Jason Brough

AP

The Blues had their ‘worst game of the year’ last night

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The St. Louis Blues have not been able to win back-to-back games in over a month.

They failed again last night, losing 4-2 at home to Carolina. Three days prior, they’d beaten Chicago in the Winter Classic.

“I thought that was our worst game of the year,” goalie Jake Allen said last night, per the Post-Dispatch. “We need to look ourselves in the mirror after that game. Unfocused, (didn’t execute), just didn’t play our game at all. … I thought we had a lot more to give coming off the Chicago game, from all of us. I think we all need to get back real soon. We’ve got a huge divisional game coming this weekend.”

The Blues (20-14-5) host Dallas Saturday, and the Stars (16-15-8) have been playing better lately, with just two regulation losses in their last nine.

St. Louis, meanwhile, has been mostly floundering. The Blues are only 7-7-2 since the beginning of December, and they are regularly finishing games with between 22 and 25 shots. Against the Hurricanes, they were outshot 29-23.

In case you’re wondering, the Blues have not been hampered by injuries. That being said, they don’t have David Backes or Troy Brouwer anymore, and those two combined for 39 goals last season. David Perron (10 goals) has helped fill some of the offensive void, but it’s still been a struggle to score at times.

And scoring goals isn’t even their biggest issue.

In goals against, the Blues have fallen from fourth last season (2.40) to 24th (2.92). Jake Allen’s .904 save percentage is one of the lowest among NHL starters, and Carter Hutton (.890) hasn’t been any better in the backup role.

Not to pin it all on the goalies.

“This is attitude consistency,” head coach Ken Hitchcock said. “You can’t play the game when you’re losing as many races to pucks and battles — that’s the game.”

The Blues still have a four-point playoff cushion, but with Nashville, Winnipeg and Dallas not far behind, finishing top three in the Central is no guarantee.

standings

Five team stats you may find interesting

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24 — Regulation wins for the New York Rangers, the most in the NHL, and three more than the Blue Jackets (21), who have the second most. Even if the Rangers’ current PDO (103.0) isn’t sustainable at quite that level, the evidence over the last few years suggests that they are simply a high-PDO team, one that can count on getting better-than-average goaltending while also scoring on a relatively high percentage of their shots. The Rangers (27-13-1) have won four of their last five in regulation, and they’ve done it without Rick Nash, Mika Zibanejad, Pavel Buchnevich and others.

7 — Overtime wins for the Los Angeles Kings, who’ve only won 11 times in regulation. Just imagine where they’d be if they didn’t have the most OT wins in the league. As of today, they’re only one point clear of Nashville for the second wild-card spot in the West. The Kings, unlike the Rangers, have a low shooting percentage. And without Tyler Toffoli, they’ve found it even harder to score. Los Angeles was shut out for the fifth time last night, falling 4-0 to Detroit at Staples Center.

11.3% — The Detroit Red Wings’ power play, on pace to finish as one of the worst of the salary-cap era.

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27.0% — The Columbus Blue Jackets’ power play, on pace to finish as the best of the salary-cap era.

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6 — The number of teams with a negative goal differential who are currently in a playoff position. Last season, only two teams — Detroit (-13) and Philadelphia (-4) — made the postseason with a negative goal differential. Of the six teams today, the Flyers (-7) have the worst differential. In a related story, there are two teams — Toronto (+4) and Nashville (+6) — who are outside the playoff picture with a positive goal differential. But the Leafs are only three points back of the Flyers, with three games in hand. And as mentioned, the Predators are only one point back of the Kings (-2), with one game in hand.

Rangers assign Buchnevich to AHL

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The New York Rangers have assigned forward Pavel Buchnevich to AHL Hartford.

Buchnevich does not require waivers to be sent down, so this is not technically a conditioning assignment.

But it’s for conditioning purposes all the same. Buchnevich has not played since Nov. 12 due to back spasms, an issue that required him to strengthen his core.

The 21-year-old winger has four goals and four assists in 10 games for the Rangers this season.

The Wolfpack plays tonight and tomorrow in Hartford, then Sunday at Providence.

Neuvirth expected to make first start in almost two months

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After gaining just four points out of a possible 16 in their last eight games — and suddenly in danger of falling out of a wild-card spot — the Philadelphia Flyers are making changes ahead of tomorrow’s home game against Tampa Bay.

The changes start in goal, where Michal Neuvirth is expected to make his first start since getting injured in a game against Minnesota on Nov. 12.

Neuvirth has a decent record, 4-2-0, but a lowly save percentage of .859. He’ll give Steve Mason a rest, after Mason allowed four goals on 27 shots in Wednesday’s 5-2 loss to the Rangers.

“I wasn’t good enough,” said Mason, per CSN Philly. “It’s pretty simple.”

Head coach Dave Hakstol also shook up his top three forward lines ahead of Saturday’s afternoon affair.

From philly.com:

Top-line center Claude Giroux had a new right winger, Matt Read, with Michael Raffl still on the left side; right winger Jake Voracek dropped to the second line, which had a new center, Sean Couturier, and Travis Konecny on the left. The third line had Brayden Schenn centering Wayne Simmonds, with Nick Cousins and Dale Weise alternating at left wing.

Only the fourth line – Pierre-Edouard Bellemare cenetring Chris VandeVelde and Boyd Gordon – was the same as the last game. Gordon, however, could be replaced by Roman Lyubimov.

It’s a big game for both teams tomorrow. The Flyers are only three points ahead of the Lightning, who’ve had their own issues lately.

The Bolts have dropped two straight and are coming off a 6-1 loss to Nashville on Thursday evening.

The Flyers also play Sunday in Columbus.

standings

Brendan Gallagher out ‘minimum’ eight weeks after hand surgery

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The Montreal Canadiens have another significant injury to overcome.

The Habs announced this morning that winger Brendan Gallagher had surgery last night on his fractured left hand. A “minimum” of eight weeks is expected for recovery, the club said.

Gallagher has six goals and 12 assists in 39 games. Though his goal totals are down, he remains an important part of the Canadiens’ attack. His 112 shots are second on the team to only Max Pacioretty‘s 123.

Gallagher was hurt in Wednesday’s 4-3 overtime victory in Dallas.

The good news? Alex Galchenyuk is getting close to a return from his knee injury.

Montreal plays tomorrow in Toronto.

The Canadiens (24-9-6) have a 10-point lead atop the Atlantic Division.

Update:

Related: Habs recall pair of AHL forwards after Gallagher, Byron hurt in Dallas