Glen Gulutzan

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Check, mates: NHL top lines are expected to do it all


By Stephen Whyno (AP Hockey Writer)

Tyler Seguin doesn’t consider it a challenge. He sees it as an opportunity.

Every time Dallas Stars coach Ken Hitchcock sends Seguin and his linemates over the boards against an opponent’s top line, he knows he has a job to do.

”Out-check the other line and let the skill kind of take over,” Seguin said. ”It’s fun.”

Fun? Sure. It’s also increasingly common in the NHL as coaches seek to put their top lines on the ice against the other team’s best forwards to create matchup problems that often lead to goals.

Goodbye to the likes of Bob Gainey and hello to Boston’s Patrice Bergeron, Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby and Washington’s Nicklas Backstrom. All can help keep the puck out of the net almost as well as they can put it in.

”We’re seeing less of the old Don Luce, Craig Ramsey, Brent Peterson lines,” said Capitals coach Barry Trotz, referring to defensive-minded forwards of yesteryear. ”We have guys like Bergeron; Sid goes up against top guys. So I think you’re seeing more of the power against power than we have in the past.”

Power against power is the name of the game in hockey today as players such as Bergeron, Crosby, Backstrom and Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews embody the kind of top-line stars who can double as shutdown centers. Crosby was so good in that dual role at the 2014 Sochi Olympics that Canada won a gold medal – and he was so dominant offensively the past two seasons that the Penguins won consecutive Stanley Cup championships.

Crosby is well aware of the modern duties of a top-flight center.

”You have more responsibility defensively,” he said. ”You’re covering a lot of space, so it’s just something you’ve got to be aware of.”

Before the season, reigning MVP Connor McDavid of Edmonton cited defense and faceoffs as areas he wanted to improve. He already has the dynamic offensive capabilities and sees that as the next step in his evolution.

”It’s more rounding out your game,” McDavid said. ”Being a defensive guy, being able to be put out there in the last two minutes to defend a lead, just to be able to be trusted by your coach out there.”

Coaches have to be able to trust their top players in all situations, particularly since the days of strict shutdown lines are dwindling.

”The systems are about defense, and everyone needs to play it,” Backstrom said. ”That’s what the mindset is – to be good defensively and offensively.”

The best defense is good puck possession because often the most productive players aren’t as sound in their own end. Columbus Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella considers it essential to make elite offensive players spend time in their defensive zone, figuring they’re more apt to try to do too much in the neutral zone and turn the puck over.

Good two-way players also have that mindset when they’re matched up against top skill guys.

”They’re so good offensively that sometimes they can forget about their defense, and that’s when you can take advantage of them,” Philadelphia Flyers No. 1 center Sean Couturier said. ”They’re thinking so much offense that once they turn the puck over they’re going to try plays to get turnovers. That’s when you can take advantage of them most of the time.”

That’s the danger of going skill on skill. Few see Calgary Flames stars Johnny Gaudreauand Sean Monahan as defensive stalwarts, but coach Glen Gulutzan continues to put them on the ice against other top lines.

Gaudreau said ”sometimes the best offense comes from playing against other top lines.” And the strategy has multiple benefits.

”It makes sure that your top guys, they’re aware that they’re out there against the other sharks, so to speak, in the league,” Gulutzan said. ”Now they’re a little more conscious defensively. And what you hope is that, through a course of a season, you’re making your guys more defensively aware and come playoff time those things will come in handy.”

Seguin said he thinks the playoffs lead to concerted defensive efforts to shut down certain players, though that largely comes from coaches leaning on their top defensemen. Hitchcock and other coaches said putting their best defensemen against opponents’ top forwards is the most important matchup no matter the situation.

Of course, it helps to have forwards who thrive on tough matchups and understand balancing priorities.

”A lot of times you’re getting matched up with better players, so I think playing offense the whole game isn’t realistic,” Toronto Maple Leafs center Nazem Kadri said. ”Most of the time it’s just being in the right places and knowing where you are on the ice as opposed to chasing everybody around and that whole ‘shadow’ thing. You’ve just got to be in right areas and right zones.”

Playing responsible defense is one piece of the transition to offense, whether it’s winning board battles or faceoffs or taking the puck away. But top players are counted on and paid to score, so keeping others off the board simply isn’t good enough.

”If it’s 0-0, we’re still kind of mad as a line,” Backstrom said. ”We want to win that match. It would be nice if we could score against them.”

