Share this article

print logo

Inside the NHL: Hitchcock will work on McDavid's all-around game

So Ken Hitchcock says there's some fixing to be done with Connor McDavid. Things are going to get mighty interesting now in Edmonton.

General Manager Peter Chiarelli's last desperation move to save his own job was to bring in Hitchcock last week after turfing Todd McLellan who, for the record, didn't give Milan Lucic a seven-year contract or fail to provide enough defense and goaltending to play with the world's best player. But since GMs never get fired before coaches in the NHL even when they should (see Bowman, Stan), Chiarelli got to make one last attempt at fixing the damage he wrought.

The Oilers slide back into the playoffs and the Hitchcock/Chiarelli team is heroic. If they fail, Chiarelli gets fired, Hitchcock returns to retirement and Edmonton will simply be four years into the McDavid era with just one playoff series victory.

The first two games under Hitchcock were better, a 4-3 overtime win in San Jose and a 2-1 overtime loss at Anaheim where the Oilers were stunned by a tying goal with 16 seconds left in regulation by Nick Ritchie and a winner 14 seconds into overtime by Rickard Rakell.

Hitchcock is going to demand defense from McDavid, and test him like he did to past stars like Mike Modano and Tyler Seguin. But he said his new star already has the traits to get the job done — and will thus have the puck more.

"His recovery rate, cardio-wise, is astounding,” Hitchcock told reporters in Anaheim. “He’s able to get back up to speed quickly. That’s something we’ve got to take advantage of. He can come out every second shift if it stays 5-on-5. My focus is going to be building his game from our end out. He needs to have the puck more, as do all of our centers, because that’s the strength of the team."

The Sabres and Oilers are proof positive how foolhardy tanking is, whether you get your intended target or not. They're also proving that properly building your roster through drafting, development and trades is far more important. Chiarelli (and Tim Murray) are failures in the wake of their tanks, while Jason Botterill is showing how important GMing can be.

McDavid is having another huge year, with 13 goals and a league-high 32 points in 22 games, but Chiarelli just didn't put enough around him. Hitchcock wants McDavid with the puck and to be more aware defensively. During the San Jose game, NBC's Jeremy Roenick spotlighted McDavid making a sweeping turn in the defensive zone, too slow to cover the slot before a goal was scored. He said Hitchcock will demand stops and starts and quick strides to make better defensive decisions.

"He’s a different style of coach and a new voice,” said McDavid. “He just wants us to play hard. That’s one thing that all of his teams have, everyone brings their effort every night. Any time you bring in a new coach it’s the last option before shipping everyone out. That’s what we’ve reached here. This is a chance for us to come together and try to make something out of this.”

"There’s no negotiation when the other team has the puck," Hitchcock said. "There’s no negotiation at all. I expect everyone over the next couple of weeks to start looking the same when the opposition has the puck."

That's a pretty direct message there.  Seguin had 78 points last year for Hitchcock in Dallas, and improved defensively. McDavid can do the same.

"Tyler was a perfect example of a guy that needed to change and embraced it,” Hitchcock said. “He had a great offensive year and an even better defensive year. It's just changing your value system. Speed is a great weapon not many players have and if you use it without the puck, you can become even more effective."

O'Reilly OK as Yeo goes

The end came last week for Mike Yeo in St. Louis after the Blues were shut out three times in four games, including a home defeat to Los Angeles that was his final game.

It's really not Ryan O'Reilly's fault. The former Sabre has 11 goals, 14 assists and 25 points in the Blues' first 21 games and leads the club in scoring. He's plus-5 and has a career-high faceoff percentage of 60.3.

The Blues struggled out of the gate at 1-4-2 and 2-4-3 and are in an uphill climb to overcome that start. They were on a 6-4-1 run until the drought that cost Yeo his job.

"We're pushing to the level we know we can be at," O'Reilly told this corner last week in Chicago. "The start wasn't what we wanted and it's taken a while to feel comfortable.

"We were in so many of these games, had leads and lost them. We didn't have the consistency in games. Bad period here, blow a lead, couple bad shifts there. It wasn't the hockey we needed to win."

O'Reilly said it's difficult to keep tabs on his old team while playing in the Western Conference but he's noticing the Sabres' spot in the standings. He'll get first-hand looks Dec. 27 in St. Louis and March 17 in KeyBank Center.

"They look very good, seem like they've put together a really good team," he said. "It's nice to see because there's some great guys there and great players. It's nice to see it get going in the right way — you hope just not against us when we play them.

