There is a coaching vacancy in Montreal (see link below). That means there will be rampant speculation as to who the next full-time, non-interim head coach of the Canadiens will be. Since it happened mid-season the press has an extra few months to speculate and pontificate endlessly about which lucky person ends up getting that job.
One of the names likely to pop up is Syracuse Crunch head coach Ben Groulx. He has twenty years of coaching experience under his belt now, having started as an assistant coach with the Shawinigan Cataractes of the QMJHL back in the 2000-01 season. After much success in the “Q” (three championships and one finals loss) he’s been at the head of the Crunch since the 2016-17 season.
In every season with the Crunch he’s made the playoffs, including a Finals run in his first year. Granted, it was going to take a near miracle for them to make it last season prior to The Pause, but since the season ended without a playoff round, his perfect record is still intact. More important than any potential trophies has been his ability to prepare players for the Lightning. Yanni Gourde, Anthony Cirelli, Mathieu Joseph, Erik Cernak, Cal Foote, Carter Verhaeghe, Mitchell Stephens, Alex Volkov, Ross Colton and Alex Barré-Boulet are all players that played for him with the Crunch that have graduated to a role with the Lightning.
He preaches an uptempo, forecheck-based offense that forces other teams into making mistakes. That could be a style that the Canadiens would be interested in duplicating in order to help them match the likes of the Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs. While it would be unfortunate for the Lightning to lose someone of his caliber for the Crunch, it is probably time for him to see if he can succeed at the NHL level.
Groulx likes to set expectations early on in a season and then hold the players accountable if they fail to meet them. He hasn’t hesitated to healthy scratch a player that wasn’t performing to his standards, even if that player is vital to the team (looking at you, ABB). Groulx is also known to rely on his veteran players to act as a go-between with some of the younger players.
Currently the touts at betonline.ag have him at 12/1 odds to be named the next head coach.
Those are fairly decent odds and among the lowest for a coach without previous NHL experience. Former Lightning head coach Guy Boucher is the early betting favorite at 9/4, slightly edging out current interim head coach Dominique Ducharme. It’s interesting to see John Tortorella listed at 50/1 given the organization’s preference in hiring French-speaking coaches. While it’s a long shot, it’s definitely the most amusing choice given Torts sometimes confrontational relationship with the media.
Honestly, he should have at least three this season. Timely offense and solid defense when they needed it helped the Lightning to win their second game in a row against the Carolina Hurricanes.
The rookie became the first Lightning player since Nikita Kucherov to score his first NHL goal on his first NHL shot. Colton scored on his second shift in the league after a nice effort from Victor Hedman. It helps having a future hall-of-famer tee you up for a goal.
Things aren’t quite as rosy in Carolina as the Canes struggled for the second consecutive first period against the Lightning. The Bolts are not a team you want to get behind against early.
Some additional notes from our friends at Lightning headquarters:
- The Lightning have won 10 of their last 11 home games against the Hurricanes
- This was Vasilevskiy’s first shutout in nearly a full year. His last regular season one came against Montreal on March 5th, 2020.
- Colton is the second Lightning player to score the game-winning goal in his NHL debut. The other - Nikita Kucherov.
- Tampa Bay outshot Carolina 28-25. It’s the first time they’ve done that this season.
In one of the greatest “what have you done for me lately” moments, the Habs fired head coach Claude Julien and associate head coach Kirk Mueller. Dominique Ducharme was named the interim head coach. After a solid start to the season, the Canadiens slumped recently, posting just a 2-4-2 record in their last eight games.
One of Ron Hextall’s first moves as Pittsburgh GM was to claim a player he had drafted while running the Philadelphia Flyers - Mark Friedman. He’s right-handed and provides a little depth for an organization that was short in that department even before they were hammered with injuries.
After a few days of seemingly good news (because there was no new news) the NHL was forced to postpone their 36th game of the season due to a COVID related instance. This time it was the Sharks vs the Golden Knights game that was scheduled for Wednesday. The postponement came after Tomas Hertl was added to the COVID protocol list after testing positive for the virus.
Add the Carolina Hurricanes to the growing list of NHL teams that will begin allowing fans into the building. North Carolina has relaxed the restrictions for indoor gatherings and the Canes plan on allowing up to 15% capacity starting March 4th. The New York Islanders will also begin welcoming fans back into the building in March.
For the first time in their 15-year history of broadcasting NHL games on NBC Sports Network, a NHL regular season game cracked 1 million viewers.