Montreal (29-19-6) at Edmonton (26-23-4), 10:00 p.m. EST
EDMONTON, Alberta (Ticker) -- The reeling Montreal Canadiens
make the second stop of their season-high six-game road trip
when they visit the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday.
Mired in a three-game skid, Montreal is coming off a 6-2
drubbing at the hands of the Calgary Flames on Monday.
Rookie Matt D'Agostini and Tomas Plekanec scored and defenseman
Roman Hamrlik notched two assists for the Canadiens, who opened
their trek in brutal fashion.
Jaroslav Halak turned aside 35 shots, but Montreal fell to 2-8-0
in its last 10 games - scoring two or fewer goals seven times
during that stretch.
Halak played in place of All-Star Carey Price, who has notched
just two wins since coming back from a groin injury on January
21. Since his return, he has started eight straight games but
surrendered three or more goals in seven.
Edmonton has dropped four of its last five and did little to
rebound from a horrid defensive effort in Saturday's 8-3 setback
to the Detroit Red Wings. On Sunday, the Oilers fell, 3-2, in a
shootout to the Minnesota Wild.
This contest comes at a turbulent time for Edmonton, which
learned it will be without defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky for the
remainder of the season due to right shoulder surgery.
In addition, there have been reports the Oilers may be
interested in luring nine-time All-Star Jaromir Jagr from the
Kontinental Hockey League.
However, Kevin Lowe, the team's president of hockey operations,
is indicating the Czech icon is not coming to Edmonton - at
least not this season, according to the Edmonton Journal.
Lindy Ruff’s contract in Dallas is up at season’s end and with the Stars struggling, change could be coming behind the bench. The Stars will have plenty of coaches to choose from, too.
It’s hard not to feel bad for Lindy Ruff.
The Dallas Stars have two dozen games left on their schedule before the season is up, and there Ruff is with a team that’s sunken rather unexpectedly to the bottom of the standings. This was supposed to be a year in which a threatening Stars lineup took another step forward, pushed deep into the post-season and maybe even flirted with winning the franchise’s second Stanley Cup. Instead, Ruff’s Stars have plummeted to the bottom of the standings. Only the Arizona Coyotes and Colorado Avalanche — both real, honest to goodness bad teams — have fared worse.
We’ve touched on it before, but this isn’t exactly Ruff’s fault. Given the injuries his roster has sustained, the changes his lineup has seen and the fact the duo of Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi still aren’t getting the job done between the pipes, Ruff hasn’t had all that much help. Losing Alex Goligoski and Jason Demers seems to have had a bigger impact than anyone could have suspected, and making matters worse is that while the pure firepower that was Dallas’ calling card before isn’t exactly gone, it’s not succeeding at the same rate as past seasons, so outscoring opponents on a nightly basis hasn’t quite worked, either.
Put that all together and you’ve got a Stars team that’s right near the bottom of the standings, and that has to be tough enough on Ruff. Somehow, though, that isn’t even really the worst of it.
The most difficult part about Ruff’s position has to be that he’s a sitting duck. Throughout this season, Gerard Gallant, Jack Capuano, Michel Therrien and Claude Julien have been fired. The blindsided nature of those firings, especially for Gallant and Therrien, had to be tough, no doubt, but Ruff may be able to literally count the days until he’s gone. His contract, a four-year deal he inked back in 2013, is up after this season, and with the Stars looking like a lock to miss the post-season, it seems more likely than not that Dallas will be moving on.
If Ruff is indeed gone at season’s end, it then becomes a question of who steps in to take over the position. Before the Canadiens swooped in a picked up Julien, he would have been the perfect candidate for the Stars job. Problem is, he was also the perfect candidate for the job in Montreal. And he also would have worked well in Florida or Brooklyn or Vegas. Even if the Stars wanted Julien, he was going to have options, and now that option is completely off the table.
One intriguing scenario would be if the move by the Canadiens to bring back Julien, who coached in Montreal from 2002 to 2006, has somehow inspired the Stars to look to their own past. There are two bench bosses available who fit the bill of a former Dallas coach who could be in line for the gig, Marc Crawford and Ken Hitchcock. The likelihood either return to Dallas might be slim, but they’re options nevertheless.
Crawford held the Stars job on his way out of the NHL back in 2011, but his two-year stint with the franchise was fruitless. Despite turning in two consecutive winning seasons, the team finished outside of the post-season both years, even if was by only a slight margin. His candidacy for the job would be interesting in that he’s coming off of several years coaching overseas and won two championships in the Swiss league. Now an associate with the Ottawa Senators, he could take what he’s learned over the past few years and apply it to a team with more firepower.
The more interesting of the two former coaches, however, is Hitchcock. Crawford’s had his own success, but only a select few can match what Hitchcock has done throughout his career, and fans in Dallas will certainly remember him fondly. He joined the franchise in 1995-96 and over the next four seasons the Stars gradually built to a Stanley Cup championship in 1998-99. The next season, Hitchcock again led the Stars to the final, but they came up just shy of back-to-back titles. Even when he was let go, Dallas was above .500. A tough coach? Maybe. They don’t come much better, though.
And what of the other three recently relieved bench bosses? Therrien, Gallant and Capuano will all have their suitors, and Dallas could be among them.
Therrien’s the most successful with 406 wins to his name and his .563 points percentage is the highest of any of the trio of recently removed coaches. Therrien also has 71 post-season games under his belt with a .535 winning percentage, including an Eastern Conference title with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2007-08. Playoff success can be alluring, especially for a team that appears a piece or two away from a deep run, and that alone could be enough for the Stars to take a long hard look at Therrien.
But Gallant and Capuano are also worth taking a look at if Dallas is in the market. Gallant’s work with the Panthers was admirable. He was given a young roster with loads of potential and turned them into a playoff team, and many had the Panthers pegged for another successful season before his shocking firing. As for Capuano, he had a lengthy tenure with the Islanders and one could argue had Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen stuck around Capuano might still be around.
Of course, hiring Crawford, Hitchcock, Therrien, Gallant or Capuano is contingent on their availability. There’s a job to be had with the Vegas Golden Knights and questions about the future behind the bench for the three interim coaches, Bruce Cassidy in Boston, Tom Rowe in Florida and Doug Weight in New York. If the interims give up the job, that’s three more openings. None of this is to mention Crawford inked a three-year deal with the Senators, so he might be sticking in Ottawa for a while.
Dallas could look anywhere, though. The talk of Utica Comets coach Travis Green taking over an NHL bench has grown consistently and Sheldon Keefe’s success with the Toronto Marlies could see him draw some interest. Even Texas Stars coach Derek Laxdal could be in the conversation. Then there’s current NHL assists like Kirk Muller and Kevin Dineen among others, which is to say the options are near limitless.
The most unexpected move of all, though, would be giving Ruff one more shot and it wouldn’t be an unprecedented move. After a disappointing end to the 2014-15 season, a third-straight first-round exit, St. Louis gave Hitchcock another shot on a one-year deal. He subsequently took the Blues to the Western Conference final in 2015-16, beating the Stars along the way, and earned another one-year deal before his eventual firing when the Blues ran into some mid-season difficulties.
The situation isn’t all that similar for Ruff and the Stars, but the down year doesn’t necessarily represent what he’s been able to manage in Dallas. Ruff led the team to one of the franchise’s best regular season performances in 2015-16, and each of the past three seasons the Stars earned 90-plus points. Does he come back? That’s for Dallas’ front office to decide. One would guess Ruff lands on his feet either way.
The Stars’ decision for the future behind the bench will be one of the most important the franchise makes in the coming months. There are plenty of options available, be it Ruff or otherwise, and choosing the right coach for the job could very well be the difference between Dallas taking the next step or a few years where the playoffs aren’t quite a certainty.
Any late season surge in Boston won’t be because of a new coach, it’ll be because a good team finally started getting some bounces.
When a team fires a coach mid-season and the guy barely lasts a week on the unemployment block, they’ve probably just made a huge mistake.
Back in 2011, the Capitals made that mistake. They fired Bruce Boudreau after the team hit a rough patch, and he was subsequently hired just two days later by Anaheim. It took two other coaches and three seasons for the team to find themselves another coach of his calibre, a waste of the their best players’s prime years.
Last week, the Boston Bruins made that same mistake firing Claude Julien. He lasted exactly one week on the market before another team scooped him up. The fact it was the division leading Montreal Canadiens makes matters even worse as it points to how clear of an upgrade they thought Julien was over the guy who led them to the top.
Boston’s decision came down to results and expectations. From that standpoint, it’s clear why they did what they did. After making the Cup final in 2012-13 and winning the President’s Trophy in 2013-14, the Bruins missed the playoffs twice and were sure looking like they would make it three with a 26-23-6 record under Julien. Someone had to take the fall and with this being Julien’s 10th season as bench boss, maybe his voice was getting a bit stale.
I’m not sure I buy that though and it all comes down to what the Bruins are doing under the hood this year. The year after the President’s Trophy win, the team took a step back dropping from third in score-and-venue adjusted Corsi to 12th and then dropped to 17th the year after. This year, they’ve shot all the way back up to first, ahead of the perennial kings of this stat, the Kings. Their mark of 56 percent is the ninth best mark of any team since 2007-08. Ahead of them are two Detroit teams, three Chicago teams, and three Los Angeles teams – and also three Stanley Cups. No fired coaches either.
