By NATE LATSCH
ST. LOUIS (AP) — St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock has noticed something about Vladimir Tarasenko in the young Russian forward’s first few NHL seasons.
“If he gets one (goal), he’s hungry,” Hitchcock said. “He gets his game to another level, which is what he did in the third period.”
Tarasenko recorded his second hat trick of the season as part of a four-point night and the Blues rallied from a two-goal deficit to beat the Los Angeles Kings 5-2 on Tuesday night for their fifth straight victory.
“They’re really tough,” Tarasenko said of the defending Stanley Cup champion Kings. “They have a really good team, and they won last year, so this is good motivation for us and a good challenge.”
The 23-year-old Tarasenko has 20 goals and 36 points in 31 games. He scored 21 goals and had 43 points in 64 games last season after scoring eight in 38 games as a rookie in the 2012-13 campaign.
“Vladdy shoots the puck so incredibly well that you just tip your hat,” Blues captain David Backes said. “He’s got 20 goals already. He’s the real deal.”
The Blues, who will begin a three-game trip against the Kings on Thursday, improved to 12-3-1 at home and 21-8-2 overall.
“Hopefully we can build on this momentum,” Hitchcock said. “I think any time you play against good teams and you prove that you can play with them or you can beat them, it gives us another level of confidence.”
Los Angeles (15-11-6) has lost three straight and five of six. The Kings have dominated the Blues in recent seasons, winning seven of eight in the regular season and 17 of 21, including the playoffs.
“This one is a sour one for sure,” Kings center Anze Kopitar said. “We have to put this one behind us. There’s a new one on Thursday and we have to make sure we’re ready for that one.”
The Kings had taken control when Marian Gaborik scored twice in the second period.
Gaborik’s first, at 5:39, came after a shot by Justin Williams from the left circle. The rebound was knocked around in the crease before Gaborik poked it in.
Los Angeles took advantage of an interference penalty by rookie defenseman Petteri Lindbohm for Gaborik’s second goal.
Gaborik tipped a centering pass from Kopitar off the left post and into the net to give the Kings a 2-0 lead with 9:00 remaining in the period.
“Our team usually closes things out leading by two,” Kings forward Justin Williams said. “We didn’t do it tonight. It’s very frustrating.”
Tarasenko answered Gaborik’s second goal with his 18th of the season, assisted by Steve Ott and Chris Butler, at 12:29.
The Blues then jumped on the Kings in the third period, following penalties by Dustin Brown and Robyn Regehr.
Jaden Schwartz tipped in Kevin Shattenkirk’s shot on a two-man power play to tie it 2-2 at 11:20. Tarasenko gave the Blues the lead with a 5-on-4 goal just 40 seconds later, and Alexander Steen scored at even strength at 13:50.
“You kind of felt it in the game,” Backes said. “It was time to sink or swim. Our guys responded really well. We get on our horse and start playing our game where we’re getting pucks and forcing them to take a couple penalties there and we get a 5-on-3.
“Then we get one on the second half of that penalty, as well, and from there I think you started to see that glimmer in our eyes. Enough of taking a back seat to these guys, we can play with them when we’re all in on the effort.”
Tarasenko scored his 20th goal of the season into an empty net with 1:24 remaining.
“They scored four goals on not too many shots,” Los Angeles coach Darryl Sutter said.
By R.B. FALLSTROM
AP Sports Writer
ST. LOUIS (AP) — Jared Cook spoke eloquently about why he and four St. Louis Rams teammates did the “Hands Up” gesture, but comments about his coach get him in trouble last week.
It’s “not just a Ferguson thing,” the Rams tight end said earlier this month. “It’s a worldwide thing. You don’t need to burn down your community, you don’t need to harm others to get your message across.”
However, he was too outspoken after the Rams’ 12-6 loss to Arizona last week, landing in a meeting with coach Jeff Fisher after saying the team had been “outcoached” as well as “outplayed” in what he called “a bad display.”
He wants people to know that was just frustration pouring out.
“That was my fault for slipping up, it shouldn’t have been said,” Cook said Tuesday. “But I think everybody kind of knew what I was doing.
“It wasn’t the best choice of words, I must admit. But I’m only human, right?”
The Rams (6-8) were eliminated from playoff contention and must win at home this week against the Giants and then at Seattle to finish .500 for the first time since 2006.
They’ve won seven games in each of Fisher’s first two seasons.
“Nobody wants to be in the position we’re in, nobody wants to have the record that we do,” Cook said. “Our record is our record, it shouldn’t have been said in the manner in which I said it.”
Fisher said the day after the game that he understood Cook’s intent and called it kind of a “one-fell-swoop, `Hey, we just got beat,’ comment. The coach added that player and coach had “discussed it and we’re fine.”
Cook isn’t fine with the way this season has gone, personally or collectively. He’s on track to lead the team in receptions for the second year, with 44 catches, a 12.6-yard average and three touchdowns.
Last year, his first since leaving Tennessee for a four-year free agent deal, he had career bests of 51 catches and five touchdowns to go with a 13.2-yard average.
“You would always like it to be better,” Cook said. “I don’t think there’s any harm in saying I think we all wish the season would have gone a lot better.”
Players had the weekend off, a mini-bye after the Thursday night game, and the mood was upbeat in a noisy locker room after a walkthrough indoors.
“You’ve got to finish strong,” Cook said. “We’ve got to have our focus on, you’ve got to have your mind right. It’s on us to make the best of the season that we can.”
Guard Rodger Saffold wasn’t in a good mood, either, after the Cardinals loss. He noted “emotions fly, especially after a loss like that.”
“Yeah, I was getting kind of bitter,” Saffold said. “I did not want to be there. Now, I’m good, I’m happy-go-lucky, goofy.
“We’re still rolling.”
The Rams announced punter Johnny Hekker, who is involved in the team’s community outreach events and service days, will be their Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee. The winner will be announced during the NFL awards show on Saturday, Jan. 31.
Hekker, who signed a six-year contract extension this month, is second in the NFC in net punting with a 41.8-yard average. Last year he set an NFL record with a 44.2-yard net and was named to his first Pro Bowl.
“Unbelievable honor just being nominated,” Hekker said. “It’s not just me doing these events. It’s my teammates being available to help.
“It’s the kind of thing where I feel like it’s been put in my heart to give back and I know there are a lot of other guys in this locker room who feel the same way.”
Area Girl’s Basketball Scores from Monday Night.
The West Plains Lady Zizzers took on the Salem Tigers on Monday night, December 15, in their latest home game.
The voice of the Lady Zizzers Harlin Hutchinson has your Basketball Scoreboard Update:
Once again the Lady Zizzers took the win 61-47 against the Salem Tigers.
(West Plains) – The Missouri State University-West Plains Grizzly Basketball team closed out the fall portion of its season with a 101-88 win over Highland (Kansas) Community College Saturday night, Dec. 13, in Joe Paul Evans Arena at the West Plains Civic Center.
The Grizzlies will take a 12-5 record into the remainder of their season, which will resume Jan. 2 and 3 with the Grizzly New Year’s Classic in Joe Paul Evans Arena. Joining the Grizzlies on the court in the two-day event will be Coffeyville (Kansas) Community College, College of Faith of West Memphis, Arkansas, and Redlands Community College of El Reno, Oklahoma.
Grizzly Basketball Head Coach Yancey Walker said defense played a key factor in Saturday’s victory. “This was another strong defensive effort by our team. We held Highland to 37 percent shooting in the first half, and we defended the 3-point line very well. Statistically, we were not as sound defensively in the second half, but when we look deeper into the percentages, we find that 16 of their 19 field goals came after it was a 34-point margin. Outside of Jamal LaFond and Corey Baker, who had 9 and 7 points, respectively, in the first half, all of their leading scorers got their points when the game was in hand,” he said.
Just as they did earlier in the week against Independence (Kansas) Community College, the Grizzlies started out strong, outscoring Highland 12-2 in the first four and a half minutes of the game. From there, they continued to dominate, going into the halftime break with a 56-31 advantage. The Grizzlies reached their largest lead of the game, 34 points, at the 14:29 mark in the second half. Highland outscored the Grizzlies 57-45 in the second half, but it wasn’t enough to make up the ground the team had already lost.
Game statistics show the Grizzlies hit 37 of 76 attempts from the field for 48.7 percent, 13 of 29 3-point attempts for 44.8 percent and 14 of 19 shots from the free throw line for 73.7 percent. In addition, they recorded 44 rebounds (14 offensive), 25 assists, six steals, five blocks and 13 turnovers. Leading scorers were sophomore guard Craig Eubanks with 18 points; freshman forward Terrel Martin-Garcia and freshman guards Dazhonetae Bennett and Keeton Tennison each with 16 points; sophomore guard Jameel Moore with 13 points; and freshman forward Ngor Barnaba 11.
Moore set a new school record in assists, recording 16 for the evening. The previous record holder was Logan Nutt, who recorded 14 against Carl Albert State College, Poteau, Oklahoma, on Nov. 22, 2008.
“I don’t like to point out individuals very often, but on top of setting the school assist record, Jameel Moore has had back-to-back double-doubles in points and assists,” Walker said. “That is two-fold because an assist can’t be awarded unless the shot is made; therefore, his teammates helped with that record, but he is passing the ball and running the team very well right now.”
As for the offense as a whole, the coach said, “we attacked very well inside, and that opened up the outside for us. We had an assist on 68 percent of our baskets. We shared the ball very well, and we were bordering on exception in transition and off of offensive rebounds.”
Highland hit 30 of 65 shots from the field for 46.2 percent, four of 20 attempts from 3-point range for 20 percent and 24 of 34 shots from the free throw line for 70.6 percent. In addition, the team recorded 34 rebounds, 14 assists, seven steals, two blocks and 13 turnovers. Leading scorers were Karon Phillips with 19 points, Baker 17, Kyle-Michael Rose 16, LaFond 15 and Marquis Yates 13.
Walker said he would like to thank Jerry Hall, Rhonda Blankenship and the Holiday Inn Express for sponsoring the game. “All of the teams that stay there when they play us are always extremely complimentary of how the staff at Holiday Inn treats them,” the coach said.
Walker said he and the Grizzlies are glad to have a 12-5 record at this point in the season. “We still can’t figure out what happened at Iowa Western, but of our other three losses, we were in the game and had our chances against Eastern Oklahoma and Southwestern Illinois College. We learned a lot from the Cloud County game and got better from it.
“The entire purpose of these games is to prepare us for Region 16 play, and our schedule has done that and will continue to do that with Redlands, Coffeyville and Eastern Oklahoma in a five-day span when we come back,” he continued. “We’ll have to be ready. Outside of State Fair, our region opponents are 39-8 (82.9 percent). Against NJCAA Division I teams, they are 17-7 (70.8 percent). We have played the toughest schedule, but each game will be a battle, and we have already been through several of those. Add our first three games back to that, and we will have been baptized by fire once again.
“I’m proud of how our guys have played so far,” Walker said. “We’ve had some young team moments, but we have gotten better as the year has progressed. We simply have to maintain our focus as we move forward.”
By DAVE SKRETTA
AP Sports Writer
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Andy Reid preached all week for the Kansas City Chiefs to rediscover their identity. Find the swagger that had gone missing during a three-game losing streak that put their playoff hopes in peril.
They found it during a five-minute stretch of the second half Sunday.
Their offense finally humming and their defense taking advantage of turnovers, the Chiefs scored three touchdowns in quick succession, propelling them to a 31-13 victory over the Oakland Raiders.
“It was kind of the focus all week of us kind of cutting it loose, going out there and playing for each other,” said Alex Smith, who threw for 297 yards and two scores. “(Reid) always talks about that, letting emotions show, and I thought guys did a good job of that.”
It took a while, though.
The Chiefs (8-6) were clinging to a 10-6 lead early in the third quarter against the same team that started their skid last month. But after Knile Davis scored a touchdown to cap a 70-yard drive, the Chiefs recovered a fumble, scored again, and then added one more touchdown to put away the game.
“Going into halftime, there were so many things we were so close on,” Reid said. “The guys settled down, they played – they let their personalities show.”
Just about the only downside for Kansas City was the big shot that Jamaal Charles took on a carry near the goal line. He went through concussion testing on the sideline and was cleared to return later in the game, but was eventually pulled with the outcome decided.
“It was a big hit but nothing else,” Charles said. “I’m fine.”
Derek Carr was 27 of 56 for 222 yards, throwing a TD pass in the final minute. But he also was sacked four times and fumbled a snap that led to a Kansas city touchdown.
The Chiefs, who had been poor against the run the past three weeks, even managed to bottle up Raiders running back Latavius Murray. The second-year pro had 112 yards and two scores on just four carries in their first meeting, but was held to 59 yards on 12 carries Sunday.
“Their athletes made more plays than we did,” the Raiders’ Justin Tuck said. “Pretty much it.”
The Raiders (2-12) have lost 10 straight on the road, and still have not won back-to-back games since Weeks 7 and 8 of the 2012 season. That includes a pair of duds in the appropriately named Show-Me State – they were routed 52-0 at St. Louis two weeks ago.
“You can’t just blame one area,” Carr said. “This is a team thing.”
Both teams got off to slow starts in a penalty-filled matchup, but Kansas City finally got a jolt of energy when De’Anthony Thomas fielded a punt at his 19-yard line. Picking up a nice block from Kelcie McCray, the rookie somersaulted over the goal line for an 81-yard touchdown return.
“It’s to the point where I’m starting to get a feel of it,” Thomas said.
Chiefs kicker Cairo Santos atoned for missing his first field-goal attempt since Week 2 early in the second quarter by knocking through a 41-yarder. The Raiders’ Sebastian Janikowski matched him with a 53-yarder as time expired to close within 10-3 at the break.
Oakland had a chance to make the game interesting in the third quarter when Travis Kelce fumbled and C.J. Wilson recovered. But in a fitting summation of the Raiders’ season, Wilson ended up hurt on the play, and the Raiders went nowhere before Janikowski kicked another field goal.
The Chiefs took advantage of the opening – and a roughing-the-passer penalty on Justin Tuck – to go 70 yards on their next possession. Davis finished it off with a short touchdown run.
Carr fumbled the snap on the next play, Kansas City recovered and Smith hit Kelce from 20 yards for a touchdown. The Chiefs then forced a three-and-out, and Smith’s 70-yard throw to Davis a moment later capped their three-TD spurt and gave Kansas City a 31-6 advantage.
“The whole second half it started falling apart,” said the Raiders’ Charles Woodson, “and we were never able to recover and it got out of hand.”
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) — Missouri State has hired Missouri defensive coordinator Dave Steckel as its head coach.
The 57-year-old Steckel is a long-time aide of Gary Pinkel and replaces Terry Allen, who was 37-64 in nine seasons and 4-8 last season. The school announced last month that it would not renew Allen’s contract, set to expire at the end of January.
Missouri led the SEC in total defense in conference. Steckel was a finalist for the Broyles Award as the top assistant in the nation and this will be his first head coaching job.
“He’s wanted to be a head coach for a long time now, and it’s exciting for all us that he’s got his chance,” Pinkel said in a statement. “We’ve worked together for close to 20 years and it’s going to be strange to not have him around.
“Missouri State is getting a guy who is an outstanding coach, an even better family man, and someone who really cares about people.”
Steckel was on the sideline for Missouri’s practice earlier Sunday in preparation for the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl and left the field without talking with reporters. At a news conference streamed by the school, Steckel said he’d finalized the decision 15 minutes earlier and added he’d coach Missouri through the Jan. 1 bowl game before joining the Bears full-time.
“This isn’t lip service – we’re going to graduate our players,” Steckel said. “We are going to be very, very competitive on the field, we’re going to build this through hard work. We’re going to be the meanest Bears in the woods.”
After practice, several Missouri players spoke in glowing terms about Steckel, saying he was a big reason they chose Missouri.
“If you don’t want to play for Coach Stec, you don’t want to play for anybody,” defensive end Markus Golden said.
“It’s bittersweet if he leaves,” linebacker Shane Ray said. “Whatever coach Stec does, I’m still one of his guys and I’ll support whatever he does.”
Steckel has coached linebackers for all of Pinkel’s 14 seasons at Missouri and was defensive coordinator the last five.
Assistant coach Cornell Ford said he wouldn’t be the only coach interested in filling Steckel’s shoes at Missouri.
“Coach Pinkel makes those decisions and I just roll with it,” Steckel said. “Whoever he decides will be the guy, will be the guy. But we all want to be it.”