Wednesday Night Hockey: Oilers go head-to-head with banged up Blues

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

The Oilers are coming off a 4-1 loss to the Dallas Stars on Monday night, but they played that game without superstar Connor McDavid (illness). It was the first time that McDavid missed time since he broke his collarbone during his rookie season. The good news for Edmonton, is that he was able to hit the ice for practice yesterday, so it appears as though he’ll be able to go against the Blues.

“We were either above the bar with a lot of guys or below the bar, nothing in between…really, you have to be able to win games if you’re missing one (premier) guy. It’s not the end of the world,” head coach Ken Hitchcock said after the loss to Dallas.

As you’d imagine, McDavid has been a huge part of the Oilers this season. Before missing Monday’s game, he had accumulated 14 goals and 35 points in just 26 games. Unfortunately for Edmonton, the lack of support for McDavid has translated into the team being outside of the playoff picture right now (they’re five points behind Minnesota for the last Wild Card spot).

On a positive note, they’ve been getting better results since Hitchcock took over behind the bench. With Hitchcock, the Oilers have gone 4-2-1. Sure, it’s a small sample, but they’ll take what they can get at this point.

Like the Oilers, the Blues also made a coaching change earlier this season, as they replaced Mike Yeo with Craig Berube. Not much has changed for St. Louis since Berube took over. With him, they’re 2-4-0, including an ugly 6-1 loss in Arizona on Saturday night.

[WATCH LIVE – 7 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

The fact that the injury bug has taken such a huge bite out of the Blues definitely won’t make things easier for them. St. Louis will be without Alex Pietrangelo (hand) and Robby Fabbri (shoulder) for the next little while. Both players will be re-evaluated around Christmas time. Alex Steen (concussion), Jaden Schwartz (upper body) and Carl Gunnarsson (upper body) are all day-to-day.

“It’s one of those things where you’ve got to realize that it’s time to step up for everybody,” defenseman Colton Parayko said. “It’s something that someone else has got to jump into different roles, maybe take on a different role and just bring something different each and every night and be prepared. Obviously at this point, we know where we’re at and we want to continue to get better and we want to climb the standings and that’s going to take a lot of commitment from everybody. Everyone’s got to play together and it’s not just going to happen in one game. It’s going to be a step up for everybody.”

The Blues need to go on a run if they want to salvage their season. They’re currently 11 points out of a playoff spot.

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.

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.

WATCH LIVE: Blues visit Blackhawks on Wednesday Night Hockey

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Wednesday night’s matchup between the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues at 8 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Blackhawks and Blues find themselves at the bottom of the Central Division eneytering Wednesday’s meeting. Chicago took the first two meetings in overtime, but St. Louis got one back with a 7-3 victory on Oct. 27.

New Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton is still looking for his first win since replacing Joel Quenneville. Chicago is 0-2-1 under Colliton, which has extended their losing streak to eight games. That loss to the Blues was the game that started this current slide. They’ve not had a nine-game losing streak since the 2011-12 NHL season.

“I believe we’re on the right track. I believe we will turn this around. I think we’ve got really good players,” said Colliton. “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.”

The dark clouds that were above the Blues earlier this season have brightened as they’ve won four of their last six. During that six-game stretch they’ve sliced their goals against per game from 4 to 2.5. Ryan O'Reilly is also excelling with eight goals and 17 points during a 10-game point streak.

Jake Allen‘s play was a factor in the Blues’ slow start, which opened the door for Chad Johnson, who’s played well in net for the last three games. He’s stopped 86 of the last 90 shots he’s faced and will get his chance to continue to shine during this current three-game road trip. Tonight, however, it’s Allen’s net versus the Blackhawks.

“He’s been our best player. You’ve seen countless times the big saves he’s making that are giving us a chance to win,” O’Reilly said about Johnson. “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.”

[WATCH LIVE – 8 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: St. Louis Blues at Chicago Blackhawks
Where: United Center
When: Wednesday, November 14th, 8 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Blues-Blackhawks stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

BLUES
Jaden Schwartz – Ryan O’Reilly – Vladimir Tarasenko
Robby FabbriTyler BozakAlexander Steen
Zach SanfordRobert ThomasDavid Perron
Patrick MaroonIvan BarbashevOskar Sundqvist

Carl GunnarssonAlex Pietrangelo
Vince DunnJordan Schmaltz
Joel EdmundsonJay Bouwmeester

Starting goalie: Jake Allen

BLACKHAWKS
Nick SchmaltzJonathan ToewsPatrick Kane
Brandon SaadArtem AnisimovJohn Hayden
Alex DeBrincatDavid KampfDominik Kahun
Chris Kunitz – Luke Johnson – Andreas Martinsen

Duncan KeithBrent Seabrook
Erik GustafssonHenri Jokiharju
Brandon Manning – Gustav Forling

Starting goalie: Corey Crawford

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.