Posted on: March 8, 2012 10:43 pm
By: Adam Gretz
One of the most incredible stories of the NHL has seen has been the rapid development of the St. Louis Blues, especially since Ken Hitchcock took over for Davis Payne behind the bench earlier in the year.
Thanks to their 3-1 win over the Anaheim Ducks on Thursday night, combined with the New York Rangers 3-1 loss to the Ottawa Senators, the Blues took over sole possession of the top spot in the NHL standings with 93 points, and it's not a stretch to say that nobody saw them coming at any point this season.
Entering this season there weren't many expectations for the Blues, and they had made the playoffs just once in the previous six years, getting swept in the first round of the 2008-09 season by the Vancouver Canucks. And now they're in a position to be contending for the Presidents Trophy (which goes to the team with the best record at the end of the regular season), something they've won just one other team in their existence, taking it during the 1999-00 season.
In recent years the Blues have had a pretty strong collection of young talent, and this season everything has come together for them and they've been, by far, the best defensive team in the NHL, allowing fewer than two goals per game. Entering Thursday's game the Blues had allowed just 1.88 goals per game on the season. Since the start of the 2000-01 season, no team has finished a full season allowing fewer than two goals per game.
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Posted on: December 17, 2011 10:04 am
Edited on: December 17, 2011 5:03 pm
By: Adam Gretz
It had been a couple of days since the NHL went through a coaching change, so it was probably time for another one. On Saturday morning the Montreal Canadiens announced that head coach Jacques Martin has been relieved of his duties and will be replaced on an interim basis by Randy Cunneyworth for the remainder of the season.
The Canadiens will be in action on Saturday night at home against the New Jersey Devils. They enter the weekend with a disappointing 13-12-7 record which puts them in last place in the Northeast Division and 11th in the Eastern Conference, two points out of the No. 8 seed. Crushed by injuries all season, especially along its blue line where the team has been without one of its best players, Andrei Markov, from the start, as well as several other key players at various teams, Montreal struggled out of the gate losing seven of its first eight games.
That slow start made assistant coach Perry Pearn the early-season sacrificial lamb, which really did nothing more than buy some additional time for Martin behind the bench.
This was Martin's third season as Montreal's coach, and during his tenure with the team compiled a 96-75-25 record. During his watch the Canadiens qualified for the postseason in each of his full seasons with the team, with the high point being the 2009-10 season when the team made an improbable run to the Eastern Conference Finals behind the stellar goaltending of Jaroslav Halak, eliminating the No. 1 seed Washington Capitals and defending Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins, both in seven games.
Last season Montreal exited in the first round, losing a game seven to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins.
Replacing him behind the bench for the remainder of this season will be the 50-year-old Cunneyworth. A former player in the NHL for nearly two decades, Cunneyworth was hired as the coach of Montreal's AHL team, the Hamilton Bulldogs, prior to the 2010-11 season.
This is already the sixth coaching change to take place since the start of the regular season, as Martin joins Davis Payne (St. Louis), Bruce Boudreau (Washington), Paul Maurice (Carolina), Randy Carlyle (Anaheim) and Terry Murray (Los Angeles) as coaches to take the fall for their teams early season struggles.
More on the NHL's coaching carousel here
Photo: Getty Images
For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: December 11, 2011 4:34 pm
Edited on: December 11, 2011 4:55 pm
There was concern going into this season for the people in St. Louis regarding the team's goaltending situation. Jaroslav Halak had been subpar in his first year with the Blues, exacerbating the need for a quality backup should things not improve.
So with the choices on the board, who did they sign? Brian Elliott, a castoff by both the Senators and Avalanche. His signing was so underwhelming that there was no guarantee he would even open the season with the Blues. There was an honest-to-goodness competition for the second goalie spot between he and young Blues prospect Ben Bishop.
If you've been paying attention to the first third-plus of the season, then you know how that competition turned out. But it's my duty to pretend that my readers are dumb and don't know a thing (sorry people) so I'll just tell you that Elliott won out.
And he's been winning ever since.
