Coaching carousel: Sabres Krueger fine with being unknown

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Ralph Krueger doesn’t care if you have never heard of him.

Having just turned 60, the Buffalo Sabres’ new coach leans on the benefit of his vast experience – in hockey, soccer, and life as a father, husband, author and motivational speaker – to have stopped worrying a long time ago about how others view him and whether he might have something to prove returning to the NHL following a six-year absence.

”I don’t care about that at all. Not one second, not even a millisecond do I care about my popularity here,” Krueger emphatically told The Associated Press earlier this month.

”I have zero fear in this job because I have nothing to prove to anybody other than I want this team to be successful and give back to the city,” he added. ”But it’s not that I’m out to prove to people that I was an out-of-the-box hire.”

This offseason’s NHL coaching carousel featured seven changes. While it had the Florida Panthers landing the most highly-prized candidate in three-time Stanley Cup champion Joel Quenneville, the Sabres took the most intriguing approach in hiring Krueger to turn things around. The other changes have Dallas Eakins in Anaheim, Dave Tippett in Edmonton, Todd McLellan in Los Angeles, D.J. Smith in Ottawa and Alain Vigneault in Philadelphia.

In Buffalo, the Sabres essentially split the middle in choosing between hiring a so-called retread versus a first-timer by luring Krueger back to hockey after he spent the past five years running soccer’s Southampton FC of the English Premier League.

From Winnipeg, Manitoba, Krueger is not exactly a fresh new face though he is highly respected for the quarter-century spent in hockey on both sides of the Atlantic. He has coached Switzerland’s national team, led Team Europe to a second-place finish at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, and was as a consultant for Canada’s gold-medal team at the 2014 Winter Games.

He’s also not exactly a recycled entity either, despite having spent 2012-13 coaching the Edmonton Oilers before being fired – via Skype of all things – following a 19-22-7 finish.

If Quenneville benefits from having instant recognition when walking into a locker room, Krueger focused on making a good impression on a Sabres lineup featuring a majority of players who weren’t in the NHL when he was in Edmonton.

He began by reaching out to players by phone or personally, such as visiting with captain Jack Eichel and forward Sam Reinhart in Slovakia, where they competed at the world championships in May. And Krueger then gripped his players’ attention during a pre-camp-opening speech which forward Kyle Okposo said was so impassioned several of his teammates were ready to run through a wall afterward.

”He’s got that presence about him,” Okposo said ”I’ve been around a lot of coaches, a lot of people, and I would say he’s an alpha.”

Krueger regarded Okposo’s impression of him as a compliment and believed it referred to the open line of communication he’s established with players.

Though Krueger prides himself for being always upbeat, that doesn’t mean he’ll avoid being critical.

”I’m not a smiley, friendly guy,” he said. ”Positive isn’t always friendly. Positive is constructive. Positive is working toward solutions. So if a player gets sent down, there’s an opportunity for him, too. And we’ll be clear on why and what has to be worked on.”

Krueger spent his time away from hockey developing on-ice strategies, some of which he experimented with while coaching Team Europe. He emphasizes simplicity in allowing players to play to their strengths, and speed in always being focused on attacking the opposing zone.

Though he has no regrets leaving hockey, the hiatus gave him time to realize how much he missed the game and dealing directly with players.

”My kids, when they saw me at the World Cup of Hockey said, ‘Dad, that was the happiest period you’ve had in the last five years,”’ he said. ”They didn’t mean I wasn’t happy, but it was more in my job, the energy, and that stuck with me.”

The joy to be back behind a bench is reflected in messages he sends to his family in Switzerland.

”The nicest thing I’m telling them is I really feel at home,” Krueger said.


Dallas Eakins, Anaheim.

NHL coaching record: 36-63-14 (Edmonton, 2013-15)

Replaces: Ducks GM Bob Murray, who finished season as interim coach after Randy Carlyle was fired.

What they’re saying: ”You can already see it and feel it around the room that guys are ready to go, and guys are ready to turn that page,” forward Adam Henrique said of Eakins, who spent past three years coaching the Ducks’ AHL affiliate in San Diego. ”It’s a lot of fun coming to the rink. He’s here to work.”

Ralph Krueger, Buffalo.

NHL coaching record: 19-22-7 (Edmonton, 2012-13)

Replaces: Phil Housley, who was fired after two seasons.

What they’re saying: ”I think the thing that sticks out is the personality. He’s somebody you want to be around, you want to be a better person around,” captain Jack Eichel said. ”He’s very calculated, very smart. He knows what he wants.”

Todd McLellan, Los Angeles.

