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Here come the St. Louis Blues

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The rollercoaster of a season for the St. Louis Blues saw them sitting in 31st place in the NHL on Jan. 3. There were some games in-hand, and a sign things could be improving, but the results just weren’t coming consistently.

Those early days of 2019 are currently referred to in St. Louis as the pre-Jordan Binnington Era. The 25-year-old rookie netminder had appeared in two games in relief this season but had yet to make his first career start. He would get that chance four days later and kick it off with a shutout against the Philadelphia Flyers.

One month later the Blues have jumped up the standings and reside in the second Western Conference wild card spot, six points behind the Dallas Stars in the Central Division with two games in-hand and tied for the fewest games played in the league. They are tied for the third-most points in the NHL since Jan. 3 with 21 points (10-4-1), which includes Thursday night’s fantastic 1-0 overtime win against the league-leading Tampa Bay Lightning.

That win featured 32 saves by Binnington, who has overtaken Jake Allen for the No. 1 job in net and been one of the main factors in the Blues’ ascent. The netminder had only one taste of the NHL before this season, a relief appearance during the 2015-16 season, and has spent majority of his professional career in the AHL.

In 10 starts, Binnington has helped the Blues win eight of them, and since that shutout against Philadelphia on Jan. 7, he’s third in the NHL in even-strength save percentage (.954) and, per Natural Stat Trick, has posted a .885 high-danger save percentage — compared to the .796 HDSV% that Allen has recorded this season.

Then there’s the head coach.

This isn’t the first time Craig Berube has led a turnaround. While he had a longer runway to do it with the Flyers in 2013-14, he took over for Peter Laviolette after three games in that season and led them to a win away from the second round. The Blues are 17-13-2 since he replaced Mike Yeo in November and the win over the Lightning encapsulated what he’s tried to instill in his players since taking over.

“The composure that our team’s found, I think more than anything the frustration doesn’t creep in anymore,” Berube said via the Post-Dispatch. “I shouldn’t say anymore, but not as much. We had the three power plays in a row, we could’ve got real frustrated after that but we didn’t. And that’s important. Just stay with it and stay playing.”

It’s a remarkable turnaround considering just two months ago Berube and Brayden Schenn labeled the team as “fragile” after they were booed off home ice following a 6-1 defeat by the Vancouver Canucks. Vladimir Tarasenko apologized to the fans for the team’s poor play, and emotions boiled over in practice when Robert Bortuzzo and Zach Sanford scuffled. Then you had trade rumors putting Tarasenko, Colton Parayko and captain Alex Pietrangelo on the next flights out of town.

General manager Doug Armstrong said after firing Yeo that his team was just “not good enough” and that their core “have to get us out of this.” The Blues’ turnaround can’t all be credited to Binnington. That core has been dependable with some assistance. Tarasenko, Pietrangelo, Schenn, and Ryan O'Reilly have led the way, with Parayko and Oskar Sundqvist chipping in as well. This success has also come with David Perron out since mid-January and Jaden Schwarz goalless since Dec. 18.

This run is coming at a good time for the Blues in a wild West playoff race. The last place Los Angeles Kings are five points out of a wild card spot, so things are tight. But outside of the Chicago Blackhawks, the teams around St. Louis are struggling, especially Central foes the Colorado Avalanche and Minnesota Wild. The games in-hand are valuable at this point, but are useless if they are unable to take points from them.

Considering the bottom half of the West playoff picture changes nightly, the Blues are in a good place and trending upward at the right time.

“It’s fun to be a part of this group right now, and I think we’re headed in the right direction,” said Binnington. “We’re just going to continue on this path and keep going to make our push.”

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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.

LaDue’s third-period goal helps Kings edge Blues

The Los Angeles Kings will head into the NHL All-Star break and their bye week on a winning note following a 4-3 come-from-behind victory against the St. Louis Blues Monday.

Paul LaDue, who hadn’t played for the Kings since Dec. 29, scored 9:53 into the third period to snap a 3-3 tie and give the LA the lead — a lead they would not relinquish.

