey on Sportsnet NOW Sportsnet NOW gives you access to over 500 NHL games this season, blackout-free, including Hockey Night in Canada, Rogers Hometown Hockey, Scotiabank Wednesday Night Hockey, the entire 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs and more. CHOOSE PLAN

    The Leafs will still have to contend with cap challenges in the months ahead.

    Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson are each taking big strides this season and among the RFAs that need to be signed in the summer. Then there’s Gardiner, the organization’s longest-tenured player at 520-plus games and a left-shot defenceman that Dubas and head coach Mike Babcock would prefer to keep around. The only problem is Toronto won’t be able to offer him nearly as much as other teams can on the open market.

    “We would like him to be here, but it’s not as simple as it sounds,” said Dubas. “You only have a certain amount that you can divvy up and it’s trying to make that all work and keep our team on the right path moving forward.”

    The cap system forces managers to prioritize their players and their decisions.

    None are more important to Dubas than Matthews and Marner, the 21-year-old forwards who have played a sizable role in helping the Leafs turn a corner over the last two-plus years.

    Now, neither negotiation is shaping up as an easy one. Especially within the constraints of the cap.

    But it’s difficult to construct a hypothetical scenario where another team would be willing to give either player a contract the Leafs couldn’t (or wouldn’t) match. And that doesn’t even account for the four first-round picks they’d have to be willing to part with in order to make it happen.

    Arguably the biggest reason why we haven’t seen an offer sheet since the Calgary Flames signed Ryan O’Reilly in February 2013 — only to be matched by Colorado — is because it hasn’t proven to be an effective way to acquire players.

    “If you think of it probabilistically, rather than far-reaching scenarios where that may happen …,” started Dubas, “I think an offer sheet is completely permissible within the rules of the league, even though they haven’t been used frequently. I understand why it’s a topic, because there’s a lot of restricted free agents coming up this year that are highly talented.

    “I think we’re certainly not alone in that.”

    Truth be told, he’s got more cover than some other GMs do with similar players, should the storm arrive.

    4 things we learned from the Toronto Raptors’ 4-game road trip

    4 things we learned from the Toronto Raptors’ 4-game road trip


    The Toronto Raptors return home from an eventful four-game West Coast road trip that saw a bit of everything from the NBA’s top team thus far this season. After blowing out the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors — both games without the...

    The Toronto Raptors return home from an eventful four-game West Coast road trip that saw a bit of everything from the NBA’s top team thus far this season.

    After blowing out the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors — both games without the services of Kawhi Leonard — the Raptors were on top of the NBA world and looked as promising as we’ve ever seen in the franchise’s history. I wrote as much following the 20-point victory in Oakland over a full-strength Warriors team, so, naturally, Toronto went on to drop its next two games, this time with the Raps’ other marquee star, Kyle Lowry, out of the lineup.

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    Here, in no particular order, are four takeaways from the Raptors’ four-game road trip:

    • To the shock of nobody, when your all-star point guard is out of the lineup you suffer. The Raptors fared well in the two games Leonard missed, but when Lowry was sidelined the impact was obvious, particularly when it came to ball distribution on the offensive end.

    Lowry’s greatest attribute this season has been his playmaking. After spending the bulk of the season to this point as the NBA’s leader in assists (he’s now tied with Russell Westbrook for first place with an even 10 assists per game), he’s been more effective setting up teammates than ever — his previous career-best was 7.4 in the 2013-14 season.

    With Lowry out and the Raptors forced to deploy a more deliberate attack with Leonard playing on the ball more in the point guard’s absence, unsurprisingly the team dropped off in terms of assisted baskets — losing a wide receiver like Pascal Siakam for part of Friday’s game against Portland and all of Sunday’s tilt against Denver didn’t help.

    In the first two games of the road trip, with Lowry, the Raptors registered 61 total assists. In the two games without Lowry? 33. During Sunday’s Denver loss, with Fred VanVleet sidelined as well, the Raps posted a season-low 13 assists as a team.

    Although Lowry’s struggled shooting the ball from deep from late and is currently posting his lowest three-point shooting percentage in a decade, he remains a player teams don’t want to leave open, which clearly affects how defences square up against the Raptors when Lowry is on the floor. Throw in the many non-quantifiable things Lowry does to propel his team on a given night and they clearly missed their floor general over the past two games.

    Lowry is currently considered a game-time decision for Wednesday’s home game against the Indiana Pacers.

    • The Raptors’ three-point shooting has been wildly inconsistent this season, and that’s never been the case more than during the recently wrapped roadie.

    The team ranks just 20th in the NBA in three-point shooting at 34.8 per cent on the season — surprisingly low given that their three-point prowess was expected to be a major strength heading into the season, particularly from the corners, the most coveted long-range spot on the floor.

    On Sunday the Raptors shot a season-low 20 per cent from deep (7-for-35). They are now 8-9 when shooting under 35 per cent in games.

    The Raps only have one loss this season when shooting 35 per cent or above. Ironically, it happened on this road trip, on Friday night, when they managed a season-best 58 per cent from deep against a Portland team that also caught fire from beyond the arc.

    • The Raptors roster, as we know, is deep. But naturally, as they go further down the bench, their reserves aren’t quite reliable enough to count on for wins.

    On Sunday the team was without three critical players in Lowry, Siakam, and VanVleet (along with Jonas Valanciunas, who will be sidelined for at least a month). It forced Leonard into a high-usage outing, which is generally a good thing given how effective he is, but with Delon Wright in the starting lineup (more on him in a moment), and meaningful minutes going to players who haven’t had many reps this season in Lorenzo Brown and Greg Monroe, the regular rotation players were sorely missed.

    Another starter was C.J. Miles, who has seriously struggled this season. On the roster as a much-needed three-point specialist off the bench, Miles is shooting just 30.8 per cent from deep — the lowest mark since he was a teenager in the 2006-07 season. He has a quicker first-step, it seems, compared to last season, but has been a little too aggressive and forceful in trying to attack the rim, and has missed countless opportunities on drives to the hoop as he looks to regain his form — and confidence — shooting the ball.

    But there were signs of hope, or an eventual turnaround, on the road trip. On Friday versus Portland he scored a season-high 13 points.

    Miles has “been a shell of himself,” as Nick Nurse put it after the Friday loss in Portland, but the coach added that his performance that night was closer to what we expect from the veteran shooter. With Lowry and VanVleet out on Sunday the team needed another strong outing from the veteran, but he managed to go just 2-of-9 from deep for a quiet six points.

    Undermanned as they were, the Raps were still in contention to win Sunday’s game against the West’s top team, and it wasn’t until late in the fourth quarter that the Nuggets pulled away for the win, and that in itself is somewhat encouraging nonetheless.  

    • Delon Wright has shown flashes of his ability, but has yet to break through so far this season. His role has been altered and minutes are down thanks in part to the addition of Danny Green, and there could be a correlation there.

    After failing to secure a contract extension heading into the season, the upcoming RFA entered the season with an opportunity for a big payday if he continued to perform at the level he established last season, or took another step forward as expected. Neither has happened so far.

    Getting the start with Lowry and VanVleet out, Wright was hot and cold, and posted a season-high 15 points and eight boards while dishing four assists.

    The talent is there, and every now and then he certainly has great handles and a high-level ability to break down defenders to get to the hoop.

    Delon Wright pic.twitter.com/2tFvbnUBHo

    — Def Pen Hoops (@DefPenHoops) December 17, 2018

    But in general he’s been struggling to make the most of those takes. From last season to this season he’s dropped nearly 10 per cent in field-goal percentage on shots within 10 feet of the rim, and dropped five per cent from shots within five feet. For a guy who is so effective getting to the rim, Wright seems to miss makeable layup chances at the basket and capitalize on otherwise oft-brilliant drives.

    Leafs GM Kyle Dubas talks offer sheets, toughness and blue-line status

    Leafs GM Kyle Dubas talks offer sheets, toughness and blue-line status


    TORONTO — Defence is a legitimate concern. Toughness and offer sheets? Not so much. During an impromptu media availability Monday at the Toronto Maple Leafs‘ practice facility, general manager Kyle Dubas addressed a number of topics surrounding his...

    TORONTO — Defence is a legitimate concern. Toughness and offer sheets? Not so much.

    During an impromptu media availability Monday at the Toronto Maple Leafs‘ practice facility, general manager Kyle Dubas addressed a number of topics surrounding his club, which has bolted to an impressive 21-10-2 record despite prolonged absences from a couple star players.

    Here are the eight biggest takeaways from the GM’s meeting with the media.

    Dubas will not go shopping for physicality

    There is concern the Maple Leafs — a group that, comparatively, eschews penalties and body checking — lack the sandpaper on the roster to survive a long, gruelling playoff run, where whistles tend to get tucked away.

    Dubas said in constructing his roster — now free of rugged characters like Matt Martin, Leo Komarov and Roman Polak — he looks at the Atlantic Division rivals first.

    “For whatever reason, that takes on a life of its own — the whole ‘toughness’ question. I look at Tampa Bay, they’re eight or nine points ahead of us now, and they built their team their way. I understand it’s at every level, whether it’s been Sault Ste. Marie or the Marlies, it’s been the same question,” Dubas said.

    “I don’t buy it, myself. I know that there are a lot of pundits that say you have to have it, but I look at the teams that have had success, and I don’t think bringing in one big person is going to change our culture — and it’s not going to have us carry on with the process we’ve started.

    “We want to have skill, we want to be fast, and we want to be competitive. I don’t really think that the way that the league is going that having someone that can come in and fight or anything like that is going to change that. We’ve got a way that we want to play, and we’re just going to carry on with that. In the end, people will judge whether it was effective.”

    Stream Maple Leafs hockey on Sportsnet NOW Sportsnet NOW gives you access to over 500 NHL games this season, blackout-free, including Hockey Night in Canada, Rogers Hometown Hockey, Scotiabank Wednesday Night Hockey, the entire 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs and more. CHOOSE PLAN Dubas spends ‘zero percent’ of time worrying about offer sheets

    So what if RFAs-to-be Auston Matthews and Mitchell Marner are talented enough to stir up whispers of a potential offer sheet, a unicorn not witnessed in the NHL since 2013 and not effectively used to swipe a player since 2007?

    Dubas insists that Marner and Matthews, with whom he opened extension talks back in the summer, want to remain Maple Leafs long term and that Toronto’s cap is structured to make that happen — regardless what surprises may arise.

    “I look around the league right now and for whatever reason it seems like the Toronto Maple Leafs are the only team that’s going to be the target of an offer sheet. It seems interesting to me, but there’s about a third of the teams in the league that have a very highly talented [pending] restricted free agent — and some of them have more than one, as we do,” Dubas said.

    “Our salary cap situation is set up that we could defend any of those threats with no worry at all. I know that they’ve become a huge topic of late, but I spend zero per cent of my time having any worry about that.”

    Dubas intends to sign Matthews and Marner “as soon as possible,” wishing to avoid a repeat of the Nylander highwire act.

    “We have to continue to work away with them,” Dubas said. “It [will] be our intention well before July 1 that we have an agreement and both players are here long term. One way or another, we’ll get to that point.”

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    Free agent Gardiner a ‘key part’ but not top priority

    Jake Gardiner is on target to become the best offensive defenceman not named Erik Karlsson to hit the open market on July 1. He ranks second, to Morgan ‘Career Year’ Rielly, on the Maple Leafs in ice time (21:44) and is a favourite of coach Mike Babcock. He’s on pace for back-to-back 50-point seasons and, at age 27, is certainly due a raise from his current $4.05-million cap hit.

    Dubas described Gardiner as “a key part” of the club. Extension talks are open, but with left-shot prospect Calle Rosen already earning a new deal and lefty Travis Dermott expected to progress, it’s difficult to envision Gardiner getting properly compensated after Marner and Matthews get paid.

    “We would like [Gardiner] to be here. It’s not as simple as it sounds,” Dubas said. “You only have a certain amount that you can divvy up, and it’s trying to make that all work and keep our team on the right path moving forward.”

    Surprise! Defence is Dubas’s targeted area of improvement

    The GM pointed a finger at a mediocre defensive-zone breakout as the primary area he’d like to see get much better. Toronto has the seventh-most giveaways across the NHL (390) and leads in the league in wins while getting outshot (14). In other words, defensively, the Leafs are playing with fire and relying (too?) heavily on the performance of Frederik Andersen.

    “Some of that falls on our forwards to get open and available, and on the defence to execute when they are open and available,” Dubas said. “It is an area we can make great gains and continue to improve as a club.

    “If that isn’t something that’s happening as we get closer to the end of February, I think we’ll certainly look to improve.”

    Liljegren doubtful for world juniors but could crack Leafs in second half

    Timothy Liljegren, the Leafs’ 2017 first-round pick, appears unlikely to participate for Sweden at the world juniors as he recovers from a high ankle sprain. There is no timeline for his recovery, but we’re talking weeks, not days.

    “It’s really unfortunate because he’d been having an excellent season with the Marlies: first pair, first power play, first penalty kill, producing well. Regardless of the Sweden world junior element, it’s disappointing for us because he’s a right-shot defenceman and he moves the puck very well,” said Dubas, before dropping an eyebrow-raiser. “So we’re looking for him to move it and challenge here this season.

    “It’s certainly understandable that he wants to push to play for Sweden at the world junior, but I just don’t know that it’s going to be realistic.”

    Sandin, however, will be an impact player at the holiday tournament

    Dubas’s first draft pick as an NHL GM, Rasmus Sandin, has wowed as a teenage AHL rookie, putting up 10 points through 18 contests. The GM expects his fellow Soo graduate to be relied upon heavily by Team Sweden at the world juniors.

    “Even this past weekend, as guys get injured or guys go through their ebbs and flows with their effectiveness, he’s kinda remained steady,” Dubas said. “For an 18-year-old there and a later first-round pick, he’s been outstanding.”

    Too early to judge Nylander

    William Nylander, who began his season as late as possible for a healthy player, is still searching for his first goal and is trying to find his legs on the third line. But Dubas is far from concerned that his $10.28-million cap hit (2019-20 only!) isn’t back to form yet.

    “He had a great chance Saturday night, he had two assists in Carolina, played well in Tampa Bay. His points probably aren’t at the level he would probably like them at or that he’s used to, but I think he’s slowly starting to come along,” Dubas said.

    “I know there’s going to be some challenges as a result of the way that situation went, but I think by the time we get beyond Christmas and into the new year he’ll be back to his usual form.

    “I don’t worry about William whatsoever. He’s in excellent shape, excellent character person. He’s gonna end up being just great for us.”

    Tavares even better than advertised

    It’s not every day you commit $77 million and seven years to a player you never had a hand in drafting or developing, but Dubas says that point-a-game John Tavares — who scored his 20th goal as a Leaf Saturday in just his 33rd game — has surpassed even his lofty hopes.

    “Until you actually go through a season and the process day in and day out, I think it’s tough to actually know what you’re getting and whether that person can live up to that. In John’s case, he’s surpassed our expectations,” Dubas said.

    “His play on the ice and production speaks for itself, but it’s the other stuff that’s going on here in the locker room with our younger players that’s certainly been noted by me.”

    Ranking the Champions League Round of 16 matchups

    Ranking the Champions League Round of 16 matchups


    With the Champions League group stage in the books, the Round of 16 draw was held Monday morning in Switzerland, and it produced some juicy matchups. Highlighting the results is a trio of clashes between English and German sides, plus Cristiano...

    With the Champions League group stage in the books, the Round of 16 draw was held Monday morning in Switzerland, and it produced some juicy matchups.

    Highlighting the results is a trio of clashes between English and German sides, plus Cristiano Ronaldo’s return to Madrid.

    Based on current form, competitiveness and best storylines, we’ve ranked each of the eight final 16 clashes from worst to best:

    8) FC Schalke 04 vs. Manchester City

    Schalke did what needed to be done in a weak Group D but scored just six goals doing so, the lowest goal total for any of the teams that advanced to the knockout stage. With all due respect, Manchester City should progress to the final eight with relative ease.

    7) AS Roma vs. FC Porto

    Roma is not the same side that advanced to the semifinals in last year’s competition, and expectations should be tempered as a result. Porto, meanwhile, enters the Round of 16 as just one of three undefeated group stage teams and could be a dark horse to make a surprise run.

    6) Olympique Lyonnais vs. FC Barcelona

    Lyon gave Manchester City fits in Group F, handing the defending English champion its only loss of the group stage and playing to a 2-2 draw in the reverse fixture. And though they lead La Liga, this is not the dominant Barcelona of years past so we could see a closer tie than expected.

    Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde: "We are pleased with the Round of 16 draw. We wanted to avoid a rival like Liverpool, the current runners-up in Europe."

    — DaveOCKOP (@DaveOCKOP) December 17, 2018

    5) AFC Ajax vs. Real Madrid

    Real Madrid ended the group stage in disgrace, falling 3-0 to CSKA Moscow for the title holder’s worst-ever European defeat on home soil. And another upset could be in the cards: led by highly-touted Dutch youngster Frenkie de Jong, Ajax challenged Bayern Munich in the group and came within minutes from finishing above the German giants. If Real Madrid is going to challenge for a fourth straight European title, it will have to get past this tricky tie.

    4) Manchester United vs. Paris Saint-Germain

    If Jose Mourinho is still patrolling the sidelines at Old Trafford by the time this tie rolls around in February, his United side is in for a tough challenge. PSG led the group stage with 17 goals for, and its three-headed monster of Neymar, Mbappe and Cavani will be the stiffest of tests for the Red Devils’ suspect defence.

    Most goals scored in the 2018-19 Champions League group stages:

    PSG (17)
    Man City (16)
    Bayern (15)
    Porto (15)

    The deadliest strike force in Europe? pic.twitter.com/jtyDdafj2x

    — Squawka Football (@Squawka) December 12, 2018

    3) Atletico Madrid vs. Juventus

    Ronaldo’s return to Madrid against his former club’s arch-rival will be sure to dominate the headlines in the lead-up to this mouth-watering Round of 16 tie. And it’s likely CR7 will be a difference-maker here, as these are two of Europe’s stoutest teams – goals will be at a premium.

