Blake Wheeler

Pietrangelo remains under-the-radar star for Blues

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The playoffs set the stage for unlikely heroes, and also for superstars to be superstars. Sometimes, there are also those moments when someone more under-the-radar draws more mainstream attention.

Strangely enough, St. Louis Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo‘s postseason work seems to fit in his larger story of an All-Star-level player whose strong play deserves more attention.

Through 15 games, Pietrangelo has two goals and 10 assists for 12 points. Jaden Schwartz (13 points) is the only player on the Blues who’s generated more, and Ryan O'Reilly (11) ranks as the only other St. Louis player in double digits.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Pietrangelo doesn’t overpower opponents like Brent Burns, but he’ll be a key part of the Blues’ efforts to win Game 3 on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN; stream here) in a Round 3 series that’s currently tied 1-1. Pietrangelo’s bringing potent offense and a capable possession game to the table, and Pietrangelo’s been a workhorse, comfortably leading the Blues in ice time with 25:35 minutes per contest.

And, hey, he’s bringing a fire to the ice, as you can see when he broke his stick following Logan Couture‘s shorthanded goal from the Blues’ eventual Game 2 win:

Circling back to Pietrangelo’s ice time for a minute, it seems like the rise of another defenseman is also helping him find another gear, as Pietrangelo’s rising with big blueliner Colton Parayko.

Earlier during Pietrangelo’s playoff career, he was probably called upon to do too much. Pietrangelo averaged more than 28 minutes per game during the Blues’ last two playoff runs, and Pietrangelo peaked at 30:15 minutes per night during the Blues loss in a six-game series against Chicago back in 2013-14.

As another strong right-handed defenseman, Parayko’s allowed the Blues to relax Pietrangelo’s minutes, and also his matchups. Checking Natural Stat Trick’s 5-on-5 numbers, Parayko was the one drawing Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin more often in the Stars series, and Blake Wheeler‘s line more often against Winnipeg. Those matchups have been a little more unpredictable so far against the Sharks, but it wouldn’t be one bit surprising if Craig Berube tries to deploy Parayko more in defensive situations and Pietrangelo more when there’s a scoring opportunity.

(Although the Sharks’ depth makes hard matching less lucrative – Tomas Hertl or Logan Couture is a pick your poison proposition – and Parayko can bring some offense to the table, too.)

Overall, the Blues have some issues. Their power play needs fixing. Jay Bouwmeester logging 22:37 per night in 2019 isn’t … ideal. And, even if everything is clicking, the Sharks are the type of opponent who can make strengths look like weaknesses.

Pietrangelo remains a difference-maker, whether people notice or not, especially when you can rotate him with Parayko, another defenseman worthy of greater recognition.

Game 3 of Blues – Sharks takes place on Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN; stream here).

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.

Jets hoping home ice is finally an advantage in Game 5 vs. Blues

Home ice, much like games in-hand, is only good unless you take advantage of it.

For the St. Louis Blues and Winnipeg Jets, neither team has benefited from the “advantage” part of “home-ice advantage.” Through four games, with the series knotted a two, the road team has been the victor as we shift back to Winnipeg for Game 5 Thursday night (8:30 p.m. ET; USA Network; Live stream). According to the NHL, only three best-of-seven series in Stanley Cup Playoffs history have the featured the road team winning each of the first five games.

Home ice hasn’t helped either team, but one team’s top line as completely dominated offensively.

The Blues need to get more from their No. 1 line of Vladimir Tarasenko, Ryan O’Reilly and Brayden Schenn. The trio have combined for only three goals in the series, compared to Winnipeg’s threesome of Kyle Connor, Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler, who have six goals and 15 points combined.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

“We’re a good line of good players and we’ll figure it out. It gets back to one shift at a time and making an impact,” said Blues forward Ryan O'Reilly. “If it’s something defensively or offensively… we know how to play the game, we know what our success looks like. It’s working for it.”

The Jets stars all hooked up for Connor’s overtime goal in Game 4.

“They drive for our team — all three of those guys and Mark in particular took his game to another level,” said Jets defenseman Josh Morrissey after Game 4 via the Winnipeg Sun. “Looking at last year’s playoffs, that’s what we see. We definitely like to see that out of him.”

The Blues and Jets each had similar road records during the regular season, with St. Louis picking up 21 away victories ands Winnipeg earning 22. But the Jets’ issues away from MTS Place date back to March when they dropped their final three home games before the Stanley Cup Playoffs began.

“I think it just goes to show that each game is a new challenge for both teams,” said Morrissey. “Coming here down 2-0 we had to be playing desperate hockey. We did a lot of good things in those first two games, but I thought we elevated our game in the last couple and that’s playoff hockey. I think for us, we love playing at home. Our fans really give us a lot of energy.”

The winner of Game 5 in a best-of-seven playoff series tied 2-2 is 205-55 all-time. The Jets will need the desperation they had in Games 3 and 4 to continue into Thursday night.

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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.

The Playoff Buzzer: Stone, Stastny combine for perfect 10; Connor helps inspire Jets rout

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  • Islanders neuter Crosby again, seize 3-0 series lead against struggling Penguins
  • Columbus has Tampa Bay by the throat after another convincing win to take 3-0 series lead
  • Winnipeg turns on the jets, scores six in statement win to claw back into series vs. St. Louis
  • Vegas dominates Martin Jones once again to take 2-1 series lead

New York Islanders 4, Pittsburgh Penguins 1 (NYI leads series 3-0)

The Penguins have no answers and the Islanders know it, and they now have a foot in the second round because of that knowledge. New York allowed the Penguins to lead the game for 28 seconds before Jordan Eberle tied the game. From there, the Islanders led 62 seconds later and never looked back. Sidney Crosby doesn’t have a point in the series, which is all you need to know about how Barry Trotz has enabled his players to neutralize one of the best in the game.

Columbus Blue Jackets 3, Tampa Bay Lightning 1 (CBJ leads series 3-0)

There would be no overtime posts this time around. No overtime losses, either. Instead, the Blue Jackets put their foot on the throats of the Tampa Bay Lightning and one game away from pulling off what might be the greatest upset in the Stanley Cup Playoffs history. Cam Atkinson scored and added and assist while Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 30 in the win. The Lightning didn’t have Nikita Kucherov due to suspension and Victor Hedman was a late scratch because of an injury. It probably wouldn’t have mattered.

Winnipeg Jets 6, St. Louis Blues 3 (STL leads series 2-1)

Winnipeg came into St. Louis reeling after two losses at home but knowing they were right there with the Blues, despite the losses. And when the Jets finally solved Binnington in the second period, the Red Sea parted and the unbeatable rookie sensation appeared as a mere mortal for Jets shooters who took advantage. The Jets still have a big hill to climb here, but if they’ve entered Binnington’s head, they might reverse their fortunes.

Vegas Golden Knights 6, San Jose Sharks 3 (VGK leads series 2-1)

They chased Martin Jones in Game 2 and then followed that up with dropping six more goals behind him in Game 3. Vegas’s line of Mark Stone, Paul Stastny and Max Pacioretty combined for 12 points, with Stone and Stastny each producing five-point nights. Will San Jose make a change in net for Game 4? And what lies ahead for Joe Thornton after a terrible head shot on Tomas Nosek?

Three Stars

1. Mark Stone and Paul Stastny, Vegas Golden Knights

Too tough to separate the two. Stone had the hat trick along with two assists for a five-point night. Stastny had two goals and a trio of assists.

The Sharks just had no answer for the madness, and Martin Jones was back to playing his regular-season-style of hockey, which is to say he allows a lot of goals. Unless San Jose can stop this line and find a save, they’re done for.

2. Kyle Connor, Winnipeg Jets

The Jets needed a few of their players to start producing, and none more so, perhaps, than Connor. The 30-plus goal man hadn’t contributed much through the first two games of the series against St. Louis but erupted for two markers after getting a bump to the top line with Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler. The line took off, combining for four points. Patrik Laine kept scoring, and Kevin Hayes also found a big goal for the Jets.

3. Matt Duchene, Columbus Blue Jackets

Coming off a four-point night in Game 2, Duchene kept up the good work, scoring 1:44 into the second period to help the Blue Jackets take the lead. Duchene was a force in the faceoff circle, too, going 9-for-11. That’s two goals and five points for Duchene, acquired at the trade deadline by the Jackets, in three games now. Columbus owns a 3-0 series lead on Tampa Bay.

Highlight of the night

Mark Stone, hat trick hero.

Lowlight of the night

This bone-headed play from Joe Thornton:

Factoids of the night

  • Vegas keeps making history, this time for scoring quickly. (NHL PR)
  • Patrik Laine is the first player in Jets/Atlanta Thrashers history to score in the first three games of a playoff year. (NHL PR)
  • What Columbus is doing is to keep the Lightning from scoring is unreal. (NHL PR)
  • Lightning are just the fifth team with the best regular-season record to lose first three in the playoffs. (Sportsnet Stats)

Monday’s schedule

Game 3: Toronto Maple Leafs at Boston Bruins (Series tied 1-1), 7 p.m. ET, NBCSN (Live Stream)
Game 3: Carolina Hurricanes at Washington Capitals (WSH leads 2-0), 7 p.m. ET, CNBC (Live Stream)
Game 3: Dallas Stars at Nashville Predators (Series tied 1-1), 9:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN (Live Stream)
Game 3: Colorado Avalanche at Calgary Flames (Series tied 1-1), 10 p.m. ET, CNBC (Live Stream)


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

Grubauer could carry Avs, if playoff history doesn’t repeat

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Philipp Grubauer is a Stanley Cup champion, but you can’t blame him if he doesn’t really feel that way.

