Yeo focused on more than ‘revenge’ against Wild

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) This was not quite the plan the St. Louis Blues had for Mike Yeo.

He was supposed to take over as head coach next season, after Ken Hitchcock’s retirement, not in the middle of this one. The plan certainly didn’t include a first-round matchup for Yeo and the Blues against the Minnesota Wild, who fired him just last year.

Well, here they are, Yeo and his new team pitted against his previous charges in one of the most intriguing pairings of the NHL postseason that opens on Wednesday night.

“My goal is not to beat the Minnesota Wild for me,” Yeo said. “My goal is for us as a group to keep getting better and keep seeing what we’re capable of.”

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Hardly a plan in this league is fail proof, as those teams who’ve changed coaches before playoff runs and even Stanley Cup wins can attest. Perhaps the Blues, who dismissed Hitchcock on Feb. 1 to trigger Yeo’s early promotion, will be the latest group to ride the momentum spurred by a winter shakeup deep into the spring.

The Blues, who were two wins away from reaching the Stanley Cup finals last year with Hitchcock on the bench, went 22-8-2 after the coaching change. Over that 32-game stretch, they were the best team in the NHL in several statistical categories after enduring the sluggish start.

The same went for the Wild over a three-month stretch from December through February. They led the Western Conference from mid-January through mid-March, until their skid got the best of their perch and the Chicago Blackhawks surged ahead. The Wild recovered in time to reach a franchise-record 106 points in Bruce Boudreau’s first season behind their bench.

So after Yeo guided the Wild to a six-game victory over the Blues in the first round two years ago, he’ll be on the opposite side when the series starts in Minnesota. Instead of scheming to slow Vladimir Tarasenko, Yeo will be sending his 25-year-old star out on the right wing to try wear down stalwart defensemen Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon, guys he used to call “Suts” and “Spurge” when he coached the Wild.

“We know their identity, the way they play. They know us,” Wild captain Mikko Koivu said. “We’re familiar with each other, so it’s not about who’s behind the bench and all that. It’s about the team right now, and we’ve got to make sure that we worry about ourselves.”

How, then, can this matchup not become a little bit personal for Yeo, who described the experience of being fired “gut-wrenching” when he was replaced on Feb. 13, 2016, following a 1-11-2 stretch by the Wild?

“There’s something much more at stake, something that’s way bigger in my eyes than a little revenge here,” Yeo said.

TARGETING TARASENKO

Tied for fourth in the league with 39 goals, Tarasenko has the greatest ability to take over a game in this matchup He had six goals in the 2015 series against the Wild and 15 points in 20 games during the 2016 postseason run by the Blues.

Tarasenko went without a goal or an assist in the first five games of the Western Conference finals against San Jose. With forward lines as well-balanced as the Blues, the Wild have the type of team with the ability to shut Tarasenko out like the Sharks did.

“This is going to be a real tough challenge for Vladi. Let’s be honest,” Yeo said. “They’re going to really key on him. He’s going to have tough matchups, and it’s going to be hard to get away from them because they’re such a deep team.”

DUBNYK’S PERFORMANCE

Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk was a making a strong case to be the Vezina Trophy winner until he began to struggle in the net during the March nosedive. With a 6-10 career playoffs record and 20 goals allowed in a six-game loss to the Dallas Stars in the first round last year, Dubnyk has yet to prove his postseason credentials. But the 6-foot-6 Dubnyk has the confidence to match his exceptional height.

“Just like every parent worries about his kid when he plays in any important situation, yeah, we always worry about the goalie,” Boudreau said, “but I’ve got all the confidence in the world in Dubie, and that’s where the worry stops. I think he’s going to be great.”

AT THE OTHER END

Blues goalie Jake Allen, with the job to himself now after largely sharing it with Brian Elliott the previous three years, was a completely different player after the coaching change. He went 11-2-2 in his last 15 starts with just 26 goals allowed.

“Through all that I think we maintained our confidence in him knowing what he’s done in the past and the way he’s capable of playing,” defenseman Jay Boumeester said. “It just kind of all came together. I’m sure after you get a couple of wins and a couple big saves, that sort of thing, everything becomes a little easier.”

