Jason Brough

Kevan Miller is not the problem for Bruins, but he does illustrate the problem

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We’d link to some of the things Bruins fans were tweeting last night about Kevan Miller, but this is a family blog and we’d get in trouble.

To be sure, the 28-year-old had a tough time at MSG. He was on the ice for the Rangers’ winning goal, which came late in the third. Earlier in the period, he’d been on for the tying goal, too.

And so Bruins fans vented about Miller on social media, while CSN New England’s Joe Haggerty wrote the following:

Kevan Miller is a perfectly fine and rugged bottom-pairing defenseman that brings toughness, and can survive well enough against other team’s bottom two forward lines. But he has struggled all season when charged with stopping the other team’s best offensive players, and it has really started coming to a head over the last month.

Now, Haggerty’s point was not to pick on Miller. It was to show that this Bruins roster has some significant holes.

Because here’s the thing about Miller. His pro career has actually been a tremendous success, given his resume. Most undrafted college players don’t play 122 NHL games. They don’t play in the NHL at all.

Miller — a pending unrestricted free agent with a cap hit of just $800,000 — has logged the fourth-most minutes among Bruins defensemen this season. Only Zdeno Chara, Torey Krug, and Adam McQuaid have played more. And McQuaid is hurt right now.

The reality is that this was always going to be a challenging season for a Bruins blue line that, in the last couple of years, has lost Johnny Boychuk and Dougie Hamilton in trades that didn’t return a single roster player.

It’s why Jack Edwards recently said the defense “is in a crisis right now as far as a mid- to long-term outlook. There’s no alpha dog on the way.”

In other words, Miller isn’t the problem. He only illustrates the problem. And that’s on GM Don Sweeney to fix.

OK, fine, one tweet:

Related: Sweeney explains Hamilton trade

The Preds are concerned, and they should be

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If you had to guess the NHL team with the 20th-ranked goals-against average, the 27th-ranked save percentage, and 29th-ranked penalty kill, would you guess the Nashville Predators?

Because you’d be right if you did.

The 2015-16 Predators are struggling to keep goals out of their net. It’s not what we’re used to seeing from this franchise.

It’s also hurting their chances of making the playoffs. Currently, they’re fifth in the Central, but only barely. The sixth-place Avalanche have as many points, with Nashville holding a game in hand.

The Preds started the season 11-3-3. Since then, they’re 8-13-4.

In their last three games — all regulation losses — they’ve allowed 13 goals combined, while scoring just four.

“Is there a concern in the last three to five games? Yeah, there is,” coach Peter Laviolette told reporters after Saturday’s 4-0 loss to the Coyotes. “We’ve got to be better and there’s no excuse. We’ve got to start playing well enough to win games, not just playing games.”

Better goaltending would go a long way. Though Rinne was named to the All-Star Game, his numbers are downright poor. Among the 22 goalies with at least 25 starts, his .906 save percentage is better than only Cam Ward‘s .905.

numbers

Despite Rinne’s under-the-radar struggles, he’s still started 35 games, the second-most in the NHL behind Cory Schneider‘s 36. That’s because backup Carter Hutton has even worse numbers. In six starts, the 30-year-old has an .895 save percentage.

Heading into tonight’s game in Chicago, the Preds have been saying all the right things. There’s no panic. Yet.

“We’re not where we want to be, but at the same time, we’re in a spot where we can control a lot of things,” center Mike Fisher told The Tennessean. “We can turn this around, and I’m confident that we’re going to do it.”

After finally getting a number-one center in Ryan Johansen, they’d better. Because the Preds have Stanley Cup aspirations now. In terms of acceptable results, making the playoffs is the bare minimum.

Blackhawks give Quenneville three-year contract extension

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The Chicago Blackhawks have signed head coach Joel Quenneville to a three-year contract extension that runs through the end of the 2019-20 season.

Quenneville has coached the ‘Hawks since Denis Savard was fired four games into the 2008-09 campaign. The very next season, Chicago won its first Stanley Cup since 1961.

