Tag Archives: Oskar Sundqvist

St. Louis Blues 2019-20 Season Preview

St. Louis Blues

45-28-9, 99 points, 3rd in the Central Division

Defeated Boston in the Stanley Cup Final

Additions: F Dakota Joshua (acquired from TOR), F Nick Lappin, F Evan Polei, F Michael Vecchione, F Nathan Walker, D Andreas Borgman (acquired from TOR), D Jake Dotchin, D Justin Faulk (acquired from CAR), D Derrick Pouliot

Subtractions: F Conner Bleackley (signed with Idaho, ECHL), F Dominik Bokk (traded to CAR), F Pat Maroon (signed with TBL), F Nikita Soshnikov (KHL), D Chris Butler (retired), D Michael Del Zotto (signed with ANA), D Joel Edmundson (re-signed, then traded to CAR), D Jani Hakanpaa (signed with ANA), D Jakub Jerabek (KHL), D Jordan Schmaltz (traded to TOR), D Tyler Wotherspoon (signed with PHI), G Jared Coreau (signed with NYI)

Still Unsigned: F Chris Thorburn

Re-signed: F Ivan Barbashev, F Sammy Blais, F Robby Fabbri, F Zach Sanford, F Oskar Sundqvist, D Carl Gunnarsson, G Jordan Binnington, G Ville Husso

Offseason Analysis: Winning the Stanley Cup cures everything. Nobody’s asking when and if the St. Louis Blues will ever a) make another appearance in the Stanley Cup Final or b) winning the Cup.

The Blues crossed off the top item from their bucket list and hoisted the Stanley Cup over their heads in Boston after winning Game 7 against the Bruins in June.

General Manager, Doug Armstrong, has been building and retooling the organization since assuming his current role in 2010. A finalist for the NHL General Manager of the Year Award last season, Armstrong landed a key piece of St. Louis’ Cup-winning roster (and Conn Smythe Trophy winner as the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs MVP) in Ryan O’Reilly last offseason in a trade with the Buffalo Sabres.

St. Louis won the Cup, so now Armstrong’s task of winning one is taken care of. He– along with the rest of the Blues– will have a bit of a grace period until fans are fed up again with whatever behooves them next.

Of course, the goal of winning the Cup for any GM ultimately isn’t to just win it once, but rather to win it as many times as possible in your career.

Armstrong took care of a delicate balance in re-signed a plethora of restricted free agent members of the Blues.

Rather than making Jordan Binnington the surefire franchise goaltender, Armstrong was able to negotiate a solid two-year bridge deal worth $4.400 million per season.

The 26-year-old goaltender took over St. Louis’ starting role at the dawn of the new year in January and– even though he set a National Hockey League rookie record for most wins in the postseason with 16– has yet to solidify his legitimacy as a starting goaltender in the NHL.

Binnington and 29-year-old, Jake Allen, each have two years on their respective contracts. This season, one will rise above the other as the starter (likely Binnington), but for the next couple of seasons each are competing for a long-term role with the organization.

Glue guys, Ivan Barbashev, Sammy Blais, Robby Fabbri, Zach Sanford, Oskar Sundqvist and Carl Gunnarsson are all sticking around in St. Louis for the near future, with Sundqvist extended for the longest tenure on a new four-year deal worth $2.750 million per season.

The Blues can sit back for a season or two and see if Craig Berube and Co. can recreate the magic of their 52nd season in franchise history.

Whether or not this team has what it takes to formulate a dynasty remains to be seen, but Armstrong bolstered their chances after trading Joel Edmundson, Dominik Bokk and a 2021 7th round pick to the Carolina Hurricanes for veteran defender, Justin Faulk, and a 2020 5th round pick on Sept. 24th.

Carolina retained 14% of Faulk’s salary ($676,667), which means he will carry a $4.157 million cap hit for the Blues this season.

Upon his acquisition, Armstrong locked up the defender to a seven-year extension with St. Louis worth $45.500 million ($6.500 million per season). Faulk’s extension goes into effect next season and carries a no-trade clause for the first five years, then a modified no-trade clause for the remainder.

A full no-trade clause was added by the Blues to the final year of his current deal.

If nothing else, this trade covers Armstrong’s back in case he is unable to sign Blues captain, Alex Pietrangelo, to an extension.

The 29-year-old defender is a pending-unrestricted free agent at season’s end and likely to see a pay raise from his current $6.500 million cap hit (especially considering, 1) his role in St. Louis’ turnaround, 2) his Stanley Cup ring and 3) the fact that Faulk’s extension carries Pietrangelo’s current cap hit).

In short, Pietrangelo is better than Faulk and best while the two of them are on the same blue line.

Armstrong will also have to balance the books next season by deciding whether or not to re-sign Brayden Schenn, Fabbri, Blais, Dunn, Jay Bouwmeester and Mackenzie MacEachern.

For now, bars across St. Louis will keep playing “Gloria” even as the team on the ice must turn the page on last season and focus on what looms this season and beyond.

Offseason Grade: B-

Considering the number of RFAs Armstrong had to re-sign, the Blues GM managed to do a decent job tidying things up for the time being, but most of the extensions were short term, one or two year deals.

St. Louis has about $138,740 in cap space available, leaving them with little to no room for any major extensions for next season without having to unload some larger contracts from the books.

At the very least, the only major loss from last season’s Cup winning roster to this season was Pat Maroon, who signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning due to St. Louis’ cap constraints.

DTFR Podcast #161- Battle For Gloria (Part Three- The Games Are Happening Part)

The Battle For Gloria rages on with the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues tied 2-2 in the 2019 Stanley Cup Final. Nick and Pete also discuss the latest coaching moves (Dave Tippett, Bob Boughner, Marc Crawford), trades (Kevin Hayes) and rumors (Patrick Marleau, Nikita Zaitsev, Phil Kessel), while Nick introduces a new game segment that has Pete stumped.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes)Stitcher and/or on Spotify. Support the show on Patreon.

O’Reilly nets two, Blues even series in Game 4

Ryan O’Reilly scored two goals and helped even up the series as the St. Louis Blues beat the Boston Bruins, 4-2, on home ice Monday night

It was the first home win in the Stanley Cup Final for the Blues at Enterprise Center and in their entire franchise history.

Jordan Binnington (14-9 record, 2.52 goals gainst average, .909 save percentage in 23 games played this postseason) turned aside 21 out of 23 shots faced in the win for St. Louis.

Meanwhile, Bruins goaltender, Tuukka Rask (14-7, 1.96 GAA, .938 SV% in 21 GP this postseason) made 34 saves on 37 shots against in the loss.

