Lessons learned from the past week of play in the NHL:
What’s My Line? Coach John Stevens knows
Besides dispelling fears he’d be a defense-first (and second and third) clone of Darryl Sutter, the Kings’ coach has demonstrated a good feel for making in-game adjustments to create effective line combinations. Early last week he put Marian Gaborik alongside Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown and the trio thrived. Later in the week he put Kopitar between wingers Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli and got positive results. Stevens’ ability to read players’ energy levels and adjust accordingly has been crucial during the Kings’ league-best eight-game winning streak.
Cue the nostalgia for the Original 30
The NHL moved toward balancing the East and West conferences at 16 teams each when Commissioner Gary Bettman said a Seattle group had been invited to apply for an expansion franchise. The group is expected to start a season-ticket drive in January, and the league will monitor the results to gauge interest in a team that would play in the renovated KeyArena. The $650 million expansion fee is a hefty rise from the $500 million paid by the Vegas Golden Knights. Also, Bettman said projections for next season’s salary cap range from $78 million to $82 million, depending on whether the Players Assn. exercises its right to trigger an inflator. The cap is $75 million this season.
No need to sing the Blues
St. Louis lost two key contributors Saturday when forward Jaden Schwartz injured his right ankle while blocking a shot and defenseman Alex Pietrangelo sustained a lower-body injury. Schwartz, second in team scoring with 14 goals and 35 points in 30 games, is expected to be out for six weeks. But the Blues, who have won four straight games, have depth and resilience. They’ve missed Jay Bouwmeester, Alex Steen and Patrik Berglund for stretches but lead the West. Brayden Schenn (16 goals, 37 points) is on pace for career-high totals. And they’re resourceful: When goalie Carter Hutton was hurt last Thursday they signed Tyler Stewart, a season ticket holder and former Saint Louis University club team goalie, to a tryout contract to back up Jake Allen. Help arrived from the minor leagues by the end of the first period, but Stewart took shots in warmups and lived the dream.
Chip off the old block
Calgary forward Matthew Tkachuk has the talent and abrasiveness to be an impact player like his father, Keith. But Matthew, who turned 20 on Monday, last week earned his third suspension in less than two seasons. According to Canada’s Sportsnet network, he was invited to chat with the league’s Department of Player Safety about his over-the-line conduct. His most recent one-game ban was imposed after he reached out from the bench to spear Toronto’s Matt Martin. Tkachuk must learn to play between the whistles because he can’t help the Flames when he’s suspended.
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