I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.
It would be tough to totally blame Ken Hitchcock if he watched the last two St. Louis Blues games* and grumbled, “So NOW you’re stopping pucks?”
After Carter Hutton pitched a 26-save shutout against the Flyers on Monday, Jake Allen made 30 saves for a shutout of his own as the Blues clobbered the Ottawa Senators 6-0 on Tuesday. Not bad for two goalies with backup-type numbers who … let’s be honest, probably cost Hitchcock his job.
(There were other issues, but goaltending was the most glaring problem.)
The Blues have now won three of their last four games, and one way or another, they’ll find themselves somewhere in the West playoff picture by the end of the night.
These two shutout wins begin a five-game road trip in style, and with a road-heavy run ahead of them through March 21, they need to gather momentum like this.
It’s far too early to say for certain if turning to Mike Yeo was the right move, but the honeymoon phase seems pretty sunny so far.
* – Hopefully he’s going the Don Nelson route and already has suntan notion on his nose at some tropical resort.
File this one under “Things that haven’t happened often this season,” as the Tampa Bay Lightning put together rare back-to-back wins while the Los Angeles Kings fell 5-0 for the second game in a row.
The Bolts’ last consecutive victories came when they beat the Red Wings 4-1 (Dec. 20) and the Blues 5-2 (Dec. 22). They edged the Ducks 3-2 via a shootout on Saturday and clubbed the Kings 5-0 on Tuesday.
Also rare: a shutout for Ben Bishop, his first of this letdown of a season.
Los Angeles doesn’t need to look far to find an obvious scapegoat for its recent struggles. While allowing five goals in two straight contests isn’t the best sign for their defense and surprisingly effective goalie Peter Budaj, it’s the Kings’ popgun offense that is the biggest concern.
Royal pains as other West bubble teams make big gains
The Kings have only generated a single goal in their past five games, an overtime tally in a 1-0 win against the Philadelphia Flyers. It’s foolish to go in too deep on their struggles – these consecutive losses came after reeling off five straight wins – but one way or another, Los Angeles will finish Tuesday outside of the West’s top eight.
MORE: Get a rundown of the West’s tightest playoff races here. Long story short? Tuesday was indeed a rough one for the Kings.
If Bishop’s shutout wasn’t heartening enough for the Lightning, consider a strong night for Nikita Kucherov – whose two goals push him to 21 on the season – and his buddy Vladislav Namestnikov (two primary assists on those Kucherov goals).
Is this enough for the Lightning to spark a turnaround? They still have a big hole to dig out of, yet with a four-game road trip slated to begin on Friday, this win could serve as a key confidence-booster.
Is this finally the year that the Washington Capitals put it all together? If they play anything like this beyond Game 82, the answer might just be a resounding “Yes.”
The Capitals can’t do anything about those inevitable playoff questions right now, but they can take care of the business in front of them, something they’re accomplishing in a resounding way.
Tuesday was the latest example of their dominant play. The Capitals beat the Carolina Hurricanes by a score of 5-0, their second consecutive 5-0 win after doing the same to the Los Angeles Kings on Sunday.
When you’re riding as high as the Capitals are at the moment, you can dice up the numbers in a wide variety of impressive ways. Whatever you do, you’ll likely come up with pretty jaw-dropping stats.
Want to focus on Braden Holtby‘s continued brilliant play? This should work:
How about all those goals, though? As you can see the Capitals have been difficult to contain, especially with home-ice advantage.
(This tweet actually combines the great goaltending and scoring stats.)
The Capitals stand as the first team to hit 80 standings points in 2016-17, seemingly in a position to even leave their robust Metropolitan Division competition in the dust. They already have 10 players with at least 10 goals on the season.
No one gets a Stanley Cup ring for their work in February, but the Capitals sure look legit as of this moment. Some would argue that they’ve never looked better.
The New York Rangers got a scare during Tuesday’s game against the Anaheim Ducks, as Derek Stepan was shaken up by a hit from behind by Logan Shaw.
Stepan left for some time, but as the team noted, he was able to return to the ice during the game. This doesn’t mean Stepan is certain to have avoided injury, but it’s naturally a better sign than Stepan sitting out the remainder of the contest.
As you can see in the video above, Ryan Getzlaf showed some sportsmanship in trying to move Stepan out of the fray.
The Rangers ended up beating the Ducks 4-1 on Tuesday.
The Vancouver Canucks lost a key forward as they began a do-or-die road trip against the Nashville Predators, as Sven Baertschi won’t return to Tuesday’s game after suffering a concussion.
(Somewhat unusually, the Canucks specifically labeled it a concussion rather than an “upper-body injury.”)
Baertschi suffered the injury thanks to a check by Predators forward Cody McLeod, a play that did not draw a penalty.
Today already ranks as a tough day for the Canucks health-wise, as news surfaced that Anton Rodin underwent knee surgery.