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Dubois relishes McDavid challenge, leads Jets past Oilers



WINNIPEG — This is the type of assignment that can make opponents cringe — and can often lead to being on the wrong side of a highlight-reel moment.

But judging by the smile that occupied the face of Pierre-Luc Dubois as he sat at the podium after a 5-2 victory over the Edmonton Oilers, you got the feeling the Winnipeg Jets centre not only embraced the challenge of going head-to-head against Connor McDavid, he relished it.

Dubois scored his ninth goal of the season on Tuesday night and his inspired play in all three zones — often while matched up against the most dynamic player in the NHL — was one of the keys to the Jets closing out this seven-game homestand with a record of 5-1-1, which allowed them to jump into top spot of the Central Division at 9-3-3.


It wasn’t just Dubois shadowing McDavid and the challenge got tougher when Dave Tippett decided to bump Leon Draisaitl up to the top line after the Oilers fell behind 4-0.

But along with linemates Kyle Connor and Blake Wheeler and often the defence pairing of Nate Schmidt and Josh Morrissey (with a little Neal Pionk and Brenden Dillon sprinkled in), the Jets held the Oilers completely off the board at even strength and frustrated them at almost every turn.

“I went against him when I was in Columbus a lot. I mean, not a lot, we played twice a year, but I went against him before,” said Dubois, who is up to 15 points in 15 games this season. “Last year in the playoffs, we didn’t play against him but, I mean, everybody knows who he is. There’s no hiding what he wants to do out there. There’s no hiding his tendencies.

“So you know it’s going to be a big challenge but the hard part is it’s 60 minutes, he never stops skating out there. He’s always moving, you always have to have your head up for him, even when you’re in the offensive zone. It’s a good challenge, but when you get a big win like that, it feels even better.”

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The evidence presented in the game suggests that the more responsibility that Dubois is given, the better he plays.

He was physically engaged, generating scoring chances for himself (including five shots on goal and nine shot-attempts) while continuing to connect with Connor, whose empty-net goal gave him a team-leading 12 on the season.


“Every game is different. Every game you can bring different things,” said Dubois. “The player I want to be is the guy who can play this kind of game, a 1-0 kind of game, a 7-6 kind of game. I want to become the guy that can do everything out there.

“(Against) team’s like this, you can go to sleep for a shift or two and it can be a goal against. You can’t doze off at any point. You can’t cheat for offence. At times, you’re going to have to stay behind even if you want to go out for a little more offence and they’re going to have shifts where they have the puck for a minute in your zone and the only opportunity you’re going to get is off a mistake and you have to take advantage of it off the rush. We did a really good job defending as a unit of five.”

In past seasons, Jets head coach Paul Maurice has often played Mark Scheifele in the head-to-head matchup with McDavid, but he chose to play that line (with Nikolaj Ehlers and Andrew Copp) against Draisaitl instead — until Ryan Nugent-Hopkins moved to centre on the second line after Draisaitl was promoted.

Scheifele’s line responded by scoring twice (one from Scheifele and another from Ehlers) at even strength.

Dubois and company took care of their portion of the matchup game as well.


“I’ve liked Pierre-Luc’s game all year. I thought it was a continuation,” said Maurice. “You don’t play Connor McDavid one-on-one, I thought our back end was very good. Both sets that played against him. But Pierre-Luc was as he’s been.

“You’re right with the word comfortable… He’s going to hit his peak in another three or four years. He’s just going to keep growing and getting faster and stronger. But confidence and all those other things are true, right from day one he’s found a great connection with Kyle Connor and that’s allowed him to do some things that he probably couldn’t do last year.”

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A cursory look at the box score will show that Draisaitl scored twice (to give him a league-leading 17 goals) and McDavid chipped in a pair of assists, but those offensive exploits came on the league-leading power play — which included a goal on a two-man advantage and another that was initially disallowed but was overturned after the Oilers used a successful coach’s challenge.

Ultimately, it was decided that Oilers forward Jesse Puljujarvi was pushed into Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck, so the goal counted.

Hellebuyck, who was rock solid in making 32 saves, didn’t agree with the decision.

“His initial read was right,” said Hellebuyck, referring to the goal being waved off initially. “Maybe if I had a chance to move or if Puljujarvi, I think is the guy who got knocked into me, he definitely got pushed a little bit but he sold it and then he stayed, that’s my problem is he didn’t try to get out. Like the puck hit me in the middle of the pad and it still goes in, that means I had no chance. For that reason I think it shouldn’t be overturned.”

Hellebuyck played a key role in this game as well, standing tall when his team needed him — especially after the Oilers trimmed the lead to two goals with the two early strikes in the third period.


