Jake Allen

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.

Blues keep heating up, cruise against Wild

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After a troubling lull early in 2020, the Blues are heating up again. St. Louis soundly defeated the Wild 4-1 on Sunday, pushing the Blues’ winning streak to four games.

Top Central Division teams pushing Blues

Again, the Blues have been heating up — and they haven’t been given much of a choice. At least, if they want to win the Central. The idle Avs are on a nice roll, while the Stars won their Sunday game.

Blues: 82 points in 63 games played (36-17-10)
Avalanche: 79 points in 61 GP (36-18-7)
Stars: 78 points in 62 GP (36-20-6)

Considering Colorado’s games in hand, it looks like the Central race could end up being close. Managing at least one round of home-ice advantage might come down to grinding out wins like the one the Blues managed on Sunday.

As much as Jake Allen and Jordan Binnington credit the play in front of them, goaltending’s been a considerable factor in the Blues’ success. Marcus Foligno ended Binnington’s shutout streak at 142:51, but the larger point remains that it’s tough to score vs. St. Louis.

Wild get an extra push to sell at trade deadline?

The Wild built a modicum of confidence by winning two games in a row before this one.

Minnesota seemed to put forth a pretty good effort, at least early on. Sunday stands as another game where they may shake their heads at missed opportunities. Minnesota’s man advantage went 0-for-4, and also allowed a shorthanded goal that took any steam out of a comeback bid.

The Wild ended Sunday outside of the West’s top eight with 65 points in 61 games played. While this loss doesn’t condemn them outright, you have to wonder if GM Bill Guerin might be a little bit more willing to sell off another piece or two.

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: Blues looking to keep rolling, Wild aim to keep hopes alive

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Sunday’s matchup between the St. Louis Blues and Minnesota Wild. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Blues and Wild are in very different situations, yet both teams have dealt with tumultuous times heading into their Sunday game on NBCSN.

Blues starting to heat up again?

Things were starting to look a little dicey for St. Louis. The Blues lost five in a row from Feb. 6-16, with a game against the Ducks postponed following Jay Bouwmeester’s health scare. Pulling back further, the Blues managed just two wins from Jan. 15 – Feb. 16 (2-7-3).

For some time, it looked like the Blues would cruise to a Central Division title despite Vladimir Tarasenko‘s absence.

Now the Blues are on an upward trend again. In dispatching the Stars 5-1 in Dallas, St. Louis is now on a three-game winning streak.

“The way the guys in front of me and [Jordan Binnington] have played the last four games has been pretty remarkable,” Jake Allen said, via the Blues’ website. “Scoring chances created, back-checking and blocked shots. It’s great to see.”

There are also positive vibes regarding trade acquisition Marco Scandella. Craig Berube provided a positive early review to how Scandella is working with Colton Parayko, as the Athletic’s Jeremy Rutherford reported (sub required).

“He’s a big guy,” Berube said. “Plays physical, good defender, good stick. Two big guys out there that we can play against anybody, be hard on the other team, be hard on top players on the other teams. (Jay Bouwmeester) was there for a long time with Parayko. This is a similar fit that I see.”

Wild try to hang in there

Minnesota’s been through quite a bit in 2019-20, as well.

After quite a few instances where he seemed to be on the hot seat, Bruce Boudreau got the axe. Plenty of Wild players have wondered about their future, a thought highlighted by Jason Zucker being traded. Interim head coach Dean Evason has had his hands full in trying to keep the Wild in the West playoff hunt.

It still looks like a serious uphill battle, but the Wild have won two in a row. Jared Spurgeon‘s hat trick was the highlight of a frenetic 5-3 Friday win against the Oilers.

“We had a real scramble-fest going there in the third period,” Evason said, via the Wild website. “But guys were committed and it didn’t really matter who we called up, they just played and played the right way. It’s very encouraging.”

With all of that in mind, will it be the Blues or Wild who end Sunday’s NBCSN game feeling encouraged?

Chris Cuthbert will call the action from Xcel Energy Center alongside analyst Pierre McGuire. Sunday’s studio coverage on NBC will be hosted by Liam McHugh with analysts Keith Jones and Mike Milbury.

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.

Binnington, Blues show how far you can come in one year

Binnington Blues Stanley Cup
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The year 2020 remains brand-spanking new, even if world events made the first week feel much longer. With the year’s new-car smell still wafting in the air, it’s an opportunity to reflect on how much can change in 12 months. St. Louis Blues goalie Jordan Binnington can attest to how someone’s life can pull a 180 in 365 days (or, in 2020, 366).

While Binnington made his first NHL start on Jan. 7, 2019, Binnington told The Athletic’s Jeremy Rutherford (sub required) that it also felt, to him, like one of his last opportunities to prove himself.

It sounds like Binnington arrived with the sort of motivation that would inspire you to punch large slabs of meat and run laps on the beach.

(Aside: Binnington probably means “Eye of the Tiger,” yet that unintentionally open-ended comment actually points to the glut of outstanding inspirational, montage-worthy tunes in “Rocky” movies. There’s the just-as-rad theme, cheesier option “Hearts on Fire,” and even the remote possibility that Binnington was merely listening to Rocky mutter various lines. Lots of possibilities, honestly.)

Binnington starts hot, rarely slows down for Blues

Binnington began his underdog story with quite the haymaker. He pitched a 25-save shutout in that first NHL start after only seeing paltry relief appearances before.

Rather than being a fluke victory, that debut shutout portended big things for Binnington and the Blues. The team caught fire, and while Binnington wasn’t the only key, he saved their season.

Binnington managed an astounding 24 wins in just 30 games played, generating a fantastic .927 save percentage during a rookie season that helped him finish second in the Calder voting. Binnington could’ve hung his hat on that great regular season, alone.

Yet, well … you probably know what happened.

While Binnington struggled at times during the postseason (.914 save percentage during that 26-game run), he frequently earned praise for being “unflappable.” You’d expect “steady as a rock” from a veteran, not a goalie who wondered where his career was heading as 2019 began.

Binnington delivered in the clutch, in particular, cementing that thought with a stellar championship-winning performance in Game 7 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final.

Binnington, Blues putting out a strong sequel so far

Marking Jan. 2, 2019 as a line in the sand makes a lot of sense for Blues historians — and maybe other teams firing their coaches mid-season. After all, that’s when the Blues ranked last in the NHL, only to turn around their 2018-19 season and win the franchise’s first-ever Stanley Cup.

That Binnington start on Jan. 7, 2019 works well, too, though.

Either way, it’s truly remarkable to see how much Binnington’s life changed, and how he skyrocketed up the ranks of top goalies. Consider a few facts:

  • Binnington’s 43 wins (43-12-5 record) leads all goalies since he made that first start. His .923 save percentage would hover around the top 10 during that time, too, if you exclude goalies who barely played.
  • Fascinatingly, a resurgent Jake Allen now ties Binnington’s .923 during that time (Allen in 28 games, Binnington in 60). The two can conceivably push each other to help boost the Blues overall.
  • The Blues topped all NHL teams for the calendar year of 2019 with 56 wins and 123 standings points. (Again, Binnington won 43 of those 56.)
  • Binnington went from a goalie bouncing around various levels of hockey to a player who received a two-year, $8.8 million contract. And you could make a sound argument the Blues got a bit of a bargain.
  • Yes, Binnington tapered off a bit compared to last season’s lofty hot streak. He still seems like a viable starter, however, with a solid .914 save percentage, and 7.26 Goals Saved Against Average that is more than respectable.
  • Binnington played a large role in the resurgence of “Gloria.”

Binnington really stacked his resume so far, huh? Now the key is to avoid making sequels on the level of “Rocky V.”

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: Blues, Avalanche continue to be class of West

Jake Allen of St. Louis Blues
Getty Images

Three Stars

1) Jake Allen, St. Louis Blues

Allen lost his starting job to Jordan Binnington last season, but the backup goaltender has become a critical position as load management continues to be a hot topic. Binnington took over the starting role in January and has never gone through the rigors of a full NHL season. Allen made 35 saves Wednesday as the Blues defeated the Oilers 2-1 and picked up their fourth straight victory.

2) Pavel Francouz, Colorado Avalanche

The Avalanche are the hottest team in the NHL and might have a goalie controversy on their hands. Francouz has been stellar between the pipes while Grubauer missed a few games with a lower-body injury. The Czech netminder made 31 saves as the Avalanche rebounded from their first regulation loss in 10 games earlier this week. With a 9-1-1 record in the past 11 games, the Avalanche appear to be ready to fight the Blues for the Central Division title.

3) Kyle Palmieri, New Jersey Devils

With Taylor Hall gone, Palmieri has risen to the top of the Devils depth chart as their go-to scoring forward. He might be a prime chip at this year’s trade deadline with another year remaining at a manageable $4.65 million AAV. Cam Fowler refused to challenge Palmieri before the alternate captain wired a wrist shot to give the Devils a one-goal lead in their 3-1 victory over the Ducks.

Highlights of the Night

MacKinnon had two must-see moments on one goal in the second period against the Blackhawks. The way he collected the puck just outside the blueline, and then the wicked wrister that bounced off the cross-bar and in.

Brayden Schenn didn’t waste much time on this breakaway

Stat of the Night

Scores

New Jersey Devils 3, Anaheim Ducks 1
Colorado Avalanche 3, Chicago Blackhawks 1
St. Louis Blues 2, Edmonton Oilers 1