Jake Allen

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WATCH LIVE: Pittsburgh Penguins at St. Louis Blues

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PROJECTED LINES

Pittsburgh Penguins

Jake GuentzelSidney CrosbyBryan Rust

Carl HagelinEvgeni MalkinPhil Kessel

Zachary Aston-Reese — Riley SheahanConor Sheary

Dominik SimonCarter RowneyRyan Reaves

Brian DumoulinKris Letang

Olli MaattaJustin Schultz

Ian ColeJamie Oleksiak

Starting goalie: Matt Murray

St. Louis Blues

Alexander SteenPaul StastnyVladimir Tarasenko

Jaden SchwartzBrayden SchennPatrik Berglund

Dmitrij JaskinVladimir SobotkaIvan Barbashev

Scottie UpshallKyle BrodziakChris Thorburn

Carl GunnarssonAlex Pietrangelo

Jay BouwmeesterColton Parayko

Robert BortuzzoVince Dunn

Starting goalie: Jake Allen

NHL on NBCSN: Wild look to put road struggles behind them in St. Louis

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NBCSN’s coverage of 2017-18 NHL season continues on Tuesday, as the St. Louis Blues host the Minnesota Wild at 8:00 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online by clicking here

The Wild currently own the final Wild Card spot in the Western Conference. That’s pretty impressive considering how difficult things have been for them away from home. Heading into tonight’s tilt in St. Louis, they own a 10-15-1 record away from Xcel Energy Center.

Of all the teams currently in the postseason, only the Pittsburgh Penguins have as poor of a record (10-5-2) on the road this season.

To make matters worse, they’re coming off an ugly 6-1 loss in Dallas on Saturday night.

“We definitely change how we play when we get down like that on the road,” goalie Devan Dubnyk said, per the Minneapolis StarTribune. “Obviously, when you have confidence like we do at home, you just feel like you’re going to win every game so you don’t really think otherwise. That’s obviously not the case on the road right now. That’s when it becomes that much more important to just really focus and concentrate on being simple and playing our game.”

The last couple of weeks have gone relatively well for the Blues, as they’ve managed to rattle off six victories in their last eight games (they had a disappointing loss to Arizona during that stretch).

Goalie Carter Hutton has been a big reason for the Blues’ recent run of success. Hutton, who has been between the pipes for each of St. Louis’ last six wins, has overtaken Jake Allen as the team’s starter.

“This is not one or two weeks that he’s been playing well — he’s been playing at this level all season long,” head coach Mike Yeo said of Hutton’s success, per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “So I think it would be very unfair to him to not give him that credit. And you have to say, maybe it is. He’s played behind some very good goaltenders. They all develop at a different rate, they all have a different timeline of when they reach their potential, when they reach their peak. And obviously, I don’t think any of us should see any reason why we shouldn’t give him that belief.”

The 32-year-old has a 14-4-1 record with a 1.61 goals-against-average and a .947 save percentage in 2017-18.

 The Blues currently sit in third spot in the Central Division, but they’re just one point clear of Dallas, who is in the first Wild Card spot and six points clear of Minnesota, who has two games in hand.

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.

NHL Power Rankings: Mid-season Stanley Cup contenders and pretenders

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Now that we are officially into the second half of the 2017-18 NHL season we are going to start rolling out our PHT Power Rankings on a weekly basis instead of the bi-weekly basis we had been doing in the first half.

After looking at the top trade deadline candidates that could be available a week ago, this week we are going to take a look at the top Stanley Cup contenders … as well as the teams that are pretenders. Plus, the teams that need to just start looking ahead to next season.

There are a lot of the usual suspects and expected teams at the top of the list. The Tampa Bay Lightning, Boston Bruins, Washington Capitals, Nashville Predators are all there, and thanks to their recent surge over the past month or two, as are the back-to-back Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins. Also there: The Vegas Golden Knights, a team that just keeps getting better.

So let us get to it and take a look at where we have everybody sitting right now.