Binnington now has seven wins following a loss this postseason and trails only Nikolai Khabibulin (2004), Mikka Kiprusoff (2004) and Ron Hextall (1987) who all had eight wins following a loss in their respective playoff years.

In the 25 instances in which the team that tied the series 2-2 in the best-of-seven Stanley Cup Final format– prior to Monday night– that team has gone on to win the Cup 10 times.

Three out of the last five instances have resulted in Cup championships, including 2015, 2013 and 2011 (Chicago, Chicago and Boston, respectively).

Bruce Cassidy made no changes to his lineup for the Bruins, while Chris Wagner (upper body), Kevan Miller (lower body) and Matt Grzelcyk (undisclosed) remained out of the action for Game 4.

Boston’s long list of healthy scratches including Lee Stempniak, Zachary Senyshyn, Peter Cehlarik, Zane McIntyre, Paul Carey, Ryan Fitzgerald, Steven Kampfer, Jack Studnicka, Urho Vaakanainen, Jakub Zboril, Jeremy Lauzon, Anton Blidh, Trent Frederic and Karson Kuhlman.

Blues head coach, Craig Berube, had Oskar Sundqvist and Vince Dunn back in his lineup for Game 4. Sundqvist returned from his one-game suspension and Dunn made his first appearance in this series after being injured in the Western Conference Final and missing the last six games.

Robert Thomas remained out for St. Louis, while Zach Sanford suited up in his place for the second straight game.

O’Reilly (4) scored the game’s first goal in the opening minute of the action on Monday after jumping on a loose puck and wrapping around the goalframe.

Boston couldn’t clear the zone and Sanford made just enough of a redirection to yield a rebound for O’Reilly to pounce on and bury in the twine as Rask was forced to go end-to-end in the crease.

Sanford (2) and Dunn (6) tallied the assists on O’Reilly’s goal 43 seconds into the first period and St. Louis led, 1-0.

With the secondary assist, Dunn collected his first point of the series in his first game back from injury.

Midway through the opening frame, Danton Heinen absorbed a hit while bringing the puck into the attacking zone, whereby Zdeno Chara scooped up the rubber biscuit and sent it to the net– generating a rebound.

Charlie Coyle (9) collected the puck and pocketed it in the twine to tie the game, 1-1, at 13:14 of the first period– his third goal in as many games, joining Devante Smith-Pelly (2018) and Jake Guentzel (2017) as the only players to score a goal in three straight games in the Stanley Cup Final in the last three years.

Chara (4) had the only assist on the goal as the B’s got on the scoreboard.

Almost a couple minutes later, Vladimir Tarasenko (11) banked in a rebound past Rask after Alex Pietrangelo kept the puck in the zone while entering fresh off the bench in the midst of a line change.

Pietrangelo (12) and Brayden Schenn (7) notched the assists on Tarasenko’s goal and the Blues led, 2-1, at 15:30 of the first period.

After one period of play, St. Louis was leading on the scoreboard, 2-1, and in shots on goal, 13-9. The Blues also held the advantage in giveaways (6-4) and hits (24-16), while the Bruins led in blocked shots (5-0) and face-off win percentage (52-48).

Both teams had four takeaways aside and neither team had yet to see time on the skater advantage heading into the first intermission.

With 16:53 left in the second period, Chara took a shot that ricocheted off his own stick and into his mouth, causing the 6-foot-9 defender to bleed and leave the ice for repair.

Early in the middle frame, Coyle caught Carl Gunnarsson with a high-stick and was assessed a minor penalty at 5:47 of the second period.

St. Louis did not convert on their first power play opportunity of the night.

Gunnarsson, in turn, flipped the puck over the glass without any deflections, yielding an automatic minor penalty for delay of game at 8:31 of the second period.

Though the Blue Notes almost scored a shorthanded goal, nothing happened on the special teams opportunity– Boston’s first power play of the game– and both teams resumed 5-on-5 action two minutes later.

Shortly thereafter, Connor Clifton caught Tarasenko with an illegal hit to the head as Tarasenko attempted to back-check the Bruins defender.

Clifton was sent to the penalty box with a minor penalty at 13:53 after finishing a shift that spanned 3:06.

While shorthanded, Brad Marchand sent Patrice Bergeron up-ice in the attacking zone whereby the longest-tenured alternate captain in the NHL fired a shot and generated a rebound off Binnington.

Brandon Carlo (1) buried the rebound for his first career Stanley Cup Final goal and tied the game, 2-2, with Boston’s first shorthanded goal of the series.

Bergeron (8) and Marchand (13) had the primary and secondary assists, respectively, on Carlo’s goal at 14:19 of the second period.

Carlo’s goal was also the first shothanded goal by a defender since Scott Niedermayer scored a shorthanded goal for the New Jersey Devils in Game 6 of the 2000 Stanley Cup Final.

No. 25 in black-and-gold scored the 19th shorthanded goal by a defender since the league began tracking the stat in the 1933-34 season.

The Blues did not capitalize on the power play as both teams went to the second intermission tied, 2-2, on the scoreboard with St. Louis still ahead in shots on goal, 25-19 (including a, 12-10, advantage in the second period alone for the Notes).

Through 40 minutes of play, the Blues maintained an advantage in takeaways (9-8), giveaways (9-6), hits (32-29) and face-off win% (51-49), while the Bruins led in blocked shots (12-3).

St. Louis was 0/2 on the skater advantage– while allowing a shorthanded goal– and the Bruins were 0/1 on the power play.

Chara returned to the bench for the third period– wearing a fishbowl– but did not take a shift. He is one of the few remaining players that were grandfathered in after the mandatory visor rule was put in place prior to the 2013-14 season.

Early in the final frame of regulation, Heinen tripped up Jaden Schwartz and was sent to the box at 2:08 of the third period.

Once again, St. Louis was not able to capitalize on the power play, but at least the Blues didn’t allow a shorthanded goal against this time around.

Jay Bouwmeester caught Coyle with a high-stick at 6:42 of the third period and was charged with a minor penalty.

Boston did not score on the resulting power play.

Midway through the third period, Pietrangelo sent a shot off of Rask’s blocker and generated enough of a rebound for O’Reilly (5) to bury for his second goal of the game.

Pietrangelo (13) and Gunnarsson (2) had the assists on O’Reilly’s goal at 10:38 of the third period and the Blues took the, 3-2, lead thanks to O’Reilly’s eventual game-winning goal.

Cassidy pulled Rask for an extra attacker with about 1:43 left in the action and Schenn (4) subsequently forced a turnover, then buried the puck in the empty net to seal the deal on St. Louis’ Game 4 efforts.

Torey Krug and Bouwmeester got into a fracas that resulted in a slashing minor for Krug and an elbowing infraction for Bouwmeester at 19:34, yielding 4-on-4 action to finish the night.

