2010-2011 NHL season preview: Vancouver Canucks

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GYI0060387074-sedins-lam-getty.jpgLast season: (49-28-5, 103 points, 1st in Northwest Division, 3rd in Western Conference) It was another great season for the Canucks, winning their division and showing great promise heading into the playoffs. For the second year in a row, however, they were unceremoniously disposed of by the Chicago Blackhawks in the second round. Once again, Roberto Luongo was nowhere to be seen against the Blackhawks in the playoffs.

Head coach: Alain Vigneault enters his fifth season as coach and for three of his previous four, he’s taken the Canucks to the top of the Northwest Division. Things shouldn’t be any different this time around as the division appears to be a walk in the park for his team. The trick this time is making sure that the Canucks will be ready for the playoffs, something they’ve got to improve on or else Vigneault will start to hear whispers.

Key departures: F Michael Grabner, F Steve Bernier, G Andrew Raycroft, F Pavol Demitra, D Willie Mitchell, F Kyle Wellwood, F Ryan Johnson. This is certainly a lot of talent to be losing from a team that had over 100 points and won their division. Fear not, the Canucks did their part to replace everyone.

Key arrivals: F Manny Malhotra, F Jeff Tambellini, D Keith Ballard, D Dan Hamhuis, G Cory Schneider. Malhotra and Tambellini make for solid depth presence and Malhotra will bring the Canucks a third-line center that can win faceoffs and play solid in his own end. Ballard and Hamhuis more than make up for the loss of Willie Mitchell and the Canucks ensure that Roberto Luongo won’t have any defensemen to hang a loss on after a tough game. Everyone the Canucks have on defense now is more than formidable.

Under pressure: Who else but Luongo? He’s been the focus of all the attention in their last two playoff exits and after winning Team Canada the gold medal last year, Canucks faithful are even more anxious to have Bobby Lu do the same thing for the hometown team. Luongo showed signs of irritability the last few seasons when questioned after hard losses, especially in the playoffs, and the pressure will only mount this year as this Canucks team appears to be stacked.

robertoluongo6.jpgProtecting the house: All right so Luongo is the man and he’s been overworked like crazy the last few seasons. Getting him some rest so he’s at his peak in the playoffs will be key and providing that break for him this time around is prospect Cory Schneider. The former Boston College goalie gets his first chance to be Luongo’s caddy this year after spending the last few seasons in Manitoba of the AHL making sure he can handle the pressure and the workload of being a top tier goalie. Working Schneider into about 25-30 games should be the goal, but I’d still expect Vigneault to ride Luongo hard, just not as hard as in the past.

On defense, the Canucks are loaded. Even with an Achilles injury to Sami Salo, the Canucks really don’t have a lot to get fussy about. Hamhuis, Ballard, Alexander Edler, Christian Ehrhoff, Kevin Bieksa, Shane O’Brien, and Andrew Alberts make up this very deep unit that provides everything from thumping physical abuse to offensive ability on the power play. Ideally with this much talent on defense and in goal, the Canucks should not have issues keeping opponents off the board. As they like to say in cliché land: There’s a reason why they play the games.

Top line we’d like to see: Why mess with what works? Henrik Sedin-Daniel Sedin-Alex Burrows was an incredible line last season and it helped give Henrik Sedin the MVP award. Burrows gets out there to create havoc and disrupt play in a talented fashion while the Wonder Twins do their thing. Whether Burrows helped the Sedins evolve into top of the NHL talent or if they brought him up with him doesn’t much matter because it all works out great. Only issue here is that Burrows will miss a little bit of time to start the season coming back from offseason shoulder surgery.

Oh captain, my captain: Funny thing happened with the captaincy. Luongo gave up his ‘C’ and, for the moment, no one has been named the new captain. That will change, and possibly soon. If you’re looking for leading candidates for the job, look no further than Henrik Sedin or Ryan Kesler. We don’t know what goes on in the room, but to our eyes picking Kesler seems like the logical move. He’s feisty, he’s fiery, he plays the game with an edge and he’s got the whole media savvy thing working for him. Plus, he’s an American and that makes us feel good here. USA! USA! USA!

