NHL on NBCSN: Year after elevating Berube, Blues’ success continues

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Tuesday’s matchup between the St. Louis Blues and Tampa Bay Lightning. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

One year ago Tuesday, the St. Louis Blues fell to the Los Angeles Kings 2-0 and dropped to 7-9-3 on the season. The defeat was their fourth in five games and the Blues’ offense was blanked for a third time in four games. 

Enough was enough for Doug Armstrong, who later that evening fired Mike Yeo and replaced him with Craig Berube. Originally, the Blues general manager planned to cast a wide net in his search for a new head coach. He said he planned to have coaches from the European, junior and college ranks, along with names with NHL experience, like the recently fired Joel Quenneville.

It took some time, but it was clear that Yeo’s full-time replacement was already under contract with the organization, as we all eventually found out.

“He answered the bell,” Armstrong said last spring.

One year later, the Blues finally have a Stanley Cup title and the Blues are lacking any sort of championship hangover as they sit atop the Central Division with a 12-4-5 record and tied for the most points in the Western Conference with 29. They’ve maintained a strong start even after losing Vladimir Tarasenko for likely the rest of the regular season last month. In the 11 games since the winger underwent shoulder surgery St. Louis has a 7-2-2 record.

[COVERAGE OF BLUES-LIGHTNING BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

Jordan Binnington, who’s recall last January helped spark the Blues’ second half run, had a goal this season to prove the doubters wrong. His five-month hot streak has continued into this season with his .923 even strength save percentage in the top 10 among all NHL goaltenders with at least 10 starts.

The Blues haven’t been scoring the lights out since Tarasenko exited the lineup, as they’ve averaged 2.72 goals per game. In fact, their 35 even strength goals are the third-fewest in the NHL this season. They done it with a strong power play (25%) and another balanced approached — much last season. Through 21 games, only Brayden Schenn (11) has hit double digits in goals scored and 18 different players have lit the lamp.

Berube’s message has stayed with the Blues and after a long search to find their identity, success has followed. When he took the job, he saw a team lacking in confidence. It was a good team he was inheriting, but there was one thing missing.

“Just got us to believe,” Schenn said during the Stanley Cup Final in June. “Believe in one another, believe we’re a good hockey team. He took down the standing board in the room and worried about one game at a time, and that’s really all it was.”

Players know where they stand under Berube, and that plays a huge role in earning their trust. That attribute is what turned an interim gig into a championship run and a full-time opportunity.

“He’s an honest guy,” Armstrong told Jim Thomas of the Post-Dispatch. “He speaks from the heart. He doesn’t waste a lot of words. I think he’s accountable to himself and accountable to the team as a whole. And I think he requires each individual to be accountable to the team as a whole also.”

Kenny Albert and Pierre McGuire will call the action from Enterprise Center in St. Louis, Mo. Paul Burmeister will host Tuesday’s coverage of NHL Live alongside alongside analysts Jeremy Roenick and Anson Carter.

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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.

Holiday light display honors Blues’ Stanley Cup title, plays ‘Gloria’

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There’s always one house on the block, right? As soon as dessert finishes at Thanksgiving the preparations begin for that season’s holiday lights — some modest, others very enthusiastic and offering a big display which attracts plenty of visitors.

Over in O’Fallon, Missouri, you’ll find a house that has decided to take decorating for the holidays in a unique direction.

In honor of the Blues winning the 2019 Stanley Cup, Bob Galik has synced up his light display show to honor them set to the music of Aerosmith’s “Dream On” and the team’s anthem last season, Laura Branigan’s “Gloria.”

Behold!

Galik told the Blues website that the display features over 40,000 lights and took more than 100 hours to program and sync with the audio.

As for the cost? “Let’s just say that it’s not a cheap hobby,” he said.

Galik has been creating the unique holiday display since 2006 and said he expects about 5,000 people to stop by this season between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day to see the show that runs nightly.

Visitors are encouraged to donate to help fund Our Lady’s Inn, a shelter for expectant and new mothers. All money raised helps purchase diapers and baby wipes.

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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.

Stars ‘get back to work’ with first win in post-Montgomery era

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It was a “weird” and “crazy” Tuesday in the world of the Dallas Stars players and coaches. They took the ice for their morning skate having learned of the news that their head coach, Jim Montgomery, had been fired, but also not knowing what the “material act of unprofessionalism” was that caused his dismissal.

Amid the uncertainty, they still had a game to prepare for against the New Jersey Devils, and once the puck dropped with Rick Bowness taking charge behind the bench, they went back to playing good hockey. The result? A 2-0 shutout, with Radek Faksa starting the scoring off early 102 seconds into the game.

If the makeup of the Stars roster had been on the younger side, maybe the shocking news would have had a bigger effect on the game, but a veteran group knows how to handle such potential distractions.

“We have an experienced group in here — a lot of guys that have been around a long time,” said goaltender Ben Bishop, who stopped 26 shots for his 32nd career shutout. “In sports, unfortunately, people lose their jobs, and people get traded. You don’t have much time to react, and you can’t sit there and soak it all in. You have to get back to work, and I thought the guys did a great job.

“We did a pretty good job today of sticking to our game-day routine and having our meetings, coming to the rink, and focusing on the New Jersey Devils. I thought we did a good job of sticking with our game plan and taking it to them.”

It wasn’t just an experienced lineup that helped, it was the voice behind the bench. Bowness has been a head coach or an assistant coach in the NHL for over 2,000 games, the most in league history. He’s experienced and has a track record that follows him. Bishop and Bowness were in Tampa together for two seasons and has had nothing but positive things to say about him.

You can see after the game how much the team wanted to win Tuesday night and begin the process of moving forward.

Bowness’ last NHL head coaching job was in 2003-04 when he led the Phoenix Coyotes for 20 games before he was dismissed. He certainly didn’t envision becoming a head coach again in this fashion, but you’ve got to take advantage of every potential opportunity that comes your way.

“Even at my age, as a coach in this League, you want to take another shot at it,” Bowness said Tuesday morning. “It means a lot to me to have another kick at it, for sure. I mean, there are a lot more years behind me than ahead of me, and I get all that.  

“But we’re just going to enjoy every day and make the most of it. I’m fortunate to be given this opportunity, I’m fortunate that ownership and management have faith in me to take this offer, faith in the coaching staff, that we don’t have to make a lot of changes. So, we’re very, very fortunate with that.”

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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.

My Favorite Goal: Tomas Hertl goes between-the-legs

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Welcome to “My Favorite Goal,” a regular feature from NBC Sports where our writers and personalities remember the goals that have meant the most to them. These goals have left a lasting impression and there’s a story behind each one.

Today, RotoWorld’s Ryan Dadoun remembers Tomas Hertl‘s four-goal night against the Rangers, which he capped off with a between-the-legs beauty.

When I’m watching a sporting event, any sporting event, I want to see creativity and emotion. As someone in his mid-30s who has spent his whole life in Toronto, one of the most memorable sporting moments I have is Jose Bautista’s bat flip. It perfectly embodied the jubilation and release of frustration that the city was feeling at that time. It also drew ire from some who viewed it as disrespectful. That argument has always rubbed me the wrong way, which leads me to my favorite goal, Tomas Hertl’s fourth against the New York Rangers on Oct. 8th, 2013.

It was a between-the-legs, top shelf goal on Martin Biron and while Hertl didn’t do anything as dramatic as flip his stick after the goal, he was clearly thrilled and the goal itself, some would argue, was needlessly fancy. Plus, Hertl’s San Jose Sharks had a 7-2 lead in the third period even before that goal. If there were people who took issue with Bautista showing that level of emotion after nailing a critical home run in a playoff game, you can imagine that there were people who took issue with Hertl’s actions for a needless goal in an early October contest.

Hall of Famer Adam Oates, who was the head coach of the Washington Capitals at that time, was one of the most famous ones to object to Hertl’s goal.

“I’m upset. I was just talking to George [McPhee] and he said all the kids do that nowadays, which I understand. But would he have done it on his first goal?” Oates said in 2013 via the Washington Post. “He hasn’t scored yet tonight and he gets a breakaway, is he going to do that on his breakaway? We’ll see.

“I think it was a little bit of a mood thing, which I’m sure they talked about, because they didn’t play him after that. I’m glad the coach did that because this league, it will bite you if you’re not sharp. Don’t disrespect the league. I’m sure it was a rookie mistake.”

Don Cherry was the other huge voice against Hertl’s celebration.

“There’s been a lot said about a lot of things, but let me say something: If the score [had] been 1-1, I would have said ‘Hey, what a goal!’ But I want you people out there to think about this: I want you think if Martin Biron was your son or your brother in an 8-2 [game], and everybody’s laughing at him,” Cherry said of Hertl, per Yahoo Sports.

