Vancouver needs to turn the special teams tide against San Jose

Out of context, it might seem odd to refer to the Vancouver Canucks’ special teams as a problem. After all, they’ve scored the same amount of goals (six) on the power play as the San Jose Sharks produced through three games. Yet when you dig a little deeper, it’s an area of serious concern as the two teams prepare for Game 4 (which can be seen today at 3 p.m. ET on NBC).

First and foremost, the Canucks must find an answer for the stout Sharks’ power play. They were lucky San Jose only received one man advantage in Game 1 and two in Game 2 because the Sharks converted on all three of those chances. San Jose continued that stunning trend of efficiency by pushing that mark to 5-for-5 with two goals early in the first period of Game 3. Ryane Clowe scored that fifth goal on the front end of a high-sticking double-minor before the Canucks finally managed to earn their first successful kill of the series. (Although there was still an eventful moment or two.)

The Canucks penalty kill kept the game from getting downright embarrassing in the second period, but Dan Boyle scored what (surprisingly) ended up being the game-winner on a 5-on-3 in the third. The Sharks finished the game 3 for 10 to push their total mark to an outstanding 6 for 13. When you consider the lower level of urgency of some of those power plays, they were probably even better than the stats would indicate.

Vancouver’s power play was disappointing in Game 3, too.

On paper, the Canucks power play isn’t lagging too far behind, with a 6 for 18 overall mark. Yet that stat doesn’t capture how disappointing the team’s man advantage was in Game 3. The Canucks had a chance to cut into what was then a 3-0 lead with two 5-on-3 power plays. It seemed like they were bound to get a goal when Sharks forward David Desjardins took another penalty right as he left the penalty box to put the second 5-on-3 in motion, yet Vancouver failed to score. All the Canucks managed was three combined shots on goal in that span.

Daniel Sedin admitted to NHL.com that squandering that opportunity sealed the deal in many ways.

“That was our chance to come back in the game, I thought,” Daniel Sedin said in regards to the failed 5-on-3s. “They blocked a lot shots. I thought we played it pretty good, but they blocked a lot of shots so we need to maybe hold on to the puck even more and move it around, but we got the shots we wanted. They just didn’t make it to the net.”

On the bright side, Vancouver created two goals on their last unusual power play opportunity. Jamie McGinn received a five-minute major and game misconduct for a boarding hit on Aaaron Rome in the third period, handing the Canucks five minutes of uninterrupted power play time. Dan Hamhuis and Kevin Bieksa scored goals on that major advantage to make it 4-3, but the Sharks held on to win the game.

Those two goals helped Vancouver get back into the game, but ultimately all that did was make the contrast between the two teams’ power plays less jarring. When you place the results in the proper context, it’s difficult to shake the notion that the Sharks can stop the Canucks power play when they must while San Jose can score goals on their own opportunities almost at will.

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Simply put, the Canucks cannot expect to win this series if the Sharks continue to score on nearly half of their power plays. It’s a small sample so Vancouver shouldn’t go into full-on panic mode, but it remains a genuine concern regardless. Whether it means changing up their strategy or personnel, Alain Vigneault and the Canucks must find a way to clear up this issue or they could be in big trouble.

No hearing scheduled for Wingels after Wilson headshot (Updated)

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Ottawa forward Tommy Wingels doesn’t have a disciplinary hearing scheduled for his late game headshot on Pittsburgh’s Scott Wilson, an NHL spokesman confirmed.

The incident occurred with seconds remaining in the Penguins’ 7-0 Game 5 win on Sunday afternoon. Wingels wasn’t penalized on the play, and Wilson exited the ice immediately without celebrating with teammates as the final horn sounded.

Pens head coach Mike Sullivan was asked about Wilson’s condition in his postgame presser, but didn’t have an update. The 25-year-old did not participate in today’s optional skate.

Update:

Wilson has appeared in 13 of Pittsburgh’s 17 games this postseason, and chipped in nicely. He’s scored two goals — including one in yesterday’s blowout win — and four points, while averaging just under 11 minutes per night.

Wingels has been less of a factor for Ottawa. He’s appeared in just nine of 17 games, going pointless while getting 9:53 TOI.

 

Report: Defenseman Viktor Antipin expected to join Sabres next week

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Earlier this month it was reported that defenseman Viktor Antipin was on the verge of joining the Buffalo Sabres after terminating his contract in the KHL.

Following the IIHF World Hockey Championships on Sunday, where Antipin was a key player for the Russian team that won the Bronze Medal, Antipin told a Russian news outlet (via the Buffalo News) that he will be leaving for Buffalo on May 29th so that he can join the Sabres.

The 24-year-old Antipin spent the past six years playing for Magnitogorsk Metallurg in the KHL.

In 59 games this past season he scored six goals and added 18 assists.

He had a really strong showing at the recent World Championship tournament, playing close to 18 minutes per game and recording four assists to go with a plus-five rating.

The Sabres defense was a major sore spot this season as the team took a pretty significant step backward in its ongoing rebuild, resulting in the firing of general manager Tim Murray and coach Dan Bylsma. As a team the Sabres allowed more than 34 shots on goal per game (the worst mark in the league) and 2.82 goals per game (20th in the league).

The only defensemen the Sabres have under contract for the 2017-18 season at the moment are Rasmus Ristolainen, Zach Bogosian, Josh Gorges, Jake McCabe and Justin Falk so Antipin should get a pretty good opportunity to get a significant role right from the start.

Blues owner gives Armstrong vote of confidence

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Given all the upheaval in St. Louis this season, it was fair to ask questions about GM Doug Armstrong’s job security.

So last week the Post-Dispatch did exactly that, posing the query to Blues owner Tom Stillman: Do you think Armstrong’s the right guy for the job?

“Yes, I do,” Stillman replied. “A lot of GMs, I think, are inclined to be focused on what’s going to keep my job next year and the year after. Some would perceive it as taking a risk to be looking farther down the road even though it might not lead to as many wins in the current year.

“That’s an important quality, looking long-term for the organization and not looking at your short-term survival. I think Doug knows that I am in tune with looking at things in that longer-term way.”

Speaking of term, Armstrong is heading into the last of a five-year deal signed back in 2013. At that time, the Blues were coming off an 109-point campaign and Armstrong was the reigning NHL GM of the Year.

In announcing the deal, Stillman was full of praise.

“First, [Armstrong’s] an outstanding general manager, so we want to make sure he’s with us for a longer period,” he said, per NHL.com. “And second, I think you have to give him time to do his work and develop the team he wants to develop.”

If he extends Armstrong, Stillman could probably use the same quote again.

Because the Blues are, again, sort of in a developmental phase.

First, there was the massive hockey operations overhaul. Over the last three months, Armstrong has given six coaches their walking papers: Ken Hitchcock, Jim Corsi, Ray Bennett, Steve Thomas, Rick Wilson and Ty Conklin.

Mike Yeo was inserted as the head coach, while Martin Brodeur temporarily added goalie coach to his assistant GM duties, before dropping the role at the end of the season.

(Brodeur will lead the charge to find a replacement, now that he’s back to being AGM and Conklin was let go.)

The coaching shakeup wasn’t the only significant change Armstrong oversaw.

The club’s younger prospects continued to push for bigger roles at the NHL level. At forward, the likes of Ivan Barbashev and Zach Sanford both worked their way into the mix, while Robby Fabbri was on pace for a career year before a season-ending ACL tear in early February.

The youth movement could continue into next season, too. Tage Thompson, the 6-foot-5 forward taken 26th overall last year, left Connecticut after his sophomore year to turn pro, and gained some valuable experience with AHL Chicago. Vince Dunn, a defenseman taken in the second round in 2015, had a great year with the Wolves and led all d-men in scoring.

So if there’s going to be an ongoing developmental phase in St. Louis, it makes sense that Stillman wants Armstrong to oversee it. He’s done a good job of it throughout his seven years on the job — he’s the NHL’s ninth longest-tenured active GM — and the club has been successful, with five consecutive playoff appearances.

It is worth noting, however, that “club policy” kept Stillman from talking about actually signing Armstrong to an extension.

Report: ‘Hawks could add Ulf Samuelsson to coaching staff

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The Chicago Blackhawks are searching for an assistant coach, and Ulf Samuelsson might just be their guy.

According to the Chris Kuc of the Chicago Tribune, Samuelsson is the “top candidate” to replace Mike Kitchen, who was fired after the ‘Hawks were swept by the Nashville Predators in the opening round the playoffs.

The obvious connection here, is that Samuelsson and head coach Joel Quenneville were teammates with the Hartford Whalers back in the 1980s.

Samuelsson, 53, was an associate coach with the Arizona Coyotes from 2006 to 2011 and he was an assistant with the New York Rangers from 2013 to 2016. Last season,  he served as the head coach of Carolina’s farm team, the Charlotte Checkers.

He led the Checkers to a 39-29-8 record during the 2016-17 AHL campaign.