At the final horn, the Blues had won their first Stanley Cup Final game on home ice in franchise history with a, 4-2, victory over the Bruins and evened the series 2-2.

St. Louis finished the night leading in shots on goal (38-23), giveaways (9-6), hits (44-41) and face-off win% (52-48), while Boston led in blocked shots (15-7).

The Blues went 0/3 on the power play and the B’s went 0/2 on the skater advantage on Monday.

The team that has scored first in each game has now won the last two games in the series as Boston took down St. Louis, 7-2, in Game 3 and St. Louis beat Boston, 4-2, in Game 4.

Binnington improved to 13-2 after a loss in his career (regular season and playoffs), while the Blues improved to 7-2 when leading after one period this postseason.

Of note, as a result of Carlo’s goal, the Bruins have now had 20 different goal scores in this postseason– the most in franchise history, surpassing the previous record (19) established in 1988.

The series shifts back to Boston for Game 5 at TD Garden on Thursday. Puck drop is expected a little after 8 p.m. ET and viewers in the United States can catch the game on NBC. Fans in Canada can tune in on CBC, SN or TVAS for the action.

Whoever wins on Thursday will have a chance to win the Cup back in St. Louis in Game 6.

Krug, Bruins, rout Blues, 7-2, in Game 3

Torey Krug had a four-point night (goal, three assists)– setting a franchise record for most points in a Stanley Cup Final game– and Patrice Bergeron had a three-point night (goal, two assists) as the Boston Bruins stomped the St. Louis Blues, 7-2, in Game 3 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final on Saturday.

Boston improved to 7-2 on the road this postseason and established a franchise record for most wins on the road in a playoff year.

Meanwhile, Tuukka Rask (14-6 record, 1.91 goals against average, .939 save percentage in 20 games played this postseason) stopped 27 out of 29 shots faced (.931 SV%) in the win at Enterprise Center in St. Louis.

Blues starting goaltender, Jordan Binnington (13-9, 2.54 GAA, .909 SV% in 22 games played this postseason) turned aside 14 shots out of 19 shots against (.737 SV%) before being replaced by Jake Allen after 32:12 TOI.

Allen (0-0, 2.50 GAA, .750 SV% in one game played this postseason) made three saves on four shots against for no decision in relief for the first time this postseason for St. Louis.

The Bruins lead the series 2-1 for the fourth time in franchise history in the Final, winning two of their previous three such instances.

Bruins head coach, Bruce Cassidy, replaced Matt Grzelcyk (undisclosed) with John Moore on the left side of the third defensive pairing, while keeping the rest of his lineup intact from Games 1 and 2.

Grzelcyk is day-to-day and joins Chris Wagner (upper body) and Kevan Miller (lower body) as the only Boston skaters out of the lineup due to injury.

The B’s long list of healthy scratches for Game 3 included Lee Stempniak, Zachary Senyshyn, Peter Cehlarik, Zane McIntyre, Paul Carey, Ryan Fitzgerald, Steven Kampfer, Jack Studnicka, Urho Vaakanainen, Jakub Zboril, Jeremy Lauzon, Anton Blidh, Trent Frederic and Karson Kuhlman.

Craig Berube inserted Zach Sanford into his lineup in place of Oskar Sundqvist– who served a one-game suspension in Game 3 for his hit on Grzelcyk in Game 2.

Jake DeBrusk was first to put his name on the even sheet for kneeing Blues captain, Alex Pietrangelo, at 1:02 of the first period. St. Louis did not convert on the ensuing power play, despite mustering four shots on goal during the skater advantage.

Midway through the opening frame, David Perron was penalized for interference at 10:26 of the first period.

It didn’t take long for Boston to capitalize on their first power play of the night as Krug fired a pass from the point that Bergeron (9) redirected over Binnington’s glove and into the twine for his 7th power play goal of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Krug (12) and DeBrusk (6) had the assists on Bergeron’s goal and the B’s led, 1-0, at 10:47 of the first period.

The goal was also Bergeron’s 100th career playoff point (all with Boston)– joining current teammate, David Krejci, as the only other Bruin to do so this postseason.

Bergeron’s 100th career postseason point also tied him for 4th in franchise history with John Bucyk and Rick Middleton. He added a pair of assists thereafter to move into a tie with Phil Esposito for 2nd place in franchise history in Stanley Cup Playoff points (102).

Late in the period, after a stoppage in play, Ivan Barbashev and Connor Clifton exchanged pleasantries, resulting in an unsportsmanlike conduct infraction for Barbashev and a roughing minor for Clifton at 14:22.

Both teams skated at even-strength, 4-on-4, for two minutes before resuming 5-on-5 action.

Charlie Coyle resurrected the puck from his own zone and started a breakout the other way for Boston, leading Danton Heinen with a pass into the attacking zone.

Heinen dropped the puck back to Marcus Johansson, who flipped it over to Coyle (8) who settled the puck and sent a shot past Binnington’s glove side for the two-goal lead.

Johansson (7) and Heinen (6) had the assists on Coyle’s goal and the Bruins led, 2-0, at 17:40 of the first period.

A couple minutes later, Joakim Nordstrom tied up a St. Louis skater from clearing the zone enough for Sean Kuraly (4) to swoop in, pick up the puck and fire one by the blocker side of the Blues goaltender.

Nordstrom (4) had the only assist on Kuraly’s goal at 19:50 and Boston led, 3-0.

Berube used his coach’s challenge, asking for an official review of the goal for a potential offside, but the video review determined that Joel Edmundson was the last to touch the puck as it re-entered Boston’s offensive zone– thereby lending the play onside leading up to Kuraly’s goal.

As a result of the failed coach’s challenge, St. Louis was charged with a bench minor for delay of game.

Perron served the Blues’ bench infraction at 19:50 and the power play would carry over into the second period for Boston.

After one period of action, the Bruins led, 3-0, on the scoreboard and, 12-8, in shots on goal– including three goals on their last four shots to finish the first period.

The Bruins also led in blocked shots (4-2), hits (16-14) and face-off win percentage (60-40) through 20 minutes of play, while the Blues led in takeaways (5-3) and giveaways (4-0).

St. Louis was 0/1 on the skater advantage, while Boston was 1/2 on the power play heading into the second period.

While still on the power play from the end of the first period, the Bruins worked the puck deep into the low slot whereby David Pastrnak (8) dragged the rubber biscuit to his backhand and elevated the puck over Binnington’s leg pad for Boston’s second power play goal of the night.

Krug (13) and Bergeron (6) tallied the assists on Pastrnak’s power play goal and the Bruins led, 4-0, 41 seconds into the second period.

Pastrnak’s goal marked four goals on their last six shots for Boston.

