Canucks first to clinch playoff berth, beat Avs 4-2

The majority of Western Conference teams may be fighting for one of the eight playoff spots, but the Vancouver Canucks are not one of them. By beating the Colorado Avalanche 4-2 at Rogers Place on Wednesday night, the Canucks became the first team to clinch a spot in the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs.

On Wednesday, the Canucks fell behind early to the freefalling Avs 2-0. Four unanswered goals and the Canucks were celebrating before Colorado even knew what hit them. Henrik Sedin confirmed what most hockey fans thought when the Canucks started slowly against the lowly Avs:

“I guess we want to test ourselves to see if we can come back. It’s tough to get up for games when you are where we are. It crept in again tonight. . It’s not good, but we stuck with it and weren’t panicking.”

The NHL has been championing parity this season, but it didn’t slow the Canucks from wrapping up their playoff spot a month before the end of the season. Their 47-16-9 record has earned them an NHL best 103 points through 72 games. Their +68 goal differential (one of the best measures of a team’s performance) is far and away the best in the league; the next best is the Boston Bruins at +42. Their 25-7-5 record is the best home mark in the league; and their 22-9-4 record on the road is near the top of the league as well.

They’re tied for the highest scoring team in the league scoring 3.24 goals per game. Their 2.28 goals against per game is also tops in the league. Their power play is the best in the league and the weak spot in their game, the penalty kill, is the 2nd best in the league. Thankfully for Canucks fans, they have a month to figure out how to improve the PK unit.

As if all that wasn’t enough, they’re on top of their game as they’ve won 7 straight including an undefeated 6-game road trip. The scary part for opponents is they are doing it without a full roster. Both Alexander Edler and Kevin Bieksa were filling huge roles for the Canucks from the backend, yet both are out of the lineup with injuries. Nevertheless, Vancouver just keeps on winning no matter who they put in the lineup. Just imagine how dangerous they’ll be when they finally have all of their pieces in place.

The 103 points put the Canucks in very good position to win this year’s President’s Trophy. Whether that’s a good thing or bad thing probably depends on how superstitious a fan is—but it would mean the road to the Cup would have to go through Vancouver. The team with the best home record is in line to have home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs.

Kraft Hockeyville: For Schneider, road to NHL began in Massachusetts

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New Jersey Devils netminder Cory Schneider‘s professional career is littered with highlights.

A first-round pick by Vancouver at the 2004 draft, Schneider has appeared in a Stanley Cup Final, captured the Jennings Award, signed a lucrative seven-year, $42 million contract (with the Devils) and has represented the U.S. on a number of international platforms.

Schneider backstopped Team USA at a pair of World Junior Championships, and was one of three goalies selected to last year’s entry at the World Cup of Hockey. It marked a significant stop on a road that began in his hometown of Marblehead, Massachusetts.

“I owe a lot to the youth hockey program, and where it’s gotten me,” he explained. “It got me started playing goalie, because we would rotate the equipment. So every game, someone new would play goal and every chance I got when someone didn’t show up or didn’t want to do it, I’d say ‘I’ll play goal.'”

After playing for Marblehead High School and Phillips Academy, Schneider spent some time with the U.S. National Team Development Program before embarking on an impressive career at Boston College.

He has since become one of the NHL’s busiest netminders. In ’14-15, he started a career-high 68 games and has continued to rank among the league leaders in appearances.

For more on Kraft Hockeyville, check out the two finalists for this year’s title: The Rostraver Ice Garden in Belle Vernon, PA, and the Bloomington Ice Garden in Bloomington, MN.

 

 

Canucks announce Travis Green as new head coach

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The Vancouver Canucks made it official today, announcing Travis Green as their new head coach.

Green replaces Willie Desjardins, who was fired after three seasons on the job.

The past four years, Green has been the head coach of the Canucks’ AHL affiliate in Utica.

“Travis is a talented head coach who’s played a key role in the development of our young players through four seasons with the Comets,” said GM Jim Benning in a statement. “He has an intense desire to win and build a team identity that is hardworking, responsible on both ends of the ice and competitive. He has an excellent understanding of where we are as an organization and we’re confident in his ability to help build our team and develop a winning culture.”

Green, a former forward who played over 1,000 NHL games including the playoffs, will take over a transitioning Vancouver roster. He was hired in large part to develop the club’s young players.

“You need young players, and you need them to play,” Green said in an interview with the Canucks’ website.

Of course, the need for youth in the lineup doesn’t mean Green will be gifting anything to anyone.

“I expect a lot out of my players,” he said. “I’m demanding. Expectations will be high. But players want that. They want to be held accountable. There’s going to be a lot of communication between myself and the players. I believe in it. I want them to trust me. I want the best for my players.”

It’s going to be a tough job for Green, who’s never coached in the NHL. While the Canucks do have some promising youngsters, they still need to accumulate more as they move on from the Sedin era.

“I want to start to develop a culture that breeds winning,” said Green. “You know, that’s a process. That takes some time. But that starts today.”

No names, but Sabres have ‘put a lot of work’ into GM and coach searches

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There have been plenty of candidates floated for the vacant head coach and general manager gigs in Buffalo. Ownership won’t say who they are, but it definitely sounds like some have already been contacted.

“We’re keeping it under wraps,” Kim Pegula said on Wednesday, per WGR 550 radio. “But we definitely have put a lot of work in this week.”

It’s been six days since the Sabres made sweeping changes by firing head coach Dan Bylsma and GM Tim Murray, capping off a tumultuous period which began with reports of Jack Eichel not wanting to sign a contract extension this summer if Bylsma remained the bench boss.

Since then, a number of replacement names have surfaced. We’ll focus here on the GM position given. By all logic the Sabres will first hire a GM, who will then have a say in hiring the head coach.

By all logic, of course.

Dean Lombardi, who won a pair of Stanley Cups in Los Angeles before being dismissed in an equally massive housecleaning, has been rumored as a candidate. But Lombardi’s replacement in L.A., Rob Blake, said he’s yet to be contacted by any clubs requesting an interview.

Some have suggested Buffalo could dive into its history, and bring back a former player in an executive role. This is why former Sabres captain Chris Drury has come up so often. Drury, 40, has risen up the management ranks quickly in recent years, and currently serves as Rangers GM Jeff Gorton’s assistant (Drury is also putting together the Team USA entry for the upcoming World Hockey Championships).

In that vein, former Buffalo coach and GM Rick Dudley has also been floated, as has Jason Botterill. Botterill, who played three years with the Sabres organization, is the associate GM in Pittsburgh and widely regarded as one of the brightest up-and-coming execs in the league.

If the Sabres opt to take a different tact, and look for “new blood,” Sportsnet’s John Shannon ran down a list of candidates:

Other names worth adding? Bill Zito, the assistant GM in Columbus, and Norm Maciver, the assistant GM in Chicago.

Given the number of candidates listed here, it’s not surprising that the Pegulas have put in a ton of work looking for their new GM.

There’s a ton of work to be done.

Kesler will have his hands full with McDavid, and vice-versa

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“It’s not me against McDavid,” says Ryan Kesler. “It’s the Anaheim Ducks against the Edmonton Oilers.”

OK, fine. But when one team has the NHL’s leading scorer, and the other a five-time Selke Trophy finalist, that’s a matchup that people are going to talk about.

Especially when the Ducks have last change, like they will tonight in Game 1 at Honda Center. Expect to see plenty of Kesler whenever Connor McDavid hits the ice.

“Kes takes it personally when he plays against the top players,” said Ducks teammate Kevin Bieksa, per the O.C. Register. “He’s just very competitive. He has the will. I keep hearing he gets inside people’s heads but I just think you do that by outplaying them.”

Kesler and Bieksa were also teammates in Vancouver, where Kesler became the Canucks’ first-ever Selke winner in 2011.

McDavid, meanwhile, will receive his first Art Ross Trophy in June. He’ll probably get his first Hart, too. Yet he knows it won’t be easy against Kesler, whose combination of speed and tenacity makes him such a great checker.

“He’s been up for the Selke for how many years in a row,” said McDavid. “That obviously speaks for itself. He obviously understands his defensive role.”

In case you’re wondering, McDavid played five games against the Ducks this season. He had two goals and five assists, and the Oilers went 3-2-0.

Kesler played all five of those games, too. He had two goals and no assists, and the Ducks went 2-1-2.