NBCSN’s coverage of the NHL’s Return to Play continues with Sunday’s round-robin matchup between the Avalanche and Blues. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Watch the Avalanche-Blues stream on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.
This round-robin matchup features the top two teams in the Western Conference. When the regular season was paused in March, the Blues led the Central Division (and entire conference) with 94 points through 71 games. They have led the West since the morning of Dec. 15 and became the first defending champion to finish the following regular season atop their conference since the 2000-01 Devils.
When the puck drops for this game on Sunday, it will have been 417 days since the Blues became Stanley Cup champions on June 12, 2019 in Boston. St. Louis will look to build on their first-ever title and become the first team to repeat as champions since the Penguins did so in 2016 and 2017.
Just over three years ago, the Avalanche finished last in the NHL in Jared Bednar’s first season in charge. But now they are set to make their third straight playoff appearance and boast one of the league’s most talented rosters, which includes Hart Trophy finalist Nathan MacKinnon and Calder Trophy finalist Cale Makar among many other pieces.
The defending champs will benefit from the return of their superstar forward Vladimir Tarasenko. The 28-year-old underwent left shoulder surgery in late October and was on pace to return for the playoffs even before the season was paused. He played just 10 games this season.
WHAT: Colorado Avalanche vs. St. Louis Blues WHERE: Rogers Place – Edmonton WHEN: Sunday, August 2, 6:30 p.m. ET TV: NBCSN ON THE CALL: Kenny Albert, Eddie Olczyk, Pierre McGuire LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Avalanche-Blues stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.
Western Conference round-robin schedule
Sunday, Aug. 2: Blues vs. Avalanche, 6:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN (Livestream) Monday, Aug. 3: Stars vs. Golden Knights, 6:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN Wednesday, Aug. 5: Avalanche vs. Stars, 6:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN Thursday, Aug. 6: Golden Knights vs. Blues, TBD Saturday, Aug. 8: Golden Knights vs. Avalanche, TBD Sunday, Aug. 9: Stars vs. Blues, TBD
You can watch all the NHL playoff streams on the NBC Sports app.
Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from the NHL and around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit for the PHT Morning Skate? Email us at email@example.com.
• Do you want details on what it’s like to cover a game at an empty NHL arena? As in, a how even your parking spot is different-level of detail? Jason Gregor has you covered in detailing his experience during an Oilers “road” game in Edmonton. [Oilers Nation]
• Speaking of minute details, what about pucks that end up making seat covers look worse during those empty-arena games? Why, you have to clean them up with … uh, pool skimmers, of course. [NHL.com]
• “We’re all pretty gross. We’re children.” Former MLB player Huston Street told ESPN as much in this pretty gross story about body fluids during games. It’s good stuff … just maybe read up on the snot rockets and whatnot after breakfast/brunch. [ESPN]
• Sure, these aren’t typical circumstances for assessing players, for an expansion draft or otherwise. But Seattle Kraken GM Ron Francis laid out what he’ll be scouting for during the NHL Return to Play nonetheless. [Seattle Times]
• Looking at Brad Marchand, Matthew Tkachuk, and other types of the new breed of pests. These pests don’t just annoy you with their antics; they also can aggravate you by beating you with their considerable skill. [Sports Illustrated]
• William Nylander silenced at least some of his critics by authoring a strong 2019-20 season for the Maple Leafs. Of course, some will still have doubts until he delivers in the postseason. So, can Nylander pull that off? [The Hockey News]
• Considering how much better Ilya Samsonov was at times this season, it’s a bummer that he’s not an option behind (or in front of?) Braden Holtby. Credit the Capitals for lining up some other options, though, and it sounds like Vitek Vanecek earned the No. 2 gig over Pheonix Copley. [NBC Sports Washington]
• Back during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, it was pretty stunning to see the Flames fall apart against the Avalanche. Sean Monahan said “it’s still in my head all the time.” [Calgary Herald]
The NHL Stanley Cup round-robin begins August 2 as the Western Conference’s top four teams battle for First Round seeding. This week, PHT look at one question facing each of the top four seeds in the East and West.
NHL Western Conference Round Robin — TV schedule, start times, channels
Sunday, Aug. 2: Blues vs. Avalanche, 6:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN Monday, Aug. 3: Stars vs. Golden Knights, 6:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN Wednesday, Aug. 5: Avalanche vs. Stars, 6:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN Thursday, Aug. 6: Golden Knights vs. Blues, TBD Saturday, Aug. 8: Golden Knights vs. Avalanche, TBD Sunday, Aug. 9: Stars vs. Blues, TBD
Western Conference Round Robin preview: Questions for Avalanche, Blues, Golden Knights, and Stars
Avalanche: Are the Avs already contenders, or will that day come later?
The Avalanche already took swift steps forward when Nathan MacKinnon leapt from very nice player to a full-fledged superstar. Year after year, it seems like Colorado adds potential young impact players to the mix. It’s all enough to picture a future brighter than a snow-packed mountain.
But what about the present?
The Avs were right there with the Blues as the top team in the West this season, even with some injury headaches. No team in the West enjoyed a better goal differential (+46) and a team with such young legs would seemingly hit the ground running.
Of course, we won’t know how any team will respond to the unique challenge that is the NHL Return to Play. Will the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers began a coronation for MacKinnon and the Avs, or could that happen down the line? We’ll find out soon enough.
(And chances are, it will be fun to watch.)
Blues: Will Tarasenko be their tank, or could a bumpy return tank repeat hopes?
It’s easy to imagine Vladimir Tarasenko merely slotting into the Blues lineup and making a strong team even stronger. That’s especially easy to picture since Tarasenko won a Stanley Cup with this largely similar team last season.
That said, the Blues are such a well-oiled machine. While Tarasenko doesn’t take much away from the table defensively, it’s possible he might be a little less sharp right off the bat. Sure, other players are going to be rusty, but Tarasenko last played in October.
There’s also the potential distraction of Alex Pietrangelo eyeing free agency, but such thoughts didn’t hurt Pietrangelo. If anything, he’s enjoyed one of his best seasons in the NHL.
Golden Knights: Who should be their starting goalie: Fleury or Lehner?
No doubt about it, Marc-Andre Fleury served as the face of the Golden Knights franchise, particularly during their smash-success debut season. Fleury has the rings and the swagger that come with being an experienced starting goalie in the NHL.
But the Golden Knights are too young of a franchise to coast off of nostalgia.
With a mediocre .905 save percentage, Fleury dragged Vegas down at times in 2019-20. To be fair, previous backup Malcolm Subban rarely enjoyed better luck. Yet, Lehner showed promise in his brief looks post-trade, and generally put together some of the best netminding work of the past two seasons.
This is a talented Golden Knights team. It also rapidly became an expensive one. Maybe there’s still a “honeymoon phase” going on, but the hangover from another early playoff exit would be painful.
If Lehner looks demonstratively sharper than Fleury, then Peter DeBoer simply has to make that call. Whichever goalie gets the nod, don’t expect people to have much patience if that No. 1 goalie falters.
The Stars placing among the West’s top four says as much about the state of the conference as it does about this team. After all, this squad managed a meager +3 goal differential in 2019-20.
Generally speaking, the Stars succeed when they can score just enough to give Ben Bishop and/or Anton Khudobin the margin of error they need. Considering how well those two have played, Dallas hasn’t always needed to score much.
Even so, the angst lingers as Seguin and Benn struggle to find the same scoring touch of peak years. While this team has some great young talent (particularly Miro Heiskanen), the Stars still generally go as far as their two big names and sometimes-excellent goaltending can take them.
Could Rick Bowness find a better formula, though? It’s not the most ideal circumstance to search for that next gear, but if you squint enough, you could see ways that the Stars could put together an impressive run.
Of course, they could just easily fall apart quickly. To an extent, that’s just the nature of the beast in the NHL.
