Ken Hitchcock

Blues join Blackhawks, Rangers atop the NHL

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If you look at the St. Louis Blues’ success through Ken Hitchcock’s eyes, it makes perfect sense that his team moved into a tie for first place in the NHL by beating the franchise that brought him his Stanley Cup ring.

The Blues even beat the Dallas Stars in a way that Hitch’s old squad won it all in 1998: by playing skin-tight defense and working hard all game long. St. Louis topped Dallas 1-0 thanks to a T.J. Oshie goal and a 27-save shutout from Jaroslav Halak.

St. Louis now has 60 points, which matches the New York Rangers and Chicago Blackhawks’ marks. Technically speaking, the Rangers are No. 1 since they’ve played two fewer games than the Blues while the Blackhawks trail St. Louis for similar reasons. (Chicago has played in an extra contest.)

As impressive as the chase for the Presidents Trophy might be for a St. Louis squad that’s been nowhere near that discussion for several years, the Central Division race is more important. Just look at how little breathing room there is in what might just be the best division in the league:

source:  (click to enlarge)

I included the goals stats and home/away records for a few reasons. For one thing, it shows how important Hitchcock’s system – and not coincidentally, improved play from Halak and continued output from Brian Elliott – has been for St. Louis’ success. The Blues are obviously doing things differently than the Red Wings and Blackhawks. Excuse me for oversimplifying, but it’s essentially a battle of defense-first and offense-first teams.

(One might even say that the Blues are out-Trotzing Barry Trotz, to abuse the English language a bit.)

Looking at the away records of the top three teams in the Central, one could argue that the Blues and Red Wings need to win their division as much as any team in the NHL. (The Blackhawks are a bit better on the road with a 10-8-3 record, but they’ll fight just as hard for the crown.)

Long story short, both the Blues and Red Wings have reason to celebrate tonight, but they can’t take any nights off in this cutthroat division. Being in the conversation probably isn’t good enough for Hitchcock.

Check out highlights from the Blues’ 1-0 win below.

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Canucks will be without Rodin ‘until his knee strength and function return’

SASKATOON, SK - JANUARY 3:  Anton Rodin #18 of Team Sweden skates with the puck while being defended by David Warsofsky #5 of Team USA during the 2010 IIHF World Junior Championship Tournament Semifinal game on January 3, 2010 at the Credit Union Centre in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.  Team USA defeated Team Sweden 5-2.  (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
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The last time Anton Rodin got into the Vancouver Canucks’ lineup, he sat on the bench the entire game.

Today, the Canucks announced that the 26-year-old winger has re-aggravated the same knee injury he suffered a year ago while playing in Sweden, and now he needs to rest.

“Our Canucks medical team and Anton have determined it is in his best interest to undergo a period of rest, followed by rehab, until his knee strength and function return,” said GM Jim Benning in a release. “Anton will undergo an MRI and orthopedic consult this week.”

In the same release, Benning confirmed that Rodin fell on his knee Jan. 6 against the Flames at Rogers Arena. It was the very next night in Calgary that he didn’t play a single shift, as the Canucks only had five healthy defensemen and were forced to dress 13 forwards.

“Rodin wasn’t 100 percent and once it gets past 10 minutes, it’s hard to get him in and once you do, it’s not fair to play him,” explained head coach Willie Desjardins, per The Province.

It’s a disappointing turn of events for Rodin, who waited a long time to make his NHL debut. He’s only been able to skate in three games for the Canucks, and his ice time was limited in all three.

Rodin started the season on injured reserve after re-aggravating his knee in the preseason.

Related: Anton Rodin is looking to make the leap

Banged-up Pens lose another — Cullen out 3-4 weeks with foot injury

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 30:  Matt Cullen #7 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates against the San Jose Sharks in Game One of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Consol Energy Center on May 30, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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Having already lost Kris Letang to a knee injury and Brian Dumoulin to a broken jaw, the Pens received more tough news in the health department on Tuesday — in the form of veteran forward Matt Cullen.

Cullen was hurt after taking a shot to the foot in last night’s wild 8-7 win over Washington and will miss the next 3-4 weeks, Pens head coach Mike Sullivan announced.

Cullen, 40, is one of the NHL’s oldest skaters but has been remarkably durable since joining Pittsburgh. In fact, he hasn’t missed a single game — he played in all 82 last season, then all 24 en route to the Stanley Cup, and is one of just seven Penguins to appear in all 43 games this year.

The cagey vet has been steady in terms of production as well. He has eight goals and 17 points thus far, which had him on pace to match last year’s impressive effort (16 goals, 32 points).

It’s a tough break for the Pens, but there is a silver lining. Shortly after announcing Cullen’s injury, Sullivan said Dumoulin would travel for an upcoming road swing through Montreal and Carolina.

 

Jamie Benn admits the stick-snapping rampages have to stop

Fans celebrate along with Dallas Stars left wing Jamie Benn (14) after a score by Benn in the first period of Game 3 of a first-round NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoff series game, Monday, April 21, 2014, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
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Expect a more composed Jamie Benn when the Dallas Stars take on the Rangers tonight in New York.

At the very least, don’t expect another stick-breaking rampage like we saw yesterday in Buffalo.

“I have to do a better job with body language and my play on the ice,” Benn said, per the Dallas Morning News.

He also said of his recent play, “I wish I could say how I really feel, but it’s probably not good for TV.”

The Stars’ captain is understandably frustrated. His team is four points back of a wild-card spot, and his production, with 10 goals in 41 games, is down significantly compared to last season when he finished with 40 goals in 82 games and his team won the Central Division.

Tonight, it doesn’t get any easier. The Stars will take on a Rangers team that will have Mika Zibenajad in their lineup for the first time since Nov. 20. Meanwhile, the rest of the Blueshirts have had two days to recuperate after their 5-4 loss in Montreal on Saturday.

It’s estimated the Stars will need to go around 21-11-5 in their remaining 37 games to make the playoffs. So regardless of their frustrations, they’d best get on a roll soon. A better performance from their captain would be a good start.

Preds claim AHL All-Star Hunt off waivers from Blues

NEWARK, NJ - DECEMBER 09:  Brad Hunt #77 of the St. Louis Blues skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on December 9, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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With P.K. Subban, Roman Josi and Petter Granberg all out with their respective injuries, the Nashville Predators are a little thin on the blueline.

So on Tuesday, they set about adding some depth.

Brad Hunt, the 28-year-old offensive defenseman, has been claimed off waivers from St. Louis, per TSN. Hunt has spent most of this year with the Blues’ AHL affiliate in Chicago but, in limited time with the big club, has shown pretty well.

The Bemidji State product has five points in nine games for the Blues, while averaging 13:36 TOI per night. He was widely praised for his passing ability, and how quickly he helped the Blues transition from defense to offense.

“[Hunt] just moves the puck,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcok said earlier this year, per the Post-Dispatch. “He gets himself out of trouble, he gets the team out of trouble. He’s a smart player.”

That offensive output is what Hunt’s known for — a consistently productive AHLer, Hunt recently made his fourth career All-Star Game on the strength of 29 points in 23 games for the Wolves.