No doubt about it, both situations are stunning. Ray Emery was pulled from the game against the Oilers only to find himself back in after Corey Crawford also got shelled by Edmonton. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins compiled a ludicrous five assists while Taylor Hall avenged a questionable hit by Duncan Keith (stay tuned for video of that check from behind) by notching a hat trick. Overall, the Blackhawks were outscored 14-4 in their trip through Western Canada, with their other loss coming to the struggling Calgary Flames.
Minnesota’s stealth surge
Again, that’s bewildering stuff. But few would have predicted that the Wild would find themselves in first place overall more than a month into the season. Minnesota, which defeated St. Louis in a shootout, earned wins in nine of their last 11 games as Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding have been trading off victories.
They’re doing it with that aforementioned goaltending, timely scoring (they’ve only scored five goals once and four goals in one other game during that 11-game stretch) and an outstanding penalty kill that stopped 39 of 43 chances.
Yeo deserves praise
Quite a few coaches have received praise for greatly exceeding expectations in 2011-12 already, so let’s give rookie bench boss Mike Yeo some credit. He’s making it work so far in his first season with the big club, even if those efforts are going largely unnoticed by the mainstream. If Minnesota keeps it up, it won’t be easy for the Wild to slip under the radar much longer.
Forgive the Blackhawks if they feel a little more worried about themselves instead, though.
* Both teams have 27 points but Minnesota is 12-5-3 while Chicago is 12-6-3, so they get the “tie-breaker” at the moment.
Jim Montgomery on adjusting to the NHL, the Stars and his ‘process’ (PHT Q&A)
Jim Montgomery is going to miss Ken Hitchcock around the rink in Dallas. The Stars new head coach, who replaced Hitchcock in the offseason, spent plenty of time around the old Stars bench boss and soaked up his wisdom about the NHL.
“His experience in the league, understanding travel, practice time and then understanding the people here, the players, and just him sharing what he thought the players were and what their maximum ceiling was and how to help them get there,” Montgomery told Pro Hockey Talk on Tuesday.
Hitchcock is back behind a bench after the Edmonton Oilers hired him to replace Todd McLellan. It’s his sixth job in the NHL and came only 221 days after his retirement announcement last April. He’s the definition of a hockey lifer.
“That’s right. It’s just in his blood,” said Montgomery. “Most coaches are like that but he’s probably the zenith of that description.”
We spoke with Montgomery this week about his transition to the NHL, how the Stars are adjusting to his “process,” and who really deserves credit for coining the “Legion of Doom” nickname given to the famous Philadelphia Flyers line of Mikael Renberg, Eric Lindros and John LeClair.
PHT: We’re a quarter of the way through the season. How would you assess your team right now and where they’re at in terms of adjusting to your system?
MONTGOMERY: “I would say we’ve been very inconsistent, which I expected because it’s very different, the way I want us to play than the previous two coaches. Then you factor in this is their third coach in three years and they’re adjusting for the third time to a new system. I just knew it was going to take time, so I expected the inconsistency with the on-ice execution. The inconsistency in work habits and effort has been my biggest surprise to the job. I think the biggest pleasant surprise has been how all these guys are eager to learn and I haven’t gotten the testing that I expected. These guys are good people and they want to do what you want to do. We just need to change the culture of what our expectations of work is on a daily basis.”
How much of an adjustment has it been for you going from the college hockey schedule to an NHL schedule where it’s 3-4 games a week, almost every other night?
“That’s been a huge adjustment. As much as you try and prepare in the summer time and watch other teams and watch film every day, trying to simulate meetings, I did that for two weeks with the staff, nothing compares to the grind; because now you’re combining emotion, results, win, losses, trying to stay even-keel, dealing with players that are confident, players that aren’t confident on a daily basis, and trying to get them charged up again to feel good about themselves within 48 hours — sometimes 24.