The Blues entered the game on a positive swing after grabbing points in six of their previous seven games. Goaltender Jordan Binnington has been a difference-maker (4-0-1, .954 SV%, 1.19 GAA) since taking the No. 1 reins from Jake Allen. 

It was a good start for St. Louis as Mackenzie MacEachern tallied his first NHL goal late in the opening period and Oskar Sundqvist followed up 8:18 later to give the Blues a 2-0 lead.

The good times were short-lived for the Blues as Tyler Toffoli got LA on the board 15 seconds after Sundqvist’s goal and the Kings used the second period to flip the script. Goals from Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty changed the scoreline to the home teams’ favor. But while they were on good behavior for most of the game, a Dion Phaneuf cross-check opened the door and gave Ryan O’Reilly the room to fire home the tying goal on the ensuing power play.

The loss was the sixth time this season that a 2-0 lead for St. Louis ended up as a defeat.

Birthday boy Jonathan Quick made 33 saves to earn his 302nd career victory, which moves him past Mike Richter and into fourth place on the NHL’s list of most wins by a U.S. born goaltender.

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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.

WATCH LIVE: Blues visit Kings on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Monday’s matchup between the St. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings. Coverage begins at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

After defeating the Penguins 5-2 in LA on Saturday, Jan. 12, the Kings hit the road for a three-game trip to Minnesota, Dallas and Colorado. The Kings lost to the Wild 3-2 after a shootout but then beat the Stars 2-1. They entered Saturday with a chance to make it a four-game point streak, but lost 7-1 to Colorado, allowing six goals in the second period.

Saturday’s 7-1 loss at the Avs was the team’s worst this season, as they lost the game by six goals (worst differential this season) and allowed seven goals, tied for the most allowed this season.

St. Louis last played on Saturday, beating the Senators 3-2 to earn their fourth victory in their last six games (4-1-1 record). They will face the Kings on Monday before playing the Ducks in Anaheim on Wednesday. Then, like the Kings, will have the All-Star Break and their bye week before playing next on Saturday, Feb. 2 at Columbus. The Blues next home game is Saturday, Feb. 9 vs. Nashville.

The NHL’s hottest player – David Perron – missed Saturday’s win over Ottawa with an upper-body injury. Head coach Craig Berube called Perron day-to-day, but said he would likely not make the trip to California.

Entering Saturday, Perron had a point in 13 straight games (6G-10A), the NHL’s longest active point streak. He has 17 goals this year (had 16 in 70 games w/ VGK last season) and has 19 points (9G-10A) in the last 18 games after recording 16 points (8G-8A) in his first 27 games of the season.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 3 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: St. Louis Blues at Los Angeles Kings
Where: Staples Center
When: Monday, Jan. 21, 3 p.m. ET
TV: NBC
Live stream: You can watch the Blues-Kings stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

BLUES
Pat MaroonRyan O'ReillyVladimir Tarasenko
Jaden SchwartzBrayden SchennAlexander Steen
Samuel Blais – Oskar SundqvistJordan Kyrou
Mackenzie MacEachernIvan BarbashevJordan Nolan

Carl GunnarssonAlex Pietrangelo
Jay BouwmeesterColton Parayko
Vince DunnRobert Bortuzzo

Starting goalie: Jordan Binnington

KINGS
Ilya KovalchukAnze KopitarDustin Brown
Alex IafalloJeff CarterBrendan Leipsic
Carl HagelinAdrian KempeTyler Toffoli
Kyle CliffordNate ThompsonAustin Wagner

Derek ForbortDrew Doughty
Jake MuzzinAlec Martinez
Dion PhaneufPaul LaDue

Starting goalie: Jonathan Quick

The Buzzer: Pro Niemi; Odd night for the Blues

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Three Stars

1. Antti Niemi

After floundering with the Stars and flopping briefly with the Penguins, it sure seemed like last season would be Niemi’s last in the NHL.

