Hemsky Luongo

The Oilers are taking shootouts very seriously this season

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One of Ralph Krueger’s key initiatives as Edmonton’s bench boss this season is improving the Oilers’ success in the shootout.

“We see shootouts as a specialty team,” Krueger told the Edmonton Sun. “We have a power play. We have penalty killing. And we have penalty shots in the shootout.”

It’s a curious decision, given most clubs don’t offer much in terms of shootout prep.

There are usually attempts at the end of practice, occasional chats with the goalie for shooter tips or, in the case of the Pittsburgh Penguins, a “mustache boy” competition.

The Oilers, though, take shootouts far more seriously — especially since Krueger crunched the numbers and realized Edmonton only won 11 of 33 shootouts in two years under Tom Renney.

Here’s more, from the Sun:

“This year we’re taking the penalty shooting part of the game very seriously,” said Krueger.

“We have a group of five or six players. And Freddie Chabot, who has been analyzing goaltenders in the league through and through during the lockout, putting some good information together, will be coaching it primarily.”

Krueger gave Chabot credit for the shootout success.

“Freddie picked them, not me. We have a new specialty team. That’s all Freddie.”

In a compact 48-game schedule, Krueger figures, it’s an area that could make the difference between a team finishing eighth or ninth in the standings.

“A playoff position could be decided by a point.”

“We now have a clear picture of what the goaltender is going to do. They all have a history. The shooters, too. Preparing Devan [Dubnyk] for them is a big part of it, too.”

Krueger first got the idea while coaching Switzerland during the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.

He put his third goalie in charge of monitoring shooter trends and tendencies, and the move paid off reasonably well — the Swiss lost to Canada in an opening-round shootout (the Canadians only scored once) before beating Belarus via shootout in the qualification round.

It should be noted that Edmonton won its first game of the year via shootout — a 3-2 decision over the Canucks.

Sam Gagner and Ales Hemsky both converted their chances while Dubnyk stoned Alex Edler and Alexander Burrows on consecutive attempts.

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.