Wednesday Night Hockey: ‘Hawks look to end 8-game losing skid vs. Blues

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Wednesday night’s matchup between the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues at 7:00 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Blackhawks felt like they needed a coaching change, so they decided to let head coach Joel Quenneville go. They replaced him with 33-year-old Jeremy Colliton. A new, fresh face. Unfortunately for the ‘Hawks the results haven’t been new and fresh under their new coach.

Under Colliton, the team is 0-2-1, as they’ve lost games to Carolina (twice) and Philadelphia. That means that the Blackhawks have now dropped eight games in a row. They haven’t taken home two points since Oct. 25 when they beat the New York Rangers, 4-1. If they fail to win tonight, they’ll have gone more than three weeks without a victory.

“I believe we’re on the right track,” Colliton said after Monday’s loss to Carolina. “I believe we will turn this around. I think we’ve got really good players. When things are going against you over a long period of time, it’s not easy to get out of it. The circumstances are what they are. We’ve got to find a way to get it done. We can and we will.”

Chicago has a ton of issues to sort out, but lack of quality scoring options up front is definitely a pressing one. Of the 51 goals they’ve scored in 2018-19, 30 have been scored by either Patrick Kane (12), Jonathan Toews (9) and Alex DeBrincat (9). The only other player with more than two goals is Brandon Saad, and he only has four.

Things haven’t really gone much better for the Blues. At 6-6-3, they currently find themselves one point behind the Blackhawks in the Western Conference standings.

On a positive note, their big off-season acquisition, Ryan O'Reilly, has been rolling. He’s accumulated 17 points during a 10-game point streak that dates back to Oct. 17. In all, he has eight goals and 21 points in 15 contests with his new team.

The other intriguing storyline for the Blues in this game, is that they’ve been starting Chad Johnson over Jake Allen. Johnson has started three games in a row, and he’s given up just four goals during that stretch. He also won two of those three outings. Meanwhile, Allen has continued to struggle with consistency, as he has a 4-3-3 record to go along with a 3.99 goals-against-average and a .879 save percentage. Ugly.

“He’s been our best player,” O’Reilly said of Johnson. “You’ve seen countless times the big saves he’s making that are giving us a chance to win. He’s stood on his head and it’s helped a lot. It’s helped us find our groove and do some good things. We have to be better in front of him, though.”

If the Blues are going to prolong the Blackhawks’ misery, they’re going to have to do without Brayden Schenn, who will sit out fourth straight game because of an upper-body injury.

This will be the fourth matchup of the season between these two teams. Chicago won the first two in overtime, while the Blues managed to take home a decision the last time. The loser of this game will be in the basement of the Central Division.

Six-time Emmy Award-winner Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick, U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame member Eddie Olczyk, and ‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst Brian Boucher will have the call from United Center in Chicago.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Blues hope returning Fabbri can finally get some health luck

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As a smaller scorer, Robby Fabbri was already a hockey player who was easy to root for. His terrible injury luck makes it a no-brainer, really, so his latest attempt to get on track with the St. Louis Blues is absolutely worth watching.

After word surfaced that the shifty winger was activated from IR, Blues coach Mike Yeo admitted to The Athletic’s Jeremy Rutherford that he’s pulling for him, too.

“I’m excited for him personally,” Yeo said. ” … I don’t know how long it’s going to take for him to get right back on top of things. I do know that players that are relentless and tenacious and as driven as (he is) usually find a way to get there quicker.”

Yeo added something undeniable: Fabbri’s been through “an awful lot.”

Fabbri’s 2017-18 season ended before it began, as a knee injury sidelined him through that campaign. The 22-year-old actually hasn’t played in an NHL game since Feb. 4, 2017, as his 2016-17 season was also derailed by health issues. Those problems bubbled up again, thwarting his hopes of beginning this campaign on a healthy note.

That’s tough to stomach for anyone, particularly for a player who’s still trying to establish himself as a difference-making, quality scorer.

It stings that much extra because, while he hasn’t been unstoppable with the Blues, there have been flashes of first-round brilliance. Fabbri’s scored 66 points in 123 regular-season games despite modest ice time (14:16 per game on average). A struggling St. Louis team could really use another catalyst, so if Fabbri is reasonably healthy, this could be a real boon for the Blues.

(Not to mention fans who enjoy watching creative scorers.)