Almost midway through the middle frame, Charlie McAvoy slashed Brayden Schenn and Zdeno Chara and Pat Maroon received matching unsportsmanlike conduct penalties at 7:37 of the second period.

As a result, the Blue Notes were on the regular 5-on-4 power play and were not able to score on the skater advantage.

Shortly thereafter, Sanford found Barbashev (3) as Barbashev crashed the low slot, point blank, for a one-timer off of McAvoy’s skate and into the twine to put St. Louis on the scoreboard.

Sanford (1) and Alexander Steen (3) notched the assists on the goal and the Blues cut the lead to, 4-1, at 11:05. With the primary assist on Barbashev’s goal, Sanford recorded his first career Stanley Cup Final point in his first career Stanley Cup Final game.

Less than a minute later, Colton Parayko caught Brad Marchand with a high-stick at 11:41 and took a trip to the sin bin, giving the Bruins their third power play opportunity Saturday night.

It didn’t take long for Krug (2) to riffle a shot off of Jay Bouwmeester’s skate and behind Binnington’s glove to give Boston another power play goal and the four-goal lead once again.

Marchand (12) and Bergeron (7) had the assists on Krug’s power play goal at 12:12 and the B’s led, 5-1.

As a result, Berube pulled Binnington for the first time this postseason (as well as the first time in his NHL career) and replaced the St. Louis starter with Allen.

Through 40 minutes of play, the Bruins led, 5-1, on the scoreboard and, 20-18, in shots on goal– despite trailing the Blues, 10-8, in shots on goal in the second period alone.

The B’s led in blocked shots (11-5) and face-off win% (55-45) after two periods, while St. Louis led in takeaways (9-6), giveaways (5-4) and hits (27-25).

The Blues were 0/2 on the power play entering the third period, while the Bruins were 3/3.

Less than a minute into the final frame of regulation, Perron piled up another couple of penalty minutes for roughing Rask 54 seconds into the third period.

Not to be outdone, however, in the ensuing scrum after the whistle, Clifton picked up a minor infraction for cross-checking, resulting in 4-on-4 action that was shortlived Brandon Carlo cut a rut to the penalty box for interference at 1:31 of the third period.

As a result, St. Louis had an abbreviated 4-on-3 power play for about 1:23, then a short, 5-on-4, regular power play.

The Blues did not convert on either skater advantage, but had another chance on the advantage moments later when Chara roughed Carl Gunnarsson at 5:18 of the third period.

Six seconds into the ensuing power play, Parayko (2) blasted a shot that deflected off Carlo and over Rask’s shoulder into the twine to give St. Louis their first power play goal of the series and cut the lead to three goals.

Ryan O’Reilly (13) and Tyler Bozak (7) had the assists on Parayko’s goal at 5:24, and the Blues trailed, 5-2.

Almost a minute later, DeBrusk sent the puck over the glass and received an automatic delay of game penalty at 6:04.

This time, St. Louis had nothing going on while on the power play.

With 5:31 remaining in regulation, Berube pulled Allen for an extra attacker, then pulled him again with about 4:00 to go after a defensive zone face-off.

As the clock ticked under two minutes left in the game, Noel Acciari (2) received a pass through the neutral zone from Nordstrom and buried the puck into the empty net to give the B’s the four-goal lead once again.

Nordstrom (5) and Coyle (7) tallied the assists on Acciari’s empty net goal and the Bruins led, 6-2, at 18:12 of the third period.

While scoring the empty net goal, Acciari was slashed by Pietrangelo, yielding the fourth power play of the night for Boston.

Johansson (4) scored on a one-timer off a give-and-go along the point to Krug and back– beating Allen on the short side– to extend the lead to five goals, 7-2, for the Bruins.

Krug (14) and Clifton (3) had the assists on Johansson’s power play goal at 18:35 as the B’s notched seven goals on their last 15 shots on goal in Game 3.

At the final horn, Boston had won, 7-2, and taken the 2-1 series lead on road ice, despite trailing in shots on goal, 29-24.

St. Louis also led in giveaways (7-4) and hits (35-29), while the B’s held the advantage in blocked shots (19-7) and face-off win% (56-44).

The Blues finished Saturday night 1/5 on the skater advantage.

Meanwhile, the Bruins went 4/4 on the power play in Game 3 and have scored a power play goal in seven straight games (tying a franchise record– 10 power play goals in seven games this postseason, eight PPGs in seven games in 1999, 11 PPGs in seven games in 1988 and 12 PPGs in seven games in 1958).

Though he blocked a shot late in the third period and went down the tunnel, McAvoy is fine, according to Cassidy.

The four power play goals for Boston in Game 3 were the most in a Stanley Cup Final game since the Colorado Avalanche scored four power play goals in Game 2 of the 1996 Stanley Cup Final in Denver against the Florida Panthers.

The team that scored first lost in Game 1 and 2. That wasn’t the case in Game 3 as the Bruins improved to 12-0 when leading after two periods this postseason.

Puck drop for Game 4 at Enterprise Center on Monday is set for a little after 8 p.m. ET. Viewers in the United States can catch the action on NBC and those in Canada have an array of options to choose from, including CBC, SN and TVAS.

Kuraly leaps Bruins over Blues, 4-2, in Game 1

For the first time since the 1974 Stanley Cup Final, the Boston Bruins won Game 1 in a Stanley Cup Final as the Bruins scored four unanswered goals to win in a comeback, 4-2, over the St. Louis Blues.

Boston leads the series 1-0 thanks to Sean Kuraly’s game-winning goal in the third period and Brad Marchand’s empty net insurance goal thereafter.

Tuukka Rask (13-5 record, 1.85 goals against average, .940 save percentage in 18 games played this postseason) made 18 saves on 20 shots against (.900 SV%) in the win for the Bruins.

St. Louis goaltender, Jordan Binnington (12-8, 2.40 GAA, .915 SV% in 20 GP) stopped 34 out of 37 shots faced (.919 SV%) in the loss, which was the Blues’ ninth-straight loss to the B’s in a playoff series.

The Bruins improved to 9-0 in nine all-time playoff contests against St. Louis, joining the Edmonton Oilers (16-0 against the original Winnipeg Jets from 1983 to 1988) and Montreal Canadiens (12-0 against the Blues from 1968 to 1977) as the third team in NHL history to win each of its first nine-plus playoff games against one opponent.

Since the best-of-seven series format was adopted for the Stanley Cup Final in 1939, the team that won Game 1 went on to win the Cup in 61 out of 79 series’ (a 77.2% success rate).

Bruins head coach, Bruce Cassidy, kept his lineup the same from Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final in Carolina to Game 1 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final in Boston.