Contenders

1. Tampa Bay Lightning — They have the most talented roster in the league and seem to be in a position to make a significant move at the trade deadline. They are going to be a force to be reckoned with in the playoffs.

2. Vegas Golden Knights — They are getting stronger and better as the season progresses. They are becoming a dominant possession team, they are outshooting everybody they play every night, they have great offense, and a Stanley Cup winning goalie. This team is for real. They are a threat.

3. Boston Bruins — They have the best line in hockey and Tuukka Rask seems to be back to being an elite goaltender. They have been borderline unbeatable with him in the lineup.

4. Nashville Predators — They are finally fully healthy and finally the team that David Poile constructed. Where is the weakness? There does not seem to be one.

5. Washington Capitals — They are back on top of the Metropolitan Division even though some of their top players have been a little quiet offensively in recent weeks. When those guys get going again, watch out. The roster on paper may not be as impressive as the past two years, and they may not win the Presidents’ Trophy, but they are still good. Really good.

6. Winnipeg Jets — They have a couple of significant injuries right now with Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba on the shelf, but what a powerful offense. With the Jets a lot of it comes down to whether or not they can keep getting the same level of goaltending from Connor Hellebuyck.

7. Pittsburgh Penguins — They are back. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel are taking over games, they are starting to figure out the lineup, and they are probably one move away from really putting a scary team on the ice.

8. St. Louis Blues — Like the Jets I feel like a lot of this story is going to be decided by goaltending. Jake Allen has been okay, Carter Hutton has been great but he’s hardly played. Good defensive team, couple of high-end offensive players and some solid depth especially now that Jaden Schwartz is back.

9.  Toronto Maple Leafs — They can score with anybody in the NHL but they still need to make a tweak or two to their defense.

Could Go Either Way

10. New Jersey Devils — I feel like this might be a little high, but it also feels right. This is a pretty good team, but maybe not quite a true contender yet.

11. Los Angeles Kings — The Kings are still the Kings. Dominant possession team, tough to score against, kind of a mediocre offense. I don’t think they are truly a “contender” at this point, but they are also still a team that could be dangerous. Or they could miss the playoffs entirely. It is a bizarre team.

12. Columbus Blue Jackets — They have really slid recently, but they still have a lot of talent. They really need Sergei Bobrovsky to solve his postseason demons though.

13. San Jose Sharks — I might have them a little bit higher if they still had Joe Thornton, but that is a huge blow at the moment and one that is going to be difficult to overcome. He is still the engine that drives them.

Pretenders

14. Dallas Stars — They’ve spent a ton of money on a team that is just … kind of good?

15. Philadelphia Flyers — Are the Flyers good? It really just depends on the day. Sometimes they look great. Sometimes they look awful. They have a pretty dominant top part of the lineup. The bottom of the lineup leaves a lot to be desired.

16. Minnesota Wild — A healthy Nino Neiderreiter and Zach Parise in the lineup together might make a difference, but it still feels like a pretty mediocre team overall.

17. Calgary Flames — They have been one of the bigger disappointments in the league this season. If you had told me at the start of the year Mike Smith would have a .922 save percentage I would have figured this would be one of the top teams in the Western Conference. Mike Smith has that, but they are not even a lock to make the playoffs.

18. Anaheim Ducks — Injuries just keep devastating this team this season. Every time it feels like they are getting healthy, somebody else goes out of the lineup. John Gibson is currently banged up now.

19. New York Islanders —  That offense can be great, but it is almost impossible to see them winning much in the playoffs — assuming they even get there — with that goaltending situation. Is there anybody available at the trade deadline that could make that much of a difference?

20. New York Rangers — They are still very much in the playoff race but it seems pretty clear they are ready to start selling off pieces before the trade deadline.

21. Colorado Avalanche — Losing Nathan MacKinnon for a few weeks could be a season-altering (perhaps season crushing?) blow to a team that has been one of the more pleasant surprises in the NHL this season.

