Two of the best teams in the NHL will meet tonight in St. Louis when the red-hot Blues host the Tampa Bay Lightning.
You never know, this may even be a Stanley Cup Final preview.
Granted, the mood in St. Louis hasn’t exactly been jubilant since it was learned that defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk would be forced to undergo abdominal surgery and be lost indefinitely.
Shattenkirk has 40 points in 49 games, second to only Calgary’s Mark Giordano (43 points) among NHL d-men. His 20 power-play assists are the most in the league, tied with Arizona’s Keith Yandle.
“He’s a vital part of our team. He’ll be missed, but someone else is going to have to step up and fill that void,” forward David Backes said, per NHL.com. “We can’t dwell on what we’re missing. We’ve got to move forward with the 20 guys in the lineup, wish him a speedy recovery and hopefully he’s back sooner than later. But these things happen and everyone will have to pick it up just a little bit and keep moving forward.”
The Blues still have a couple of pretty good defensemen in Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo, but Shattenkirk’s absence will be felt in all situations, from even strength to the power play and penalty kill. Chris Butler is expected to draw into the lineup on defense, and he’s only played 20 games this season.
St. Louis will also be without key forwards Jori Lehtera (concussion symptoms) and Patrik Berglund (shoulder) against the Lightning.
Martin Brodeur has hung up his skates, but he certainly hasn’t slowed down. The 42-year-old former goaltender spent three straight contests in the press box with Blues GM Doug Armstrong as he learns to evaluate the game from a distance and adapts to his new role as a senior advisor to the general manager.
“It’s fun,” Brodeur told NHL.com. “I’m learning, asking a lot of questions. It’s something that has really interested me. The last three days have been fun, being involved.”
Armstrong sees Brodeur as a valuable addition given the legendary netminder’s wealth of playing experience and three Stanley Cup championships.
“What I’m trying to gain from him is his knowledge of the Eastern Conference, gain his knowledge on how he sees the game,” Armstrong said. “There’s as much teaching as learning from both of us now. That’s what makes it a really exciting relationship. With us we’re just trying to tell him what we look for in players, what we want to do at the trade deadline, how our philosophy of evaluating players is, what we look for. And then I get his input on how he looks at things and how he looks at players.”
The game looks slower to Brodeur from above, which he feels makes it easier to judge the players. At the same time, he’s interesting in learning what the best approach would be when it comes to evaluating talent.
He’s also enjoying his new role in life and while it’s too early to say for certain, Brodeur might have years ahead of him of work within the NHL, even if his days between the pipes are over.
Brodeur announces retirement, leaves ‘the game with a big smile on my face’
Brodeur on what he’d change to the game: ‘The trapezoid has to go’
Here’s why Brodeur is working for Blues (instead of Devils)
The St. Louis Blues will have to get by without Kevin Shattenkirk for a while. The 26-year-old all-star defenseman will have abdominal surgery after sustaining an injury when he collided with Washington’s Alex Ovechkin in the first period of Sunday’s game.
Here’s the play in question:
The Blues announced that he will have the procedure in seven-to-10 days and be regarded as week-to-week after that.
He ranks second among defensemen this season with 40 points in 49 contests and is leading blueliners with 32 assists. If he’s able to return before the end of the campaign, he might still surpass his current career-highs of 10 goals, 35 assists, and 45 points. St. Louis was giving him an average of 22:54 minutes per contest, including 3:23 minutes with the man advantage.
The Blues have won five straight games as they battle for the Central Division title. They’re just two points shy of the division-leading Nashville Predators.
A year ago, goaltender Braden Holtby’s future was cloudy as he struggled to get through the 2013-14 campaign. Although he was just 24 at the time (he turned 25 in September), it was far from certain that he was still the Washington Capitals’ top long-term option between the pipes. Now he’s got a 2.22 GAA and .923 save percentage in 43 games, which not only gives him a firm grasp on the starting job, but also puts him in the running for a spot on Team Canada and the upcoming 2016 World Cup.
As things currently stand, Carey Price looks like a heavy favorite to serve as Canada’s number one goaltender. He was dominant in the 2014 Winter Olympics and has stayed sharp this season with a 2.03 GAA and .933 save percentage in 39 contests. Holtby and Price were locked in a goaltending battle on Saturday and while Montreal ultimately beat Washington in overtime, Holtby still turned aside 29 of 30 shots.
“With Carey over there, I think he’s a guy that I’ve looked up to in the past,” Holtby told NHL.com. “He’s a very, very elite-level goaltender. When you’re in our position you appreciate greatness, and he’s obviously great. It’s fun to play against guys like that, challenge yourself, and next game we’re going to try to make it a different outcome.”
Canada’s other two goaltenders from the Winter Games might not be back for the World Cup. Florida’s Roberto Luongo will be 37 years old at that point and Arizona’s Mike Smith has suffered a hard collapse this season.
Instead Holtby’s main competition might be Chicago’s Corey Crawford and Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury. Both have far more playoff experience than Holtby, which might be a major factor given the nature of the World Cup. Although Fleury doesn’t have the best of reputations when it comes to high pressure games, he has won a championship and seemed to rebound last year after several rough playoff runs in a row. With that in mind, how each of the three goaltenders do in the next two postseasons could have a significant influence.
Other noteworthy contenders include Winnipeg’s Michael Hutchinson, Philadelphia’s Steve Mason, and St. Louis’ Brian Elliott.
St. Louis captain David Backes won’t face any further punishment for boarding Washigton’s Karl Alzner during Sunday’s game, per the Post-Dispatch.
Backes was given a five-minute boarding major and game misconduct for this hit, which occurred early in the second period of the Blues’ 4-2 win:
Alzner was bloodied on the play, but returned to action and finished with 19:32 TOI.