Vancouver Canucks

PHT interviews Jim Nill, who’s ‘not surprised’ by Stars’ early-season struggles


The Dallas Stars won their third game in four tries Tuesday in Vancouver, shutting out the Canucks, 2-0, on the strength of a 27-save performance by goalie Kari Lehtonen.

There remains, however, a big gap for the Stars (12-13-5) to close in order to get back into a playoff spot — a surprise to the many pundits who were predicting big things from Dallas in 2014-15.

Just don’t count the team’s general manager, Jim Nill, among the shocked.

“Not surprised,” Nill told PHT Tuesday morning. “We had a great finish last year, found our identity, made a couple of trades. And the media hype, the player hype, everybody’s like, ‘Here we go.’ Well, it doesn’t happen that easy. Sometimes it’s one step forward and two steps back.”

Despite the victory over the Canucks, the Stars’ puck-management issues were apparent throughout the game. Only Lehtonen could keep a number of glaring turnovers from costing his team.

That was rookie Jyrki Jokipakka with the giveaway to Jannik Hansen. Jokipakka, 23, is one of two rookies on the Dallas blue line, the other being 22-year-old John Klingberg.

While Nill remains optimistic about the future of his largely inexperienced defense, he concedes the Stars might have to take their lumps in the present.

In November, Dallas traded veteran Sergei Gonchar to Montreal, opening up a roster spot for a young d-man.

“I kind of chuckle,” said Nill, “because when you’re struggling with the older guys, they’re like, ‘Let’s get the younger guys in and see what they can do.’ Now you get the younger guys in and they’re like, ‘Oh, we didn’t know there’d be this many mistakes.’ That’s the growth curve. Those things are going to happen.”

When Nill was hired in April of 2013, plucked from Detroit where he’d been with the Red Wings organization for nearly two decades, he knew he first needed to address the center position. In the short time since then, he’s added Tyler Seguin and Jason Spezza in major trades. Both players are under contract through 2018-19.

Knowing the difficulty of adding a star defenseman in a trade, Nill is hopeful that what the Stars already have in the organization — including prospects Julius Honka, Jamie Oleksiak, Patrik Nemeth, and Ludwig Bystrom — will be the answer for the blue line.

“We’ve got four or five good young kids, a couple more over in Europe that are coming over,” he said. “Now, are they going to be that No. 1 or No. 2 guy? I don’t know. We’ll see how they evolve. … If they are those type of players, great. If not, we’re going to be like everybody else and try and add that No. 1 or No. 2 guy. Not easy to do.”

In the meantime, it’s a matter of sticking to the plan.

“We’re a bad business in that patience isn’t a word we hear a lot,” he said. “We all start out with it, but then we lose it kind of quick. You can’t rush young players. Some guys develop quick. Tyler Seguin’s 23; now he’s one of the leading scorers in the league. That’s quick.”

Others take longer. Like 22-year-old goalie Jack Campbell, the 11th overall pick in the 2010 draft, currently with the AHL’s Texas Stars.

“Jack’s developing well,” said Nill. “He’s still a young kid. Because he was a first-round pick, everybody’s like, ‘Jeez, why isn’t he up here?’ Goaltenders take a long time to develop. He’s a young kid. He’s going through the highs and lows. He’s on the right path and we’re not going to rush him.”

All that said, Nill isn’t ready to write off the season. He may preach patience for the good of the future, but he expects better results in the now.

“I don’t think we’re as good a team as everybody had us, but we’re not as bad as where we are,” he said. “We still…we’re going to make the playoffs. That’s our goal. We need to go on a run here.”

Hansen: ‘I’d rather play like [expletive] and win’


Colton Sceviour had the game-winner and Kari Lehtonen made 27 saves for the shutout as the Dallas Stars blanked the Vancouver Canucks 2-0 Wednesday night.

With the shutout, the Stars made a little regular season history.

Vancouver was out-shot 29-27 in the loss including a 17-4 margin in the second period when Sceviour netted the winner.

The loss stretches the Canucks’ streak to five games without a win.

“From the game against New York it was a couple of steps in the right direction, but still nothing to show for it,” said Hansen alluding to the Canucks’ 5-1 loss to the Rangers Saturday night. “”I’d rather play like [expletive] and win games. But that’s not the way it’s going right now.”

Eddie Lack made 27 saves while seeing his record drop to 2-4-2 on the season.

“It’s a weak goal, what else can I say?” said Lack of Sceviour’s second of the season. “It’s kind of like in between, should I take it with my stick, should I take it with my glove.”

Antoine Roussel had the other Stars’ goal, into an empty net, with less than a minute remaining in the third.

Dallas has now won back-to-back games and three of four.

Goalie nods: Wild face conundrum with Kuemper and Backstrom sick; Canucks turn to Lack


All the latest from the blue paint…

Minnesota mystery

The Minnesota Wild will play the Boston Bruins tonight on NBCSN. That much we know. Who plays in net, however, remains up in the air.