22. Carolina Hurricanes — Goaltending and a lack of finishing ability on offense failed them again.

See you Next Season

23. Chicago Blackhawks –– Yeah, I am giving up on them this season. Corey Crawford might come back at some point and that could help if he is healthy and able to keep playing like he was earlier this season, but as of Monday they are still six points out of a playoff spot with four teams ahead of them. That is a tough gap to make up this late in the season.

24. Florida Panthers — There is still a young core here you can win with. But do they have the right people in place to build around it?

25. Detroit Red Wings — Given the roster and the salary cap situation it is going to be a while before this team is a factor again.

26. Vancouver Canucks — Why are you trying to re-sign Erik Gudbranson? Is that really what you need to continue this rebuild?

27. Montreal Canadiens — Will they tear it down at the trade deadline or maintain the status quo of mediocrity?

28. Edmonton Oilers — How does a team with Connor McDavid on his entry level contract end up this bad? This team is simply one of the greatest coaching and front office failures in recent NHL history.

29. Ottawa Senators — There is just nothing to be excited about here. The team stinks, the best player will probably be gone within the next two years and the owner is a jerk that seems to hate his own fans.

30. Buffalo Sabres — Jack Eichel has been great and everything the Sabres could have hoped. The rest of the rebuild has been a spectacular failure.

31.  Arizona Coyotes — They are one of the youngest teams in the league that is still lacking talent in a lot of key areas. It is just an impossible situation for this season.

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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.

PHT on Fantasy: The Monthly Method

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As we get deeper into the 2017-18 season, it’s tougher and tougher to add difference-makers in fantasy hockey. At least if you’re in a league with people who even try to know what they’re doing.

To get an edge and land the sort of players who might help you in playoff series (or to make the playoffs), sometimes it requires breaking things down in different ways. For one thing, you should definitely check out Joey Alfieri’s weekly add/drops, not to mention the great offerings from the fine folks at Rotoworld’s NHL section.

One thing I like to look at is: which players are really rising over the last month or two? Using various sites – both Yahoo’s fantasy section and NHL.com are among the ways to check these things out – I thought I’d share some observations that might help you in fantasy.

  • As far as the tippy top goes, it’s mostly players you’d expect, and thus players who’ve already been taken. The closest thing to an upset in the top 10 scorers during the last two months is Mikko Rantanen, a player many at least recognized was very good. (Rantanen is owned in 76 percent of Yahoo leagues. If he’s available … what are you waiting for? Sheesh.)

With that in mind, you’re probably wisest to break things down into different categories, whether that means narrowing lists down to positions or looking for specific stats.

  • If you look at defensemen, Marc-Edouard Vlasic pops up, especially (but not only) if you look at January. For one thing, he’s picking up his shooting a bit the last two years, with his current 2.06 SOG per game representing a career-high. “Pickles” is a stat-stuffer thanks to his blocked shots, but even more simply, he’s scoring at a much higher level. Vlasic already has 20 points in 49 games after managing only 28 in 75 last season.

You might miss something like that because Vlasic’s 20 points would only rank him 50th among defensemen from a full-season standpoint. His 11 points in January rank third among defensemen; it’s clear that he is along for the ride with Brent Burns, who topped all blueliners that month with 17 points. Vlasic is only owned in 44 percent of leagues. While he’s not necessarily guaranteed to be a top-10 guy for the rest of the season, he’s probably better than the lower-ranking blueliners on your team, particularly if you didn’t invest heavily in the position with high draft picks.

  • Checking out rising players from a monthly perspective could also help you identify people to watch list, even if you don’t add them. Sorting for time on ice, for instance, may help you clue into a player who’s rising in the eyes of a coach. If the luck comes in a wave, maybe you’d grab someone – even for a limited time – who might deliver?

Jordan Oesterle of the Chicago Blackhawks is an intriguing case, for one.

After barely being used in October and November, Coach Q rolled him out for an average of 21:47 in nine December games, and then almost 24 minutes per night in January. His 10 points this season won’t blow your mind, but note that nine of them have come in the last two months.

That’s not mind-blowing, naturally, but in deeper leagues he could be the sort of guy who might be intriguing, particularly if he rides a surge if Chicago manages to get it together.