 

Report: Blue Jackets RFA Anderson in contact with Hockey Canada about 2018 Olympics

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The preseason is well underway and Josh Anderson is still without a contract.

Anderson, who scored 17 goals and 29 points last season for the Columbus Blue Jackets, is one of two remaining restricted free agents without a new deal. The other is Andreas Athanasiou of the Detroit Red Wings.

While there were reports this summer about Athanasiou potentially going to the KHL for this season, John Shannon of Sportsnet reported on Thursday that Anderson’s representatives have reached out to Hockey Canada’s staff about the 2018 Olympics. 

Anderson’s entry-level contract, with an AAV of just over $894,000, expired at the end of last season.

Meanwhile, here is the latest on this ongoing contract situation.

Making an impression: Sergachev has ‘NHL written all over him’

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Mikhail Sergachev has, over the summer, stated his belief he can play in the NHL this season.

He had a small taste of NHL action last season, appearing in four games for Montreal — the team that selected him ninth overall in 2016 — before getting sent back to junior and then being traded in June to Tampa Bay, as part of a blockbuster involving Jonathan Drouin to the Habs.

Well, Sergachev made a statement Wednesday in his preseason debut for the Lightning.

He scored once. He also played more than 22 minutes, which led all Lightning players on the night. That included time on the power play and penalty kill. If he was looking to make a favorable impression, to show that he belongs at the NHL level when the regular season begins, this seems to be another step in that direction.

“You watch this kid skate, shoot, stickhandle, he’s got NHL written all over him,” Tampa Bay’s associate coach Rick Bowness told the Tampa Bay Times. “Now we’ve got to give him experience. How much can he handle?”

There is competition on the blue line, with eight defensemen under contract in Tampa Bay for this season. That includes Sergachev, who is still only 19 years old. After getting sent back to junior last season, he recorded 43 points in 50 games with Windsor and then won the Memorial Cup that spring. That said, he’s made it a point of saying going back to junior “is not an option” for him.

Related:

Looking to make the leap: Mikhail Sergachev

Report: Lupul will have ‘independent medical exam’

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Joffrey Lupul issued a statement Wednesday, saying he wouldn’t seek a second medical opinion after the Maple Leafs announced he didn’t pass his training camp physical.

A day later, reports have surfaced that the 33-year-old forward will, in fact, undergo another, independent medical test.

That is according to James Mirtle of The Athletic:

Earlier this week, Lupul made accusations against the Maple Leafs on Instagram.

“I’m ready … just awaiting the call,” Lupul wrote in the comments section of the Instagram post, per a screen grab. “haha failed physical? They cheat. Everyone lets them.”

Lupul, who didn’t pass his physical for a second year in a row, issued an apology yesterday. But those comments — which have since been deleted — seem to have grabbed the attention of the league.

Darren Dreger of TSN added to that, saying it’s the NHL pursuing a second medical opinion on this matter.

“The National Hockey League has that right to pursue the second opinion. That’s exactly what they’re engaging in right now,” Dreger reported Thursday.

“The reasoning behind it is because of the comment that Lupul made on social media. I’ll go back a year ago. The league didn’t step in a year ago but Lupul stayed quiet at that point. So they want to make sure — ‘They’ being the National Hockey League — that the medical evaluation from the Toronto Maple Leafs is 100 per cent above the board.”

Team USA won’t include NHL draft-eligible prospects at 2018 Olympics

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) General manager Jim Johannson has ruled out the possibility of the U.S. men’s hockey team having NHL draft-eligible prospects competing at the Winter Olympics in February.

Johannson tells The Associated Press he doesn’t view anyone from the 18-and-younger pool of prospects capable of cracking the projected lineup of non-NHL players, many of whom are opening this season playing in Europe.

USA Hockey’s assistant executive director says he’s also targeting a number of established college players, and would not rule out keeping a spot or two open for members of the U.S. team competing at the World Junior Championships this winter.

Johansson spoke in Buffalo, New York, on Thursday, where he is attending USA Hockey’s sixth annual All-American Prospects game. The game features the top 42 U.S.-born players eligible to be selected in the NHL draft in June.