Hitchcock on receiving Blues job: “I was shocked”

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New St. Louis Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock met with the media today, less than 24 hours after replacing former bench boss Davis Payne. The presser introduced Hitch as the 24th head coach in franchise history, although a more apropos introduction might’ve been “St. Louis’ fourth head coach in the last five years.”

Regardless…

Here are a few of the more choice quotes from Hitch and the man that hired him, general manager Doug Armstrong. Should mention that Hitch started things off by saying he was shocked to get the call last night (he was driving his car when he picked up) and “within a couple of hours” he and Armstrong had agreed on a deal.

Hitch on taking the job: “When this call came, I’m all about the people you work with with and I’ve known John (Davidson) since John was small and a goalie in the Western Hockey League, and I’ve known Doug (Armstrong) for 18 years, so I knew the working relationship. I just felt that I couldn’t miss out on this opportunity to work with these people. I couldn’t miss it.”

Hitch on his voluminous research: “”One of the things I did over the last one-and-a-half years is study every team closely. I have a six- or eight-game report on every team … I’ve watched every team play at least four times this year very closely and I’ve done it in preparation of the next gig. I assumed that if I went into a team, I better be ready on the scouting report.”

[NB: Sounds an awful lot like Andy Murray, a notorious stickler for detail that would prepare massive opposition scouting reports. Also, the same coach St. Louis fired less than two years ago.]

Armstrong on why he made the change: “It’s something when I looked at our team and saw the way we were progressing, there were postmarks that you look for in management. I felt where we are at right now, we needed an experienced coach, someone that could guide this younger team to the area it wants to go to. I just felt that I wanted the certainty of a head coach with a proven track record, a winner, to push these young players and push this organization to the next level.

Armstrong on why he made the change now: “I think it was very important that I didn’t wait around. If I had that feeling, I shared it with (Davidson). We talked extensively over it. He gave me the full support to continue down that path. When you’re going through this process, you have to look at all the potential candidates. Ken was on that list… Everything came back to Ken’s resume, what he’s accomplished. I’ve seen him first hand as an assistant manager mold a team (in Dallas). I’ve saw him take a young, exciting Philadelphia Flyers team to Game 7 of the semifinals. I saw him take a Columbus team and provide structure and got them into the playoffs. I just thought he had all the attributes we needed moving forward.”

[Possible translation: “Payne was fine, but lacked experience. We didn’t have time to wait for him to get it.”]

One final note on the timing of the move: Payne led St. Louis to a 6-7-0 record despite a brutal opening schedule. Nine of the Blues’ first 13 games were on the road; after starting the year with two games at home they went 11 days between their second and third home games and 13 days between the third and fourth.

But Hitch? Hitch gets to take over as the Blues begin a five-game homestand on Tuesday, and they’ll actually play seven of their next nine at Scottrade. As they say, timing is everything…

The Senators have a very, very, very long list of injuries from the playoffs

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Every year, NHL teams deal with injuries during the Stanley Cup playoffs, as players fight through the pain of broken bones, torn ligaments, sprains and cuts.

On Monday, Ottawa Senators general manager Pierre Dorion went through a laundry list of players dealing with injuries, following his team’s run to the Eastern Conference Final. The detail he went into shows the price some players paid, as the Senators pushed the Penguins to double overtime of Game 7 in the third round.

It starts with Erik Karlsson, who was dealing with more than hairline fractures in his foot.

— Karlsson: In addition to dealing with the fractures, Dorion said his star defenseman had muscle issues with his foot.

Mark Borowiecki: High-ankle sprain. “He would’ve been ready for Game 1 if we got to the Stanley Cup Final.”

Alex Burrows: High-ankle sprain.

Cody Ceci: Broken finger. “I think Cody had his finger broken 17 times. I’m not sure exactly how many times. It got broken during the year, it got broken in the playoffs (versus the Rangers). It was put back into place and it broke again. He needed to freeze it before every game.”

Zack Smith: Pulled rib and abdominal muscles.

Viktor Stalberg: Rib injury.

Chris Neil: “Significant” sprained hand.

Dion Phaneuf: Wrist injury.

Craig Anderson: Back injury. His back “was in terrible shape during the Rangers series, which we managed to win, so that says a lot about his character playing through the pain.”

Tom Pyatt: Ankle injury.

Derick Brassard: Should injury.

Fredrik Claesson: Back injury.

Marc Methot: Finger injury. Methot suffered the injury on a Sidney Crosby slash in the regular season. “It never healed to 100 per cent through the playoffs.”

Mark Stone: Knee injury.

Ryan Dzingel: Wrist injury.

The good news for the Senators out of all this? Dorion added that, as of now anyway, none of the aforementioned players require surgery for their injuries.

After earning Memorial Cup MVP, Coyotes prospect Dylan Strome faces another important offseason

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Dylan Strome began this season in the NHL with the Arizona Coyotes. He ended it in junior, earning most valuable player honors in the 2017 Memorial Cup.

Strome and his Erie Otters didn’t capture the championship, as their season ultimately ended with a loss in Sunday’s finale. The Memorial Cup title went to the Windsor Spitfires thanks to a dominant performance from Maple Leafs prospect Jeremy Bracco.

