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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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Aaron Rodgers to the Jets? Giants' free agency options & Mike McCarthy's future with Cowboys | Ask Jay Glazer

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Jay Glazer discussed whether Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers will head to the New York Jets, the New York Giants’ free agency options, and breaks down Mike McCarthy’s future with the Dallas Cowboys.



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Super Bowl LVII: Chiefs and Eagles will meet for title in Arizona

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Patrick Mahomes finally got the best of Joe Burrow. 

All he needed was a little shove.

Harrison Butker made a 45-yard field goal with 3 seconds left — after Cincinnati’s Joseph Ossai was flagged for a 15-yard penalty for shoving Mahomes after he was out of bounds — and the Chiefs beat the Bengals 23-20 in the AFC championship game to make it back to the Super Bowl.

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Kansas City will face the Philadelphia Eagles in the Super Bowl on Feb. 12 in Glendale, Arizona. 

The Eagles opened as a 1 1/2-point favourite, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.

There are no shortage of storylines: Kansas City coach Andy Reid goes against his old team — which he led to Super Bowl 39 — in a game that’s also the first matchup of Black starting quarterbacks in the Super Bowl with Mahomes and Philadelphia’s Jalen Hurts. 

On top of that, there’s a brother-against-brother showdown between Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce and Philadelphia center Jason Kelce.

“Officially done being a Chiefs fan this season!! ” Jason Kelce tweeted immediately after the Chiefs won.

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The Chiefs have been making deep postseason runs on a regular basis ever since Mahomes came to town as the franchise quarterback. 

This was their fifth straight trip to the AFC title game and will be their third Super Bowl appearance in that span. They beat the 49ers for the NFL title in the 2019 season, but lost to the Bucs the following season.

The Eagles clobbered the Niners 31-7 in the NFC title game earlier Sunday. They’ve looked dominant in the playoffs so far, also beating the New York Giants 38-7 in the divisional round.

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Philadelphia is back in the Super Bowl five years after beating the New England Patriots 41-33 on Feb. 4, 2018. 

Now a mostly new generation of Eagles — led by coach Nick Sirianni and Hurts — will come to Arizona to try and win another title.

The Chiefs-Bengals game looked as if it was going to overtime before Ossai’s ill-advised play. Mahomes — who was playing on a badly sprained ankle — was running to get a first down in the final seconds as Ossai desperately tried to track him down. 

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Mahomes was out of bounds when Ossai gave him a shove, sending both players tumbling to the turf. The ensuing 15-yard penalty was enough to push Butker into field-goal range and the kick split the uprights.

A distraught Ossai sat on the bench with his head in his hands, well after the game was over.

The Bengals and Chiefs were playing for the fourth time in less than 400 days and Cincinnati had won the previous three meetings — all by three points. This one was decided by a field goal, too, and all Burrow could do was watch.

The Bengals lost to the Rams in last year’s Super Bowl and they just missed another chance at returning to the title game.

NO DRAMA IN NFC

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Oddsmakers thought fans were in for some close conference championship games. 

They’ll have to settle for a 50% success rate.

The NFC title game was a blowout. Niners rookie quarterback Brock Purdy was injured in the first quarter when Eagles linebacker Haason Reddick drilled his right arm on a play that was ruled a fumble. The Eagles recovered that fumble and the injury proved to be a game-changer.

With Purdy hurt, San Francisco turned to 36-year-old journeyman Josh Johnson, who couldn’t do much before eventually leaving with a concussion. Purdy came back into the game, but could barely throw, and the Eagles cruised to the win.

The 49ers dealt with quarterback injuries all season, losing Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo before turning to Purdy, a seventh-round draft pick out of Iowa State. Purdy stepped into a starter’s role in December and won his first seven games before Sunday’s injury. 

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Here’s a few things to know about the upcoming Super Bowl:

WHAT’S THE UPCOMING SCHEDULE?

FEB. 5

Pro Bowl flag-football game, 3 p.m. EST, ABC/ESPN

FEB. 12

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Super Bowl LVII, Philadelphia Eagles vs. Kansas City Chiefs, 6:30 p.m. EST, Fox

RIHANNA AT HALFTIME

Rihanna will take center stage as the headline act for this year’s Super Bowl halftime show.

With sales of more than 250 million records worldwide, Rihanna ranks as one of the best-selling female artists ever. Her most recent album was 2016′s “Anti.” Rihanna last performed publicly at the Grammy Awards in 2018.

The singer said she turned down a similar opportunity for the 2019 Super Bowl that was ultimately headlined by Maroon 5. At the time, many artists voiced support for Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who protested police brutality against Black people and minorities by kneeling during the national anthem in 2016.

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Country music star Chris Stapleton will sing the national anthem, while R&B legend Babyface will perform “America the Beautiful.” 

PRO BOWL MAKEOVER

The Pro Bowl is getting a major makeover this year after the NFL eliminated its full-contact all-star game and replaced it with weeklong skills competitions and a flag football game.

The flag football contest is Feb. 5 in Las Vegas at Allegiant Stadium, one week before the Super Bowl.

The Pro Bowl debuted in January 1951 in Los Angeles and stayed there for 21 seasons before the game moved to different cities from 1972-80. Hawaii hosted from 1980-2009, and the game has had several homes in the years since, including Miami, Phoenix, Orlando and Las Vegas.

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“The game was kind of silly, I guess,” Saints two-time Pro Bowl offensive lineman Ryan Ramczyk said back in September when the news was announced. “Guys weren’t out there playing true football. Hopefully, there’ll be a lot of interactions with the fans and guys will get their opportunity to go out there and show some skills. I could see that being a good change.”

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Ohio State hires James Laurinaitis & Tennessee extends Huepel's contract | Joel Klatt Show

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Joel Klatt discussed Ohio State Buckeyes hiring former linebacker James Laurinaitis as a defensive GA. Joel believes that Laurinaitis can help transform the defense into a powerhouse like the offense is for wide receivers. He then discussed the Tennessee Volunteers giving Josh Huepel a contract extension after their 11-win season.



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