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Jordan Binnington’s incredible, season-saving run for Blues

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The St. Louis Blues are the hottest team in hockey and in a little less than a month-and-a-half have gone from being one of the worst, most disappointing teams in the league, to what now looks to be a sure-fire playoff team with less than a quarter of the season to go.

It is not hard to see what the turning point has been for them, and it happened on Jan. 7 when they gave Jordan Binnington, a 25-year-old goalie that had appeared in just three NHL games in his career to that point, all of them in mop-up duty, his very first start.

He stopped all 25 shots he faced that night in a 3-0 win over the Philadelphia Flyers, and he has simply not stopped winning since.

The early numbers so far are more than impressive

  • In his 20 appearances this season he has recorded a 15-2-1 record for the Blues.
  • He has a .936 save percentage that is tops among goalies that have appeared in at least 20 games. Tampa Bay’s Andre Vasilevskiy is second at .930.
  • Along with that, he has a .948 save percentage at even-strength, that is also far and away the best mark in the league. New York Islanders goalie Thomas Greiss is second at .938.

When the Blues lost Carter Hutton in free agency this past summer to the Buffalo Sabres, it left their net in the hands of Jake Allen and Chad Johnson to start the season. That experience did not go well for either one of them individually, or for the Blues as a team. Through Jan 6, one day before Binnington’s first career start, the two Blues’ goalies had combined for an .891 save percentage, a performance that was, at the time, the third-worst in the league ahead of only the Philadelphia Flyers and Florida Panthers.

The Blues had their share of problems early in the season, but none of them were bigger than the black hole that was their goaltending situation. Neither Allen or Johnson were able to do anything to secure the position, and their performance was helping to sabotage a team that probably should have been at least a little bit better than their overall record showed.

Then Binnington showed up and everything for the Blues has been different ever since.

After being selected in the third-round of the 2011 draft by the Blues, Binnington spent the first seven years of his pro career in the American Hockey League and really started to see his performance improve over the past three. Still, he never really got his chance until this season and so far it has been a somewhat historic run that is kind of reminiscent of the improbable starts that Patrick Lalime and Andrew Hammond had to their careers when they came out of nowhere to lift their teams in their debut seasons.

Going as far back as the 1987 season, Binnington is one of just seven goalies to win at least 15 of their first 21 appearances in the NHL, joining a list that includes Brent Johnson, Hammond, Matt Murray, Semyon Varlamov, Lalime, and Frederik Andersen.

At some point Binnington’s individual performance is going to regress. It did for all of the goalies just mentioned, and there is no way he is going to maintain a .936 overall save percentage and a .948 even-strength save percentage. Lets be realistic here, it is a hot start to a career that could still go in any direction. Nobody, not even the Blues and Binnington himself, knows what that direction will ultimately be because projecting goalie performance is an almost impossible task, even for the people that are paid big money to have to figure it out. But this hot streak is still happening, and it came at just the right time for a Blues team that spent its offseason spending big money in an effort to get back into the playoffs and was dangerously close to having it all go to waste because nobody could stop the puck for them.

They found somebody to do that, and the season is headed right where they hoped it would be when it began.

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.

Winning with Binnington: Blues goalie making most of chance

By Stephen Whyno (AP Hockey Writer)

Jordan Binnington doesn’t let much get to him.

When junior goaltending coach Greg Redquest put him through the paces of a post-practice skate, he came away seeing the same chill Binnington.

”He doesn’t sweat,” Redquest said. ”He’s just too cool.”

Binnington is playing cool and has made the St. Louis Blues the hottest team in the NHL. After finally getting his call-up from the minors at age 25, Binnington is 12-1-1 with four shutouts in his first 14 starts and the Blues have won 10 in a row to go from out of the race to firmly in a playoff position.

When Binnington made his first start Jan. 7, St. Louis sat dead last in the Western Conference, nine points back of a playoff spot. The Blues turned to him to make a difference. No pressure, kid.

