Seth Jones

Team USA’s World Juniors confidence comes from their defense

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HAWTHORNE, NY — One of the strengths Team USA will have when they head into the World Junior Championships is on their blue line. With a future star in 2013 draft prospect Seth Jones as well as three first-round picks in Jacob Trouba, Connor Murphy, and Brady Skjei the American defense will be huge.

One thing is for sure, the guys on the ice believe in the crew they’ve got on the back line as well.

“I think we have a great blue line,” says 2012 Winnipeg Jets first-rounder Jacob Trouba. “We have some diversity with big guys and we have some smaller guys who are shifty. Whoever ends up coming to the tournament, we’ll be good on the blue line.”

Rangers 2012 first-rounder Brady Skjei agrees with him.

“I think we all have a feel for each other. With Jones and Trouba and all them the last couple years, we’re pretty confident we’re a solid D corps.”

The big guys we’ve mentioned already. The small, shifty ones are guys like 2012 third-round picks Matt Grzelcyk (Boston) and Shayne Gostisbehere (Philadelphia). They may not deliver the body, but their quickness and playmaking ability could be useful on the international-sized ice. That’s something coach, and one-time shifty defenseman himself, Phil Housley noticed right away.

“I look at our back end as a whole; I think there’s a lot of guys that can fit that mold,” Housley said. “Certainly Grzelcyk, Gostisbehere and [Mike] Reilly, they have that uncanny ability to jump up in the play.”

While playing on a bigger ice surface doesn’t bother any of the players, the star power they’ll face in Russia is another story. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will lead the way for Canada while the hosts will have guys like Mikhail Grigorenko and Nail Yakupov.

Could the Americans get psyched out by the star power they’ll see from their opponents?

“Not really. We’ve got plenty talent on our team too,” Trouba said. “One player is nothing huge. We’ve played against a lot of them in the past. They’re good but they’re still hockey players too.”

Fights, hits and a blown kiss: Stars and Blues get nasty

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Things were getting out of hand between the Dallas Stars and St. Louis Blues on the scoreboard in an eventual 6-1 Blues win.

They were also getting a little raucous on the ice when it was clear that the Stars weren’t going to stage a comeback.

Jamie Benn was whistled for cross-checking Alex Pietrangelo, but it was Stephen Johns‘ hit from behind on Pietrangelo really revved up the violence.

Watch that hit and then the scrum that ensued in the video above, which included a scary display of an angry Ryan Reaves … who got creative at the end.

You may also want the kiss alone, so here it is:

Memo: rough stuff might not work so well against the Blues.

Read about that blowout here.

Blues bombard Stars, go up 2-1 in series

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Sometimes a final score is misleading. In the case of the St. Louis Blues’ 6-1 thrashing of the Dallas Stars, it might just be the start of the story.

Honestly, the most positive thing the Stars can say is “Well, at least it was just one game.”

It was one ugly game, however, and now the Blues hold a 2-1 series lead with a chance to really take control if they can win Game 4 at home.

The Blues dominated just about every category on Tuesday, firing more shots on goal, enjoying better special teams play and throwing more hits. They even blocked a higher number of shots, which often isn’t the case for the squad that carries play.

This leaves the Stars picking up the pieces, especially when it comes to their work in their own end.

Do you put greater blame on struggling goalies Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi or is this more about the Stars’ lax defensive coverage? The scary answer may be “Both,” and the Stars likely know that they need to find answers quickly.

On the bright side for Dallas, it is just one game … and the Blues were searching for answers of their own after Game 1.

We saw the Blues turn things around with these two straight wins, so now the Stars must show that they can gather themselves and play the attacking, out-score-your-mistakes style that got them here.

Granted, they may have to keep an eye out for supplemental discipline after some rough stuff toward the end of the game.

Predators smash Sharks to get back in series

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After a dispiriting 1-0 goal allowed by Pekka Rinne, things were looking bleak for the Nashville Predators for a moment there.

Nashville’s developed into a resilient group, however, and they stormed back for a commanding 4-1 win to shrink San Jose’s series advantage to 2-1.

The Predators saw some of their big names come up huge as the series shifted from San Jose to Nashville.

Pekka Rinne looked sharp following that first goal (and didn’t allow another). Their goals came from James Neal, Colin Wilson, Filip Forsberg and captain Shea Weber.

Weber’s tally was the game-winner, and it was downright thunderous:

Another promising sign: after a struggling to a 2-for-31 clip in previous playoff games, the Predators’ power play went 2-for-5 in Game 3.

Overall, the Predators really couldn’t ask for much more from this win, especially if Colton Sissons is indeed OK after a scary crash into the Sharks’ net.

Things could get really interesting if Nashville manages to “hold serve” with another home win on Thursday.

Stars’ goalie carousel goes around again: Lehtonen replaces Niemi

Dallas Stars goalie Antti Niemi (31) subs in for goalie Kari Lehtonen (32) during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015, in Dallas. The Stars won 6-5. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
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It’s pretty tough not to make jokes about the Dallas Stars spending $10.4 million on their goalies at times like these, even if Dallas’ defense should shoulder plenty of blame.

After Kari Lehtonen was pulled from a Game 2 loss, the St. Louis Blues chased Antti Niemi early in the second period of Game 3 after Niemi allowed three goals on 12 shots.

Troy Brouwer‘s 3-1 goal was enough for Lindy Ruff to give Niemi the hook:

Unfortunately for the Stars, Lehtonen got off to a slow start as well, allowing an immediate Vladimir Tarasenko goal.

The Blues are now 4-1 and the Stars are searching for answers … and probably wishing Tyler Seguin was around to help them out-score their problems.