Good, bad, neutral of Devils hiring Lindy Ruff as head coach
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Good, bad, and neutral: Breaking down Devils hiring Lindy Ruff as head coach

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The wayward New Jersey Devils took major steps to chart a clearer course on Thursday — for better or worse. Tom Fitzgerald saw the “interim” tag lifted, making Fitzgerald their established GM. In tandem with that decision, the Devils hired veteran bench boss Lindy Ruff as their head coach.

Ultimately, we only know so much about Fitzgerald’s vision. He’s certainly put in his reps, especially as an assistant GM (first with the Penguins starting in 2009, then the Devils in 2015). Beyond that, we can only speculate regarding how Fitzgerald wants to rebuild New Jersey. Aside from what we can occasionally parse through buzzwordy quotes.

But is Lindy Ruff really the best fit for Devils head coach? Considering Ruff’s decades of experience at head coach and assistant coach levels, we have a lot of evidence to sort through.

Let’s tackle the Ruff – Devils fit question by looking at it three ways: the good (experience), the bad (recent results), and the neutral (some underlying stats and arguments).

The Good: If nothing else, the Devils gain experience with Lindy Ruff as head coach

Ruff served as an NHL head coach for 19 seasons, with his 1,493 games coached ranking seventh all-time. Ruff’s 736 wins place him sixth in league history, which will be a sexier talking point than a middling .561 career points percentage.

You can debate how well Ruff changed with the times, but he’s absolutely been employed as the style and pace of the NHL game twisted and turned over decades.

It’s worth noting that Ruff coached some very different teams. His early Sabres tenure revolved around forming a defensive shell around Dominik Hasek, without a lot of offensive support around him (sorry, Miroslav Satan, etc.). Yet, in that same market, Ruff presided over the “Buffaslug” era of the Sabres, when a run-and-gun team starring the likes of Daniel Briere and Chris Drury contended and even topped the NHL in scoring with 308 goals in 2006-07.

That wasn’t the only Ruff team that led the NHL in scoring. Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn helped his Dallas Stars accomplish that feat with 267 goals in 2015-16.

So, for myself and others, the most reasonable best-case scenario with Ruff is for the Devils to emulate some of those high-flying teams. It’s not totally outrageous to imagine Nico Hischier, Jack Hughes, Kyle Palmieri, and others getting rejuvenated by throwing caution to the wind.

The Neutral: How much did any of it hinge on Ruff?

Sure, when you zoom out, it’s easy to see how experienced Ruff is. That might make the Devils feel like hiring Ruff is the “safe” decision.

But it gets harder to hammer the upside when you look at recent results, or even his larger resume. Ruff comes out looking a lot like an older Paul Maurice: a lot of volume, yet about as many lows and “mehs” as highs.

(And the highs were limited. That one 1999 Stanley Cup Final appearance, a handful of deeper runs, and three division titles over 19 seasons. Ruff doesn’t look awful, yet it’s hard to understand why the Devils wouldn’t be more excited about, say, Gerard Gallant, Peter Laviolette, or Bruce Boudreau. Maybe Ruff’s a lot cheaper?)

Averaging out between the brightest and bleakest scenarios, what if Ruff ends up being merely neutral — not good or bad, mainly replacement level? Is that really what the Devils need right now?

Ruff gives off the impression of being pliable, maybe versatile, if nothing else. There could be value in a pragmatic coach who will zig and zag depending upon the makeup of upcoming Devils teams. Considering how much turnover could happen with the Devils, that could be a useful attribute.

The Bad: Ugly recent results for Ruff with Rangers don’t scare off Devils

Don’t expect Ruff to wave a magic wand and make the Devils a top-10 defense, though. Not based on recent results.

The Rangers brought Ruff in ostensibly to help run the defense and their penalty kill units. Ruff … didn’t exactly solve their problems.

Yikes!

That’s not to say those issues were all Ruff’s fault. For one thing, Ruff merely served as an assistant. He didn’t necessarily get a full say in certain strategic decisions.

Even considering those caveats, the underlying numbers generally look somewhere between neutral to flat-out bad for Ruff. Devils management doesn’t have much of an argument for Ruff beyond bleating out “experience!”

Really, this duo of Devils decisions makes me feel dubious about the direction of the franchise.

For years, the Devils made progress on the analytics front. Hiring bright minds like Matt Cane seemed quite promising.

With these recent decisions in mind, I can’t help but wonder what Cane and his cohorts think. It’s possible they’re on board with this decision, but it doesn’t really seem as innovative as they’d likely prefer.

When the Rangers hired Ruff as an assistant in 2017, Adam Herman wrote about hockey’s “cronyism” problem. It’s difficult to shake the feeling that the Devils are merely leaning on “200 hockey men” and other antiquated ideas. A rebuilding situation gives teams opportunities to innovate, and set the foundation for future glories.

Maybe Ruff and the Devils will prove such feelings wrong, but as of now, it sure looks like these decisions are rooted in the past.

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.

NHL Bubble Wrap: McDavid, Svechnikov put on hat trick shows; Rangers on brink

McDavid Svechnikov hat trick Game 2 NHL scores highlights stars
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  • Andrei Svechnikov and Connor McDavid treated fans with not one, but two hat tricks. Very generous.
  • Carey Price played about as well as you could without actually winning.
  • The Rangers are the first team facing pending elimination, while other series are now 1-0 or tied 1-1.

Monday’s NHL scores, recaps

Hurricanes 4, Rangers 1 (Carolina leads series 2-0)

The Hurricanes have yet to trail in this 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifier series, and the Rangers are running out of time to get back into this. The series could end as soon as Tuesday; either way, the Rangers face serious odds in overcoming this deficit in a best-of-five series. Andrei Svechnikov collected a hat trick, with Sebastian Aho generated three assists of his own. The gap between the Hurricanes and Rangers only seems to get more pronounced as this series goes along. Things will need to change on Tuesday for this not to be a very short series for Artemi Panarin & Co.

Jets 3, Flames 2 (Series tied 1-1)

With Calgary up 1-0, and without both Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine, the deck seemed stacked against the Jets. Despite those absences, and seeing the Flames tie things up after Winnipeg went up 2-0, the Jets just found a way to hang in there and tie this series 1-1. Connor Hellebuyck continues to play at a very high level, but the Jets must feel great about their overall team effort to grind out this tough win.

Lightning 3, Capitals 2 (SO) — Eastern Conference Round Robin

Early on, the Lightning dominated puck possession against the Capitals, eventually taking a 2-0 lead. That wouldn’t be enough, as the Capitals were the ones striking lighting-quick with two fast goals. Ultimately, the Lightning won in the shootout to tie the Flyers early on in the race for the East’s top seed.

Golden Knights 5, Stars 3 — Western Conference Round Robin

The biggest story from this one came before the game, as Golden Knights (Ryan Reaves and Robin Lehner) joined Stars (Tyler Seguin and Jason Dickinson) in kneeling during both national anthems. The game itself featured wild swings. After the Golden Knights built a 1-0 first period lead, the Stars rattled off three consecutive goals. The Golden Knights ended up owning the third, however, scoring four straight goals to win.

Penguins 3, Canadiens 1 (Series tied 1-1)

When Sidney Crosby scored earlier on, it seemed like it might begin an explosive game. Instead, Carey Price proved very difficult to beat, but the Penguins pulled it off. It wasn’t always pretty — the Penguins’ power play was particularly pungent — but Pittsburgh tied the series 1-1 on Monday.

Oilers 6, Blackhawks 3 (Series tied 1-1)

Connor McDavid didn’t waste a minute shutting his critics up. He barely “wasted” a second. McDavid scored the 1-0 goal just 19 seconds into Game 2, and ultimately managed a hat trick. Nothing bland about that.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Three Stars from Monday’s NHL games

1a. Andrei Svechnikov (with Sebastian Aho); 1b. Connor McDavid (with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins)

How do you pick between hat tricks, in the cases of Svechnikov and McDavid? Especially since, remarkably, both McDavid and Svechnikov managed their hat tricks on three shots on goal apiece? Oh yeah, both McDavid and Svechnikov both scored the game-winning goals on their way to hat tricks, and each player was accompanied by three-assist teammates in Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Sebastian Aho respectively.

Well … you really need to split hairs. Svechnikov and McDavid both, naturally, dominated play in collecting their hat tricks. Svechnikov was on the ice for two even-strength goals for and none against, while McDavid (two for, one against) had slightly less of a “net positive” at five-on-five. So let’s consider Svechnikov “1a” for Monday.

Also, more people will (understandably) focus on McDavid, so let’s get Svechnikov some love, too. The dude did entertain us with lacrosse-style goals, after all.

3. Carey Price

It’s tough to hand the third star spot to the goalie of a losing team. You could make the point for the three-assist men above, along with another three-helper in Miro Heiskanen of the Stars. Connor Hellebuyck was sharp in helping the Jets manage a hard-fought win.

