Dany Heatley, Joe Thornton, Devin Setoguchi

Wild introduce Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi, who know their roles: shoot and score goals

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There are a lot of fantastic things that come from the generalized unselfishness exhibited by hockey players. They’re sports-wide leaders in “Aw shucks” quotes and tend to be generous when it comes to charitable causes (and also seem generous enough to lay their bodies in front of 100 mph slap shots). Those are all great things, but sometimes that attitude has some drawbacks.

One of the most obvious, teeth-clenching moments comes when a player seems unwilling to put a puck on net. Whether it’s a 2-on-1 that short circuits because the forwards “got too cute” with one-too-many passes or a defenseman whose point shots rarely make it to the net because they’ve telegraphed their attempts, there are times when it’s flat-out frustrating to watch this unselfishness in action. (Maybe there’s an element of players preserving their shooting percentages, too, but we’d like to think that isn’t a frequent concern.)

Soon-to-be-outgoing Minnesota Wild coach Todd Richards cringed when people used the same trap-happy label for his more wide-open team last season, but the bottom line was that the Wild didn’t have the weapons to justify opening things up. The hockey blogosphere has been flush with debate regarding the true “winner” of the deal that sent Martin Havlat to San Jose in exchange for Dany Heatley, but it seems like the Wild are finally willing to dive into the deep end after a couple years of dipping their toes in the shallow end of the pool when it comes to opening things up.

It might be a loss in the grand scheme of things; Havlat is a little bit more versatile than Heatley and losing Brent Burns could really hurt a Wild blueline that lacks any apparent dynamism. That being said, the Wild obviously needed a change and those two blockbuster trades will provide that (if nothing else).

source: APShooooot!

To keep the stats talk simple yet relevant, the Wild were regularly out-shot last season. They produced a league-worst 26.2 shots per game while giving up an average of 32 shots (tied for sixth-worst in the NHL with the New York Islanders). That works out to a league-worst -5.8 shot differential, with only the lowly Edmonton Oilers’ -5 being comparable.

The Wild would be dreaming pretty big if they thought that Heatley and Setoguchi could improve their odds in the shots allowed category. Thankfully, Wild GM Chuck Fletcher expressed more realistic expectations when he introduced Heatley and Setoguchi today: the Wild want them to shoot and score goals in large portions. Setoguchi expressed his objective in an almost comically single-minded way, as you can see from Michael Russo’s quotes.

On his game: You’re going to find that I’m just going to shoot the puck. That’s all what I try to do. I get the puck, I shoot it. I don’t hold onto it, I don’t make nice, really sweet plays with it. I just shoot it. I’m going to skate and shoot and hit, and that’s my plan.

Expectations from Chuck and Mike: Nowadays in the game, you’ve got to shoot the puck. The game’s quicker. Goalies are better. Teams are better. In order to be a successful team, you’ve got to shoot the puck, you’ve got to get shots. I think I can shoot the puck more, and I know that’s what they want us to do, and that’s what I’m going to do.

(snip)

Describe your game: It’s pretty simple what you’re going to get from me. I like to play north-south. I like to use my speed, get in on the forecheck, really be tenacious and puck hungry. And I like to shoot. So you’re going to get some speed, you’re going to get a little bit of physicality and just a player that likes to play a hard game and score some goals every once in awhile.

Wait, so will Setoguchi shoot a lot or not? He keeps beating around the bush about it …

For those of you who might want to see things in black-and-white terms, Setoguchi averaged 2.67 shots per game in his career while Heatley averages about 3.1 per game. Havlat (2.57 per game) isn’t a slouch in that area either; in fact, he put more pucks on net (229) than Heatley (217) or Setoguchi (199) did in 2010-11. That being said, it might be a matter of mindset more than anything else (plus, in the simplest way, they’ll get more shots combined from Heatley and Setoguchi than they would from Havlat and Burns, even if Burns shoots pretty frequently for a blueliner).

Heatley’s hit the 300 shot mark twice in his career and Setoguchi topped out at 246 in 2008-09. Mysteriously enough, those years also ranked as the best offensive outputs of their careers. Maybe the two wingers were shackled a bit by San Jose’s shift to a more defense-minded scheme. If nothing else, the Wild could profit from letting both of them loose. Worst case scenario, the Wild are trying something different. We’ll find out next season if different will mean better.

Beleskey expected to miss six weeks with right knee injury

BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 20:  Matt Beleskey #39 of the Boston Bruins takes a shot against New Jersey Devils  during the third period at TD Garden on October 20, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Bruins defeat the Devils 2-1.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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The Boston Bruins are expected to be without forward Matt Beleskey for the next six weeks because of a right knee injury.

That update came from the Bruins on Monday. Boston was victorious over the Florida Panthers in overtime, but Beleskey wasn’t in the lineup.

The Bruins have now won three in a row and four of their last five games.

Beleskey suffered the injury in a collision in the neutral zone with Taylor Fedun during Saturday’s game. He left the game and didn’t return, after his knee drove into the hip of Fedun as the Sabres defenseman pivoted.

In 24 games with the Bruins this season, Beleskey has two goals and five points.

The Penguins are playing a brand of hockey from another era — and it’s a treat for hockey fans

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 08:  Evgeni Malkin #71 of the Pittsburgh Penguins is congratulated by teammates after scoring a goal against the Edmonton Oilers at PPG PAINTS Arena on November 8, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Matt Kincaid/Getty Images)
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PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Penguins are doing their part this season to single-handedly address the NHL’s ongoing goal scoring shortage.

At both ends of the ice.

After their 8-5 win over the Ottawa Senators on Monday night — an insane game that featured both teams making a goaltending change, a hat trick, a penalty shot, a fluke goal bouncing off the glass, three replay reviews, and a random appearance by actors Steve Carell and Bryan Cranston in the stands — the Penguins find themselves at the top, and bottom, of pretty much every major offensive and defensive category.

Just consider:

  • Their 3.31 goals per game average is the second best in the NHL behind only the New York Rangers.
  • Their 3.04 goals against average is the fourth worst ahead of only Dallas, Arizona, Toronto and Philadelphia.
  • They are averaging 34.7 shots on goal per game, tops in the league and more than a full shot per game better than the No. 2 team (Chicago).
  • They are giving up 32.6 shots on goal per game, the second worst mark in the league ahead of only the Arizona Coyotes.

When it comes to the latter two points they outshot Ottawa by a 46-34 margin on Monday night, making it the fourth time in the NHL this season a team recorded at least 45 shots on goal and surrendered at least 34 in a single game.

The Penguins have played in three of those games (the other was that 60-shot effort by Columbus over the weekend, and that game went to overtime. The Penguins did all of three of theirs in regulation).

An important thing to keep in mind about that stat: There were only seven such games like that all of last season. For the entire NHL. By all 30 teams. Combined. Only one team (Philadelphia) played in more than one, and nobody played in more than two. The Penguins have played in three in their first 26 games.

Monday’s game was already the 13th time this season (in only 26 games) where they have faced a two-goal deficit at some point in the game when they trailed 4-2 midway through the second period. They have now won six of those games, and are 5-6-1 when they have trailed after two periods. In one of those regulation losses they actually overcome a three-goal deficit, tied the game, and then gave up the winner in the closing minute.

A lot of this is the result of having a team that rolls out four lines of forwards every night that possess the ability to score (including three of the most talented forwards in the league in Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel), combined with a blue line that is made up almost entirely of puck-movers and offensive-minded defensemen.

On one hand, it is an absolutely thrilling and captivating brand of hockey to watch. It is a throwback to the 1980s and early 1990s when wide open 8-5 games were fairly common. It is showcasing skill during a time when defense, structure and goaltending have dominated the league.

Because of that, is also not a style of play that has resulted in a lot of success in this era.

Over the past 10 years only one team has won the Stanley Cup finishing worse than seventh in the league in goals against (the lowest ranking over that stretch: The 2008-09 Penguins were 17th. Six of the Cup winners were in the top-two, including three that were the best in the league).

Only one other Cup-winning team during that stretch finished worse than 10th on the penalty kill (the 2010-11 Bruins, who were 16th). The Penguins are currently 29th.

These are areas they clearly need to address and correct (and they know it), because you are not always going to be able to rely on erasing a two-goal deficit in the playoffs no matter how great your offense is, and you are not always going to be able to put a five-or six-spot on the scoreboard.

The funny thing about this is the Penguins are returning pretty much the exact same roster from their 2015-16 Stanley Cup winning team. They are still a team built on speed and playing fast, a recipe that drove them to that championship just a few months ago. But that team excelled in a lot of the important defensive areas. They held opponents to less than 30 shots per game. They were sixth in the NHL in goals against and fifth in the league on the penalty kill.

