Summer coaching changes paying major dividends across NHL

By Stephen Whyno (AP Hockey Writer)

It wasn’t the 15-hour flight to China for training camp that had general manager Brad Treliving’s head spinning.

It was the pace of Bill Peters’ first practice as coach of the Calgary Flames.

”I was tired watching it,” Treliving said.

Peters has lost no time in helping the Flames improve and reach first place in the Pacific Division during his first season. In fact, the six teams that hired a new coach over the summer are all doing well – certainly when compared to the five that have dumped coaches already the season. Those clubs are a combined 47-60-11 since making those moves.

Peters and Todd Reirden, who took over the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals from Barry Trotz, will coach in the All-Star Game on Jan. 26 with their teams leading their respective divisions at the halfway mark.

Jim Montgomery’s Dallas Stars are third in the Central Division and Barry Trotz’s New York Islanders a point out of a playoff spot with extra games to play, while the New York Rangers are overachieving under David Quinn and the Carolina Hurricanes are taking steps forward after Rod Brind’Amour replaced Peters.

For Reirden and Brind’Amour, the challenge was moving up from a role as a longtime assistant. Capitals and Hurricanes players say the transitions have been smooth because each coach hasn’t altered his approach.

”(Reirden is) a completely different person, different personality, different style and I think he’s stuck to who he is,” Capitals defenseman John Carlson said. ”What’s helped him is just staying true to what we all expect out of him.”

With almost the same roster back, Washington was expected to make the playoffs and take a good shot at repeating. Expectations were fuzzier for the Flames, Islanders and Stars.

Calgary had alternated making and missing the playoffs under coaches Bob Hartley and Glen Gulutzan before Peters took over. The Flames’ 58 points have them tied atop the Western Conference and trailing only the powerhouse Tampa Bay Lightning in the overall NHL standings, a big testament to Peters’ puck-hounding style and straightforward communication.

”He’s a great coach,” star winger Johnny Gaudreau said. ”He knows how to win. It doesn’t matter if you’re top line, bottom line, if you’re not playing well you’re not going to be on the ice. He’s not going put you over the bench there. He expects a lot out of his players and it’s been great playing for him this year.”

Trotz has had a similar impact with the Islanders, bringing much-needed structure to a team that missed the playoffs in back-to-back seasons and lost point-a-game center John Tavares to Toronto in free agency. Veteran GM Lou Lamoriello said with any coaching change three or four players get better and three or four get worse; he thinks Trotz has gotten the most out of a team far different than what he had in Washington.

”He’s extremely detailed, very consistent in his approach as far as planning, execution, system and delivery,” Lamoriello said of Trotz. ”He has an outstanding delivery to the players as far as no highs, no lows and holds them accountable to what is being asked of them.”

In Dallas, top-line center Tyler Seguin said Montgomery has done a good job of giving players rest, sometimes opting for video work instead of practice. Despite an uproar over pointed comments made by CEO Jim Lites about the performance of Seguin and captain Jamie Benn, the Stars hold a wild-card spot in Montgomery’s first NHL season after five years at the University of Denver.

Quinn spent five seasons at Boston University before GM Jeff Gorton hired him to coach the Rangers, and the returns on that decision are already positive. His job isn’t to get New York into the playoffs right away but rather instill good habits. He is also occasionally scratching players young and old to set a standard for quality of play.

”He’s trying to set a tone of accountability here,” Gorton said. ”I think he’s been consistent to who he is, and his philosophy is if guys aren’t doing the job, then I’ve got to put guys in that are going to do it.”

Consistency and familiarity have helped Brind’Amour with the Hurricanes, who lack scoring punch and have a league-worst nine-year playoff drought. The players respect his legendary work ethic.

”When he says it, you know he’s done it and it makes you want to do it, too,” defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk said. ”When he talks, he commands the room and I think he’s a guy you really like to play for.”

JOHNNY HOCKEY

No player in the NHL is hotter right now than Gaudreau , who’s earning every bit of his ”Johnny Hockey” nickname. His 16 goals and 35 points in 18 games are the most in the league since Dec. 1 and inside the organization show the progression of the 25-year-old into an all-around superstar.

”There’s a maturity to his game,” Treliving said. ”He’s had a real defensive consciousness this year. Not that he hadn’t in the past, but when he doesn’t have (the puck), he’s tracking to get it back.”

TIGHT METRO

The top four teams in the Metropolitan Division – the Capitals, Penguins, Blue Jackets and Islanders – were separated by just six points. That could mean a Trotz vs. Reirden showdown in the first round, Washington-Pittsburgh again or any combination of first-round matchups among teams that look evenly matched.

”It’s a challenge and it forces you to be on your game all the time,” Reirden said.

BANGED-UP PREDATORS

Nashville has dealt with major injuries to several key players. Defenseman P.K. Subban missed 19 games before Christmas, winger Viktor Arvidsson missed 24 of 25 and winger Filip Forsberg missed 17 in a row before returning Monday. Nashville endured a six-game losing streak in December but has somehow thrived amid injuries in the stacked Central Division.

”There’s no sense crying about it,” coach Peter Laviolette said. ”We’ve got to win hockey games.”

