What will Ken Hitchcock mean for Connor McDavid?

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One of the more intriguing subplots to the Edmonton Oilers’ hiring of Ken Hitchcock is what it will mean for superstar center Connor McDavid, and how the NHL’s most notoriously defensive-minded coach will handle the game’s single most dominant offensive force.

By this point Hitchcock’s reputation as a coach is well known: Defense. Defense. Then just when you think there is enough defense, throw in more defense. This is, after all, the same coach that once told Brett Hull, one of the all-time greatest goal-scorers to ever play in the league, that “goals don’t matter.”

(Seriously, read about it here, and the response from Hull was incredible.)

Despite that mindset, Hitchcock has still coached quite a few teams over the years that finished fairly high on the NHL’s goal-scoring leaderboards, including a couple of top-five offensive teams in Dallas and St. Louis. One thing he has never really had, however, is truly dominant offensive performance from a single player. In all of the years Hitchcock has been a head coach in the NHL, he has never had a player top the 85-point mark in a single season. Mike Modano’s 84 points in 2000-01 with the Dallas Stars were the most. Vladimir Tarasenko, during the 2014-15 season in St. Louis, is the only player Hitchcock has coached to finish in the top-10 in scoring in a given season.

Considering that he is now in charge of McDavid, a player that has exceeded the 100-point mark in each of the past two seasons (during an era where the 100-point scorer nearly became extinct) and won the scoring title each year, some (right here!) might have had some concerns about how he might try to handle him or what might become of his production and offensive impact.

Especially as the Oilers attempt to overcome another slow start and avoid wasting more prime years of a generational talent.

One of the concerns could have been that Hitchcock might try to transform McDavid into something he is not, or try to get him to focus more on defense instead of doing what he does best: create offense. Those types of attempts — which always seem to happen around players like McDavid and bad teams like the Oilers — never seem to work, and usually end up doing more harm than good for a team.

[Related: Can Ken Hitchcock save the Oilers?]

On Wednesday, one day after the Oilers won Hitchcock’s coaching debut in San Jose — thanks in large part to another herculean effort from McDavid to carry the team’s offense all by himself — he was asked about his plans for McDavid.

Basically, he wants him on the ice and with the puck on his stick as often as possible.

“His recovery rate, cardio wise, is astounding,” said Hitchcock, via the Oilers’ website. “He is able to get back up to speed quickly on the bench so that is something we have to take advantage of. More than anything he could come out every second shift if it stays 5-on-5 the way it did the last game.”

From there, he talked about actually getting him the puck when he is on the ice. The first thing he said, without any additional context, might have ignited the fears mentioned above. But overall, it seems to be a pretty sound approach.

“My focus is building his game from our end out,” Hitchcock said. “He needs to have the puck more, as do all of our centers because that is one of the strengths of our team, we have to find ways to get them the puck more deeper in our zone. That is going to be the focus starting tomorrow in practice. I think understanding the value of playing inside the dots, and being in support position where you’re closer to the puck everywhere, you’re closer to the puck when the D has it, you’re closer to the puck when the wingers have it, so it ends up on your stick, your touches are usually double. That is what we want to do, is get way more touches for the whole center ice position.”

There are two things that are interesting here.

First, it comes just a few days after general manager Peter Chiarelli admitted that none of his team’s defenders are exceptional passers. So it makes a ton of sense to try and get McDavid the puck quicker in the zone and allow him to build up speed with it because once he gets going there is nobody in the league that can match up with him. If the defenders can not get the puck out of the zone, let the best player in the world do it.

Second, it seems to suggest the Oilers were not trying to get McDavid the puck earlier under the previous head coach. That just leads to the question of … why not? Might be part of the reason we are having this discussion about new coaches.

Hitchcock was also asked about offensive players like McDavid and Draisaitl having the freedom to “cheat” a little when it comes to trying to create offense.

“No. My view is when you have the puck that is for you, when you don’t have the puck that is for us,” said Hitchcock. “I’m really flexible with the puck. I use concepts and ideas more than X’s and O’s. But there is no negotiation when the other team has the puck. There is no negotiation at all. I expect everybody over the next couple of weeks to start looking the same when the opposition has the puck. That is the area in my domain, that is the stuff a coach controls. There is just no negotiation for me.”

[Related: The NHL’s coaching recycling bin is alive and well]

Overall I still have my doubts about how much of a difference this coaching change will make for the Oilers from a big picture outlook. Every coach before him in Edmonton over the past decade has experienced the same results.

The team beyond McDavid, Draisaitl, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is still badly flawed.

They have no top-six wingers to speak of anywhere on the roster. The defense, by the admission of the guy that assembled it, does not move the puck well. Their goalies are, to put it kindly, a giant question mark. That is a lot of problems that will be hard to overcome through systems, positioning, and coaching.

There is also this little fact that seems to keep getting overlooked: For as much success as Hitchcock has had in the NHL throughout his career, his style of play has not produced much in the way of results over the past decade. It worked wonderfully in the clutch-and-grab era of the league when he had Derian Hatcher and Sergei Zubov on his blue line, but has gotten him to the second-round of the playoffs just twice in the past 12 years (though, just getting to the playoffs and losing in the first-round would be a substantial improvement for the Oilers). He also been replaced three different times (Philadelphia, Columbus, and St. Louis) during that stretch.

The plus side here is that Hitchcock seems to realize where the strength of his team is and he doesn’t seem like he is going to try and overthink things when it comes to McDavid. He will not only let him be what he is, he seems to want to try and utilize him even more than the Oilers already were this season. Given the way the team plays when he is on the ice versus when he is not on the ice, that certainly can not hurt. It is also probably the only chance he will have to win.

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.

 

Blackhawks add to Golden Knights’ troubles

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During a hectic stretch during an overall hectic game, it looked like the Vegas Golden Knights might end their losing streak by beating the Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday.

The game turned on its head during a dizzying second-period sequence during what was overall a pretty dizzying game. Ultimately, the biggest takeaway is that the Blackhawks won 5-3, pushing the Golden Knights’ losing streak to four games.

Rough night/nights for the Knights

The Golden Knights opened up the game with a 2-0 goal lead 6:29 into Wednesday’s contest, but it (obviously) ended up being insufficient.

Things really tumbled out of control during what had to be a maddening sequence in the second period.

3:54 in: It seemed like Alex Tuch expanded Vegas’ lead to 3-1, only a review determined that the goal was not over the line. So the score remained 2-1 in Vegas’ favor.

4:09: About 15 seconds later, Calvin de Haan tied the game up 2-2.

4:54: One minute after that Tuch goal didn’t count, Erik Gustafsson gave Chicago a 3-2 lead.

If that wasn’t enough to make things miserable, the Golden Knights’ fear of a messy goalie situation – particularly if something happens to their starter – came to the forefront when Marc-Andre Fleury was shaken by a collision with Alex DeBrincat. It seems like MAF was OK, although it’s tough to overlook Vegas losing so convincingly despite generating a 42-26 shots on goal advantage.

Again, this pushes Vegas’ losing streak to four games in a row, and the headaches extend beyond that. The Golden Knights have only won one in their past seven games (1-3-3). Getting some charity points could end up being crucial if these struggles persist (and it’s worth mentioning that they’ve only won twice in their last nine, going 2-4-3).

[More on the Golden Knights’ worries in net.]

Scraphawks

With an eight-game homestand to begin the season, it seemed like the Blackhawks had a chance to start 2019-20 on fire. Instead, they limped to a 2-4-2 record during that span.

That’s bad, but they’ve been reasonably scrappy since then, as they’re now 7-7-4 after following that homestand with a fairly tough schedule. No, it’s not world-beating stuff, and this franchise probably isn’t comfortable shooting for “respectable” … but, hey, the Blackhawks might at least be a tough out at times this season. Five of the Blackhawks’ next seven games take place in Chicago, so maybe this time they can take advantage of some home cooking?

Young guns

Perhaps the most exciting development for Chicago is the work of developing players.

Yes, Corey Crawford was great (39 saves), as was Patrick Kane (one goal, two assists), but hopeful forwards of the future factored heavily in this win, too. Kirby Dach authored his first multipoint game with a goal and an assist. Dylan Strome is heating up; he generated three points on Wednesday, and now has eight points (one goal, seven assists) in his last four games. DeBrincat also pitched in two assists.

***

While the Blackhawks have the weapons to at least occasionally put up a decent fight, you could probably still mark this as an upset for the Golden Knights. That said, it will be upsetting for MAF & Co. if Vegas cannot right the ship soon.

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 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.

Capitals break Flyers’ streak, but both teams stay hot

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The Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers entered Wednesday Night Hockey as two of the hotter teams in the NHL. While something had to give, it’s fitting that the two rising clubs needed a shootout to settle things.

Overall, it was quite the goalie duel between Braden Holtby and Carter Hart, with the Capitals ultimately taking the 3-2 (SO) win.

Climbing starters

There are also some parallels between Holtby and Hart, specifically.

Each goalie carried four-game winning streaks into this game, showing signs of getting on track despite slow starts (Holtby had a .898 save percentage before the bout, while Hart lagged behind even further with a mark of .893).

Holtby ended up prevailing, improving his winning streak to five games, and he hasn’t been dinged with a loss since Oct. 10. Despite individual struggles, Holtby is now 9-1-3 in a crucial contract year for the 30-year-old.

Not nearly as much money hinges on how Hart fares in 2019-20, being that the 21-year-old still has two seasons remaining on his RFA deal. That said, Hart generated hype with Philly late last season, and Flyers fans are always eager to see a goalie actually deliver — to the point where it has to really heighten the pressure for netminders who might be vulnerable to such attention.

[More: reasons for optimism for Philly fans.]

