October 25, 2014

Ryan Miller returns to St. Louis and makes 31 saves as Canucks top the Blues (AUDIO)

Vancouver Canucks goaltender Ryan Miller comes up with the puck in his glove hand  after a shot by the St. Louis Blues in the first period at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis on October 23, 2014.    UPI/BIll Greenblatt

Vancouver Canucks goaltender Ryan Miller comes up with the puck in his glove hand after a shot by the St. Louis Blues in the first period at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis on October 23, 2014. UPI/BIll Greenblatt

After spending 11 years in Buffalo, goaltender Ryan Miller came over to St. Louis in a trade mid-season last year and didn’t play against the Sabres when the Blues faced them later in the season.  This was Miller’s first start against a former team and he called it interesting.  A matchup he was looking forward to.

“I’ve never done that before. I’ve never had a chance to play against a former team like that,” said Miller.  “A lot of good guys on the [Blues]; it was one that I was actually really looking forward to, especially here in St. Louis. It was fun.”

Miller stopped 31 shots for his new team as the Vancouver Canucks beat the Blues 4-1.

Chris Higgins scored 41 seconds into the game to give Vancouver the early lead, and Kevin Shatterkirk tied it in the second on a powerplay goal.  The game was close and the Blues had a great opportunity to grab the lead early in the third, but Miller came up big.

He got the left pad out on a tough shot from the right circle from Blues center Jori Lehtera. That sent Nick Bonino going the other way on a 3 on 1 and he beat Blues goalie Jake Allen with a wrist shot from the left circle at 4:54 of the third period.

The Canucks scored three third-period goals on four shots. Linden Vey scored from the slot at 11:57 for a 3-1 Vancouver lead, and Jannik Hansen scored an empty-net goal to seal the game for the Canucks.

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock is not happy with the number of turnovers in the neutral zone.

“We’ve made a heck of a run here playing the right way; no odd-man rushes, no forced offense, don’t give the puck away and make hope-for plays offensively. We’ve had a shoot-first mentality that’s allowed us to be top-five in the League in scoring goals, but we don’t want to play the right way. We want to play a different game right now, so until we buy into that, we’re going to have some rough water we’re going to have to go through, and that’s what we’re in right now. We’re in rough water.”

Late goal by the defending Eastern Conference champs sends Blues to a loss in season opener

New York Rangers Rick Nash (61) is congratulated by teammates after scoring the winning goal in the third period against the St. Louis Blues at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis on October 9, 2014. New York won the game 3-2.  UPI/Bill Greenblatt

New York Rangers Rick Nash (61) is congratulated by teammates after scoring the winning goal in the third period against the St. Louis Blues at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis on October 9, 2014. New York won the game 3-2. UPI/Bill Greenblatt

The St. Louis Blues started their 2014-15 season at home on Thursday night against the New York Rangers and lost 3-2 on a late goal from Rangers forward Rick Nash, who scored two on the night.

Nash scored the game winner with 1:50 left in regulation after Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo’s clearing attempt took a funny carom off the left boards. The puck hit a stanchion and came out to the high slot. The puck landed at the skates of Rangers forward Martin St. Louis, who flipped a pass to Nash who beat  Blues goalie Brian Elliott over his stick.

Nash scored the first goal of the game in the first period tucking a wrist shot under the right pad of Elliott after the Blues also turned the puck over.

Game recap from Mike Reeves at Scottrade Center

Paul Stastny, who signed a four-year, $28 million contract with the Blues this offseason left the game in the second period when he took a knee to his thigh from defenseman Dan Girardi.  He returned and was credited with scoring the tying goal midway through the third period.

Brian Elliott made 22 saves in the loss.

The NHL is back! After another disappointing early exit from the playoffs, the Blues open at home against the Eastern Conference Champions

Blues newcomer Paul Stastny returns to his hometown with hopes of bring St. Louis the first Stanley Cup in franchise history. (UPI/Bill Greenblatt)

Blues newcomer Paul Stastny returns to his hometown with hopes of bring St. Louis the first Stanley Cup in franchise history. (UPI/Bill Greenblatt)

The New York Rangers bull rushed their way through the Eastern Conference before running into the red hot, opportunistic Los Angeles Kings, who took last year’s Stanley Cup.  As the 2014-15 season begins tonight for the St. Louis Blues, they host the Rangers, a team they swept in the season series a year ago.  In fact, the Blues have won seven of eight against the Rangers.

For the second season in a row, the Blues were knocked out in the first round of the playoffs, getting dumped by Chicago in six games.  Gone is goalie Ryan Miller, who left for Vancouver via free agency, and back home is center Paul Stastny.  The Blues needed an upgrade at that position and they signed the St. Louis native away from Colorado with a four-year deal.

Back to the lead the Blues offensively are Vladimir Tarasenko (21 goals, 43 points in 64 games) and Alex Steen, who led St. Louis with career-highs of 33 goals and 62 points last season.

St. Louis Blues ’14-’15 starting roster

Longtime backup Brian Elliott will get a chance to prove himself as a starter, but he’ll also be challenged by frequent call-up Jake Allen, who was outstanding last year in the minors.  The Blues front office said it was time for Allen to prove his worth in St. Louis.  By not signing Miller, it allowed the club to spend and upgrade other areas.

Look for Elliott and Allen to share starts early in the season as Ken Hitchcock finds which goalie is ready to take the lion’s share of the schedule.

Next round of NHL expansion will not include Kansas City, as four other cities take the lead for 2017

According to a tweet from SportsBusinessNews’ Howard Bloom, the NHL plans to add four cities by 2017 with teams playing in Las Vegas, Seattle, Toronto and Quebec City.

Howard Bloom Tweet
After Kansas City opened Sprint Center, they’ve tried to attract the NHL by hosting preseason games.  The last game was on Sept. 27, 2011 before the Los Angeles Kings and Pittsburgh Penguins played in front of a sellout crowd.

If this comes to fruition, Vegas will land its first major league professional sports organization.  Seattle has always drawn interest from the NHL.  Toronto, home to the Maple Leafs, are the highest grossing team.   Canada’s second biggest city could certainly maintain a second team.  Quebec City, who lost the Nordiques to Colorado, is opening a brand new arena in 2015.

In late 2011, I had the chance to talk with Bernie Federko, longtime Blues player and now television commentator on the broadcasts.  I asked him if he believed Kansas City would ever get another NHL franchise?  (The Kansas City Scouts played two seasons at Kemper Arena from 74-76 before becoming the Colorado Rockies…now the New Jersey Devils).

Federko said he didn’t see that happening.  He said there wasn’t enough of a grass roots fan base where the sport could grow.  He pointed to the youth hockey leagues in St. Louis as an example of how a fan base will continue to grow in the St. Louis area.  Kansas City, not having a foundation to build on,  would make it unattractive to the NHL.

Hockey on the minor league level has thrived in Independence with the Missouri Mavericks.  I get Quebec and Toronto.  Those cities can certainly support hockey.  The appeal for Vegas is that it could draw a lot of out of town fans who want to watch their hockey team play in the middle of winter, plus take in the sights around Vegas as a vacation.  Seattle is the wild card in all of this.  That city last the Super Sonics…could they sustain an NHL team?

Blues re-sign veteran center Steve Ott. Vladimir Sobotka considers signing with a Russian hockey club

New St. Louis Blues player forward Steve Ott meets reporters for the first time, following the team's morning skate at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis on March 3, 2014. Ott (31) comes to St. Louis from Buffalo, where has dressed in 59 games as captain of the Sabres this season, ranking sixth on the club with 20 points (nine goals, 11 assists), while leading Buffalo forwards in ice time per game (19:42).UPI/Bill Greenblatt

St. Louis Blues forward Steve Ott at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis on March 3, 2014. UPI/Bill Greenblatt

It looked for a while that Steve Ott’s time with St. Louis wasn’t going to last very long.  Coming over from Buffalo with Ryan Miller in the February trade, the Blues organization was ready to move in a different direction.  They had signed  free agent centers Paul Stastny and Jori Lehtera and were waiting to work out a deal with restricted free agent Vladimir Sobotka.

However, Sobotka is considering a return to Russia in the KHL, so the Blues moved forward with re-signing the unrestricted free agent Ott to a two-year, $5.2 million contract.  Ott had three assists in 23 regular-season games with the Blues and two points in six Stanley Cup Playoff games.

“We brought him here for a reason,” GM Doug Armstrong said. “I think he’s a really strong utility player. Obviously I think he’s going to want to get that first goal as much as we’re going to want him to get that off his back. But I think we all saw what type of competitor he was in the playoffs.”