Hutton, Blues shut down Penguins to snap three-game losing streak

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PITTSBURGH — This seemed like it had the potential to be a bad matchup for the St. Louis Blues.

Entering Tuesday’s game in Pittsburgh with losses in five of their past seven games — including three in a row — and with an unsettled goaltending situation that was bleeding goals against, they had to go up against a Penguins team that is not only one of the highest scoring teams in the league this season, but had been absolutely lighting up teams over the past week.

Naturally, the Blues completely shut them down in a 3-0 win thanks to a 34-save shutout from Carter Hutton.

Given the direction both teams were trending in entering Tuesday, it is a pretty surprising result.

Not necessarily because the Blues won — even with their recent slump they are still an excellent team — but because of the manner in which they did it.

The Blues’ goaltending situation has devolved into a mess in recent weeks with the team giving up 29 goals in its past seven games and starting goaltender Jake Allen not even traveling with the team on a recent road trip to Winnipeg. That came after his coach said he was a little “locked up” mentally. Things did not go much better for recent call-up Pheonix Copley making his first career start in that game against the Jets.

As a team, the Blues entered play on Tuesday with the worst save percentage in the NHL after leading the league just one year ago.

Hutton, however, was able to stop the bleeding a little bit on Tuesday night and get the Blues back into the win column with his second shutout of the season.

For as promising as it had to be for the Blues to see one of their goaltenders play as well as Hutton did, this was a pretty perfect team effort by the skaters in front of him as they systematically shut down one of the league’s best offenses. They took away shooting lanes, disrupted passes, and managed to limit the number of quality chances the Penguins were able to generate, shutting down the middle of the ice directly in front of the net.

They were also nearly flawless on the penalty kill, going 6-for-6 on the night. 

“That’s a good hockey team over there, and I thought we did a great job eliminating their chances,” said Hutton. “They are going to get their chances at this level, but teams like that, they tend to weave through the zone and make a lot of cross-ice plays and I thought we did a great job eliminating that tonight.”

Coach Ken Hitchcock said a lot of the success on Tuesday came form the fact that they were able to play with focus because they were able to get an early lead thanks to a Colton Parayko power play goal (shown above).

“When we play with focus we defend well,” said Hitchcock. “But when you’re chasing the game and you’re trying to crack it open you lose all of the little details. We’re not built like Pittsburgh. We’re not built like some of the teams out here, like Washington. We’re not built like that. Ours is attention to defending detail and then all of our offense flows from there.

“When you have a lead or you’re tied you can do that. When you’re chasing the game sometimes that is the focus you lose. You are so busy trying to get up ice, you forget to defend your own area. They had some scoring chances, they had some zone time, but we defended the scoring areas really well tonight. That is what we do when we are on top of the game, then our offense flows from there.”

Parayko’s goal, a booming slap shot that snuck through Penguins goalie Matt Murray, turned out to be all the offense the Blues would need.

Ryan Reaves, scoring only his third goal of the season and first in more than a month, and Scottie Upshall added the insurance markers in the second and third periods.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.

Kuzmenko signs 2-year extension with Canucks

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Forward Andrei Kuzmenko signed a two-year contract extension with the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday.

The deal has an average annual value of $5.5 million.

The 26-year-old Kuzmenko has played in 47 games for the Canucks this season with 21 goals and 22 assists, four penalty minutes and a plus-4 defensive ranking.

Kuzmenko ranks second on the team in goals and power-play goals (nine) this season.

His 43 points are also tied for third on the team in overall scoring, while his 32 even-strength points (12 goals, 20 assists) are second on the Canucks.

Kuzmenko leads all Vancouver skaters in shooting rate (24.7%) and ranks third in the NHL in that category (minimum of 20 games).

He leads all first-year NHLers in almost every offensive category, including goals, assists, points, points per game (0.91), power-play goals, and power-play points.

He has also had 14 multi-point games so far this season (second most on the Canucks), highlighted by his first-career NHL hat trick and season-high four-point game against Anaheim on Nov. 3.

A native of Yakutsk, Russia, Kuzmenko spent his first eight professional seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) with CSKA Moscow and SKA St. Petersburg, getting 200 points (85-115-200) in 315 regular-season games. He set career highs in goals (20), assists (33), and points (53) last season, ranking second in the league in scoring.

Kuzmenko has also represented his country on the international stage on multiple occasions, totaling 16 points (10-6-16) and six penalty minutes in 37 games played. He was originally signed by Vancouver to a one-year, entry-level contract on July 13, 2022.