Minnesota Wild v St. Louis Blues

Blues playoff chances will hinge on Jaroslav Halak

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The Blues have a new captain. They have new veterans to show the young core the way. They have two of the best young offensive blueliners in the league. They have players that were acquired last season who have had an entire offseason to get comfortable in their new city. Everything looks like it’s in order for the Blues to have a bounce back season this year. Yet still, no matter which way you look at the team, their success still comes back to one vitally important player: Jaroslav Halak.

Expectations were sky-high when he was acquired from the Montreal Canadiens for Lars Eller and Ian Schultz. He was coming off of a playoff run where he almost single-handedly led the Habs to the Eastern Conference finals. The Habs chose Carey Price, the Blues chose to obtain his services and sign him for a 4-year deal, and the rest is history.

Or is it?

Last season the Blues were supposed to take the next step in their progression as Western Conference contenders. They finished 6th in the West in 2008-09 and had all the makings of a young team on the rise. The 2009-10 season featured a plethora of injuries that caused a predictable slip in the standings. But last year? Last year, a healthy team was supposed to pick up where they left off in 2009. Long-term injuries to TJ Oshie and David Perron didn’t help—but there was more to it than just injuries.

Aside from the injuries, the Blues were supposed to have an elite goaltender who could help steal games and lead them back to the playoffs. His pedestrian numbers explain that he wasn’t an elite goaltender last year—but it was more than just statistics. David Rogers over on Frozen Notes explains that Halak’s second year in St. Louis will need more consistency:

“The four-year, $15 million question. I think most fans are willing to give Halak a pass on his first season in St. Louis as the number one goaltender. They won’t be able to overlook two consecutive mediocre years. We’ve seen him be outstanding and unbeatable at times yet it’s quite difficult to forget the times he has been out of position and beaten repeatedly from similar angles.”

Halak’s going to need to step up if the Blues want to fill all of their potential. The Canadiens traded him because he wanted to be paid like “the man.” Now it’s time for him to start earning it. If he can put together a season like his last year in Montreal, the Blues are a good bet to sneak into the playoffs next season. But if he’s the inconsistent, average goaltender from a year ago, there’s no way the Blues will be able to reach the postseason in the tough Western Conference.

He’s had a year to get used to his new surroundings. He has a great new mask. Now fans in St. Louis hope he’ll have a great new game to go with the new headgear in the not-so-new city.

Report: Yes, Claude Julien’s job is in some danger with Bruins

MONTREAL, QC - DECEMBER 12:  Head coach of the Boston Bruins Claude Julien looks on as he walks across the ice during the NHL game against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre on December 12, 2016 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The Boston Bruins defeated the Montreal Canadiens 2-1 in overtime.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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After the Boston Bruins squandered a 3-0 lead against the Detroit Red Wings and ultimately lost 6-5 via a shootout, plenty of fans and commenters had enough. Many called for Claude Julien’s head.

They might not be alone.

During the latest edition of TSN’s Insider Trading on Thursday, Bob McKenzie didn’t say that Julien was definitely going to be fired, but he said there’s a “credible threat” to the long-standing Bruins bench boss’ job security.

The phrase “impending doom” came up, too.

So … yeah, it sure sounds like Julien is on thin ice.

McKenzie indicates that Julien should be behind the bench on Friday and could improve his situation if he reels off some wins. That’s where things get extra interesting.

The Bruins play three of their next four games and seven of their next nine contests at home. Most of those games are against playoff-caliber teams, however, so it wouldn’t necessarily be “easy.” Still, the opportunities are there for the Bruins to solidify their spot in the East playoff picture.

Still, it sure sounds like the margin of error is pretty small for Julien, just as it might be for Boston in this playoff race.

Want more coaching hot seat talk from McKenzie? He also discussed Paul Maurice’s situation with the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday:

Video: There was no stopping John Tavares on this goal

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New York Islanders fans probably needed a moment like this, even ones who are more than happy that Jack Capuano was let go.

It’s no surprise that John Tavares provided such a moment.

Watch in the video above as he makes an obscene move against Dallas Stars defenseman John Klingberg, and then finishes with some really nifty timing. Wow.

Tavares now has 17 goals this season, reinforcing the thought that the team’s struggles aren’t on him.

Now catch up on all of the drama surrounding the team:

Bob McKenzie updates on the fuzzy future for the Isles

Liam McHugh grills Garth Snow on a variety of burning questions

Coyotes demote Duclair to AHL so he can ‘regain his scoring touch’

NEWARK, NJ - OCTOBER 25: Anthony Duclair #10 of the Arizona Coyotes skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on October 25, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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It’s been a tough season for both Anthony Duclair and the Arizona Coyotes. Even so, it’s still startling to see that he was demoted to the AHL on Thursday.

GM John Chayka explained the team’s logic for the demotion:

“Anthony is a good young player,” said Chayka. “Unfortunately, he has struggled this season. We felt this was a good time to send him to Tucson to work on a few things and hopefully regain his scoring touch. We hope to have him rejoin our team soon.”

Duclair’s been the subject of more than a few trade rumors, but this is probably the low point of a rough 2016-17 season for the 21-year-old.

It’s worth taking a second to consider the very different luck Duclair’s experienced in his breakout season last year vs. this one.

His shooting percentage was 19 in 2015-16, helping him score 20 goals on just 105 shots. By comparison, he’s only converted on 5.2 percent of his shots this year, nabbing three on 58.

In other words, Duclair’s work is probably somewhere between those extremes … but he’s also at that age where a player can make big leaps forward. So, it’s understandable that the Coyotes want to try to repair their prospect’s confidence, and it’s also reasonable that other teams might believe that they can get more out of him.

A trip to the AHL really might be good for his confidence but … still, wow.

The good news and the bad news for Roman Josi

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Roman Josi told Swiss Hockey News.ch that he suffered a concussion from that Anton Blidh hit you can see in the video above, according to a translation passed along by the Tennessean.

So, that’s the bad news for the Nashville Predators. The good is that he also told that outlet that he might be able to return for the Preds sometime next week.

Josi, 26, has dealt with concussion issues before, making this report a concern for the long-term. Still, the possibility of a return so soon is definitely a positive.

Here’s what the next week and change looks like for Nashville:

Tonight: at Flames
Friday: at Oilers
Sunday: at Wild
Tuesday, Jan. 24: vs. Sabres
Thursday: vs. Blue Jackets

The Predators aren’t out of the West picture altogether, but they need to make the most of their opportunities. Much like the Bolts with Victor Hedman, Nashville’s hanging in there OK without one of their key guys, but every point counts. Getting Josi back would be huge.