In stifling MacKinnon and Avs, DeBoer adds to impressive playoff resume

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Here’s a difficult question: how much of a difference does an NHL coach make?

When it comes to gauging a coach in just about any sport, there’s some subjectivity. There’s also incomplete information. A seemingly foolish decision might have some hidden meaning. Maybe some real-life Ted Lasso aims to impart some soul-searching lessons. Perhaps a coach is simply lucky or doomed.

Yet, even compared to other sports, it can be especially tricky to grade NHL coaches.

After taking those thoughts into consideration, it’s still worth saying. However Golden Knights – Avalanche Game 6 goes on Thursday (9 p.m. ET; NBCSN), Peter DeBoer’s really starting to build an impressive resume as an effective NHL coach.

As far as anyone can really tell.

DeBoer deserves some credit for Golden Knights frustrating MacKinnon, Avs

When you’re trying to beat Hart Trophy finalist Nathan MacKinnon and the high-flying, Presidents’ Trophy-winning Avalanche, you’re going to need to do a lot right.

Call it luck or not, but the Golden Knights have done a masterful job nullifying MacKinnon and some of the Avalanche’s other best weapons heading into Game 6.

After MacKinnon (2G, 1A) and the Avalanche obliterated the Golden Knights in Game 1, Vegas went from improving to dominating.

Most simply, MacKinnon hasn’t generated a single point in his last three games. He’s also on a four-game goal drought, as he was limited to an assist in Game 2. While Mikko Rantanen has remained productive, the Avs have largely kept other top scorers like Cale Makar and Gabriel Landeskog in check.

[PRE-GAME COVERAGE BEGINS AT 8:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

Understandably, a lot of the credit goes to Mark Stone, who is backing up his Selke Trophy nomination by greatly limiting MacKinnon’s chances.

You can get into some chicken-and-the-egg coaching vs. talent debates when it comes to doling out credit for slowing down MacKinnon, though. It’s the same subjective story as wondering how much Phil Jackson had to do with his 11 titles, or maybe overreacting to Tom Brady winning a Super Bowl without Bill Belichick.

You’d think DeBoer has something to do with the Golden Knights’ success, particularly against MacKinnon and the Avalanche, right?

On Wednesday, Sin Bin Vegas’ Ken Boehlke essentially wondered if DeBoer serves as Nathan MacKinnon’s kryptonite.

In the 49 game playoff career of MacKinnon, there have only been two stretches when he has been held off the score sheet completely in three consecutive games in the same postseason. These last three games and Games 5-7 in 2019 against the San Jose Sharks.

In other words, in the past eight postseason games MacKinnon has gone against a DeBoer-coached team, he’s come up pointless in six of them. Remember, this is a player that has registered a goal or an assist in all but 15 of his 49 playoff games. DeBoer has been responsible for six of them, or 40%, in just the last eight games!

Other successes

If your first thought was “Yes, those are impressive results against Nathan MacKinnon, but those are still some small sample sizes,” well:

  • That’s true.
  • And maybe get out of my brain?

Anyway, it’s hasty to pose Peter DeBoer as some sort of MacKinnon – Avs antidote. Really, it might put the whammy on Vegas in Game 6, and during that far-from-finished series, in general.

[NBC 2021 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

So, instead, this is an opportunity to give DeBoer some due, overall. Let’s summarize his increasingly impressive coaching resume.

  • In 933 regular-season games between the Golden Knights, Sharks, Devils, and Panthers, DeBoer’s teams have gone 470-348-115 (.565 points percentage). He’s coached 116 playoff games (and counting), with a 65-51 record.
  • During the 2011-12 season, DeBoer coached the Devils to the 2012 Stanley Cup Final, falling to the Kings in six games. Since then, the Devils only made the playoffs once. (The Devils fired DeBoer during the 2014-15 season.)
  • DeBoer couldn’t break the Sharks’ Stanley Cup curse, but he did help them get to the 2016 Stanley Cup Final. You also may remember DeBoer feuding with then-Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant, and DeBoer’s Sharks shocking Vegas in a memorable Game 7 rally.
  • Yes, it was weird for a while for DeBoer to be Golden Knights head coach.
  • Now fasten a “to be continued” on this Golden Knights run.

That’s … the sort of resume that’s tougher and tougher to deny, eh?

[NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2021 Second Round schedule, TV info]

Again, there’s room to debate how much credit DeBoer deserves. After all, Gerard Gallant left a strong setup in place, and his firing seemed (and maybe still seems) strange.

But, hey, even if you believe DeBoer’s mainly “not messed anything up,” well … there’s value in that, right? A lesser coach might have thrown out things that worked, just to put their particular stamp on a gig.

Credit DeBoer with tweaking around the margins. Really, it fits the Golden Knights’ larger aims. This is a team that’s been good for a while, but wants to make that extra step.

Can DeBoer and the Golden Knights clear those final hurdles to actually win it all? We’ll see. The biggest ones remain ahead — and you could definitely argue that it still doesn’t get any tougher than actually eliminating MacKinnon and the Avalanche.

AVALANCHE VS. GOLDEN KNIGHTS (VGK leads 3-2) – series livestream link

Game 1: Avalanche 7, Golden Knights 1
Game 2: Avalanche 3, Golden Knights 2 (OT)
Game 3: Golden Knights 3, Avalanche 2
Game 4: Golden Knights 5, Avalanche 1
Game 5: Golden Knights 3, Avalanche 2 (OT)
Game 6: Thurs. June 10: Avalanche at Golden Knights, 9 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
*Game 7: Sat. June 12: Golden Knights at Avalanche, 7:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)

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.

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

Ilya Mikheyev
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.