Hutton, Blues shut down Penguins to snap three-game losing streak

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PITTSBURGH — This seemed like it had the potential to be a bad matchup for the St. Louis Blues.

Entering Tuesday’s game in Pittsburgh with losses in five of their past seven games — including three in a row — and with an unsettled goaltending situation that was bleeding goals against, they had to go up against a Penguins team that is not only one of the highest scoring teams in the league this season, but had been absolutely lighting up teams over the past week.

Naturally, the Blues completely shut them down in a 3-0 win thanks to a 34-save shutout from Carter Hutton.

Given the direction both teams were trending in entering Tuesday, it is a pretty surprising result.

Not necessarily because the Blues won — even with their recent slump they are still an excellent team — but because of the manner in which they did it.

The Blues’ goaltending situation has devolved into a mess in recent weeks with the team giving up 29 goals in its past seven games and starting goaltender Jake Allen not even traveling with the team on a recent road trip to Winnipeg. That came after his coach said he was a little “locked up” mentally. Things did not go much better for recent call-up Pheonix Copley making his first career start in that game against the Jets.

As a team, the Blues entered play on Tuesday with the worst save percentage in the NHL after leading the league just one year ago.

Hutton, however, was able to stop the bleeding a little bit on Tuesday night and get the Blues back into the win column with his second shutout of the season.

For as promising as it had to be for the Blues to see one of their goaltenders play as well as Hutton did, this was a pretty perfect team effort by the skaters in front of him as they systematically shut down one of the league’s best offenses. They took away shooting lanes, disrupted passes, and managed to limit the number of quality chances the Penguins were able to generate, shutting down the middle of the ice directly in front of the net.

They were also nearly flawless on the penalty kill, going 6-for-6 on the night. 

“That’s a good hockey team over there, and I thought we did a great job eliminating their chances,” said Hutton. “They are going to get their chances at this level, but teams like that, they tend to weave through the zone and make a lot of cross-ice plays and I thought we did a great job eliminating that tonight.”

Coach Ken Hitchcock said a lot of the success on Tuesday came form the fact that they were able to play with focus because they were able to get an early lead thanks to a Colton Parayko power play goal (shown above).

“When we play with focus we defend well,” said Hitchcock. “But when you’re chasing the game and you’re trying to crack it open you lose all of the little details. We’re not built like Pittsburgh. We’re not built like some of the teams out here, like Washington. We’re not built like that. Ours is attention to defending detail and then all of our offense flows from there.

“When you have a lead or you’re tied you can do that. When you’re chasing the game sometimes that is the focus you lose. You are so busy trying to get up ice, you forget to defend your own area. They had some scoring chances, they had some zone time, but we defended the scoring areas really well tonight. That is what we do when we are on top of the game, then our offense flows from there.”

Parayko’s goal, a booming slap shot that snuck through Penguins goalie Matt Murray, turned out to be all the offense the Blues would need.

Ryan Reaves, scoring only his third goal of the season and first in more than a month, and Scottie Upshall added the insurance markers in the second and third periods.

These 2017 NHL Draft picks lacked hype … but not swagger

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The interview process for draft prospects must be a real beating. Then again, it’s also an opportunity for hopefuls to push back.

In the case of two smaller prospects, it meant providing some swagger in their answers, possibly impressing their new teams. If nothing else, Kailer Yamamoto and Michael DiPietro generated some refreshingly confident quotes.

One would assume that the Edmonton Oilers picked Yamamoto with the 22nd choice for more than just a great answer alone … but still.

Nice, right?

Sportsnet’s Jeff Marek related a similar story about DiPietro, who the Vancouver Canucks nabbed with the 64th pick.

Funny story: When one team at the NHL told him “We don’t think you can play in the NHL with our team, you’re too small” at the combine, he fired back with “well, I guess you have a problem with winning, then.” How do you not like that?

If nothing else, those two aren’t shy.

As a bonus story, check out the bumpy path Will Reilly – aka the “Mr. Irrelevant” of the 2017 NHL Draft – took to being chosen last overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins, via Puck Daddy’s Sean Leahy. From the sound of things, there are worse feelings than going 217th.

The 2017 NHL Draft may have been “pumped down” from a hype perspective, yet it sounds like many of these prospects at least bring some moxie to the table.

Kings, Golden Knights labeled 2017 NHL Draft winners; Bruins, not so much

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It’s nearly certain that we won’t be able to determine the “winners and losers” of the 2017 NHL Draft until, say, 2022. If not later.

Still, what fun is that?

Quite a few outlets pegged some winners and losers, though sometimes the choices were more about themes like nations or player types than specific teams.

For example: Puck Daddy gives a thumbs down to the “green room” experiment.

Let’s take a look at some of the consensus picks.

Winners

Vegas Golden Knights

GM George McPhee was dealt a bad hand when it comes to the lottery draft, so he instead made his own luck. And then he selected three players who could improve this team going forward.

Sportsnet’s Jeff Marek especially liked the last two of their three first-rounders (Nick Suzuki and Erik Brannstrom), viewing Cody Glass as more of a no-brainer. Plenty of others were on board.

Los Angeles Kings

Gabe Vilardi fell to Los Angeles, whether it was because of shaky skating or some other reason. That potential steal (and some other shrewd moves) impressed the Hockey News’ Ryan Kennedy, who assembled draft profiles for PHT.

Again, Vilardi’s loss was considered the Kings’ gain, as slower skaters were considered losers by the likes of Post Media’s Michael Traikos.

Philadelphia Flyers

Boy, Ron Hextall is good at this thing, isn’t he? Philly drew high marks even beyond the layup of landing Nolan Patrick. The main area of disagreement revolved around the Brayden Schenn trade, though plenty came out on Hextall’s side there, too.

Arizona Coyotes

Boy, that negative press didn’t last long, did it? Between landing Niklas Hjalmarsson, Derek Stepan, and Antti Raanta in trades and savvy picks, they were a popular choice.

Themes

Smaller players, Sweden, and Finland drew semi-serious mentions as “winners.”

Losers

Boston Bruins

The perception is that they played it too safe.

Colorado Avalanche, for now?

OK, this was more about draft weekend than picks, but people are criticizing Joe Sakic for standing pat. That could change, but the negative sentiment is there.

Detroit Red Wings

Another common choice. Some believe that their draft was the worst of them all, which isn’t great considering the declining opinion of GM Ken Holland overall.

New York Rangers

Lias Andersson was viewed as a reach by plenty, and his connection to the trade to Arizona might intensify the scrutiny.

Themes

Not a great draft for Russian-born players and/or guys who don’t skate quite swiftly.

***

So, those are some of the near-consensus choices for winners and losers, via the brave souls who made rapid reactions to the 2017 NHL Draft.

Ducks ink D Holzer to two-year deal reportedly worth $1.8M

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As the dust settled on the expansion draft, the Anaheim Ducks’ defense is coming into focus.

Sunday continued that pattern; the Ducks signed Korbinian Holzer to a two-year contract worth $1.8 million, according to TVA’s Renaud Lavoie.

You can break down the Ducks defense as more expensive players (Hampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen, Cam Fowler, and Kevin Bieksa) and cheaper ones (Holzer, Brandon Montour, and Josh Manson).

Only Vatanen, Lindholm and Holzer see contracts that go beyond 2017-18 – at least without an extension yet for the likes of Fowler and Manson – so Holzer provides a little bit of certainty.

Is the $900K a minor overpay, though? Holzer played in 32 games for the Ducks this season after appearing in 29 in 2015-16. His impact has been pretty minimal, generating seven points while averaging 13:31 in ice time per contest (down from 14:45 the previous season).

Granted he may get more opportunities to show what he’s capable of if the Ducks lose another piece. Then again, at 29, the Ducks likely know what they have.

2017 Hockey Hall of Fame class to be named Monday; Selanne + who?

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The 2017 Hockey Hall of Fame class is expected to be announced on Monday, and every indication is that Teemu Selanne will be on the list. Beyond that, well, there are a lot of question marks.

NHL.com notes that there’s at least a possibility that Selanne will be the only NHL name to be part of this class, which would mark a first since 2010 (when Dino Ciccarelli was the lone addition).

It’s a nice way to continue what’s been a buffet for hockey fans: the 2017 Stanley Cup Final’s conclusion, the expansion draft and then the 2017 NHL Draft. The HHOF announcements are a nice appetizer before free agency gets, well, frenzied?

“The Finnish Flash” was also an obvious top choice in last year’s poll to see who should be in the class.

Now, that doesn’t mean he is the only interesting name.

For one thing, Daniel Alfredsson will be eligible for the first time, much like Selanne. “Alf” falls in the “Maybe” category with some interesting, debatable other options: Mark Recchi, Dave Andreychuk, Alex Mogilny, Jeremy Roenick, Paul Kariya, Chris Osgood, and more.

The 2016 Hockey Hall of Fame class included Eric Lindros, Rogie Vachon, Sergei Makarov, and Pat Quinn.