Blues backup battle will come down to Ben Bishop vs. Brian Elliott

For better or worse, former Montreal Canadiens one-time playoff hero Jaroslav Halak represents at least the short-term future of goaltending for the St. Louis Blues. The Blues’ hopes for a return to credibility rest largely on the Slovakian netminder’s shoulders.

Even with Halak firmly planted in the No. 1 role, it’s likely that the Blues will lean on its backup quite a bit too. Halak only played in 57 games in 2010-11, which represented a career-high. He struggled with injuries and inconsistency at times so maybe he can flirt with the 65 GP mark next season, but chances are that the No. 2 job will get some play in St. Louis.

With that in mind, the question is: who will it be? The Blues allowed former backup Ty Conklin to leave via free agency after his play flat-lined during an abysmal 2010-11 season. St. Louis is then left with a choice: over-sized prospect Ben Bishop or flawed but more experienced free agent addition Brian Elliott.

One of the most interesting things about this situation is that their goalie competition is on an even playing field, as Jeremy Rutherford discussed in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The Blues signed Elliott to a two-way contract that will pay him $600,000 in the NHL and $105,000 in the AHL. Four days later, the team re-signed Bishop, then a restricted free-agent, to an identical contract. That sets up a situation that couldn’t be any more even heading into training camp in September.

“Two guys, both making the same amount of money, looking for the same job,” Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said recently.

Rutherford points out an interesting fact: this won’t be the first time the two goalies have battled eahc other. Elliott (then a junior at the University of Wisconsin) faced off against Bishop (then a freshman at Maine) in the 2006 Frozen Four, with Elliott’s Badgers earning a 5-2 win and then eventually a national championship.

Elliott had the experience edge then and he’ll have it now. He’s played in 142 NHL regular season games, going 61-53-16 with a .901 save percentage and 2.90 GAA. Elliott made one playoff appearance in which the Pittsburgh Penguins dismantled him in four games, forcing the Senators to turn to Pascal Leclaire.

Bishop’s NHL resume is scarce, with 13 games played during the last two seasons. He went 4-5-1 with an even more mediocre .896 and 2.83 GAA, although Rutherford makes a case for why he might have shown glimpses of promise.

In seven games with the Blues last season, when Halak had an injured hand, Bishop was 3-4 with a 2.76 goals-against average and an .899 save-percentage. But not told in those numbers is that after playing in Peoria until mid-February, Bishop joined the Blues and didn’t allow a goal in nine of his first 10 periods, including a 39-save shutout Feb. 5 against Edmonton. Of the 17 goals he permitted, nine were scored in two periods.

Considering Halak’s lack of a track record in carrying a big starting goalie workload, it’s likely that the Blues will need some solid play from their backup next season. The Elliott vs. Bishop training camp battle should be interesting to watch, although with both goalies under two-way contracts, that battle might extend far beyond September.

The Blues wouldn’t mind if it was still a question being asked beyond mid-April, either.

Corey Perry ‘week-to-week’ with lower-body injury

Getty
1 Comment

The Anaheim Ducks have started to get some of their injured bodies back lately, but they were dealt another significant blow on Tuesday, as they found out Corey Perry would be out ‘week-to-week’ with a lower-body injury.

He’ll be re-evaluated in a week, but he was working out at the Honda Center earlier today, according to beat reporter Eric Stephens.

Perry suffered the injury in the first period of Monday night’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes. Even though he isn’t as productive as he once was, the veteran is still a big part of team. He has six goals and 16 assists in 31 games this season.

Monday’s game marked the return of forwards Ryan Getlzaf and Jakob Silfverberg to Anaheim’s lineup, which probably had the Ducks feeling pretty good about themselves. Clearly, that didn’t last long.

It’s a tough blow for a team that’s already without Ryan Kesler (he hasn’t played at all this season), Nick Ritchie, Hampus Lindholm and Joseph Blandisi. On a positive note, it sounds like Kesler will be on the team’s upcoming six-game road trip that will see them travel to St. Louis, Washington, New Jersey, New York, Brooklyn and Pittsburgh.

The Ducks could certainly use some healthy bodies, as they’re in a fight for a playoff spot right now. They currently trail the Flames by one point (Calgary has a game in hand) for the final Wild Card spot in the West. They’re also two points behind the Sharks (San Jose has two games in hand) for third place in the Pacific Division.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

‘It’s just a formality’: Erik Karlsson talks about submitting 10-team no-trade list

Getty
1 Comment

There has been plenty of speculation regarding the future of Erik Karlsson over the last few days.

On Tuesday, the speculation took an interesting twist as Karlsson spoke to the media for the first time since a report surfaced about him being asked to submit a 10-team no trade list to management.

“That’s one of the things that’s in my contract and it’s just a formality and it’s business. I don’t read too much into it,” said Karlsson, per the Ottawa Sun.

Karlsson might not read much into it, but the fact that the Senators have allowed this situation to get to this point is mind-boggling.

Sure, the Swedish blue liner might not want to take a discount to stay in Ottawa, but he’s arguably one of the top three players in the game. Are the Sens really willing to make a franchise-altering trade because the face of their organization isn’t willing to take a few million dollars less?

Of course, this might just be a negotiating tactic. Maybe they believe that the threat of trading him will scare him into taking less money, but that’s a pretty silly way of thinking. On the flip side, asking him to submit his no-trade list could theoretically turn him off, too.

