Jason Brough

Glen Gulutzan, Willie Desjardins, Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin, Alex Burrows, Linden Vey

Their coach on the hot seat, Canucks players take responsibility for sluggish starts


Saturday at Rogers Arena, the Vancouver Canucks were outshot 16-7 in the first period and went on to lose 5-2 to a stripped-down Maple Leafs side.

Two nights later at the same rink, they were outshot 17-4 in the first period and went on to lose 5-2 to a Wild side that had just fired its coach after dropping eight in a row.

Tonight, the Canucks host red-hot Anaheim. Not surprisingly, they’re aiming for a slightly more energetic start.

And for the record, the players insist that’s on them to make happen — not head coach Willie Desjardins.

“The coach shouldn’t have to come in and get you ready for a game,” forward Daniel Sedin told the Vancouver Sun. “His worry should be about (tactics). It’s up to each and every guy to be mentally ready. When it looks like it did the other night, it’s on the players. There’s no excuse for that.

“For me, there’s no excuse not to be ready. A coach can come in and yell and scream, a player can come in and yell and scream, but it’s up to each guy.”

Desjardins’ coaching has come under increasing fire as the Canucks have dropped further behind in the playoff race. The current consensus is that he’ll be replaced at the end of the season, with some even wondering if he’ll last that long.

Of course, the problem with blaming Desjardins for what ails the Canucks is that the Canucks are, well, not very good. And without Alex Edler and Brandon Sutter, they’re even less good.

That’s not to let Desjardins off the hook; it’s possible to have a weak roster and not get the most out of it. The way his team’s been dominated at times this season, he’s probably not throwing a perfect game.

Regardless of who, or what, is to blame, Vancouver has just five games remaining before the Feb. 29 trade deadline, with decisions still to be made on pending UFAs Dan Hamhuis and Radim Vrbata, and possibly others.

From a making-the-playoffs perspective, this next stretch is almost certainly their last gasp.

Related: Linden insists Canucks management and ownership are ‘completely aligned’


Obama honors Blackhawks for Stanley Cup hat trick


WASHINGTON (AP) Today at the White House, President Barack Obama honored his hometown Chicago Blackhawks for their third Stanley Cup win in six years.

Obama said his presidency appears to have brought the team good luck and he’s hoping they’ll claim one more championship before he leaves office.

Obama noted that seven players participated in all three championships. But he paid particular tribute to “two unsung heroes.” Goalie Scott Darling (see video above) and defenseman Kimmo Timonen, who overcame blood clots to hoist the cup at age 40.

The Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2010, 2013 and 2015. Obama calls it one of the most dominant stretches in professional sports.

“It is always fun to have the Stanley Cup here,” Obama said, per the Chicago Tribune. “It truly is the best trophy in sports. I’ll admit I was hoping you’d give me a day with it this time around. Before I was President, I just want to point out … the Blackhawks had gone almost half a century without seeing this thing. Now you’ve got the hat trick. So I think it’s pretty clear the kind of luck I’ve brought to this team.”

The team presented Obama with a parking pass to United Center in Chicago. Obama called it the best gift he’s ever gotten at the White House.

With Malkin out, Penguins exploring with Sheary on first-unit power play

Pittsburgh Penguins left wing Conor Sheary (43) and Detroit Red Wings defenseman Brendan Smith (2) reach for the puck during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Thursday, Dec. 31, 2015, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

There’s no substitute for Evgeni Malkin, but tonight against Detroit Conor Sheary may get the chance to replace some of what the injured Penguins star can brings to the power play when healthy.

Sheary is expected to get first-unit PP time with Sidney Crosby. At least, that’s where he was practicing yesterday.

“We wanted to explore that a little bit. We’re thinking on ways we can make some adjustments there to try and get different results,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said, per the Post-Gazette. “Conor, one of his strengths is his ability to play that give-and-go game in tight and rotating out of that corner. We think especially with [Crosby] one of the reasons the power play has had success was for that very reason, the motion, and the movement that Sid and Geno had and not getting locked into one particular spot.”

Sheary has had no trouble piling up points at the AHL level. He remains Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s leading scorer this season, with 36 points in 30 games. (The Baby Penguins have played 50 games total.)

