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The challenge for Yeo? Make better use of Blues’ speed

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Let’s face it, no matter what Mike Yeo does as head coach of the St. Louis Blues, no matter what changes he makes after today’s firing of Ken Hitchcock, no matter how well he motivates his players, the team isn’t going anywhere without better goaltending.

More than halfway through the season, Jake Allen and Carter Hutton both have save percentages below .900. Those two are the prime reason the Blues are barely clinging to a playoff spot. They are the epitome of the Harry Neale quote: “Goaltending is 75 percent of your hockey team. Unless you don’t have it, then it’s 100 percent.”

Now, you could certainly blame the general manager, Doug Armstrong, for not finding Allen a suitable backup after Brian Elliott was traded to Calgary. Hutton, 31, has never put up particularly good NHL numbers. He was decent last season in Nashville, but in a very limited role behind Pekka Rinne.

Allen is the starter, though, and he has to be better, plain and simple. That’s why the Blues also fired goalie coach Jim Corsi today, replacing him with Martin Brodeur and Ty Conklin. The hope is that Brodeur and Conklin can connect with Allen and somehow help him rediscover his form.

At the same time, Yeo will try to get the Blues to play faster and more aggressively — first, in their own end, and then on the attack.

“We want to be a team that’s structured,” Yeo said today, “but we want to defend quickly, we want to defend aggressively, and with that, I think what we’ll see is us having the ability to showcase our speed and our ability to get to the offensive zone and on the attack a bit quicker.”

If we can forget the goaltending for a moment, let’s focus on the phrase “showcase our speed.” Because the past few years, the Blues have been more big and heavy than fast. That was their identity. They were hard to play against. When they hit you, it hurt.

And then David Backes and Troy Brouwer left.

Looking back, there’s no doubt that the departures of those two veteran forwards changed the Blues’ identity.

Just ask Armstrong.

“I think what we’ve seen in the NHL this season is that it’s still a man’s league, and you still have to get to the hard areas to score,” he told the Post-Dispatch a couple of weeks ago. “But I think you have to play to how your roster is built. You don’t replace a Backes and a Brouwer with another Backes and Brouwer at a younger age, or if you do, we didn’t have those guys in our group.

“I don’t think you can ask Robby Fabbri to play the way David Backes did. I just think it’s unrealistic. So our coaches’ responsibility is to use their expertise to find different ways to play. We have to find different ways to get the same results. I think you need a good balance and we’re trying to find that balance.”

That responsibility now falls to Yeo. Perhaps he’ll be a better fit with the current roster than Hitchcock, who had success with the big-and-heavy Blues but didn’t get the same results with a speedier, more skilled group.

Again, though, the Blues first and foremost need better goaltending. They cannot be losing games, 7-3, when they only surrender 18 shots, which is exactly what they did a couple of weeks ago to Washington.

Yeo made clear today that Allen is the Blues’ goalie of the present, and also the future.

So expect Allen to get the start tomorrow against the high-scoring visitors from Toronto.

It won’t get any easier after that. On Saturday, the Blues host the Pittsburgh Penguins, and then it’s on the road for five games.

Related: Armstrong rips into Blues after firing his ‘best friend’

DeBoer praises ‘courageous’ Thornton for playing with torn ACL, MCL (Updated)

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In a fairly stunning admission on Monday, Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer told reporters that Joe Thornton played in four of San Jose’s six playoff games versus Edmonton with a significant knee injury.

Thornton, who was hurt against Vancouver late in the regular season, suffered tears to both his left MCL and ACL.

“I’ve never seen a guy play with a torn MCL and ACL,” DeBoer said, per the club’s Twitter account. “It’s a courageous effort as I’ve ever seen.”

Thornton, 37, missed the first two games of the series to rest his knee, before suiting up for the final four. He averaged 18:50 TOI per night and finished with a pair of assists, numbers that are pretty remarkable given the severity of his ailment.

Jumbo wasn’t the only unhealthy Shark during the first-round playoff ouster. Logan Couture‘s face/mouth injury was well-documented and, today, DeBoer also revealed that Tomas Hertl was playing with a broken foot, and Patrick Marleau with a broken thumb.

Looking ahead, Thornton’s knee injury might cloud what’s an already murky future. He’s a pending UFA, and there have been no clear signals from the organization on how they’ll address his potential return. ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun reported in January the Thornton camp was looking for a three-year deal.