But goodness, was Price ever outstanding against the Penguins in Game 2. Via Natural Stat Trick, the Penguins’ expected goals at all strengths was 5.51, the most of any team on Monday. That was due in large part to the power-play opportunities the Penguins received, but they truly dominated the Habs. Price kept the Canadiens in the game by stopping 35 out of 37 shots.

It wasn’t enough to steal Game 2 for the Canadiens, but it was enough to impress.

2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers — top highlights from Monday

Who in their right mind would call McDavid bland? He certainly isn’t boring on the ice:

Svechnikov: not bland, either.

Factoids

  • By collecting his 68th career playoff goal, Crosby tied Gordie Howe for 18th most in NHL playoff history. That tally also pushed Crosby’s career playoff point total to 188, tying Crosby with Joe Sakic and Doug Gilmour for eighth all-time.
  • For all of the Golden Knights’ accomplishments as a young team, Monday’s win marked the first time Vegas overcame a multi-goal deficit in the third period to win.
  • This marks McDavid’s first playoff hat trick. Four Oilers managed a hat trick in the last 20 years: McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Bill Guerin, and Doug Weight.

Tuesday NHL schedule: Six 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifier games

Game 2: Panthers vs. Islanders, 12 p.m. ET, NBCSN (Islanders lead series 1-0)

Game 2: Coyotes vs. Predators, 2:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN (Coyotes lead series 1-0)

Game 2: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs, 4 p.m. ET, NBCSN (Blue Jackets lead series 1-0)

Game 3: Flames vs. Jets, 6:45 p.m. ET, NBCSN (Series tied 1-1)

Game 3: Hurricanes vs. Rangers, 8 p.m. ET, NBCSN (Rangers lead series 2-0)

Game 2: Wild vs. Canucks, 10:45 p.m. ET, NBCSN (Wild lead series 1-0)

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.

McDavid responds with hat trick in Game 2; Oilers tie series with Blackhawks

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Connor McDavid haters: hold onto your hats. Then throw them to the ice/at your TV sets. After an embarrassing overall performance in Game 1, the Oilers tied their 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifier Series 1-1 with the Blackhawks by running away with Game 2 by a score of 6-3.

McDavid delivers hat trick in Game 2 as Oilers tie series with Blackhawks

McDavid set the tone right away by scoring the 1-0 goal just 19 seconds into Game 2. The Oilers superstar fattened the Oilers’ lead to 2-0 a bit more than four minutes into Game 2, and eventually McDavid recorded a hat trick by the second period.

The hat trick ceremony was almost as good as watching McDavid hit top speed:

(OK, maybe not, but pretty cool.)

If you look only at box scores, you’d maybe think that McDavid’s Game 2 wasn’t that different than his Game 1 experience. After all, McDavid was productive in Game 1, getting credited with a goal and two assists.

The difference was pretty stark, though, as McDavid and the Oilers struggled mightily all-around in Game 1, while they controlled most of Game 2.

Not perfect, but a big response from the Oilers

Granted, the final score might make Game 2 seem like more of a cakewalk than it truly was.

On one hand, the Oilers hogged the puck for significant spans of play. On the other hand, there was some sloppiness. Edmonton saw a 3-1 lead evaporate into a 3-3 tie as both the Blackhawks and Oilers made plenty of mistakes during Game 2.

McDavid’s hat-trick goal gave Edmonton a 4-3 lead they wouldn’t relinquish, though. With two goals 40 seconds apart in the third period, James Neal and Alex Chiasson put Game 2 out of reach.

If these first two games are any indication, this could be a wild series. Blackhawks – Oilers might create a lot of chances for offensive stars like McDavid and Patrick Kane (1G, 1A), and a lot of headaches for the goalie in both nets.

(5) Edmonton Oilers vs. (12) Chicago Blackhawks (Series tied 1-1)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Blackhawks 6, Oilers 4 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3: Oilers 6, Blackhawks 3
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Oilers vs. Blackhawks, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Friday, Aug. 7: Oilers vs. Blackhawks*, TBD
Saturday, Aug. 8: Blackhawks vs. Oilers*, TBD

You can watch all the NHL playoff streams on the NBC Sports app.

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.

Penguins tie series with Canadiens despite Carey Price’s brilliance

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Some people nodded their heads at the “Carey Price could steal a series against the Penguins” talking points; others rolled their eyes. During much of Game 2 of the Penguins – Canadiens 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifier, most people were just shaking their heads in disbelief at how great Price was. Even so, the Penguins did just enough to tie the series 1-1 via a 3-1 win.

