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Blues think they’re ‘as sound as ever’ on defense without Shattenkirk

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Knowing Kevin Shattenkirk wasn’t in their long-term plans, the St. Louis Blues traded the talented defenseman and braced for the immediate blow to their playoff hopes.

That never happened. The Blues actually got better without him.

When the Blues dealt the pending free agent at the trade deadline, they seemed to be creating a giant void on their blue line and gift-wrapping the NHL-best Washington Capitals with their deepest defense in a decade. Yet St. Louis has thrived thanks to the elevated play of captain Alex Pietrangelo and second-year defenseman Colton Parayko while Shattenkirk plays a limited, specialized role for Washington.

With Pietrangelo taking over top power-play duties, Parayko pitching in and 6-foot-4, 221-pound Robert Bortuzzo providing some bulk on the back end, the new-look Blues cruised into the second round with a 4-1 series win over Minnesota and haven’t missed a beat without Shattenkirk.

“We’re bigger, all six guys are big men, and now we have two players that play with a little more nasty than we had when we had five guys that played one way and sort of Joel Edmundson doing the majority of the physical work,” general manager Doug Armstrong said. “Now we have two players that are bringing some of that physical play.”

Armstrong won’t mince words: He didn’t trade Shattenkirk to shake things up. He dealt the 28-year-old for picks and young forward Zach Sanford because there was no chance of re-signing him this summer.

On the flip side, Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan only got involved in the bidding when it became clear Shattenkirk was a rental and not long-term commitment.

After being a top-four defenseman in St. Louis, Shattenkirk is a third-pairing player and power-play specialist for Washington. He was among the team leaders in overall minutes in Games 1 and 2 before having his ice time slashed to a career playoff low 12:54 in Game 4 and ranking fifth or six on the Capitals’ blue line the remainder of their first round series against Toronto.

Shattenkirk said he’s fine with that and doesn’t need an explanation from coach Barry Trotz, who called ice time “irrelevant” to players this time of year. He’s still on the top power-play unit, is counted on to feed Alex Ovechkin the puck from the point in crucial situations and leads Capitals defensemen with three points.

But he’s not in St. Louis anymore.

“I do think that we roll our D pairings a little bit more here, and everyone gets to play a regular shift for the most part,” Shattenkirk said. “St. Louis, we were a little more reliant on our top two guys of playing the big-time minutes, and then power plays and penalty kills kind of determined where the rest of us played more or played less.”

Saying so long to Shattenkirk shifted the big-time minutes on the right side to Pietrangelo and Parayko. Ranked 26th among NHL defensemen in points and 11th in ice time before the Shattenkirk trade, Pietrangelo was second with 18 points and fourth at 26:35 a game after it.

Thrown into tougher situations than his first playoffs last season, Parayko has grown up fast without Shattenkirk around.

“It’s good for me,” the 23-year-old said as the Blues prepared to face the Nashville Predators. “I think that’s the best way to do it, get in there and learn from experience.”

Even the experienced Blues defensemen like Jay Bouwmeester and Carl Gunnarsson have thrived since the trade. Part of it is the structure of Mike Yeo, who replaced Ken Hitchcock as coach in early February, but the defensive improvements have made up for the loss of Shattenkirk’s offensive talent that will earn him a big contract somewhere July 1.

“Defensively I think we’re sound as ever,” Gunnarsson said. “Without Shatty I think we were lacking, especially the first couple games (of the playoffs), some offense. He was huge on the power play for us and that poise with the puck. Some guys stepped up.”

Yeo said his team being in must-win mode from the deadline on helped spur a late-season run that allowed them to also eliminate the Wild in five games. And if the Blues need an offensive spark from a right-handed-shooting first-round pick, they can plug 23-year-old Jordan Schmaltz into their lineup.

In Washington, Shattenkirk is glad to be on a Stanley Cup contender readying for a second-round matchup against the defending-champion Pittsburgh Penguins. He doesn’t mind St. Louis enjoying success without him.