NHL coaching record: 434-282-90 (San Jose, 2008-15, Edmonton, 2015-19)

Replaces: Willie Desjardins, who wasn’t retained after replacing John Stevens early in the season.

What they’re saying: ”He’s just honest person. He said he don’t care what you did before. He said you just have to show up and show everybody what you can,” said forward Ilya Kovalchuk.

Joel Quenneville, Florida.

NHL coaching record: 890-532-137-77 (St. Louis, 1997-2004, Colorado, 2005-2008, Chicago, 2008-2018)

Replaces: Bob Boughner, who was fired after two seasons.

What they’re saying: ”It’s fantastic for him to coach again. It’s the right situation with his relationship with Dale,” Devils GM Ray Shero said, referring to Panthers GM Dale Tallon, who worked with Quenneville in Chicago. ”It’s not cheap to get a guy like that. But you know what, it’s an important market and they want to win.”


D.J. Smith, Ottawa.

NHL coaching record: None.

Replaces: Interim coach Marc Crawford, who finished season after Guy Boucher was fired.

What they’re saying: ”D.J. did a really good job for us,” said Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock, quoted in The Toronto Sun, referring to his former assistant. ”We talked about this when he first interviewed with me five years ago that he would have an opportunity like this. He sent me a really nice text the other day about feeling really prepared and confident.”


Dave Tippett, Edmonton.

NHL coaching record: 553-413-120-28 (Dallas, 2002-09, Arizona, 2009-17)

Replaces: McLellan, who was fired after four seasons.

What they’re saying: ”He’s a big structure guys with his systems and I think that’s going to be big for us because I think in the past, when things start going bad for us, we kind of abandon our structure and then things get worse and worse,” forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins said. ”When things start to go wrong, I think Tipp’s going to be able to keep us within that structure.”

Alain Vigneault, Philadelphia.

NHL coaching record: 648-435-98-35 (Montreal, 1997-2000, Vancouver, 2006-2013, New York Rangers, 2013-2018)

Replaces: interim coach Scott Gordon, who took over in December after Dave Hakstol was fired.

What they’re saying: ”It was obviously a huge reason why I decided to go there,” said trade acquisition forward Kevin Hayes, who played for Vigneault in New York. ”He was a big contributor to my game changing in the NHL, from being kind of just offensive to a 200-foot player that I believe that I am today.”

Flyers chairman Scott to retire; Hilferty becomes successor

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

PHILADELPHIA — Dave Scott will retire as chairman of the Philadelphia Flyers’ parent company Comcast Spectacor and be replaced by Dan Hilferty.

Hilferty, who was recently named CEO of Comcast Spectacor, will succeed Scott as chairman of the company on April 17 and as the team’s governor on July 1.

Scott joined Comcast Spectacor in December 2013 and the Flyers have struggled under his reign. They will miss the playoffs for a third straight season and haven’t won a Stanley Cup since 1975.

“Our number one goal for the Flyers will be to consistently compete for the Stanley Cup,” Hilferty said. “It is going to be a process that will take time to get on that path, but I’m confident we are headed in the right direction with Danny Briere as interim GM, Coach Tortorella, and our hiring of a President of Hockey Operations soon. Our leadership team will be fully focused to deliver on this for our fans while also continuing to make the sports complex the best location for sports and entertainment in the nation.”

As Chairman and CEO of Comcast Spectacor, Hilferty will lead the company’s entire portfolio, including the Philadelphia Flyers. Spectacor Sports and Entertainment CEO Valerie Camillo will continue to work directly with Hilferty, overseeing the Wells Fargo Center, including its continued transformation, and lead the Flyers’ business operations.

Pastrnak scores twice, Bruins top Hurricanes 4-3 in shootout

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James Guillory/USA TODAY Sports

RALEIGH, N.C. — David Pastrnak’s milestone performance with the Boston Bruins came with additional responsibility.

Minus a couple of key players, Pastrnak moved to the forefront and eclipsed the 50-goal mark by scoring twice and the Bruins won their seventh game in a row by defeating the Carolina Hurricanes 4-3 in a shootout Sunday.

Forwards Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand didn’t make the trip with the NHL-leading Bruins, so Pastrnak boosted his contributions.

“I’ve been learning from those guys,” Pastrnak said. “You recognize when they’re not here that you have to take a step forward.”

Pastrnak posted the 12th 50-goal season in Bruins history.

“With Bergeron and Marchand back at home, you can see his leadership skills really come out,” Bruins coach Jim Montgomery said. “I think he put the team on his back and played the right way.”

Charlie Coyle and Jake DeBrusk scored in the shootout in a matchup of Eastern Conference division leaders.

