Next season’s Minnesota Wild team will be a significantly different one compared to the 2010-11 version, but it remains to be seen if they’ll actually see much improvement. (This point is especially true if you’re among those who believe that Dany Heatley’s career is heading toward a steep decline.)
Perhaps the biggest area of worry used to be Minnesota’s primary strength: defense. While their offense could be improved – again, that’s a matter of debate – and they employ an expensive but above average goalie in Niklas Backstrom, their defensive corps is a question mark at best. The Wild allowed 32 shots per game last season (tied for sixth worst with the New York Islanders) and they traded away their All-Star defenseman and ice time leader Brent Burns during the off-season. If anything, their summer swaps to acquire Heatley and Devin Setoguchi mark a step or two backward defensively.
Of course, there are a few mitigating factors. The biggest change will probably be in their overall scheme, as GM Chuck Fletcher fired Todd Richards in favor of new head coach Mike Yeo. The Wild are also making baby steps in the right direction with some of their most recent moves: signing solid puck mover Mike Lundin and giving Jordan Hendry a training camp tryout today.
Neither one of those moves will make a dramatic difference – Lundin will likely slide into either the second or third defensive pairing while Hendry might not even make the team – but both players provide Minnesota with simple defensive options in case things start to get ugly. With Burns’ 25 minutes per game out of the picture, Marek Zidlicky (21:46 minutes per game) and Greg Zanon (21:33) might be asked to pick up the slack. The two very different defensemen bring some positives to the table, but they’re not exactly an ideal top pairing either. The Wild might give Nick Schultz the nod over Zanon, but that doesn’t really change the picture in a significant way.
Again, Hendry isn’t likely to do much more than provide the Wild with depth, but adding him to the mix seems like a nice low-risk move going into training camp. There’s nothing particularly spectacular about Hendry, who had a rough final season with the Chicago Blackhawks that ended with a torn ACL, but he probably deserves another shot at being a everyday NHL blueliner.
This is a case of two sides needing each other: the Wild need help on defense while Hendry needs a chance to get his career back on track. In a best case scenario, you might not even notice Hendry very often if he makes the team – that’s basically his ideal job as an economical, bottom pairing defenseman.
If someone told you that the New York Rangers started a goalie on back-to-back nights, and that goalie wasn’t Henrik Lundqvist, you’d probably wonder if he was hurt or retired.
Nope. It just so happens that Antti Raanta is playing at an incredibly high level, Alain Vigneault noticed, and that decision paid dividends on Friday night. Raanta won both nights of a back-to-back, allowing a single goal (with the Rangers protecting him, being that he only needed to stop 43 of 44 shots during that span).
Raanta and the Rangers blanked the Chicago Blackhawks with a 1-0 overtime win, at least briefly climbing to first place in the massively competitive Metro Division:
1. Rangers – 39 points in 29 games played
2. Penguins- 37 points in 27 GP
3. Blue Jackets – 36 points in 25 GP
4. Capitals – 35 points in 26 GP
5. Flyers – 35 points in 29 GP
Nick Holden ended up scoring the only goal of the game:
Meanwhile, the Blackhawks lost but at least salvaged a standings point and it seems like Patrick Kane is OK after this injury scare:
Raanta improved to 7-1-0 on the season, allowing two goals or less in all but one of his appearances so far this season. That’s the kind of work you’d expect to see if you’re going sit a guy who’s, you know, a living legend.
Blue Jackets remain in thick of things in Metro on tough night for Red Wings
As the Columbus Blue Jackets keep rolling, the Detroit Red Wings are probably just happy to get Friday behind them.
For the second straight game, the Blue Jackets beat their opponent 4-1.
They’re now on a five-game winning streak, and like the climbing St. Louis Blues, things look great if you go back a little further. They’re 10-1-2 in their last 13 games and 13-2-3 since November began.
The New Jersey Devils have been incredibly difficult to beat at home. Lately, the St. Louis Blues have been on a roll just about anywhere.
On Friday night, the Blues were the hotter team, handing the Devils their first home loss in regulation in 2016-17. And it wasn’t particularly close, with St. Louis winning 4-1.
It’s a convenient time to note that the Blues rank among the hottest teams in the NHL. Most recently, they’re 5-1-1 in their last seven games, but they’ve been especially impressive since they flirted with .500 at 7-6-3. Beginning with a 4-1 win against the Buffalo Sabres on Nov. 15, the Blues are on a 8-2-1 tear.
This leaves them second in the Central with a 16-8-4 record.
That’s impressive stuff.
This 4-1 win was quite the showcase for Robby Fabbri and Vladimir Tarasenko, in particular. Tarasenko collected three assists while Fabbri scored two goals on Friday night. His second goal was particularly slick:
The Blues are right in saying that this was a pretty fitting opportunity to drop a “Holy Jumpin.”
Minnesota Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk has been the most difficult goalies to score against this season. Leave it to a high-level player like Leon Draisaitl to make it look this, well, “easy.”
Draisaitl scored his 13th goal of 2016-17 by capping this pretty give-and-go play with Benoit Pouliot. You can see the frustration from Dubnyk at the end of the tally, as if he was saying “How was I supposed to stop that?” (though probably with more colorful language).
Draisaitl came into Friday with five goals and three assists in his last five games, so he’s been almost unstoppable lately.