He added, “I’m going to say something about the kid. He didn’t think he did anything wrong. He played in the Czech Republic last year. This is what they do. You can see him laughing at it. He didn’t understand. And kids, you don’t do that.”

With Cherry’s far more recent comments in the back of our minds, let’s awkwardly side step his assertion that Hertl didn’t know any better because he had been playing in the Czech Republic and instead look at the other argument: What if Biron was your brother? The Sharks had already won that game, so what purpose did Hertl’s goal serve other than to humiliate your theoretical brother?

Well, first off, your brother is a professional player getting well compensated to compete, not just for the sake of competing, but for the entertainment of others. The entire economy of the sport that allows these players to make the big bucks is based around the idea that they’re fun to watch. That people are willing to pay good money to watch them play. So entertainment value has meaning in and of itself and while you’re naturally rooting for your brother’s success every time he’s involved in a play, you have to be prepared to take some bad with the good, given how much the good outweighs the bad in this situation.

Obviously these are human beings we’re talking about, not just vehicles for entertainment. They deserve to be treated with respect. That’s why things like prioritizing player safety and weeding out abusive coaches is so important. The emotions of the moment can only excuse so much. Even so, there is still room for players to express joy and creativity even at the risk of some other players having their feelings hurt in the moment. 

Secondly, the goal wasn’t completely meaningless. While it didn’t impact the outcome of the game, it does have historical and more immediate context that’s fun to get into. It was a four-goal game scored in just Hertl’s third career contest. It came immediately after he scored two goals on Oct. 5th, giving him at the time six goals in three career games. It was fun to think about what the future might hold for him and the fact that he scored on a fancy move highlighted an extra level of skill that made him all the more worth tuning in to going forward, again tying back into the entertainment value that’s leading to the big bucks being made.

The move itself also makes the moment memorable. It turned what would have been a relatively meaningless blowout win in early October into a game we remember. It was something a little different, something a little fresh. Maybe that’s because older players have learned to show more restraint, but maybe rather than that being a knock on Hertl’s youth, it’s a knock on the conformity in the league. The idea that you shouldn’t give your all to score because you already have a big lead or the idea that you shouldn’t be celebratory when you score your fourth goal because it didn’t meaningfully impact the score itself just feels a little lifeless to me. You’re losing a little something special in the process.

Four goals is special. It’s worth trying for, for its own sake. Fancy goals are interesting and could throw off goaltenders. It’s worth attempting them from time-to-time. And I’d argue that celebrations are worth having when something big, like scoring fourth goal in a single game at the age of 19, happens. Rather than demean players, it humanizes the sport and shows that these are real people with real feelings playing the game, even if in the process some feelings might unfortunately get a little hurt. Though to that point, hurt feelings can also lead to fierce rivalries, which help make sports as worth watching as they are.

It’s worth adding that while there were some big names who were against Hertl’s celebration, he did have one big defense. Joe Thornton made a NSFW comment that arguably ended up being more famous than the goal itself. Those comments also ended up sparking another separate controversy about when a reporter should regard what’s being said in a locker room as off the record.

Another person whose take is interesting is the person on the receiving end of the goal, Biron. He enjoyed a 508-game NHL career and Hertl’s goal was scored in his 507th contest. Rather than be upset with the goal specifically, Biron was more upset with his play and the situation he was in with the Rangers at the twilight of his career.

“Our bench were going to gun for him, obviously, because it’s 8-2, he scored four goals, and he’s celebrating like he just won the Stanley Cup,” Biron told The Athletic in 2018. “I didn’t really realize (Hertl) celebrating too much, but I know that our players after the game said some of the veterans like Couture and Joe (Thornton) got up over the bench and said don’t worry, we’ll talk to him. … The (Sharks) veterans were like, we know he overdid it.

“But the kid was young, his family was in the stands, it’s exciting. I get that. There’s a bit of old school/new school (debate) that goes into that. So I wasn’t mad because of the goal itself. It was more the situation. It was kind of the beginning of the end. I played in St. Louis a few days later and it didn’t go well, and I was like, it’s time to move on.”

As for Hertl, that four-goal game offered a window into his potential. In the years that followed, there would be growing pains, until he really began to click late in 2017-18 and then broke out in 2018-19 with 35 goals and 74 points in 77 games. He’s carried that success into this season as well and is now one of the cornerstones of the Sharks’ offense. He even added two more hat tricks back in January, but for me that fourth goal back in 2013 remains the most memorable moment of his career, both for what it was and for the discuss it sparked.

