Blues clinch playoffs in win over Lightning

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With a 3-1 victory over Tampa Bay on Saturday, the St. Louis Blues became the first NHL team to 100 points and to clinch the playoffs. They no doubt have higher ambitions on their minds, but for a team that ranked 11th in the Western Conference last season, it’s a more than just noteworthy accomplishment.

Once again, a blend of defense and superb goaltending propelled them forward. 50-goal scorer Steven Stamkos was held pointless, and as a team the Lightning never managed more than nine shots on goal in a single period. St. Louis netminder Jaroslav Halak also did his part to earn his ninth win in his last 10 contests and his 25th victory of the season. Halak has now allowed just two or fewer goals in 11 of his last 12 starts.

With Andy McDonald sidelined due to a shoulder injury, 2010 first round draft pick Jaden Schwartz made his NHL debut. Schwartz made an immediate impact, scoring the game-winning goal on a power play in the first period.

David Perron and Patrik Berglund accounted for the Blues other two goals. The two have each recorded six points in their last six games.

Tampa Bay’s Brendan Mikkelson ended Jaroslav Halak’s shutout bid with just 4:11 remaining in regulation time. It was Mikkelson’s first goal in 116 career NHL games.

The St. Louis Blues have all-but secured the top spot in the Western Conference and can gradually start to shift their focus to preparing for the playoffs. That being said, it is still mathematically possible for them to surpass their franchise record of 114 points in a single season, set back in 1999-2000.

With this loss, the Tampa Bay Lightning’s situation has gone from bad to almost hopeless. Although they haven’t technically been eliminated from the playoffs, it’s hard to see how they can make up the seven-point gap between them and the Washington Capitals in the final three weeks of the season.

Contenders should keep an eye on Jaroslav Halak

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Here’s a gut reaction regarding the 2017-18 season: there aren’t a ton of teams with unclear goalie situations, at least as far as who their top guy is.

Clear number ones

The Frederik AndersenJohn Gibson battle ended last summer. Promising backups like Cam Talbot, Scott Darling, and Antti Raanta got their shots or will be getting their chances to be No. 1 guys this year. Marc-Andre Fleury generously accepted becoming the face of the Vegas Golden Knights.

It doesn’t exactly make for a sellers’ market for the few teams who might want to part ways with goalies.

Petr Mrazek‘s mess with the Detroit Red Wings is the most pressing example, and considering the fact that he’s only 25, acquiring him could be a boon for another team, at least in a scenario (injuries and/or poor play) would call for such an acquisition.

What if the Red Wings would ask for too much? What if a team would, instead, like to monitor a diamond in the rough for the summer of 2018?

Halak could still be very viable

Jaroslav Halak should be on plenty of radars, especially if he gets his wish for a fresh start with the New York Islanders in 2017-18, as NHL.com’s Brian Compton reports.

“Obviously, last season was kind of a strange season, not only for me but for a lot of guys,” Halak said. “Now it’s a fresh start for everybody. But ultimately, it’s going to come down to our start too. Last season, we all know we had a bad start. We just need to make sure that we pick up points at the beginning of the season because that hurt us at the end.”

The Islanders have incentive to give Halak a chance, whether it would be to pump up his trade value or if Thomas Greiss struggles/gets hurt.

It would also be foolish to worry too much about Halak’s time in the AHL, especially considering how well he played for the Islanders late last season. Check out his split stats in March and April; Halak gave the Isles at least some hope to make an unlikely playoff push.

At 32, Halak doesn’t boast the same dreamy potential of Mrazek, yet he’s only a year older than Greiss.

The price could be right

With a nice .917 career save percentage and some playoff heroics in his past, Halak is the sort of goalie a team could call upon if their top guy falters or gets hurt. If a move were to happen around the trade deadline, his $4.5 million cap hit would be less of a problem.

