Jason Brough

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NHL confirms 3-on-3 tourney for the All-Star Game

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It was a rousing success last year in Nashville, so no surprise the NHL is bringing back the three-on-three tournament for the 2017 All-Star Game in Los Angeles later this month.

From the league’s press release:

— The 2017 Honda NHL® All-Star Game will be a three-game tournament played in a 3-on-3 format with a prize pool of $1 million to be paid in its entirety to the tournament’s winning team.

— The tournament will feature four teams, one team representing each NHL division: the Pacific, Central, Metropolitan and Atlantic.

— Each team will be made up of 11 players from each division: six forwards, three defensemen and two goaltenders.

— The 2017 Coors Light NHL All-Star Skills Competition™ is now a matchup between each NHL division’s All-Star team, with the winning division earning the right to select both their semi-final opponent and when their semi-final game will be played; first or second on Sunday.

— Each game in the 2017 Honda NHL All-Star Tournament will be 20 minutes in length.

— Teams will change ends at the 10-minute mark of each game. Games that are tied after 20 minutes will be decided by a shootout.

— The winners of each semi-final game will play each other in the All-Star Tournament Final to determine the overall tournament champion.

Now, we all know that John Scott was the big story last year. He won’t be back to defend his MVP honor.

But after the entertainment value of the All-Star Game bottomed out two years ago in Columbus, the NHL deserves credit for changing the format, and the players deserve credit for embracing it.

Hopefully we see competitive hockey (relatively speaking) again at Staples Center on Jan. 29th.

Click here for the All-Star rosters. 

Related: New All-Star Game format proves to be a winner

Pre-game reading: On the ‘rapid extinction of the short goalie’

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— Up top, if you missed it last night, David Backes dropped the gloves in his return to St. Louis. It wasn’t the wildest scrap you’ll ever see, but the fans seemed to enjoy it all the same.

— There aren’t many short goalies enjoying success in the NHL these days. Heck, there aren’t many short goalies in the NHL, period. Jhonas Enroth (5-foot-10) is the shortest, and he’s had a terrible season. Anton Khudobin, listed at 5-foot-11, is short for a modern-day goalie, and he’s had a terrrible season too. Jaroslav Halak is 5-foot-11, aaaand he’s had a terrible season. It’s all made columnist Ryan Kennedy wonder about “the rapid extinction of the short goalie” — a topic we’ve covered ourselves in the past. (Hockey News)

— The Blackhawks are winning games, and they’re getting great goaltending. But if the goal is to win another championship, should they be worried about their possession stats? “During five-on-five play, the Hawks were 14th in the league entering Monday in Corsi For at 50.2 percent, according to the statistical website Corsica.hockey. That is significantly below where they were in each of their Cup winning seasons. In 2009-10, they were first in the league at 56.6 percent. In the lockout-shortened 2013 season, they were fourth at 54.1 percent. And in 2014-15, they were second at 53.6 percent.” (Chicago Tribune)

— Coyotes goalie Mike Smith was so surprised that he’d been named to the All-Star Game, he actually thought he’d been traded when John Chayka left him a voicemail to say there was news. “I wasn’t looking forward to the call back,” said Smith. “I think you think the worst when your general manager calls you on your bye week.” (NHL.com)

— Odd story here: “Vancouver Canucks winger Daniel Sedin unwittingly took a scenic helicopter trip last week with a longtime gangster who has served time in the U.S. for drug smuggling. Anti-gang police warned the Canucks about the history of Edward (Skeeter) Russell after Postmedia News obtained a photo of Russell and Sedin that the convicted smuggler posted on social media last week.” (Postmedia)

— Great to see former NHLer Wojtek Wolski in good spirits. Wolski suffered a frightening injury in October during a KHL game. “I never thought I’d say I got lucky after breaking my neck,” he said. “But it really could have been a lot worse.” (Instagram)

Enjoy the games!

The Bolts may be struggling, but Yzerman has no problem with his coach

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You know things are bad when a coach gets a vote of confidence.

And that’s exactly the situation in Tampa Bay these days — it’s bad. The Lightning have lost four straight and sit four points back of a playoff spot. And because of that, GM Steve Yzerman has had to go to bat for head coach Jon Cooper.

“I think (Cooper) is doing an excellent job,” Yzerman told the Tampa Bay Times Tuesday.

“I like the way we play. I like the style. We’ve got to improve in some areas. The type of play our coaches, led by Coop, want the team to play I’m very comfortable with. We’ll get through this and these situations make us all better. And for Coop, who is still a relatively young coach, all these experiences, he’s learning from them.”

All the injuries are certainly not Cooper’s fault. The Lightning, you may recall, were going along just fine until Steven Stamkos had to have knee surgery. They were 10-6-1 in the 17 games the captain played. They’ve gone 9-13-3 since.

Ben Bishop has been hurt, too. And the reigning Vezina Trophy finalist wasn’t even playing that well before he went down.

That’s just two of the injuries the Bolts have been forced to endure. There have been others. Many others. According to the Times, the Lightning were at one point without six of their forwards. Right now, there are four players on IR — Stamkos, Brian Boyle, Brayden Point, and J.T. Brown.

As for Bishop, he says he’s “ready to go”, meaning he could get the nod tomorrow at home to Buffalo. Given the standings, the Bolts will need at least one of their goalies to get into a groove. Andrei Vasilevskiy has really struggled lately; he’s allowed 20 goals in his last four starts, all regulation defeats.

After the Sabres game, the Bolts host Columbus Friday, and then they hit the road for six straight.

The Sedins are no longer a power-play threat, and that’s a problem for Vancouver

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The Vancouver Canucks are an impressive 6-1-1 since the Christmas break. And to the surprise of many, they’re still sticking around in the playoff race.

But there’s something decidedly different about this recent run, compared to the good runs of years past.

This one isn’t being powered by the Sedin twins.

In fact, Daniel and Henrik have combined for just five points in the past eight games. Daniel has been especially quiet, with just one assist.

It’s been two youngsters, Bo Horvat and Sven Baertschi, who’ve been carrying Vancouver’s offense of late. Horvat’s 29 points (13G, 16A) actually lead the team — and that’s worth noting, because the last time a Sedin didn’t finish with the most points on the Canucks was 2005-06 (Markus Naslund).

It’s an interesting development for head coach Willie Desjardins, who still gives the 36-year-old Sedins the lion’s share of the Canucks’ power-play time.

Interesting, because the statistics suggest there are other, more dangerous forwards with the man advantage.

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Mind you, nobody’s been that dangerous.

The Canucks’ power play, a great strength back when the Sedins were in their primes, is now a major weakness. It’s currently languishing at 27th in the NHL, with a success rate of just 13.7 percent. It went 0-for-3 last night in Nashville, where the Preds won it in overtime while shorthanded.

Granted, it was rookie Troy Stecher who made the big mistake that led to the Predators’ 2-on-0 breakaway. But the fact it happened with the Sedins on the ice underscored Vancouver’s inability to punish opponents for taking penalties.

Too often this season the power play has looked predictable, lacking in imagination. Henrik has never been a real shooting threat, and now Daniel isn’t either. That means the PK can focus elsewhere — say, by taking away Stecher’s point shot.

“I thought at the start of the year we were going to win on the power play, but it just hasn’t gone so far,” Desjardins told reporters afterwards. “I think that it’s a tough order for Stecher to come out of college and be running a power play; that’s a big step for him. He’s doing a good job but that’s a big step.”

It’s not just the power play where the Sedins are struggling. Five-on-five hasn’t gone any better. They haven’t produced with free-agent signing Loui Eriksson. They haven’t produced with Brandon Sutter or Jayson Megna either. They’ve been halfway decent with Jannik Hansen, but he’s only played 18 games due to injury.

Interestingly enough, the one linemate the Sedins haven’t had is their old one, Alex Burrows, whom Desjardins has been loath to take away from Horvat and Baertschi.

And that may say something — that the coach doesn’t want to mess with the success of the two youngsters, even with the Sedins in dire straits.

Not too long ago, the success of the twins was the main priority.

But times change, and when it comes to the power play, Desjardins may have to recognize that the Sedins aren’t getting the results they once did. Others might do better with more opportunity.

Jake Allen knows he needs to be better

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The St. Louis Blues have a goaltending problem.

In fact, based on their team save percentage* (.893), they have the worst goaltending in the entire NHL.

It’s a remarkable development, given they had the best goaltending (.919) last season. But Jake Allen has struggled as the undisputed starter. His save percentage fell to a modest .902 after getting yanked in last night’s 5-3 loss to Boston.

Carter Hutton was actually tagged with the loss, after Allen allowed three goals on Boston’s first 11 shots and Hutton came in to start the second period.

“I’ve got to be better,” Allen said, per the Post-Dispatch. “Hutts, I thought he did an amazing job tonight. He gave us a chance. He had lots of shots. He gave us a chance to get the win and he ends up getting the loss. I think it should be all me. He was awesome tonight.”

But Hutton hasn’t been awesome overall. The backup is 4-5-2 with an .896 save percentage. As a tandem, Allen and Hutton haven’t provided close to what Allen and Brian Elliott provided last season. As a result, the Blues’ goals-against average has fallen from fourth (2.40) all the way to 24th (2.98).

No, it is not all on the goalies.

“I don’t think our level of defending all year has the level of desperation that you need to have if you expect to garner points on an ongoing basis,” said head coach Ken Hitchcock.

But Allen is absolutely right that he has to be better. The 26-year-old said coming into the season that he still needed to prove he was a No. 1 goalie. And let’s face it, the jury is still out on that.

The Blues (21-15-5) kick off a three-game California road trip Thursday in Los Angeles.

*St. Louis has allowed nine empty-netters, which are included in team save percentage.