Hitch thinks ‘goaltending is the least of our problems’

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For the umpteenth time in their tortured franchise history, the St. Louis Blues didn’t get the goaltending they needed.

Sure, there were other reasons the Blues failed to advance past the first round of the playoffs in 2015, but Jake Allen’s .904 save percentage was a definite factor. The 24-year-old did not play his best when the series was on the line.

Allen was, of course, named the Blues’ playoff starter after head coach Ken Hitchcock took the job away from Brian Elliott. (Just weeks before the start of the postseason, it was the veteran who appeared to be the guy.)

In Game 6 against Minnesota, Allen allowed two soft goals and was pulled. The Blues went on to lose the game, and with that the series. Allen had also struggled in Game 5, allowing four goals on 19 shots in a 4-1 loss.

Despite all that, Hitchcock today expressed confidence in his netminding tandem.

“I think the goaltending is the least of our problems,” Hitchcock told CBS Sports 920 radio. “I get the fact there were three goals that went in that were ugly. That’s the growth of a young player.

“We got two guys who are more than capable of carrying the load here. I think goaltending is going to be our strength moving forward. We’ve got a young guy emerging and a veteran guy who’s on top of his game right now and playing the best of his career.

“Selfishly, that was one of the things I looked at coming back. I don’t think you can win without really good goaltending. I think we’ve got two guys that challenge each other. I’m comfortable. I feel like Jake Allen is really, really going to grow from there, and I like where both guys are at.”

Heading into next season, Hitchcock’s main focus will be increasing the pace at which the Blues play.

“For me, it’s not a new style that we need to play, it’s more pace,” he said. “How do we get more pace in our game? How do we become more of a threat off the rush? How do we become more of a threat on transitions, on counters? How do we make people pay for their mistakes, so that just we’re not just stuck in half-court mode?”

All good questions. We’ll see if he and GM Doug Armstrong can come up with the right answers.

Related: After Miller (and many others) failed, Blues turn to Elliott and Allen

Blackhawks’ Boris Katchouk sidelined by ankle sprain

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CHICAGO — Blackhawks forward Boris Katchouk will be sidelined for four to six weeks with a left ankle sprain, the team announced.

The 24-year-old Katchouk played almost 12 minutes during a 3-0 preseason loss to Detroit on Saturday night. He was acquired in a multiplayer trade with Tampa Bay in March.

The Blackhawks open the season on Oct. 12 at Colorado.

The team also said forward Jujhar Khaira is day to day with a right ankle injury.

Ducks’ Urho Vaakanainen crashes into boards, leaves on stretcher

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Ducks defenseman Urho Vaakanainen was taken off the Honda Center ice on a stretcher after he crashed into the end boards in the first period of Anaheim’s preseason game against the San Jose Sharks.

The Finnish defenseman was conscious and alert with full movement in his extremities at UCI Medical Center, the Ducks said.

The frightening incident occurred midway through the opening period when Vaakanainen smashed into the boards at a dangerous speed behind the Sharks’ net. Vaakanainen appeared to be concentrating on the pass he had just made to Derek Grant, who scored the Ducks’ opening goal on the assist.

Vaakanainen’s teammates came onto the ice and gathered around him as he was taken away on the stretcher.

The Ducks acquired the 23-year-old Vaakanainen from Boston last March in the deal that sent longtime Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm to the Bruins. After recording two assists in 14 games for the Ducks last season, Vaakanainen is attempting to win a top-six role on Anaheim’s defense this fall.

Lightning donate $2 million to Hurricane Ian relief efforts

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TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Lightning and team owner Jeff Vinik are donating $2 million toward Hurricane Ian relief efforts.

The NHL team announced that $1 million each will be donated by the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation and the Vinik Family Foundation.

“This is a tragic situation for many families and communities across the state of Florida, but especially so in the southwest region of the state,” Vinik said in a statement released by the team. “In times like these the most important thing we can do is support one another, and we hope this donation will help families recover and rebuild in the months to come.”

Ian made landfall Wednesday on Florida’s Gulf Coast, south of the Tampa Bay area. The Lightning postponed two home preseason games and moved the club’s training camp to Nashville, Tennessee, during the storm.

Maple Leafs sign defenseman Rasmus Sandin to 2-year deal

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TORONTO — Rasmus Sandin has signed a two-year, $2.8 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the club announced on Thursday.

The 22-year-old from Sweden was the 29th overall selection in the 2018 draft. Sandin had 16 points in 51 games with Toronto last season. He’s played in 88 career regular-season games, with six goals and 22 assists, and has one goal in five playoff games.

“Got a great set of tools,” fellow defenseman Jake Muzzin said. “With experience, I think they’re only going to get better.”

The signing comes as the Leafs’ blueliners been hit hard by injuries. Muzzin has been dealing with a back issue, and Timothy Liljegren recently had surgery for a hernia.

Toronto then lost Jamie Benn (groin) and Carl Dahlstrom (shoulder) in Wednesday’s 3-0 preseason victory over the Montreal Canadiens, pressing forwards Calle Jarnkrok and Alexander Kerfoot into defensive roles for two periods.