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Should Sharks keep Bob Boughner as head coach?
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Should Sharks stick with Boughner, who’s ‘planning on being back’ as head coach?

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The “pause” to the 2019-20 NHL season leaves a destroyed sweater’s worth of loose threads, and one of them involves whether the Sharks will keep Bob Boughner around as head coach.

One of the few obvious answers is that … yes, Boughner is hoping he can keep the gig. He told The Athletic’s Kevin Kurz as much in a piece that’s absolutely worth your time (sub required).

“I feel good about it,” Boughner said. “I think that given a fair chance, that I’m the guy for this team. And I think Doug believes that, from what I know. I don’t want to speak for him, but I’m planning on being back, I’m planning on putting a plan in place for next year, and trying to look forward.”

Grading Boughner as interim head coach

If you look at pure standings results, the impact has been negligible.

The Sharks languished with a 15-16-2 record over 33 games when they fired Peter DeBoer in December. In 37 games under Boughner, the Sharks remain mediocre (14-20-3), and actually saw their points percentage drop (.485 to .419).

Naturally, this is where it’s fair to repeat Boughner’s phrase of a “fair chance.”

For one thing, the Sharks had to feel bummed out that they played poorly enough to get DeBoer fired. Some might have believed that this season was over, which already stacks the deck a bit against an interim head coach.

Boughner also suffered through some personnel challenges. Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl both suffered significant injuries in January, while the Sharks had to pull the plug on Erik Karlsson‘s season in February. Subtract more players from the mix during the trade deadline, and you could argue Boughner never had a “full deck.”

If you look at Natural Stat Trick, you can see improvements in advanced stats under Boughner. The Sharks look more formidable from expected goals standpoints, for example. Boughner mentioned that during his interview with Kurz, actually.

“We did a really good job of bringing the high-end scoring chances down, not giving up as much and creating more at the other end,” Boughner said. “I’m not saying that’s related to more goals scored or anything like that, but the chances that we were producing, our possession time, we were better defending off the rush. Things like that. So, analytically, I thought there were a lot of improvements made. Those are really your foundations of your system and what’s working and what’s not. There were some good things happening behind the scenes.”

Context counts

Still, not every sign was positive.

It’s understandable that Boughner would lean more on Brent Burns. After all, he was a) coaching for a job and b) dealing with injuries to the team’s defense.

Even so, it’s tough to stomach the Sharks handing a heavier burden to a 33-year-old who they were better off keeping fresh. That’s what happened with Burns, who averaged 24:31 TOI under DeBoer, and then 26:12 per night with Boughner.

My general takeaway is that Boughner getting another “fair” crack at an NHL head coaching job is understandable. The Sharks just don’t seem like that right opportunity, because their window is closing — and that’s assuming 2019-20 was a bump in the road, not the window already being shut.

If this is your last real shot, does Boughner have the steadiest aim? Maybe in a shallower pond than the Sharks will be swimming in.

Sharks have rich group of coaches to choose from

For all we know, Boughner is the best option for the Sharks. That said, the job market presents Wilson with a wealth of unusually strong alternatives.

  • Bruce Boudreau strikes me as the best choice of all.

To start, it would just be thematic fun. Boudreau is the “coach who couldn’t win the big one” who would take on a team that’s been a regular contender but couldn’t get over the hump. C’mon, that’s already pretty fun.

He’s also versatile. Boudreau went from the high-flying Capitals to adjusting on the fly in Anaheim to clamping down to helping the Wild suffocate opponents on defense. The Sharks’ roster presents a challenge between risk and reserve in a defense-focused league, but if anyone can find the balance, it’s Boudreau.

  • Gerard Gallant would obviously be fun, too.

How surreal and yet hockey would it be if the two coaches in that wild Game 7 ended up swapping teams? Peter DeBoer is already on the Golden Knights’ bench, so what about Gallant in San Jose?

  • Peter Laviolette might be a decent fit.
  • Wilson is bold enough to hire Mike Babcock, too.

The more you look at that list, the more you wonder if Boughner … well, has a “fair chance” to keep his gig as Sharks head coach.

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 hold on for win, put an end to Wild’s winning streak

Thanks to another two-goal effort from Alex Ovechkin the Washington Capitals were able to gain some extra breathing room in the Metropolitan Division race on Sunday night with a 4-3 win over the Minnesota Wild.

Washington’s win also puts an end to the Wild’s three-game winning streak as they attempted to climb back into a playoff spot in the Western Conference Wild Card race.

Tom Wilson scored the game-winning goal for the Capitals early in the third period, while Braden Holtby stopped 37 out of 40 shots.

