Author: James O'Brien

Alexander Steen, David Backes, T.J. Oshie

Backes’ line is ‘leading the charge’ for St. Louis

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During a five-game stretch, the St. Louis Blues’ top line of Alexander Steen, David Backes and T.J. Oshie has produced a whopping 20 points, as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch points out.

One might target Oshie as the standout of that trio after last night’s hat trick in a lopsided win against the San Jose Sharks, especially since Oshie and Steen have generated 16 of those 20 points.

That might be simplifying things too much, however, as Oshie points to Backes as the subtle driving force, according to the Post-Dispatch.

“You can ask ‘Steener’ … Backes is the guy that’s taking everyone to the net,” Oshie said. “He’s occupying the front of the net. He’s taken goalie’s eyes away, so without Backes doing his job, me and Steener aren’t on the scoresheet.”

Either way, their work is drawing praise from head coach Ken Hitchcock.

“Backes’ line is really leading the charge now again, just like they did all last year,” Hitchcock said. “They look like they’re really back on task again now and really starting to lead us. I think they’re getting room on the outside where they did last year. Backes is going to the net, he’s playing a real power game right now.”

The Blues have enjoyed the success of the “STL” line of Jaden Schwartz, Vladimir Tarasenko and Jori Lehtera for big chunks of the 2014-15 season, at least when the trio’s been at full strength. If their expected top line of Steen – Backes – Oshie can be just as dangerous (or at least dominant in its own way), the Blues will be a tough team to contain.

WATCH LIVE: Stars at Blackhawks (8 p.m. ET)

Dallas Stars v Chicago Blackhawks

The Dallas Stars are red-hot right not, but are they for real?

That’s not really a question that gets properly answered in early January, yet the Chicago Blackhawks serve about as perfect a barometer for legitimacy as any team in the NHL. The Stars have won four in a row and eight of nine games, so it should be an awfully interesting Sunday night tilt on NBCSN.

You can watch the game and the pregame show via the NBC Sports’ Live Extra Stream.


Want more on the game? Check out this detailed preview.

Fine, then: Hextall approved Flyers’ holiday travel despite CBA violation

Ron Hextall

The salary cap keeps NHL spending fairly even, but the league’s richer franchises can stomach other bills that others might not stomach.

That often translates to more front office spending, yet one cannot help but wonder if the Philadelphia Flyers thought that friendlier holiday travel would be worth whatever CBA-related fines the NHL might send their way.

In case you missed it, Philly violated Article 16.5(b) by traveling during a three-day period (Dec. 24-26) in which travel wasn’t allowed, as their team plane reportedly departed from Nashville at 8:24 p.m. ET on the 26th.

GM Ron Hextall took the fall for such a thought process, as he told on Sunday.

“We were aware of the rule and certainly accept the league’s decision,” Hextall said. “I was approached by the players and after giving it some thought, it was pretty hard not to allow them the best possible chance to win the game, given the fact they have shown the commitment that they want to do something that is best for the hockey club.

“In the end, we were willing to accept the consequences.”

If the extra rest has given the Flyers any kind of boost, it’s been … subtle. After all, they’ve lost all five games since returning from the holiday break, only managing one standings point in the process. About the only good news is that they’re traveling back to Philly on Saturday for a four-game homestand.

Hextall didn’t divulge the details regarding the price of the fine – the range is pretty wide as it could be as low as $10K and as high as $100K – but it sounds like the Flyers are comfortable lying in that bed.

Their opponents might have been griping if they actually won games, particularly close to that “extra break,” though.

Luongo says he’s fine after collision with Ovechkin (Update)

Roberto Luongo

The Florida Panthers have been frisky this season, and Roberto Luongo’s been a big part of that. Hopefully he didn’t get hurt too badly on Sunday, then.

Luongo initially shook off a significant collision with Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin late in the first period, but he didn’t return to action in the final frame. It looks like Al Montoya will take over for the remainder of the contest while an update may come sometime after the game’s over, according to the Miami Herald’s George Richards.

About the best news is that he returned to the bench midway through the third period.

Update: Luongo, 35, said that he’s fine and just left the game for precautionary reasons, Richards reports.

There was no penalty on the play as Ovechkin collided with Luongo, who was trying to stop a chance in bold Dominik Hasek-like fashion.

Here’s video of the collision:

Rask wonders if Bruins could use a few pregame beers

Tuukka Rask

Hockey players have their pregame rituals. Some, like Nicklas Lidstrom in his playing days, eat the same boring meal. You don’t hear about players enjoying a couple cold ones before a contest, though … at least not publicly.

Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask almost seems out of ideas after his team fell flat against the Carolina Hurricanes in a 2-1 shootout loss on Sunday, so he pitched an outside-the-keg idea to

“Yeah, maybe mix in a couple of beers before the games. That would make us relax. That might be the final option,” Rask said. “We don’t see a play and don’t make it, then we try to force a play and it’s a turnover where we spend a minute in our own end. That’s how it is. It’s mental…it’s mental. It’s not like the skill is gone.”

The 27-year-old was joking for comic effect (one would assume), but maybe there’s a kernel of truth in the Bruins over-thinking things.

Whatever the explanation was, Rask was confounded by the fact that the Bruins went 17 minutes without a shot on goal.

The Bruins have now lost three straight games, all after regulation. While that means Boston is at least squeezing out standings points, it’s understandable that Rask & Co. are frustrated.

Maybe they need to take a break (and possibly crack open a brew or two)? The Bruins don’t play again until Wednesday, so maybe this is the breather an anxious bunch needs.