GYI0060069252-hordichuk-gross-getty.jpgStreet fighting man: There’s a few characters here you can pick from. The obvious one is Darcy Hordichuk. He’s been in the league for what feels like forever, he’s got the name of a tough guy (really, who messes with a guy named Hordichuk?), and he’s not afraid to fight. Then again, you could run with upstarts like Rick Rypien or Tanner Glass if you want your fighters to be a bit younger and a bit more tenacious. With the kind of depth the Canucks have at forward throughout the organization though, they could easily roll four lines without a designated brawler.

Best-case scenario: This one is easy. They get the same kind of season from the Sedins (or better) while Burrows continues to be the dirty kind of 30-goal scorer he was last year. The defense does what they’re built for and makes Luongo’s season easier to play in nets while Cory Schneider makes sure he’s well rested. The Canucks steamroll through their division and through the playoffs to the Stanley Cup finals and lifting Lord Stanley’s Cup for the first time in franchise history.

Worst-case scenario: Burrows struggles coming back from surgery and doesn’t play as effectively as he did. Secondary scoring lines don’t produce as well as they’d like, putting more stress on Luongo to not just be good but great. The Canucks still win the division but are strong upset candidates in the first round of the playoffs. With their luck, they’d draw Chicago one more time and suffer a similar fate. This team is no threat to miss the playoffs, but an early playoff exit is a bugaboo they’d need to avoid in their worst of situations.

Keeping it real: This team is loaded. They’re an instant favorite for the Stanley Cup and will be a wrecking ball kind of team all season long provided the injury bug doesn’t interfere too much. That’s about the only thing that can really hamper the Canucks chances this season. They’re on par with only a handful of other teams in the NHL that on paper you believe can win the Stanley Cup right away. They’re going to be very good, they’re going to make their mates in the Northwest Division look really bad by comparison, and they’ll be playing the regular season as an extended training camp for the playoffs.

Stanley Cup chances: On a scale from 1-5, with one being the worst and five being the best, the Canucks are an absolute 5. This team is deep, they are very talented and they’ve got superstars all around the lineup. They’ve got all the parts in place to win the organization’s first Stanley Cup and considering it’s their 40th anniversary season, it’d be all too poetic of a finish to get it done this year.

(Sedin photo: Rich Lam – Getty Images)

(Hordichuk photo: Jeff Gross – Getty Images)

Wednesday Night Hockey: Rangers vs. Capitals; Bruins vs. Flames

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NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Wednesday night’s matchup between the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals at 7 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports App by clicking here.

Rangers head coach David Quinn hasn’t been shy about sending his team messages early on this season. He’s already scratched players like Kevin Shattenkirk and Pavel Buchnevich, so he won’t be shy about going head-to-head with any of his players going forward.

As many expected, the Rangers are off to a tough start. They decided to unload a lot of their veterans, so this wasn’t totally unexpected. They’re 2-4-0 coming into tonight’s clash against the defending Stanley Cup Champions. On a positive note, New York is coming off a 3-2 shootout win over the Avalanche on Tuesday night. Unfortunately, they’ll play their second of a back-to-back situation in Washington.

The biggest issue right now, is that they can’t seem to find much offense. The Rangers have found the back of the net 15 times in six games, but they’ve only scored more than two goals in regulation/overtime twice (they scored five goals in a loss to Carolina).

If there’s one thing you’ll have to do against Washington, it’s scoring. Can the Rangers keep up with the Caps’ high-flying offense?

The Capitals are coming off a 4-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on home ice. They’ve managed to score just twice in the last two games, but that just means that their offense is bound to erupt in the near future. One area the Capitals haven’t struggling in, is their power play. Washington has been clicking at 36.8 percent thanks to Evgeny Kuznetsov‘s four power play goals.

