WillieDesjardins

For Desjardins, responsibilities include both winning and entertaining

It wasn’t just that the John Tortorella-coached Canucks lost. It was also that they lost ugly.

Really ugly.

In 2013-14, Vancouver finished with the 28th-ranked offense in the NHL and, for the first time since 2008, missed the playoffs. This just three seasons after the club finished with the top-ranked offense and won the Presidents’ Trophy, with much of the same personnel.

To be sure, not all of the team’s descent can be pinned on Tortorella. That would be wholly unfair. The Canucks actually began to deteriorate offensively when Alain Vigneault was still behind the bench — a fact former general manager Mike Gillis somewhat took ownership for in one of his last interviews on the job.

“I really feel that over the last couple of seasons, we’ve chased goalposts that have been moving and got away from our core principles of how I want this team to play, and how we want to perform, and the tempo that we want to play with,” Gillis said in April.

“People love to pick someone to blame, but the reality is, as an organization, we’ve deviated from some of the things that made us successful, and some of the things that I know will be successful.”

Gillis didn’t save his job with that quasi-mea culpa, but Willie Desjardins, the head coach that new president of hockey ops Trevor Linden and new GM Jim Benning hired to replace Tortorella, fits the description that Gillis would surely have laid out.

“I’ve watched Willie’s teams play a lot in the last 12 years, including recently in Texas,” said Benning. “His teams play fast (i.e. not “slow”) and work extremely hard. They play an up-tempo, hard-skating type of game.”

In the last couple of decades, there have been three eras of Canucks hockey that fans in Vancouver have really connected with. First was the one in the 1990s with Pavel Bure and Linden leading the offensive charge; the next was the West Coast Express years from 2002 to 2006, led by Markus Naslund and Todd Bertuzzi; and the third was propelled by twins Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin, with each winning an Art Ross Trophy in 2009-10 and 2010-11, respectively.

All three of those eras scored a lot of goals, and looked good doing it. Bure was arguably the most exciting player in franchise history. The West Coast Express helped fans forget about the ill-fated Mike Keenan and Mark Messier era. As for the Sedin era, Canucks ownership and management are hoping that Desjardins, a first-time NHL coach at age 57, can breathe new life into that one.

And Desjardins, who passed up the opportunity to coach Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in Pittsburgh, believes it’s possible.

“I like what I have to work with, I like it a lot,” he said after he was hired.

“We want to be an entertaining, high-paced, fast team.”

Questions, of course, remain. Like:

— Are the Sedins just too old? Couldn’t that be why they’ve been tailing off? The NHL is a young man’s game, and the twins are 33.

— Is the whole team just too old? On the back end, Kevin Bieksa is 33 and Dan Hamhuis is 31. Alex Edler isn’t exactly old at 28, but he’s not young either. Up front, Alex Burrows is 33 and Chris Higgins is 31, while new addition Radim Vrbata is 33. Heck, Jannik Hansen used to be the kid with the young, energetic legs. He’s 28 now.

Tortorella, for all the criticism he’s received and continues to receive (the word “scapegoat” occasionally comes to mind), wasn’t wrong when he called the Canucks “stale.” They do very much need an injection of youth.

And so in addition to reviving the Sedins and all the other Canuck veterans who underperformed last season, Desjardins will also be responsible for bringing along the club’s youngsters, like Zack Kassian, Linden Vey, Nicklas Jensen, Bo Horvat, Luca Sbisa, Chris Tanev, and Frank Corrado.

Add it all up, then throw in the fact the Canucks play in the very tough Western Conference, and you’ve got a pretty tall task.

“We want to be a good team and make the playoffs and that’s our focus,” said Desjardins.

But don’t forget to be exciting and entertaining, too.

‘We were awful’: Duchene calls out Avs after latest shutout loss

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 19:  Matt Duchene #9 of the Colorado Avalanche awaits a face off against the Edmonton Oilers at Pepsi Center on December 19, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Avalanche defeated the Oilers 5-1.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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The Colorado Avalanche are one of those teams that’s hard to figure out.

They have plenty of offensive talent on their roster, and going from Patrick Roy to Jared Bednar was supposed to help get the most out of their star players.

But through 23 games, that hasn’t been the case.

Going into Sunday’s action, they find themselves in the basement of the Western Conference with a 9-13-1 record.

It doesn’t help that they’ve had to deal with a number of injuries. They were dealt an even bigger blow on Saturday, when they announced that Erik Johnson (leg) would be out for six-to-eight weeks.

Gabriel Landeskog and Fedor Tyutin are also dealing with lower-body injuries.

“Injuries are no excuse, but it helps to have some of those guys in the lineup,” Bednar said, per the Denver Post. “You’re missing a pair on ‘D.’ I still can’t help but feel we have more to give. .. You still have to stick with it and work through it. That’s the only way you get out of it is to work out of it.”

Colorado had an opportunity to get things on track, but they finished their latest homestand with an 0-4-1 record. Yikes!

One of the biggest problems with this team is that they can’t seem to find the back of the net with any regularity.

No team has scored less times than the Avalanche, who are tied for last with a league-worst 49 goals for. They’ve also been shut out five times already in 2016-17.

Their power play was so bad against Dallas that Bednar decided to start the man-advantage with John Mitchell and Blake Comeau at one point.

“We were awful. I totally get why he did what he did,” forward Matt Duchene said after Saturday’s 3-0 loss to Dallas. “It’s frustrating. We’re just not executing right now. I think we’re overthinking things because we haven’t been winning.

“We’re not playing good hockey right now.”

With Corey Crawford out, ‘Hawks recall goalie Lars Johansson from AHL

CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 17: Corey Crawford #50 of the Chicago Blackhawks follows the action against the Montreal Canadiens at the United Center on January 17, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Blackhawks defeated the Canadiens 5-2. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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The Chicago Blackhawks were dealt a blow yesterday, when they announced that starting goalie Corey Crawford would miss two-to-three weeks after undergoing an appendectomy on Saturday.

With Crawford unavailable yesterday, Chicago was forced to look for an emergency backup in the Philly area. Ultimately, they settled on former temple goalie Eric Semborski.

On Sunday, they got their goaltending situation in order, as they recalled Lars Johansson from the AHL.

Johansson, 29, is in his first season in North America. He played the previous 10 years over in Sweden with Mora IK, Vasteras IK and Frolunda HC.

In the AHL, he’s posted a 6-7-1 record with a 2.63 goals-against-average and a .911 save percentage in 2016-17.

His numbers in the minors might not look good, but Johansson had the best goals-against-average (1.74) in the top league in Sweden last year.

The Blackhawks also sent forward Nick Schmaltz to the minors.

Schmaltz, who was Chicago’s first-round pick in 2014, made the team out of training camp, but has played limited minutes.

The 20-year-old has just one goal and three assists, while averaging 11:46 of ice time in 2016-17.

Playing a larger role with AHL Rockford should be good for his confidence.

It sounds like there’s friction between Canadiens captain Pacioretty and coach Therrien

MONTREAL, QC - NOVEMBER 12:  Max Pacioretty #67 of the Montreal Canadiens looks on during the warmup prior to the NHL game against the Detroit Red Wings at the Bell Centre on November 12, 2016 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Detroit Red Wings 5-0.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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After an incredible start to the season, the Canadiens have cooled off a little bit, but they still own an impressive 16-6-2 record.

One of the reasons they’ve hit a rough patch, is because some of their top forwards can’t seem to find the back of the net.

Alex Galchenyuk and Alexander Radulov continue to generate scoring chances, but captain Max Pacioretty, who’s hit the 30-goal mark four times in his career, is stuck on five goals.

Pacioretty hasn’t looked comfortable all season, and although he tends to be one of the streakier players in the league, he hasn’t put together many great performances in 2016-17 and it seems to be causing some friction in the room.

Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos is reporting that there’s some tension between Pacioretty and head coach Michel Therrien.

“There’s no indication that Pacioretty wants out of Montreal,” Kypreos said on Saturday. “But it’s clear from a few other teams that they want to watch this situation closely.

