What we learned from the last week in the NHL:
The Kings are in trouble
Not to belabor the obvious, but they’re running out of race track and appear bound for a second non-playoff finish in three seasons. The St. Louis Blues (7-3-0 in their last 10 games) and Calgary Flames (9-1-0) have blown past the Kings, who continue to struggle to score. It’s time for team executives to take a hard look at their philosophy and the on-ice leadership. They’ll likely have a long off-season to think about that and how to incorporate more speed while dealing with the albatross contracts of some underperforming veteran players. The Chicago Blackhawks have retooled on the fly and have remained competitive but the Kings have slipped. Those 2012 and 2014 Stanley Cup championships are becoming ever-more-distant memories.
Coaching change did the Blues a lot of good
The Blues’ season was at a tipping point when Mike Yeo, who was the designated coach-in-waiting behind Ken Hitchcock, got the job when Hitchcock was fired on Feb. 1. With Yeo managing players’ rest and ice time well, the team has pulled together — and it might have been expected to give up after General Manager Doug Armstrong traded defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk to Washington just before the trade deadline. The Blues are 14-7 under Yeo and are challenging for a top-three spot in the Central Division. According to the St. Louis Post Dispatch, they’ve recorded seven shutouts in their last 29 games after recording only one in their first 42 — credit that to Martin Brodeur’s increased involvement with the goaltenders — and they’ve won five of their last six road games. Sounds like a playoff-ready team.
Tampa Bay center Steven Stamkos, who underwent surgery on his right knee in mid-November, went through a full practice last Friday for the first time, raising fans’ hopes he will be back to lead a late playoff push. The Lightning is being cautious, as it should, given Stamkos’ injury history and that he just hit the four-month mark of a projected four-to-six month recovery. “The one way I guess to make sure he may play is to get into the playoffs,” Coach Jon Cooper told the Tampa Bay Times. “That’s what we’re trying to do here. He’s the core of our franchise. Until doctors and Steven Stamkos say, ‘I’m ready to go,’ he’s not going on the ice.”
They’re not Wild about losing
What’s wrong with the Minnesota Wild? A few weeks ago, Bruce Boudreau’s team was leading the Blackhawks by seven points atop the Central Division. After losing five straight games and eight of 10 this month, the Wild likely will have to settle for second, which isn’t so bad. The larger issue is the slip in goaltender Devan Dubnyk’s performance lately: he has won merely one of his last nine starts. Boudreau’s response has been to let Dubnyk play his way out of his slump — Dubnyk has played 14 straight games — but resting Dubnyk and giving him more practice time to work on his problems might be a better option, especially with first place now almost out of reach.