The team made a remarkable year-to-year jump, the results just weren’t there. The team has the lowest shooting and save percentage among those top teams, and that’s led to a dastardly low 46.3 percent goals ratio, a full 10 percent lower than their shot share and six percent lower than the worst of the eight juggernaut teams above them.
While goaltending is a concern, some of that is a result of how terrible their back-up goalies have been. You’d also figure that a world class goalie like Tuukka Rask will get his groove back. The real big issue is on offense where the team ranks 21st in goals per 60 at 5-on-5. While they may have the ninth best shot attempt rate since 2007-08, they’re also posting the sixth worst shooting percentage since 2007-08.
The obvious answer from most pundits is that the Bruins aren’t actually a good team due to their massive shot advantage because a majority of those shots are coming from the outside. It turns out they have a point. Take a look at this heat map from HockeyViz.com of all the shots the Bruins are taking this year to see for yourself. It might be a lot to take in, but basically, red means “hot spots” where the team shoots more than league average, while blue represents “cold spots” where the team is getting fewer chances.
Just as expected, a lot of red on the outside and a huge blue zone right in front of the –– wait, wrong picture. That’s actually the Bruins 2010-11 season where they won the Cup and had the second highest goal scoring rate at 5-on-5. My bad. Here’s this year.
Yep, there we go. A little better than 2010-11, but still, they’re not really getting to the front of the –– wait, that’s not it. That’s actually the Bruins 2012-13 season where they made it to the Cup final and had the ninth highest goal scoring rate at 5-on-5. My bad. Here’s this year.
Hmm, a lot fewer shots overall, but again, their biggest cold spot is right in front of the –– wait, I did it again. That’s actually the 2013-14 season where the Bruins won the President’s Trophy and had the third highest goal scoring rate at 5-on-5. My bad. Okay, here’s 2016-17, for real this time.
Remember that this offense is the 21st rated offence at 5-on-5. If anyone could point out how it differs from any time the Bruins had a top five or 10 offense the past few years, I’m all ears. There is a bit of a deeper contour in front of the net than other seasons, but not by much, and the red zone in front of the slot is a deeper red and much closer to the front of the net. That should all cancel out, and it does. By expected goals for, here’s how every season under Julien ranks.
This year, the Bruins should be having one of the most prolific offenses they’ve had in years, instead, they’re struggling. The idea they’re “not getting to the front of the net” is a bad excuse because it’s clear they either never really have, it’s never really mattered, or there’s a systemic bias in Boston to record fewer shots there. Whatever the case, it doesn’t hold water.
The Bruins offense hasn’t changed much, but the results have and Julien lost his job because of it. Some might say the Bruins Corsi doesn’t tell the whole story here, but even by expected goals they’re the league’s top team, and those teams rarely struggle to convert like this team has. I normally hesitate to use “luck” as a crutch to describe a team with poor results, but it’s hard to point the finger anywhere else.
If you’re still not convinced, here’s another way to look at it. I plotted every player’s personal shooting percentage (at 5-on-5) this season compared to the the three seasons prior. Unsurprisingly, nearly everyone is having a down year.
There’s a fair number of players here who were reliable scorers in the past that suddenly can’t put it in. These 19 players have 86 goals this year, but if they were as efficient as they were before this season, they’d be at 111 collectively. If you look at expected shooting percentage that number drops a little to 104, but their expected shooting percentage is actually higher than it was in the previous three seasons. It’s hard to imagine all these guys suddenly forgot how to score, but that’s the reality if you think these results have nothing to do with luck.
Eventually, things should revert back to normal and they’ll start scoring at their normal rates again. With the way the Bruins control play, that’ll likely mean more wins down the stretch and it may be enough for a playoff spot (we think they’ve got a 70 percent shot at the moment). If they make it, they’re a dark horse team in the East, especially in a weak Atlantic. That is, if they keep playing as well as they did under Julien.
Whatever happens though, any team success will come back to the coaching change as a turning point. Make no mistake though, they likely would’ve turned it around anyways. Any late season surge won’t be because of a new coach, it’ll be because a good team finally started getting some bounces. The Bruins won’t be a good team now because they fired Julien -- they already were one.
There's no "generational talent" at the top of the draft this season, but there is a nice battle for the top spot between Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier.
It’s time for draft rankings, people, and it’s getting very interesting out there.
