St. Louis Blues v Los Angeles Kings

Davis Payne looks to lead Blues in final year of contract

Each season there are teams with expectations; with coaches who are asked to deliver upon those expectations. Last season, Davis Payne was expected to lead the St. Louis Blues and build upon their 2009 playoff appearance after a frustrating 2009-10 season. Instead, the Blues had enough injuries to fill a steamboat on the Mississippi and the season that started with so much optimism ended with feelings of “what if?” What if T.J. Oshie was healthy all season? What if David Perron didn’t run into Joe Thornton’s elbow? What if Andy McDonald was able to play an entire season? The list goes on and on.

Payne was largely given a free-pass in his first full season behind the bench. To be honest, nothing really stuck out in his first year. They were in the middle of the pack in both goals scored and goals against. Their special teams weren’t all that special with an average power play and penalty kill. On the positive side, team defense was actually pretty good on the whole allowing only 27.7 shots per game—so the coach must have been doing something right. Unfortunately, they were terrible at holding the league as they were one of the worst teams in the league at holding the lead after scoring first period. The Blues may have been prepared, but they didn’t always play the full 60 minutes.

During his “Blues Chat,” Jeremy Rutherford of the Post-Dispatch in St. Louis addressed Payne and his immediate future with the team:

“This is the last year of Payne’s two-year deal. I’ve written in the past that I think he’s done an admirable job considering his lack of NHL experience and also considering the Blues’ injuries and ownership issues. With that said, there is some heat on Payne this year to get the most out of this club. If healthy, they should be a playoff team. If they can contend, I don’t see any reason the Blues wouldn’t retain Payne. But if the club falls short, there will definitely be questions about whether he’ll be extended.

NHL coaches have a shorter shelf-life than ever these days. After taking over for Andy Murray after New Year’s Day 2010, Payne has a 61-48-15 record in 124 career NHL games. More importantly, he is 0-2 in the playoff department—as in zero playoff appearances. The first season wasn’t necessarily his fault since he only coached half the season and the second season was marred by injuries, but sooner or later the coach will be asked to overcome adversity or find a new job. This may be the season where push comes to shove for Payne.

Adding to Payne’s pressure is the way the Blues started last season. After twelve games, they were sitting on top of the league with a 9-1-2 record. Not only were they winning games—they were beating teams that were destined for the playoffs like the Flyers, Ducks, Penguins, Predators, and Blackhawks. Payne admitted that the quick start may have set expectations to an impossibly high standard:

“9-1-2, I don’t know if anyone finished at that pace. Was it realistic that you were going to carry (that pace) through 82 (games)? Probably not. It was a good start. It was what we needed to do to build that assurance as to how we were going to play and the way we were going to play was going to create success.

“If everybody’s whole and intact the entire year, I see no reason for that type of success, maybe not at quite that level, to continue. … We felt as we finished, there’s teams that are starting (the playoffs Wednesday) that we could go head-to-head with and feel pretty good about it.”

Payne and the Blues will hope to get off to another quick this start—only they’ll hope they learned from last year’s mistakes and play with more consistency. The organization expects veteran additions like Jaime Langenbrunner and Jason Arnott to help the team right the ship during any rough spots and a new captain should give the team strong leadership. This is a team that has shown potential over the last few years—but it’s time for the players to start filling the potential with their play on the ice.

If not, the players and coaches alike could be looking for a new start in a new city.

WATCH LIVE: Game 2 of Islanders – Lightning, Penguins – Capitals

Washington Capitals right wing T.J. Oshie (77) starts to celebrate his goal against Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Matt Murray (30) and Kris Letang (58) during the second period of Game 1 in an NHL hockey Stanley Cup Eastern Conference semifinals Thursday, April 28, 2016 in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
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The Stanley Cup playoffs continue with two games on Saturday. You can catch tonight’s games via the NBC Sports Group’s television and digital platforms.

Can Sidney Crosby and the Penguins even things up against Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals? Will the Lightning avoid dropping both games at home against the Islanders? We’ll find out on NBC.

NY Islanders at Tampa Bay (3:00 p.m. ET)

The TV broadcast of Game 2 will be on NBC. To stream the game using the NBC Sports Live Extra app, click here.

Pittsburgh at Washington (8:00 p.m. ET)

The TV broadcast of Game 2 will also be on NBC. To stream the game using the NBC Sports Live Extra app, click here.

Some reading to get you pumped up:

– The Penguins are keeping chatty Marc-Andre Fleury from speaking to the media(reportedly).

Tom Wilson received a fine, not a suspension, for that knee-to-knee hit.

T.J. Oshie was the difference-maker for Washington in Game 1.

– Don’t expect Steven Stamkos to face red-hot John Tavares anytime soon (or at all, maybe).