A few things that stood out from this one.

It was oddly physical and intense

For two teams that only play twice per season and had yet to play this season there was a lot of anger in this game. Maybe it’s just the time of year as the playoff races heat up, but this game had a ton of chippy play that reached its boiling point with this first period fight between Brenden Dillon and Ryan Hartman.

Ovechkin gains ground in goal scoring race.

With two goals on Sunday Ovechkin hit the 45-goal mark for the season and pulled himself to within two goals of Boston Bruins winger David Pastrnak for the league lead.

He opened the scoring for the Capitals with a power play goal to tie the game at one early in the first period, and then added another goal just three minutes later to extend the Capitals’ lead to 3-1. That goal came right after Richard Panik had scored to give the Capitals the lead.

It is already his 12th multi-goal game of the season, the most in the NHL. Auston Matthews (10) is the only other player in the NHL to have at least 10 such games this season.

We saw the Ovechkin-Kuznetsov-Kovalchuk line

The Russian line ended up playing around four minutes of 5-on-5 ice-time together and ended up scoring one of the Capitals’ goals when Kovalchuk and Ovechkin teamed up for an NHL goal for the first time in their careers.

It was Ovechkin’s second goal of the game.

Kevin Fiala stayed hot for the Wild

The one bright spot for the Wild on Sunday was the continued great play of forward Kevin Fiala.

He scored his 20th goal of the season and added an assist in the win to give him his fourth consecutive multi-point game.

Acquired at the trade deadline a year ago for Mikael Granlund, Fiala is putting together a career year for the Wild and has been especially hot since the start of February.

The Wild had a chance to move into a playoff spot with a win. They remain one point back of a Wild Card spot.

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.

Trade: Capitals land Ilya Kovalchuk from Canadiens

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The Washington Capitals now have Ilya Kovalchuk and Alex Ovechkin on the same team. The Capitals raised some eyebrows by trading for Kovalchuk from the Montreal Canadiens on Sunday night.

Capitals receive: Ilya Kovalchuk

Canadiens’ side: They receive a 2020 third-round draft pick

MORE: PHT’s Trade deadline live blog

Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reports that the Canadiens are retaining 50 percent of Kovalchuk’s salary. This is Kovalchuk’s latest salary we’re talking about, so it’s a small chunk of a small chunk.

What Kovalchuk trade means for Canadiens and Capitals

Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin made a tough PR choice. Kovalchuk served as a feel-good story during a feel-bad season, coming alive with some overtime magic and a lot of fun energy. It seemed like he had a new lease on life after things ended badly with the Kings.

Frankly, I believe that this was the right choice for Montreal. Getting something for a player with an uncertain future who will turn 37 on April 15 makes more sense than hoping for lightning to strike twice.

The Habs are also doing a nice job “rebuilding on the fly.”

Nabbing another third-rounder means that Montreal will enjoy quite the war chest of picks. Bergevin hit some great notes already by sending the Sabres a fourth-rounder for Marco Scandella, only to flip Scandella for a much better package of assets.

Now, these nice in-the-margins moves don’t solve all of Montreal’s problems. They also don’t guarantee that Bergevin will keep his job, making this a case where Bergevin might just be making life easier for the next Canadiens GM. But it’s still pretty strong, sober work.

There’s also the possibility that maybe the Canadiens try to bring back Kovalchuk in the future, anyway?

The Capitals, meanwhile, add an interesting weapon to their arsenal. Kovalchuk naturally doesn’t help Washington in the area where they’ve been most troubled lately — defense — but they did try to address that with the Brenden Dillon trade.

Greedily speaking, I’m just really excited to see Kovalchuk and Ovechkin on the same NHL team. Sure, it would have been more fun to see that happen before Ovechkin’s hair turned gray, but better late than never.

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Best fits for top trade targets; Bruins have room to work with

Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Adam Gretz chooses ideal landing spots for top trade deadline targets. Chris Kreider making the Blues even more relentless? Yikes. (YardBarker)

• Gus Katsaros supplements that with an analytics-based look at those who have already been traded, and those who might move. (Rotoworld)

• Speaking of players who were already traded, Tyler Toffoli shares his experience hustling to join the Canucks. Yes, it involved sharing some joking texts with once-again-teammate Tanner Pearson. (Sportsnet)

• Breaking down how Brenden Dillon fits with the Capitals. Interesting point that while Dillon is prone to taking penalties, the Caps’ strong PK might mitigate that drawback. (Japers Rink)

• The Bruins possess healthy cap space, making a trade deadline move relatively simple by contender standards. They’d only need to juggle a bit if they landed a big-budget rental. (NBC Sports Boston)