If there’s a silver lining here, it’s that Sharks GM Doug Wilson has time on his side. It’s understood the club probably wouldn’t act on an extension for Thornton until after the June expansion draft, which could give the Sharks enough time to better gauge his health.

Update:

Per NBC Sports California, Wilson confirmed Thornton is undergoing surgery today to repair the ligaments.

 

 

Online bookmaker: Caps are Stanley Cup favorites

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The Washington Capitals got a bit of a scare in the first round, but they’ll go into the second round as the Stanley Cup favorites.

Per online bookmaker Bovada, here is the full list of Stanley Cup odds for the eight remaining teams:

Washington Capitals   7/2
Pittsburgh Penguins    17/4
Anaheim Ducks             11/2
Edmonton Oilers          11/2
St. Louis Blues              13/2
Nashville Predators     7/1
New York Rangers       8/1
Ottawa Senators           10/1

The Chicago Blackhawks entered the postseason as 4/1 Cup favorites at Bovada. Of course, the ‘Hawks were then swept by the Preds, who’ve gone from 25/1 long shots to 7/1 heading into their series with the Blues.

The Caps’ odds actually dropped to 13/2 after they fell behind the Toronto Maple Leafs, 2-1. But three straight wins, two in overtime, clinched them a spot against the Penguins in the second round.

The Ottawa Senators are the long shots of the bunch now, despite having home-ice advantage over the Rangers in the second round.

Isles bring back Seidenberg — one year, $1.25 million

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The Islanders saw enough from Dennis Seidenberg this season to bring him back for another.

On Monday, the club announced it had signed the veteran defenseman to a one-year deal. Per Newsday, it’s for $1.25 million — a slight raise from the $1M he earned this season.

Seidenberg, 35, caught on with the Isles in late September, parlaying a good showing with Team Europe at the World Cup into a contract after going the entire summer unsigned.

For New York, it worked out very well.

Seidenberg was a regular lineup fixture, averaging 19:26 TOI over 73 games. He also provided some good production from the back end, scoring five goals and 22 points — his highest offensive output in five years.

Today’s deal also gives the Isles some flexibility when it comes to the upcoming expansion draft. The club now has six blueliners under contract for next season — Seidenberg, Johnny Boychuk, Nick Leddy, Travis Hamonic, Thomas Hickey and Scott Mayfield — and a seventh, pending RFA Calvin de Haan, will (presumably) be locked in as well. The same might be said of fellow RFA Adam Pelech.

Young d-man Ryan Pulock, who only appeared in one game this year, locked in through 2018.

Cassidy ‘absolutely’ wants to return as Bruins’ head coach

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To nobody’s surprise, Bruce Cassidy is on board with shedding his interim tag and becoming Boston’s full-time bench boss.

“Absolutely,” Cassidy said of coming back, following the Bruins’ opening-round playoff loss to Ottawa (per CBS Boston). “One hundred percent.”

One would think the 51-year-old did enough to warrant a longer look. After replacing Claude Julien in early February, Cassidy led a team on the fringes of the playoff picture to an 18-8-1 record down the stretch, and a third-place finish in the Atlantic Division.

Yes, the B’s fell short against the Sens, but were hamstrung by a depleted lineup missing the likes of Torey Krug and Brandon Carlo. Top center David Krejci was also extremely limited, missing three of six games to injury.

When further asked about his future, Cassidy tapped the brakes on predicting what will happen, or what changes the team needed for next season.

“Well, now we’re making a lot of assumptions,” he said. “That will be determined going forward by management. It’s a tough question to answer.”

Cassidy’s time with Boston’s AHL affiliate in Providence, and his history working with young players, may certainly help his cause. A few of his guys — Austin Czarnik, Frank Vatrano, Tommy Cross, Noel Acciari — forged out roles with the big club this season, while other youngsters certainly made an impact in the playoffs.

Prized d-man prospect Charlie McAvoy was a central figure on defense, and one of Cassidy’s more notable lineup moves — putting Sean Kuraly in for Games 5 and 6 — gave the club a boost of energy.

That said, the B’s do have options on the coaching front.

There are a number of experienced bench bosses available. Lindy Ruff, Darryl Sutter and Jack Capuano — a former teammate of Sweeney’s, it should be mentioned — are just a few of the higher profile free agents out there. It’s unclear if Boston is interested in going this route, however. Cassidy has been with the organization a long time, going on eight seasons, and has certainly paid his dues.