Mikko Koivu returns to practice for Minnesota; Latendresse back soon too?

Minnesota’s in the midst of a playoff hunt in the Western Conference and despite not having captain Mikko Koivu for the last two and a half weeks and Guillaume Latendresse for most of the season, they’ve been able to hang in there.

News got better today for the Wild and coach Todd Richards when Koivu took to the ice to practice with the team for the first time since breaking his thumb. That update understandably has Wild fans excited but Richards made sure to temper the expectations for when or if they’ll get back on the ice with the team anytime soon.

Michael Russo of the Star Tribune gets the update on the Wild captain.

Koivu won’t play tomorrow and I find it highly doubtful he’ll play in back-to-back games at Nashville and Dallas. But Richards said Vancouver or San Jose is an option. He’ll come on the road trip to skate at the morning skates and two scheduled practices (one in Vancouver, one in San Jose).

But Koivu is still having trouble gripping his stick and has not been cleared for battle drills yet. He is definitely not completely healed, but it’s clear that he’ll be willing to return when he can grip that stick well enough to shoot, pass, take faceoffs.

Getting Koivu back in the lineup is huge for the team as they’ll need him, they’re top center, if they want to make the playoffs and then try to make some noise during them. He’s key for them on offense and as a defender as well. There’s a reason that he’s one of the more underrated stars in the league.

As for the long absent power forward Latendresse, he too is getting closer to getting back and as Russo finds out there’s a few reasons why he’s a bit hesitant to jump into the mix too soon.

Asked if he feels pressure to return with the team fighting for the playoffs, he said: “No. I think that’s the good thing about the organization. They respect the players before the team. They want to make sure you’re 100 percent when you come back and that you can actually help the team.

“Second of all, it’s for my future, too. It wouldn’t be good for me to come back two weeks [early] and miss the rest of year and maybe next year, too.”

If the Wild were able to get Latendresse back into the lineup and get his added physical ability and scoring touch, the Wild with Niklas Backstrom playing well in goal become a much more dangerous team to potentially meet in the playoffs. After all, with Koivu out they’ve seen Martin Havlat and Brent Burns take over as the team’s consistent offensive threats. Throwing Koivu back into the mix and Latendresse in there with the rest of them makes them a lot more intriguing.

Just 13 days after claiming him, Ducks waive Etem

Anaheim Ducks v Chicago Blackhawks
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Emerson Etem‘s second go-round in Anaheim has hit a snag.

On Wednesday, the Ducks put Etem on waivers — per TSN — a move that comes less than two weeks after Anaheim plucked him off the wire from Vancouver.

Etem, 24, has only appeared in two games for the Ducks since re-joining the team. He played just over six minutes in a loss to the Devils, and 5:38 in a win over the Flyers.

Taken 29th overall by Anaheim at the 2010 draft, Etem began his pro career with the Ducks organization, and score 31 points in 112 games before getting dealt to the Rangers in 2015.

He failed to make an impact with the Blueshirts, and was dealt to Vancouver after just 19 games under Alain Vigneault. Though he showed flashes in his first season with the Canucks — scoring seven goals and 12 points in 39 games — he looked flat in training camp and preseason this year, and was waived prior to the start of the regular season.

Given he’s pretty fast, a former first-round pick and blessed with some offensive pedigree, there’s a chance Etem could be claimed again. If not, the plan is (presumably) to send him to AHL San Diego.

Capitals hit the road, hoping to ‘really lock down an identity’

DENVER, CO - APRIL 01:  Head coach Barry Trotz of the Washington Capitals talks to Evgeny Kuznetsov #92 of the Washington Capitals as they prepare to face the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center on April 1, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. The Capitals defeated the Avalanche 4-2.
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ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) The simple thing the Washington Capitals want to get out of their four-game Western Canadian road trip doesn’t tell the whole story.

Player after player said the Capitals are looking for a perfect eight points out of games at the Edmonton Oilers, Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames and Winnipeg Jets. More specifically the defending Presidents’ Trophy winners want to develop more consistency all over the ice.

Washington’s 3-1-1 record through five games is nothing to shake a stick at, but they’ve had second-period lulls, defensive breakdowns and poor special teams play.

“At times we’re playing really great hockey and the way we want, and then the other times I think mentally we just kind of take a step back or try to do a little too much or think the game’s going to come easier,” right winger T.J. Oshie said Tuesday. “As long as we keep our foot on the gas, play a little bit more consistent game, a faster game, I think we’re going to be doing pretty good.”

Coach Barry Trotz shook up his top lines after a 4-2 loss to the New York Rangers on Saturday, putting Andre Burakovsky on right wing with captain Alex Ovechkin and all-star center Evgeny Kuznetsov and moving Oshie down to play with Marcus Johansson and Nicklas Backstrom. He kept the power-play units the same despite a 2 for 16 success rate that ranks the Capitals 22nd in the NHL going into Tuesday.

Trotz believes the power play and the penalty kill, which at 71.4 percent is 26th in the league, will get it together. But he’d like to see a more even game in all situations.

“It can be faceoffs, it can be wall plays, it can be just our structure though the neutral zone,” Trotz said. “We want to know what you’re going to get every day so that we can really lock down an identity so everybody knows exactly what they’re up against every night and how we play and there’s not a lot of deviation from it. With that, you get a lot of order and with that order you’re going to get some production.

“When you don’t have everybody on the same page, you’re not going to be that good.”

