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.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are on their first real losing streak of the season (three games) and are now going to be without their No. 1 defenseman for at least the next few games after the team announced on Monday morning that Kris Letang has been placed on injured reserve.
Along with that move, the Penguins also recalled forward Jake Guentzel and defenseman Chad Ruhwedel from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League.
Letang was injured during the Penguins’ 6-4 loss in Detroit over the weekend, playing only 2:06 before exiting the game with an apparent leg injury.
Injuries have been a constant problem for Letang in his career and have allowed him to play in more than 70 games just once since 2010, and it usually has a pretty significant impact on the team when he is out.
While Sidney Crosby is the Penguins’ best player, there is an argument to be made that Letang is their most important and the one player they can not afford to lose given the minutes he plays, the impact he has on the game in all three zones, and the fact he is probably on any given night on one of the five best all-around defensemen in hockey. There is a pretty drastic change to their offense when Letang is out of the lineup.
Entering this season the Penguins averaged 3.16 goals per game over the previous six seasons with Letang in the lineup (while winning more than 64 percent of their games), versus only 2.73 (and only winning 54 percent of their games) when he has been out of the lineup.
In the 12 games Letang has missed this season they have averaged 3.06 goals, compared to 3.60 in the 30 games he has played.
The Penguins host the Washington Capitals, winners of nine in a row, on Monday night.
— Following a six-game winning streak that moved them back into playoff contention the Vancouver Canucks dropped their fourth game in a row on Sunday night, losing 2-1 to Cory Schneider and the New Jersey Devils. A power play unit that is currently 27th in the league on the season and has gone just 1-for-17 during their current losing streak has been a big part of the problem and Ben Kuzma of the Province looked into it following their most recent defeat. [The Province]
— The Washington Capitals’ 5-0 win on Sunday (highlights above) that improved their winning streak to nine games was also the 1,500th win in franchise history. [Washington Capitals]
— Will this be the year Shane Doan waives his no-trade clause to get a chance at the Stanley Cup? Elliotte Friedman speculates that if the Coyotes, who currently have the second worst record in the league, approached the now-40-year-old Doan about a trade that he might be willing to accept it. He has four goals and eight assists in 40 games this season. [Sportsnet]
— Edmonton Oilers forward Drake Caggiula had some fun at the team’s skills competition over the weekend by taking out in the shootout dressed as … Drake. [Edmonton Oilers/YouTube]
— Los Angeles Kings general manager Dean Lombardi had an update on the status of injured goaltender Jonathan Quick on Sunday and basically said there is “no change” that he is still “a long way off.” He has been injured since the season opener and has not played since, making Peter Budaj the team’s starting goaltender this season. Budaj has a .917 save percentage and a 20-11-3 record in Quick’s absence for a Kings team that is hanging on to a playoff spot in the Western Conference [Kings Insider]
— Since their 16-game winning streak came to an end the Columbus Blue Jackets have lost four of their past six games and had to use four different goaltenders over the past four games. Is that post-winning streak hangover something that is going to be good for them in the long run? [Columbus Dispatch]
— The Minnesota Wild extended their winning streak to four games on Sunday night and moved into sole possession of first place with a 3-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks. They now have a two-point lead over the Blackhawks with four games in hand on them. Here are the highlights from Sunday’s game.
The Edmonton Oilers made a move Sunday, recalling defenseman Jordan Oesterle from the Bakersfield Condors in the AHL.
In 18 games with the Condors this season, the 24-year-old Oesterle has three goals and 11 points.
The decision comes one day after Oilers defenseman Adam Larsson missed Saturday’s contest against the rival Calgary Flames because of a lower-body injury.
While he isn’t a flashy player, Larsson seems to have made a positive impression on the Oilers coaching staff during his first season in Edmonton following last summer’s blockbuster trade involving scoring winger Taylor Hall.
No surprise this development is leading to questions about the health of Larsson, with the Oilers set to begin the second half of a six-game home stand and sitting second in the Pacific Division standings.
Heavyweight fighters Jared Boll and Ryan Reaves dropped the gloves during the second period of Sunday’s game between the Anaheim Ducks and St. Louis Blues.
Those were some thunderous right hands thrown there, both combatants landing their fair share of punches before officials finally intervened.