Zdeno Chara, David Krejci and Marchand were all good to go after missing practice time for various reasons, while Kevan Miller (lower body) and Chris Wagner (upper body) are out for the Final.

Boston’s long list of healthy scratches this time of year included Lee Stempniak, Zachary Senyshyn, Peter Cehlarik, John Moore, Zane McIntyre, Paul Carey, Ryan Fitzgerald, Steven Kampfer, Jack Studnicka, Urho Vaakanainen, Jakub Zboril, Jeremy Lauzon, Anton Blidh, Trent Frederic and Karson Kuhlman.

St. Louis head coach, Craig Berube, was without the service of Vince Dunn (upper body) for Game 1. In addition, the Blues had a long list of healthy scratches of their own, including Robby Fabbri, Michael Del Zotto, Zach Sanford, Mackenzie MacEachern, Chris Thorburn and Ville Husso.

A little over a few minutes into the opening frame, Kuraly tripped up Brayden Schenn– catching a skate behind his leg– yielding the first power play of the series to St. Louis at 3:37 of the first period.

The Blues did not convert on their first skater advantage opportunity.

A couple of minutes after killing off Kuraly’s minor infraction, the Bruins couldn’t clear their own zone as the Blues sneaked their way around the attacking zone with ease.

Charlie McAvoy dove to block a shot that Schenn (3) ripped over the blocker side of Rask for the first goal of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final– and first Stanley Cup Final for the Blues since 1970.

St. Louis’ leading scorer, Jaden Schwartz (5), had the primary assist, while Jay Bouwmeester (6) picked up the secondary assist on Schenn’s goal at 7:23 of the first period. The Blues led, 1-0.

Past the midpoint of the first period, David Perron tripped Danton Heinen and was sent to the penalty box at 13:15.

Boston was not able to capitalize on their first power play of the night, despite Marcus Johansson ringing the far right post on an individual scoring chance.

Late in the period, Robert Thomas hooked Patrice Bergeron and sent the Blues back on the penalty kill at 16:45.

This time on the power play, the B’s struggled to maintain offensive zone time, but mustered a quick one-timer opportunity in the closing seconds of the skater advantage that Marchand fanned on while Binnington was behind the play.

Through one period of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final, St. Louis led, 1-0, on the scoreboard, while both teams had eight shots on goal aside.

Boston led in blocked shots (5-2), while the Blues led in takeaways (5-3), giveaways (4-3), hits (12-11) and face-off win percentage (57-43).

Neither team had found the back of the net on the power play, as St. Louis went 0/1 in the first period and the Bruins went 0/2.

One minute into the middle frame, Vladimir Tarasenko (9) received a pass while breaking into the slot and one-time a wrist shot past Rask after David Pastrnak botched a play behind the net intended for one of his defenders.

Instead, Pastrnak’s turnover went right to Schenn then Tarasenko to make it, 2-0, St. Louis at 1:00 of the second period. Schenn (6) had the only assist on the goal.

A little over a minute later, Boston answered back in a hurry and cut the Blues’ lead in half, 2-1, with a one-timed tip-in of their own from Connor Clifton (2) on a pass through the slot from Kuraly while Binnington was left in the dust behind the play– reaching around with his blocker in desperation.

Kuraly (4) and Joakim Nordstrom (3) had the assists on Clifton’s goal at 2:16 of the second period and the Bruins were on the scoreboard.

Moments later, Joel Edmundson caught former Blues captain, David Backes, with a high-stick to the face and presented the B’s with their third power play opportunity of the night at 5:25.

Boston did not convert on the ensuing skater advantage.

Past the midpoint of regulation, Oskar Sundqvist cross-checked Clifton in front of the Bruins bench at 11:04 and was sent to the sin bin for his deed.

Late in the ensuing power play, McAvoy waltzed in through the neutral zone after St. Louis barely cleared the zone and broke through the penalty killers.

McAvoy (2) ripped a shot past Binnington’s glove side through the seven-hole to tie the game, 2-2, with an unassisted power play goal at 12:41.

After 40 minutes of play, the scoreboard remained tied, 2-2, heading into the second intermission. The Bruins led in shots on goal, 26-11, and had an, 18-3, advantage in the second period alone.

Boston also led in takeaways (7-6) and giveaways (8-7), while St. Louis led in face-off win% (53-47). Both teams had seven blocked shots and 21 hits aside.

The Blues were 0/1 on the skater advantage heading into the third period, while the B’s were 1/4 on the power play.

About a quarter of a way into the third period, Kuraly (3) stashed the puck into the back of the net after receiving a pass off his right leg and kicking the puck to his stick.

Noel Acciari (2) and Chara (3) tallied the assists on Kuraly’s would-be game-winning goal at 5:21 of the third period after both Bruins worked hard to keep the puck in the attacking zone.

Chara became the first Bruin age 42 or older to record a point in the Stanley Cup Final since Mark Recchi did so in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final at the age of 43. Recchi had 3-4–7 totals in seven games en route to Boston defeating the Vancouver Canucks.

Almost 90 seconds later, Krejci clipped Sammy Blais with an unintentional elbow to the head while Blais lost his balance and was falling in the neutral zone.

Nevertheless, by the book, it was the right call as Krejci took a short skate to the penalty box at 6:55 of the third period.

Blais was drafted by the Blues in the 6th round (176th overall) of the 2014 NHL Draft after St. Louis acquired what was originally a conditional 7th round pick in 2014 from Boston in exchange for defenseman, Wade Redden, on April 3, 2013.

The Blues had one shot on goal on the resulting power play.

After being on the receiving end of a penalty, Blais put his name on the event sheet with an interference minor of his own at 13:28, yielding the fifth power play of the night for the Bruins.

Boston did not score on the ensuing skater advantage.

Late in the final frame of regulation, after a stoppage of play with 2:13 remaining on the clock, Berube used his timeout and had his assistant coach, Steve Ott, draw up a way to try to tie the game.

Prior to play resuming, Berube pulled Binnington for an extra attacker.

It did not take St. Louis long to lose possession of the puck as Marchand started heading through the neutral zone, dumping the puck just wide of the empty net, whereby Krejci chased it down and the Blues tried to bail out of their own zone.

Marchand (8) came up with the rubber biscuit and pocketed an empty net goal to give the B’s a two-goal lead, 4-2, at 18:11.

St. Louis pulled their goaltender once more with about 1:28 left on the clock in regulation, but it was too little, too late as time expired and the Bruins won Game 1.

Boston finished the night dominating in shots on goal (38-20), blocked shots (12-7) and face-off win% (54-46), while the Blues led in hits (33-32).

Each team had 10 giveaways aside, the Notes went 0/2 on the skater advantage.

The Bruins finished Monday night 1/5 on the power play.