The Blackhawks have gone on to win two more Cups with Quenneville behind the bench.

From the press release:

He is the only active coach to have led a team to three Stanley Cup championships (2010, 2013 and 2015) and is currently one win shy of tying Al Arbour as the second-winningest coach in league history.

In Quenneville’s 580 regular-season games behind the Blackhawks bench, the team has compiled a record of 343-168-69. His regular-season points percentage of .651 is the best in Chicago franchise history, while his .624 postseason winning percentage (73-44) is the highest for a Blackhawks coach since 1940.

What wasn’t shared in the press release was Quenneville’s annual salary. In the past, what a coach makes hasn’t been of much concern, since it doesn’t have any impact on the team’s cap situation.

But after Mike Babcock signed for $6.25 million per year with the Maple Leafs, we’d be curious to find out.

Coaches around the league wouldn’t mind knowing either, we presume.

Update:

According to Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos, the three-year extension is for around $18 million. So close to Babcock’s annual salary but not quite as much.

 

Sutter eyeing next week for return to Canucks lineup

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Brandon Sutter is rapidly progressing towards a return to the Vancouver Canucks lineup.

The 26-year-old center hasn’t played since Nov. 10. He had sports-hernia surgery shortly thereafter.

“From where it was two weeks ago to now has been a huge difference,” he told reporters today.

The Canucks host Florida tonight then hit the road for six games.

When might Sutter be back?

“I’m hoping somewhere towards the end of the road trip, but if not, those couple of games at home before the [All-Star break],” he said.

The past two months, his absence has been felt. Bo Horvat, only 20, has been forced to log many of the tough defensive minutes that Sutter was acquired and signed to play. Vancouver has gone 9-12-5 without him, with 21 power-play goals surrendered.

Now, with Sutter close to returning — and defenseman Luca Sbisa even closer — it’s going to make for some interesting decisions for GM Jim Benning. Will Vancouver explore trading pending unrestricted free agents like Dan Hamhuis and Radim Vrbata, or will it keep them for a run at the postseason?

The Canucks, despite a modest 16-16-10 record, are still very much alive in the playoff race, thanks to the Pacific Division.

Hamhuis, by the way, is “about a month away” from returning to action, according to coach Willie Desjardins. The 33-year-old defenseman has been out since taking a shot to the face on Dec. 9.

The trade deadline is Feb. 29, so Hamhuis should be back before then.

Related: Benning says Canucks have ‘too much pride’ to tank

AV lauds improved play of Hayes — ‘Hopefully it will continue’

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 09:  Kevin Hayes #13 of the New York Rangers (r)celebrates his goal at 9:48 of the third period against the Washington Capitals and is joined by Derick Brassard #16 (l) at Madison Square Garden on January 9, 2016 in New York City.  The Capitals defeated the Rangers 4-3 in overtime.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Alain Vigneault wanted more from Kevin Hayes.

The past two games, he’s received it.

“He’s been going to the tougher areas, that’s how he scored his goal [against Washington],” Vigneault told NHL.com ahead of tonight’s game against the Bruins.

“He’s made a couple nice plays with the puck. He’s protected it better. I sense a better battle level when he has the puck and when he doesn’t have it, which is good to see. Hopefully it will continue.”

Hayes had been a healthy scratch the previous two games, with Vigneault saying that the 23-year-old forward had “great tools” but needed to “find a way to put it all together.”

The past two games, the Rangers have also been playing better as a team. They smoked Dallas, 6-2, on Tuesday, then fought back from a 2-0 deficit against the Capitals Saturday, eventually falling 4-3 in overtime.

“This was taking a step forward as a team,” Vigneault told reporters afterwards. “We battled back from a two-goal deficit against one of the best defensive teams in the league, one of the goaltenders that had been hard on a lot of teams. We were real close to getting it done.”

On top of all that, the Blueshirts will get winger Chris Kreider back tonight at MSG. He’s missed the last two games with a hand injury. Oscar Lindberg will be a healthy scratch.