“Hitch told me that once you get to the 20-game mark you start to get in a rhythm. I’m starting to feel I’m more in a rhythm of how to prepare, where to spend my time the most efficiently so that I’m not overtaxing myself. And thank God I hired great people in Rick Bowness, Todd Nelson, Stu Barnes and Jeff Reese to help me every day. I don’t know where I’d be without them.”
I’m sure you had one of these as a player, but do coaches have a ‘Welcome to the NHL’ moment? Did you had one in those?
“Yes and no. I don’t know if that was it but when we played Toronto we were playing well. I talked to [Mike] Babcock after the game and he goes ‘You’ve got to be fearful in this league. Every day you’ve got to be scared because every day’s a new challenge.’ And he’s right because what I’ve found from that conversation is it doesn’t matter if you’re playing a team that’s in the bottom of the standings or the top of the standings. You might get their worst or their best, but really it’s about your own team respecting the league and respecting the opponent every night so that you play with fear.”
It’s a small list of NCAA coaches who made the jump to the NHL. You and Hakstol are the only ones since the early ’80s. Why do you think NHL teams are skittish about going that route?
“We’re getting the opportunities now because percentage of college players in the NHL has grown since I played [at Maine, 1989-93]. Most of the general managers used to be guys that came from the CHL. Now most of your general managers are coming from college-based backgrounds, a lot of them anyways. So that’s changed, and the youthfulness of the league. The young players you’re dealing with they need more information and direct communication and feedback. I don’t know if that’s millennials or just you’re dealing with the average age of a roster that’s much younger than it used to be 20 years ago. Your third and fourth line is not 10-year veterans anymore.”
At what point during your coaching career did you feel ready to make the NHL jump?
“I think after I won at Denver [2017 NCAA title] I thought I was ready. I was very fortunate to have a great job and I wasn’t going to leave unless I was leaving to work with the right people, and that means owners, GM and an opportunity to win because of the roster. I was very fortunate and lucky that Jim Nill thought of me to give me an opportunity to lead the Dallas Stars.”
“Yeah, I moved it down to five because there’s so many games and with so many games you can only focus on so many things. I narrowed the focus down. When I had seven in college, I moved it from five to seven from junior where I coached 80 games a year with playoffs. I just thought that was the right thing to do and I knew which two were the least important.”
You spoke about the inconsistency in the Stars’ game so far. Do you feel your team is closer to hitting those five areas or is there plenty of work to do?
“Well, those five areas narrow your focus to concentrate on details within the game to possibly give you success. The numbers that we’ve worked out in the process, when we’ve hit the three most important ones we’re 11-1-1. It’s really not subjective. You can see it, the effort in those areas. Special teams is obvious. Three or less odd-man rushes is obvious, and winning the net-front battle is a little subjective, but it’s pretty obvious when you’re watching the game if you’re winning that.
“For the way I want our team to play, those are critical areas. Plus I want to be a possession team, so win faceoffs, and that’s team faceoffs. It’s within five seconds that we have possession, whether it’s a win or a loss. The last one is zero undisciplined penalties. We’ve gotten better in those areas but a lot of it is there’s so many teams bunched up because there’s so many games in so many nights that you can’t have your A-game. Where we’ve got to get consistent is valuing our details that allow us to have success on nights when we don’t have legs. That’s where we have, I think, not embraced the process enough.”
Finally, you’re credited with coming up with the “Legion of Doom” nickname. Where did that come from? Were you a big wrestling fan?
“My buddy that I grew up with playing [midget] hockey and my linemate [Tommy Cacioppo] was a huge Flyers fan. When I was there I think we had just beaten someone 7-4 and I think the ‘Legion of Doom’ had something like 16 points in the game. He’s like, ‘You can’t stop them. They’re big, they’re strong, they’re skilled.’ I said ‘Tommy, I’ve got the best seat in the house. I’m watching them a lot from the bench.’ I said, ‘You’re doomed. They can beat you any way they want to, so you’re doomed.’ He was the wrestling fan. He goes, ‘It’s the Legion of Doom’ and I said it to a reporter and it took off.”
NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Wednesday night’s matchup between the Philadelphia Flyers and Buffalo Sabres at 7:30 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.
The Flyers always seem to have the same problem, and that’s goaltending. With Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth both on the shelf, the Flyers will have to roll with Alex Lyon and Calvin Pickard. No disrespect to those players, but that’s not an ideal duo to have between the pipes.
The Flyers overcame a 5-1 deficit against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night, but Pickard allowed six goals on 26 shots in the overtime defeat. As for Lyon, he’s still waiting to make his first appearance for Philadelphia this season.
“We’ll roll with the best that’s out there, whether it’s what we have or something else,” said Flyers GM Ron Hextall. “Same as always. We’re always looking to upgrade our team if we can. We picked Calvin up because we believe in him and we also believe that Alex is pretty close. They’re gonna have a chance here and we’ll see how it goes.”
Hextall’s team has gone through some good and bad stretches already this season. They went 5-0-1 at the start of the month, but they’ve now dropped three home games in a row to Florida, New Jersey and Tampa. Now, they’re heading back on the road to take on a red-hot Sabres team. The one thing the Flyers have going for them, is that they’ve been better on the road (5-3-1) than at home (4-6-1).
Speaking of the Sabres, they’ll look to extend their winning streak to seven games tonight. There’s no denying that Buffalo has turned a corner. The additions of Jeff Skinner (trade) Carter Hutton (free agency) and Rasmus Dahlin (draft) have paid immediate dividends.
Skinner, who is a pending unrestricted free agent, already has 14 goals and 22 points in 21 games in his first season with the Sabres. Hutton has been between the pipes for five of the six consecutive wins. He has a 9-6-1 record with a 2.61 goals-against-average and a .917 save percentage. The numbers don’t jump off the page, but he’s brought stability between the pipes. And Dahlin has averaged 18:27 this season while putting up 10 points in 21 games.
The Sabres’ winning streak was on the ropes earlier this week, but overcame a 4-1 deficit to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-4 in overtime on Monday night.
“There’s a bit of confidence now because we’ve (come back) a few times,” said captain Jack Eichel. “I think it’s a trust and a belief in each other; you look around the room, the guys are believing that next line’s going to get the job done and set you up for your shift. We’re a pretty tight bunch right now for how many new guys came to this team, and we’re getting really close right now and we’re doing it for each other and that’s the biggest thing. Everyone goes out there and doesn’t want to let the guy next to them down. … we’re playing for each other right now, and that’s one of the most important things.”
The Sabres are currently sitting in third place in the Atlantic Division. They’re one point behind Tampa for second and two points behind the first-place Maple Leafs.
PITTSBURGH (AP) — Mike Sullivan’s regular film sessions with the Pittsburgh Penguins don’t lack for clues on why one of the NHL’s marquee franchises is in the midst of its bumpiest stretch in more than a decade.
The defense can morph into a disjointed mess under sustained pressure, particularly right in front of the net. The crisp breakouts that used to trigger odd-man rushes featuring some of the league’s most skilled players moving at warp speed have largely vanished and been replaced by something significantly sloppier.
Oh, and the NHL at large has caught up to the frenetic tempo Sullivan introduced when he took over nearly three years ago, a hiring that – combined with a roster makeover authored by general manager Jim Rutherford – helped power the Penguins to consecutive Stanley Cups. In that way, Pittsburgh’s current struggles are a byproduct of its not-so-distant glory.
”For the most part it’s a copycat league and teams tend to try to emulate the teams that have success,” Sullivan said Tuesday. ”When you look at our team over the last handful of seasons, we’ve had pretty good success with a certain style of play.”
A style Sullivan has no plans to abandon even with Pittsburgh mired in a 1-7-2 funk that has dropped his club into a tie for the fewest points in the wide-open Eastern Conference a quarter of the way through the season.