• I’ve pondered how teams might practice “load management” with players plenty of times before. With that in mind, it’s nice to see a deeper discussion of the practice — or lack thereof — in the NHL. Dom Luszczyszyn discusses how parity makes NHL teams less likely to rest players than their NBA counterparts, but how smart hockey teams should explore similar tactics anyway. (The Athletic, sub required)

[MORE: PHT’s 2020 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker]

J.T. Miller has delivered at a staggering level for the Canucks on the ice. It turns out he’s elite when it comes to heartwarming gestures, too. (Canucks)

• Cycling back to Miller’s on-ice impact, The Point recently broke down his breakthrough. Sheng Peng discusses how well Miller gels with Canucks star Elias Pettersson. (The Point)

Braden Holtby has looked sharp lately. After struggling through much of this regular season, could Holtby be back on his game? (Nova Caps)

• Kim and Terry Pegula told Sabres GM Jason Botterill that they are not looking to hire a president of hockey operations. Botterill apparently said in the past that he prefers to report directly to ownership. All of that said, it’s not clear if the Pegulas might be looking for a new General Manager. (Buffalo News)

• Things were bad for Milan Lucic, particularly in November. With James Neal red-hot, people were making unkind comparisons. But even more directly, he found himself benched, and pondered retirement because the game just wasn’t fun anymore. Like a frosted tip, it seems like Lucic has his sparkle back at the moment, though. (Sporting News)

• Andrew Berkshire recently broke down the five best defensive pairings in the NHL, including Nashville’s Roman JosiRyan Ellis combo. (Sportsnet)

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.

Caps hope trade for Dillon, adjustments solve struggles

ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) — For the first time since October, the Washington Capitals took the ice for practice as something other than a first-place team.

Defensive lapses and a glaring lack of structure have added up to losses in six of nine games and a .500 record over the past 10. It’s a struggle for the Capitals right now, but they hope a trade for defenseman Brenden Dillon and a few adjustments will shake them out of their midseason doldrums.

”The hard things to do, the defensive things to do, are always kind of the things that go first when you get into these kind of lulls in the season or whatever because they’re not the fun things to do,” goaltender Braden Holtby said Wednesday. ”Bringing a guy like him in, just an energy, a guy that’s been known to do those things – the hard things – and be a leader that way is good.”

Dillon could play as soon as Thursday night against Montreal, but he can’t solve all everything by himself. Even with Holtby finding a groove, the Capitals have allowed almost 3.5 goals per game during this stretch and not looked like a group that led the NHL for much of the year.

General manager Brian MacLellan said he probably would have sought Dillon from San Jose regardless of the recent drop in play, but the level of urgency to turn things around has increased.

”I think our team game is off, and that results in poor defensive efforts,” MacLellan said. ”I don’t think we’re playing the right way. … The forwards contribute to it, defense contributes to it, and we got to get all on the same page here and play a tighter game.”

Defensemen are getting the bulk of criticism and the blue liner certainly haven’t played up to expectations. Beyond John Carlson, who’s on pace for more than 90 points this season, the play of the likes of Michal Kempny, Dmitry Orlov, Nick Jensen and Jonas Siegenthaler has been inconsistent at best.

Carlson said the Capitals have been ”a little disjointed.”

”I think some other holes have crept into our details and systems that we all know we are capable of doing,” said Carlson, who could soon be Dillon’s defensive partner. ”Just simple things, whether it is mental or execution or just being out of position a little bit, matters a lot.”

Much of the chatter lately has been helping captain Alex Ovechkin score two more goals to reach 700 for his career. Ovechkin, MacLellan and others don’t think chasing that milestone has been a distraction, but Washington is 1-4-0 since he reached 698.

”We know exactly what we have to do,” Ovechkin said. ”It’s not a panic. It’s just a slump (that) every team goes through all seasons. Some teams go (through it) the beginning of the year. Somebody goes (though it) right now. It’s a good thing it’s happening now than in the playoffs.”

The Capitals are less than two years removed from their run to the Stanley Cup. They got knocked out in the first round last year and have retooled some things to try to win it all again.

Dillon brings the kind of physical play that is valued most in the playoffs. The 29-year-old has plenty of postseason experience and at 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds blends right in with Washington’s big, heavy identity.

”When you’re standing in front of the net with him, it’s going to be a battle,” winger Tom Wilson said. ”That’s something we’ve tried to have with our team. When teams come into D.C., you want them to be like, ‘Oh, here we go, it’s going to be a tough game,’ and he’s just another piece that can really add to that.”