Sergei Bobrovsky

On the importance of goaltending

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Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards had a good quote recently about the relative struggles of his Vezina Trophy-winning goalie, Sergei Bobrovsky, compared to last season.

“He made me a good coach last year, and that’s what that one position can do,” Richards said, per the Columbus Dispatch. “If a team’s struggling, the coach isn’t very good. All of a sudden the goalie becomes good, and all of a sudden the coach seems to know what he’s doing. That’s the one position where they’re able to do that.”

With that in mind, we thought it could be interesting to list a few teams that have experienced substantial variation in their team save percentage, for bettor or for worse, from last season to this season.

Columbus (from .920 to .907) — Not surprisingly, the Jackets’ record has been negatively affected. They’re currently 5-9-0, tied for 25th in the NHL with just 10 points.

Ottawa (from .933 to .921) — Like the Jackets, the Sens haven’t been able to rely so much on goaltending in 2013-14. A .921 team save percentage is still very good, but Ottawa’s record (5-6-4) is not.

NY Rangers (from .920 to .903) — Henrik Lundqvist had a pretty awful start, but he seems to be back in form lately. And wouldn’t you know it? The Rangers are starting to win some games.

Edmonton (from .917 to .875) — Based on team save percentage, the Oilers have the worst goaltending in the NHL. Question: if Devan Dubnyk had been good to start the season, what are the chances Dallas Eakins would be forced to tell Nail Yakupov to ignore the trade rumors?

Tampa Bay (from .899 to .911) — There are, of course, teams that have seen their goaltending improve. Like the Lightning, who’ve received excellent work from Ben Bishop. At this point, Bishop is looking like a nice addition by general manager Steve Yzerman.

Montreal (from .904 to .934) — The Habs finished October with an 8-5-0 record. Carey Price finished the month with a .939 save percentage. Not a coincidence.

St. Louis (from .902 to .915) — Jaroslav Halak has been healthy and solid for the Blues. Brian Elliott has been much improved as well. And if that’s not scary enough for the rest of the league, St. Louis has found its scoring touch. Only the Sharks (3.73) are scoring more goals per game than the Blues (3.46).

Toronto (from .917 to .935) — Safe to say the Maple Leafs would be in trouble if not for their tandem of James Reimer and Jonathan Bernier. But credit general manager Dave Nonis for getting two very capable players to solidify the most important position in the game. It’s always a nice luxury to have, even if some like to focus on the “controversy” aspect.

Colorado (from .901 to .955) — Last but not least, the Avalanche currently boast the highest team save percentage in the NHL. They also have the highest points percentage, at .923. Without Semyon Varlamov and J.S. Giguere, there’s no chance they’d be 12-1-0 after 13 games. None.

There’s something off about the St. Louis Blues

Ottawa Senators' Mike Hoffman, second from left, celebrates after the Senators scored a goal against St. Louis Blues goalie Carter Hutton during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017, in St. Louis. The Senators won 6-4. (AP Photo/Billy Hurst)
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The St. Louis Blues had another hiccup last night, falling 6-4 at home to Ottawa. They only mustered 23 shots on Sens goalie Mike Condon — and that’s been a theme in their past seven games. In fact, the Blues haven’t registered more than 26 shots since beating Chicago in the Winter Classic.

It was a particularly disappointing effort against the Senators. St. Louis had just returned from a California road trip, which started with a bad loss in Los Angeles but finished with encouraging wins in San Jose and Anaheim.

“We just didn’t manage the puck very well on the boards,” head coach Ken Hitchcock said, per the Post-Dispatch. “We weren’t as determined and as effort-based on the boards as were the two games previous.”

The Blues’ record now sits at a modest 23-17-5. For a team that only lost 24 times in regulation last season, it’s been a fairly significant fall-off. It’s also fair to say the departures of David Backes, Troy Brouwer, and Brian Elliott have been felt.

Slightly more than halfway through the schedule, St. Louis is by no means guaranteed a playoff spot. Nashville, with a game in hand, is lurking just three points back for third place in the Central. And if the Blues are caught by the Preds, they’ll have to fend off Los Angeles, Calgary, Vancouver, and perhaps Dallas or Winnipeg for one of the two wild-card spots.

It would be easy to just blame the goaltending. But while it’s true that neither Jake Allen nor Carter Hutton have been very good, the Blues have not been the dominant possession team they’ve shown they can be. In their last 20 games, their score-adjusted Corsi ranks 20th in the league. Now compare that to their last 20 games of last season, when they ranked third.

