Tag Archives: Bruce Boudreau

Minnesota Wild 2018-19 Season Preview

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Minnesota Wild

45-26-11, 101 points, 3rd in the Central Division

Lost in First Round to WPG, 4-1

Additions: D Matt Bartkowski, F J.T. Brown, F Eric Fehr, G Andrew Hammond, F Matt Hendricks, F Mike Liambas, D Greg Pateryn, F Matt Read

Subtractions: F Patrick Cannone (signed, DEL), F Matt Cullen (signed with PIT), F Kurtis Gabriel (signed with NJ), D Alex Grant (signed, KHL), D Dylan Labbe (signed with Wichita Thunder, ECHL), D Viktor Loov (signed, KHL), G Steve Michalek (signed, Austria), F Zack Mitchell (signed with LA), D Zac Palmquist (signed with Lehigh Valley Phantoms, AHL), G Niklas Svedberg (signed, SHL), F Daniel Winnik (signed to a PTO with BOS), G Adam Vay (signed, Kazakhstan)

Still Unsigned: F Adam Gilmour, D Kyle Quincey

Re-signed: D Matt Dumba, D Nick Seeler, F Jason Zucker

Offseason Analysis: Despite a late-season decline, Devan Dubnyk managed to backstop the Minnesota Wild to a third place finish in the Central Division standings– locking up their sixth consecutive postseason appearance and guaranteeing a First Round matchup with the Winnipeg Jets.

Unfortunately for the Wild, they had a First Round matchup with the Winnipeg Jets. Oh and Minnesota’s head coach is Bruce Boudreau, so everyone knows about the playoff curse surrounding him by now, right?

Kidding aside, Minnesota lasted five games against Winnipeg when they realistically should’ve been swept by the jumpin’ Jets.

After nine seasons of being in charge, Chuck Fletcher was fired and Paul Fenton was hired as Minnesota’s new General Manager.

Fenton, of course, served as the assistant GM for the Nashville Predators (2006-18) and had been familiar with Wild owner, Craig Leipold– given their two seasons of overlap as employee and employer in Nashville from 2006-08 before Leipold sold the Predators and bought Minnesota.

Additionally, Fenton was highly-touted as the best “available” prospective General Manager that was potentially on the market for going big time and moving up in the rankings. Under the guidance of David Poile for over a decade with the Preds, Fenton is more than ready for his new role with the Wild.

Unfortunately, he’s inheriting a mess. Yes, even though the Wild have made the playoffs six seasons in a row now, they haven’t gotten past the Second Round.

Plus Zach Parise and Ryan Suter are under contract for forever (slight exaggeration) and both have an injury history (Parise’s career was nearly over and Suter’s going to miss the start of this season). They’re also on the books at over $7.500 million per season each with no movement clauses.

Parise, 34, and Suter, 33, aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, unless someone’s willing to eat some cap hit.

Minnesota has about $1.770 million in cap space with seven pending free agents (including two RFAs) next offseason. Eric Staal is one of them and he’s already indicated he’s willing to be more than patient while the Wild figure themselves out.

Staal’s currently making $3.500 million per season and reached the 40-goal plateau last season in a rejuvenating 76-point year (42 goals, 34 assists). At 33, he’s not going to get any younger, but he’s still a vital component of the roster with at least a couple more decent seasons left in him. Perhaps he’ll be the next ageless wonder, even.

Eric Fehr was given a second chance after the San Jose Sharks acquired his services from the Toronto Maple Leafs last season and he impressed the Wild enough to sign him to a one-year deal. Either that or Minnesota found their perfect placeholder while a) youth develops and b) they figure out how to free up cap space next offseason.

While the performance on the ice is to be determined– what with an underrated goaltender in Dubnyk and a solid blue line now that Matt Dumba is locked up through the 2022-23 season– this season will be a season in transition, no doubt, for the front office.

Perhaps Boudreau’s next to go after Fletcher’s roster building couldn’t get the Wild over the Second Round hump, does Leipold start pointing fingers behind the bench? Is it only natural that a new General Manager bring in their own plan for the bench to go along with the personalities on their roster?

It’s a make or break season for Minnesota, whether anyone wants to accept it or not.

Offseason Grade: C-

Hiring the best “GM prospect” as your new General Manager was Minnesota’s biggest move this offseason. Well, that and re-signing Matt Dumba to a friendly long-term deal worth $6.000 million per season through 2022-23.

But Paul Fenton’s got plenty of headaches ahead, regardless of team performance on the ice and that’s where the navigation of this franchise gets tricky. Besides, none of the free agents added to the roster this offseason scream “steal of the century”, though signing Andrew Hammond as a third-string goalie doesn’t hurt– goaltending depth is all too often over-looked.

Down the Frozen River Podcast #103- Good Two See You

Second Round predictions, Minnesota needs a new GM, Calgary’s got a new coach, award finalist reactions, a Game 7 breakdown between Boston and Toronto, and where do the Leafs go from here? All that and more as Nick and Connor discuss on the latest DTFR Podcast.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes) and/or on Stitcher.

Whiteout Whitewashing: Jets take the series with Game 5 shutout victory

 

For the first time since the birth of the Atlanta/Winnipeg franchise 19 years ago, the team will see the Second Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. For the city of Winnipeg, a 31-year wait has ended with thunderous applause.

For Minnesota, however, an arduous struggle has ended in back-to-back blankings at the hands of a Jets squad that far outclassed them. The Wild fought as best they could, but with the absence of Ryan Suter on defense, and the loss of Zach Parise after Game 3, the tools for them to compete with a stacked Winnipeg roster just weren’t there. Pile on some notably lackluster performances from key players like Jason Zucker, Nino Niederreiter, and Charlie Coyle (all held scoreless in the series) and there was really no hope to overcome the juggernaut Jets.

The Wild knew to have any shot at surviving Game 5 they’d need to play the perfect road game and try to keep the Jets from building momentum and getting the raucous crowd involved. This strategy lasted all of 31 seconds.

A strong opening shift was capped off when Jacob Trouba received a cross-ice pass from Mark Scheifele at the top of the right circle, took a few strides towards the net and ripped a wrist shot past Devan Dubnyk to ignite Bell MTS Place in the first minute.

A Winnipeg penalty shortly after the goal threatened to kill the energy, but strong work on the PK kept the tide in the Jets’ favor, and shortly after the conclusion of the penalty Trouba (who had himself a game) nearly scored on an odd-man rush, before nearly tipping home a follow-up shot right after. Dubnyk was trying desperately to keep his team alive and settle things down.

Unfortunately for the Minnesota netminder, his efforts were for nothing, as on the following faceoff Dustin Byfuglien let go a wrist shot from the right point that Bryan Little redirected beautifully past an unsuspecting Dubnyk for the 2-0 lead, still just 5:42 into the game.

Still the Jets kept coming, and the Wild had no answer. A Brandon Tanev shot nearly went in off the skate of Dubnyk after bouncing off of the end boards. Then Niederreiter tried to create a scoring opportunity by dancing around one Winnipeg defender only to get blown up by Big Buff as he attempted to let the shot go. Then Tanev, apparently upset at his previous failure, stripped a fumbling Jonas Brodin of the puck at his defensive blueline and fired a quick turnaround wrister through Dubnyk before he had time to react, Winnipeg taking a 3-0 lead with 8:50 to play. Tanev’s first career playoff goal.