Darcy Kuemper was yanked right before his scheduled start against Chicago last night with an illness, forcing Niklas Backstrom into action for an eventual 5-3 loss. Now Backstrom is also sick, meaning recently-recalled AHL Iowa farmhand John Curry is in the mix for tonight’s game.

Wild head coach Mike Yeo said he “expects” Backstrom to battle through and play against the Bruins, but whether it happens remains to be seen.

Whatever the case, the Wild are reeling a bit and need a quality start from whoever gets the call. They’ve gone 12 games without back-to-back victories and while they still have a solid record (16-12-1, eighth-best in the West), they’ve also been giving up a lot of goals lately — 19 in their last five games, to be specific.

No word yet on a Bruins starter.

Eddie’s in for Vancouver

After Saturday’s 5-1 drubbing at home against the Rangers, the Canucks are making a change in goal by giving Eddie Lack the start tonight against Dallas.

Lack had a rough first month of the season but has been stellar since, especially over his last three appearances. He posted a 22-save shutout against Pittsburgh, stopped all 13 shots faced in relief of Ryan Miller against Toronto, then stopped 41 of 45 shots in an OT loss to Ottawa.

Miller, meanwhile, has struggled lately — in his last three games, he’s allowed 11 goals on 61 shots.

If Lack has a quality outing against the Stars this evening, it’ll be interesting to see what head coach Willie Desjardins does moving forward. After tonight the Canucks have two games left on their four-game homestand, including one against an Arizona squad that torched Miller for five goals on 23 shots back on Nov. 14 — a beating that occurred in Vancouver, no less.

Not that Desjardins is trying to start a goalie controversy or anything…

For Dallas, Kari Lehtonen is likely to start.


Sens at Devils: Craig Anderson vs. Cory Schneider

Henrik Sedin insists the Canucks are still feeling good about themselves

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The Vancouver Canucks still feel good about themselves, and they still think they’re a good team. This four-game losing streak they’re on? Sure it’s a concern. But no, it’s not a matter of “here we go again.”

At least, that’s what captain Henrik Sedin told me Saturday (audio) after the Canucks had fallen 5-1 to the Rangers at Rogers Arena.

Me: “You guys were feeling so good early in the season about the fresh start and everything…”

Sedin: “We are now, too. Absolutely.”

Me: “No doubt creeping in? Because you can kind of understand the fans are like, ‘Oh, here we go again.'”

Sedin: “Yeah, but it’s happened before. Every season there’s going to be stretches where things aren’t going good. But for us, we feel we have a good team. We’re in [a playoff spot]. I don’t think anyone put us in this position before the season. … We’ve beaten the best teams in the league when we’ve played our game. I think that’s proof enough.”

The Canucks, of course, started last season well. On the morning of Dec. 30, 2013, they were 23-11-6 and in a playoff spot. They had beaten some good teams.

They then proceeded to go 13-24-5 and miss the playoffs for the first time in a long time.

Hence, the hesitancy of many Vancouver hockey fans to put their complete faith in the current roster. Despite the strong start under the new coach. Despite the new players brought in by the new GM. And despite the generally good feeling that’s emanated from the organization this season.

The Canucks host the Dallas Stars tonight, with coach Willie Desjardins saying yesterday that some “tweaks” were being made to the system.

The last time these two teams met, on Oct. 21 in Dallas, the Stars’ speed helped propel them to a 5-0 lead in an eventual 6-3 defeat of the Canucks.

Related: Canucks GM admits fast teams ‘have given us problems’

Canucks guilty of being too aggressive at times


There’s playing aggressive, and then there’s what the Vancouver Canucks have recently become during this four-game losing streak.

On Saturday, the New York Rangers took full advantage in a lopsided win in Vancouver. It was an onslaught on Ryan Miller, who faced plenty of two-on-ones, three-on-ones and even some four-on-ones in Vancouver’s fourth loss in this skid. Yeah, not good for the Canucks, who got off to a terrific start following a season of change in the front office and behind the bench.

But their last four games, not necessarily textbook performances on the defensive side of things, has prompted head coach Willie Desjardins to change things up. And it does hurt having Dan Hamhuis, one of Vancouver’s steadiest blue liners in its top four, out of the lineup with a lower-body injury, suspected to be an injured groin.

The coach isn’t changing the system. Just tweaking it, as his team figures out a fine line between good aggression, making good pinches to keep possession in the offensive end, instead of the kind that leads to the plethora of odd-man rushes like what occurred against the Rangers.

“That one time, you watch the clip, and it should’ve been a five-on-one but one of their guys went and changed so it was only a four-on-one,” defenseman Luca Sbisa said Tuesday.

“So that’s not good. You’re definitely playing too aggressive. But it’s not a lack of effort. It’s lack of smartness. We were eager to play back here … after being on the road for a long time and we didn’t use that energy in the right way.”