"You think back to last year and we would get a couple games going in the right direction and couldn't sustain it. Then we would seem to forget what we did and get back to old habits. They've done a good job rebuilding. The little bit I've watched, it looks like a good team."

Sabre points

---Evan Rodrigues on why so many comebacks are happening: "It's a swagger we have. A lot of times when teams are struggling and you get put in that situation, no one really talks. I think what we've seen is that we are down a goal or two, there's no doubt really at all. There's a belief in the room, almost a little bit of cockiness that we know we can come back. That's what we need."

---Birthdays: Casey Mittelstadt is no longer a teen-ager, turning 20 on Wednesday. Jason Pominville turns 36 on Friday, when the Sabres will be playing at Florida. Gilbert Perreault turned 68 on Nov. 13. Yes, 68.

---NBC's Roenick on the Sabres' four-goal outburst Wednesday against the Flyers: "That was an incredible period. The Philadelphia Flyers didn’t know what hit them."

---The Rochester Amerks and Cleveland Monsters have announced a two-game home-and-home series of Nickelodeon Nights featuring the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The Monsters will wear Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle-themed jerseys while the Amerks will sport sweaters inspired by the Foot Clan, the turtles' archenemies. They will be worn during the teams' games Dec. 26 in Quicken Loans Arena and March 22 in Blue Cross Arena.

A new No Fun League

Longtime former NHL GM Brian Burke isn't big on the Hurricanes' postgame victory celebrations in PNC Arena. Players and fans are joining together on the slow clap Minnesota Vikings' Skol chant and the players are then performing Lambeau Leaps into the glass, simulated rowing or toppling of dominoes.

It's great fun. It adds personality to the game. It's something a struggling market can grab onto as its own. No dice, says Burke.

"I don't like it. It's as simple as that," Burke said on The FAN 590, the all-sports radio giant of Toronto. "I don't think it's professional. I don't think it belongs in our league. ... I'm not saying the league should abolish it. I'm not saying no one should enjoy it. I'm saying I don't like it.

"I'm not going to watch it. I turn the TV off when they win. I switch to another game. I think it's absurdly amateurish Pee Wee garbage stuff. They like it — terrific. Stay and watch it. Clap. Have another beer and stay and watch them swim or canoe or whatever they’re going to do next. I’m not watching."

Home is where the Ws are

Home teams are rolling lately. Until last week, the only day in NHL history where home teams won 12 games was on Oct. 15, 2016, when they were 12-1. Then it happened twice in three days around Thanksgiving.

The Sabres' 5-2 win Wednesday over Philadelphia was part of a 12-2 night for NHL home teams, with the lone road victories coming by Vegas at Arizona and Colorado at Los Angeles.

Then came Friday, where hosts set a record by going 13-2. There were several comebacks, including the Sabres over Montreal, Columbus over Toronto, Minnesota over Winnipeg and topped by Anaheim's 2-1 win over Edmonton, which saw the Ducks tie the game with 16 seconds left and win it 14 seconds into overtime.

The Avalanche were again road winners, this time at Arizona. The other surviving roadies were the Islanders, who won in OT at New Jersey.

Around the boards

* The top four picks of the June draft —Rasmus Dahlin, Carolina's Andrei Svechnikov, Montreal's Jasperi Kotkaniemi and Ottawa's Brady Tkachuk — have all already scored their first NHL goal. It's the first time since 2009 (John Tavares, Victor Hedman, Matt Duchene and Evander Kane) all scored in the next season after getting drafted.

* When Carolina's Justin Williams scored his 100th career goal for the Hurricanes Wednesday against Toronto, he became the ninth player in NHL history with 100+ career regular-season goals with multiple franchises and Stanley Cup titles with each team. No one had pulled off that feat since Stephane Richer (Cups with Montreal in 1986, New Jersey in 1995).

Williams scored 103 goals for Los Angeles (winning Cups in 2012 and 2014) and has 100 for Carolina, where he beat the Sabres in the Eastern Conference final en route to winning the Cup in 2006.

* The Ducks are dealing with so many injuries with eight players on the sidelines that a Sportsnet graphic during Friday night's game against Edmonton even included a ninth "Dawn Wright — vocal chords." Anaheim's longtime anthem singer tweeted earlier this month she's having voice issues and is seeing a specialist to get her back behind the mic.

Story topics: / / / /

There are no comments - be the first to comment