But the diminutive 23-year-old has just three goals and one assist in 22 games for the big club this season. In his defense, he’s barely received any PP time and at five-on-five his most common linemate has been Kevin Porter.

The Penguins are coming off a 2-1 shootout loss at Florida. They’ve only scored twice in their last three games. And over their last six games, the power play has converted just once in 14 opportunities.

Related: Malkin ‘close’ to rejoining Pens practice, but no timetable for return

OHL suspends owner of Flint Firebirds


Following is a press release from the Ontario Hockey League, in the wake of yesterday’s goings-on in Flint:

The Ontario League takes the health and well being of our players very seriously. The recent actions by the owner of the Flint Firebirds Rolf Nilsen and his representatives on the management team and coaching staff is of great concern as they pose a serious threat to our commitment to our players and their families.

The league announces the following sanctions effective immediately:

— Mr. Nilsen and his appointees on the management and coaching staff including Sergei Kharin are suspended from Flint Firebirds’ hockey operations until further notice;
— The Flint Firebirds at their cost, under the direction of the League, shall provide counselling services for players;
— Rolf Nilsen and representatives of the Flint Firebirds shall co-operate with the Commissioner and the League in investigations into the conduct and actions of the Flint Firebirds and its representatives, employees, officers and directors;

In addition, the League will continue to investigate the actions of Rolf Nilsen and other representatives of the Flint Firebirds and will take any action and impose any sanctions that are deemed appropriate by the Commissioner.

Later today, the League will be meeting with the players in Flint to further discuss the situation, and to ensure that they are provided the appropriate supports.  These discussions and supports will be ongoing for the players and their families.

Yesterday, The Hockey News reached out to the father of Flint forward Will Bitten to try and shed some light on the situation.

“If there are not changes there, my son will not go back, and I don’t think many others would as well,” Michael Bitten told the publication.

“This owner, he’s a billionaire and it seems like he’s challenging the OHL right now. I really hope they’re able to come to a solution because this problem is not going away.”

The Firebirds franchise moved from Plymouth to Flint for the 2015-16 season, after it was sold to Nilsen in January by Carolina Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos, Jr.

So, what happens in St. Louis when Jake Allen gets healthy?

Nashville Predators v St. Louis Blues

It’s only February, but the debate has officially started — who will be in goal for the St. Louis Blues when the playoffs start?

Ah, who’s kidding who? This debate never stops in St. Louis. It’s a 365-day thing. (This year, 366 days.)

You may recall last year when Brian Elliott had the job taken away from him at the last minute. Young Jake Allen got the nod from coach Ken Hitchcock and proceeded to, well, not play all that great. For the third straight year, the Blues fell in the first round.

It was just the latest chapter of the Blues’ big book of goaltending controversies. There was one in 2014 as well, when Ryan Miller got the nod over Elliott and proceeded to, well, not play all that great.

Certainly, if the playoffs started today, Elliott would be the guy. The 30-year-old has been brilliant while Allen’s been out with an injury.

But the playoffs don’t start today. They’re still almost two months away. So, what happens when Allen returns? Because that’s going to happen pretty soon.

Writes Post-Dispatch columnist Ben Frederickson:

Should Elliott be replaced by his good pal Jake Allen? The former has transitioned from solid backup to impermeable barrier. The latter initially claimed the top spot, and thrived, before a knee injury Jan. 8. The argument makes for sports radio gold. It probably makes for more white hair on Hitch’s head, too.

Only Hitchcock can decide what will get his team out of its first-round rut. Allen deserves a chance to show what he can do. But the clock is ticking. The Blues, comfortably in the playoffs, only have 23 regular-season games left before they have to decide.

Hitchock isn’t talking. Recent history shows us the coach has a tell. When it comes to Elliott vs. the other guy, he tends to pick the other guy.

In a way, it’s a good problem to have. The Blues have two good goalies. Some teams don’t have any. Come April, Hitchcock might simply go with the hottest hand.

In another way, though, Hitch better choose wisely, or else…

Related: St. Louis has a weird goaltending history