“When I was there this year, we knew we had that capability. For whatever reason we just couldn’t get to our full potential,” Shattenkirk said. “They were a group that believed that they could play this way all year, and they’re doing it at the right time.”

AP freelance writer Nate Latsch in St. Louis contributed.

More AP NHL: https://www.apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SWhyno

MORE:Jake Allen gives Blues “a sense of calm.”

NHL on NBCSN: Bruins, Red Wings do battle in Atlantic Division clash

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 season continues on Wednesday night, as the Detroit Red Wings host the Boston Bruins at 8:00 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online by clicking here

There’s only four points separating the Bruins and Red Wings (Boston is ahead), but they seem to heading in opposition directions.

The Bruins, who are currently third in the Atlantic Division standings, have been on a roll of late. They’ve won back-to-back games and eight of their last 10.

Boston will want to take care of business against their division rival, but they’ll also have to leave something in the tank for the Washington Capitals, who are coming to town the next day.

“Detroit’s going to be a tough game. I remember playing there in preseason and it was the first game (in the new Little Caesar’s Arena) so they had lots of fans there and it way pretty loud. We have to be ready for that,” said Jake DeBrusk, per the Boston Herald. “And obviously Washington, they’re coming to town and they’re playing really well right now. We just make sure we save our energy, keep our legs, play the right way and get out front as fast possible.”

Tuukka Rask will be between the pipes for the Bruins. The 30-year-old has won each of his last four decisions. He’s given up two goals or less in each of those outings.

The Red Wings come into tonight’s clash having won just one of their last 10 games (1-5-4). Even though Detroit is four points away from a playoff spot, they’re also just six points away from the basement of the conference.

“One of the hardest things in life to do is to trust the process,” head coach Jeff Blashill told the Detroit News. “When you’re not getting results.

“Mistakes that people make is they get away from the process when they’re not getting (results). They panic too early and they don’t stay with it.”

Sticking with “it” might be hard considering the Red Wings can’t seem to find the win column with any regularity. Their refusal to rebuild is a little concerning at this point. Their roster needs a lot of work and the fact that they’re so close to a playoff spot might be a bad thing considering the team needs to get younger.

They’ve signed veterans like Frans Nielsen and Trevor Daley over the last couple of off-seasons, which hasn’t helped. They missed the playoffs last year and they’re on their way to missing them again if they don’t turn things around soon.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

The Kids Are All Right: Penguins lead goalie youth movement

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By Will Graves (AP Sports Writer)

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Jim Rutherford knows what it’s like to be a young goaltender trying to find his way in the NHL. Rutherford went through it with the Detroit Red Wings in the early 1970s, thrust into action at 21 years old with a franchise in the middle of a bumpy transition.

Yet that’s where the comparisons end between Pittsburgh’s general manager and the two young men who will play a major role in determining whether the Penguins can become the first team in more than 30 years to win three straight Stanley Cup championships.

Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry, both 23, have everything Rutherford didn’t when he broke into the league more than four decades ago, from a true position coach to copious amounts of technology at their fingertips to the kind of advanced training techniques (both mental and physical) that Rutherford believes has the NHL’s youngest goalie tandem in position to play a vital role in Pittsburgh’s pursuit of history.

The dark ages of the ’70s – when goaltenders were typically left to sort things out on their own – this is not.

”You didn’t really think about it (back then),” Rutherford said. ”You let in bad goals or have bad games, you were kind of on your own and you had to work your way through that. Now these guys have a lot more things to help (them).”

Beginning with Mike Buckley, who began working with Murray and Jarry when they were teenage prospects and has meticulously overseen their rise from draft picks to NHL starters. Buckley spent four years as the franchise’s goaltending development coordinator before replacing Mike Bales as goalie coach shortly after Murray backstopped the Penguins to a second straight Cup last spring.

”You win two championships and make a change, it kind of seems a little odd,” Rutherford said. ”But Buck has been the guy that’s developed both these guys right from the start, so it just made sense that he would move in.”

Other youngsters are shouldering the burden, too, including 24-year-old Connor Hellebuyck in Winnipeg (16 wins, 2.44 goals-against average), 23-year-old Andrei Vasilevskiy in Tampa Bay (leads league in wins) and 24-year-old John Gibson in Anaheim (an All-Star last season).

But it’s Pittsburgh at the forefront of a goalie youth movement that runs counter to how things usually work in the NHL. While it’s not unusual for a team to invest in a young goaltender, there’s typically a proven backup at the ready just in case things go awry, one of the reasons the average age of an NHL goalie is 29.

That initially was the plan this season for the Penguins.

Pittsburgh brought in Antti Niemi to play behind Murray after trading Marc-Andre Fleury to expansion Vegas in June. When Niemi stumbled through a handful of forgettable starts and was released in October, Rutherford didn’t scour the waiver wire or the trade block. He called the team’s American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and told Jarry and 26-year-old Casey DeSmith to pack their bags.

”It’s one of the things that they have a timeline and they know when you’re ready and if they think you’re ready, they’ll bring you up to play,” said Jarry, who is 9-5-2 with a respectable 2.49 goals-against average this season. ”I think that’s one of the great things about Pittsburgh over the years, they saw when Matt was ready and what he could do and I think that was one of the stepping points in helping them win those Stanley Cups.”

All Murray did as a 21-year-old in the spring of 2016 was unseat the popular, occasionally erratic Fleury, taking over midway during Pittsburgh’s playoff run and leading the franchise to its fourth Cup. By last spring Murray was the entrenched starter, though Fleury filled in admirably during the first two rounds of the postseason while Murray recovered from an injury.

Yet it was Murray, and not Fleury, who was on the ice as the Penguins surged past Nashville in the 2017 Cup Final. It was Murray, not the now 33-year-old Fleury, whom Pittsburgh chose to keep last summer. And it was Jarry the Penguins stuck with when another injury recently shelved Murray for a couple of weeks.

The Penguins say their young goaltenders have considerable mental toughness, a must when playing on a team with so much offensive firepower in superstars Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby that playing responsibly in front of its own net occasionally gets lost in the wash.

”It’s not always about technique and having your stick in the perfect position all the time,” Buckley said. ”Sometimes it’s about putting them in a position where they have to compete and battle and stay clear mentally and stay confident and put them under duress, very much like a Navy SEAL undergoes training.”

That includes things like breathing techniques they can call on during particularly stressful moments or when they’re just sort of standing there while their teammates are dominating at the other end of the rink. The tough part is getting them to do it nightly during a sprawling six-month regular season followed by what they hope is a two-month slog through the playoffs.

”I think the biggest challenge is finding consistency because they’re so young, they’re still learning because they’re so young,” said Buckley, who worked with Los Angeles star Jonathan Quick and Boston goaltender Tuukka Rask early in their careers. ”There’s a lot of ups and downs, even for an older goalie, but for a younger goalie it’s more exaggerated.”

Pittsburgh’s offseason choice will come into stark relief on Thursday when the Penguins visit Fleury and the surprising Golden Knights. Moving on from Fleury was difficult but pragmatic. The kids can play.

”To be honest with you we don’t really have a choice,” Buckley said. ”We’ve embraced that challenge … we’ll be better in the long run for it.”

PHT Morning Skate: NHL could become a 34-team league in near future

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

Andrei Vasilevskiy shut out the St. Louis Blues last night. You can check out the highlights from that game by clicking the video at the top of the page.

• Flames Nation looks at how Seattle possibly getting an expansion team affects the new arena situation in Calgary. (Flames Nation)

• Senators owner Eugene Melnyk has allowed this Erik Karlsson trade talk to get out of hand.in the most ridiculous way. (The Sports Daily)

• We could be heading toward a 34-team NHL in the not-too-distant future. (USA Today)

• Former Senator Alexei Yashin will be taking part in this weekend’s alumni game, but he doesn’t know what kind of reception he’ll get from the Ottawa faithful. (Ottawa Citizen)

• Islanders rookie Mathew Barzal has been a terrific addition to the roster. Barzal carries the puck, creates scoring chances and he draws penalties. (Lighthousehockey.com)

• While Marc-Andre Fleury and Malcolm Subban were both out with injuries, Maxime Lagace was busy saving Vegas’ season. (SinBin.Vegas)

• The Rangers appear to be a pretty good potential trade partner for the Senators, who are looking to make a splash before the Dec. 19 roster freeze. (Blueseatblogs.com)

William Karlsson has been a huge surprise for the Golden Knights this season. Where is all this offensive production coming from? (Fanragsports.com)

• It might be time for the Canadiens to consider a retool that could include trading Max Pacioretty for younger talent. (AllHabs.net)

• Canucks rookie Brock Boeser is on pace to score more goals than Mario Lemieux did during his first year in the NHL. (Dailyhive.com)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

The Buzzer: McDavid dominates; Fleury’s unlucky return

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Player Of The Night: Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers

The Edmonton Oilers have at least started to show some signs of life in recent games. They were shutout on Sunday night in Toronto, but sandwiched around that game were a convincing 6-2 win in Montreal and then a thoroughly dominating 7-2 win in Columbus on Tuesday night that left Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella completely speechless.

Leading the way for the Oilers was captain Connor McDavid as he went off with a four-point night.

The four points are a season high for him and the fifth time this season he has recorded at least three points.

That performance gives him 39 points in 31 games on the season and currently has him third in the NHL scoring race, three points behind Tampa Bay Lightning teammates Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.

Marc-Andre Fleury Probably Deserved Better In His Return To The Lineup

Marc-Andre Fleury made is return to the Vegas Golden Knights net and looked great, stopping 35 of the 37 shots he faced. Unfortunately that was not enough to get Vegas a win as they fell in a shootout to the Carolina Hurricanes, 3-2.

One of those two shots in regulation that beat him? It was this.

That is unfortunate.

Still, that is another point for Vegas as they continue their push for a playoff spot in the Western Conference during their inaugural season in the NHL.

Highlight Of The Night

The Philadelphia Flyers were 4-2 winners over the Toronto Maple Leafs and have now, suddenly, won four games in a row following a 10-game losing streak.

They picked up the winner on Tuesday thanks to this goal that featured a crazy between-the-legs pass.

Highlight Of The Night Part Two

Now let us take a look at Johnny Gaudreau from the Calgary Flames. This came in a losing effort in the shootout but this is still a slick move. Maybe illegal? Either way, it counted.

Factoid(s) Of The Night

— By stopping all 32 shots he faced against the St. Louis Blues, Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy picked up his 20th win of the season. He is just the sixth goalie in NHL history to win at least 20 games within his first 25 starts of a season. [NHL Public Relations]

Matt Cullen scored his 250th career goal in the Minnesota Wild’s 2-1 shootout win over the Calgary Flames, making him the 29th American-born player in NHL history to reach that mark. [Minnesota Wild PR]

— Carolina Hurricanes goalies Cam Ward recorded his 300th career win on Tuesday night in their 3-2 shootout win over the Vegas Golden Knights. He is the fifth active goaltender to reach that mark. [NHL Public Relations]

Scores

Buffalo Sabres 3, Ottawa Senators 2

New Jersey Devils 5, Los Angeles Kings 1

Philadelphia Flyers 4, Toronto Maple Leafs 2

Washington Capitals 5, Colorado Avalanche 2

Edmonton Oilers 7, Columbus Blue Jackets 2

Tampa Bay Lightning 3, St. Louis Blues 0

Minnesota Wild 2, Calgary Flames 1

Chicago Blackhawks 3, Florida Panthers 2

Carolina Hurricanes 3, Vegas Golden Knights 2

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.