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Winless in five pre-season games, Canucks have a lot of work to do

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The Vancouver Canucks have scored seven goals in five winless pre-season games. The Edmonton Oilers scored seven goals against them on Monday.

A mismatch in lineup strength led predictably to a mismatch on the scoreboard, although the Canucks competed and stayed close for two periods before dissolving late in the third and losing 7-2.

The second-tier Canucks displayed more intensity and effort than many of the top players had in previous games, but still fell to 0-3-2. The team has a lot of work to do this week in its final two pre-season games to get ready for its National Hockey League regular season, which begins against the Oilers in Edmonton next Wednesday.

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“You just want to see the right things being done,” coach Bruce Boudreau told reporters Monday morning. “That’s probably why I was upset the other night. No matter who you’ve got in the lineup, you never want to get out worked.”

Unlike in Saturday’s lifeless 4-0 loss against the Seattle Kraken, the Canucks were not outworked by the Oilers. But they were outgunned, dressing a lineup that may have as few as five or six players back in Edmonton for the game that counts. And they were out-goaltended.

But by the end, it wasn’t the Oilers’ stars that sunk them — Conor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Evander Kane and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins combined for one assist — but a hat trick by NHL-hopeful Dylan Holloway and a pair of late goals by Warren Foegele.

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Nils Hoglander and Conor Garland scored for the Canucks, who were tied 1-1 halfway through the game and trailed 3-2 until Tyson Barrie was left unchecked on an outnumbered rush late in the second period.

The Canucks close out their pre-season with home games Wednesday, in Abbotsford against the Oilers, and Friday at Rogers Arena against the Arizona Coyotes.

“I think we’ll get down to our team pretty soon and I think we’ll be fine after that,” Boudreau said before the game-day flight to Edmonton. “I’ve got a lot of faith in this group. I told them that today: I think they’re a really good team and, you know, we’re just going to ramp it up pretty soon.”

Better be very soon.

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AN A ON D

After losing meekly in Seattle with five NHL defencemen in their lineup, the Canucks on Monday didn’t have anyone on the blue line guaranteed to be playing opening night, although it’s hard to imagine that Kyle Burroughs won’t be on the roster given his solid, combative pre-season.

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But it looked for much of the game like Christian Wolanin, the 27-year-old journeyman signed as a free agent to boost organizational depth, was the best defenceman on either team.

Logging top-pairing minutes and quarterbacking the first-unit power play, Wolanin was all over the ice and set up both Canucks goals, including a beautiful no-look dish to Hoglander for a power-play marker that tied the game early in the second.

Wolanin also hit a crossbar and a post while finishing with five shot attempts, three blocks, 22:12 of ice time and an expected goals-for of 57.6 per cent at five on five.

Barring further Canuck injuries, he still isn’t making the NHL lineup. But it was an impressive performance that will have been noted by the Canucks and others.

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NO PUSH FROM BELOW

Although there was re-assuring effort shown by the modest lineup, it has been disappointing in the pre-season that none of the Canucks prospects, besides Swedish League free agents Linus Karlsson and Nils Aman and veteran minor-league centre Sheldon Dries, has made a serious push for NHL employment.

Speedy, hit-seekiing winger Will Lockwood had his best game on Monday, but hasn’t done nearly enough. Winger Danila Klimovich, so good at the rookie tournament in Penticton two weeks ago, looks lost among NHL players and was minus-three with a 9.7 xGF%. Defenceman Jet Woo is already assigned to the American League, and Brady Keeper has a long way to go to work back from last season’s broken leg. And we’re not sure goalie Mike DiPietro is still in the organization.

None of these players, with the possible exception of Lockwood, was expected to make the Canucks this fall. But all teams want to see their prospects pushing upwards, trying to force their way to the NHL or at least make roster decisions difficult. That hasn’t happened.

Minor-league goalie Arturs Silovs has been good, but the competition for depth jobs seems to be almost entirely between the NHL depth players who were already on the projected roster.

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GOALTENDING HIERARCHY

One year ago, on the eve of last season, DiPietro firmly held the No. 3 spot in the organization. He was the presumed minor-league starter, a Canucks injury away from playing in the NHL. He was a key prospect, Now he is the distant No. 5 in the organization, an after-thought who has played just a single pre-season period – mopping up for the Canucks’ travelling split-squad on the opening night of exhibition games.

Collin Delia, a 28-year-old minor-leaguer signed in July as a free agent to push for playing time with the Abbotsford Canucks, played the full game against the Oilers. He made some strong saves, but allowing seven goals on 36 shots is never going to be good enough, even if the team collapsed in front of him at the end and allowed the Oilers to score three times in the last three minutes.

