Zach Sanford

St. Louis Blues: Biggest surprises and disappointments so far

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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 surprises and disappointments for the St. Louis Blues

Vladimir Tarasenko‘s lost season

This might qualify as both a disappointment and a surprise.

The disappointment being that the Blues have had their most impactful and dangerous offensive player for only 10 games this season before he was sidelined due to injury.

The surprise is the way in which the Blues were able to overcome it.

Even with Tarasenko in the lineup the Blues were never really a dangerous offensive team (they were 15th in the league in scoring a year ago during their Stanley Cup season). When you remove him from the mix you are taking out one of the most prolific goal scorers in the league and not replacing him with anyone else. It could have been a pretty big obstacle to overcome. Instead, the Blues just kept rolling, did not really miss a beat offensively or in the standings, and are well position to make another run at a championship if/when the 2019-20 season resumes.

They will also almost certainly have Tarasenko back in the lineup, which will be a massive addition.

Moving on from Robby Fabbri

Not really a huge disappointment, but still a disappointment because of the way things just did not work out for them.

When Fabbri first broke into the league he looked like he had a chance to be a productive player that would be a part of the Blues’ core moving forward. But a run of devastating injuries completely sidetracked his development. He ended up signing a one-year deal as a restricted free agent this past summer and seemed to be getting one more shot to get things back on track.

He played in just nine games, scoring one goal, before being traded to Detroit.

It has worked out well so far for Fabbri with the Red Wings, but it is still a disappointment to see such a promising career in St. Louis end up the way it did.

Some surprising offensive contributors

With Tarasenko sidelined for most of the season the Blues needed some of their depth players to step forward and pick up some of that slack. Ryan O'Reilly remains a top two-way player, while Jaden Schwartz had the bounce-back season that should have been expected from him.

Those performances certainly helped. They were not the only ones.

They also received a great performance from winger David Perron who has been tremendous since returning to St. Louis for his third different stop with the team. He has nine game-winning goals and is on track for what could have been a career-year in the goal scoring department. Since returning to the Blues at the start of the 2018-19 season he has scored at a 30-goal pace per 82 games and been one of the Blues’ most reliable offensive performers.

Probably the biggest surprise, though, has been the goal-scoring production from Zach Sanford.

Entering this season the 25-year-old Sanford had scored just 12 goals in 99 career NHL games. In his first 58 games this season, he scored 16 goals. That is a 23-goal pace over 82 games and the type of secondary scoring they absolutely needed.

Evaluating Justin Faulk‘s St. Louis debut

Faulk was the Blues’ big offseason score, adding him from the Carolina Hurricanes and then immediately signing him to a long-term contract extension that begins next season. It will pay him $6.5 million per season through the end of the 2026-27 season.

I would not go as far as to say he has been a disappointment, but there has been a drop in his production from what we saw from him in Carolina. Especially as it relates to his offensive contributions. There is no question that some of that comes from a change in his power play usage, where he went from being one of the top options with the Hurricanes to a secondary option with the Blues. Less power play time (and less ice-time in general) per game can definitely cut into those numbers.

With that contract he is going to be part of the Blues’ defense for a long time, and depending on what happens with Alex Pietrangelo in free agency this offseason could take on an even bigger role in the coming seasons.

MORE BLUES:
• Looking at the 2019-20 St. Louis Blues
Blues’ long-term outlook

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
Getty Images

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.

Blues beat Blackhawks in a 6-5 barn burner

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What’s the best way to summarize the Blues finding a way to beat the Blackhawks 6-5 on Tuesday? Maybe we should just make the “fanning self” hand motion and call it a night?

This was a wild one from the start, with Brayden Schenn scoring 33 seconds in. Maybe that opening goal implied that this would be an easy one for the Blues, but that was far from the truth. Regardless, St. Louis has won all three of its games against Chicago this season. This marks five straight wins for the Blues overall.

The mark of a good — and versatile — team is to win in multiple ways. Even so, Craig Berube’s facial expression in the moment captured by Getty Images probably captured his mood for much of the night:

(Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

The Blackhawks roared back after falling behind early, flipping a 1-0 deficit to a 3-1 lead. Jonathan Toews found ways to make subtle picks during those first goals, setting the stage for Duncan Keith to break a 40-game goalless streak, and reach 100 for his career.

Wild get games wildest during the third period

Chicago scored two power-play goals during that stretch, and three overall on Tuesday.

Maybe it was just that kind of night, really, as the Blackhawks went 3-for-4 while St. Louis managed two on four power-play chances.

The seesaw really wobbled during the third period, in particular. Ryan O’Reilly made it 3-3, then Zach Sanford continued his blazing streak to make it 4-3 16 seconds later. That Blues lead only lasted for 1:13 before Matthew Highmore tied it up.

Brandon Saad regained Chicago’s lead three minutes later only for (catches breath for a moment) Justin Faulk to tie it up again 1:12 later.

The above two paragraphs describe a span of five goals during less than six minutes of game time.

A bit more than four minutes after Faulk tied it up, Sanford scored the game-winner for St. Louis on the power play. Phew.

The end result is that the Blues strengthened their Central Division lead, while the Blackhawks saw their playoff hopes fade even more with a regulation loss. Many likely expected the two teams to reach this sort of destination on Tuesday, but the journey was quite unexpected.

Jordan Binnington, Corey Crawford, and Berube certainly don’t want to navigate such a bumpy road most nights, that’s for sure.

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: Lightning win ninth straight; Smith’s hat trick powers Predators

Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy #88 and Brayden Point #21 of the Tampa Bay Lightning celebrate
Getty Images

Three Stars

1) Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning

Vasilevskiy extended his point streak to 20 games after a 29-save performance in the Lightning’s 3-1 win against the Edmonton Oilers. The Russian goaltender improved to 18-0-2 during the impressive streak. The Bolts have erased a slow start thanks to a 10-game winning streak at home and a 21-2-1 record in their past 24 games. The Boston Bruins currently have a one-point advantage in the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference standings on the surging Bolts.

2) Zach Sanford, St. Louis Blues

A four-goal performance wasn’t enough to help the Blues escape Las Vegas with two points, but was a career night for the forward, nevertheless. Sanford scored in a variety of ways around the net and added a wicked wrist shot to cap off his excellent performance. Sanford gave the Blues a one-goal lead with 8:15 remaining in the final period, but the Golden Knights found a way to tie the game and notch the overtime winner. It was St. Louis’ first game since Jay Bouwmeester’s medical incident on Tuesday.

3) Craig Smith, Nashville Predators

Smith’s first career hat trick helped Nashville snap a two-game losing streak. Juuse Saros made 31 saves and collected his second shutout of the season in the Predators’ 5-0 win against the New York Islanders. Smith buried a sharp-angled shot to open the scoring 35 seconds into the game. He later wired two wrist shots from the slot to complete the hat trick. The 30-year-old has five goals in the previous three games.

3A) Mikael Backlund, Calgary Flames

In a 6-0 rout against the Anaheim Ducks, Backlund scored twice as the Flames picked up their third win in the previous five games. The Swedish centerman benefitted from Michael Stone’s spinning pass midway through the opening period to give the Flames a 2-0 lead. Fast forward to late in the second period, Ducks forward Rickard Rakell floated a backhand pass from the point that Backlund easily intercepted. Backlund raced up ice and converted a neat deke to his backhand to help the Flames run away with this one.

Other notable performances

  • James van Riemsdyk recorded a goal and an assist in the Flyers’ 6-2 win against the Panthers.
  • Artemi Panarin had a goal, an assist and shootout tally as the Rangers collected their third straight win.
  • Wayne Simmonds scored twice as part of a four-goal third period in the Devils’ 4-1 win against the Red Wings.
  • Tyler Seguin ended a 17-game goal drought in the Stars’ 3-2 win against the Maple Leafs.
  • Jack Eichel had a goal, an assist and a beautiful set up for Victor Olofsson for the overtime winner.

Highlights of the Night

Jack Eichel raced past a defender in overtime, then stopped on a dime and set up Victor Olofsson for the overtime winner.

Auston Matthews fired a laser past Ben Bishop to tie David Pastrnak for the NHL scoring lead at 41 goals.

Smith picked Nick Leddy‘s pocket, then found an opening from a sharp angle 35 seconds into the game.

Vladislav Gavrikov found Nathan Gerbe trailing the play when the Blue Jackets took a one-goal lead in final minute of opening period.

Panarin showed great patience with this impressive deke, but should it have counted?

Stats of the Night

Scores

Buffalo Sabres 4, Columbus Blue Jackets 3 (OT)

Dallas Stars 3, Toronto Maple Leafs 2

Tampa Bay Lightning 3, Edmonton Oilers 1

Philadelphia Flyers 6, Florida Panthers 2

New Jersey Devils 4, Detroit Red Wings 1

Ottawa Senators 3, Arizona Coyotes 2

New York Rangers 4, Minnesota Wild 3 (SO)

Nashville Predators 5, New York Islanders 0

Washington Capitals 3, Colorado Avalanche 2

Vegas Golden Knights 6, St. Louis Blues 5 (OT)

Calgary Flames 6, Anaheim Ducks 0


Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.