Weekend Takeaways: Canadian teams the talk of NHL on and off the ice

Vancouver Canucks head coach Travis Green stands on the bench behind Elias Pettersson (40), of Sweden, and Alex Chiasson (39) during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Vancouver, on Saturday, December 4, 2021. (Darryl Dyck/CP)

If the NHL’s Canadian teams were on a text thread together, you get the sense the messages being exchanged right now would be similar to what a group of 20-somethings might be sending each other on a foggy Monday morning: Basically, “that was a bit of a wild weekend.”

From firings to fights to Connor McDavid getting the gate, the past few days offered a lot to sift through.

Start with the Vancouver Canucks, who — after losing 4-1 to the Pittsburgh Penguins at home on Saturday — finally capitulated to their jersey-throwing fans by firing coach Travis Green and general manager Jim Benning. That marks the second consecutive Sunday that a Canadian squad made a major shakeup, following the Montreal Canadiens’ decision to dismiss GM Marc Bergevin and install Jeff Gorton at the top of its hockey operations department.

New Canucks bench boss Bruce Boudreau has a long history of pushing the right offensive buttons, so there’s some hope Vancouver can improve its 27th-ranked offence (2.36 goals-per-game) and 22nd-ranked power play (17.4 percent).

The Winnipeg Jets sure found a way to unlock their attack in recent days. Entering Friday’s game versus the New Jersey Devils, the Jets had been held to zero or one goal five times in their previous seven outings. Then they smashed New Jersey 8-4 and came back 48 hours later and hung a half-dozen on the Toronto Maple Leafs during a 6-3 victory. Mark Scheifele had two goals in 16 contests prior to the weekend before putting up four in two games. Fifteen games into the year, Blake Wheelers’ entire offensive output consisted of five assists; the captain — who played his 1,000th NHL game on Sunday — matched that figure with three helpers versus the Devils and a pair more against the Leafs.

Toronto fans aren’t even mad their team lost two games on the weekend because of the spirit the Buds showed in Manitoba following a 4-3 shootout loss on Saturday to the Minnesota Wild. A team constantly being questioned about its toughness got downright frisky in the aftermath of blue-liner Rasmus Sandin being injured by a knee-on-knee hit from Jets defenceman Neal Pionk. By the end of the contest, both sides were so riled up you would have thought we were back in the North Division, where they saw each other what felt every other night.

Speaking of anger, Edmonton Oilers coach Dave Tippett didn’t love seeing McDavid get the boot for boarding Adrian Kempe of the Los Angeles Kings, who wound up dumping the Oilers 5-1 on Sunday. The ejection marked just the second time No. 97 has been tossed from an NHL game. Strange as it was to see, the view from here was that the punishment fit the crime.

Even the Ottawa Senators’ 6-5 overtime win versus the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday featured high drama, as Brady Tkachuk’s game-winner came only after the home side had squandered a 5-2 advantage. About the only standard things to occur on the weekend were another loss for the Montreal Canadiens and the Calgary Flames scraping out an extra-time victory in Anaheim on Friday before losing a 3-2 contest on Sunday in Vegas to the Golden Knights.

The dust has settled on this notable dynamic where three teams — Edmonton, Calgary and Toronto — are all top-10 clubs by points percentage, while Vancouver, Ottawa and Montreal are — in that order — are the fourth-, third-, and second-worst teams in the NHL by points percentage. Winnipeg — in keeping with its geographical location — is somewhere in the middle.

Of course, that’s just how things stand today. Given how rollicking the past weekend alone was, who knows where we go from here.

Other Takeaways

• Vancouver wasn’t the only team to reach a breaking point this weekend, as Philadelphia Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher axed coach Alain Vigneaut following an embarrassing 7-1 setback to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Sunday that marked Philly’s eighth consecutive loss. With Boudreau headed to Vancouver, a few names will surely be linked to the “City of Brotherly Love.” Claude Julien has been known to stabilize a situation before, so we’ll see if he’s considered. Another potentially interesting candidate could be Jim Montgomery, currently a St. Louis Blues assistant. Montgomery earned praise for his work with the Stars during his first gig as a head coach, but that job came to an end in during the 2019-20 season when his alcohol abuse problems came to light. Montgomery has done commendable work getting sober and taking back control of his life, and might be ready to throw his hat in the mix for another top bench position.

• Philly still has nothing on the New York Islanders when it comes to Metropolitan Division misery. A few weeks back, I was praising the Isles for keeping their heads above water during their 13-game, season-opening roadie. Now, after a 3-2 shootout setback to the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday, New York has dropped 11 straight games, scoring just 13 goals in that time.

• Colorado couldn’t quite complete the comeback versus Ottawa, but the amazing play of former Isles (sorry to pile on) Devon Toews continues. Avalanche GM Joe Sakic was universally praised when he swooped in on a cap-squeezed Islanders club in the 2020 off-season and acquired Toews for two second-rounders. Toews — on a four-year deal looking more team-friendly by the day — made a leap last year, playing at a 48-point pace. Now, things are working out better than even Sakic likely imagined now. With his 1-1-2 on Saturday, Toews — who didn’t debut this season until Nov. 6 thanks to off-season shoulder surgery — has 13 points in 12 contests this year. Since he drew into the lineup (without the benefit of a training camp and some warm-up games, remember) the only D-men with more points than Toews are teammate Cale Makar, Washington’s John Carlson and Tampa’s Victor Hedman.

• How long before Vegas is at Alberta’s front door, huffing and puffing at the Oilers and Flames at the top of the Pacific? Jack Eichel is already skating and other injured bodies have begun to stream back to the Knights, who collected four points in two weekend games. Max Pacioretty has been back for five contests now, registering at least a point in each one and goals in his past three outings. It smells like a hot streak is right around the corner.

• With 18 points in nine games — a mere two-per-contest — Kirill Kaprizov is your NHL scoring leader since Nov. 18. Shootout goals are not supposed to look like this.

Weekend Warrior

Let’s get some love for ‘Ovie’ after he notched goal No. 750 against Columbus on Saturday. Only Wayne Gretzky (1,001 games to 1,222) got there faster. Ovechkin’s 20 even-strength goals this year are bested only by Leon Draisaitl’s 21.

Red and White Power Rankings

1. Calgary Flames (15-5-5): Elias Lindholm scored in both Calgary games on the weekend, continuing his strong point-per-game play this year.

2. Toronto Maple Leafs (17-7-2): The Leafs trailed 3-0 on Saturday and 5-1 on Sunday, so maybe pocketing at least one point in the past 48 hours isn’t so bad.

3. Edmonton Oilers (16-7-0): Not only did Darnell Nurse return to action on Sunday after being out with a broken finger, he put his hands right to use by scoring the Oilers’ only goal.

4. Winnipeg Jets (12-8-4): The big boys got rolling on the weekend; can they keep it up?

5. Ottawa Senators (6-15-1): Ottawa is the only really bad team in this country to not make a major move yet. The Sens have won two in a row, but what might the next losing streak bring about?

6. Vancouver Canucks (8-15-2): Bruce Boudreau’s career points percentage in 984 games is .635. Let’s see where this goes.

7. Montreal Canadiens (6-17-3): The Jeff Gorton era officially began with the Habs claiming offence-first D-man Kale Clague on Saturday.

The Week Ahead

• Vancouver is right back at it on Monday, hosting the Los Angeles Kings.

• Speaking of the Canucks, Loui Eriksson is set to play is 1,000th NHL game on Monday in Dallas, where his career began. He took a lot of flak in Vancouver thanks to his albatross of a contract, but how about a stick-tap for the current Coyote who was such a dependable two-way player for Dallas and Boston during the first two-thirds of his career.

• Three teams will put six-game winning streaks on the line this week; Dallas goes for No. 7 against Arizona on Monday and the Wild will do the same in Edmonton on Tuesday. Also on Tuesday, the rolling New York Rangers — minus injured goalie/savoir Igor Shesterkin — go for lucky No. 7 in Chicago. At the other end of the ice, Marc-Andre Fleury could pick up career win No. 500 versus the Blueshirts. When he enters the club, he’ll join Patrick Roy (551) and Martin Brodeur (691) as the only goalies to hit that benchmark.

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