But that he got the start at all was significant.

The Canucks’ final two warmup games will be handled largely — possibly entirely — by NHL goalies Thatcher Demko and Spencer Martin. So the auditioning in goal may be done for now. And DiPietro is last.

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No wonder he is looking for a fresh start elsewhere.

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THE MARK OF LAZAR

After Boudreau’s pre-game call to action, one of the best Canucks was experienced centre Curtis Lazar, who was signed in July to be Vancouver’s fourth-line centre but played higher up the lineup against the Oilers.

He led by example, which is what the Canucks expected when they grabbed the 27-year-old free agent who has logged 404 NHL games but figured out how to be an everyday, depth contributor only during the last couple of seasons with the Boston Bruins.

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Lazar was so engaged physically he drew a roughing penalty from Draisaitl and apparently frustrated McDavid enough on another shift that the best player in hockey cross-checked Burroughs. Lazar finished with four shots on net.

He had been playing right wing during the pre-season, but Boudreau swapped him and Jason Dickinson, moving Dickinson to the wing, and got Lazar’s A-game at centre.

“Curtis Lazar, I thought you could tell he played on a winning, championship-type team,” Boudreau said after the game. “And I thought Pods (Vasily Podkolzin) was an awful lot better than he was the other night. Good, quality playing from a couple of those guys that really gave themselves a chance.”

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Canada’s World Cup hopes over following loss to Croatia

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Despite scoring its first goal in World Cup history, the Canadian men’s national team will not advance from the World Cup group stage after a 4-1 loss to Croatia on Sunday.

Canada opened the game on fire, with Alphonso Davies flying through the air to head home the historic marker off a Tajon Buchanan cross just 67 seconds in.

But Les Rouges were unable to hang on to the lead, allowing Croatia to bounce back with goals from Andrej Kramaric and Marko Livaja to take a 2-1 lead into halftime.

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Croatia then scored in the second half, courtesy of Kramaric again and Lovro Majer, to ice the game.

Canada still has one more game to play Thursday against Morocco, but with losses to Belgium and now Croatia, will not be able to catch either Morocco or Croatia in the Group F standings.

More to come.

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Fans Get Encouraging Update On Von Miller

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(Photo by Joshua Bessex/Getty Images)

 

Thanksgiving day was one full of concern for the Buffalo Bills.

This concern came from an injury that Von Miller went down with during the team’s Thanksgiving day game.

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While the team left Detroit with a win, they also left with Miller suffering an injury that could shift their season’s momentum.

However, a report is giving the Bills some good news.

So what is this news, and how will Miller and his injury affect the Bills this season?

 

Bills Beat Reporter Gave Some Encouraging News About Miller’s Injury

Sal Capaccio gave some good news about Miller the day he suffered his injury.

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In a tweet by him, he tells his followers how he saw Miller leaving the team locker room without help.

With him leaving without crutches, and walking out without help, it can signal the injury isn’t too bad.

However, after Miller got an MRI done, it shows he needs at least a week off.

The time off should give him enough time to allow for the swelling to go down.

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But with a reevaluation possibly being done after the 7-10 days, there might be concern the injury is serious.

If this proves to be true, the Bills defense will be without its best lineman and biggest threat to quarterbacks.

With the Bills being Super Bowl favorites, they can’t afford to lose Miller for the season.

While he’s out for the team’s next game, a Thursday showdown with the New England Patriots, they hope he can return soon.

With him on defense, the Bills can keep their Super Bowl chances intact.

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10 things: Shorthanded Raptors upset Luka Doncic’s Mavericks

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Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors‘ 105-100 win over the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday:

One: Every win for the Toronto Raptors in its current state is impressive. Reinforcements are coming soon with Pascal Siakam, Scottie Barnes and Dalano Banton expected back next week, but for the time being they remain badly shorthanded. Outside of letdowns against OKC and Brooklyn, the Raptors have managed to be competitive with their ragtag crew, but the finish had sometimes been lacking, most notably in the collapse against Atlanta. This game was the opposite, where the Raptors overcame a slow start for a gritty wire-to-wire win over a Dallas Mavericks side led by MVP favorite Luka Doncic.

Two: The Raptors preserved the win with a perfectly executed defensive possession. Down three, the Mavericks predictably went to Doncic, who invited over a screen to attack and as they had done all game, the Raptors doubled Doncic to force someone else to beat them. Thad Young and O.G. Anunoby were hip-to-hip with their hands up, shutting off the pocket pass and the cheeky behind-the-back option so Doncic couldn’t feed Maxi Kleber at the three-point line. Instead, Kleber was made to catch it in the lane, and the Raptors were smart to stay at home on shooters instead of rushing over to cut off the rim run. Kleber tried to swing it back out but nobody was open, and when the ball flowed back into the post, Young had recovered back to his original assignment to pick off the pass and secure the win.

