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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”?

Andrei Markov opts for KHL after saying goodbye to Canadiens

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Andrei Markov wanted to play his entire career with the Montreal Canadiens. With that option officially off the table, Markov announced that he’s headed for Russia and the KHL.

“I didn’t see myself with any other NHL team,” Markov said during a conference call wrapping up his lengthy stay with the Habs. “I didn’t see myself wearing another jersey.”

(At least not the jersey of another NHL team.)

The 38-year-old also noted that he hasn’t closed the door to a return to Montreal. That makes sense since it seems like it was largely the Canadiens’ decision to part ways with Markov, essentially replacing him with Mark Streit at a heavily discounted rate.

Beyond the comforts of home, Markov was almost certainly motivated to play in the KHL because of the 2018 Winter Olympics.

The veteran blueliner did not mention which KHL team he’ll end up playing for. There were some rumblings that Markov might sign with the Florida Panthers, but that turned out to not be true.

If it’s a one-year deal, a return to the Habs is at least feasible in 2018-19. Considering his age, it sure seems like this is the end of Markov’s lengthy run with the Canadiens, though.

After making NHL debut, Jones re-ups with Isles

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One of the Isles’ feel-good stories from last season wrote a new chapter on Thursday.

Connor Jones, the undrafted 26-year-old that made his NHL debut in April, has signed a one-year, two-way extension, the club announced.

Jones certainly earned his way to the show. He spent four years at Quinnipiac before catching on with the Oilers, spending time with both their AHL and ECHL affiliates before jumping to the Isles organization in 2015.

Though he’s not an offensive producer — just 19 points in 58 games with Bridgeport last season — Jones emerged as a good energy guy that proved an effective penalty killer.

With AHL Bridgeport, he also played alongside his twin brother, Kellen, who was in attendance as Connor made his NHL debut in April.

Connor would go on to play four games for the Isles, averaging just under 12 minutes per night.

Report: Dwight King could be KHL-bound

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Dwight King, the burly forward that won a pair of Stanley Cups in Los Angeles, may be on his way to Russia.

Per News 1130 in Vancouver, King is set to sign in the KHL after failing to land a contract this summer. The 28-year-old finished last season in Montreal after spending the first seven years of his NHL career in Los Angeles.

For a time, King was an effective skater for L.A. He posted a career-high 15 goals and 30 points during the ’13-14 campaign, and followed that up with a 13-goal, 26-point effort the year following. He also had a nice showing during the Kings’ 2014 Cup run, finishing with 11 points in 26 games.

King’s biggest issue is his skating ability. At 6-foot-4, 229 pounds, he was never the fleetest of foot, but had been working on his speed this offseason.

More, from Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman:

King is still looking for work after finishing the season in Montreal. There are a few Western Conference teams poking around.

“I’m just looking for an opportunity at this point. I’m going to be on the ice more this year, doing a little more skills and skating. Any bit of improvement I can find.”

King is going to try a couple new teachers, then decide which route to take. One also works with former teammate (and new Golden Knight) Brayden McNabb. King is quite the physical specimen, but will take a new approach. He regularly played at 230–231 pounds, but is going to go to 225–226. And he believes the Western Conference is better for him.

News 1130 reported that Vancouver had shown “mild interest” in King, who just wrapped a three-year $5.85 million deal with a $1.95M cap hit.

King appeared in 17 games for the Habs after being picked up at the deadline last season, scoring once. He went pointless in six playoff games.

McLellan excited about addition of ‘utility player’ Strome

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To hear Todd McLellan explain it, Ryan Strome could be wearing many hats next season.

That’s what the Oilers head coach said on Wednesday of the former Isles forward, acquired earlier this summer in the Jordan Eberle trade. McLellan expressed excitement over Strome’s ability to play both center and wing.

“He (Strome) is a utility player,” McLellan said, per the Sun. “He has the ability to play center and has in the past. He’s been able to win faceoffs and he’s comfortable on the wing. We have the luxury of moving players around, and as the fans here know, we like to do that.”

That last sentence is clearly a reference to Leon Draisaitl. Draisaitl has flipped back and forth between playing as Edmonton’s No. 2 center and as a winger on the top line alongside Connor McDavid. The talented German’s had success at both, which is why Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli is still unsure if Draisaitl is a center or a winger.

More: Strome pumped at prospect of playing with Draisaitl, McDavid

As for Strome, he certainly gives Edmonton some flexibility — on the ice, and on the books.

With a $2.5 million cap hit (compared to Eberle’s $6M), he’s provided Chiarelli with more cap space to get the Draisaitl contract done. And there’s also the potential for him to be a real bargain. Remember, Strome is only two years removed from a sophomore campaign in which he scored 17 goals and 50 points in 81 contests. His subsequent two years with the Isles were a disappointment, but the talent is still there.

The wildcard in all this is the fact that Strome’s heading into a contract year. He’ll be a restricted free agent next July, so the ’17-18 campaign will go a long way in determining his value… and, potentially, his future in Edmonton.