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.

The Buzzer: Ovechkin’s blast lifts Capitals in OT, Sheary speeds by Panthers

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Player of the night: Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals

Alex Ovechkin has already reached double digits in goals scored in this new campaign. The Capitals’ star recorded his 10th goal of the season on Friday and it counted as the overtime winner against the Detroit Red Wings.

The Capitals trailed late in the third period, but T.J. Oshie scored the tying goal and Ovechkin won it on a power play less than two minutes into the extra period, as he deployed that famous one-timer slap shot from his off-wing. This time, Petr Mrazek was victimized by the wicked slapper.

Ovechkin is now only two goals behind the entire Montreal Canadiens team — in the same amount of games.

Highlight of the night:

What a weapon speed is in today’s National Hockey League. Conor Sheary illustrated that once again, as he saw a little bit of room down the left side and flew around Alex Petrovic before making a move to the backhand on James Reimer. That goal counted as the eventual winner, as the Penguins defeated the Panthers 4-3. Earlier in the third period, Sheary and Roberto Luongo came together near the Florida net, causing Luongo’s right hand to get caught against the post, injuring the Panthers’ netminder.

Factoid of the night:

It was a milestone night in Winnipeg for Blake Wheeler and coach Paul Maurice.

Scores:

Vancouver 4, Buffalo 2

San Jose 3, New Jersey 0

Washington 4, Detroit 3 (OT)

Pittsburgh 4, Florida 3

Winnipeg 4, Minnesota 3

Anaheim 6, Montreal 2

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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Video: Price takes out his frustration, as the Habs were crushed again

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It’s gone from bad, to worse, to an absolute nightmare for the Montreal Canadiens.

A three-game trip through California is never fun for opposing teams, but this was misery for the Habs. They were outscored a combined 16-5 in three games against the Sharks, Kings and Ducks, with few, if any positives beyond the second period in a 6-2 loss in Anaheim on Friday.

Montreal hasn’t won since its season opener on Oct. 5, and is now on a seven-game losing skid, unable to generate much offensively with a league worst 10 goals scored through seven games before tonight, while giving up plenty of goals at the other end.

That is a recipe for disaster and even though it’s still early in the season, this has to be a major concern for coach Claude Julien and, in particular, general manager Marc Bergevin.

Read more: Is there a trade to be made between the Penguins and Canadiens?

Down by three after the first period, Montreal had 30 shots on goal during the middle frame and managed to trim Anaheim’s lead down to one heading into the third period. And then, just when it seemed like maybe they were on a path toward an inspirational comeback on the road, it all fell apart.

Three straight goals for Anaheim, with journeyman forward Derek Grant scoring the first two goals of his NHL career — in game No. 93.

As you can probably tell from the clip below, Carey Price was visibly irritated, as he whacked his goalie stick against the post after the sixth Anaheim goal.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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Canucks defeat the Sabres, as the losing continues in Buffalo

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The Buffalo Sabres remain stuck on just a single win to begin the season. Jack Eichel is sick of losing, but the losing continues.

Returning home from a four-game road trip out west, the Sabres had an opportunity ahead of them to get back into the win column. The Vancouver Canucks, hardly a powerhouse in any way, were in town. They had played — and lost — the night before in Boston. And then the Sabres went out and were thoroughly outplayed in a 4-2 loss that, one could argue, flattered the hosts.

They weren’t able to take advantage of an early lead after Justin Bailey was allowed access to the net off the rush. They couldn’t hold the lead after Eichel dangled Ben Hutton and then scored on a shot Jacob Markstrom should’ve stopped. They gave up yet another short-handed goal, putting that number at six for the Sabres just eight games into the season.

Instead, Buffalo spent most of the night in its own end, giving up 37 shots through two periods. Hard to pin this, in any way, on goalie Chad Johnson.

“First of all, I thought we didn’t defend well and close quick enough in our defensive zone. We were a little bit slow there tonight. We need to be more aggressive and on the puck,” said head coach Phil Housley after the game.

While the Sabres were badly outplayed, one of the deciding moments in this game was a controversial video review in the second period. Vancouver took the lead on a goal from Daniel Sedin, although Housley challenged for a potential offside after it looked like Jake Virtanen didn’t have control of the puck as he entered the zone.

The linesmen looked over the play for a lengthy review before officials came to the conclusion that Virtanen did have control of the puck as he broke in over the blue line. The goal stood and the Canucks controlled the remainder of the game.

“I disagree with the call, totally,” said Housley. “In my opinion, he knocks the puck out of the air. He never has possession.

“But I call that 10 out of 10 times offside and I would continue to challenge that again.”

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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Roberto Luongo leaves game with apparent injury, as Panthers fall to Penguins

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The Florida Panthers lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday. Making matters worse was the fact their goalie Roberto Luongo left the game in the third period with an apparent hand injury.

The injury occurred after a collision in the crease with Penguins forward Conor Sheary.

Luongo immediately went down to the ice in pain. A replay from above the net showed Luongo’s right hand getting caught in an awkward position against the post after coming into contact with Sheary as he cut through in front of the crease in pursuit of the puck.

The injury forced James Reimer off the bench and into the game with the Panthers trailing by a goal. MacKenzie Weegar tied the game for Florida before Sheary scored the eventual winner about eight minutes later, on a night when the Penguins fired 48 shots on the two Panthers goalies.

Luongo gave up three goals on 36 shots before leaving the game. The Panthers now head out on the road. They’ll visit the Washington Capitals on Saturday.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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