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.”

Video: Simmonds drops the gloves with Wood

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Wayne Simmonds is not only a productive power forward, but he’s one tough customer.

He showed that again Saturday, dropping the gloves with Miles Wood of the New Jersey Devils during the first period.

The fight occurred right after Wood drove Radko Gudas hard into the boards on the forecheck. The scrap didn’t last long, however, with Simmonds landing a few shots and then taking the Devils forward to the ice.

Simmonds was assessed an extra roughing minor.

We have a (minor league) trade to announce

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 28:  Michael Latta #17 of the Los Angeles Kings during a preseason game at Staples Center on September 28, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The Chicago Blackhawks and L.A. Kings have made a minor league trade on Saturday.

The Blackhawks acquired forward Michael Latta, who has 113 games of NHL experience with the Washington Capitals, in exchange for defenseman Cameron Schilling.

Latta will report to the AHL’s Rockford IceHogs, according to the Blackhawks. In 29 games this season with the Ontario Reign, Latta has two goals and six points.

Schilling, 28, is expected to be assigned to the Reign, the team said in a release.

In 40 games this season with the IceHogs, Schilling has seven goals and 17 points.

Singing the Blues: St. Louis continues recent skid

SAN JOSE, CA - MAY 21:  Ken Hitchcock of the St. Louis Blues walks on the ice in game four of the Western Conference Finals against the San Jose Sharks during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at SAP Center on May 21, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Make that three straight losses for the St. Louis Blues, who have only four wins in their last 10 games.

The Blues lost to the Winnipeg Jets by a final score of 5-3 on Saturday. Late attempts at a comeback from four goals down were fleeting and unsuccessful. Once in competition for the Central Division, St. Louis has fallen off the pace in these times of struggle and is now part of the pack fighting for a wild card spot in the West.

In the last three games, the Blues have given up 18 goals. Eighteen goals.

That is highly uncharacteristic of a Ken Hitchcock-coached team, and the Blues have been one of the stingiest clubs in the NHL over the last five years. Jake Allen‘s struggles have been well documented and he didn’t even travel with the team to Winnipeg.

These are difficult times for the Blues, who turned to Pheonix Copley, who had never started an NHL game before today, in goal versus the Jets.

Despite giving up five goals on 29 shots, Hitchcock praised the play of Copley. And he likes the amount of scoring chances his team is producing. But their own mistakes keep piling up, and they keep piling into the St. Louis net at what is now an alarming rate.

The Blues trailed 2-1 entering the third period, but gave up a Bryan Little power play goal just over two minutes later and they fell further behind. It was a critical moment in the game for St. Louis. The floodgates opened from there for the Jets.

“We left the game out there ,” Hitchcock told reporters.

“It’s tough. Quite frankly, we’re allowing too many goals against, obviously. Too many easy scoring chances. We’re getting scored on killing penalties now. If we clean up our own end, both five-on-five and five-on-four, it will help us a lot.”

Desjardins: Horvat is ‘fine’ after taking a slap shot to the head

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Before the celebration of Henrik Sedin reaching 1,000 career points, there was plenty of concern for one of the Canucks’ top young players.

Late in the first period, Bo Horvat was skating behind the Florida net when he was struck in the back of the head by a Nikita Tryamkin slap shot. Horvat immediately hit the ice. He was down for a brief period, but did skate off under his own power.

The good news: He returned to the game after missing a brief time.

On Saturday, the Canucks sent out a photo showing the damage Horvat suffered — a fairly large cut to the back of his head, which required several stitches.

“I would assume he was forced out by the spotter,” said coach Willie Desjardins following Vancouver’s win on Friday. “Whenever you see something like that, you’ll probably check it out, especially if he was bleeding.”

“They took a look at him and he’s fine.”

More good news for the Canucks.

In his third NHL season, Horvat is emerging as a critical component of this team. He’s 21 years old, is tied with Henrik for the team lead in points, with 30 in 47 games, and is on his way to next weekend’s NHL All-Star event. Further to that, the Canucks are in a transition, with a younger core expected to eventually take over from the lasting members of the current core, most notably Daniel and Henrik Sedin, who are both 36 years old.

The Canucks are also in a fight for a playoff spot, and injury to one of their top centers, which Horvat is, would certainly make the hunt for the post-season that much more difficult.

Sitting one point out of the second wild card spot in the West, the Canucks begin a three-game road trip by facing the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday.