Usually when a team isn’t sure who their starting goaltender will be in the playoffs, it’s because neither one has proven himself. In the case of the St. Louis Blues, the problem is that they arguably have the top two goaltenders in the league this season. Jaroslav Halak has already had some playoff success and he’s been nearly unbeatable since the start of November. Then of course there’s Brian Elliott, who posted his second consecutive shutout in a 4-0 victory over Phoenix on Sunday.
Although Elliott only had to stop 20 shots this time, he is tied for the league lead with eight shutouts despite the handicap of having only played in 35 games. Of those who qualify, he is the NHL’s clear leader in GAA and save percentage.
The St. Louis Blues superb defense and one-two punch in goal have led to 14 shutouts this season, which breaks the previous franchise record of 13 set by Jacques Plante and Glenn Hall in 1968-69.
Not that the Blues needed much offense on Sunday, but Alex Pietrangelo, David Backes, Patrik Berglund, and Ryan Reaves each scored a goal. Kevin Shattenkirk recorded three assists and has now surpassed the 40-point milestone in each of his first two NHL campaigns.
St. Louis had lost four of their previous five contests, so this win is certainly timely. They had allowed the Vancouver Canucks to close the gap in the battle for the first seed in the Western Conference, but this victory gives them a four-point lead in that race.
The Blues are very likely to win their division, but it’s still not official. They get a chance to come one step closer to locking up the Central Division in their game against the Nashville Predators on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, this loss was a serious blow to the Phoenix Coyotes. Although they still finished the night in seventh place and have a one-point lead over Los Angeles, San Jose, and Colorado, they have just five games remaining. By contrast, the Kings and Sharks both have seven contests left on their schedules. Phoenix will be under a lot of pressure to beat San Jose on Thursday.
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.
—Martin Jones is a calming presence in the Sharks’ net. (Sports Illustrated)
–The Rangers should go after Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk. (The Hockey News)
–Some people have pretty wild hockey tattoos. (BarDown)
–Watch the highlights of last night’s game between the Penguins and Capitals. (Top)
–A great piece on how Bruce Boudreau impacted the Ducks and Capitals. (Sportsnet)
–It should be an interesting off-season for the Anaheim Ducks. (Daily Breeze)
—Adam Henrique is a funny guy. He took to Twitter to try and get himself on the cover of NHL 17:
Get this: the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins seem divided on the legality of Kris Letang‘s hit on Marcus Johansson.
(Take a moment to gather your thoughts amid this shocking revelation.)
You can watch the hit over and over in the video above. This post features some takes on that check, which the NHL’s Department of Player Safety is reportedly reviewing.
Generally speaking, the three things people discuss regarding the check is how late it might be, if Letang used his feet and if Johansson’s head was the principal point of contact.
Letang told his side of the story:
The Capitals disagree:
While Barry Trotz pleads the Fifth after his previous comments about Brooks Orpik‘s suspension:
No doubt about it, Letang’s status is the top story to follow in this series between Games 3 and 4. We’ll find out soon enough how it all shakes out.
If Marc-Andre Fleury suiting up bothers Matt Murray, then the rookie goalie channeled those feelings into a masterful performance on Monday.
The Washington Capitals absolutely dominated Game 3, but Murray was even better, stopping 47 shots as the Penguins stole one 3-2 to take a 2-1 series lead.
(Capitals fans might see some parallels to Washington’s Game 5 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers; they fell 2-0 despite a 44-11 shots on goal edge thanks to Michal Neuvirth‘s heroics.)
Murray stopped chance after chance before Alex Ovechkin finally broke through for his first goal of this series. Justin Williams then brought the Penguins’ lead down to 3-2 to make for a hold-your-breath final minute.
A driven Ovechkin and strong overall play from the Capitals (despite this defeat) aren’t the only reasons why Game 4 might present some twists.
First things first: Kris Letang might get suspended for Game 4 (if not for more than one game) thanks to this controversial check on Marcus Johansson.
Beyond that, there could be some bumps and bruises from this contest.
Bryan Rust left during the first period and didn’t return to the game after blocking a shot. Brian Dumoulin seemed shaken up after an Alex Ovechkin hit in the third period. The Capitals might have a player or two to look at, as well.
In other words, the Penguins could really lack for quality defensemen with Letang possibly suspended and possible injury absences for Dumoulin and Olli Maatta.
This series is living up to the hype … and really building up the hate.
It remains to be seen if Kris Letang will get suspended for his hit on Marcus Johansson … and if he does, for how long.
(You can read initial reactions and some analysis about the specifics of the check vs. the one that got Brooks Orpik suspended here.)
There are a few things we do know already.
For one thing, the NHL’s Department of Player Safety is reportedly looking into it.
Another factor that could help Letang avoid a suspension or limit the duration of supplemental discipline: Marcus Johansson returned during the second period.
In fact, Johansson delivered some hits on Letang.
There have been some nasty moments in Game 3, and more might be coming. The Penguins lead 2-0 with a few minutes remaining in the middle frame.