As a result of their win, the B’s have now won eight consecutive postseason games– their third longest playoff winning streak in franchise history (behind runs of 10-0 in 1970 and 9-0 in 1972). Boston is outscoring their opponent, 32-11, in the current streak.

Kuraly’s game-winning goal was the 28th time the Bruins won a playoff game in which they trailed by two-plus goals– and the first time they did so in the Final.

Game 1 also marked the 5th time that Boston had multiple defenders score a goal (Clifton and McAvoy) in a Stanley Cup Final game– and the first time since Game 2 (Ray Bourque and Greg Hawgood) of the 1990 Stanley Cup Final against Edmonton.

The B’s trailed more in Game 1 against St. Louis than they did in their entire series against the Carolina Hurricanes (13:08) and pulled off the first multi-goal comeback win in the Stanley Cup Final since the Los Angeles Kings beat the New York Rangers, 5-4, in double overtime in Game 2 of the 2014 Stanley Cup Final.

Monday night marked the 100th game of the regular season and playoffs for Boston.

The Bruins are hosting the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1990, as the series shifts to Game 2 on Wednesday. Puck drop at TD Garden is expected a little after 8 p.m. ET and viewers in the United States can tune in on NBCSN. Canadian fans have an array of options to choose from to catch the action on CBC, SN or TVAS.

Boston’s singing the Blues, lose 2-1 in shootout to St. Louis

Two red-hot teams collided at Enterprise Center on Saturday afternoon, whereby the home team, St. Louis Blues topped the Boston Bruins, 2-1, in a shootout. The Blues have won 12 out of their last 13 games and the Bruins’ seven-game winning streak was snapped.

Jordan Binnington (14-2-1 record, 1.70 goals against average, .934 save percentage in 19 games played) made 31 saves on 32 shots against (.969 SV%) in the shootout victory for St. Louis, while Boston goaltender, Tuukka Rask (20-8-5, 2.40 GAA, .920 SV% in 34 GP) turned aside 28 out of 29 shots faced (.966 SV%) in the loss.

Binnington is the sixth goaltender in NHL history to earn wins in each of his first six-plus career regular season home starts (joining Martin Jones, 6-0-0 with the Los Angeles Kings from Dec. 3-21, 2013, Bob Froese, 6-0-0 with the Philadelphia Flyers from Jan. 8-27, 1983, Wayne Thomas, 7-0-0 with the Montreal Canadiens from Jan. 14-27, 1973, Ken Dryden, 8-0-0 with the Canadiens from March 14-April 3, 1971 and Frank McCool, 8-0-0 with the Toronto Maple Leafs from Oct. 28-Nov. 11, 1944).

Boston’s seven-game winning streak was their longest stretch of consecutive victories since 2013-14 (12-0-0). The Bruins are now 9-0-2 in the month of February and finished their five-game Western Conference road trip, 4-0-1, earning nine out of a possible ten points in the standings.

The B’s fell to 36-17-9 (81 points) on the season, but remain in 2nd place in the Atlantic Division, while the Blues improved to 33-23-5 (71 points) this year and remain 3rd in the Central Division.

Charlie Coyle made his debut for the Bruins since being acquired on Wednesday from the Minnesota Wild in exchange for a conditional 2019 5th round pick and Ryan Donato.

Coyle centered the third line as Bruce Cassidy inserted Peter Cehlarik to the left of Coyle and David Backes on his right. Cehlarik returned to the lineup for the first time after missing the last two games with a lower body injury and was recalled from the Providence Bruins (AHL) on Thursday.

Trent Frederic was reassigned to Providence in Cehlarik’s place after Cehlarik was originally sent down on Wednesday to accommodate the acquisition of Coyle’s cap hit.

Cassidy left the rest of his lines the same, as Joakim Nordstrom joined John Moore and Steven Kampfer as the B’s healthy scratches. David Pastrnak (left thumb) remains out of the lineup, but is progressing well, according to Cassidy.

Almost midway through the first period, Alex Steen (7) capitalized on a give-and-go off a Bruins turnover and fired a shot past Rask to give St. Louis the lead, 1-0.

Oskar Sundqvist (12) had the only assist on Steen’s goal at 7:15 of the first period.

Late in the opening frame, Colton Parayko slashed Jake DeBrusk and sent Boston onto their first power play of the afternoon at 18:16. The B’s skater advantage was cut short after Torey Krug tripped up Ivan Barbashev at 19:29.

An abbreviated 4-on-4 scenario unfolded heading into the second period, whereby a short power play would commence for the Blues thereafter.

Through one period of play, St. Louis led Boston, 1-0, on the scoreboard and, 9-8, in shots on goal. The Bruins held the advantage in blocked shots (5-1) and hits (10-9), while the Blues led in takeaways (7-1), giveaways (2-0) and face-off win percentage (58-42).

Boston was 0/1 on the power play entering the first intermission and St. Louis had yet to see any time on the skater advantage heading into the second period.

Early in the middle frame, after killing off Krug’s minor, the Bruins caught the Blues behind the play as Krug dished a pass up-ice to Kevan Miller through the neutral zone.

Miller found Chris Wagner (9) bolting down the right side in open ice and connected with the B’s winger on a tape-to-tape pass. Wagner promptly fired a shot past Binnington’s short side to tie the game, 1-1, at 5:12 of the second period.

Miller (6) and Krug (37) notched the assists on Wagner’s third goal in his last seven shots.

Moments later, Coyle was penalized for hooking St. Louis’ top star, Vladimir Tarasenko, at 7:28 of the second period. Boston killed off the penalty with ease as the Blues failed to convert on the skater advantage.

Late in the second frame, Brad Marchand took a trip to the penalty box for holding Ryan O’Reilly and St. Louis went back on the power play at 15:32.

The Blues did not convert on their third power play of the evening, but still fired four shots on goal.

After 40 minutes of play, the score remained tied, 1-1, with the Bruins leading in shots on goal (19-16) and blocked shots (15-4). St. Louis held onto the lead in takeaways (12-4), giveaways (6-0), hits (16-14) and face-off win% (63-38).

Boston was still 0/1 on the power play, while the Blues were 0/3 on the skater advantage heading into the second intermission.

Though the game was still tied in the third period, only one event was noted on the scoresheet– a penalty against Boston at 11:57. Brandon Carlo received a two-minute minor for tripping Sammy Blais– the eventual shootout game-winning goal scorer.

Through regulation, the Bruins led in shots on goal (30-23) and blocked shots (22-6), while the Blues led in takeaways (14-6), giveaways (10-1), hits (29-17) and face-off win% (54-46).

St. Louis finished the game 0/4 on the power play, while Boston went 0/1 on the skater advantage. No penalties were called in the overtime period.

Speaking of overtime, Cassidy started Sean Kuraly, Coyle and Charlie McAvoy, while Blues interim head coach, Craig Berube, sent out Jaden Schwartz, Tyler Bozak and Parayko to kick off the five-minute, 3-on-3, action.

Cassidy soon was quickly rotating two defenders and one forward as the Bruins were trapped in their own zone, playing for a shootout. Rask made six saves in overtime, including a few heartbeat elevating stops on Tarasenko and gifted scorers for St. Louis.

After overtime wasn’t enough to settle a, 1-1, game, things would be decided with a shootout.

But first, a quick– final– review… Boston led in shots on goal (32-29) after 65 minutes of play and in blocked shots (23-6), while St. Louis led in giveaways (10-1), hits (30-17) and face-off win% (54-46).

In the first round of the shootout, Bozak scored high, blocker side, on Rask after flying in with speed, then slowing himself down to snipe his shot.

DeBrusk, on the other hand, was stopped by Binnington– in fitting fashion, after his five-game goal scoring streak was snapped once time expired in overtime.

Tarasenko’s backhand shot went wide in the second round of the shootout, while Marchand straight-up missed the net with his own backhand.

O’Reilly was stopped with the first shot of the third round, but Coyle scored after deking Binnington out of position and sliding the puck just past his outstretched leg pad to force the shootout into extra, sudden death, rounds.

Steen, David Backes, Robert Thomas and Patrice Bergeron were all stopped by their opposing goaltender, while Blais roofed the puck into the twine in the sixth round after Rask sprawled to make a poke-check in desperation.

With the game on his stick, Danton Heinen, had to score. Instead, he rushed his shot entering the zone and firing wide of the net to drop to 0-for-5 in his shootout career.

St. Louis had won the shootout, 2-1, after six rounds and took home the extra point, as well as the final score, 2-1.

For the fifth time in the last eight games for Boston, bonus hockey had been required. The Bruins fell to 2-3 in shootouts this season, while the Blues improved to 1-1.

Boston fell to 12-2-4 when tied after two periods this season, but earned nine out of a possible ten points on their five-game road trip (4-0-1) as St. Louis has now won 12 out of their last 13 games.
The Bruins return home with a 4-0-1 record on their five-game road trip and take on the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday and Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday to wrap up their schedule in the month of February.

DTFR Podcast #136- We’ve Got The Future Blues

More on the Arizona Coyotes latest debacle with Seattle expansion looming, Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith did something never done before, the Calgary Flames rise in the Western Conference and the St. Louis Blues dismal season. Bob Murray and the Anaheim Ducks made a few moves– signing Murray to an extension, claiming Chad Johnson off waivers and a minor trade.

Plus, Nick and Connor review the last 15 years of first round picks by the Pittsburgh Penguins and do a deep dive on their future and what it might look like.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes)Stitcher and/or on Spotify. Support the show on Patreon.

DTFR Podcast #126- Participation Trophies After One Game (Part III)

The 2018-19 regular season has started, so let’s overreact and hand out the regular season awards already! It’s our 3rd Annual Participation Trophies After One Game presented by Nick and Connor.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes)Stitcher and/or on Spotify. Support the show on Patreon.

2018 Offseason Preview: St. Louis Blues

Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the St. Louis Blues and their outlook for the summer.

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One game. One game made all the difference for the St. Louis Blues in making or missing the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs and you’ll never guess what happened.

They lost.

Yes, after compiling a 44-31-6 record, the Blues were ahead of the Colorado Avalanche by one point in the wild card race to secure the last spot in the postseason.

Despite a season-long lackluster performance in goal from Jake Allen (a career worst 2.75 goals against average and second worst .906 save percentage in 59 games played), St. Louis needed a win in any fashion in the final game of the regular season against the Avs to go up against the Nashville Predators in the First Round.

Instead, the club finished 44-32-6 on the season with 94 points– one point out of the wild card spot– and 5th in the Central Division.

Mike Yeo missed the playoffs in his first year as head coach of the Blues without any assistance from Ken Hitchcock and General Manager Doug Armstrong was left scratching his head.

2018 NHL Entry Draft

Fans were left scratching their heads after Armstrong traded hometown hero Paul Stastny to the Winnipeg Jets in a surprise move at the trade deadline in exchange for a 2018 first round pick (29th overall) and prospect Erik Foley.

Stastny’s dad, Peter– the famous Québec Nordique– was left stunned.

Armstrong replaced the first round pick that he swapped with the Philadelphia Flyers at the 2017 Draft as part of the Jori Lehtera, a 2017 first round pick and a conditional 2018 first round pick for Brayden Schenn transaction, but at the cost of one of the better faceoff-winning centers in the league.

With the 29th overall selection in this year’s draft, Armstrong will be left picking the best available or surprising everyone– yet again– and going off the board.

Hopefully for the better, considering the organization is teetering on the edge of a retooling/rebuild.

Pending free agents

What else is there to expect from a front office that’s had to move Kevin Shattenkirk and T.J. Oshie, while letting David Backes walk in free agency in years past, thanks to a tight salary cap situation?

Armstrong can make some sweeping changes by figuring out the future of St. Louis’s crease protection plan (more on that later), but he can also restructure the team’s offensive outlook by ridding themselves of some underperforming second through fourth liners.

Thankfully, the Blues have about $12.900 million to spend with the cap expected to rise this summer.

That’s not a lot to work with, but it can bring in a difference maker, while still providing enough room to work a deal that might send Vladimir Sobotka and his $3.500 million cap hit through the 2019-20 season (or an equivalent) packing via a trade.

Both pending unrestricted free agent forwards, Scottie Upshall and Kyle Brodziak are 34-years-old with one trending in opposite directions of the other.

Upshall has loved St. Louis and its fans have responded in kind, but the time is now for the Blues to make a clean break in this relationship. He’s averaged 17 points over the last three seasons. That’s not great with an aging roster.

Brodziak, on the other hand, has bounced back from shortened seasons due to injury and doubled his point total from 15 points (69 games played) in 2016-17 to 33 points (81 GP) this season.

At first look, keeping a 34-year-old that was trending in the wrong direction when he came to St. Louis in 2015-16 isn’t great, but Brodziak is proving people wrong as part of a comeback tour with the Blues (albeit lasting three seasons). If you don’t re-sign Upshall, you can at least afford to bring back Brodziak.

But we’ll see what kind of logic Armstrong is working with this offseason.

Then there’s pending restricted free agent forwards, Robby Fabbri, Dmitrij Jaskin, Oskar Sundqvist and Nikita Soshnikov.

Fabbri, 22, had 11-18–29 totals in 51 GP, down from his 18-19–37 totals in 72 games in 2016-17. That’s still respectable as a bottom-six forward, however.

Jaskin, 25, had six more points this season in 25 more games played than in 2016-17. That means he had 17 points in 76 GP this season and 11 points in 51 GP last season. The Blues can move on if they’d like.

Sundqvist, 24, was acquired last June along with a first round pick as part of the Ryan Reaves trade and had one goal and four assists (five points) in 42 games for St. Louis this season. That’s not great, but he finally played the most games he’s ever seen in one season, since breaking into the NHL in 2015-16 with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Soshnikov, 24, had one goal and one assist (two points) in 12 games with the Blues after being acquired in a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He also had no points in three games with Toronto this season and has 8-8–16 totals in 82 career NHL games since 2015-16.

Unless Yeo can perform a miracle as a head coach, there’s no point in seeing if anything’s left in the potential tank.

The Blues have two pending-RFA defenders in Jordan Schmaltz and Joel Edmundson. Both are 24-years-old.

Schmaltz had one assist in 13 games this season. He clearly isn’t part of St. Louis’s current plan, leaving one of two options– stick around as a depth blueliner or not return.

Edmundson set a career-high in goals (7) and points (17) in 69 games played this season. Nice. He’s a top-six defender and should see another year or two in a sweater with a giant blue music note on it.

If anyone’s willing to take on all or some of Jay Bouwmeester‘s $5.400 million cap hit with one year remaining– provided the 34-year-old defenseman waives his no-trade-clause– then St. Louis should pursue that avenue.

Okay, now for the future of St. Louis’s goaltending.

Jordan Binnington, 24, is a pending-RFA and should get a chance at the NHL level.

Then again, Carter Hutton, 32, is a pending-UFA and outplayed the 27-year-old starter, Jake Allen at times this season.

If St. Louis is fine staying the course as a middle of the road team that’ll come up short for a year or two, then there’s no need to worry and Hutton should be re-signed and see more time in net to offset Allen’s workload.

But if any of that clashes with what Armstrong and the rest of his front office envisions for the club, well… that’s the million dollar question.

A rebuild is not out of the question, but certainly frowned upon, given how star-forward, Vladimir Tarasenko is in his prime now.

Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:

Justin Selman (RFA), Beau Bennett (RFA), Mackenzie MacEachern (RFA), Thomas Vannelli (RFA), Jordan Binnington (RFA), Petteri Lindbohm (RFA), Wade Megan (UFA)

Pittsburgh Penguins 2017-’18 Season Preview

Pittsburgh Penguins

50-21-11, 111 points, second in the Metropolitan Division

Beat Nashville in the Stanley Cup Finals

Additions: D Matt Hunwick, G Antti Niemi, RW Ryan Reaves

Subtractions: C Nick Bonino (signed with NSH), F Matt Cullen (signed with MIN), D Trevor Daley (signed with DET), G Marc-Andre Fleury (drafted by VGK), D Cameron Gaunce (signed with CBJ), D Ron Hainsey (signed with TOR), LW Chris Kunitz (signed with TBL), C Kevin Porter (signed with BUF), D Mark Streit (signed with MTL), C Oskar Sundqvist (traded to STL), D David Warsofsky (signed with COL)

Offseason Analysis: After hoisting the Stanley Cup the past two seasons, is it ok to just write the Penguins into their third-straight Finals appearance?

To the joy of 30 other fan-bases, I don’t think it’s quite that simple.

Don’t get me wrong, Pittsburgh is still the class of the Eastern Conference and has its eyes set on a three-peat. Though they had their fair share of departures this offseason, the Penguins return the “Sid and the Kids” line (Jake Guentzel, Captain Sidney Crosby and Conor Sheary) as well as the dominant second line of Carl Hagelin, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel, so last year’s best offense will expect to continue its scoring ways.

However, the potential chinks in the armor start appearing in the bottom-six as GM Jim Rutherford had to replace Bonino, Cullen and Kunitz – all of whom appeared in 91 or more regular and postseason games last season. In particular, I’m most concerned about the Pens’ third line center.

What needs to be remembered about recent Penguins third lines is that they don’t fit the typical mold. Few third lines are counted on to provide many goals, instead preferring to slow down the opposing offense. But in Pittsburgh, scoring depth extends beyond the top two lines. Bonino and Kunitz provided a combined 66 points last season from the third line, including 27 markers.

Something tells me Head Coach Mike Sullivan will expect their replacements to perform similarly, but who will they be?

As expected, Sullivan has played around with his bottom two lines throughout camp. In Pittsburgh’s most recent preseason contest, Tom Kuhnhackl, Greg McKegg and Bryan Rust made up the third line with the fourth including Scott Wilson, Carter Rowney and Reaves.

Rust can certainly continue the tradition of this new-age third line, but I have my doubts about Kuhnhackl’s career .37 points-per-game and McKegg’s nine points in 65 NHL games. Unless Sullivan gets pleasantly surprised by their performances or accepts a more typical third line, Rutherford might be testing the trade market early.

Considering Hainsey and Streit were trade deadline rentals, Pittsburgh’s main defensive loss was soon-to-be 34-year-old Daley, who managed 5-14-19 totals last season, but 32-year-old Hunwick should be a serviceable replacement having earned 19 points of his own in Toronto last year.

The Penguins also have the luxury of D Kris Letang returning to play. Letang managed only 41 games last year before his campaign was cut short by a mid-season neck injury. Though his 11-year career has been dotted with injuries, Letang has been a potent force when on the ice. He manages .83 points-per-game, including .259 power play points-per-game, for his career and will be a welcome reintroduction to a defensive corps that scored 177 points last season – the most of any Eastern Conference blue line.

Pens fans, you know what we have to discuss next. Ready tissues.

We turn our attention to Pittsburgh’s crease, a spot the first overall pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft will no longer occupy. Instead, it is his protégé Matthew Murray that will assume the true starting role with Niemi as his backup as compared to last year’s “1A-1B” tactic.

Though it’s a bizarre idea to question a goalie that won two Stanley Cups before playing his second NHL season, I’m intrigued to see how Murray responds to undoubtedly being “the guy” for Pittsburgh. Gone are the days of a more-than-competent backup (sorry Niemi, but you’re not impressing anybody with your 2016-’17 .892 save percentage) to fall back on, so all the responsibility rests firmly on Murray’s shoulders. Judging from his 32-10-4 record last season, he’ll react just fine.

Offseason Grade: D

If a “C” is average, the Penguins have to score below it for simply not doing enough to solidify their third line. Maybe McKegg can surprise, but a team trying to win its third-straight Stanley Cup should not be taking such a risk on one of the main things that separates it from the competition. If Rutherford misses on his roll of the dice, the selling price for a viable piece could have dire consequences for the future.