Halak pulled

The Blues aren’t playing very well, says chart


It would be easy to just blame Jaroslav Halak. When a goalie gets yanked after allowing three goals on eight shots — as Halak did Saturday in a 5-2 loss to Anaheim — he’s going to be a target.

When that same goalie boasts a modest .910 save percentage on the season, he becomes an even easier target (e.g., for bloggers who think the Blues should give Buffalo a call about Ryan Miller.)

But to pin the St. Louis Blues’ recent struggles on one position would be entirely unfair. Saturday’s loss was their third in four outings. And to be perfectly honest, they weren’t all that great Thursday when they beat the Islanders, 5-1.

“I just don’t think we’re working hard enough,” forward Vladimir Sobotka said, per the Post-Dispatch. “We’re losing every battle. We’re just not prepared for a battle.”

One of the NHL’s best possession teams based on measures like Corsi and Fenwick, the Blues have been far from dominant in their last four games.

In graphical form, via Extra Skater:


Those last four bars suggest the Blues were out-possessed when the score was close in each of their last four games. You can see the bars are usually in positive territory for St. Louis. (PHT analysis made easy: Up good, down bad.)

“The execution of the game plan the first five or 10 minutes is unacceptable,” defenseman Barret Jackman said in plain English. “That’s not the way that this team is built. We’re built on strong starts and getting engaged early and we haven’t been doing that.”

The Blues will get their next chance to get engaged early when they play the Jets tomorrow in Winnipeg.

“We’ve had a lot of success, but now we’ve got to really dig in,” said coach Ken Hitchcock. “Every game is a process. It’s not the end of the world, it’s a process. We had lots of success with the process. But we’re going to have to get a better buy-in, and this really starts with your top players. Our top players have to buy this because otherwise we’re just going to become a collection of individuals.”

DeBoer: Sharks ‘need more’ after benching Hertl, Wingels

Tomas Hertl, Tommy Wingels
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Peter DeBoer didn’t mice words Thursday in discussing Tommy Wingels‘ and Tomas Hertl‘s effort from last night’s loss to Chicago.

“I don’t measure those guys on goals and assists but the intangibles of the game,” DeBoer said, per the Contra Costa Times. “Are you hard to play against? Are you playing in the other team’s end? Are you creating chances to score whether or not they go in?

“That’s a by product. Those are the measurables I use with those guys and we need more.”

Neither Wingels nor Hertl played a single shift in the third period of Wednesday’s game. The pair are both mired in lengthy scoring slumps — 14 games without a goal for Wingels, 19 for Hertl — but DeBoer carefully chose his words in explaining that offense, or a lack of it, wasn’t why the two got parked.

Instead, it was about approach.

DeBoer has been calculating in trying to establish an identity among his bottom-six forward group (Hertl and Wingels are third-liners). Prior to last night’s game, he brought in former Devil Dainius Zubrus — the pair spent time together in New Jersey — and that came after the Sharks tookfull advantage of having their new AHL affiliate in San Jose.

The club has constantly called up and sent down depth forwards to try and give DeBoer different looks.

But it appears the group still remains a work in progress.


Let’s look at the all-important U.S. Thanksgiving standings

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If you haven’t heard, U.S. Thanksgiving is pretty significant among NHL folk — and no, not just because everybody got the night off.

(Well, most people got the night off. I’m here. But I’m Canadian and don’t mind working what we refer to as “Thursday, But With More Football.”)

See, turkey day has major ramifications for the NHL playoffs. As CBC put it, conventional wisdom says American Thanksgiving is “a mark on the calendar where essentially the playoffs are decided.”

To further illustrate that point, the Associated Press (courtesy STATS) ran a report last year showing that — since the 2005-06 season — teams in a playoff spot entering the holiday have gone on to make the Stanley Cup postseason 77.3 per cent of the time.

So yeah. Late November standings are worth paying attention to.

And a quick glance at those standings reveals that 16 clubs — Montreal, Ottawa, Boston, New York Rangers, Washington, Pittsburgh, New York Islanders, Detroit, Dallas, St. Louis, Nashville, Los Angeles, San Jose, Vancouver, Chicago and Minnesota — currently have, according to the above statistic, better than a 75 percent chance of making the dance.

The other 14 clubs — Tampa Bay, New Jersey, Florida, Carolina, Philadelphia, Buffalo, Toronto, Columbus, Arizona, Winnipeg, Anaheim, Colorado, Calgary and Edmonton — have less than a 25 percent chance.

