Dallas Eakins

For playoff-desperate Oilers, Eakins was a risk worth taking

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Dallas Eakins has never been a head coach in the NHL. That’s the risk the Edmonton Oilers took when they hired him in June to replace Ralph Krueger.

At least, that’s one of the risks. Every hiring comes with its share of potential pitfalls. But that’s the one that got the most attention — especially since Krueger had never been a head coach in the NHL when he was given the job the previous summer.

Eakins, a former NHL player who spent most of his pro career in the minors, was most recently the bench boss of the AHL’s Toronto Marlies, Originally, it was reported he was interviewing with the Oilers for a job as an associate coach on Krueger’s staff. However, upon meeting, Edmonton general manager Craig MacTavish felt Eakins would be “better served in a primary role.” So out went Krueger, who failed to get the Oilers into the playoffs in 2013, marking the seventh straight missed postseason for the club.

Known as a stickler for fitness, as Nazem Kadri found out in Toronto, Eakins provided a warning of sorts at his introductory press conference in Edmonton.

“I think there may be some big adjustments for the players, with me coming in here,” Eakins said.

“I want players to be so fit that a forward, if I ask him to play 26 minutes that night, he’s going to play 26 minutes at a high level. If we’re in a Stanley Cup playoff game and we’re in quadruple overtime, he will still be firing on all cylinders.

“That is something that I’m passionate about that will be probably a bit of a challenge on the buy-in. But it’s non-negotiable, and there will be buy-in.”

But Eakins isn’t some old-school drill sergeant; on the contrary, his views on how to motivate players are decidedly new school.

“The way you coach players now is you get them one on one,” he said. “You’ve got to know them inside out.”

According to Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock, Eakins is about a lot more than just fitness.

“He’ll talk your ear off about conditioning but it’s a smokescreen,” Hitchcock said. “He’s going to demand things of the Oiler players they’ve never done before and they’re going to find it quite difficult. Quite frankly some of the players are out of the barn but he’ll gather them all back in. He’s going to say things that make the players squeamish but he’s going to be one of the best things you’ve had there. He’s tough.”

The Oilers — stocked with three first overall draft picks and other top, young prospects, plus a handful of offseason acquisitions — are desperate to end their playoff drought. And for a rookie head coach, that sort of pressure could prove a challenge.

On that note, MacTavish was particularly impressed with Eakins’ composure during the interview process.

“Those are great qualities for a coach, unflappable and great perspective,” MacTavish said.

Of course, we’ll see if Eakins is still unflappable if the Oilers don’t get off to the start they want, or if the players don’t immediately buy in to his tough approach. Until then, the dice are still tumbling on Edmonton’s coaching gamble.

More Oilers day on PHT:

They said Nugent-Hopkins would get hurt — and so far, they’ve sort of been right

MacTavish made moves, but was he ‘bold’ enough?

Despres, Perron return to Pittsburgh for the first time since being traded to Anaheim

FILE - In this Sept. 22, 2015, file photo, Anaheim Ducks defenseman Simon Despres skates before an NHL preseason hockey game against the Colorado Avalanche in Denver. Despres has agreed to a five-year contract extension with the Ducks on Friday, Oct. 9, 2015, solidifying his role in Anaheim after joining the club in a trade last season. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey, File)
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Simon Despres and David Perron will return to Pittsburgh for the first time since they were shipped to Anaheim via trade.

Monday’s tilt at the Consol Engery Center will be special for both individuals.

Despres was traded to Anaheim for Ben Lovejoy last March, while Perron was sent to the Ducks earlier this season.

Both players may have had some good times in Pittsburgh, but in both instances, things didn’t end up the way they had envisioned.

“I don’t want to talk about that,” Perron said of things not working out in Pittsburgh, per the Post-Gazette. “I made some great relationships. Some really good friends.

“The only thing, it didn’t work. That’s what what [general manager] Jim Rutherford and I and [head coach] Mike Sullivan talked when the trade happened. I wish it would have been different but that’s the way it goes sometimes. It didn’t click as good as you wanted it to be. I’m happy I got a new start and it’s going well.”

The 27-year-old played 86 games over two seasons with the Penguins, and he managed to score just 16 goals and 38 points during that span.

Things have been a lot better for him since the move to Anaheim. Perron has three goals, five assists and a plus-7 rating in his first seven games as a Duck.

As for Despres, things haven’t been as smooth since his departure from the Penguins.

The 24-year-old played well in the final month of the season last year, but he missed 42 games in 2015-16 because of a concussion he suffered near the beginning of the season.

He’s been a welcomed addition to the lineup. Anaheim hasn’t lost since Despres returned to the lineup on Jan. 26.

“He hasn’t gotten any points but we haven’t lost since he’s been back,” Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said, via the Post-Gazette. “We missed him for sure. In the playoffs last year, he was as good of a defenseman as we had. Big and strong and played against big opposition and he didn’t tire. The more games he gets, the better he’s going to get.”

The defenseman spent most of his adult life in the Penguins organization and he admits that’s something he’ll never forget.

“I guarantee that I’ll be a little bit emotional for the game [tonight],” said Despres. “Spent a lot of years here. A lot of memories and good friends. A lot of friends in Pittsburgh.”

PHT Morning Skate: Sens’ Lazar, Stone broke out of scoring slumps after giving homeless men $50

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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

Curtis Lazar and Mark Stone found a new way to bust out of scoring slumps. (Ottawa Citizen)

–This young defenseman scored a beautiful goal during a Swedish League game:

–A Kings fan had forward Milan Lucic sign a toaster. (Bardown)

–Watch the highlights from yesterday’s game between the Capitals and Flyers (top of the page).

