Jordan Staal: “We hope the weird continues”

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With five goals in his last two games (including tonight’s hat trick) and seven points in four playoff contests, it’s kind of understandable that Pittsburgh Penguins center Jordan Staal is embracing the strangeness of this series. NBC’s Tom Layberger was on the scene to capture Staal’s amusing takeaway from a fittingly bizarre Game 4 in which the Penguins bombarded the Philadelphia Flyers 10-3.

“It was a weird game in a series that has had a lot of weird things take place,” Staal said. “We hope the weird continues.”

Something tells me that Marc-Andre Fleury might not want things to continue being weird. Then again, would anything be stranger than this series suddenly turning into a goaltending duel?

OK, that might be a little too weird.

Ducks’ injury problems could derail hot streak

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The Anaheim Ducks have really been heating up lately, grabbing six wins in their last seven games. A painfully familiar problem could derail all of that promise, however, as injuries are once again mounting.

The Ducks provided two unfortunate updates on Tuesday:

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Ryan Miller: The superb backup suffered an MCL sprain during Sunday’s wild 6-5 shootout win against the Devils. His recovery window is estimated at six weeks, while they’ll evaluate the veteran goalie once more in two weeks.

As you can note from this breakdown from Anaheim’s five-game winning streak, much of the Ducks’ success came from an impeccable goalie duo of Miller and John Gibson. Gibson is the Vezina-level workhorse, but don’t count out Miller’s contributions. He’s continued a so-far-phenomenal run with the Ducks, managing a .922 save percentage in 10 games this season (with four goals allowed against New Jersey hurting his numbers more than a bit).

Anaheim did get at least one bit of good luck here, relatively speaking. The Ducks were able to pluck an experienced goalie in Chad Johnson off of waivers, as they took him off of the St. Louis Blues’ hands. His former Bengals WR namesake celebrated the occasion:

Johnson’s off to a lousy start in 2018-19 (.884 save percentage in 10 games), and really struggled with the Calgary Flames last season. Even so, his .909 career save percentage is still pretty good for a journeyman backup, especially since the Ducks didn’t need to cough up any assets to give him a try.

None of this makes Miller’s loss good news, yet there’s at least a chance that Johnson could hold down the fort whenever Gibson needs a breather.

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Rickard Rakell: the Ducks didn’t provide a timetable for the winger’s return, labeling his injury as a sprained ankle.

The Athletic’s Eric Stephens reports that Rakell was wearing a protective boot this weekend:

Despite being out since Dec. 5, Rakell stands as the Ducks’ second-highest scorer (20 points in 30 games), trailing only Ryan Getzlaf.

While that 6-5 shootout win against the Devils shows that Anaheim can fill the net from time to time (pauses for own-goal jokes), they’ve generally been scoring just enough to win lately. With that in mind, Rakell’s injury really stings, especially if Nick Ritchie and Pontus Aberg start to cool off.

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To review, Miller and Rakell join a growing list of injured Ducks. Corey Perry and Cam Fowler are recovering from significant issues that required surgeries. Patrick Eaves is also dealing with injury/health issues, and it’s fair to wonder how often Ryan Kesler is truly at full-strength.

At the moment, the Ducks are ranked third in the Pacific Division with 37 points in 32 games, as the Sharks have the same 16-11-5 record but own an edge in ROW (16 to 13). They’ll close their current homestand out on Wednesday, then head out on the road for six straight away games, mostly against Eastern Conference teams:

Wed, Dec. 12: vs. Dallas
Sat, Dec. 15: @ Columbus
Mon, Dec. 17: @ Pittsburgh
Tue, Dec. 18: @ Rangers
Thu, Dec. 20: @ Boston
Sat, Dec. 22: @ Buffalo
Thu, Dec. 27: @ San Jose

It hasn’t always been pretty for the Ducks, but credit them for fighting through injuries. Unfortunately, it looks like they’ll need to keep doing so.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Where do ‘fragile’ Blues go from here?

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It’s been quite a week for the St. Louis Blues. Let’s recap:

• After being booed off of their home ice following a 6-1 thrashing by the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday, Brayden Schenn labels the team “a fragile group,” three days after interim head coach Craig Berube did the same.

• Superstar forward Vladimir Tarasenko apologized afterward for the team’s poor play at Enterprise Center, which has seen one Blues victory there since Nov. 11 (1-4-1).

• With tensions high around the team, forward Zach Sanford and defenseman Robert Bortuzzo let some emotions out and engaged in a bit of a scrap during Monday’s practice.

This isn’t the spark that general manager Doug Armstrong envisioned for his team when he fired Mike Yeo and replaced him with Berube. A 3-5-1 record since the change hasn’t helped the Blues climb out of the bottom tier of the Western Conference standings.

Under Berube, the decline that began during Yeo’s time in charge has continued. Their goals per game is down from 2.95 to 2.44; goals allowed is up from 3.11 to 3.78 per game; and the power play went from a 24.2 percent success rate to 20.8 percent. Also, four of those six losses have been by three or more goals, so they’ve been busy fishing pucks out of their net.

Empty seats. Boos. The f-word thrown around. Apologies. Fights at practice. What’s got to change? From Berube’s perspective, nothing. He’s just going to keep hammering home his message until it gets through — if it ever does.

“The way out is the same thing we preach day in and day out,” he said. “You have to go into every game, no matter who you play, and you gotta be committed to giving 100 percent effort and compete as hard as you can, every game. … We’re going to keep at it, we’re going to keep pounding it in their heads until they get it. That’s it.”

What about Armstrong’s point of view? He built this team, which included a big trade to bring in Ryan O’Reilly over the summer. Following Yeo’s firing last month he said his patience with the Blues’ core players was at its “thinnest” and that they were the ones who needed to help get the team out of its funk.

Armstrong also added that there are only so many changes that can be made before that group gets torn apart.

“The core group’s equity that was built up is gone,” he said. “That’s what I have to say. I guess I could say it again that with the next head coach, if we’re having this same conversation, they’ll be players gone.”

(No wonder Alex Pietrangelo’s name popped up in trade rumors over the weekend.)

Speaking with the Post-Dispatch this week, Armstrong expressed his frustration at a lack of consistency in the Blues’ play and their inability to find another gear when needed. When adversity strikes, it snowballs and there isn’t enough resiliency in the group to fight back.

So where do the Blues go from here? Their already thin playoff hopes are hanging by a string and it doesn’t appear that a turnaround is going to happen thanks to some extended winning streak. Fourteen points back in the Central Division and 11 points out of a wild card spot, Armstrong will have some tough decisions to make in reshaping this roster going forward.

If his patience was already thin when he made a coaching change, what’s left nine games later when the move hasn’t shown itself to have made a positive impact?

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

NHL on NBCSN: Will Blashill be part of Red Wings’ future?

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Tuesday night’s matchup between the Detroit Red Wings and Washington Capitals with coverage beginning at 6:30 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

When you start the season with one win in your opening 10 games and you’re Jeff Blashill, your seat will be quite warm. Blashill’s future with the Detroit Red Wings was already in jeopardy, even going back to the end of the last season, but since that slow start they’ve won 13 of their last 21 games and taken points in 15 of them. That run has put them three points out of a wild card spot in a jumbled Eastern Conference.

With the way the Red Wings have played and the way some of their younger players like Dylan Larkin, Andreas Athanasiou, Dennis Cholowski, Tyler Bertuzzi, and a pre-injury Anthony Mantha have taken strides forward through 31 games, the hot seat talk around Blashill has quieted for now. But as he coaches in the final year of his current contract, who’s behind the Detroit bench in 2019-20 still remains a big question.