Niemi even played two forgettable games for the Panthers team he frustrated tonight, so you can forgive his former teammates for wondering where this guy was. (Stars management might be doing that, too, if they’re not cursing Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin for losing to the Lightning.)

Niemi set a new career-high with 52 saves against Florida, with only Mike Hoffman‘s Forsberg-like goal beating him.

That performance stands taller than some other great goalie performances that should get at least honorable mentions. Andrei Vasilevskiy pitched a 35-save shutout against Benn and those Stars. Laurent Brossoit continued his brilliant work as Winnipeg’s gem of a backup, making 43 out of 44 stops. But Niemi’s 52 saves fell one short of tying a franchise record for the NHL’s most storied franchise. Seems fair to give him the top spot.

Not bad for a guy who legitimately seemed to be done last season.

2. Mika Zibanejad

As much as the Rangers’ opponents from Carolina rank as a team to watch at the trade deadline, the Rangers are no slouches themselves in sell mode.

It would be surprising to see Zibanejad go in such a liquidation, at least if the Rangers don’t want this to be a lengthy rebuild. He’s a prime-age scorer, with Tuesday’s two goals and two assists pushing his season total to an impressive 41 points. Zibanejad only had 47 points all of last season, and 2015-16’s 51 represent a career-high, so he could really set a new bar for himself. The talent’s seemingly always been there, so it’s pretty exciting to see such growth, and it must be painful to compare his work to that of trade partner Derick Brassard.

Mats Zuccarello collected three assists in this one as well, including a truly brilliant one to set up one of Z’s goals. Zuccarello now has three goals and three assists for six points during a three-game run.

The Rangers really dominate the Hurricanes at Madison Square Garden, apparently.

3. Viktor Arvidsson

Arvidsson was one of two players to collect a hat trick on “National Hat Day,” with Tomas Hertl being the other. Arvidsson gets the nod for two reasons: 1) one of Hertl’s three goals included an empty-netter and 2) Arvidsson managed a GWG in his efforts.

(Joe Thornton scored the game-winner in what was his 1,000th game with the Sharks.)

Some of those Arvidsson goals included some great moments from his teammates, much like Zibanejad was boosted by Zuccarello. You can see a great outlet pass from Mattias Ekholm and a falling helper from Ryan Johansen in the highlights of Nashville’s one-sided win against Washington.

Strange, tough night for St. Louis

The Blues lost in overtime to the Islanders, with Jordan Binnington suffering his first defeat. But that wasn’t what made this an unusual night.

Early in the game, Oskar Sundqvist continued his unlucky 2018-19 by losing his edge and falling into an on-ice official, needing help off of the ice. Luckily, he would come back later in the game.

It wasn’t the only unusual reaction between a Blues player and someone other than an Islanders player, as a trainer helped a struggling Zach Sanford to the bench:

Here’s hoping Sanford ends up OK. David Perron extended his point streak to 12 games, but that’s about where the good news ended for St. Louis on Tuesday.

One more great highlight

Click here for that Hoffman goal. It was pretty ridiculous.

Also ridiculous: Hertl’s effort on this tally. The Czech winger grew up idolizing Jaromir Jagr, so it must have felt great to emulate number 68 in overpowering Evgeni Malkin on his way to this tremendous goal:

Apparently Hertl’s hat-trick goal pushed him to 100 career tallies. So not a bad consolation prize for Hertl.

Factoids

Another sign that, yes, scoring is way up this season.

The Islanders are the first team since the 2011-12 Flyers to have eight players score at least 10+ goals through 45 games.

PHT’s Scott Billeck notes that Laurent Brossoit’s 26 saves in the second period set a new Jets franchise record for saves in a single period. So, yeah, Brossoit has a strong argument for a three stars nod, along with quite a few others from a busy Tuesday.