     Juventus number 7 Cristiano Ronaldo has scored 22 goals against round of 16 opponents Atlético in all competitions #UCLDraw pic.twitter.com/8q4LGSt53X

    — #UCLdraw (@ChampionsLeague) December 17, 2018

    2) Tottenham Hotspur vs. Borussia Dortmund

    Spurs got into the knockout stage by the skin of their teeth and are rewarded with a clash against the current Bundesliga leaders, who are off to a scorching start under new manager Lucien Favre. Tottenham boasts loads of English talents, but one of the country’s most exciting young talents plays for the opposition: Jadon Sancho, who leads the Bundesliga with seven assists.

    Bring it on. #UCLDraw https://t.co/Aa2bNOaltz

    — Harry Kane (@HKane) December 17, 2018

    1) Liverpool vs. Bayern Munich

    The best tie of the Round of 16 features the Premier League leaders and the only remaining undefeated club in England’s top flight against six-time defending Bundesliga champions Bayern, who are struggling in third place in the league. Munich is a team Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp knows well from his time on the Dortmund sidelines.

    Weekend Takeaways: Flames, Jets each stake claim for best in West

    Weekend Takeaways: Flames, Jets each stake claim for best in West


    Proof that things are going well for the Calgary Flames is littered all over the place, like empty cans after a big night at the Stampede. What’s going on with the captain, though, might top the charts. Mark Giordano registered another two points in...

    Proof that things are going well for the Calgary Flames is littered all over the place, like empty cans after a big night at the Stampede. What’s going on with the captain, though, might top the charts.

    Mark Giordano registered another two points in Calgary’s 7–2 shellacking of the St. Louis Blues on Sunday afternoon. With 35 points in 32 games on the year, Giordano is three shy of the 38 he posted in 82 contests last season and four back of the 39 produced in 81 the campaign prior.

    Re-united with old partner T.J. Brodie after spending much of the past few years beside Dougie Hamilton, Giordano has hit an entirely new offensive gear during a season in which he turned 35 on opening night.

    It’s impossible to talk about the Flames without mentioning the deal that sent Hamilton, Micheal Ferland and NCAA defenceman Adam Fox to the Hurricanes for Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin. Points were hard to come by for Hanifin at the start of the year, but he has 10 during his past 15 outings, as the Flames have surged to the top of the Pacific Division.

    Lindholm, meanwhile, has been a beast since Day 1 with Calgary, playing alongside Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau on the top unit. His 1-2-3 performance versus St. Louis — a victory that represented Calgary’s eighth win in its past nine showings — gives the Swede 37 points this year and puts him within spitting distance of the career-best 45 he produced with Carolina two seasons ago.

    Lindholm has never finished a season as a plus player, yet woke up Monday tied (with Giordano, among others) for the best mark in in the NHL at plus-21. He’s also one of five Calgary players, along with Giordano, Monahan, Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk, to be scoring at a point-per-game clip. The only other teams in the league with even four guys doing that are the Toronto Maple Leafs and Washington Capitals.

    With both fresh and familiar faces breaking new ground, the Pacific is officially Calgary’s to lose.

    Other Weekend Takeaways

    • Some variation of the following sentiment could be found all over Twitter Sunday night:

    Okay…I'll take 7 games of this…in June.#BoltsvsJets#RogersHomeTownHockey

    — John Shannon (@JSportsnet) December 17, 2018

    The Winnipeg Jets are 9-1-0 in their past 10 following their overtime win versus the Bolts. It’s no surprise to see the likes of Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler leading the charge, and the next name to start getting more widespread buzz out of Winnipeg is likely that of defenceman Josh Morrissey. The Jets’ absurd ability to find elite first-round talent outside the top five (Scheifele seventh, Kyle Connor 17th, Nikolaj Ehlers ninth) is on display here again with the 13th-overall pick from the 2013 draft. Morrissey has 10 points during his past seven games and, at age 23, is making a huge leap forward offensively in his third NHL season.

    • Calgary and Winnipeg are just two of the Canadian teams that have been on a recent roll. Have a look at the best results around the league since Nov. 30:

     

    GP W L T OT P CGY 9 8 1 0 0 16 WPG 9 8 1 0 0 16 TB 8 7 0 0 1 15 EDM 9 6 2 0 1 13 MTL 8 6 2 0 0 12 WSH 8 6 2 0 0 12 ANA 7 6 1 0 0 12 SJ 8 6 2 0 0 12

    • Speaking of hot, 14 goals for Alex Ovechkin in his past 11 outings, including four this weekend thanks to a second straight hat trick on Friday night in Carolina. Thirteen of those goals, by the way, have come at even strength. The fellas on the 31 Thoughts podcast carved out some time last week to discuss the possibility of ‘Ovie’ eventually surpassing Wayne Gretzky’s record of 894 career goals:

    [radioclip id=4371063]

    My pod partner, Rory Boylen, has been on this one for a while, too. I think we all know which way we’d bet our nickel, but, man, it’s awesome we even get to entertain the idea of somebody taking on a signature benchmark from The Great One.

    • What is Ryan O’Reilly thinking these days? Seriously, it’s like Patrice Bergeron Light just can’t find a winning situation. A core of O’Reilly, Matt Duchene, Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog couldn’t do in Colorado what the crew there is doing now. He comes to Buffalo three years ago when the team has just drafted Jack Eichel and it seems like the Sabres are on the upswing. After nothing but losing, he’s on the move to a semi-stable place like St. Louis, where the Blues figured to be in the thick of it this year. Now there’s talk the likes of Vladimir Tarasenko and Colton Parayko could be heading out the door as St. Louis spirals to the bottom of the standings. Ugh.

    • Of course, if you’re a Buffalo fan, your view is that O’Reilly gave up too early on the Sabres. It’s easy to believe in Buffalo with the way Eichel played in his hometown of Boston on Sunday. There are four-point nights, and then there are four-point nights where you have two dishes worthy of Magic Johnson to go along with a top-shelf snipe.

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    • Tweets like these are never a good sign. I know Chuck Fletcher just took the GM job, but it’s time to get crackin’ on some solutions in Philly.

    The Flyers have reportedly denied that the team has fired head coach Dave Hakstol https://t.co/1CRbnA2mWA

    — SI NHL (@SI_NHL) December 17, 2018

    Red and White Power Rankings

    1. Winnipeg Jets (22-9-2): Presently riding a five-game winning streak, the past three of which came in overtime.

    2. Calgary Flames (22-10-2): Just two regulation-time losses in his past 13 outings for David Rittich, who is becoming quite a Czech find.

    3. Toronto Maple Leafs (21-10-2): Tough week for the Buds, but seven of their next nine at home should help them return to winning ways.

    4. Edmonton Oilers (18-13-3): Darnell Nurse’s time on ice in the past four games in the absence of Oscar Klefbom, starting with the one on Dec. 11 in which Klefbom’s hand was injured: 30:44, 31:04 (overtime loss), 27:50, 27:50. Nurse has six points in that stretch.

    5. Montreal Canadiens (17-11-5): The Habs beat Ottawa by the same 5-2 score three times in the span of 12 days, including on Saturday night. Shea Weber has four goals in nine games since returning from a knee injury.

    6. Vancouver Canucks (16-16-4): A couple more victories this week and we’ll definitely start hearing about whether or not this up-and-coming crew can crack the post-season this year.

    7. Ottawa Senators (14-16-4): A couple more losses and we’ll definitely start hearing more about this team not having its first pick in the draft this year.

    Tape II Tape Ryan Dixon and Rory Boylen go deep on pucks with a mix of facts and fun, leaning on a varied group of hockey voices to give their take on the country’s most beloved game. Listen Now | Subscribe | Boylen on Twitter | Dixon on Twitter

    Tape to Tape

    It’s almost time for the World Junior Hockey Championship, so naturally we’re going to bring Sportsnet’s prospect guru Sam Cosentino by for a visit. ‘Sammy Coz’ will give his thoughts on Team Canada and highlight some draft-eligible youngsters to watch for in the tournament, as well as prospects who’ve already been selected by Canadian clubs.

    Looking ahead

    • The NHL trade freeze hits one minute before midnight on Dec. 19. Quick, 29 other GMs, make some calls to Doug Armstrong in St. Louis and Fletcher in Philly: They’re just itchin’ to do something big!

    • Sid vs. red-hot Ovie on Wednesday night.

    Max Domi returns to the desert on Thursday, as the Canadiens will see old friend Alex Galchenyuk with the Arizona Coyotes.

    CHL Notebook: Max Comtois the sole returning player for Canada’s WJC team

    CHL Notebook: Max Comtois the sole returning player for Canada’s WJC team


    As they usually do this time of year, the eyes of the hockey world will shift a bit next week as the world junior hockey championship begins in Vancouver and Victoria. When Hockey Canada opened its selection camp last week, as is the case every year,...

    As they usually do this time of year, the eyes of the hockey world will shift a bit next week as the world junior hockey championship begins in Vancouver and Victoria.

    When Hockey Canada opened its selection camp last week, as is the case every year, talk of who wasn’t invited was almost as prominent as who was.

    It’s a week later and some of the focus is on a player who won’t play in the tournament.

    Forward Alex Formenton of the London Knights suffered a knee injury in a game against a Canadian University all-star team on Wednesday.

    Hockey Canada announced on Friday that Formenton’s injury was serious enough that he wouldn’t be available for the tournament, meaning the Canadian entry will have just one returning player for the reigning gold medallists.