Some thoughts:

— The biggest surprises? Two conference finalists from last year’s playoffs on the outside looking in: Anaheim and Tampa Bay. The Ducks are 8-11-4 and with 20 points, five back of the final wild card spot in the West; the Bolts are 11-9-3, tied with the Wings and Isles on 25 points but on the outside looking in due to the tiebreaker.

— To further illustrate how those two clubs have fallen: Last Thanksgiving, Tampa Bay was 15-6-2 with 32 points. Anaheim was 14-4-4 with 33 points. And yes, both were comfortably in playoff positions.

— Three teams that missed from the Western Conference last year (Dallas, Los Angeles, San Jose) are in good shape to get back in. The same cannot be said for the Ducks and two other clubs that made it last year: Winnipeg (three points back of the wild card) and Calgary (eight back).

— Other than Tampa Bay, the East looks remarkably similar to how last year finished. The Habs, Sens, Rangers, Isles, Pens, Red Wings and Caps were all postseason entrants.

— Speaking of the Sens, they deserve mention. Ottawa was outside the playoff picture last Thanksgiving but, as has been well-documented, bucked convention by going on a crazy run down the stretch and pulling off the greatest comeback to the postseason in NHL history.

— And it’s because of those Sens that I’m loathe to write anybody off. Of course, if I was going to write anybody off, it would be Carolina and Columbus and Buffalo and Edmonton.

— If I had to pick one team currently holding a spot that I think will drop out, it’d be Vancouver.

— If I had to pick a second, it’d be the Canucks.

— Finally, it’s worth noting that, last year, only three of the 16 teams holding a playoff spot at Thanksgiving failed to make it: Boston, Toronto and Los Angeles.

— In other words, 81 percent of the teams that were in on turkey day proceeded to qualify.

Avs put big Swedish forward Everberg on waivers

Dennis Everberg, Jason Pominville
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Colorado made a minor roster move on Thursday, putting winger Dennis Everberg on waivers.

Eveberg, 23, made his NHL debut with the Avs last season and had a fairly good rookie season, with 12 points in 55 games. This year, though, his offense was really lacking — Everberg had zero points through his first 15 games, averaging just under nine minutes per night.

The 6-foot-4, 205-pounder originally came to the Avs after a lengthy stint playing for Rogle BK of the Swedish Hockey League, turning heads with a 17-goal, 34-point effort in 47 games during the ’13-14 campaign.

Should he clear waivers, he’ll be off to the club’s AHL affiliate in San Antonio.

As far as Benning is concerned, ‘the Sedins are going to retire as Vancouver Canucks’

Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin

You may recall over the summer when the Sedin twins were asked by a Swedish news outlet if they’d ever consider waiving their no-trade clauses and playing for a team that wasn’t the Vancouver Canucks.

Their answer? They had no intention — none whatsoever — of leaving Vancouver, even if they were presented with an opportunity to join a Stanley Cup contender.


Yes, there was a but.

They didn’t definitively say they’d refuse to waive. If, for instance, management were to approach them during the final season of their contracts (2017-18), well, maybe they’d have to consider it.

And, so, because it was the summer and there was nothing else to talk about, and because it had only been a short time since the Flames had made the Canucks look so old and slow in the playoffs, it became a topic of conversation among the fans and media.

Today, GM Jim Benning was asked if he’d put an end to the rumors.

“As far as I’m concerned, the Sedins are going to retire as Vancouver Canucks,” Benning told TSN 1040.

Daniel Sedin currently ranks fourth in NHL scoring with 25 points in 23 games. Henrik is tied for 14th with 22 points. Even at 35, they’re still excellent players.

“I don’t know if they’re getting better, but they’re not getting any worse,” said Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville on Saturday, after the twins had combined for nine points in beating the defending champs.

It’s also worth noting that there’s far more optimism in Vancouver about the Canucks’ youth. Last year, there was only Bo Horvat to get excited about. This year, there’s Horvat, Jared McCann, Jake Virtanen and Ben Hutton.

True, the youngsters still have a ways to go. And yes, there are still some glaring holes in the Canucks’ lineup — most notably on the blue line, a tough area to address via trade or free agency. 

It may be in Vancouver’s best long-term interests to miss the playoffs this season and get into the draft lottery. 

But you never know, if they hang around a few more years, with a little luck and some good moves by management, the Sedins might not be done chasing the Cup after all.