COLUMBUS, OH -MARCH 16: Sergei Bobrovsky #72 of the Columbus Blue Jackets celebrates with his teammates after making 39 saves as Columbus shut out the Phoenix Coyotes 1-0 in a shootout on March 16, 2013 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio.
(March 15, 2013 - Source: Kirk Irwin/Getty Images North America)

Columbus playoff chances rest with Bobrovsky

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When people were projecting that the Columbus Blue Jackets would be terrible in 2013, Sergei Bobrovsky was the factor that was overlooked.

Bobrovsky had a solid rookie season with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2010-11, so even after his rough sophomore campaign, it certainly wasn’t unreasonable to assume that he was capable of being respectable in 2013. But winning the Vezina Trophy?

“Sergei had a great year,” Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards told NHL.com. “He was great himself, but what I think gets lost in the mix is how the guys played in front of him.”

Fair enough, he didn’t single-handily carry the Blue Jackets. Their defensive group is a major strength of this team and one we’ll look into as Blue Jackets day progresses. At the same time, Bobrovsky was the catalyst to their late season surge in 2013 that nearly vaulted them into the playoffs. With a 1.60 GAA and .946 save percentage in the final two months of the season, Bobrovsky posted a 18-5-3 record.

Had another goaltender been between the pipes during that stretch, the Blue Jackets might be pumping up their latest top-five draft pick rather than talking about building off last season’s success. Which begs the question: Can the 24-year-old goaltender do it again this season? Or does that two month stretch represent a hot streak that paid off big because the campaign was shortened?

They don’t need Bobrovsky to win another Vezina Trophy, but it’s fair to say they’ve put a considerable amount of faith in him. The Blue Jackets are projected to enter the season with Curtis McElhinney as their backup goaltender. McElhinney is coming off of a strong season in the minors, but he is 30 years old and has a career 3.10 GAA and .899 save percentage in 69 NHL games.

“He has that quality that [Rangers goaltender Henrik] Lundqvist has, that focus,” teammate Brandon Dubinsky said of Bobrovsky. “He has what it takes to be an elite goaltender; tack on his work ethic on top of that and the sky’s the limit for him.

“Start with a guy like that and you can build a team around it.”

They have done just that, but if Bobrovsky falters as Steve Mason did after his Calder Trophy-winning season, then 2013-14 will be another in a line of heartbreaking seasons for the Blue Jackets.

Blues, Capitals to play exhibition game in Kansas City

Pedestrians walk past the Sprint Center, Sunday, March 24, 2013, in Kansas City, Mo. The city was preparing for the third round of the NCAA college basketball tournament at the arena after the region received 6-10 inches of snow overnight. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
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Kansas City is going to host another NHL exhibition game.

The St. Louis Blues announced today that they’ll take on the Washington Capitals on Oct. 5 at Sprint Center. Both Vladimir Tarasenko and Alexander Ovechkin will be there, at least according to the press release.

The Blues last played in K.C. a couple of years ago when they took on the Stars in exhibition play. In 2011, a sellout crowd watched the Penguins and Kings at Sprint Center.

A market once considered a candidate for expansion or relocation — particularly after Sprint Center opened in 2007 — the NHL-to-Kansas City buzz has since died down. Last year, there was no interest from Kansas City when the league called for expansion applications.

Sensing an opportunity to make their team a favorite of all Missourians, not just the ones in St. Louis, the Blues have said they’d like to cultivate their fan base across the state in Kansas City.

Report: Pens won’t make Fleury (talks too much) available to media

at Pepsi Center on December 9, 2015 in Denver, Colorado.
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Don’t expect many updates on Marc-Andre Fleury‘s health over the next little while.

Well — don’t expect them to come from Fleury, anyway.

Per TVA Sports, Fleury has been shut down from speaking with reporters until he’s fully recovered from the concussion that’s sidelined him since Apr. 2.

A translation of Renaud Lavioe’s piece for TVA, per PHT’s Joey Alfieri:

Fleury practiced with his teammates this morning at the Verizon Center.

What I can tell you is he’s feeling better, but the Penguins have decided not to make Fleury available to the media because he says too much.

The next time Fleury talks to the media, it’s because he’ll be ready to return.

Not to be mean, but Matt Murray has given up three goals or more in back-to-back games.

Earlier this week, Fleury told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that — despite participating in on-ice workouts — he’s still dealing with concussion symptoms.

“It’s one of the toughest things I’ve been through,” he explained. “Some good days, when you think you’re back, and some bad days, when you think it’s never going to get fixed.”

The Fleury situation seems to have rankled some within the Penguins organization — like head coach Mike Sullivan, who took issue with questions about the club’s handling of Fleury.

Here’s a related series of tweets from DKonPittsburghSports’ Josh Yohe:

Game 2 of the Pens-Caps series goes tomorrow from Verizon at 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN). Matt Murray, who allowed four goals on 35 shots in the Game 1 loss, is expected to start in goal.

North Dakota loses another d-man as Kings sign LaDue

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 09:  Paul LaDue #6 of North Dakota skates against the Boston University Terriers during the second period of the 2015 NCAA Division I Men's Hockey Championship semifinals at TD Garden on April 9, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Keaton Thompson, Troy Stecher and now, Paul LaDue.

On Friday, the Kings announced that LaDue — the junior d-man that helped North Dakota win the Frozen Four — agreed to a one-year, entry-level deal, forgoing his senior season in the process.

LaDue, 23, was part of a talented UND blueline that also featured fellow juniors Troy Stecher — who since signed with Vancouver — and Thompson, who inked with the Ducks.

So yeah, bit of an exodus.

Thankfully for North Dakota, freshman scoring sensation Brock Boeser has already committed to returning for his sophomore campaign, while junior defenseman Gage Ausmus — a San Jose draftee — vowed to go back to school as well.

As for Frozen Four MOP Drake Caggiula — a senior that was already leaving school — he’s already begun his tour of interested NHL suitors.

Per TSN, Caggiula has shortlisted six clubs: Philadelphia, Edmonton, Ottawa, Vancouver, Chicago and Buffalo.

Wilson fined for kneeing Sheary

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No suspension for Capitals forward Tom Wilson. Only a fine.

That’s what the NHL’s Department of Player Safety decided after Wilson kneed Pittsburgh’s Conor Sheary last night in Washington.

The fine of $2,403.67 is the maximum allowable under the CBA, and, at the very least, it puts Wilson on official notice.

Wilson was not penalized on the play, and Sheary was able to leave the ice under his own power and remain in the game.

“We’re just going to play hockey, and the refs are going to call it the way they see it,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan told reporters afterwards. “Our guys are going to play.”

This morning, Capitals coach Barry Trotz reportedly said of the play, “It was OK, but it wasn’t I would say necessary.”