Surging Oilers take on Canucks
VANCOUVER, B.C. — Ken Hitchcock is supposed to be retired, but the Edmonton Oilers are glad he isn’t.
The Oilers (18-12-3) are enjoying a resurgence under Hitchcock as they get ready to visit the Vancouver Canucks (15-16-4) on Sunday. Edmonton is 8-1-1 in its past 10 games and has gone 9-2-2 since Hitchcock came out of retirement and replaced the fired Todd McLellan last month.
Three other teams that made early-season coaching changes wish they could say the same. The Los Angeles Kings, Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues are sporting losing records under their new bench bosses.
But Hitchcock is not claiming to be a miracle worker. He credits McLellan for laying a solid foundation.
“A lot of the work was done by (McLellan) and his staff,” Hitchcock, 66, told reporters. “We’re part of the same coaching tree. Todd, (Calgary coach) Bill Peters, (Toronto’s) Mike Babcock, myself. So the terminology was easy… and then I do what I do. It’s just concepts, it’s not Xs and Os. A lot of concepts (were), quite frankly, in place. … I didn’t have to touch anything.”
Hitchcock entered retirement — for the second time — following the 2017-18 NHL season after lasting only one forgettable campaign in his second go-round with the Dallas Stars, the team that he coached to a Stanley Cup title in 1998-99. He was fired by St. Louis before the end of the 2016-17 season, which was supposed to be his last before retirement.
The Edmonton native is enjoying good times with his hometown team after succeeding at the NHL, international and junior levels. But he claims not to be offering a new voice to the Oilers.
“I think it’s the same stuff, but a different approach,” he said during his session with reporters. “I’ve learned over time that the pre-game preparation is one of the most overrated things in our sport – because you’re saying the same things over and over again. But post-game preparation is not. It’s really important. And, how you move the train along the tracks is all in your post-game review.”
Alex Chiasson has gotten back on track with Edmonton. He fired home his 14th goal of the season — a single-season career high — in his 27th game as the Oilers beat the Philadelphia Flyers 4-1 on Friday in the Alberta capital. Chiasson needed 79 games in his 2013-14 with Dallas to record his previous career high.
He was essentially unwanted after helping Washington win its first Stanley Cup last season – and only obtained a contract from the Oilers after making good on a professional tryout offer.
“When you win a Cup, it is a little surprising he didn’t have a deal or nothing,” Oilers captain Connor McDavid told reporters. “He came in on a PTO and worked hard and earned a job and has been having a great year. I couldn’t be happier for him.”
While Chiasson helps the Oilers with their renaissance, Josh Leivo is rejuvenating his career with the Canucks, who have won four of their past five games.
Leivo scored in Vancouver’s 5-1 win over the Flyers on Saturday night. He now has three goals and an assist in six games with the Canucks following his trade from Toronto on Dec. 3.
“It’s a young group of guys, very light and fun in the room. So that was easy to come into,” Leivo told reporters Saturday morning. “And on the ice, everyone looks like they want to win.”
“We’re putting (Leivo) in a spot that we hope he can succeed in,” Canucks coach Travis Green told reporters. “It’s a pretty good opportunity when you’re playing with (Pettersson) and (Boeser). That’s a spot that I think a lot of people in the NHL would love to have.”
So far, Leivo is earning it.