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The Buzzer: A night for clunky defensemen

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Three Stars

1. Ryan O'Reilly

Confession: usually, I giggle when people make a big deal about faceoffs.

It’s been argued, persuasively, that the impact of FWs (faceoff wins, for you non-fantasy people) is often exaggerated. And I agree with those arguments, as much as I feel like I’m affronting the memory of Rod Brind’Amour.

But sometimes stuff like that can provide a portal to other realizations, like the fact that Ryan O’Reilly is putting in serious work for the Blues.

Most obviously, O’Reilly scored a goal and an assist for the Blues in their eyebrow-raising, up-and-down win against the Ducks. Those two points were crucial.

Yet, Troy Terry might technically be the better choice here, as he had three points (all assists, two of them primary) in this same game.

O’Reilly’s overall work really stood out, however, and it starts with the work in the faceoff circle. He went 23-16 on draws, which is just a ridiculous workload for a regular season game that … honestly, only means so much. (The Blues are pretty comfortably placed as the Central’s third seed, in my opinion.)

ROR also logged an impressive 24:37 TOI on Wednesday, more than Colton Parayko (24:21) and only slightly less than Alex Pietrangelo (24:41).

Even beyond Terry, there are other Blues who have arguments for the top three. Robert Thomas inspired Matchbox 20 jokes with two goals. Pietrangelo scored a goal and an assist, as did Brayden Schenn.

Yet, it’s that all-around effort that makes me roar for ROR. I understand if you disagree.

(Consider those other mentions as part of the collective roar argument.)

2. Marc-Andre Fleury

Flames – Golden Knights was a tight 2-1 game, in large part because of the goaltending, as the two teams combined for 72 shots on goal.

Fleury didn’t keep his shutout streak active after blanking opponents for two consecutive games, yet “The Flower” only allowed a single goal against the very-much-flammable Calgary offense, making 33 out of 34 saves.

This is as much as weeklong achievement award as anything else, but even if you just keep it to Wednesday, Fleury was excellent.

I’ve made repeated comments about the Golden Knights needing to rest MAF, and I stand by them, but this was impressive stuff.

3. Alex Ovechkin

From MAF to the rare player who’s often tormented him, we have Ovechkin, who scored a goal and assist, and was just one heady Ivan Provorov play from adding another goal.

Ovechkin continues to make history, and delightfully, he didn’t just do his usual “from the office” thing on Wednesday. Granted, he kind of did, as he scored from that basic spot for his goal, but even then, he needed to “reload” his shot rather than ripping a one-timer.

But it was his pass that really sealed the deal, for me anyway. More on Ovechkin in the rest of The Buzzer …

Highlights of the Night

Including that pass, which set up a Tom Wilson goal:

The Blues managed a staggering win by scoring two goals in 12 seconds in the final minute of the third period against the Ducks:

The other highlight of the night comes next.

Defensemen score goals – clunky and otherwise

The headline revolves around two defensemen scoring unexpected goals. Deryk Engelland scored the game-winning goal for the Golden Knights, while Mitch Marner really set the table for Ron Hainsey(!) to score shorthanded (!!).

But, really, it was a night for defensemen scoring goals in general, whether they’re the ones you’d expect or not.

  • That Golden Knights win against the Flames was all-defensemen goals. Engelland scored, along with a guy you’d expect in Shea Theodore (his 11th of the season), and someone in the middle (Travis Hamonic scored his seventh of 2018-19).
  • Alexander Edler‘s still a worthy contributor, but you don’t really expect the Canucks veteran to score overtime game-winners. He did so on Wednesday, while a very-much expected Maple Leafs defenseman (Morgan Rielly) helped Toronto at least secure a standings point.
  • Six-foot-five Flyers defenseman Philippe Myers scored his first NHL goal. (His nickname better be Philly, or some variation of it.) Ducks defenseman Jaycob Megna is another huge hockey human (listed at six-foot-six) who scored his first career NHL goal on Wednesday. Something was in the air, wasn’t it?

Factoids

So, to review, Ovechkin has more 45+ goal seasons than Wayne Gretzky/Mario Lemieux/Mike Bossy, etc., while Holtby’s winning at a rate that only falls short of the author of “The Game.”

  • Another Canadiens great, Jacques Plante, was third behind Holtby. His name came up again on Wednesday, as Fleury tied Plante with 437 wins, leaving them tied for eighth all-time in NHL history.