    Anaheim Ducks prospect Max Comtois, who plays for the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Drummondville Voltigeurs will be the lone holdover after the NHL’s St. Louis Blues decided the team would not be loaning Robert Thomas to Team Canada.

    Thomas was a big part of Canada’s win one year ago with a goal and six points in seven games. The 19-year-old, who also won an OHL title last year with the Hamilton Bulldogs, cracked the Blues roster out of training camp and has played in 26 games with the NHL club this season.

    As for Comtois, his previous experience at the tournament is supplemented by some pro experience this season as well. The 19-year-old started the season with the Ducks and had two goals and seven points in 10 games before playing four more games at the American Hockey League level wth the San Diego Gulls on a conditioning stint before being sent back to junior.

    Comtois was injured in late-October and returned to action with the Gulls before being sent back and making his debut with Drummondville at the end of November.

    With 14 forwards remaining with the Canadian team, one more player will be cut in order to complete the roster.

    That decision will come once the status of Gabriel Vilardi, on loan from the Los Angeles Kings, and Jaret Anderson-Dolan of the Western Hockey League’s Spokane Chiefs have been confirmed. Both have practised with Canada but did not play in any of the three exhibition games last week.

    Vilardi has not played this season and Anderson-Dolan, who started the season in the NHL, has been out of action since late-October.

    One forward who is sure to draw attention for the Canadian team will be Prince Albert Raiders veteran Brett Leason.

    After being passed over in the last two NHL drafts, Leason has put himself on the radar this season with an impressive first half.

    In 31 games with the hottest team in the West, Leason has 28 goals and 36 assists for 64 points.

    To put that into perspective, in 135 career WHL games prior to this season, Leason had 24 goals and 27 assists for 51 points.

    Winners and losers from Matchday 17 in Premier League

    Winners and losers from Matchday 17 in Premier League


    The Premier League weekend began with a thriller in Manchester, so it was fitting that it ended with another Mancunian side losing to their fierce rivals. Manchester City temporarily topped the table, but Liverpool reclaimed the lead after shutting down...

    The Premier League weekend began with a thriller in Manchester, so it was fitting that it ended with another Mancunian side losing to their fierce rivals.

    Manchester City temporarily topped the table, but Liverpool reclaimed the lead after shutting down Manchester United on Sunday. The Reds are the only unbeaten side left in the league, yet they only own a one-point advantage over City. A near-perfect season from either club should see them lift the title, seeing as how it’s uber competitive in the top two.

    Here are four winners and four losers from Matchday 17 in the Premier League.

    WINNERS

    Fabinho

    The Brazilian continues to dominate in the heart of midfield for Liverpool, especially in big games. That was the case again on Sunday at Anfield.

    Fabinho set up Sadio Mane with a wonderful chipped ball over the top Man United’s defence to get things started. The former Monaco midfielder isn’t normally a distributor in Zone 14, yet you wouldn’t know it by watching that assist.

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    Due to Man United’s setup, it was difficult for Liverpool to string passes through the lines. That wasn’t an issue for Fabinho, who constantly dribbled through United’s midfield and unlocked space around the box as a result.

    Fabinho’s game by numbers vs. Man United:

    83 touches
    66 passes
    6 accurate long balls
    5 shots
    3 take ons completed
    2 chances created
    1 aerial duel won
    1 assist

    Liverpool’s chief orchestrator. pic.twitter.com/zzivgJSzN4

    — Squawka Football (@Squawka) December 16, 2018

    It was always a matter of transitioning into Jurgen Klopp’s system, which is why Fabinho didn’t earn a consistent run of games until November. Now that he’s settled into the side, we’re seeing his Monaco form shining through in England.

    Ralph Hassenhuttl

    After losing to Cardiff City in his Premier League debut, Ralph Hassenhuttl had a much tougher task on his agenda: Stopping a red-hot Arsenal team that hadn’t lost since August.

    No problem for Hassenhuttl and Co., who earned a late 3-2 win over the Gunners, snapping a 22-game unbeaten run in all competitions.

    Even though it’s only been two matches, Southampton is starting to morph into a Hassenhuttl side. They hounded Arsenal in the middle of the pitch with an energetic fervour and it created the winning goal in the 85th minute.

    @SouthamptonFC⁩ ⁦@Arsenal⁩ Is this the goal that ends The Gunners unbeaten run ? Charlie Austin super sub pic.twitter.com/ReFEf03EDE

    — Robin K D Midgley (@chippingexpert) December 16, 2018

    The win moves Southampton out of the relegation zone and into 17th. However, Saints are only above Burnley by virtue of a superior goal difference. With a hectic holiday fixture list upcoming, Hassenhuttl has to create some breathing room.

    Gabriel Jesus

    With no goals in his previous six appearances and Sergio Aguero injured, Gabriel Jesus needed to score. He ended up bagging a brace in Manchester City’s 3-1 victory over Everton and eased the pressure on his shoulders.

    It’s easy to forget that Jesus is still 22 years old because of how seamlessly he settled into the Premier League. Jesus had seven goals and four assists in 10 appearances in the second half of the 2016-17 campaign, plus he was a regular starter for Brazil.

    While a striker is mainly judged based off his scoring output, Jesus contributes in other areas as well. For example, the Brazilian was able to spread the pitch with his passing and ensured every forward was involved in the final third.

    Rafa Benitez

    Fresh off winning the Premier League manager of the month award, Rafa Benitez and Newcastle United snapped a three-match winless skid by toppling Huddersfield Town.

    Suddenly, Newcastle finds itself in 14th place, four points adrift of the relegation zone and with only two defeats in its previous eight games. Salomon Rondon scored the winner and has now been involved in three goals in his last three appearances.

    Credit Benitez for sparking the turnaround. Rondon is more comfortable with his teammates, he’s utilized as a proper target man and the Magpies remain defensively stingy. A brief collapse might change the narrative, although the Spaniard is working wonders given the dearth of resources invested into the squad.

    LOSERS

    Manchester United midfield

    David De Gea and Manchester United’s defence must’ve been furious, because conceding 36 shots is a symptom of an overwhelmed midfield.

    With Liverpool pressing high up the pitch and United deployed deep in their own defensive third, coupled with the litany of giveaways, the defence was swamped.

    Most of United’s turnovers occurred in their own half. (via WhoScored.com)

    Team heat maps from Liverpool 3-1 Man United. (via WhoScored.com)

    Starting a midfielder who could control possession, be it Paul Pogba or Fred, might’ve helped United alleviate the pressure on the defence. Instead, Liverpool kept pushing and eventually found the winning goals.

    Laurent Koscielny

    It had been nearly eight months since Laurent Koscielny started a Premier League match and it showed.

    Recovering from an Achilles injury is one of the most gruelling rehabilitation processes an athlete will ever experience. It takes several games until a player is match fit. Koscielny definitely isn’t there yet.

    The French centre-back lost Charlie Austin for the winning goal and didn’t appear too confident with his positioning, either.

    Leno came off his line because Koscielny was miles away from his man. 3 positional faults from Koscielny, 3 goals conceded.

    — dc (@davidjcarri) December 16, 2018

    Koscielny was also the only available centre-back due to suspension and injuries. Granit Xhaka had to fill in next to the Frenchman because manager Unai Emery had no other alternatives.

    It’s a bit harsh to include Koscielny here but it’s difficult to ignore given the basic errors.

    Eddie Howe

    Remember the discussion over Eddie Howe landing a “big” job in the Premier League? Bournemouth only has one win in its last seven league matches since that talk began in the third week of November.

    In Howe’s defence, Bournemouth has missed Callum Wilson over the past two weeks and faced Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool in this seven-game span. However, losing to Newcastle and Wolverhampton isn’t as justifiable.

    While Bournemouth outshot Wolves in the 2-0 defeat, most of those attempts barely threatened Rui Patricio in goal, as evidenced by the expected goals.

    xG map for Wolves – Bournemouth pic.twitter.com/r6HninwLoL

    — Caley Graphics (@Caley_graphics) December 15, 2018

    Even mired in this downturn in form, Howe’s work with Bournemouth is unquestionably brilliant. Plus, with Wilson returning, perhaps the Cherries can return to winning ways versus Brighton & Hove Albion.

    Fulham defence

    Look up “bad luck” and you’ll probably see this expected goals chart from Fulham’s 2-0 defeat to West Ham United.

    xG map for Fulham – West Ham pic.twitter.com/8vLmBMk4YB

    — Caley Graphics (@Caley_graphics) December 15, 2018

    West Ham only generated six attempts to Fulham’s 16, but when Michail Antonio is left alone in front of goal like this, it’s easy to see why the Hammers were victorious.

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    Woof.

    Premier League player rankings: Hazard chasing Van Dijk for top spot

    Premier League player rankings: Hazard chasing Van Dijk for top spot


    Welcome to the Premier League player power rankings after Matchday 17. After each weekend of play in the English Premier League, Sportsnet will rank the top 20 players for the 2018-19 season. Regardless of reputation, everyone starts from scratch at...

    Welcome to the Premier League player power rankings after Matchday 17. After each weekend of play in the English Premier League, Sportsnet will rank the top 20 players for the 2018-19 season. Regardless of reputation, everyone starts from scratch at Matchday 1, and will steadily move up, down, or out of the rankings as the games progress.