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Three: Outside of a few stops by Anunoby in isolation, Raptors coach Nick Nurse held firm to his usual strategy of showing double teams to Doncic. The Raptors’ main focus was forcing Doncic into long passes, trusting in their rotations to lock down the paint, then running off as many shooters as possible. It was ugly to start, as the Raptors were a mess in rotation and bled corner threes, but the Raptors clearly won the gamble. The Mavericks shot under 30 per cent from the three, while Doncic was held to just 15 field-goal attempts. Not surprisingly, Anunoby was much better in the role of guarding Doncic than Barnes, who typically gets the assignment – including allowing 35 points to the Slovenian earlier in the month – and it mostly comes down to being better at containing the drive.

Four: Aside from the issue of covering Doncic, the Raptors also had to invent some way to score in crunch time. The best solution they landed on was to feed Anunoby, either on a curl to the basket around an off-ball screen, or by finding him in the post. Fred VanVleet admitted after the game that he was exhausted — hardly a surprise when he is just recovering from illness — but Anunoby was also the one giving Dallas the most problems with his strength on the interior. Anunoby scored 12 of his 26 points in the fourth, including an Eurostep layup and a jump hook in the last two minutes, along with a corner three.

Five: Anunoby continues to show more advancement in his drives to the basket, despite receiving a consistently terrible whistle in the paint. Anunoby has shown better patience and footwork in the lane, including a tidy spin move that would have made Siakam proud. His five turnovers are regrettable, especially since three were travels, but at least those are dead-ball plays where there isn’t a transition chance. The next level for Anunoby would be finding the touch on the short pull-up jumper. Defenders are often having to be overly physical with him to equal his immense strength, so Anunoby sometimes spins away from the contact for clean separation on short jumpers, but he has yet to find the touch. Anunoby is 26-for-84 inside the arc, excluding restricted area attempts on the season, which is the biggest factor limiting his efficiency.

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Six: VanVleet was excellent in his return and played a vital role in the win. VanVleet’s pick-and-roll attack was the main focal point of the offence through three quarters, which helped establish an eight-point lead heading into the fourth quarter. Nurse tried to buy him some rest, but the offence quickly dried up while the Mavericks went on a run, thus forcing VanVleet back into the match after just two minutes. VanVleet instantly revived the scoring, setting up Anunoby for three off a drive that pulled four defenders into the paint, found Chris Boucher for a lob, and set up a tic-tac-toe passing sequence that ended in Juancho Hernangomez cutting for a layup. Late in the game, VanVleet stepped aside to feature Anunoby as the primary scorer, but when one key play broke down in the last minute, VanVleet beat his man off the dribble and spun away from the double, before feeding Boucher for a floater to beat the shot clock.

Seven: Boucher’s energy was so vital that Nurse started him in the second half. In truth, Boucher has easily been one of Toronto’s five best players given their injuries, but he performs so well in his usual role that Nurse didn’t see the need to disrupt his rhythm. But in this game, the Raptors were horrendous to start and trailed 18-4 at the beginning, and it took Boucher exploding for 10 points and four offensive rebounds to bring them back to respectability. Boucher was also needed for his defence, as the Raptors needed as much length as possible to rotate over to the rim and out to the corners after trapping Doncic, which is Boucher’s specialty.

Eight: Even when Thad Young isn’t hitting his usual flip shots around the basket, he still finds ways to contribute. Young peaked in the third quarter, when he had a stretch where he forced five straight turnovers. He sacrificed his body against a charge and a moving screen, then picked off a pass and poked the ball free twice from his man, which forced a rushed kickout that led to a travel. Young was also often asked to trap above the arc against Doncic, which is how he finished the night with nine deflections to lead all players.

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Nine: Hernangomez continues to be quietly productive in an expanded role. He mostly looks to spot up for threes after his teammates collapse the lane, but he has also developed an astute sense of when to cut, especially when Young has the ball in the post. Twice in the fourth quarter, Hernangomez was able to flash to the basket right as his defender turned his head to watch the ball. Hernangomez was so productive that Nurse trusted him to close the game ahead of Gary Trent Jr.

Ten: Trent Jr. was better on defence, but still remains rusty on offence. He collected four steals, held off a bigger player for a defensive box out, and was decent in his defensive assignment. However, it’s clear that he still doesn’t fully have his legs on the jumper as all of them are short. Nurse’s decision to bench him for the fourth wasn’t out of punishment, it’s just that Hernangomez was playing better.

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