Eddie Lack, Joe Colborne, Dan Hamhuis

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


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?

Niemi blanks Pens, notches two assists in Stars debut

Antti Niemi, Sidney Crosby, Patric Hornqvist

DALLAS (AP) — Antti Niemi recorded his 33rd career shutout and assisted on two goals in his Dallas debut, as the Stars beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-0 on Thursday night in the season opener for both.

Ales Hemsky had a power-play goal and an assist.

Rookie Matthias Janmark scored on his first shot on his first shift in an NHL game to make it 1-0. The Stars acquired Niemi and Janmark in trades earlier this year.

Dallas scored on two of five power plays. Jamie Benn, the NHL’s leading scorer last season, had a power-play goal in the third period.

Niemi made 37 saves to improve his career record against the Penguins to 5-1-1. He withstood a flurry in the final minute after Pittsburgh pulled goalie Marc-Andre Fleury for an extra skater.

Fleury had 21 saves.

The Stars are 4-0-1 in their last five home games against Pittsburgh, and have won three in a row overall.

Janmark skated down the slot, took a pass from Hemsky and shot between Fleury’s legs at 1:39 of the first.

The Penguins dominated the latter half of the period, but couldn’t score. Niemi’s best stop was a reaching glove save of Rod Scuderi’s drive from the blue line with less than 3 minutes remaining. Pittsburgh outshot the Stars 10-4 in the first.

Hemsky scored at 5:42 of the second on Dallas’ first power play. His shot from the top of the right faceoff circle went in over Fleury’s right shoulder.

The Penguins again had an advantage in shots, 13-11. Pittsburgh had chances in close, but Niemi turned those away. Midway through the second, John Klingberg cleared away a loose puck from in front of the net.

Seven seconds into the Stars’ fourth power play of the third period, Jamie Benn tipped in Jason Spezza‘s shot from the right point.

NOTES: Dallas acquired Janmark as part of a March trade that sent Erik Cole to Detroit. The rookie had been playing in the Swedish Hockey League. . San Jose traded Niemi’s rights to the Stars in June for a seventh-round draft pick. Also making their Dallas debuts were LW Patrick Sharp and D Johnny Oduya, teammates with Chicago’s Stanley Cup champions last season. . In his first game for the Penguins, Phil Kessel played in his 447th straight game. . Pittsburgh was 0 for 3 on the power play.

Fabbri’s first spoils McDavid’s debut as Blues down Oilers

Robby Fabbri, Justin Schultz
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ST. LOUIS (AP) — Rookie Robby Fabbri scored the tiebreaking goal midway through the third period to help the St. Louis Blues beat Edmonton 3-1 Thursday night, spoiling Oilers rookie Connor McDavid‘s NHL debut.

Vladimir Tarasenko had the tying goal for the Blues near the midpoint of the second period, and Troy Brouwer added an empty-netter with 18 seconds remaining in the third. Brian Elliott finished with 23 saves.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored in the first period for Edmonton and Cam Talbot had 28 saves.

McDavid, the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, took 22 shifts, played 18:07 and was on the ice for Brouwer’s goal. He had two shots on goal, and struggled on faceoffs – winning only three of 13.

Fabbri, a 19-year-old forward — and McDavid’s childhood friend — was also playing in his first NHL game. The Blues’ first-round pick in 2014 was one of three rookies in the St. Louis lineup, joining defensemen Colton Parayko and Joel Edmundson.

Nugent-Hopkins gave the Oilers a 1-0 lead late in the first period with a fluke power-play goal. He lost a face-off but when Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo tried to clear the puck it bounced off Alexander Steen and past Brian Elliott. Nugent-Hopkins was credited with the unassisted power-play goal with 2:38 remaining in the period.

Tarasenko tied it a 9:10 of the second after getting loose on a breakaway with a stretch pass from Alex Pietrangelo and beating Talbot through his legs.

Tarasenko, who signed an eight-year, $60 million extension in the offseason, was the last Blues player to score in his debut.

NOTES: McDavid and F Anton Slepyshev made their NHL debuts for the Oilers. … St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina dropped the ceremonial first puck. … The attendance was announced as standing room-only 19,327.