Eddie Lack, Joe Colborne, Dan Hamhuis

‘They play so slow,’ says scout on Torts-coached Canucks

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Alain Vigneault will be back in Vancouver tomorrow night, leading his playoff-bound Rangers side against John Tortorella and the Canucks, who will almost certainly miss the postseason for the first time since 2008.

A few weeks ago, I listed three things the Canucks have struggled with under Tortorella, starting with this:

1. They can’t move the puck

Specifically, from their end of the ice and into the attacking zone. Which is important in hockey, and also something the Canucks used to do really well during their salad days with Alain Vigneault behind the bench.

Mike Babcock — a good coach, we can all agree, right? — is always talking about the importance of getting the puck moving out of the defensive end in order to transition quickly through the neutral zone and into the opponent’s end, WITH POSSESSION.

So you can imagine I perked up when I read the following passage by Vancouver Province columnist Ed Willes:

Talked to a longtime NHL scout on Wednesday in St. Paul who delivered the defining word on the Vancouver Canucks under John Tortorella.

“They play so slow,” the scout said.

The problem, of course, is they aren’t built to play that way.

To be clear, playing “fast” doesn’t mean skating fast. It means making fast plays, pushing the puck and not giving your opponent time to get set defensively.

Here’s a great quote from Team Canada assistant coach Ken Hitchcock, during the summer Olympic camp:

“I think the sucker play is you have more space, you have more time, so the tendency is to take more time. It’s the big mistake. When we play well as Canadians, we play fast defensively and even faster offensively.”

Hitchcock was actually talking about playing on the big ice, but he preaches the same thing with his Blues.

“To me, transition … the whole game has to be played behind people,” Hitchcock said back in 2011, per In The Slot blog. “It’s not so much chipping it in, it’s just making people turn. That’s the whole focus of the game. If everybody’s on that page, then you play faster. You don’t slow down to make a play.

“The whole attitude is you’re converging pucks, bodies and traffic at the net, so your whole game is towards the net. But in order to do it, you have to make people turn. We’re trying to create an environment where we make them face their goalie as much as we can so that they can’t defend facing up ice.”

When Vigneault was coaching the Canucks, there were a lot of fans who thought he treated Keith Ballard unfairly. Despite the veteran defenseman’s healthy contract and good skating ability, he was often made a healthy scratch.

Well, here’s what Ballard said after he returned to the lineup in the 2011 playoffs and was pleased with how things went while paired with Chris Tanev: “We were solid. It was probably what they wanted out of us. We got the puck up to the forwards as soon as possible.

What does that tell you? It tells you Ballard was being told to get the puck moving faster. (Pretty much the same thing, by the way, that Ian White was being told last season in Detroit, where he was often a healthy scratch under Mike Babcock.)

Under Tortorella, getting the puck up to the forwards as soon as possible doesn’t seem to be a priority.

That, or the Canucks’ defensemen aren’t doing a good job of it.

That, or the forwards aren’t in good enough position to receive passes.

The result is defensemen holding on to the puck for what seems like forever — often being forced to circle back, or pass it back and forth with their partner — and no chance of a dangerous transition.

The result is an offense that ranks 28th in the NHL.

The result is a style that is boring to watch.

The result is empty seats.

The result is a coach that may be fired after the first year of a five-year, $10 million contract.

Related: Is Tortorella’s system to blame for Canucks’ woes?

Flyers’ Read out four weeks with reported oblique muscle pull

PHILADELPHIA, PA - APRIL 02:  Matt Read #24 of the Philadelphia Flyers takes the puck in the second period against the Ottawa Senators at the Wells Fargo Center on April 2, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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The Philadelphia Flyers have had their share of good news lately. They’ve won five in a row and goalie Steve Mason has been solid in that span, being named on Monday the NHL’s first star for the week.

But it hasn’t all been positive.

Forward Matt Read is out of the lineup for at least four weeks with an upper-body injury, the Flyers announced Monday. The injury occurred during Sunday’s game against the Nashville Predators.

It’s been reported the injury is an oblique muscle pull.

With Read out, the Flyers have recalled Taylor Leier from the American Hockey League.

Leier has been very productive in the minors. In 22 games this season with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, he has six goals and 20 points.

Ken Holland is all for expanding playoff format to include Wild Card play-in game

Colorado Avalanche v Detroit Red Wings
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The topic of a possible Wild Card play-in game being added to the NHL’s playoff format isn’t new.

General managers around the league have talked about it before. The idea recently seemed to gain traction with at least the small majority, too.

Hockey insider Bob McKenzie once polled all 30 GMs to get a sense of how many would be in favor of such a thing — and 16 of those GMs were. You can count Ken Holland with the Detroit Red Wings as someone who would like to see a Wild Card play-in game.

From TSN:

Holland is also a baseball fan and likes the way MLB has created must-watch play-in games. In baseball, there are three division winners in each league. Those three teams qualify for the division round of the postseason. Two wild-card teams in each league square off in a one-game play-in to decide the fourth divisional qualifier on each side.

“I’m all for an extra team in each conference qualifying for the playoffs and having a wild- card play-in game,” said Holland. “It would add excitement down the stretch for many more teams fighting for the additional wild-card spot and two extra teams would be involved in the playoffs. Those play-in games would be dramatic.” 

Of course, the interesting thing about that is the Red Wings have a streak of 25 consecutive playoff appearances on the line.

But their best days — when Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg led them to a Stanley Cup in 2008 and the final the following year — are long behind them. The organization has undergone substantial change with Zetterberg getting older, the loss of Datsyuk to the KHL and Mike Babcock joining the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Red Wings could be in real danger of missing the post-season under its current format in 2017.

Detroit is two points out of the second Wild Card spot in the East, with New Jersey and Boston still ahead of them, although not currently in a playoff spot.

Boeser, DeBrincat, and McAvoy headline USA’s preliminary World Juniors roster

TAMPA, FLORIDA - APRIL 09:  Brock Boeser #16 of the North Dakota Fighting Hawks celebrates his goal in the first period against the Quinnipiac Bobcats during the championship game of the 2016 NCAA Division I Men's Hockey Championships at Amalie Arena on April 9, 2016 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Three forwards — Brock Boeser, Alex DeBrincat, and Colin White — and two defensemen — Chad Krys and Charlie McAvoy — make up the five returnees that were named today to the preliminary roster for the 2017 U.S. National Junior Team.

Other recognizable names include first-round draft picks Luke Kunin, Clayton Keller, Logan Brown, Kieffer Bellows, Jack Roslovic, and Tage Thompson.

“This is a talented, versatile group of players that has found success across all levels of hockey,” said general manager Jim Johannson from USA Hockey. “There is depth at every position, and while we still have some difficult decisions to make, we feel each of these players can fit the style of hockey Coach Motzko (U.S. head coach Bob Motzko) first implemented at our National Junior Evaluation Camp last August.”

Click here for the full preliminary roster. D-man Jack Ahcan (St. Cloud State) and goalie Jake Oettinger (BU) are the only ones who have yet to be drafted. Oettinger doesn’t turn 18 until later this month.

The players will attend training camp Dec. 16-20 in Buffalo, then an additional camp in Oshawa, Ontario, from Dec. 20-24.

Of the 27 camp invitees (three goalies, eight d-men, and 16 forwards), only 23 will make the cut.

USA won bronze at the 2016 World Juniors in Finland.

Related: Barzal, Strome, Patrick among invitees to Canada’s World Juniors camp

Galchenyuk (lower body) out indefinitely, more tests coming

MONTREAL, QC - NOVEMBER 16:  Alex Galchenyuk #27 of the Montreal Canadiens skates during the warmup period prior to the NHL game against the Vancouver Canucks at the Bell Centre on November 16, 2015 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Vancouver Canucks 4-3 in overtime.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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The update on the injury Alex Galchenyuk suffered during Montreal’s win in L.A. on Sunday wasn’t definitive, but it was ominous.

From the Habs:

Galchenyuk suffered a lower body injury on December 4 in Los Angeles. He went for medical testing in St. Louis earlier Monday, and will be out indefinitely.

He will be further evaluated by team doctors in Montreal on Wednesday. An update will be released later this week.

The injury occurred in the third period of Sunday’s game, when he collided with Kings center Anze Kopitar.

Galchenyuk, 22, leads the Canadiens with nine goals and 23 points in 25 games this year and is one of the club’s top faceoff men, at least in terms of draws taken. He also averages over 16 minutes per night and features prominently on the power play.

So, needless to say, this is a potentially massive loss for Montreal.

The Habs will wrap their three-game road swing in St. Louis tomorrow, and are then back in action Thursday, when they host the Devils.

If Galchenyuk is out for a significant length of time, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Martin Hanzal-to-Montreal trade rumblings start up again.