Scores

WSH 5 – PHI 3
VAN 3 – TOR 2 (OT)
STL 5 – ANA 4
VGK 2 – CG 1

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.

Blues go from coughing up lead to stunning win against Ducks

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Note to self: don’t count out the St. Louis Blues. They reminded the Anaheim Ducks and the rest of the hockey world as much with a baffling 5-4 win on Wednesday.

Earlier this season, the Blues looked like they were bound for the draft lottery. Yet, with some strong play and the emergence of Jordan Binnington, they’ve turned their season around in a resoundingly dramatic way.

The Blues stormed out of the gate against the moribund Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday, scoring three power-play goals to take a 3-1 lead a bit more than midway through the second period. Considering the Ducks’ lowly status right now, you’d think that it would be a matter of killing time.

Maybe things just can’t be that simple with St. Louis.

The Ducks scored two goals in a pretty short burst (15:39 into the second period, then the 3-3 goal 2:12 later), then Adam Henrique gave Anaheim a 4-3 lead about five minutes into the third period.

It looked like the Ducks might succeed in protecting that lead, as that 4-3 margin lasted through most of the period. Things escalated quickly in the late stages, however, as Robert Thomas scored his second goal of the game to make it 4-4 with 1:02 left, and then an Alex Pietrangelo effort went off of Henrique’s stick for the stunning game-winner just 12 seconds later.

In that span of 12 seconds, the Blues went from possibly receiving some “it was 3-1” trolling to winning the game, and not even needing overtime to do so. Remarkable.

For a while, it seemed like the story might be that Jordan Binnington is finally looking human. After all, Henrique’s then-go-ahead 4-3 goal was ugly.

Instead, the Blues pulled victory from the jaws of defeat, with might just end up being the motto of their 2018-19 season.

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.

WATCH LIVE: Ducks host Blues on Wednesday Night Hockey

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the St. Louis Blues and Anaheim Ducks. Coverage begins at 10 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Blues remarkable turnaround since mid-January has them positioned to make the playoffs despite finding themselves in last place in the league on the morning of Jan. 3. St. Louis has struggled more recently, however, coming off back-to-back regulation losses to Carolina and Dallas.

Since the NHL’s Expansion Era (1967-68), only six teams have made the playoffs after ranking last in the entire League at any point after Jan. 1 (min. 20 GP). The only teams to accomplish the feat in that era: the 1976-77 North Stars, 1979-80 Oilers, 1982-83 Maple Leafs, 1987-88 Kings, 1987-88 Maple Leafs and 1996-97 Senators.

The Blues have one of the easiest upcoming schedules in the league in terms of lowest cumulative points percentage for remaining opponents and only have two remaining divisional games on the schedule (April 1 against COL and April 3 in Chicago).

It is highly unlikely that Anaheim will make the playoffs, thus ending their streak of six consecutive years in the postseason.

Cam Fowler (57G-206A—263 points in 605 GP) needs one point and three goals to tie Hall of Famer Scott Niedermayer (60G-204A—264 points in 371 GP) for the most ever by a Ducks defenseman. Earlier this season Ryan Miller became the all-time leader in wins by a U.S.- born goaltender, passing John Vanbiesbrouck (374).

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 10 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: St. Louis Blues at Anaheim Ducks
Where: Honda Center
When: Wednesday, March 6, 10 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Blues-Flyers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

BLUES
Brayden SchennRyan O'ReillyVladimir Tarasenko
Patrick MaroonTyler BozakRobert Thomas
Jaden SchwartzOskar SundqvistAlex Steen
Mackenzie MacEachernIvan Barbashev – Samuel Blais

Joel EdmundsonAlex Pietrangelo
Jay BouwmeesterColton Parayko
Vince DunnMichael Del Zotto

Starting goalie: Jordan Binnington

DUCKS
Kevin Roy – Ryan GetzlafCorey Perry
Rickard Rakell – Sam Steel – Jakob Silfverberg
Nick RitchieAdam HenriqueTroy Terry
Max JonesRyan KeslerCarter Rowney

Hampus LindholmJosh Manson
Jacob Larsson – Cam Fowler
Jaycob Megna – Korbinian Holzer

Starting goalie: John Gibson

Chris Cuthbert (play-by-play) and Brian Hayward (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif.

