‘We stopped checking’: Hitch vents as Blues lose for fourth time in five games

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ST. LOUIS (AP) It was probably fine that Claude Giroux couldn’t remember how he scored his goal on Thursday night. It should be all over the highlight shows for him to see.

Giroux’s 11th goal of the season capped Philadelphia’s three-goal second period and the Flyers beat the St. Louis Blues 4-2 on Thursday night for their fourth straight road win.

Giroux made it 3-1 with by blowing past two St. Louis defenders and scoring with a forehand-to-backhand deke. He finished with a goal and two assists.

“It was a nice goal,” Giroux said. “To be honest, I don’t really remember what happened, but we were up 2-1 there and we wanted that third goal. I was pretty happy.”

Michael Raffl and Matt Read also scored in the second and Ryan White added an empty-net goal to help the Flyers snap a two-game skid. Michal Neuvirth made 35 saves.

“What I see tonight is we had good goaltending, we had a good four-line effort, all six defensemen did a good job,” Philadelphia coach Dave Hakstol said. “… It’s a tough place to win and it’s a good team win for us.”

Robby Fabbri and David Backes scored and Brian Elliott made 25 saves for the Blues. St. Louis has lost four of five games in December.

“We stopped checking,” St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock said. “I’m sure the players said the same thing. Stopped checking. Stopped checking, opened up gaps, had some soft plays in the scoring areas against us and that gave them the three goals.”

The Blues are 2-3-2 over their last seven games and 5-6-3 over their last 14 after starting the season 11-3-1.

“This is a league, the more you check, the more you have the puck,” Hitchcock said. “The more you stay on the hunt, the more you play on your toes, the more you close gaps, the more you have the puck. When you’re inconsistent in that level, you open it up. This has been an ongoing theme for a little while and we’ve got to get it solved.”

After Fabbri opened the scoring 1:35 into the second period, the Flyers responded with three consecutive goals.

Raffl scored just 2:20 after Fabbri when he tipped in a centering pass from Brayden Schenn for his third of the season and first goal in 11 games. Giroux also picked up an assist on the goal.

Read scored his fifth at 6:39 when he collected a rebound of a long shot from Michael Del Zotto and was able to wrap it around Elliott while falling to the ice. Wayne Simmonds‘ secondary assist was his 100th assist with the Flyers and 300th career point.

Giroux scored with 1:54 remaining in the second when he skated around Magnus Paajarvi and faked out Elliott. Schenn and Nick Schultz assisted on the goal.

“That’s pretty amazing to watch him put it under the D-man’s stick and was able to make the deke at full speed,” Schenn said. “That’s a nice goal and I’m sure you’ll see that one on the highlight reel many times.”

Fabbri scored his fifth goal after he was left alone in the slot. Dmitrij Jaskin found the rookie forward with a centering pass from behind the net.

Backes scored on the Blues’ first power play of the game, 7:37 into the third period, after Simmonds went off for hooking. Backes redirected a shot from Alexander Steen and then slipped the rebound past Neuvirth for his eighth of the season.

Giroux assisted on White’s empty-netter with 1.7 seconds left.

NOTES: The win was the first for the Flyers in St. Louis since Dec. 17, 2005. … Flyers D Radko Gudas returned after serving a three-game suspension for an illegal check to the head of Senators F Mike Zibanejad. He finished plus-4 in 22:53 minutes of ice time after being minus-1 in his first 22 games. … Elliott was making his first start at home since Oct. 24. … The Blues have not won two straight games since Nov. 7-10, a span of 14 games. … The attendance of 14,428 was a season low for St. Louis.

Maple Leafs end skid in first Babcock-less game

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If it weren’t for Vinnie Hinostroza spoiling Frederik Andersen‘s shutout with 17 seconds left, Thursday would have been just about perfect for the Toronto Maple Leafs during their first game post-Mike Babcock.

Most importantly, the Maple Leafs ended their six-game losing streak with a win. (Yes, that makes brand-new head coach Sheldon Keefe 1-0-0.)

The symmetry starts to go up a notch when you consider that, on this night, Tyson Barrie finally scored his first goal of the 2019-20 season, which is also his first with the Maple Leafs. Barrie is up there when you picture Leafs with relief of Babcock grief, so scoring here almost feels on-the-nose:

That Barrie goal gave the Maple Leafs a coveted 1-0 lead, and that’s quite a reversal from how things could have felt if Andersen didn’t make this great glove save (which would have stood out even more if Tuukka Rask didn’t give Marc-Andre Fleury competition with an absolutely ludicrous stop).

The underlying numbers are promising, too. In particular, it has to be uplifting to see that the Maple Leafs managed an impressive 18-7 advantage in high-danger chances at all strengths, according to Natural Stat Trick.

There’s a lot to like for the Leafs, but there’s also no denying that the Maple Leafs have a lot of work to do — and a hole they need to dig out of. That win merely brought them back to “.500,” as they’re now 10-10-4 for 24 standings points in 24 games. They wouldn’t make it into the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs if they began on Thursday night, and Toronto’s ninth place standing is even inflated when you realize that teams right behind them hold games in hand. (Toronto’s 24 games played ties for the most in the NHL, while teams like the Lightning [22 points in 19 GP] loom large.)

Ultimately, though, the Maple Leafs can only control what they’re doing on the ice. So far, so good then, when you consider how they’re playing with Keefe pulling the strings instead of Babs.

More on Babcock, Leafs:

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.

Blues’ Dunn levels Flames’ Mangiapane with huge hit

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These are painful times for the Calgary Flames … sometimes literally.

By falling 5-0 to the St. Louis Blues on Thursday, the Flames have now dropped six consecutive games. It’s hard not to think a little bit about the Toronto Maple Leafs firing Mike Babcock amid their slump when considering the Flames’ own struggles, both now and in their own disappointing showing in Round 1 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Talk of big changes (to coaching, Johnny Gaudreau, the GM, or anything else) can wait for another day … maybe one soon? For now, let’s bask in the fearful glow of Vince Dunn‘s hit on Andrew Mangiapane, as you can witness in the video above this post’s headline.

Is that hit symbolic of the Flames’ pains lately, or could you best embody that agony by comparing the team to its most snakebitten player, Sam Bennett?

Either way, these are uncomfortable times for the Flames, and not just Mangiapane.

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.

Islanders’ point streak hits 16 games, a new franchise record

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The Penguins spoiled the Islanders’ 10-game winning streak, but not the Islanders’ point streak, back on Nov. 7. The Islanders really haven’t slowed down since then, as Thursday’s 4-3 OT win against Pittsburgh extended their latest winning streak to five games, and allowed them to set a new franchise record.

By going 15-0-1 in their last 16 games, the Islanders set a new franchise mark for longest point streak. Yes, that means Barry Trotz’s odds-defying group has accomplished something the dynastic Mike Bossy-powered ’80s group never did.

At this rate, the Islanders might just bank enough standings points that it might not matter much when/if they “come back to Earth.”

In the spirit of Derek Jeter wedging his jersey number into a word where it only kinda sorta works, the Islanders embraced the history of the 16-game streak:

When you’re winning (or at least getting a point) as often as the Islanders have been, you’ll need to win in different ways. After some comeback wins recently, Thursday’s game against the Penguins was a back-and-forth affair where the two teams traded leads, and the Penguins needed a last-minute goal to even get the game to overtime. Brock Nelson‘s two goals were key, including his OT-winner:

There’s been a “cardiac kids” element to this run, especially lately. Thursday’s win marks the third consecutive game where the Isles’ action went beyond regulation, and six of the Islanders’ wins (plus their lone OT loss to the Penguins) have come via either a shootout or overtime goal.

This also marks the best 20-game start in franchise history for the Isles, according to The Athletic’s David Staple.

Just resounding stuff.

It says a lot about the Capitals’ own hot start (16-4-4, 36 points in 24 games played) that the Islanders still aren’t in the lead in the Metro. Of course, the Islanders could close a ton of ground considering their games in hand, as they’re 16-3-1 for 33 points in just those 20 games played.

Looking ahead, the Islanders will go on the road quite a bit as they try to extend this point streak even beyond 16 games. To start, they’ll take a California road trip, and the away-heavy stretch doesn’t end there.

Nov. 23: at San Jose
Nov. 25: at Anaheim
Nov. 27: at Los Angeles
Nov. 30: vs. Columbus
Dec. 2: at Detroit
Dec. 3 :at Montreal
Dec. 5: vs. Vegas
Dec. 7: at Dallas
Dec. 9: at Tampa Bay
Dec. 12: at Florida

As you can see, the Islanders face a run where eight of their next 10 games are on the road. You’d think that maybe there will be stumbles (dare I wonder, *gasp* maybe even a single regulation loss?) along that way, but the Islanders keep buzzing along, and they’re 6-1-0 on the road thus far this season … so who knows?

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.

Bruins’ Rask gives Fleury competition for save of the week/year

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When Marc-Andre Fleury flashed the glove for a ridiculous save, PHT’s Adam Gretz was right in wondering if calling it a save of the year candidate was an understatement. And then Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask came along and gave Fleury competition for save of the week.

Buffalo Sabres forward Evan Rodrigues had so much net to aim for, but also needed to get his shot off quickly. As much as the Bruins swarmed the situation — making for an even better visual — Rask ended up having to save the day, and that he did.

This would have been an amazing glove save, but Rask managing the feat with his blocker hand is just … wow. Watch in awe in the video above.

It sounds like even Rask was impressed.

Again, wow. Let’s take a paragraph break to just mutter wow a few times.

Now, let’s compare and contrast: was it more or less amazing than Fleury’s save? Don’t say it was a tie, cheaters.

Now, what do I think is the better save? Uh …

(Tries to throw a smoke bomb and run away, but Rask and Fleury keep batting it around between each other.)

The save ended up being important, as the Bruins narrowly beat the Sabres 3-2 on Thursday.

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.