Alex Pietrangelo

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Stanley Cup contenders staying ‘optimistic’ about games resuming

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The NHL pause has made us all dream of the day hockey returns and we can finish the 2019-20 season.

That rings true for players as well, and there’s a strong feeling among teams that owned Stanley Cup dreams before everything shut down.

The defending champion Blues are reside atop the Western Conference and showed no signs of a Cup hangover through 71 games. Nearly three weeks since the NHL suspended the season, a potential repeat isn’t sitting heavily on the mind of their team captain.

“I don’t think any of us are thinking about [playoffs], we’re more just worried about taking care of ourselves and our loved ones,” Alex Pietrangelo said during a Tuesday video conference with reporters. “I think at the time, yeah, it’s frustrating, but again, we’re all optimistic that maybe we’ll have the chance to play again this year. So maybe we’ll have the opportunity. 

“The good thing about the break, is this time of year everybody’s banged up. We go through a lot during the year, so could be an opportunity to rest up. If we do get back, it’ll be one helluva playoff.”

The Blues had been without Vladimir Tarasenko since Oct. 24 due to a shoulder injury. He was expected back around the start of the playoffs, so a prolonged break would allow a return to full health and provide a boost to the defending champions.

Two teams hoping to derail the Blues’ repeat chances are the Avalanche and Stars, who entered the break in second and third place, respectively, in the Central Division. Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog said that this was the most confident he’s felt in his teams title chances since he entered the league.

“We were chasing down St. Louis and we’re two points behind with a game in-hand and we knew we had them coming up in game 82, last game of the season,” Landeskog said. “We were dealing with a lot of injuries and some key guys were out, but guys were starting to come back, so it came at a bad time. Some people would say it came at a good time because it’ll allow us come back and be healthy, but then again, we don’t know how long it’s going to last for either.”

The Stars are 10 points behind the Avalanche and trying to fend off the Jets and Predators, who are both right behind them in wild card spots. A break was certainly helpful, but the players are all itching to put their skates on again and play.

“It’s frustrating. We’re all in the same boat,” said Dallas captain Jamie Benn. “For the break, it couldn’t have come at a better time for us. We were slipping a bit. We lost six in a row. I know our group was like, all right, this ain’t so bad, but now that it’s been a few weeks and we don’t know how much longer it’s going to be, I think we’re all just wishing we could get back out there on the ice.”

Follow this NBC News live update thread for more on the coronavirus pandemic.

MORE:
Players doing what they can to stay in shape during NHL hiatus
Crosby, Ovechkin fine if NHL chooses to go right to playoffs
McDavid on NHL resuming play: ‘A fair season is a full season’
Rask’s gas, McLellan no fan of No. 1 pick tournament, return of D-Boss?

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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.

Pietrangelo says Blues teammate Bouwmeester in good health

Jay Bouwmeester
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St. Louis Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo says teammate Jay Bouwmeester is in good health some seven weeks after having a cardioverter defibrillator implanted in his chest.

Pietrangelo said he and his teammates have occasionally stopped in to see Bouwmeester while the NHL is on hiatus because of the coronavirus pandemic. He said he’s pleased to see Bouwmeester taking walks through their St. Louis-area neighborhood.

Saying “Bow’s good,” the Blues veteran defenseman provided the update Tuesday during an NHL video conference call featuring Central Division players.

The 36-year-old Bouwmeester has been ruled out from returning to play this season, including the playoffs, after he collapsed on the bench during the first period of a game at the Anaheim Ducks on Feb. 11.

He spent five nights at the UC Irvine Medical Center in Orange County, California, where he had the device implanted to monitor heart functions. The defibrillator can deliver a shock to the heart if an arrhythmia occurs to restore a regular heartbeat.

Pietrangelo said Bouwmeester was already a regular at Blues home games and practices before the season was suspended on March 12.

“That was kind of a breath of fresh air for us, knowing he’s out and about and hanging around the guys,” he added.

Pietrangelo said Bouwmeester’s plan was to stay in St. Louis until the season ended, before seeking medical clearance to return home to Edmonton, Alberta.

Long-term outlook for the Calgary Flames

Flames long-term outlook Gaudreau Monahan Giordano Lindholm
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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Calgary Flames. 

Pending free agents

The Core

The Flames played a little over their heads for much of 2018-19, building some belief that the Flames might possess one of the NHL’s best cores. Unfortunately, Nathan MacKinnon and the Avs rained on that parade during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and things got downright soggy at times in 2019-20.

Overall, though? The Flames’ core still looks quite good. Not best-in-class, but quite good.

If nothing else, they boast some serious value.

Thankfully, they didn’t overreact and trade Johnny Gaudreau, who’s almost insultingly underpaid ($6.75M AAV through 2021-22). Maybe 2018-19 inflated expectations for “Johnny Hockey,” but he’s still an excellent player.

It’s actually difficult to tell how much Sean Monahan and/or Elias Lindholm lean on Gaudreau for production, but both are cheap and covered for years, so it doesn’t really matter.

Matthew Tkachuk? He’s worth every bit of that $7M per year through 2021-22. So the forward group is covered pretty nicely.

And, yes, Mark Giordano‘s age (36) is troubling for the future, but we’ll get to that. For now, consider Giordano pretty fantastic (not quite Norris-fantastic, but fantastic nonetheless), and nicely cost-efficient at $6.75M. Giordano’s contract ending after 2021-22 mitigates much of that aging curve concern, too.

Now, not every long-term dollar is well-spent. While Milan Lucic isn’t as bad of a player as the snark suggests, his contract really is a headache. There are other issues, such as Mikael Backlund‘s troubling term.

Ultimately, though … not bad. Not cream of the crop stuff, but you can bump that group up quite a bit thanks to a mix of bargains and relatively limited risks.

Long-term needs for Flames

Consider Cam Talbot’s resurgence triage for the Flames’ goaltending situation. Talbot provided a short-term fix, but considering his pending UFA status and how unpredictable the position can be, will the Band-Aid slip off soon?

There’s quite a bit of uncertainty there, whether Talbot returns or the Flames find the “next” Talbot. Meanwhile, David Rittich presents an unpleasant form of predictability: he’s been consistently mediocre.

Unfortunately, the Flames face questions about how to insulate their goalies. Their defense lacks clarity beyond aging star Giordano, especially if both Hamonic and Brodie played their last games for the Flames. There are worse groups out there, but the Flames may be stuck with “good” while seeking “great.”

In ranking the NHL’s farm systems for The Athletic in January (sub required), Scott Wheeler placed the Flames 26th. Even at such a low ranking, Calgary’s highest rank prospects were forwards (and goalie Dustin Wolf), not defensemen. If the Flames get help on defense, it might have to come via free agency.

Oh yeah … they might need a coach, too, if they aren’t impressed with Geoff Ward.

Long-term strengths of Flames

While the Flames’ forward group ranks a notch or two behind the best of the best, it’s still quite good. The one-two punch of Gaudreau’s playmaking on one line and Tkachuk’s two-way peskiness on another can be very effective.

The Flames also lack a cap hit above Tkachuk’s $7M. That flexibility could come in very handy if other teams need to shed salary thanks to a coronavirus-related cap squeeze.

Even certain weaknesses could be spun as strengths.

Yes, their goalie situation is uncertain, but the Flames also enjoy flexibility. Before you scoff at that point, consider that Sergei Bobrovsky‘s performing at a sub-backup level for $10M per year at age 31.

Who’s to say that the Flames won’t successfully target better goaltending, at better prices, without the risky term other teams hand out?

Such flexibility opens up lanes for free agency, too. Perhaps the Flames could take that next step by landing, say, Alex Pietrangelo or Taylor Hall?

As is, the Flames mostly show the makings of a good team. Last season showed they could flirt with great, while this one reminded that there’s still work to do. They have a decent shot at getting there, even if they aren’t there yet.

(Then again, there’s also the possibility that they already missed their best chance or chances. Hockey’s fickle that way.)

MORE FLAMES BITS:
Looking at the 2019-20 Flames (so far?)
Biggest surprises and disappointments.

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.

Blues sweep season series vs. Blackhawks for first time

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For the first time in franchise history, the Blues managed a sweep of their season series against the Blackhawks.

In Sunday’s case, the Blues beat the Blackhawks 2-0 on Sunday to complete that sweep. Jake Allen made all 29 saves, earning his second shutout of 2019-20 and the 21st of his career. Allen already came into Sunday with a quietly strong season, considering a .925 save percentage that improved that much more.

Following this post about the Blues’ underrated defense, blueliners provided both of St. Louis’ goals. They were both from the same angle, more or less, as Robert Bortuzzo and Alex Pietrangelo beat Corey Crawford. Here’s the game-winner (click here for Pietrangelo’s goal):

Winning this game improves the Blues’ chances of holding off the Avalanche for the Central Division crown. Meanwhile, the Blackhawks’ hopes look dimmer and dimmer.

Blues – Blackhawks broadcast features first all-female crew

Kate Scott and A.J. Mleczko called the action on Sunday, while Kendall Coyne-Schofield provided analysis between the benches “Inside the Glass.” Meanwhile, producer Rene Hatlelid and director Lisa Seltzer handled game production.

[PHT Q&A with Kate Scott]

This served as a first-of-its-kind broadcast, which fell on International Women’s Day. Coverage also included features and other coverage involving NBC’s “On Her Turf” brand.