After Monday’s game, coach Mike Sullivan talked about the importance of playing a “speed” game without necessarily turning it into a track meet.

“We certainly want to play a speed game because that is when we are at our best,” Sullivan said. “We try to distinguish between a speed game and a track meet. For me, we want to play a speed game and use our speed to advantage, but also not feed their transition game and allowing a track meet where you are trading chance for chance. Sometimes I think when we get away from our game a little we have a tendency to get into that track meet a little bit.”

He continued:

“For me it starts with out decisions with the puck. When you look at the makeup of our team we are a team that wants to play with the puck, so we want to make plays instinctively, but when we recognize the danger zones and when the plays aren’t there to be made, that is when we force teams to play 200 feet and that is when we become a more difficult team to play against. That is playing a speed game. So we try to distinguish between those two things.”

All of this is what makes this current team and the way it is playing so fascinating.

Almost every game quickly devolves into madness, and their record so far is great. But they are clearly not playing the way they want.

In the meantime, it is an absolute treat for hockey fans that are starving for more speed, skill and goals to take over the league.

‘I’m going to address it harshly,’ says Trotz of Ovechkin’s penalty trouble

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 15: Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals looks on against New York Islanders during the second period at Verizon Center on October 15, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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There is no question the Washington Capitals are having difficulty through this portion of their season, with losses to the New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning to begin the month of December.

They snapped their recent three-game skid with a 3-2 overtime win over the Buffalo Sabres on Monday.

Marcus Johansson scored twice, including the tying goal late in the third period and the winner in OT. Jay Beagle had a goal and six shots on net. It’s a step in the right direction for a team Barry Trotz said still needs to be better at five-on-five.

He’s also still unhappy with the penalties taken by Alex Ovechkin, who had another minor for slashing against the Sabres. Trotz has already expressed concern for the time his captain is spending in the penalty box and the coach has once again vowed to deal with the problem.

“Unacceptable,” Trotz told reporters.

“He’s a leader. He can’t take those penalties. He’s got to be on the right side. I’m going to address it harshly with him tomorrow.”

It’s a tough loss for the Sabres, who were just over six minutes away from a win. It could’ve been worse. Jack Eichel, who suffered a high-ankle sprain early in the season, was hurt in the second period.

He got tangled up with Dmitry Orlov along the boards and struggled to the bench. There was a shot of him on the bench in obvious pain, but he did return to the game.

Sam Gagner has been ‘a great story’ for the surprising Blue Jackets

ANAHEIM, CA - OCTOBER 28:  Sam Gagner #89 of the Columbus Blue Jackets celebrates his second goal of the game for a 4-0 lead over the Anaheim Ducks during the first period at Honda Center on October 28, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The Columbus Blue Jackets just keep on winning, remaining one of the big surprises so far this season — provided their last two performances were against the Arizona Coyotes.

We’ve seen the emergence of Zach Werenski. And Alexander Wennberg continues to impress.

But what about Sam Gagner? At 27 years old, he’s another interesting story on this early-season surprise of a team. Signed by the Blue Jackets at the beginning of August to a one-year contract worth only $650,000, Gagner is off to a very strong start with his new team.

For the Blue Jackets, they have received tremendous bang for their buck with this signing.

Gagner scored twice in Monday’s 4-1 win over the Coyotes, giving him 10 goals this season. He also had two assists. Again, this is against a young, rebuilding Arizona team, but still, Gagner has provided Columbus with additional offense, with 17 points in 23 games.

He has already eclipsed his point total from last season, basically in half the time. He had 16 points with the Flyers — in 53 games.

“He’s applied himself,” coach John Tortorella recently told FanRag Sports Network. “When I had him at center, for some reason, it wasn’t working. When we moved him to wing, things started happening for him. He seems more comfortable on the wing and he can play both sides, too.

“He’s scored some big goals for us and helps us on the power play. He knows that this is probably his last kick at the can, and it’s amazing what it does for athletes [who are] thinking ‘man, this is where I’m at right now.’ I think he has done some soul-searching and to me, right now, it’s a great story.”

He’s part of a Columbus team competing right now for top spot in the Metropolitan Division. In December.

That’s a pretty good story, too.