For as much as players and coaches like to downplay the topic of litmus tests and measuring sticks, the Jets were excited to test out their upgraded personnel against the team that led the Western Conference coming into the contest.

“Any time a team comes in that’s winning a lot of games, it’s on,” said Hellebuyck.

This was the most complete effort of the season by the Jets, who understood the challenge and then delivered what can be considered to be a template style of game.

Whether it was the precise passing and support given to one another that led to cleaner exits and spending less time in the defensive zone or the ability to attack as a five-man unit, the Jets played a style that can be difficult to duplicate but will now serve as a standard moving forward.

“You can see in our game our details are right, everyone’s buying into our game and it’s translating,” said Hellebuyck, who has given up two goals or fewer in each of his past five starts. “We’ve got the offensive power to do a lot with a little and we’re controlling it the right way.”


The Oilers will be looking to rebound in Thursday’s rematch in Edmonton, but it represents another opportunity for the Jets to show that they’ve got what it takes to compete as the battle for supremacy in the Western Conference continues.

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Sandy Alcantara Is On Pace To Shatter Marlins History



(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)


The Miami Marlins don’t have much of a chance to accomplish anything this year, but their staff ace Sandy Alcantara does.

The National League Cy Young favorite continued his run of dominance last night, tossing seven scoreless innings against the San Diego Padres and earning his 11th win of the season.


Alcantara also struck out seven batters and allowed just four hits while only walking two batters and lowering his ERA on the season to 1.92.

In fact, last night marked the eighth time Alcantara has tossed at least seven scoreless innings in a game this year, which ties him with the late Jose Fernandez.

Only Dontrelle Willis has pitched more games where he went seven innings and allowed no runs in Marlins history.

He had nine of those back in 2005.


Alcantara’s Dominance

Alcantara is quickly becoming one of the best pitchers in all of baseball.

He might already be there.

With each start, he dominates his opponents and proves why the St. Louis Cardinals made a terrible mistake when they traded him away back in 2017.


Only Justin Verlander has a better ERA than Alcantara, who is the clear-cut favorite to take home the National League Cy Young Award.

He has dominated in almost every start, and he did it at an important time last night, as he shut down the juggernaut offense of the Padres, who just recently acquired Juan Soto and Josh Bell.

While the Marlins aren’t going to go anywhere, Alcantara has a very good chance to achieve something special.

He matched a Marlins great and is now one dominant start away from matching yet another one.

We’ll see if he can keep up this run of success.


The post Sandy Alcantara Is On Pace To Shatter Marlins History appeared first on The Cold Wire.

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WNBA Power Rankings: Aces, Sky title favorites as playoffs begin; Mystics lurking as darkhorse



After a thrilling close to the regular season, it’s time to turn our attention to the 2022 WNBA playoffs, which will tip-off Wednesday night with two first-round Game 1s. In the first game of the night, the Chicago Sky will host the New York Liberty, and in the finale the Las Vegas Aces will take on the Phoenix Mercury. 

The Aces (+165) and Sky (+200) are the top two seeds and the top two title favorites entering the postseason, per Caesars Sportsbook.

The league has once again revamped the playoff format, eliminating the first-and-second-round byes in favor of a standard bracket. Play will begin with a best-of-three first round series, followed by best-of-five series in the semifinals and Finals. One interesting twist, though, is that in the first round, Games 1 and 2 will be hosted by the higher seed, while the lower seed will get to host a deciding Game 3, if necessary. The semis and Finals will be a standard 2-2-1 arrangement. 


As we wait for the action to begin, here’s a look at how each team fares in our pre-playoffs power rankings. 

1. Las Vegas Aces — No. 1 overall seed

Sunday’s comeback win over the Storm to secure the No. 1 seed capped off a tremendous close to the season for the Aces. They won four straight, including a win over the Sky and two over the Storm. Their reward was a first-round matchup against a depleted Mercury team that should be little challenge, and home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. During their mid-season slump there was concern that the Aces had peaked too early, but they’re back on track and the title favorite. 

2. Chicago Sky — No. 2 overall seed

A mini skid during the final week cost the Sky the No. 1 seed and home-court advantage for the entire playoffs. They won the title as a No. 6 seed last season, though, so they won’t be too concerned about their position. What is worrying, is they haven’t been playing their best basketball down the stretch. They went 3-3 in August after losing just four games in June and July combined, and have not been great defensively. Still, we know this team can flip the switch and they have championship experience, cohesion and the ability to be elite on both sides of the ball. 