Continued reading on Round Robin games, NHL Return to Play, and more
Thursday was a bit of a quiet day around NHL training camps. Many teams either used it to give players rest or had them do off-ice workouts. After four months off time will be needed to get players back up to speed. Given the short window of camp before heading to their respective hub cities, keep rosters healthy is of paramount concern. Let’s take a quick skate around camps with NHL Training Camp News Day 4:
Koivu still debating future
Wild captain Mikko Koivu is in the final year of his contract and isn’t sure what he’ll do next season. The 37-year-old played 55 games this season and saw his lowest ice time (15:34) since 2005-06, his rookie year.
“I feel really good,” he said. “As of right now, I’m just really trying to enjoy every minute of it on the ice and the preparation part. Once we get to Edmonton and start playing again, trying to take it as a new experience. I think we all realize right now that anything can happen, so you just want to have fun with it and at the same time prepare the right way and make sure that we do our part as good as we can.
“Once the games are done then I’ll look at the future and that’s going to be up to [how I feel] mentally, physically, and trying to do the right thing in my mind about the future. For the final decision, I don’t think it’s the time to make that call as of right now.”
When he spoke during the NHL pause, Koivu left the door open for a potential return home to Finland.
Stars with a do-over
Displeased with how training camp went in September, Stars interim head coach Rick Bowness sees this as a chance to get off on the right foot … or skate. Teams aren’t coming out of camp now playing lackluster October regular season games. Every game will be meaningful, something he’s trying to stress.
“You’re going right into it and you’re not going to have time to find your game,” Bowness said. “That’s why it’s important our practices are upbeat, our tempo is good, and we’re working on the things we know we have to work on. The players have to bring a good attitude every day and we can’t waste a day — there’s just not enough time.
The Stars play their only exhibition game on July 30 against the Predators before an Aug. 3 round-robin date with the Golden Knights.
‘Stache in he front, party in the back for Werenski
As training camp opened this week, Blue Jackets defenseman Zach Werenski returned sporting a fresh look. How do you like the mullet and mustache combo?
John Tortorella noticed and was sure to volley a few chirps Werenski’s way. How did Werenski explain the new look?
“What’s there to defend, I like it,” he said.
It has a real 1980s action movie villain look.
Pasta missing from Bruins practice
A day after making his debut at Bruins camp David Pastrnak was nowhere to be seen Thursday. Head coach Bruce Cassidy deemed him “unfit to participate” and given the NHL’s new injury disclosure policy we have no idea what that really means.
Ondrej Kase, who’s yet to skate with the regular group, was also missing.
“Am I thinking ahead to being without those guys in the round-robin or playoffs? No. That would be speculating,” said Cassidy. “Obviously missing two guys that play up in your lineup and a guy like David that’s your League-leading [goal] scorer, you want him in there, you want him getting back into condition, you want him returning to the ice, and being with his teammates. But he’s not.”
Another issue to deal with was Tuukka Rask leaving practice early. The netminder was stung by a shot on Tuesday, but Cassidy was unsure if it was related to today’s exit.
Vladimir Tarasenko is healthy and ready to play again for the Blues after suffering an October shoulder injury. He’s been out since Oct. 24 and used the pause to keep in shape in case the NHL did resume.
It was during the break Tarasenko showed off a unique workout via his Instagram.
“Yeah, it’s like a special workout,” he said. “It’s something fun you have to do through quarantine. It’s not my everyday routine, but sometimes you can do this.”
Tarasenko was also asked about upcoming life in the hub city of Edmonton. He said he’s going there to focus on hockey, not feel like he needs to be at a vacation resort.
“I don’t need much to live,” he said. “I just need a bed and food.”
Waiting for Sorokin
Ilya Sorokin won’t be able to play for the Islanders against the Panthers, but the newly-signed goaltender can skate with the team and join them when they head to Toronto. For now, the 24-year-old and the team must wait on immigration paperwork to be filed in order to allow him to travel over from Russia.
The Islanders were able to sign Sorokin this week six years after drafting him. One day after inking a deal to join the team the rest of the 2019-20 season, he signed a one-year, $2 million extension for next season.
Hurricanes defenseman Brady Skjei can’t wait to face his old Rangers teammates in their Stanley Cup Qualifier series. Following the February trade to Carolina, he’s eager to send them back home.
“I’ve got a ton of motivation,” he said Thursday. “I really enjoyed my time in New York and I loved every part of it. But now I have a ton of motivation, a little chip on my shoulder, going into this playoff series.”
Rod Brind’Amour did say on Thursday that the coaching staff planned to talked with Skjei to get information about the way the Rangers like to play.
“We’ll definitely use him as a resource here as we start dialing up more talking about our opponent,” he said. “Starting next week we’ll definitely pick his brain because he was just there, he’s been in their system a long time. It’s in the works.”
Keep in mind that these round-ups aren’t necessarily comprehensive, what with there being 24 NHL teams undergoing training camps.
Oh, and It’s probably fair to say that a more detailed schedule for the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers is the biggest hockey news for Tuesday. So check that out if you want to plan your viewing habits in late July and early August.
Bruins’ Pastrnak not yet practicing; others miss day two (or more) of NHL training camps
Look, it’s important to remember that NHL teams are keeping things unclear. They probably will up until the point that the 2020 Stanley Cup (ideally, safely,) gets awarded. So please keep that in mind anytime we note absences and players not fully participating.
With that out of the way (for now), a few notes:
For the second training camp day in a row, David Pastrnak didn’t practice with the Bruins. NBC Sports Boston’s Joe Haggerty reports that it seems like Pastrnak, as well as others like Ondrej Kase, are still going through the quarantine process after coming back from overseas. Pastrnak may not get to skate with the full Bruins group until Thursday.
“ … I don’t think they will be too far behind. I think some European players were in countries where they were free to skate earlier, so they might have had the benefit of skating while guys couldn’t here,” Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said of Pastrnak, via Haggerty.
In some cases, players are still self-isolating. Sometimes players aren’t skating with full groups, for what could be a variety of reasons. There was some rumbling about Shea Weber missing portions of Canadiens practice time, and skating by himself. Such hand-wringing might end up overblown.
Should note that Claude Julien says he expects Shea Weber to be back at full practice Wednesday
Naturally, illnesses and injuries sabotage plans. There’s at least one planned absence, though: Capitals forward Lars Eller. ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski reports that Eller will leave the Toronto bubble for the birth of his child. The Ellers expect the child to be born around Aug. 8, which would fall around the Round Robin for Seeding as part of the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers. (Again, you can check out that schedule here.)
The Maple Leafs removed Timothy Liljegren from their return-to-play roster. Quite a bummer, as Liljegren could become an important part of their defensive future as the team braces for a cap crunch.
Golden Knights set for goalie battle? (And other bits)
Perhaps coach Peter DeBoer is merely being tight-lipped to the point of near-trolling, as seems to be the NHL way. Or maybe he really doesn’t know if the Golden Knights will tab Marc-Andre Fleury or Robin Lehner as their No. 1 goalie.
DeBoer- "We have two starting goalies and we're going to play them both." #VegasBorn
If you’re weighing loyalty most heavily, then the Golden Knights would go with Fleury. His strong play ranked as a big reason they appeared in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final.
But if you look at recent play, Lehner’s ranked among the NHL’s best goalies since 2018-19. Meanwhile, “The Flower” wilted a bit lately. Also, DeBoer is still-new to the Golden Knights, and thus might not feel the same obligation to Fleury that, say, Gerard Gallant might have.
So we’ll see. There are plenty of goalie training camp battles to watch, but others feel more like battles of lesser evils than the interesting opportunities Vegas has.
It’s dangerous to read too much into line combination experiments as early as day two of NHL training camps. That said, it can be entertaining to picture how they’d work.
Signings continue to trickle in. That includes the excellently named Jack Rathbone signing with the Canucks, and the Ducks landing an extension with Troy Terry (granted, you may disqualify the Ducks from this post since they aren’t among the 24 teams involved in the return to play).