Jason Brough

Report: New event to replace ‘breakaway challenge’ in All-Star skills competition

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The NHL is ditching the “Breakaway Challenge” at the All-Star Skills Competition and replacing it with something called the “Four Line Challenge”.

The details of the new challenge from Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman:

Players will try to hit targets in the net from the closest blueline, centre ice, the far blueline and then the opposite goal line. Goalies will be offered the chance to try from the farthest distance, with more points available if they can do it.

It was no surprise to hear that the breakaway challenge was no more. While there have been a few memorable moments, like last year when P.K. Subban dressed up as Jaromir Jagr, the gags and/or breakaway attempts too often fell flat or failed to deliver.

For the record, Friedman reported that the change was “as much the players’ decision as the league’s.”

This year’s skills competition will take place on Saturday, Jan. 28, at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Talbot embracing busy workload with the Oilers

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At some point, Cam Talbot will get the night off to sit on the bench and watch somebody else tend goal for the Edmonton Oilers.

But it won’t be tonight when his Oilers host Florida. Talbot will make his fifth start in the last nine days. No NHL goalie has played more minutes (2,459) than he has this season. No goalie has made more saves (1,115), either.

“This is what you work your whole career towards,” Talbot told reporters today. “I was working my butt off day in, day out, in New York, hoping to get this opportunity at some point behind (Henrik Lundqvist). And Edmonton, I was lucky enough (they gave) me an opportunity last year. You’ve just got to be ready for it when you get it. … I feel great doing it.”

He’s been playing pretty great, too. The 29-year-old is 23-12-6 with a .918 save percentage. He’s won his last three starts while allowing just four goals combined.

And that’s partly why Todd McLellan keeps running Talbot out there — the head coach is riding the hot hand.

The other part relates to the Oilers’ backup. It’s currently Laurent Brossoit, a 23-year-old with just six games of NHL experience. Brossoit was called up from the AHL to replace Jonas Gustavsson, who simply wasn’t getting the job done as Edmonton’s No. 2.

The Oilers, you may have heard, haven’t made the playoffs in over a decade. They desperately want to break that drought, and Talbot has helped put them on pace to do it.

Still, this situation will be worth monitoring. Talbot has never started more than 53 games in an NHL season, and he’s already started 41 in 2016-17. As great as he feels today, there’s absolutely a risk that fatigue sets in down the stretch.

At least the Oilers have the All-Star break and their bye week (Feb. 6-10) on the horizon. Talbot wasn’t selected to participate in Los Angeles later this month; Mike Smith and Martin Jones will represent the Pacific Division instead.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, Brossoit is 0-4-1 with an .873 save percentage in those six games with the big club. It’s possible the youngster could start Friday at home to Nashville, as the Oilers also play Saturday in Calgary on Hockey Night in Canada.

Talbot has been busy, but he’s yet to play on consecutive days this season.

The 10 busiest goalies this season

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There’s something off about the St. Louis Blues

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The St. Louis Blues had another hiccup last night, falling 6-4 at home to Ottawa. They only mustered 23 shots on Sens goalie Mike Condon — and that’s been a theme in their past seven games. In fact, the Blues haven’t registered more than 26 shots since beating Chicago in the Winter Classic.

It was a particularly disappointing effort against the Senators. St. Louis had just returned from a California road trip, which started with a bad loss in Los Angeles but finished with encouraging wins in San Jose and Anaheim.

“We just didn’t manage the puck very well on the boards,” head coach Ken Hitchcock said, per the Post-Dispatch. “We weren’t as determined and as effort-based on the boards as were the two games previous.”

The Blues’ record now sits at a modest 23-17-5. For a team that only lost 24 times in regulation last season, it’s been a fairly significant fall-off. It’s also fair to say the departures of David Backes, Troy Brouwer, and Brian Elliott have been felt.

Slightly more than halfway through the schedule, St. Louis is by no means guaranteed a playoff spot. Nashville, with a game in hand, is lurking just three points back for third place in the Central. And if the Blues are caught by the Preds, they’ll have to fend off Los Angeles, Calgary, Vancouver, and perhaps Dallas or Winnipeg for one of the two wild-card spots.