Ivan Provorov and Esa Lindell are examples of higher-ceiling defensemen who might be available, too, but there are ways to dig deep if you really need to.

  • The monthly method can help you eyeball a goalie who’s finishing the season on a hot streak. After all, the past is the past, and a rough start could deflate a netminder’s value too much at times.

(That said, check their career stats, as a hot streak could just as easily go ice cold once you actually invest in a guy.)

Usual suspects

Using Yahoo’s monthly ranking tool, some familiar names came up. Here’s some quick context for a few of them, going from higher to lower rankings. Please note that I’m skipping heavily owned goalies since you won’t be able to get them anyway:

  • Jonathan Bernier (59 percent owned): Obviously, Bernier’s been a huge part of Colorado’s surge up the rankings. There’s some pedigree there, as a former first-rounder. There’s also plenty of motivation, as he’s fighting for a new contract. Just note that Semyon Varlamov could elbow his way back in if Bernier goes on a prolonged cold streak.
  • Carter Hutton (64 percent): Fantastic month, building a growing resume as a quality backup. Still, the Blues are very much devoted to Jake Allen; Hutton might benefit from a trade, at least in fantasy terms.
  • Jaroslav Halak (57 percent): Last season, Halak made a “too little, too late” run for the Islanders … but it was quite a run in March and April. Like Hutton and Bernier, he’s on an expiring contract. The Islanders are committed to Thomas Greiss contract-wise, with his deal expiring after 2019-20, but there’s not much luxury to just hope that Greiss works out of his awful rut. Halak is an intriguing goalie to watch.

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Hopefully this week’s column gave you some names to consider, but most importantly, some tools to use to find even more.

Really, it might be fun for you to look at who’s been hot in January, even if you’re not a fantasy hockey type. Perhaps it could help you in Daily Fantasy, too?

(If so, I expect royalties.)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

PHT Midseason Report Card: Central Division

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Now that the All-Star break has arrived it’s time to look back at the first half of the 2017-18 NHL season. Our team-by-team report cards will look at the biggest surprises and disappointments for all 31 clubs and what their outlook is for the second half, including whether they should be a trade deadline buyer or seller.

  • Chicago Blackhawks

Season Review: They’ve dealt with Corey Crawford being injured twice and Jeff Glass has been one of the heartwarming stories this season. But sitting last in a notoriously tough Central Division is unfamiliar territory for the Blackhawks. They’ve simply underperformed given the talent they possess. Grade: D-

Biggest Surprise: Alex DeBrincat. The second-round pick in 2016 has been sensational in his rookie season with 17 goals and 32 points in 49 games played. His 17.2 percent shooting percentage is stellar, and he’s defying the (perceived) odds at 5-foot-7, 165 pounds.

Biggest Disappointment: Brent Seabrook has been a healthy scratch and Jonathan Toews is well off point-per-game production and Duncan Keith hasn’t scored a goal since last March. But Chicago’s biggest disappointment is a team effort. They’re simply too inconsistent. Scoring droughts have plagued this team this season and their power play is fourth-worst in the league.

Trade Deadline Strategy: The Blackhawks won’t have to worry about a disappointing first-round exit this year as they’re unlikely to get into the playoffs as it stands. It might be time to give that roster a small detonation. Stan Bowman has worked his genius to keep his team’s competitive in the past. Now he may have to work that genius to get his team back to that.

Second half outlook: The Blackhawks have all the talent to work their way out of the basement in the Central. They’re only four points adrift of a playoff spot, but that can seem like 10 in a division that is as stacked as it is. That success hinges on the health of Corey Crawford, who is out indefinitely with an upper-body injury. Until he’s able to return, things don’t look great.

  • Colorado Avalanche

Season Review: Early on, the Avs season seemed to go as expected. They hit the lowest of lows last season, so some improvement was expected, but to be in a playoff spot at the All-Star break was something anyone would have thought. Of course, 10-game winning streaks are helpful, as is the ridiculous play of Nathan MacKinnon. Grade: B

Biggest Surprise: Mikko Rantanen is a point-per-game player. Nathan MacKinnon is having that breakout season many had been waiting for (and should be up for the Hart Trophy). Alex Kerfoot has had a great rookie campaign. Sam Girard is turning bona fide NHL defenseman. But Jonathan Bernier has been integral to the team’s recent success, highlighted during their 10-game winning streak where Bernier collected nine straight wins. He’s sitting with a .919 save percentage and is looking like the Bernier that played for the 2013-14 Toronto Maple Leafs.

Biggest Disappointment: Matt Duchene is gone, and thus, so is the easy pick here. Some might point to Tyson Jost, but he’s been injured and thus is a little behind where some might have pegged him at the mid-way point. Nail Yakupov’s name could work here, but his career has been a disappointment.

Trade Deadline Strategy: Colorado is a young team that’s still rebuilding. They got a king’s ransom for Matt Duchene. If the Avs keep climbing up in the Division, it’s conceivable that Joe Sakic looks for some depth, but staying the course with a team that’s showing some positive signs should be the focus. The Avs aren’t winning the Cup this year.

Second Half Outlook: This team has found some much-needed chemistry and is gelling as a young squad. That bodes well for a good second half of the season if they can continue. But young teams can have young-team problems. Consistency down the stretch could be an issue and the Avs are by no means a lock for a playoff spot. A 10-game winning streak only got them to the second wildcard spot. The tough part now will be keeping it.

  • Dallas Stars

Season Review: The Stars have been a great home team this season, but have only begun to get things in order on the road, where they stumbled during the first two months of the season. Still, the Stars have worked their way into the first wildcard spot in the Western Conference thanks to improvements in team defense and goaltending.  Grade: C+

Biggest Surprise: John Klingberg is a good defenseman. We knew this coming into the season. But to be in the running for the Norris might have been a stretch back in September. But that’s where Klingberg is at the moment, leading NHL defenseman in points (and sitting second on the Stars, behind Alexander Radulov and ahead of Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin).

Biggest Disappointment: This one is easy: Jason Spezza. Spezza is forging a path to a career-worst year in terms of production. Early this month, he was made a healthy scratch, a coach’s decision by Ken Hitchcock stemming then from a five-game spell with no points and low ice time. Factor in that he’s counting $7.5 million toward the cap and the picture becomes even more clear.

Trade Deadline Strategy: Buy if it makes sense, but don’t sell assets. The Stars have a goalie in Ben Bishop and other talents they can build around going forward.

Second half outlook: The Stars play 11 games (including a six-game road trip) away from American Airlines arena in March and April. Given their position at the moment and coupled with their away record, it would appear that will be their biggest test in the second half if they can maintain where they are at the moment.

  • Minnesota Wild

Season Review: Spinning the tires. The Wild could be given a pass after some of the injuries they’ve dealt with – Devan Dubnyk and Zach Parise come to mind. It is a team that finished second in the division with, largely, the same roster, so the talent is there. Grade: D

Biggest surprise: Matt Dumba makes some bone-headed plays. And then he makes some plays that leave you scratching your head, in a good way. He sits only behind Ryan Suter in terms of points and he’s averaging nearly 23 minutes per night. If he keeps it up, he’ll record a career-year in goals and assists.

Biggest disappointment: Marcus Foligno. He’s played better as of late, but that doesn’t excuse a rocky first half that saw him in the press box in December. The 26-year-old was supposed to bring depth to the lineup when the Wild acquired him in a four-player deal on the eve of free agency last year.

Trade Deadline Strategy: So many teams on the cusp of a playoff spot in this division that it’s hard to sort out which teams should buy and which should sell. The Wild have the talent to be much better than they are. We saw that last season. Perhaps a depth player or two on the cheap would help.

Second half outlook: Getting better away would certainly help. The Wild are one of four teams tied on 57 points and tied for the second wildcard spot, with Colorado holding the tiebreaker at the moment). The Wild have eight home games in February, which bodes well given their 17-4-4 record at Xcel Energy Center. But they have two big road games to start the month in Dallas and St. Louis and play Colorado twice in March. Those will be pivotal. The Wild are getting healthy and that could spell trouble for other teams around them on the bubble.