Jakub Lauko also scored for the Bruins, who earned their 57th victory and are five wins shy of matching the all-time NHL record with nine regular-season games to play. Charlie McAvoy had two assists and Jeremy Swayman made 34 saves.

“We’ve had a lot of character wins in a lot of different fashions,” Montgomery said.

Boston tied the franchise record for wins in a season. That’s special in Montgomery’s opinion.

“Especially when you think about all the great Bruins teams,” he said.

Jack Drury, Brady Skjei and Sebastian Aho scored for the Hurricanes, who won three of their previous four games. Brett Pesce had two assists and Frederik Andersen stopped 35 shots.

Carolina wiped out a two-goal deficit to secure a team point.

“It wasn’t our best game, but I thought the third period we certainly came on,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “It’s one of those games where you say it’s probably a good point to get considering how it was looking.”

Pastrnak’s 50th goal of the season came 4:43 into the game. He received a pass from McAvoy and skated half the length of the ice on a breakaway, though lost full control of the puck and still beat Andersen.

Pastrnak was on track for 50 goals in March 2020, but he ended up with 48 when the COVID-19 pandemic caused an early end to the regular season.

“You never know what can happen,” Pastrnak said.

Drury, set up in the slot, scored his second goal of the season off a pass from Jalen Chatfield at 7:44 of the second.

Just 1:28 later, Pastrnak’s second goal came on a power play when he blasted a shot from the left side just inside the post. Lauko’s fourth goal extended the lead at 11:46 of the second.

Carolina pulled even at 3-3 when Skjei and Aho scored in the first four minutes of the third period.

“We knew that was coming,” Montgomery said. “There’s no need to panic. We knew they were going to come with a push.”


Bruins defenseman Hampus Lindholm was scratched along with Bergeron and Marchand with what Montgomery referred to as nagging injuries. The trio has accounted for 57 goals this season.

“It shows the depth that we have,” Swayman said. “I think all of us thrive on the energy in a building like this.”

Carolina’s only significant lineup adjustment came with center Paul Stastny in the lineup in place of Jesse Puljuharvi, who had played in eight straight games since making his debut with the Hurricanes. Puljuharvi arrived in a trade from Edmonton in late February.

NOTES: The Bruins won two of three meetings with the Hurricanes, securing the first victory in overtime. Carolina eliminated Boston in last spring’s playoffs in seven games. … The Hurricanes maintained their string of securing a point in all seven games across different seasons while wearing green Hartford Whalers-inspired jerseys. The franchise began as the Whalers before relocation in 1997.


Bruins: Host Nashville on Tuesday.

Hurricanes: Host Tampa Bay on Tuesday.

Malkin’s late goal lifts Penguins past Ovechkin, Capitals 4-3

penguins capitals
Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports

PITTSBURGH — Evgeni Malkin remains a live wire. Even now, 17 seasons into a career that is likely destined for the Hall of Fame, there’s an unpredictability the Pittsburgh Penguins star plays with that can be both endearing and exasperating to teammates and coaches alike.

The latest proof came against Washington on Saturday.

An untimely roughing penalty in the third period helped spark a Capitals’ rally from a three-goal deficit. Malkin made up for it by burying a breakaway with 1:20 left in regulation that lifted the Penguins to a 4-3 victory.

“His care factor and his compete level for me is off the charts and that’s what I love about him and usually when the stakes are high that’s when he’s at his best,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said. “He gets a huge goal for us tonight at a key time.”

Malkin’s 25th goal of the season – a low wrist shot to the far post – helped the Penguins avoid a potentially messy collapse. Pittsburgh appeared to be ready to cruise to victory after Jake Guentzel‘s power-play goal 27 seconds into the third period made it 3-0.

Washington instead stormed back, with Alex Ovechkin right in the middle of it. Ovechkin scored his 42nd goal of the season and 822nd of his career from his favorite spot in the left circle with 6:42 to go in regulation. Washington drew even when Dylan Strome flipped the puck into an open net with 2:44 to go in regulation.

Yet instead of sagging, the Penguins surged. Malkin stripped Washington’s Anthony Mantha near center ice and broke in alone on Kuemper. Seconds later, the puck was in the net and Malkin was on one knee celebrating while pumping his fists, the kind of display of raw emotion that’s become one of his trademarks.

“It’s a huge goal for me, and two points for the team,” Malkin said.

Pittsburgh moved three points clear of Florida after the Panthers lost to the earlier Saturday. Both teams have nine regular-season games left.

