Jason Brough

Pre-game reading: Did Gerard Gallant deserve better?

5 Comments

— Up top, NBC’s promo for a couple of outdoor games.

— ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun argues that Gerard Gallant deserved better from the Panthers. That’s a common refrain we’re hearing from the media after a “philosophical divide” led to the coaching change in Florida. But here’s the thing: If Gallant wasn’t on board with management’s plan, what choice did management have? For a team to be successful, everyone has to be rowing in the same direction, and clearly Gallant didn’t agree with everything that the front office was doing. That being said, Tom Rowe better start winning, or the Panthers are really going to look bad. (ESPN)

Ben Bishop is 7-8-4 with a .902 save percentage. “Bad bounce, tips, goals off my own players. It kind of seems like it happens every single game, but nobody is going to feel sorry for you.” The fact Andrei Vasilevskiy has been near unbeatable (6-1-1, .951) makes Bishop’s struggles seem even worse. (Tampa Bay Times)

— A list of the 10 types of terrible contracts, and how NHL general managers can avoid them. The “No-Choice Extension” certainly applies to Brent Burns, whom the Sharks just signed until he’s 40. The challenge is avoiding them. Burns had all the leverage in negotiations. What were the Sharks gonna do: trade him? (Sportsnet)

— The Vancouver Canucks do not have a very happy camper in Jake Virtanen. The 20-year-old winger has already spoken out about his lack of ice time this season, and he’s still talking while down in the AHL. “I dunno exactly what (the plan is); they didn’t really communicate with me as much.” Virtanen has no goals and just two assists in seven games with the Utica Comets. (Hockey News)

— Is Sidney Crosby under-appreciated as a goal-scorer? Well, that depends — do you think he’s a good goal-scorer? If you don’t, the answer is yes, because he scores a lot of goals. (Canadian Press)

Jets could get big boost with return of Little

WINNIPEG, MB - OCTOBER 25: Bryan Little #18 of the Winnipeg Jets skates down the ice during second period action in an NHL game against the Minnesota Wild at the MTS Centre on October 25, 2015 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Marianne Helm/Getty Images)
Getty
2 Comments

The Winnipeg Jets ended a five-game losing streak Sunday, but the fact Connor Hellebuyck had to make 42 saves in the 3-0 shutout of the Predators wasn’t all that encouraging.

So here’s something that is encouraging — Byran Little practiced today and might be ready to play tomorrow when New Jersey pays a visit to MTS Centre.

“(I feel) good,” the veteran center said, per NHL.com. “To actually get in there, play on a line and get some bumping and a real practice under my belt… If it was up to me, yes (I would play tomorrow).”

Read more: Sorry about the jinx, Winnipeg Jets

Little put up 42 points in 57 games last season, so his absence after getting hurt in the first game of the season was bound to be felt. If he plays, the 29-year-old is likely to center Blake Wheeler and Drew Stafford, filling a spot that was previously held by youngster Nic Petan.

Mark Scheifele will continue to center the top line with wingers Patrik Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers. That trio has not been scoring quite so freely lately, though Scheifele is still an impressive third overall in points (24), while Scheifele and Laine are tied for third in goals (12).

Ottawa’s Anderson named NHL’s first star of the week

CALGARY, CANADA - FEBRUARY 27: Craig Anderson #41 of the Ottawa Senators warms up before the start of their NHL game against the Calgary Flames at the Scotiabank Saddledome on February 27, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
Getty

Craig Anderson improved to 12-4-1 with Sunday’s shutout victory over the Rangers. Today, the 35-year-old Senators goalie was named the NHL’s first star of the week, after winning four games in the span of six days, with a .960 save percentage over that stretch.

It’s been an inspiring performance from Anderson, whose wife, Nicholle, was diagnosed with cancer in October. He’s been the Senators’ MVP, lifting a team that gets outshot more often than not into a tie for fourth overall.

In fact, the Sens are 9-2-1 in games where they’re outshot. Only the Canadiens (11) and Rangers (10) have more wins in that scenario.

Under new coach Guy Boucher, the Sens (14-7-1) have registered the third-worst score-adjusted Corsi in the league, but their goals against has improved from 26th (2.94) last season to sixth (2.30).

Read more: The Ottawa Senators aren’t scoring anymore

That improvement wouldn’t have been possible without the solid play of Anderson, and to a lesser extent backup Mike Condon (2-1-0, .939).

The Senators host the Sabres (including Jack Eichel, probably) tomorrow night. It will be interesting to see who gets the nod in goal. Condon hasn’t played since Nov. 17, and Anderson may need a rest after such a busy week.

Related: “What a team is all about” – Sens, Oilers on Anderson’s night

A ‘philosophical divide’ led to Gallant firing

Florida Panthers coach Gerard Gallant, right, talks with center Vincent Trocheck (21) during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Saturday, Jan. 23, 2016, in Sunrise, Fla. The Panthers defeated the Lightning 5-2. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
AP
8 Comments

The Florida Panthers want to play like the defending Stanley Cup champions, and they didn’t feel that Gerard Gallant was the right coach to show them how.

“This team is built for speed and skill,” interim head coach Tom Rowe said Monday. “That’s the way the National Hockey League is going. All you have to do is watch what Pittsburgh did last year, the way they played, the way they attacked the puck, the way they made every step of the opponent difficult, by pressuring, is how we want to play.”

Gerrard was fired yesterday after a 3-2 loss in Carolina — a game the Panthers led 2-0 after the first period.

“After we collapsed in the second period last night, it came to a head a lot quicker,” said Rowe, who will relinquish his general manager duties to Dale Tallon, Eric Joyce and Steve Werier in order to focus “totally” on coaching.

Though Rowe rejected the notion that there was any “friction” between Gallant and the front office, he did concede there were differences in opinions.

“There was definitely a philosophical divide,” said Rowe. “We wanted to develop a team and build a team that was fast, that moved the puck quickly, attack the offensive net and pressure the puck in all three zones. Gerard and I talked about it, he said he wanted to get a little more size. And we decided to go in a different direction.”

Read more: Did Gallant’s plea for more toughness cost him his job?

It’s no secret that the Panthers have taken an analytics-based approach to building their team. Rowe has led the charge, with the full support of ownership. At the end of last season, Tallon was “promoted” to president of hockey ops, with Rowe becoming the new GM.

Not long after, the Panthers began the dramatic reshaping of their defense, which included the trading of big, tough Erik Gudbranson and the signing of puck-movers Keith Yandle and Jason Demers.

“Obviously, we changed some dynamics on our team,” Gallant said prior to the start of the season. “We’re more puck movers, more skill, quicker. Hopefully, that pays off.”

But it hasn’t so far. The Panthers are 11-10-1 after 22 games, just outside the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference. Though they’ve had a number of key injuries, the decision was still made to relieve Gallant of his duties.

“We took everything into consideration in our meeting at the quarterly point of the season,” said Tallon, “and as a group we decided we want to go in a different direction.”

The Panthers play the second game of a six-game road trip Tuesday in Chicago. Rowe said he plans to “tweak” his team’s defensive-zone system, but doesn’t want to introduce too many changes right away.

“Defensively, we want to fix that area first,” said Rowe.

But the real key will be pace.

“We want to be a fast team. And when I say fast, it doesn’t just mean skating. We want to move the puck quickly. We want to defend quickly,” said Rowe. “We’ve gotta practice faster, we’ve gotta practice harder and then that’s going to carry over into the games.”

Related: The Penguins played great defense their own way

Eichel could make season debut Tuesday in Ottawa

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 25:  Jack Eichel #15 of the Buffalo Sabres takes the puck against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on January 25, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Getty
6 Comments

Barring a last-minute setback, Jack Eichel is likely to make his season debut tomorrow in Ottawa.

The Buffalo Sabres forward started practicing with his teammates last week, and he’s progressed from there.

“He responded well,” said head coach Dan Bylsma, per John Vogl of The Buffalo News. “He looks really good.”

Eichel, 20, suffered a high-ankle sprain during practice on Oct. 12, the day before the Sabres’ season-opener. He was expected to miss 6-8 weeks, so his return tomorrow would be within that time frame.

The Sabres (7-9-5) could certainly use his offense, given they’re averaging the fewest goals per game (1.81) in the league.

If Eichel plays, expect him to skate with Evander Kane and Sam Reinhart on his wings.

Ryan O'Reilly will center the other top line, between Matt Moulson and Kyle Okposo.