”With a little bit of pressure comes opportunity, right?” Binnington said. ”You try to do your best to feel confident and prepared for the moment, so you just work hard off the ice and on the ice in practice, and when the moment finally comes, hopefully you’re prepared. That’s kind of how I looked at it.”

It has been a near-perfect look. Binnington has stopped 356 of 380 shots for a 1.58 goals-against average and .937 save percentage. He’s the first goalie since Curtis Sanford in 2005-06 with multiple 30-save shutouts.

That kind of play is just what the Blues needed to crawl out of a hole dug before Craig Berube replaced Mike Yeo as coach.

”He’s played really well,” Berube said. ”He’s stopped the ones he’s supposed to stop, and he’s looked really confident in net, and aggressive.”

A lack of confidence has never been the problem. Redquest, who coached Binnington for four seasons with the Ontario Hockey League’s Owen Sound Attack, said the goalie’s technique has always been on point, with the need for just a few tweaks here and there.

The mental part of the game was a work in progress. Redquest, who still works with Binnington in the summer, said if a bad goal gets in, sometimes he’d just ask about what Binnington did the previous night to get his mind off it and back on track.

Binnington hasn’t allowed many goals, but he has shown an uncanny ability to shake them off, not allowing more than four in a game so far.

”If the puck goes in, it doesn’t bother him,” Redquest said by phone Monday ”(Blues veteran goalie) Jake Allen, he plays a little bit deeper in the goal than Jordan. Jordan comes out and challenges a bit more and everything hits him, and it’s just hitting him. And he’s so patient. He won’t overplay anything.”

So what took so long for Binnington to get this chance? Mostly a numbers game, with the Blues committed long term to Allen and rotating Brian Elliott, Carter Hutton and Chad Johnson into the crease in recent years.

Binnington bided his time in the American Hockey League, competing and building a friendship with Pheonix Copley along the way. The two came to blows in a game last year but are now both in the NHL.

”I think we both understood that having that competition is healthy and it pushed us both to be better goalies and learn from each other,” said Copley, who is the Washington Capitals’ backup. ”We had a really beneficial relationship for both of us.”

Binnington earned AHL All-Star honors last year and had three shutouts in his first 16 games this season under head coach Drew Bannister and assistant Daniel Tkaczuk, whom he knew from juniors. Bannister noticed a more confident and mature goalie than the one he knew from several years earlier when it came to brushing off adversity.

”Jordan himself off the ice has had to adjust himself, too, and not kind of let things bother him,” Bannister said. ”In the past, Jordan, that was probably part of his game where he let things bother him and it worked into his game. I think you see a goalie that believes in himself and obviously his teammates believe in him.”

His AHL teammates believed in him, and when Johnson didn’t work out and was put on waivers, Binnington got the opportunity he had been waiting for and fit right in with the Blues.

”That’s where your surroundings come in,” Binnington said. ”There’s good people around you that can keep you going in the right direction and believe in yourself. If the opportunity came, you want to be prepared for it, so that’s kind of what my mindset was. Thankfully, it came.”

The Blues are thankful, too. They’ve played better in front of their goalies since Berube took over, but Binnington making so many expected and unexpected saves has changed the course of St. Louis’ season.

”Obviously he’s playing outstanding,” center Ryan O'Reilly said. ”With Binner coming in with the way he’s been playing, I think it’s a spark. I think he’s coming in excited and playing with great energy. It provides a spark, for sure.”

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

The Buzzer: Ducks’ Boyle gets first NHL start, first win and first shutout

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Three stars

1. Kevin Boyle, Anaheim Ducks

Boyle, 26, made his first NHL start and was perfect in the game, stopping all 35 shots sent his way for his first NHL shutout.

The Boyle era began after John Gibson was placed on injured reserve on Wednesday with an upper-body injury. Chad Johnson, Gibson’s backup and the man who Boyle had to come in for in a relief effort on Saturday, is out with a head injury.

The game was also the first for Bob Murray behind the bench after he took over following the firing of Randy Carlyle earlier this week.

And the win snapped a seven-game losing streak for the Ducks, who came into the game losers for 19 of their past 21.

And this reaction:

“I honestly don’t have many words, this is incredible,” an emotional Boyle said in the post-game interview. “It’s been a tough past couple of days for me and my wife and my family. To be able to come out here and get a win, it’s just incredible.”

The New Jersey native said he thinks he blacked out around the same time the Canucks pulled the goalie late in the third.

Boyle has spent the past three seasons with San Diego of the American Hockey League. He played college puck at UMass-Lowell.

He’ll get another start.

2. Matt Murray, Pittsburgh Penguins

Shot suppression hasn’t been something the Penguins have been all that good at over the past two games. Murray stopped a career-high 50 shots in a 4-1 win on Monday.

Two days later, Murray was back in the crease, and while the siege wasn’t as heavy, he still made 38 saves in a 3-1 win.

Getting pelted every night and only allowing a single goal probably isn’t sustainable, but Murray’s play is going to be a massive factor down the stretch of Pittsburgh is going to take another run at Lord Stanley. If he’s starting to heat up now, there’s not a better time to do so.

3. Jacob Markstrom, Vancouver Canucks

Markstrom only had one blemish on his record in the loss to the Ducks. He stopped 21 shots in his return after missing Monday’s 7-2 slaughtering at the hands of the San Jose Sharks with back spasms.

Markstrom has been solid recently, despite a subpar Canucks team in front of him. He’s had a .930 save percentage or better in four of his past six starts now.

Highlights of the night

The OG Mighty Ducks:

This one-two punch:

Factoids

Scores

Penguins 3, Oilers 1
Ducks 1, Canucks 0


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

Ducks’ injury problems could derail hot streak

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The Anaheim Ducks have really been heating up lately, grabbing six wins in their last seven games. A painfully familiar problem could derail all of that promise, however, as injuries are once again mounting.

The Ducks provided two unfortunate updates on Tuesday:

***

Ryan Miller: The superb backup suffered an MCL sprain during Sunday’s wild 6-5 shootout win against the Devils. His recovery window is estimated at six weeks, while they’ll evaluate the veteran goalie once more in two weeks.

As you can note from this breakdown from Anaheim’s five-game winning streak, much of the Ducks’ success came from an impeccable goalie duo of Miller and John Gibson. Gibson is the Vezina-level workhorse, but don’t count out Miller’s contributions. He’s continued a so-far-phenomenal run with the Ducks, managing a .922 save percentage in 10 games this season (with four goals allowed against New Jersey hurting his numbers more than a bit).

Anaheim did get at least one bit of good luck here, relatively speaking. The Ducks were able to pluck an experienced goalie in Chad Johnson off of waivers, as they took him off of the St. Louis Blues’ hands. His former Bengals WR namesake celebrated the occasion:

Johnson’s off to a lousy start in 2018-19 (.884 save percentage in 10 games), and really struggled with the Calgary Flames last season. Even so, his .909 career save percentage is still pretty good for a journeyman backup, especially since the Ducks didn’t need to cough up any assets to give him a try.

None of this makes Miller’s loss good news, yet there’s at least a chance that Johnson could hold down the fort whenever Gibson needs a breather.

***

Rickard Rakell: the Ducks didn’t provide a timetable for the winger’s return, labeling his injury as a sprained ankle.

The Athletic’s Eric Stephens reports that Rakell was wearing a protective boot this weekend:

Despite being out since Dec. 5, Rakell stands as the Ducks’ second-highest scorer (20 points in 30 games), trailing only Ryan Getzlaf.

While that 6-5 shootout win against the Devils shows that Anaheim can fill the net from time to time (pauses for own-goal jokes), they’ve generally been scoring just enough to win lately. With that in mind, Rakell’s injury really stings, especially if Nick Ritchie and Pontus Aberg start to cool off.

