Blues have transformed into offensive powerhouse

St. Louis Blues offense
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When the St. Louis Blues have been on top of the NHL it has traditionally been a smothering defense that has put them there. Whether it was the Chris Pronger and Al MacInnis days, or the 2019 Stanley Cup winning team, defense has been the main identifying trait of their team.

This season it is all about the offense.

The Blues were decisive 8-3 winners against Nashville on Sunday evening, scoring a franchise record seven second-period goals, to run their current winning streak to nine games as they continue to emerge as a major contender in the Western Conference.

They are not only sliding under the radar as a contender, but their offense has been overshadowed by teams like Florida, Colorado, and Toronto so far this season. But make no mistake, this Blues team is right there with the other elites in the league when it comes to putting the puck in the net.

After Sunday’s eight goal outburst the Blues are fourth in the NHL in total goals per game (3.76), have the No. 2 power play unit in the league, and are tied for fifth in the league in goals per 60 minutes during 5-on-5 play. They are currently averaging 0.78 more goals per game than they did a year ago, while the 3.76 mark would be the fifth-highest mark in franchise history, trailing only a handful of Blues teams from the 1980s. Given the era, it is not unfair to say the Blues have never really had a team quite like this.

Along with their nine-game winning streak, the Blues are also on a 12-game point streak (11-0-1) that has seen them score at least four goals in each of those 12 games, including four six-goals games (including three in a row after Sunday’s eight-goal game).

As of Sunday they already have 10 players with at least 10 goals, 11 players with at least 40 points, and seven players with at least 20 goals, while Robert Thomas (18) and Ryan O'Reilly (17) could join that group before the end of the regular season.

There are three main developments that have helped the Blues take such a significant step offensively this season.

1. Their two best young players have had breakout seasons

That would be Jordan Kyrou and Thomas, both of whom have had career years and significant breakout seasons offensively. Thomas has developed into one of the best playmakers in the NHL and is the Blues’ second-leading scorer for the season with 73 points in only 66 games. His 1.74 primary assists per 60 minutes is the third best mark in the league, trailing only Johnny Gaudreau and Jonathan Huberdeau.

Kyrou is also averaging more than a point per game this season and is scoring at a 30-goal, 75-point pace per 82 games, a significant leap forward from what we saw from him a year ago.

They are 22 and 23 respectively and just now starting to enter their prime years.

2. They made two great offseason additions

The Blues let Mike Hoffman and Jaden Schwartz go in free agency and replaced by them by signing Brandon Saad to a multi-year contract and trading for Pavel Buchnevich from the New York Rangers.

Both have been significant upgrades.

Saad has always been a strong possession-driving forward with 20-25 goal finishing ability, and everything has clicked for him this season in St. Louis to put together one of his best offseason seasons in years. He is never going to be a player that you build around, but he is an ideal complementary piece as a secondary scoring.

Buchnevich has been the truly significant addition, coming over in a trade in exchange for a draft pick and Samuel Blais. It has been a laughably one-sided deal for the Blues. Buchnevich was always a solid top-six winger for the Rangers but never seemed to be fully appreciated (or trusted) in his role. The Blues pounced on him when he was available this offseason and have been rewarded with a breakout season that has seen him average a point per game and be on track for a 30-goal season.

3. Vladimir Tarasenko is back

Not only is he back as a top scorer, the Blues are lucky he is back at all. There was a significant stretch this offseason where it seemed like a trade was inevitable, while the Blues left him completely unprotected in the expansion draft and dared the Seattle Kraken to take him.

In the end, no trade happened and the Kraken selected defenseman Vince Dunn instead.

That has all been a victory for the Blues. Tarasenko is back as an elite offensive producer and is pacing the Blues this season in goals and points, while he has been especially hot over the past few weeks. After two injury plagued seasons that robbed him of playing time (only 42 total games, regular season and playoffs) and zapped his production (just nine total goals) Tarasenko is having one of the best offensive seasons of his career and leading the team’s offensive charge.

Now that Ville Husso seems to have taken control of the starting goalie job, and playing extremely well, the Blues are looking like a team that has a chance to make some noise in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

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    Ovechkin, and Ovi Jr., take the ice at All-Star skills night

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    SUNRISE, Fla. — When you’ve got the second-most goals in NHL history, you’re evidently permitted to bring a guest onto the ice for the All-Star Skills competition.

