It was only a month ago when the St. Louis Blues were floundering through the 2011-12 season. The team was sitting with a lackluster 6-7-0 record and they were coming off a boring 2-1 loss to the Minnesota Wild—their third loss in four games. They had the worst power play in the league and looked like a mediocre team that was headed for a mediocre season. Fans expected much more from the team that was sitting in the 14th spot in the Western Conference.
Enter Ken Hitchcock.
Since Hitchcock took over the head coaching duties from Davis Payne, the Blues have gone on an 11-2-3 streak to springboard the team up the standings. They’ve gone from a team that was on the outside of the playoff hunt to a team that is only a single point behind the Chicago Blackhawks for the lead in the Central Division. They’ve used an 11-3-1 record at home and have become one of the best 5-on-5 teams in the league. Yeah, they’ve been pretty good.
Then there are games like Saturdays contest against the San Jose Sharks when they prove that they can win in different ways. The 1-0 win over the Sharks featured a power play goal from Kevin Shattenkirk to deliver the victory for the Blues. How dangerous will this team be when they figure out how to consistently score on with the man advantage?
No matter which way you cut it, the Blues can thank their defense and goaltending for their success this season. The team is leading the league with a 2.03 goals against average this season. Even more impressively, they’ve only give up 1.50 goals per game in the 16 games since Ken Hitchcock took over the team. Brian Elliott has come out of nowhere and is leading the league in goals against average (1.45) and save percentage (.947) among goaltenders with more than two starts this season. The 12-2-0 record isn’t too bad either.
The success has been a long time coming. For the last few season, the Blues have been a team that looked like they were on the edge of turning the corner. With Hitchcock installing his coaching his philosophy and adding a little life to the locker room, the team is starting to fulfill their potential. But are they good enough to compete with the likes of the Blackhawks and Red Wings for the Central Division crown?
The NHLPA has rejected a proposal from the National Hockey League to extend the current collective bargaining agreement by three years in exchange for participation in the 2018 Olympics, according to reports from the Associated Press and Canadian Press.v
The NHL’s participation in the 2018 games in Pyeongchang remains in doubt, mostly due to the cost of insurance and other expenses that go with sending players. In the past, those expenses have been handled by the IOC and IIHF but they are reluctant to foot the bill for the 2018 games.
In recent weeks the NHL presented the NHLPA with an opportunity to participate in the 2018 Olympics in exchange for extending the current CBA through the year 2025, while also eliminating an opt-out clause that exists in 2019.
It was expected that the NHLPA would not be willing to accept that offer from the league.
On Friday, IOC president Thomas Bach said it is in the best interest of all parties for NHL players to participate in the 2018 games, telling the Olympic Channel “all the rational arguments are speaking in favor of participation.”
There is a January deadline set for participation in 2018.
Back in September NHL deputy commissioner said it is possible the NHL could skip the 2018 games and then return for 2022 in Beijing.
NHL players have participated in the past five Olympics dating back to the 1998 games in Nagano, Japan.
There seems to be a desire among the players to participate. Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin, for example, has repeatedly said he plans on playing whether the NHL goes or not.
Anton Khudobin gave the Boston Bruins a much-needed win last night.
He also gave Tuukka Rask a much-welcomed night off.
The Bruins beat the Hurricanes, 2-1, in a shootout at TD Garden. Khudobin made 29 saves, plus two more in the shootout, including the game-decider on Jeff Skinner.
It was an encouraging performance by Khudobin, who returned to the Bruins net for the second time since a conditioning stint in the AHL. It was the first time this season that a Boston goalie other than Rask was credited with a win.
“Very good,” head coach Claude Julien said of Khudobin’s play. “He deserves a lot of accolades tonight, for the way he played, the way he responded after being out such a long time. I think the fact that he went to Providence and played some games there really helped him get back on track. Tonight, he showed that he was ready to play.”