    Stream Premier League games on Sportsnet NOW Live stream weekly matchups from around the Premier League with Sportsnet NOW. Get access to the Premier League, FA Cup, Bundesliga, Scottish Premiership and more. SIGN UP for Sportsnet NOW 1. Virgil van Dijk, Liverpool (Previous matchday: 1)

    He had Romelu Lukaku comfortably tucked into his back pocket for most of the match but there was absolutely nothing he could do about Alisson’s calamitous error that allowed Manchester United to equalize.

    Liverpool were in cruise control for most of the match and United simply lacked the flair to test van Dijk. Not so sure the Dutchman made it look so easy he’s getting Roger Federer comparisons, but Jamie Carragher is clearly smitten.

    Jamie Carragher on Virgil van Dijk: “You know when you see Federer play Tennis, everything just looks easy, he’s just there, he’s always there. He’s the Federer of Football, everything feels like he’s got another gear." pic.twitter.com/LX1XvXOxOn

    — Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) December 16, 2018

    2. Eden Hazard, Chelsea (Previous matchday: 3)

    The Belgian superstar’s tremendous second half against Manchester City appears to have brought him back to peak form. He wasn’t as influential in the second half against Brighton and Chelsea will be sweating over his fitness after a strong challenge from Dale Stephens.

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    3. Raheem Sterling, Manchester City (Previous matchday: 4)

    Twenty-five minutes of action was all England’s brightest star at the moment needed to make an impact in Matchday 17. City came up against an unintimidated Everton side on Saturday and but for some poor finishing, could have easily been trailing.

    That made Sterling’s goal that gave City a 3-1 lead that much more important, albeit flattering, and prevented another disappointing result after the loss to Chelsea.

    No other player has been directly involved in more Premier League goals (15) this season than Raheem Sterling.

    9 goals
    6 assists

    What a season he’s having. pic.twitter.com/wq2kBOXUjB

    — Squawka Football (@Squawka) December 15, 2018

    4. David Silva, Manchester City (Previous matchday: 2)

    Silva won’t be back until 2019 so he will steadily take a plunge if those below him continue to perform.

    5. Mohamed Salah, Liverpool (Previous matchday: 7)

    Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho made man-marking the Egyptian a major priority, employing what on the surface appeared a 3-4-3, but was much more of a 5-4-1 with how little his side saw of the ball.

    Salah still found a way to get on the ball and despite being kept off the scoresheet, the attention he garnered opened space for his teammates and Mané was the primary beneficiary.

    6. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Arsenal (Previous matchday: 5)

    Struggled with his finishing against Southampton and just wasn’t as much of a threat without Alexandre Lacazette by his side. Improved once the Frenchman came on but Arsenal needed more without ideal options in the backline due to injury.

    7. Aymeric Laporte, Manchester City (Previous matchday: 6)

    The Frenchman offered City his typical creativity in creating a few chances for the side, but this is as vulnerable as the City backline has looked all season. Everton were arguably the better side going forward and so Laporte takes a bit of a hit.

    It’s not as big as the collisions he suffered in the match, the second one causing plenty of concern until he helped quell some of it through social media.

    All is okey! Thank you so much for all the messages. Well done team! +3 #AL14 @ManCity pic.twitter.com/I0X9Wvv5BT

    — Aymeric Laporte (@Laporte) December 15, 2018

    Still, he had time for a bit of a laugh at teammate Bernardo Silva’s expense.

    @benmendy23 Do you know if @BernardoCSilva has any issues with me? pic.twitter.com/Q2puthxLTH

    — Aymeric Laporte (@Laporte) December 13, 2018

    8. Alexandre Lacazette, Arsenal (Previous matchday: 9)

    Presumably came off the bench as manager Unai Emery looks to manage the health of his players during the busiest time of the year and the logic made sense going up against a Southampton team with just one league win on the season.

    That’s why they play the games, though, and this could be a vital three points dropped by the Gunners and a decision Emery may come to regret.

    9. Ryan Fraser, Bournemouth (Previous matchday: 8)

    This was as disappointing a performance as we’ve seen from the Scot all season. Sure, the Wolves have been a bit resurgent of late including a win over Chelsea, but it’s the Cherries who have set a level of expectation with their performances this season.

    Fraser was rather anonymous throughout the match and perhaps struggled to find a rhythm missing his partner in crime Callum Wilson for the first hour.

    10. Callum Wilson, Bournemouth (Previous matchday: 10)

    There were doubts as to whether Wilson would play at all so the team should be encouraged that he was able to get in half-an-hour of action after recovering from a hamstring injury.

    Bournemouth should however be discouraged by their inability to create much in the final third in his absence.

    11. Sadio Mané, Liverpool (Previous matchday: 15)

    A brilliant goal to open the scoring against Manchester United, perfectly timing a run well spotted by Fabinho, before calmly chesting the ball down and tucking the ball past David de Gea with his left foot.

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    Xherdan Shaqiri will steal the headlines but it’s Mané who made the winning goal possible with a terrific run from the left flank that forced David de Gea into a save which rolled into the Swiss international’s path.

    12. Andrew Robertson, Liverpool (Previous matchday: 12)

    Had a pair of corners that didn’t even make it past the first man before Salah decided he had seen enough and took the next corner himself.

    That was about as bad as it got for the Scot as he marauded up and down the left flank in such impressive fashion that it left opposing manager Mourinho gushing in praise of him after the match.

    “LFC play 200-m.p.h. with the ball and without the ball,” Mourinho said to the media. “I am still tired just to look at Robertson. He makes, I think, 100-metre sprint per minute … Absolutely incredible.”

    Jose Mourinho: "I am still tired just from looking at Andy Robertson! Absolutely incredible – he makes a 100m sprint per minute"#LFC #MUFC

    — Melissa Reddy (@MelissaReddy_) December 16, 2018

    13. Sergio Aguero, Manchester City (Previous matchday: 11)

    Did not play, again. That’s four straight league matches he’s missed now.

    14. Richarlison, Everton (Previous matchday: 13)

    Really should have done better when presented with a pair of opportunities in front of goal and that’s the ruthlessness you need to jump into the elite class that will have the likes of Barcelona or Real Madrid calling.

    Everton played well enough to come away with something against City, but poor finishing did them in and there were no bigger culprits than the Brazilian and Theo Walcott.

    15. Toby Alderweireld, Tottenham (Previous matchday: 16)

    The Belgian was in cruise control for much of the night and has taken like a moth to a flame in marshalling the Spurs back line.

    January is almost here and Spurs will be hoping they can keep him away from what is sure to be multiple suitors.

    16. Harry Kane, Tottenham (Previous matchday: 17)

    He’s got four goals and three assists in his last six starts and playing the role of facilitator on Matchday 17 gave Tottenham a huge three points.

    Dropping points over the busy holiday season is what can often make or break a season, and after being deadlocked with Burnley heading into injury time, Kane brilliantly held up the ball on the edge of the box before laying off perfectly for Christian Eriksen to hammer home the winner.

    Mauricio Pochettino will be happy for Kane to play all the Fornite he wants as long as this level can be maintained.

    You can’t fly away from me! @Ninja do you need a Winter Royal partner? #fortnite #297m #sniper #Season7 pic.twitter.com/xHns0eTs7T

    — Harry Kane (@HKane) December 13, 2018

    17. Jorginho, Chelsea (Previous matchday: 14)

    The Blues lacked creativity outside of Hazard and so the Italian has to take some of the criticism for that. It’s been a bit of a rough patch for him of late as is usually the case for players experiencing England’s holiday stretch for the first time.

    18. Matt Doherty, Wolverhampton Wanderers (Previous matchday: 19)

    Another performance the Irishman can be proud of. Wolves have now won three straight matches and are just a point behind Manchester United.

    Doherty will have his hands full next week, though, against a Liverpool side where he’ll have to both deal with the threat of Mané and cause some level of threat with his own runs down the right flank.

    19. Felipe Anderson, West Ham United (Previous matchday: 20)

    Make that five goals and two assists in the Brazilian’s last seven matches after just one goal and one assist in his first 10.

    It was shocking to see the space Fulham allowed on their right side and Anderson was more than happy to take advantage of it in setting up Robert Snodgrass’ opener. He’ll be vital over the next month as the Hammers look to get by without Marko Arnautovic.

    20. José Holebas (Previous matchday: N/A)

    After a bit of a nosedive after a hot start, Holebas is back playing some of his best football and has now been directly involved in more goals (7) than any Premier League defender.

    To boot, the goal he scored this weekend was as pretty as they come.

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    Honourable mentions:

    Lucas Torreira (Arsenal). Leroy Sané (Manchester City). James Maddison, Harry Maguire (Leicester City). Antonio Rudiger, Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea). Gylfi Sigurdsson (Everton). Sol Bamba (Cardiff City). Mathew Ryan (Brighton & Hove Albion). Aaron Wan-Bissaka (Crystal Palace). Trent Alexander-Arnold, Alisson (Liverpool). Lucas Moura (Tottenham).

