‘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?

Pre-game reading: Does the NHL’s playoff format need fixing?

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— Up top, Brian Boucher and Mike Milbury have their say on NHL participation in the Olympics, something Gary Bettman continues to put into doubt.

— At least fans can still be certain there will be playoff hockey. That being said, does the NHL’s format need fixing? Because as it stands right now, at least one of Washington, Pittsburgh, or Columbus is guaranteed to be gone after the first round, and only one of those three can survive past the second round. The Capitals, Penguins, and Blue Jackets are first, second, and third in the overall standings, respectively. Hence, the debate. (The Washington Post)

— The Caps take on the Blue Jackets tonight in D.C., and Barry Trotz is looking forward to the fight for playoff positioning. The Caps, you’ll recall, coasted to first place in the Metro Division last season. But they can’t afford to coast now. “Having gone both routes now, I prefer this,” Trotz said. “Because it’s more meaningful. … It was in our hands too early last year, and I think it took a little edge off. You get too comfortable for too long, you get too soft.” (Washington Post)

— Don’t expect the NBA’s controversial practice of resting star players to become a common problem for the NHL. Said Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty: “I just think hockey’s a different kind of animal where I don’t think guys would want to do it. Guys are stubborn enough to probably fight it if they were asked and that’s how I would see that going down.” (Canadian Press)

— Why Dave Hakstol won’t be fired, by Flyers beat reporter Dave Isaac, who writes: “It took multiple pleas to woo Hakstol from a much more comfortable college job at the University of North Dakota. To fire Hakstol this early would be an admission from Hextall that this part of his grand plan — hiring the coach that he thought would grow with the roster — was wrong.” (Courier-Post)

William Nylander may sometimes get overshadowed in Toronto by fellow Maple Leafs rookies Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. But with 20 goals in 70 games, what Nylander has done is still very impressive. (The Hockey News)

Enjoy the games!

Bowling Green goalie Nell leaves school, signs with Rangers

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The Blueshirts added to their goaltending depth on Thursday, signing Bowling Green junior Chris Nell to an entry-level contract.

Nell, 22, just wrapped his junior campaign at Bowling Green, going 17-14-2 with a 2.15 GAA and .916 save percentage. This year, he became the school’s all-time leader in career shutouts, this after a terrific sophomore campaign in which he finished with a sparking 1.31 GAA and .930 save percentage.

An undrafted free agent, Nell now joins an organization with several young netminders in the mix. Mackenzie Skapski, a 2013 draftee, made his NHL debut two years ago but has struggled this season, splitting time between AHL Hartford and ECHL Greenville. Brandon Halverson, a second-rounder in ’14, has also split time between Hartford and Greenville, and was recently recalled to New York on an emergency basis.

New York has also drafted Russian netminder Igor Shesterkin (fourth round, ’14), Slovak Adam Huska (seventh round, ’15) and UMass-Lowell product Tyler Wall (sixth round, ’16).

 

On verge of missing playoffs, Red Wings aim to keep winning culture

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The Detroit Red Wings have no intention of tearing their roster down and undertaking a painful rebuild, a la the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Why not, you ask?

Because even though the Wings are going to miss the playoffs for the first time since 1990, and even though their leading scorer (Henrik Zetterberg) is 36 years old, they don’t want to lose the culture that made them so successful over the past quarter century.

“There are organizations where they have lost culture,” said head coach Jeff Blashill, per the Detroit Free Press. “They have missed the playoffs, and they miss it 10 straight years. We don’t want to be in this position again. This isn’t OK. That is the approach we are taking every day.”

We have heard other teams say similar things. For example, the Vancouver Canucks. (Which won’t make Wings fans feel great to hear.)

While there’s nothing wrong with trying to maintain a winning culture, the biggest challenge the Wings have is a lack of talent — particularly on the back end.

That’s up to GM Ken Holland to solve, and solve relatively quickly, given his lack of appetite for a lengthy rebuild.

“We’re going to continue to try and be competitive, we’re going to continue to try and make the playoffs and our ultimate goal is to eventually be a Cup contender,” Holland said a few months ago.

“To me, rebuild means eight to 10 years, and there are teams that have made the playoffs one year in 10 while rebuilding.”

Related: It’s going to be a very different draft for the Red Wings

Yeo more surprised than anyone to learn of Stastny injury

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For the second time since taking over as head coach, Mike Yeo has lost the services Paul Stastny.

This time, though, Yeo was caught off guard.

“It may sound misleading, but it was a completely separate injury that kept him out of (Tuesday’s) game and one that we believed would have him possibly in the lineup for us tonight,” Yeo told the Post-Dispatch of Stastny’s lower-body ailment, which will keep him out week-to-week. “We were surprised to hear that this came about yesterday.

“Believe me, I was probably more surprised than all the fans out there. So it’s a difficult one, but one that we’ll have to overcome.”

Stastny was limited to less than four minutes of ice time during Tuesday’s 4-2 win against the Colorado Avalanche. Initially, Yeo indicated that the issue wasn’t serious — and it very well may not haven been — but that’s irrelevant now, as an entirely new issue could potentially sideline Stastny for the remainder of the regular season.

The Blues are in good shape for a playoff spot, up eight points on L.A., but are jockeying with Nashville for third spot in the Central Division (both head into tonight’s action with 83 points). St. Louis also has 10 games left.

There’s no denying Stastny’s absence will be felt. Back when he missed four games in early February, Yeo noted how integral he was to the club.

“He’s usually the first guy over the boards for a power-play faceoff or the first guy over the boards for a penalty-kill faceoff, and those are key,” Yeo said, per the Blues website. “He’s a very important player for us. You don’t take out a top-line center from too many lineups where they don’t feel that.”

Limited to just 66 games this season, Stastny has still managed to score 18 goals — third-most on the team — and 40 points. He also averages a healthy 19:08 TOI per night.