NHL Wins and Sins: Red-hot Blues, James Neal's teeth, Ducks facing reality and new Lightning jerseys
What's right and wrong in the NHL this week
It's time for our weekly installment highlighting what's right and what's wrong with the NHL throughout the season. For all the things there are to love about the NHL and its product, there's also plenty to hate and plenty to criticize.
With that in mind, let's hash it out together ... right here ... every single Wednesday.
What's right: St. Louis Blues
It's been quite a bit since we've talked about the Blues, and last we checked in on them things weren't going particularly well. After coming into the season with a revamped roster and lofty expectations, they limped out to a slow start and fired coach Mike Yeo in November as they sat in last place in the Central division.
But my, my, my...how the turntables.
With Craig Berube now behind the bench, the Blues have managed to turn their season around. They're currently riding a seven-game winning streak (the longest current streak in the league) and are sitting pretty in a playoff spot with the Western Conference's first Wild Card position. (They're just two points back of Dallas with a game in-hand for third-place in the Central.)
Over the course of that seven-game surge, the Blues have beaten some pretty good teams. Among them? Columbus, Nashville (twice), Tampa Bay and Florida. They haven't exactly been blowing teams out of the water (four of those five particular wins came via a one-goal margin) and they've still got areas that need improvement (they've gone 1-15 on the power play and 10-14 on the PK during the streak) and there's always a bit of luck that factors into stretches like this.
But these are games that the Blues weren't winning months ago, and young goaltender Jordan Binnington is a significant reason why things have turned around. In this column last week, Carter Hart was highlighted as a standout rookie goaltender who was helping to save the Flyers' season, and Binnington deserves similar recognition for what he's doing in St. Louis right now.
Much like Philly, the Blues are a team that has been desperate for stability in net over the years, and the 25-year-old Binnington is helping provide it in his first year playing regularly at the NHL level. In 12 starts so far this year, Binnington is 10-1-1 with a .934 save percentage. Last week, he earned NHL First Star of the Week honors after going 3-0-0 with a 1.31 GAA, .954 save percentage and a shutout.
Given their inconsistencies, it seems fair to question whether the Blues' success is sustainable, and a good portion of the answer probably lies in whether Binnington's success is sustainable. At this point, it's too early to tell on either side, but this mid-season hot streak has helped them climb up the standings in a largely mediocre and top-heavy Western Conference. At the very least, it's putting them back in contention and potentially giving them the confidence they need to make a strong push down the stretch.
What's wrong: James Neal's mouth
James Neal is not having a wonderful first season in Calgary. After signing a five-year, $28.75 million deal this summer, Neal only has five goals and 15 points. On top of that, he's now got eight less teeth.
That comes as a result of an incident over the weekend that featured Neal taking a high stick to the mouth courtesy of Canucks defenseman Alex Biega. If you watch the replay, you can see a number of those teeth flying out of Neal's mouth like spit coming out of a boxer's mouth in a slow-motion movie scene.
It required a joint search and rescue effort from players and officials on the ice to retrieve Neal's lost chiclets. Once those remnants were delivered to the Flames' bench, a fan seated nearby apparently offered the team's equipment manager $500 for them. Not weird or creepy at all. (The offer was rejected.)
But eventually play resumed and, of course, Neal finished in the game. Then again, he's certainly no stranger to dental work, both of the amateur and professional variety.
Neal estimates that this is the sixth time he's gotten teeth knocked out, and this isn't even the worst instance. He once lost 13 teeth after taking a high stick from Jamie Benn as a rookie.
Still, it's fair to say you're having a brutal year when you've lost more teeth than you've scored goals.
What's right: The Anaheim Ducks
Please don't take their inclusion in this section to mean that the Ducks no longer suck. They still very much suck -- and still are on that incredibly pathetic losing streak we highlighted last week, though now it's up to seven straight -- but at least they have officially recognized that they suck and are starting to make some changes.
The club finally decided to fire head coach Randy Carlyle this week, and general manager Bob Murray has taken over as interim head coach to finish out the season. Why put Murray, a guy with no NHL coaching experience, behind the bench? Well, because Anaheim essentially realizes that, despite somehow still only being eight points out of a playoff spot, this season is essentially a lost cause. They've got nothing to lose (except maybe a lot of games) and Murray wants to be in the room to better evaluate the team's problems -- aka who needs to stay and who needs to go -- moving forward.
Self-awareness is an important thing to have in this league and it appears that the Ducks are finally recognizing that they've got to rebuild. They were able to remain competitive for the first half of the season thanks to Vezina-caliber play from John Gibson, but things came crashing down pretty quickly once Gibson cooled off. Now the act is over.
They've got an aging core (Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Ryan Kesler) that is no longer a solid base to build upon and, unfortunately, it seems like Anaheim is likely going to be stuck paying them pretty handsomely for the next few years. Those kind of contracts can handcuff a general manager and draw out the rebuilding process longer than they'd like.
Yes, things look pretty bleak in Anaheim at the moment but the good news is that the front office is no longer the living embodiment of that "this is fine" meme. Also, there's a silver lining in the fact that this miserable stretch came on the right side of the trade deadline. You never want to approach the deadline as a playoff hopeful only to have the wheels fall off immediately afterward.
In other Ducks news, a quick shoutout to this newlywed couple that planned the world's worst honeymoon.
- Winnipeg 9, Anaheim 3
- Toronto 6, Anaheim 1
- Montreal 4, Anaheim 1
- Ottawa 4, Anaheim 0
Can you imagine kicking off your HONEYMOON in Winnipeg and ending it in Ottawa...in February? And watching your favorite team thoroughly get its ass kicked the entire way through? I guess the marriage can only go up from there.
Luckily for them, a resort in Turks & Caicos gave them a do-over for free.
What's wrong: The new Lightning third jerseys
The Lightning unveiled their latest black alternate jerseys last week and, boy, do they ever stink.
Not only are they insanely boring from a design perspective (they look like practice jerseys) but they also make for a miserable TV viewing experience. Good luck deciphering those numbers.
As much as I hate the jerseys, I do appreciate the way the Lightning approached their unveiling. Minutes after they were introduced to fans last Thursday night, the team took to the ice wearing them as they prepared to play the Blues in Tampa.
It seems that teams usually love to make a big deal of their jersey announcements these days -- drawing them out and relentlessly teasing them for as long as they can -- so Tampa randomly dropping a new uniform out of nowhere and then wearing it in a game minutes later is kind of a cool move.
The Beautiful Game
Here are the most graceful displays of elegance we've seen this week.
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