Patrik Berglund

Patrik Berglund looks to be the secret weapon in St. Louis

If you were to ask people right now who their pick for the sneaky, surprise team in the Western Conference might be this season, the St. Louis Blues is the one team you’re going to hear a lot. With a healthy Jaroslav Halak in goal and with guys like David Backes, Chris Stewart, and T.J. Oshie to lead the way at forward and growing into better players with coach Davis Payne at the helm, some feel that that’s a good mix to shake things up in the West.

One guy who might be the key to seeing the Blues get things turned around for good is Patrik Berglund. The Swedish center is coming off his best season as a pro in 2010-2011. After three seasons in the league, the Blues are hoping his 22 goal, 30 assist season is the first of many that see his offensive numbers climb. His performance in the 2011 IIHF World Championships (8 goals, 2 assists in nine games) showed that his big regular season wasn’t a fluke.

Lou Korac of In The Slot talked with Berglund and finds out that maturing and growing into the game at the NHL level could be the keys to help him become even more of a factor in helping the Blues bounce back into being a perennial playoff team.

Berglund, 23, feels good about where he is as well as the Blues, but he also understands there’s more where that came from. There’s more to achieve and with the effort he’s putting into his progress, boundless opportunities exist.

“I’m not satisfied. I want to keep developing,” Berglund said. “That’s the only thing I’m thinking about when I’m working now.

“I had a great year, but I don’t want to stop. I want to be … this year, in five years, I want to be a player that is one of the best in the league. That’s my goal. I know I can get there if I work hard and things go my way. That’s my belief. I think it’s important to have those expectations on yourself and not just be happy you had a good year. … If I play well all over the ice, the results will show. We’ll see where it takes me.”

Korac sees Berglund lining up with Oshie and Stewart on one of the Blues’ scoring lines. With that kind of mix on one line and with Backes, Andy McDonald, Jason Arnott, Jamie Langenbrunner, and Alexander Steen finding their way around elsewhere on other lines, the Blues could indeed be a handful to deal with.

If Berglund can have another 50+ point season and improve upon what he did last year, it’s a huge lift for a team that’s missing one of their other young and talented guys in David Perron thanks to his recovery from a concussion going slowly. The forwards for St. Louis look to be good and strong and if they can get solid play from their defense, the Blues very well could be a surprise team in the West.

With the likes of Chicago and Detroit being in their division along with an always difficult Nashville team and an improved Columbus squad, it’s going to be difficult. That said, the Pacific Division showed last season that everyone in a division can have a good season and if the Central Division works out to be as tough as it’s setting up to be, the Blues mix of youth and veteran experience could make them a fun team to watch.

Flames’ Bennett, Tkachuk accused of slew-footing in loss to Leafs

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The Calgary Flames dropped an ugly 4-0 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday, not exactly rebounding from an embarrassing 7-3 defeat at the hands of the Edmonton Oilers.

Things were ugly in a different way toward the end, especially if you ask Maple Leafs fans, as Sam Bennett and Matthew Tkachuk may or may not be guilty of “slew-footing” late in the contest. In each case, they were whistled for roughing.

Bennett was guilty of the first incident on Connor Carrick:

Meanwhile, around the time of the final whistle, Tkachuk’s “roughing” of Martin Marincin drew quite a bit of ire. You can see for yourself in the video above the post’s headline.

More than a few people believe that Tkachuk will be on the Department of Player Safety’s radar thanks to this moment.

There’s no doubt that he’s been making waves as a pest – really, from his first game in the NHL – but some believe he went over the line this time. He’s second in the NHL with 92 penalty minutes, by the way.

Patrick Marleau’s magical third period secures Sharks win vs. Avalanche

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At 37 years old and nearing 500 career goals, there aren’t a ton of things Patrick Marleau has failed to accomplish.* Still, he did something he’s never done – and few players have managed to do – in the San Jose Sharks’ 5-2 win against the Colorado Avalanche on Monday night.

The amusing thing is that it was a mundane night for Marleau and the Sharks heading into the third period.

They carried a 2-1 lead against the Avs before Marleau’s magical period really kicked into gear. In less than eight minutes of game time, Marleau managed an out-of-left-field natural hat trick:

He didn’t stop there, either, as he also hit the four-goal mark for the first time in his career … and again, it was in the same period.

