Tampa Bay Lightning v St. Louis Blues

2011-2012 season preview: St. Louis Blues

2010-2011 record: 38-33-11, 87 points; 4th in Central and 11th in West

Playoffs: Did not qualify

The Blues missed the playoffs for the second consecutive season — they haven’t won a playoff game since before the lockout. Missing the playoffs has been something new for the fans in St. Louis, since they made the postseason every single year between 1980 and 2004. With a good balance of youngsters and veterans, the Blues are a dark-horse candidate to make it back to the playoffs this season. Then again, they were a dark-horse candidate to make noise last season as well.

Offense

The offense looks to improve this season as they’ll enjoy Chris Stewart’s talents for the full 82 games. It’s not just Stewart who will help the Blues this season either. Forwards David Perron, Andy McDonald, and TJ Oshie all missed significant time last season with serious injuries. In essence, this is a team that hopes to have four players (who weren’t available for stretches last season), who are all capable of playing on the Blues’ top-six. Not too bad for a team that proved they could score goals last season. They were 10th in the league in scoring and power play last season; and there’s no reason to think that they can’t improve upon those numbers this season. Newly-minted captain David Backes will look to prove that his 31 goals weren’t a fluke as well.

Defense

The Erik Johnson experiment finally came to a close when the Blues sent former No. 1 overall pick to the Avalanche in a mid-season blockbuster last season. The reason they were able to trade a player with that kind of potential was simple: they thought they had a better cornerstone defenseman in Alex Pietrangelo. The 21-year-old defenseman showed down the stretch that he’s the type of player who can play in all types of situations — from the power play to the penalty kill. Barret Jackman and Carlo Colaiacovo are well respected in the locker room and Kevin Shattenkirk has shown that he’ll be a productive NHL blueliner. There’s potential here — but the drop-off after Pietrangelo is fairly significant.

Goalies

Goaltending was one of the big reasons why people thought the Blues would be a contender last season. Jaroslav Halak was coming off a spectacular playoff run with the Canadiens and many thought he was the missing piece for a team that seemingly had a strong core of young forwards and defensemen. Like the rest of the team, Halak was inconsistent last season. His (and the team’s) play at the beginning of the season made the Blues look like world beaters. But over the course of the season, Halak struggled to replicate his playoff success over an 82-game season. His 2.48 goals against average was alright, but he’ll undoubtedly need to improve upon his .910 save percentage. Newly acquired back-up Brian Elliott was picked up in the offseason to be just that — a backup. There’s no question that Halak needs to improve his consistency if they Blues want to improve this season.

Coaching

The jury is still out on Blues’ headman Davis Payne. The Blues got a bump when he took over for Andy Murray during the 2009-10 season, but injuries and inconsistency killed their playoff chances this season. Optimists will tell you that Payne is a good coach who wasn’t able to overcome injuries; pessimists will tell you that he’s an average coach leading and average team. This will be an important year for Payne to show that he has what it takes to lead a team with potential to the playoffs.

Breakout candidate

Some will say he broke out last season, but Pietrangelo is looking to take the next step this season. The superstar-in-the-making was handed the keys to the defense in the middle of last season and didn’t disappoint. This year, he’ll look to improve upon his 11 goals, 43 points, and team best (for defensemen) +18 rating. Last season he established himself as the best defenseman on the team – this season he’ll look to establish himself as one of the best defensemen in the league. Don’t be surprised if people are mentioning Pietrangelo and the Norris Trophy in the same sentence in the next few years.

Best-case scenario

On paper, this team has all the makings of a playoff contender. If everyone can stay healthy (a big “if” after last season), the Blues forward lineup takes on a completely different complexion. Veteran newcomers Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner should help teach the young core how to play like professionals and fulfill expectations. If the defense holds up and Halak returns to the form that he showed in Montreal, the Blues can battle for the second place in the Central and a solid spot in the playoffs.

Reality

The reality is the Blues have a lot of question marks surrounding their potential. They need to stay healthy, they need to figure out a way to mix Langenbrunner and Arnott into the fold up front, they’ll need their second and third pairings on the blue line to play strong defense all season, and they need their up-and-down goaltender to keep the puck out of the net. There’s too much talent to ignore here — expect the Blues to win the battle with a few other teams to sneak into that final playoff spot in the Western Conference. They may finish behind the ‘Hawks, Wings, and Preds in the Central, but that still may be good enough for the eighth and final spot in the West.

Condon keeps standing on his head for Sens, this time sinking Sharks

SAN JOSE, CA - DECEMBER 07:  Mike Condon #1 of the Ottawa Senators makes a save on a shot taken by Mikkel Boedker #89 of the San Jose Sharks at SAP Center on December 7, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) Chris Kelly scored with 1:06 remaining and Jean-Gabriel Pageau added an empty-net goal, giving the Ottawa Senators a 4-2 victory over the San Jose Sharks on Wednesday night.

Mark Stone and Erik Karlsson also scored for the Senators, who beat the Sharks for a fifth straight time. They’ve won three straight in San Jose for the first time ever.

Logan Couture and Brent Burns scored for the Sharks, who had a three-game winning streak snapped.

Mike Condon stopped 35 of 37 shots for the Sens. The Sharks outshot Ottawa 18-4 in the third period, and Martin Jones allowed three goals on 16 shots overall.

The Senators struck quickly, recording a power-play goal less than four minutes into the contest. Mike Hoffman tossed the puck toward the net and it bounced off Burns’ skate. Burns lost sight of it and Stone picked it up, firing past everybody into the net.