Kuznetsov has come out of the gate strong this season, as he’s already accumulated nine points in five games. Alex Ovechkin isn’t too far behind. He’s up to four goals and seven points in the same amount of contests. Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie and John Carlson are also running at over a point-per-game clip.

In the late game, we’ll have the matchup between the Boston Bruins and Calgary Flames. You can watch that game online by clicking here

The Bruins will head into tonight’s game with the second best power play in the NHL, which is clicking at 41.7 percent. Incredible. As you’d imagine, their first line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak is a big reason for their success on the man-advantage, as the trio has combined for 11 power play points in just five games.

This will be the first of a four-game road trip that will take them through Western Canada (Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver) before they finish off in Ottawa. None of those four teams made the playoffs last season, but they aren’t exactly easy places to play. This is going to be a tough road trip for them.

The Flames will have to be at their best to matchup against the Bruins are their top line. Thankfully for Calgary, it appears as though Sean Monahan will play. He blocked a shot on Saturday, missed Monday’s practice, but managed to return to the ice on Tuesday morning. Monahan is currently tied for third on the team in points with six in five games. His four goals in five games are tied for the team lead.

Calgary’s done a good job of finding the back of the net overall (they have 18 goals in five games), but keeping the puck out has been a different story. They’ve given up at least four goals in three of their five games. That’s a trend that can’t continue if they want to make it back to the playoffs after missing them last season.

Getting quality goaltending from veteran Mike Smith would go a long way in helping them bring their goals against down. Smith, who will start tonight, has a 2-2 record with a 3.57 goals-against-average and a .881 save percentage this season.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

David Quinn bringing ‘different energy’ to Rangers

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If you ask New York Rangers forward Kevin Hayes what’s different from last season now that new head coach David Quinn is in charge, he’d tell you there’s a “different energy” around the team.

“It’s very positive, hard working energy,” Hayes told Pro Hockey Talk recently.

The new energy includes plenty of communication from the coach. Quinn is vocal and open with his players. They may have only been with him for a month, but already players know where they stand with him. That’s an important detail, and one that can help a roster like the Rangers’ develop into what general manager Jeff Gorton imagines.

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The rivalry between Boston College and Boston University is well-documented in the college hockey world. So when asked if he would be able to play for a coach with BU ties, Chris Kreider jokingly responded, “Begrudgingly. They brought in a BC assistant coach (Greg Brown), so it evens out.”

Kreider has been with the Rangers since the 2013 NHL season, John Tortorella’s final year in New York. One season later, and under head coach Alain Vigneault, they reached the Stanley Cup Final. That was followed up by a second consecutive trip to the Eastern Conference Final, where they would fall in seven games to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

It’s trended downward since then for the Rangers, and the decision last February by Gorton to look toward the future signaled a new era for the team and the end of Vigneault’s time in New York. Over that time Kreider has watched the identity of the team disappear and understands that there’s a first step that can be taken in order for a turnarond to begin.

“We need to fall in love with hard work as a group,” he said. “I think that needs to become our identity. We’re not going to get outworked on pucks; we’re not going to get outworked at any point in a game at any position on the ice. Practice habits have to be improved upon I think our details have to be there. I think we gotta lean on each other and trust each other that everyone’s gonna do the job to the best of their abilities.”

If you’re going to be outworked or not give full effort, then you’re not going to see the ice. It doesn’t matter if you’ve known the coach for over a decade, either through hometown ties (Hayes) or you played for him before arriving in New York and even invited him to your wedding (Kevin Shattenkirk). Effort is non-negotiable to Quinn. Hayes was benched during the game against Buffalo and Shattenkirk’s recovery from knee surgery saw him take a seat in the press box last Thursday against San Jose. Not easy decisions, but ones that align with the coach’s vision for how he needs to help the Rangers succeed.

After going through the experience is playing for Quinn, knowing his coaching style and how he connects with people, his former players have the utmost confidence his jump from the NCAA to the NHL will be a successful one.