Trotz wants the Capitals to be a 60-minute team, and those middle 20 minutes have been a source of some frustration. Washington has been outscored 6-2 in the second period, a puzzling problem to say the least.

“For some reason we haven’t played as well as we have in the first and third periods,” Johansson said. “If we knew (why), it would make it a lot easier. We just have to play a full 60 minutes hard.”

The four-game trip starts with a major test Wednesday against 19-year-old superstar Connor McDavid and the Oilers. This will be the first time the Capitals face McDavid, who missed much of last season with a broken collarbone but is on top of his game, tied for the league lead in scoring with nine points.

Capitals players know how good McDavid can be but are wary of his high-skilled unpredictability that defenseman Matt Niskanen joked “hasn’t been coached out” of him yet.

“It’s always tough to know what he’s going to do because he’s so fast,” said Burakovsky, who played with McDavid on the Ontario Hockey League’s Erie Otters. “He likes to just skate around you with the puck.”

The Oilers are so far one of the best teams in hockey because of McDavid and linemates Milan Lucic and Jordan Eberle. Washington had been one of the best defensive teams before the loss to the Rangers, so stopping McDavid and company will be a tall task.

“They’ve got a combination of skills on that line,” Niskanen said. “It’ll be a good challenge for us. It’s for sure going to be a different Oilers team than it’s been in the last couple years.”


‘It’s going to be a grind’ for the Canucks, who can’t play like they used to

Ottawa Senators center Derick Brassard (19) celebrates teammate Ryan Dzingel's goal as Vancouver Canucks defenseman Luca Sbisa (5) looks on during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2016 in Vancouver, British Columbia.  (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press via AP)
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Watching the Vancouver Canucks Tuesday night, it seemed like a hundred years ago that they led the NHL in scoring.

The Canucks were shut out, 3-0, by the Ottawa Senators at Rogers Arena. The home side failed to generate much of anything offensively, finishing with just 22 shots against one of the worst defensive teams in the league.

Afterwards, Vancouver’s captain — the Art Ross Trophy winner in 2009-10 — shared the stark reality about how his team has to play now.

“You’re not going to see anyone, I believe, have a career year offensively,” said Henrik Sedin. “It’s going to be tight, it’s going to be a grind. When we get the chances, we’re going to need to score.”

The plan is to keep games close, by whatever means possible. The Canucks won their first four, two of them in overtime and one in the shootout. But they’ve since dropped three straight, and they now rank dead last in league scoring.

Granted, the Canucks were playing their seventh game in 11 days. They didn’t start their regular season until Oct. 15, and they haven’t had two consecutive days off since.

“We weren’t quick enough in our decisions,” said Sedin, “and that might be part of the fatigue, too, where your brain isn’t working as fast it should.”

But that excuse won’t fly after their next game. The Canucks will have two days to rest and practice before Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers pay a visit Friday.

“That’s a team we have to play tight against,” said Sedin.

Just like every other team, apparently.

Canucks goals per game

2009-10: 3.27 (2nd)
2010-11: 3.15 (1st)
2011-12: 2.94 (5th)
2012-13: 2.54 (19th)
2013-14: 2.33 (28th)
2014-15: 2.88 (8th)
2015-16: 2.27 (29th)
2016-17: 2.00 (30th) 

Losers of five straight, Coyotes off to worst start in franchise history

SCOTTSDALE, AZ - JULY 08:  (L-R) Head coach Dave Tippett and Assistant General Manager/Analytics John Chayka of the Arizona Coyotes watch the prospect development camp at the Ice Den on July 8, 2015 in Scottsdale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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There was a fair bit of excitement in Arizona at the start of the year, when the Coyotes announced four prized prospects — Jakob Chychrun, Dylan Strome, Lawson Crouse and Christian Dvorak — had made the opening night roster.

Well, that sure feels like a long time ago.

The Coyotes lost their fifth straight game on Tuesday night — a 5-3 defeat in New Jersey — and are now off to the worst start in franchise history, having earned just two points through their first six games.

“We’ve dug ourselves a hole,” head coach Dave Tippett said, per the Arizona Republic. “We recognize that, but the only way you can get out of it is to work through it. The whole group has to work through it.”

It’s tough to pinpoint one specific thing that’s caused the poor start.

The schedule has done no favors — after opening with a win at home over the Flyers, Arizona’s been on a really tough trip through Ottawa, Montreal, Brooklyn, MSG, New Jersey and, on Thursday, Philadelphia.

Goaltending has been a major issue, as Louis Domingue and Justin Peters have failed to provide consistent play since No. 1 Mike Smith went down with injury. Domingue is a ghastly 0-4-0 with a .851 save percentage and 5.03 GAA and, last night, Peters got the start but failed to make much of an impact, allowing four goals on 34 shots.

There’s more, too.

Two of the club’s brightest stars, Max Domi and Anthony Duclair, have struggled mightily to start the campaign. Domi is goalless through six games with just three points, and Duclair’s been even worse — no goals, no assists, no points and just seven shots on goal.

He’s seen his ice time fall as a result, and finished with just 13:40 last night at Prudential.

As mentioned above, Arizona also has several youngsters learning on the job — and playing prominent roles. Chychrun, one of the youngest blueliners in the league at 18, is averaging over 16 minutes per night, and the club’s best forward thus far might be Jordan Martinook, the sophomore winger with five points through six games.

If there is a silver lining here, it’s that the Coyotes go home soon.

They’ll wrap their six-game road swing in Philly, then head back to Arizona for a three-game home set against the Avs, Sharks and Predators.