Just 49 seconds later things went from calamity to catastrophe when an initial attempt from Andrew Copp rebounded out high to a locked and loaded Byfuglien, who proceeded to unload a bomb that redirected off of Joel Armia (his first playoff goal, just to stick with the theme) and into the net.

It was now 4-0 with 8:01 to play in the first period, and a mercy pulling was in order. Bruce Boudreau sent Alex Stalock in to relieve Dubnyk of his nightmare, and he returned to the bench to a standing reception from his teammates. Captain Mikko Koivu walked down to the end of the bench after Dubnyk sat down, seemingly to say “We’re sorry, this is on us.” to his visibly emotional goaltender.

Winnipeg fans, however, did not share in Koivu’s sympathies, as a chant of “We Want Dubnyk” rang out not long after the resumption of play. Apparently even after a long, cold winter, Winnipeg still has plenty of salt to go around.

The period ended with the Jets outshooting Minnesota 13-7, but the play was even more lopsided than that would indicate.

Early in the second Minnesota got their proverbial “This one just isn’t going to go your way” sign from the hockey gods, as a Mikael Granlund rush drew Connor Hellebuyck out of his net, giving Granlund an open cage to tuck a wraparound into, only to see the puck sail across the crease along the goal line and bounce off of multiple Winnipeg skates just inches from paydirt, only to be cleared away.

Minnesota did finally gain some offensive traction to their credit, though the second notable opportunity was a Niederreiter rush that was met with a shot block and subsequent leveling hit by Trouba. Ironically even though they controlled a lot of the play early in the second, the Wild would not record a shot for nearly eight minutes of play.

The game’s only real notable save came from the left pad of Stalock who denied a seemingly sure-thing one-timer right on the doorstep at the bottom of the left circle from Scheifele just past the game’s halfway mark.

A Wild power play around the 11:00 mark brought some more offensive traction to the visitors, who had a few quality chances on the power play followed up by a Niederreiter breakaway all turned aside. Jason Zucker found iron on a later power play, but Hellebucyk simply couldn’t be solved.

The Jets put a stamp on the game just 32 seconds into the third with a beautiful high-low-high passing sequence from Blake Wheeler, Paul Stastny, and Scheifele capped off by a beautiful one-time rip from #55 into the net from the low slot.

Sensing victory was now firmly in hand, the Winnipeg Whiteout crowd started to take over the third period. Multiple renditions of Bananarama’s ‘Na Na Na Na Hey Hey Hey, Goodbye’ were belted out in perfect harmony at numerous points in the frame, starting with the initial performance just after the puck had dropped following the 5-0 goal.

When Hellebucyk made a great stop on Matt Cullen off of a Marcus Foligno rebound, the crowd responded with the wave, then some more Bananarama.

Blake Wheeler nearly made it 6-0 on a beautiful backhand tip of a Scheifele centering pass, but the hockey gods had decided enough was enough, so it found the crossbar and vacated the goal crease without further incident.

‘We Want Nashville!’ is now the chant. Bold, Winnipeg. Bold.

Later in the period a fan took a deflected puck to the face, only to be tossed a towel by Matt Hendricks (making his series debut) and signal to everyone in attendance that they were still very much alive, drawing a rousing round of applause.

The standing ovation started with 2:30 to play, and was only interrupted by an obligatory singalong to ‘Sweet Caroline’ at 2:10. The final minute of play was basically just one long explosion of noise as the city erupted into a party that I assume will still be occurring when the sun rises. On Monday.

In the end, Connor Hellebucyk posted his second-consecutive shutout to seal the series, and the Parise-less Wild fail to score a single goal. It’s hard for Minnesota to argue that injuries were the only reason they couldn’t climb this mountain, as Winnipeg faced games without Tyler Myers, Nikolaj Ehlers and Josh Morrissey among others, and played the entire series without Toby Enstrom. It just speaks to their incredible depth that even when missing key contributors they could still trounce Minnesota with relative ease.

Now with a long rest ahead of them to get healthy before a likely (at least as of this writing) Second Round matchup for the ages with Nashville, the Jets have a little time to celebrate before looking towards what lay ahead.

Special shoutout to 20-year veteran and three-time Stanley Cup winner Matt Cullen, who may have just played the final game of a fantastic career.

Wild go crazy in 4-goal 2nd period, win 6-2 in Game 3

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Minnesota’s offense exploded in a four-goal second period and the Wild defeated the Winnipeg Jets, 6-2, on Sunday night at Xcel Energy Center.

Devan Dubnyk had 29 saves on 31 shots against for a .935 save percentage in the win, while Connor Hellebuyck stopped 16 shots out of 22 shots faced for a .727 SV% in 40:00 time on ice in the loss. Jets backup goaltender, Steve Mason, turned aside all seven shots he faced in the third period.

It didn’t take long for the action to get going in Game 3 as Minnesota defenseman, Matt Dumba, was sent to the penalty box just 43 seconds into the first period for slashing Jets captain, Blake Wheeler. Winnipeg had a couple great looks on the power play, but was unable to convert on their first power play opportunity of the night.

A few minutes later, Matt Cullen, was taking the skate of shame to the sin bin for slashing Winnipeg’s Adam Lowry, much to the dismay of the fans in the building who all disagreed with the call. Cullen himself was not pleased, but the refs set the standard for the night— nothing was going unnoticed.

Almost a minute into their second power play of the night, Wheeler (1) had the puck near the hash-mark to the left of Dubnyk and fired a wrist shot that deflected off of Wild blue liner, Jonas Brodin, and beat Dubnyk’s short side and gave the Jets a 1-0 lead on just his third career Stanley Cup Playoff goal.

Wheeler’s power play goal came at 4:50 of the first period and was assisted by Dustin Byfuglien (3) and Patrik Laine (2). With the assist, Laine now has points in each of his first three career postseason games in what was also the third consecutive game where Winnipeg scored first.

Jets defenseman, Ben Chiarot, delivered a cross check to Eric Staal and was assessed a minor penalty at 7:26. Shortly thereafter, after Hellebuyck had frozen the puck for a faceoff, already shorthanded, Adam Lowry roughed up Minnesota’s Jason Zucker.

Lowry was handed a minor penalty for roughing and the Wild went from a regular 5-on-4 power play to a two-man advantage with about 1:21 remaining on the first penalty. The Wild did not pass up on the 5-on-3 opportunity.

After Paul Stastny had already broken up a one-timer intended for Zach Parise, Minnesota went to work again in the offensive zone.

Mikael Granlund pinched in from the point on the power play to keep the play alive, sending the puck across the ice, where Mikko Koivu eventually ended up with it on his stick. Koivu quickly fired a shot, but Hellebuyck made the save, though the puck rebounded. That’s when Granlund (1) was able to pocket the loose puck in the twine as he was crashing the net to tie the game, 1-1.

The goal, Granlund’s first of the postseason, was assisted by Koivu (3) and Staal (1) at 9:47 of the first period.

Play settled down for a bit until Chiarot cross-checked Minnesota’s Charlie Coyle and was sent to the box with 2:59 remaining in the period. It only took 49 seconds on the power play for Zach Parise (3) to convert on the man advantage and give the Wild their first lead of the night, 2-1.

Koivu set up the play after quickly realizing where Parise was positioned, feigning a shot on net when in actually firing a hard pass towards the goal for Parise— who had his stick on the ice the whole time— to redirect past Hellebuyck. Koivu (4) and Jonas Brodin (2) picked up the assists on Parise’s goal.

In the closing minute of the period, Josh Morrissey centered the puck to Kyle Connor for a redirect on Dubnyk, but Dubnyk denied the Jets of any follow up chances, having absorbed the puck and covered it up.

Regardless, after the whistle, Dumba and Mark Scheifele got involved in a bit of an exchange that resulted in Dumba going to the box for roughing at 19:27.

After 20 minutes of play, the Minnesota Wild led 2-1 on the scoreboard and 13-7 in shots on goal. Minnesota also led in blocked shots (6-5), hits (9-7) and giveaways (4-2), meanwhile Winnipeg led in takeaways (2-0). The Jets were 1/3 on the power play in the first period and the Wild were 2/3 on the man advantage in the opening frame.

Nick Seeler opened up the second period at Xcel Energy Center by beating Hellebuyck and ringing the goalpost. Shortly thereafter, Minnesota scored anyway.

Joel Eriksson Ek set up in front of the goal after passing the puck to Daniel Winnik, who lobbed it over to Matt Dumba. Dumba (1) fired a shot past a screened Hellebuyck and into the net to give the Wild a 3-1 lead. The goal was Dumba’s first playoff goal since 2015 and Winnik (1) and Eriksson Ek (1) picked up the assists.

Eriksson Ek’s assist was his first career playoff point.

A few minutes later, Tyler Myers (2) and the Jets made it a close game after Myers found a loose puck with a clear path to the goal and sent a cannon of a slap shot over the right pad of Devan Dubnyk to make it a 3-2 game. Myers now has goals in back-to-back games, but would leave the game later in the second period with what appeared to be a lower body injury. He did not return.

After Myers’s goal, the Wild took a string of penalties, first for Parise tripping Wheeler at 7:23 and then for Coyle holding Winnipeg defenseman, Jacob Trouba at 10:24.

Winnipeg was not able to amount anything on the scoreboard on either power play and the Wild kept rolling along.

Staal (1) notched his first of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs at 14:40 of the second period when Granlund used the boards to snag the puck in the offensive zone, then send a spin-o-rama pass to Staal for a one-timer that beat Hellebuyck. Granlund (2) and Dumba (1) had the assists on the goal that made it 4-2, Minnesota.

Twenty seconds later, Boston University product and U.S. Olympian, Jordan Greenway (1) scored his first career Stanley Cup Playoff goal to make it 5-2, and the barrage of offense for the Wild continued. Matt Cullen (1) and Nick Seeler (1) had the assists on Greenway’s first NHL goal in both regular season and postseason play.

Marcus Foligno (1) kept the trend of first career postseason goals going as he scored a few minutes after Greenway made it 5-2. Foligno’s goal came at 18:23 of the second period and made it 6-2, Wild. Jared Spurgeon (1) and Seeler (2) had the assists as Minnesota completely dominated every action on the ice.

Through 40 minutes of play, the Wild led 6-2 on the scoreboard and 22-19 in shots on goal. Minnesota also led in blocked shots (15-5) and giveaways (6-4). Winnipeg led in hits (17-15) and takeaways (3-2) after two periods. The Jets were 1/5 on the power play and the Wild were 2/3 heading into the second intermission.

Winnipeg head coach, Paul Maurice, made a change in goal heading into the third period, replacing Connor Hellebuyck with Jets backup, Steve Mason, for the final frame of regulation.

There was no scoring, nor any penalties called in the third period and Bruce Boudreau’s Minnesota Wild played a conservative period, mixed with high caliber defense and some offensive chances.

Minnesota held on to a 6-2 win in Game 3, cutting Winnipeg’s series lead in half (2-1), and forcing at least a Game 5. The Jets outshot the Wild 31-29 after 60 minutes of play, but Minnesota led in blocked shots (20-8) and faceoff win percentage (52-48).

Winnipeg finished the game leading in hits 26-19 and finished the night 1/5 on the power play. The Wild finished the night 2/3 on the man advantage.

Game 4 is set for Tuesday night at Xcel Energy Center where the Wild will look to tie the series, 2-2. Puck drop is expected a little after 8:00 p.m. ET and viewers in the United States can tune in on CNBC, while Canadian fans can get their fill on Sportsnet and TVAS2.

Down the Frozen River Podcast #101- Vigno, Hitch and Stanley

Nick and Connor discuss the evolution of the game and how that plays into Alain Vigneault’s future, as well as Ken Hitchcock’s retirement. Also, a 2018 Stanley Cup Playoff First Round reaction through Game 1 in every series.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes) and/or on Stitcher.

January 10 – Day 95 – There’s no place like home

There’s only two games on the schedule today, but for once I’m not complaining about either failing to live up to NBC’s promotion of “Wednesday Night Rivalry.”

The action starts in Toronto when Ottawa pays the Maple Leafs a visit at 7:30 p.m. (SN/TVAS) and Minnesota at Chicago (NBCSN) cleans up the evening’s festivities half an hour later. All times Eastern.

Teams on the bye: Anaheim, Arizona, Boston, Colorado, Dallas, Detroit, Los Angeles, Montréal, Nashville, New Jersey, NY Islanders, NY Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Jose, St. Louis and Vegas.

Is there any question of which game we’re featuring tonight? The winner of the Wild-Blackhawks game will be the eighth seed in the Western Conference! It’s off to the Windy City with us!

 

Tonight’s tilt is Game 4 in a five-game series between these clubs. Chicago owns a 2-1-0 record against the Wild so far this season, and another win tonight would clinch the season series – an important note considering it is the second tiebreaker at the end of the season and both of these clubs are currently competing for the last wild card.

Obviously, the 23-17-4 Wild, who currently sit in 10th place in the Western Conference due to losing a games-played tiebreaker with both Chicago and Calgary, will have high hopes of leveling the series this evening. But do they have much of a chance of pulling it off?

I’m worried for them the answer is no. Minnesota has lost five of its last six road games (including one at United Center less than a month ago), including an active skid of four-straight. That run since December 17 makes the Wild the fourth-worst road team in the league, and it’s all because their defense simply doesn’t travel well.

Given, it’s not like Minnesota’s defense is all that spectacular in and of itself. The Wild allow 2.91 goals against per game for the season as a whole, the 14th-worst mark in the league.

However, in their six road games since December 17, the Wild have allowed a league-worst 25 goals against, or a second-worst 4.17 per game (the Wild would like to take this opportunity to thank the Islanders for allowing 16 goals in only three road games).

A major problem is Minnesota, even with LW Marcus Foligno throwing three hits per game, D Jared Spurgeon blocking 2.67 shots per game and W Jason Zucker averaging a takeaway-per-game, has allowed an average of 35 shots in each contest away from Xcel Energy Center since mid-December, a mark that is sixth-worst in the NHL in that time.

While Foligno’s, Spurgeon’s and Zucker’s efforts are impressive on their own, it seems to me to be a lack of commitment by the rest of the team on the defensive end – especially in terms of physicality. Foligno has not been afraid to rough up the opposition along the boards, but Matt Dumba has averaged the second-most hits-per-game during this section of games with only 1.67 to his credit. While physicality is only one aspect of playing defense, it seems to be lacking from Head Coach Bruce Boudreau‘s squad.

The icing… err, frosting, since icing is a penalty… on the cake though is the fact that the Wild’s defense has allowed all these shots of late against 7-8-2 G Alex Stalock. Most of this run came while 15-9-2 G Devan Dubnyk was recovering from his lower-body injury. Given how much he was getting peppered while filling in, I’d say Stalock did pretty well in his five most recent road starts. He posted a .914 save percentage and 2.93 GAA.

Dubnyk will be in goal tonight in only his second road game since returning to action. His first was that drubbing at the hands of the Avalanche where, due in large part to posing a .813 save percentage and 7.61 GAA, he lost his cool and tried to smash F Alexander Kerfoot‘s face into the ice. Perhaps the former Masterton Trophy-winner can keep his cool tonight, because his team desperately needs him to cover up for its defensive inefficiencies.

If last night’s 8-2 performance in Ottawa is any indication, it seems the 21-15-6 Blackhawks are starting to figure things out. Having won four of their past six games and earned a point in one of those losses, Chicago has surged into the second wild card and has pulled within three points of first wild card Dallas.

Since December 29, no offense has scored more goals than Chicago. The Hawks have managed an impressive 28 goals in six games, which averages into a second-best 4.67 per game behind Boston’s unbelievable 5.5 (for those that care, three of the top-five teams in goals-per-game since December 29 are in the Central Division).

While the usual suspects of C Jonathan Toews and F Patrick Kane have been impressive over this run, posting respective 5-4-9 and 3-6-9 totals, the Blackhawk that truly takes the cake is sophomore C Nick Schmaltz, who’s currently riding a four-game goal streak. He’s done it all for the Hawks lately, posting 5-5-10 totals to elevate his season marks to 12-19-31. Having already surpassed last year’s numbers, Schmaltz is poised to join the ranks of recent dominant Chicago forwards. How does one club get W Alex DeBrincat, Kane, LW Artemi Panarin (well, last season), Schmaltz and Toews all on the same team?

Just like Minnesota saved its top goaltender for the Hawks, 2-1-1 G Jeff Glass will probably be in net tonight for Chicago after 3-5-3 G Anton Forsberg played yesterday against the Sens. Playing his rookie season at 32-years-old, Glass has posted a .908 save percentage and 3.51 GAA in his first four NHL starts.

The United Center hasn’t been the imposing threat to road teams as it was only a year or two ago, but with an 11-6-2 record at home this season, I think the Blackhawks can find a way to pull this one out.


Though the Carolina Hurricanes gave them all they had, First Star of the Game F Tyler Johnson and the Tampa Bay Lightning was able to win yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day 5-4 at Amalie Arena.

Johnson was an unstoppable force throughout the entire game, as he registered a goal in each frame. However, before he struck his tally for the first period, three others found the net. First was LW Brock McGinn (RW Justin Williams and D Jaccob Slavin), who gave Carolina the advantage 3:23 into play with a power play wrist shot. Tampa pulled the game back even 6:39 later courtesy of a wrister from D Victor Hedman (RW Nikita Kucherov and C Steven Stamkos). The exchange of goals continued with 7:50 remaining in the period when W Sebastian Aho bagged an unassisted wrister, but Johnson (D Anton Stralman and Second Star F Brayden Point) set the score at 2-2 on a tip-in 4:16 later.

In terms of playing time, Johnson didn’t have to wait too long to find his second goal of the night. Only 1:58 into the second period, he (Third Star D Jake Dotchin and Point) gave Tampa its first lead of the night with a backhanded shot. However, Carolina continued to show its resilience when D Justin Faulk (F Teuvo Teravainen and F Jordan Staal) scored a power play wrister 8:38 later, leveling the game at three-all.

The 3-3 tie held for a considerable time, even though both clubs combined to fire 26 shots in the second period. However, the draw was finally broken when Dotchin (Point and W Ondrej Palat) tickled the twine with a snap shot. 5:27 later, the Bolts went up what proved to be an insurmountable two goals when Johnson (Hedman) completed the hat trick with a wrister.

Johnson’s final goal was simply a pure spectacle of his superior speed to that of D Noah Hanifin. Hedman dumped the puck towards center ice from his defensive zone to enact a line change, but Johnson decided to race Hanifin to ensure there was no chance for icing. Once he realized he could take possession, Johnson squeezed past the defenseman, upending him in the process, to set up a one-on-one battle with G Cam Ward. The netminder fended off the first backhander from within his crease, but he couldn’t stop an immediate second try by Johnson: a wrister over his left blocker.

That’s not to say the Canes gave up on the remaining five minutes of regulation. In fact, the exact opposite is true, as F Elias Lindholm (Faulk and Teravainen) pulled Carolina back within a one-goal deficit with 1:18 remaining in the frame, but even with six attackers the Hurricanes couldn’t find a leveling marker.

G Andrei Vasilevskiy saved 28-of-32 shots faced (.875 save percentage) to earn the victory, leaving the loss to Ward, who saved 29-of-34 (.853).

It’s no surprise, but the 52-29-12 home teams are absolutely dominating the DtFR Game of the Day series. The hosts’ record in the series is 26 points better the roadies’, the same advantage Tampa Bay has on the Oilers for the Presidents’ Trophy.

October 31 – Day 28 – Wild Jets would be scary

So what you want to go to a Halloween party tonight? There’s hockey to be watched!

Okay, fine; you can go to the party, but make sure to keep tabs on the three games taking place tonight. First up on the schedule is Vegas at the New York Rangers (SN1) at 7 p.m., followed by Arizona at Detroit half an hour later. Finally, the nightcap finds an early start at 8 p.m. when Winnipeg visits Minnesota. All times Eastern.

Turns out Halloween is an important holiday to the NHL, because Tuesday schedules are usually filled to the brim. With a limited selection of matchups, it’s obvious we have to take in tonight’s festivities in St. Paul, Minn.

 

Who pegged the Jets to be ahead of the Wild in the standings at this point in the season?

I’m big enough to admit that I certainly didn’t. Minnesota was supposed to build off the positive momentum from last season’s unbelievable 12-game winning streak, while Winnipeg was expected to struggle after another offseason of relative inactivity.

Instead, all the 4-3-2 Wild has done is earn themselves last place in the Central Division (you know, the same division that has the Colorado Avalanche), and the reason is fairly easy to discern: a sparse schedule.

Wait, what?

Tonight’s game against the Jets is only Minnesota’s 10th game of the season, and the Wild are the last of the 31 teams in the NHL to reach that total of games played. In fact, the Wild have played so few games that even if they’d gone undefeated in their first nine games for 18 points, they’d still only be in second place in the Central Division behind St. Louis’ 21.

If we learn nothing else from the Wild, we should know that a points total is not always indicative of a team’s performance (Except in the case of the Coyotes. They look to be that bad).

So far, the key to success for the Wild has been their depth scoring. Led from the third line by W Chris Stewart and his 6-2-8 totals on the season, Minnesota has managed to score 3.33 goals-per-game, the ninth-best rate in the entire league. D Jared Spurgeon has also been very effective from the blue line, as he’s also produced a team co-high eight points.

But don’t be led to believe that there’s no problems with the Wild. Like any good head coach would, Bruce Boudreau will insist that play in his defensive zone needs to improve sooner than later. Even with D Jonas Brodin‘s team-leading 2.4 blocks-per-game, the Wild allow a (t)ninth-worst 33.4 shots against-per-game.

It’s because of this extra work that 3-3-1 G Devan Dubnyk hasn’t looked as good to start the year. Only a season removed from his wildly impressive (I have a tip jar if you feel so inclined) .923 save percentage and 2.25 GAA performance in 2016-’17 (that somehow earned him only eight votes towards the Vezina Trophy, nine fewer than Oilers G Cam Talbot), he’s managed a measly .905 save percentage and 3.03 GAA in seven starts this campaign.

I have faith that Dubnyk will trend towards his career .916 save percentage eventually, but until he finds his rhythm, any help he can get from his defense would certainly be welcome.

I made the mistake of using the word ‘sputtering‘ Sunday when describing the 5-3-2 Jets’ offense. Perhaps Head Coach Paul Maurice read my preview to his club (thanks for reading, Paul!), because they came out and scored a whopping seven goals against the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins.

As you can probably guess, I won’t make the same mistake twice. Thanks in large part to their scoring outburst, the Jets now boast the 13th-best offense in the league by averaging 3.1 goals-per-game and will have every intention of keeping the positive energy flowing tonight. One of the biggest contributors – both Sunday and for the entire season as a whole – has been RW Blake Wheeler, who’s 4-8-12 totals top the team. Three of those goals were struck in the first period Sunday against the Pens for his second-ever NHL hat trick and first as a Jet.

What makes Winnipeg an interesting situation is it’s producing in the top-half of the NHL while managing only 29 shots-per-game, the fewest in the league. Though I’m sure RW Joel Armia, W Nikolaj Ehlers and C Mark Scheifele are all very proud of their shooting percentages at or above 20 percent, I expect the Jets to try to pressure Minnesota’s soft defense this evening and pepper Dubnyk as much as possible.

Even though their scoring outburst came against the combined efforts of goalies Matthew Murray (who was starting his second game in as many days) and Casey DeSmith (making his first-ever NHL appearance), I like the Jets to continue their positive momentum and beat the Wild tonight.


In F Patrick Marleau‘s first game at the SAP Center at San Jose as a member of the visiting team, the Sharks were able to beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-2 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

What started as a slow affair – due in large part to San Jose’s squelching defense – ended in quite the offensive flurry in the third period, as two goals were struck in the final 2:13 of play.

The lone goal of the first period belonged to C Auston Matthews (D Nikita Zaitsev and F William Nylander), who buried a wrist shot to give the Leafs a 1-0 lead with 7:46 remaining in the first period. That advantage lasted until Third Star of the Game F Joe Pavelski (First Star D Tim Heed and C Joe Thornton) leveled the game at one-all 7:58 into the second frame on a deflection.

Heed (D Brent Burns and F Logan Couture) broke the tie 4:11 into the third period on a power play slap shot to give the Sharks their first lead of the night. San Jose would not yield that lead for the remainder of the night, but that fact owes much of its credibility to RW Joel Ward (C Chris Tierney and F Melker Karlsson), as he was the one that registered the empty-net insurance tally that eventually became the game-winning goal with 2:13 remaining in regulation.

Considering most empty-netters signal the end of most comebacks, many Toronto fans had probably already begun looking forward to Wednesday’s game against the Ducks. However, C Nazem Kadri (D Andreas Borgman and D Morgan Rielly) wasn’t quite ready to do that , as he sparked renewed life into the Leafs with his deflection with 70 seconds remaining in regulation. Though Head Coach Mike Babcock again pulled Second Star G Frederik Andersen for much of the remaining time, the Maple Leafs could not find a leveling goal to force overtime.

G Martin Jones earned the win after saving 16-of-18 shots faced (.889 save percentage), leaving the loss to Andersen, who saved 36-of-38 (.947).

That’s two-straight victories for home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. Hosts now own an impressive 16-8-4 record that is 10 points superior to that of the roadies.

March 12 – Day 144 – Wild-Hawks: not a biker gang

Every Sunday is Sunday Funday during hockey season.

I’m going to consider that my application for the NHL’s marketing department. Feel free to tweet me (@connorzkeith) to set up an interview. That’s what professionals do, right? Tweet people important things?

Anyways, while they’re composing their tweet, let’s watch some hockey. There’s lots to watch today, starting with the Minnesota at Chicago (NBC/TVAS) matinee at 12:30 p.m. The usual 7 p.m. starting time marks the beginning of two contests (Montréal at Edmonton [RDS/SN] and the New York Rangers at Detroit [NBCSN]), followed two-and-a-half hours later by Washington at Anaheim (NHLN). Finally, Dallas at San Jose drops the puck at 10 p.m. to close out the day’s action. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Minnesota at Chicago: A rivalry game between the top-two teams in the Western Conference? Yes, please.
  • New York at Detroit: Original Six? Check. Return of Brendan Smith to Motown? Check.

It’s been hard to ignore a game between the Blackhawks and Wild all season, so we can’t stop today. Off to the United Center!

 

This is the fourth time these teams have met this season, and the fourth time the matchup has been featured as the DtFR Game of the Day.

In other words, I’m really committed to this rivalry.

But I should be! Today’s game features two of the top-five teams in the league and, should Chicago win, could leave the Wild with only a one-point lead in the Central Division with under 16 games remaining in the regular season.

As they’ve been for a majority of the season, the 43-17-6 Wild enter tonight’s game as the best team in both the Central Division and the Western Conference. The reason for that success? Their incredible offense, which has managed 218 goals – the second-most in the NHL.

Speaking of topping the charts, Mikael Granlund has been doing just that within Minnesota‘s offense on his team-leading 62 points. In only the fifth year of his NHL career, he continues to raise the bar regarding his abilities and contributions, as he sets a new career-high in all scoring statistics each year. Another of those stats is his 22 goals, another way he paces Minnesota. Four Wild skaters have 20 or more tallies, an incredible total.

While I would argue Minnesota is better when facing a full-strength defense compared to a short-handed opponent, that’s not to say its power play is poor. Led by – you guessed it – Granlund and his 18 extra-man points, the Wild have successfully converted 21.2% of their power plays – the eighth-best rate in the league. Granlund transitions into more of a passing role in Bruce Boudreau‘s offensive special team, instead opting to set up Nino Niederreiter, who has the club-lead in power play goals with eight.

Oh, and the penalty kill? Minnesota is pretty good at that, too. Thanks in large part to Jared Spurgeon‘s squad-leading 18 shorthanded shot blocks, the Wild have properly defended 83.7% of their undermanned situations, the seventh-best rate in the NHL.

Playing host this evening are the 42-20-5 Blackhawks, the second-best team in both the Central and the West. In a surprising turn of events, the facet of Chicago‘s game that I’ve been most impressed with has been their goaltending. While the offense is still as imposing as ever, the Hawks have allowed only 168 goals so far this year – the sixth-fewest in the NHL.

Of course, that effort always starts with the goaltender, and the Blackhawks have a good one in 26-15-3 Corey Crawford. He’s earned a .918 season save percentage for a 2.55 GAA, the 12th and (t)18th-best marks, respectively, among the 46 goalies with at least 22 appearances.

If the netminder is good and the offense is good, why does he have 15 regulation losses? You’ll notice defense is left out of that list, mostly because the Hawks‘ blueline has been… forgettable this year. Even though Niklas Hjalmarsson has an impressive 157 shot blocks to lead the team (he’s also tied for fourth-most in the league), his defense still allows 31.1 shots-against-per-game, the 10th-worst rate in the league.

But since the trade deadline, things are slowly improving in the Windy City. The Hawks‘ big add on the last day of February was Johnny Oduya. While not influencing shots the way he did two or three years ago, he does add experience along the blueline that has dropped to eighth-fewest shots-against since his arrival.

No matter how good the goaltender is, a bad defense usually yields a poor penalty kill. That’s the biggest pitfall for the Hawks this year, as they’ve neutralized only 77.6% of their shorthanded situations, the fourth-worst rate in the league. Just like he does the rest of the time, Hjalmarsson is the primary defenseman in this situation with his team-leading 34 shorthanded shot blocks. He’s not the problem.

Instead, he and Brent Seabrook are the only two blueliners with at least 15 shorthanded blocks to their credit this season, a lousy, too-small group. If this club has any intentions of winning four-straight even-numbered year Stanley Cups, more defensemen will need to get involved in the penalty kill.

If previous meetings are any indication, Chicago should win tonight’s game, albeit narrowly. Against the Wild this season, the Hawks have gone 2-1-0, including a 5-3 victory in the Xcel Energy Center in their most previous meeting on February 21.

Some players to keep an eye on this afternoon include Chicago‘s Scott Darling (.931 save percentage [second-best in the league] for a 2.13 GAA [fourth-best in the NHL]) and Patrick Kane (71 points [tied for third-most in the league] with 42 assists [seventh-most in the NHL]) & Minnesota‘s Devan Dubnyk (36 wins on a .932 save percentage [both best in the league] and a 2.03 GAA [second-best in the NHL], including five shutouts [tied for fifth-most in the league]), Granlund (+28 [eighth-best in the NHL]), Mikko Koivu (+31 [tied for fourth-best in the league]), Spurgeon (+33 [tied for second-best in the NHL]), Ryan Suter (+35 [best in the league]) and Jason Zucker (+33 [tied for second-best in the NHL]).

Vegas has marked Chicago a -130 favorite to win this afternoon’s contest. While I am concerned about the Hawks‘ penalty kill against the Wild‘s solid power play, I’ll stick with the experts. This should be a fantastic game, but I’ll give the home team the advantage.

Hockey Birthday

  • Bronco Horvath (1930-) – A two-time All Star, this center spent most of his nine-season NHL career in Boston. His best campaign was easily his 1959-’60 effort when he buried 39 goals for 80 points.
  • Douglas Murray (1980-) – San Jose selected this defenseman in the eighth round of the 1999 NHL Entry Draft, and that’s where he spent almost his entire nine-year career in the league. In 2007-’08 he managed a +20 with 10 points, but he was never able to replicate that defensive prowess over the remainder of his playing days.

After spotting the Panthers two first period goals, Tampa Bay notched three unanswered goals to win yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day 3-2.

Florida didn’t score its first tally until 3:28 remained in the opening frame. The Ageless Wonder Jaromir Jagr (Aleksander Barkov and Jon Marchessault) takes credit for his 14th of the season with a wrist shot to beat Second Star of the Game Andrei Vasilevskiy. Mark Pysyk (Reilly Smith and Barkov) provided the Panthers‘ second tally only 2:41 later, setting the score at 2-0 going into the first intermission.

Jon Cooper must have had some choice words for the Lightning during the break, because the team that emerged from the dressing room was not the one that entered it. 3:43 after retaking the ice, Nikita Kucherov (Victor Hedman and Jonathan Drouin) buried a power play slap shot to pull the Bolts back within a goal of the Panthers. Third Star Yanni Gourde completed the comeback with 9:49 remaining in the period with an unassisted shorthanded goal, the first tally of his young career.

The game-winner waited a long time to present itself, but First Star Ondrej Palat (Andrej Sustr) forced it to present itself with 2:23 remaining in regulation. He sneaked his tip-in past James Reimer to earn the victory.

Vasilevskiy saved 32-of-34 shots faced (94.1%) to earn the victory, leaving the loss to Reimer, who saved 31-of-34 (91.2%).

The third win in four days by the home team in the DtFR Game of the Day has pulled series hosts  within a point of the 73-51-22 visitors.

March 7 – Day 139 – Yeo, what’s up?

First and foremost, my extreme thanks to @kephartc and @nlanciani53 for covering my post while I was traveling. Their efforts were much appreciated, and I hope that they enjoyed making this column their own.

But now, whether you like it or now, it’s back under control.

That’s obviously me, laughing maniacally.

Anyways, the action starts when it usually does  – at 7 p.m. – with New Jersey at Columbus, followed half an hour later by a trio of games (Philadelphia at Buffalo [NBCSN], Detroit at Toronto [TVAS] and the New York Rangers at Florida). St. Louis at Minnesota is the only contest to drop the puck at 8 p.m., but two (Carolina at Colorado and the New York Islanders at Edmonton) get underway an hour after. The final two matchups of the day – Montréal at Vancouver (RDS) and Nashville at Anaheim (SN1) – get the green light at 10 p.m. to close out tonight’s action.

Short list:

  • New Jersey at Columbus: After six seasons with the Blue Jackets‘ organization, Dalton Prout makes his first appearance in Columbus against the club that drafted him.
  • Detroit at Toronto: Oh, you know, it’s just one of the better all-time rivalries of the NHL.
  • New York at Florida: Brandon Pirri is another player who has connections with the team his current club is facing tonight.
  • St. Louis at Minnesota: A little sooner than planned, Mike Yeo is coaching his first contest at Xcel Energy Center since being released last season.
  • Nashville at Anaheim: It’s a rematch between last year’s Western Conference Quarter-finalists.

Since the Blues-Wild game also serves as an early preview of the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, let’s head up to the Twin Cities.

Yeo joined the Wild organization before the 2010-’11 season when he took command of the Houston Aeros, Minnesota‘s former AHL farm team. That in itself was a homecoming, as Yeo had spent five seasons as a player for the Aeros. While captain, he led the team to the 1999 Turner Cup.

Only one year into his tenure with the Aeros as head coach, the club improved immensely. He took over a team that finished last in its division, and turned it into conference finalist – an impressive feat.

When the Wild were looking for a coach the following season, they didn’t have to look far. Yeo earned his promotion to the NHL 366 days after being signed to Houston, and he ended up leading Minnesota for more than four seasons.

The turnaround wasn’t quite as instantaneous as it was in Houston. His first season finished in fourth-place in the Northwest Division, outside of playoff contention. Yeo’s magic started kicking in during the 2012-’13 season when his club took second in the Northwest.

That began the treacherous trend against the Blackhawks. Starting with the 2013 playoffs, Yeo’s Wild faced Chicago three-straight seasons, and three-straight times they were eliminated.

The 2015-’16 campaign proved to by Yeo’s last in the Twin Cities. The Wild were under-performing at  23-22-10, so Chuck Fletcher decided to hire John Torchetti for the remainder of the season.

This offseason, Yeo was hired by the Blues as an assistant coach and head-man-in-waiting behind Ken Hitchcock, but – in a similar situation as Yeo a season ago – the club has not been as successful as management would like. Doug Armstrong hit the fast-forward button on his organization and promoted Yeo to head coach. Results have… varied… but the Notes are currently qualifying for the playoffs.

