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Jaden Schwartz driving Blues’ early season success

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When the 2017-18 season began the St. Louis Blues looked like a team that was going to be in some trouble for no other reason than a significant chunk of their lineup was hammered by injuries. They lost Robby Fabbri for the season before it even began, while players like Alexander Steen, Patrik Berglund, Jay Bouwmeester have all missed significant time. Being without that many key players can be a significant blow to a team’s depth and could quickly put a team in an early season hole.

Could being the key word.

That has not been the case for the Blues, however, is they enter the weekend with a 10-3-1 record that is the second-best mark in the league. They are a top-10 team in goals scored and goals against, they have been a strong 5-on-5 team and other than some goaltending that might see a little bit of a regression in the coming weeks and months there is not much to indicate that this start is unsustainable. They have simply been a really, really, really good hockey team even without some key players.

Working in their favor is the fact they still have one of the top-10 players in the league in Vladimir Tarasenko. With a point-per-game average through the first month of the season he is doing what should be expected.

The player that is driving the bus for the Blues to this point, however, has been forward Jaden Schwartz.

As of Friday Schwartz was not only the leading scorer on the Blues with eight goals and 17 points, he is also one of the top scorers in the league. He has recorded at least point in 11 of his first 14 games and has been the most consistent player in the lineup … at both ends of the ice.

Part of Schwartz’s success this season is due to a pretty large jump in his shooting percentage (currently at 25 percent), but even if that regresses a bit the way he is playing is still going to produce some pretty strong results that are, at worst, right in line with what he has done throughout his career.

Playing on a team that has Tarasenko it can be easy for a player like Schwartz to get kind of lost in the shuffle a little bit and perhaps not get the respect he deserves. When you look at Schwartz’s career he has been an outstanding top-line player for several years now, averaging between 50 and 60 points per 82 games while consistently posting possession numbers better than 53 percent.

It would be easy to call Schwartz underrated, but his Blues teammates really don’t want to hear that word connected to him.

Here is Tarasenko talking about it, via Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“Maybe for you it doesn’t seem like this,” said Tarasenko, sticking up for his teammate. “‘Schwartzy’ has always been a great player. We all know this, and whenever guys say something about him, that’s their own opinion. Let them talk.

 “We all know what kind of player Jaden is. For us, he’s unbelievable. He has an unbelievable personality. I don’t think he’s ever been underrated. They can talk whatever they want. We all know who ‘Schwartzy’ is.”
This is all great timing for the Blues.
First, Schwartz is at a point in his career where he should be at his statistical peak as a point producer. Historically forwards tend to produce their best numbers between the ages of 23 and 26 (Schwartz is 25 this season). The Blues were able to get him locked up to a long-term contract right at the beginning of that phase, and it is going to make him what should be a bargain under the salary cap.
It’s also important for the Blues if he can maintain this sort of a pace because it would give them another elite scoring option to complement Tarasenko.  It’s not just about Schwartz helping to pick up the slack to help make up for the early injuries.
Over the past two seasons the Blues have not had another forward that has finished within 20 points of Tarasenko. There is a pretty significant gap between him and the rest of the team, and while the Blues have always had a pretty deep, solid roster, having another elite scorer can be the difference between a deep postseason run and just another playoff team that gets bounced in the first-or second-round.
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Robin Lehner to make Golden Knights debut; Mark Stone injured

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The Vegas Golden Knights have been one of the league’s hottest teams over the past month and will be looking to extend their current winning streak to eight games on Friday night when they host the Buffalo Sabres.

Coach Pete DeBoer had some significant lineup news ahead of the game on Friday afternoon, including a potentially significant injury.

First, is the news that big trade deadline acquisition Robin Lehner will be making his first start in goal for the team. The Golden Knights acquired Lehner from the Chicago Blackhawks just ahead of the NHL trade deadline on Monday for a draft pick and a prospect. Lehner has been one of the league’s best goalies for the past two years and alongside Marc-Andre Fleury should give them one of the league’s best goaltending duos.

The far more serious news, though, was the announcement that forward Mark Stone will not play on Friday due to a lower-body injury.

DeBoer had no immediate information on how long Stone could be out, only to say that he is still being evaluated.

When asked if it could potentially be a long-term injury DeBoer said “There’s always fear. We don’t know, but we’ll see,” via NHL.com.

