This just in: Roberto Luongo isn’t Vancouver’s only problem

5 Comments

When something stinks, it’s comforting for people to turn to a single scapegoat to create the illusion that greatness is a tweak away. Some teams try to live that lie by arbitrarily firing assistant coaches; other fan bases throw a struggling goalie under the bus.

Roberto Luongo has been that easy target during a sleepy start to the Vancouver Canucks’ season, but the St. Louis Blues made it clear that he isn’t the team’s only problem by beating Vancouver 3-0 on Wednesday night.

Quietly streaking Blues backup Brian Elliott earned his first shutout since Dec. 1, 2010 while boy wonder Cory Schneider allowed three goals in defeat. (Maybe Luongo destroyed morale by picking his nose on the bench at one point, but that hasn’t been confirmed.)

The game seemed to follow a discouraging trend of slow starts by the 2011 Western Conference finalists, as they only sent 15 shots at Elliott threw the first two periods before erupting with 17 in the final frame. It’s hard not to look at the lack of penalties as another sign of a flat evening, too; the game included just one two-minute minor through the first 40 minutes before there were four in third period.

Beyond sleepwalking through the beginning of games and Luongo’s panic-inducing struggles, the Canucks have some other issues.

  • They’ve already been shutout three times this season.
  • Ryan Kesler might be back, but he isn’t quite Ryan Kesler yet. The two-way center has just two points in five games after returning from off-season surgery.
  • The Sedin twins simply aren’t getting enough support. The team’s top scorers are (in order): Daniel – 12 points, Henrik – 11, Sami Salo – 7, Alex Edler – 6 with Alexandre Burrows and Chris Higgins are tied at 5. Their star doppelgangers are doing fine, but they can’t do it alone.
  • After taking a “hometown discount,” Kevin Bieksa has one assist and a -9 rating in 10 games.
  • I know that he absorbs a lot of tough matchups, but great defensive center Manny Malhotra’s -6 rating makes me wonder if Kesler isn’t the only Canucks center who’s far from 100 percent.

So yeah, it’s probably more fun to blurt out “Luongo!” when explaining the Canucks’ troubles, but the more disturbing fact for Vancouver fans is that there are plenty of other issues at hand.

On the bright side, the 4-5-1 Canucks play in the mediocre Northwest Division, so there’s plenty of time for them to get their acts together – whether it’s with Luongo or Schneider in net.

No hearing scheduled for Wingels after Wilson headshot (Updated)

13 Comments

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

Getty
Leave a comment

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

Getty
Leave a comment

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

Getty
3 Comments

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.