Doug Armstrong AP

Blues GM praises his team for making the neutral zone “like seaweed”


The St. Louis Blues might be first overall in the NHL, but it’s safe to say they don’t lead the league in high-flying entertainment.

The Blues boast a 1.86 goals-against average and could become the first team since the 1955-56 Montreal Canadiens to finish with a GAA below 2.00. They’re also one of the few teams whose games average fewer than five goals.

Wins are wins, however, and St. Louis has 39 of them since coach Davis Payne was fired on Nov. 6 and defensive-minded Ken Hitchcock took over behind the bench.

“They work so well together,” GM Doug Armstrong told the Globe and Mail, describing his team under Hitchcock. “The neutral zone, it’s like seaweed.”

Globe writer Eric Duhatschek calls that “a good analogy, but also a grim way of looking at how they play the game.”

It also begs the questions, is the Blues’ success good for the NHL? Because it’s pretty tough to market a brand of hockey that’s “like seaweed.” (All-you-can-eat sushi nights?)

The Blues’ success is good for the Blues though. Yesterday the team announced it was raising ticket prices 9.8 percent, a move that (by our math) could raise regular-season revenue by over $3 million if current attendance remains consistent. And then there’s all the additional playoff revenue that comes with a winning team.

The risk is more and more franchises, particularly those with limited budgets that can’t afford superstar scorers, copy the Blues’ style and we end up in another dead-puck era.

Panarin impresses ‘Hawks with his preseason debut

Artemi Panarin
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Will Artem Panarin‘s overwhelming success in the KHL translate to North America? The 23-year-old forward has a lot to prove, but his first big test was a success.

Playing on a line with Patrick Kane and Artem Anisimov, Panarin made his preseason debut in Chicago’s finale on Saturday. He registered two assists while giving his teammates reason to be optimistic about him.

“For not being on the ice he looks really relaxed. He’s great with the puck, has nice moves and I think we’ll see a lot of this,” Marian Hossa told CSN Chicago. “He has unbelievable skill. People here in Chicago are going to have a good time watching this guy dangling.”

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville was impressed by Panarin as well and liked that line as a whole.

The fact that the trio seemed to hit it off quickly has to come as a relief after an upper-body injury prevented Panarin from getting the most out of this year’s training camp. At the end of the day though, the fact that he was able to at least get in one preseason contest is a big silver lining. How smoothly his adjustment goes from here is still a big X-factor, but at least now he’s going into the regular season with a better idea of what to expect.

Panarin is attempting to establish himself in the NHL after leading the KHL’s SKA St. Petersburg to a championship last year. He was the team’s scoring leader, topping ex-NHL star Ilya Kovalchuk.

Gustavsson secures one-year contract with Bruins

Jonas Gustavsson
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There was stiff competition for the backup goaltending job in Boston, but with a signing this afternoon, it seems likely that the matter has been resolved.

The Boston Bruins announced that Jonas Gustavsson has agreed to a one-year, $700,000 deal. It’s a one-way contract, according to the Boston Globe’s Amalie Benjamin.

That contract is still small enough that the Bruins could bury it in the minors if they so desire, but it does set him apart from his last competitor for the goalie position, Jeremy Smith, who has a two-way deal. The fact that Boston went this route seems to imply that Gustavsson will serve as Tuukka Rask‘s understudy, although both netminders attended Sunday’s practice.

In Smith, the Bruins would be getting a 26-year-old goaltender who was dominant with the AHL’s Providence Bruins last season, but has no NHL experience. By contrast Gustavsson, 30, has played in almost 150 NHL games.

Boston sent Zane McIntyre and Malcolm Subban to the minors last week, but an argument could be made that either one of them is worthy of the backup job. However, both of them have a lot of potential and it’s not surprising that the Bruins felt they were better served by staying in the minors where they can play regularly and focus on honing their game.