Jason Brough

Getty

The Bolts may be struggling, but Yzerman has no problem with his coach

2 Comments

You know things are bad when a coach gets a vote of confidence.

And that’s exactly the situation in Tampa Bay these days — it’s bad. The Lightning have lost four straight and sit four points back of a playoff spot. And because of that, GM Steve Yzerman has had to go to bat for head coach Jon Cooper.

“I think (Cooper) is doing an excellent job,” Yzerman told the Tampa Bay Times Tuesday.

“I like the way we play. I like the style. We’ve got to improve in some areas. The type of play our coaches, led by Coop, want the team to play I’m very comfortable with. We’ll get through this and these situations make us all better. And for Coop, who is still a relatively young coach, all these experiences, he’s learning from them.”

All the injuries are certainly not Cooper’s fault. The Lightning, you may recall, were going along just fine until Steven Stamkos had to have knee surgery. They were 10-6-1 in the 17 games the captain played. They’ve gone 9-13-3 since.

Ben Bishop has been hurt, too. And the reigning Vezina Trophy finalist wasn’t even playing that well before he went down.

That’s just two of the injuries the Bolts have been forced to endure. There have been others. Many others. According to the Times, the Lightning were at one point without six of their forwards. Right now, there are four players on IR — Stamkos, Brian Boyle, Brayden Point, and J.T. Brown.

As for Bishop, he says he’s “ready to go”, meaning he could get the nod tomorrow at home to Buffalo. Given the standings, the Bolts will need at least one of their goalies to get into a groove. Andrei Vasilevskiy has really struggled lately; he’s allowed 20 goals in his last four starts, all regulation defeats.

After the Sabres game, the Bolts host Columbus Friday, and then they hit the road for six straight.

The Sedins are no longer a power-play threat, and that’s a problem for Vancouver

Getty
1 Comment

The Vancouver Canucks are an impressive 6-1-1 since the Christmas break. And to the surprise of many, they’re still sticking around in the playoff race.

But there’s something decidedly different about this recent run, compared to the good runs of years past.

This one isn’t being powered by the Sedin twins.

In fact, Daniel and Henrik have combined for just five points in the past eight games. Daniel has been especially quiet, with just one assist.

It’s been two youngsters, Bo Horvat and Sven Baertschi, who’ve been carrying Vancouver’s offense of late. Horvat’s 29 points (13G, 16A) actually lead the team — and that’s worth noting, because the last time a Sedin didn’t finish with the most points on the Canucks was 2005-06 (Markus Naslund).

It’s an interesting development for head coach Willie Desjardins, who still gives the 36-year-old Sedins the lion’s share of the Canucks’ power-play time.

Interesting, because the statistics suggest there are other, more dangerous forwards with the man advantage.

canucks

Mind you, nobody’s been that dangerous.

The Canucks’ power play, a great strength back when the Sedins were in their primes, is now a major weakness. It’s currently languishing at 27th in the NHL, with a success rate of just 13.7 percent. It went 0-for-3 last night in Nashville, where the Preds won it in overtime while shorthanded.

Granted, it was rookie Troy Stecher who made the big mistake that led to the Predators’ 2-on-0 breakaway. But the fact it happened with the Sedins on the ice underscored Vancouver’s inability to punish opponents for taking penalties.

Too often this season the power play has looked predictable, lacking in imagination. Henrik has never been a real shooting threat, and now Daniel isn’t either. That means the PK can focus elsewhere — say, by taking away Stecher’s point shot.

“I thought at the start of the year we were going to win on the power play, but it just hasn’t gone so far,” Desjardins told reporters afterwards. “I think that it’s a tough order for Stecher to come out of college and be running a power play; that’s a big step for him. He’s doing a good job but that’s a big step.”

It’s not just the power play where the Sedins are struggling. Five-on-five hasn’t gone any better. They haven’t produced with free-agent signing Loui Eriksson. They haven’t produced with Brandon Sutter or Jayson Megna either. They’ve been halfway decent with Jannik Hansen, but he’s only played 18 games due to injury.

Interestingly enough, the one linemate the Sedins haven’t had is their old one, Alex Burrows, whom Desjardins has been loath to take away from Horvat and Baertschi.

And that may say something — that the coach doesn’t want to mess with the success of the two youngsters, even with the Sedins in dire straits.

Not too long ago, the success of the twins was the main priority.

But times change, and when it comes to the power play, Desjardins may have to recognize that the Sedins aren’t getting the results they once did. Others might do better with more opportunity.