Still, Strome posted 11 points in five games at the Memorial Cup, including a record-breaking seven points in a single game. That was on top of a campaign in which he had 109 points in 57 games combined between regular season and playoffs.

“There are a lot of players who get sent back and have trouble overcoming the disappointment,” Erie’s head coach Kris Knoblauch told NHL.com. “But Dylan has never been like that. That’s a major reason we are here.”

Taken third overall by the Coyotes in the 2015 NHL Draft, Strome began this season with the big club, but after appearing in only seven games with one assist, Arizona made the decision to send its prized prospect back to juniors. (Remember, Strome wasn’t eligible at the time to play in the AHL.)

That 2015 draft was loaded with top-end, first-round talent. It started with Connor McDavid, then Jack Eichel as the top two picks. Strome was third, followed by Mitch Marner at fourth.

The Strome vs. Marner debate and comparisons started well before the draft took place. Marner has played 77 games in the NHL for the Maple Leafs, with an impressive 61 points. Could’ve been rookie of the year had it not been for playing in the same freshman class as Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine.

Of the top 11 picks in that draft, Strome has played the fewest NHL games so far. But he also plays center, and physical strength, especially at that position, seemed to be a focal point of his development when the Coyotes sent him down earlier in the year. His skating, too, is something Central Scouting had previously identified as needing improvement, even before the draft.

“I think Dylan, physically, it’s going to take him some time,” said Coyotes general manager John Chayka earlier in the season. “That’s where we got to — that he needs to get stronger.”

Chayka later added that on-ice performance is what the Coyotes would be keeping track of while Strome was back in Erie. Strome was certainly productive — again. He had a goal and an assist in the Memorial Cup final, before receiving his MVP nod.

Last year, Strome made the Coyotes roster out of training camp, along with other youngsters Jakob Chychrun, Lawson Crouse, and Christian Dvorak.

Pekka Rinne begins Stanley Cup Final as the Conn Smythe favorite

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Pekka Rinne enters the Stanley Cup Final as the favorite to capture the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP, according to odds released by Bovada.

No surprise.

The Predators have gone on a terrific run this postseason, hitting the high expectations laid out for them prior to the start of the season. There have been many reasons for their success this spring, most notably the play of Rinne in goal.

He started the playoffs with consecutive shutouts versus the Blackhawks and then only gave up three goals in the final two games as Nashville swept Chicago, considered the Stanley Cup favorite when the playoffs began, in the opening round.

Rinne has continued to roll, with a .941 save percentage throughout the entire playoffs, while Nashville has allowed only 29 goals in 16 games.

Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are also near the top of that list for the Conn Smythe odds. Crosby is the reigning Conn Smythe winner, while Malkin leads all players with 24 points in 19 playoff games.

Here are the odds, via Bovada:

Pekka Rinne    9/4

Sidney Crosby    5/2

Evgeni Malkin    7/2

Matt Murray    9/1

Filip Forsberg    10/1

Phil Kessel    10/1

PK Subban    16/1

Roman Josi    25/1

Viktor Arvidsson    33/1

Ryan Ellis    33/1

Jake Guentzel    33/1

Chris Kunitz    33/1

Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final is Monday in Pittsburgh. After winning it all a year ago, the Penguins enter the series as the favorites against the Predators.

Related: Pekka Rinne has been the backbone for the Predators during run to the final

Here’s how the Penguins will line up for Game 1

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PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Penguins are back in the Stanley Cup Final for the second year in a row and are looking to become the first team to win it in back-to-back years in two decades.

Here is a look at how they are expected to lineup on Monday night for the first game of the series.

Forwards

Chris KunitzSidney CrosbyConor Sheary
Scott WilsonEvgeni MalkinPhil Kessel
Bryan RustNick BoninoCarter Rowney
Jake GuentzelMatt CullenPatric Hornqvist

This is based on what we saw from the Penguins in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals against Ottawa and based on the practice lines on Sunday. With Patric Hornqvist returning to the lineup on Monday night it is going to come down to Jake Guentzel or Carl Hagelin being the odd man out, and given that Hagelin spent extra time on the ice with the scratches following the morning skate it seems likely he will be the scratch. Guentzel is still the NHL’s playoff leader in goals, but is currently riding an eight-game goal drought.

The Kunitz-Crosby-Sheary line was assembled in Game 7 and produced two of the Penguins’ three goals in their double overtime win.

Defense

Ian ColeJustin Schultz
Olli MaattaTrevor Daley
Brian DumoulinRon Hainsey

While Mike Sullivan has had a tendency to throw his line combinations into a blender during the postseason, his defense pairings have remained relatively consistent as long as he has the same healthy players in the lineup. And they are the ones you see above. Cole and Schultz have spent a significant portion of the season playing alongside one another and have formed a really solid duo. Olli Maatta has had some struggles at times, but over the past couple of weeks has played some of his best hockey in over a year. All of these pairings will get a similar amount of ice time.

Goalies

Matt Murray (starter)
Marc-Andre Fleury (backup)

Murray has reclaimed his starting spot since returning from injury and has won three of his first four starts while posting a .946 save percentage. He is playing in his second Stanley Cup Final even though he is still considered a rookie in the eyes of the NHL.

Related: Here’s how the Predators will line up in Game 1