“You know, it’s not easy to make a transition, by any means, from college to professional level,” said Buffalo Sabres captain Jack Eichel, who played for Quinn at BU during the 2014-15 season. “But I think more than anything you have to be a good person, and have people skills, and I think probably his biggest asset is how well he’s able to relate to players, relate to people. I think he’ll do a great job building relationships to players away from the ice, and in turn I think that’s how they’ll gain his trust and they’ll believe in him.”

Arizona Coyotes forward Clayton Keller played one season at BU under Quinn and found him to be a player’s coach, one who finds the right buttons to push to maximize talent. He credited the coach with a successful freshman season that saw him lead the Terriers in goals (21) and points (45).

Shattenkirk, who played for Quinn at BU and with the AHL’s Lake Erie Monsters, is a product of the impact Quinn can have on a player.

“I was always the skilled player who came in and in his mind will probably say didn’t want to work and didn’t want to defend,” said Shattenirk. “He did so much for me as a player in college and really turned me from a raw talent into a well-rounded player to be able to succeed at the next level… He was so driven in developing players and coaching players that it meant a lot to me.”

Asking around about Quinn and “good communicator” comes up often from those that have been around him. Kreider described his initial talks with his new coach as “kind of disarming” in regards to how approachable he is. This first season is going set a foundation for what the franchise is hoping are many successful years ahead.

Quinn takes over the Rangers in a transition year. Gorton’s eye is on the future, and no one will mistake them for Cup contenders this year. But they still have Henrik Lundqvist playing at an elite level and just under $19 million in cap space (before a potential rise in the cap ceiling) to play with next summer.

As soon as next season, if Quinn’s influence ends up being a positive one, a return to being a perennial playoff team is not out of the question. Reaching that point requires achieving small steps along the way — steps that can be taken this year with a new voice behind the bench. The desire to get back to that point and prove the doubters wrong are what fuel this Rangers team.

“When people don’t expect you to do well it’s obviously a little chip on your shoulder,” said Hayes. “We still have Hank in net. He’s a Hall of Fame goalie… I think if you buy into the system and you work as hard as you can when you’re on the ice, it’s a pretty good way to create wins.”

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

PHT Morning Skate: Matthews not on McDavid’s level; Red Wings’ Svechnikov out for season

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• One former NHL player believes that 60 to 70 percent of the current players in the league already smoke marijuana. Now that Canada has legalized marijuana, he expects that the idea of using it will become more accepted. (Sportsnet)

• Carolina’s Sebastian Aho is one of the best forwards in the NHL right now, according to The Hockey News’ Jared Clinton. (The Hockey News)

• Rotoworld’s Michael Finewax has his latest edition of the NHL Power Rankings. Toronto and Boston moved up while Tampa and Winnipeg moved down. (Rotoworld)

• ESPN staff writers had a coach’s draft (all coaches from the four major sports were available). The first hockey coach to be taken was Leafs bench boss Mike Babcock, who went seventh overall. Mike Sullivan, Joel Quenneville and Peter Laviolette all made it in the top 15. (ESPN)

• Allan Markin, who is a co-owner of the Calgary Flames, paid a huge sum of money to free a journalist who was kidnapped in Somalia and kept captive. (Calgary Herald)

• Rangers head coach David Quinn sent a message to his team by scratching Pavel Buchnevich on Tuesday night. (New York Post)

• It’s easy to see why the Capitals decided to hire Todd Reirden as their head coach once Barry Trotz left for the Islanders. (Sports Illustrated)

• Even though Auston Matthews is a great player, Jets forward Mark Scheifele doesn’t believe he’s at Connor McDavid‘s level just yet. (NHL.com)

• Red Wings prospect Evgeny Svechnikov will miss five-to-six months after undergoing ACL surgery. He’s done for the year. (Detroit Free Press)