Despite being the "backup" to Halak, Elliott is tied for the league lead in shutouts after Saturday's blanking of the San Jose Sharks. He also leads the league with his jaw-dropping save percentage (.947) and goals against average (1.45).
"I'm satisfied, but I'm not too high on myself," Elliott said after the 1-0 victory on Saturday. "Sometimes you feel it, sometimes you don't."
Truth is, he has had to be that good. The Blues aren't exactly scoring like their division foes in Detroit.
While the coaching change from Davis Payne has worked wonders for the Blues and Halak, it would be unfair to credit Elliott's success to that, too. He was outstanding before the change, he's been just as excellent after it.
It's rather amazing when you think where he came from. As we mentioned, his signing was just a little underwhelming and uninspiring. Why? Consider that last season he played for both the Senators and Avalanche after a mid-season trade, a straight goalie swap for Craig Anderson. For the whole season, Elliott was 15-27-9, including 2-8-1 with the Avs. That .947 save percentage this season? Last season it was .893.
That's quite a turnaround. It's not like he's just become suitable this season, he's been outstanding. You could make the argument that he's been the MVP for the Blues this season. Honestly, I have a hard time making an argument for anybody but Elliott considering Hitchcock isn't a player.
"He seems to always be our best player in the third period," said Kevin Shattenkirk, who scored the only goal in the game. "When we're up by a goal, he's always there to make a huge save."
He had to make 11 saves in the third against the Sharks to preserve the win, obviously with no room for error.
I can't say that Elliott is the reason why the Blues are knocking on the Blackhawks' and Red Wings' doors in the Central. It would obviously neglect a lot of other factors at play. But Elliott could very well be at the top of that list.
Among a lot of the concerns surround the Capitals, one was the power play's struggles. They had recently just gone through an 0-for-17 streak -- or skid, if you'd prefer. Then the Caps scored all four goals in a 4-2 win over Toronto on Friday with the man up.
Originally three were credited to Dennis Wideman with an assist on the fourth goal, but it was reviewed at Wideman's request on Saturday and the hat trick was taken away. But for a night at least, Wideman had the first hat trick by a Capitals defenseman in more than a decade (Sergei Gonchar in 2000).
But more immediately, there is hope that the Capitals might have found some hope for the man-up. Of course, the opposite side of the coin is that it came against the Leafs.
There is no doubt that the PK continues to be the Achilles' heel for Toronto. After Friday's awful showing, the Leafs are above only the Blue Jackets in successful PKs at 74.3 percent.
When it was announced that the Dallas Stars would be without Kari Lehtonen for some time due to injury, Stars fans were right to be worried at the process of Andrew Raycroft getting more time. Not a reason for much optimism.
With the win, he likely earned himself a start for the Stars' next game Tuesday at the Rangers.
"He's a competitive guy, and he's pretty clean when it comes to rebounds," said coach Glen Gulutzan, who coached the former Colorado College goalie in the minors last season. "I just told him when he went out there, `It's the same game that you've been playing.' He has that ability, and he's going through the natural progression. He deserves another start, and most likely we'll give him that opportunity and see if he can run with it."
The two points put the Stars back on top of the Pacific Division, which has been surprising this season, and not so much in a good way. The Stars and Coyotes are tied atop the division, but they are each 10 points behind the top team in the West, the Wild. If the division winners weren't awarded the one of the top three seeds, the Stars would be the sixth seed.
On the other bench ...
What's going on with the L.A. Kings? I'll tell you one thing, Terry Murray can't be feeling very comfortable with his job these days.
There was so much hope coming into this season for the Kings. They had been growing every season, they added Mike Richards. It appeared the Kings were on their way to their best season since the days of Gretzky.
They still could be, but they'll have to right the ship in a hurry. Would you believe that there is no team in the NHL worse at scoring goals than Los Angeles? Its 2.21 goals per game ranks at the bottom of the NHL< including below the Ducks in nearby Anaheim. Nothing like low-scoring games to sell hockey in SoCal.
