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Tarasenko’s resurgence helping Blues make their move in Western Conference

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There are a lot of factors behind the St. Louis Blues’ rapid climb up the Western Conference standings.

You should definitely start with the play of rookie goalie Jordan Binnington, who has been sensational since his call-up from the American Hockey League and helped stabilize what was a mess of a position earlier in the year.

There is also the recent play of star forward Vladimir Tarasenko who has now recorded at least a point in each of his past 12 games and 18 out of his past 20.

This recent surge has helped improve his overall season numbers to what should be his expected level of production, and now has him on pace for a very typical Vladimir Tarasenko season of around 35 goals and 70 points.

After the first three months of the season, it did not look like he was going to get there as he was off to one of the worst starts of his career with only 11 goals and 11 assists through the first 37 games.

Since then he has been exactly what you would expect Vladimir Tarasenko to be with 29 points in the 20 games that have followed, including his recent-12 game stretch where he has helped drive the Blues’ offense.

One way of looking at this season on an individual level is that it’s been incredibly streaky, and that would absolutely be correct. And it also goes back to a point I’ve made for years about elite players in the NHL — their streakiness when it comes to their point production isn’t a flaw. It’s what makes them great and such game-changers. Everybody always strives for “consistency” in the NHL, and whenever a supremely talented player puts together an unstoppable run they’re always hounded with questions like, “why can’t they do this all the time?” and “imagine if they played like this every night!”

Well, yeah. Imagine that. They would probably be the best player of all-time if they scored two or three points every single night. But that is just not a realistic goal. The players that are consistent and steady in their production — or at least somewhat consistent — are players that are, for lack of a better word, ordinary. Average. There is nothing wrong with being an “average” NHLer, of course, and it’s not a slight in any way to be called that. You’re still among the top people in the world at what you do to make it to that level. But those players are also not really capable of elevating their game to any level beyond that. The handful of players that can do that are the special ones because they make a significantly bigger impact in those six-to-10 game hot streaks than a player that just goes along recording their point or two every four or five games.

Take Tarasenko’s recent run as an example. It is not just that he has a point in 12 consecutive games that is helping the Blues. It is that six of those games (including each of the past five) have been multi-point games, including four games with three points. When an individual player records three points in a game their team wins more than 90 percent of the time. If you have three points, that means your team has at least three goals in the game and that is usually a pretty good starting point to get a win. He has probably single-handedly been the difference in at least three or four games for the Blues during this 10-game winning streak. In at least two of those three-point games the Blues were winners by two goals or less.

It is an impossible standard to expect a player to maintain that sort of pace over 82 games, especially in this era of offense.

It is always going to be a short-term burst of domination that probably gets followed by a cold streak where the points dry up.

You can live with that because those short-term bursts of domination are going to lead to more wins over the long-haul than a player that just tallies a single point on a regular schedule.

There is nothing wrong with being streaky. In the case of players like Tarasenko, it just means they are capable of elevating their game to a level few other players can and are able to carry the offense on their back for games at a time.

 

MORE: PHT’s 2019 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker

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.

Blues’ white-hot run matches history with 10th straight win

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Who amongst you is going to stand up and beat the St. Louis Blues?

*crickets*

At the moment, no one can stop the mighty Blues, who seem to score all the goals these days and let few, if any, by them. And it’s a run that has now matched a franchise record for wins in a row with 10 — a mark they set 17 years ago in 2002 — after a 4-0 win against the Minnesota Wild on Hockey Day In America.

The success is startling.

The Blues were 31st — dead last — on Jan. 3. Now, they’re third in the Central Division with 67 points, four points clear of the Dallas Stars and six points back of the second-place Nashville Predators with three games in hand on their division rivals.

And there are no signs of slowing. Like, zero.

The Blues came into Sunday having shutout the Colorado Avalanche 24 hours earlier with Jake Allen between the pipes. Two days before that, Jordan Binnington, a rookie sensation who has now won eight straight starts (a record for the longest winning streak by a Blues goalie), posted a 21-save shutout against the Arizona Coyotes.

Binnington to stopped all 30 shots he faced in the game for his fourth shutout of the season, and third straight game where the team has shutout the opposition.

Consider this: Binnington didn’t start his first game this season until Jan. 7 — ironically a shutout performance.

He’s now 12-1-1 in 15 appearances and has a save percentage north of .930.

As good as it’s going in the crease, it’s going just as well 200-feet yonder.

Vladimir Tarasenko has erased all memories of his slump earlier in the year and now has points in 12-straight, a career-long points streak that has seen 11 goals and 11 assists now after a three-point performance in Sunday’s win over the Wild.

The Wild, meanwhile, looked flat and disinterested.

Earlier this week, coach Bruce Boudreau promised, defiantly, that his squad would make it into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. At this point, that appears to be wishful thinking in Minnesota.

Two nights after they blew a 4-1 lead to lose 5-4 in overtime to the lowly New Jersey Devils, the Wild put up their latest dud.

The Wild are still (barely) holding on to the second and final wildcard spot in the Western Conference, but they have several teams hot on their heels. The loss of Mikko Koivu has proved detrimental to their cause, and neither of their goalies is doing much to help out their sputtering offense.

NBC Sports is celebrating Hockey Day in America with an NHL Sunday tripleheader on NBC and NBCSN, as well as a collection of stories and features which explore hockey’s impact and influence across the U.S.

Remaining NBC Hockey Day in America schedule:
Philadelphia at Detroit – NBCSN –  6 p.m. ET (Watch live)


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

NBC Sports celebrates Hockey Day in America

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NBC Sports celebrates Hockey Day in America this Sunday with an NHL tripleheader on NBC and NBCSN, as well as a collection of stories and features which explore hockey’s impact and influence across the U.S.

Game one of the tripleheader features Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers against Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC, followed by a Central Division battle between Vladimir Tarasenko and the St. Louis Blues vs. Zach Parise and the Minnesota Wild at 3:30 p.m. ET on NBC. 

Hockey Day in America coverage shifts to NBCSN at 6 p.m. ET, when Dylan Larkin and the Detroit Red Wings host Claude Giroux and the Philadelphia Flyers. 

NBC Hockey Day in America schedule
N.Y. Rangers at Pittsburgh – NBC – 12:30 p.m. ET (Watch live)
St. Louis at Minnesota – NBC – 3:30 p.m. ET (Watch live)
Philadelphia at Detroit – NBCSN –  6 p.m. ET (Watch live)

Throughout Hockey Day in America on Sunday, NBC Sports will shine a light on various stories that celebrate the impact that hockey has had in the U.S. Feature stories that will air throughout the day include:

Team USA’s Shelley Looney – Shelley Looney scored the game-winning goal for the U.S. women’s hockey team in the gold medal game at the 1998 Nagano Olympics, which took place 21 years ago to the day of Hockey Day in America this Sunday. Looney persevered through dyslexia as a child to ultimately graduate from Northeastern University and make the ’98 Olympic Team. She now lives in Buffalo where she’s heavily involved in youth hockey and will coach the U.S. women’s team at the World University Games in Russia in March. Click here to watch a preview.

Charlie and Will Capalbo – Former Fairfield co-op high school goaltender Charlie Capalbo has been in a battle for his life the past two years. Charlie was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoblastic lymphoma in March 2017 shortly after the high school hockey season. Following treatments which helped put the cancer in remission, Charlie was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia. Luckily, Charlie is again in remission, and his younger brother Will Capalbo, also a goaltender with Fairfield, is a match for a bone-marrow transplant. NBC Sports details Charlie and his family’s courageous fight, and how the local community has rallied around the Capalbos to provide their support. Click here to watch a preview.

Detroit Ice Dreams – Led by inner-city Detroit native and former semi-pro player Jason McCrimmon, Detroit Ice Dreams is a nonprofit that aims to grow the sport of hockey in Hockeytown and minimizes barriers which prevent underrepresented communities access to the game. Click here to watch a preview.

Bill Parsley and The “Over 60” Hockey Club – Four mornings a week, the Quincy “Bald Eagles” – an over-60 hockey team of retirees and grandfathers – hit the ice, led by their senior-most member, 85-year-old goaltender Bill Parsley. Despite his injury history – a pair of detached biceps, a pair of hip replacements and surgeries on both shoulders – Parsley serves as an inspiration to his team and continues to flash the pads in net. Click here to watch a preview.

• The Hughes Brothers; America’s First Family of Hockey – No American family has ever had three players taken in the first round of the NHL Draft, but in the next few years, the Hughes brothers have a shot. Oldest brother Quinn Hughes was selected 7th overall in the 2018 draft by the Vancouver Canucks and currently plays college hockey at Michigan; Jack Hughes appears to be the consensus No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming 2019 NHL Draft and plays for the U.S. National Team Development Program; and youngest brother Luke Hughes is an up-and-coming defenseman for Little Caesars AAA U-15 team.

• Arizona State Sun Devils – For years, the Arizona State Sun Devils were known for their successful club hockey program. They finally launched a NCAA Division I program a few years ago, and after some difficult seasons, are in the midst of their most successful year in school history, currently ranked No. 12 in the country. The club is led by sophomore and Phoenix native Johnny Walker, who currently leads the NCAA in goals with 22, and head coach and ASU alum Greg Powers. The Sun Devils are on the verge of become the first independent school to make the NCAA tournament since 1992.

• Minnesota’s Blind Hockey Team – Minnesota Hockey and the Minnesota Wild have partnered this year to launch the Minnesota Wild Blind Hockey program, a new hockey program for players in Minnesota with visual impairments. Blind hockey, which is the newest discipline of disabled hockey, is the same exhilarating, fast-paced sport of hockey with minimal rule adaptations to make the game accessible for players who are all legally blind.

David Quinn and Mike Sullivan – The respective head coaches for the Rangers and Penguins in Game One of NBC Sports’ Hockey Day in America tripleheader will clash on Sunday, but share a similar path to their coaching roles. Quinn and Sullivan became friends as teammates at Boston University and discuss their relationship and New England roots.

Pre-game studio coverage begins at noon ET on NBC with NHL Live, which will be on-site in Hockeytown at The Rink at Campus Martius Park in downtown Detroit, Mich. Liam McHugh and Kathryn Tappen will anchor pre-game, intermission and post-game coverage throughout the day alongside analysts Mike Milbury, Keith Jones and Jeremy Roenick. In addition, Tappen will provide reports and interviews from the Team USA vs. Canada women’s hockey game at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit on Sunday afternoon.

The Buzzer: Mrazek shines for ‘Canes, Kucherov’s unstoppable run

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Three Stars

1. Petr Mrazek, Carolina Hurricanes. The Carolina Hurricanes moved into a playoff position on Saturday night with a 3-0 win over the Dallas Stars (then celebrated like “a bunch of jerks“). It was Petr Mrazek playing a key role by stopping all 33 shots he faced to recorded his third shutout of the season. It hasn’t been a great season for Mrazek overall, but he came through in a big way for them on Saturday night to help put them in a position that seemed impossible for them to reach a couple of months ago.

2. Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning. Just another day at the office for Nikita Kucherov, the NHL’s leading scorer. He recorded his fourth consecutive multi-point game and is already up to 94 points on the season in just 59 games played. He is still having a season for the ages. Quite literally for the ages. These are Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux type numbers he is recording this season.

3. Darcy Kuemper, Arizona Coyotes. The Arizona Coyotes have a brutal season on the injury front and are trying to hang on in the Western Conference playoff race. Their 2-0 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night was a big help on that front and it was driven by a shutout from Darcy Kuemper who turned aside all 22 shots he faced to shut out one of the NHL’s best offensive teams.

Other Notable Performances From Saturday Night

  • The St. Louis Blues winning streak reached nine games thanks to a Jake Allen shutout and another big game for Vladimir Tarasenko, while the Colorado Avalanche continued to fade.
  • The Ottawa Senators’ big-three trade candidates all played big roles in their overtime win over the Winnipeg Jets as Mark Stone, Matt Duchene, and Ryan Dzingel all scored goals. Dzingel’s goal was the overtime winner.
  • Erik Karlsson made his return to the San Jose Sharks’ lineup and recorded an assist in their 3-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks. Joe Pavelski also had two points in the win.
  • Derek Ryan had three assists for the Calgary Flames in a 5-4 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins.
  • After losing three games in a row and seven of their past nine games the Vegas Golden Knights broke out of their slump with a big 5-1 win over the Nashville Predators.

Highlights of the Night

Check out this snipe by Columbus Blue Jackets forward Pierre-Luc Dubois to open the scoring in their win over the Chicago Blackhawks.

Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask made the save of the night against the Los Angeles Kings. The Bruins went on to the game 4-2 to keep pace in the Atlantic Division.

This shot by Ryan Pulock to open the scoring for the New York Islanders in their win over the Edmonton Oilers was an absolute rocket. Perfectly placed, too. An unstoppable shot if there ever was one.

Factoids

  • Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane extended his points streak to 17 games. This is the first time since 2009-10 that more than one player has had a point streak of at least 17 games in a single season. [NHL PR]
  • The Tampa Bay Lightning have three players with at least 70 points through the first 60 games of the season. The most recent team to do that was the 1995-96 Pittsburgh Penguins. [NHL PR]
  • The Winnipeg Jets did not win, but they did collect a point for the overtime loss thanks in large part to a pair of shorthanded goals. [NHL PR]
  • Saturday was the sixth time in Philadelphia Flyers franchise history they surrendered a four-goal lead but still went on to win the game. That is … kind of impressive in a weird sort of way. [NHL PR]
  • Phil Kessel became the 16th American-born player in NHL history to record at least 800 points in the NHL with an assist in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 5-4 loss to the Calgary Flames on Saturday afternoon. [NHL PR]

Scores

Philadelphia Flyers 6, Detroit Red Wings 5 (OT)

Calgary Flames 5, Pittsburgh Penguins 4

St. Louis Blues 3, Colorado Avalanche 0

Arizona Coyotes 2, Toronto Maple Leafs 0

Ottawa Senators 4, Winnipeg Jets 3 (OT)

Tampa Bay Lightning 3, Montreal Canadiens 0

New York Islanders 5, Edmonton Oilers 2

Carolina Hurricanes 3, Dallas Stars 0

Columbus Blue Jackets 5, Chicago Blackhawks 2

Vegas Golden Knights 5, Nashville Predators 1

San Jose Sharks 3, Vancouver Canucks 2

Boston Bruins 4, Los Angeles Kings 2

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.

Blues win ninth in a row as Avalanche keep fading

AP
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At the start of December the Colorado Avalanche were off to one of the best starts in the NHL with a 15-6-5 record and looking like a sure-fire playoff team thanks to one of the best lines in the league.

They had their flaws, yes, but they had enough top-end talent playing at an incredibly high level and seemed to have given themselves plenty of cushion to allow for any sort of regression that might follow in the coming months.

On Dec. 1, they were 14 points ahead of what looked to be a bitterly disappointing St. Louis Blues team in the Western Conference standings. That Blues team, meanwhile, looked like its season was already over before it really even had a chance to start, was going through a change behind the bench, and rumors were swirling that major changes to the roster could be coming if things did not turn around.

Two-and-a-half months later, everything has changed for both teams and we saw it all playing out on Saturday afternoon when the two teams met in Denver.

It was there that Blues won their ninth game in a row with a 3-0 victory that improved their lead over the Avalanche in the standings to eight points. That means the two teams have experienced a 22-point swing in less than three months.

That is an absolutely shocking flip in that amount of time.

The big change for the Blues has been the fact that their goaltending has completely turned around with the arrival of Jordan Binnington who is now 11-1-1 with a .931 save percentage in his first 13 starts. On Saturday, Jake Allen — who had been a mess earlier this season — recorded his second shutout of the season to give the Blues back-to-back shutouts.

They’re also getting the type of performance they expected out of Vladimir Tarasenko.

After what was one of the worst starts of his career, Tarasenko extended his current point streak to 11 games on Saturday with his fourth consecutive multi-point game.

Since Jan. 1 he has 26 points (including 14 goals) in 19 games.

As for the Avalanche, well, their problems are plentiful.

They still don’t have enough scoring depth beyond their top players, and now they can’t keep anything out of their own net. The defense isn’t anything special, but the goaltending has been a massive disappointment. Put those two things together and they have now given up at least four goals in eight of their past 10 games, while neither goalie (Semyon Varlamov or big offseason acquisition Philipp Grubauer) has done anything to solidify the position.

They have lost nine out of their past 10 games and 24 out of their past 32 since Dec. 1.

As if that is not bad enough, their upcoming schedule is brutal with games against Vegas, Winnipeg, a white-hot Chicago team, and Nashville over their next four.

In short, this could continue to get worse for the Avalanche before it gets better.

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.