Reason to worry? Devils GM gives coach John MacLean a vote of confidence

Devils head coach John MacLean has already had his first season as a coach with enough drama and intrigue to fill a career and a lot of that is thanks to Ilya Kovalchuk. From waiting it out to get Kovalchuk officially re-signed in New Jersey to making him a healthy scratch on Saturday night, MacLean’s had enough attention brought to him. Throw in the Devils shaky start to the season and you’ve got a potential recipe for employment disaster.

Devils GM Lou Lamoriello has a bit of a dubious history for changing coaches if he sees fit whether or not the team is winning or losing and with the Devils in seeming disarray to start the year, fans are wondering if, perhaps, John MacLean might have something to worry about. Depending on what you think of a GM’s vote of confidence, you might think he’s got a lot to worry about as Lamoriello threw his support behind MacLean. ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun finds out whether or not Lamoriello was even tempted to make a coaching change.

“There’s no thought whatsoever,” Lamoriello told ESPN.com Monday. “John has done an exceptional job. I have no issue with him. Our record certainly isn’t what any of us like, but it has nothing to do with coaching.”

Kovalchuk, who signed a 15-year, $100 million contract in the offseason, had tongues wagging around the league Saturday night when he was made a healthy scratch before a 6-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres. While no one involved would explain why exactly the decision was made, reports suggest he was late for a team meeting Saturday morning.

Either way, Lamoriello backed the decision.

“I am totally supportive,” Lamoriello said. “Without question I was aware of it … and without question I was supportive. So enough said.”

It would be awfully early in the season, not to mention MacLean’s NHL coaching career, to decide to send him packing so it’s worthwhile to see how MacLean adjusts and can right the ship in New Jersey. Of course, if the team continues to play inconsistently and the team stays mired in mediocrity, Lamoriello’s hand may be forced to make a change. After all, one of MacLean’s assistant coaches is former multiple-time head coach Larry Robinson so if things do stay sour, there’s someone that Lamoriello is comfortable with right there on the bench already.

For MacLean, getting Lamoriello’s support is a good thing to have as he makes for a pretty tough boss. Then again, if it’s the stereotypical “vote of confidence” and it serves more as a public warning to get it together, it’s doubtful that that would surprise too many people.

What is wrong with the Sharks?

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Not that long ago, the San Jose Sharks appeared well on their way to winning the Pacific Division title.

On March 14, they had a seven-point lead on both Anaheim and Calgary. Gone is that advantage. Not only have the Ducks surged back into the fight for the division, but the Sharks have lost five in a row and are having a terrible time of late creating any offense.

Their struggles hit a new low Friday with a 6-1 loss to the Dallas Stars, a team with its own flaws and nowhere close to a playoff position.

At one point midway through the second period, the Sharks trailed the Stars by four goals and had only six lousy shots on goal. During this skid, San Jose has scored only five goals.

Earlier this week, members of the Sharks said they weren’t terribly worried about this losing streak. The losses, they had said, were in close games, which is true: San Jose lost three consecutive one-goal games.

“When I look at the losing streak, we dominated some of those games for long periods and found ways to lose. You never like to lose, but I’m not that concerned,” Sharks coach Pete DeBoer told CSN Bay Area. “We’ve got to obviously end it. We’ve got to get healthy. I don’t see a bunch of symptoms of a team that can’t get this fixed pretty quickly.”

This, however, was a blowout. Adam Cracknell recorded the hat trick, pushing his single-season career-high in goals to 10.

The performance at one point forced DeBoer to take a timeout, in which he expressed his displeasure.

Making matters worse for the Sharks: Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic left the game early in the third period and was put under further evaluation. He didn’t return.

The Sharks visit the Nashville Predators on Saturday.

Halak and the Islanders defeat Penguins, move into wild card spot

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Quite a hockey game between the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday.

It offered plenty to enjoy — Phil Kessel‘s dominant but unfruitful shift in overtime, a combined 86 shots on goal between both teams, a showcase of skill from the likes of John Tavares and Sidney Crosby, and two strong goaltending performances from Jaroslav Halak and Marc-Andre Fleury.

Josh Ho-Sang, who wears No. 66, which is just fine in the eyes of Mario Lemieux, set up Brock Nelson‘s goal in the second period.

The Islanders and their fans probably aren’t hung up on style points at this juncture of the season. They just care about wins and points in the standings, and those are exactly what New York accomplished with a 4-3 shootout win in Pittsburgh.

Anthony Beauvillier and Tavares scored for the Islanders in the shootout. Halak made 37 stops, including a game-saver in overtime off Matt Cullen. Halak trapped the puck, which was right on the goal line, between his legs on a chance from in front. The play was reviewed but no goal.

The win gives the Islanders 82 points, which is the same total as the struggling Boston Bruins.

However, the Islanders, with one game in hand on the Bruins, take over the final wild card spot in the East for now.

Video: Friday night fights between Bolts and Red Wings

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Not much offense — actually, just one goal midway through the second period as of the writing of this post — between the Detroit Red Wings and Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday.

But there has definitely been some animosity between the two clubs.

Tempers flared late in the first period, with Adam Erne and Andreas Athanasiou getting involved in a spirited scrap — and Athanasiou unsuccessful in his attempt at the take-down.

The bad blood continued in the second period with Greg McKegg and Anthony Mantha getting involved in a fight, and Mantha — given the instigator — landing a couple of shots with McKegg on the ice.

 

NHL, MLB player unions support U.S. women hockey players’ boycott

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Unions representing NHL and Major League Baseball players are backing U.S. Women’s National Hockey team players’ decision to boycott next week’s world championships because of a wage dispute.

The NHL Players’ Association posted a note on its Twitter account on Friday saying it supports the U.S. players while panning USA Hockey’s bid to stock the team with replacements. The NHLPA says the decision to go with replacement players “would only serve to make relations, now and in the future, much worse.”

Earlier in the day, the MLB Players Association encouraged all women hockey players to stand united behind their national team colleagues.

Read more: USA Hockey says it will not offer living wage, as dispute with women’s national team continues

The Twitter messages were posted a day after USA Hockey announced it would begin gauging interest of replacement players to compete at the tournament, which opens next Friday in Plymouth, Michigan.

Players are seeking a four-year contract that includes payments outside the six-month Olympic period.