Los Angeles Kings v Vancouver Canucks

PHT staff projects the Western Conference playoff teams

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We fed you the Eastern Conference playoff picks earlier today and with those along with our Stanley Cup and awards predictions, you can piece together pretty well what we’re thinking about the NHL season. We’re not banking on you agreeing with us, this is just where we see things going for ourselves.

Don’t let that stop you from a supreme rant about how wrong we are though.

Joe Yerdon says:
1. Vancouver Canucks
2. Los Angeles Kings
3. Detroit Red Wings
4. Chicago Blackhawks
5. San Jose Sharks
6. Nashville Predators
7. Anaheim Ducks
8. St. Louis Blues

It’s tempting to put any one of a handful of teams into the eighth spot (Minnesota, Calgary, Dallas) but I’m buying into the Blues hype. Everyone else, however, should be the same as last season just rearranged in a different order. The West is loaded with great teams and nasty. If the NHL played with a balanced schedule now, the West would thump on the East with reckless abandon. Instead, they’ll feast upon the Oilers and Coyotes. Vancouver gets to be tops in the West by virtual attrition thanks to how bad the rest of the division will be. I’m not sold on Colorado pressing for the playoffs. Same goes for Columbus. Regardless, games out of the Western Conference are all worth watching as the whole thing is crammed with great talent.

James O’Brien says:
1.  San Jose Sharks
2.  Vancouver Canucks
3.  Chicago Blackhawks
4.  Los Angeles Kings
5.  Detroit Red Wings
6.  St. Louis Blues
7.  Nashville Predators
8.  Anaheim Ducks

The Sharks are built for the regular season, although their backup situation is worrisome. My guess is that the Canucks are a little banged up entering the season, but they should still run roughshod over a weak Northwest. Chicago and Detroit is becoming an annual coin toss; I’m leaning toward the Blackhawks because they got better during the off-season while the Red Wings made lateral moves – at best. The Kings have a chance to usurp the Sharks because of their strong defense and stable goalie duo, but I think they’re better suited for racking up wins in the playoffs than in the regular season.

The Blues are my mild dark horse team. I don’t like their defense, but their offense is deep and Jaroslav Halak was sneaky-good at times last season. The Predators and Ducks are polar opposites. Nashville lacks a single star scorer but is rock solid on defense and net; the Ducks boast three genuine superstar forwards (and one still-great winger in Teemu Selanne) but features a Swiss cheese defense and a Swiss goalie with an unclear health situation.

Matt Reitz says:
1. Vancouver Canucks
2. Los Angeles Kings
3. Chicago Blackhawks
4. San Jose Sharks
5. Detroit Red Wings
6. Nashville Predators
7. Anaheim Ducks
8. St. Louis Blues

The Canucks return most of the team that was the dominant team in the NHL last season—no reason to think they won’t be just as good this season. The Hawks should be substantially better because they know who their goaltender is going to be from the beginning of the season and because they won’t have a Cup hangover to deal with. Expect the Hawks to be back among the league’s elite next season. In the Pacific, the Kings had two huge weaknesses last season at center and left wing—and addressed both with Mike Richards and Simon Gagne. With another year experience for all of their young players, this should be the year they make the jump. The Ducks may take a step back—but a full season with Jonas Hiller means they’re still a playoff team. A healthy team in St. Louis and a full season of Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk mean they should fulfill the expectations they had at the beginning of LAST season.

Disagree with all that? Let us know in our poll who you think will win the West.

Hitchcock believes Blues’ Allen is ‘locked up mentally’

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 08: Jake Allen #34 of the St. Louis Blues makes the third period save against the New York Islanders at the Barclays Center on December 8, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Things were already rough for the St. Louis Blues and their goalies (particularly still-pretty-newly crowned No. 1 Jake Allen) heading into Thursday, but the Washington Capitals really highlighted those issues in a 7-3 thrashing.

Blues fans and management must be wondering, then: what’s wrong with their goalies, especially with Allen? Head coach Ken Hitchcock seems resigned to allowing him to fight through it, if nothing else.

“There’s a lot going on right now. … He’s kind of locked up mentally and he’s going to have to fight through this,” Hitchock said, according to Lou Korac of NHL.com. “What we see at practice, we like. That’s why we put him in quite frankly.”

Alex Pietrangelo did the typical deflecting thing, nothing that this is a “team” and that there are “no individuals.”

Still, Hitchcock’s longer press conference makes you wonder how much trust there is in Allen and Carter Hutton.

