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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.

NHL Fantasy Hockey: Olofsson, Schwartz among this week’s best adds

Welcome to our weekly Adds/Drops column, where I focus on highlighting players you should consider grabbing or be concerned about in fantasy leagues. As always, the goal here isn’t to recommend 10 players you must add and five players that need to be dropped. Context is everything and the context of each league is different. What this is instead is a guideline so that if you’re looking to make a change, you have potential players to target and if you see players I’ve suggested to drop, you can evaluate your potential alternates.

Players Worth Adding

Jared Spurgeon, Wild – D: Spurgeon might not be the best of the best when it comes to offensive production from defensemen, but he has been rather good and reliable in recent years. He’s recorded between 37-43 points in each of his previous three seasons and he’s well on his way to doing at least that well in 2019-20 with three goals and 15 points in 26 games. His production has come in waves this season, but right now he’s riding one with a goal and six points in his last five contests. If you want to grab a hot defensemen who wouldn’t look out of place on most teams throughout the year then Spurgeon should be on your shortlist. Presently he’s only owned in 25% of Yahoo leagues.

Adam Fox, Rangers – D: If you want someone who is a bigger gamble than Spurgeon, but with more upside, then you could consider Fox instead. The one thing the two of them have in common is that both of them have been producing lately. In Fox’s case, he has two goals and five points in his last five games. Fox has been flying a bit under the radar for a while now though. He had no points in his first seven games while averaging just 16:04 minutes, but more recently the rookie has settled in and become a major contributor for the Rangers. From Oct. 24th onward, he’s scored five goals and 14 points in 18 contests while averaging 18:50 minutes. A lot of people haven’t gravitated to him yet given that he’s still owned in just 27% of Yahoo leagues, but if he keeps playing like this then he’ll start getting scooped up at an exponential rate. In other words, there might not be a whole lot more time to grab the 21-year-old.

Ivan Barbashev, Blues – C/LW: Barbashev had just 14 goals and 26 points in 80 games last season, but that’s hardly surprising given that he was averaging a modest 11:31 minutes. The Blues are giving him 13:33 minutes per game this season and his production has ticked up to four goals and 13 points in 28 contests. He’s not a major offensive threat, but at this point he’s worth at least looking at as a short-term grab when he’s hot. Now is such a time given that he’s scored two goals and six points in his last three games.

Gustav Nyquist, Blue Jackets – LW/RW: The Blue Jackets had a rough summer to say the least, but the one significant player they did manage to sign was Nyquist. He was limited to a goal in his first four games with them, perhaps because he was still finding his groove with his new team, but since then he’s been a pretty reliable contributor. He has six goals and 17 points in his last 22 games. Over that span he hasn’t been held off the scoresheet for more than two games in a row. Along with his eligibility on both wings, he’s a nice player to help fill the void if you’re dealing with injury problems.

Blake Coleman, Devils – LW/RW: Coleman’s not a great long-term pickup, but he might be worth gambling on in the short-term. He’s been effectively lately with six goals and 10 points in his last nine games. That’s in stark contrast to his three goals and four points in 16 contests start to the campaign. Coleman’s long-term production will fall about in the middle of those extremes, but for the most at least he’s playing above his norm.

[For more fantasy sports analysis, check out Rotoworld]

Joonas Donskoi, Avalanche – LW/RW: Donskoi is having a pretty interesting season. He’s been held off the scoresheet of 15 of 26 games, but he still has 11 goals and 22 points. That’s because when he does have an offensive game, it tends to be a big one. He has six multi-point games this season and four contests where he’s recorded at least three points. To put that in perspective, teammate Nathan MacKinnon, who has nearly double Donskoi’s point total, has contributed just one more three or more points game. This is all to say that Donskoi has been a bumpy ride, but if you can stomach the droughts, he has averaged out to be a pretty good contributor.

Dustin Brown, Kings – RW: Brown has already endured some prolonged slumps this season, but he’s been better lately with two goals and five points in six contests. It’s entirely possible this is just a bit of a hot streak and that proves to be the case, you shouldn’t hesitate to drop him. That said, he was pretty effective in 2017-18 and 2018-19, so it’s entirely possible that he’s turned a corner and will be fairly solid going forward.

Victor Olofsson, Sabres – LW/RW: Offensive defensemen have been the highlight of this season’s rookie pool thus far, but in terms of rookie forwards, Olofsson has led the charge with 10 goals and 20 points in 27 games. He had a quiet stretch from Oct. 17-Nov. 2 where he was limited to just two assists in eight games, but he’s bounced back in a big way with four goals and 10 points over his last 12 contests.

Jaden Schwartz, Blues – LW: Schwartz was limited to 11 goals and 36 points in 69 games last season, which is the worst he’s done from a points-per-game perspective since his 2012-13 rookie campaign. He’s bounced back nicely in 2019-20 though. He has seven goals and 20 points in 28 contests, making him a pretty decent stopgap if you need an injury replacement.

Mark Borowiecki, Senators – D: If you’re picking up Borowiecki, it will be primarily for the hits. He ranks second in the league with 108 hits and leads all defensemen in that category by a decent margin. The next best blueliner is Brenden Dillon, who has 86 hits this season. Borowiecki has always been a great contributor in the hits category, but what makes this season a little different is that he’s chipping in a bit offensively too. Not a lot, but it’s enough to tip the scales a bit more in his favor. He has two goals and 10 points in 27 contests. It helps that he’s averaging 17:10 minutes, which will be a career-high if he maintains it. 

Players You May Want To Drop

Jakob Silfverberg, Ducks – RW: From Oct. 8-Nov. 14, Silfverberg was contributing like an elite forward with nine goals and 17 points in 18 contests. He’s gone cold though, recording just an assist in his last seven games. Silfverberg has traditionally been a solid secondary scorer, but no more than that. I do think he’s worth keeping a close eye on even if you do drop him, but you should still examine your other options.

Jack Hughes, Devils – C: Hughes is day-to-day with a lower-body injury, but it sounds like that’s just a minor setback. The bigger issue is that Hughes is dealing with some growing pains in his rookie season. He has four goals and 11 points in 24 contests, which is hard to criticize given that he’s just 18-years-old, but it’s not the kind of production you’d hope for out of a first overall pick, even in their rookie season. If you’re in a keeper league then it’s still worth your while to hang onto Hughes as he should eventually be a great forward, but if you’re in a single season league then you’ll want to cut your losses. Even if he does heat up to an extent in the second half of the campaign, odds are it won’t be enough to warrant holding onto him given his center-only eligibility.

Kaapo Kakko, Rangers – RW: Those hoping this season’s Calder Trophy race would be a fight between Hughes and Kakko have been left disappointed. Like Hughes, Kakko hasn’t exactly excelled in his rookie season. The 2019 second overall pick has six goals and 11 points in 23 contests. He did seem to turn a corner from Oct. 29-Nov. 20 with five goals and eight points in eight games, but he fell right back with just an assist over his last six contests. It doesn’t help that he’s a huge plus/minus liability at minus-13.

Phil Kessel, Coyotes – RW: I’ll admit to being somewhat on the fence about this one. The Coyotes acquired Kessel to lead the charge for them offensively and he certainly has that ability, but so far this season he’s been fairly underwhelming. He has four goals and 14 points in 28 contests. He also has a minus-14 rating, which is terrible in general, but especially with Arizona this season. The Coyotes only have four minus players and Kessel’s rating is by far the worst. He is making a transition to a new team so it wouldn’t be shocking to see him have a better second half, but thus far he’s been a big disappointment.

Mackenzie Blackwood, Devils – G: Cory Schneider’s struggles and eventual demotion to the AHL has made Blackwood the clear number one goaltender in New Jersey, but he still leaves plenty to be desired. Blackwood has an 8-7-3 record, 3.12 GAA, and .898 save percentage in 18 contests this season. This has been a rough season for the Devils and their goaltending situation is one that’s best to avoid entirely.

If you’re looking for fantasy hockey information, Rotoworld is a great resource. You can check the player news for the latest information on any player and insight into their fantasy outlook.

Every week Michael Finewax looks ahead at the schedule and offers team-by-team notes in The Week Ahead. I have a weekly Fantasy Nuggets column where I basically talk about whatever’s captured my attention that week. Gus Katsaros does an Analytics columns if you want to get into detailed statistical analysis. If you’re interested in rookies and prospects, there’s a weekly column on that written by McKeen’s Hockey.

Top-line injuries to Blues and Avalanche shake up Central

Not long after the St. Louis Blues raised their Stanley Cup banner and the Colorado Avalanche got rolling on a season of high expectations each team has a significant obstacle to overcome.

The Blues will be without sniper Vladimir Tarasenko for five months, basically the rest of the regular season. The Avalanche – already missing injured winger Mikko Rantanen – ruled out captain Gabriel Landeskog indefinitely with a lower-body injury. Those injuries to top-line players on two Central Division powerhouses could shift the balance of power in the Western Conference for months.

”It shakes things up big time,” said retired forward Patrick Sharp, who spent 12+ of his 15 NHL seasons playing in the Central. ”It’s going to test the depth of these two teams.”

Tarasenko underwent right shoulder surgery Tuesday. The Russian winger scored 11 goals and added 15 assists on the Blues’ Cup run and is difficult to replace.

St. Louis will try to compensate but not by leaning too hard on playoff MVP Ryan O'Reilly and fellow stars Brayden Schenn and Jaden Schwartz. The onus is on the likes of Zach Sanford, Sammy Blais, Robert Thomas and Robby Fabbri to step up.

”Our team is built as the sum of all the parts,” general manager Doug Armstrong said. ”We’re going to have to have a strength in numbers (approach), and I believe that we can get it done.”

Sharp, who played 65 games against the Blues and watched their Cup triumph as an NBC Sports analyst, doesn’t doubt that. Because of Tarasenko’s production 5-on-5 and on the power play, he said losing him will test their offensive depth. He is looking specifically to Thomas to fill the void.

”The numbers didn’t really reflect the kind of playoffs that he had, but it seemed like every big game that the Blues had, Robert Thomas was one of the best forwards on the team,” Sharp said. ”If he can kind of recapture that playoff magic and show it in the next five, six months of the regular season, the Blues will be in good shape.”

Colorado opened the season 8-2-1 but will need to tread water until Rantanen and Landeskog return. First-line center Nathan MacKinnon is a one-man playmaker who no doubt benefits from having Rantanen and Landeskog and will have to be at his best – and try to stay healthy.

Much like the Blues, though, the Avalanche can’t put the pressure on one player.

”We have a significant amount of players that want more and feel like they’re playing real well,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said. ”I’m hoping they strive in situations like this and prove that they can take on a bigger role. … Having everyone dig in and try to step up their game, and make up for the guys that are out of the lineup is an important piece to winning especially if you’re going to try and sustain it over the course of the season.”

Knowing Colorado couldn’t be a one-line team and contend for the Cup, GM Joe Sakic traded for Nazem Kadri and Andre Burakovsky and signed Joonas Donskoi and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare to bolster his forward depth.

”These injuries to top players, that’s not necessarily a bad thing when you’re talking about the landscape of an eight-month season for Colorado,” Sharp said. ”If they have aspirations of going deep in the playoffs, they’re going to need big contributions from everybody. So a little adversity at the start of the year doesn’t hurt anybody.”

It might help the Nashville Predators, Winnipeg Jets and Dallas Stars in the stacked Central Division. Predators center Matt Duchene on Tuesday night returned from a brief absence with a lower-body injury.

LANDESKOG X2

Colorado’s captain isn’t the only injured Landeskog. The horse by the same name was scratched from the upcoming $2 million Breeders’ Cup Sprint.

”Horse always comes first,” Avalanche defenseman and racehorse part-owner Erik Johnson tweeted. ”Bad day for Landeskog human and equine.”

Told of Landeskog’s human namesake also being hurt, trainer Doug O’Neill said, ”Maybe it’s twin pain.”

JOSI DOMINOES

Roman Josi‘s eight-year extension with the Predators worth $9.1 million a season will have a ripple effect on other top pending free agent defensemen like Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo and Boston’s Torey Krug.

Since all three were full-time NHL players beginning in 2013, Josi has 327 points and averaged 25:30 of ice time, Pietrangelo has 284 points and averaged 25:19 and Krug has 294 points and averaged 25:30.

”Every contract is relative when you’re talking about comparable players,” said agent Mark Guy, who represents Pietrangelo. ”Obviously whenever you go through and you sit down and negotiate with a team, players and teams have comparables that they shoot towards, and Josi and Alex are obviously in most people’s minds comparable players.”

Pietrangelo’s go-ahead goal helps Blues defeat Wild: 3 observations

Alex Pietrangelo scores go-ahead goal vs. Blues
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Alex Pietrangelo’s third-period goal helped the St. Louis Blues defeat the Minnesota Wild 2-1 Wednesday evening at Enterprise Center.

Sammy Blais also scored and Jordan Binnington made 35 saves including several in the final minutes as the Blues picked up their second straight win.

Devan Dubnyk stopped 24 shots and Mats Zuccarello scored his first of the season as the Wild continued to struggle on the road, falling to 1-8-0 away from Xcel Energy Center.

Life without Tarasenko

While the loss of Vladimir Tarasenko cannot be minimized, the Blues will try to rely on their organizational depth to replace the missing offense.

Tarasenko averaged just over 71 points a season for the previous five years, and his production will not be replaced by a sole individual.

