Posts Tagged ‘St. Louis’
Fresh blood: that’s the easiest way to describe the four teams remaining that still have Stanley Cup dreams on their mind. The San Jose Sharks, St. Louis Blues, Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins represent impressive turnover in the NHL’s final four playoff slots with three new teams for 2016.
They are a true representation of the league’s Salary Cap era, but the Conference Finalists in the 2010s were rarely made up of fresh faces. The usual suspects, near dynasties Chicago and Los Angeles, and perennial favorite the New York Rangers in the East, bowed out in the first round.
Replacing Chicago and Los Angeles in the West are two of the most star-crossed franchises in the NHL.
Emerging from the Central Division was the usually disappointing Blues, a squad that has been stuck in neutral over the past few years trying to outlast the Blackhawks, Minnesota Wild and Nashville Predators in easily the league’s toughest grouping. However, this is St. Louis 2.0, a retooled team that combined its prior size, grit and outstanding blue line with new skilled young offensive weapons.
Gone from the playoffs are recent Stanley Cup finals stalwarts Los Angeles and Boston. Joining them for an early summer golf vacation are the San Jose Sharks, who’ve been to 10 straight postseasons (and 15 of the last 16), and fellow 2014 postseason participants Colorado, Dallas, Columbus and Philadelphia.
Taking the place of those seven teams are Washington, the New York Islanders, Ottawa, Nashville, Vancouver, Winnipeg and Calgary.
The result of all of the chaos: A wide-open Eastern Conference playoff bracket, featuring one dominant team (the Presidents’ Trophy-winning New York Rangers) and a whole slew of legitimate Cup contenders, including Montreal, Tampa Bay and Washington.
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You’ve probably heard the story by now. An old man with a history of controversy is recorded in the middle of a racist rant. The tape is distributed to media outlets. As it turns out, this old man owns the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers and the league is in a tough position. A couple of days after the tape is released, the NBA bans the old man for life and begins the process of taking over his franchise.
The first thought when I heard the tape of Donald Sterling’s rant was “I’m not surprised.” My second was to ask how would people react if an NHL owner was the person being taped?
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If I were to predict at the start of the year which NHL team would be undefeated at this point, roughly one-third of the way through the season, I wouldn’t have picked the Chicago Blackhawks. The Blackhawks struggled mightily against Phoenix in the first round of the 2012 playoffs and their goaltending was just slightly above atrocious.
This year, however, things are clicking in the Madhouse on Madison and Chicago looks like the team to beat. The Blackhawks have been great offensively for quite a while with Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa. All three are over double digits in points. Kane leads the way with 21, which ties him for third in the league with Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis.
Now Chicago seems to have found some stability between the pipes as well. Goaltender Corey Crawford, who has firmly claimed the starting role from an aging Ray Emery, seems to have figured things out. Crawford has a stellar GAA of 1.65 (fourth in the NHL) and a strong save percentage of .935 (also fourth). His seven wins are one off the league lead and he has one shutout under his belt.
How much longer with the streak last? That’s hard to say. Everything has clicked so far for the Blackhawks, but they have games against Vancouver and San Jose later this month and both are more than capable of knocking off Chicago. There’s also that little two-week, Big Ten tournament-induced road trip in March. My prediction is that the Canucks — who invade United Center on Tuesday — will be the team to give the Blackhawks their first loss. Down the road, Chicago will bounce back and glide into the playoffs easily.
While Chicago is dominating, the team I figured would most likely start the season undefeated is tied for fourth in its conference and isn’t suffocating opponents with defense and goaltending like it did so successfully last season. the St. Louis Blues, who came within a whisker of winning the President’s Trophy in 2012, are struggling on both ends of the ice. Their three best players, T.J. Oshie, David Backes and David Perron, have scored just 12 goals among them after combining for three over the weekend. For a time the team’s points leader was defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk — and he still only has one goal. St. Louis had difficulties scoring last season and relied heavily on their talented goaltenders to bail them out. For now, the opposite seems to be the case.
The normally reliable Jaroslav Halak has two shutouts and a 2.10 GAA, but only has a .889 save percentage. Brian Elliot (3.57, .849) is faring even worse and is showing the inconsistency that plagued him both as a pro and in college. (He ended his senior year at Wisconsin a Hobey Baker finalist, but also gave up soft goals on a fairly regular basis.) There’s still time for both goalies to turn it around, but with the shortened season, it’d better be sooner than later.
The Blues still have managed to win three in a row, go 9-5-1 overall and are outscoring opponents this season (albeit slightly, 52-48). They will probably make the playoffs but without the fear factor that accompanied a trip to Scottrade Center last year.
To switch gears a little, let’s look at a team that is surprising the college hockey world — a team that most analysts still don’t know how to pronounce. The Quinnipiac Bobcats are currently ranked number one in the country for the first time and are 15-1-2 in the ECAC after losing 2-1 to St. Lawrence on Friday. They’re still undefeated on the road and, before Friday, had not lost since November. QU is well on its way to win its first-ever ECAC title as well as a potentially easy path to the Frozen Four.
The Bobcats have never had the success that they’ve achieved this season. However, they’ve notched five 20-win seasons and never won fewer than 16 games since moving to the ECAC. Much of their success comes from a strong senior class, two of which have more than 15 points with Jeremy Langlois at the top with 26 and 11 goals, and great goaltending from Eric Hartzell. Hartzell entered the weekend with a GAA of 1.45, a save percentage of .936 and four shutouts.
The rest of the country will finally be able to see what they can do when they take on Yale Feb. 22 on the NBC Sports network.
Another team that is doing better than expected is Minnesota State. Notorious around the WCHA for being that team that could give you fits sometimes, but will probably never contend for a conference title, the Mavericks seem to be putting it together this year. They are predicted to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2003 and only the second time in school history, and upset top-seeded Minnesota on the road. They’ve also swept a ranked Wisconsin squad as well as 2012 tournament participant, Minnesota-Duluth.
Some of this is due to new head coach Mike Hastings, but MSU also has a balanced scoring attack. Six players have more than 20 points, with sophomore Matt Leitner leading the way with 36. Senior Eriah Hayes leads the team with 18 goals. Freshman goaltender Stephon Williams is also having an impressive season with a GAA of 1.77 and a save percentage of .932 as well as four shutouts.
The Mavericks close out their regular season at home against North Dakota. If they can pick up some points that weekend, they should be in good shape come tournament selection time and should also make their first appearance at the Final Five in a decade.
The “N” word is a very powerful word. It creates a lot of hurt and brings our society down as a whole every time it is used.
I thought perhaps that our society passed the point of using this type of offensive language. Guess I was a little naïve.
Last Saturday, I attended my first NHL game in two years, which is considered sacrilegious in my family. I went on a road trip with my fiancée up to see the NHL-leading St. Louis Blues take on the NHL’s worst team, the Columbus Blue, Jackets to analyze the disparity between the two teams and it was evident before the puck even dropped.
You’re probably thinking ‘Ryan, you already wrote a column talking about the Blues and their rise to the top.’ (True.) You’re also probably thinking, ‘Ryan you already wrote a column about how bad the Blue Jackets are and how they are trying to appease season ticket holders with hot chocolate.’ (Also true.) This might seem redundant, but it’s hard to gauge just how good or how bad teams are until you see them up close, so I thought I’d see how far off I was in my original assessments.
Turns out I wasn’t that far off.
A die-hard Red Wings fan awakes in a cold sweat these days, terrorized by voices. They’re saying Detroit’s domination of St. Louis is finished, all while a rekindling of a frightening past is under way.
“St. Louis is better than Detroit. Just like the early ’90s.”
One of the National Hockey League’s worst-kept secrets is the teams and location for the next Winter Classic (A faceoff between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor). However, no set plans have been reported for the 2014 showdown and beyond.
Therefore, I decided to put together a list of potential games I would like to see that make the most sense for the league, both in terms of local interest and television revenue.
If a puck drops in Indiana, does anybody hear it? It’s a question I’ve often wondered this past year.
Last summer I started graduate school in Indianapolis, a place where hockey is almost completely dead. They have a developmental USHL team called the Ice, but most people in town don’t know the team exists or where it plays its games. As much as I enjoyed my program, I felt a longing for hockey and a team to root for while I was living in the state. I searched all over and the closest thing I could find was the Notre Dame Fighting Irish hockey team.
Now I had known Notre Dame had a team for years, but I didn’t think they’d be the only team in the state. So to get my fix, I decided to follow them and do some research.