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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Kane, Holtby, Duchene named NHL’s three stars for November

Patrick Kane
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A winger, a goalie and a center were the NHL’s three stars for October.

And now a winger, a goalie and a center are the NHL’s three stars for November, too.

On Tuesday, the league announced that Chicago’s Patrick Kane, Washington’s Braden Holtby and Colorado’s Matt Duchene were the first, second and third stars for the month, this after naming Dallas’ Jamie Benn, Montreal’s Carey Price and Boston’s David Krejci as the three stars last month.


Kane led the NHL with 15 assists and 23 points, registering at least one point in all 13 November games to guide the Blackhawks (13-8-3, 29 points) to a 7-3-3 month and third place in the Central Division.

Holtby went 9-2-0 with a 1.99 goals-against average, .927 save percentage and one shutout to pace the NHL in wins and backstop the Capitals (17-5-1, 35 points) to a 9-3-1 month and second place in the Metropolitan Division.

Duchene paced the NHL with 11 goals and ranked second with 20 points in 14 games to power the Avalanche (9-14-1, 19 points) to a 6-8-0 November. In doing so, he became the first Avalanche player to score 11 or more goals in one calendar month since February 2003 (Milan Hejduk: 12).

Kane, of course, is also currently riding a 19-game point streak, the longest by an American-born player in NHL history and the longest by any player since Sidney Crosby had a point in 25 straight games during the ’10-11 campaign.

Kane will look to extend his streak tonight, when the ‘Hawks take on the Wild (NBCSN, 8 p.m. ET).

Strome, Marner highlight Team Canada’s World Junior roster

Connor McDavid
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Hockey Canada announced its roster for the World Junior selection camp on Tuesday and, unsurprisingly, the list is filled with first-round picks.

Chief among them? Dylan Strome and Mitch Marner, taken third and fourth overall at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. Strome, property of the Arizona Coyotes and Marner, property of the Maple Leafs, are just two of nine first-rounders from this June’s draft heading to camp; the roster also includes five first-rounders from the ’14 draft.

Thirty players in total were invited. That means there’ll be some stiff competition for roster spots, though not in goal, where only Calgary and New Jersey prospects Mason McDonald and Mackenzie Blackwood will attend.

The full list of invitees:



As for the fate of two WJC-eligible NHLers — Vancouver’s Jake Virtanen and Jared McCann — Hockey Canada head scout Ryan Jankowski said his organization is holding out hope both will be available for selection.

Another brief post on the unpredictable nature of goaltending

Michal Neuvirth
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We did this last year at around this time. Let’s do it again. Among goalies that have started at least 10 games, know who’s number one in save percentage?

It’s not Henrik Lundqvist, though he’s up there at .935.

It’s not Carey Price either (.934).

It’s Philadelphia’s Michal Neuvirth, at .939. Anyone see that coming? Sure, Neuvirth played reasonably well last year for Buffalo, but this is a guy who’s started more than 40 games just once in his career. The Flyers signed him this summer to be Steve Mason‘s backup. His cap hit is a measly $1.625 million. The point is, any goalie that’s good enough to play in the NHL is good enough to have a hot streak in the NHL. It’s very hard to differentiate which of them have staying power and which don’t.

Another name among the current save percentage leaders is Toronto’s James Reimer. So to recap: Reimer had a good rookie year in 2010-11, and the Leafs were confident they’d found their guy. Then the next season he suffered a concussion in October and when he got back he struggled to regain his form. But he bounced back in 2013! Alas, it all came crashing down in the playoffs during the Great Choke in Boston. So the Leafs went out and got Jonathan Bernier, who’s a whole other story that we could delve into here. Where were we with Reimer? Right. The Great Choke. The next two seasons, Reimer was Bernier’s backup. He wasn’t particularly good. Until this year. When he’s good again.

Now let’s look at a few names at the bottom of the list. Keep in mind that .915 is the league average for save percentage.

—- Colorado’s Semyon Varlamov is last at .887, Cam Ward is down there at .898, and Tuukka Rask is just barely better at .899. Combined cap hit? Almost $20 million.

Cam Talbot at .889. Good last year for the Rangers, not so good this year for the Oilers. So…is it him? Or, is it the team in front of him? Because if it’s the latter — gasp! — what does that say about Lundqvist? He’s never played for another team. What would The King’s numbers be like for Edmonton? You know, there are people who believe that Martin Brodeur wasn’t actually that great. But let’s move on before we go down that wormhole.

— Sergei Bobrovsky at .907. Hey, didn’t that guy win the Vezina a couple of years ago?

Devan Dubnyk at .909. Remember when he salvaged his career and saved the Wild? You should. It happened less than a year ago. Earned him a nice $26 million contract through 2021. This is exactly why we didn’t envy Chuck Fletcher. What was he going to do — let Dubnyk walk? And hey, it could still turn out to be a great signing. Only time will tell. That’s the whole point of this post.

Bottom line: goaltending is an extremely tough position for general managers to address. On the one hand, we know that teams can win Stanley Cups with guys who are making peanuts. (See: Jonathan Quick in 2012 and Corey Crawford in 2013.) But at the same time, no team can survive bad goaltending. Which is to say, a GM that gambles on an inexpensive option is a GM that could look really bad down the line. Of course, you know who else can look really bad? A GM that locks up a goalie long term, only for that goalie to become a bad goalie.

This is why GMs don’t sleep well and get fired a lot.

Related: Avs ‘need, expect more’ from Varlamov

Detroit’s Larkin wins rookie of the month for November

Teemu Pulkkinen, Dylan Larkin
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One of the youngest players in the NHL has been rewarded for his outstanding play last month.

On Tuesday, Red Wings forward Dylan Larkin was named rookie of the month for November, after leading all first-year players in goals (seven in 13 games).

From the league:

Larkin edged Chicago Blackhawks left wing Artemi Panarin (5-8—13 in 13 GP), New York Rangers center Oscar Lindberg (4-5—9 in 14 GP), Arizona Coyotes left wing Max Domi (3-6—9 in 12 GP), Calgary Flames center Sam Bennett (4-4—8 in 12 GP) and Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel (4-4—8 in 13 GP) for the honor.

Larkin, the 15th overall selection in the 2014 NHL Draft, recorded six of his seven goals in the final seven contests of the month (6-1—7), including a four-game goal streak Nov. 16-21 (4-0—4). In doing so, the 19-year-old Waterford, Mich., native became the first teenager to post a four-game goal streak for the Red Wings since 1984-85, when Steve Yzerman had a pair of four-game runs.

Needless to say it’s been a banner campaign for Larkin, the first teenager to play for the Red Wings since Jiri Hudler (also 19 years old) in 2003-04. He’s also in some elite company by winning rookie of the month, joining Oilers freshman sensation Connor McDavid, who captured the honors for October.