“It varies from person-to-person and from personality-to-personality,” added Karlsson. “When you’re in the situation we’re in right now, I’ve been through it before, so I’ve seen multiple different scenarios. I’m probably better dealing with it than some of the other guys.”

 There’s no doubt that the Senators are struggling mightily right now. Although it’s still early, the Matt Duchene trade has been a complete flop. Not only is Duchene not producing, the Sens, as a team, have seemingly forgotten how to win.

Ottawa has dropped four games in a row, and since coming back from their sweep of the Avalanche in Stockholm, Sweden, they’ve won just one of their 12 last games.

They need to shake things up, but trying to rattle Karlsson’s cage is not the way to get it done.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Inconsistency only consistent thing about Canadiens

Getty
5 Comments

The 2017-18 edition of the Montreal Canadiens has been underwhelming at best. The only thing that’s been consistent about them is their lack of consistency.

On some nights, they look like a team that should have no problem making the playoffs. Other times, they look like a squad that should be picking in the top five of next summer’s NHL Entry Draft.

Through 31 games, they own a 13-14-4 record, but how they got there is the most interesting part.

Let’s forget the fact that five of those wins have come against the Sabres (three times) and Red Wings (twice). Hey, in the NHL, a win is a win. But the Canadiens have rarely not been on some kind of positive or negative streak this season.

After opening the season with an overtime win in Buffalo, Montreal went on to lose seven games in a row. They ended that skid at home against Florida, followed that up with a loss to the Los Angeles Kings and then went on to win five of their next contests.

That hot run came to an end with a 3-0 loss at home to the Minnesota Wild. In fairness to the Canadiens, they didn’t have Carey Price, Shea Weber and Jonathan Drouin in that game. But after beating Buffalo in their next game, they went on to lose five in a row to Columbus, Arizona, Toronto (they were obliterated 6-0 in that one), Dallas, and Nashville before snapping the skid against (you guessed it) the Sabres.

The game against Buffalo was the night Carey Price returned to the lineup. Price’s return sparked the Canadiens and they went on to win their next four games over Columbus, Ottawa and they beat Detroit twice, including a 10-1 drubbing at the Bell Centre.

After the blowout win over the Wings, a lot of people thought they had turned the corner. Instead, they followed up the win over Detroit with home losses to St. Louis, Calgary and Edmonton. Saturday’s loss to the Oilers was beyond embarrassing, as they were totally dominated in front of their fans.

“Well, if I knew, I certainly would’ve done something about (the Canadiens’ streaky play),” head coach Claude Julien said after the loss to the Oilers. “It is frustrating. We had a good stretch there, but this week has been a tough week for us. At the end of the day, you have to be better than you were tonight.”

There’s a number of reasons for Montreal’s lack of consistency. They’ve dealt with injuries to key players like Drouin, Price, Weber, David Schlemko and Artturi Lehkonen, but every team goes through that.

Their goaltending was brutal early on, and that certainly didn’t help during their tough start to the year. Also, the fact that 5-on-5 scoring doesn’t come easy to them is another reason why they don’t produce with any regularity. They’re also lacking some mobility on defense, which isn’t exactly ideal for today’s NHL.

And, of course, the fact that their two streakiest scorers have been “off” more than they’ve been “on” has really hurt them. Both Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk haven’t scored nearly enough. Pacioretty has eight goals in 31 games, while Galchenyuk has seven goals in 31 contests. Both have scored 30-plus goals in recent reasons.

The one thing going for the Canadiens is that the third spot in the Atlantic Division is up for grabs. Yes, the Bruins currently have four games in hand on Montreal and a two-point lead in the standings, but those old rivals will be going head-to-head three times in just over a week during the month of January.

As ugly as the season has been at times, the Habs still in it.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

NHL ON NBCSN: Lightning, Blues square off in battle of NHL’s best

Getty Images
6 Comments

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 NHL season continues on Tuesday night, as the St. Louis Blues host the Tampa Bay Lightning at 8 p.m. ET. You can stream the game by clicking here.

The Lightning and Blue have consistently been two of the best teams in the NHL since opening night.

A healthy Tampa side has scored at will with a league-best 110 goals through 29 games and the Blues have been powered by Vladimir Tarasenko, Brayden Schenn and the now-injured Jordan Schwartz. Both teams have the fire power, but they also have played some very stingy defense, thanks to goaltenders Andrei Vasilevskiy and Jake Allen.

The Blues enter Tuesday night’s game banged up and missing Schwartz and Alex Pietrangelo, who was placed on injured reserve with a lower-body injury, so depth will be tested. Schenn’s production may also be affected as Schwartz has assisted on half of his 16 goals. And as Jeremy Rutherford of The Athletic pointed out this morning, St. Louis averaged 3 goals per game with Schwartz and 2.36 goals when he wasn’t in the lineup.

[WATCH LIGHTNING-BLUES LIVE ON NBCSN]

Tampa hits the road following an undefeated four-game homestand. Their last road trip away from Amalie Arena ended with a 1-3-0 record and only seven total goals scored. Lightning head coach Jon Cooper won’t have last change to get his preferred matchups on the ice, so will he find himself splitting up Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos at times to spread out the offensive threat?

“We’ve done what we had to at home,” Cooper said via the Tampa Bay Times. “Now we have to do it on the road, and it’s much tougher with all the travel we have to do, especially where we are here. So, we have to learn from what we did on the road before, what we have to do to prepare, but this is a good way to jump-start that.”

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.