When your cross-town rival makes a move firing its coach and you are being booed off the ice, it's time to wonder if the end is in sight for Murray.
The Wings are good
Just in case you missed that memo.
I was getting ready to start talking about the Winnipeg Jets and how they were extremely quietly inching their way up the Eastern Conference. Then they went to Detroit and were railroaded.
The Red Wings had seven goals from six different scorers -- and none of them was Pavel Datsyuk. It was Detroit's ninth straight win at home where they are 12-2-1 this season. Those are the most wins at home for any team this season.
Some things never change.
What is it about the Battle of Alberta that the Oilers are having so many problems with?
Half of the season's six games have been played between the Oilers and Calgary Flames this season, and the boys from Edmonton have yet to pick up a single point. Against the rest of the NHL, the Oilers are 14-10-3.
The most recent rendition of the provincial rivalry saw Jarome Iginla flash some of his old form with a pair of goals and the Flames took the game 3-0.
Most everybody would agree that the Oilers are likely the better team between the two, but they just can't beat their neighbors. I guess that's why they play the game (well that and winning, right Herm?).
Quote of the weekend
If I were to take a poll of NHL fans who have the Center Ice package which announcer is the biggest homer around? I think it would be a two-horse race between Paul Steigerwald in Pittsburgh and Bruins play-by-play announcer Jack Edwards.
So for this week's QOTW, we're going to take a light-hearted look at a call from Edwards in the Bruins' win over the Blue Jackets.
On the play, Derek Dorsett is driving toward the net to try and beat Tim Thomas, but his shot attempt is stopped and he then goes skidding into the boards. Here is Edwards' call, you might be surprised (like me).
Yes, that is Edwards rather vehemently arguing against a penalty that went on an opposing player. Clearly he was right, in no way, shape or form was that goaltender interference. If anything, it was interference from Tomas in the form of a trip on Dorsett, who was a bit worse for the ware afterward.
Before you jump down my throat, calm down. I have no problems with local announcers catering to the home team, that is their audience. But sometimes it goes overboard and is comical. So when I hear somebody this adamant in another team's defense, it's "ear-catching."
Photo: Getty Images
Tags: Andrew Raycroft, Ben Bishop, Boston Bruins, Brian Elliott, Brian Stubits, Calgary Flames, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, Davis Payne, Dennis Wideman, Derek Dorsett, Detroit Red Wings, Edmonton Oilers, Glen Gulutzan, Jarome Iginla, Jaroslav Halak, Kari Lehtonen, Ken Hitchcock, Kevin Shattenkirk, Los Angeles Kings, Mike Richards, Pavel Datsyuk, Richard Bachman, Sergei Gonchar, St. Louis Blues, Terry Murray, Tim Thomas, Toronto Maple Leafs, Washington Capitals, Weekend Wrap, Winnipeg Jets
Posted on: November 30, 2011 1:48 pm
WASHINGTON -- When a team fires a coach midseason, what the St. Louis Blues are doing is exactly what that team is hoping for.
It was 11 games ago that the Blues fired head coach Davis Payne and brought in former Stanley Cup-winning coach Ken Hitchcock to fill his spot. Since then the Blues, once seemingly meandering, are now dominating. How else would you describe an 8-1-2 record under his watch?
They aren't flashy, they don't have any real superstars. So unless you've been paying really close attention, it might catch you by surprise that the Blues sit only one point behind the Chicago Blackhawks and Minnesota Wild for the best record in the Western Conference. But Surprise! They do.
The team has taken to Hitch like a fish to water. The same can't be said for the Hitchcock to the team. He has been around the NHL a while, but there was still plenty to learn.
"It's been a wee bit of a whirlwind," Hitchcock said. "But at least I know how to get to the rink so I'm doing good." That after getting lost for the first five days on the job.
"I think the two things was that surprised me was that we took two penalties and I didn't even afford myself enough time to put my head up and see who was in the box," Hitchcock said before Tuesday's game. "I knew somebody in our sweater was over there, but I didn't know the numbers. That's when I came home and said, 'Man, I got to get going here.' I would go home and visualize rotations, visualize numbers. I spend at least 30 minutes at home just visualizing how I want to match lines, how I want to get the right people out at the right times."
Well, so far so good. More like so far so great.
"We're starting to dial in and playing the way we need to play to win hockey games," Hitchcock said. "Doesn't matter who's in or who's out, when you play this well it's a good feeling."
Here's where I point out they are doing with defense. Considering who their new coach is, is anybody surprised by that? If you are, you haven't followed Hitchcock's career very much. This could as well be his motto: "The only way you can play defense in the league is you've got to sustain forecheck." That was Hitchcock after Tuesday's 2-1 win in Washington.
The Blues have the best defense in hockey right now. They are allowing the fewest goals per game in the league (2.00). They are only surrendering an average of 25.1 shots per game --including only 19 to the Capitals -- 1.5 shots fewer than No. 2 Detroit.
Statistically, the Blues were already doing a good job with Payne when it came to shots against and overall defense. It's just they are doing even better now under Hitch.
"We're still working through some things," T.J. Oshie said. "Those first few games, everyone is playing for a new coach and everyone's trying to make a good first impression and work hard and it seems like we haven't taken our feet of the gas since then."
One player who has floored it and taken off speeding since Hitchcock arrived is goaltender Jaroslav Halak. In his first season-plus in St. Louis since coming over from Montreal was less than superb. To put it frankly, he was one of the worst starting goaltenders in the NHL.
But check this out. In his last seven starts, Halak has a 1.57 goals against average and .937 save percentage. Now he's almost plays as well as fellow goalie Brian Elliott who has been, without a doubt for me, the most surprising individual player this season.
So when it comes to his goaltenders, Hitchcock doesn't have much to worry about. Just a little concern with Halak.
"The only time that we're nervous is when he has the puck," Hitchcock said of Halak. "So when he has the puck we're all nervous. We've got to fix that. But he's solid, he's been good, both goalies have been great. I trust both of them. But we've got to clean up Jaro when he goes out to play the puck because there's miscommunication there. If we can clean that up, he can have a really big impact on us winning games."
A lot of people think that if you have two goalies you really have none, like the old adage about quarterbacks in football. In most cases, that is true. It's usually because the starter is struggling and a coach is looking for the best fit. In St. Louis they have two because right now neither deserves to come off the ice.
It really seems that Hitchcock is having a really big impact on the entire team winning games. You can't argue with results.
"The first three games felt quick. One of the reasons it did is that, I've never had a card. I carry a card now because I'm still getting used to the players," Hitchcock said. "Here's it's like get behind the bench and get coaching. So I think it's hard. I think it's a lot harder than I said it was and a lot harder than I thought it was."
His team is sure making it look easy.
"I think first game it was pretty simple," Oshie said about the change in coaches. "Getting pucks behind the dmen and getting as many shots on the net and things like that. We're still working a few things out. Other than that, it's going really well."
Hard to argue.
Photo: Getty Images
Posted on: November 6, 2011 9:13 pm
Edited on: November 6, 2011 11:14 pm
Talk about coming out of the Blue: the St. Louis Blues fired their coach Davis Payne on Sunday night and hired Ken Hitchcock to replace him. Hitchcock's contract is signed through the 2012-13 season with St. Louis.
The first reaction: Huh? What did Payne do to get fired? His Blues are just one game below .500 on the season at 6-7. Granted, it's not an ideal start, but it's not awful. For his career in St. Louis, Payne was 67-55-15. Again, doesn't really scream fireable offense.
Payne certainly didn't seem to have the safest seat in the NHL, no doubt, but if bets were to be placed on the first coach to be fired this season, I don't think many would have put their money down on Payne.
"Success should be right there for them," Payne told Craig Custance of ESPN.com after the firing.
Then you look at the fact that Hitchcock was hired to replace him. Did the Blues just beat the Blue Jackets to the punch to get Hitchcock? You will remember that last week the rumor was that Scott Arniel was going to be ousted in Columbus and Hitchcock was going to return to the bench. Not now.
However, the fit does seem good for St. Louis. It is a big, physical team. Hitchcock likes to play a physical, defensive style of hockey. Also, there is a connection between Blues GM Doug Armstrong and Hitchcock. They worked together with the Stars and Hockey Canada.
Hitchcock also has a nice track record having won the Stanley Cup with the Dallas Stars and has a career winning percentage of .588.
So while the timing is surprising, it makes a little more sense when you think of how Hitchcock and the Blues could be together. St. Louis might have seen the urgency to jump on Hitchcock before he could return to the bench in Columbus, where he was still under contract.
It will be interesting to see how the Blues respond to this. Often, coaching changes bring about a renewed energy in a team, and the Blues have talented players that could use a nice kick in the rear. A guy like Chris Stewart, who had 28 goals each of the last two seasons but only two this year, could be better. They have been trying to find a way to get him going all season. No player on the team has double digits in points so far.
Another player that a change could be helpful for is Jaroslav Halak. To be polite, he has stunk this season. In seven starts, he has a 3.35 goals against average and a .856 save percentage. Ouch. Maybe a new defensive philosophy will help. Then again, the Blues were already doing an excellent job at preventing shots, giving up just 26.2 per game this season, the second-lowest level in the NHL. Bad goaltending from Halak has been the Achilles' heel this season. When he turns it around, so will the Blues.
Photo: Getty Images
Posted on: September 9, 2011 3:27 pm
Edited on: September 9, 2011 3:30 pm
By: Adam Gretz
The St. Louis Blues finally have a new captain.
It was announced on Friday by head coach Davis Payne that forward David Backes will wear the C during the 2011-12 season, becoming the 20th captain in the history of franchise. For the past four years that role was carried out by defenseman Eric Brewer, who was traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning last season. Along with naming Backes as captain, the Blues also announced that Barrett Jackman, Alex Steen, Jamie Langebrunner and Andy McDonald will serve as assistants on a rotating basis throughout the season.
Payne said the Blues were looking for a guy that plays important minutes, in quality situations while also providing emotional leadership and stability, and Backes definitely looks to be that type of player. He plays in all situations for the Blues (even strength, power play, shorthanded) and often times goes up against the other teams top players, and still manages to find himself as one of the top producers in the St. Louis lineup.
He's coming off a career year offensively, recording 62 points during the 2010-11 season, a personel best, while also tying his previous career-high with 31 goals, leading the team in both categories.
"It's obviously a huge honor," said Backes, citing a number of the players that came before him as captain of the team, including Brett Hull, Wayne Gretzky and Bernie Federko. "Hopefully I can do a fraction of the job those guys were able to do, and hopefully I can be the guy the team looks to when we're having tough times, or when we're having good times, and more of a lead by example type of guy."
A second-round pick by the Blues in 2003, Backes has scored 102 goals in 364 NHL games, and has also represented the United States on the International level, most recently during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver where he scored a goal and two assists for the Silver Medal winning team.
You can check out the entire Backes press conference from Friday over at the Blues website.
Posted on: March 31, 2011 1:37 am
Edited on: March 31, 2011 1:48 am
Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke declared Wednesday that Ron Wilson would back next season, even if the club falls short of the playoffs for a sixth consecutive season.
“I said back in the fall, we would not consider a change, even when all the hounds were baying,” Burke told The Globe and Mail. “I feel the same way now. Ron is coaching this team next year.”
It's hardly a surprise. Burke and Wilson were teammates back at Providence College and their friendship extends decades. Even if Wilson was already coaching in Toronto when Burke was hired as GM in November 2008, Burke wouldn't have wanted anybody else for the job.
Other coaches around the NHL may not be so lucky come season's end. Here's a roundup of coaches that may find themselves out of work not long after April 10, the final day of the regular season.
Cory Clouston, Ottawa Senators: It's not only his position that is shaky. There are no guarantees GM Bryan Murray will back next season. The Sens, who surged into the playoffs and entered as the fifth seed a season ago, never found a rhythm this season -- and that's being charitable. Ottawa is in the basement in the East, so it's fair to say some changes are coming.
"A lot of things happened this year that put us in a situation where it didn't allow us to get into the playoffs,” Clouston told the Ottawa Citizen last week. "No one feels worse about that than I do, or more responsible for it than I do."
Pete DeBoer, Florida Panthers: He told reporters that he doesn't know if he'll be back. At least, he's honest. This is his third full season behind the bench in Florida and he has a 102-108-34 record through Wednesday. Dale Tallon, in his first full season as GM ,may have seen enough.
“I don't worry about next year. I sleep easy at night. I know how hard we have worked as a staff,'' DeBoer told The Miami Herald recently. “I think our team plays with structure and plays hard every night. They have all year. If that's not good enough, that's for other people to decide.’’
Todd Richards, Minnesota Wild: This seat got hot in a mere few weeks. The Wild were up to fifth in the West just a month ago before dropping to 11th and all but mathematically out of the playoff contention. (Minnesota also missed the playoffs last season, the first season with Richards was at the helm.)
"I knew this coming in when I took the job," Richards told the Minnesota Star-Tribune last week. "Are there some things that I would change? Maybe. That's all in hindsight. For the most part, I'm comfortable and happy with the job I've done. It's not the results I want, by any means. It's not the way I want the team playing, by any means. But the opinions, the (hot seat), it goes with the job."
Then there's probably the only coach among the 16 playoff teams on the hot seat: Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau.
Back at my previous stop, I piped up and asked questions to Boudreau and principal owner Ted Leonsis if a coaching change was afoot as the Caps were on an eight-game skid before Christmas. Boudreau bristled and said in so many words he doesn't worry about it and Leonsis preached patience.
That patience may have a limit and we'll put that at an entry into the second round -- and that could be generous. Boudreau could be let go if the Caps don't make it to the conference finals. They have made it past the first round only once in since Boudreau took over in Nov. 2007, including last year's first round exit after the Caps won the Presidents' Trophy. His departure would be a downer for local advertisers in the Washington area since Boudreau pitches everything from rug cleaning services to cars.
The hot seat that isn't: Jacques LeMaire, New Jersey Devils. LeMaire's impressive turnaround of the Devils should result in some Jack Adams Award talk. Still, he had to be persuaded out of retirement and was non-committal last week about a return.
“No. I don't think so. Why not? Because it's not how the team is, how the team plays. It's not about the players, not about the organization. It will be only about myself at that point," Lemaire told The Star Ledger. "What will be good for me."
Finally, there’s the lukewarm sect. These coaches will likely be back next season, although they may not have much room to do wrong in 2011-12: Joe Sacco (Colorado Avalanche), Scott Arniel (Columbus Blue Jackets), Brent Sutter (Calgary Flames) Davis Payne (St. Louis Blues) and Jack Capuano (New York Islanders ).
Is there anybody else you’d want to nominate?
DETROIT LOSES BIG: A couple guys named Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier were teammates on the Edmonton Oilers that last time the Detroit Red Wings allowed eight goals in two periods.
Vladimir Sobotka and Chris Stewart don’t quite have the cachet, but they were part of St. Louis Blues team that accomplished the same thing in a 10-3 victory over Detroit on Wednesday.
“Thank God it’s over,” Detroit coach Mike Babcock told The Detroit Free Press. “It looked like it was never going to end there for a while. It was unacceptable. Any way you look at it — more than a touchdown — it’s ugly.”
Ugly and historic. The Red Wings lost 12-3 to the Oilers in March 14, 1986, the game they allowed those eight goals in two periods. The last time they allowed 10 goals in a game was also via a Gretzky-led team, the Los Angeles Kings who won 10-3 in Oct. 9, 1993.
New Jersey 3, NY Islanders 2
Buffalo 1, NY Rangers 0
Carolina 6, Montreal 2
St. Louis 10, Detroit 3
Anaheim 4, Calgary 2
-- A.J. Perez
Photo: Getty Images