    Takeaways: Oilers’ undisciplined play feeds hungry Canucks easy win

    Takeaways: Oilers’ undisciplined play feeds hungry Canucks easy win


    Sometimes you win a game you don’t deserve, or lose one where you thought you played well enough to win. Thankfully, neither was the case Sunday night in Vancouver, where the red-hot Canucks beat the equally torrid Edmonton Oilers 4-2, scoring three...

    Sometimes you win a game you don’t deserve, or lose one where you thought you played well enough to win.

    Thankfully, neither was the case Sunday night in Vancouver, where the red-hot Canucks beat the equally torrid Edmonton Oilers 4-2, scoring three power-play goals to tip the scales. On a night where Vancouver was marginally better, the Oilers took some undisciplined penalties against a Canucks power play that simply fed them their lunch, and won Vancouver this game.

    The fact the Canucks did not score at five-on-five (until an empty netter by Bo Horvat) speaks to a game won off a Caleb Jones holding penalty and a pair of puck-over-glass calls on Kevin Gravel and Adam Larsson. The Oilers got only one power play, one late, and really didn’t do enough on this night to earn many more.

    The Oilers’ best line was their fourth line, which had a ton of possession but doesn’t score much. The Canucks best player was, conveniently, Brock Boeser, who had a goal and two assists.

    Takeaways? There were a few:

    Hello, Elias

    It was Edmonton’s first look at Elias Pettersson, and he did what all the great players have done over the years — not much, until it mattered.

    Pettersson was on the perimeter of this first head-to-head with Connor McDavid, and then — boom! He scores the game-winner on a wrist shot that tells everyone just exactly why everyone on the West Coast (and Sweden) is so excited about this young player.

    He has the Calder Trophy in his pocket already, and as for the ongoing Oilers-Canucks rivalry, we’d say that with the two shining young stars each team has, we won’t miss many Vancouver-Edmonton tilts over the next decade or so.

    McDavid’s Garage League?

    There’s a thing brewing in Edmonton surrounding McDavid, who has fallen victim to ‘volume foul’ syndrome as he travels the NHL in search of his third consecutive Art Ross Trophy.

    He still draws a few penalties, but on a night where the Canucks had five power plays to Edmonton’s one, the Oilers predictably wondered why — in their eyes — there appears to be a separate set of rules for restraining McDavid, and for hooking and holding everyone else.

    “The tug o’ war on him was absolutely ridiculous today,” Hitchcock told the media in Vancouver post-game. “He’s not allowed to play give and go. It’s give and hold.”

    Hitchcock points out that the league wants more speed and skill, yet still allows a player as superior as McDavid to be dragged back by players who can’t keep up to him legally. That argument is a familiar one in Vancouver, where one-time GM Brian Burke once told the assembled media, “Sedin is not Swedish for ‘punch me’ or ‘headlock me in a scrum.’”

    As a guy who watches McDavid every night, I would say some NHL defenders are taking the same approach on him that some offensive linemen take in football: They won’t call a penalty on every play, so you might as well cheat as often as you can.

    To McDavid’s credit, he doesn’t complain the way Mario Lemieux did when he called the NHL “a garage league.” And he’s not a noted diver, which, frankly, might become a last resort. But Hitchcock did lay down a veiled threat Sunday night, one that will be difficult to employ in 2018.

    “We’re going to have to figure out how to fight through it, or we’ll just play toughness with him and figure it out from there,” said the Oilers coach.

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    Ryan Flyin’

    It’s funny, a season ago the cry from Oilers fans was to see Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on McDavid’s flank. So they started the season together, and though the relationship was productive, the team wasn’t winning with Leon Draisaitl centering the second line.

    Since Hitchcock arrived — and a little bit before that, really — Nugent-Hopkins has been installed at 2C, and the team has found success. Call it chemistry, on a team with a top-heavy group of forwards, this appears to be the best way to deployed.

    Nugent-Hopkins scored his 11th goal Sunday, and now has 11-20-31 in 34 games. He continues his march towards playing the game the way his favourite player — Pavel Datsyuk — did, and is producing despite a pair of wingers in Jujhar Khaira and Jesse Puljujarvi who have not proven themselves as legit Top 6 NHL wingers.

    Baby Steps

    Give Hitchcock credit. He knew very little about Puljujarvi when he convinced GM Peter Chiarelli to call up the big Finn and put him under Hitchcock’s watchful eye. And as we watch Puljujarvi, we see a player who is improving — whichever side you land on the argument over whether or not he should be in Bakersfield.

    On Sunday Puljujarvi played 14:53 — the most in any game under Hitchcock — and opened the third period on a line with McDavid and Draisaitl. He had the puck more, looked more dangerous, and made the play on Nugent-Hopkins’ goal by going to the net and taking a Canucks defender with him.

    There is more there than the day Hitchcock took over, we’ll say that. But his game will have to continue to ascend if he is to become a legit Top 6 player.

    Ken Hitchcock: Canucks’ holding on McDavid was ‘absolutely ridiculous’

    Ken Hitchcock: Canucks’ holding on McDavid was ‘absolutely ridiculous’


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    Nick Foles leads Eagles past Rams in Los Angeles

    Nick Foles leads Eagles past Rams in Los Angeles


    LOS ANGELES — The Philadelphia Eagles already knew Nick Foles could do it. After all, it was only last December when the veteran quarterback replaced an injured Carson Wentz and upset the Los Angeles Rams at the Coliseum. Less than two months...

    LOS ANGELES — The Philadelphia Eagles already knew Nick Foles could do it.

    After all, it was only last December when the veteran quarterback replaced an injured Carson Wentz and upset the Los Angeles Rams at the Coliseum. Less than two months after that breakthrough game, he was an improbable Super Bowl MVP.

    One season later in the same arena, Foles went back into Wentz’s spot under centre after three months without game action.

    Foles promptly recaptured the magic, passing for 270 yards and confidently leading the Eagles to a 30-23 win over the Rams on Sunday night with plenty of help from his defence and his playmakers.

    Foles’ encore might not end in the Super Bowl again. It might not even include the playoffs. But after guiding Philadelphia to another win with a grace and poise belying his inactivity, the Eagles are thrilled to have him back in the game.

    "It’s been really emotional," said Foles, who went 24 of 31 with one interception. "You hate for your teammate to get hurt. I feel really bad for Carson. … What you’ve done in the past, what I’ve done in the past, it doesn’t matter when you step on that field. It’s a new day. So I was dealing with the emotions, but prepping as hard as I could, and then realizing I’m not alone. I have great teammates out there. All I have to do is spread the ball around, lean on them, stay in the moment, and we were able to do that tonight. Today was a huge win for us."

    Wendell Smallwood rushed for two touchdowns and rookie Josh Adams ran for another score as the Eagles (7-7) kept their playoff hopes quite viable with a gritty victory over the Rams (11-3), who lost consecutive regular-season games for the first time in coach Sean McVay’s tenure.

    Foles hadn’t played since Week 2, but Wentz is out with a back injury that could sideline him for the rest of the season. Philadelphia coach Doug Pederson declined to say whether Foles would start next week against Houston, but Foles’ teammates know what they’ve got after he slipped right back into his old role in a simplified offensive game plan.

    "That’s a guy with true character," Smallwood said of Foles. "We’re just comfortable with him back there. We don’t feel like anything has fallen off. We know he’s going to step up there and do the job. We rode that guy and we stuck with him (last year), and he went out and played for us tonight."

    The Eagles still trail NFC East leader Dallas (8-6) and sit even with Washington (7-7), so they will need help to get back into the post-season, most likely from Carolina and Minnesota stumbling down the stretch. But they’ll get an enormous boost from becoming the first team to beat the Rams twice under McVay.

    "It’s very satisfying," Pederson said. "Our backs have been against the wall for the last few weeks. Hopefully this gives us momentum for the rest of the season. Our goals are still in front of us."

    The Eagles scored 17 consecutive points in the third quarter and then survived the Rams’ late rally. After Philadelphia’s Jake Elliott missed a field goal with 1:08 left, Jared Goff got the Rams to the Philadelphia 18 with 4 seconds to play — but he couldn’t connect with Josh Reynolds on a pass to the goal line as time expired.

    Goff passed for 339 yards with two interceptions in the Rams’ first loss at the Coliseum in seven games this season.

    Todd Gurley rushed for two touchdowns — giving him an NFL-best 21 TDs this season — while catching 10 passes for 76 yards. But the superstar running back also accepted the blame for failing to get out of bounds on a catch inside the final 20 seconds, depriving the Rams of likely two additional shots at the end zone.

    "We have to be able to figure this out and fast," McVay said. "We are doing things that are uncharacteristic of us. Guys are making decisions and mistakes we typically haven’t seen."

    The Rams already have won the NFC West title, and they still control their destiny for a first-round playoff bye with Chicago (10-4) right behind them. But Los Angeles also has produced three straight pedestrian performances since that epic 54-51 Monday night win over Kansas City last month and an ensuing bye week.

    "It’s good to go through some adversity at some point," said Goff, who hasn’t thrown a TD pass since the first half at Detroit. "Going through it now, and in the position we are in with the playoffs, we (still) have to be urgent about getting these things fixed. These things are very fixable."

    BIG TARGETS

    Foles repeatedly connected with Alshon Jeffery, who had eight catches for 160 yards in the third-biggest game of his career. Zach Ertz had three receptions to become the fourth tight end in NFL history with 100 catches in a season.

