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Quarter-mark review: Can Flames maintain sizzling pace?

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The quarter mark of a season is a little early to start debating whether the Calgary Flames are Canada’s best NHL team.

The real question around these parts is whether the Flames are for real.

Are they really as good as their 12-3-5 record atop the Western Conference suggests?

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What, if any of this, is sustainable?

Here are three of the biggest questions moving forward.

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Can Andrew Mangiapane land a spot on Team Canada?

Simply put, if the aw-shucks winger continues scoring at this pace, which currently has him second in the NHL, it would be unfathomable to keep him off the Olympic roster.

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However, no one is expecting the second-line winger to maintain a 30.6 per cent shooting percentage, which has netted him 15 goals, including four game-winners.

That said, there’s no reason to believe that a guy who has scored all his goals from in tight can’t continue giving the Flames depth scoring at a pace that keeps Olympic GM Doug Armstrong intrigued.

Remember, the 25-year-old isn’t a consideration based just on his scoring prowess.

Mangiapane kills penalties on one of the league’s best penalty-killing units, where he also managed to sneak one in the other night.

Even though he currently leads all Canadian goal scorers, it would be foolish to suggest he’s in line to bump a more established threat off one of the top two lines.

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Mangiapane’s role in Beijing would be as a bottom-six energy guy whose tenacious forechecking creates scoring chances and momentum.

Mangiapane’s offensive success is not a shock to Flames fans who’ve known for several years that he’s been one of the NHL’s most productive 5-on-5 threats per 60 minutes.

A left winger who has played on the right most of the season, Mangiapane has taken the hockey world by storm despite playing alongside a rotating cast of centres that included converted winger Dillon Dube for a spell.

Flames fans would relish seeing what he could do on the highest stage alongside a world-class centre.

Factor in his strong finish last year and his MVP performance at the worlds, and he’s the hottest scorer on the planet, scoring 27 goals in his last 31 games.

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Not bad for a second-liner playing 15 minutes a night.

According to Johnny Gaudreau, there is one knock on Mangiapane, though.

“He doesn’t pass anymore,” joked Gaudreau, when asked if his teammates rib Mangiapane for having just two assists.

Can Gaudreau work his way into the Hart Trophy discussion?

Three seasons ago, Gaudreau spearheaded the Flames’ unlikely surge to the top of the Western Conference standings with a breakthrough 99-point performance that left him tied for seventh in NHL scoring with Nathan MacKinnon.

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He finished fourth in Hart Trophy voting that year.

After two subpar seasons, a clearly re-energized Gaudreau has once again played a massive role in the team’s surge to the top.

He’s currently fourth in scoring with nine goals and 23 points.

Back to being one of the world’s most prominent and creative playmakers, he’s also added an element to his game few thought he was capable of.

Defence.

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Gaudreau sits fourth in the NHL at pus-15, as part of a line with Elias Lindholm and Matthew Tkachuk that has been dominant at both ends as a trio that has played more minutes than any other line in the NHL this season.

While Lindholm and Tkachuk have long been counted on to be two of the team’s strongest 200-foot players, Gaudreau has bought into coach Darryl Sutter’s system and been every bit as accountable defensively as any of his teammates.

He even leveled Erik Haula with a rare, open-ice check Sunday in Boston.

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“I was just happy I knocked him down,” laughed Gaudreau.

Listen, you don’t win Hart Trophies with defence.

But with the Flames’ early success emerging as one of the league’s biggest talking points, it’s only natural for their scoring leader to earn kudos.

Problem is, the Hart race will undoubtedly continue to be a two-man fight between Edmonton Oilers teammates Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, leaving room for rare talk of who might round out the group of finalists.

With his engagement level at an all-time high, there’s no reason to suggest Gaudreau can’t fight to stay in that conversation.

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He’s been that good.

What will they do for an encore?

In his first availability of training camp, Matthew Tkachuk lamented the fact his Flames had not been able to get off to a good start in the five years he’d been here.

