Sunday November 28 - Vancouver Canucks at Boston Bruins - 4 p.m. PT, Sportsnet
On its own, Friday's 4-2 loss to Columbus was no big deal. The Canucks played well, mounting a successful offside challenge in the first minute and outshooting the Blue Jackets by a wide margin — 13-4 in the first period and 41-21 in the game.
The mistakes were still glaring — like a high-danger pass in the zone that led to Gustav Nyquist's shorthanded goal, which opened the scoring late in the first. But the effort was certainly there. The power play that led to the shorthanded goal came when Zach Werenski lost his cool on Nils Hoglander after a goalmouth scrum. We saw some of those big hits from Luke Schenn that we liked so much when he was here a couple of years ago. And Vancouver's goals from Vasily Podkolzin and Tyler Motte were both of the 'hardworking' variety.
The team also did what it could to address the rumours of dressing-room dissent that have been swirling around the team. In his pre-game media availability, Travis Green said the idea was 'fabricated.' Tyler Myers backed him up. And did you catch the shot of J.T. Miller and Bo Horvat walking side by side into Nationwide Arena?
It seems like we've reached the point where everyone is waiting for the shoe to drop. When I was writing about the Thanksgiving standings/playoff picture earlier this week, I went back to the last full season, 2018-19, and was reminded that St. Louis had fired Mike Yeo a few days before the holiday, leading to their historic worst-to-first run.
Yeo was the third of five coaches to be fired before Christmas that year — along with John Stevens in L.A., Joel Quenneville in Chicago, Todd McLellan and Edmonton and Dave Hakstol in Philadelphia.
In 2019-20, five coaches also left their teams before Christmas — and eight were out by the trade deadline — a quarter of the league! Even before Covid, that was a turbulent season — starting with Mike Babcock's firing in Toronto just before Thanksgiving, and including the departures of Bill Peters in Calgary and Jim Montgomery in Dallas.
Last season, we saw just three coaches dismissed in-season.
Claude Julien was let go from Montreal at the 18-game mark of the 56-game season, with the Habs 9-5-4. I wonder if the club would like a do-over on that decision at this point, or if Montreal's problems this season would have been unavoidable without Carey Price and Shea Weber in their lineup?
Calgary parted ways with Geoff Ward at the 24-game mark, with an 11-11-2 record. The Flames still missed the playoffs, but they had their desired successor lined up in Darryl Sutter once they cut ties with Ward. For now, that looks like a stroke of genius.
And Buffalo fired Ralph Krueger at the 28-game mark of their season, exactly halfway through. Considering the Sabres are back in rebuild mode, barely above the salary-cap floor, and don't really have NHL-caliber goaltending, their 8-10-2 record this season under Don Granato looks pretty decent. It's four points better than Vancouver's 6-13-2 mark, and the Canucks are spending nearly $20 million more than Buffalo on players this season, according to CapFriendly
We've reached the point where change seems so inevitable that this is how Iain MacIntyre, who works for the NHL's Canadian rightsholder, framed the Tweet for his game story on Friday night:
If the Canucks are looking at replacing Green with a 'name' coach, the pool of available candidates shrank on Friday, when Hockey Canada
named Claude Julien as head coach and Bruce Boudreau as one of the assistants for two upcoming European tournaments — the Channel One Cup and the Spengler Cup. If the NHL does *not* end up sending its players to the Olympics — a prospect that seems to be looking increasingly likely with each passing day — the pair, along with one-time Canucks director of player development Scott Walker — would also likely head up Canada's men's Olympic team in Beijing in February.
I assume Julien and Boudreau's Team Canada commitments mean that they're out of the running for NHL jobs for the time being.
Of course, the other move that teams make when they need to execute a sudden coaching change is to elevate an assistant or an AHL boss. Travis Green was a coach like that, but his ascent was planned after Willie Desjardins' contract ran its course. This also reminds me of Rick Ley, who took over the bench with limited success after serving as Pat Quinn's assistant back in the 90s.
And that reminds me that, every so often, we see general managers take over behind the bench during times of trouble. Quinn did it. I believe Glen Sather did it with both the Oilers and the Rangers. So did Bob Murray in Anaheim a couple of years ago, when he dismissed Randy Carlyle.
Can you imagine??? Let's not even go there.
The Canucks now have one regulation win their last nine games and are 2-7-1 in their last 10. Yes, that's five points collected out of a possible 20. And they're basically healthy.
The only two teams with worse records over their last 10 games have both been crushed by Covid. The New York Islanders are 2-8-0, mired in an eight-game losing streak as they transition to their long-awaited new arena — and the NHL announced on Saturday morning that their games will be postponed for at least the next three days. And the Ottawa Senators are 2-7-1. They've lost three in a row since coming back from their own week-long Covid pause.
On Saturday morning, the Senators claimed Adam Gaudette on waivers from Chicago. That sets up a potential revenge game on Wednesday after Gaudette was scratched for both of the Blackhawks' games against Vancouver so far this season.
After picking up four points in seven games with the Blackhawks last season, following his trade-deadline deal, Gaudette got into just eight games this year and picked up two points.
The Canucks will face the struggling Senators in Ottawa on Wednesday, two days after they meet Montreal. Travis Hamonic will, presumably, be back in the lineup for those games, once the Canucks return to Canada. But they'll also wrap up a three-in-four to finish this road trip, with a tough date with Boston also on the docket on Sunday.
After this road trip, the Canucks play 10 of their next 12 at home, running right up till Christmas. They'll only leave for two single games, both in San Jose.
Attendance remained strong during the last homestand. And despite all the speculation about changes, I tend to think the organization will continue to ride this out — at least, until we start seeing a lot more empty seats at Rogers Arena.