We all recall two years ago when Jaroslav Halak made himself a household name in Montreal by helping lead the Canadiens to the Eastern Conference finals. After being traded to St. Louis last offseason and going through what some would say was a bit of a disappointing year for the Slovakian netminder, the Blues enter this season with a lot of hype.
After all, the Blues come into the new season healthy with all of their youthful big guns ready to show what they’re made of in the NHL. David Backes starts the year as the team’s new captain and guys like T.J. Oshie, Patrik Berglund, Alex Steen, Matt D’Agostini, and Kevin Shattenkirk are looking to be the guys that bust things up in the West. The keys to doing that, however, my rest in Halak’s hands.
After a disappointing preseason, Halak is hoping it’s not a sign of things to come and he knows the pressure is on him to pull it together and get the Blues to the playoffs. Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Dispatch has the story.
Still, there is some concern about how the Blues’ No. 1 netminder will respond in his second season with the club after a preseason performance that won’t show up on any of his personal highlight reels. He was 1-2 with a 2.68 GAA and .869 save-percentage.
“No one ever won the league in the preseason,” Halak said. “I know everybody wants to see the wins and no one wants to lose. … I only won one (game) … so what can I do? It’s only the preseason, so let’s turn the page and focus on our practices right now and especially Saturday’s game.”
They’ll need Halak to be on top of his game because things aren’t confidence-inspiring when it comes to his backups. Brian Elliott beat out Ben Bishop for the backup job in training camp and while Elliott has been a starter in Ottawa and Colorado, those weren’t exactly the greatest teams. Elliott split time with Pascal Leclaire in 2009-2010 when the Senators went to the playoffs, but the wheels came off the train last year in Ottawa and he was dealt to Colorado for Craig Anderson. Things didn’t improve in Denver and the Avs allowed Elliott to walk as a free agent.
Suffice it to say, it’s Halak or bust in St. Louis. Provided Halak can stay healthy all year and show the kind of game he had in Montreal that made the Habs an impossible team to face in the postseason, the Blues figure to be equally difficult to deal with. They’re skilled, they have pesky and tough defensive players, and they’re young and brimming with confidence. It’s the perfect mix for St. Louis to be a postseason hopeful this season. Halak will hope that a poor preseason is just that and he can take care of business when the games count beginning on Saturday.
Is it all Vladimir Tarasenko‘s fault that the St. Louis Blues are on the brink of elimination?
No, of course it’s not.
It seems we have to clarify this every time a star player comes under fire for not producing. Hockey is a team game, and the Blues — as a team — have not been as good as the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference Final.
Still, it was interesting to hear St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock talk about Tarasenko yesterday, because the criticism was pointed, even if it was delivered in an empathetic manner.
“What happens with goal-scorers when they get frustrated is they look to hit home runs. We need him just to act like a worker,” said Hitchcock.
“What he’s doing is he’s looking to try to catch fast breaks, he’s looking to catch the other team napping. But when you play against guys like [Marc-Edouard Vlasic], you’re not going to catch him napping. He’s just got to feel comfortable playing within the system, playing within the framework.”
Hitchcock added, “I think it’s a natural tendency with younger players who have this heightened sense of urgency to do what they do well, which for him is score goals. He’s gotten too far away from the play. He’s got himself too stretched out. We just need him to come back to the puck a little bit more.”
As we noted yesterday, Tarasenko has been held pointless in five games against the Sharks. In his last three games combined, he’s managed just four shots total. This from a guy who scored 40 of the Blues’ 224 goals during the regular season, then put up 13 points (7G, 6A) in the first two rounds of the playoffs.
We’ll see tonight if the “hard lessons” continue for the 24-year-old, or if he can find a way to help get his team back to St. Louis for Game 7.
It’s been another successful spring for Tyler Johnson.
Johnson, the most diminutive member of Tampa Bay’s vaunted “Triplets” line, is racking up the playoff points yet again. He has 17 through 16 games — tied with Joe Thornton for sixth-most in the postseason — and, depending on how far the Bolts go this year, could best last year’s total, when he had 23 in 24.
Not bad, considering the physical pounding Johnson has taken.
At just 5-foot-9 and 182 pounds, the playoff grind has certainly taken its toll over the last two years. Johnson was rendered all but ineffective in last year’s Cup Final versus Chicago due to a broken right wrist and, this year, dealt with an upper-body injury in the opening round and a puck to the face just prior to Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final.
Not that it slowed him down any.
Johnson scored the game-winning OT tally in Game 4, getting his body in front of a Jason Garrison shot to deflect home past Marc-Andre Fleury. That earned high praise from Lightning head coach Jon Cooper, who heaped superlatives on his undersized star.
“He’s a winner — that’s what winners do,” coach Jon Cooper said of Johnson, per the Tampa Bay Times. “They don’t back down. And when there’s a challenge ahead of you, you’ve got to find a way to meet the challenge. There’s a lot of coaches that had a front row seat to see how this kid plays and how he competes.
“And it’s not always the size of the player, it’s the size of the heart, and that’s Tyler Johnson.”
The Pittsburgh Penguins were able to beat the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday to force a Game 7, now the St. Louis Blues will try to do the same against the San Jose Sharks tonight. You can catch Game 6 via the NBC Sports Group’s television and digital platforms.
St. Louis at San Jose (9:00 p.m. ET)
The television broadcast of Game 6 is on NBCSN. If you want to stream the game using the NBC Sports Live Extra app, click here.
In the meantime, here are some relevant links:
On the brink of elimination, Blues turn back to Elliott
The Blues could sure use a goal or two from Tarasenko
Feeding frenzy: Sharks send Blues to the brink of elimination in Western Conference Final
Stanley Cup Final to begin Monday
After establishing himself in the Swedish league, Anton Lindholm will head to North America.
The Colorado Avalanche announced that they have signed the 21-year-old defenseman to a three-year, entry-level contract. They selected Lindholm in the fifth round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft.
More of a defensive defenseman, Lindholm only registered four assists in 30 Swedish league games with Skelleftea AIK in 2015-16, but he also had a team-high 85 hits despite missing a chunk of the season due to injury. During the playoffs he helped his team reach the SHL Finals by leading them in both hits and blocked shots.
That was his second full campaign with Skelleftea AIK. The next step for Lindholm will likely be for him to continue his development in the AHL.