Atlanta Thrashers v Ottawa Senators

Next up on the coaching hot seat… Ottawa’s Cory Clouston?

Things in Ottawa have been, to put it nicely, tough this season. With 37 points, they’re tied for third with Buffalo in the Northeast Division. They’re eight points out of the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference and this comes after a season where they finished fifth overall in the East and lost to Pittsburgh in the opening round of the playoffs.  The Senators may have played a bit over their heads last year in spite of key injuries to Pascal Leclaire, Milan Michalek, and Jason Spezza.

This season, the script is virtually the same as those same three players are hurt again and this time, Brian Elliott and Mike Fisher aren’t picking up the slack. For coach Cory Clouston that’s become a serious problem as the Sens have fallen into the non-playoff team pack and the heat is on for Clouston to push the right buttons once again to get Ottawa back to the playoff hunt. Sens GM Bryan Murray, however, isn’t giving Clouston any votes of confidence as the Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch shares.

After reading the riot act to the players before practice, Murray said in a scrum with reporters he couldn’t confirm Clouston is going to coach this club until the end of the season.

Clouston is in the final year of his contract and it would appear he’s facing a couple of must-wins Friday against the Blackhawks in Chicago and Saturday at home versus the Tampa Bay Lighting.

“I’m not going to answer a question like that because I don’t know,” said Murray. “We go to Chicago. We come home and play Tampa. We go on the road the following week. I can’t answer that honestly. I’ve talked to the staff about that. We’re all in a position where we have to do a better job.”

The Senators have a lot of problems, most of which center around staying healthy. The Sens had to know they couldn’t rely on Pascal Leclaire to stay healthy at all as he’s never been able to stay healthy ever in his career. Injuries to Spezza and Michalek are gut-punches for a team that’s not exactly deep with skilled forwards. Free agent acquisition Sergei Gonchar has been a severe disappointment and making some people think back on his years in Boston.

In other words, Bryan Murray had better be careful about who he’s pointing the finger at in Canada’s capital city because the mess in Ottawa isn’t just Clouston’s to clean up. The team Murray has helped put together wildly overachieved last year and it set the bar a bit too high for Clouston this season. Assuming that Brian Elliott or Leclaire would be able to replicate the success they had last year or that Mike Fisher’s one year offensive explosion would repeat itself was a huge gamble and it’s one that could cost both the coach and GM their job if things don’t turn around.

PHT Morning Skate: Jagr doesn’t understand why Peyton Manning would retire after winning the Super Bowl

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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

Jaromir Jagr doesn’t believe Peyton Manning should retire. (ESPN)

Victor Hedman wrote about “How We Play Hockey in Sweden” for The Players’ Tribune.

–Did the Senators make a smart move by acquiring Dion Phaneuf? (Sportsnet)

–And if you have a Maple Leafs jersey with Phaneuf’s name on the back, the Sens want to dispose of it:

–Watch the highlights from yesterday’s game between the Rangers and Penguins. (Top of the page)

–A Zoolander tribute to Coyotes center Martin Hanzal. (Puck Daddy)

Steven Stamkos had a run-in with the paparazzi in Montreal. (Bardown)

Sidney Crosby‘s confidence could be dangerous for the rest of the league:

Video: Canucks escape Arizona with another win for the moms

at Pepsi Center on February 9, 2016 in Denver, Colorado.
Getty Images
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With their mothers traveling on the road trip — Matt Bartkowski‘s mom, Beth, has become a cult hero in Vancouver after another priceless media interview — the Canucks took back-to-back wins, moving them right back into the thick of the playoff fight in the Western Conference.

After beating the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday, the Canucks held on for the 2-1 victory in Arizona on Wednesday, despite being without Brandon Sutter (broken jaw), Alex Edler (broken fibula) and Derek Dorsett, who was scratched from the lineup due to illness, as per Sportsnet’s Dan Murphy.

It was only a few days ago, following a home loss to the Calgary Flames, that it felt like the Canucks’ playoff hopes were essentially dashed. They fielded their healthiest lineup in months and couldn’t score and couldn’t win.

Two quick wins later, they’re two points out of a Wild Card spot in the West, despite getting outshot in Arizona.

Up by a goal in the third period, defenseman Alex Biega played the hero, pulling the puck out of the crease after it got by Ryan Miller on a backhand shot from Kyle Chipchura, maintaining Vancouver’s lead.

Phaneuf burned on Zetterberg game-winner in Sens debut

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A day after getting traded out of Toronto, Dion Phaneuf made his Ottawa Senators debut.

It ended with a 3-1 road loss for the Senators, and Phaneuf getting burned by Henrik Zetterberg on the eventual game winner early in the third period.

Zetterberg picked up the puck near the Ottawa blue line, beat Phaneuf to the outside, slipped the puck under the stick of the Sens’ newest blue liner and quickly roofed his shot on Craig Anderson.

“He made a real good play and you’ve got to give credit when credit is due,” Phaneuf told the Ottawa Sun.

“I put my stick there, he put (the puck) under and he made a good shot. I’ve got to have a better stick in that situation, but you’ve got to give him credit for that play.”

Phaneuf finished the night with a minus-one rating and two hits in almost 22 minutes of ice time, putting him second among Sens defensemen in that category behind Erik Karlsson, who played a whopping 33:30.

Phaneuf drilled Red Wings defenseman Danny DeKeyser with a hard slap shot early in the third period.

DeKeyser played one more shift — all of 10 seconds — before exiting the game.

Video: Rangers shut out red-hot Sidney Crosby and the Penguins

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The New York Rangers are likely too far behind the Washington Capitals to take any legitimate run at the Atlantic Division down the stretch.

But winners now of four straight, the Rangers have opened up a bit of a gap between them and other Eastern Conference teams in the playoff race. New York scored a 3-0 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, winners in six of their last seven games, on Wednesday.

In the process, they held a red-hot Sidney Crosby off the score sheet, which has been a difficult, sometimes impossible task for opposing teams since about the middle of December. He entered this game with a seven-game scoring streak.

(In fact, New York held No. 87 to without a shot on goal in the entire game.)

Henrik Lundqvist stopped all 34 shots he faced for the shutout.

Kevin Hayes gave the Rangers the lead in the first period, before Dominic Moore and Jesper Fast put the game away in the third.

Pittsburgh remains in the second Wild Card spot in the East. The Rangers now move three points clear of the rival Islanders for second in the Metropolitan.