  • Nashville Predators

Season Review: The Stanley Cup finalists from last year have picked up where they left off, currently trailing the Winnipeg Jets by one point for tops in the division. They’re playing great at home (16-4-3) and have picked up points in 17 of 24 road games (13-7-4), a drastic change from this team a year ago. They have Pekka Rinne playing great along with the litany of talent in front of him, which is scoring at a better pace than last season. Grade: A-

Biggest Surprise: Kevin Fiala had 16 points in his rookie season last year. This year, he’s nearly doubled that in eight fewer games. The addition of Kyle Turris has certainly helped, making that line (with Craig Smith) a potent option that’s providing a secondary scoring threat. Fiala’s season including a nine-game point streak in December.

Biggest Disappointment: Perhaps the only disappointment on this Preds team is that Ryan Ellis has only been limited to nine games after offseason knee surgery. He returned earlier this month.

Trade Deadline Strategy: Bolster. The Preds Stanley Cup window is still wide open. Perhaps another player for bottom six depth. Not much needed on a team this good.

Second half outlook: More of the same. The Preds have been solid against their own division with a 10-3-2 record and just need to stay the course.

  • St. Louis Blues

Season Review: Man, did this team every navigate some tough injury problems to start the season, something that speaks to the depth in St. Louis.  Grade: B-.

Biggest Surprise: Brayden Schenn has been nothing short of spectacular since getting traded last year. Schenn, currently at the NHL All-Star Game, leads the Blues with 50 points and is tied for the team lead with 21 goals. Schenn hit 59 points in 80 games a couple years back. He looks set to smash that career-high.

Biggest Disappointment: The team waived Magnus Paajarvi this week, so scratch that idea. Jake Allen deserves a mention. Carter Hutton is sitting on a .943 save percentage this season while Allen is only sporting a .909. Hutton is the backup and producing numbers that Blues’ fans hoped Allen would. Also, where is Alexander Steen?

Trade Deadline Strategy: With all their injury problems, a couple of depth players wouldn’t hurt just in case.

Second half outlook: Jaden Schwartz’s return after missing two months is a huge boon for the Blues. Schwartz had 35 points in 30 games before busting his ankle. Now, with the line of Schenn, Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko back together, domination could ensue once again.

  • Winnipeg Jets

Season Review: The best team heading in the to All-Star break. Yes, the Winnipeg Jets. What’s got them there? Great goaltending, for starters. A season worthy of a Hart Trophy nod for Blake Wheeler as well. And they’re just finding ways to win games, especially ones that, in the past, they would find ways to lose. Grade: A

Biggest Surprise: Undoubtedly Connor Hellebuyck. The Jets went out and got what they thought would be their No. 1 netminder in Steve Mason during free agency. Yeah. Not in Hellebuyck’s house. The second-year starter is in the Vezina conversation and is at the NHL All-Star Game along with Pekka Rinne. Who in Winnipeg thought the former would be the same conversation as the latter at the end of last season?

Biggest Disappointment: Dustin Byfuglien. It took him nearly half the season to score his first goal and has just two at the All-Star break. Couple that with some interesting defensive decisions and you have the makings of one of his worst seasons of his career, statistically speaking and otherwise.

Trade Deadline Strategy: Buy. The Jets have a legitimate shot at making a deep run in the Stanley Cup playoffs. They seemingly have all the tools: a rededication to team defense, a high-scoring offense, great netminding and one of the best power plays in the league. They could probably use some depth on their fourth line and perhaps a seventh defenseman with playoff experience.

Second half outlook: Keep on keeping on. The Jets haven’t strung together a big losing streak this season, something that’s derailed them in the past. They basically play all of February at home at Bell MTS Place, which has become a fortress for them this season. The Jets just need to keep doing what got them to the summit of the division in the second half. Oh, and they’ll get Mark Scheifele back sometime next month. 

Previous: Atlantic Division / Metropolitan Division

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck