Antti Niemi, Marc-Edouard Vlasic

Challenging early schedule looms for Sharks


The general feeling is that San Jose Sharks management seemed on the verge of panic this summer, yet for the most part, the team’s core remains intact. Looking at their schedule, one cannot help but ask: will they overreact to a slow start?

The New York Rangers played the first nine games of the 2013-14 season on the road, and while they ended up fine, they looked shaky for much of the campaign … especially as Alain Vigneault settled in. With 16 of their first 21 games away from “the Shark Tank,” one wonders if things could get rocky.

Here’s the full run, which looks that much more daunting to begin the month of November (home games in bold):

Oct. 8: at Los Angeles
Oct. 11: vs. Winnipeg
Oct. 14: at Washington
Oct. 16: at New York Islanders
Oct. 18: at New Jersey
Oct. 19: at New York Rangers
Oct. 21: at Boston
Oct. 23: vs. Columbus
Oct. 25: vs. Buffalo
Oct. 26: at Anaheim
Oct. 28: at Colorado
Oct. 30: at Minnesota
Nov. 1: vs. New York Islanders
Nov. 6: vs. Vancouver
Nov. 8: at Dallas
Nov. 9: at Chicago
Nov. 11: at Florida
Nov. 13: at Tampa Bay
Nov. 15: at Columbus
Nov. 16: at Carolina
Nov. 18: at Buffalo

Things turn around for the Sharks after that run, as they’ll play six home games in row beginning on Nov. 20 and 11 of 13 in San Jose from Nov. 20 through Dec. 20, so hopefully management (or perhaps even ownership) will keep that in mind.

While they were better at home (29-7-5) last season, the Sharks were still pretty strong on the road (22-15-4), so it’s not crazy to imagine this talented group weathering the storm anyway. That’s especially true if the West continues its domination of the East in 2014-15, as 10 of those 15 road contests come against squads from the other conference.

(H/T to’s fantasy crew for pointing out this tough start.)

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.”