Tag:St. Louis Blues
Posted on: December 30, 2011 1:25 pm
 

Weekend Preview: Central the center of the action

By Brian Stubits

Earlier this week, the St. Louis Blues visited Joe Louis Arena and battled the Detroit Red Wings in one of the better games of the season. In it, the Wings came back from a two-goal deficit and stung the Blues 3-2.

That was just on Tuesday. Apparently it was so good, they're going to do it again this Saturday, same arena and all.

Two teams playing each other twice in one week isn't rare in hockey. Happens a lot of weekends actually with home-and-home series. But playing twice in one week in the same city? Unless we're in the playoffs, not that common. But the Red Wings won't mind, I'm sure.

In hockey, home-ice advantage doesn't compare all that well to home-court advantage in the NBA, for example. Most teams fare better at home, but it's not as much of a lock as basketball. However for the Red Wings, it is. After beating the Blues on Tuesday, Detroit has won 11 consecutive games at the Joe. Overall this season, the Wings are 14-2-1 at home.

And they want to get rid of that place, huh?

Then again, it's probably a lot more about the team on the ice than where the ice is located, huh? I mean any team that has Pavel Datsyuk has to be good.

The three-time Selke winner and Russian stick wizard took the first-star honors after Tuesday's win, scoring a goal on a fantastic redirection and setting up Detroit's first goal of the game.

The year began a little slowly for Datsyuk -- he didn't score his third goal of the season until No. 19 -- but he's back to old tricks. For the most part, I mean that literally for that's what you think you're seeing when Datsyuk is playing the puck, trickery. He's been in the NHL since 2001 but he still leaves people amazed.

Detroit will be looking for a bit more of that amazing this weekend. Obviously their battles with the Blues have grown this season with St. Louis taking off under Ken Hitchcock. The two teams are separated by only one point in the standings and it sure seems like neither team will go away this season. So all of the head-to-head games are big with the points up for grabs.

If the rematch comes close to being a repeat of the meeting earlier this week, it might still be one the best game this weekend.

Friday night's alright in the Central

That's not the only big interdivision matchup in the Central Division this weekend. Both the Blues and Red Wings have massive matchups on Friday night, including the season's first Blackhawks-Red Wings matchup.

Hard to believe that the Oilers and Wild have already played each other six times while the Blackhawks and Red Wings have yet to renew acquaintances, but that's the case. Until Friday, at least.

This is the matchup in a very good Central. The two top dogs, big rivals and true Stanley Cup threats. It begins Friday in Chicago.

Meanwhile, the Blues will be tangling with the Nashville Predators in what has become a very nice -- or should I say not nice? -- rivalry in its own right.

These two Friday night showdowns pit four of the West's top six teams against one another (Nashville is tied with the Sharks and Kings with 42 points). More importantly, they are all fighting within the same division.

It's going to be a great weekend of hockey in the Midwest.

B's buzzing

At this point it's beyond absurd. The Boston Bruins are in the middle of one of the best stretches in the history of the NHL, and that's not hyperbole. In their last 24 games, Boston is an astounding 21-2-1, including the current seven-game win streak they take to Dallas.

In that time they have obliterated opponents. Eleven of those 21 wins were by a margin of three goals or more. By anybody's definition of dominant, the Bruins fit the bill.

Now they head to Dallas to face the Stars and get a glimpse of an old pal in Michael Ryder. The Stars forward was part of the Stanley Cup champs last season before migrating to Texas in the summer. The Bruins he played for were very good obviously, but not even that team was ever this great.

Of the many amazing things about the Bruins, one is the fact that not one of their players appears in the top 30 of the NHL in points. You have to go to No. 33 on the list to find Tyler Seguin. That's all in spite of the fact that the Bruins have the most productive offense in the league with 3.47 goals per game. Talk about balance. As Stars center Steve Ott would say "look at NHL.com."

Classic tuneup

While the Philadelphia Flyers are already back in the City of Brotherly Love and waiting to play in Citizen's Bank Park on Monday for the Winter Classic, their foes are making one stop in sunny South Florida first.

The New York Rangers, fresh off a 4-1 loss in Washington to the Capitals, would love to take a win with them into Philly for the game, so they'll take a crack at the Florida Panthers. It's the third meeting between the two teams this season, the most recent a Rangers demolishing of the Panthers in Madison Square Garden. The first meeting came in Sunrise and went to the Panthers.