Hoffman has a point in six straight games and in eight of nine since missing a pair of contests with an injury.

Karlsson made it 2-0 with a goal about four minutes later. Sharks defender Brendan Dillon tried clearing it from in front of the net, but Karlsson was right there to fire it to the high glove side.

Couture got the Sharks on the board with a power-play goal midway through the second period. The Senators cleared the puck two straight possessions before Joe Pavelski rushed to the net and then slipped the puck to an open Couture, who has six goals in his past eight games, about 10 feet away for the score.

Burns tied the score 6:30 into the third period, methodically working the puck to set up a shot that squeezed past Condon to the glove side.

NOTES: Senators D Marc Methot missed his fourth straight contest with a lower body injury. … Stone has eight points in his last six games. … Karlsson has nine points in his last five games. … The Sharks recalled F Kevin LeBlanc and D Mirco Mueller. Mueller was a healthy scratch. … Sharks D Paul Martin recorded his 300th NHL point with an assist on Burns’ goal.

UP NEXT:

Senators: Continue a four-game trip at the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday.

Sharks: Travel to Anaheim for a game Friday night and then return home to face Carolina on Saturday night.

‘If he was in Toronto, there’d be no Carey Price, media-wise’ – Boudreau on Dubnyk

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 07:  Devan Dubnyk #40 of the Minnesota Wild celbrates a win over the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center on April 7, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. The Wild defeated the Blackhawks 2-1.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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The Minnesota Wild aren’t exactly dominating the NHL, so it might be easy to ignore just how outstanding Devan Dubnyk has been to start the 2016-17 season.

We’re talking “Carey Price and Tuukka Rask territory.”

While his 11-6-3 record won’t blow anyone’s mind, his 1.65 GAA and .946 save percentage are jaw-dropping. With Dubnyk doing special things, Bruce Boudreau felt the need to say weird things* after Dubnyk helped the Wild beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-2 on Wednesday.

“If he was in Toronto, there would be no Carey Price … I’m just saying media-wise,” Boudreau said after the game, as you can see in this video:

That’s some Haagen-Daz level praise from Boudreau.

Even if Dubnyk was in a bigger market, there’d probably be room in our hockey thoughts for Dubnyk and the consensus best goalie in the world, but Boudreau’s larger point is taken: Dubnyk has been right there with the best early on this season.

And, let’s be honest, we shouldn’t be too hard on Boudreau or he might stop saying … well, things like this:

Never change, Bruce.

* – Unlike his comments about “Die Hard,” which were amusingly on-point.

Trademark headaches for the Vegas Golden Knights?

LAS VEGAS, NV - NOVEMBER 22:  The team name and logo for the Vegas Golden Knights are displayed on T-Mobile Arena's video mesh wall after the Vegas Golden Knights was announced as the name for the Las Vegas NHL franchise at T-Mobile Arena on November 22, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The team will begin play in the 2017-18 season.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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It’s difficult to tell just how big of a headache this might be, but SBNation‘s Mary Clarke uncovered quite the eyebrow-raiser on Wednesday: the Vegas Golden Knights’ trademark request was rejected by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

You can read the 164-page document here (if you’re weird), but the gist is that “registration of the applied-for mark is refused because of a likelihood of confusion with the mark” used by the College of Saint Rose Golden Knights.

Clarke summarized it simply enough:

Essentially, the logos and stylizations are too similar. It’s baffling the NHL and Vegas didn’t go through the trademark process before announcing the name and logo last month. Yet, all is not lost. Later down, the document states the Black Knight Sports and Entertainment group “may respond to the refusal by submitting evidence and arguments in support of registration.”

Sports Illustrated’s Alex Prewitt received this release from the Vegas Golden Knights, which indicated that they will respond to the refusal (and also noted how teams like the Boston Bruins and UCLA Bruins share names without issues).

There seem to be some mixed messages, at least if you note owner Bill Foley’s response to NBC Las Vegas’ Amber Dixon:

Hmm.

This could merely be a messy issue that really doesn’t cause anything to go off track, even if people are certainly having some fun at the league and team’s expense.

The logo and other marks seem to be the biggest sticking point, so compare the two for yourself:

Again, this could all be a mild disruption, but it’s an odd situation. And, to some, a great laugh.

Related: There also might be some issues involving the Army.

Capitals manage OT win after coughing up lead to Bruins

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It wasn’t pretty, and they might have lost key defenseman Matt Niskanen to injury, but at least the Washington Capitals managed a win against the Boston Bruins.

For a while, it was looking pretty ugly.

After going up 3-0, the Capitals went more than a period’s worth of time without even managing a shot on goal. Whether you lean more toward giving the Bruins credit for fighting back or beating up the Capitals for “sitting on a lead,” it’s staggering that such a dangerous offense could be held in check for so long.

Luckily for Washington, Nicklas Backstrom salvaged the night with an overtime goal to give the Capitals a 4-3 overtime win.

Both teams have had a knack for extending games beyond regulation lately, by the way:

Capitals over the last three games:
Shootout loss to the Lightning
Overtime win against the Sabres
Overtime win tonight against the Bruins

Bruins over the last five games:
Shootout loss against Flyers
Shootout win against Hurricanes
Regulation win against Sabres
Overtime win against Panthers
Overtime loss to the Capitals

Maybe that’s what gets it done in 2016-17: finding ways to carve out wins and shake out rough patches, like the Caps did tonight.