NHL ProteauType: Leafs’ Collapse Another Sign Andersen May Be On His Way Out
The Islanders set a franchise-record points streak, Sheldon Keefe gets his first win as the Leafs’ coach, Claude Giroux has a four-point game, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
NHL.COM: The New York Islanders extended their points streak to a franchise-record 16 games (15-0-1) with a 4-3 overtime victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins. Brock Nelson scored twice (including his second straight overtime tally) while teammate Mathew Barzal collected three assists. Penguins winger Patric Hornqvist scored in his return from injury. Earlier in the day, the Penguins announced Justin Schultz (lower body) and Nick Bjugstad (core muscle surgery) will be sidelined for a while. Bjugstad could be out for eight weeks.
Sheldon Keefe picked up his first win as head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs as they snapped a six-game losing streak with a 3-1 victory over the Arizona Coyotes. Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen turned aside 30 shots while Auston Matthews netted his 15th goal of the season. Earlier in the day, the Leafs announced Keefe signed a new contract through 2022.
Claude Giroux scored twice and set up two others leading the Philadelphia Flyers to a 5-3 win over the Carolina Hurricanes, snapping a four-game winless skid. Travis Konecny collected three assists in the victory.
Jordan Binnington had a 40-save shutout and Zach Sanford enjoyed the first four-point performance of his NHL career in a 5-0 blanking of the Calgary Flames. Sanford had a goal and three assists while Oskar Sundqvist tallied two goals. The Flames are winless in their last six games.
The Boston Bruins extended their points streak to six games by edging the Buffalo Sabres 3-2. Brad Marchand scored twice and goaltender Tuukka Rask made a highlight-reel save with his blocker hand. The Sabres have dropped three straight and have just one victory in their last 10 contests.
An overtime goal by Florida Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad completed a five-goal rally as his club downed the Anaheim Ducks 5-4. Ekblad and Brett Connolly each scored two goals. Ondrej Kase had a goal and an assist for the Ducks. The Panthers have surged into fourth overall in the Eastern Conference.
Third-period goals by Oliver Bjorkstrand, Boone Jenner, and Eric Robinson powered the Columbus Blues Jackets over the Detroit Red Wings 5-4. The Jackets have won four of their last six contests. Tyler Bertuzzi scored twice for the Wings. The Jackets also announced Paul MacLean was joining their coaching staff.
The Vancouver Canucks netted five power-play goals on route to a 6-3 pasting of the Nashville Predators, extending the latter’s winless skid to six. Canucks goalie Jacob Markstrom kicked out 45 shots while teammates Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes each collected three points.
Jason Zucker netted the game-winner as the Minnesota Wild nipped the Colorado Avalanche 3-2. Cale Makar tallied twice for the Avs.
Tampa Bay Lightning netminder Curtis McElhinney made 32 saves as his club held on for a 4-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks. Lightning captain Steven Stamkos left the game with a lower-body injury. The Bolts were also playing without winger Nikita Kucherov, who remains sidelined with an upper-body injury.
The Dallas Stars blew a 3-0 lead but rallied to defeat the Winnipeg Jets 5-3. Jamie Benn tallied the game-winner and Corey Perry picked up three assists for the Stars, who’ve won five straight to sit fourth overall in the Western Conference.
The San Jose Sharks picked up their seventh victory in their last eight games by beating the Vegas Golden Knights 2-1. Logan Couture picked up the winner in overtime. Aaron Dell made 37 saves for the win.
Tyler Toffoli scored twice and Jeff Carter had a three-point night as the Los Angeles Kings thumped the Edmonton Oilers 5-1. Connor McDavid tallied the Oilers’ only goal. Oilers defenseman Adam Larsson returned to the lineup after being sidelined with a broken fibula since their season-opener.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have fired head coach Mike Babcock. They’ve promoted Toronto Marlies coach Sheldon Keefe as Babcock’s replacement.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I doubt anyone’s surprised by this news. The Leafs were 9-10-4 this season. As more than one observer noted, they’ve hovered around .500 since January. That’s not what was expected when the Leafs entered this season as a projected Stanley Cup contender.
The Leafs hired Babcock in 2015, making him the highest-paid coach in the league. His contract runs through 2022-23, paying him $6.25 million annually. The deep-pocketed Leafs ownership can afford it, but that’s still a lot of money invested in a now unemployed coach.
Within two seasons, Babcock guided the Leafs to their first playoff appearance in four years and only their second since 2004. Under his tutelage, the Leafs enjoyed back-to-back seasons with 100-or-more points. However, they failed to advance past the opening round of the playoffs.
The Leafs seemed lackluster midway through 2018-19. That may have been an early warning sign that Babcock was losing the room. The malaise carried over into this season. For a team built around young scoring stars like Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, Babcock’s emphasis on two-way play appeared to stifle their offensive creativity.
Kyle Dubas inherited Babcock as coach when he took over as Leafs GM in 2018. There were rumors the two didn’t see eye-to-eye on personnel decisions. It was long assumed Dubas would eventually promote Keefe into the head-coaching position.
It’ll be interesting to see what changes Keefe makes to get the Leafs back on a winning track. With Babcock gone, the focus now shifts to the players. If Keefe can’t get a better effort out of them, the next moves by Dubas could involve shaking up the roster, either during this season or next summer.
The Oilers hire Dave Tippett as their new head coach, latest on the Bruins and Blues, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.
EDMONTON JOURNAL: As expected, the Edmonton Oilers yesterday formally announced Dave Tippett was taking over as their new head coach. He’s their 16th coach in franchise history, but also the ninth in the past 11 years. Tippett formerly coached the Dallas Stars and Arizona Coyotes.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Tippett has a good reputation as a coach who can quickly improve a team’s performance. However, he faces a daunting task achieving the same results with the Oilers. Their goaltending is suspect, their defense porous, and they lack secondary scoring depth. It’s up to general manager Ken Holland to provide Tippett with a better roster for next season.
SPORTSNET: Paul Coffey won’t be returning as the Oilers’ skills development coach.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The dismantling of the Oilers’ “old boys network” in the front office continues. Craig MacTavish recently departed for a coaching gig in the KHL. Last week, the Oilers announced they were parting ways with VP of player personnel Duane Sutter.
NBC SPORTS: Boston Bruins defenseman Torey Krug’s hit on St. Louis Blues forward Robert Thomas during Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final was the talk of yesterday’s player interviews. Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington joked about Krug’s intensity. “His pupils were pretty big. I don’t know if he’s on something, but he was pretty fired up.” Game 2 of the series is tonight in Boston at 8 pm ET.
STLTODAY.COM: Blues coach Craig Berube said there’s a chance Vince Dunn (concussion symptoms) could play in Game 2. He’s been sidelined since Game 3 of the Western Conference Final.
TORONTO SUN: The Maple Leafs re-signed Toronto Marlies head coach Sheldon Keefe to a two-year contract.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Several NHL teams expressed interest in hiring Keefe. Some observers believe the Marlies coach could one day take over behind the Leafs bench.
NEW YORK POST: Following a dazzling performance at the 2019 IIHF World Championships, prospect winger Kaapo Kakko said he’ll skip the upcoming NHL Draft Combine. The 18-year-old winger helped Finland win the gold medal at this year’s tournament. Kakko is the sixth player in IIHF history to win gold at the Worlds, the under-18 and under-20 tournaments.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: A bold decision by Kakko. Nevertheless, his performance at the Worlds is perhaps the best audition he needs to prove himself as this year’s top prospect. The New Jersey Devils hold the first-overall selection in next month’s NHL Draft. American center Jack Hughes was ranked as No.1 by Central Scouting but Kakko’s play at the Worlds could change that.
NHL.COM: The Hockey Hall of Fame has awarded long-time hockey writer Frank Brown the Elmer Ferguson Memorial Award. Hockey Night in Canada broadcaster Jim Hughson will receive the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award.
Update on Senators owner Eugene Melnyk plus the latest on the Maple Leafs, Canadiens and Oilers. (more…)