NHL makes its official-unofficial return to Winnipeg tonight

The last time a NHL game was played in Winnipeg that featured the hometown team standing front and center was April 28, 1996 when the Detroit Red Wings eliminated the Winnipeg Jets from the playoffs in six games. While there have been preseason games that have come back to Winnipeg over the last few seasons, tonight’s preseason match-up at the MTS Centre will be something special as there’s a home team to root for once again.

The Winnipeg Jets host the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight and while it’s a split-squad affair between the teams (the other half of their rosters are in Columbus to face each other) it makes the return of the NHL a real and tangible thing for fans in Manitoba. If you think they’re not excited about that, you’d be completely wrong.

Patrick Williams of NHL.com gets the word from Jets coach Claude Noel heading into tonight’s coming out party.

Noel admitted his team is in uncharted waters, to some extent, given the city’s NHL history and the significance of the game.

“I don’t know what to expect,” Noel said. “I have a pretty good idea of what to expect for the Montreal game. I think it will be good. I think it will be enthusiastic. If it’s anything like our first practice, goodness, I thought our first practice was fabulous.”

A potential pitfall for the home team would be trying to impress the crowd or over-complicate the game. Noel, however, sees the possible distractions as positive challenges to his club.

“I think it’s all good,” Noel said when asked about the game’s significance possibly affecting his club. “I don’t think it will be a distraction. I think, if anything, it will be a big help for us. I think you’ll be able to see who is nervous, who has trouble in front of this excitable crowd. Those are the things that you want to look at and see how the response is.”

The Jets (and Blue Jackets) roster for tonight’s game is available from the guys at Illegal Curve (PDF) and the hometown fans will get a look at their starting goalie Ondrej Pavelec as well as likely starters in Zach Bogosian, Mark Stuart, Alexander Burmistrov, captain Andrew Ladd, and Dustin Byfuglien as well. 2011 first round pick Mark Scheifele will also get a chance to show the home fans what he’s about as well while hometown guys Troy Bodie and Jason Gregoire look to impress and win jobs.

It’s just a preseason game, but to see the buzz and excitement that’s coming out of Winnipeg for it is outstanding to see. Given that it’ll likely be a packed house for the game tonight, it’s doubtful you’ll see another preseason game played this year with this much excitement surrounding it.

WATCH LIVE: Game 1 for Penguins – Capitals, Rangers – Senators

Getty
Leave a comment

It’s really happening.

For all the griping about having the Penguins and Capitals meet in the second round (again), it’s easy to forget the bright side: upsets didn’t dislodge this juicy matchup from taking place.

The West’s duo of Game 1 matchups kicked into gear last night, and now the East provides that battle between Sidney Crosby‘s squad and Alex Ovechkin‘s loaded team. Don’t sleep on Rangers – Senators, either, though; there should be plenty of intrigue in seeing superhuman Swedes Henrik Lundqvist and Erik Karlsson try to one-up each other.

Here’s what you need to know to follow the action:

New York Rangers vs. Ottawa Senators

Time: 7:00 p.m. ET

Network: CNBC (Stream online here)

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Washington Capitals

Time: 7:30 p.m. ET

Network: NBCSN (Stream online here)

Sutter won’t retire from coaching, willing to join a rebuild

Getty
5 Comments

Given he turns 59 this summer, has won a pair of Stanley Cups and coached over 1,000 NHL games, Darryl Sutter probably could’ve called it a career after getting fired by the Kings earlier this month, and done so comfortably.

But that’s not happening.

In speaking with TSN’s Gary Lawless, Sutter said he has no plans to retire from coaching. What’s more — and, perhaps more interesting — is that Sutter said he wouldn’t limit his next job solely to a contending team.

Currently, there are just two vacant coaching gigs in Buffalo and Florida. We wrote about the Panthers’ search earlier today (more on that here). The situation in Buffalo is more complex, as the Sabres need to hire a new general manager and coach. Logic suggests the GM will be hired first, then spearhead the new bench boss hire.

In that regard, Buffalo is pretty intriguing.

Though the Kings have yet to be contacted for an interview request, ex-GM Dean Lombardi has been tied to the Sabres gig. And Lombardi, of course, is forever tied to Sutter — he was the one that hired Sutter after a five-year coaching exodus to join the Kings, and the pair went on to achieve great success together.

That five-year coaching exodus does need to be mentioned, though.

History suggests that Sutter isn’t joking when he says he’ll be picky about the situation and won’t rush to find the right fit. After being dismissed in Calgary in 2006, he returned to work on the family farm in Viking, Alberta and seemed fairly content doing so.

That said, hockey always seems to draw him back.

“The game has given us everything,” Sutter told Lawless. “We still have lots to give.”

Coyotes fire assistant coach Newell Brown

Getty
3 Comments

The Arizona Coyotes have parted ways with some personnel.

Assistant coach Newell Brown has been fired, along with Doug Soetaert, who was the general manager of their AHL affiliate in Tuscon.

Pro scouts David MacLean and Jim Roque won’t be back either. Their contracts will not be renewed.

“I’d like to thank Newell, Doug, David and Jim for their contributions to the club,” said GM John Chayka. “They are all good people but we believe these changes are necessary in order to improve our organization. We wish them the best in the future.”

A longtime NHL assistant coach, Brown is perhaps the most prominent of the four men. He joined the Coyotes in the summer of 2013 and received high praise for his work with their power play.

But Arizona’s power play slipped to 26th this past season, converting at a rate of just 16.2 percent.

As for Soetaert, he was only named GM of the Roadrunners last summer. The former NHL goalie had previously been a scout.

Plenty of seats available for tonight’s game in Ottawa

Getty
8 Comments

The Ottawa Senators say they’re still expecting a full house, but Ticketmaster’s website shows plenty of available seats for tonight’s second-round opener with the New York Rangers.

From the Ottawa Citizen:

Many of the available tickets for Thursday’s game were in the corners of the upper bowl, seats that carry a $96 price tag.

The Senators sold out all three games in the opening round of the playoffs against Boston. Game 1 drew a crowd of 18,702, while 18,629 showed up for Game 2 and 19,209 were in the seats for Game 5.

Attendance has been an issue in Ottawa — or, more specifically, suburban Kanata — all season, to the point owner Eugene Melnyk expressed great frustration with the lack of sellouts at Canadian Tire Centre.

Poor attendance also led to friction behind the scenes. At least, it sure sounded that way in the lawsuit that was filed against the team by its former chief marketing officer.

Poor attendance is why the Sens are trying to get a new downtown arena built. They believe that a more central location is the key to bigger crowds.

But regardless of the arena’s location, it won’t be a good look if there are empty seats tonight. This is the playoffs, and the Senators are one of eight remaining teams in the hunt for the Stanley Cup. The building should be full.

Related: Melnyk thinks Sens can make deep playoff run