    That’s why there were two No. 8 Washington jerseys out there.

    Capitals star Alex Ovechkin took the ice with his Metropolitan Division teammates – and his oldest child, 4-year-old Sergei.

    Sergei, named for Ovechkin’s late brother, was wearing an Ovi Jr. jersey. The kid has built a bit of a following in recent weeks, after scoring a goal at a Caps practice in December and playing a role in helping the Washington crowd celebrate his dad’s 800th goal.

    It was Ovi Jr.’s first chance at being part of an All-Star weekend. His father hasn’t participated at All-Star since 2018, either because of COVID-19 or injuries. The last time his dad played in an All-Star event, Sergei hadn’t been born.

    Alex Ovechkin has 812 goals. He only trails Wayne Gretzky’s 894 in NHL history.

    And later in the night, Ovi Jr. got to center a line alongside his dad and Pittsburgh great Sidney Crosby. They each got an assist on a goal that Sergei scored – beating Roberto Luongo, the Florida great who came out of retirement for All-Star weekend.

    Said Ovechkin after his son scored: “I think he’s really enjoying it.”

    WELCOME HOME, LU

    Luongo got to be part of one more All-Star competition.

    In a building where a banner bearing his No. 1 jersey hangs – he’s the only former Panthers player to have that distinction – Luongo was a celebrity goaltender during the Breakaway Challenge during the Skills Competition on Friday night.

    He stopped his lone shot in the breakaway, off the stick of Toronto’s Mitch Marner. On one hand, Marner is the Maple Leafs’ leading scorer this season. On the other hand, he was also wearing a white suit, sunglasses and a light blue T-shirt to keep with a “Miami Vice” theme.

    Luongo, who was regaled by “Luuuuu” chants from the Florida fans all night, was up to the challenge. Marner tried to beat him to the glove side, but Luongo got enough of it to make the save – then flopped forward to cover up the rebound, the smile clearly seen through his mask.

    “You got too close,” Luongo told Marner.

    Later, Luongo told ESPN during the telecast of the event that “this is my house. This is my home right here. The crease is my home.”

    Luongo’s pads paid tribute to his career – the design depicted his time both as a member of the Panthers and the Vancouver Canucks. They were a gift from CCM for his making the Hockey Hall of Fame.

    “I’d never put the pads on since I retired,” Luongo said. “First time I put them on was this week. Felt pretty good.”

    He also took part, and scored a goal, in a Florida alumni game on Wednesday night. But if there’s more alumni games, Luongo suggested he might jump back into the net.

    “It back some good memories tonight to be in the blue paint, hearing the chants,” Luongo said. “Maybe one day we’ll hear them again.”

    REMEMBERING JIMMY

    Sergei Ovechkin – who knocked a shot into an open net during a stoppage of the skills events – wasn’t the only child who got a great view of the night.

    Philadelphia forward Kevin Hayes has his 3-year-old nephew Beau with him for All-Star weekend. Beau’s father was Jimmy Hayes, Kevin Hayes’ brother.

    Jimmy Hayes was 31 when he died in 2021 with fentanyl and cocaine in his system. He played for four NHL teams, including Florida.

    Kevin Hayes is part of an All-Star weekend for the first time.

    ANTHEM POISE

    “The Star-Spangled Banner” was performed by the South Florida Gay Men’s Chorus, and group crushed it – never minding that the crowd, representing several different fan bases, was going to shout some term specific to their team at various points in the lyrics.

    Florida fans shout along with “red” and “Knight,” one a nod to one of the team’s primary colors, the other for goaltender Spencer Knight. There also were some shouts from other fan bases; some St. Louis fans, for example, could be heard singing “home of the Blues” instead of “home of the brave” to close the song.

    And “O Canada” performer Hannah Walpole had some shouting as she sang as well, particularly when she reached the “true North” portion of those lyrics – something typically heard at Winnipeg games.

