Jordan Binnington

Kucherov injured as Lightning get shut down by Blues: 3 takeaways

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It has been an odd stretch as of late for the St. Louis Blues.

Even though they entered Tuesday’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning riding a three-game losing streak, they still collected points in two of them (overtime losses) and were on a 9-2-2 run since Oct. 20.

The majority of those games (seven of them to be exact) extended beyond regulation and were decided in overtime or a shootout. It is a risky way to keep trying to win games and at some point they were going to need to show they could win a game in 60 minutes.

Mission accomplished on Tuesday as they completely shut down the Tampa Bay Lightning, one of the league’s most dangerous offensive teams, in a 3-1 win.

Here are three things that stood out about the Blues’ win.

1. This was championship level defense from the Blues. Even with Tampa Bay’s slow start this is still one of the most talented rosters in the league both on paper and on the ice. Shutting them down is never easy. They have started to find their way in recent games and fill the back of the net the way they did a year ago, scoring 29 goals in their previous six games entering Tuesday, but all of that disappeared in St. Louis. The Blues limited the Lightning to just 18 shots on goal and, for the most part, did a great job insulating Jordan Binnington against their forwards. On the rare occasion that Tampa Bay did get something through, the Blues’ Stanley Cup winning goal was up to the challenge.

With Vladimir Tarasenko out of the lineup for most of the season the Blues are going to have a hard time generating offense and are going to need to win games like this.

They showed they could do it last year, and Tuesday was a great example of how they still have it against the league’s best.

2. The game-winning goal from Oskar Sundqvist was a thing of beauty. The Blues did not know if they were going to have Sundqvist for this game after he had a disciplinary hearing for charging Anaheim Ducks goalie John Gibson over the weekend.

Instead of a suspension, Sundqvist was able to skate away with only a fine.

That was fortunate for the Blues because he ended up scoring the game-winning goal with a perfect snipe that was set up by an incredible behind-the-back pass by Robert Thomas.

3. Nikita Kucherov exited with an injury after a big hit. Perhaps the most important news for the Lightning out of this game wasn’t the result itself, but the status of superstar winger Nikita Kucherov.

The league’s reigning MVP and scoring champion exited the game later in the second period after he was crushed by Blues forward Brayden Schenn.

He did not return to the game.

Kucherov has not been as dominant offensively as he was a year ago when he finished with 128 points, but he had been starting to turn it on lately and carried a four-game point streak into Tuesday (recording seven points in those four games).

The only update coach Jon Cooper had after the game is that Kucherov’s absence was not related concussion protocol.

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.

NHL on NBCSN: Year after elevating Berube, Blues’ success continues

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

One year ago Tuesday, the St. Louis Blues fell to the Los Angeles Kings 2-0 and dropped to 7-9-3 on the season. The defeat was their fourth in five games and the Blues’ offense was blanked for a third time in four games. 

Enough was enough for Doug Armstrong, who later that evening fired Mike Yeo and replaced him with Craig Berube. Originally, the Blues general manager planned to cast a wide net in his search for a new head coach. He said he planned to have coaches from the European, junior and college ranks, along with names with NHL experience, like the recently fired Joel Quenneville.

It took some time, but it was clear that Yeo’s full-time replacement was already under contract with the organization, as we all eventually found out.

“He answered the bell,” Armstrong said last spring.

One year later, the Blues finally have a Stanley Cup title and the Blues are lacking any sort of championship hangover as they sit atop the Central Division with a 12-4-5 record and tied for the most points in the Western Conference with 29. They’ve maintained a strong start even after losing Vladimir Tarasenko for likely the rest of the regular season last month. In the 11 games since the winger underwent shoulder surgery St. Louis has a 7-2-2 record.

[COVERAGE OF BLUES-LIGHTNING BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

Jordan Binnington, who’s recall last January helped spark the Blues’ second half run, had a goal this season to prove the doubters wrong. His five-month hot streak has continued into this season with his .923 even strength save percentage in the top 10 among all NHL goaltenders with at least 10 starts.

The Blues haven’t been scoring the lights out since Tarasenko exited the lineup, as they’ve averaged 2.72 goals per game. In fact, their 35 even strength goals are the third-fewest in the NHL this season. They done it with a strong power play (25%) and another balanced approached — much last season. Through 21 games, only Brayden Schenn (11) has hit double digits in goals scored and 18 different players have lit the lamp.

Berube’s message has stayed with the Blues and after a long search to find their identity, success has followed. When he took the job, he saw a team lacking in confidence. It was a good team he was inheriting, but there was one thing missing.

“Just got us to believe,” Schenn said during the Stanley Cup Final in June. “Believe in one another, believe we’re a good hockey team. He took down the standing board in the room and worried about one game at a time, and that’s really all it was.”

Players know where they stand under Berube, and that plays a huge role in earning their trust. That attribute is what turned an interim gig into a championship run and a full-time opportunity.

“He’s an honest guy,” Armstrong told Jim Thomas of the Post-Dispatch. “He speaks from the heart. He doesn’t waste a lot of words. I think he’s accountable to himself and accountable to the team as a whole. And I think he requires each individual to be accountable to the team as a whole also.”