Again, both goalies delivered. Holtby stopped 30 out of 31 shots and got the W, while Hart earned the Flyers a point after making 35 of 36 saves.

Not cooling off yet

At this rate, the Capitals’ quiet dominance might build to a roar. They improved to 14-2-4, continuing an 11-0-2 point streak that began on Oct. 14. With their next game coming against the Canadiens on Friday (Nov. 15), that means Washington is now on a month-long point streak. Impressive stuff.

The Flyers finished the night at 10-5-3, which is quite impressive after a 2-3-1 start to 2019-20. Their winning streak stopped at four games, but their point streak is growing, as it is now at seven games (5-0-2).

Both teams are showing some ability to adapt to nightly situations to get wins, or at least a standing point, for their troubles. In Philly’s case on Wednesday, they should absolutely thank Hart.

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 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 vs. Golden Knights livestream: How to watch Wednesday Night Hockey

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Chicago Blackhawks and Vegas Golden Knights. 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 Blackhawks and Golden Knights will meet Wednesday night for the second time this season. The two teams met on October 22 in Chicago where the Knights rallied from a late one-goal deficit in the third period to win 2-1 in a shootout and keep their undefeated streak against the Hawks alive. Hawks forward Kirby Dach scored his first career NHL goal in the loss, while Knights defenseman Nick Holden scored the equalizer with 1:33 remaining in regulation.

Patrick Kane set a career high in points last season with 110 (44G-66A) and has shown no signs of slowing down in 2019-20. Kane is currently riding a six-game point streak and has tallied 11 points (5G-6A) over that span. He leads Chicago in scoring with 20 points (8G-12A). Kane recorded three points (2G-1A) on Sunday as he helped the Haws defeat the Maple Leafs. His two goals were his first multi-goal effort of the season.

After a home-and-home sweep of the Sharks to open the season, the Knights looked like one of the clear favorites out West. But that no longer seems to be the case as Vegas has now dropped five of their last six games (1-2-3) overall. The Knights ended a four-game road trip on Sunday by losing to the Red Wings 3-2. Vegas squandered a 2-1 lead midway through the third period and Wings forward Anthony Mantha scored the winner with 31 seconds remaining in the game.

Knights forward Mark Stone currently leads the team with 18 points (8G-10A) but was held scoreless during the teams recent four-game road trip. Stone began the season with four multi-point performances in his first five games of the season but has tallied just one multi-point game since. In Stone’s scoring absence, Max Pacioretty has stepped up by scoring a goal in three straight games. The former Canadiens captain has six pts (4G-2A) in his last seven contests.

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 10 P.M. ET ON NBCSN]

WHAT: Chicago Blackhawks at Vegas Golden Knights
WHERE: T-Mobile Arena
WHEN: Wednesday, Nov. 13, 10 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Blackhawks-Golden Knights stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

BLACKHAWKS
Alex DeBrincatDylan Strome – Patrick Kane
Brandon SaadJonathan Toews – Kirby Dach
Andrew ShawDavid KampfDominik Kubalik
Alex NylanderRyan CarpenterZack Smith

Duncan KeithErik Gustafsson
Calvin de HaanBrent Seabrook
Olli Maatta – Adam Boqvist

Starting goalie: Corey Crawford

GOLDEN KNIGHTS
Jonathan MarchessaultWilliam KarlssonReilly Smith
Max Pacioretty – Paul Stastny – Mark Stone
Alex TuchCody EakinCody Glass
Tomas Nosek – Nicolas Roy – Ryan Reaves

Brayden McNabbNate Schmidt
Shea TheodoreNicolas Hague
Jon Merrill – Nick Holden

Starting goalie: Marc-Andre Fleury

Kathryn Tappen will host Wednesday’s coverage on NHL Live alongside analysts Keith Jones and Patrick Sharp and NHL insider Darren Dreger. John Forslund, Eddie Olczyk  and Pierre McGuire will have the call from T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nev.

Golden Knights’ Theodore talks about cancer diagnosis (Video)

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It was a turbulent summer for Vegas Golden Knights defender Shea Theodore.

It all started with his team being eliminated in Round 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in crushing fashion, blowing a three-goal third period lead in Game 7 against the San Jose Sharks, and continued with a shocking testicular cancer diagnosis following the World Championships where he represented Team Canada and won a Silver medal.

[COVERAGE OF BLACKHAWKS-GOLDEN KNIGHTS BEGINS AT 10 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

Theodore sat down with NBC Sports and opened up about his diagnosis, his recovery, and the support he received from his Golden Knights teammates.

You can watch the entire segment in the video above.

The 24-year-old Theodore has come back and appeared in all 19 games for the Golden Knights this season, scoring one goal with six assists.

Theodore and the Golden Knights host the Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday night on NBCSN.

Kathryn Tappen will host Wednesday’s coverage on NHL Live alongside analysts Keith Jones and Patrick Sharp and NHL insider Darren Dreger. John Forslund, Eddie Olczyk  and Pierre McGuire will have the call from T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nev.

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.