GAME OF THE WEEK

The Boston Bruins visit the Toronto Maple Leafs on ”Hockey Night in Canada” Saturday in what could be an Atlantic Division first-round playoff preview.

LEADERS (through Tuesday)

Goals: Alex Ovechkin (Washington), 30; Assists: Nikita Kucherov (Tampa Bay), 50; Points: Kucherov, 71; Ice time: Drew Doughty (Los Angeles), 26:38; Wins: Marc-Andre Fleury (Vegas), 25; Goals-against average: Robin Lehner (Islanders), 2.18; Save percentage: Jack Campbell (Los Angeles), .930.

Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Trocheck hasn’t missed a beat for Panthers

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Vincent Trocheck wasn’t even supposed to be playing for the Florida Panthers this soon, let alone seemingly jumping right back to full-strength, as if his ankle was never fractured.

Heading into Friday, the Panthers were on a seven-game losing streak, facing a weekend that sure looked like it would set the stage for one or two additional losses.

Instead, the Panthers now have back-to-back wins, and they’ve done so against two legitimate NHL contenders.

On Friday, the Panthers beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-1. Trocheck assisted on Mike Matheson‘s game-winning goal, posted highly impressive possession stats, three shots on goal, and seven (!) hits.

That would have already been a highly impressive effort for a player coming off a pretty traumatic injury, but Trocheck was arguably even better during Saturday’s 4-2 win against the Nashville Predators.

While his fancy stats were a little choppier, Trocheck showed up on the scoreboard even more, generating a goal and an assist. He looked awfully spry on that goal, by the way:

That breakaway score ended up being the game-winner, actually.

After generating three points in his two games back, Trocheck now has 17 points in 20 games this season.

Now, the Panthers points as a team? They’re now at 46 points in 47 games played, leaving them at least 12 points behind the Penguins (who have 58 points, and could add more against the Golden Knights during a Saturday game that’s in progress). To put things mildly, the odds are stacked high against the Panthers for a credible push toward a berth in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Then again, the odds were also against Trocheck returning as soon as mid-January, and he’s instead making a big impact for Florida.

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.

Ref pushing Blues’ Barbashev gives us some comic relief

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In these trying times, sometimes you just need to see a zany mishap where a hockey player loses a skate blade, and hilarity ensues.

OK, that might be highly specific, but such bits of bad luck usually do provide some real comedy. Even by those standards, this was some good stuff, as Blues forward Ivan Barbashev got a boost from an on-ice official, and it was quite a boost down the ice.

You can watch that moment in the video above this post’s headline, and likely have a nice chuckle.

The Blues ended up beating the Ottawa Senators 3-2 on Saturday, so Barbashev & Co. can share a bigger laugh after the game.

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Speaking of comic relief and needing a push, enjoy the Zamboni from Saturday’s Oilers game:

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.

Bruins’ Rask helped off ice after huge collision

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Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask needed help off of the ice – and took quite a while to leave the ice – after a frightening collision with New York Rangers forward Filip Chytil.

Moments after this post went up on Saturday, the Bruins provided an unsettling – if, sadly, not surprising – update that Rask suffered a concussion and will not return to the game.

You can see the collision (and get an idea of how long it took Rask to leave the ice) in the video above this post’s headline.

This is the Bruins’ final game before the All-Star break, and they won’t play again until they host the Winnipeg Jets in Boston on Jan. 29, so at least there isn’t much pressure for Rask to rush back to action too soon.

Rask began the game tied with Tiny Thompson at 252 wins, the most in Bruins’ franchise history.

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.

Erik Karlsson misses Sharks game on Saturday

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Considering how much Erik Karlsson has been heating up along with the San Jose Sharks lately, it would have been fun to see him skate against the Tampa Bay Lightning, a team that once tried to acquire him.

That’s not happening on Saturday, as Karlsson was a late scratch for the game.

The Athletic’s Kevin Kurz reports that Karlsson was “limping noticeably” and favoring his left side following the Sharks’ 6-3 loss to the Coyotes on Wednesday. Kurz also reports that Karlsson hasn’t participated in practice or pregame skates for about a week.

Paul Gackle of the Mercury News points out that Karlsson was held out for most of the third period of Tuesday’s 5-2 win against the Penguins for “precautionary reasons,” yet Sharks coach Peter DeBoer indicated that the 28-year-old was expected to play on Saturday. Instead, Karlsson must have determined that he wasn’t good to go after skating a bit during warm-ups.

Saturday’s game against the Lightning marks the second of a four-game road trip. The Sharks are set to play against the Panthers in Florida on Monday (Jan. 21) and the Capitals in Washington on Tuesday (Jan. 22), then they’ll be off for the All-Star break.

Karlsson was one of the Sharks’ three selections to the 2019 NHL All-Star Game, but we’ll see if what seems like a lower-body injury ends up sidelining him from the event. Either way, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Swede miss at least one of the Sharks’ remaining two games before the break, considering that it’s a back-to-back set.

Marc-Edouard Vlasic is also out with an injury, so the Sharks are limping – can Sharks limp? – a bit into that run of off time.

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.