Julien added, “No doubt, there’s a lot of confidence that grew in that dressing room by watching his play and knowing that we’ve got two goaltenders that can play extremely well for us.”
The Bruins did not feel they had good enough backup goaltending the past two seasons, both of which ended outside the playoff picture. And so they bid adieu to Niklas Svedberg and Jonas Gustavsson, bringing Khudobin back into the fold on a two-year contract.
Granted, one win isn’t enough to conclude that Khudobin will be fine. He’s now 1-3-0 with a .902 save percentage, and those numbers could still be much better.
But he’ll be back in there soon enough. The Bruins have 15 more games in December, and Rask isn’t going to play them all.
Jori Lehtera received one of his lowest ice times of the season in Thursday’s win over Tampa Bay — just 11:21 — and was demoted to the fourth line at Friday’s practice.
If that didn’t send a message, Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock delivered it shortly thereafter.
“We’re going to need more from him,” Hitchcock said, per NHL.com’s Lou Korac. “The position we have him in, we need more from that position.”
Lehtera was signed to a three-year, $14.1 million extension after a solid ’14-15 campaign, in which he scored 14 goals and 44 points in 75 games. His offensive production sagged a bit last year (nine goals, 34 points in 79 games) and he’s gone through some difficult stretches this year.
The 28-year-old Finn had just three points through his first 15 games of the year, but did look as though he’d turned the corner recently. Prior to the Bolts game he had four points in four contests, including his first multi-goal effort of the season (potting a pair in a 4-2 win over Boston).
Clearly, though, Hitchcock thinks there’s more to give.
Per the Post-Dispatch, Hitch said he’s unsure if Lehtera will play on Saturday, when the Blues host the Jets. Nail Yakupov and Ty Rattie both sat out against Tampa Bay, and either one could draw into the lineup.
The Lehtera development comes with the Blues playing some of their best hockey of the year. They’ve won seven of their last eight, and are just four points back of Chicago for top spot in the Western Conference.
— Up top, Mike Milbury and Keith Jones discuss the Penguins’ two-goalie situation, which GM Jim Rutherford recently admitted was not working as well as he’d hoped.
— Nolan Patrick, the likely first overall pick in the 2017 NHL draft, is currently out with an injury. Tyler Benson, a top draft prospect last year who battled injuries, has some advice for Patrick: “I don’t think he should be worrying about the draft. People know what kind of player he can be. He’s played two years in this league already and he’s dominated. I think he should worry about making sure he’s 100 per cent when he comes back.” Benson was eventually selected 32nd overall by the Oilers. (The Province)
— A couple of weeks ago, Senators owner Eugene Melnyk got mad at the Ottawa Citizen newspaper after an editorial called on him to push for an outdoor game at TD Place. Yada, yada, yada, Melynk is now pushing for an outdoor game at TD Place. (Ottawa Sun)
— Hampus Lindholm has been good defensively in his return to the Anaheim Ducks, but with only two assists in his first 11 games, you have to think he’ll want to start contributing more to the offense soon. Lindholm is now the highest-paid defenseman on his team, with a cap hit just over $5 million. And if the Ducks have to trade Cam Fowler at any point, they’ll need Lindholm’s offense even more. That’s just the pressure that comes with a big contract. We’ll see how he fares. (OC Register)
— In 2015-16, no Canadian teams made the NHL playoffs for the first time since 1969-70. So, how are things looking this season? Long story short, quite a bit better. Three of the seven Canadian teams are currently in a playoff spot, and the other four aren’t out of it yet. (TSN)
— What a surprise, the Winnipeg Jets hurt themselves with too many penalties last night against Edmonton. “Those early penalties and how much time we spent in the box early on killed us,” said Bryan Little. “Our PK couldn’t get it done.” This has been a problem for way too long now. Over the last three seasons combined, the Jets have gone shorthanded 686 times, the most in the NHL. Clearly, they aren’t good enough to play with such poor discipline, so perhaps they should figure it out. (Winnipeg Sun)
Enjoy the games!