The St. Louis Blues had another hiccup last night, falling 6-4 at home to Ottawa. They only mustered 23 shots on Sens goalie Mike Condon — and that’s been a theme in their past seven games. In fact, the Blues haven’t registered more than 26 shots since beating Chicago in the Winter Classic.
It was a particularly disappointing effort against the Senators. St. Louis had just returned from a California road trip, which started with a bad loss in Los Angeles but finished with encouraging wins in San Jose and Anaheim.
“We just didn’t manage the puck very well on the boards,” head coach Ken Hitchcock said, per the Post-Dispatch. “We weren’t as determined and as effort-based on the boards as were the two games previous.”
The Blues’ record now sits at a modest 23-17-5. For a team that only lost 24 times in regulation last season, it’s been a fairly significant fall-off. It’s also fair to say the departures of David Backes, Troy Brouwer, and Brian Elliott have been felt.
Slightly more than halfway through the schedule, St. Louis is by no means guaranteed a playoff spot. Nashville, with a game in hand, is lurking just three points back for third place in the Central. And if the Blues are caught by the Preds, they’ll have to fend off Los Angeles, Calgary, Vancouver, and perhaps Dallas or Winnipeg for one of the two wild-card spots.
It would be easy to just blame the goaltending. But while it’s true that neither Jake Allen nor Carter Hutton have been very good, the Blues have not been the dominant possession team they’ve shown they can be. In their last 20 games, their score-adjusted Corsi ranks 20th in the league. Now compare that to their last 20 games of last season, when they ranked third.
“I’d like to see us take control of the game a little bit more,” said forward Alex Steen, who’s been with the Blues long enough to know what a good performance looks and feels like.
Looking ahead, the Blues get a big test Thursday at home to Washington, then hit the road for three games in Winnipeg, Pittsburgh, and Minnesota.
A better performance against the Caps would go a long way. But only if it’s followed up with another and another.
Bottom line: it’s time for the Blues to get back to playing the way they can. If they still can.
For two teams that don’t have much history or play each other often, Dallas and New York had quite the monumental affair on Monday.
• The two teams combined for 13 goals, and the Stars scored seven times in the first 40 minutes. The Rangers were booed while leaving the ice in the second period.
• Cody Eakin, who last month served a four-game suspension for a huge hit on Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, was forced to answer for his antics by fighting Chris Kreider early in the second period. Today, Kreider was fined for hitting Eakin in the head with his own helmet.
• Speaking of Lundqvist, he was torched for seven goals on 27 shots,. He’s now allowed 12 goals on 49 shots in his last four periods played… and 20 goals on 113 shots in his last four games. He looks and sounds rattled, to put it mildly.
“I feel like it’s embarrassing and frustrating and disappointing at the same time,” Lundqvist said, per NHL.com. “I need to find another level. It’s not good enough.”
Unfortunately — or perhaps fortunately — the Stars and Rangers won’t meet again this season.
Well, unless it’s in the Stanley Cup Final.
Rangers forward Chris Kreider has been fined $5,000 for hitting Dallas’ Cody Eakin with his own helmet during a fight on Tuesday night, the NHL’s Department of Player Safety has announced.
The incident came nearly one month after Eakin was suspended four games for hitting Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist in a mid-December tilt in Dallas.
There was no retribution at the time — Eakin was kicked out of the game — but many figured the Stars forward would have to atone for his earlier indiscretion… and that’s exactly what happened at the 1:52 mark of the second period.
Kreider didn’t face any additional in-game punishment for his fight, aside from the standard five-minute major penalty. It’s possible the officials didn’t see the helmet swing, or perhaps it was so brief the zebras opted against calling it.
Whatever the case, it’s probably worth noting that Darcy Tucker was ejected from a game in 2005 for a similar act — hitting Cam Janssen in the head with his own helmet during a scrap — and, like Kreider, was fined after the fact, but not suspended.
Thomas Vanek knows the deal. He’s a pending unrestricted free agent on a team that’s unlikely to make the playoffs. He has a respectable 12 goals and 18 assists in 33 games, and his cap hit is just $2.6 million.
Obviously, there’s going to be trade speculation as the March 1 deadline approaches.
“I like it here,” Vanek said of playing in Detroit, per NHL.com. “I enjoy my time here. I like the guys. My family likes it here. So obviously I’m hoping to put a good streak here together to get ourselves back in the picture so I can be here. But obviously I understand the business side of it. … If I’m moving, I’m getting pretty good at that too.”
The Red Wings are Vanek’s fifth NHL team. He’s been traded twice in his career, both times in 2013-14 when he went from the Sabres to the Islanders and then to the Canadiens.
What the Wings could get for Vanek remains to be seen. The 32-year-old has 20 goals in 63 career playoff games; however, he’s also faced intense criticism during a handful of his postseason performances.
Six points back of third place in the Atlantic, Detroit has not yet given up on extending its lengthy playoff streak. The Wings are coming off two big wins over Pittsburgh and Montreal. They host Boston tonight (on NBCSN).