Ken Hitchcock, Jakub Voracek, R.J. Umberger

The trap is back? Ken Hitchcock interested in Minnesota Wild job

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We’re pretty sure that Minnesota Wild fans weren’t exactly overjoyed while Jacques Lemaire was at the helm with his defensively controlled style of game. While Todd Richards wasn’t quite able to bring the excitement back to Minnesota, it appears that the Wild could be looking to a name synonymous with stifling defense to lead them back to the playoffs.

Former Stars, Flyers, and Blue Jackets head coach Ken Hitchcock is on the Wild’s short list of candidates to take over their top job. Hitchcock has a history as a defensive task master and a guy that demands positioning and dedication out his team to shut down opponents from scoring at all times.

While Hitchcock is still on the payroll of the Blue Jackets, the Wild have received permission to talk with with him about their opening. The Wild have also gotten permission to talk with former Penguins coach Michel Therrien and former Oilers coach Craig MacTavish. As for Hitchcock, he’s a guy that comes highly regarded by many as Michael Russo or The Star Tribune finds out.

“Hitch is definitely one of the smartest coaches I’ve ever played for,” former NHL star Jeremy Roenick, who played for Hitchcock in Philadelphia, told the Star Tribune last month. “He has a great knack to understand players, he has a great system.”

Hitchcock is known as a big believer in playing fast defensively so his teams can get out of the defensive zone quickly and get on the attack. Hitchcock’s longtime assistant in Dallas is Wild assistant coach Rick Wilson, whose future is in flux because of the Wild’s coaching vacancy.

That would lend us to believe that Hitchcock is being spoken of well by Wilson. Therrien’s connection with the Wild is also strong as he spent the past season with the team as a scout. MacTavish has spent the past year working for TSN in Canada as an on-air analyst also seeking to get back in the game.

We’re thinking that Wild fans want to see the team winning again without a doubt, but Hitchcock’s style of game doesn’t lend itself well to exciting offensive production. It puts the onus on Wild fans to decide if they want exciting hockey to watch or whether or not they want a potential winning team. Ideally you want to have the mix of both to keep everyone happy, but Hitchcock’s struggles in Columbus, even in spite of helping the franchise to their only playoff appearance, were due to a roster filled with poor talent and one that struggled adjusting to the speed of the “new” NHL.

The Wild and GM Chuck Fletcher have fascinating choices to make ahead here as the fans in Minnesota are frustrated and want to see things turn around fast.

Goalie nods: Backup extraordinaire Montoya gets the call versus Wings

Florida Panthers goalie Al Montoya watches game action against the New Jersey Devils' during the second period of a NHL hockey game in Sunrise, Fla., Saturday, Oct. 11, 2014. (AP Photo/J Pat Carter)
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The Florida Panthers have had no problem giving Roberto Luongo the odd night off this season. That’s because Al Montoya has been one of the best backups in the league.

Montoya (8-2-1, .931) will get the call tonight in Detroit, with Luongo (23-13-5, .930) expected to start tomorrow in Buffalo.

The Panthers have the highest team save percentage in the NHL, at .926 (which includes empty-net goals).

“They both give us a chance to win every night,” Panthers d-man Brian Campbell told the Miami Herald recently. “Both make huge saves for us at times. You need consistent saves every night and they both bring it. Montoya gets put into a tough spot a lot of times and nothing seems to change.”

Beyond Montoya, other NHL backups with particularly good numbers include the Flyers’ Michal Neuvirth (.933), the Kings’ Jhonas Enroth (.931), the Blues’ Brian Elliott (.930), the Islanders’ Thomas Greiss (.929), and the Wild’s Darcy Kuemper (.928).

Petr Mrazek will start for the Red Wings. He used to be Detroit’s backup, but he’s since surpassed Jimmy Howard for the starting job.

Elsewhere…

Cory Schneider for the Devils at MSG, versus Henrik Lundqvist for the Rangers.

John Gibson for the Ducks in Pittsburgh, versus Marc-Andre Fleury for the Penguins.

— Andrei Vasilevskiy for the Lightning in Ottawa, versus Craig Anderson for the Sens.

Blues put Pietrangelo on IR with knee injury

Pietrangelo-Coyle
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Not good news for the St. Louis Blues — the club announced this morning that defenseman Alex Pietrangelo has been placed on injured reserve with a right-knee injury. He’ll be re-evaluated in three weeks.

Pietrangelo suffered the injury Saturday in a knee-on-knee collision with Minnesota’s Charlie Coyle.

Based on the timeline provided, the Blues will be without their leader in average ice time (26:40) until at least the end of the month. St. Louis plays 10 times between now and Feb. 29, which also happens to be the trade deadline.

The big question, of course, is whether Pietrangelo will be ready to go upon re-evaluation.

The first day of the playoffs is April 13.

Update:

Related: Armstrong wants Blues to get healthy before any trades are made

“I wonder if that’s Crosby, what happens?’ — AV upset after McDonagh concussed by Simmonds

Alain Vigneault
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Alain Vigneault took another shot at the NHL’s Department of Player Safety today.

This time, the Rangers head coach was upset about the lack of supplementary discipline for Philadelphia’s Wayne Simmonds in the wake of Saturday’s altercation with New York captain Ryan McDonagh.

“An All-Star player gets sucker-punched, goes down,” Vigneault said, per The Record. “I wonder if that’s (Sidney) Crosby, what happens? What are the consequences? And, on top of that, a player breaks his stick, throws it at the referees. In the rulebook, that’s automatic. It’s three games. Nothing happens. It’s not even on the sheet after the game.”

Simmonds’ punch left McDonagh concussed and unable to play tonight versus New Jersey, with no timetable for his return.

Earlier this season, Vigneault voiced his frustration with the league after Rangers center Derek Stepan suffered broken ribs in Boston on a hit from Bruins forward Matt Beleskey.

Vigneault felt the hit was late.

“I remember Aaron Rome in this building, .6 seconds late, getting suspended four games in the Stanley Cup Final,” the former Vancouver Canucks coach said, recalling the contentious 2011 final.

Beleskey was not suspended.

Crosby, Karlsson and Trocheck are NHL’s three stars of the week

Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby celebrates his goal during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Carolina Hurricanes in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
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Penguins center Sidney Crosby, Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson, and Panthers center Vincent Trocheck have been named the NHL’s three stars for the past week.

From the NHL:

Crosby led the League in goals and points (5-3-8) in three games as the Penguins (26-18-7, 59 points) earned four of a possible six points to secure the second Wild Card position in the Eastern Conference.

Karlsson led the League in assists and ranked second in points (0-7-7) in three games as the Senators (24-23-6, 54 points) won one of three starts for the week.

Trocheck notched six points (3-3—6) in three games, helping the Panthers (31-15-6, 68 points) widen their lead atop the Atlantic Division to six points.

Related: Red-hot Crosby could make Pens a flawed (but dangerous) dark horse