Devin Setoguchi, Gabriel Landeskog

Tonight on NBCSN: Colorado and Minnesota battle for eighth in the West


When the Colorado Avalanche and Minnesota Wild face off tonight (9:00 p.m. ET) it’s a battle of teams dealing with key injuries trying to get into playoff position in the Western Conference.

The Wild’s injury problems are numerous. Mikko Koivu, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, and Guillaume Latendresse are all out. Koivu’s loss is especially hard for the Wild as he’s been their leader in all things. Devin Setoguchi had been dealing with some nagging issues but he’s back while Dany Heatley has been trying to be Mr. Everything for the Wild offensively. That hasn’t gone so well though as the Wild are near the bottom of the league in goals scored.

Meanwhile, starting goalie Niklas Backstrom too has been banged up leaving Josh Harding and Matt Hackett to hold things down in goal. After a red hot start to the season, things have gone ice cold for the Wild as they’ve lost 7 of their last 10 games and 14 of their last 17. Hard to believe back in December this team was on top of the West and are now one point behind Colorado for eighth.

The Avalanche are in playoff position thanks to a hot run through December that saw them pick themselves off the floor after a tough start to the season. They too are missing some star power though as Matt Duchene is out of action with a knee injury. Picking up the slack for the Avs, however, is a relative unknown in Ryan O’Reilly.

O’Reilly leads the team in points (36) and goals (14) and is having a strong year while teammates Paul Stastny, Milan Hejduk, and rookie Gabriel Landeskog are chipping in here and there. Semyon Varlamov and Jean-Sebastien Giguere have done their part playing strong in goal with Varlamov being especially good at home.

Desperate teams can make for desperate games and these divisional foes need to hoard points while they can. Finishing the season in the playoffs is what their goal is and neither team wants to wind up out of the postseason lamenting what could’ve been.

Niemi blanks Pens, notches two assists in Stars debut

Antti Niemi, Sidney Crosby, Patric Hornqvist
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DALLAS (AP) — Antti Niemi recorded his 33rd career shutout and assisted on two goals in his Dallas debut, as the Stars beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-0 on Thursday night in the season opener for both.

Ales Hemsky had a power-play goal and an assist.

Rookie Matthias Janmark scored on his first shot on his first shift in an NHL game to make it 1-0. The Stars acquired Niemi and Janmark in trades earlier this year.

Dallas scored on two of five power plays. Jamie Benn, the NHL’s leading scorer last season, had a power-play goal in the third period.

Niemi made 37 saves to improve his career record against the Penguins to 5-1-1. He withstood a flurry in the final minute after Pittsburgh pulled goalie Marc-Andre Fleury for an extra skater.

Fleury had 21 saves.

The Stars are 4-0-1 in their last five home games against Pittsburgh, and have won three in a row overall.

Janmark skated down the slot, took a pass from Hemsky and shot between Fleury’s legs at 1:39 of the first.

The Penguins dominated the latter half of the period, but couldn’t score. Niemi’s best stop was a reaching glove save of Rod Scuderi’s drive from the blue line with less than 3 minutes remaining. Pittsburgh outshot the Stars 10-4 in the first.

Hemsky scored at 5:42 of the second on Dallas’ first power play. His shot from the top of the right faceoff circle went in over Fleury’s right shoulder.

The Penguins again had an advantage in shots, 13-11. Pittsburgh had chances in close, but Niemi turned those away. Midway through the second, John Klingberg cleared away a loose puck from in front of the net.

Seven seconds into the Stars’ fourth power play of the third period, Jamie Benn tipped in Jason Spezza‘s shot from the right point.

NOTES: Dallas acquired Janmark as part of a March trade that sent Erik Cole to Detroit. The rookie had been playing in the Swedish Hockey League. . San Jose traded Niemi’s rights to the Stars in June for a seventh-round draft pick. Also making their Dallas debuts were LW Patrick Sharp and D Johnny Oduya, teammates with Chicago’s Stanley Cup champions last season. . In his first game for the Penguins, Phil Kessel played in his 447th straight game. . Pittsburgh was 0 for 3 on the power play.

Fabbri’s first spoils McDavid’s debut as Blues down Oilers

Robby Fabbri, Justin Schultz
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ST. LOUIS (AP) — Rookie Robby Fabbri scored the tiebreaking goal midway through the third period to help the St. Louis Blues beat Edmonton 3-1 Thursday night, spoiling Oilers rookie Connor McDavid‘s NHL debut.

Vladimir Tarasenko had the tying goal for the Blues near the midpoint of the second period, and Troy Brouwer added an empty-netter with 18 seconds remaining in the third. Brian Elliott finished with 23 saves.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored in the first period for Edmonton and Cam Talbot had 28 saves.

McDavid, the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, took 22 shifts, played 18:07 and was on the ice for Brouwer’s goal. He had two shots on goal, and struggled on faceoffs – winning only three of 13.

Fabbri, a 19-year-old forward — and McDavid’s childhood friend — was also playing in his first NHL game. The Blues’ first-round pick in 2014 was one of three rookies in the St. Louis lineup, joining defensemen Colton Parayko and Joel Edmundson.

Nugent-Hopkins gave the Oilers a 1-0 lead late in the first period with a fluke power-play goal. He lost a face-off but when Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo tried to clear the puck it bounced off Alexander Steen and past Brian Elliott. Nugent-Hopkins was credited with the unassisted power-play goal with 2:38 remaining in the period.

Tarasenko tied it a 9:10 of the second after getting loose on a breakaway with a stretch pass from Alex Pietrangelo and beating Talbot through his legs.

Tarasenko, who signed an eight-year, $60 million extension in the offseason, was the last Blues player to score in his debut.

NOTES: McDavid and F Anton Slepyshev made their NHL debuts for the Oilers. … St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina dropped the ceremonial first puck. … The attendance was announced as standing room-only 19,327.