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Blue Line Buzz: Coaching Carousel Spinning

Dan Pennucci

Dan Pennucci

Dan Pennucci has covered hockey for Rotowire since 2002 and is the author of Blue Line Buzz since 2011 as well as being the co-author of Morning Skate. He also is a contributor to Talking Red, a New Jersey Devils blog and podcast. He is an English teacher and formerly wrote for The Coast Star in Manasquan, New Jersey where he and his sports section won several New Jersey Press Association awards. Dan Pennucci is a supporter of the New Jersey Devils, Washington Nationals and Chelsea FC. He's attended sporting events in six countries.


The NHL coaching carousel is spinning quite quickly and, after most nights, seemingly one or two new coach's names get added to the list of potentially unemployed bench bosses. Canadiens' coach Jacques Martin continues to have his name thrown around by the rabid Montreal media and few on the nation's unemployment line have the good fortune of remaining there as briefly as axed Captials' coach Bruce Boudreau. Boudreau was hired by the floundering Anaheim Ducks mere days after his being ousted from Washington, as the Ducks summarily dismissed Randy Carlyle following the team's poor start.

New Jersey coach Peter DeBoer, fired by the Panthers at the end of last season, is not doing much to retain his job security under the vigilant eye of Devils' president and general manager Lou Lamoriello. Lamoriello isn't exactly shy about canning coaches mid-season. Robbie Ftorek was fired late in the 1999-2000 season with the Devils atop the Eastern Conference in favor of Larry Robinson, who led the team to the Stanley Cup later that spring. Robinson was then fired after two different tenures by the Devils. Claude Julien, Kevin Constantine and John MacLean have all been dismissed mid-season with Lamoriello taking charge on two of those occasions. DeBoer and the Devils have dropped four consecutive games, being outscored 17-7 over the last week and surrendering three shorthanded goals while going 1-for-15 on the power play. DeBoer needs to fix the team's defensive errors and solve Ilya Kovalchuk's enigmatic play, as the Russian winger has set up as many goals for the opposition of late as he has factored in for New Jersey.

Worth Noting

- Colorado has another defender laden with upside on their roster, as rookie Stefan Elliott, all of 20-years old, will see more time with the Avs. All Elliott has done with Colorado has been post two goals and an assist in his first four NHL games. Elliott should continue to see time even with Erik Johnson returning to the lineup.

- Through Saturday's games, Ottawa's Erik Karlsson is tied for the league lead in assists and not amongst defensemen. Karlsson's 21 assists are tied with Vancouver's Daniel Sedin and Chicago's Patrick Kane for tops in the NHL.

- Philadelphia's Kimmo Timonen has four assists in the last two games and six total points over six games. Timonen sports 17 assists on the season with eight helpers on the power play.

- Phoenix's Keith Yandle has not gone more than one game without a point since November 19, posting one goal and six assists over an eight-game span.

- Vancouver's Kevin Bieksa regained some of his scoring touch the last four games, with five assists in those contests. It is worth noting that Bieksa is still the fourth-highest scorer on Vancouver's blue line, but the veteran has 34 penalty minutes on the season; however, exactly half of that total came in an Oct. 18 loss to the Rangers.

Welcome Back

Ryan Whitney has been one of the NHL's most frustrating players the last half-decade, as the blue liner simply has not been able to stay healthy and/or perform consistently. Whitney posted a remarkable 27 points in 35 games last season for the Oilers and was expected to do much this year with talent brimming in Edmonton. Whitney missed the first two weeks of the season due to an ankle injury, then played four games before sitting the next month with a knee injury. Whitney returned the Friday after Thanksgiving and has posted just one assist this season in 10 games with a minus-4 rating. This string of play is especially frustrating as owners had stashed him on their rosters; the Edmonton power-play production has come from Tom Gilbert of late while Cory Potter recovers from injury. Those that have had the misfortune of owning Whitney in previous seasons know this track record quite well. He almost missed more games recently after a nasty knee-to-knee hit on Minnesota's Cal Clutterbuck, for which Whitney received no supplementary discipline. You may have to leave Whitney in your lineup since the potential is there for him to show up one of these days, but you'll likely be left wondering when, or if, Whitney's form will return.

French Connections

Heading into their eventual 2-1 win over Los Angeles Saturday, Montreal was 0-for-24 in recent contests on the power play, worse even than the New Jersey Devils. The Habs have had trouble scoring of late but broke the spell with Tomas Plekanec's tally on the man-advantage in the win over the Kings. Contributing much to Montreal's woes is the fact that P.K. Subban is off to a slow start, with 11 points through 27 games and just one goal on the season. Keep in mind that Subban scored 14 goals last year during his first full campaign. The 22-year old has three assists in the last six contests and has picked up his production the last three weeks, but owners and Montreal fans had been expecting more.

Compounding issues for the Habs is the fact that veteran power play specialist Andrei Markov will miss an additional three weeks with surgery to further repair the ailing right knee that has sidelined him all season. The return of a power-play ace such as Markov would be a boon to any team, but Markov's presence would lessen the load on Subban and Plekanec, the latter of whom mans the point occasionally on Montreal's power play.

Surprisingly, there are two other defenders on Montreal's roster as productive as Subban has been this season, but the same numbers from those players is more surprising than frustrating. Josh Gorges and Yannick Weber sit with 10 and nine points respectively, although neither of the two defenders have a track record of being productive scorers. They are filling in admirably for a talented yet oft-injured teammate. Gorges is an impressive plus-12 on the season with 73 blocked shots and 36 hits.

Do You Know The Way?

Guess the top scorer on the San Jose Sharks' blue line. Surely it must be Dan Boyle, or Brent Burns, who was a prized piece of the team's two trades with Minnesota this past summer. The correct answer is Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who sits with 12 points and a plus-13 rating after 23 games, however, all but two of his 12 points have come at even strength. This is a surprise after just over a quarter of the team's games have been played and we still have to believe that Vlasic will trail Boyle and Burns come season's end. A further look at Vlasic's numbers will show that seven of those 12 points came in two games and he has just one assist the last five contests through Saturday. Don't rush to pick him up and expect it to be a cure-all for your defensive scoring woes.

Boyle is about as proven of a commodity as there is on the blue line outside of Zdeno Chara and Nicklas Lidstrom. Boyle sits with a goal and nine assists alongside a healthy 34 penalty minutes while Burns leads all Sharks' blue liners in goals with four and has eight points with a plus-7 rating. Burns has had moments of greatness in his career, netting 15 goals one season and 17 another, while breaking 40 points twice in his career.

Taking Flight?

While the Jets' Evander Kane is clearly enjoying life in Winnipeg much more than Atlanta, with 14 goals through 25 games, potentially fulfilling his lofty expectations, teammate Zach Bogosian may finally be breaking out. Bogosian turned 21 in June and is in his fourth NHL season, boasting 10 points through 26 games while leading the Jets in average ice time at a 24:23 clip per contest. Bogosian registered a disappointing 17 points in 71 contests last year with a further disappointing minus-27 rating. The third overall pick of the 2008 draft, Bogosian is said to possess a rare combination of offensive ability and defensive presence, however, he has found living up to his 2008-09 season, where he notched 19 points in 47 games, difficult.

Bogosian is on pace to greatly surpass last season's forgettable numbers and has played well while Tobias Enstrom recovers from a broken collarbone, even sporting a plus-2 rating on Winnipeg. Bogosian has cracked 10 goals in his career once, during the 2009-10 season, but the talented youngster has no tallies this campaign. Bogosian is an intriguing prospect in leagues that reward secondary statistics such as hits and blocked shots as he has 53 and 34, respectively. He also sports a healthy 28 penalty minutes.

Through Saturday, Bogosian has five assists and a plus-6 rating in the last six contests.

Question of the week: Which hit this season has been the nastiest, whether it caused a suspension to be levied or not?

Contact Dan Pennucci here and follow him on Twitter @DVNucci42. Questions, comments and suggestions for future articles are welcomed.

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