Grubauer wrestled the Washington Capitals’ starting job away from Braden Holtby with a superior 2017-18 regular season, but things fell apart to start Washington’s Round 1 series. The Columbus Blue Jackets stormed off to a 2-0 series lead, and with Grubauer allowing four goals in each of those losses, the Capitals turned to Holtby. And the rest (including Grubauer’s time with the Capitals) is history.

Grubauer admitted that “last year was tough” to NHL.com’s Rick Sadowski, yet he also explained his resiliency to the Denver Post’s Kyle Frederickson, whether that boiled down to earlier career struggles, the mixed feelings of being left behind during that Capitals run, or his bumpy start as a goalie with the Avs.

“You can fall in a hole and get really miserable,” Grubauer said, “or be positive and wake yourself up.”

And, goodness, did Grubauer ever wake himself up down the stretch.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

After playing at a below-backup level in his first 21 games (a putrid .891 save percentage) of 2018-19, Grubauer was splendid after the All-Star break, sporting a tremendous .948 save percentage over those 16 games.

That was absolutely crucial, too, as Semyon Varlamov struggled with injuries and inconsistency, while the top line couldn’t drag the Avs to the same number of wins, what with Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen both being hurt at times, and Nathan MacKinnon falling in frustration. Grubauer wasn’t the MVP for the Avalanche all season long, but they wouldn’t have barely outlasted the Coyotes for the West’s final playoff spot without him.

And his teammates know it.

“Gruby has been unreal,” MacKinnon said, via the Denver Post. “He’s been our best player the last 20 games. We’re very fortunate he’s been so good because you can’t ask that much of a goaltender.”

If you need visual evidence, feast your eyes upon this outstanding save against Blake Wheeler from late in that postseason push:

It’s fair to question if Landeskog and especially Rantanen will be their usual selves during Game 1 on Thursday at 10 p.m. ET (NBCSN; live stream), or during much of this Round 1 series, in general. Even if they are their usual dominant selves, the Flames boast two lines that could bring almost as much, if not more, to the table than Colorado’s top guns.

Yet, with Mike Smith serving as the Flames’ Game 1 starter despite struggling to the point that people wonder if he might torpedo Calgary’s chances, Colorado’s best hopes likely lie with Grubauer vastly outplaying Smith. That’s especially true if the two teams’ possession trends continue into the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Still, Grubauer has only appeared in four playoff games during his career, suffering through an .835 save percentage and winning just one of those contests. That’s a tiny sample size, and one that’s spread out over three different postseason runs, but the bottom line is that people can be unforgiving when it comes to playoff stumbles, and the Flames could rank as a very unforgiving opponent.

Grubauer made the difference to the Avalanche squeezing into this postseason, and we should expect Colorado to lean on him just as heavily against the flammable Flames’ attack.

Avalanche – Flames Game 1 from the Scotiabank Saddledome will happen Thursday night at 10 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Here is the livestream link.

For more on these two teams, check out the series preview. Get a rundown of Thursday’s full slate of Game 1 action with The Wraparound.

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.

NHL Draft Lottery: What Blackhawks, Rangers gained; what Kings, Avalanche lost

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On Tuesday night 15 NHL teams had a significant part of their future come down to a couple of ping pong balls.

In the end, it was the New Jersey Devils getting the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 draft for the second time in three years, going from the third spot in the lottery up to the top spot. It is there that they will have the opportunity to select prized prospect Jack Hughes and add him to their core alongside Nico Hischier (the No. 1 overall pick two years ago) and, hopefully, Taylor Hall assuming they can work out a long-term contract extension.

It was a great night for the Devils and their fans, but they were not the only team to win big.

Others, however, lost big.

It’s not an earth-shattering revelation to point out that there is a significant difference between picking first versus picking fourth, or picking third instead of 12th. You can find good players at any pick in any round, and there are always good players available, it’s just that your odds drop dramatically with each spot.

Obviously the higher you pick in the draft, the better chance you have to land an impact player that can change the long-term outlook of your franchise.

