Blues need Binnington to snap out of slump vs. Stars

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Jordan Binnington may not be the only reason the St. Louis Blues are where they are in the Stanley Cup Playoffs — preparing to play the Dallas Stars in Game 5 of their Round 2 series on Friday night (9:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN; Live stream) — but he is definitely one of the biggest reasons.

When he made his first NHL start on Jan. 7 the Blues were at the bottom of the league standings and a goaltending duo that was performing as one of the NHL’s worst, bleeding goals against and helping to sink what should have been, on paper, a pretty good team.

From the moment Binnington entered the lineup he not only solidified the position, he went on a three-month run where he played like one of the best goalies in the NHL, winning 24 of his 30 starts and helping to carry the Blues back into contention for the Central Division title while also becoming a finalist for the Calder Trophy as the league’s rookie of the year.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Name a goaltending category and chances are here he was near the top of the league from the time he took over the Blues’ net.

  • Save Percentage: .930 (5th)
  • Even-Strength Save Percentage: .936 (4th)
  • High-Danger Scoring Chance Save Percentage: .860 (5th)
  • Shutouts: 5 (2nd)

(All rankings among goalies that made at least 20 starts since Jan. 7)

As long as he played at that level the Blues were always going to have a chance to do something significant once they got to the playoffs. The biggest question, though, was how long the Blues could realistically expect a 25-year-old goalie who opened the year as a backup in the AHL to continue playing at such a high level.

Projecting goaltending performance is as complicated and maddening as projections can get at the NHL level, and it’s not a knock to suggest any goalie playing at that level is due to see their production slump back down at some point. Especially one that had almost zero track record to speak of against the world’s best competition.

Along with being difficult to project, goaltending performance isn’t always consistent, either. Just like anything else in hockey it is a very fluid thing that will go through peaks and valleys over a full season. And one thing Binnington never really experienced during the regular season was one of those extended valleys.

Over the course of his 40 starts Binnington only had four five-game stretches where his save percentage dipped below .914, and he never had a single stretch where he allowed more than two goals in three consecutive games.

Now, for the first time all season at the NHL level, he is starting to show signs of slumping, and the timing could not be worse for the Blues because nothing can impact a playoff series more than the performance of the two starting goalies.

He enters Game 5 having allowed at least two goals in nine consecutive games (his longest such streak of the season), at least three goals in each of the past three games (for the first time all season), while his .903 save percentage in his past five games is one of his worst five-game stretches of the season.

That has to be a concern for the Blues, especially because the goalie at the other end of the ice (Ben Bishop, a Vezina Trophy finalist for the third time in his career) has been so good.

Binnington has been a huge part of the Blues’ story over the past three months, but if they are going to keep it going and get through the Stars they are going to need his first little slump of the season to be a short-lived one.

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.

Capitals vs. Penguins on NBCSN: Kuznetsov’s overtime series clincher

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Hockey Week in America continues Saturday with memorable playoff performances in the Sidney Crosby vs. Alex Ovechkin rivalry.

In 2018, the Capitals and Penguins met in Round 2 for the third straight postseason. Pittsburgh won the previous two series en route to back-to-back Stanley Cup titles. But this time Washington would have its revenge. Evgeny Kuznetsov would score in overtime of Game 6 to help the Capitals advance as they went on to win their first championship in franchise history.

You can catch Game 6 of the 2018 Penguins vs. Capitals playoff game Saturday night on NBCSN beginning at 12:30 a.m. ET or watch the stream here.

SATURDAY NIGHT SCHEDULE
• Capitals vs. Penguins (Game 6, Round 2, 2018 playoffs) – 12:30 a.m. on NBCSN

More information about NBC Sports’ Hockey Week in America can be found here.

Capitals vs. Penguins on NBCSN: Bonino Bonino Bonino!

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Hockey Week in America continues Saturday with memorable playoff performances in the Sidney Crosby vs. Alex Ovechkin rivalry.

The Capitals needed a win to force Game 7 in Round 2 of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Facing the Penguins yet again, the clawed back from a 3-1 third period deficit to force overtime. It was there, however, that Pittsburgh once again topped their Metro Division rivals. This time it was Nick Bonino breaking their hearts to put the Penguins on a path to the franchise’s fourth Stanley Cup title.

You can catch Game 6 of the 2016 Penguins vs. Capitals playoff game Saturday on NBCSN beginning at 10 p.m. ET or watch the stream here.

SATURDAY NIGHT SCHEDULE
• Capitals vs. Penguins (Game 6, Round 2, 2016 playoffs) – 10 p.m. on NBCSN
• Capitals vs. Penguins (Game 6, Round 2, 2018 playoffs) – 12:30 a.m. on NBCSN

More information about NBC Sports’ Hockey Week in America can be found here.

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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.

Crosby vs. Ovechkin on NBCSN: The dueling hat trick game

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Hockey Week in America continues Saturday with memorable playoff performances in the Sidney Crosby vs. Alex Ovechkin rivalry.

After edging the Penguins in Game 1 of their Round 2 series in 2009, the Capitals were eager to take a 2-0 series lead. Little did we all know it would be the Crosby and Ovechkin show as the two superstars exchanged hat tricks. Ovechkin’s Capitals came out on top after he scored his second and third goals of the game in a span of 3:29 late in the third period for a 4-3 victory.

You can catch the dueling hat trick game Saturday on NBCSN beginning at 8 p.m. ET or watch the stream here.

SATURDAY NIGHT SCHEDULE
Penguins vs. Capitals (Game 2, Round 2, 2009 playoffs) – 8 p.m. on NBCSN
• Capitals vs. Penguins (Game 6, Round 2, 2016 playoffs) – 10 p.m. on NBCSN
• Capitals vs. Penguins (Game 6, Round 2, 2018 playoffs) – 12:30 a.m. on NBCSN

More information about NBC Sports’ Hockey Week in America can be found here.

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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.

Which NHL players might be considering retirement?

NHL players considering retirement Marleau Thornton
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When the coronavirus outbreak started to ratchet up in mid-March, hockey fans received at least one bit of soothing news. It turns out Joe Thornton doesn’t rank among the NHL players who might be considering retirement as the season hangs in the balance.

TSN/The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun reported that Thornton responded to a question about playing next season by texting back, “I have years to go!” If you’re like me, triumphant music might as well have been playing while you read that. (My choice: the “victory song” from Final Fantasy games.)

Check out LeBrun’s tweet. It’s been a while, so maybe you already saw it anyway, and could use a reason to smile?

Sweet, right?

A couple days later, The Athletic’s James Mirtle put together a thorough list of players who might have played in their final NHL games (sub required). I thought it might be useful to take a look at this group of aging veterans and wonder: should they have played their last NHL games? As we know, plenty of athletes don’t get to make the final call on retiring, instead being forced to fade from the glory because they couldn’t find any takers.

Forwards

Other aging forwards give Joe Thornton company when it comes to wanting to be back in 2020-21, and possibly beyond.

How many of them bring something to the table, though? Using Charting Hockey’s handy tableaus (which utilize Evolving Hockey’s data), here’s how some prominent aging forwards stack up in Goals Against Replacement:

NHL players considering retirement forwards GAR

 

Frankly, quite a few of these players should be of interest to someone, and I’d figure the biggest stumbling block might be fit. Would these players only suit up for a contender?

If there’s some flexibility, then many would make a lot of sense. There were some rumblings that the Sharks found a taker for Patrick Marleau because he’s still a pretty good skater, while a more plodding Joe Thornton made for a tougher fit. Similarly, some coaches will be more willing to overlook Ilya Kovalchuk’s defensive lapses than others. The Maple Leafs made an analytics-savvy move in adding Jason Spezza, and he remains an underrated option. Especially since he’s probably not going to break the bank. Justin Williams is likely poised to call his shot again, and justifiably so.

Someone like Mikko Koivu figures to be trickier. Koivu seemed to indicate that he wasn’t OK with being traded from the Wild, so if he remains Wild-or-nothing, that could get awkward.

The Stars made a reasonably low-risk gamble on Corey Perry, but that didn’t really seem to work out. Perry and (possibly AHL-bound) Justin Abdelkader might not have the choice.

Defensemen

Let’s apply the same Charting Hockey/Evolving Hockey GAR experiment to some defensemen who might be teetering:

NHL players considering retirement defensemen GAR

You can break down forwards into “surprisingly useful,” “some warts but probably worth a roster spot,” and then “broken down guys who’d live off of name recognition.”

An uncomfortable number of the defensemen above (Brent Seabrook, Roman Polak, Jonathan Ericsson, and Trevor Daley) could fall close to that broken down category. At least if you’re like me, and you hope Jay Bouwmeester bows out gracefully rather than risking his health after that scare.

Zdeno Chara stands tall as a “play as long as you want” option. Dan Hamhuis and Ron Hainsey mix the good with the bad, and could probably be decent options for coaches who simply demand veteran presences.

But the forward group is far richer, it seems.

Goalies

This post largely focuses on to-the-point analysis. Is this player good enough? Would they be willing to make some compromises to sign with a team?

But what about the human factor? This coronavirus pause is allowing players to spend more time with their families. For some, that might mean too much of a good thing/fodder for making a chicken coop. Yet, goalies like Ryan Miller might get another nudge out the door.

Back in June 2019, Ryan Miller explained why he came back to the Ducks. In doing so, Miller relayed this precious and heartbreaking detail about his then-4-year-old son Bodhi Miller pleading with him to retire.

“It’s not like he’s a little bit older and understands the full weight of his words,” Miller said to The Athletic’s Josh Cooper (sub required). “He was like, ‘If you aren’t doing that, you could be playing superheroes with me every single day.’”

(Personally, I wonder if Ryan Miller will eventually start playing “Nightcrawlers” with his son. It’s an imagination-based game, you see.)

Miller updated to Mirtle around March 19 that it’s “too soon — can’t even process what’s happening.”

Veteran goalies present their own brand of tough calls. How many of these goalies would be willing to play as backups, or as the “1B” in platoons.

  • Miller adjusted to life as such, but could Henrik Lundqvist accept a lesser role with a different team if the Rangers buy him out?
  • Craig Anderson suffered through multiple rough seasons after once developing a strange knack for rotating elite and “eh” seasons.
  • Jimmy Howard is no spring chicken at 36. After a sneaky-strong 2018-19 season, his play dropped significantly. He’d likely need to take significant role and pay decreases to stay in the NHL.
  • Mike Smith warrants consideration, too. He’s struggled for two seasons now, and is 38.

Closing thoughts on NHL players considering retirement

While family time might nudge some toward retirement, added rest — particularly if play doesn’t resume this season and playoffs – could also revitalize certain veterans.

Overall, it’s a lot to think about regarding NHL players who might be considering retirement. Which players should lean toward hanging their skates up, and who should NHL teams convince to stick around? This list isn’t comprehensive, so bring up names of your own.

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.