PREVIOUSLY ON MY FAVORITE GOAL
McCarty shows off goal-scoring hands during 1997 Cup Final
Ovechkin scores ‘The Goal’ as a rookie
Malik’s stunning shootout winner
Paul Henderson scores for Canada
Lemieux’s end-to-end masterpiece; Hextall scores again

For everything fantasy hockey, check out Rotoworld’s Player News, and follow @Rotoworld_ HK and @RyanDadoun on Twitter.

Stunning Numbers: John Carlson edition

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The current pace. With 11 goals and 43 total points through the Capitals’ first 32 games Carlson is currently on an 82-game pace that would give him 27 goals and 109 total points. It would be asking a lot and probably setting an unreachable bar to expect him to maintain this pace, but let’s just pretend he can for a second just for laughs.

This is how rare such an offensive performance would be.

  • There have only been 14 100-point seasons for defensemen in NHL history, while only five different players have done it (Bobby Orr six times, Paul Coffey five times, Denis Potvin, Al MacInnis, and Brian Leetch once each).
  • It has not been done since Leetch did it for the New York Rangers during the 1991-92 season.
  • Carlson would need 57 points in 50 games to reach that mark.
  • No defenseman has topped 90 points since Ray Bourque during the 1993-94 season. Carlson could get there with 47 points in 50 games, which is similar to the per-game pace he scored at the previous two seasons.
  • Only three defensemen have topped 80 points since 1995-96 (Nicklas Lidstrom in 2005-06, Erik Karlsson in 2015-16, Brent Burns in 2018-19).

No stat padding going on here. His 43 points entering Wednesday are 13 more than any other defenseman in the league (Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Dougie Hamilton is closest), and while he no doubt gets a boost by being a part of the Capitals’ power play unit alongside Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and T.J. Oshie, it is not just the power play that is driving his production.

His 30 even-strength points are 10 more than the next closest defender (Montreal Canadiens defenseman Shea Weber is the closest with 20 points at even-strength).

He also leads all defenseman with 20 first assists, which are eight more than any other defender in the league.

Thirty-one of his 43 points are primary points (meaning he either scored the goal, or had the first assist on a goal scored by someone else). No other defenseman in the league has more than 22 primary points (Hamilton has 22). Only 12 of his 43 points have come by way of a “secondary” assist.

Driving the offense. Carlson has had a hand (scoring or assisting) in 37 percent of the Capitals’ goals this season. Hamilton is the only other defenseman in the league that has contributed to more than 30 percent of their their team’s goals (Hamilton is just over 30 percent).

Dominant three-year stretch offensively. Here is where Carlson has ranked among the NHL’s defenseman since the start of the 2017-18 season.

  • Goals: second (39)
  • Assists: first (142)
  • Total points: first (181)
  • Shots on goal: fourth (514)
  • Even-strength goals: second (30)
  • Game-winning goals: first (9)

He was mostly a top-20 defenseman in all of those categories in the three years prior to that, and throughout most of his career. This current level of production, where he is in the top-two in almost everything, is a recent development for him over the past three years.

Is there a flaw? With numbers like this offensively it would seem to make Carlson a lock to at least be a finalist for the Norris Trophy, but if there is one thing that might hold him back it’s that his defensive metrics in terms of shot attempts, scoring chances, and goals against are all only middle of the pack or worse (via Natural Stat Trick). Meaning that for as much as he is giving the Capitals offensively, other teams are getting a lot for themselves as well. Right now it is still working out in the Capitals’ favor as they are getting significantly more with Carlson on the ice. His dominance this season is almost entirely offensively driven.

Multi-point games. Carlson already has 13 multi-point games this season, six more than any other defender in the league. Only nine defensemen topped that number during the entire 2018-19 season. That includes six three-point games. No other defenseman in the league has more than three. Only two defensemen had six three-point games a year ago (Mark Giordano had eight; Brent Burns had six) for the entire season. The Capitals are 5-1-0 in his three-point games this season. Since the start of the 2015-16 season NHL teams are 358-38-0 when a defenseman has at least three points in a game. That is a 90 percent winning percentage.

Kathryn Tappen will host Wednesday’s coverage on NHL Live alongside analysts Patrick Sharp and Keith Jones and NHL insider Darren Dreger. Mike Emrick, Eddie Olczyk and Brian Boucher will call Bruins-Capitals from Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C.

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.