[WATCH LIVE – 6:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

Blashill wanted his team to be “miserable” to play against on a nightly basis, hence the “sixty minutes of hell” t-shirts that the players have worn this season. The Red Wings have 10 fighting majors so far, so there’s a definite toughness bred into the current roster. They’re getting balanced scored up front, a healthy Mike Green (3 goals, 16 points) is producing like the old Mike Green, and Jimmy Howard is upping his trade value (.936 even strength save percentage) with every start.

Those are all encouraging signs for a franchise in a transition phase. The playoffs may not be the end game this season, but when you consider the Red Wings’ current state, seeing those young pieces develop shows there’s light at the end of the tunnel. There are still decisions to make which could affect the “re-tooling” of the roster. Nyquist, Howard, Niklas Kronwall, and Thomas Vanek can all become unrestricted free agents this summer. They would certainly be able to bring in assets that general manager Ken Holland can use for the future if some of them waive their no-trade/movement clauses. But those are decisions that can be made closer to the February trade deadline barring some complete drop-off.

How this season ends for the Red Wings will ultimately determine Blashill’s fate. Should Holland feel the need to make a change, it could be an easy search for a successor with Dan Bylsma already there as an assistant — an assistant that Blashill wanted after they worked together at the 2018 IIHF World Championship.

For now, the progress is there under Blashill, and what once was a hot seat has now cooled considerably.

John Walton (play-by-play) and AJ Mleczko (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

PHT Morning Skate: Unique pucks for Winter Classic; Caps’ Cup beer

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• There will be some unique pucks used during the Winter Classic on Jan. 1 (1 p.m. ET, NBC) when the Chicago Blackhawks take on the Boston Bruins at Notre Dame Stadium. The biscuits used during the game and other NHL “tentpole events” this season will feaure thermochromic coatings that will change from purple to clear to indicate the puck’s temperature is above freezing, telling the officials it should be replaced. [NHL.com]

• Pierre Dorion is in unique territory trying to sign two star players — Matt Duchene and Mark Stone — to eight-year extensions. [TSN]

• Would the Philadelphia Flyers take a run to bring Sergei Bobrovsky back to town? [NBC Philadelphia]

• A Baltimore brewery is coming out with the perfect beer in honor of the Washington Capitals. Fans will soon be able to enjoy some Cup Stand Pilsner. [RMNB]

• Which Pittsburgh Penguins defense pairings are working and which ones need to change? [Pensburgh]

• The time is right for more people of color to get the call from U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame. [Color of Hockey]

• Has anyone not named Rantanen, Landeskog or MacKinnon picked up the pace in production this season for the Colorado Avalanche? [Mile High Hockey]

• Carter Hutton should be back in net for the Buffalo Sabres this week after missing Saturday’s game with an upper-body injury. [Buffalo Hockey Beat]

• Apparently it’s not too early for headlines like this: “Pettersson building early case as greatest Canuck in team history” [Sportsnet]

• “This fragile style of play is a contagion infecting everyone on this team and needs to be cured immediately.   The first step of the cure has been accomplished:  identification of the problem.  Now for the hard part the treatment, is Coach Berube part of that cure?” [Bleedin’ Blue]

• Why the NHL Department of Player Safety needs some fixing. [TXHT Hockey]

• We’re in the midst of a pretty enjoyable NHL scoring boom. [Featurd]

• Josh Ho-Sang is back up with the New York Islanders, but Barry Trotz says he feels “zero pressure” to insert him into the lineup. [Islanders Insight]

• Things look bleak now, but with the way that Adam Boqvist is playing for the OHL’s London Knights there’s some hope down the line for the Chicago Blackhawks. [NBC Chicago]

• Calgary Flames defenseman Oliver Kylington is showing he’s here to stay in the NHL. [EP Rinkside]

• Finally, if you missed it over the weekend, one week after Eeli Tolvanen scored his first NHL goal for the Nashville Predators, his brother Atte became the 11th goalie in NCAA history to score:

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.