At this point, you’re probably aware that the St. Louis Blues have been a far better team since Ken Hitchcock took over. Still, it’s pretty stunning to see the Blues ahead of the mighty Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings in the Central Division standings, yet that’s where they are today. The NBC Sports Network gang tackles the somewhat surprising success story in St. Louis.This video is no longer available. Click here to watch more NBC Sports videos!
We are not even a quarter of the way through the 2018-19 NHL season and it is already clear that things are not going anywhere near as well for the Vegas Golden Knights as they did in their inaugural season.
They enter Wednesday’s game against the Anaheim Ducks (10:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN) tied for the second-worst record in the Western Conference, ahead of only the Los Angeles Kings, and have quite a bit of work to do to get themselves back into a playoff position. Regression from a Stanley Cup Final appearance in year one was inevitable, but this might be even more than should have been expected given just how good they looked a year ago.
Goaltending has been a major culprit in the fall, but injuries and a 20-game suspension to one of their top defenders (Nate Schmidt) have also ruined what little depth the team had.
Even last year when Vegas was rolling through the Western Conference it was a very top heavy team that had some question marks after its top line. The complete dominance of the Jonathan Marchessault–William Karlsson–Reilly Smith line, as well as a career year from Marc-Andre Fleury, helped mask whatever flaws may have existed on the roster.
Keep in mind this team a year ago had a minus-17 goal differential at 5-on-5 when its top line was not on the ice (it plus-24 with the the top line on the ice).
But with those top players coming back, and Erik Haula coming off of a breakout season with his first real look in a significant role, and the offseason additions of Paul Stastny and Max Pacioretty to hopefully — at least in theory — form what could have been a second dominant scoring line, there was plenty of reason think Vegas could at least be a playoff team once again, if not an actual contender.
Things have quickly gone awry from that plan.
Especially as injuries have mounted and the goaltending has collapsed on itself.
Pacioretty missed four games due to injury earlier this month and has yet to make the expected impact when they acquired him from Montreal for a trade package centered around Tomas Tatar (who has been great in Montreal) and 2017 first-round draft pick Nick Suzuki. As of Wednesday, he has just two points (both goals) in 14 games.
Stastny, their big free agent acquisition, has been sidelined since Oct. 8 and has only played in three games this season. In the words of coach Gerard Gallant on Wednesday, he is “not even close” to returning.
He and Pacioretty have spent just 43 minutes on the ice together this season.
As if that has not been enough, they recently lost Haula — 29 goals a year ago — to an ugly looking injury that required him to be stretchered off the ice and is going to keep him out of the lineup on a month-to-month basis.
Sprinkle in some additional injuries to the likes of Alex Tuch, Cody Eakin and Deryk Engelland (who was one of the many pleasant surprises on the team a year ago) and the lineup has been consistently depleted this season.
General manager George McPhee was recently on Fan 590 in Toronto and talked about the situation, saying “we aren’t deep enough yet to not have everybody in.”
Via The Sin Bin.
I’d like to get healthy, for one game. just to see what we are. We just haven’t been. You know we rebuilt our second line and I think they’ve played two and half games together. Stastny’s been out most of the year, Pacioretty was out, Haula’s out, Tuch’s been out. We aren’t deep enough yet to not have everybody in.
If there is any good news on the horizon it’s that Schmidt will be eligible to return from his suspension on Nov. 18, which should give a boost to the defense.
But when it comes to everything else their options may be limited to just simply waiting. And hoping.
They have to wait for Stastny and Schmidt to get back in the lineup.
They have to hope Pacioretty breaks out of this early funk.
They have to hope Fleury’s early struggles are just that — early struggles — and not the beginning of the end for a 34-year-old goalie that just signed a long-term contract extension this summer.
Beyond that, what are the other logical options here? Vegas still has a lot of draft pick capital at its disposal, but at some point there has to be a big picture outlook where it has to remember that even with its year-one success this is still an expansion team building an organization from the ground up. It can not keep shipping away draft picks and prospects and ignoring the future.
All of that salary cap space the Golden Knights had at their disposal in future years has also quickly started to go away with several long-term contracts signed over the past few months (Marchessault, Smith, Fleury, Pacioretty, Tuch, Schmidt, Brayden McNabb, and Colin Miller are all signed through at least the 2022 season, while Stastny is locked in through 2021. Karlsson will once again be a restricted free agent after this season and is currently doing enough to show he, too, is worth a long-term deal).
Everything went right for Vegas in year one, and it produced an incredible, almost too good to be true story. They are going to need everything to go right the rest of the way this season if they are going to come close to repeating because, so far, everything has worked against them. It all has them facing quite a deficit in the standings.
Take a break from your work day and enjoy one of the great — and extremely rare! — joys that hockey has to offer: The goalie goal.
This one comes to us from the American Hockey League on Wednesday afternoon where Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry became the first goalie in franchise history, and only the 14th goalie in AHL history, to score a goal.
He did it late in the third period of the Penguins’ 5-1 win over the Springfield Falcons, and you can see it in the video above.
Jarry was selected by the Penguins in the second-round of the 2013 NHL draft (No. 44 overall) and has spent most of the past four seasons playing in the AHL. He has also appeared in 27 NHL games during that time, almost all of them coming a season ago. He lost out on the backup job behind Matt Murray in Pittsburgh to Casey DeSmith this preseason.
Some more goalie goal history for you: Jarry’s goal is the first by a goalie in the AHL since Charlotte Checkers goalie Alex Nedeljkovic scored one in March of this past season.
There have been 11 different goalies to score a goal in an NHL game, the most recent of which was scored by Mike Smith, then of the Arizona Coyotes, during the 2013-14 season. Martin Brodeur (three) and Ron Hextall (two) are the only ones to have scored more than one.
Jim Rutherford said changes could be coming to the Pittsburgh Penguins if things didn’t turn around. Things have not turned around yet, and on Wednesday he made his first change.
Just a couple of hours after the team announced that Rutherford had signed a new contract extension to remain the team’s general manager, he completed a trade with the Los Angeles Kings in an effort to shake up his struggling roster.
Rutherford said after the trade this could be the start of more changes and that, “with the way things have gone, it’s obvious that we had make a change.”
On the surface there’s really not much separating these two players through the first two months of the season as both have struggled offensively.
Hagelin has just three points in 16 games even though he has spent the bulk of the year playing alongside one of the league’s top players in Evgeni Malkin. Pearson, who is usually good for 15 goals and 40 points over a full season, has just one point in 17 games for a Kings team that has sent offense back to the dead puck era.
But let’s try to dig a little deeper than that and see what this means for both teams.
First, let’s start with the Kings because this is a tough one to read. Really tough. The Kings are an old, bad offensive hockey team that managed to somehow get older (Hagelin is 30; Pearson is 26) and worse offensively. Even though Pearson is having a miserable year, he is still, in big picture terms, a better offensive player than Hagelin and will probably continue to be in future seasons.
Hagelin has speed to burn, but simply doesn’t have the hands to match it. It leads to a lot of chances that ultimately fizzle out in the offensive zone. That is not what the Kings need. At all.
The key here for the Kings is, most likely, in the dollars. Hagelin is a free agent after this season and has his $4 million salary cap hit coming off the books, while Pearson is still on the hook for $3.75 salary cap hit through the 2020-21 season. If they don’t see Pearson as a long-term fit in what should be an upcoming rebuild, it makes some sense to jettison the salary. Though, it certainly does make you wonder if there was a better return out there than this. It is not that Hagelin is a bad player, because he is outstanding defensively and on the penalty kill and every line he is a part of tends to play better. He just doesn’t seem to have much of a purpose on this particular Kings team or address any of their needs, short-term or long-term. It is entirely possible, if not likely, he gets traded again before the deadline.
The Penguins, meanwhile, needed a boost offensively, especially when it comes to their bottom-six, a group that has been completely nonexistent this season. After their 4-2 loss to the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday night you have to go back nine games to find the last time they received a goal from their third-or fourth-line, and Pearson, in theory, could be an upgrade there.
It is also possible that coach Mike Sullivan could simply slot him into the opening left by Hagelin’s departure.
While he is not likely to be an impact player, he does seem like a pretty good buy-low candidate for the Penguins to take a chance on. His career track record suggests he is significantly better than he has shown this season, and now he gets a fresh start on what should be a good team with top-tier talent around him. It wouldn’t be the first time such a trade worked out for the Penguins.
Remember, they originally acquired Hagelin in the middle of the 2015-16 season when he was struggling in Anaheim in a similar change of scenery swap involving David Perron. Hagelin immediately rediscovered his game in Pittsburgh and played a key role in turning their season around and helping them win the Stanley Cup.
It is not likely to play out that perfectly again for the Penguins, but as Rutherford said on Wednesday, they had to try something.
The Chicago Blackhawks will win a hockey game under new coach Jeremy Colliton at some point, but they don’t offer a sterling track record as a slight favorite on home ice.
Despite an eight-game losing streak, the Blackhawks are -120 moneyline favorites against the +100 underdog St. Louis Blues on the NHL odds for Wednesday night with a 6.0 total at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.
Chicago, which is going into its fourth game since Colliton took over as coach after the ouster of Joel Quenneville, is just 5-13 in its last 18 home games as a favorite of 100 to -125 on the moneyline. The Blues, who come into the United Center on two days of rest to the Blackhawks’ one, are 6-3 in their last nine road games against Chicago according to the OddsShark NHL Database.
The Blues are 6-6-3 this season, having won four of their last six games with both losses coming against the Minnesota Wild. Center Ryan O'Reilly helms a strong first line in between wings Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz, while the Blues power play ranks fourth-best in the NHL at 27.6 percent. Their penalty killing is also ninth at 82.4 percent.
Believing in the Blues bucking a trend of being 4-11 in their last 15 road games against Central Division teams comes down to trusting their goaltending. Backup Chad Johnson has been picking up the slack for struggling Jake Allen.
The Blackhawks are 6-8-4 overall including an 0-2-1 mark in three games under Colliton. The top line of center Jonathan Toews and wings Patrick Kane and Nick Schmaltz is coming off a high-chance night in a defeat against the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday, while their three-line attack might be firmer now that Colliton has created a new third line led by David Kampf, in between Alex DeBrincat and Dominik Kahun. Chicago will also be getting Brandon Saad back after missing two games with an arm injury.
While the Blackhawks might be worth a hunch play – all losing skids end – it would also mean downplaying the fact they are 29th in power-play efficiency at 12.5 percent and are also 25th in penalty-killing efficiency.
The total has gone OVER in four of the Blues’ last five road games against the Blackhawks. The total has gone OVER in five of the Blues’ last seven games against Central Division teams. The total has gone UNDER in nine of the Blackhawks’ last 12 games as a favorite of 100 to -125 moneyline.
For more odds information, betting picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the OddsShark podcast with Jon Campbell and Andrew Avery. Subscribe on iTunes or Spotify or listen to it at OddsShark.libsyn.com.