3. Connecticut Sun — No. 3 overall seed

On the one hand, Sun had an easy schedule post-All-Star break, and cleaned up by going 11-3 down the stretch to secure the No. 3 seed and best net-rating in the league at plus-9.5 points per 100 possessions. On the other, they were 10-0 against bottom-seven opponents and 1-3 against top-four opponents, picking up just a solitary win over the Storm. The Sun are a definite contender, but their 1-6 record against the Aces and Sky is of real concern, especially considering they would likely have to get through both teams to win the title. 

4. Seattle Storm — No. 4 overall seed

Even in defeat to the Aces on Sunday in the regular season finale, we saw how dangerous the Storm can be when everything is clicking. Moving Tina Charles into the starting lineup has indeed juiced their offense, and that new unit has a plus-20.9 net rating in 16 games together. In the last two playoff runs where the trio of Breanna Stewart, Jewell Loyd and Sue Bird have been healthy, the Storm are 12-2 in the postseason and won the title both times. Can they do it again? Perhaps, but they have not been one of the elite teams over the balance of the season, and do not have the same level of supporting cast as they did in 2018 and 2020. 


5. Washington Mystics — No. 5 overall seed

Despite being the No. 5 seed, the Mystics could be a darkhorse contender. They coasted through the regular season to some extent in order to keep Elena Delle Donne healthy for the playoffs, and it’s clear they could have been a higher seed if she played a full schedule. In her 25 games they went 18-7 – a .720 winning percentage that would be right in line with the Aces and Sky over a full season – and had a plus-12.3 net rating with her on the court. In the 11 games she sat out, they were 4-7. This team could cause problems if Delle Donne can withstand the demands of a playoff schedule, but they would almost certainly have to beat three of the top-four teams in succession in order to win the title, which may be too much to ask. 

6. Dallas Wings — No. 6 overall seed

The Wings caught fire toward the end of the season and won five straight games from July 30–Aug. 8 to clinch a second consecutive playoff berth. That stretch included victories over the Aces and Sky, and they seemed to have unlocked something by giving more playing time to Teaira McCowan. They will be without All-Star guard Arike Ogunbowale for at least the first round, however, due to a hip injury, and while they’ve had some good games in her absence, her shot creation will be missed in the playoffs. During the regular season they were 2-1 against the Sun, and should be competitive, but actually winning the first-round series will be difficult. 


7. New York Liberty — No. 7 overall seed

The Liberty enter the playoffs as one of the hottest teams in the league. They closed the season on a 6-2 run, and had the third-best net rating (plus-6.8) in the league in August. When healthy and at their best, they have the ability to play with and beat any team in the league thanks in large part to their prolific 3-point attack. However, they have not been able to reach that level on a consistent basis this season, and will be sizable underdogs against the defending champion Sky. 

8. Phoenix Mercury — No. 8 overall seed

After losing in the Finals last season, the Mercury went all in for another run at the title. Their plans fell apart over the course of the last six months, however, as Brittney Griner was detained in Russia, Tina Charles abruptly left the team mid-season and both Diana Taurasi (quad) and Skylar Diggins-Smith (personal reasons) are now sidelined. They deserve a lot of credit for even making the playoffs, but they lost five of seven games to close the season and it’s hard to imagine them being competitive against the Aces. 

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Stat Trolls Tua Tagovailoa As He Tries To Make A Change



(Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)


Much is left to be desired from Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.

In two NFL seasons, the former Alabama standout has amassed 4,467 yards and 27 touchdowns.


However, he has thrown 15 interceptions, which put him in a bad light.

But there have been changes that can turn the tide for him in 2022.

First, he will have an offensive-minded head coach in Mike McDaniel.

Second, they gave him more targets downfield like Cedrick Wilson, Chase Edmonds, and Tyreek Hill.

Third, the Dolphins also improved the protection around him with offensive linemen Terron Armstead and Connor Williams.


Those additions should help him rise above this eye-popping comparison.

The NFL on CBS tweeted that Odell Beckham Jr. has more 30-yard passes (2) for touchdowns than Tagovailoa (1).

While the claim may sound dubious, it should motivate Tagovailoa to throw more deep balls and to trust his teammates.

He has no excuse to falter, especially after getting everything he needs on offense.


Likewise, he should build more confidence to throw the deep ball with ease.

Doing so will help him overtake Beckham on that statistic.


No Excuse For Failure

Coming into his third NFL season, Tagovailoa will be compared to his NFL Draft classmates Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert.

The former has already led the Cincinnati Bengals to a Super Bowl stint while Herbert has become Offensive Rookie of the Year.


Those are the lofty standards that Tagovailoa should live up to if he wants the Dolphins to take the next step.

Gone are the days of finding an alibi because he already has several weapons around him.

Therefore, Tagovailoa should make a significant jump in performance to make the front office consider him as a long-term option.

The post Stat Trolls Tua Tagovailoa As He Tries To Make A Change appeared first on The Cold Wire.

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