Read about the Isles’ Game 1 win

With Eaves injured, Nichushkin will play for Stars in Game 2

Dallas Stars right wing Valeri Nichushkin (43) takes control of the puck in front of St. Louis Blues center Jori Lehtera (12) during the third period of an NHL hockey game Sunday, Dec. 27, 2015, in Dallas. The Stars won 3-0. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
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It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Patrick Eaves won’t be able to play for the Dallas Stars against the St. Louis Blues in their upcoming Game 2.

The last time we saw Eaves, he was leaving the ice by gliding on one foot after being hit by a teammate’s shot. He needed help to the locker room and was seen on crutches according to Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News.

The bad news is that Eaves cannot go. The good news is that the Stars can replace him with a player who boasts considerable offensive skill, as Valeri Nichushkin will take Eaves’ place.

Nichushkin wasn’t very effective in five postseason games so far, failing to score a point and only managed three shots on goal.

Still, if the frenetic pace of Game 1 carries on through this series, Nichushkin could very well make an impact.

Update: the Stars have other options at forward after making recalls:

Sheary’s in for Penguins in Game 2; Kunitz is a game-time decision

Pittsburgh Penguins' Conor Sheary (43) is greeted by teammates Brian Dumoulin (8) and Chris Kunitz (14) after scoring his first NHL goal, in the first period of the Penguins' hockey game against the Boston Bruins, Friday, Dec. 18, 2015, in Pittsburgh. Bruins' Brad Marchand is at lower right. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
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Both the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals might look a little different in Game 2 on Saturday after that blistering Game 1.

As the team down 1-0, it’s not too surprising that the Penguins boast the more significant lineup questions, although they lean toward health concerns rather than performance tweaks.

Conor Sheary was able to return during Game 1 after Tom Wilson‘s controversial knee-to-knee hit, and he appears to be in for tonight’s contest as well. Chris Kunitz isn’t quite a guarantee, as he’s currently labeled a game-time decision.

For what it’s worth, Kunitz himself believes he’ll be in. Whether he plays on Saturday or not, it sounds like Kunitz is taking extra safety measures going forward.

The Penguins stayed vague with Marc-Andre Fleury, merely claiming that he’s making “progress.”

Generally speaking, Matt Murray has been playing well for the Penguins. Of course, the scrutiny will rise if Pittsburgh loses Game 2 on Saturday.

The Capitals are also considering a tweak. CSN Mid-Atlantic reports that Barry Trotz is pondering replacing Dmitry Orlov with Taylor Chorney.

“They told me to be prepared as if I’m going to be playing,” Chorney said. “We’ll just see how it goes.”

As you may notice, Chorney isn’t the only one in wait-and-see mode heading into Game 2, which you can watch on NBC.

Hitchcock, Blues know they need to slow down the Stars … but can they?

The puck shot by Dallas Stars left wing Antoine Roussel crosses the goal line as St. Louis Blues goalie Brian Elliott (1) and defenseman Jay Bouwmeester (19) attempt the stop during the second period of Game 1 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Western Conference semifinals, Friday, April 29, 2016, in Dallas. The Stars won 2-1. (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News via AP)
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The Dallas Stars only beat the St. Louis Blues by one goal (2-1) in Game 1, but the feeling is that the score was deceptively close.

Blame it on fatigue from that epic series against the Chicago Blackhawks or not; the Blues looked out of rhythm and out of breath against the hard-charging Stars.

At least they’re not in denial about that, though.

“We’re not going to beat anybody giving up 40 shots on goal,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch after their Game 1 loss on Friday. “We’re not going to beat anybody giving up the scoring chances we did today.”

Hitchcock added “we’ve got to find the energy to play our game, and we’ve got to find it quickly in the next 48 hours.”

Allowing 40 shots on goal might not be that common for the Blues, yet they leaned heavily on Brian Elliott against the Blackhawks in that series.

Just look at the SOG comparison in that series and in Game 1 vs. Dallas:

Game 1: Blues – 18 SOG, Blackhawks – 35
Game 2: Blues – 31, Blackhawks – 29
Game 3: Blues – 36, Blackhawks – 46
Game 4: Blues – 20, Blackhawks – 42
Game 5: Blues – 46, Blackhawks – 35
Game 6: Blues – 28, Blachawks – 36
Game 7: Blues – 26, Blackhawks – 33

Game 1: Blues – 32, Stars – 42

Such shot comparisons make you wonder if Game 1 provided evidence of a rest advantage or if this might just be the state of affairs for the Blues (at least against two electric offenses).

One area to watch is the transition game. The Stars seemed to tear through the neutral zone while the Blues sometimes struggled to get things going.

“They’re a team that wants to play real fast up the ice and through the neutral zone,” Jay Bouwmeester said, via the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Yeah, we didn’t do a very good job of slowing them down. A lot of their chances were off the rush. That’s what you want to take away from them.”

File that under “easier said than done.”