St Louis Blues v Pittsburgh Penguins

Hitchcock’s Backes update: He’s not great

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As expected, there aren’t many specifics regarding the condition of St. Louis Blues captain David Backes, particularly if he’ll be able to play in Game 3. Even so, Blues head coach Ken Hitchock’s vague update probably says a lot:

Other than that, Hitchcock was careful to avoid the kind of comments that might draw a fine.

While it might slip under the radar thanks to the higher profile hit by Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook, Hitchcock also expressed concern about Vladimir Sobotka’s knee after a collision with ‘Hawks forward Bryan Bickell.

Seabrook defended the check he delivered, but Chicago head coach Joel Quenneville avoided making a comment; he told CSNChicago.com’s Tracey Myers that he hasn’t had time to analyze the hit just yet.

Not surprisingly, Blues such as Alex Pietrangelo expressed their displeasure in ways that their coach could not.

However both teams – not to mention the league – feel about that blow on Backes, NHL.com’s Lou Korac reports that it was a motivational moment for the Blues.

“As soon as that hit happened, we’re like, ‘We’re winning this for him,'” Chris Porter said.

It remains to be seen if Backes will be healthy enough and if Seabrook will be suspended through Game 3, which takes on Monday in Chicago.

Blues need to ‘re-energize’ after lackluster weekend

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 06: Brian Elliott #1 of the St. Louis Blues makes a save against Patrick Sharp #10 of the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center on April 6, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois.
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If this weekend was a test to see if the St. Louis Blues are ready for the playoffs, then the results were troubling. The Blues fell short against the Colorado Avalanche and Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday and Sunday respectively.

“It’s a wake-up call right now, and we have to figure it out,” Blues goaltender Brian Elliott said, per CSN Chicago. He stopped 31 of 34 shots in St. Louis’ 4-2 loss to Chicago.

Elliott didn’t want to highlight a specific problem with the Blues, but did suggest that they need to play as a team in order to succeed. St. Louis doesn’t have a player with more than 60 points this season, but they have tremendous depth as well as strong goaltending.

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock thinks that the team needs to use their final games to “re-energize.”

“I think we had fits at both games. We were really good for the first period yesterday (against Colorado), we had fits in this game, but I think the details of our game are probably lacking,” Hitchcock said. “We look like we’re a little bit tired, so the details that fit us so well and the energy to put those details in place are probably lacking a little bit right now.”

Expectations are high for the Blues after a superb showing in the regular season and the acquisition of goaltender Ryan Miller. They are likely to finish the season with the top seed in the Western Conference and play against Phoenix or Dallas in the first round.

Blues’ leading scorer Steen likely out through weekend

Alexander Steen
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Sounds as though St. Louis will be without top goal man Alex Steen for both of this weekend’s games against Colorado and Chicago.

Steen, who sat out Thursday’s 2-1 win over Buffalo with an upper-body injury, is definitely out versus the Avs on Saturday and “likely” out for Sunday’s big tilt against Chicago on Sunday, head coach Ken Hitchcock said.

It’s been a tough campaign for Steen health-wise — disappointing, given it’s also been the best offensive season of his career. The Swede has a career-high 33 goals and is tied with T.J. Oshie for the team lead with 60 points, despite only playing in 64 games.

Steen missed significant time in December and January with a concussion, his second in as many years, yet still showed the Blues organization enough to ink a three-year, $17.4 million extension in mid-Decmeber.

Looking ahead, it’ll be interesting to see if Steen will be held out of Sunday’s game against Chicago. The Blackhawks will be without two of their leading scorers, as Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane have been shut down for the remainder of the regular season to rest their respective injuries.

 

TGIF: Five games to watch this weekend

Columbus Blue Jackets v Philadelphia Flyers
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Saturday: Philadelphia at Boston (1 p.m. ET)

Yes, the Flyers have been shut out two games in a row. No, there isn’t any real reason to panic. Against Columbus on Thursday, they still managed 37 shots on Sergei Bobrovsky. And that’s quite a few.

Sure, you could argue they didn’t get enough “quality” shots, but these were a couple of decent chances I’d say:

Bobrovsky is a good goalie. Won the Vezina last season. Sometimes a goalie like that is going to beat you. It’s not like earlier in the season when the Flyers were finishing games with shot totals in the low 20s, or even lower in some cases.

“Even though we didn’t score, we did a lot of good things,” captain Claude Giroux said.

Saturday: Detroit at Montreal (7 p.m. ET)

The rise of Gustav Nyquist really makes me wonder about all the players who were rushed into the NHL before they were ready. How many had their careers ruined by impatience? It’s impossible to say. Just as it’s impossible to say that Nyquist wouldn’t have developed into the player he appears to be today if the Red Wings had brought him along quicker.

All I know is this: Nyquist is 24 years old. He was drafted in 2008, the same year as players like Steven Stamkos, Drew Doughty, Tyler Myers and Erik Karlsson. Think of all the stuff those four have already been through in the NHL, both good and bad.

Just over a year ago, Mike Babcock was saying this about Nyquist: “He’s got some skill, he’s obviously a real good player. He’s led everywhere he’s ever played in scoring. The problem with the NHL is you have to come up and grab hold of something.”

Saturday: Dallas at Tampa Bay (7 p.m. ET)

Is Victor Hedman the most under-discussed player in the NHL? I don’t know how many people are aware of this, but the 23-year-old has 49 points this season. Only seven d-men in the entire NHL have more, and only three — Karlsson, Duncan Keith, and Alex Pietrangelo — have more even-strength points (31).

Suffice to say, Hedman’s no longer just that stay-at-home Swedish defenseman who got drafted after John Tavares went first overall in 2009.

“His confidence is through the roof, you can totally tell,” Lightning goalie Ben Bishop told the Hockey News recently. “It’s just one of those things where defensemen take a bit longer. He’s playing tremendous and has been a big reason why we’ve done so well lately.”

Sunday: St. Louis at Chicago (12:30 p.m. ET)

On NBC. Streaming live, too. Interesting quote from Blues coach Ken Hitchcock on back-up goalie Brian Elliott: “I’ve been around Brian for three years. This is the best I’ve ever seen him play. He’s playing terrific.” Elliott is 18-5-2 with a .922 save percentage, and as Hitch alluded to, the 28-year-0ld has been practically unbeatable since the Olympic break. Of course, everyone knows Ryan Miller is going to be the man for the Blues in the playoffs, but it’s certainly worth mentioning that Elliott, like Miller, is a pending unrestricted free agent.

Sunday: Pittsburgh at Colorado (8 p.m. ET)

Two teams I’m really curious to see in the playoffs, albeit for different reasons. The Avalanche, because teams whose records defy the statistics are always interesting. The Penguins, because they’ve got so much to prove. If Pittsburgh falls anywhere short of the Stanley Cup Final, you seriously have to wonder about the future of coach Dan Bylsma. For me, it all depends how the Pens lose, if they do. A hard-fought loss to the Bruins in the conference final, for example, wouldn’t be a huge deal. But go out like they did last year to Boston, or the year before to Philadelphia, and I think we could see some significant changes.

Hitchcock: East teams should be nervous about facing Flyers in playoffs

hitchcockgetty
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There’s no question that the St. Louis Blues are the favorites going into this afternoon’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers. In fact, now that they have goaltender Ryan Miller, just about any team that faces the Blues are the underdogs.

That doesn’t mean that Blues coach Ken Hitchcock is underestimating the Flyers though. In fact, he holds them in very high regard.

“If I was in the East, I’d be really nervous to play them,” Hitchcock said, per the Philadelphia Inquirer. “They look like a team right now that not only has a lot of resolve, but they are fully committed to checking.”

Hitchcock predicted that the Flyers will be “a bear in the playoffs.”

He has a history with the Flyers as their former head coach for parts of four seasons starting with 2002-03. The Flyers got over 100 points in each of Hitchcock’s first three campaigns with the team and he led them to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2004.

This will be the Blues’ first meeting against the Flyers this season and they will play again on April 1. After that, they won’t face each other again unless they both make it to the Stanley Cup Final — which by the sounds of things, is a scenario that wouldn’t shock Hitchcock.