2011 NHL Entry Draft - Round One

New coach Mike Yeo travels to Finland to meet with Wild stars

There were those who thought GM Chuck Fletcher and the Minnesota Wild were taking a sizeable risk when they hired Houston Aeros headman Mike Yeo. Some thought the 37-year-old (now 38) was too young for a head coaching position in the NHL. There were those who thought he needed more seasoning since he’d only been a head coach for a single season at the AHL level. Some thought he was awful as an assistant in Pittsburgh, some thought he was too much like former coach Todd Richards, and others wondered if Minnesota hired him because he was a cheap alternative to the other available candidates.

The man has his work ahead of him if he wants to win over the skeptics.

With all of that in mind, Yeo isn’t waiting around for training camp to make his mark on next year’s team. Accompanied by GM Fletcher, Yeo recently flew to Finland to have face-to-face conversations with two of the most important players on next year’s roster: captain Mikko Koivu and goaltender Niklas Backstrom. He understands that if he wants to win over the locker room from the start, it’s essential to be on the same page with the team most important returning players.

Yeo spoke the Star Tribune about the importance of meeting his new captain face-to-face:

“Mikko is our captain. He’s a guy when it comes to the coach, he’s going to have these guys on board and going out and doing the things you want them to do. If we can make a little headway with that and hopefully get him buying into and believing in the things we’re talking about right now as opposed to a month into the season, then we’re just going to be that much further ahead.”

Koivu is under contract for the next seven seasons with a no-movement clause, so it’s doubtful he’s going anywhere any time soon. Seven years in today’s NHL for a coach is an eternity—but if Yeo wants to last for a while, it’s imperative that he has a good working relationship with his on-ice leader. If he has Koivu’s support from the beginning, it should make the transition much easier as he tries to install his new system for his new team.

Yeo understands that for the Wild to be successful next season, Koivu and Backstrom will have to lead the team on the ice, in the locker room, and on the stat sheet. Koivu tied for the team lead with 62 points last season—yet each of the other top four scorers from last season have either been traded or left via free agency (Havlat, Brunette, and Burns). Yeo and the Wild are depending on him to recapture the 71 point season from 2009-10 while continuing to be one of the best two-way centers in the league.

Similarly, Yeo will need Niklas Backstrom to be a reliable backstop for the team if they want to take the next step to the playoffs. The Finnish netminder put up good numbers with a .916 save percentage and 2.66 goals against average. If the Wild want to be successful though, they’ll need the all-star goaltender to put up great numbers. No matter how you look at it, a sub-.500 record for a goaltender isn’t going to get it done.

Yeo will have plenty of work as he attempts to silence the critics, change the team culture, and improve the meager Wild; all while he tries to meld all of the offseason newcomers with the players who are already in place. If he can get Koivu and Backstrom on his side, it’ll go a long way towards getting all 22 guys pulling on the same end of the rope. They’re only two players—but they’re two of the most important.

The next step is getting the other 20 players to buy in during training camp.

Capitals accuse Letang of leaving his feet, hitting Johansson in head

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Get this: the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins seem divided on the legality of Kris Letang‘s hit on Marcus Johansson.

(Take a moment to gather your thoughts amid this shocking revelation.)

You can watch the hit over and over in the video above. This post features some takes on that check, which the NHL’s Department of Player Safety is reportedly reviewing.

Generally speaking, the three things people discuss regarding the check is how late it might be, if Letang used his feet and if Johansson’s head was the principal point of contact.

Letang told his side of the story:

The Capitals disagree:

While Barry Trotz pleads the Fifth after his previous comments about Brooks Orpik‘s suspension:

No doubt about it, Letang’s status is the top story to follow in this series between Games 3 and 4. We’ll find out soon enough how it all shakes out.

Penguins ride Murray’s masterpiece to 2-1 series lead vs. Capitals

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If Marc-Andre Fleury suiting up bothers Matt Murray, then the rookie goalie channeled those feelings into a masterful performance on Monday.

The Washington Capitals absolutely dominated Game 3, but Murray was even better, stopping 47 shots as the Penguins stole one 3-2 to take a 2-1 series lead.

(Capitals fans might see some parallels to Washington’s Game 5 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers; they fell 2-0 despite a 44-11 shots on goal edge thanks to Michal Neuvirth‘s heroics.)

Murray stopped chance after chance before Alex Ovechkin finally broke through for his first goal of this series. Justin Williams then brought the Penguins’ lead down to 3-2 to make for a hold-your-breath final minute.

A driven Ovechkin and strong overall play from the Capitals (despite this defeat) aren’t the only reasons why Game 4 might present some twists.

First things first: Kris Letang might get suspended for Game 4 (if not for more than one game) thanks to this controversial check on Marcus Johansson.

Beyond that, there could be some bumps and bruises from this contest.

Bryan Rust left during the first period and didn’t return to the game after blocking a shot. Brian Dumoulin seemed shaken up after an Alex Ovechkin hit in the third period. The Capitals might have a player or two to look at, as well.

In other words, the Penguins could really lack for quality defensemen with Letang possibly suspended and possible injury absences for Dumoulin and Olli Maatta.

This series is living up to the hype … and really building up the hate.

Yes, NHL is reportedly looking at Letang’s hit on Johansson

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It remains to be seen if Kris Letang will get suspended for his hit on Marcus Johansson … and if he does, for how long.

(You can read initial reactions and some analysis about the specifics of the check vs. the one that got Brooks Orpik suspended here.)

There are a few things we do know already.

For one thing, the NHL’s Department of Player Safety is reportedly looking into it.

Another factor that could help Letang avoid a suspension or limit the duration of supplemental discipline: Marcus Johansson returned during the second period.

In fact, Johansson delivered some hits on Letang.

There have been some nasty moments in Game 3, and more might be coming. The Penguins lead 2-0 with a few minutes remaining in the middle frame.

Kris Letang may face suspension for hit on Marcus Johansson

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Update: Reports indicate that the NHL’s Department of Player Safety is indeed looking into the hit.

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As thrilling as this Pittsburgh Penguins – Washington Capitals series has been, it seems like every game presents another controversial hit.

Game 3’s most noteworthy entry (so far?) came when Kris Letang was whistled for interference on Marcus Johansson.

Penguins fans griped that Brooks Orpik didn’t get a major penalty for his hit on Olli Maatta … now Capitals fans likely feel the same about the check Letang delivered.

Watch it in the video above. Also, Stefanie “My Regular Face” has it in GIF form:

Things could get ugly in Game 3:

One factor in a suspension happening – or at least the duration of the suspension – would be what the point of contact was:

Also, lateness of the check:

The Penguins ended the first period up 2-0 against the Capitals, even though Washington played one of its best 20 minutes of the series. Expect more drama.

Update: The Penguins won the game 3-2.

Read reactions to the check here.