Price was righteous; Penguins’ power play needs serious work

Carey Price and the Canadiens penalty kill already impressed in Game 1, keeping an on-paper-potent power play to an inefficient 1-for-7. Price & Co. were even stingier in Game 2, keeping the Penguins off the board (0-for-5) despite a steady stream of early opportunities.

In both games, the Penguins failed to score on 5-on-3 power play opportunities.

As with a lot of these situations, special teams successes and failures come down to a mix of factors. On one hand, the Canadiens performed admirably on the PK, and Price was brilliant whenever that structure broke down. But the Penguins’ power play looked flat, and almost cost Pittsburgh Game 2.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Crosby’s goal proved crucial; Penguins dominated Canadiens at even strength in Game 2

When Sidney Crosby scored the 1-0 goal just 4:25 into Game 2, it seemed like it would merely be a prelude to a busy game. Instead, it served as the only goal of Game 2 for significant chunk of the night.

Crosby made some history with that goal, his second in two games. By collecting his 68th career playoff goal, Crosby tied Gordie Howe for 18th most in NHL playoff history. That tally also pushed Crosby’s career playoff point total to 188, tying Crosby with Joe Sakic and Doug Gilmour for eighth all-time.

Late in the third period, Jason Zucker connected on a nice 2-0 goal, while Conor Sheary collected his second assist of Game 2. Jesperi Kotkaniemi then broke Matt Murray‘s shutout attempt to make it 2-1, but that goal came far too late for Montreal to push Game 2 into OT. Like Crosby, Kotkaniemi has two goals in as many games in this best-of-five series. Jake Guentzel‘s empty-netter ended any hint of late-building drama in Game 2.

Overall, the Penguins find themselves breathing a sigh of relief, and maybe catching their breath. Meanwhile, the Canadiens must feel decent about having this series tied 1-1, although they’ll need to give Price more support to advance. For all of the criticism the Penguins’ power play may receive, the Canadiens likely need to work beyond a “bend but don’t break” approach.

5) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (12) Montreal Canadiens (Series tied 1-1/Habs lead series 2-0)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Canadiens 3, Penguins 2 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3: Penguins 3, Canadiens 1
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Penguins vs. Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Friday, Aug. 7: Penguins vs. Canadiens*
Saturday, Aug. 8: Canadiens vs. Penguins*

You can watch all the NHL playoff streams on the NBC Sports app.

MORE:
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers 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-Oilers stream: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers

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NBC’s coverage of the NHL’s Return to Play continues with Monday’s Stanley Cup Qualifier matchup between the Blackhawks and Oilers. Coverage begins at 10:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Watch the Blackhawks-Oilers Game 2 stream at 10:30 p.m. ET on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Connor McDavid scored 2:34 into the game to give Edmonton the early lead before Chicago scored four straight goals – two by captain Jonathan Toews – to take a 4-1 lead after the first period. Rookie Dominik Kubalik was the story the rest of the way.

While Toews, Patrick Kane, McDavid and Leon Draisaitl all found the score sheet, it was Kubalik who made the headlines. The Calder Trophy finalist, who led all rookies with 30 goals during the regular season, set an NHL record for most points (5) in a playoff debut.

Mike Smith allowed five goals on 23 shots before being pulled in the second for Mikko Koskinen.

“We’ll talk about where we are with our goaltenders, and I thought Mikko was fine in net,” Oilers head coach Dave Tippett said. “We have confidence in both our guys, we had long discussions about it. We think we’ll use both in the [postseason]… We started the season 5-0 (with) Smitty. We thought we wanted to start the postseason the same way. We were very confident in Smitty. Other than the giveaway that went off his back, he was kind of left on his own out there.”

Blackhawks forward Drake Caggiula has been suspended for Game 2 following an illegal check to the head of Tyler Ennis.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

WHAT: Chicago Blackhawks vs. Edmonton Oilers
WHERE: Rogers Place – Edmonton
WHEN: Monday, August 3, 10:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
ON THE CALL: Kenny Albert, AJ Mleczko, Pierre McGuire
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Blackhawks-Oilers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

(5) Edmonton Oilers vs. (12) Chicago Blackhawks (Blackhawks lead series 1-0)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Blackhawks 6, Oilers 4 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3: Blackhawks vs. Oilers, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Oilers vs. Blackhawks, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Friday, Aug. 7: Oilers vs. Blackhawks*, TBD
Saturday, Aug. 8: Blackhawks vs. Oilers*, TBD

You can watch all the NHL playoff streams on the NBC Sports app.

MORE:
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule