Young winger Vladimir Tarasenko, back in the KHL during the lockout, taking the puck to the middle to score a goal. Some day NHL fans will see this.
Young winger Vladimir Tarasenko, back in the KHL during the lockout, taking the puck to the middle to score a goal. Some day NHL fans will see this.
John Davidson accomplished every goal but one since coming back to the Blues. He didn’t bring the Stanley Cup to St. Louis.
Still, Blues fans will remember his seven-year run with tremendous fondness. Davidson, a Blues goaltender back in the good old days, restored the franchise’s credibility within the league and within this market.
He build such an excellent hockey operation that new owner Tom Stillman judged saw his position – and the hefty salary affixed to it – as a luxury he couldn’t afford.
Stillman is setting out to make the Blues financially stable. Part of his plan was to streamline the front office, which was a bit top heavy with good hockey men.
Sometimes a top executive can surround himself with too many good people. That is what Davidson did during his seven years as president of hockey operations.
So now will move on to new challenges. If another team doesn’t hire him in an executive capacity, Davidson could resume his highly successful career in broadcasting.
He left that career for the challenge of running NHL hockey operation. When David Checketts and Co. bought the Blues, Davidson answered their call to run the team.
The Blues were at rock bottom. Bill and Nancy Laurie pulled the chute as owners and ordered team president Mark Sauer to dump salaries.
The franchise sank to dead last in the NHL as a result. That left a massive rebuilding job for Davidson and his new owners.
Davidson developed a masterful plan. The team would build from the goal line out, getting stronger in goal and on the blue line. They would rebuild largely with youth and look to build a consistent winner in the long haul.
For more on Davidson's regime, check out my story on STLToday.com.
Goaltenders are an unpredictable lot by nature. For every reliable Martin Brodeur, there are three Jose Theodores all over the map from year to year.
This season experts project repeat greatness from Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers, Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings and Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators. Each was stellar last season and each is expected to carry on.
But check out the disparate fantasy rankings of some other key NHL netminders:
Jaroslav Halak, St. Louis Blues: NHL.com ranks him fifth in the league, but Dobber Hockey has him at No. 19 in its latest rankings and Yahoo! Sports has him at No. 29. The latter two ratings reflect his anticipated time share of Brian Elliott.
Ilya Bryzgalov, Philadelphia Flyers: Yahoo! Sports believes his strong regular season finish will carry over. Hence the No. 3 ranking it gave him. NHL.com (No. 13) and Dobber Hockey (No. 16) had nagging doubts about him.
Jimmy Howard, Detroit Red Wings: He has been brilliant in his career. He has also been mediocre. Dobber Hockey had him sixth, but Yahoo! Sports had him No. 10 and NHL.com had him down at No. 18.
Roberto Luongo. Vancouver Canucks (for now): At the moment he finds himself in a time share with upstart Corey Schneider. Rather than become a pine time player, he is willing to move back to Florida in a trade. Dobber Hockey still lists him as the 10th best goaltender for this season, but NHL.com had him at No. 16 and Yahoo! Sports had him at No. 30.
Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh Penguins: His playoff collapse created a mixed vote for his 2012-13 projection. Dobber Hockey had him fourth. NHL.com had him at No. 7 – but Yahoo ranked him 19th.
Jonas Hiller, Anaheim Ducks: Banking on this team to pick up where it left off, NHL.com gave him a solid No. 10 rating. Dobber Hockey ranked him 13th and Yahoo! Sports had him at No. 27.
Miikka Kiprusoff, Calgary Flames: Dobber Hockey loves this veteran and ranks him fifth. Yahoo! Sports (14th) and NHL.com (20th) were less enthusiastic.
You get the idea. After the top few, even the guys who project statistics for a living are guessing.
Expect a banner year for rookie NHL forwards. We’ve already highlighted Edmonton Oilers winger Nail Yakupov, St. Louis Blues winger Vladimir Tarasenko, Minnesota Wild center Mikael Granlund and New York Rangers forward Chris Kreider in our list of potential breakout forwards for this season.
All four players are high-end talents capable of filling scoring line and power play roles right away. Here are some other youngsters to keep an eye on:
Jakob Silfverberg, W, Ottawa Senators: He progressed nicely in four seasons with Brynas IF Gavle of the Swedish Elite League. He produced 24 goals and 30 assists in 49 games last season and earned MVP honors in the SEL. He played his first two NHL games in the playoffs last spring and prepared to grab a top six role this season. “He's got courage, he's got puck skills, and he's got great hockey sense,” Senators GM Bryan Murray told NHL.com.
Sven Baertschi, W, Calgary Flames: This native of Switzerland made a spectacular transition to North American hockey. Last season blew up the WHL for 94 points in 47 regular season games for Portland and 34 more points in 22 playoff games. He also scored three goals in five NHL games. Calgary is starved for fresh offensive talent, so expect Baertschi to get lots of attention this fall.
Alex Galchenyuk, C, Montreal Canadiens: He played just eight games last season – two in the regular season and six more in the playoffs – due to a serious knee injury. So despite his No. 1 center skill set and his lofty draft status (third overall in 2012), he may needed developmental time. He showed the whole offensive package while scoring 31 goals and added 52 assists in 68 games during his rookie season with the Sarnia Sting.
Brandon Saad, W, Chicago Blackhawks: He has the size and skill (61 goals in 103 Ontario Hockey League games for Saginaw) to earn a regular role this season. He did not look out of place during his two early season games in the NHL and he returned to make two playoff appearances for the Blackhawks. He looks like one of the big steals of the 2011 draft as the 43rd overall pick.
Mikhail Grigorenko, C, Buffalo Sabres: This team could use a big center, so expect Lindy Ruff to take a long look at the 12th overall pick in the 2012 draft. Grigorenko scored 40 goals and added 45 assists last season for the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He is still filling out his 6-foot-3 frame. He and subsequent first-round pick Zemgus Girgensons will be cornerstones for this franchise.
Charlie Coyle, W, Minnesota Wild. This sturdy forward jumped from Boston University (where he scored 14 points in 16 games) to the Saint John Sea Dogs midway through last season and showed his offensive promise. In 23 regular-season games in the QMJHL, Coyle had 15 goals and 23 assists. That production continued right into the playoffs where he had 15 goals in 17 games, earning playoff MVP honors.
Jaden Schwartz, W, St. Louis Blues: He scored his first NHL goal on his first shot and generally showed much promise during his seven games with the Blues last season. Schwartz prodiced 32 goals and 56 assists in 80 games for Colorado College and served as captain for Team Canada at the most recent World Junior Championships. St. Louis has solid three-line depth, so Schwartz may start the year in the AHL while waiting for his turn.
Damien Brunner, W, Detroit Red Wings: After scoring 164 points in 132 games during the last three seasons for Zug in the Swiss-A League, he opted to take his shot at the NHL. The Red Wings won the bidding. Give this franchise’s history of success with European imports, don’t be surprised if Brunner earns regular work on one of the top three lines.
Jonathan Huberdeau, C, Florida Panthers: He made a strong pitch for NHL work last fall, then added some muscle on his 6-foot-1 frame. He scored 182 points in 104 regular season games the last two seasons for Saint John of the QMJHL. He also scored 51 points in 34 playoff games during that span.
Mika Zibanejad, C, Senators: The sixth overall pick of the 2011 draft got a little taste of the NHL last season (one assist in nine games) but spent most of the season with Djurgardens of the Swedish Elite League (13 points in 36 games). He excelled in the WJC tourney convinced Ottawa he is ready to play in North America this season.
Top 2012 NHL Draft pick Nail Yakupov has extreme skill and boundless confidence. He is fully equipped to make a big impact as a rookie.
The Edmonton Oilers will surround him with elite offensive talent while playing a go-go style. So how can this not turn out well?
Nail scored 170 points in 107 games in the Ontario Hockey League while generating comparisons to former Russian star Pavel Bure. He should follow the lead of Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to quickly blossom into a 50- to 70-point scorer.
With his family moving to Edmonton to support him, his transition to the NHL should go more smoothly. This should be quite a show.
Other potential breakout forwards include:
James van Riemsdyk, C, Maple Leafs: The second overall pick in the 2007 draft has never scored more than 21 goals in a season. That could change this season as Toronto converts him into a scoring line center. JVR scored 16 points in his first 19 games last season in Philadelphia before a series of injuries ruined his campaign. During the 2011 playoffs he scored seven goals while putting 70 shots on goal in 11 games. If he can play the pivot, he will create serious match-up problems coming down the middle.
Brayden Schenn, C, Flyers: He appears ready to graduate into a major offensive role after scoring 12 goals in 54 games last season. His reunion with big brother Luke – acquired from Toronto in an off-season trade – should bolster his spirits. “For me and Luke, we’re pretty close,” Brayden told the National Post. “To get a chance to play with each other on the same team, it’s pretty surreal. It’s almost like we can’t even believe it.”
Vladimir Tarasenko, W, Blues: At the age of21 he already has four years of KHL experience. He scored 23 goals in 54 games last season for Novosibirsk Siber and St. Petersburg SKA. He was captain of Russia’s gold-medal winning team in the World Junior Championships two years ago. The Blues see him playing on one of their three scoring lines and bidding for power play time as well.
Cody Hodgson, C, Sabres: In Vancouver he was stuck behind Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler. In Buffalo he could emerge as the No. 1 center in the wake of Derek Roy’s departure to Dallas. Hodgson didn’t get a point in his first 10 games as a Sabre last season, but a later eight-game surge saw him score three goals and add five assists. He could benefit went Buffalo stages a major bounce-back season.
Mikael Granlund, C, Wild: While Minnesota is fixated on free agent additions Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, and rightfully so. Those additions cost the franchise almost $200 million. But Granlund could be a huge difference maker. He tied for the Finnish Elite League’s scoring title (51 points in 45 games) last season. He could move into the No, 2 center role behind Mikko Koivu.
Chris Kreider, W, Rangers: This bulldozing winger from Boston College scored five playoff goals while demonstrating his vast upside. He scored 23 goals in 44 games during his third collegiate season. He could at least match the 14 goals and 24 assists that teammate Carl Hagelin scored in games last season as a rookie.
Kyle Turris, C, Senators: The third overall pick of the 2007 draft could finally arrive as a scoring line pivot. Ottawa gave him a five-year, $17.5 million contract extension, so expect that team to give him every chance to post numbers. He scored 12 goals and added 17 assists with a plus-12 rating in 49 games for the Senators last season.
Cam Atkinson, W, Blue Jackets: After scoring 29 goals in 51 AHL games, he scored seven goals and added seven assists in 27 games for the Columbus. With Rick Nash gone, the Blue Jackets will try to score by committee. Atkinson will definitely be part of that committee.
Peter Mueller, W, Panthers: Remember him? Back in 2009-10 he scored nine goals and added 11 assists in just 15 games after arriving in Colorado in a trade. Injuries eradicated him in 2010-11 and limited him to 16 points in 32 games last season. Florida will give him a second chance to become a big-time scorer.
Vladimir Tarasenko eased onto the St. Louis sports scene with a low-key introductory news conference Thursday at the team’s practice facility.
The player carrying the nickname “Tank” proceeded with great caution after his ceremonial donning of the No. 91 Blues sweater.
Although he can speak enough English to get by, Tarasenko, 21, preferred using an interpreter in front of the cameras and microphones.
He declined to name a favorite Russian or NHL player that he emulated while growing up. When asked which Blues player he most looks forward to playing with, he said he was eager to meet and work with them all.
Which will be more difficult, adapting to the NHL or adjusting to North America? He expected each to be equally challenging.
In event of a lockout, would he play in Peoria or return to Russian’s KHL? Tarasenko said he would make that decision when and if that time comes, in consultation with Blues general manager Doug Armstrong.
Aside from expressing his preference to play right wing rather than the left side, he was short on specifics during his brief media session.
That was probably for the best, since the Blues will proceed carefully with their hot young scoring prospect.
For more on Tarasenko, check out my story on STLToday.com.
An army of young puck-rushing defensemen energized the NHL during the past few seasons, led by Ottawa Senators star Erik Karlsson.
He broke into the NHL with 26 points in 60 games back in 2009-10, then surged to 45 and 78 points the last two seasons. His shots on goal jumped from 182 to 261. He made historic improvements on the plus-minus front, too, improving from minus-30 to plus-16 last season.
All that earned him a seven-year contract that reaffirmed his standing as one of the game’s elite young stars.
“It's going to be higher expectations from everyone,” Karlsson told reporters at the NHL Awards ceremony. “That's the way it is. It's something that comes with this work, something that I know about. It's not something that's kind of snuck up on me. I know how it works. I'm going to try to play my best every night.
“It's all I can do. I'm not happy with where I am today. I'm still trying to be a better hockey player. I'm becoming a better person, as well. I know Ottawa has all the capacity to help me be that guy. It's going to be an exciting thing and something to look forward to.”
Here are the NHL’s other young cornerstone defensemen:
Alex Pietrangelo, Blues: He developed into a elite defenseman in all facets of the game – power play, penalty killing and defending against top lines. He boosted his offense from 43 to 51 points last season while earning a plus-16 rating in 24 minutes, 43 seconds of playing time per game. He earned 24 power play points. He and Zdeno Chara were the only top five scoring defensemen who also killed penalties.
Kris Letang, Penguins: He has developed into one of the NHL’s elite offensive defensemen, as evidenced by his 10 goals and 32 assists in just 51 games last season. He has 92 points and a plus-36 rating during his last two seasons in Pittsburgh. His only real negative is durability; he has suited up for more than 74 games only once in his five-year NHL career.
P.K. Subban, Canadiens: After scoring 74 points (including 32 on the power play) in his first two full NHL seasons, he could really take off if the Canadiens get their offensive act together. Subban was a big point producer at Belleville of the Ontario Hockey League (76 points in 56 games) and Hamilton of the American Hockey League (53 points in 77 games.) He made defensive strides in Montreal last season, improving his plus-minus rating last season from minus-8 to plus-9. He finished well, scoring 12 points in his last 18 games last season.
Michael Del Zotto, Rangers: After splitting the previous season between Hartford and New Yorkd during his classic sophomore slump, Del Zotto broke out last season with 41 points. He showed his full potential last December, scoring 14 points with a plus-17 rating during 15 games. Overall he finished plus-20 after finishing minus-25 during his first two NHL seasons. He could take another step still with the addition of Rick Nash to the Rangers power play.
Tyler Myers, Sabres: A hand injury and Buffalo’s general malaise caused him to suffer serious statistical regression. But Myers scored 85 points during his first two NHL seasons and has the ability to score 45 to 50 points while adding a physical presence to the blue line. He finished well last season, earning a plus-14 rating during his last two months.
Kevin Shattenkirk, Blues: Moving from Colorado to St. Louis allowed him to full develop his offensive game and become one of the league’s better power-play operators. In 107 games for the Blues, he has 60 points and a plus-27 rating. He finished well last season, scoring 20 points in 33 games after the All-Star break. If St. Louis can stay healthier this season and enjoy more offensive continuity, Shattenkirk could post career numbers.
Drew Doughty, Kings: He pulled out of a baffling funk and helped Los Angeles roll to the Stanley Cup last spring. His scoring declined from 59 to 40 to 36 points overall the last three seasons, but Doughty finished fast with nine points in 15 March games. He can play a robust game and help in all game situations when he is one top of his game.
Jack Johnson, Blue Jackets: He is a go-go offensive defenseman that Columbus plans to build around. After arriving from Los Angeles in the Jeff Carter deal, Johnson excelled in 21 games. He scored 14 points with a plus-five rating, 35 hits, 45 blocked shots and 56 shots on goal. In 143 games with the Kings, he had a minus-33 rating.
Zach Bogosian, Jets: Winnipeg will miss him during the next few months as he recovers from surgery to repair a “chronic tear” of a wrist ligament. He is a forceful defender with big offensive potential. Last season he scored five goals and added 25 assists in 65 games, a big increase from 17 points in 71 games the season before. He improved his plus-minus rating from minus-27 to minus-3. He finished well, scoring nine points in his last 12 games.
The Blues had a good thing going last season.
So, naturally, general manager Doug Armstrong is looking to build on that success. While some fans are clamoring for a significant overhaul after the team’s second-round playoff exit, Armstrong is largely staying the course with his team.
He re-signed restricted free agent Chris Stewart for another season, giving the power forward another chance after his disappointing 2011-12 season.
Armstrong then re-signed unrestricted free agent Barret Jackman, keeping defensive-minded defenseman with the only team he has played for.
Both moves may a lot of sense within the context of where the Blues are today and what the NHL marketplace looks like this summer.
Big, skilled players are hard to find in the NHL. They can make an inordinate impact come playoff time, as Stewart belatedly demonstrated during the spring.
Giving Stewart another shot was a no-brainer. He was still an asset, even after a maddeningly inconsistent season.
Jackman was a more difficult call. In this corner of cyberspace, moving on to an Eastern Conference team seemed like a good option for the venerable Blue.
Sidney Crosby is just one concussion case leaving NHL experts a bit dizzy as they struggle to forecast the stretch run.
Recovery times for these injuries are almost impossible to predict. The risk of re-injury is high. Many teams with Stanley Cup aspirations will have to deal with these uncertainties during the decision weeks ahead.
So when Sid the Kid resume skating with teammates Monday, was this an exciting development for the Pittsburgh Penguins? Or was this just another tease?
Crosby skated for the first time in more than six weeks. He worked on a line with injured teammates Jordan Staal and Simon Despres, who are both on the mend from knee injuries. Crosby’s return to the rink came after he learned about his neck bone fractures that had gone undetected previously.
Those fractures have apparently healed, but he is undergoing independent medical evaluation.
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma told reporters that Crosby “was pretty excited about being on the ice and back with some of his teammates” and “going at a fair clip” during Monday’s session.
Maybe we’ll see Crosby before the end of this season after all. Or maybe we won't.
Meanwhile, here are some other cases to keep an eye one:
Andy McDonald, W-C, St. Louis Blues: He went through his first practice without the “no-contact” sweater, signaling that his return is becoming imminent. Since this team doesn’t play its first post-break game until Friday, he will get four practices to ramp up his work pace and test his recovery. “No timetable,” McDonald told St. Louis reporters. "This is just kind of the next step to be able to get out there and take some contact in practice and see where I fit in that regard and see how the body reacts from getting bumped around. It's nice to be able to compete for real and get some contact out there.”
Alex Steen, W-C, Blues: He appeared on track to return before the All-Star Game, but he couldn’t quite rid himself of concussion symptoms. Although he was back on the ice with McDonald and his other teammates Monday, he continued to proceed cautiously in his comeback. “There's nothing really to say about it,” he said. “You get off the ice and right now, you just wait and see how it is. I'm not going to diagnose myself every minute of practice or every minute of the day. If I'm doing that, I'm not ready to go. When I'm ready to go, I won't be thinking about it. I'm just going to let it take its time.”
Nathan Horton, W, Boston Bruins: He suffered what the team believed to be a mild concussion Jan. 22 in Philadelphia, but he hasn’t even resumed exercising. That suggests that Boston’s first-line power forward could be sidelined for a while. Given his previous concussion history and his importance to the team, the Bruins will handle his recovery with treat care.
Evander Kane, W, Winnipeg Jets: Coming out of the break, this cornerstone power forward stopped by in Philadelphia to see his teammates before they played the Flyers. But the reunion was brief. He returned to Winnipeg for further evaluation of his concussion. “He’s probably a little ways away because we've got to get him working out, but he's feeling better,” Jets coach Claude Noel told the Winnipeg Free-Press. “We'll see what his assessment is there. I think he still has some areas of symptoms. We haven't got to the stage where he is working out yet and that's probably a little ways away.”
Nicklas Backstrom, C, Washington Capitals: He did not skate during the All-Star Break, which means he is no closer to returning. The Washington Post noted that the Caps’ top-line center has skated for just five minutes since Jan. 6.
Daniel Briere, C, Philadelphia Flyers: He was back on the ice Monday with teammates in Philadelphia, but he departed before the hitting began. Given all the concussion trouble this team has endured this season – including the loss of defenseman Chris Pronger until next season as the earliest – expect a cautious comeback here.
James van Riemsdyk, W, Flyers: He, too, practiced Monday. But, too, left the ice before the hitting began. Until he is cleared for contact, he can’t really evaluate the latter the stages of his recovery.
Guillaume Latendresse, W, Minnesota Wild: He is back on the ice but not participating in contact drills. He has missed 32 of the team’s last 34 games with concussion symptoms and hasn’t played since Dec. 14. He could return more quickly than teammate Pierre-Marc Bouchard, who has been sidelined since Jan. 4 because of post-concussion syndrome.
Blues fans are busy proposing blockbuster deals on the Internet to bring a proven scorer with a gigantic salary to St. Louis.
It is a fun exercise, for sure, especially since this team has nearly $10 million in salary cap space and lots of assets that other teams covet.
But with franchise still in ownership limbo, general manager Doug Armstrong’s more immediate challenge is to lock in the core talent responsible for this season’s surge.
Extending Brian Elliott’s contract for two more years $3.6 million was another step in that direction. For the price of one elite goaltender, the Blues will control Jaroslav Halak and Elliott through the 2013-14 season.
Could Elliott have gained more on the open market? Perhaps, given his glittering statistics and All-Star Game invite.
But Elliott is a well-traveled career back-up and fill-in. It is hard to imagine another team projecting him as a top-notch starter for 2012-13 and beyond.
Halak has rallied to regain his lead role with the Blues. Barring a relapse from Jaroslav, Elliott is likely to settle into a support role during the stretch. Other Blues goaltenders have taken that gamble on the marketplace and lost.
So this deal was a win-win for both sides.
For more on this story, check out my piece on STLToday.com.
Once upon a time Mike Cammalleri was a 39-goal scorer in the NHL. He will try to regain that form in Calgary after arriving from Montreal in a trade.
His goal totals have plunged to 26 and 19 the past two seasons. In his first 35 games this season he scored just nine goals and added just 13 assists. Before his trade to the Flames, he picked up his pace with 11 points during a 15-game span.
“It hasn’t been a great year-production-wise, no doubt,” Cammalleri told Calgary reporters. “I don’t think it does any good to try to figure out in front of the cameras what it specifically was or wasn’t. I’m just going to worry about playing as hard as I can tomorrow. I have full confidence in my ability to produce.”
Sure enough, he scored in his first game for the Flames.
Here are some other established winger looking to pick up their scoring pace during the season’s second half:
Patrick Marleau, Sharks: An ever better San Jose power play -- with Brent Burns offering a second hammer on the blue line – should have positioned Marleau to do his usual damage. But the reconfigured Sharks struggled with the man advantage at even strength. This left you to wonder if Marleau’s epic 44-goal season as a fluke. But he scored 16 points during a 14-game span after scoring just 20 points in his first 28 games.
Alexander Semin, Capitals: He has been all over the map in his career, highlighted by a 40-goal season featuring a plus-36 rating and 66 PIMs in 73 contests. After scaling back its offense last year, Washington tried to crank it back up this year. Then Dale Hunter arrived as coach to reemphasize defense. Semin had 14 points in a 17-game span after scoring just 10 points in his first 22 games. There is hope after all!
Matt Moulson, Islanders: He has had back-to-back seasons of 30 goals while playing with John Tavares. But how much of that is Moulson and how much is Tavares? During the first two months he scored 12 points in 22 games. Since then he has scored 13 goals with 13 assists in 20 games.
Bobby Ryan, Ducks: His earlier connection Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf created expectations for a 35-goal, 70-point season with a nice PIM element. That was the NHL’s best unit last season. After scoring 23 goals on the man advantage over the two previous seasons, he recorded just five in 2010-11. Maybe that was a warning signal. His downside appeared to be 30 goals with a nice PIM element . . . and then the bottom fell out this season. He posted a disappointing 13-8-21 line in 37 games. He picked up in pace in December, scoring six goals and adding three assists in 13 games. In his first seven games this month he has scored four goals and added three assists.
Nathan Horton, Bruins: He recovered from a concussion suffered in the playoffs, but that incident raised the threat of reinjury. He scored 14 goals in his last two regular season games and scored 17 points in 21 playoff games, so he was trending well coming into the season. He earned 41 PIMs in his first 35 games, yet he scored just 22 points and earned a minus-2 ranking. But in his first six games in January, he had five goals, two assists and a plus-6 rating. The fog is lifting.
Chris Stewart, Blues: After moving to St. Louis, he scored 15 goals in his final 26 games. Nobody expected him to keep up that pace, but lack of first-half productivity was baffling. He earned 50 PIMs in his first 35 games, but he scored just seven goals and added just seven assists. He was bad all three months. But he had three goals, two assists and a plus-3 rating in his first six January games.
Ales Hemsky, Oilers: He scored 64 points in 69 games over the last two seasons. When he’s healthy, he is capable of being a point-per-game player. Edmonton’s rapidly evolving offense seemed to guarantee his success, but he scored just 11 points in his first 24 games. His role increased when injuries picked off Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. He has a goal and four assists in his last seven games as other NHL teams began scouting him.
Shane Doan, Coyotes: This reliable power forward should have been good for 50 to 70 points, depending on how the young Phoenix forwards came together. Keith Yandle’s development as a power-play quarterback also improved his potential. then Doan scored just 12 points in 29 games in November and December. So that hat trick he scored at home against the Islanders Jan. 7 came out of nowhere. Can he jump start his offense for the stretch run?
Michael Grabner, Islanders: He scored 26 goals in the final 44 games to emerge as a significant scoring threat. He scored 34 goals overall and was plus-13 as a rookie last season. But can he sustain that? The Islanders have a breakout offensive team, so he seemed like a decent bet. But he had 10 goals but only 16 points and is minus-12 after 35 games. In his last six games he had three goals and an assist.
Several elite NHL defensemen were merely so-so during the first half of the NHL season. And some of them are picking up their pace:
Alex Pietrangelo, Blues: His 43 points in 79 games last season were just a starting point. He possesses 50- to 60-point potential. He scored just five goals and added just eight assists in his first 38 games. After scoring two points in 14 December games, he scored eight points in his first five games of January.
Dan Boyle, Sharks: He has a steady 50- to 60-point scorer, great on the power play. He averaged a team-high 26:14 per game last year, including a team-high 4:17 with the man advantage. The addition of hard-shooting Brent Burns should have made him even better this season. But scored just two goals and dished 14 assists in his first 35 games this season. Then he scored seven points during a five-game span.
Jack Johnson, Kings: He broke out with 25 power-play assists for the talented LA squad last season. But he remains a plus-minus liability; he was minus-57 in his first 200 games. In his first 38 games he scored just five goals with eight assists with a minus-9 rating. Then he scored seven points in his last six games.
Lubomir Visnovsky, Ducks: He is coming off a career-high 68-point season for a strong offensive team and a REALLY strong power play. His plus-18 rating, 11.8 percent shooting percentage and 13 even strength goals were also career highs. He scored 15 goals the year before. But he scored just five points in his first 19 games. Since then he has scored eight points in 11 games.
Drew Doughty, Kings: LA caved and gave him the money that he wanted. Now he needs do MUCH better than his 40 points in 76 games last season. He scored 59 points the year before. The reduction was due in large part to his power-play scoring rate falling from 4.31 points per 60 minutes to just 2.57 points/60. He scored just 15 points in his first 35 games this season with a minus-3 rating. But he scored eight points during a span of 12 games.
Brent Burns, Sharks: He brought 15- to 20-goal potential to an already potent power play. This guy can shoot the puck and San Jose should take advantage of that. But he had six goals, six assists and a plus-10 rating in his first 37 games. Then he had a goal and two assists during his last three games.
Alex Goligoski, Stars: Last season he scored 15 points in 23 games after moving over from Pittsburgh. But then the Dallas power lost Brad Richards to free agency and Goligoski scored just 10 points with a minus-4 rating in his first 29 games this season. Then he scored goals in back-to-back games and added an assist.
Filip Kuba, Senators: He posted a 3-6-9 line in his first 30 games. He earned a plus-9 rating and scored twice on the power play. After scoring just four points during a 19-game span, he scored four points with a plus-8 rating in his next six games.
Mark Streit, Islanders: He offers 60-point skill on an emerging offensive team. If his repaired shoulder holds up, he’ll be an elite weapon. He scored just two goals to go with 17 assists in 37 games. He scored just 11 points during a 28-game span. In his first five January game he had four points and a minus-1 rating.
Here is a disturbing thought for the immediate rivals of the St. Louis Blues: This team is only now beginning to play to its full ability.
Never mind all those one-goal victories Ken Hitchcock racked up after taking over as coach. That was just the warm-up act.
This team – the one that skated over the Canadiens 3-0 in Montreal Tuesday night – is the one the rest of the National Hockey League should fear.
Much has been written about this team’s impressive depth. But now we’re finally starting to see its high skill level emerge as well.
Goaltender Jaroslav Halak has made it all the way back from his October swoon. With the whole league watching closely, he shrugged off enormous homecoming pressure and blanked the Habs.
A few months ago Blue fans were giving up on Halak. Even few weeks ago he still seemed like to fall into a No. 2 role behind the surprising Brian Elliott, who remained amazingly reliable through the first half of the season.
Now? Halak is playing with obvious confidence again, giving this team a legitimate 1-2 punch in goal.
Winger Chris Stewart is getting back to full speed among too. After scoring 15 goals in 26 games for the Blues late last season, he scored just four times in his first 29 games this season.
Earlier this season he appeared to be skating in oatmeal. The big fellow was in a nasty rut.
But in his last 10 games he has scored six goals, five at even strength. Moving next to David Backes has reminded him how power forwards are supposed to play the game.
Top offensive defenseman Alex Pietrangelo scored just two points in 14 December games. Such poor productivity was puzzling, given last season’s 43-point breakout.
But Pietrangelo has regained his 2010-11 form this month, scoring seven points in four games. Rather than merely jumping into plays, he is creating plays and sometimes finishing them, too.
The New York Rangers are the latest team to run into the defensive wall constructed by the St. Louis Blues.
“They’re big, they’re strong,” Rangers coach John Tortorella the New York Post after his team fell to the Blues 4-1. “It was a test for us.
The Blues have ample size, especially down the middle with David Backes, Patrik Berglund and Jason Arnott centering the top three lines. Wingers Chris Stewart, Jamie Langenbrunner, Ryan Reaves and Chris Porter are sturdy too.
Rangy Evgeny Grachev is currently the odd man out of the forward line mix and hit man B.J. Crombeen is still working his way back from a broken shoulder.
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock has hits team using its collective size to full advantage to smother opponents at both ends of the ice.
“The way they play is in the trenches,” Tortorella told the Post. “It’s about battles. They’re a hard team and they beat us at that game.”
The Blues managed to negate the speed of Rangers center Brad Richards, who sat out a stretch of nine minutes as Tortorella shuffled lines and looked for a spark.
“They were better,” Richards told the New York Daily News. “They were hungrier.”
Playing hockey is much, much harder when you face a real NHL team instead of the Islanders.
Sidney Crosby saw this first hand as his Penguins fell to the Blues 3-2 in overtime Wednesday night. After lighting up the Islanders for two goals and two assists in his first game back from post-concussion syndrome, Crosby got nothing done against the Blues.
Sid the Kid earned three penalties while becoming increasingly frustrated by the Blues’ persistent checking. Ken Hitchcock’s team gave him a rough ride and knocked him off his game.
Crosby, in turn, was none too pleased by the officiating.
“I like to think I'm out there trying to score, not trying to take penalties and agitate,” Crosby told Pittsburgh reporters. “So if those were three infractions then there were definitely a handful on their side too. I'm fine with calling it tight as long as it's tight both ways. I don't know if that was the case tonight.”
As for his overall play, Crosby said: “Tonight was just mistakes, clear cut. I had a couple chances. I bobbled one and missed a pass on another. Whether it's rust or not, being ready or not focused or whatever it was, that's not good enough and we've got to make sure we're better.”