Scores

NYI 2 – STL 1 (OT)
NYR 6 – CAR 2
CBJ 4 – NJD 1
MTL 5 – FLA 1
DET 3 – ANA 1
NSH 7 – WSH 2
MIN 3 – LAK 2 (SO)
WPG 4 – VGK 1
TBL 2 – DAL 0
SJS 5 – PIT 2

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 Buzzer: Kucherov dominant; Ovechkin makes history

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Three Stars

1. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning. It is starting to get insane. Nikita Kucherov had another four-point game for the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night, extending his league-leading point total to 69 on the season and his current point streak to 12 games. He also has points in 22 of his past 23 games. Thursday’s performance, which came in a 6-2 rout of the Los Angeles Kings, is already his 10th game this season with at least three points and fourth with at least four points. He has recorded multiple points in seven consecutive games, a stretch that has seen him record 21 total points. That is a three-point per game average. He also reached the 400-point mark for his career with that performance. The Lightning are now a league-best 32-7-2 on the season and sit 12 points ahead of any other team in the league. At this point a year ago they were only 29-9-3. They are somehow even better this season.

2. Jeff Skinner, Buffalo Sabres. With Jack Eichel, their captain and best player, sidelined for at least the next two games the Buffalo Sabres needed somebody to step up to help them get out of their recent funk. That somebody on Thursday night was Eichel’s usual linemate, Jeff Skinner. Skinner scored a pair of goals in the Sabres’ 4-3 win to help them snap their three-game losing streak. Since the end of their 10-game winning streak earlier this season the Sabres have won just five out the 16 games that have followed. Skinner’s second goal on Thursday was his 28th of the season as he sits just two behind Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin for the league lead. It was also his seventh game-winning goal of the season, putting him in a three-way tie with Vancouver Canucks rookie forward Elias Pettersson and Colorado Avalanche forward Gabriel Landeskog for the league lead.

3. Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens. Playing in his first game since December 22, Carey Price stopped all 33 shots he faced for the Montreal Canadiens in their 2-0 win over the Vancouver Canucks for his second shutout of the season. Price has not played up to his usual standard this season but has a save percentage of .920 or better in three of his past four starts. Perhaps he is starting to get back on track.

Highlights of the Night

Mathew Barzal continued his incredible play with this ridiculous goal in the New York Islanders’ 3-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks.

Jeff Skinner’s first goal was as absolute beauty for the Buffalo Sabres in their win over the Florida Panthers.

Oskar Sundqvist scored the game-winning goal for the St. Louis Blues in what was a nice revenge game for him against Tom Wilson and the Washington Capitals.

Factoids

It came in a loss, but Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin scored his 30th goal of the season on Thursday night against the St. Louis Blues. By doing so he has now done something that only one other player in NHL history has done by scoring at least 30 goals in 14 consecutive seasons to begin his career. What is perhaps most remarkable about this stat is that Ovechkin was able to maintain his 30-goal season run through a lockout shortened 48-game season. Gartner had his run ended by the 1994-94 lockout shortened season before scoring at least 30 goals in each of the next two seasons. Ovechkin is only the third player to ever record 14 consecutive 30-goal seasons at any point in their career, and just the sixth player to record at lest 14 30-goal seasons in a career. He is a remarkable goal-scorer. The best ever.

The Calgary Flames did not beat the Boston Bruins thanks to a pair of goals from Brad Marchand and Jake DeBrusk on Thursday night but they did record another shorthanded goal. They lead the league in that category this season.

Devon Toews scored the game-winning goal in overtime for the New York Islanders on Thursday night. It was also the first goal of his NHL career. Not many players have done that in the history of the NHL.

The Minnesota Wild were the latest team to overcome a two-goal deficit this season to win.

 

Sebastian Aho continued his great season for the Carolina Hurricanes in their 5-3 win over the Philadelphia Flyers.

 

Scores

Minnesota Wild 4, Toronto Maple Leafs 3

Boston Bruins 6, Calgary Flames 4

Buffalo Sabres 4, Florida Panthers 3

Carolina Hurricanes 5, Philadelphia Flyers 3

New York Islanders 3, Chicago Blackhawks 2

Montreal Canadiens 2, Vancouver Canucks 0

St. Louis Blues 5, Washington Capitals 2

Tampa Bay Lightning 6, Los Angeles Kings 2

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.