Perry Pearn hired as Canucks assistant coach

Willie Desjardins may be a rookie head coach in the NHL, but he is going to have a veteran with him behind the bench.

The Vancouver Canucks announced they’ve hired Perry Pearn to assist Desjardins. Pearn spent the past two seasons with the Winnipeg Jets and was with the Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, and Ottawa Senators before that.

You might recall Pearn was fired in Montreal early during the 2011-12 season while the Habs were mired in losing and the power play suffered under his watch. It was believed he was canned so as to give then GM Pierre Gauthier a bit more time to try and figure things out. He did not.

According to Brad Ziemer of the Vancouver Sun, Pearn will assist Desjardins from upstairs and help work on the power play. Fellow assistant Glen Gulutzan will work on the penalty kill.

While Desjardins has plenty of coaching experience in the AHL, having two experienced NHL guys in Pearn and Gulutzan should help get things going for him in Vancouver.

It’s Dallas Stars day on PHT


Throughout the month of August, PHT will be dedicating a day to all 30 NHL clubs. Today’s team? The Dallas Stars.

Last season marked yet another disappointment for the Stars. They finished last in the Pacific Division and missed out on the playoffs for the fifth straight season. Doing that while trying to bring fans back to American Airlines Center is rather counterproductive.

This season, they’ll have a lot of new things going for them. New uniforms, a new division, a new coach, and a new set of forwards including a potential star forward who ran into some troubles with his previous team. Is it all going to be enough to get Dallas back to the playoffs? That’s why they play the games.

Offseason recap

Things were a bit busy in Dallas this summer.

Coach Glen Gulutzan was fired and Lindy Ruff now takes over behind the bench. GM Joe Nieuwendyk was ushered out of office and replaced by former Red Wings guru Jim Nill. Meanwhile, top forward Loui Eriksson was dealt to Boston in a blockbuster deal that netted them hotshot forward Tyler Seguin and steady veteran Rich Peverley.

Speaking of steady veterans, the Stars also traded for Edmonton center Shawn Horcoff and Ottawa defenseman Sergei Gonchar. Veteran goalie Dan Ellis was also brought on board to give Kari Lehtonen more consistent support.

The Stars went the veteran route the previous offseason adding Ray Whitney and Jaromir Jagr only to see that not exactly work out for the best. This time around they solved issues up the middle and added a real X-factor in Seguin. If his off-ice distractions were a real issue and they’re put aside, the Stars may have found the perfect young guy to team up with their own stud forward Jamie Benn.

After making so many moves, no matter what the Stars will be a team to watch. As they dig into the new Central Division, if things break right they very well may be back in the playoffs.


Introducing: PHT’s ‘Team of the Day’ summer series

Tortorella announces Sullivan and Gulutzan as assistant coaches


It was rumored a few weeks ago that Mike Sullivan and Glen Gulutzan would join John Tortorella in Vancouver, and now that has been confirmed by the coach himself.

While speaking at the Canucks Summer Summit, Tortorella confirmed that both men will be joining him as assistants behind the bench. He also noted that video coach Darryl Williams and goalie coach Rollie Melanson would be staying on board.

Sullivan was Tortorella’s assistant while with the New York Rangers and the two have five seasons of experience together there. Sullivan is also a former head coach of the Boston Bruins.

Gulutzan, who was fired by the Stars after this past season, wound up not being out of work very long. Tortorella says he’s looking forward to working with him in Vancouver.

Time for a shakeup in Dallas?


Dallas’ 8-1 loss to Chicago last night not only saw them wind up on the bad side of too many highlights, but it may be the kind of thing that leads to big changes.

Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News opines saying it’s the sort of blowout that can get coaches or GMs fired or lead to the locker room being cleared out.

Could the Stars resort to personnel changes after an 8-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks Saturday the worst loss the team has suffered at American Airlines Center? Well, it seems at the very least we should be on alert.

After all, owner Tom Gaglardi was in the building. He brought his family down for the game from Vancouver and viewed that debacle live. While the team’s performance on the ice was frustrating, it may have been just as annoying that the arena was sold out, and that Chicago fans were having a heyday.

So what is there to do? Firing coach Glen Gulutzan would seem like the first and obvious move to make if you’re looking to send a message, but Dallas is heavily in the mix for the playoffs (three points back of eighth).

Ditching GM Joe Nieuwendyk? Not likely happening as he’s been steadily rebuilding what former owner Tom Hicks blew up. Perhaps it’s time for Nieuwendyk to start working the phones a little harder and change up the roster.