The Blues look to bring Fabbri along slowly at first. According to Left Wing Lock’s listings, he’s currently slated to play on the fourth line. That said, that trio is relatively intriguing: Robert Thomas is a promising prospect/bad music joke machine, while Oscar Sundqvist deserves his own set of kharmatic bounces considering the hit he suffered from Tom Wilson.

Maybe the most promising early opportunity comes on the power play. While Fabbri is on the second unit, it’s one of the more intriguing No. 2 groups in the NHL, as he joins Alex Pietrangelo, David Perron, Brayden Schenn, and Jaden Schwartz. Honestly, that could easily pass as a top group on a shallower squad.

The Blues are off to a frustrating 3-4-3 start, and Fabbri knows all too well how it must feel like to be snakebitten. Perhaps both the player and team can improve their fates together?

St. Louis hosts the Vegas Golden Knights – another team that’s dealt with some irritating ups and downs so far this season – on Thursday night.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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 keep finding ways to lose

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There isn’t much shame to coughing up a lead against the Winnipeg Jets, a team that can become an offensive locomotive when it really gets going. No, for the St. Louis Blues, it was the way they lost last night’s game, seeing a 3-1 lead evaporate into a 5-4 overtime loss.

“I think we’re scared to lose games right now,” Jake Allen said. “We’re behind in the standings, we know that; we know that each point is crucial, and we’re playing in the third period like we’re scared to lose the game. If you lose, you lose, but you gotta go down swinging. We’re just giving teams opportunities, and a team as good as Winnipeg, they’re going to bury them. This loss is on us.”

” … They didn’t beat us. We beat ourselves.”

The Blues fell to a disappointing 2-3-3 record thanks to a disturbing trend: giving up leads and letting wins and points slip through their fingers. The numbers back that up, extending back to last season, but especially right now:

The Blues have only scored eight third-period goals, by comparison, so it’s a troubling sign.

Now, with any pattern established this early in 2018-19, it’s dangerous to make too many sweeping observations.

That aside, it’s also important to ask questions, or else you risk history repeating itself.

How much of this is on the style of play? To be more precise, is head coach Mike Yeo trying too hard to “sit on leads” rather than enhance them?

Sure, there are risks involved with being aggressive on offense, yet every second you spend with the puck on your stick in the opposing zone is another moment where the opposition isn’t threatening to score.

The Blues were getting rid of the puck as if it was a live grenade often through the third period of that eventual loss to Winnipeg. It got to the point where officiating became crucial in a sad way: borderline icing calls. At one point Jets fans serenaded referees for calling an icing after an earlier call was thwarted in part by an official getting in Jacob Trouba‘s way. Later on, it seemed like an icing might have been too hastily whistled against the Blues.

For all we know, a more aggressive approach might have left the Blues losing to the Jets in regulation, rather than at least getting a point in an overtime loss. Hindsight is 20/20, so it’s easy to armchair QB the Blues’ approach after the fact.

You can still wonder about some coaching decisions, however. Why, for instance, was recently scratched defenseman Jay Bouwmeester on the ice in so many crucial situations?

Such mistakes can come back to haunt the Blues in future games where they’re trying to protect leads.

Plenty has been made about buzzwords like “urgency,” as you can see from this Jeremy Rutherford piece from The Athletic (sub required) about a week ago. But how much of that lack of urgency stems back to Yeo’s system, how he might be playing to the score, and the players he’s putting out on the ice in certain situations.

The Blues boast a wealth of options on defense, from established difference-makers such as Alex Pietrangelo and Colton Parayko to an interesting up-and-coming scorer like Vince Dunn. Is it really wise to hope Bouwmeester can carry such of a workload? Is this a case of outdated thinking? Could it be that Yeo was overreacting to this brutal late-game gaffe by Parayko?

Now, look, it’s not all bad for the Blues. Generally speaking, when you open up a 3-1 lead against the Jets – carrying big chunks of play in the process – you’re probably doing quite a bit right.

For one thing, the Blues might have stumbled onto some nice scoring balance, at least between its top two lines.

Early on, Ryan O'Reilly was anchoring a top line with Vladimir Tarasenko. After starting strong, the combo hit a lull, so Yeo reunited last year’s deadly first line (Tarasenko with Brayden Schenn and Jaden Schwartz) while putting ROR with David Perron. So far, O’Reilly (six points in three games) and Perron (five in three games) have been generating serious offense. If that top trio can rekindle some of last year’s magic, they might just build up leads so robust that they can rest on their heels and still win plenty of games.

Nonetheless, the Blues bring high expectations into this season. They gave up some serious futures to land O’Reilly, along with landing Perron and Patrick Maroon in free agency.

On paper, the Blues seem like they should be a contender, even in the cutthroat Central Division. If St. Louis can’t convert that potential to real-life wins soon, the heat could really start to rise.

It’s up to Yeo and others to find answers, and soon.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Another concussion sidelines Penguins’ Matt Murray

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Add Matt Murray to the growing list of NHL goalies who have suffered injuries in the opening week of the season.

The Pittsburgh Penguins announced that the 24-year-old netminder suffered a concussion during Monday’s practice, during which he stayed on the ice an hour after things ended. There is currently no timetable for his return. Head coach Mike Sullivan didn’t specify how the injury occurred.

“It’s really hard to draw any conclusions with this stuff because I think everybody’s different,” Sullivan said. “That’s been my experience when dealing with concussions with different players over the years. Everybody’s different. The nature of these is different. Sometimes players bounce back extremely quick. Others tend to linger, and it’s hard to predict. I really haven’t given much thought or consideration into it at this point.

“We’re hoping Matt will get healthy, and when he does, we know he’s a very good goalie.”

[Penguins defense invisible through two games]

This is the third known concussion Murray has suffered since 2016. In April of that year he was kneed in the head by Brayden Schenn during their regular-season finale. He would re-join the team and start Game 3 of their opening round playoff series against the New York Rangers. Last February, Murray suffered his second concussion when he took an Olli Maatta shot off the mask during practice. He would miss nearly a month of action.

As they did last season when Murray was battling injury, Casey DeSmith and Tristan Jarry will handle goaltending duties. It also now appears that Thursday’s matchup vs. the Vegas Golden Knights will feature DeSmith against Malcolm Subban with Marc-Andre Fleury expected to start Wednesday against the Washington Capitals.

So around the league, it’s Murray, Jonathan Quick (week-to-week) and Roberto Luongo (2-4 weeks) all out at the moment.

Penguins unveil third jerseys

In other Penguins news, the team showed off their new thirds that they’ll wear a dozen times this season beginning with their November 15 game against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Penguins

The jerseys feature plenty of similarities to what they wore in the 2017 Stadium Series game against the Philadelphia Flyers. “Mixing the past with the present, the contrasting black sleeves are highlighted with white and gold striping that are inspired from the Penguins’ 1984 jerseys, while the letters and numbering mirror the current home and away jerseys. Additional design details include the sleeve numbers being raised to the shoulder of the jersey to mimic the 1980s look,” says adidas.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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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.

PHT’s 2018-19 Central Division Preview

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(The 2018-19 NHL season is almost here. This week Pro Hockey Talk will be previewing all four divisions looking at strengths and weaknesses, whether teams are better or worse this season and more!)

Atlantic Division Preview
Metropolitan Division Preview
Pacific Division Preview

It’s been widely regarded as the toughest (and arguably the most talented) division in the NHL, and the Central Division certainly lived up to that moniker last season, sporting the top two teams league-wide in the Nashville Predators and the Winnipeg Jets, finishing with 117 and 114 points, respectively. The division doesn’t look like it will take a step back this season, either.

It’s one of the most interesting arms races in the NHL and there are no signs of that slowing down.

What will the division look like this year? Let’s take a look:

CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS: 

Better or Worse: This one depends on how the Corey Crawford situation plays out. It appears he’s getting close to returning, but it takes one puck or one bump in the crease to send Chicago’s season into a spiral again. Cam Ward is a serviceable backup, if not still a fringe starter in the NHL, so Chicago has that going for them at the moment.

The ‘Hawks are only getting older. See: Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith, etc. Jonathan Toews’ production is slipping. Patrick Kane is likely still going to put in work, but I’m not certain it will be enough.

Strengths: Goaltending, if Crawford plays. His numbers last season were otherworldly until injuries derailed his bid for the Vezina. Ward, as mentioned above, should be a solid backup that could allow Crawford to rest a little more throughout the season but Crawford needs to play for the Blackhawks to have a shot.

Weaknesses: Defense. Keith and Seabrook at the team’s top defensive pairing and aren’t getting younger and are playing more minutes than what would be considered optimal. Both are overworked and it showed last year. Adding Brandon Manning over the summer offers some depth on the back end, but it’s simply not what it used to be in Chicago.

2017-18 Highlight: One name: Scott Foster.

MVP Candidate: Patrick Kane. He’s still one of the best playing the game currently, a point-per-game player that can put the Blackhawks on his back on any given night.

Playoffs or Lottery: Lottery. The Central Division is simply too good to allow mediocre teams into the playoffs.

COLORADO AVALANCHE: 

Better or Worse: Was it a fluke? A team that was dismal a year prior went on to make the playoffs with their last possible chance on the final day of the regular season and then looked pretty darn good against the Nashville Predators at times in the first round.

They added depth in Matt Calvert and Ian Cole and made things interesting in the crease after acquiring Philipp Grubauer via trade. Can they build off last season, or will they experience the bumps young teams do as they grow together? There’s a lot of questions that need to be answered.

Strengths: Special teams were a tremendous asset to the Avalanche last season. They finished eighth on the power play at 21.9 percent and fourth on the penalty kill at 83.3 percent. Those are some solid numbers from a young team like the Avs.

Weaknesses: The expectation that Nathan MacKinnon (and his line) needs to do it all. We saw it last year, and the Avalanche made the playoffs (barely) because of it. But that can’t be the expectation going forward. They’re still a team rebuilding, so the expectation is that will be cured with time.

2017-18 Highlight: Clinching a playoff berth in Game 82. (Don’t miss Landeskog getting mauled by his teammates after the clinching empty-netter.)

MVP Candidate: Nathan MacKinnon. Some say he got robbed of the Hart last year. He put the team on his back on the way to a playoff spot.

Playoffs or Lottery: Unfortunately, a couple teams have gotten better around them and that’s pushed the Avalanche out of the playoff spot and into the lottery.

DALLAS STARS:

Better or Worse: It has to get better, right? A new coaching style courtesy of Jim Montgomery might just do wonders for this team. It’s not like the talent isn’t there. They have one of the best top lines in all of hockey. Simply, if the Stars can score more, they have the rest of the tools to be a playoff team. A top 10 defense and solid goaltending are in place. Score. More. Goals.

Strengths: Defense. This seems to be a theme in this division. Dallas, despite their inability to score outside of their top line, was consistent on the backend, allowing the sixth fewest goals against in the league. Part of that is John Klingberg and Co. The other part is Ben Bishop. They had a decent penalty kill and allowed the fourth fewest number of shots per game.

Weaknesses: The Stars simply need more goals. It was their burden last season. They simply couldn’t find the back of the next enough to win hockey games. The teams’ top power-play unit needs to be better than their 19th ranking last season.

2017-18 Highlight: Here’s Jordie Benn hitting brother Jamie while their parents were in the stands to watch their sons play. Classic.

MVP Candidate: Tyler Seguin. No contract worries to think about. Just a sheet of ice and a swath of opportunities for goals.

Playoffs or Lottery: Playoffs. I simply don’t believe the Stars were as bad as their record showed last season. The switch of Hitchcock to Montgomery is a big one. And, to harp on the goals again, the Stars are a few more of those away from being a playoff team given their defense and goaltending.

MINNESOTA WILD:

Better or Worse: Better because Ryan Suter will be healthy. Better because they will start the season with Zach Parise.

Suter was ruled out for the rest of the season on March 31 and could only watch as the Winnipeg Jets decimated the Wild in the playoffs. Suter’s return is big for the team that added some depth in the offseason. The Wild dealt with a litany of injuries last season to top players such as Parise (who missed many games due to offseason back surgery), Nino Niederreiter and Charlie Coyle. While Eric Staal may not score 42 goals again, a healthy Wild team is a dangerous Wild team.

Strengths: Devan Dubnyk has been rock solid in goal, and couple that with the Wild’s stingy defense, and there’s no reason to think he won’t have another great year again. The Wild are a good defensive team that can also score a pile of goals.

Weaknesses: The Wild are their own worst enemy. Minnesota is a good team that just can’t figure it out in the postseason. They finished 11th in goals for last season but only scored nine in five playoff games against the Jets. You can only shoot yourself in the foot so many times before it falls off. Calling on Bruce Boudreau to figure that out — it’s his job.

2017-18 Highlight: Eric Staal was sensational last season. Here’s a five-point night that included a hat trick for good measure.

MVP Candidate: Matt Dumba. A workhorse defenseman who anchors the power play and can score. He achieved career highs in goals with 14 and points with 34 last season and could take another step toward that elite plateau this year.

Playoffs or Lottery: Playoffs. They showed even without star players for various lengths last season, they had the depth to find a way in the back door. The Wild are a great team that shouldn’t have an issue making the playoffs.

NASHVILLE PREDATORS:

Better or Worse: They added a veteran presence on the backend in Dan Hamuis and have Eeli Tolvanen to look forward to upfront. They’re basically the same team that was in the Cup Final two years ago and have all that experience to lean on once again this season. They’re better through experience and a couple of added pieces that could finally fit this puzzle together.

Strengths: There’s still no better defensive core in hockey, right? Josi. Subban. Ellis. Ekholm – their top four is the envy of the NHL. They added third-pairing depth in veteran defenseman Dan Hamhuis, too. It heads into the regular season as the best back end in hockey (with San Jose hot on their heels).

Weaknesses: The Predators are one of those teams with few flaws. Adept at scoring, solid at defense and proficient at goaltending. Where’s the weakness? It could come from Pekka Rinne. I know, the Vezina winner from this past season? He’s set to turn 36 and struggled in the playoffs when the Predators needed him the most. Juuse Saros should help reduce the workload. That’s good, because if the Predators are going to win in their current window, they need Rinne at his very best at the most important time of the year.

2017-18 Highlight: The Knob Save (Josh Morrissey caught some mean whiplash on the play).

Bonus round: Viktor Arvidsson’s pre-game marriage proposal win.

MVP Candidate: Filip Forsberg. Became a point-per-game player last season even after missing time due to injury, and set a career high in assists.

Playoffs or Lottery: Playoffs, a no-brainer. They’re one of two legitimate Stanley Cup contenders in the Central Divison.

ST. LOUIS BLUES:

Better or Worse: The Blues were in upgrade mode all summer, adding the likes of Ryan O'Reilly, Tyler Bozak and Patrick Maroon, while welcoming back David Perron after his year in Vegas.

The Blues were on the bubble last season, and may have made the playoffs if they sort of give up around the trade deadline and deal Paul Stastny away. The Blues added scoring in the offseason, which will help their bottom-third showing in goals-for, and should help equate to more wins.

Strengths: Undeniably, it’s St. Louis’ defense. On a team with a starting goaltender that had a .906 save percentage, the Blue still gave the sixth-fewest number of goals last season. That’s no small feat, given the struggles Allen achieved last season.

Weaknesses: It has to be in goal. Jake Allen is the ultimate Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde goaltender. There are days where he appears elite and days where he belongs in the American Hockey League. If Allen can be steady, the Blues are going to be a playoff team. If not, welcome to the lottery.

2017-18 Highlight: Brayden Schenn‘s remarkable season.

MVP Candidate: Vladimir Tarasenko. It’s time for him to hit 40 goals again.

Playoffs or Lottery: Playoffs. Despite the question of Allen, the Blues just look like a solid team in front of him, one that can potentially make up for any shortcomings their goaltending may have.

WINNIPEG JETS:

Better or Worse:  Better by virtue of the team getting one year old and coming into this season armed with the knowledge of what it takes to get into the Stanley Cup Playoffs and then what it takes to make a deep run, as the Jets did last season.

And it should be noted that their Western Conference Final elimination should serve in the growth department. Learning to lose and learning from losing can be just as important. They lost Paul Stastny, but were a good team prior to Stasny’s arrival at the trade deadline last season.

Strengths: Winnipeg’s offense was one of the best in the NHL last season and there’s no reason that should change, barring catastrophic injuries to the likes of Patrik Laine, Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele. Laine could easily top 50 this season, and Wheeler and Scheifele are point-per-game players.

Winnipeg’s power play is lethal and they found secondary scoring in abundance last season. Their projected fourth line (or third, depending on how you look at it) was one of the top 10 lines in the league in terms of puck possession, goals-for percentage and expected goals-for percentage.

Weaknesses: The Jets have few faults, which is what you’d expect from a team that won 52 games last season. That said, questions marks on defense have dominated training camp. The team is trying Tyler Myers out on the left side with Dustin Byfuglien and early impressions aren’t favorable. The loss of Toby Enstrom, who the Jets couldn’t afford to re-sign, has created a hole that needs filling.

2017-18 Highlight: Winning Game 7 in emphatic fashion in the second round against the Nashville Predators to book a trip to the Western Conference Final.

MVP Candidate: Mark Scheifele. A 16-game absence robbed him from a solid run at the Hart last season. Wheeler will be in the mix, too, but Scheifele seems poised for a season that could creep close to the century mark in terms of points.

Playoffs or Lottery: Playoffs, and perhaps an improvement on their trip to the Western Final last year. They’re a Stanley Cup contender.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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