Sidney Crosby Alex Edler Roberto Luongo

TGIF: Five NHL games to watch this weekend

12 Comments

Saturday: Vancouver at Pittsburgh (1 p.m. ET)

A solid afternoon affair to get you warmed up for the evening’s action. Sidney Crosby and the Penguins have only lost once in seven tries this season; Thursday night, they beat their biggest rivals, the Flyers, by a score of 4-1, thanks in part to another solid performance from goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (6-0-0, .932 SV%). Against Vancouver, Fleury could be staring down a top line of Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin and Ryan Kesler as new head coach John Tortorella continues to experiment with his forward combinations.

Saturday: NY Rangers at New Jersey (7 p.m. ET)

If only to see if the Devils can win a game. So far, all they’ve managed is three shootout/OT losses. Expect Cory Schneider to get the start for the only winless team in the NHL after Martin Brodeur surrendered four goals on 22 shots Thursday in a 5-2 loss in Ottawa. As for the Rangers (who will take on their cross-river rivals minus injured forwards Ryan Callahan, Rick Nash and Carl Hagelin), they’ve still got three road games left before making their season debut at Madison Square Garden on Oct. 28. But hey, at least they got/will get to sleep in their own beds for a few nights following Wednesday’s 2-0 win in Washington that capped a tough, painful-in-many-ways six-game trip.

Saturday: Boston at Tampa Bay (7 p.m. ET)

Atlantic Division foes clash for the second time in 2013-14. The B’s won the first meeting, 3-1, in Boston on Oct. 3. Tampa Bay will no doubt want revenge for that, and the Lightning — with five wins in their last six — have been playing well enough to take it. Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis have been providing plenty of offense per usual, with 10 points each in seven games. But just as important to T-Bay’s success has been goalie Ben Bishop, he of the 5-0-0 record and .943 save percentage.

Saturday: Toronto at Chicago (7 p.m. ET)

The toughest test of the season for the 6-2-0 Maple Leafs. We’ve written plenty on Toronto’s struggles to gain consistent puck possession; in the Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks, the Leafs will face a team that loves a good game of keep-away. They may also face an angry team, given the ‘Hawks failed to take revenge on rival St. Louis Thursday night, falling 3-2 in a shootout at the United Center.

Sunday: Dallas at Anaheim (8 p.m. ET)

We already wrote about the red-hot Ducks here, so let’s talk a bit about their opponents. The Stars have had an inconsistent start to the season, but they got a huge 4-3 shootout win Thursday versus previously unbeaten San Jose. Bruins fans may be interested to know that Tyler Seguin leads all Dallas scorers with eight points in six games. The Stars also play Saturday in Los Angeles, so the Ducks (who get Saturday off after hosting the Coyotes Friday) should have the energy advantage in this one.

Hitchcock believes Blues’ Allen is ‘locked up mentally’

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 08: Jake Allen #34 of the St. Louis Blues makes the third period save against the New York Islanders at the Barclays Center on December 8, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Getty
1 Comment

Things were already rough for the St. Louis Blues and their goalies (particularly still-pretty-newly crowned No. 1 Jake Allen) heading into Thursday, but the Washington Capitals really highlighted those issues in a 7-3 thrashing.

Blues fans and management must be wondering, then: what’s wrong with their goalies, especially with Allen? Head coach Ken Hitchcock seems resigned to allowing him to fight through it, if nothing else.

“There’s a lot going on right now. … He’s kind of locked up mentally and he’s going to have to fight through this,” Hitchock said, according to Lou Korac of NHL.com. “What we see at practice, we like. That’s why we put him in quite frankly.”

Alex Pietrangelo did the typical deflecting thing, nothing that this is a “team” and that there are “no individuals.”

Still, Hitchcock’s longer press conference makes you wonder how much trust there is in Allen and Carter Hutton.

From Hitch’s perspective, it sure sounds like he believes that the Blues are over-correcting to try to limit “goals, shots.” By trying to do too much, they might be putting themselves in bad positions. And that might stem from a lack of confidence in the guys in net, or in the team’s work in their own zone overall.

Let’s be honest. As much as we can play chicken-or-the-egg as far as a defense’s impact on a goalie, it’s tough to explain away save percentages under .900 in the modern NHL. At some point, your team needs more stops.