The good news for Florida is that Stephen Weiss is a game-time decision. The top-line center has missed the past couple of games while the Panthers have made due with almost two lines worth of AHL forwards.

The game is just about as big for the Panthers as it is the Rangers. Florida has been atop the Southeast Division for most of the season, but the Winnipeg Jets have crawled to within four points of the 'Cats for the division lead.

Happy New Year!

Typically, the Winter Classic has been the first game played in the new year in recent seasons. Not this year.

Because of the final Sunday of the NFL season falls on Jan. 1, the Winter Classic -- and majority of the NHL schedule -- has been pushed back to Monday, Jan. 2. But one game will be played on Sunday.

The Calgary Flames will visit the Predators and the two will have the (meaningless) honor of being the first teams to play in 2012. Ring it in, boys.

We're going streaking!

Here are the streaks, good and bad, entering the weekend. Not a whole lot.

Bruins: As mentioned, take that seven-game win streak into Dallas.

Vancouver Canucks: The other Stanley Cup Finalist last season is almost as hot as the Bruins. The Canucks have won three in a row and seven of the last 10. They have a date with the Kings in L.A. on Saturday.

Phoenix Coyotes: Phoenix heads to face the Minnesota Wild as losers of four straight games. The good news? The fourth-place Coyotes are still only two points behind first-place San Jose in the Pacific.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: December 27, 2011 5:10 pm
Edited on: December 27, 2011 5:15 pm
 

Lehtonen to return, Raycroft to waivers

By: Adam Gretz

The Dallas Stars are ready to get their starting goaltender, Kari Lehtonen, back in the lineup this week after he missed the past 12 games with a groin injury.

That's good news for the Stars, but it's bad news for backup goaltender Andrew Raycroft as he was informed on Tuesday that he will be placed on waivers, meaning that rookie Richard Bachman, the player called up when Lehtonen was originally sidelined with his injury, has taken over as the Stars new No. 2 goalie.

Bachman, a fourth-round draft pick by the Stars back in 2006, has appeared in nine games this season, starting eight of them, and posting a .912 save percentage. He was pretty much unbeatable during his first four appearances in the crease for Dallas, but has since slumped over his past five starts, including a 5-3 loss against the St. Louis Blues on Monday.

Still, he's looked better than Raycroft this season, as the veteran backup has struggled for much of the season with a .898 save percentage, while Dallas has won just two of the 10 games he's made an appearance in. He's played for five teams over the past seven seasons, including Dallas, Toronto, Boston, Vancouver and Colorado, and if he clears waivers Dallas will be able to assign him to the Texas Stars of the American Hockey League.

Injuries have been a major struggle for Lehtonen throughout his NHL career, and before he missed time this season he had been playing extremely well, posting .926 save percentage in 19 starts. Dallas currently has 20-14-1 record, good enough for the No. 7 spot in the Western Conference, but is going to need strong play from its goaltenders, whether it be Lehtonen, Bachman or somebody else, as the Stars are allowing the most shots in the NHL on a per-game basis (32.5). Part of the problem is the Stars spend so much time on the penalty kill as one of the most penalized teams in the league, and because they also simply surrender a lot of shots (again, more than any other team in the league) during 5-on-5 play.

Previously at Eye On Hockey

Can Lehtonen continue his hot start?
Lehtonen placed on injured reserve

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

Posted on: December 26, 2011 11:55 am
Edited on: December 26, 2011 4:32 pm
 

Ron Wilson's contract and Toronto's fast start

By: Adam Gretz

Over the past month-and-a-half it's been the season for firing coaches in the NHL.

While we've already seen changes in Washington, Anaheim, Los Angeles, Carolina and Montreal, not to mention St. Louis earlier in the year, Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Ron Wilson went to his own personal Twitter account as the NHL went to its holiday break and asked for a certain piece of paper (a contract extension) in his stocking for Christmas.

And that's exactly what he received over the holiday weekend.

It's kind of a bold move for the Maple Leafs organization given that Wilson has been behind the bench for three full seasons and failed to make the playoffs in all of them, while compiling a 101-107-38 record entering this season. Through 35 games in 2011 Toronto owns an 18-13-4 mark and occupies the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference entering Monday's slate of games, three points ahead of the Winnipeg Jets, the team that occupies the No. 9 spot (and first non-playoff spot).

The reaction from Toronto seems to be that the Maple Leafs haven't shown enough under Wilson's watch to justify any sort of a contract extension, and that general manager Brian Burke has put his own neck on the line by once again committing to Wilson.

Even if all of that is true (and it very well might be) something had to be done (and probably soon) as Wilson was in the final year of his current contract. Having a lame duck coach isn't really an ideal situation for anybody, and the Leafs certainly weren't going to dismiss Wilson at this point given Toronto's start.

And speaking of that start, it's been Toronto's best one in years, and has been driven almost entirely by the team's power play unit, currently clicking at a 21 percent rate, third best in the league, and the scoring of forwards Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul, both of whom are in the top-10 in the NHL's scoring race. And that's about it. Scoring depth isn't great once you get beyond Kessel and Lupul, and the goaltending, whether it's been James Reimer, Jonas Gustavsson or Ben Scrivens, has struggled.

Unless you believe the Maple Leafs power play is going to continue to be one of the best in the NHL all season, after being one of the worst over the past two years with largely the same cast of characters, and that Kessel and Lupul are going to remain near the top of the points leader board, this has the chance of being a fourth-straight non-playoff season under Wilson if those two areas see any sort of a regression the rest of the way. And I'm not convinced either of those two positive developments will continue all season. They have the look of early season hot streaks and fast starts that aren't going to be sustainable over the long haul of the season.

The Maple Leafs power play, which generates one of the lowest shot rates in the NHL per 60 minutes of power play time, currently owns a shooting percentage in the 18-percent range, by far the best mark in the NHL and significantly higher than what it's managed to shoot at in recent seasons (over the past three years Toronto, as a team, has owned 5-on-4 shooting percentages of 13 percent, 9 percent and 12 percent). The only team to finish a season with a higher power play shooting percentage was the 2008-09 Flyers. The number of shots a team generates on the power play is usually the best indicator of future success, which could be bad news for the Leafs over the remainder of the season.

The playoffs are far from a lock at this point, and even though Wilson has his contract extension right now that's still not a guarantee that he'll be behind the bench next season if his team fails to qualify for the postseason for a fourth straight year with him behind the bench.

More on the NHL's Coaching Carousel

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: December 21, 2011 11:45 pm
Edited on: December 22, 2011 12:00 am
 

24/7: Flyers-Rangers Episode 2

By: Adam Gretz

Episode two of HBO's 24/7 showed us two very different sides of Rangers head coach John Tortorella. On one hand, we saw the type of intense, expletive-filled rants and speeches in the locker room that we expected to see in an effort to get his team moving. That's what happened during the first intermission of a recent game against the St. Louis Blues that the Rangers eventually lost.

But we also saw his softer side, as his relationship with a 10-year-old Rangers fan with cerebal palsy by the name of Liam Trainer was highlighted. The two met through the Rangers' Garden of Dreams Foundation, and Tortorella's face lit up when speaking about him and how he's kept in contact with him. The Rangers even gave him an early Christmas present by setting he and his family up with tickets for the Jan. 2 Winter Classic in Philadelphia.

"I'm glad he's part of my life," said Tortorella.

It was nice to see that Tortorella is more than a hockey coach that screams at people on the ice and, away from the rink, can be more than willing to give back to his community.

Episode two MVP: Flyers coach Peter Laviolette

I'm giving it to Laviolette for this season, and this reason only: How many times have you, as a fan, watched your team play a game in Montreal and get called for a penalty that leaves you saying, "they only got that call because it's in Montreal."

If you haven't said it, you've probably thought about it at some point. Well, you're not alone, and coaches react the same way you do. After Flyers forward Jaromir Jagr was tripped as he carried the puck into the offensive zone (with no call) the play went down to the other end of the ice and resulted in a slashing call on Flyers rookie Sean Couturier. Laviolette was livid and started screaming "Typical Montreal" at the officials. He did this multiple times, even after he left the bench.

I also like how he edits himself when talking to referees. Instead of dropping F-Bomb's with the officials during that exchange he made sure he said "frickin'", and then proceeded to let loose with his expletives once back in the locker room.

Three moments that stood out

1) Speaking of referees, one of the interesting angles provided this week was footage of the referees locker room after the first period of the Rangers-Coyotes game (the one that ended with Brad Richards' goal with 0.1 seconds remaining in regulation) as they discussed an incident involving Rangers forward Mike Rupp and Coyotes forward Raffi Torres. I realize the show is focussing on the two teams, but the referees and their involvement in the game is a pretty huge part of it, and I wouldn't mind seeing a bit more from them.

2) After the series debut last week we all wanted more Ilya Bryzgalov, and we got him this week. It appears that his teammates have started to refer to him as "universe" after his speech about how it is "so humongous big" while others joked that they would be sure to never kill a tiger after he explained how it's illegal and will result in the death penalty in certain countries. But we also had some fresh moments for the, let's say unique, Flyers netminder.

For one, he reads Tolstoy while on the plane, and he also compared his husky to a beautiful woman saying, "My husky, she's basically a hot girl, man."

When talking about how crazy it is to play goalie in the NHL and put himself in front of shots every night, Bryzgalov suggested that it's the defensemen in front of him that are crazier.



You know what? He's not wrong.

3) We learned just how young some of the Flyers rookies are. How young? Couturier, a 19-year-old rookie and first-round draft pick from this year, lives in the extra bedroom of Danny Briere's house, and that he is closer in age to Briere's three kids than he is to Briere himself, his teammate. We also learned that Zac Rinaldo is amazed that he gets to play on the same ice as Jaromir Jagr, which impresses him because he used to be able to play with Jagr on Sega Genesis as a kid growing up.

More 2012 Winter Classic News Here
24/7 Flyers-Rangers Episode 1

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

Posted on: December 16, 2011 1:39 pm
Edited on: December 16, 2011 2:35 pm
 

Weekend Preview: Flyers streak on sans Pronger, G

Schedules: Friday | Saturday | Sunday

By Brian Stubits

There must be something in the water in Pennsylvania. That's the old cliché people turn to when they can't make sense of what's going on, how people (or teams in this case) continue to perform at a high level despite the obstacles.

We saw it last year (and again this season, really) with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Despite being without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin the second half of last season, they just kept on winning. Their 106 points were tied with the Flyers for most in the Atlantic and were just one point behind the Capitals for best in the East.

This season, the Flyers are getting their own taste of life without their Stars. And just like their Keystone State brethren, they continue to win. As in seven in a row.

Philly has been playing without its captain Chris Pronger for a month now. After yesterday's news, they are going to have to play the rest of the season without him, too. In fact, some are saying that Pronger might never play a game again. After all, he is 37 and he has a life after hockey to think about.

As good as Pronger is and has been his entire career, the Flyers have done a good job overcoming his absence this season -- nay, a great job. Since he last played against Winnipeg on Nov. 19, the Flyers have won nine of 11 games.

As callous as it always feels, the Flyers must move on. While their captain and best defenseman deals with severe post-concussion syndrome, they have a very promising season to continue. With the roster freeze coming next week, it's unlikely the Flyers will acquire some additional help on the blue line in the near future, but it will have to be a consideration for Flyers GM Paul Holmgren.

Holmgren told the media on Friday that he's already considered that, having called all 29 teams, presumably about any defensemen they might have available.

But that's for then. Right now, the Flyers are making due without him or their budding superstar center Claude Giroux (or simply G, as they team calls him). It doesn't seem like it will be a long shelving for Giroux, but you never can know, concussions tend to be pretty fickle.

In the only games the Flyers have played without either player, they have won. Despite missing their leading scorer and a point-producing defenseman, Philly has still averaged 4.5 goals in the two games without Giroux and Pronger.

But now a real test comes to see how they compare with the other beats of the East without the two stars.

The Boston Bruins are nipping on the Flyers' heels for the best record in the Eastern Conference and they, too, have been playing without arguably their best player (skaters-only division) in Zdeno Chara. But the big man might be back in time for the Saturday matinee in Philadelphia.

"We're going to give him a chance to fly and see how he feels," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "If he feels good then we have a chance of seeing him."

Normally I'd lament this game being played without Giroux, Pronger and possibly Chara. But with the way both of them, the Flyers in particular, have played without the all-stars, I don't see it stopping what will likely still be a very good game.

Winnipeg welcome wagon rolls on

This first season with the Jets back in the NHL has been an ongoing welcome wagon for the folks in Manitoba. They were licking their chops at getting to see Ilya Bryzgalov, they relished the opportunity to see former Jet Shane Doan back in Winnipeg.

Now comes perhaps the best welcome/return of them all; Teemu Selanne.

The veteran once starred for the Jets before he was traded to the Anaheim Ducks. He has waited for the chance to go back and play in the first NHL city he called home. Now it comes on Saturday night.

"You know, even when the schedule came out, even when I didn't know if I was going to play or not, I checked right away if we were going to Winnipeg," Selanne said. "That day was on my calendar right away.

"I knew there were two really special things. Obviously the Finland trip and then Winnipeg. It was really exciting to even think about it."

Unlike the welcomes fans in Winnipeg gave to Bryzgalov and, to an extent, Doan, it's hard to imagine there will be any jeers, only cheers for Selanne.

"He was so admired. It was overwhelming," Jets chairman Mark Chipman said of Selanne. "This guy was so good and so approachable and so humble in his approach that the community just absolutely fell head over heels for the guy."

Amazingly, Selanne is still performing at the level he was when he first broke into the NHL with the Jets in the early 90s. That's only going to help the flashbacks for the fans -- minus that whole wearing the Ducks jersey part.

Back in Buffalo

One of the more criticized offseason signings (excluding just about every move made by the Florida Panthers) was the Toronto Maple Leafs signing former Sabres center Tim Connolly. Leafs GM Brian Burke gave Connolly a two-year deal worth $4.75 million per season.

People in Buffalo laughed and simply said "Enjoy!" to their near-neighbors in Toronto. It wasn't about Connolly being a bad player -- he's not at all -- but it was about his health concerns. There always seemed to be something that was keeping Connolly on the bench.

So there's a sense of irony when the Maple Leafs visit the First Niagara Center this weekend. Connolly will be healthy and on the ice against his former team. Although he hasn't been without his health issues this season, when he's been on the ice, he's been good for Toronto. In 18 games played, he has 15 points.

On the other hand, the deal that Buffalo signed with Ville Leino was widely applauded. That one hasn't worked out so well.

Reunion tour continues

The Washington Capitals will be visiting the Colorado Avalanche this weekend. That means they will get to see their old goalie Semyon Varlamov up close and personal again.

Varlamov was traded to the Avs this summer after he made it clear that he was looking to play in the KHL over Washington. So Caps GM George McPhee swung a deal with the Avs to give them Varlamov in exchange for Colorado's first-round draft pick this offseason and their second-round pick.

So not only do the Caps get the chance to say hi to an old friend, but they can help themselves out in more ways than one. The points in the standings are the first and most obvious way, but every game without points for the Avs helps the Caps' first-round draft pick go higher and higher.

Although it's quieted down with Varlamov coming back down to earth, when he and the Avalanche were off to their hot starts, some in Washington wondered if the team made the wrong goalie decision. There might still be some questions considering the duo of Tomas Vokoun and Michal Neuvirth hasn't fared much better, if at all. But at least Neuvirth comes into the game having just shut out the Jets in Winnipeg, so there might be some positive momentum building. The goaltending problems have been as much an issue as anything in D.C. this season.

Canucks are still great

In fact, according to Roberto Luongo they are better than they were last season, which was great.

"We were one win away, so I don't think you need to change much," Luongo said. "That being said, though, we went through a lot last year, and I think we grew as a team. So for that reason alone, I think that we're better than last year."

That's even with him still getting a lot of starts in the net. Remember, he was a Vezina finalist last season. This season? Not so much.

Their next chance to prove Lu right will come in Toronto on Saturday evening for another Hockey Night in Canada appearance.

Stammer don't hurt 'em!

More like don't get hurt Stammer.

With his overtime winner on Thursday night, Steven Stamkos joined Milan Michalek on the top of the goal-scoring list this season with his 19th. Hopefully the same fate that has befallen many of the game's best scorers in recent weeks won't strike the Lightning's superstar.

With Michalek, Giroux, Sidney Crosby and Jeff Skinner (among many others) recently being diagnosed with concussions or at least post-concussion symptoms, the last thing the league wants is another young star to go down. If anything, it would probably love to see Stamkos go on one of his tears and become a positive story in the league again.

He'll have the chance to take the lead in the goals race by himself when Tampa Bay heads to Columbus to face the Blue Jackets.

We're going streaking!

Flyers: As mentioned, they are the hottest thing going in the NHL right now between their seven-game win streak and HBO's 24/7.

Bruins: Philly's opponent brings a modest three-game run of itself into the Saturday matchup.

Chicago Blackhawks: A double-dip awaits the Blackhawks and their three-game win streak as they face the Ducks and Flames.

Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues: We're going to combine these two because they are both riding four-game win streaks and they will face off against one another on Saturday. The Blues also have the Jackets on Sunday.

Dallas Stars: Last on the win side, the Pacific-leading Stars take to New Jersey seeking to extend their three-game streak on Scott Niedermayer Night.

New York Islanders: Once again, the Isles are slumping. They get to face the NHL-best Minnesota Wild with a four-game skid. The good news for New York is Minnesota is likely down a lot of bodies.

Florida Panthers The Southeast leaders are on a mini slump having lost three in a row. They have the Flames and Hurricanes at home this weekend to try and cure the ills.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: December 13, 2011 1:22 pm
Edited on: December 13, 2011 1:36 pm
 

Jets claim Miettinen on waivers

am1By: Adam Gretz

On Monday the Tampa Bay Lightning signed Antti Miettinen, a forward that had started the season playing for Ak Bars Kazan of the KHL, to a two-year, $3 million contract in an effort to add some forward depth to their struggling team that, after Monday's 5-4 loss to New Jersey, sits near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings.

According to league rules, because Miettinen had started the season playing overseas he was forced to pass through waivers before he could officially report to the Lightning. And he's not going to get the chance to do that, as the Winnipeg Jets claimed him on waivers on Tuesday morning.

The Lightning did all of the work, and the Jets end up getting the player.

We saw this exact scenario play out multiple times last season. The St. Louis Blues lost players they had signed on two seperate occassions, one involving Marek Svatos and the other time with Kyle Wellwood. The Detroit Red Wings ran into an issue when they attempted to sign veteran goalie Evgeni Nabokov after he was left go by his KHL team only to have the New York Islanders, desperate for a veteran goalie due to an in-season trade and multiple injuries, snag him on the waiver wire. Nabokov then refused to report the team, sat out the remainder of the season, and then finally joined the Islanders this season.

I still find it amazing that the same general managers who refuse to make offer sheets to restricted free agents because of some unwritten, gentlemens agreement have no issue taking part in waiver claims like this. There's nothing wrong with it, of course, as it's how the system works and if you can add a player that you think can help your team, you should absolutely go for it.

After the signing was announced on Monday Tampa Bay general manager Steve Yzerman acknowledged there was a possibility that Miettinen could be claimed by another team, telling Damian Cristodero of the St. Petersburg Times, "There's a possibility. We sat around here waiting for a week to see if anyone would sign him. We'll see what happens."

The 30-year-old Miettinen spent the previous three seasons in the NHL with the Minnesota Wild after starting his career with the Dallas Stars. In 472 NHL games he's scored 89 goals, including at least 15 in each of the past four seasons.

During his brief stay with Ak Bars Kazan this season he scored two goals to go with six assists in 20 games before he was let out of his contract with the club.

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
 

Weekend Wrap: Just stop it, Brian Elliott

By Brian Stubits

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.

Power boost

The Washington Capitals had one of the worst power-play units going into Friday night. The Toronto Maple Leafs had one of the worst penalty-killing units. Advantage: Capitals.

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.

More from the weekend
Recaps
Stories

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.

Bachman overdrive

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.

However Richard Bachman is. The rookie got his first start of his NHL career on Saturday and he turned in a great effort, holding the Kings to one goal for the 2-1 Dallas win.

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.

One-sided rivalry

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

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: December 3, 2011 9:12 pm
Edited on: December 14, 2011 2:46 pm
 

David Perron scores in return to lineup



By: Adam Gretz

Appearing in an NHL game for the first time since last November due to a concussion, St. Louis Blues forward David Perron scored in the first period of his return to the lineup on Saturday night against the Chicago Blackhawks.

He missed 97 games due to the concussion that he suffered in a game against the San Jose Sharks when he was hit by Joe Thornton. Prior to the game on Saturday Perron Tweeted that Thornton sent him a text message wishing him luck in his return.

It took him just three shifts to score his first goal of the year, and it was a nice one as he went to the front of the net, picked up a loose puck and demonstrated some nice puckhandling ability in a tight space, beating Blackhawks goaltender Ray Emery.

Prior to his injury last year Perron had scored five goals in 10 games, and in 235 career games entering Saturday the former first-round pick had scored 53 goals over parts of four NHL seasons, including a career-high 20 during the 2009-10 campaign.

Previously At Eye On Hockey

Perron to return after missing 97 games
David Perron cleared for contact drills

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com