Wednesday Night Hockey: Berube’s Blues finding ways to get to net

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the St. Louis Blues and Anaheim Ducks. Coverage begins at 10 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

One of the many issues that hindered the St. Louis Blues under Mike Yeo was their inability to have possession of the puck and create not just any scoring chances, but high-danger opportunities.

Under Yeo, the Blues ranked near the bottom in categories like Corsi-For (47.43 percent) and high-danger Corsi-For (47.95 percent). They threw a decent amount of shots on net through the first 18 games of the 2018-19 NHL season, but they weren’t really challenging other goaltenders.

Enter Berube, who has transformed the Blues from draft lottery seekers to playoff contenders with a 27-16-3 record since Yeo was turfed in November. 

“We control the puck in the offensive zone a lot,” Berube said in January, not long before St. Louis fired off an 11-game win streak. “We shoot the puck and get to the net. That’s our game.”

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 10 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

The Blues are now shooting the puck more (32.2 shots/game), allowing fewer on net (27.78 shots allowed/game), and driving possession in a much more impactful way (52.49 percent Corsi). They’re are also getting to the net much more successfully than earlier in the season. Since Berube took over, they’re first in the league in high-danger scoring chances (58.53 percent), as Micah Blake McCurdy showed in a great animated graphic.

The changes came slowly, but soon began to work effectively. Coupled with Jordan Binnington’s rise, the Blues are a different team under the interim head coach. It was only a few months ago that names like Vladimir Tarasenko, Alex Pietrangelo and Colton Parayko were in the trade rumor mill. Now they’re vital pieces as the franchise eyes making noise in the Stanley Cup Playoffs next month.

“He definitely changed the attitude in this dressing room — it was pretty bad and pretty negative,” said defenseman Vince Dunn via the Post-Dispatch. “And he just really wanted us to believe in each other. And to just have a lot of self-accountability, whether it was with confidence or with good and bad things on the ice. He wanted us to realize that we were a good team, but he also wanted us to realize where we were going wrong.”

(Numbers via Natural Stat Trick)

Chris Cuthbert (play-by-play) and Brian Hayward (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif.

————

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.

Wild snap home losing skid with win against red-hot Blues

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The drought at home is over for the Minnesota Wild, and it was ended by the guy who hadn’t been there for any of them.

Six games prior to Sunday had resulted in six straight losses (0-4-2) for the Wild at Xcel Energy Center. For a team fighting hard to keep a spot in the playoffs (and a team trying to live up to its coach’s promise that they would, indeed, enter the promised land in April), home hadn’t been where the heart was for Minnesota.

But that all changed when Ryan Donato, picked up in a trade with the Boston Bruins last week for Charlie Coyle, sniped the game-winner past Jake Allen at 2:29 of overtime to give the Wild those much-needed two points in a 2-1 overtime win on NBCSN.

Minnesota had been shutout in each of their past two home games prior to Sunday’s game (4-0 to St. Louis and 4-0 to Anaheim) and hadn’t potted one since they took a 4-1 lead at 7:19 of the second period against the New Jersey Devils, a game they ended up losing 5-4 in overtime after an epic collapse nine days ago. Home simply hasn’t been where the heart is, having allowed four-plus goals in each of their last six home losses.

To go along with all the home losing, they also couldn’t find the back of the net, going 187:42 without a goal until Jason Zucker ended the ugly drought to give the Wild a 1-0 lead in the first period.

Winning for St. Louis hasn’t been much of a problem for St. Louis lately.

On the morning of Jan. 3, the Blues were in last place in the NHL with 34 points. Coming into Sunday, they’d have gone 18-5-1, the best mark in the NHL during that span.

The Blues played to a 2-1 win in the shootout on Saturday afternoon against the Boston Bruins. It took a while for the Blues to get into the game, but they eventually did when Alex Pietrangelo tied the game in the third period.

There’s no understating what that win meant to the Wild, who leapfrogged the Colorado Avalanche for the final wildcard spot in the Western Conference. They’re in a tight race with several teams in the running.

Having a Devan Dubnyk play like Devan Dubnyk played in this one will certainly help. He made 27 saves on 28 shots for his third straight win. Things hadn’t been good prior to this streak, but for now, it seems like good Dubnyk is back between the pipes.

The Blues, meanwhile, are still sitting pretty in third place in the Central Division, five points ahead of the Dallas Stars.

Jake Allen had another solid outing, despite the loss, stopping 33 of 35.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck