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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.

The Buzzer: Bruins bounce back; working overtime

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Three Stars

1. Brad Marchand – Bad news for those who believed Marchand should have been suspended for jumping Lars Eller during Washington’s 7-0 trouncing of Boston: Marchand didn’t just play on Thursday. Instead, he was dominant.

Marchand assisted on all four of the Bruins’ goals in a 4-0 win against the Buffalo Sabres, with three of his four helpers being of the primary nature. The pesky winger also registered a +3 rating.

Maybe Marchand was feeling a little deferential on Thursday, as he piled up all of those assists yet didn’t fire a single shot on goal.

The Bruins’ other strong candidate for three star treatment was Jaroslav Halak, who stopped all 32 shots for his first shutout (and win) with Boston.

2. Kris Letang – From Patrick Kane to Artemi Panarin to Mathew Barzal, plenty of star players opened their 2018-19 seasons with overtime game-winning goals. Letang probably enjoyed the most impressive night of anyone in that group, as he finished with two goals and one assist, with that OTGWG included in the mix.

Letang had a busy night with the Penguins, delivering two hits, blocking two shots, and logging almost eight minutes of time on the power play alone.

It’s tantalizing to imagine what Letang might be able to accomplish if he’s anywhere near full health in 2018-19. This is a player with four 50+ point and five 10+ goal seasons to his name, even as injuries have often hounded his career. A three-point evening certainly propels him to a strong start.

3. Connor Hellebuyck – Maybe last season’s breakthrough was the tip of the iceberg, not a fluke?

While Hellebuyck didn’t nab a shutout like other three star candidates did (Halak and Ben Bishop), the Jets goalie stopped 41 shots, and only allowed Vince Dunn‘s goal when the game was essentially decided.

At the other end of the ice, embattled Blues starter Jake Allen received a “Bronx cheer” from St. Louis fans when he finally made a save after some serious struggles, and it couldn’t  have helped matters to see Hellebuyck playing so well in opposition.

The new-look Blues seem like the sort of team that could really push the Jets, at least when the goaltending is comparable. Hellebuyck made sure that it would, instead, be quite lopsided.

Highlights of the Night

Alex Radulov‘s celebration was almost as entertaining as his goal. Almost.

Maxime Lajoie made his mom cry tears of joy as he scored in his NHL debut:

The Penguins’ wild game against the Capitals was basically one big highlight reel, including a big Braden Holtby save, so enjoy it here.

Factoids

Plenty of hockey fans love when the Capitals and Penguins trade goal after goal, and chance after chance. If you want that to continue, maybe hide this from anyone who works for the Caps:

It might not be such a bad thing for Alex Ovechkin, though, as he keeps climbing the all-time goal ranks.

Brandon Carlo might want to consult Zdeno Chara for goal-scoring tips.

Scores

Bruins 4, Sabres 0
Penguins 7, Capitals 6 (OT)
Islanders 2, Hurricanes 1 (OT)
Predators 3, Rangers 2
Blue Jackets 3, Red Wings 2 (OT)
Blackhawks 4, Senators 3 (OT)
Jets 5, Blues 1
Stars 3, Coyotes 0
Avalanche 4, Wild 1
Flyers 5, Golden Knights 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.

NHL Team Previews: Examining past, present, future

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Throughout the month of August we examined different aspects of all 31 NHL teams. We looked back at their 2017-18 season, took a dip in their prospect pool, pointed out a player/coach/executive under pressure, highlighted a player coming off a breakthrough season, and asked questions about the future.

Thanks for reading and for the feedback on each post. Below are links to every team day post from the last month to get you ready for the 2018-19 campaign. Training camps open in two weeks!

2017-18 REVIEW
Anaheim Ducks
Arizona Coyotes
Boston Bruins
Buffalo Sabres
Calgary Flames
Carolina Hurricanes
Chicago Blackhawks 
Colorado Avalanche
Columbus Blue Jackets
Dallas Stars
Detroit Red Wings
Edmonton Oilers
Florida Panthers
Los Angeles Kings
Minnesota Wild
Montreal Canadiens
Nashville Predators
New Jersey Devils
New York Islanders
New York Rangers
Ottawa Senators
Philadelphia Flyers
Pittsburgh Penguins
San Jose Sharks
St. Louis Blues
Tampa Bay Lightning
Toronto Maple Leafs
Vancouver Canucks
Vegas Golden Knights
Washington Capitals
Winnipeg Jets

UNDER PRESSURE
Jake Allen
Mike Babcock
Jim Benning
Bruce Boudreau
Scott Darling
Pierre Dorion
John Gibson
Connor Hellebuyck
Mike Hoffman

Carter Hutton
Jack Johnson
Evander Kane

Jarmo Kekalainen
Ilya Kovalchuk
Dylan Larkin
Robin Lehner
Nathan MacKinnon
Joel Quenneville
Carey Price
Antti Raanta
Tuukka Rask
Todd Reirden
Pekka Rinne
Cory Schneider
Tyler Seguin
Kevin Shattenkirk
Cam Talbot
Tomas Tatar
Brad Treliving
James van Riemsdyk
Steve Yzerman