***

To review, Miller and Rakell join a growing list of injured Ducks. Corey Perry and Cam Fowler are recovering from significant issues that required surgeries. Patrick Eaves is also dealing with injury/health issues, and it’s fair to wonder how often Ryan Kesler is truly at full-strength.

At the moment, the Ducks are ranked third in the Pacific Division with 37 points in 32 games, as the Sharks have the same 16-11-5 record but own an edge in ROW (16 to 13). They’ll close their current homestand out on Wednesday, then head out on the road for six straight away games, mostly against Eastern Conference teams:

Wed, Dec. 12: vs. Dallas
Sat, Dec. 15: @ Columbus
Mon, Dec. 17: @ Pittsburgh
Tue, Dec. 18: @ Rangers
Thu, Dec. 20: @ Boston
Sat, Dec. 22: @ Buffalo
Thu, Dec. 27: @ San Jose

It hasn’t always been pretty for the Ducks, but credit them for fighting through injuries. Unfortunately, it looks like they’ll need to keep doing so.

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.

WATCH LIVE: Red Wings host Blues on Wednesday Night Hockey

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NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Wednesday night’s matchup between the St. Louis Blues at the Detroit Red Wings at 7 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports App by clicking here.

Here’s something that is delightful about the NHL in 2018: even struggling teams tend to bring real talent to the table.

The St. Louis Blues and Detroit Red Wings fall under that category. That much was expected (if not always embraced) in Detroit, while the ups and downs prove to be a sobering reality for St. Louis.

[WATCH LIVE – 7 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

It must be frustrating for Ryan O'Reilly to watch the Sabres flourish with a 10-game winning streak during their first season without him, but you can’t blame ROR for Mike Yeo getting canned in favor of Craig Berube. O’Reilly has been more than just a great two-way forward; he’s been a star so far for the Blues. His 26 points lead all Blues, and by quite a bit, as also-great winger Vladimir Tarasenko has generated a mildly disappointing 18 points in 22 games.

With Alexander Steen back, the Blues are closer to 100 percent, even though Jaden Schwartz‘s frustrating health luck keeps him sidelined. If a Rob line (Robert Thomas and Robby Fabbri with honorary Rob Brayden Schenn) can provide St. Louis with some extra oomph, the Blues might just be onto something.

The Red Wings may be in a rebuild mode, but they’re not the usual layup you’d expect from a team facing such an outlook.

Their top line is a big reason why. Anthony Mantha‘s been on fire lately, while Dylan Larkin continues to prove that he’s a viable first-line center in the NHL.

Both the Blues and Red Wings have enjoyed prouder days, but it wouldn’t be a big upset if this ended up being a fun game nonetheless. For St. Louis, it might be something to build on for the nearer future, while the Red Wings aim to build a new foundation.

[Read more about this game in this extended preview]

What: St. Louis Blues at Detroit Red Wings
Where: Little Caesars Arena
When: Wednesday, November 28th, 7 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Blues-Red Wings stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINES

BLUES

Alexander Steen — Ryan O’Reilly — Vladimir Tarasenko

Robby Fabbri — Brayden Schenn — Robert Thomas

David PerronTyler BozakPatrick Maroon

Zach SanfordIvan BarbashevOskar Sundqvist

Vince DunnAlex Pietrangelo

Joel EdmundsonColton Parayko

Jay BouwmeesterJordan Schmaltz

Starting goalie: Chad Johnson

RED WINGS

Anthony Mantha — Dylan Larkin — Justin Abdelkader

Gustav NyquistFrans NielsenAndreas Athanasiou

Tyler BertuzziLuke GlendeningMichael Rasmussen

Thomas VanekJacob De La RoseMartin Frk

Trevor DaleyMike Green

Danny DeKeyserNick Jensen

Niklas KronwallDennis Cholowski

Starting goalie: Jimmy Howard

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.