“Pacioretty is not being used like a four-time 30-goal scorer by the Montreal Canadiens. There seems to be some friction between Pacioretty and Therrien.”

The 28-year-old hasn’t been productive, but in fairness to him, he’s bounced around the lineup quite a bit. Lately, he’s been skating with Tomas Plekanec and Brendan Gallagher, who are also slumping.

In the past, Plekanec had been regarded as one of the best two-way players in the game. That’s no longer the case. His slump doesn’t just date back to the start of this year, it can be traced all the way back to 2015-16 (he has two goals in his last 31 games).

But getting back to Pacioretty, it’s interesting that the friction is caused by his utilization because he’s been getting plenty of ice time.

If you look at Montreal’s last 13 games, he’s played at least 18:22 in 10 of those contests. In two of his last four games, he’s played over 20 minutes.

Looking at the way the situation has unfolded from the start of the year, there’s a good chance he’s unhappy about being bounced around from center to center.

As I mentioned before, he’s played with Galchenyuk, Plekanec and he also had a stint with Phillip Danault.

Adding a second line center and another defenseman will be a priority for GM Marc Bergevin, but don’t expect him to sacrifice his captain to get a deal done.

Pacioretty still has two years left on a team-friendly contract that pays him $4.5 million per season.

But hey, the Canadiens have shocked us before.

Penguins score four unanswered goals in the third to take down Red Wings

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 27: The Pittsburgh Penguins congratulate Phil Kessel #81 after he scored a goal at PPG PAINTS Arena on October 27, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Matt Kincaid/Getty Images)
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PITTSBURGH (AP) Phil Kessel scored twice, including one of Pittsburgh’s four goals in the third, and the Penguins rallied to beat the Detroit Red Wings 5-3 on Saturday night.

Nick Bonino, Justin Schultz and Matt Cullen also scored in the third, helping Pittsburgh win back-to-back games for the first time in a month. Marc-Andre Fleury had 28 saves in his second straight start.

Detroit had recorded at least a point in five straight games. Henrik Zetterberg scored his 314th career goal, matching Pavel Datsyuk for seventh in team history, and Dylan Larkin and Frans Nielsen got the other goals for the Red Wings.

Detroit goaltender Jared Coreau stopped 32 shots in his NHL debut. Coreau was poised early, making a sprawling save on Sidney Crosby in the first five minutes and later denying Evgeni Malkin on a breakaway, but he struggled in the third period.

Bonino’s goal was his second in as many games, and Schultz has two goals and four points in his last three. Malkin had two assists, extending his point streak to a season-high five straight games.

Bonino started the comeback with his third goal at 2:05 of the third. Schultz tied it at 3 at 6:28, beating Coreau with a shot from the point. Kessel then put Pittsburgh ahead to stay when he got a pass from Carl Hagelin and Coreau from the top of the crease.

Cullen was awarded his fifth goal when he was hauled down on his way to an empty net with 41 seconds remaining.

The Red Wings played without seven regulars due to injuries. The group, which includes Darren Helm and Jimmy Howard, has accounted for 36 man games lost in the last three weeks.

Forward Justin Abdelkader was placed on injured reserve Saturday morning after suffering a knee injury Thursday against Florida. He had four points in six games prior to his injury.

Pittsburgh is the healthiest it has been the entire season. The Penguins activated forward Chris Kunitz from injured reserve Saturday morning after he missed six games with a lower-body injury.

NOTES: Red Wings D Niklas Kronwall played in his 750th game. … Pittsburgh scratched Tom Kuhnhackl to make room for Kunitz in the lineup. Rookie Jake Guentzel also sat for a second straight game. … The Penguins honored the 1991 and ’92 Stanley Cup-winning teams, as nearly 40 former players, coaches and team executives attended the morning skate and were recognized during an on-ice ceremony before the game.

UP NEXT

Red Wings: Continue a three-game road trip Sunday at the New York Islanders.

Penguins: Complete a three-game homestand Monday against Ottawa.