Eakins attends Cowboys camp, picks Garrett’s brain

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Prior to getting hired in Edmonton, Dallas Eakins carved himself a niche as an “out of the box” thinker and “innovative” head coach.

Well, his latest move certainly fits that billing.

Last week, the Oilers bench boss dialed up Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett — whom he’d never met — and asked if he could drop by training camp to see how the NFL club operates.

Garrett obliged, and here’s how it went (per ESPN Dallas):

Eakins reached out to Garrett to see if he could watch a few training camp practices to see how such a big coaching staff works together with hockey staffs growing in number, too. Garrett said Eakins made reference to the mix of the Cowboys’ staff.

Garrett has had a lot of changeover on his Dallas Cowboys coaching staff since taking over full-time in 2011. He has always tried to have a mix of experience and youth on his staff, and this year the ages range from 28 (assistant wide receivers coach Kyle Valero) to 74 (assistant head coach/defense Monte Kiffin).

“One of the first things he said to me is, he sat in a lot of the different meetings and he said ‘There’s unbelievable diversity on your staff — old guys, young guys, guys who have come from different places. Different philosophies, different coaching and teaching styles,'” Garrett said. “We have done that, whether it’s very, very consciously in every decision, I don’t know if that’s the case, but I do believe that’s important. You want to be able to reach the players and touch the players a lot of different ways. If I tried to hire everybody who was exactly like me, that would be a really, really bad thing. If we tried to hire everybody who was exactly like some model, that would be a bad thing. You want to have guys who have different personalities and somehow touch the guys differently. I think we’ve done that. It was interesting to me that he recognized that.”

Edmonton doesn’t have an overly large coaching staff, though it did undergo a significant change this offseason. Two of Eakins’ assistants — Steve Smith and Kelly Buchberger — were replaced by Craig Ramsay and Rocky Thompson; they joined a staff that already included fellow assistant Keith Acton and goalie coach Frederic Chabot.

Thompson and Ramsay are at different ends of the age spectrum, which could explain Eakins’ visit to Texas. Thompson turns 37 this week, was playing professional hockey as recently as 2007 and had just four years of pro coaching experience (as an assistant with AHL Oklahoma City). Ramsay, 63, is a well-traveled veteran; he had head coaching gigs in Buffalo, Philadelphia and Atlanta to go along with assistant/associate jobs in Florida, Ottawa, Tampa Bay and Boston.

Islanders grab precious points by beating Rangers

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The goal posts might move from time to time – now they’re chasing the Boston Bruins more than the Toronto Maple Leafs – but the bottom line is that the New York Islanders need to get it done to make the playoffs.

They still have some climbing to do, but Wednesday represented a step in the right direction with a tough 3-2 win against the New York Rangers.

The Rangers built 1-0 and 2-1 leads in the second period as John Tavares struggled with a “hat trick” of penalties, but Tavares & Co. wouldn’t give up. They managed two power-play goals in the third (one by Nikolay Kulemin, the winner by Andrew Ladd) to turn things around for a significant win.

Anders Lee was also a big part of the win, grabbing a goal and an assist. The biggest difference-maker may very well have been Thomas Greiss, who stopped 34 of 36 shots (including all 11 in the third) as the Rangers created a lot of offense.

The Islanders now have 80 standings points, placing them two behind the Bruins for the East’s final wild card spot.

The Rangers’ hold over the first wild card seems quite secure, but they do have to worry ever so slightly about their play at home. With this defeat, they’ve now lost seven straight (0-5-2) at Madison Square Garden.

Video: Rick Nash scores 20th goal in sprawling style

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Rick Nash has his critics stemming from his playoff struggles in the past, but for those who support him, moments like these are satisfying.

Why? Because you’d be absurd to discredit how hard he tries when Nash scores goals like he did for the New York Rangers against the New York Islanders on Wednesday.

Nash went all-out for his 20th goal of the season, sprawling after scoring against Thomas Greiss. It’s quite a sight, and Getty Images really was on top of that one.

via Getty Images

The Rangers may need more from him tonight, however, as the Islanders just went up 3-2. Watch the remainder of the contest on NBCSN.

Leafs pass Bruins for third in Atlantic after gutsy win against Columbus

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It wasn’t pretty – especially if you’re disgusted by that Roman Polak hit – but the Toronto Maple Leafs keep generating big wins as a playoff return looks increasingly likely.

Toronto managed a 5-2 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday, passing the Boston Bruins for third place in the Atlantic Division:

Maple Leafs: 83 points in 72 games
Bruins: 82 points in 73 games

This leaves the currently in-action New York Islanders four points behind the Bruins for the final wild card in the East.

The Maple Leafs aren’t just grabbing key points; they’re doing so against some strong opponents who’ve had plenty on the line, too. They beat a Metro contender in Columbus tonight, the Bruins on Monday, grabbed an OT point against Chicago on Saturday and handled the desperate Lightning last Thursday.

This game was all about William Nylander‘s brilliant start:

And also Toronto surviving a long penalty kill after that Polak hit:

Nazem Kadri‘s 30th goal really put the game out of reach, helping Toronto nab a significant victory.

The Blue Jackets can wallow in this defeat and Oliver Bjorkstrand‘s injury, either, as they turn around to face the Washington Capitals in a big one tomorrow.

Tortorella was irate after Roman Polak boarded Oliver Bjorkstrand

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John Tortorella was left enraged after Roman Polak delivered a dangerous boarding hit on Oliver Bjorkstrand, and he probably wasn’t too pleased after the Columbus Blue Jackets failed to make Toronto pay for Polak’s misdeeds.

Polak received a game misconduct and boarding major for the hit, but the Blue Jackets failed to score on a lengthy power play. Tortorella played to script, as cameras caught him expressing his anger at the situation.

First, take a look at the hit:

Next, behold Tortorella’s anger:

Again, Columbus couldn’t capitalize on its opportunities, so that didn’t make things any better.

Right now, the Maple Leafs lead the Blue Jackets 3-2. If Toronto ends up winning, this will stand as one of the game’s pivotal moments.

It’s far from the only exciting moment, however, with these goals and big hits also standing out.