Jake Allen knows he needs to be better

AP

The St. Louis Blues have a goaltending problem.

In fact, based on their team save percentage* (.893), they have the worst goaltending in the entire NHL.

It’s a remarkable development, given they had the best goaltending (.919) last season. But Jake Allen has struggled as the undisputed starter. His save percentage fell to a modest .902 after getting yanked in last night’s 5-3 loss to Boston.

Carter Hutton was actually tagged with the loss, after Allen allowed three goals on Boston’s first 11 shots and Hutton came in to start the second period.

“I’ve got to be better,” Allen said, per the Post-Dispatch. “Hutts, I thought he did an amazing job tonight. He gave us a chance. He had lots of shots. He gave us a chance to get the win and he ends up getting the loss. I think it should be all me. He was awesome tonight.”

But Hutton hasn’t been awesome overall. The backup is 4-5-2 with an .896 save percentage. As a tandem, Allen and Hutton haven’t provided close to what Allen and Brian Elliott provided last season. As a result, the Blues’ goals-against average has fallen from fourth (2.40) all the way to 24th (2.98).

No, it is not all on the goalies.

“I don’t think our level of defending all year has the level of desperation that you need to have if you expect to garner points on an ongoing basis,” said head coach Ken Hitchcock.

But Allen is absolutely right that he has to be better. The 26-year-old said coming into the season that he still needed to prove he was a No. 1 goalie. And let’s face it, the jury is still out on that.

The Blues (21-15-5) kick off a three-game California road trip Thursday in Los Angeles.

*St. Louis has allowed nine empty-netters, which are included in team save percentage.

Preds claim Derek Grant off waivers from Buffalo

Getty

The Nashville Predators have claimed another player off waivers. This time, it’s forward Derek Grant from the Buffalo Sabres.

Grant, 26, has no goals and three assists in 35 games for Buffalo this season. A former fourth-round draft pick of the Ottawa Senators, Grant has played 75 NHL games for the Sens, Flames, and Sabres and is still looking for his first goal.

Grant is a pending unrestricted free agent with a $650,000 cap hit. He’ll join a Predators team that has two wingers, James Neal and Miikka Salomaki, on injured reserve, while another, Colin Wilson, remains day-to-day with an undisclosed ailment.

The Preds have already made use of waivers this season. They picked up forward Reid Boucher from the Devils, only to lose him back to New Jersey after Boucher played just three games for them.

Strong goaltending has given the Sabres a flicker of hope

AP
2 Comments

We’ve written a lot lately about the failed backup goalie situations in Toronto, Edmonton, and Boston, so let’s switch things up and talk about Anders Nilsson in Buffalo, because he’s put up some excellent numbers for the Sabres this season.

Nilsson improved to 7-3-4 with a .930 save percentage after last night’s 39-save triumph over the Flyers. The 26-year-old only allowed one goal in the 4-1 victory. In the three starts he’s made this month, he’s 2-0-1 with a .944 save percentage.

Granted, the Sabres are still a fair bit back of a playoff spot, five points behind Ottawa for third place in the Atlantic Division, with three other teams between them and the Senators.

But thanks in large part to their goaltending, they’re at least feeling some optimism now.

“We’re happy with where we’re at,” forward Sam Reinhart told reporters last night. “We know it’s a long road to get back to where we want to be. … Tonight was another step in the right direction.”

The Sabres acquired Nilsson in an offseason trade with the Blues, sending a fifth-round pick in the 2017 draft to St. Louis.

Buffalo GM Tim Murray deserves credit for the move. Though at the same time, it’s worth remembering that Nilsson was not Murray’s first choice to back up Robin Lehner, as the Olean Times Herald explained on the day of the trade:

After the Sabres lost goalie Chad Johnson to his hometown Calgary Flames on Friday, Murray said another backup verbally agreed to an $850,000 contract. The Sabres had even placed the goalie on their depth chart.

Then the goalie took a $900,000 deal with another team, Murray said. Based on the contracts awarded, Jeff Zatkoff, who signed for that money with the Los Angeles Kings, was possibly the player.

Zatkoff, in case you’re wondering, has struggled badly with the Kings, going 2-6-1 with an .886 save percentage.

The Sabres, meanwhile, couldn’t ask for much more from their two netminders, as Lehner has also put up solid numbers with a .921 save percentage in 27 starts.

sabres

Looking ahead, if the Sabres have any hope of making up more ground in the standings, they’ll need their goalies to be good, or even better than good. Buffalo has nine games left in January, and only two of them are at home.

The Sabres’ next game is Thursday in Tampa Bay.