Ryan Poehling and Chad Ruhwedel scored a little over two minutes apart in the second period for Pittsburgh. Jake Guentzel added his team-high 32nd goal early in the third before Washington scrambled back. Casey DeSmith played spectacularly at times while finishing with 31 saves.

Tom Wilson started the Capitals’ comeback with his ninth goal of the season 5:19 into the third. Kuemper stopped 36 shots, but was outplayed by DeSmith as Washington’s hopes of making a late push for a playoff berth took a serious hit. The Capitals are six points behind Pittsburgh with only eight games remaining.

“It’s a tough one,” Washington center T.J. Oshie said. “I don’t think that last play was the only thing that lost the game for us. I know that (Mantha) feels terrible about it, but we trust him with the puck. It just wasn’t a good enough 60 minutes against a good hockey team over there.”

It felt like old times for much of the night for teams that usually enter late March battling for a spot near the top of the Metropolitan Division.

Not this season.

While the 35-year-old Crosby is averaging over a point a game as usual and the 37-year-old Ovechkin is steadily making inroads on Wayne Gretzky’s all-time goal record, their teams have spent most of the year skating in place.

Pittsburgh has been wildly uneven thanks in part to goaltending that has fluctuated between solid and shaky, the main reason a 17th straight playoff appearance is hardly assured. Washington, meanwhile, appears to be pointing toward the future after injuries and a small sell-off at the trade deadline.

Pittsburgh put itself on slightly firmer footing with DeSmith making a compelling case that he should supplant Tristan Jarry as Pittsburgh’s top goaltender down the stretch.

DeSmith was spectacular at times, including stoning Ovechkin on a breakaway near the end of the second period in which Ovechkin deked DeSmith to his knees, only to see DeSmith extend his left leg just enough to knock the puck out of harm’s way.

“I’m not very tall,” the 6-foot DeSmith said. “But I had that one inch that I needed.”


Capitals: Host the New York Islanders on Wednesday.

Penguins: Visit Detroit on Tuesday.

Devils defeat Senators 5-3, clinch playoff berth

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Sarah Stier/Getty Images

NEWARK, N.J. — Jack Hughes had a goal and an assist, Mackenzie Blackwood had 25 saves and the New Jersey Devils defeated the Ottawa Senators 5-3 and clinched a playoff berth on Saturday night.

“It means everything to the group. I went into the dressing room after the game and just said that I was proud of the work that was put in, proud of where we got to clinch tonight to be one of three teams that have an X next to their name,” Devils coach Lindy Ruff said. “All the work that’s been put in, the adversity they face during the year. The adversity they face right at the start of the season to where we’ve got to now.”

New Jersey could have clinched its first postseason berth since 2018 with a win, but it happened before their first intermission when the Florida Panthers lost to the New York Rangers in regulation.

“I had a lesser role then,” said Jesper Bratt, who was a rookie for the Devils in 2017-18. “I would say at a younger age, it’s kind of like you think that just because it happened your first year that it might happen every year. And then it goes pretty fast with reality that was not the case and you got to work extremely hard for it.

“It’s a really tough league. So this feels really good. It’s been a lot of years with struggle, not winning, and it’s just awesome coming out now playing these kinds of games and getting that.”

Bratt, Dawson Mercer and Dougie Hamilton scored for the Devils and Tomas Tatar scored an empty netter with 42.3 seconds left to put things away.

Brady Tkachuk, Thomas Chabot and Mark Kastelic scored for the Senators and Dylan Ferguson had 30 saves.

Tkachuk scored his 33rd goal of the season to give the Senators the 1-0 lead 3:14 into the first period. The Devils responded midway through the first period with Hughes’ 40th goal of the season on a breakaway, going five-hole to tie it.

Nick Holden gave the puck away and Bratt scored his 31st goal of the season on the breakaway 2:24 into the second period to give New Jersey the 2-1 lead. Mercer’s 23rd of the season came just over a minute later.

The Senators answered midway through the second period when Thomas Chabot scored his 11th goal of the year to cut the deficit to 3-2. They knotted things up 16:03 into the second when Kastelic scored his fifth of the season.

“We were confident going into the third period. We felt like the game was there for our taking,” Travis Hamonic said. “They score on their chance, and that’s game.”

Hamilton scored 3:34 into the third period to give the Devils the lead. His 19th goal breaks the franchise record for goals in a season by a defenseman, surpassing Scott Stevens – the Devils great whose number is hanging in the rafters – record of 18 in 1993-94.

NOTES: This was the first game for the Devils backup Blackwood since Feb. 19. … Nico Hischier has a six-game point streak after recording two assists.


Senators: Host the Florida Panthers on Monday night.

Devils: Play at New York Islanders on Monday night.