Can Ken Hitchcock save the Oilers?

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Continuing a staggering run of coaching changes around the NHL this month, the Edmonton Oilers put Todd McLellan out of his misery on Tuesday, replacing him with … Ken Hitchcock?

No, it’s not surprising to see McLellan out of a job; yes, it’s a little bewildering to see Hitchcock come out of “retirement” to get this shot with the Oilers. Will the gamble pay off, though?

Band-Aid solution?

At the moment, it seems like a short-term fix, which makes sense since Hitchcock is 66 years old.

Actually, it’s amusing to see several of the positive spins revolve around “hey, the Oilers put themselves in a great position to maneuver in the likely event that GM Peter Chiarelli gets fired.” It’s yet another painful reminder of how low the expectations have sunk for a team that employs hockey superhuman Connor McDavid.

In trotting out a longer argument for why Hitchcock was a smart hire, Sportsnet’s Mark Spector hit on a lot of the notes you’d expect, such as experience, which makes sense since Hitchcock is third all-time in coaching wins.

Of course, Hitchcock’s willingness to ruffle feathers is maybe the standout quality of this decision:

Discipline: Hitchcock isn’t in this thing for the long term, so he has nothing to lose, and no friends to make.

Then again, one person’s “experience” is another person’s clue that someone might be behind the times. Being a “strict disciplinarian” can also mean that you’re making players miserable, and failing to connect.

Those who respond with something along the lines of “tough luck” or “rub some dirt on it” should consider that Hitchcock crashed and burned with the Dallas Stars, and saw his Blues teams mostly disappoint in the postseason. His lone Stanley Cup win came in 1998-99. McDavid was born in 1997. It’s tough to imagine many key Oilers being in awe of Hitchcock’s accomplishments if he’s barking at them over and over again.

Inconsistency mixed with incompetence

Let’s not forget, either, that many of these Oilers have been given a long span of instructions over the years.

To recap this run of ineptitude and misery, ponder this list of Oilers head coaches since 2009-10:

  • Pat Quinn (2009-10)
  • Tom Renney (2010-11 to 2011-12)
  • Ralph Krueger (2012-13)
  • Dallas Eakins (2013-14 to 2014-15)
  • Todd Nelson (remainder of 2014-15)
  • Todd McLellan (2015-16 until Tuesday)
  • Ken Hitchcock

That list is almost as embarrassing as Peter Chiarelli’s record of trading, or the Oilers’ run of biffing just about any prospect who isn’t a no-brainer. (That trembling you felt to the point of almost hearing was Jesse Puljujarvi‘s anxiousness regarding inevitable trips to Hitchcock’s doghouse.)

Diminishing returns?

The thing is, the disciplinarian angle might be where all the gains are made, because it’s really difficult to imagine that Hitchcock can get much more out of this team from a schematic standpoint.

The Oilers haven’t been an outright-terrible team from various puck possession standpoints, as you can see from sites like Natural Stat Trick. For the most part, Edmonton’s slightly positive in areas like shots for versus against, Corsi For %, and have generated a bit more high-danger chances for than against.

Could Hitchcock goose those numbers up a bit? Sure, but it’s difficult to imagine Edmonton making a quantum leap.

In other words, this isn’t exactly like the Penguins going from a stuck-in-quicksand nightmare of a bland team under Mike Johnston to an attacking team that accentuated its strengths (and survived its weaknesses) during Mike Sullivan’s best moments.

Instead, this feels like the Oilers are replacing a quiet, defensive-minded, somewhat old-school guy in Todd McLellan to … a defensive-minded, old-school guy who has a reputation for yelling a lot in Hitchcock. How much of a difference will that really make, aside from allowing people to soundtrack sad Connor McDavid moments with Simon & Garfunkel?

Bright coach, but more of the same?

Look, Hitchcock is a bright hockey mind. He really deserves credit for adapting to the game as much as anyone could reasonably expected, as he did particularly well when he experienced a lull between his time with the Blue Jackets and taking over the Blues.

Hitchcock had some fascinating things to say about the game back in 2012, as you can see from this piece in The Globe & Mail.

“You’re trying to get 22 and 23 year olds playing like 27 year olds, so you’re trying to get some sort of order in your game but you’re doing it with much younger players, and I think that’s why, for me, the biggest change I’ve had to adjust to is the next day,” Hitchcock said. “Not the game day, the next day.”

Again, it’s possible that Hitchcock could be a nice tactical upgrade over McLellan, for all we know.

Sometimes you’ll also see teams get a quick burst from making a coaching change, something that might be easier to see in a younger, seemingly less-optimized team such as the Oilers than an older team that might just be out of gas, like the Kings.

A bump for goalies?

One thing that could be intriguing: maybe Hitchcock could get Jake Allen on the right track?