• Puck Junk has an interesting book review of “”Hockey Card Stories: 2” by Ken Reid. (Puck Junk)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

The Buzzer: Shattenkirk’s redemption; McDavid’s heroics

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Three Stars

1. Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers. There really is not anything to say other than what we said earlier: He took over and he single handedly stole a win for the Oilers. Read about it here

2. Kevin Shattenkirk, New York Rangers. Just now entering the second year of his seven-year contract, the Kevin Shattenkirk experience has not been what the New York Rangers were hoping it would be when they signed him due to injury and some ineffective play. On Tuesday night they finally got a glimpse of the player they thought they were getting. Shattenkirk was outstanding for the Rangers in their 3-2 shootout win over the Colorado Avalanche, assisting on two goals and then scoring the game-winner in the shootout. He was also one of the team’s best possession players on the shot attempt chart and was not on the ice for either of the Avalanche goals. In other words: He did what a top-pairing defenseman is supposed to do.

3. Tyler Johnson, Tampa Bay Lightning. The Lightning prevented the Carolina Hurricanes from matching their best start in franchise history with a 4-2 win that was highlighted by a Tyler Johnson hat trick. The Lightning have now won three of their first four games and should still be one of the best teams in the league thanks to their incredible depth up front. Johnson’s hat trick is the fourth of his career in the regular season.

Here come the Golden Knights

The Golden Knights did not have a great start but there was also an awful lot of bad luck at play there, too. They were playing a lot better than their early record might have had you believe and now the results are starting to match the way they were playing. They were 4-1 winners over the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night, giving them their second win in a row. As always seems to be the case with them, it was their top-line doing the damage. Jonathan Marchessault scored a pair of goals in the win, giving him four on the year, while William Karlsson finally had a breakout game finishing with three points. After scoring 43 goals a year ago he finally got his first of the year on Tuesday night while also adding a pair of assists.

Barkov helps Panthers rally, gain point in wild game against Flyers

The Florida Panthers had a terrible second period in Philadelphia, giving up five goals to face three-goal deficit entering the third period. They managed to rally and force overtime — where they would lose in a shootout — thanks to a big-time performance from team captain Aleksander Barkov as he scored a pair of goals including the game-tying goal in the third period. This was also a perfect representation of what the Philadelphia Flyers are this season: A chaotic team that can score a ton of goals and give up just as many. Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds both scored a pair of goals for the Flyers in the win, while Jordan Weal recorded two points (goal, assist) and scored the decisive goal in the shootout.

Highlights of the Night

Connor McDavid is amazing and borderline unstoppable when he gets going at full speed. He showed that on Tuesday night with this goal in the first period.

With that goal, as well as his third period goal and two assists, McDavid had scored or assisted on each of the Oilers’ first nine goals of the season, and each of their past 13 goals dating back to the end of the 2017-18 season.

This save by Darcy Kuemper bailed out the Arizona Coyotes on a 3-on-1 rush. This is tremendous goaltending, even if it was not enough to get a win.

Jamie Benn and the Dallas Stars did not score a goal against the New Jersey Devils but he did take part in vicious fight with Miles Wood.

Brock Boeser helped the Vancouver Canucks continue their surprising start with a 4-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on the road. Boeser scored the game-winner in overtime.

Factoids

Kyle Palmieri is on quite the roll for the New Jersey Devils and with his first period goal on Tuesday did something no player in NHL history has ever done before.

The Devils are now 4-0-0 on the season.

Marc-Andre Fleury continues to climb the NHL’s all-time wins list.

Henrik Lundqvist has won a lot of shootouts in his career. He picked up another one on Tuesday night.

 

Scores
Canucks 3, Penguins 2 (OT)
Devils 3, Stars 0
Rangers 3, Avalanche 2 (SO)
Flyers 6, Panthers 5 (SO)
Lightning 4, Hurricanes 2
Wild 2, Coyotes 1
Oilers 5, Jets 4 (OT)
Golden Knights 4, Sabres 1

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.