You expect to get, at the bare minimum, a consistent All-Star with the No. 1 or No. 2 overall pick. You might get a good first-or second-liner with the 10th pick. You hope to just find someone that will make the NHL and have a nice career as you get toward the bottom half of the first round and beyond.

[Related: Devils win draft lottery, will get No. 1 overall pick]

But what exactly does that look like from a numbers and production perspective, and how does that impact the big winners and losers from Tuesday night?

The Colorado Avalanche were big losers

The Avalanche entered the night with the best odds of winning the No. 1 overall pick (18.3 percent) due to the fact they have the Ottawa Senators’ top pick as a result of the 2017-18 Matt Duchene trade. It could have been a PR disaster for the Senators, especially after they passed on the opportunity to send their 2018 pick to Colorado and hang on to this pick to complete the trade. Had the Avalanche won there would have been a ton of second guessing going on in Ottawa.

But the Avalanche not only did not win the top pick, they fell as far as they could have possibly fallen and ended up with the No. 4 overall pick. That is still a great position for a playoff to be in, but it is probably not going to be as franchise-changing as it could have been.

The table below shows the past 20 players to go No. 1 and No. 4 overall, their career totals, and the average games played and total production from each slot.

Obviously this is not the most scientific way to do this, but it does at least give us a little bit of a baseline of what to expect from each spot.

Look at how big the drop off is, not only in terms of the star power each side has, but also in the overall careers. There are some outstanding players on the right side (Andrew Ladd, Ryan Johansen, Evander Kane, Seth Jones, Mitch Marner, Alex Pietrangelo) and a likely Hall of Famer (Nicklas Backstrom). There are also quite a few busts, or players that did not quite fulfill expectations.

Then look at over the left side. You have two clear busts in Patrik Stefan and Nail Yakupov, a couple of really players in Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Aaron Ekblad, and Erik Johnson, an injury ravaged career in Rick Dipietro … and then every other player is either a superstar or has the potential to be one day be one. There is a massive difference in value, and we are only talking about three spots in draft position, while they are both considered prime draft picks.

This is a tough break for the Avalanche.

The Los Angeles Kings were even bigger losers, while the New York Rangers were huge winners

At least if you are an Avalanche fan you have a playoff team to watch this season, while you still have your own first-round draft pick to go with a top-four pick. That is a huge bonus and can still land you a really good young player to add to your core. Not getting the No. 1 overall pick might stink, but your team is still in a great position.

The Kings, however, had some rotten luck because this is not the way they wanted their rebuild to start.

Entering the night with the second-best odds to win the top pick, the Kings fell all the way back to the No. 5 overall pick. And if you thought the gap from No. 1 to No. 4 was big, the gap from No. 2 to No. 5 might be even bigger.

The No. 5 spot has produced some legitimately great players (Phil Kessel, Blake Wheeler, Carey Price, Thomas VanekElias Pettersson is certainly trending in that direction) and some really good ones, but other than Ryan Murray, whose career has been sabotaged by injuries, and probably Kari Lehtonen, just about every player at the No. 2 spot has had an impact career as either a top-liner or franchise player.

At No. 2 the Kings probably would have been guaranteed to get a star in either Hughes or Kaapo Kakko. They could still get a star, or at least a really good player, at No. 5, but history suggests their odds of doing so dramatically drop.

Their fall down the draft board coincided with the Rangers going from the sixth spot to the No. 2 spot, where their rebuild now gets accelerated as they will be the ones getting the opportunity to select Hughes or Kakko.

It is a huge win for them, and it all happened because of Ryan Strome‘s overtime goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the regular season finale. If the Rangers do not win that game, it is the Edmonton Oilers in the lottery spot that would have moved to the second pick. The Oilers, of course, traded Strome to the Rangers mid-season for Ryan Spooner.

Luck is a funny thing sometimes.

The Blackhawks were HUGE winners

The Devils were the biggest winner of the night simply because they received the No. 1 overall pick. But the Chicago Blackhawks were not far behind them, and if you wanted you could probably build a convincing argument the Blackhawks were the biggest winners just because of how much they stand to gain by going from the No. 12 pick all the way up to the No. 3 overall pick.

That is a massive jump in games, goals, points, production … everything. It should — should — help the Blackhawks land another young building block, and maybe even a potential star, to go with Alex DeBrincat, Dylan Strome, and their core of veterans that are still around. The ping pong balls falling the way they did may have helped keep the Blackhawks’ championship window open a little bit longer in the near future.

The 2019 NHL Draft will take place at Rogers Arena in Vancouver. The first round will be held Friday, June 21. Rounds 2-7 will take place Saturday, June 22.

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.