Vancouver Canucks Manny Malhotra talks with media after being cleared to play in the NHL Stanley Cup Final in Vancouver

“Day to day” Malhotra is practicing like he could play in Game 1

One of the feel good stories could finally reach its pinnacle on Wednesday night if things keep progressing for injured Manny Malhotra. Since he was cleared for practice and contact last week, fans have wondered if the Canucks center could make it back into the line-up at some point during the Cup Finals. Over the weekend, Vancouver announced that he’s “day to day” as he tries to fully acclimate himself on the rink with 11 other guys. Today, the glimmer of hope that started last week has been given even more fuel.

At Canucks practice, head coach Alain Vigneault is maintaining the company line to the media by repeating that Malhotra is “day to day.” Malhotra was fighting back tears over the weekend when talking to media members about his medical clearance, but he was quick to point out that he’s not completely out of the woods.

“Going forward, I will continue to be monitored daily, and if at any time the doctor doesn’t like what he sees, he has the ultimate veto power.”

It’s great that Vigneault and Malhotra are doing their best to temper Canucklehead’s enthusiasm, but it’s looking increasingly likely that he’ll see action in the Cup Finals sooner than later. Correspondent Dhiren Mahiban reported from Canucks’ practice that Vigneault is putting Malhotra in situations on Monday that say he could very likely play in Game 1, albeit in a limited role.

However, anyone who watched practice closely noticed the forward was paired on a penalty killing unit alongside Maxim Lapierre — a sign that he could play Game 1 against the Boston Bruins on Wednesday night.
It’s likely that Malhotra starts Game 1 on the fourth line playing limited time while being used in key faceoff situations, and on the penalty kill.”

Can you imagine the atmosphere in Rogers Arena if Malhotra was out on the ice to take the opening faceoff of the Stanley Cup Finals? It would be Western Canada’s version of Willis Reed—it almost wouldn’t matter how effective he was on the ice. Just the fact that he would be able to make it back into the line-up eleven weeks after nearly losing his eye against the Colorado Avalanche would be inspiring enough to blow the roof off an already charged atmosphere for Game 1.

As much as his presence would give the crowd (and his team) a shot of additional adrenaline, his usefulness in this series goes beyond the locker room. Even if he can play in a limited role in key faceoff situations and on the penalty kill, a player of Malhotra’s caliber would be a boost to the team out on the ice. If the Bruins had difficulties scoring on the power play against the Lightning, just imagine how difficult it will be when they’re going up against two legitimate Selke candidates in Malhotra and Ryan Kesler. In the faceoff circle, he could help neutralize Patrice Bergeron who has been spectacular in face-offs this postseason. The Bruins will continue to throw him out for every big draw (4th in playoff faceoff attempts), but the same combination of Kesler and Malhotra could slow down Bergeron’s 62.3% rate in the postseason. Remember, in over 1200 attempts this season, Malhotra was the 2nd best faceoff man in the league at 61.7%. If he can make the lineup and neutralize a potential advantage for the Bruins, he’ll be doing his job.

DiMaio named Blues’ director of player personnel

via St. Louis Blues
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The St. Louis Blues named Rob DiMaio their director of player personnel on Tuesday.

He’s been with the organization for some time. He joined as a pro scout in 2008 and was the pro scouting director starting in August 2012.

He was also a scout for the Dallas Stars before landing with the Blues (one would assume his biggest connection is GM Doug Armstrong, then).

In case his nose didn’t give it away, he also enjoyed a lengthy hockey career over 19 seasons.

No doubt about it, this is a pivotal season for the Blues after multiple campaigns in which strong regular seasons dissolved into playoff disappointments. Perhaps DiMaio can make a difference in a heightened role?

Hitchcock going to more aggressive attack for Blues

Ken Hitchcock

ST. LOUIS (AP) After three straight first-round playoff exits, the St. Louis Blues have learned to temper expectations.

They have been consistently among the NHL’s best in the regular season and realize it is past time to build something for the long haul. The sting still lingers from the latest failure, against the Minnesota Wild last spring.

“We’re all disappointed, everybody can agree on that,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “It’s never easy to kind of think about your failures, but we grow every time it happens.”

Management isn’t ready to tear it all down yet.

“We play, in my opinion, one of the toughest if not the toughest division in the NHL, and we’ve finished first or second in the last four years,” forward Alexander Steen said. “So we have an extremely powerful team.”

Maybe a change in strategy will be enough: Coach Ken Hitchcock is back with a mandate for a more aggressive, even reckless, style of play from a roster that hasn’t changed appreciably.

“We’re coming hard from the back and we’re coming hard to see how close we can get to the attack,” Hitchcock said. “I think it’s where the game’s at; I think it’s where the game’s going to go.”

The 63-year-old Hitchcock is pushing forward, too, unwilling to dwell on the flameouts. Coach and players agree that would be “wasted energy.”

“My opinion is when you sit and think about the past, you do yourself no good,” Hitchcock said. “If you learn from the past, that’s when you do yourself a whole bunch of good.”

There were only two major roster casualties. Forward Troy Brouwer came from Washington in a trade for fan favorite T.J. Oshie. Defenseman Barret Jackman, the franchise career leader in games, wasn’t re-signed.

“If you were expecting 23 new faces to be on the roster this year, I don’t think that was realistic,” captain David Backes said. “We’re going to miss those guys in the room and on the ice, but there has been some changeover and I think it’s pretty significant.”

Things to watch for with the Blues:

GOALIE SHUFFLE: Just like last year, there’s no true No. 1 with Brian Elliott and Jake Allen sharing duties. The 25-year-old Allen missed a chance to seize the job last spring when he failed to raise his level in the playoffs.

TOP THREAT: Vladimir Tarasenko had a breakout season with 37 goals and was rewarded with an eight-year, $60 million contract. The 23-year-old winger is by far the Blues’ most dangerous scoring option and said he won’t let the money affect his play. “I never worry about it,” Tarasenko said. “If you play good, you play good.”

NEW FACES: Brouwer and center Kyle Brodziak add a physical element that was perhaps lacking a bit last season. Brouwer has three 20-plus goal seasons and Brodziak, acquired from Minnesota, fills a checking role. Veteran forward Scottie Upshall got a one-year, two-way deal after being coming to camp as a tryout. Rookie forward Robby Fabbri, a first-round pick last year, will get an early look. Another promising youngster, forward Ty Rattie, begins the year at Chicago of the AHL.

RECOVERY WARD: Forward Jori Lehteri bounced back quickly from ankle surgery and opens the season without restrictions. Another forward, Patrik Berglund, could miss half of the season following shoulder surgery.

TRACK RECORD: The Blues won the Central Division last season and Hitchcock, fourth on the career list with 708 regular-season wins, has consistently had the team near the top of the standings. “He is our coach, tough cookies if you don’t like it,” Backes said. “From my experience, he puts together one heck of a game plan.”