On the other hand, if a team needed Halak earlier, the Islanders could conceivably retain some of his salary, especially if it allowed them to add a piece that might improve their team in other areas (and maybe help keep John Tavares happy?).

The goalie market could be interesting in the summer of 2018 if Mrazek and even Craig Anderson join the UFA ranks. Halak stands as a sneaky-interesting prospect then, but possibly sooner, for a team that might want to spend less (in assets via a trade or in actual money in free agency).

Predators tab Roman Josi as new captain, call him ‘our Roger Federer’

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The Nashville Predators boasted some appealing options to take the torch from Mike Fisher as captain, but really there was only one obvious name: Roman Josi.

Josi officially became the team’s eighth captain on Tuesday. Ryan Ellis appears to be second-in-command as “associate” captain, while they seem interested in spreading the leadership wealth around otherwise:

As captain, Josi will see an increased role on the Predators leadership team, which will also see some new appointments. Defenseman Ryan Ellis has been named as the team’s associate captain, while Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg and Mattias Ekholm will all serve as alternate captains. In addition, Pekka Rinne, P.K. Subban and Nick Bonino have all taken positions within the leadership group.

If that’s not a sign that the team is taking this seriously – kind of amusingly so – consider that Ellis and Josi “interviewed” for the position and Peter Laviolette evoked military structures in discussing the decision, as sports teams love to do.

Josi seemed flattered when GM David Poile described him as “our Roger Federer,” a fellow Swiss sports star.

At face value, that’s great, especially since it breaks through the near-corporate-speak that saddles announcements like these.

That said, it’s funny to compare the leader in a team sport to a tennis player, among the most individualistic athletes in all of sport. There aren’t many moments of teamwork beyond doubles and rare events like the Davis Cup.

Overall, it’s another strong decision by the Predators. It’s merely fun to tease them a bit about the cornier aspects.

Awful injury news for Blues’ Bouwmeester, Sanford

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Hockey’s training camps and exhibition games share a lot of similarities, big-picture wise, with other sports.

As much as they’re all about evaluating players trying to make rosters and rule tweaks heading into each season, the “winners” of a pre-season may just be the teams that make it out without any significant injuries. The St. Louis Blues aren’t one of those winners.

The team announced unsettling injury updates for defenseman Jay Bouwmeester and forward Zach Sanford on Tuesday.

Sanford is expected to miss five-to-six months after undergoing shoulder surgery. That virtually wipes out an important season for a guy who was still trying to stake his claim to a full-time roster spot.

Bouwmeester’s situation is probably more troubling, potentially, as he’s already a key defenseman for the Blues (averaging more than 22 minutes last season, which was a slight decrease from recent work). The team announced that Bouwmeester suffered a fractured ankle and will be re-evaluated in three weeks.

As tormenting as day-to-day updates can be, “check back in three weeks” makes for even greater anxiety.

It does open up some opportunities for other players in the Blues organization, for whatever that’s worth.

This news comes shortly after the Ottawa Senators announced that Colin White will miss multiple weeks with a broken wrist.

You almost wonder if we’ll start to see fewer practice updates like these:

Senators’ prospect Colin White out 6-8 weeks with broken wrist

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Bad news for the Ottawa Senators today.

The club announced Tuesday that prospect center Colin White is out six to eight weeks with a broken left wrist.

The Senators selected White 21st overall in the 2015 NHL Draft. After two years at Boston College, he signed his entry-level deal in April and appeared in two regular season games for Ottawa. He also appeared in a Stanley Cup playoff game, though he only saw 2:39 of ice time.

That’s certainly disappointing for White, who could’ve had a shot to make the big club out of training camp. One of the question marks for Ottawa had been the status of fellow center Derick Brassard, who had offseason shoulder surgery with a recovery timeline of four to five months.

“I come here and worry about myself, do the right things on and off the ice, take care of my body. If I’m playing well and taking care of my game, I’ll fight for a spot,” White told the Ottawa Citizen prior to training camp.