Brian Elliott, David Perron

Blues challenging for the lead in Central Division

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?

Ducks come to terms with Lindholm, so what happens now?

ANAHEIM, CA - OCTOBER 14:  Hampus Lindholm #47 of the Anaheim Ducks  at Honda Center on October 14, 2015 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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And now we wait for the other shoe to drop, because according to TSN’s Bob McKenzie, the Anaheim Ducks have come to terms with defenseman Hampus Lindholm on a six-year contract extension with a cap hit of $5.25 million.

It’s a win for the Ducks, who succeed in their quest to get Lindholm locked up with a lower cap hit than the Sabres got Rasmus Ristolainen ($5.4 million).

But will the Ducks now have to make a trade? It’s been rumored for a while that Cam Fowler could be dealt once Lindholm’s deal got done. Anaheim may prefer to trade a veteran like Kevin Bieksa or Clayton Stoner, but Bieksa has a no-movement clause, and there may not be a market for those two anyway.

The Ducks won’t get Lindholm back in the lineup right away, so there’s plenty of time for GM Bob Murray to make any moves that need to be made.

Lindholm, 22, had 10 goals and 18 assists in 80 games last season, logging 22:00 of ice time per game.

Pastrnak to have hearing for Girardi headshot

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Bruins forward David Pastrnak will have a hearing for his illegal check to the head of Rangers d-man Dan Girardi, the NHL’s Department of Player Safety announced.

Pastrnak was whistled for a minor penalty on the play, which occurred in the second period of Boston’s 5-2 loss at MSG on Wednesday night. Girardi left the contest momentarily, but was able to return and finished with 16:15 TOI.

“I don’t really know it makes contact with my face at first, but it is what it is, I’m kind of vulnerable,” Girardi said of the hit, per the New York Post. “He’s going to try to make a hit. He just hit me in the front of the face, so it wasn’t like it was the side-of-the-head hit or something.

“As soon as I got up, I was fine.”

Pastrnak, who did appear to leave his feet to make the hit, doesn’t have any history with the DoPS, and has never been subjected to supplemental discipline from the department.

His hearing will take place on Friday.

Former Isles goalie Kevin Poulin signs with KHL club

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 12:  Goaltender Kevin Poulin #60 of the New York Islanders in action during the NHL game against the Phoenix Coyotes at Arena on December 12, 2013 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Islanders 6-3.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Kevin Poulin is leaving the pro hockey scene in North America to sign with the KHL’s Astana Barys.

It’s a one-year deal, per Igor Eronko of Sports-Express.

The former Islanders goalie spent last season with the Stockton Heat of the AHL, where he had a 14-11-3 record with a 2.86 goals-against-average and a .909 save percentage in 29 games.

The 26-year-old last played in the NHL during the 2014-15 season. He made one appearance with the Isles that year.

He had a few opportunities with the Islanders, but it was usually the result of players ahead of him on the depth chart getting injured.

Poulin leaves the NHL with a career 18-25-3 record, a 3.07 goals-against-average and a .899 save percentage in 50 games.

He’ll join former NHLers Vitaly Kolesnik and Henrik Karlsson in Astana Barys’ crease. Nigel Dawes, Brandon Bochenski, Martin St. Pierre, Cam Barker and Kevin Dallman are also on the roster.

PHT Morning Skate: Hockey’s spookiest goalie masks

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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

–Here are some of hockey’s all-time spookiest goalie masks. (Sports Illustrated)

Beau Bennett‘s funny response to his name being left off the Stanley Cup. (BarDown)

Alex Ovechkin made this young fan’s night by giving him one of his sticks. (Sportsnet)

–Watch the highlights from last night’s game between the Rangers and Bruins. (Top)

–Everybody remembers Grant Fuhr, Curtis Joseph, Jacques Plante, Tom Barrasso and Sean Burke, but these are the teams you don’t remember them playing for. (The Hockey News)

–Bruins goalie Zane McIntyre honors his late grandmother on the back of his goalie mask. (The Score)

–Former NHL goalie Niklas Svedberg made an incredible stick save in a KHL game: