Brendan Gallagher

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Wednesday Night Hockey: Blues finding ways to overcome key injuries

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

The Stanley Cup hangover can be a real thing. It’s come back to bite several defending champions over the years. The St. Louis Blues had every reason to fall apart early on this season for a number of reasons, but to their credit they’ve been able to stand at the top of the Central Division.

Before we jump into the Blues, we have to point out that their opponent tonight, the Pittsburgh Penguins, have also been decimated by injuries lately. They’re currently without Sidney Crosby, Patric Hornqvist, Bryan Rust, Brian Dumoulin, Justin Schultz and Nick Bjugstad.

But St. Louis is missing some firepower of their own, too.

Sniper Vladimir Tarasenko has been out of the lineup since Oct. 26. He underwent shoulder surgery and he’ll be re-evaluated sometime in March. The 27-year-old had 10 points in 10 games when he came out of the lineup.

“History has shown to me, losing Vladi, it’s a big loss to a team, but you can overcome these ones — you hope to be able to overcome it,” general manager Doug Armstrong said. “(But) it’s the next one and the one after that is where everything starts to get really tested.”

In their first game without Tarasenko, they dropped a 3-0 decision to the Boston Bruins in a Stanley Cup rematch. Since then, they’ve found a way to go 13-2-3, which is very impressive.

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

Like Armstrong mentioned, good teams can absorb one big loss, but it’s the other injuries that really test your squads depth. The Blues have also been without Alexander Steen (12 games), Sammy Blais (nine games), Robert Thomas (five games) and Oskar Sundqvist (three games). How they continue to get the job done is pretty amazing.

“Our organization (has) done a great job of finding players that can come up and do the job up here,” head coach Craig Berube explained. “We’ve got a deep farm team, and whether it’s from drafting and free-agent signings, like (Nathan) Walker and (Derrick) Pouliot, they came up and filled in real nice.”

Having depth in the minors is nice, but there’s no way they’d be able to overcome these injuries without added contributions from their top players. The defending champs have received some solid production from David Perron, who leads them in scoring with 28 points in 29 games. Ryan O'Reilly has just one goal in his last 11 games, but he’s found a way to chip in with 26 points in 29 outings. And Brayden Schenn (team-high 14 goals), Jaden Schwartz (22 points) and Alex Pietrangelo (20 points) have all done their part. Even a depth player like Ivan Barbashev has done his part by picking up six points in his last four games.

The other big reason they’ve been able to fight through all this adversity is because of the solid goaltending their receiving, and it’s not just Jordan Binnington. Yes, Binnington has been terrific this year, as he’s posted a 13-4-4 record with a 2.26 goals-against-average and a .926 save percentage. He’s showing that last year’s run was no fluke.

Backup netminder Jake Allen has also done his part. Allen and Binnington have split starts with an even rotation over the last few weeks. The veteran owns a 5-1-2 record with a 2.35 goals-against-average and a .926 save percentage this season. That only regulation loss came at home against the Montreal Canadiens on Oct. 19. He allowed a horrendous goal to Habs forward Brendan Gallagher in that one, but he’s found a way to bounce back since then.

The Blues will hit a rough patch at some point, but there’s no reason to believe they’ll fall apart completely because they’re showing they have the talent and mental ability to face adversity head on.

They’ll probably be really sad to see the 2019 calendar year end in a few weeks though. It’s been a really good year for them.

Liam McHugh will host Wednesday’s coverage on NHL Live alongside analysts Mike Milbury and Keith Jones and NHL insider Bob McKenzie. Mike Emrick, Eddie Olczyk and Brian Boucher will call Blues-Penguins from PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, Pa.

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.

Canadiens have strangest disallowed goal of season (Video)

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The final minute of the third period in Saturday’s Montreal-New Jersey game devolved into weirdness when the Canadiens thought they had scored a late goal to gain the upper hand on the Devils.

It was not to be after a review because it was determined that Canadiens forward Phillip Danault had “kicked” the puck into the net with his … leg? … Knee? … Hip? Whatever it was, it was a body part that he wasn’t allowed to use to guide the puck into the net. That ruling sent the game to overtime where Kyle Palmieri scored on the power play to give the Devils a 4-3 win after overcoming a two-goal deficit.

They have now won three out of four games.

But let’s get back to that bizarre non-goal for the Canadiens because there was a lot going on in that sequence. Including…

  • It all started with Shea Weber trying to blast a one-timer from the blue line only to have his stick shatter upon making contact with the puck.
  • The puck slowly rolled to Brendan Gallagher who was in perfect position to get a point-blank shot at the net, only to have Mackenzie Blackwood get a piece of it.
  • From there, the puck trickled along the goal crease where Devils forward Nico Hischier appeared to cover the puck which should have resulted in a penalty shot. The referees either did not see that or did not feel it was worthy of being called. There was also a trip in there, just for good measure.
  • It was at that point that Danault saw the puck sitting on the goal line and attempted to — for lack of a better word — thrust it over the line. “A” for effort, high marks for creativity and doing whatever it takes, but that is against the rules.

From NHL Rule 78.1:

A goal cannot be scored when the puck has been deliberately batted with any part of the attacking player’s body into the net.

So there you go.

You can see the entire sequence in the video above.

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.

The Buzzer: Bruins end slump; Blackwood baffles Penguins

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Three Stars

1. Mackenzie Blackwood, New Jersey Devils

If the Devils are going to dig themselves out of the big hole they made to start 2019-20, it’s highly likely that Blackwood will be the goalie who helps them do it.

Lately, the 22-year-old has been rotating nice wins (.968 save percentage or higher in three victories) with tough losses (.889 or lower in three defeats). Friday represented one of the nicest wins yet, as he stopped 38 out of 39 of the Penguins’ shots to help the Devils steal a 2-1 decision.

Natural Stat Trick places the Penguins’ expected goals at 3.55, and their high-danger chances at 14 at all strengths, so Blackwood was the clear difference-maker in that narrow triumph.

2. Tomas Tatar, Montreal Canadiens

The Habs got revenge on the scoreboard after Alex Ovechkin landed that devastating hit on Jonathan Drouin, and Tatar was a big catalyst for that rally.

Yes, his goal was an empty-netter, but Tatar already had a top-three-worthy night when he piled up three assists. If you’d prefer his linemate Phillip Danault (1G, 2A, nothing on that ENG), that’s fine, too. Being boiling up some righteous indignation, the plus side of Drouin getting shaken up might be that Claude Julien went back to Tatar, Danault, and Brendan Gallagher as a line ever so briefly. Via Natural Stat Trick, they generated two five-on-five goals for in just 42 seconds of TOI together. Piping-hot take: maybe keep them with each other a little bit longer?

Overall, Tatar was an absurd possession beast on Friday, generating a ridiculous 80% Fenwick Four. By any measure, he was spectacular, and there’s a compelling case for Tatar being placed above Blackwood as the top star of the night.

3. Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins

Attempting to defense the Bruins’ top line must be agonizing, as Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak just bring so many strengths to the table. It might be especially frustrating to try to contain Marchand, though.

Not only will he trash talk you (and back it up), but he’s also very smart and elusive, finding openings even when there’s just a bit of space to work with. Marchand played a big role in Boston ending its winning streak, and also extending Toronto’s torment, by scoring two goals, including the game-winner.

But, yeah, that troll game is also there.

Highlight of the Night

Zach Werenski had been off to a bit of a slow start scoring-wise for the Columbus Blue Jackets this season, but the 22-year-old is gaining some serious steam lately. Werenski scored the overtime game-winner for Columbus on Friday, extending his goal streak to three games (three goals, one assist).

(Some might vote for the Ovechkin hit as the clip of the night, though.)

Factoids

  • Via NHL PR: Zdeno Chara became the fourth defenseman in NHL history aged 42 or older to generate a three-game point streak. Chris Chelios has done it twice, and holds the best run with a four-game tear. The other two (Doug Harvey, Tim Horton) make it quite the list.
  • Another aging defenseman stat from NHL PR: Shea Weber became the third active NHL defenseman to generate at least a five-game point streak at age 34 or older. Chara did it in 2011-12, while Mark Giordano has two streaks of seven games. Weber also scored his 209th goal, placing him 18th all-time among NHL defensemen, via Sportsnet.
  • Saucy one from Sportsnet: the Maple Leafs and Oilers have the same point percentage (.531) in 64 games since Jan. 1, and Edmonton actually has one more win (30 to 29).

Scores

BOS 4 – TOR 2
NJD 2 – PIT 1
MTL 5 – WSH 2
CBJ 3 – STL 2 (OT)
OTT 2 – PHI 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.

The great line nobody is talking about

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When we think about the best lines in hockey, our mind immediately goes to the Bruins’ perfection line of Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak and Patrice Bergeron. Or we think of the trio in Colorado made up of Mikko Rantanen, Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon. Those are the two best lines in hockey right now, but there’s three players in Montreal that are being overlooked.

Phillip Danault, Tomas Tatar and Brendan Gallagher aren’t superstars in the same way that Bergeron, Marchand, Pastrnak, Rantanen, MacKinnon and Landeskog are, but they’ve made up an important line since the start of last season. Not only does that line match up against the opposition’s best forwards, they usually tend to dictate the terms of the game night in and night out.

General manager Marc Bergevin deserves a lot of credit for helping create this line. Yes, Claude Julien put them together, but Bergevin went out and acquired two of the three players when they weren’t exactly in high demand. Gallagher was drafted before Bergevin arrived, but Danault was acquired, as a prospect, from Bergevin’s former team, the Chicago Blackhawks. And Tatar was thrown into the trade involving Max Pacioretty by the Vegas Golden Knights.

Individually, their offensive numbers don’t pop. Danault has nine points in 15 games, while Tatar and Gallagher both have 13 points in 15 games. But take these three players, put them together and watch them dominate.

Danault has played over 156 minutes with Tatar and almost 170 minutes with Gallagher this season, according to Natural Stat Trick. When the trio is on the ice together, they control nearly 60 percent of the shot attempts. Again, keep in mind that they nearly always draw the most difficult assignment of the night.

Last night, at even strength, the trio matched up against the vaunted Perfection Line for most of the night. Keep in mind, the Bruins were playing their second game in two nights, but that still doesn’t take away from the job the Danault line did against them.

Pastrnak managed to score a power-play goal in the first period, which Bergeron helped set up by winning the offensive-zone faceoff. But Marchand saw his 13-game point streak come to an end.

Check out this go-ahead goal by Tatar. Before the puck goes into the net, it was Gallagher that forced the puck away from Pastrnak in the neutral zone. The Canadiens went the other way in transition and they end up scoring. That came just moments after the Bruins’ winger tied the game.

31 seconds later, Paul Byron made it 3-1.

That’s what this three-man unit does for the Canadiens. When Claude Julien starts a period, he usually turns to them. When he needs an energetic shift to spark his team, he turns to them. More often than not, they deliver.

“They’re pretty easy players to play with,” Gallagher said of Danault and Tatar last month, per the Montreal Gazette. “For me, they seem to find me quite a bit and that’s probably why I end up with more shots. They’re very good playmakers and for me to kind of stick to my game is kind of what I try to do.

“I think the three of us enjoy playing together, we enjoy the challenges that the coaching staff gives us every game. That’s something that we’ve had to embrace and I think it’s been good for all three of us.”

The Habs have players with more individual talent. Max Domi, for example, led the team is scoring with 72 points last year and Jonathan Drouin can do things with the puck than most players can only dream of. But these three, when together, are the team’s engine.

Without their chemistry, there’s no way the Canadiens are as good as they are right now. Montreal will have to continue scratching and clawing for every point in the standings, but they can do so knowing they have this group of three leading them into battle every night.