Say what you will about the old coach, but several goalies have enjoyed their best years under his watch. Steve Mason was a sensation. Pascal Leclaire had nine shutouts during one season.

(No, you didn’t just dream that back in 2008-09.)

Could this be a boon for Cam Talbot and/or Mikko Koskinen? Stranger things have happened, and if nothing else, Edmonton’s goalies should be motivated.

Chia’s growing mistakes

While it’s plausible that Hitchcock might find solutions where McLellan could not, this also feels like an organization stuck in its ways. Saying all the right things really rings hollow when Kevin Lowe is still receiving a high-level paycheck, and Chiarelli’s actions aren’t those of someone who’s learned from mistakes.

“I’m certainly not absolving myself of any responsibility on the player personnel and this isn’t just an indictment of Todd or the players,” Chiarelli said, via TSN’s Frank Servalli. “This is a collective thing. It’s our job to get to the playoffs. We owe it to our fans and I felt this was the right move for it”

That sounds reasonable enough, but Chiarelli is allowed to keep swinging despite strikeout after strikeout. That defense that can’t pass well? He signed them, let Jeff Petry go, and believed guys like Kris Russell were the solution. Chiarelli hired McLellan. He thought Milan Lucic was worth adding, even if it meant trading away Taylor Hall. And on and on.

Now, Chiarelli’s gambling that a sage-like (but also sage-aged) coach can swoop in and save Edmonton’s season. Oh yeah, it also feels like a pretty slap-dash solution:

[Can the Oilers keep going on like this?]

Hitchcock’s walked into rocky situations before, and in several instances, he left them better than when he came in.

The Blue Jackets were a mess, and Hitchcock brought them to their first-ever playoff berth. He seemed to provide a nice boost to the Blues, at least in a brief way. He’s forgotten more about hockey than we’ll likely ever know.

This Oilers gig seems like mercenary work, and might be the toughest bounty this old hand has ever experienced. Hitchcock is bright enough to possibly make it work, but it all still feels like a longshot.

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.

Blackhawks, Senators combine for 15 goals in thriller

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Fifteen total goals.

Four goalies used.

Twenty-three skaters with at least a point.

No, this wasn’t the aftermath of a seven-game series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Instead, it was a Monday night sizzler between the Chicago Blackhawks and visiting Ottawa Senators — a wild and wacky affair that, when the dust settled, saw the Blackhawks emerge with an 8-7 victory.

The game had five goals combined within the first 7:55 of the opening period. By the time the 17:46 mark came, there were nine goals scored, and there was 12 lamps lighted just after the halfway point of the game.

Here’s a quick summary:

1st period:

  • OTT – Ryan – 2:06
  • OTT – Balcers – 2:40
  • CHI – DeBrincat – 3:54
  • CHI – DeBrincat  – 5:07
  • OTT – White – 7:55
  • CHI – Kane – 12:36
  • CHI – Strome – 13:22
  • CHI – Saad – 14:53
  • OTT – Stone – 17:46

2nd period

  • OTT – White – 1:32
  • CHI – DeBrincat – 8:19
  • CHI – Forsling – 10:31

3rd period

  • CHI – Toews – 3:51
  • OTT – Chabot – 9:01
  • OTT – Chabot – 14:43

And here’s the full breakdown from the NHL game sheet.

Alex DeBrincat‘s night ended with a hat trick and five points while Dylan Strome and Patrick Kane each had three-point efforts for the Blackhawks.

Colin White had a three-point night for the Senators while Thomas Chabot scored twice as Ottawa nearly came back in the third.

Collin Delia lasted just 7:55 after allowing three goals on 10 shots. Cam Ward replaced him, allowing four on 28 for Chicago.

Anders Nilsson didn’t fare much better, lasting 13:22 after giving up four goals on 12 shots. Craig Anderson came off the bench and allowed four on 30 shots in relief.

Chicago shot at a 19 percent success rate, edging out Ottawa’s 18.4 shooting percentage in the game.

The puck dropped in the game at 7:38 CT and the final horn didn’t sound until 10:11.


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

Sharks’ Vlasic makes wild goal-line save

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The difference between a goal and a save can come down to mere millimeters sometimes.

This one, however, came down to a razor’s edge.

The Boston Bruins came within less than of scoring a goal in the first period of their game against the San Jose Sharks on NBCSN on Monday when Charlie McAvoy‘s point shot flirted with the edge of the goal line at the 7:32 mark.

The puck appeared to teeter on the goal line before Marc-Edouard Vlasic swatted out of the net. You be the judge on the above video evidence. It’s so incredibly close.

To the referee’s credit, he immediately waved no goal, a testament to his hawkish eyesight. He was right. Video review determined that the puck, somehow, did not cross the line.

The game continued until the 10:13 mark before the play was reviewed.

