NHL

NHL Mixed Bag: Blues, Kings get needed wins, but is that enough?

Each Monday during the NHL season, Rob Mixer takes a look at the biggest storylines from the hockey week that was.

The Blues needed to win, and they did

A few days ago, Mike Yeo sounded like a guy who may have coached his final game with the St. Louis Blues.

But GM Doug Armstrong, who orchestrated the plan to bring Yeo on as associate coach – and head-coach-in-waiting to Ken Hitchcock — stuck with his bench boss at least through the weekend, and the Blues were able to get their biggest win of the season on Saturday night. Two days after the Columbus Blue Jackets dropped seven goals on them in an embarrassing home-ice loss, the Blues were the team scoring seven times at Enterprise Center in a 7-3 win over the Blackhawks.

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Vladimir Tarasenko, who was quite vocal in support of Yeo after Thursday’s loss to Columbus, was equally so after Saturday’s win.

“This is really emotional for us,” Tarasenko said, via NHL.com. “Everyone understands how important this game was. The most important thing now is don’t think it’s over. It’s not the end of the season, so now we have stuff to build on.”

Listen: the Blues aren’t even close to being out of the woods yet – but a win at least temporarily releases some pressure. But they’re 3-4-3 and their nine points are six fewer than third-place Winnipeg (though the Jets have played two more games). And the Blues lost No. 1 goaltender Jake Allen to an injury during Saturday’s game, which certainly does not make for an easy road ahead.

On the bright side, Robby Fabbri, Carl Gunnarsson and Nikita Soshnikov all rejoined the team on Monday following conditioning stints in the minors.

The Kings got one, too

Yes, they got Dustin Brown back for Sunday’s game against the New York Rangers, but the Kings’ season is in danger of being over before it really even gets started. That made Sunday’s dramatic win over the Rangers even more timely.

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They had two wins in their first 10 games entering Sunday and their -18 goal differential was second-worst in the NHL, ahead of only the Detroit Red Wings (it’s now -17 after the 4-3 win). They’d lost six in a row before Sunday and collapsed in the third period against Minnesota on Thursday, and now, they’ll be without Jonathan Quick (again) for an undisclosed period of time. He’s already missed five games this season due to injury, though this “lower body injury” isn’t believed to be related to his previous ailment.

Either way, for a Kings team that needs any kind of spark to get out of this rut, losing Quick hurts even though he hasn’t played well: Quick sports a 4.55 GAA and .845 save percentage this season, and at times, it’s been ugly. Los Angeles must dig out this hole – for the time being – with a goaltending tandem of Jack Campbell (who played well in Sunday’s game) and Peter Budaj.

Deep breaths, Toronto

Right away, it didn’t look good.

Early in the second period of the Maple Leafs’ win Saturday night, Winnipeg Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba delivered a clean, hard shoulder-to-shoulder hit on Toronto’s Auston Matthews and you could see immediately Matthews was in distress. After brief consultation with team trainers, Matthews went down the runway to the dressing room and didn’t return.

On Monday, the Leafs announced Matthews will miss at least four weeks of action because of the injury. Keep in mind, Matthews has had shoulder injuries before, and last year he missed 20 games with a variety of health issues. The team went 11-7-2 without Matthews in the lineup a year ago.

Regardless, not having their top offensive weapon is a big blow for the Leafs.

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Matthews was the NHL’s sixth-leading scorer entering Sunday’s slate of games with 10 goals and 16 points in 11 games, though he hadn’t scored a goal since Oct. 13. In fact, he’d gone without a point in three games prior to his injury.

But, he will be missed, make no mistake. Look to Nazem Kadri to take on a bigger role in the top-six with Matthews out. And, oh yeah, keep in mind that Toronto does have some guy named Tavares on the squad this year to help shoulder – pardon the pun – the burden while the kid is missing from the lineup.

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