    INJURIES

    Eagles: DT Fletcher Cox went to the locker room on a cart during the first half with a hip injury, but returned to the field before halftime.

    Rams: Gurley missed several snaps in the second half with a knee injury, but returned.

    UP NEXT

    Eagles: Host the Houston Texans on Sunday, Dec. 23. Houston can wrap up the AFC South with a victory.

    Rams: Visit the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, Dec. 23. LA shut out the Cardinals at the Coliseum in September.

    Elias Pettersson uses perfect shot to beat Koskinen top corner

    Elias Pettersson uses perfect shot to beat Koskinen top corner


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    Brock Boeser’s wrist shot just gets by Koskinen for Canucks goal

    Brock Boeser’s wrist shot just gets by Koskinen for Canucks goal


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    Raptors coach Nick Nurse frustrated with lack of calls for Kawhi

    Raptors coach Nick Nurse frustrated with lack of calls for Kawhi


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    Raptors’ role players struggle to support Kawhi in loss to Nuggets

    Raptors’ role players struggle to support Kawhi in loss to Nuggets


    DENVER – There are milestones that every NBA coach accumulates on his journey: His first win; coaching in nationally televised games; winning big games on the road and on and on. Nick Nurse has done all that and more through 31 games as a head coach...

    DENVER – There are milestones that every NBA coach accumulates on his journey:
    His first win; coaching in nationally televised games; winning big games on the road and on and on.

    Nick Nurse has done all that and more through 31 games as a head coach with the Toronto Raptors but he’d largely avoided going after the referees. After game 32, at the end of a tough four-game road trip his team split, Nurse chose not to hold back in the wake of a frustrating 95-86 loss to the Denver Nuggets.

    He will almost certainly be receiving notice that he’ll be levied with his first fine from the league office for putting the referees on blast – a no-no no matter how justified the cause.

    The focus of Nurse’s frustration was the measly four free throws Kawhi Leonard shot after a night when he was carrying the mail for a short-handed Raptors attack and often having to bull his way through multiple defenders or escape the grasp of a very handsy crew of Nuggets.

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    In the ‘new’ NBA, where freedom of movement for the offensive players is paramount, Nurse felt like referees Mike Callahan, Marat Kogut and Haywoode Workman were dialling the clock back to the bump-and-grind 1990s.

    “They were the ones that were hitting, holding, cutting, grabbing, clutching, hitting,” Nurse fumed.

    “You can’t tell me that one of the best players in the league takes 100 hits and shoots four free-throws, and they handed him two for charity at the end. So he was going to have two free-throws for the game with all the physical hits and holding and driving and chucking and doubling and slapping and reaching and all the stuff. It’s been going on all year. I do not understand why they are letting everyone play one of the best players in the league so physically. I do not understand it.”

    Leonard was the most aggressive player on the floor all night, of that there is no doubt. He had no choice. The Raptors went into the game missing their three best playmakers is Kyle Lowry (thigh), Fred VanVleet (back) and Pascal Siakam (back). Already without Jonas Valanciunas (thumb), whose work on the offensive boards can also provide some unscripted offence, Leonard was going to have to carry the load.

    He’s more than capable, and for a long stretch in the middle of the game it appeared he was going to get the Raptors home as he exploded for 19 of his 29 points in an 11-minute stretch from late in the first half to the 7:50-mark of the third quarter. It helped the Raptors go into the half on an 11-0 run and leading 47-39. By the time he sat for a rest after fist-pumping in celebration of hitting one more jumper with four minutes to go in the third, the Raptors led 70-57 and seemed like they might be able to hang on.

    But Leonard needed help and he agreed with Nurse that he didn’t get any from the referees.

    “It’s been like that all year but in this era with how the game is and the rules today I feel like I agree with [Nurse],” said Leonard. “It was very physical but I just go with the next play. It could only get me ready for what’s to come. I just pride myself on keeping moving and keeping going.”

    Stream Raptors basketball on Sportsnet NOW Stream marquee NBA matchups from around the league, including over 40 Raptors games. Plus, get the NHL, MLB, Premier League, CHL and more.

    More vital than some help from the refs, Leonard could have used some help from his teammates.

    The Raptors started the fourth quarter leading 72-68 and simply stopped scoring. The Nuggets grew increasingly aggressive, throwing more bodies at Leonard. He made the right play in pitching the ball to open teammates, the problem is no one could deliver the next play.

    The Nuggets got exactly that as they exploded for a 23-2 run. Nikola Jokic scored 26 points on 19 shots while Canadian Jamal Murray caught fire in the fourth, scoring 15 of his 19 in the final period.

    Toronto shot 1-of-13 from three in the fourth quarter with C.J. Miles missing all four of his wide-open looks and OG Anunoby going 1-of-5 on his. The pair have been struggling mightily from behind the arc all season and came into the game shooting 34 and 31 per cent, respectively, on ‘open’ or ‘wide-open’ threes, per NBA.com and those totals got worse as the game went on.

    “In our fourth quarter we missed a lot of open shots,” said Leonard. “That’s when we have to hang our hats on defence and making the other team miss. It was just one of those nights.”

    The Raptors did just that, which makes the loss more frustrating. Toronto held the Nuggets to 42.4 per cent shooting and won the rebounding battle 51-44, with Leonard leading the way there with 14 boards as he keeps adding to his career-high totals in that category.

    There are no excuses – and it should be pointed out that the Nuggets were without two starters in Paul Millsap and Gary Harris and have played without key reserve Will Barton all year – but based on effort, the Raptors deserved better, at least in their coach’s mind.

    “We played our butts off. We outplayed them. We outplayed them. No question,” said Nurse. “Tonight was a very severe case of a guy who was playing great, taking it to the rim and just getting absolutely held, grabbed, poked, slapped, hit and everything. And they refused to call any of it. It’s unbelievable to me. Unbelievable to me. It’s ridiculous. The guy is one of the best players in the league and he doesn’t complain, he doesn’t do this, he doesn’t do that, and they just turn their head and go the other way. It’s been going on all year.”

    Nurse may be taking a little license there as he strived to get his money’s worth on his fine. Leonard came into the game averaging 6.9 free-throw attempts a game which is 10th in the NBA. He averages .367 free-throw attempts for every shot he takes which is 18th, but not far behind the likes of Kevin Durant (15th) or LeBron James (14th).

    But on this night, four three throws seemed low, even if the refs seemed happy to swallow the whistle all evening as both teams shot just 30 free throws combined with the Raptors putting up 14 and the Nuggets 16.

    But it’s hard to win anything when you shoot 7-of-37 from three and 1-of-13 from deep in the fourth, most of them on wide-open looks.

    Leonard might have deserved a better whistle, but had his teammates delivered some better shooting and the win, the referees might have been able to get away with murder and Nick Nurse would still have his money.

    Dr. Oetker Giueseppe Pizzeria My Hometown: Women’s Para Ice Hockey

    Dr. Oetker Giueseppe Pizzeria My Hometown: Women’s Para Ice Hockey


    This week we look at the challenges faced by those trying to compete at the top levels in Women’s Para Ice Hockey and how they are working to achieve their...

    This week we look at the challenges faced by those trying to compete at the top levels in Women’s Para Ice Hockey and how they are working to achieve their dreams.

    Mark Scheifele caps hectic overtime with winning rebound goal

    Mark Scheifele caps hectic overtime with winning rebound goal


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    Wall scores 40 to get Wizards over LeBron and Lakers

    Wall scores 40 to get Wizards over LeBron and Lakers


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    Victor Oladipo and Myles Turner power Pacers past Knicks

    Victor Oladipo and Myles Turner power Pacers past Knicks


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    Rogers Hometown Hockey: MLB Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins

    Rogers Hometown Hockey: MLB Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins


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    Crawford leaves game after Strome bulldozes him into the net

    Crawford leaves game after Strome bulldozes him into the net


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    Alex Killorn shows off soft hands with sweet backhand goal

    Alex Killorn shows off soft hands with sweet backhand goal


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    Homan wins record-tying 9th GSOC women’s title at Boost National

    Homan wins record-tying 9th GSOC women’s title at Boost National


    CONCEPTION BAY SOUTH, N.L. — Rachel Homan is on Cloud 9. Homan and her Ottawa-based club defeated Team Kerri Einarson of Gimli, Man., 4-1 to win the Boost National championship and tied Winnipeg’s Jennifer Jones for the most Pinty’s Grand Slam of...

    CONCEPTION BAY SOUTH, N.L. — Rachel Homan is on Cloud 9.

    Homan and her Ottawa-based club defeated Team Kerri Einarson of Gimli, Man., 4-1 to win the Boost National championship and tied Winnipeg’s Jennifer Jones for the most Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling women’s titles with their ninth trophy victory.

    The team of Homan, third Emma Miskew, second Joanne Courtney and lead Lisa Weagle cashed in $30,000 from the $250,000 total purse and added 12 more points to their Pinty’s Cup lead. Not only does Boost sponsor the event they are also a major supporter of Team Homan making it a double win for the foursome.

    “It’s amazing,” Homan said with a smile. “Boost is an amazing sponsor and it just feels so great to represent them and be able to win the Slam that they sponsor. … I’m really proud with my team with how they played all week and then again through the playoffs. We had a really strong run so we’re excited.