Sammy Blais got his first crack at the right-wing slot alongside Jaden Schwartz and Brayden Schenn against the Minnesota Wild. A sixth-round pick of the 2014 draft provided an offensive boost when he snapped a wrist shot over the glove of Darcy Kuemper to open the scoring at 6:52 of the second period.

While Blais is not expected to produce at the same rate as Tarasenko did in previous seasons, a surge in production from No. 9 will help the Blues overcome the loss of one of their elite offensive players.

[RELATED: McKenzie on Pietrangelo’s contract situation]

Zuccarello gets his first

It has taken nine games, but Mats Zuccarello finally notched his first goal as a member of the Minnesota Wild after signing a five-year contract with them this past summer. The crafty winger darted toward the net and got two chances at a loose puck while Blues defenseman Justin Faulk got caught watching the puck.

Wild coach Bruce Boudreau was brief during an in-game interview with Brian Boucher on Wednesday Night Hockey when asked about Zuccarello.

“To score and create goals and be a distributor of the puck.,” Boudreau said about what the Wild expect from their top offseason addition. “I’m really happy he got his first because now it might set him on fire.”

Minnesota has resisted the need to rebuild its roster in recent years and the long-term contract handed to Zuccarello this summer is just another example that the organization believes it has the players to contender in the formidable Central Division.

Zuccarello has overcome a lot of adversity throughout his NHL career and living up to his contract in Minnesota will be another challenge for the Norwegian winger.

Binnington remains unfazed

The Blues’ goalie developed a reputation during last year’s Stanley Cup journey for being unflappable between the pipes during most frantic moments.

While a regular-season divisional match up will never equal the intensity from a playoff or Cup-Final game, Binnington proved once again that he remains composed at all times, no matter the situation.

Binnington made 12 saves in the third period including several in the final minutes as the Blues prevented the Wild from forcing an extra session. His stoic nature in the crease gives his teammates a source of confidence, which allows the Blues to thrive when the game is on the line.

MORE: Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Wednesday Night Hockey: Blues prepare for life without Tarasenko

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

We knew that the defending Stanley Cup Champions would go through adversity at some point this season. Well, we’ve reached that point.

Earlier this week, the team announced that forward Vladimir Tarasenko was going to miss five months because of a shoulder injury. That’s a tough pill to swallow if you’re St. Louis. The 27-year-old has scored 37, 40, 39, 33 and 33 goals over the last five seasons. He also had 10 points in 10 games to start the year.

The Russian winger has already missed two games. The Blues dropped the first one, 3-0, to Boston in a Stanley Cup rematch, and they won the second one, 5-4, in overtime against Detroit.

“Obviously we’re a much better team with him in the lineup,” center Ryan O’Reilly said, per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “He’s one of those guys that others teams look at. When he’s on the ice they’re scared. When he gets an opportunity he’s going to bury it. He’s just always creating, doing something.

“It’s tough loss, but we all have to rally here. We all have to find a way to get better.”

During Tuesday’s practice, head coach Craig Berube had Sammy Blais in Tarasenko’s spot on a line with Brayden Schenn and Jaden Schwartz. No disrespect to Blais, but he’s clearly not on the same level as a perennial 30-goal scorer.

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

If Berube wants to mix things up, he could also put Robert Thomas, who is more gifted offensively, on the first line. Regardless, the Blues have plenty of time to figure out different combinations. The good news is that whoever gets placed there doesn’t have to carry the line. Schenn is having a solid year (nine goals, 13 points in 12 games) and Schwartz, who can stand to score more goals, is having a good year too (one goal, 10 points in 12 games).

For those clamouring for general manager Doug Armstrong to make a trade, that seems possible but unlikely at this point. The Blues have already made one blockbuster trade this year, when they acquired Justin Faulk from Carolina. Can they swing another big deal? Sure. It just seems impossible to land someone that can replace Tarasenko’s production right away.

There’s a decent chance that Tarasenko’s offense will be replaced by a committee of players. Some of the depth players like Blais, Thomas, Tyler Bozak, Alex Steen (when he returns from injury), but they should be in good hands with Schenn, O’Reilly and David Perron.

If the Blues can hang in there until late March/early April, they’ll likely benefit from getting a rested Tarasenko back right in time for the playoffs. Can they hold on for that long?

Kathryn Tappen will host Wednesday’s coverage on NHL Live alongside analysts Patrick Sharp and Keith Jones and NHL insider Bob McKenzie. John Forslund, Mike Milbury and Brian Boucher will call Wild-Blues from Enterprise Center in St. Louis, MO.

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.