Stone is one of the league’s best all-around forwards and has not only been a point-per-game player for the past three seasons, he is also one of the best defensive forwards in the league. He finished the 2018-19 season as the top runner-up for the Selke Trophy, something that has become almost unheard of for a winger.

The Golden Knights enter Friday’s game in first place in the Pacific Division, four points ahead of the Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks.

Related: Blackhawks trade Robin Lehner to Golden Knights

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

 

Oilers’ Mike Green to miss 3-4 weeks with sprained MCL

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Edmonton Oilers general manager Ken Holland was busy at the NHL trade deadline adding Mike Green, Andreas Athanasiou, and Tyler Ennis to his roster in an effort to improve its depth. But just two games later his team has already lost one of those new players to injury.

The Oilers announced on Friday that Green, acquired from the Detroit Red Wings for Kyle Brodziak and a draft pick, will be sidelined for the next 3-4 weeks due to an MCL sprain.

That is the way things seem to be going for the Oilers right now as injuries keep adding up throughout their roster.

Green joins an injury list that already includes the team’s top defenseman (Oscar Klefbom), as well as James Neal, Kailer Yamamoto, and Kris Russell.

Green played 19 minutes in the Oilers’ 3-0 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights on Wednesday.

Athanasiou was also injured in that game, but is expected to play on Saturday when the Oilers host the Winnipeg Jets.

The Oilers enter the weekend in third place in the Pacific Division with 74 points, four points back of Vegas and only two points ahead of the non-playoff teams in the Western Conference.

Related: Red Wings send Mike Green to Oilers

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Islanders will play all home games at Nassau Coliseum in 2020-21: Report

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March 22 will be the final Islanders’ game at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, according to Newsday.

Randi Marshall reports that New York governor Andrew Cuomo will announce on Saturday that the Islanders will play any home playoff games this season and all of their 2020-21 home schedule at Nassau Coliseum.

The Islanders are currently building a new arena by Belmont Park race track which is expected to be ready in time for the 2021-22 NHL season. The franchise played all of its home games at the Coliseum from 1972-2015 before moving to Brooklyn full-time in 2015. That lasted until 2018 when they split home games at both arenas, with Nassau Coliseum playing host to their Round 1 matchup against the Penguins and Barclays for their second round series against the Hurricanes.

While Barclays Center helped keep the Islanders in New York, it has not been the easiest arena to travel to for fans. The ability to get there via mass transit was a positive that the Coliseum doesn’t have. Yet when the Islanders returned back to Long Island last season, there was plenty nostalgia over the building that was home for the franchise’s glory days.

In September the Islanders broke ground on the new 19,000-seat arena by Belmont Park which is less than 10 miles from Nassau Coliseum.

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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.

David Ayres gets own hockey card, stick on display at Hall of Fame

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It has been quite a week for David Ayres.

At this time seven days almost no one in the hockey world knew who he was. But after being forced into action as an emergency backup goalie for the Carolina Hurricanes, and then getting the win in the game over the Toronto Maple Leafs, he is still getting some pretty big honors.

First, there was the shirt that the Hurricanes started to produce with his name and number on the back (with Ayres getting royalties, and other proceeds going to a kidney foundation). He was also invited to the Hurricanes’ home game on Tuesday night to sound the siren before their game against the Dallas Stars.

Now he is getting his own hockey card from Upper Deck, while the stick he used in Saturday’s game is on display at the Metropolitan Division exhibit at the Hockey Hall of Fame.

The card is part of Upper Deck’s Dated Moments e-packs.

From Upper Deck:

David Ayres, a 42-year-old maintenance operations manager and part-time Zamboni driver, was called into action as the emergency goaltender about halfway through the Carolina Hurricanes’ game against Toronto after both Carolina goaltenders were injured. In his surprise NHL debut, he helped Carolina to a 6-3 win over the Maple Leafs.

Meanwhile, the stick he used in Saturday’s game to stop eight out of 10 shots, is now on display at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.

The 42-year-old Ayres had previously served as an emergency backup goalie for the AHL’s Toronto Marlies but never entered the game. He was forced to play on Saturday after Hurricanes goalies James Reimer and Petr Mrazek were both injured.

MORE: Hurricanes emergency goalie David Ayres beats Maple Leafs

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.