Robert Thomas

Blues vs. Canucks: 5 things to know about their First Round series

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The First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs begins August 11. Before the NHL postseason resumes play, PHT will preview each of the eight opening round matchups, including Blues vs. Canucks.

1. Greed could be a big-time motivation for big-time Blues and Canucks

No doubt, Blues star defenseman Alex Pietrangelo ranks as the player with the most money to gain or lose in this series, at least if free agent bidders put a lot of stock in postseason play. Even so, Pietrangelo is far from alone.

Jacob Markstrom solidified himself with a crucial season for the Canucks, but the 30-year-old faces an uncertain future, and a fairly goalie-rich market. Christopher Tanev doesn’t know if he’ll be back with Vancouver, either. Tyler Toffoli‘s another player who could see some serious variance.

Heck, Elias Pettersson might also want to be proactive, so while his rookie deal runs through 2020-21, the budding Canucks superstar may just want to sign an extension after this run. (Would that be wise? Debatable, but Pettersson may emphasize peace of mind over maximum bucks.)

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

2. Experience for Blues

Sometimes “experience” gets thrown around even for honestly pretty mediocre veteran players who are sometimes just there. It’s a little different when you’re talking about veteran stars who can still actually play, though.

The Blues are brimming with battle-tested players who aren’t past their prime. While Pietrangelo is 30, Ryan O'Reilly, Colton Parayko, Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz, and other key players haven’t celebrated The Big 3-0 just yet. These are players who’ve shut down some of the league’s best players, including making life miserable for “The Perfect Line” of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak.

While Elias Pettersson & Co. showed they can score against a stingy Wild team, the Blues represent an enormous jump in difficulty. Along with being stingy themselves, these Blues players can test opponents on offense. That’s a potentially harrowing situation for a Canucks team accustomed to “outscoring their problems.”

3. Youth movement for Canucks

Then again, experience can’t account for everything. A dynamic Canucks team could very well leave the savviest of veterans and grayest of graybeards huffing and puffing to keep up.

There’s something to be said for having younger legs. For every 21-year-old Robert Thomas the Blues can roll out, the Canucks have more. And let’s face it: Quinn Hughes might be 20, but most veterans would envy his poise.

Maybe Elias Pettersson and others will be too “inexperienced” to realize they’re supposed to be nervous? Or perhaps they can merely out-skate and out-skill those nerves?

4. Two potent power plays

The Canucks scored an impressive 57 power-play goals during the regular season, which tied them for second in the NHL — and that’s with 69 games played (The Oilers scored 59 PPG, but in 71 GP). That would lead you to believe that the Canucks’ power play could stand as a big advantage over most NHL teams.

But what if they draw more or less the same number of penalties as the Blues? The Blues’ power play was actually marginally more efficient (24.3 percent to 24.2 for Vancouver), so they might be able to strike even (or close to even) on special teams. Especially since the two teams boasted fairly similar penalty kill units in 2019-20.

It should be fascinating to see if one (or both) of these teams convert that work to this First Round series. From the Canucks’ perspective, they might need to win that battle at least a few times to make this series interesting.

5. Prediction: Blues in 5

Look, the Canucks could channel some magic (especially on the power play) to upset the Blues. Or at least make it longer than a five-game series. That’s especially possible if the Blues meander into the First Round.

Overall, though, it just seems like the Blues are too deep, too defensively adept, and potent enough offensively to trade blows here and there when/if things break down. Jacob Markstrom might need the best two weeks of his career to make this close.

(Then again, bubble hockey could get really weird, too.)

No. 4 St. Louis Blues vs. No. 5 Vancouver Canucks

Wednesday, Aug. 12: Vancouver at St. Louis, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Friday, Aug. 14: Vancouver at St. Louis, 6:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Sunday, Aug. 16: St. Louis at Vancouver, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Monday, Aug. 17: St. Louis at Vancouver, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Wednesday, Aug. 19: Vancouver at St. Louis – TBD
*Friday, Aug. 21: St. Louis at Vancouver – TBD
*Sunday, Aug. 23: Vancouver at St. Louis – TBD

*if necessary

MORE:
Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round schedule

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 announcer Kelly plans on donating plasma to help combat COVID-19

John Kelly Blues donating plasma
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About five weeks after being declared COVID-19 symptom-free, Blues announcer John Kelly is doing his part to help others affected by the coronavirus. In his case, that means donating plasma in hopes that his antibodies could help others battling illness.

Blues’ Kelly plans on donating plasma to help those dealing with COVID-19

Kelly told the Blues website how the study came about.

“A friend of mine at Washington University reached out to me and said they were doing a study like they are at places all over the world, and they feel there’s a really strong chance that people with antibodies for COVID-19 can help others who are still battling it,” Kelly said. “You donate blood, they extract your plasma and inject that plasma into very sick patients. The studies show that a lot of people that are sick are getting better because they’re using a recovered person’s antibodies to fight off the virus.

“If I can make one person better, that’s fantastic.”

A recent Wired article notes that this is called “convalescent plasma therapy.”

” … it’s an old solution; doctors used it to help treat measles patients before a vaccine was developed and it has been used on Ebola, SARS, and MERS patients, as well as during the 1918 pandemic flu.”

Now, it’s unclear if taking plasma from Kelly and others will be effective in combating COVID-19. Medical experts believe that it’s unlikely to cause additional harm, however, so good on Kelly and others for donating plasma.

O’Reilly among others also chipping in

While Kelly was directly affected, other people involved with the Blues are also helping out. For instance, Ryan O'Reilly recently contributed 270 bottles of hand sanitizer to hospitals and retirement homes.

(You can learn more about that drive here.)

Robert Thomas also helped distribute hand sanitizer earlier in April, while Jordan Binnington pitched in to help people get masks.

Nice work from the defending champs.

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.

What is the Blues’ long-term outlook?

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 St. Louis Blues.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

Outside of top defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, who would be the top free agent available this summer, pretty much every key player on the Blues’ roster is signed (or under team control) through the end of next season.

Ryan O'Reilly and Vladimir Tarasenko are the two most impactful forwards on the roster and both have long-term deals through the end of the 2022-23 season at a combined salary cap number of $15 million. As long as they maintain their current levels of play (Tarasenko being a 30-35 goal winger; O’Reilly being a dominant two-way center) they are going to be the foundation of a contending team at a pretty fair price against the cap.

Things do get a little more complicated after next season when forwards Alex Steen, Jaden Schwartz, and Tyler Bozak, as well as BOTH goalies (Jordan Binnington and Jake Allen) will all be eligible for unrestricted free agency.

Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou also provide some nice long-term potential at forward, with Thomas being especially intriguing. The team’s first-round pick (No. 20 overall) in 2017 has already shown flashes of top-line ability and is one of their best play-making forwards at even-strength. Still only 20 years old, big things could be in his future. He still has one more season after this one on his entry-level deal. Given how good he has already been, the potential he still has, and his current contract status he could be one of the Blues’ most valuable assets next season.

On defense, Colton Parayko, Justin Faulk, Marco Scandella and Robert Bortuzzo are all signed to long-term deals, while Dunn is still under team control as a restricted free agent after this season.

Overall, it remains a top-tier team in the NHL in the short-term and should still be a Stanley Cup contender.

Long-Term Needs

Getting Pietrangelo re-signed would probably be at the top of the list.

He is their captain, their top defenseman, and if he leaves they do not really have another option to take over that role. With Parayko, Faulk, Dunn, and Bortuzzo there would still be a solid defense there, but none of those players really fills the No. 1 defender spot. It is also unlikely — if not impossible — they would be able to find anyone comparable to Pietrangelo on the open market.

Scott Perunovich is probably their top prospect, and he does have a lot of potential on the blue line, but he has yet to play a game of professional hockey and is a long way off from being able to fill a top-pairing or meaningful role.

Beyond that, their farm system as a whole is not the strongest and they have some fairly significant free agents over the next two years that they will need to do with — including the two goalies.

Long-Term Strengths

In the more immediate future they have an outstanding goalie with Binnington and Allen in place, and that is also probably the one position in their farm system that has some potential long-term options.

Their biggest strength, though, is simply the players they have at the top of their lineup.

Acquiring O’Reilly from the Buffalo Sabres before the 2018-19 season has turned out to be an enormous win for the organization. Not only because it gave them a bonafide No. 1 center that could drive play at both ends of the ice, but because it cost them almost nothing of consequence to get him. He scores at a top-line rate, is a sensational defensive player, and plays big, tough minutes against other team’s best players while being able to stay out of the penalty box. At a $7.5 million salary cap hit that is an enormous bargain.

Then there is Tarasenko.

He has been one of the NHL’s most dangerous goal-scorers for the past six years and can be a game-changing talent when he is on the ice. The Blues did not really get a chance to experience much of that this season due to injury, but he is a star and might be the one player on this roster that might (emphasis on might) have Hall of Fame potential if he continues on his current path.

MORE Blues:
Looking at the 2019-20 St. Louis Blues
Blues biggest surprises and disappointments so far

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.

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.

The Buzzer: Toffoli, others hot after NHL trade deadline

Toffoli hot after NHL trade deadline the buzzer
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Three Stars

1. Anton Khudobin/Roope Hintz, Dallas Stars

With a plethora of games on Tuesday’s dockets, let’s consolidate some of the stars picks as combos.

Khudobin generated 40 saves, only allowing one goal against Carolina. People made plenty of jokes about the Hurricanes actually needing to bring in David Ayers on Tuesday. After all, Alex Nedeljkovic allowed four goals on just 16 shots. It’s easy to overlook the difference Khudobin made in that game where there was a towering 40-16 SOG disadvantage. (The Hurricanes’ long tradition of dominating puck control while being let down by goaltending happened again. The Stars, meanwhile, subsist on their goaltending.)

Hintz provided a strong night of work in his own right, scoring a goal and two assists. Hintz scored the game-winning goal, and both of his assists were primary helpers.

2. Sergei Bobrovsky, Florida Panthers

Florida left many — myself included — puzzled by trading away Vincent Trocheck for a questionable return. Maybe the Panthers will benefit from a post-trade deadline bump from Bobrovsky much like Columbus did after they decided not to trade him in 2018-19?

It’s way too early to confirm or deny that. Either way, he enjoyed a strong Tuesday, stopping 37 out of 38 SOG. Both the Panthers and the Coyotes needed Tuesday’s game, but Bob made the difference.

Speaking of sticking with players despite the temptation of getting something for a pending UFA, Mike Hoffman contributed to Florida’s two goals with a goal and an assist.

3. Kevin Hayes/Travis Konecny, Philadelphia Flyers

Leafing through the options for third star was especially tough. Matthew Tkachuk, for instance, scored three points (1G, 2A) winning a battle of the pests with Brad Marchand.

An even tougher omission: the combination of Zach Sanford (2G, 1A) and Robert Thomas (1G, 2A) for the Blues. Sanford scored the GWG, and fired nine SOG. He made the difference in St. Louis squeaking by Chicago.

In this case, let’s direct you to this post, where the Blues got some attention.

Hayes (2G, 1A) also scored the game-winner for his team, while Konecny generated a goal and two assists. Both Flyers forwards generated +3 ratings apiece. Are their strong nights better than the comparable evenings for Sanford and Thomas? Your guess is a good, if not better, than mine.

Highlights of the Night

Marchand scored an impressive goal, showing his calm and skill. Then he turned on the menace in staring down Mikael Backlund, which really brought this clip up a notch:

William Nylander added to the bucket of cool between-the-legs goals in helping Toronto beat Tampa Bay. If forced to choose one video for highlight of the night, it would probably be this:

Not sure if this is a highlight of the night in the traditional sense. Regardless, this is just one big, entertaining mess between Tyler Bertuzzi and P.K. Subban. And maybe the officials?

Factoids

  • The Rangers set a franchise record with eight consecutive road wins by beating the Islanders in OT. Mika Zibanejad is on his own eight-game point streak, collecting a whopping 14 points during that span, including Tuesday’s empathic game-winner. (NHL PR)
  • The Stars have an eight-game road point streak of their own. (NHL PR)
  • The Flames beat the Bruins handily. Continuing with the theme of road warriors, Calgary’s 15-4-1 road record since Nov. 23 leads the NHL during that span. (Sportsnet Stats)
  • Tyler Toffoli keeps bridging a hot end to his Kings’ days with a hot start with the Canucks following his deadline trade. By scoring Vancouver’s OT winner, he extended his current point streak to five games (7G, 2A). Looking specifically at his time with the Canucks, Toffoli has three goals and two assists for five points in three contests.
  • Ryan Nugent-Hopkins improved to an impressive 29 points in his last 21 games. (Sportsnet Stats)
  • Quinn Hughes became the first rookie to reach 50 points this season … not too shabby for a defenseman. He’s six points shy of the Canucks rookie defenseman scoring record. Hughes and Nicklas Lidstrom (1992) are the only two defensemen to reach 50 points before any other rookie during their respective first seasons. (NHL PR)
  • Jean-Gabriel Pageau didn’t win the game for the Islanders. He did make a heck of an impression during his Islanders debut following their big trade deadline investment, though. (OK, this is more of an opinion-oid, but go with it.)

Scores

CGY 5 – BOS 2
VAN 4 – MTL 3 (OT)
TOR 4 – TBL 3
NYR 4 – NYI 3 (OT)
PHI 4 – SJS 2
WSH 4 – WIN 3 (SO)
DAL 4 – CAR 1
NJD 4 – DET 1
STL 6 – CHI 5
NSH 3 – OTT 2
MIN 5 – CBJ 4
FLA 2 – ARI 1
ANA 4 – EDM 3 (OT)

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.