”You look at the core of our players, (Sidney) Crosby, (Evgeni) Malkin, (Phil) Kessel, (Kris) Letang, all those guys can skate,” Sullivan said. ”They can still skate.”
The thing now is, so can everyone else.
The proof came to life over the last 30 minutes against Buffalo on Monday night, when the Sabres reeled off the final four goals, including Jake Eichel’s game-winner 45 seconds into overtime at the end of a sequence that began with a Malkin giveaway in the offensive zone.
It was the kind of miscue Pittsburgh used to pounce on with ruthless efficiency. Now it’s the Penguins who are making the crucial mistakes, ones that are ending up in the back of their own net with alarming regularity.
”I think we’ve been doing some really good things the last handful of games but we’ve been shooting ourselves in the foot a little bit with a few plays,” forward Bryan Rust said. ”We’ve got to be a little bit more mindful of that and just dig down a little bit deeper and the bounces will eventually go our way.”
There is a fair amount of ”puck luck” that’s abandoned Pittsburgh at the moment. The Penguins were up two goals late in the second period against Buffalo when Pittsburgh defenseman Jack Johnson locked up Sabres forward Conor Sheary in front of the net. No matter. Casey Nelson‘s shot from the point deflected off Johnson’s skate and by goaltender Casey DeSmith.
Watching from afar while sitting out a third straight game nursing an upper body injury, Crosby could only scratch his head.
”I think the thing for us that’s probably been a little more difficult is, it’s not necessarily the same thing,” said the two-time MVP, who hopes to play on Wednesday when Pittsburgh hosts Dallas. ”We’ve found different ways to lose games and you know, we’ve probably corrected one thing and something else has been a factor in another game we lost.”
One thread, however, has been a constant: defense. The Penguins – particularly early in the season during the Crosby era – have occasionally been slow to tighten things up because they are so talented offensively that the finer points of playing responsibly in their own end can be lost.
In past years, Pittsburgh has been able to outscore opponents even on nights it didn’t particularly play well. That’s not happening at the moment. The loss to Buffalo marked the eighth time in 19 games the Penguins have allowed at least five goals, something they did 13 times all of last season.
While Sullivan is quick to point to the number of quality chances Pittsburgh created against Buffalo, he’s well aware his team was far too generous in front of DeSmith. Pittsburgh dominated the first period but only had a 1-1 tie to show for it after forward Dominik Simon lost his footing while attempting to help clear a puck. Buffalo kept it in the zone and a cross-ice pass led to a one-timer that Tage Thompson buried to even the game.
”We’ve got to do a better job defending and making sure we stay on the right side of the puck and the right side of people in the critical areas of the rink,” Sullivan said. ”That’s an area we can all improve as a team.”
Pittsburgh hasn’t missed the playoffs since Crosby’s rookie year in 2005-06 and Crosby stressed it is far too early to panic.
”It’s tight but we just have to make sure we eliminate our mistakes and give ourselves the best chance and I thought for the most part (against Buffalo) we were pretty in control of that game,” Crosby said. ”I think if we keep trending that way, we’ll learn from that one and get a lot more wins.”
Three quarters of the season remains. Though the Penguins have been ”meh” at best, the rest Metropolitan Division hasn’t exactly been lights out. Only eight points separate the Penguins from first-place Columbus. One good consistent stretch of hockey and things can change very quickly.
”You can’t control the ones you’ve let slip away,” Crosby said. ”Ten games from now, you don’t know where you’re going to be.”
• “The Anaheim City Council voted 6-1 this evening to approve a multi-faceted agreement that includes extending the partnership between the National Hockey League’s Anaheim Ducks and the City of Anaheim for at least 25 more years. The deal solidifies the Ducks continued commitment to the city through at least 2048 (five years remaining on initial agreement). As part of the agreement, the team’s name will remain the “Anaheim Ducks” for the duration of the partnership.” (Ducks)