AP Images

Here come the St. Louis Blues

10 Comments

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.”

————

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

Getty Images

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

Sundqvist scores winner, Wilson fights Bortuzzo as Blues top Capitals

YouTube
1 Comment

When the St. Louis Blues and Washington Capitals last met each other Oskar Sundqvist was on the wrong end of a Tom Wilson hit that left him injured and Wilson suspended for 20 games, his fourth suspension in a calendar year (and his third against the Blues).

Sundqvist had a much more enjoyable night on Thursday when he scored the game-winning goal in the Blues’ 5-2 win.

The night also featured Wilson dropping the gloves with Blues defender Robert Bortuzzo in a rather spirited bout that was clearly intended as a means of attempting to settle the score.

Have a look.

This is the second time over the past month that Wilson has dropped the gloves in response to a hit that resulted in a suspension. Earlier this month he fought Pittsburgh’s Jamie Oleksiak in a one-sided bout that did not go well for Oleksiak. That fight was an answer to Wilson’s postseason hit on Zach Aston-Reese that resulted in a three-game ban for Wilson and ended Aston-Reese’s postseason.

Robert Thomas, Colton Parayko, Alex Pietrangelo, and Tyler Bozak also scored for the Blues in the win.

Thomas, oddly enough, was one of the other players on the receiving end of a hit that earned Wilson a suspension over the past year.

The other big story out of this game is that Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin snapped his six-game goal-less drought by scoring his 30th goal of the season. It is the 14th consecutive season that Ovechkin has scored at least 30 goals in a season, making him one of just two players in league history to ever start their career with 14 consecutive 30 goal seasons. Former Capitals forward Mike Gartner is the other.

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.

PHT Morning Skate: The issues in St. Louis; Schneider’s struggles

1 Comment

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.

• So how are things going with the St. Louis Blues? “We were terrible in the first period. Every player. Terrible.” [Post-Dispatch]

• Meanwhile, the Blues handed Robert Bortuzzo a three-year extension. [Blues]

• Seattle’s NHL arrival will only grow the already rich history of the sport in the community. [NHL.com]

• How Mikko Rantanen turned into one of the NHL’s top scorers. [Sportsnet]

• What’s next for struggling Cory Schneider and the New Jersey Devils? [NJ.com]

• This will be a fun headline to remember: “He’s baaaaack – Edmonton Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli looking like the resident genius” [Edmonton Sun]

Mikko Koskinen has been quite a find for the Oilers. [TSN]

• Knee surgery will likely keep Erik Haula of the Vegas Golden Knights out for the remainder of the season. [Las Vegas Review-Journal]

• A lower-body injury will keep Mike Green out of the Detroit Red Wings’ lineup for the next 3-5 weeks. [MLive]

• A busted finger means the Oilers will be without Oskar Klefbom for the next 6-8 weeks. [Oilers Nation]

• The Vancouver Canucks appear to have some interest in Washington Capitals forward Andre Burakovsky. [NoVa Caps]

• Which NHL players are carrying the biggest offensive burdens for their teams? [ESPN.com]

• Some ideas on how to fix the New York Islanders power play. [Gotham Sports]

• The Guy Lafleur disco album is really something. [Punk Junk]

• Washington Capitals roll out welcome for the Black Girl Hockey Club’s first meeting. [Color of Hockey]

• Injuries have really put a damper on the Arizona Coyotes’ season. [Featurd]

• Finally, our good friend Gritty had a special Christmas message for ESPN’s Katie Nolan:

————

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.

NHL offers clarification on obscure OT penalty on Blues’ Tarasenko

Getty
7 Comments

Thanks to Ryan O'Reilly‘s shorthanded goal in overtime on Friday night the St. Louis Blues were able to win consecutive games for just the third time this season. A shorthanded goal in overtime is always noteworthy just because of the circumstances, especially when it lifts a team that has been struggling all season.

What made this one so fascinating for the Blues is why they were shorthanded in the first place.

Just 1:31 into the overtime period Blues forward Vladimir Tarasenko was whistled for using an illegal stick when he picked up a stick that originally belonged to defenseman Colton Parayko.

This resulted in a lot of confusion both during the game and the day after.

There is nothing in the rule book against using a teammates stick (it is actually quite common when a defender loses or breaks their stick during the flow of the game) but the NHL seems to have one very large exception when it comes to equipment — players that have been granted an exception to use an oversized stick because of their height.

Via NHL rule 10.1

No stick shall exceed sixty-three inches (63″) in length from the heel to the end of the shaft nor more than twelve and one-half inches (121/2″) from the heel to the end of the blade.

Requests for an exception to the length of the shaft (only) may be submitted in writing to and must be approved by the League’s Hockey Operations Department prior to any such stick being approved for use.

Only players 6’6” tall or more will be considered for exception. Maximum length of a stick granted an exception under this rule is sixty-five inches (65”).

Blues coach Craig Berube said after the game on Friday that the 6’6″ Parayko is one of the few players around the league that has one of those exceptions. Because of that it seemed to indicate that Tarasenko would be penalized for using it, and it was immediately called during the game with no challenge from the Avalanche or a measurement by the officials.

As we would find out on Saturday, this is not what the NHL wants to see happen in this situation.

Rutherford has a further statement from the NHL which admits the referees technically, by the letter of the law, got the call right, but that they don’t want to see it called in that situation.

From the NHL, via Rutherford:

“It is a minor penalty to play with an exempt stick so technically ref got it right. But the NHL does not want that penalty called in that situation. It does not want refs nor players to need presence of mind to know who’s using who’s stick or if it’s exempt during play. It could be penalized if the bench had handed Parayko’s stick to Tarasenko or if Tarasenko had returned for his next shift with it. But moving forward the NHL will only call a penalty under those circumstances when play is stopped and when challenged by opposition. Even if Colorado had challenged last night, the NHL would not want that to be called a penalty in the manner it unfolded.”

In other words, if it happens during the flow of the game — let it go.

Fortunately for the Blues it did not end up hurting them as O’Reilly scored the winning just 35 seconds later.

Parayko also scored two goals during the game.

This is the second obscure rule the Blues have been involved with in as many games this week.

In their previous game, a 4-3 come-from-behind win against the Florida Panthers, they had a goal disallowed on a weird play when a Robert Bortuzzo dump-in from center ice deflected off of referee Tim Peel and bounced into the net behind Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo. NHL 78.5 rule state that any apparent goal will be disallowed when it has been deflected directly into the net off of an official.

The Blues are back in action on Sunday afternoon against the Calgary Flames and it might be worth watching just to see what obscure rule has to be pulled out of the rule book.

(H/T Scouting The Refs)

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.