*Author’s note: Since I’m still on the road, I could not record final stats from Monday night and, more importantly, rankings. Consider any rankings unofficial.*

Even though they’ve lost their last four games, the Blues enter tonight’s game with a 31-26-5 record, good enough for fourth in the Central Division and eighth in the Western Conference. St. Louis is certainly an offensive-minded team, but their 175 goals in 64 games is tied for only 15th-most in the league.

Vladimir Tarasenko is easily the best forward on this team – who would’ve guessed? He has a team-leading 56 points to his credit, but the more frightening number is his 28 goals. That total ties for 10th-most in the NHL.

The best way to beat the Blues is to not let them earn a power play, as they’re proud owners of the fifth-best effort in the league. Kevin Shattenkirk has been at the head of that attack with his 20 extra-man goals, and his seven power play goal-total is tied with Tarasenko for most on the team.

The Notes certainly don’t get beat on special teams, as they’ve also been very successful when short a man. Thanks in large part to Alex Pietrangelo‘s 29 shorthanded shot blocks, the Notes have stopped 84% of opposing power plays – the eighth-best mark in the league.

Bruce Boudreau has turned Yeo’s work into a hockey powerhouse, as the 41-15-6 Wild are the best team in the Central and the Western conference. Minnesota is incredible on both ends of the ice, but the offense has been the stronger of the two facets of their game of later. Accounting for 209 goals in 63 games, the Wild score the second-most goals-per-game in the NHL.

Mikael Granlund gets to take a lot of credit for that success, as his 59 points are tops in Minnesota. 21 of those have been goals, which is also the best mark on the team.

It’s splitting hairs to say that the Wild’s power play is worse than St. Louis‘, as Minnesota is tied for sixth-best with their 22.1% success rate. As you’d expect, Granlund has been at the forefront of that effort with his 18 power play points, but it’s been Nino Niederreiter burying most of the goals – his eight extra-man tallies top the team.

Similarly, Minnesota‘s penalty kill is also barely better than the Blues‘. Successful 84.3% of the time, the Wild are seventh-best in the NHL. Jared Spurgeon has had a heavy hand in this effort with his 17 shorthanded blocks – the most on the team.

Minnesota has had the upper-hand in this series so far this season. The last time they squared off, the Wild expanded their record against the Blues to 2-1-1 with a 5-1 victory on January 26.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Minnesota‘s Devan Dubnyk (35 wins on a .933 save percentage [both best in the league] and a 2.01 GAA [second-best in the NHL], including five shutouts [tied for fourth-most in the league]), Granlund (+28 [tied for sixth-best in the NHL]), Mikko Koivu (+28 [tied for sixth-best in the league]), Spurgeon (+34 [second-best in the NHL]), Ryan Suter (+35 [best in the league]) and Jason Zucker (+31 [tied for fourth-best in the NHL]) & St. Louis‘ Pietrangelo (127 blocks [most on the team]), Ryan Reaves (168 hits [most on the team]), Shattenkirk (31 assists [most on the team]) and Tarasenko (28 goals for 56 points [both most on the team])

It’s hard to pick against the best in the West when they have home ice. I like the Wild to win by at least two goals tonight.

Hockey Birthday

  • Mike Eagles (1963-) – Selected by Quebec in the sixth round of the 1981 NHL Entry Draft, this forward played 16 seasons in the NHL – most of which with the Capitals. Though he scored nearly 200 points over his career, he was more known as an enforcer: he collected 928 minutes in the penalty box.
  • Terry Carkner (1966-) – The Rangers picked this defenseman 14th-overall in the 1984 NHL Entry Draft, but he spent most of his career with the rival Flyers. He fit the character of Philadelphia to a t, earning nearly 1600 penalty minutes.
  • Eric Godard (1980-) – It’s the birthday of enforcers. This right wing spent most of his eight-year NHL career with the Penguins – specifically Pittsburgh‘s penalty box. He served a total of 833 minutes in the sin bin.
  • Niclas Bergfors (1987-) – Last playing in the NHL in the 2011-’12 season, New Jersey selected this Swedish right wing 23rd-overall in the 2005 NHL Entry draft. He has 83 points to his credit, but he currently plays Djurgarden Hockey in the Swedish Hockey League.

March 5- Day 137- Sharks live in the Wild, not pools

For the second day in a row, somebody else has had to take the Game of the Day duties, since Connor Keith is out of town. Here goes nothing.

Sundays are perfect for sitting and watching hockey all day and if you don’t have anything to do from mid-afternoon through the rest of the night, then today’s schedule is just for you.

Sunday’s action begins in Calgary, Alberta as the New York Islanders pay their annual visit to the Calgary Flames at 4 p.m. Buffalo at Pittsburgh (NHLN/ROOT/MSG-B) kicks off at 5 p.m. As things get underway at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, newly acquired defenseman Kyle Quincey and the Columbus Blue Jackets face off against now former Blue Jacket defenseman Dalton Prout and the New Jersey Devils in New Jersey.

An hour later the Pacific Division leading San Jose Sharks visit the 2nd place in the Central Division Minnesota Wild. At 8 p.m. the Vancouver Canucks face former teammate Ryan Kesler and the Anaheim Ducks in southern California as the St. Louis Blues square off against the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center on NBCSN.

Half an hour later, the evening’s final game kicks off in Glendale, Arizona with the Carolina Hurricanes and the Arizona Coyotes. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Buffalo at Pittsburgh: In a rematch of the 2008 Winter Classic, the Sabres and head coach Dan Bylsma pay a visit to Bylsma’s former club as Buffalo looks to climb from being five points out of a wild card spot in the Atlantic Division.
  • Columbus at New Jersey: Kyle Quincey and Dalton Prout were traded for each other, so which team made the better move? Obviously we’ll find out after whoever wins this game.
  • San Jose at Minnesota: Two division leaders in the Western Conference do battle as the Wild look to compete with the Washington Capitals in this season’s President’s Trophy race. Okay, fine, Minnesota was on top of the Central Division until last night.
  • St. Louis at Colorado: Some professional team from St. Louis is playing some bantam team from Colorado (only kidding). Honestly, I’m just throwing this one on here in case your team’s not playing tonight and you want to watch out of market hockey on NBCSN.

Since I was informed I would be writing today’s Game of the Day matchup preview, the Minnesota Wild were on top of the Central Division as the San Jose Sharks continued to dominate the Pacific Division and everything seemed to be perfectly aligning for my Daily Matchup debut– that is until the Chicago Blackhawks decided to ruin the fun, surpassing the Wild for 1st in the Central Division with their 5-3 victory over the Nashville Predators Saturday night.

However! First place is still on the line for both teams in the San Jose Sharks at Minnesota Wild matchup (technically). Minnesota can reclaim the Central Division lead with a win at home and San Jose can do everything to keep the Wild out of first place in the Central while putting more separation between themselves and the Edmonton Oilers for first in the Pacific Division.

Stay with me here.

UnknownThe Sharks enter Xcel Energy Center on a three game winning streak with a 38-18-7 record through 63 games played (good enough for 83 points on the year), as the Wild enter Sunday night coming off of a 1-0 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets and a 41-15-6 record after 62 games played and 88 points on the season.

Despite losing in the Stanley Cup Final last year, San Jose is still a hot team on a run, similar to how the Tampa Bay Lightning seemed to shrug off their 2015 Stanley Cup Final loss to the Blackhawks. The Sharks aren’t in the hunt for the President’s Trophy– but the Wild are, more on that in a second– yet they’re quietly peaking at the right time.

Though quietly might not be the right term.

Winners of four out of their last five games, in which they’ve outscored their opponents 15-6 in that span, San Jose is witnessing quite the team effort in the midst of a Hart Trophy worthy season from defenseman Brent Burns (27-40-67 totals in 63 games). Only Sharks captain Joe Pavelski ranks in the top-50 in scoring in the NHL tied for 21st in the league with 55 points alongside Auston Matthews (TOR), Alex Ovechkin (WSH), Leon Draisaitl (EDM) and Victor Hedman (TB).

Despite trailing off in goals this season, Joe Thornton’s 35 assists contribute to the overall +29 goal differential for the team in teal.

Martin Jones (30-15-6 on the season in 52 GP) has stood tall in goal for the second straight year, notching 30 wins thus far (tied for 5th in the league with Boston’s Tuukka Rask). Jones’s .917 save percentage ranks 17th (tied with Florida’s Roberto Luongo) among active goalies with at least 25 games played this season, as his 2.28 goals against average is good enough to be tied for 9th in the league with Pittsburgh’s Matt Murray (same parameters as before, active goalies with at least 25 games played).

Unknown-2Minnesota enters Sunday with a 41-15-6 record through 62 games played (good enough for 88 points) and is 3-2-0 in their last five games, having outscored their opponents 19-17 during that time.

Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau has led his team within reach of the President’s Trophy as the team with the best record in the league at the end of the regular season, trailing one point behind the Blackhawks with three games in hand and seven points behind the Washington Capitals with two games in hand.

The State of Hockey’s leading scorer, center Mikael Granlund, ranks 12th in the league with 21-38-59 totals in 62 games played. Mikko Koivu (48 points), Nino Niederreiter (46 points) and Eric Staal (46 points) are also in the top-50 scorers in the league among active skaters.

Depth scoring has been a strong suit of an otherwise solely superstar-less driven scoring team as the Wild have racked up a +61 goal differential. Devan Dubnyk (34-12-3 on the season in 49 GP) ranks 1st in the league in save percentage with a .933 and 2nd in GAA with a 2.03 among active goalies with at least 25 games played this season. Dubnyk’s underrated play in net is sure to land him a Vezina Trophy this season.

The Sharks are 18-11-3 on the road, including their most recent 4-1 win in Vancouver against the Canucks on February 25th. Meanwhile, the Wild are 22-8-1 on home ice, including their 5-4 victory in overtime against the Los Angeles Kings on February 27th.

Minnesota topped San Jose in their previous meeting by a score of 5-4 on January 5th. The two teams will do battle once again on March 21st in what could be a season series tiebreaker.

Both teams are on a tear on offense in the last couple of weeks, however, Sunday night could be a different story with Dubnyk and Jones in net (so long as they’re the starters). Additionally, the Sharks have a slight edge in defense, having allowed one fewer goal than the Wild this season (147 goals against for SJ, compared to 148 GA for MIN).

I don’t know what the odds in Vegas are saying, but my money’s on San Jose pulling off a win with a slim margin of victory over Minnesota. The Wild beat the Sharks on road ice in January, so it’s only fair that San Jose wins one in Minnesota, right?

Hockey Birthday

Milt Schmidt (1918- January 4, 2017)– The Ultimate Bruin played all of his career (1936-1955) with Boston, coached in Boston (1954-1966) and was even the general manager (1967-1972) for the Bruins, winning two Stanley Cups as a player in 1939 and 1941, as well as two Stanley Cups as a GM in 1970 and 1972 for a total of four Cups in his life in hockey. Schmidt also coached the Washington Capitals in their first couple of seasons in existence (1974-1976), though they missed the playoffs both years.Hockey Birthday

Schmidt helped find Bobby Orr and pulled off the blockbuster trade of Pit Martin, Gilles Marotte and Jack Norris for Phil Esposito, Ken Hodge and Fred Stanfield from the Chicago Black Hawks as a general manager and took three years off from his playing career (in its prime!) from 1942-1945 to serve in World War II for the Royal Canadian Air Force alongside his Kraut Line teammates Woody Dumart and Bobby Bauer.

Sadly, the Kitchner, Ontario native passed away in January at 98-years-old as the last member of the inaugural (1936-1937) American Hockey League (AHL) season.

He passed on the reigns of the oldest living former NHL player to John “Chick” Webster, 96, who made his NHL debut in the 1949-1950 season with the New York Rangers, appearing in 14 games and racking up four penalty minutes in his short NHL career.

Other Birthdays

Bill Thoms (1910-1964), Harry Pidhirny (1928-2010), Ken Yackel (1932-1991), Dale Anderson (1932-2015), Pat Hannigan (1936-2007), Bob Richer (1951-), Paul Gardner (1956-), Tim Friday (1961-), Anatoli Semenov (1962-), Bob Halkidis (1966-), Matt DelGuidice (1967-), Shjon Podein (1968-), Bryan Berard (1977-), Paul Martin (1981-), Barret Jackman (1981-), Michel Ouellet (1982-)


Saturday night’s DTFR Game of the Day matchup between the host New York Rangers and visiting Montreal Canadiens witnessed a 4-1 victory for the Habs on road ice as Montreal improved to 6-2-0 in the Claude Julien (Part Deux).

Unknown-1Carey Price made 26 saves on 27 shots faced en route to picking up the win at Madison Square Garden, while Henrik Lundqvist stopped 31 shots against on 35 shots faced in the loss.

Shea Weber opened the scoring for the Canadiens at 12:51 of the first period for his fifteenth goal of the season. Max Pacioretty (26) and Steve Ott (4) picked up assists on Weber’s goal. Montreal went into the first intermission with a 1-0 lead in what looked like it would be a goalie battle after all (as Colby wrote about yesterday), as Lundqvist made 10 saves on 11 shots faced and Price turned aside all six shots from the Rangers in the first period.

Despite trailing in shots on goal by five in the first period, New York only trailed in SOG 14-10 in the 2nd period and led in the category 11-10 in the 3rd period.

Artturi Lehkonen (12) scored what would become the game winning goal 8:48 into the 2nd period on a one-timer from one knee on a pass from Phillip Danault (21). Pacioretty (27) picked up the seconday assist.

The Canadiens went up 3-0 nearly ten minutes later in the 2nd period on a goal from Andrew Shaw (10). Shaw’s wraparound goal was assisted by Alex Galchenyuk (21) and Andrei Markov (24).

The lone goal from the Rangers came on a shot from Chris Kreider who notched his 24th goal of the season. Derek Stepan (32) and Mats Zuccarello (33) assisted on Kreider’s goal at 1:44 of the 3rd period. New York cut the lead to two goals, but could not muster enough to do anything further.

New addition to the lineup for Montreal, defenseman Jordie Benn fired home his 3rd goal of the season (and first as a Hab) at 6:58 of the 3rd period. Nathan Beaulieu (21) and Galchenyuk (22) assisted on Benn’s goal.

For more stats on Daily Matchup records, wait for Connor to get back (though I’m having a lot of fun writing this, maybe I’ll steal it from him more often).