That’s his first four-goal game (and period, naturally). It’s been a long, long time since someone enjoyed a period like Marleau did:

Speaking of history, this massive night indeed places Marleau close to another impressive feat. He’s now at 497 career goals, three away from the elusive 500 mark.

To underscore how unexpected this outburst was, consider this: Marleau generated zero goals and one assist in his previous seven games.

As the Sharks enjoy an era fueled by the ascent of Brent Burns and the passing of the torch from the likes of Marleau and Joe Thornton to a group including Logan Couture and Martin Jones, it seems fitting that Marleau – a player receding from the team’s spotlight – totally stole the spotlight on Monday.

The Sharks probably won’t complain, either. He helped them seal their fifth consecutive win, putting San Jose in a strong position to regain the lead in the Pacific Division.

Pretty good stuff from a guy who rapidly faded from relevance after being stripped of the Sharks captaincy.

* – How dare you make Stanley Cup jokes on a happy occasion for Sharks fans?

Capitals assert their dominance once again, this time clobbering Hurricanes

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 03: Dmitry Orlov #9 of the Washington Capitals celebrates with teammates after assisting Justin Williams #14 on a goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs during the first period at Verizon Center on January 3, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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The Washington Capitals lead the league in standings points … and maybe in swagger. At least, it feels that way lately.

Monday presented their latest display of power as the Carolina Hurricanes had no answer for the Capitals machine. Washington clobbered Carolina by a score of 6-1, but at least the Hurricanes can take comfort in joining a rather large group of teams who’ve been humbled by Braden Holtby & Co.

This makes the Capitals 11-0-1 during a dominant run; they’ve scored at least a point in all but one game since Dec. 21.

Honestly, you can dice up their hot streak in a variety of ways, as Washington’s been outstanding since at least early December. Margin of victory might be the most jaw-dropping way to illustrate Washington’s dominant run:

Yep, that’s something else.

Dmitry Orlov was one of the standouts of this latest win, scoring two goals. His strong night and flashes of brilliance prompted Alex Ovechkin to … maybe go a little over the top.

Hey, when you’re on fire like the Capitals have been lately, it’s probably tough to make some pretty bold comparisons.

Things might be turning around for Lundqvist (not so much for the Kings)

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 13:  Marian Gaborik #12 of the Los Angeles Kings shakes hands with Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers after the Kings 3-2 double-overtime victory during Game Five of the 2014 Stanley Cup Final at Staples Center on June 13, 2014 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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As you likely know, the 2017 NHL All-Star Game is coming to Los Angeles this weekend. If the Kings don’t get it together, that might be the biggest hockey event for some time, as they’re currently on the outside looking in at the playoffs.

Monday presented what felt like a story of one cold streak continuing to fade away while the other only seems to get icier.

The positive side: Henrik Lundqvist might just be working through that slump.

The New York Rangers beat the Los Angeles Kings 3-2 on Monday, and it wasn’t a walk in the park for Lundqvist. He made 36 out of 38 stops, giving him a personal three-game winning streak in which he’s allowed just four total goals.

Some of those stops were pretty impressive, too:

(He also shut down a Jeff Carter breakaway, which is obviously no easy task.)

While Lundqvist is getting it together, the Kings might just be a little worried after dropping their fourth straight loss.

They’re at 48 points in 47 games, leaving them three points behind the West’s two wild card teams and two behind the Canucks.

The Kings have experience fighting through challenges like these, but they’ve also fallen short of getting into the West’s top eight, and their schedule is awfully road-heavy:

Tuesday: at Devils
Thursday: at Hurricanes
Tuesday, Jan. 31: at Coyotes
Wednesday, Feb. 1: vs. Avalanche
Saturday, Feb. 4: at Flyers
Sunday, Feb. 5: at Capitals
Tuesday, Feb. 7: at Lightning
Thursday, Feb. 9: at Panthers

Some of those opponents are struggling and the All-Star break might allow for a breather, but that could still be a problematic stretch, especially if the Kings are in a fragile state.

Then again, if they look at Lundqvist’s upward trend, they can note that fortunes can change pretty quickly in 2016-17.