So yeah, they probably won’t get the recognition they deserve nationally because they aren’t the biggest names in the game (they don’t even have a nickname yet), but they have to be considered one of the five best lines in hockey right now.

MORE: Habs’ Domi using special sticks to further diabetes awareness

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.

NHL on NBCSN: Bruins a big test for Canadiens team trying to make its mark

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Tuesday’s matchup between the Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

For the past four years the Montreal Canadiens have been stuck in hockey purgatory.

They haven’t made the playoffs since the 2016-17 season, they haven’t won a playoff round since 2014-15, and they haven’t really taken a step in any real direction as an organization. They are not really a rebuilding team, but they have clearly not been a Stanley Cup contender, either. They just kind of exist in the middle of the league trying to find their way and make their mark in a top-heavy division that has been dominated by three of the league’s best teams the past three years.

On Tuesday night they get a major test against one of those teams — the Boston Bruins — in the latest chapter of one of the league’s fiercest rivalries. It will be a pretty good measuring stick game for a team that has showed flashes of potential this season.

One of the biggest positives in Montreal has been an offense that has been one of the league’s best through the first 14 games.

They enter Tuesday’s game fifth in the league in goals per game, sixth in shots on goal per game, and already have six players with at least four goals scored on the season, including three players with at least five goals. And that is with two of their best young players for the future — Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Nick Suzuki — not yet having a breakout offensively.

Jonathan Drouin has started to play like the impact player the Canadiens hoped he would be when they traded Mikhail Sergachev for him, Brendan Gallagher is still one of the league’s most underrated players as a possession-driving, 30-goal forward, and veterans like Tomas Tatar and Max Domi are still solid top-six wingers that can contribute to a contender.

[COVERAGE OF HABS-BRUINS BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

When you look at how the Canadiens have played there’s a lot to like in their game. They are tilting the ice in their favor (as the shot attempt and scoring chance numbers illustrate) and they can obviously score a little bit. But results have not always been there yet as they have played at a 93-point pace entering Tuesday’s game.

That would almost certainly just barely leave them on the outside of the Eastern Conference playoff picture yet again (they missed with 96 points a year ago). It would be an almost identical repeat of the 2018-19 season, and it just reinforces the single biggest problem with the current Canadiens’ organization — they are good, but not quite good enough and missing that one significant piece to help them break through the glass ceiling they have seemingly constructed over their heads.

The encouraging thing about this season is their territorial advantage is starting to produce more goals (something that was a problem last year) and should give them a chance to pick up the few extra wins they need, especially if Carey Price can be Carey Price when he plays (a capable backup to give him a break on occasion would also help).

Getting two points on Tuesday would be a nice step toward building something positive this season, especially as the schedule starts to lighten over the next couple of weeks. Their next 11 games after Boston include matchups against: Philadelphia (twice), Los Angeles, Columbus (twice), Ottawa, New York Rangers, and New Jersey (twice). There is a chance to stack some wins and get some points.

And for as good as Boston has been this season, and as dominant as the top line of David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand, and Patrice Bergeron has been, the Canadiens are catching a little bit of a break here with the schedule. While Montreal was sitting at home on Monday, the Bruins were playing a grueling back-and-forth game with the Pittsburgh Penguins, which was followed by an overnight trip to Montreal. There is an opportunity there for the Canadiens to pounce on a tired opponent, win a measuring stick game, and maybe start building something for this season.

Kathryn Tappen will anchor tonight’s studio coverage with Jeremy Roenick and Anson Carter. John Forslund and Mike Milbury will have the call from Bell Centre in Montreal, Que.

NBC Sports will premiere “The Russian Five” documentary, a feature on the first five Russians to play hockey together in the NHL, Wednesday, November 6, following Wednesday Night Hockey between the Red Wings and Rangers. The documentary tells the story of how Sergei Fedorov, Slava Fetisov, Vladimir Konstantinov, Slava Kozlov, and Igor Larionov were able to defect from their homeland and transform the Detroit Red Wings into perennial contenders and back-to-back Stanley Cup Champions in 1996-97 and 1997-98.

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.