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Quarter-mark review: Canucks proving that things can always get worse

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VANCOUVER — Fifty-one years into their fruitless chase of a Stanley Cup, the Vancouver Canucks have displayed one capacity greater than all others: their ability to disappoint.

As they tried not to impale themselves on the National Hockey League’s quarter-pole, the Canucks were incredibly, inconceivably, three points behind last season’s dismal pace.

They are proving again that things can always get worse.

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But even by Vancouver standards, the first-quarter underachievement is shocking because it follows what was thought to be a perfect storm of circumstances aligned against the Canucks last winter, when they finished last in the pandemic season’s Canadian division.

They had no pre-season to prepare, no time to assimilate new players after the free-agent upheaval that followed their bubble breakthrough in Edmonton in the summer of 2020. There was a ridiculous first-month schedule that was road heavy, packed with back-to-backs, and allowed virtually no time to rest or practice. They suffered immediate injuries, a wave that eventually ended star forward Elias Pettersson’s season after just 26 games. And then the entire team got COVID, and not the early version but the first pre-vaccination wave of the P.2 variant.

By the time the exhausted Canucks collapsed at the regular-season finish line last May, 24th among 31 teams, it all kind of figured.

This season doesn’t.

The Canucks haven’t faced any of last season’s obstacles but, at 6-12-2 through 20 games, were actually three points behind their 8-11-1 pandemic season pace.

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It doesn’t seem possible.

Three questions for the second quarter.

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Could whoever is holding Elias Pettersson hostage please accept the ransom and return him unharmed? (Because the guy currently wearing No. 40 is clearly an imposter).

Most analytics models trashed the Canucks’ chances before the season started, but did anyone actually project that Pettersson, their best forward and one of the NHL’s most dynamic drivers of offence, would head to Game 20 looking for his first even-strength goal of the season? And that the centre who won the Calder Trophy just two-and-a-half years ago would be on pace for 13 goals and 43 points?

Pettersson insists his injured wrist is fully healed and not a factor. But there must be other factors because his early struggles are astonishing, even allowing for the Swede’s return from a serious injury, his lack of pre-season preparation due to contract negotiations and the pressure for a just-turned-23-year-old to live up to a paycheque that makes him Vancouver’s highest-paid forward at $7.35-million per season.

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The centre’s shooting percentage of 5.6 per cent is more than 10 points below his career average, so there must be a market correction coming. But beyond Pettersson’s inability to score – he has three goals, only one of which was from the laser shot we’ve come to expect from him – the centre just hasn’t looked right, bobbling pucks, passing up shots, even labouring at times on his skates. At five-on-five, the Canucks have been outscored 10-6 with Pettersson on the ice.

“I take big responsibility,” Pettersson said last week. “I know I have a lot better in me. I don’t think I’ve played my best hockey — not close to it yet so far this season. I don’t know why, otherwise I would have figured it out. “I wouldn’t say this is new. Without struggle, I wouldn’t be here where I am today. There’s many times in my short career that I’ve played bad and not had the production I wanted in multiple games.

“I always put pressure on me because I take pride in playing my best hockey and helping this team win. Maybe I put too much pressure on me, but that’s who I am. That’s the way I compete, that’s how I live as hockey player. I want to be the best player I can be every game.”

Until Pettersson and other struggling stars like Brock Boeser (four goals, four assists, eight points) and Bo Horvat (five goals, five assists, 10 points) get going, the Canucks will continue to have a very low ceiling.

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Can the special teams really be this bad?

Knowing that key penalty-killer Tyler Motte would probably miss the start of the season due to spinal surgery in June, then learning in August that Motte’s PK1 partner, Brandon Sutter, was falling down the dark well of long-haul COVID symptoms, the Canucks were always going to face a personnel issue shorthanded. Penalty-killers Jay Beagle, Antoine Roussel and Loui Eriksson were bundled with their bad contracts and traded to Arizona as the Canucks did a summer cleaning of their salary cap. Defenceman Alex Edler left as a free agent.

But none of that explains a penalty kill that is epically bad, historically bad, ranked last in the NHL with a success rate of just 62.3 per cent. Through 20 games last season, Canuck penalty killing was 11th at 82.3 per cent. Vancouver has surrendered two or more power-play goals in a game eight times, and their 23 goals against while shorthanded are already more than the Vegas Golden Knights allowed all of last season.

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The Canucks’ pre-season hope was that the projectible downgrade in penalty killing would be offset by an improvement in the power play, which never lacked for talent and this fall was bolstered by newcomers like Conor Garland, Oliver Ekman-Larsson and bazooka-shooting rookie Vasily Podkolzin. But like the team, the power play is somehow worse. It headed to Pittsburgh 23rd in the NHL with a success rate of 16.2 per cent. With all their offensive talent, which was supposed to be the Canucks’ strength, Vancouver should have a top-10 power play.

Combine the (especially bad) special teams, and the Canucks were running a goals deficit of 24-12 through 19 games. As with the disappearance of top forwards not named J.T. Miller, this condition is not survivable for the Canucks.

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Will Jim Benning still be the GM by the Olympic Break?

Actually, it’s hard to say if Benning will still be general manager next week. But he survived the crisis created earlier this month by an 0-3 road trip in which the Canucks were outscored 19-6 and some fans at Rogers Arena welcomed the team home with chants of “Fire Benning!” If owner Francesco Aquilini had a succession plan, we’d probably have seen it by now and it appears the Aquilini family may try to ride out another season and make a measured decision on their GM when it’s over.

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Considering the roster upgrades from the summer, the start probably reflects worse on coach Travis Green than the GM. But Benning’s hands have been on the controls for eight years in Vancouver. And although he drafted a bunch of stars and rebuilt a team from the aging parts left him by former GM Mike Gillis, Benning has been unable to push the team forward from its bubble breakthrough.

Benning looked almost broken when he held a press conference at Rogers Arena last week, a couple of days after his summit meeting with Aquilini. We can understand why. Most of Benning’s off-season moves have paid off: Ekman-Larsson looks reborn and has become a top-tier defenceman again, and the cyclone Garland is behind only Miller in scoring and already a fan favourite. Goalie Thatcher Demko and defenceman Quinn Hughes are flourishing under big, new contracts, backup goalie Jaroslav Halak has been solid on the ice and as a salary-cap item, and rookie Vasily Podkolzin gets better by the week. And yet the Canucks are worse.

Turns out it wasn’t all the new players the Canucks needed to worry about, but the existing ones into whose young hands the team was placed.



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Eagles vs. Jets odds, spread, line: 2022 NFL preseason Week 1 picks, predictions by expert on 35-19 run

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The New York Jets have yet to record a regular-season victory against the Philadelphia Eagles, losing all 12 of their meetings, including a 33-18 setback last year. New York has had plenty of recent success versus Philadelphia in the preseason, however, going 11-5-1 while the teams have concluded every exhibition schedule since 2004 with a meeting. The Jets and Eagles will square off again this year, but this time they will open the 2022 NFL preseason with a matchup in Philadelphia on Friday. The Eagles are 0-4-1 in their last five exhibition games, with a loss and the tie during that stretch coming against the Jets, but have won their last four preseason home meetings with New York.

Kickoff from Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET. The game is listed as pick’em in the latest Eagles vs. Jets odds at Caesars Sportsbook, while the over-under for total points scored is 36. Before locking in any Jets vs. Eagles picks, you need to see the NFL predictions and betting advice from SportsLine expert Emory Hunt.

Hunt is the founder and CEO of Football Gameplan, which has been supplying analysis of all levels of football since 2007. He is a former running back at Louisiana-Lafayette and knows the game from a player’s perspective. Hunt’s dedication to analysis of all levels of college and professional football helped him start the USFL season 24-18, including a 12-6 record over the last five weeks.

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In addition, Hunt has gone 35-19-1 on his last 55 NFL picks involving the Eagles, returning $1,391. Anyone who has followed him is way up.

Now, Hunt has set his sights on Eagles vs. Jets and just locked in his picks and predictions. You can head to SportsLine now to see his picks. Here are several NFL odds and betting lines for Jets vs. Eagles:

  • Eagles vs. Jets spread: Pick’em
  • Eagles vs. Jets over-under: 36 points
  • Eagles vs. Jets money line: Philadelphia -120, New York +100
  • PHI: Eagles have won only two of their last 12 preseason games (2-9-1)
  • NYJ: Jets are unbeaten in their last four preseason contests (3-0-1)
  • Eagles vs. Jets picks: See picks here

Featured Game | Philadelphia Eagles vs. New York Jets

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Why the Eagles can cover

With Jalen Hurts unlikely to see much action, if any, and at least seven skill-position players nursing injuries, Philadelphia coach Nick Sirianni will get an idea what depth the team has on offense. Gardner Minshew figures to get a significant amount of playing time as he attempts to secure the No. 2 quarterback job. The 27-year-old out of Washington State has plenty of NFL regular-season experience under his belt after he has made 27 appearances with Jacksonville and Philadelphia over the last three campaigns, throwing for 5,969 yards with 41 touchdowns and only 12 interceptions.

Reid Sinnett and rookie Carson Strong also should take snaps on Friday and could be throwing to newcomers such as A.J. Brown, Zach Pascal and Deon Cain. The 25-year-old Brown, who was a Pro-Bowler with Tennessee in 2020, was acquired in April for a first-round draft pick after making 185 catches for 2,995 yards and 24 TDs in 43 games over three seasons with the Titans. Pascal signed with the Eagles in March after spending his first four NFL campaigns in Indianapolis, the first three with Sirianni as the Colts‘ offensive coordinator. Cain spent 2021 on Philadelphia’s practice squad after appearing in 15 games with Indianapolis and Pittsburgh over the previous two years.

Why the Jets can cover

Second-year quarterback Zach Wilson expects to get playing time on Friday, but how much he receives is up in the air. The 23-year-old completed 6-of-9 pass attempts for 63 yards during two series against the New York Giants in his 2021 preseason debut. Wilson was 9-of-11 for 128 yards and two touchdowns versus Green Bay in the Jets’ second exhibition game, but did not play in the finale, a 31-31 tie with Philadelphia at home.

Coach Robert Saleh has three other signal-callers from which to choose, with one being former Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco, who is back for his 15th NFL season after going 27-for-42 for 338 yards and three TDs in two games last year. Another option is the 27-year-old Mike White, who made his NFL debut in 2021 and started three games for the Jets, the first being a 34-31 victory against Cincinnati in which he was 37-for-45 for 405 yards and three scores. Chris Streveler, who played in seven games over the last two seasons with Arizona after helping Winnipeg win the CFL’s Grey Cup in 2019, was signed late last month and is looking to earn a spot on the roster.

How to make Jets vs. Eagles picks

Hunt has analyzed this matchup and while we can tell you he’s leaning over on the point total, he has discovered a critical X-factor that has him jumping all over one side of the spread. He’s only sharing what it is, and which side to back, at SportsLine.

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Who wins Eagles vs. Jets? And which critical X-factor makes one side of the spread a must-back? Visit SportsLine now to see Emory Hunt’s Jets vs. Eagles picks, all from the expert who’s crushed his NFL picks, and find out.



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Shohei Ohtani follows Ben Verlander on Instagram | Flippin' Bats

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Los Angeles Angels superstar Shohei Ohtani follows Ben Verlander on Instagram.



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2 Astros Stars Are On Pace To Make Amazing MLB History

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(Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images)

 

MLB teams often look for a star pitcher or a productive, controllable slugger to build around.

Then, there are lucky teams like the Houston Astros that can say they have both.

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More than luck itself, it speaks of Houston’s ability to manage assets and develop talent in the last few years.

Ever since winning that 2017 World Series, they have remained extremely competitive, in large part because of their star power.

Justin Verlander, at 39 years old, is leading the Astros rotation after missing the last year while rehabbing from Tommy John surgery.

Not only has he been the Astros’ unquestioned ace, but he has been one of the best hurlers in the American League and is a firm candidate for the Cy Young award.

On the other hand, we have slugger Yordan Alvarez, who has blossomed into a top-five hitter in baseball in 2022.

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“Yordan Alvarez of the @astros has a 1.033 OPS and is on pace to reach 40 HR. Justin Verlander has a 1.85 ERA and is on pace to reach 20 wins. No team in MLB history has had a batter with 40+ HR and a 1.000+ OPS and a pitcher with 20+ wins and a sub-2.00 ERA in the same season,” Stats by STATS tweeted.

 

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Verlander And Alvarez Are Carrying The Astros

You can say with confidence that the Astros are being carried by Alvarez and Verlander.

The former is slashing .295/.401/.633 and is third in the majors with 31 round-trippers.

He is one of just a couple of hitters with an OPS of 1.000 or more.

Verlander, meanwhile, has an incredibly impressive 1.85 ERA in 136 frames.

The workload is incredibly impressive, since Verlander didn’t pitch in 2021 while rehabbing from his surgery.

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As long as those two are healthy, the Astros will have a great chance of repeating as AL champions.

The post 2 Astros Stars Are On Pace To Make Amazing MLB History appeared first on The Cold Wire.





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