An off-season in which every player was asked to get into better shape, followed by a full training camp under Sutter, has allowed the team to execute his system despite a grueling, road-heavy schedule

So what now?

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Will this team be able to avoid the type of lengthy dip in play that has plagued the franchise for many years?

Or will Sutter’s insistence on hammering home the importance of preparation for every game continue to rule the day, helping the team increase the lead it has on divisional foes?

So far so good, as the team has scored first in 15 of its 20 outings.

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Can this team maintain the discipline and structure that allowed it to be the league’s best defensive club?

Is an aggressive style of play that relies on a tenacious forecheck and calls for uncompromising defensive responsibilities sustainable over 82 games?

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With five- and seven-game roadies already under their belt, their schedule gets easier in terms of travel.

However, now the onus is on building an identity at home that can be successful against the slew of Western Conference opponents they’ve yet to face.

“We’re in a good spot right now, atop the division,” said Tkachuk, pointing out the typically slow-starting team has generally surged in the second quarter of the season.

“But since I’ve been here, we haven’t had a good start (but) followed that up with a good stretch until Christmas. So, hopefully we can do that now.

“I think we’re pretty happy with where we are at after the first 20 games.”

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What Would It Take For The Nuggets To Win A Title?

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(Photo by Justin Tafoya/Getty Images)

 

The Denver Nuggets have assembled a very strong squad over the last few years.

They boast two-time reigning regular season MVP Nikola Jokic, a throwback wide-bodied center who is a load to deal with in the paint but can also handle the ball and facilitate a bit like some other modern big men.

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In the backcourt, they have Jamal Murray, who has become an All-Star caliber point guard and has shown some ability to go off in big games.

Denver also has Michael Porter Jr., a forward whom many feel has All-Star potential, plus strong supporting players such as Aaron Gordon, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Jeff Green.

Many expect the Nuggets to be one of the top teams in the Western Conference, assuming Murray and Porter, both of whom are coming off serious injuries, return to their pre-injury form.

But are the Nuggets legitimate championship contenders, or just a bit short of that category?

They can win it all, but there is a checklist of things that would need to happen.

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Jokic Needs To Maintain His MVP Form

Jokic, the 27-year-old Serbian native, is one of the most unique players ever, as he doesn’t just score and rebound at a high level.

He is also one of the league’s best passers, despite being a 6-foot-11, 284-pound center who isn’t too mobile.

He averaged 7.9 assists per game last season, and the year before that he put up 8.3 dimes a game.

Outside of perhaps Wilt Chamberlain, who actually led the entire NBA in assists one year, and Bill Walton, Jokic is probably the best passing big man ever.

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One thing Jokic can and should improve on is his 3-point shooting, which has fluctuated throughout his seven-year career.

In the 2021-22 season, he made just 33.7 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc, but the year before, he shot a robust 38.8 percent from deep.

 

Murray Needs To Be His Best Self

In the 2019-20 season, his last fully healthy season, Murray put up fine regular season numbers of 18.5 points and 4.8 assists per game.

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But during the playoffs, he went into volcano mode, averaging 26.5 points a contest on 50.5 percent overall shooting and 45.3 percent from 3-point range.

In that postseason, he had four 40-point-plus games, as well as two 50-point outings.

When Denver upset the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 7 of the second round and overcame a 3-1 series deficit, Murray led the way with 40 points on 15-of-26 shooting.

He improved to 21.2 points a game the following season while significantly boosting his 3-point shooting accuracy before an ACL injury ended his year late in the schedule.

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For the Nuggets to win the world title, Murray has to continue where he left off in 2021 while putting up huge playoff games when they really need him to.

 

Better Depth

The Nuggets are not a particularly deep team, and so, they will need some unheralded men to step up.

The backcourt and wing rotations look solid, but they could use some better depth up front.

As of now, Jokic’s main backup will be DeAndre Jordan, who is 34 and coming off a season with the Los Angeles Lakers in which he looked washed.

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If Jordan doesn’t cut it, Denver will be at a sizable disadvantage when Jokic is resting.

The team could also use one more serviceable forward with legitimate forward height.

As of now, Bruce Brown is slated to be its backup 3, and even though he’s a solid 3-and-D player, he is just 6-foot-4.

The post What Would It Take For The Nuggets To Win A Title? appeared first on The Cold Wire.





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The Dodgers Are First To An Impressive 2022 Mark

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(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

 

Thanks to the recent slide of the New York Yankees, the Los Angeles Dodgers now have the best record in all of baseball and are dominating everybody in their path.

After signing Freddie Freeman, the Dodgers became instant favorites to win another World Series title, just as they did in 2020.

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They’re in a good position to potentially do that again.

Last night, they opened up a series against the struggling Milwaukee Brewers at American Family Field.

They had learned of some tough news earlier in the day when it was revealed that Walker Buehler would be out for the rest of the season.

But that didn’t stop Julio Urias, who dominated the Brewers for five innings and led the way as the Dodgers became the first team in all of baseball to reach 80 wins.

 

80 Wins For The Dodgers

Once again, these Dodgers are at the top of the heap.

Even with all of the injuries they have dealt with, they remain as one of the top teams in all of baseball.

Even more impressive, they’ve picked up their 80th win before they even reached 40 losses on the year.

They expanded their lead in the NL West to 17 games.

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They’ve effectively buried the San Diego Padres and the San Francisco Giants.

The new “Evil Empire” resides in Los Angeles now.

This is one of, if not the best team in all of baseball from top to bottom.

The wins keep piling up.

Despite the end of their 12-game winning streak, they remain hot and are showing no signs of slowing down.

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The Dodgers are going to be a tough team to deal with come October, which is where they always shine the brightest.

The post The Dodgers Are First To An Impressive 2022 Mark appeared first on The Cold Wire.





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Ravens’ J.K. Dobbins ‘continues to improve’; John Harbaugh not ready to commit to RB’s Week 1 status yet

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J.K. Dobbins continues to progress in his rehab from last season’s ACL injury that took away his entire sophomore season in the NFL. The Baltimore Ravens are still being cautious with Dobbins, giving him two off days to rest up the knee before ramping things back up Monday. 

Dobbins looked good when he participated in team drills, yet didn’t take any snaps against a live defense. John Harbaugh still liked what he’s seen from his starting running back. 

“He looked good. He’s kind of back on track, and I thought he looked a little better than he did before – last week,” Harbaugh said Monday. “So, he continues to improve, and we’ll see where it goes.”

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Are the Ravens going to ramp things up every practice to get Dobbins ready for the season? Harbaugh still doesn’t have a timetable if Dobbins will be ready for Week 1, staying noncommittal amid the rehab process. 

“I think it depends on the injury and just the improvement with it – the progress he makes from one day to the next,” Harbaugh said. “That remains to be seen.”

Dobbins returned to practice a week ago, and insisted he’ll be ready for the season opener against the New York Jets on Sept. 11. He’ll be a vital part of the offense when he returns. 

Dobbins was dominant in his rookie season, leading all NFL running backs in yards per carry (6.01) while setting a Ravens’ rookie record with nine rushing touchdowns (third amongst all NFL rookies). His 805 rushing yards were also third among rookie running backs as Dobbins finished with a franchise-record seven consecutive games with a rushing touchdown. 

Dobbins closed out the regular season with six consecutive games of 50-plus rushing yards and a rushing touchdown, tying Eric Dickerson (1983) and Franco Harris (1972) for the longest rookie streak of its kind since the AFL-NFL merger. Dobbins is one of just six running backs to have 800 rushing yards, nine rushing touchdowns, and 6.0 yards per carry in a season — and the first rookie to accomplish the feat. 

The Ravens are deep in running back depth with Gus Edwards, Mike Davis, Justice Hill, and Tyler Badie — yet having Dobbins at 100% would be a game changer for a team that’s expected to compete for the AFC North title. Baltimore is taking a cautious approach with Dobbins with the depth of its running back room — and can afford to be patient in order to get Dobbins ready for Week 1. 

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