It would be easy to just blame the goaltending. But while it’s true that neither Jake Allen nor Carter Hutton have been very good, the Blues have not been the dominant possession team they’ve shown they can be. In their last 20 games, their score-adjusted Corsi ranks 20th in the league. Now compare that to their last 20 games of last season, when they ranked third.

“I’d like to see us take control of the game a little bit more,” said forward Alex Steen, who’s been with the Blues long enough to know what a good performance looks and feels like.

Looking ahead, the Blues get a big test Thursday at home to Washington, then hit the road for three games in Winnipeg, Pittsburgh, and Minnesota.

A better performance against the Caps would go a long way. But only if it’s followed up with another and another.

Bottom line: it’s time for the Blues to get back to playing the way they can. If they still can.

Vanek likes Detroit, but knows he could be traded

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Thomas Vanek knows the deal. He’s a pending unrestricted free agent on a team that’s unlikely to make the playoffs. He has a respectable 12 goals and 18 assists in 33 games, and his cap hit is just $2.6 million.

Obviously, there’s going to be trade speculation as the March 1 deadline approaches.

“I like it here,” Vanek said of playing in Detroit, per NHL.com. “I enjoy my time here. I like the guys. My family likes it here. So obviously I’m hoping to put a good streak here together to get ourselves back in the picture so I can be here. But obviously I understand the business side of it. … If I’m moving, I’m getting pretty good at that too.”

The Red Wings are Vanek’s fifth NHL team. He’s been traded twice in his career, both times in 2013-14 when he went from the Sabres to the Islanders and then to the Canadiens.

What the Wings could get for Vanek remains to be seen. The 32-year-old has 20 goals in 63 career playoff games; however, he’s also faced intense criticism during a handful of his postseason performances.

Six points back of third place in the Atlantic, Detroit has not yet given up on extending its lengthy playoff streak. The Wings are coming off two big wins over Pittsburgh and Montreal. They host Boston tonight (on NBCSN).

Pre-game reading: Who’s on the ‘trade bait’ list?

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— Up top, relive last night’s wild affair in Pittsburgh, where the Penguins and Capitals combined for 15 goals. According to the NHL, it was the most goals in a game since Oct. 27, 2011, when the Jets beat the Flyers, 9-8 because Ilya Bryzgalov got “lost in the woods.”

— TSN has come up with its annual “trade bait” list of 20 players who could be dealt before the March 1 deadline. At the top of the list? Colorado’s Matt Duchene, who could certainly help a playoff contender. That being said, a Duchene trade may be more likely to occur in the offseason, when more teams have the flexibility to swing a big deal. Pure rentals on the list include Martin Hanzal, Thomas Vanek, and Radim Vrbata. (TSN)

Brad Marchand has no doubt that an NHL team would be accepting of a gay teammate. “Guys would accept that, no question. We’re a team in the [dressing] room and a family. It doesn’t matter what different beliefs guys have, or where they come from, or whatever the case may be. Guys would accept it. Again, in the room we’re a family. That’s the way it is on a hockey team, and that’s the way it will always be.” (ESPN)

— Sounds like the Toronto Maple Leafs have taken a page out of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ playbook. Or maybe it’s the Green Bay Packers’ playbook? Said d-man Connor Carrick: “When you’re defense, a lot of times you’re in the quarterback position and sometimes you’ve just got to throw it up, make a good play and let your receivers – let your forwards – do something with it.” (Sportsnet)

— The Vancouver Canucks have tried to stay competitive while retooling their roster. You can quibble with that philosophy, but according to Henrik Sedin, it’s better than tanking. “You can see on any given night, we’re in the games. I don’t think that was the case last year. There needs to be pieces brought in for sure to take that next big step. But at least we’re building a culture where everyone is accountable and we know what to expect from each other.” (The Province)

— According to Postmedia’s Michael Traikos, John Tortorella and Mike Babcock are the runaway leaders for the Jack Adams Award. We’d also throw Bruce Boudreau into the coach-of-the-year conversation, but if the Jackets and Leafs make the playoffs this season, it’s hard to imagine someone other than Torts or Babs getting the nod. Maybe Boudreau or Todd McLellan? But probably Torts or Babs. (National Post)

Enjoy the games!