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Senators coach singles out goaltending as Matt Murray’s woes continue

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Coaches will go to extreme measures to protect their last line of defence — their goaltender.

A goalie can give up a softie, but if it originated from a turnover at centre ice, a coach will tell reporters, “we can’t turn over the puck there.”

Only when frustration boils over to a point where he can’t take it any more does a coach turn on his goalie in a public forum.

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For head coach D.J. Smith and the Ottawa Senators, that moment was Wednesday night (Thursday morning in the east) after Matt Murray gave up four goals on 27 shots as the Senators lost their ninth game in the past 10. Two empty-netters made a very even game seem lopsided, 6-3. The shots were even, 29 apiece.

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Smith wasn’t even asked about his goaltending. He went off anyway. Last straw time.

“We deserved better, a point or two,” Smith said. “The difference tonight was probably their goaltending.”

He was just getting started. When the team’s colour analyst, Gord Wilson, asked Smith about getting back to to work today, to “work on the details,” Smith shot back: “I didn’t mind our details. I just think we’ve got to get someone to take the net and start to win us some games when we give that effort. We need someone to get in there and hold us right now.

“We’re a young team that needs someone to steal one for us, probably,” Smith said.

If that outburst was cathartic for the coach, it also expressed the sentiment of the fan base in Ottawa.

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A two-time Stanley Cup winner with the Penguins, Murray has been a colossal bust since joining the Senators in the fall of 2020 via trade from Pittsburgh. The pandemic delayed the start of the 2020-21 season until January.

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Murray was awful to start the season, the Senators quickly fell out of contention in the temporary North Division, and the organization was so concerned about getting Murray right again, they fired their goaltending coach Pierre Groulx in mid-season, replacing him with Zac Bierk.

Murray got hurt, and then was placed into a kind of personal goalie-training camp — his time off extended so he could work on the fundamentals of his game. It seemed to help. Murray rebounded to finish the season strong, although the games were meaningless with Ottawa
so far from a playoff spot. Murray won three of his last four starts, two of them by shutout.

In training camp this fall, Murray was talked up as though the problems were over.

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But the Murray-isms continued. He got sick with a non-COVID-19 virus that was running through the team during the pre-season. He came back but was still probably not at 100 per cent. Then Murray was injured yet again, this time after lunging forward for a puck only to bang his head on Chris Kreider’s knee.

When he came back from that, Murray tested positive for COVID-19, one of 10 Senators players stricken. Cleared to return to the team, Murray was on the ice for the first practice, last Saturday, but barely took the net, with Filip Gustavsson and Anton Forsberg getting most of the work.

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When the Senators returned to action after a week off to recover from COVID, it was Gustavsson, Ottawa’s most reliable goalie this year, who stared down 39 Colorado shots in a wild 7-5 loss in Denver.

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Losing can never be pinned on one player, or one goalie. Murray hasn’t played enough to get the blame most nights, but isn’t that the point?

He was supposed to grab the net and hold it months ago, but has never been able to. General manager Pierre Dorion bet heavily on Murray, handing him a four-year, $25-million contract at the time he was acquired. And in the 13-plus months Murray has been here, he has never gotten into the kind of rhythm that builds faith.

This year’s Murray line is a nightmare: 0-5 record (tied for 69th in the league), a 3.27 goals-against (43rd) and .890 save percentage (tied 43rd). If Murray was a backup or a third-stringer, that would be one thing.

In fact, he is the supposed starter relegated to third-string by his play.

That Murray is the third highest-paid player on the roster is simply untenable.

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Good luck moving the $6.25 million owed to Murray for the next two seasons.

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The only reputation Murray is building here is the knack for letting in at least one bad goal every game. Two or three of the first four Sharks goals were questionable, but the second goal, by Tomas Hertl, simply had to be stopped, a wrister from the faceoff dot,
beating Murray short side. The Nick Bonino goal, to tie the game 3-3, leaked under Murray’s arm. And he didn’t move on the winner by Timo Meier from far out. He may have been screened.

Brady Tkachuk, the new Senators captain, was notably kinder than the coach concerning the goaltending.

“Whatever goalie is in net, we have the utmost confidence and we’ll do anything to support them,” Tkachuk said, trotting out the party line. “We’ve just got to limit the chances as much as we can.”

There’s always excuses. Murray hasn’t played much. He has had lousy health, bad luck, injuries.

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But none of this helps to stabilize a young team that is prone to defensive gaffes.

Here we are again. The Senators are 4-12-1, exactly where they were after 17 games last season.

They are dead last in the NHL, 32nd overall with nine points (yes, they have three games in hand on Arizona, with 10 points). They are dead last in goals-against per game at 3.53.

There are bright lights. Drake Batherson has blossomed into a front-line NHL winger, although his COVID-departure has been extended through this week.

Other young players are growing as NHLers. Tim Stützle played centre in San Jose for the first time in his NHL career and Smith thought he was “really good” at breaking out the puck and using his speed. Though Stützle finished -2 with no shots on goal, he has earned the chance to play centre again and the Senators are terribly thin down the middle with Shane Pinto and Colin White out long term. Maybe they can loosen the leash on Stützle a bit, let him take more faceoffs and learn his defensive responsibilities. Winger Nick Paul went out of his way to help the 19-year-old Stützle in those areas.

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When the pucks keep going in on Ottawa’s net, though, a lot of the shine goes off the program.

Moral victories only go so far. The Senators need a few real ones.



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How to watch Appalachian State vs. James Madison: NCAA Football live stream info, TV channel, time, game odds

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Who’s Playing

James Madison @ Appalachian State

Current Records: James Madison 2-0; Appalachian State 2-1

What to Know

The James Madison Dukes watched the action from their couches last weekend, but are set to take to the field. James Madison and the Appalachian State Mountaineers will face off in a Sun Belt battle at 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday at Kidd Brewer Stadium. The odds don’t look promising for the Dukes, but the bigger the opponent is, the harder they fall.

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A well-balanced attack led James Madison over the Norfolk State Spartans every single quarter on their way to victory two weeks ago. James Madison claimed a resounding 63-7 win over Norfolk State at home. The game was pretty much decided by the half, when the score had already reached 35 to nothing.

Meanwhile, Appalachian State didn’t have too much breathing room in their contest with the Troy Trojans last week, but they still walked away with a 32-28 victory. Appalachian State QB Chase Brice was slinging it as he passed for two TDs and 279 yards on 34 attempts. Near the top of the highlight reel was Brice’s 53-yard TD bomb to WR Christan Horn in the fourth quarter.

Their wins bumped the Dukes to 2-0 and the Mountaineers to 2-1. Watch the matchup and check back on CBS Sports to find out who keeps up the positive energy and who hits a stumbling block.

How To Watch

  • When: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET
  • Where: Kidd Brewer Stadium — Boone, North Carolina
  • TV: ESPN Plus
  • Online streaming: fuboTV (Try for free. Regional restrictions may apply.)
  • Follow: CBS Sports App
  • Ticket Cost: $40.99

Odds

The Mountaineers are a solid 6.5-point favorite against the Dukes, according to the latest college football odds.

The oddsmakers had a good feel for the line for this one, as the game opened with the Mountaineers as a 7.5-point favorite.

Over/Under: -111

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See college football picks for every single game, including this one, from SportsLine’s advanced computer model. Get picks now.

Series History

This is the first time these teams have played each other within the last seven years.



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UTSA vs. Texas Southern: How to watch NCAA Football online, TV channel, live stream info, game time

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Who’s Playing

Texas Southern @ UTSA

Current Records: Texas Southern 1-2; UTSA 1-2

What to Know

The Texas Southern Tigers will take on the UTSA Roadrunners at 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday at Alamodome. Texas Southern isn’t favored, but they just beat the odds in their last game, so don’t count them out.

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The Tigers kept a clean sheet against the Southern University Jaguars last week and took the matchup 24 to nothing. The squad ran away with 21 points in the first half and mostly just sat on those in the second to pick up the victory.

Meanwhile, it was all tied up 17-17 at halftime, but UTSA was not quite the Texas Longhorns’ equal in the second half when they met last week. The Roadrunners suffered a grim 41-20 defeat to the Longhorns. This contest was a close 17-17 at the break, but unfortunately for UTSA it sure didn’t stay that way. A silver lining for them was the play of RB Brenden Brady, who threw one touchdown in addition to punching in one rushing touchdown.

Texas Southern’s win lifted them to 1-2 while UTSA’s loss dropped them down to 1-2. We’ll find out if the Tigers can add another positive mark to their record or if UTSA can shake off the defeat and take the spring out of Texas Southern’s step.

How To Watch

  • When: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET
  • Where: Alamodome — San Antonio, Texas
  • TV: STADIUM
  • Follow: CBS Sports App
  • Ticket Cost: $69.00

Odds

The Roadrunners are a big 42-point favorite against the Tigers, according to the latest college football odds.

Bettors have moved against the Roadrunners slightly, as the game opened with the Roadrunners as a 44-point favorite.

Over/Under: -110

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Series History

This is the first time these teams have played each other within the last seven years.



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North Carolina vs. Notre Dame live stream info, TV channel: How to watch NCAA Football on TV, stream online

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Who’s Playing

Notre Dame @ North Carolina

Current Records: Notre Dame 1-2; North Carolina 3-0

What to Know

The North Carolina Tar Heels will be returning home after a two-game road trip. They will take on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday at Kenan Memorial Stadium after a week off. UNC is expected to win — but not by much — so they will need to come into the game prepared for a fight.

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The Tar Heels beat the Georgia State Panthers 35-28 two weeks ago. Among those leading the charge for UNC was RB Omarion Hampton, who rushed for two TDs and 110 yards on 16 carries. Hampton put himself on the highlight reel with a 58-yard TD scramble in the third quarter.

Meanwhile, Notre Dame netted a 24-17 victory over the California Golden Bears last week. RB Audric Estime and RB Chris Tyree were among the main playmakers for Notre Dame as the former punched in one rushing touchdown and the latter snatched one receiving TD.

Notre Dame’s defense was a presence as well, as it embarrassed California’s offensive line to sack QB Jack Plummer six times for a total loss of 47 yards. It was a group effort with four guys contributing.

The wins brought the Tar Heels up to 3-0 and the Fighting Irish to 1-2. A pair of stats to keep an eye on: UNC enters the matchup with 310 passing yards per game on average, good for 21st best in the nation. But Notre Dame comes into the contest boasting the 34th fewest passing yards allowed per game in the nation at 184. These opposing strengths should make for an exciting matchup.

How To Watch

  • When: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET
  • Where: Kenan Memorial Stadium — Chapel Hill, North Carolina
  • TV: ABC
  • Online streaming: fuboTV (Try for free. Regional restrictions may apply.)
  • Follow: CBS Sports App
  • Ticket Cost: $110.00

Odds

The Tar Heels are a slight 2.5-point favorite against the Fighting Irish, according to the latest college football odds.

The line on this game has moved quite a bit since it opened, as it started out with the Fighting Irish as a 1.5-point favorite.

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Over/Under: -110

See college football picks for every single game, including this one, from SportsLine’s advanced computer model. Get picks now.

Series History

Notre Dame have won all of the games they’ve played against North Carolina in the last eight years.

  • Oct 30, 2021 – Notre Dame 44 vs. North Carolina 34
  • Nov 27, 2020 – Notre Dame 31 vs. North Carolina 17
  • Oct 07, 2017 – Notre Dame 33 vs. North Carolina 10



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