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Under Pressure: Jaroslav Halak

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“Under Pressure” is a preseason series we’ll be running on PHT. For each team in the NHL, we’ll pick one player, coach, GM, mascot or whatever that everyone will be watching closely this season. Feel free to play the song as you read along. Also feel free to go to the comment section and tell us we picked poorly.

For the St. Louis Blues, we pick…goaltender Jaroslav Halak.

Over the past two seasons, St. Louis has been content with the one-two goalie punch of Halak and Brian Elliott. For the most part, it’s served the team well — Halak and Elliott combined to win the Jennings in 2011-12 for fewest goals allowed and have backstopped the Blues to consecutive playoff appearances.

But is appears the timeshare is over.

As per ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun, Halak will head into this season as the club’s No. 1:

The Blues believe Jaroslav Halak has to be their man. Gone in St. Louis is the politically correct spin that the Blues have two capable netminders and both will battle for starts.

The Blues have made a collective, organizational decision that this season is Halak’s to win or lose. They’re handing him the keys, perhaps for the last time, being that Halak is a UFA after the season.

Halak rededicated himself in the offseason, staying in St. Louis to focus on his workouts instead of going home overseas, and showing up to camp dropping his body fat from 14 percent to 8 percent.

This shouldn’t come as a huge surprise.

While Elliott’s been a nice story — arriving on a two-way deal barely above the league minimum, playing himself onto the 2012 All-Star team — Halak was always thought to be the No. 1, partly because of what St. Louis gave up to get him (Lars Eller, Ian Schultz) and partly because of what it paid him ($15 million over four years).

Oh, speaking of that contract…

As LeBrun mentioned, it expires at the end of this season, another reason why Halak’s under immense pressure. At 28, he’s still yet to establish himself as a bell cow-type netminder, one that can log an extensive workload and withstand its rigors.

(Plagued by hand and groin injuries, Halak’s never appeared in more than 57 games in a single season; what’s more, since his lone “bell cow” performance — literally carrying Montreal to the 2010 Eastern Conference finals — he’s won exactly one playoff game.)

So Halak’s auditioning for the No. 1 gig, playing for a new deal and, let’s be honest, shouldering a large portion of St. Louis’ expectations.

The Blues spent over $100 million this summer securing the services of Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester, Kevin Shattenkirk, Chris Stewart, Patrik Berglund and Jordan Leopold, a sign they believe their core group is ready to compete for a Cup.

(Editor’s note: Some have noticed we also did an Under Pressure: Alex Pietrangelo earlier this week, which begs the question — why two Blues? Well hey, there’s a lot of pressure in St. Louis this year. Also, the duplicate has nothing to do with a possible snafu in PHT’s editorial schedule that might’ve had two different authors covering the same team. Nope, that definitely did not happen. We hope you’re enjoying the series and are looking forward to next week’s Under Pressure: Barret Jackman.)

For all of our Under Pressure series, click here.

Former NHLer LaCouture pleads not guilty to assaulting woman

PHILADELPHIA - JANUARY 19: Dan LaCouture #28 of the Boston Bruins looks on during the game against the Philadelphia Flyers on January 19, 2006 at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Bruins won 5-2. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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BARNSTABLE, Mass. (AP) A former NHL player has pleaded not guilty to charges he assaulted a woman in Massachusetts over the weekend.

The Cape Cod Times reports Daniel LaCouture appeared Tuesday in Barnstable District Court on charges of assault and battery and vandalizing property.

Police responded just after 6 p.m. Saturday to a house in Centerville, where they say the 39-year-old LaCouture hid underneath a vehicle in the home’s driveway before confronting the victim and striking her in the collarbone.

LaCouture is due back in court July 15.

A phone number listed for LaCouture in online public records was disconnected.

LaCouture made his NHL debut with Edmonton in 1999. The forward had 20 goals and 25 assists in 337 career games with six NHL teams.

He is one of dozens of plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit against the NHL over concussion-related injuries.

A better start is key for Sharks in Game 2

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It’s easy to suggest that perhaps the San Jose Sharks got caught up with some nerves during the first period of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final versus the Pittsburgh Penguins.

After all, this is a franchise that, after well-documented playoff shortfalls, is playing in the championship series for the first time. The Pittsburgh Penguins, on the other hand, well they’ve been here before — seven years ago.

Sharks’ defenseman Brent Burns conceded that his team may have been overwhelmed at first, outshot 15-4 in the opening 20 minutes, before eventually getting back on track in the middle of the game.

The result was a two-goal deficit, as the Penguins jumped into the lead. San Jose fought back, but ultimately lost on a late Nick Bonino goal.

The Sharks, of course, have stressed getting out to a better start, and that what happened Monday can be a learning experience, as they look to even the series in Game 2 on Wednesday.

“We were excited to play. We felt we were ready. Then at the start, we didn’t execute the way we needed to. We try to take that lesson and learn from it,” Joe Pavelski told reporters on Tuesday.

“Hopefully we can have a better start. Obviously it’s exciting to be here. I don’t know if it’s your first time or your fifth time, I’m sure it’s exciting every time. So we’ll learn from that game and hopefully have a better start.”

 

Bears face Monsters for the AHL’s Calder Cup

MILWAUKEE - JUNE 15:  Chris Bourque #17 of the Hershey Bears kisses the Calder Cup after the Hershey Bears defeated the Milwaukee Admirals in game six of the AHL Calder Cup Finals on June 15, 2006 at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Bears defeated the Admirals 5-1 in game six to win the AHL Calder Cup. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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The Hershey Bears and Lake Erie Monsters will play for the 2016 Calder Cup, as the American Hockey League’s championship series begins Wednesday.

The Bears, who start with home ice advantage, enter the series having won the Calder Cup 11 times — the most of any franchise in the league’s history. They also enter the final having dispatched the Toronto Marlies — Canada’s remaining hope for an AHL championship, right…? — in the third round.

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Meanwhile, the Monsters have been on a torrid run in the playoffs, losing only twice in 13 games so far. They’ve earned the sweep in two of three series, making quick work of the Rockford IceHogs and Ontario Reign.

Bears forward Carter Camper, a journeyman in the minors with three games of NHL experience with Boston in 2011-12, is second in AHL playoff scoring with 15 points in 17 games.

For the Monsters, Blue Jackets prospect Lukas Sedlak has been on a roll, offensively, and now has 13 points in 13 post-season games this year.

From the Columbus Dispatch:

Sedlak was regarded as a smart two-way forward, but his offensive production was minimal, almost non-existent. Players like that tend to drift away after a few seasons, pushed aside by the next wave of young talent and high draft picks.

“I’d say right around Christmas I started wondering what was going to happen,” Sedlak said. “I was asking my agent what Columbus thought of me, and I was prepared for everything — maybe even going back to Europe.

“I knew my contract was up after the season. I thought I was playing pretty well … but you just don’t know.”

 

Stars sign Dowling, Ranford to one-year deals

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The Dallas Stars made a pair of depth moves on Tuesday, announcing the signings of forwards Justin Dowling and Brendan Ranford to one-year contracts.

Both players have put up good numbers in the American Hockey League with the Texas Stars.

This past season, the 24-year-old Ranford scored 19 goals and 59 points in 76 games — all career highs for him in the minors. He played once for Dallas last season, but didn’t register a point.

Initially undrafted and a Stars’ free agent signing from two years ago, the 25-year-old Dowling was also productive with 11 goals and 46 points in 52 games.