The 2017 draft class has already been pilloried quite a bit this season, but I think we just have to appreciate it for what it is: a chance for teams to get better. We’ve been spoiled by “generational” talents such as Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews lately, but that can’t happen every year. Instead, we have a nice little battle shaping up at the top between Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier. And don’t be surprised to see even more movement as time goes on.
I have Timothy Liljegren third, but I’m kinda conservative when it comes to moving top players down. Recognize that he may slide as other blueliners make their cases, or if it appears we’ll have another run on centers at the top this summer in Chicago. Whatever happens, here’s the first round as I see it right now.
1. Nolan Patrick, C, Brandon (WHL): Back from injury and from all appearances, not suffering. Patrick has the size, skill and all-around game to be an instant NHLer
2. Nico Hischier, C, Halifax (QMJHL): The high-end skills and smarts are so tantalizing. Hischier is certainly giving Patrick a run for his money and surpassing the Wheat King is not out of the question.
3. Timothy Liljegren, D, Rogle (SHL): Liljegren seems to be back on track after illness and a loan to Timra. His skating and offensive instincts are excellent and he’s getting some nice responsibility with Rogle.
4. Gabe Vilardi, C, Windsor (OHL): Skating is the knock, but scouts are already downplaying it by hyping up his other skills. Vilardi is big, smart and talented and really, the speed isn’t that bad right now.
5. Owen Tippett, RW, Mississauga (OHL): A weaponized winger with size, speed and a big-time shot, Tippett doesn’t have the versatility of Vilardi, but the physical tools are beguiling.
6. Klim Kostin, RW, MVD (Rus.): Surgery ended his nightmare season, but Kostin is enough of a known quantity thanks to earlier international duty. He’s a big, powerful kid with loads of talent.
7. Casey Mittelstadt, C, Eden Prairie (Minn. HS): The Minnesota commit wanted one more shot at a state title, so Mittelstadt is currently laying waste to high schoolers with Eden Prairie. Tons of skill and he put up numbers in the USHL, too.
8. Michael Rasmussen, C, Tri-City (WHL): Starting off with his nearly 6-foot-6 frame, there’s a lot to like about Rasmussen. Naturally his reach is good, but his hands are also pretty sweet and he can play with an edge.
9. Eeli Tolvanen, LW, Sioux City (USHL): A wicked shot in a smaller package. The Boston College recruit is a pure goal-scorer and draws penalties with his skill. Mixed opinions out there on his feistiness.
10. Miro Heiskainen, D, HIFK (Fin.): Smooth-skating defensemen are in and Heiskanen may even challenge Liljegren for draft stock. Some scouts thought he was Finland’s best blueliner at the world juniors.
Eric Staal on life in the NHL before the 2004-05 lockout, and which human body parts he has autographed.
What was your favorite NHL team growing up?
The Leafs. I grew up in Thunder Bay, and it’s mostly Leaf Nation up there, too.
Who did you model your game after?
One of my favorite players was Joe Sakic, because of his clutch ability and because he played at both ends of the rink really well. He’s a good all-around player but was clutch.
Your ‘welcome to the NHL’ moment?
My first year was before the 2004-05 lockout, so any time I got near the net I took about eight cross-checks and slashes. I had a lot of those moments my first year at 18. It was a lot more physical before they changed the rules after that lockout.
First splurge purchase after signing an NHL contract?
I bought a Cadillac Escalade my first year once I knew I was staying and signing in Carolina. I needed a car, and my parents helped me, and I went and got one of those. It didn’t have spinning rims or anything like that, but it was nice.
What’s your favorite way to score?
I like to score from anywhere, but the fun ways to score are the one-timers or a sweet play. But most likely for me scoring, it’s going to be a quick-release shot. It’s going to be five-hole or low blocker. Those are my go-to.
What’s your craziest fan interaction?
I’ve signed people’s body parts. This one guy in Carolina, the whole team that won the Stanley Cup, he had everybody’s name tattooed to him. So he went around and basically got everybody that was on the team to sign, I think it was his leg or his calf or something, and he ended up tattooing everyone’s signature to his body. Hey, whatever you want to do. That was interesting.
Best thing about being an NHLer?
The fact I get to play a game for a living. How many people get to say they play a sport for a job? If I didn’t have this for a job, I would love playing beer-league pickup hockey with my buddies, because I love the game. I get to do that and get paid to do it, so there’s nothing better than that.
Worst thing about being an NHLer?
Travel. When you have a wife and kids, it’s hard being away. It’s hard for your wife when you’re busy and the kids are in school and hockey and everything else. It’s no fun being away. You always want to be around and be a part of everything, but the reality is we play 41 games on the road. That’s the hardest part.