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NHL on NBCSN Doubleheader: Blues vs. Red Wings; Panthers vs. Sharks

The NBC Sports Group continues its coverage of the 2016-17 NHL season with a doubleheader on Wednesday night. In the early game, The St. Louis Blues visit the Detroit Red Wings at 8:00 p.m. ET. To watch the game online, click here.

Earlier this month, the St. Louis Blues fired Ken Hitchcock and they replaced him Mike Yeo. Before the firing, the Blues were a mess. They couldn’t string together wins, neither of their goalies were able to stop the puck and they were plummeting in the standings.

But since Yeo took over, he’s been able to get the team back on the right track. The Blues have won four games in a row and they’re 5-1-0 under their new head coach.

What’s been the biggest difference? Well, the easy answer is to say that they’re finally starting to get some solid goaltending from Jake Allen, but it goes beyond that. They’ve been able to help Allen out by limiting their opponents’ time and space in the defensive zone and they’ve also blocked a ton of shots.

“A lot of the stuff that’s changed is us in front of him,” Alex Pietrangelo said, per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “We’re taking care of stuff in front of the net more now than (we have) ever, not allowing second opportunities like we were before. It seems like they’re making the first save like they have all year and then we’re taking care of the rest.”

St. Louis will come into tonight’s game well-rested, as they haven’t played since their big win in Montreal on Saturday night. They’ll play four games over the next six days before heading on their bye week from Feb. 21-25.

The Red Wings’ 25-year playoff streak is in serious jeopardy of being snapped if they don’t turn things around quickly. Detroit enters tonight’s action in last place in the Eastern Conference. They’re nine points behind Toronto for the final Wild Card spot, but they need to leap over eight teams to get there.

With so few sellers emerging at this point in time, it might be in Detroit’s best interest to sell off assets and recuperate prospects and draft picks.

“Certainly, we’re in a way more difficult position today than we were a week ago,” GM Ken Holland said, per MLive.com. “There’s about a third of the season to go. Our players and coach, everybody is going to get ready and try to win a game on Wednesday against St. Louis. I’m looking at the standings, but at the same time I’m talking to people and seeing what their needs are.”

As mentioned above, the Blues are coming into this game hot, but the good news for Detroit is that Petr Mrazek has dominated St. Louis during his NHL career.

As MLive.com points out, Mrazek has four wins in five games against the Blues and he has a 1.25 goals-against-average and a .951 save percentage during that span.

In the late game, the Panthers will take on the Sharks in San Jose. You can watch that game online by clicking here.

After winning the Atlantic Division last season, the Panthers have been a bit of a disappointment in 2016-17. They’re currently on the outside looking in when it comes to the Eastern Conference playoff picture, but the return of Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleskander Barkov has given them a boost.

The Panthers are 2-1 since Huberdeau made his way back from an Achilles injury and he’s recorded an impressive five points during that time.

No matter how well they’re playing right now, going out West is never an easy task for any team in the East.

“This is a tough arena to come into,” Nick Bjugstad said, per the Miami Herald. “We have to be ready for the environment, they come hard the first 10 minutes and their fans are really into it. We have to be ready like we were in Nashville.”

The Sharks have picked up points in eight of their last 10 contests. That’s allowed them to get a little breathing room at the top of the Pacific Division. They’re three points ahead of Anaheim with a game in hand and five points ahead of Edmonton.

Even though there’s a bit of distance between them and their division rivals, the Sharks are still coming back from a tough road trip that saw them go 1-1-2 in Buffalo, Boston, Philadelphia and New Jersey.

They were able to salvage that trip with a 4-1 victory over New Jersey on Sunday thanks to Brent Burns‘ two goals.

“His shot is unbelievable,” Logan Couture told CSN Bay Area. “The ability he has to get his shot through, there’s nobody in the league that does it better.”

Burns enters tonight’s game with 24 goals and 59 points in 57 games.

Can you say “Hart Trophy”?

Milbury, Jones: Tkachuk walked the walk; Kings’ response was embarrassing

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The Los Angeles Kings got revenge on Matthew Tkachuk and the Calgary Flames on the scoreboard on Wednesday. But was that 4-1 win enough?

Mike Milbury and Keith Jones provided a lengthy “overtime” segment on NBCSN that brought about some really fascinating takes on the situation between Tkachuk and the Flames versus Drew Doughty and the Los Angeles Kings.

Watch the full video above, as it’s worth your time.

A few interesting lines if you’re (tsk tsk) skipping it:

Milbury: Believes that Doughty didn’t “do enough,” noting that star players sometimes have to stick up for themselves. On the other hand, Tkachuk showed that he can “walk the walk.”

He also gave the Kings a “C-, D+ if not worse” for their overall response. “Fight your own battles,” Milbury said of Doughty.

Jones disagreed to some extent, believing that Kings teammates won’t look at Doughty differently. But Jake Muzzin? He believes that Muzzin’s frequent defensive partner (at least over the years, maybe not this season) backing down from a fight was an embarrassment.

Spicy stuff.

For what it’s worth, Drew Doughty has one career fight (against Joe Thornton [!] in 2011-2) while Jake Muzzin’s lone bout came against Andrew Desjardins in 2012-13, according to Hockey Fights. Does that mean they shouldn’t have dropped the gloves on Wednesday? Milbury and Jones seem to believe that they should have answered the bell.

For more, check out a collection of the early violent moments and Tkachuk’s attempted shot at Doughty. The Kings win is summarized in greater detail here.

Measure of revenge: Kings delay clinching efforts for Flames, Blues

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Deep down, the Los Angeles Kings probably realize that their season will end on game 82. Still, they kept their slim playoff hopes alive on Wednesday night … and managed to spite a team they’re growing to hate.

OK, maybe the hate is almost totally focused upon Matthew Tkachuk, yet the disdain for that talented-but-tormenting rookie was palpable.

It didn’t feel like the Kings exacted physical revenge on Tkachuk, but beating his team 4-1 ranked as classic scoreboard vengeance. With that, the Calgary Flames (and by extension the St. Louis Blues) will need to wait to clinch a playoff berth.

Now, as much as tonight was about Tkachuk, the focus was also on a pugnacious player who once dazzled for the Flames: Jarome Iginla.

In what might be Iginla’s final visit to Calgary – at least as an active NHL player – he was one of the best players on the ice. His fitting curtain call included a “Gordie Howe hat trick” with a spirited fight, an assist and a goal.

Seriously, that fight with Deryk Engelland:

That goal included a bit of luck, but hey …

Iginla was named the first star of the contest, and cameras captured his big smile in enjoying a special night. For all the nastiness of that game, it was refreshing to see such a heartwarming moment.

For more on the violence, check out this post on the early stuff and this one on Tkachuk’s missed missile launch on Drew Doughty.

Kings and Canucks will square off in first NHL exhibition games in China

graphic via NHL
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It’s official: the NHL will hold preseason games in China before next season.

The league made the announcement on Wednesday night: the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks will play two exhibitions: one on Sept. 21 (Shanghai) and Sept. 23 (Beijing). How cool is that?

“It is a privilege and an honor for the L.A. Kings to represent the National Hockey League in China as part of these two games against the Vancouver Canucks,” Kings president Luc Robitaille said. “Growing the game of hockey is something we take great pride in and it is a big priority for our hockey club and AEG as a whole. This will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for our players and our staff, and we are looking forward to the games taking place in two tremendous facilities in two remarkable cities.”

The press conference inspired some jokes tonight.

Some of the best bits came in roping in … Kobe Bryant and David Beckham?

Alrighty then.

Click here for more details.

 

Video: Drew Doughty (mostly) avoids massive Matthew Tkachuk hit

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Hockey is such a fast sport that it’s probably not so easy to make someone your “target.” Instead, a big hit often comes down to the right combination of circumstance and timing.

Still, there’s no denying that Matthew Tkachuk is gunning for Drew Doughty (and the Kings are gunning for Tkachuk) on Wednesday.

Doughty isn’t oblivious to that notion, either, as you can see him avoid what looked like a pretty terrifying hit above.

We’ve already covered the early violence in this game, and it’s quite possible that there will be more carnage going forward. Stay tuned.