Kenny Albert and Pierre McGuire will call the action from Enterprise Center in St. Louis, Mo. Paul Burmeister will host Tuesday’s coverage of NHL Live alongside alongside analysts Jeremy Roenick and Anson Carter.

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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.

How Blues have kept winning without Tarasenko

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When we last checked in with the St. Louis Blues a few weeks ago the defending champs were off to a sluggishly inconsistent start and then got the one piece of news they absolutely did not need — Vladimir Tarasenko, their most impactful player and biggest star, was going to be sidelined for the next five months. It was a disappointing start to their title defense, and it seemed like it could have at least had the potential to put them in another early hole in the Western Conference they would have to dig out of.

Instead, the opposite has happened. They enter Tuesday’s game against the Arizona Coyotes riding a seven-game winning streak and have climbed back to the top of the West standings, owning what is by far the best points percentage (.750) in the conference.

Considering the injury situation it is an impressive run and quick turnaround. How have they managed to stay so hot, and can they keep it rolling? It is a nice run of success, but there are definitely some red flags that come along with it.

The power play and overtime domination has carried the offense

Two things stand out about the Blues’ current winning streak. The first is that five of those wins have come in overtime, with two of those overtime goals being scored on power play opportunities.

Somewhat related to that is the fact the power play itself is clicking at a 29.6% rate over the past eight games, the second best success rate in the NHL during that stretch. All of that is making up for the fact that the Blues have scored just 12 goals during 5-on-5 play and have one of the worst scoring rates in the league at even-strength (more on this below).

This should be a concern because you can only rely on your power play to carry you for so long, and you’re not always going to get that sort of opportunity in overtime. Overtime itself can be a huge coin flip due to the unpredictable nature of the 3-on-3 situation. Sometimes you will get the bear, and sometimes the bear will get you (this five-game OT winning streak came after losing three OT/SO games in a row earlier in the year).

Jordan Binnington has gone on a roll

This is probably the biggest part of the Blues’ recent run. Binnington has won each of his past five starts and has a .930 save percentage in the six games since Tarasenko went out of the lineup. He was one of the players off to a slow start at the beginning of the year and his recent turnaround has resulted in him putting the team on his back and carrying it.

(We should also acknowledge that Jake Allen has also contributed, winning two games during the winning streak with a very respectable .914 save percentage).

Binnington’s play has been so important because the Blues are not controlling shot attempts and scoring chances like they did a year ago. Even during this recent winning streak (since Oct. 25) the Blues are among the worst teams in total shot attempt differential (28th), scoring chance differential (28th), high-danger scoring chance differential (30th), and expected goal differential (30th). It is a small sampling, yes, but it is also a dramatic fall from where they were a year ago after the coaching change when they were one of the best teams in all of those categories. (All via Natural Stat Trick)

Something to keep in mind: Even though their defensive play isn’t quite as good as it was in the second half and in the playoffs, a lot of their struggles in these differentials have to do with what they are not creating offensively as opposed to what they are giving up. Across the board they have been the worst 5-on-5 team in the league when it comes to generating shots, chances, high-danger chances, and yes, even goals. This is an example of where they are really missing an impact player like Tarasenko, and it really puts a ton of pressure on the goalies to have no margin for error because one or two goals could be too much to overcome.

The results are good, the process is concerning

This is really what it comes down to.

The Blues are winning games right now, yes, but the process behind those wins is concerning when it comes to their long-term outlook. These points they have collected over the past two weeks are important, and they have definitely built themselves a nice cushion in the playoff race, but if they keep playing this way the wins may not be as frequent as they currently are.

At times last year the Blues looked like a team that was doing everything right with the way it played and just needed to fix its goaltending  to get on the right track. They do not have that same feel right now.

If they want to keep getting the same results this year something is going to have to change in their process to generate more offense at even-strength, and that might require a trade to help replace what they are missing with Tarasenko.

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Brady Tkachuk is a pest; Leafs have no identity

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Former Humboldt Broncos player Ryan Straschnitzki has begun moving his legs again. (CBC)

• NHL popularity is growing in Sweden now that the Global Series has arrived. (NHL)

• The Swedish hockey experience is much different than what we’re used to in North America. (TampaBay.com)

• The non-Swedes on the Sabres roster have been enjoying their time in Stockholm. (Buffalo News)

• A five-person committee created the Stars winter classic jersey. (Dallas News)

• The Toronto Maple Leafs still don’t have an identity after 16 games. (Toronto Star)

Lars Eller is having a pretty good year for the Capitals. (Japers Rink)

Blake Wheeler will have to fill in at center for the foreseeable future. (Winnipeg Sun)

Brady Tkachuk has turned into an awesome pest for the Ottawa Senators. (Sporting News)

• Craig MacTavish wrote about his crazy three-month experience in the KHL. (TSN)

Jordan Binnington believes he should have won the Calder Trophy over Elias Pettersson. (Daily Hive)

• The Sharks need Timo Meier and their young players to start producing offensively. (NBC Sports Bay Area)

• There’s a Mighty Ducks TV series in the works. (Hollwood Reporter)

• Here’s how a failed Steelers tryout kick-started a daughter’s Olympic hockey dream. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Travis Konecny and Oskar Lindblom have had really strong seasons for the Flyers. (NBC Sports Philly)

• Check out this list of top 10 hockey jerseys in pop culture. (Hockey by Design)

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.

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.