Erik Johnson

Blues Avalanche preview Grubauer
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NHL on NBCSN: Can Grubauer, Avalanche get on track vs. Blues?

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Thursday’s matchup between the St. Louis Blues and Colorado Avalanche. Coverage begins at 9:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

About a month ago, a Blues – Avalanche game would present a battle for Central Division supremacy. As we’ve learned all too often in the turbulent NHL, a lot can change — fast.

The Blues took care of their end — and then some. While their eight-game winning streak ended on New Year’s Eve, they’re running away with the top spot in the Central and West. Their most relevant battles might instead be for the Presidents’ Trophy, and they’re rightfully perched among the league’s best during their impressive defense of that first-ever Stanley Cup championship.

Meanwhile, cracks are forming for the Avalanche.

Colorado on the edge of a crisis?

Despite injuries to Mikko Rantanen, Cale Makar, and Gabriel Landeskog, the Avalanche found ways to keep winning.

Lately, that train came to a screeching halt, even with such key players returning to action. The Avs ended 2019 with a thud, falling 7-4 to the Jets to slip to 1-4-1 over their last six games.

You can almost feel the Avs’ confidence fading.

“It feels like it’s hard to win right now,” Rantanen said following that loss to the Jets, via the Denver Post’s Mike Chambers. “We play good periods at times, but then we shoot ourselves in the leg. I think it’s in our minds. When it’s a tie game, or we’re up one or down one, we get scared that (a collapse) is going to happen again.”

That doesn’t sound like a resilient team. Really, a team that was snatching victory from defeat is now experiencing the opposite.

“We’re finding different ways to lose every night lately, and it’s frustrating,” Erik Johnson said, also via Chambers.

Goalie battle brewing?

Looking at win-loss records alone, you’d assume Philipp Grubauer has mainly been struggling recently. After all, he’s only managed a single victory since Dec. 4.

The larger truth might just be that the Avs aren’t propping Grubauer up the same way.

The deeper you drill into Grubauer’s stats, the clearer it is that he’s been just OK all season. Grubauer actually managed a better save percentage during his one-win December (.910) as he did in a 3-4-0 November (.903).

Overall, Grubauer sports a mediocre 10-9-3 record, and a middling-but-not-catastrophic .911 save percentage.

In a more anxious hockey market, you’d probably hear all about how a goalie battle should be brewing. Maybe that hypothetical nervous group of fans would have a point, too.

Pavel Francouz stepped in when Grubauer was hurt, and now it’s fair to wonder who will start each night.

Even after a tough loss to the Wild on Dec. 27, Francouz’s numbers sparkle. The 29-year-old is 11-3-1 with a splendid .927 save percentage. That tough night against Minnesota ended a four-game winning streak, and Francouz also saw the end of an impressive eight-game point streak (7-0-1).

Avalanche count on history repeating with Grubauer?

Looking at Francouz’s numbers, it’s fair to wonder why he received such scant opportunities during his career. The undrafted goalie managed strong (if not brilliant) numbers basically everywhere he went. One could validly argue that the Avs should let him run with these chances.

On the other hand, what if Grubauer repeats the narrative from last season.

Consider that Grubauer was putrid before the All-Star break last season (.891 save percentage over 21 games), only to catch on fire afterward (.948 in 16 games), closing it off with a strong playoff run.

It’s easy to see why the Avalanche weigh that experience — and, frankly, their larger financial commitment to Grubauer — more than Francouz’s superior recent play.

That said, it’s absolutely a situation to watch, and one the Avs can’t afford to ignore. The Blues won’t be shy about testing Colorado’s goalies, either.

John Forslund and Brian Boucher will call the action from Pepsi Center in Denver, Colo.

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.

Maple Leafs’ Kerfoot suspended 2 games for boarding

NHL
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The NHL Department of Player Safety announced on Monday that Toronto Maple Leafs forward Alexander Kerfoot has been suspended two games for a boarding incident that happened on Saturday night against the Colorado Avalanche, Kerfoot’s former team.

Kerfoot was given a two-minute for boarding late in the second period when he hit Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson from behind and directly into the boards.

Here is video of the play as well as the NHL’s explanation for the suspension.

Kerfoot spent the first two years of his NHL career playing for the Avalanche and was traded to Toronto over the summer — along with defenseman Tyson Barriein the trade that sent Nazem Kadri to Colorado.

Saturday’s game was Kerfoot’s first game against his former team.

He will lose $37,634.40 in salary as a result of the suspension and miss the Maple Leafs’ upcoming games against the Detroit Red Wings and Buffalo Sabres. This is the first time he has been punished by the DoPS.

He will be eligible to return to the lineup on Nov. 30 when the Maple Leafs return home to host the Sabres.

In his first 22 games with the Maple Leafs this season Kerfoot has five goals and three assists.

This is the DoPS’ second suspension in as many days, following the four-game ban issued to St. Louis Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo for cross-checking.

Related: Blues’ Bortuzzo suspended four games for cross-checking

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: Kerfoot to have hearing; elite Vrana

CapsPup / Twitter

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.

• Captain the dog meets Jay Beagle. [CapsPup – Twitter]

• Mike Babcock’s gone so that means it’s time for all the dirty laundry to be aired. “Babcock was alleged to have asked one of the Leafs’ rookies to list the players on the team from hardest-working to those who, in the eyes of the rookie, didn’t have a strong work ethic. The rookie did so, not wanting to upset his coach, but was taken aback when Babcock told the players who had been listed at the bottom.” [Toronto Sun]

• It’s early days but things are going pretty smoothly for the Maple Leafs under Sheldon Keefe. [Toronto Star]

Alex Kerfoot of the Maple Leafs will have a Monday hearing with the NHL Department of Player Safety for boarding Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson Saturday night. [NHL.com]

Quinn Hughes has been impressive early on in his rookie season with the Canucks. [Sporting News]

• Why it’s time for Jakub Vrana to be included in the elite winger discussion. [Japers’ Rink]

• The Bruins have released their third jerseys for this season and they’re not bad. They’ll debut them Friday against the Rangers (1 p.m. ET; NBC) during the Thanksgiving Showdown. [NBC Sports Boston]

• The youth movement continues in Detroit as the Red Wings have recalled Filip Zadina from the AHL. [MLive]

• Great read on legendary Getty Images photographer Bruce Bennett. [Sportsnet]

• Grading Artemi Panarin’s first quarter as a New York Ranger. [Blueshirt Banter]

• Blackhawks goalie Robin Lehner is looking for advice in the shootout. [NBC Sports Chicago]

Tuukka Rask and Jordan Binnington lead the goalie crop in the fantasy hockey world this week. [RotoWorld]

• Finally, spin-o-rama to the moonwalk. Solid, kid:

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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.

Avalanche furious over referee decision to not stop play after Calvert injury

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Thanks to huge performances from Nathan MacKinnon and Cale Makar on Saturday night, the Colorado Avalanche were able to pick up a 5-4 overtime win in Vancouver to gain a little more ground on the first place St. Louis Blues in the Central Division.

Makar continued to look like an emerging superstar with four points, while MacKinnon looked like an MVP candidate with two goals, including a highlight reel coast-to-coast goal in overtime to win it.

One of the biggest reasons the game even made it to overtime was because of a late third period rally by the Canucks that saw them score two goals in the final three minutes. The manner in which the Canucks scored the first of those two goals left the Avalanche completely livid.

It all happened after forward Matt Calvert was struck in the side head by an Elias Pettersson shot from point-blank range and remained down on the ice, bleeding from his head. The on-ice officials allowed play to continue and it ultimately resulted in Alex Edler scoring to bring to the Canucks to within one.

You can the sequence in the video above.

Here is the rule that is relevant to why play was allowed to continue:

When a player is injured so that he cannot continue play or go to his bench, the play shall not be stopped until the injured player’s team has secured control of the puck. If the player’s team is in control of the puck at the time of injury, play shall be stopped immediately unless his team is in a scoring position.

In the case where it is obvious that a player has sustained a serious injury, the referee and/or linesman may stop the play immediately.

The Avalanche never regained position of the puck during that sequence so play was allowed to continue. The last part of the rule is what is most relevant to this situation because it brings up a very important question: If a player bleeding from their head isn’t enough to be considered a serious injury to immediately stop play, what is?

The Avalanche were understandably angry, with defenseman Erik Johnson having the harshest words, via The Athletic’s Ryan S. Clark.

“It’s a [expletive] joke. You want to protect a guy? Guy’s got a family at home, he’s laying there bleeding out of his head and you don’t blow the whistle? It’s a complete joke. An absolute joke. They should be ashamed of themselves.”

Said head coach Jared Bednar: “That’s the second time in two weeks a guy takes a puck to the face and is bleeding all over the ice. Sometimes it’s a tough call to make, but in that situation, you should’ve blown it dead.”

During an appearance on Sportsnet with Scott Oake after the game MacKinnon took it in a different direction and played the “What if it was LeBron James?” card.

“I can only imagine if that was LeBron James, his head was bleeding and they let the other team take a three-pointer to tie the game,” said MacKinnon. “I know it’s not the ref’s fault, it’s the league rule, but I think you need to look and who’s laying on the ice.”

The rule is what it is (and one that probably needs to be re-examined, especially if you are serious about player safety), but there is still that segment of it that does give the referees the option to stop play. That brings it back to the question mentioned above — what sort of injury is considered serious enough to warrant a whistle?

This is not the first time something like this has happened. During the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs the Pittsburgh Penguins scored a game-tying goal against the Columbus Blue Jackets after Zach Werenski was struck in the face by a puck and remained down on the ice bleeding. Play was not stopped, resulting in a Bryan Rust goal.

UPDATE:

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.

Landeskog the hockey horse out of Breeders’ Cup Sprint

ARCADIA, Calif. — Colorado Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson won’t have a rooting interest in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Sprint.

Landeskog, a 3-year-old gelding co-owned by Johnson, has been scratched from the six-furlong race because trainer Doug O’Neill wasn’t happy with how he trained Tuesday.

O’Neill says a nuclear scan and X-rays on Landeskog came back clean, but he still decided to pass on Saturday’s race.

O’Neill says Johnson and the other owners ”made it easy to do the right thing. They said the horse comes first.”

Landeskog was 12-1 on the morning line. He’s named after Avs captain Gabriel Landeskog.

NBC Sports this weekend presents 10.5 hours of live coverage of the 2019 Breeders’ Cup World Championships – the richest two days in horse racing – with $30 million in prize money at stake. Highlighting the coverage is the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic this Saturday, Nov. 2, live from Santa Anita at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.

On Friday and Saturday, NBC Sports presents live coverage of 13 races at the 36th Breeders’ Cup World Championships on NBC and NBCSN.