Scott Mleczko Blues Blackhawks
Kate Scott (L) and A.J. Mleczko (R) (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

In a Q&A with PHT, Scott spoke of how she hopes the broadcast inspires others.

“I’m hoping that they take away that they can do this. That calling a game, analyzing a game, directing a game, producing a game, shooting a game, I’m hoping that they turn off the television on Sunday night thinking, ‘Wow, that was never something I thought I could do before, but I think I can do that.’ That’s one of the reasons, in my opinion, that we are still seeing such slow growth when it comes to women calling and analyzing sports because it starts when you’re a kid,” Scott said. “You go to most of the college radio and television stations around the country and they’re still predominantly male because you’ve got to see somebody doing what you want to do when you’re a kid and have that seed planted early on to be able to go and then learn the skills early enough in life to then be prepared to call moments and games like Sunday.”

From here, it looked (and sounded) like a great success, and hopefully represents merely another step toward greater progress.

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 On NBCSN: Underrated stars of Blues’ title defense

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Sunday’s matchup between the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

When the St. Louis Blues lost All-Star forward Vladimir Tarasenko after just 10 games it was easy to assume that one of two things would happen the rest of the way.

Either it would put a significant dent in their chances of repeating as Stanley Cup champions. Or it would force general manager Doug Armstrong to make some kind of a significant trade to strengthen their offense.

As it turns out, neither one of those outcomes happened.

The Blues’ only in-season addition was to add defenseman Marco Scandella from the Montreal Canadiens, while they enter Sunday’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN) with the best record in the Western Conference and 14 points ahead of their pace from a year ago at the same point in the season. Before losing to New Jersey on Friday, they had won eight games in a row.

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET ON NBCSN]

The overall recipe is very similar to a year ago: A great defensive team that is backed up by solid goaltending to make them one of the league’s toughest teams to score against. That combination is going to give any team a chance to win every night. But what might be impressive about this year’s Blues team is that they have actually been slightly better offensively even without Tarasenko for almost all of the season. At the very least, they are not really any worse. That’s not to say that they wouldn’t be better with him, or that they don’t need him back for another playoff run (he makes them dramatically better and even more dangerous).

It is just that some of their more underappreciated players have really stepped up in his absence.

At the top of that list has to be current leading scorer David Perron. He is probably not the first player you think of when the Blues are mentioned (it is probably Alex Pietrangelo, Ryan O'Reilly, or Jordan Binnington), but he has been outstanding.

He is in his third different stop with the Blues and has been outstanding since signing with the team last summer. Since re-joining the Blues this latest time he’s scored at 30-goal, 70-point pace per 82 games. It is the most productive he has ever been offensively at any point in his career and with any team. He is already at 25 goals and 60 points this season, rapidly closing in on career highs in both categories, and has nine game-winning goals. He has been great at 5-on-5 and on the power play, and has been one of their go-to players for offense.

Next you have 20-year-old forward Robert Thomas, the Blues’ future star. He has shown flashes of brilliance in his first two years due to his speed and playmaking ability, and has already seen his overall offensive numbers increase from what they were during his rookie season. He has also been one of the Blues’ most productive players at even-strength. Among the 15 Blues players with 500 minutes of 5-on-5 ice-time this season, his 0.68 goals per 60 minutes are 5th on the team, while no one averages more primary assists than his 1.82. He’s been outstanding and has a great future ahead of him.

Finally, there’s Zach Sanford. Acquired by the Blues a couple of years ago in the trade deadline move that sent Kevin Shattenkirk to Washington, Sanford has already doubled his previous career-high in goals and enters play on Sunday with 15 in only 55 games, with all but one of them coming at even-strength. No player on the Blues this season has been a more efficient goal-scoring at even-strength than he has been (1.23 goals per 60 minutes).

The Blues needed some forwards to step up in Tarasenko’s absence, and these three have. It is a big reason they are going to enter the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs as one of the favorites to come out of the Western Conference again.

Kate Scott will call the action alongside U.S. Olympic gold medalists Kendall Coyne-Schofield and AJ Mleczko from United Center in Chicago, Ill. Game production will be led by producer Rene Hatlelid and director Lisa Seltzer.

The first-of-its-kind broadcast will be in celebration of International Women’s Day on March 8, which dates back over 100 years. The broadcast will highlight women who have made their mark on hockey, and sports in general, with the hopes to inspire future generations of women to excel on the ice and behind the scenes.

Sunday night’s coverage will also be surrounded by On Her Turf, NBC Sports’ female empowerment brand. The broadcast will include a number of features highlighting women in hockey during pre-game and intermissions, with custom in-game graphic integration and social coverage.

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.