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BUILDING OFF A BREAKTHROUGH
Mathew Barzal
Brock Boeser
Pavel Buchnevich
Thomas Chabot
Kyle Connor
Evgenii Dadonov

Alex DeBrincat
Jake DeBrusk
Travis Dermott
Pierre-Luc Dubois
Matt Dumba

Vince Dunn
Radek Faksa
Kevin Fiala

Brendan Gallagher
Noah Hanifin
Nico Hischier
William Karlsson
Ondrej Kase
Clayton Keller
Adrian Kempe
Travis Konecny
Anthony Mantha
Timo Meier
Darnell Nurse
Jamie Oleksiak
Brayden Point
Mikko Rantanen
Sam Reinhart
Teuvo Teravainen
Tom Wilson

THREE QUESTIONS
Anaheim Ducks
Arizona Coyotes
Boston Bruins
Buffalo Sabres
Calgary Flames
Carolina Hurricanes
Chicago Blackhawks
Colorado Avalanche
Columbus Blue Jackets
Dallas Stars
Detroit Red Wings
Edmonton Oilers
Florida Panthers
Los Angeles Kings
Minnesota Wild
Montreal Canadiens
Nashville Predators
New Jersey Devils
New York Islanders
New York Rangers
Ottawa Senators
Philadelphia Flyers
Pittsburgh Penguins
San Jose Sharks
St. Louis Blues
Tampa Bay Lightning
Toronto Maple Leafs
Vancouver Canucks
Vegas Golden Knights
Washington Capitals
Winnipeg Jets

MORE:
Where should Jonathan Toews rank among NHL’s top centers?
Q&A: Colorado Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar
Back issue makes Henrik Zetterberg’s future ‘real unknown’
Panthers do one thing about as well as anyone in the NHL
Expect huge year from Max Pacioretty no matter where he plays
Rangers could once again be active in trade market
Will Sidney Crosby win another scoring title in his career?
Sabres’ Eichel focuses on keeping fiery emotions in check
• Maple Leafs should be NHL’s best offensive team

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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.

Building off a breakthrough: Vince Dunn

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the St. Louis Blues.

In just his second year as a pro, Vince Dunn managed to leave his mark on the 2017-18 St. Louis Blues. The 21-year-old defenseman started his professional career by putting up an impressive 13 goals and 45 points in 72 AHL games in 2016-17. In his first full year in the NHL, he finished with five goals and 24 points in 75 games. He also averaged 17:14 of ice time. Not bad for his first year in the show.

Dunn is a modern day NHL defender. He’ll never be the biggest guy on the blueline (he’s 6-feet, 203 pounds), but he’s a slick skater that can move puck efficiently and pick up points from the back end. The 24 points he accumulated last season are a decent total, but he should be able to improve on those numbers as his career advances.

Heading into this season, he has a legitimate chance of being a top-four defenseman for the Blues. But, again, he’ll have to prove that he’s not going to fall into the trap that is the sophomore slump.

“I do look at Dunner as a guy that took a real positive step this year,” Blues coach Mike Yeo said, per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

“Dunner, it was a great season for him as far as, No. 1, earning the trust of the coaching staff, proving that he can play in this league, and then the confidence that he grew. You look at how his minutes went up, how his role went up, and that’s obviously a great accomplishment.

“That said, for as long as we can all remember, there have been an awful lot of players in this league that have come in and had a good first season and then taken a step backwards, so I think his offseason is going to be incredibly important and how he handles it. But I have no reason to believe that this is a guy that’s going to take a step backwards.”

[2017-18 review | Under Pressure: Allen | 3 Questions]

In an effort to shake up their lineup in the second half of the season, the Blues moved Dunn to the second pairing. There, he was paired with reliable defenseman Colton Parayko. If he has another strong training camp, he could end up being back there for the entire 2018-19 season.

If Dunn gets an opportunity to play 18 to 21 minutes per game on a regular basis this season, he could see his overall production increase in a big way in 2018-19.

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: Chicago Blackhawks at St. Louis Blues

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 season continues on Wednesday night as the St. Louis Blues host the Chicago Blackhawks at 8 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online by clicking here.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

St. Louis Blues
Jaden SchwartzBrayden SchennVladimir Tarasenko
Patrik BerglundKyle BrodziakAlex Steen
Dmitrij JaskinVladimir SobotkaTage Thompson
Ivan BarbashevOskar SundqvistChris Thorburn

Joel EdmundsonAlex Pietrangelo
Vince DunnColton Parayko
Chris Butler – Roberto Bortuzzo

Starting goalie: Jake Allen

[NHL on NBCSN: Blues need to pick up valuable points against Blackhawks]

[WATCH LIVE – 8 P.M. ET]

Chicago Blackhawks
Brandon SaadNick SchmaltzPatrick Kane
Dylan SikuraVictor EjdsellAlex DeBrincat
Tomas JurcoArtem AnisimovAndreas Martinsen
Patrick SharpDavid KampfVincent Hinostroza

Duncan KeithBrent Seabrook
Erik GustafssonConnor Murphy
Jordan Oesterle – Blake Hillman

Starting goalie: J.F. Berube

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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.