Should Alain Vigneault’s days be numbered in Vancouver?

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The Northwest Division is virtually clinched for the Vancouver Canucks, but as we’ve seen with Roberto Luongo in particular, the market seems primed to turn on the team’s major figures whenever things aren’t running like a well-oiled machine.

On the heels of a listless 2-0 loss to the Minnesota Wild and a 5-6-2 mark in their last 13 games, it only makes sense – in a “Vancouver” sort of way, at least – that the cross-hairs are turning to Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault. Vancouver Province columnist Tony Gallagher thinks that the team needs a fresh approach.

Vigneault’s time with this team is surely drawing very near the end because management owes it to the group to give them another coach next year, so as to have a fresh approach before the Sedins get too old to even talk about getting something done five-on-five.

As it is now, talk of a Stanley Cup in this environment is delusional, and if you don’t believe us, just ask Jonathan Toews.

What’s going on now is so unlike the professionalism of last year’s team and you have to wonder what effect it’s having on Zack Kassian and Marc-Andre Gragnani, who came over from Buffalo in the Cody Hodgson deal. Joining a team that was leading the ridiculously tough Western Conference, they probably thought they were going into a room whereby everyone did their utmost every night to make sure the team not only had a chance to win but dominated many games. They probably thought they were coached by somebody whose every word was carefully considered and perhaps even acted upon.

I’m going to play the devil’s advocate and say that the Canucks’ hopes for a run to the Stanley Cup are far from “delusional.” Here’s why:

  • They still have a +41 goal differential which, to me, shows most simply that they remain one of the NHL’s best teams. (If their record wasn’t enough an indicator, that is.)
  • The Canucks have the Sedin twins, Ryan Kesler and fantastic depth on offense. Their defense ranges from solid-to-very-good and they possess one of the league’s best goalie duos.
  • Look at the West teams and you’ll see plenty of question marks.
  • The St. Louis Blues have been great but obviously are the new kids on the block and thus remain unproven.
  • The Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings carry deep flaws and dark bruises.
  • There are some nice stories in the Pacific Division, but is there a single team that truly inspires fear?

If anything, the Canucks might be the logical frontrunners to represent the West in this year’s finals – unless you suffer from “What have you done for me lately?” syndrome, of course.

Vigneault’s many victories in Vancouver

Vigneault seems like the sort who doesn’t always butter up media types, but how exactly has his reign been disappointing? The Canucks are on the verge of a fifth division title in his sixth season of work, last year’s team was one of the most dominant regular season squads in recent memory and he’s a one-time Jack Adams Award winner (while being a finalist three times).

What more must he do? Does he need to scream like a madman and flip over Gatorade jugs to get the respect he supposedly doesn’t receive? Is it really Stanley Cup or bust for a franchise that’s never sipped from the chalice?

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If you ask me, it’s a puzzling “grass is always greener” mentality, but what do you think? Should the Canucks really consider parting ways with perhaps the most successful coach they’ve ever had? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Blackhawks put in complete performance in 2-1 win against Predators

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Nothing has really gone right for the Chicago Blackhawks as of late.

The firing of Joel Quenneville and hiring of Jeremy Colliton hasn’t done much to rekindle the club’s glory days.

They had actually won more games (six) under Quenneville than they have under the new guy (four) coming into Tuesday’s game.

Corey Crawford, perhaps their ray of hope if he could get it together between the pipes, suffered another concussion this week and is out indefinitely.

Even their mascot, Tommy Hawk, hasn’t been immune to the frustrations in the Windy City.

So Tuesday’s 2-1 win at home at United Center against the mighty Nashville Predators on NBCSN, however insignificant it ends up being at the end of the season, was a welcomed change.

If recent history is to be believed, the Blackhawks might have even been slight favorites heading into the game.

Nashville began the season a perfect 8-0-0 outside of Tennessee, but have now lost eight in a row (0-6-2) since. They’re also pretty banged up, so that helped, too.

Despite Nashville’s shortcomings on the road this as of late, it shouldn’t take away from Chicago’s performance.

They played a tight, offensive-minded game, outshooting the Predators 36-31, including 16-7 in the second period as they erased Nashville’s 1-0 lead and replaced it with a 2-1 advantage of their own.

Any hope of the Blackhawks not falling further from grace rests in the hands of Cam Ward at this point.

With Crawford out, Ward will be leaned on to provide the best netminding he can.

On Tuesday, he did just that, turning aside 30 shots. Ward was especially solid in the third, including the last two-and-a-half minutes of the third after the Preds pulled Pekka Rinne for the extra attacker.

Other things that went well: Chicago’s last-ranked power play was 1-for-3, producing five shots on goal. Their last-ranked penalty kill was 2-for-2, allowing just two shots on goal.

It all equates on some good stuff to build on. It’s been a while since Chicago produced an effort like that. The blueprint is there.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Stars’ Bishop returns to game after taking shoulder to the head

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Dallas Stars fans were able to breathe a sigh of relief as the team came out for the third period on Tuesday.

Nearing the mid-way point fo the second period, Calgary Flames forward Garnet Hathaway went to challenge Bishop, who was playing the puck behind the net.

Bishop was able to move the puck to his defenseman but the incoming Hathaway’s shoulder caught him in the mask. The impact knocked Bishop over and he was slow to get up before being pulled from the game.

Here’s the hit:

Hathaway was given a two-minute minor for goaltender interference. Stars defenseman Roman Polak got a roughing minor after going after Hathaway following the hit.

Bishop stopped all nine shots he faced in the 33:37 he played. Anton Khudobin logged 6:23 in relief before Bishop led the Stars out for the third period.

Bishiop had a 10-8-1 record coming into Tuesday with a .920 save percentage. The Stars were leading 2-0 in the third.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

WATCH LIVE: Predators visit Blackhawks on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Tuesday night’s matchup between the Nashville Predators and Chicago Blackhawks with coverage beginning at 7:30 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

This is the second of four meetings between these Central Division foes. The Predators beat the Blackhawks 5-2 on Dec. 1 in Nashville. Pekka Rinne made 19 saves and five different Predators scored a goal.

During the 2016-17 season, the Blackhawks finished as the top team in the Western Conference with 109 points and faced the upstart Predators (94 points) in the First Round of the playoffs. Since Nashville delivered a surprising sweep in that series, the Preds have become one of the premiere franchises in the NHL, while the Hawks have taken a nosedive:

Last night in Ottawa, the Preds went down 3-0 in the first period and pulled Rinne, rallied back to force overtime, but fell 4-3 on Thomas Chabot’s OT winner. They have now lost seven straight on the road (0-5-2) after starting the season 8-0-0 away from Bridgestone Arena.

The Blackhawks snapped an eight-game losing streak last week with a 6-3 win over Pittsburgh, but have since lost each of their last two games — a 4-3 OT loss to Winnipeg on Friday and a 7-3 defeat on Sunday to San Jose. They have won just four times in their past 25 games (4-17-4) and are 4-13-3 under Jeremy Colliton.

Entering last week’s game against the Penguins, the Blackhawks had allowed the first goal of the game in 11 straight. Since then, they’ve tallied the first goal in two of their last three games. Chicago actually jumped out to a 2-0 lead against the Sharks and led 3-2 after the first period. But San Jose scored five unanswered goals from there.

When they do score the first goal of the game, Chicago is 8-2-4. When they allow the first goal of the game, they are 2-17-2.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 7:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Nashville Predators at Chicago Blackhawks
Where: United Center
When: Tuesday, Dec. 18, 7:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Predators-Blackhawks stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

PREDATORS
Ryan HartmanRyan JohansenKevin Fiala
Calle JarnkrokKyle TurrisCraig Smith
Colton SissonsNick BoninoAustin Watson
Miikka SalomakiFrederick Gaudreau – Rocco Grimaldi

Roman JosiRyan Ellis
Dan HamhuisMattias Ekholm
Matt IrwinYannick Weber

Starting goalie: Pekka Rinne

BLACKHAWKS
Brandon SaadJonathan ToewsDominik Kahun
Dylan StromeArtem AnisimovPatrick Kane
Alex DeBrincatDavid Kampf – Dylan Sikura
John HaydenMarcus KrugerBrendan Perlini

Duncan KeithErik Gustafsson
Gustav ForslingBrent Seabrook
Carl Dahlstrom – Connor Murphy

Starting goalie: Cam Ward

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Capitals face conundrum with Burakovsky

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Right now, it sure seems like Andre Burakovsky is the odd man out for the Washington Capitals, and you wonder if something eventually has to give.

The Washington Post’s Isabelle Khurshudyan reports that Burakovsky is likely to be a healthy scratch during the Capitals’ Wednesday game against the Penguins (airing on NBCSN), which would mark the fourth consecutive game that Capitals head coach Todd Reirden sat him viable the dreaded “coach’s decision.”

Publicly, Reirden provided the boilerplate optimism you’d expect, even when a player seems to be in the doghouse.

“He’s just got to continue to come to work every day with the right attitude, which he has,” Reirden said, via Khurshudyan. “He’s got so much skill and talent and had a great day of practice again today. It’s a difficult situation right now; the players are making it difficult for our staff to pick the guys who should be playing each night, and that’s a good thing.”

Limited minutes if he even manages to play

To some extent, it’s true that the defending champions are fairly stacked at forward. Granted, it’s easy for me to picture Burakovsky bringing more value to the table than a limited (albeit rugged) winger like Devante Smith-Pelly, but it sure seems like Reirden’s soured on Burakovsky.

Earlier in his career, it was frustrating to see Burakovsky’s minutes somewhat limited, as it felt like a case of Barry Trotz being too rigid to trust a younger player to learn from mistakes. That’s only gotten worse under Reirden, as Burakovsky’s averaged just 11:36 TOI through the 29 games he has appeared in, a significant drop from last season (13:50) and his career average of 13:04.

Burakovsky’s struggles become a chicken-and-the-egg argument, then: how much of it is pure up-and-down play, and how much of it comes down to shaken confidence?

Checking Hockey Reference, you can see that Burakovsky often enjoyed strong possession numbers, including relative to his teammates … until 2018-19, when he’s been mediocre, if not bad. It’s noticeable that a player who was once deployed for offensive opportunities (career average of 56.8 percent of his shifts starting in the attacking zone) is now averaging a career-low of 45.9 percent.

On one hand, Burakovsky’s stock may be at a new low, judging by his underlying struggles, healthy scratches, and being limited to a disappointing eight points in 29 games. Selling low is a way to lose trades … but considering how reluctantly he’s being deployed by Reirden, maybe a trade would just be better for everyone involved?

After all, the Capitals might not want to hand the pending RFA a $3.25M qualifying offer if this funk – and impasse with Reirden – is the rule, rather than the exception.

Khurshudyan reports that the Capitals wouldn’t want futures in a hypothetical trade, instead wanting someone who could help them now. Either way, a trade before Wednesday’s holiday freeze is reportedly unlikely.

With all of that in mind, is there some sort of solution?

How Capitals can help him out

Well, that might require a bit of creativity. Back in late November, Japers Rink’s Adam Stringham brought up an interesting point: like a flip-flop of Alex Ovechkin thriving as a LW, the left-handed Burakovsky tends to put up better numbers as a RW.

Andre Burakovsky has played roughly the same number of minutes on both the right and left sides of the ice but with pretty different rates of production. Across all lines, Burakovsky’s production is 35% higher when he’s playing on his off-wing.

It could be especially bold – and make Adam Oates’ blood boil – if the Capitals rolled out a line of Ovechkin (LW), Nicklas Backstrom/Evgeny Kuznetsov at center, and Burakovsky on the right.

One could also argue that Burakovsky is worthy of more power play time whenever he might re-enter the lineup. While it would be foolish to quibble with Washington’s top unit, more reps with the second group would make a lot of sense. Burakovsky probably deserves more than 32 seconds of PP time per night, particularly since the Caps roll out two defensemen on the second group (Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen), when a lot of metrics argue that a 4F, 1D setup is more productive.

Checking Corsica’s numbers, Burakovsky has often acquitted himself well on a per-60-minutes basis, frequently meeting or exceeding the likes of T.J. Oshie at that mark. That’s not to slight Oshie; instead, the point is that the Capitals might be leaving goals and assists on the table when they’re failing to find ways to get Burakovsky on the ice.

Getting Burakovsky out there more often could pump his trade value back up, and could also help thaw out the relationship with Reirden. The Capitals have been hit by injuries more often this season merely by comparison to their almost-spooky run of near-impeccable health during the Trotz era, but if those ailments start to hit in waves, wouldn’t it be better to not just have Burakovsky around, but have him on the right track?

Considering the Capitals’ five-game winning streak, things are obviously looking good overall. It’s unlikely that many are losing sleep regarding this situation.

Still, Burakovsky is the sort of talented player who can sometimes turn the tide of a close series, or at least help Washington land that type of player in a trade. He’s not going to do that by languishing on the bench, though.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.