Mike Yeo, Mikko Koivu, Dany Heatley, Marek Zidlicky, Cal Clutterbuck, Devin Setoguchi

Slumping Wild try to avoid frustration

On Dec. 15, the Minnesota Wild were atop the Western Conference with a 20-8-4 record and 44 points.

Today, they’re in seventh with a 21-15-6 record…and 47 points.

Our resident mathletes will note this means the Wild are 1-7-2 over their last 10 games — they’ve only got one regulation win in their last 12 games — which is one of the most staggering slides in franchise history. Minnesota’s had tough stretches before, but never on the heels of becoming the best team in hockey…yes, in hockey. From Dec. 4-15, the Wild led the NHL in points. Today they’re in 13th.

The losses have hit the Wild hard, but they’re trying to keep their composure.

“It’s about being professional,” Kyle Brodziak told the Minnesota Star-Tribune. “Frustration is probably the easy way to go about it. The harder thing to do is just to dig deeper and try to find ways to be positive and keep coming to work just knowing in the back of your mind that eventually it’s going to pay off.

“You can’t get frustrated. Frustration is an evil thing that will just make it so much worse.”

The Wild are facing two major problems at the moment. One is a lack of goalscoring — they rank 29th in goals per game (2.19) and their leading scorer, Dany Heatley, has just 13 goals through 42 games.

The other problem is precedent, or lack thereof. Nobody on the team quite knows how to deal with going from awesome to awful in such a short span, mostly because teams rarely go from “best in the league” to “fighting for playoff positioning” in a matter of weeks.

“I’ve been on teams that had tough stretches, tough times, but I haven’t been on a team that you’ve been on top and then suddenly it goes the other way,” goalie Niklas Backstrom said. “It’s a challenge for us. We have to climb back.”

Unfortunately for Minnesota, things aren’t about to get any easier. The Wild will play five of their next seven on the road in tough locales — Chicago, St. Louis, Philadelphia, Toronto and Colorado — with their home games coming against the top two teams in the Pacific Division, San Jose and Dallas.

Video: Stamkos lights up Leafs during first game in Toronto since re-signing with Bolts

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 15:  Steven Stamkos #91 of the Tampa Bay Lightning takes a break during a off-day practice session prior to Game Two of the Eastern Conference Final against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs on May 15, 2016 at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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For those Maple Leafs fans who once hoped Steven Stamkos would go to free agency and sign in Toronto, what transpired Tuesday will probably sting for a bit.

Playing in Toronto for the first time since he re-signed with the Lightning, opting not to test the open market and potentially signing with what is essentially his hometown team, Stamkos scored 1:19 into the contest, after getting sent in alone and beating goalie Frederik Andersen.


That one might hurt.

There was even a smattering of boos directed at Stamkos, who has never played a game for the Leafs, when he first touched the puck during Tuesday’s contest.

You’ll recall that last season, the Stamkos-to-Toronto speculation dominated headlines at times. A bit of a “circus,” indeed.

There were even ‘Sign Stamkos’ signs being handed out to fans prior to a game between the Lightning and Maple Leafs last season.

It’s official: Crosby makes season debut for Penguins

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 18:  Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates against the New York Rangers in Game One of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden on April 18, 2015 in New York City. The Penguins defeated the Rangers 4-3.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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All signs pointed to it happening earlier in the day, but it is now official: Sidney Crosby is making his 2016-17 debut on Tuesday night when the Pittsburgh Penguins host the Florida Panthers.

Crosby, the captain of the Penguins and the reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner, missed the first six games of the season due to a concussion. He was injured during practice following the World Cup of Hockey where he led Canada to a championship. Given how much time he missed a few years ago with a concussion only missing six games a positive development for both him and the Penguins.

Crosby will open the game skating on the Penguins’ top line alongside wingers Patric Hornqvist and Scott Wilson.

Along with Crosby return to the lineup, goaltender Matt Murray is also in uniform for the Penguins for the first time this season and will serve as Marc-Andre Fleury‘s backup.

Murray, who took over the starting job in the playoffs last year when Fleury was sidelined at the start of the first round, was injured at the World Cup while playing for Team North America and has been sidelined since.

Even with the return of Crosby and Murray on Tuesday the Penguins are still missing a pretty significant player as defenseman Kris Letang remains sidelined with an upper body injury.

WATCH LIVE: Sabres at Flyers

PHILADELPHIA, PA - FEBRUARY 11: Radko Gudas #3 of the Philadelphia Flyers and Jake McCabe #29 of the Buffalo Sabres fight in the third period at Wells Fargo Center on February 11, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Flyers won 5-1.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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The Buffalo Sabres visit the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday. This match-up features two teams off to slow starts and looking to work their way up the standings in their respective divisions.

You can check out the action on NBCSN or the NBC Sports’ Live Extra (7:30 pm ET).


Here are some links to check out for tonight’s game:

Flyers put Raffl (upper body) on IR

NHL on NBCSN doubleheader: Sabres vs. Flyers; Ducks vs. Sharks

Bylsma: ‘We need to get more’ out of Reinhart

Flyers put Raffl (upper body) on IR

Philadelphia Flyers left wing Michael Raffl (12) maintains control of the puck against New York Rangers center Derick Brassard (16) during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
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After missing the last week with an upper-body ailment, Flyers forward Michael Raffl has been placed on injured reserve.

To fill his spot, the Flyers recalled Taylor Leier from AHL Lehigh Valley.

Raffl, 27, has appeared in three games this season, scoring once while averaging 12:21 TOI per night. He hasn’t suited up since a 7-4 loss to Chicago on Oct. 18, failing to suit up for Thursday’s loss to Anaheim, Saturday’s win over Carolina and yesterday’s 3-1 defeat in Montreal.

The Flyers are taking on Buffalo tonight (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

Philly could make this IR designation retroactive to last Tuesday, which is when Raffl last played. It’s unclear how GM Ron Hextall will handle Raffl’s $2.35 million cap hit with regards to IR, but he’ll need to do some adjusting soon once injured defenseman Michael Del Zotto and forward Scott Laughton get back in the mix.