With the races for the lower spots in the Western Conference’s playoff picture seemingly tightening up, the Blues don’t have a ton of time to figure this out.

Capitals shine glaring light on Blues’ goalie woes

ST LOUIS, MO - MAY 23:  Jake Allen #34 of the St. Louis Blues makes a save during the first period against the San Jose Sharks in Game Five of the Western Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scottrade Center on May 23, 2016 in St Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Getty
4 Comments

If you’re reaction to the headline “Something is off about the St. Louis Blues” was “Yeah, their goaltending,” then Thursday only emboldened that opinion.

It wasn’t just that the Washington Capitals bombarded the Blues by a score of 7-3. It’s that they really didn’t need to fire a whole lot of shots on goal to get to seven.

Here’s a harsh rule of thumb: when both of your goalies play in a game and each one barely makes more saves than goals allowed, that’s an awful night. Take a look at what Jake Allen and Carter Hutton went through:

Allen: six saves, four goals allowed in 25:11 time on ice
Hutton: five saves, three goals allowed in 35:49

Allen got pulled from the contest twice, by the way. He’s been pulled from four games since Dec. 30. Woof.

Even before these horrendous performances, the Blues goalies have been shaky. Hutton came into tonight with an ugly .898 save percentage; Allen wasn’t much better with a .900 mark.

Those are the type of numbers that would make Dallas Stars fans cringe, or at least experience some uncomfortable familiarity.

Now, is it all on Hutton and Allen? Much like with the Stars’ embattled goalies, much of the struggles probably come down to a team struggling in front of them.

Even so, if you assign more of the blame to Allen and Hutton, nights like this Capitals thrashing definitely strengthen your argument. Yikes.

Rangers overwhelm Leafs, make life pretty easy for Lundqvist in win

TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 19:  Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers faces a shot in the warm-up prior to play against the Toronto Maple Leafs in an NHL game at the Air Canada Centre on January 19, 2017 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
Getty
3 Comments

Heading into Thursday, many were wondering how the New York Rangers will handle Henrik Lundqvist‘s struggles. Instead, the focus shifted to the Toronto Maple Leafs’ difficulties, perhaps specifically in dealing with Morgan Rielly‘s absence.

The Rangers handily won this one 5-2, at least giving Lundqvist the win. He wasn’t especially busy, stopping 23 out of 25 shots, so you can probably file his story under “To be continued.”

Lundqvist wasn’t oblivious to his team’s impressive overall play.

Really, it was all about the waves of attackers the Rangers can send at opponents and the trouble that caused for the Maple Leafs. It wasn’t the easiest night for Frank Corrado, in particular, who took a couple costly penalties.

The Rangers’ next two games come in a road contest vs. the Red Wings on Sunday and a home game against the Kings on Monday. Perhaps those matches will serve as a better barometer for where Lundqvist’s really at, as he passed tonight’s test … but it wasn’t a particularly difficult one.

So, is Mike Condon actually really good? He certainly was against Columbus

OTTAWA, ON - JANUARY 8: Mike Condon #1 of the Ottawa Senators stands at the bench during a break in a game against the Edmonton Oilers at Canadian Tire Centre on January 8, 2017 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***
Getty
4 Comments

Considering their numbers heading in, many were perplexed when the Ottawa Senators essentially replaced Andrew Hammond with Mike Condon. Now many are perplexed by just how strong Condon’s often been for Ottawa.

Thursday might stand as the prime example that this guy could be better than many expected.

The Columbus Blue Jackets dominated much of the play, generating a 42-28 shots on goal advantage, but Ottawa ended up winning 2-0 tonight.

Condon already came into tonight with a solid save percentage (.915 before this shutout), and he’s now won four of his last five games. Three of his four career shutouts have come this season.

Ignoring his one relief appearance with Pittsburgh this season for the sake of simplicity, just consider his tough times with Montreal last season. He went 21-25-6 with a shaky .903 save percentage.

This marks just his 21st start and 23rd appearance of this season, so it’s not a guaranteee for future results. Still … it’s another example that goalies are as just about as unpredictable as they are crucial to a team’s fate.

More and more, it seems like Condon might just be a difference-maker, and in the positive sense this time around.