Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun consider the Capitals' Bruce Boudreau and the Kings' Terry Murray for the Jack Adams Award.
Burnside: Well my friend, guess all those folks worried about Bruce Boudreau's job and the state of the Caps during the HBO series "24/7" can rest easy. Boudreau has the Caps cooking at just the right time. They have won nine straight after beating Montreal 4-2 in Montreal on Tuesday night and have not only taken control of the Southeast Division but are within a point of Philadelphia for first overall in the Eastern Conference, although the Flyers do have two games in hand. Over that nine-game stretch, the Caps have given up 14 goals, pretty amazing, especially given that both the team's top goalies, Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth, have been out with injury. Braden Holtby has been terrific in relief and has won five straight. So, figure Boudreau goes from the public firing line to the Jack Adams ballot by the time the dust clears in April?
LeBrun: I think you absolutely have to throw Boudreau in with the half dozen or so worthy candidates for the Jack Adams. He's convinced his team to change its colors, adopting a more defensive style that should, in theory, apply itself better come playoff time. That's a coach that learned a valuable lesson from the playoffs last year and applied it this year. Impressive. Look at last night. Once the Caps went up 3-2 on the Habs, they totally shut the game down; Montreal didn't get a sniff. That's just something the Caps didn't know how to do before this year. I spoke with Boudreau this morning from Detroit, where his team has a big one against the powerhouse Red Wings, and asked the Caps coach about his team's transformation from offensive juggernaut to two-way, responsible hockey.
"Last year, we took a lot of pride in scoring a lot of goals and being the highest-scoring team," Boudreau told ESPN.com. "I think this year we're taking a lot of pride in not allowing goals. When [the Canadiens] got the second goal last night, we said, 'That's too much. We gave away three last game. No more.' It's a great mindset to have, to have a lot of pride in your defensive play."
This is as confident, Boudreau agreed, as his team has been all season, and he said the trade deadline additions of Jason Arnott, Dennis Wideman and Marco Sturm have been "real important" on the ice and in the dressing room with their experience.
Arnott, however, is out with an undisclosed injury, joining No. 1 center Nicklas Backstrom (hand) on the sidelines.
"Nicky's day-to-day," Boudreau said. "Arnott will be reevaluated. He should be ready by the beginning of April at the absolute latest."
Burnside: Having covered the Caps/Habs series last year, I can't believe the Caps will fall into the trap of simply expecting things to happen come the postseason, whether they end up with the top seed or not. I don't see anyone at the bottom end of the bracket capable of beating Washington in the first round in April. It will be interesting to see how the goaltending situation shakes down with the three youngsters. One thing Boudreau has shown in the past is that he's not afraid to make a change if he senses something wrong. Jose Theodore started in the playoffs the last two seasons but didn't last long before Boudreau went to Varlamov. The other interesting thing for the Caps is that their power play is starting to click. They have five power-play goals in the last four games. But the other guy I am wondering about in terms of coach of the year is Terry Murray in Los Angeles. An up-and-down season for the Kings but they seem like they have found a real playoff groove and could, in fact, end up with home-ice advantage. Murray's a bit under the radar, as are the Kings themselves, but I know you like what you've seen there.
LeBrun: The Caps, by the way, can take over the top spot in the East with a win tonight at Joe Louis Arena, although the Flyers would have three games in hand after tonight. But yes, let's move on to the Kings. Funny how Los Angeles and San Jose, after first-half struggles, are now 1-2 in the Pacific, as we all predicted. The cream eventually rises to the top, I guess. The Kings just wrapped up a four-game road trip with wins in Detroit, Columbus, Dallas and Nashville. Can you say impressive? I mentioned yesterday how Anze Kopitar has been playing out of his mind. He had a goal and an assist again last night. Murray has his team buying in to what he's preaching. The Kings are 16-3-4 since Jan. 22 and yet haven't caught the Sharks, but San Jose has been equally dynamic.
Burnside: To me, the Kings are another team that should benefit from a disappointing turn in the playoffs last year. They didn't get the goaltending or the clutch scoring they needed in a series against Vancouver that I think was theirs for the taking. I don't think you'll see any first-round wobbles from them this year. Now, having said that, the Kings may just end up playing the Phoenix Coyotes in the first round. Whenever we see Phoenix in a headline, it's inevitably referring to a story about their ownership woes. Will the city of Glendale get a deal done to keep the team in Arizona? Who knows. The Goldwater Institute announced yesterday it would sue if the deal goes through. No surprise there. Glendale still needs to sell the municipal bonds to get the deal done. Meanwhile, Dave Tippett keeps his Coyotes on task, and they won their third straight on Tuesday night with a 4-3 win over Calgary. That loss was a kick in the shins for the Flames, who have played more games than any of the other teams in the mix in the Western Conference.
LeBrun: It's unreal the job Tippett has done this year. The ownership circus has to be distracting at some level, but the Coyotes coach has kept his players focused. Before we close this off, because I know you've got some GMs to chase down this morning as the meetings wrap up in Boca Raton, Fla., we should mention a few controversial hits that the league has to review: Boston's Brad Marchand with a head shot to R.J. Umberger of Columbus last night; ditto for San Jose's Dany Heatley, who elbowed Steve Ott of Dallas. Finally one hit actually that I didn't mind, but I'm sure the league has to make sure and look at it: San Jose's Douglas Murray on Dallas star winger Loui Eriksson, a shoulder to the upper body/head that left Eriksson woozy, and he left the game.
It sounded like Eriksson was doing better this morning. Stars coach Marc Crawford via text Wednesday morning, when I asked him about Eriksson: "He's doing well. Day off for whole team today. Loui will be re evaluated tomorrow and we will see then."
Never a dull day for Colin Campbell, the NHL's discipline czar.
Until tomorrow, my friend, and safe travels.