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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”?

Despite cancer diagnosis, Devils’ Brian Boyle doesn’t want to miss games

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New Jersey Devils forward Brian Boyle shared frightening news on Tuesday, yet he’s showing resounding courage and optimism in also plotting his “plan of attack.”

Boye, 32, announced that he was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia on Tuesday.

Chronic myeloid luekemia (or CML) is a type of bone marrow cancer. Here’s an explanation of the disease via the American Cancer Society:

Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), also known as chronic myelogenous leukemia, is a type of cancer that starts in certain blood-forming cells of the bone marrow. In CML, a genetic change takes place in an early (immature) version of myeloid cells – the cells that make red blood cells, platelets, and most types of white blood cells (except lymphocytes). This change forms an abnormal gene called BCR-ABL, which turns the cell into a CML cell. The leukemia cells grow and divide, building up in the bone marrow and spilling over into the blood. In time, the cells can also settle in other parts of the body, including the spleen. CML is a fairly slow growing leukemia, but it can also change into a fast-growing acute leukemia that is hard to treat.

Despite that scary news, Boyle is very positive about his chances; in fact, he hopes to live a “normal life,” right down to playing in the Devils’ season-opener on Oct. 7.

Back in 2014, Boyle discussed his father’s battle with cancer to ESPN. It’s quite an inspiring read.

We’ve seen multiple instances of hockey players showing resilience while fighting cancer during the active career. Mario Lemieux and Saku Koivu stand as some of the most memorable examples, while Phil Kessel also comes to mind.

Jason Blake bounced back from CML, specifically:

The number one thing isn’t playing hockey, of course. It’s most important that Boyle emphasizes his overall health, even if that means taking some time off.

The Devils seem to be very supportive of Boyle as his fight begins. Here’s hoping he wins this one.

Contenders should keep an eye on Jaroslav Halak

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Here’s a gut reaction regarding the 2017-18 season: there aren’t a ton of teams with unclear goalie situations, at least as far as who their top guy is.

Clear number ones

The Frederik AndersenJohn Gibson battle ended last summer. Promising backups like Cam Talbot, Scott Darling, and Antti Raanta got their shots or will be getting their chances to be No. 1 guys this year. Marc-Andre Fleury generously accepted becoming the face of the Vegas Golden Knights.

It doesn’t exactly make for a sellers’ market for the few teams who might want to part ways with goalies.

Petr Mrazek‘s mess with the Detroit Red Wings is the most pressing example, and considering the fact that he’s only 25, acquiring him could be a boon for another team, at least in a scenario (injuries and/or poor play) would call for such an acquisition.

What if the Red Wings would ask for too much? What if a team would, instead, like to monitor a diamond in the rough for the summer of 2018?

Halak could still be very viable

Jaroslav Halak should be on plenty of radars, especially if he gets his wish for a fresh start with the New York Islanders in 2017-18, as NHL.com’s Brian Compton reports.

“Obviously, last season was kind of a strange season, not only for me but for a lot of guys,” Halak said. “Now it’s a fresh start for everybody. But ultimately, it’s going to come down to our start too. Last season, we all know we had a bad start. We just need to make sure that we pick up points at the beginning of the season because that hurt us at the end.”

The Islanders have incentive to give Halak a chance, whether it would be to pump up his trade value or if Thomas Greiss struggles/gets hurt.

It would also be foolish to worry too much about Halak’s time in the AHL, especially considering how well he played for the Islanders late last season. Check out his split stats in March and April; Halak gave the Isles at least some hope to make an unlikely playoff push.

At 32, Halak doesn’t boast the same dreamy potential of Mrazek, yet he’s only a year older than Greiss.

The price could be right

With a nice .917 career save percentage and some playoff heroics in his past, Halak is the sort of goalie a team could call upon if their top guy falters or gets hurt. If a move were to happen around the trade deadline, his $4.5 million cap hit would be less of a problem.

On the other hand, if a team needed Halak earlier, the Islanders could conceivably retain some of his salary, especially if it allowed them to add a piece that might improve their team in other areas (and maybe help keep John Tavares happy?).

The goalie market could be interesting in the summer of 2018 if Mrazek and even Craig Anderson join the UFA ranks. Halak stands as a sneaky-interesting prospect then, but possibly sooner, for a team that might want to spend less (in assets via a trade or in actual money in free agency).

Predators tab Roman Josi as new captain, call him ‘our Roger Federer’

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The Nashville Predators boasted some appealing options to take the torch from Mike Fisher as captain, but really there was only one obvious name: Roman Josi.

Josi officially became the team’s eighth captain on Tuesday. Ryan Ellis appears to be second-in-command as “associate” captain, while they seem interested in spreading the leadership wealth around otherwise:

As captain, Josi will see an increased role on the Predators leadership team, which will also see some new appointments. Defenseman Ryan Ellis has been named as the team’s associate captain, while Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg and Mattias Ekholm will all serve as alternate captains. In addition, Pekka Rinne, P.K. Subban and Nick Bonino have all taken positions within the leadership group.

If that’s not a sign that the team is taking this seriously – kind of amusingly so – consider that Ellis and Josi “interviewed” for the position and Peter Laviolette evoked military structures in discussing the decision, as sports teams love to do.

Josi seemed flattered when GM David Poile described him as “our Roger Federer,” a fellow Swiss sports star.

At face value, that’s great, especially since it breaks through the near-corporate-speak that saddles announcements like these.

That said, it’s funny to compare the leader in a team sport to a tennis player, among the most individualistic athletes in all of sport. There aren’t many moments of teamwork beyond doubles and rare events like the Davis Cup.

Overall, it’s another strong decision by the Predators. It’s merely fun to tease them a bit about the cornier aspects.

Awful injury news for Blues’ Bouwmeester, Sanford

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Hockey’s training camps and exhibition games share a lot of similarities, big-picture wise, with other sports.

As much as they’re all about evaluating players trying to make rosters and rule tweaks heading into each season, the “winners” of a pre-season may just be the teams that make it out without any significant injuries. The St. Louis Blues aren’t one of those winners.

The team announced unsettling injury updates for defenseman Jay Bouwmeester and forward Zach Sanford on Tuesday.

Sanford is expected to miss five-to-six months after undergoing shoulder surgery. That virtually wipes out an important season for a guy who was still trying to stake his claim to a full-time roster spot.

Bouwmeester’s situation is probably more troubling, potentially, as he’s already a key defenseman for the Blues (averaging more than 22 minutes last season, which was a slight decrease from recent work). The team announced that Bouwmeester suffered a fractured ankle and will be re-evaluated in three weeks.

As tormenting as day-to-day updates can be, “check back in three weeks” makes for even greater anxiety.

It does open up some opportunities for other players in the Blues organization, for whatever that’s worth.

This news comes shortly after the Ottawa Senators announced that Colin White will miss multiple weeks with a broken wrist.

You almost wonder if we’ll start to see fewer practice updates like these: