Pittsburgh Penguins v Philadelphia Flyers

TGIF: Five games to watch this weekend


Saturday: Philadelphia at Pittsburgh (3 p.m. ET)

On NBC. Streaming live, too. Neither side yet knows its opponent in the first round of the playoffs. The Flyers could finish third in the Metropolitan and take on the Rangers, or they could end up with a wild-card spot and meet Boston or — *rubs hands together* — Pittsburgh. For the Penguins, the Red Wings and Blue Jackets are the two other potential match-ups. While I don’t typically like to read too much into what happened during the regular season, if it’s Pittsburgh and Columbus, expect to hear that the Penguins beat the Jackets in regulation all five times they met, and by a combined score of 16-7.

Saturday: Chicago at Nashville (8 p.m. ET)

On NBCSN. Streaming live, too. Obviously, it hasn’t been a great season for the Predators, who will miss the playoffs for a second straight time. Will Barry Trotz be back as head coach? No shortage of speculation his long run is over. But consider what he said here: “I would say this is — and I’ve been here a long time — one of the best [coaching jobs we’ve done]. This staff did a really good job. I’m talking as a staff — we put a lot of work into stuff. We were on the ball. … This staff pulled together. I’m really proud of this staff, actually.” When you don’t have a goalie like Pekka Rinne for most of the season, it’s going to be tough sledding. Especially for a team that has trouble scoring. In fact, Trotz said the Preds had to completely “reinvent” themselves after Rinne went out of the lineup. “We changed everything from the forecheck to the neutral zone system … we had to change everything, almost … and [we were] doing it under fire.” It’s also worth noting that the Preds actually have 34 regulation/overtime victories, the 16th most in the NHL, and more than Detroit (33).

Sunday: Detroit at St. Louis (12:30 p.m. ET)

On NBC. Streaming live, too. It was in this space, all the way back at the beginning of November, that I first started touting a Ryan Miller-to-St. Louis trade. Today, I still think the trade was a good idea, but I’ll admit I’m starting to feel some doubt creep in. I wonder if Doug Armstrong is, too. “I’ve got to find a way to make a save. It’s been two weeks of this,” Miller said yesterday after his third straight shaky performance. Moreover, in seven of his last nine outings, he’s finished with a save percentage below .900. All but one of those seven sub-.900 performances were Blues losses.

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

Yes, I’ve written a lot about the Avalanche’s reliance (over-reliance?) on goalie Semyon Varlamov. No, I don’t necessarily think (like some do) that Colorado is bound to flame out in the playoffs. And Varlamov is exactly the reason why. A goalie can absolutely steal a postseason series. Just ask the 2010 Washington Capitals. Or the 2010 Pittsburgh Penguins. Both those teams ran into a red-hot Jaroslav Halak, before he came back to earth against the Flyers. There’s no question, though, that the stats community is watching the Avs even closer now. At the same time, a lot of Colorado fans are getting pretty defensive about their team’s success, and how that success is being perceived. But hey, at the very least, people are talking about the Avs again.

Sunday: Dallas at Phoenix (9 p.m. ET)

On NBC. Streaming live, too. And possibly for the final wild-card spot in the West. Dallas could clinch beforehand with a win tonight versus St. Louis. And failing that, the Coyotes could be eliminated tomorrow if they don’t get the right result against San Jose. Safe to say missing the playoffs wouldn’t help the Coyotes’ attendance issues, not to mention the lost postseason revenue. Phoenix currently ranks last in the NHL in crowd size, averaging just 13,697 per game at Jobing.com Arena. We hesitate to bring up that “out clause,” but it’s hard to ignore when the best way to build positive buzz in any market is winning.

DiMaio named Blues’ director of player personnel

via St. Louis Blues
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The St. Louis Blues named Rob DiMaio their director of player personnel on Tuesday.

He’s been with the organization for some time. He joined as a pro scout in 2008 and was the pro scouting director starting in August 2012.

He was also a scout for the Dallas Stars before landing with the Blues (one would assume his biggest connection is GM Doug Armstrong, then).

In case his nose didn’t give it away, he also enjoyed a lengthy hockey career over 19 seasons.

No doubt about it, this is a pivotal season for the Blues after multiple campaigns in which strong regular seasons dissolved into playoff disappointments. Perhaps DiMaio can make a difference in a heightened role?

Hitchcock going to more aggressive attack for Blues

Ken Hitchcock

ST. LOUIS (AP) After three straight first-round playoff exits, the St. Louis Blues have learned to temper expectations.

They have been consistently among the NHL’s best in the regular season and realize it is past time to build something for the long haul. The sting still lingers from the latest failure, against the Minnesota Wild last spring.

“We’re all disappointed, everybody can agree on that,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “It’s never easy to kind of think about your failures, but we grow every time it happens.”

Management isn’t ready to tear it all down yet.

“We play, in my opinion, one of the toughest if not the toughest division in the NHL, and we’ve finished first or second in the last four years,” forward Alexander Steen said. “So we have an extremely powerful team.”

Maybe a change in strategy will be enough: Coach Ken Hitchcock is back with a mandate for a more aggressive, even reckless, style of play from a roster that hasn’t changed appreciably.

“We’re coming hard from the back and we’re coming hard to see how close we can get to the attack,” Hitchcock said. “I think it’s where the game’s at; I think it’s where the game’s going to go.”

The 63-year-old Hitchcock is pushing forward, too, unwilling to dwell on the flameouts. Coach and players agree that would be “wasted energy.”

“My opinion is when you sit and think about the past, you do yourself no good,” Hitchcock said. “If you learn from the past, that’s when you do yourself a whole bunch of good.”

There were only two major roster casualties. Forward Troy Brouwer came from Washington in a trade for fan favorite T.J. Oshie. Defenseman Barret Jackman, the franchise career leader in games, wasn’t re-signed.

“If you were expecting 23 new faces to be on the roster this year, I don’t think that was realistic,” captain David Backes said. “We’re going to miss those guys in the room and on the ice, but there has been some changeover and I think it’s pretty significant.”

Things to watch for with the Blues:

GOALIE SHUFFLE: Just like last year, there’s no true No. 1 with Brian Elliott and Jake Allen sharing duties. The 25-year-old Allen missed a chance to seize the job last spring when he failed to raise his level in the playoffs.

TOP THREAT: Vladimir Tarasenko had a breakout season with 37 goals and was rewarded with an eight-year, $60 million contract. The 23-year-old winger is by far the Blues’ most dangerous scoring option and said he won’t let the money affect his play. “I never worry about it,” Tarasenko said. “If you play good, you play good.”

NEW FACES: Brouwer and center Kyle Brodziak add a physical element that was perhaps lacking a bit last season. Brouwer has three 20-plus goal seasons and Brodziak, acquired from Minnesota, fills a checking role. Veteran forward Scottie Upshall got a one-year, two-way deal after being coming to camp as a tryout. Rookie forward Robby Fabbri, a first-round pick last year, will get an early look. Another promising youngster, forward Ty Rattie, begins the year at Chicago of the AHL.

RECOVERY WARD: Forward Jori Lehteri bounced back quickly from ankle surgery and opens the season without restrictions. Another forward, Patrik Berglund, could miss half of the season following shoulder surgery.

TRACK RECORD: The Blues won the Central Division last season and Hitchcock, fourth on the career list with 708 regular-season wins, has consistently had the team near the top of the standings. “He is our coach, tough cookies if you don’t like it,” Backes said. “From my experience, he puts together one heck of a game plan.”