Here’s what you need to know this week about the sports you love!
The playoff picture is almost sorted for the Scotia North Division. First place belongs to the Toronto Maple Leafs, assuming the other teams play more or less as they have so far. The Edmonton Oilers lead the Winnipeg Jets for second place, and this will be the first-round matchup regardless of who wins home ice advantage. Fourth place in the division currently belongs to the Montreal Canadiens, but their position is hardly guaranteed.
The final spot has been somewhat of a Tale of Two Coaches as Calgary has been the closest challenger. Last week, the Habs and Flames faced each other for the last miserable time this season. Their matchups had all the excitement of a silent retreat and analytics gurus even took to measuring the number of times the coaching staff touched their masks.
The three-game series was a fateful one.
If the Flames could run the board, they would be within 2 points of the Habs with momentum on their side. They won the first two games, but ultimately Montreal eked out a 2-1 win on Monday, maintaining a 4-point cushion with a game in hand.
The season was not supposed to go like this. Habs GM Marc Bergevin made several key additions to build around his kids. He added back-up goaltending, two goal-scorers, a top-4 defenceman, and some guys with their names on the cup. Flames GM Brad Treliving added a starting goalie and a top-4 D. Things didn’t go quite as planned for either team.
On Feb. 24 the Habs fired Coach Claude Julien and replaced him with his assistant, Dominique Ducharme. Then on Mar. 4, the Flames fired Coach Geoff Ward – who had barely finished using the letterhead with “interim” in his title – and hired Darryl Sutter. Ducharme was described as a new age coach who would make clever adjustments. Sutter was the dinosaur who would bag skate his team into submission.
They are polar opposites, but with remarkably similar impact. At the end of their season series, Calgary was 10-12-3 under Sutter, having gone 11-11-2 prior to the coaching change. Meanwhile, Montreal was 12-12-5 under Ducharme, after having gone 9-5-4 under Julien.
Now it’s Ducharme who has “interim” in his title, and a few more games to make his case, while Sutter has a three-year deal to go along with his losing record.
The Habs will have to cling on to their playoff spot without forward Jonathan Drouin. On Wednesday the team placed Drouin on long-term injured reserve and announced he would take an indefinite leave of absence for personal reasons. No further details were provided except for a request to respect his privacy. Drouin has 2 goals and 21 assists in 44 games this season for the Canadiens.
The Habs are also currently without Brendan Gallagher who is out with a broken thumb and hopes to return for the playoffs. Add Carey Price, Tomas Tatar and Paul Byron to the sick bay list, and the Canadiens are barely hanging on in a compressed season. The Habs aren’t the only team with questions around core players as the playoffs approach.
Frederick Andersen, the Leafs starting goalie, returned to practice this week after having not been on the ice since Mar. 19. He hopes to return for the playoffs.
The Oilers are also missing some sandpaper. They were already without Jujhar Khaira when Zack Kassian was lost for the rest of the regular season.
The Jets will be without Nikolaj Ehlers until the playoffs, and this is in addition to missing Adam Lowry due to concussion-like symptoms.
It’s that time of year when everyone is banged up and having to gear up for a playoff run. Teams who have clinched playoff spots are in a position to rest some core players, while the fringe teams might have to limp their way in, or not.
The Raptors find themselves in the competition of who’s the fastest turtle. They are trying to earn the final play-in tournament spot to compete for a berth in the post-season. The young players are fun to watch, but you know you’re in trouble when the biggest news in Toronto is that the Philadelphia 76ers plan to pursue Kyle Lowry in free agency this summer.
Blue Jays Babble
On Wednesday night, George Springer finally made his Blue Jays debut. The outfielder eased his way into the line-up as the designated hitter, batting in the lead-off position. The Jays entered the game with an 11-11 record in the 22 games Springer had missed to start the season. The veteran, signed to a six-year, $150 million contract during the off-season, was expected to be a significant addition.
Springer’s first game as a Jay was not one for the record books. He went 0-for-4 from the DH role, no doubt feeling a little rust. His career stat line tells us he won’t need long before he is making an impact at the bat and in centre field.
Lori Bennett is a social worker, policy professional, recreation softball player and coach, and new ukulele-ist. A Newfoundlander living in Toronto, Lori loves a good hockey chat or even a debate, just as long as it remains respectful. She posts her gametime thoughts on twitter, particularly about hockey and the Montreal Canadiens, as @lori10habs