    “We finally get a break for the holidays and a little bit of a recharge before we start our big month in January.”

    It was the third consecutive GSOC final and second straight championship in the series for Homan, who has been on a fierce redemption tour since her team came up short at the Winter Olympics.

    “It feels really good. We’ve worked really hard this year,” Homan said. “Obviously, a little bit disappointing after the Olympics. We didn’t do as well as we wanted to do for Canada, so we’re working as hard as ever and want to keep pushing the game and keep pushing ourselves. We’re just having a lot of fun right now.”

    Homan now has her eyes on surpassing Jones for sole possession of first place on the all-time GSOC women’s winners list.

    “We want to try and crack double digits before the year is up and I think we can definitely do that,” she said. “We’re excited to set that as our goal and to keep trying to win more games.”

    Team Homan needed an extra end to edge Team Einarson to wrap up pool play with a 3-1 record and qualify for the playoffs. Homan topped Team Jacqueline Harrison in the quarterfinals and Jones in the semifinals.

    Both skips had their names on the National already with Homan capturing the inaugural title in 2015 and Einarson earning the championship the following year with her previous squad.

    Einarson formed a new crew this season with former skips Val Sweeting at third, Shannon Birchard at second and Briane Meilleur at lead and earned $18,000 in their first Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling final together. The club, who have won four World Curling Tour titles already, went 2-2 in the round-robin and had to qualify out of a tiebreaker with authority trumping Team Jamie Sinclair 12-0 stealing all of their points over the course of just four ends. The No. 8 seed Einarson took down No. 1 Team Anna Hasselborg in the quarterfinals and Team Silvana Tirinzoni in the semis.

    The final match was marred by missed opportunities on both sides. Homan, who opened with the hammer, left a point on the table in the second with an opportunity to hit and stick for a deuce but rolled out and settled for a single.

    Team Homan gained their lost point back in the third though. Einarson split the rings with one rock on the right side and cluster of a couple on the left. Homan froze out the pair to lie shot stone and Einarson looked to a risky runback for a big reward. She connected with her guard, sending it into the house but didn’t get the right angle and took out her two instead to concede a point.

    Einarson fell behind by three in the fourth. Homan’s last collided with a guard and Einarson made the double takeout on her final rock, but her shooter rolled up and over top to miss the third one at the edge of the eight-foot circle. Einarson still had another in a similar spot at the opposite of the house and out came the measuring stick but the point went to Homan.

    Another steal in six made it a four-point gap and Einarson finally broke the shutout in seven but not without another error. With one in her pocket, Einarson had to draw fully into the eight-foot circle for her second point, but it didn’t hit the brakes in time and Miskew added some extra steam brushing it just far enough for it not to count.

    Homan said it was huge to have the hammer in the final frame up by three points as she was able to run Einarson out of rocks.

    “Even to get that force in seven was really big,” Homan said. “A little bit of a mistake from Einarson’s team but it was a tight game. A game of a couple shots here and there. It’s tough breaks, it was tough conditions and I’m not sure if she had a bad rock or what but they’re a great team and we’ll see them again a lot over this year.”

    Earlier Sunday, Scotland’s Team Ross Paterson edged countrymen Team Bruce Mouat 4-3 in an extra end to win the men’s title. It was the first championship in the series for Team Paterson.

    NOTES: The Boost National was the fourth event and second major of the 2018-19 Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling season. … Hasselborg won the Princess Auto Elite 10 and Canadian Beef Masters back-to-back to start the season while Homan claimed the Tour Challenge. … The Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling resumes after the holiday break in the New Year with the 2019 Meridian Canadian Open taking place Jan. 8-13 in North Battleford, Sask.

    Rogers Hometown Hockey: Former NHLer David Gagner

    Rogers Hometown Hockey: Former NHLer David Gagner


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    76ers cruise by Cavaliers in Butler’s return

    76ers cruise by Cavaliers in Butler’s return


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    Flames Takeaways: Lindholm extends short-handed success

    Flames Takeaways: Lindholm extends short-handed success


    Winning has become routine of late for the Calgary Flames. With just one regulation loss in their last 12 outings, the NHL’s hottest team has found a way to win games almost every way imaginable. They’ve had success in river hockey shootouts,...

    Winning has become routine of late for the Calgary Flames.

    With just one regulation loss in their last 12 outings, the NHL’s hottest team has found a way to win games almost every way imaginable.

    They’ve had success in river hockey shootouts, Hitchcock-type grinders, they’ve made comebacks, won overtime thrillers and they’ve done wonders shorthanded and with the man advantage.

    Stream Flames hockey on Sportsnet NOW Sportsnet NOW gives you access to over 500 NHL games this season, blackout-free, including Hockey Night in Canada, Rogers Hometown Hockey, Scotiabank Wednesday Night Hockey, the entire 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs and more.

    Yet, a pattern has emerged of late.

    Dating back almost a full month the Calgary Flames have scored four or more goals every-second outing, including Sunday’s 7-2 win in St. Louis. Yet, invariably, they follow up every offensive outburst with a tight battle, scoring three goals or less.

    A quick look back demonstrates my point.

    StL 7-2
    Min 2-1
    Phi 6-5
    Edm 0-1
    Nash 5-2
    Min 2-0
    Clb 9-6
    Chi 3-2
    LA 4-1
    Dal 3-4 (OT)
    Ari 6-1
    LV 0-2
    Wpg 6-3

    So, following Saturday’s 2-1 win against Minnesota, few should have been surprised it was time for another stat-dazzler.

    True to form, five different Flames posted multiple-point efforts including Johnny Gaudreau (2-1) Mark Giordano (1-1), Alan Quine (2-0), Elias Lindholm (1-2) and Matthew Tkachuk who put on a show for family and friends in his hometown.

    It’s firepower like that that has Flames fans thoroughly entertained, forever hopeful comebacks are possible and optimistic this team can eventually enter the playoffs capable of playing any type of game possible to continue this special season.

    If history serves, get ready for a tight one in Dallas. More takeaways from the latest win by the NHL’s top team in the west:

    GIORDANO ON A ROLL

    Fresh off back-to-back games with shorthanded goals (a Flames club record for defenceman) Giordano moved into a first-place tie for the NHL scoring lead amongst blue liners.

    Scoring in his third-straight game, Giordano also added an assist, which gives him 11 points in his last five games. All told he’s at six goals and 29 helpers to put him in a deadlock with Morgan Rielly, Thomas Chabot and John Carlson at 35 points.

    While we’ve been beating the drum for Mr. Do-It-All to get into the Norris Trophy conversation for several weeks, Don Cherry finally joined the talk Saturday night, raining endless praise on the Flames captain for all he does.

    In the midst of, by far, his best season offensively, the 35-year-old also continues to be one of the game’s best leaders.

    Proving just how capable he is at absolutely everything this year, Giordano was ready and willing to take on a fight challenge Saturday in Minnesota where he knew he’d have to answer for the knee-on-knee collision with Mikko Koivu that earned him his first NHL suspension.

    Koivu, who is still out of the Wild lineup, said he received a classy text from Giordano apologizing for the hit, as Giordano promised he would deliver.

    That didn’t stop cheeky Wild players from screaming to a teammate loud enough for analyst Cassie Campbell to hear, “watch your knee,” as Giordano moved in for a pinch.

    Giordano also ended Sunday afternoon tied for the NHL lead at plus-21 with Carlson.

    Tape II Tape Ryan Dixon and Rory Boylen go deep on pucks with a mix of facts and fun, leaning on a varied group of hockey voices to give their take on the country’s most beloved game. Listen Now | Subscribe | Boylen on Twitter | Dixon on Twitter EVER-ROTATING DOOR

    The news keeps getting better for the Flames as Mikael Backlund returned to the lineup after missing four games due to concussion protocol following the big hit he took from Matt Dumba.

    It’s a huge addition, given the second-line centre is the Flames best defensive forward.

    Kerby Rychel was called up and caused traffic in front of the night to help Quine score his second of the game – the Flames third powerplay goal in four chances.

    Mike Smith returned to be David Rittich’s backup after missing one game due to “general soreness,” resulting in the quick demotion of Jon Gillies. Gillies and Andrew Mangiapane boarded the same flight to Stockton, where it’s anyone’s guess which player will be called up next.

    As far as Rittich goes, he’s won three in a row and moves to 11-3-1 with a GAA just over 2.00.

    Austin Czarnik also drew back in due to an injury Sam Bennett suffered in Minnesota – likely a hand ailment stemming from his fight with Ryan Suter.

    The only other blemish is the one likely to be imprinted o the left side of James Neal’s face after taking a puck there late Sunday. He did return to action.

    SHORTY SNIPES

    The Flames power play was almost perfect (3-for-4) but it’s the short-handed success of late that has many people shaking their heads in Calgary.

    Elias Lindholm made it three games in a row for the Flames to score while undermanned, converting a breakaway in the midst of a four-goal opening period (a four-feat the Flames lead the league in with six of em.)

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    Their nine short-handed goals trails only Phoenix in that category, and the Flames now have their best penalty killer back in Backlund.

    NEXT UP: Flames wrap up their three-game-in-four days roadie in Dallas Tuesday.