    SLAP SHOTS

    Cale Makar, the reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner from the Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche, was the first participant in the Fastest Skater event – the opening competition of the night. He fell coming around the second turn. … Tampa Bay’s Pat Maroon, one of the broadcasters on the event, reported that he was “freezing” by working at ice level. “I’m used to the gear,” said Maroon, who was in a blazer and open shirt Friday night. … A big hit for those used to the regular colors of FLA Live Arena – and basically all other hockey arenas – was the ocean-water-shade of blue used for the blue lines and the creases. The faceoff dots at the circles on either end of the ice aren’t the standard solid red this weekend, but depict an image of the sun instead.

    Capitals sign Dylan Strome to five-year, $25 million extension

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    FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The Washington Capitals signed forward Dylan Strome to a five-year extension worth $25 million.

    The team announced the contract during NHL All-Star Weekend, which is taking place in South Florida – the place Strome was drafted third in 2015.

    Strome will count $5 million against the salary cap through the 2027-28 season. He was set to be a restricted free agent this summer.

    “Dylan is an intelligent and skilled center and has been a great addition to our organization,” general manager Brian MacLellan said. “We are pleased to sign him to a long-term contract. We feel his skill set is a great fit for our team as he enters the prime years of his career at an important position.”

    Strome is getting a raise from the $3.5 million deal he signed with the Capitals after the Chicago Blackhawks opted not to tender him a qualifying offer and made him a free agent. Strome has 11 goals and 25 assists in 36 games this season and ranks third on Washington’s roster with 14 power-play points.

    The Mississauga, Ontario, native who played his junior hockey alongside Connor McDavid with the Erie Otters has 206 points in 325 regular-season NHL games with the Arizona Coyotes, Blackhawks and Capitals.

    Golden Knights captain Mark Stone undergoes back surgery

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    LAS VEGAS — Vegas Golden Knights captain Mark Stone is out indefinitely after undergoing back surgery in Denver, the club announced.

    The Knights termed the procedure as successful and that Stone “is expected to make a full recovery.”

    This is the second time in less than a year that Stone has had back surgery. He also had a procedure May 19, 2022, and Stone said in December this was the best he had felt in some time.

    But he was injured Jan. 12 against the Florida Panthers, and his absence has had a noticeable effect on the Knights. They have gone 1-5-2 without Stone, dropping out of first place in the Pacific Division into third.

    Stone is second on the team in goals with 17 and in points with 38.

    Devils associate coach Andrew Brunette charged with DUI

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    DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. — New Jersey Devils associate coach and former Florida Panthers head coach Andrew Brunette was arrested in South Florida while driving home from a bar in his golf cart, authorities said.

    Brunette, 49, was pulled over just blocks from the ocean in the Deerfield Beach area, north of Fort Lauderdale, according to a Broward Sheriff’s Office arrest report. He was charged with one count of driving under the influence and two counts of disobeying a stop or yield sign. Brunette was released on $500 bond.

    The Devils said in a statement that the team was aware of Brunette’s arrest and gathering additional information.

    According to the arrest report, a deputy was in the process of giving Brunette’s illegally parked golf cart a ticket around midnight when Brunette walked out of a nearby bar and told the deputy he was about to leave. The deputy said Brunette seemed unsteady on his feet and slurred his speech, and when he was joined by his wife, the deputy said he overheard the wife tell Brunette not to drive while the deputy was there.

    The deputy remained in the area and reported watching the couple drive away about 17 minutes later, according to the report. The deputy said he watched the golf cart run two stop signs before pulling Brunette over on a residential street about a mile away from his home. According to the report, Brunette had difficulty following instructions during a field sobriety test before eventually quitting and asking for an attorney. He also declined to take a breathe test to measure his blood-alcohol level, officials said.

    Online jail and court records didn’t list an attorney for Brunette.

    Brunette is in his first season as associate coach of the Devils. He was interim coach of the Florida Panthers last season after taking over when Joel Quenneville resigned for his connection to a 2010 Chicago Blackhawks sexual abuse scandal.

    The Panthers fired Brunette after they lost in the second round of the playoffs last spring despite him leading them to the Presidents’ Trophy as the league’s top team during the regular season.

    The Sudbury, Ontario, native played 1,159 NHL games for Washington, Nashville, Atlanta, Minnesota, Colorado and Chicago from 1995-2012. He was a Wild assistant in 2015-16 and worked on Florida’s staff from 2019-2022.