From Hitch’s perspective, it sure sounds like he believes that the Blues are over-correcting to try to limit “goals, shots.” By trying to do too much, they might be putting themselves in bad positions. And that might stem from a lack of confidence in the guys in net, or in the team’s work in their own zone overall.

Let’s be honest. As much as we can play chicken-or-the-egg as far as a defense’s impact on a goalie, it’s tough to explain away save percentages under .900 in the modern NHL. At some point, your team needs more stops.

With the races for the lower spots in the Western Conference’s playoff picture seemingly tightening up, the Blues don’t have a ton of time to figure this out.

Capitals shine glaring light on Blues’ goalie woes

ST LOUIS, MO - MAY 23:  Jake Allen #34 of the St. Louis Blues makes a save during the first period against the San Jose Sharks in Game Five of the Western Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scottrade Center on May 23, 2016 in St Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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If you’re reaction to the headline “Something is off about the St. Louis Blues” was “Yeah, their goaltending,” then Thursday only emboldened that opinion.

It wasn’t just that the Washington Capitals bombarded the Blues by a score of 7-3. It’s that they really didn’t need to fire a whole lot of shots on goal to get to seven.

Here’s a harsh rule of thumb: when both of your goalies play in a game and each one barely makes more saves than goals allowed, that’s an awful night. Take a look at what Jake Allen and Carter Hutton went through:

Allen: six saves, four goals allowed in 25:11 time on ice
Hutton: five saves, three goals allowed in 35:49

Allen got pulled from the contest twice, by the way. He’s been pulled from four games since Dec. 30. Woof.

Even before these horrendous performances, the Blues goalies have been shaky. Hutton came into tonight with an ugly .898 save percentage; Allen wasn’t much better with a .900 mark.

Those are the type of numbers that would make Dallas Stars fans cringe, or at least experience some uncomfortable familiarity.

Now, is it all on Hutton and Allen? Much like with the Stars’ embattled goalies, much of the struggles probably come down to a team struggling in front of them.

Even so, if you assign more of the blame to Allen and Hutton, nights like this Capitals thrashing definitely strengthen your argument. Yikes.

Rangers overwhelm Leafs, make life pretty easy for Lundqvist in win

TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 19:  Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers faces a shot in the warm-up prior to play against the Toronto Maple Leafs in an NHL game at the Air Canada Centre on January 19, 2017 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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Heading into Thursday, many were wondering how the New York Rangers will handle Henrik Lundqvist‘s struggles. Instead, the focus shifted to the Toronto Maple Leafs’ difficulties, perhaps specifically in dealing with Morgan Rielly‘s absence.

The Rangers handily won this one 5-2, at least giving Lundqvist the win. He wasn’t especially busy, stopping 23 out of 25 shots, so you can probably file his story under “To be continued.”

Lundqvist wasn’t oblivious to his team’s impressive overall play.

Really, it was all about the waves of attackers the Rangers can send at opponents and the trouble that caused for the Maple Leafs. It wasn’t the easiest night for Frank Corrado, in particular, who took a couple costly penalties.

The Rangers’ next two games come in a road contest vs. the Red Wings on Sunday and a home game against the Kings on Monday. Perhaps those matches will serve as a better barometer for where Lundqvist’s really at, as he passed tonight’s test … but it wasn’t a particularly difficult one.

So, is Mike Condon actually really good? He certainly was against Columbus

OTTAWA, ON - JANUARY 8: Mike Condon #1 of the Ottawa Senators stands at the bench during a break in a game against the Edmonton Oilers at Canadian Tire Centre on January 8, 2017 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***
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Considering their numbers heading in, many were perplexed when the Ottawa Senators essentially replaced Andrew Hammond with Mike Condon. Now many are perplexed by just how strong Condon’s often been for Ottawa.

Thursday might stand as the prime example that this guy could be better than many expected.

The Columbus Blue Jackets dominated much of the play, generating a 42-28 shots on goal advantage, but Ottawa ended up winning 2-0 tonight.

Condon already came into tonight with a solid save percentage (.915 before this shutout), and he’s now won four of his last five games. Three of his four career shutouts have come this season.

Ignoring his one relief appearance with Pittsburgh this season for the sake of simplicity, just consider his tough times with Montreal last season. He went 21-25-6 with a shaky .903 save percentage.

This marks just his 21st start and 23rd appearance of this season, so it’s not a guaranteee for future results. Still … it’s another example that goalies are as just about as unpredictable as they are crucial to a team’s fate.

More and more, it seems like Condon might just be a difference-maker, and in the positive sense this time around.