–The Anaheim Ducks wore Los Angeles Angels themed jerseys during pregame warmup on Friday night:

–On Sunday, Andrei Markov became the third Canadiens defenseman in history to play in 900 games.

–Sports Illustrated looks at the next group of Russian hockey players that will make an impact in the NHL. (Sports Illustrated)

J.T. Miller might be breaking through for the Rangers

New York Rangers center J.T. Miller celebrates after scoring his second goal of the game against the New Jersey Devils during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016, in Newark, N.J. The Devils won 3-2. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
AP
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Don’t look now, but J.T. Miller might just be “getting it.”

By “it” you can mean a number of things: New York Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault’s confidence, his own confidence and that scoring touch at the NHL level.

He’s been on particularly hot streak for the last three weeks or so. While he failed to score in Saturday’s win against the Philadelphia Flyers, Miller reeled off a run in which he scored five points in three games and eight goals during a nine-game span.

His teammates and coach have taken notice, too, as Denis Gorman of Metro New York reports.

“The first practice I saw him, his strength, the way he shoots the puck. He has good hands, vision, he has everything to become a great hockey player,” Henrik Lundqvist said. “He’s getting there. He’s improving so much, but the biggest thing is probably just confidence, realizing that he is that good and he can use all these tools to be a great player.”

The Rangers aim to be a regular contender, and sometimes staying in the picture is all about developing prospects like Miller.

At the moment, it looks like he’s trending in an impressive direction.

Isles clobber Oilers, Okposo nabs second career hat trick

New York Islanders right wing Kyle Okposo (21) reacts as he sits beside right wing Cal Clutterbuck (15) on the bench after scoring his third goal for a hat trick against the Edmonton Oilers in the third period of an NHL hockey game in New York, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016. The Islanders defeated the Oilers 8-1. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
AP
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NEW YORK (AP) After two disappointing road losses, the New York Islanders needed to face a last-place opponent like the Edmonton Oilers.

Kyle Okposo had his second career hat trick after the Islanders opened a commanding lead with three first-period goals and New York routed the Oilers 8-1 on Sunday.

Thomas Greiss made 30 saves for the Islanders (27-18-6), who moved within three points of the New York Rangers for second-place in the Metropolitan Division.

“It was good. Good to put up eight. It was a pretty good team effort,” Okposo said. “I thought we were going on all cylinders. It’s definitely nice to get rewarded.”

Johnny Boychuck, John Tavares and Nikolay Kulemin scored in the opening period, chasing former Islanders goalie Anders Nilsson, who was replaced after Kulemin’s goal by former Ranger Cam Talbot.

Boychuk, in his first home game after missing 11 games overall with an upper body injury suffered on Dec. 31 at Buffalo, ripped a slap shot past Nilsson at 2:57 for his fourth goal of the season.

“It’s always good when you strike early,” Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. “We did a lot of good things and got two points.”

Tavares made it 2-0 at 9:12 with his 19th goal before Kulemin added his sixth at 11:24. Oilers coach Todd McLellan then pulled Nilsson, who stopped only seven of the 10 shots he faced.

Okposo made it 4-0 at 2:32 of the second, then scored again at 6:09 of the middle period.

After Oilers rookie sensation Connor McDavid finally put Edmonton on the board with his seventh goal at 6:50, Josh Bailey made it 6-1 at 9:36.

Cal Clutterbuck increased the margin to 7-1 at 16:04 of the middle period with his 11th goal. Talbot raised his arms in frustration after Clutterbuck’s goal, seemingly exasperated with the defensive effort in front of him.

Okposo completed his hat trick at 7:27 of the third, when he whipped a shot on the power play past Talbot for his 15th goal of the season. The goal made it 8-1 and led to a cascade of hats tossed onto the Barclays Center ice. It was a season high in goals for the Islanders.

“Kyle has been playing awesome,” said defenseman Nick Leddy, who had three assists. “His contributions have been felt all year. He has been one of the best players on the ice game in and game out.”

The defeat following Saturday night’s 5-1 loss at Montreal left McLellan fuming.

“I don’t think we were prepared to play for those first few goals against,” McLellan said. “I’m very disappointed in the preparation and the approach to the game. We got our butts handed to us in Montreal and came here and responded in a very inappropriate way. ”

The 19-year-old McDavid – the first overall pick in last June’s draft – returned after missing 37 games with a broken collarbone for the opening game of the Edmonton’s four-game trip. McDavid scored once and added two assists in a 5-1 win at Columbus, then had two assists in a 7-2 victory at Ottawa.

Playing his first game since Jan. 12, Greiss was his usual stellar self. He didn’t have an especially tough game despite the litany of offensive skill on the Oilers roster in addition to McDavid.

“It always helps when we score a bunch of quick goals. It seemed like it was going our way tonight,” Greiss said. “That would be awesome if we could score eight goals every game. We have to be realistic. It’s not going to happen too often.”

Greiss improved to 14-6-2 this season, his first with the Islanders.

The Islanders improved to 17-8-3 at Barclays Center in their first season in Brooklyn after 43 years at Nassau Coliseum.

The Oilers haven’t won in New York against the Islanders since Dec. 14, 1999, when they beat the Islanders 4-2 at Nassau Coliseum.

NOTES: Former Islander Griffin Reinhart played against the team that drafted him fourth overall in 2012 for the first time. … The teams meet again in Edmonton on Feb. 28.