“I’d like to see us take control of the game a little bit more,” said forward Alex Steen, who’s been with the Blues long enough to know what a good performance looks and feels like.

Looking ahead, the Blues get a big test Thursday at home to Washington, then hit the road for three games in Winnipeg, Pittsburgh, and Minnesota.

A better performance against the Caps would go a long way. But only if it’s followed up with another and another.

Bottom line: it’s time for the Blues to get back to playing the way they can. If they still can.

So much fallout from that wild Rangers-Stars game

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 17:  Stephen Johns #28 of the Dallas Stars checks Pavel Buchnevich #89 of the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on January 17, 2017 in New York City. The Stars defeated the Rangers 7-6.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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For two teams that don’t have much history or play each other often, Dallas and New York had quite the monumental affair on Monday.

To recap:

• The two teams combined for 13 goals, and the Stars scored seven times in the first 40 minutes. The Rangers were booed while leaving the ice in the second period.

Cody Eakin, who last month served a four-game suspension for a huge hit on Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, was forced to answer for his antics by fighting Chris Kreider early in the second period. Today, Kreider was fined for hitting Eakin in the head with his own helmet.

• Speaking of Lundqvist, he was torched for seven goals on 27 shots,. He’s now allowed 12 goals on 49 shots in his last four periods played… and 20 goals on 113 shots in his last four games. He looks and sounds rattled, to put it mildly.

“I feel like it’s embarrassing and frustrating and disappointing at the same time,” Lundqvist said, per NHL.com. “I need to find another level. It’s not good enough.”

• Rangers forward Jesper Fast, who two games ago was rocked by Montreal’s Andrew Shaw, only played 6:31 last night and has now been ruled out for the next 7-10 days with an upper-body injury.

• Dallas d-man Johnny Oduya only played 8:31 and re-aggravated a lower-body injury that sidelined him earlier this season. The Stars have already ruled him out for Thursday’s game in Brooklyn.

Unfortunately — or perhaps fortunately — the Stars and Rangers won’t meet again this season.

Well, unless it’s in the Stanley Cup Final.

Kreider fined for hitting Eakin with helmet during fight

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Rangers forward Chris Kreider has been fined $5,000 for hitting Dallas’ Cody Eakin with his own helmet during a fight on Tuesday night, the NHL’s Department of Player Safety has announced.

The incident came nearly one month after Eakin was suspended four games for hitting Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist in a mid-December tilt in Dallas.

There was no retribution at the time — Eakin was kicked out of the game — but many figured the Stars forward would have to atone for his earlier indiscretion… and that’s exactly what happened at the 1:52 mark of the second period.

Kreider didn’t face any additional in-game punishment for his fight, aside from the standard five-minute major penalty. It’s possible the officials didn’t see the helmet swing, or perhaps it was so brief the zebras opted against calling it.

Whatever the case, it’s probably worth noting that Darcy Tucker was ejected from a game in 2005 for a similar act — hitting Cam Janssen in the head with his own helmet during a scrap — and, like Kreider, was fined after the fact, but not suspended.

 

 

Vanek likes Detroit, but knows he could be traded

TAMPA, FL - OCTOBER 13:  Thomas Vanek #62 of the Detroit Red Wings gets ready for a face-off against Tampa Bay Lightning during a game at the Amalie Arena on October 13, 2016 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)
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Thomas Vanek knows the deal. He’s a pending unrestricted free agent on a team that’s unlikely to make the playoffs. He has a respectable 12 goals and 18 assists in 33 games, and his cap hit is just $2.6 million.

Obviously, there’s going to be trade speculation as the March 1 deadline approaches.

“I like it here,” Vanek said of playing in Detroit, per NHL.com. “I enjoy my time here. I like the guys. My family likes it here. So obviously I’m hoping to put a good streak here together to get ourselves back in the picture so I can be here. But obviously I understand the business side of it. … If I’m moving, I’m getting pretty good at that too.”

The Red Wings are Vanek’s fifth NHL team. He’s been traded twice in his career, both times in 2013-14 when he went from the Sabres to the Islanders and then to the Canadiens.

What the Wings could get for Vanek remains to be seen. The 32-year-old has 20 goals in 63 career playoff games; however, he’s also faced intense criticism during a handful of his postseason performances.

Six points back of third place in the Atlantic, Detroit has not yet given up on extending its lengthy playoff streak. The Wings are coming off two big wins over Pittsburgh and Montreal. They host Boston tonight (on NBCSN).