The call didn’t seem to faze the Bruins, who scored three straight and led 3-1 after the first period.


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

Kucherov, Vasilevskiy lead Lightning clinic against Blue Jackets

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Here’s some homework: find a superlative that hasn’t been mentioned in the same breath as the Tampa Bay Lightning’s success this season.

Go ahead, we’ll wait…

The class of the NHL was dishing out harsh lessons once again on Monday night, putting on a clinic against the Columbus Blue Jackets — a good hockey team, by all accounts — who were completely muzzled by the NHL’s best team in a 5-1 loss on NBCSN.

No team sucks the soul out of an opponent quite like the Lightning. No goalie steals their will away like Andrei Vasilevskiy. No one demoralizes defenses like Nikita Kucherov.

Is it even in question anymore of who the Vezina will be handed to in June, or the Hart at this point, too?

In Kucherov’s case, you might as well give the Art Ross now, as well. He entered the game with 94 points in 59 games and exited with 99 in 60 after an incredible five-point night.

‘Kuch’ scored twice in the first period, both silky smooth goals, set up Steven Stamkos on the power play in the second period, and then provided both primary assists on Brayden Point‘s 34-second brace in to begin in third.

Vasilevskiy can barely be scored on these days after he made 39 saves in Tampa’s sixth straight win.

The 24-year-old ‘tender came within 1:45 of his third straight shutout. He showed no love for the Dallas Stars in a 32-save blanking on Valentine’s Day last Thursday and then put up a 20-save performance against the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday.

The Russian once again looked calm and clinical in Monday’s win, much like he’s done all season.

The Blue Jackets came into the game on fire, winning five of their past six to move into third in the Metropolitan Division (tied with Pittsburgh). The Blue Jackets were 0-for-4 on the power play, including a dismal four-minute stretch in the third after Kucherov clipped Seth Jones in the face with a high stick.

Both teams play again on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, while winning isn’t a concern after Tampa took it’s 45th ‘W’ of the season on Monday, what will be of some concern heading forward for the Lightning is the status of Victor Hedman, who didn’t emerge for the second period and was ruled out by the team with a lower-body injury.

Jon Cooper told NBC’s Pierre McGuire during the telecast that he didn’t think Hedman’s knock was a serious one. Time will tell on that, however.

Speaking of McGuire… he came within inches of getting drilled by an errant puck during the game. What an incredible angle.


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: Bruins visit Sharks on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Monday’s matchup between the Boston Bruins and San Jose Sharks. Coverage begins at 10 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The battle of two of the NHL’s hottest clubs will take center stage in California on Monday night.

The Boston Bruins, winners of five straight (and points in 10 straight at 7-0-3) will look to make it a season-high six against a San Jose Sharks team that’s won seven of their past eight contests (7-1-0).

A large part of the Bruins’ current run has been the play of Brad Marchand, who 13 points n his past seven games, including four goals in his past five. Marchand got off to a “slow” start with 24 points in his first 28 games of the 2018-19 season. In the 30 he’s played since he’s amassed 16 goals and 46 points to sit with 70 with a lot of hockey still to be played.

The impressive bit in Boston’s streak is they’ve been doing it without David Pastrnak, who’s out after having surgery on his left thumb. Even without his team-leading 31 goals, the Bruins have scored 13 times in their past three games.

Suppressing scoring is what the Sharks have done over their past six wins, allowing exactly two goals in each of those games. They’ve been buoyed by at least five goals in three of their past five games.

The Bruins will have to contend with defenseman Erik Karlsson, who return to the lineup Saturday after missing nine games with a groin injury. Karlsson has been on fire with 28 points in his past 19 games.

Up front, Joe Pavelski continues to scores with five goals in his past eight games and 31 on the season.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 10 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Boston Bruins at San Jose Sharks
Where: SAP Center
When: Monday, Feb. 18, 10 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Bruins-Sharks stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

BRUINS

Brad Marchand – Patrice BergeronDanton Heinen
Karson Kuhlman – David KrejciJake DeBrusk
Joakim Nordstrom – Trent Frederic – David Backe
Sean KuralyNoel AcciariChris Wagner

Zdeno CharaCharlie McAvoy
Torey KrugBrandon Carlo
Matt GrzelcykKevan Miller

Starting goalie: Tuukka Rask

SHARKS

Timo MeierLogan Couture – Joe Pavelski
Evander KaneTomas HertlJoonas Donskoi
Marcus SorensenJoe ThorntonKevin Labanc
Lukas RadilBarclay GoodrowMelker Karlsson

Radim SimekBrent Burns
Marc-Edouard Vlasic – Erik Karlsson
Brenden DillonJustin Braun

Starting goalie: Martin Jones

Randy Hahn (play-by-play) and Bret Hedican (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from SAP Center in San Jose, Calif.