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Yeo bites his tongue, accepts more risk in Wild’s offensive game

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Before we get to the crux of the post, let’s go back in time a bit.

Back in January of 2012, then-Minnesota Wild defenseman Marek Zidlicky made a few waves when he publicly took issue with his head coach’s insistence on playing “easy hockey.”

Zidlicky, an offensive type, had been a healthy scratch for three straight games under Mike Yeo, and the veteran blue-liner wasn’t happy about it.

“I can’t change my style,” said Zidlicky. “That’s what I know. That’s for sure. He wants to play easy hockey. I tried everything what he wants, but apparently it doesn’t work.”

Zidlicky was soon traded to New Jersey, where his “involved” play helped the Devils make it all the way to Stanley Cup Final.

About a year later, the Wild’s conservative style under Yeo was under attack yet again, forcing star winger Zach Parise to come to his coach’s defense.

“We would all love a game where you can skate it in, curl up and make a play every time,” he said. “That’s not the way the game is played. When we do have the opportunity to skate it in, we all have the green light to do it, but not at the risk of having a D gap up in your face, trying to make a cute play at the blue line, turning it over and having them come right back down on us.”

Now fast forward to this morning, when in a happy coincidence we noted that the Wild’s possession stats have improved dramatically compared to last season.

We didn’t speculate why that may be (the post was mostly about the Leafs and their ongoing puck-possession challenges), but per the CBC’s Elliotte Friedman, it turns out Yeo has come around to Zidlicky’s way of thinking.

“We weren’t going to take the next step, become a serious contender, unless we changed the way we played offensively,” Yeo said Sunday. “I have bit my lip a couple of times on the bench … but we’re going to live with the risk to get more reward.”

It may seem obvious that successfully carrying the puck into the attacking zone is preferable to dumping and chasing. Mike Babcock, for one, has been stressing the importance of possessing the puck for years; fortunately for the Red Wings, they’ve had the players to carry out his wishes.

Other coaches, however, have less tolerance for things like turnovers at the blue line, which is the major risk a team takes when it tries to carry the puck in.

Yeo, clearly, is trying to become more tolerant. And based on the Wild’s 10-4-4 record, that tolerance is paying off.

Not that the Wild are some sort of offensive juggernaut now — Minnesota ranks 18th in goals per game (2.61) — but that’s a slight improvement on last season (2.46) and a major improvement on 2011-12 when the team finished dead last in the NHL, averaging just 2.02 goals per game.

Allen’s mental reset continues, as Blues will start Hutton in Pittsburgh

St. Louis Blues goalie Jake Allen is slow to get up after giving up a goal to Washington Capitals' T.J. Oshie during the second period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
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St. Louis is giving Jake Allen more time to sort out his struggles.

Today, the club announced backup Carter Hutton will start tomorrow in Pittsburgh, while Pheonix Copley — the AHL call-up that allowed five goals in Saturdays’ loss in Winnipeg — will serve as the No. 2.

Allen, who didn’t even travel to Winnipeg so he could ‘reset’ mentally, will start on Thursday in Minnesota, which will be St. Louis’ last game prior to the All-Star break. Copley will again serve as the backup.

The decision to go back to Allen comes after a horrific stretch in which he was yanked from three straight games, and four of his past six.

It is noteworthy, though, that Allen isn’t getting the Pittsburgh game. Part of that could be the opponent — the Pens are a force offensively, and lead the NHL in goals per game — but it could also be that Allen needs additional time to sort out his issues.

Whatever the case, the plan may have changed. In explaining why he left Allen behind while the team went to Winnipeg, Blues GM Doug Armstrong suggested Allen could get right back in.

“I think taking a day way, getting a total reset — he could reset traveling with the team, but I wanted a complete reset — and then we come back on Sunday, he’s back in the net and he’s ready to go,” Armstrong said, per the Post-Dispatch. “To me, it’s not a huge story; he’s going to take a day to get a reset with his family — he just had a young baby — but the play needs to improve and I want to give him a fresh start.”

Allen’s struggles this year are well-documented (see here, here, here and here). Per the Post-Dispatch, his .897 save percentage ranks 43rd among 47 goalies who have appeared in 14 or more games this season.

Oshie’s contract status underscores urgency in Washington

Washington Capitals' Matt Niskanen (2) and T.J. Oshie (77) celebrate with Alex Ovechkin (8) after Ovechkin scored against the Dallas Stars during the third period an NHL hockey game, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017, in Dallas. Stars' Jamie Benn (14) skates back to the bench. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
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The way he keeps scoring, T.J. Oshie‘s next contract isn’t getting any smaller.

The 30-year-old winger was today named the NHL’s third star of the week, after racking up six points (3G, 3A) in three games for the red-hot Washington Capitals.

Oshie now has 31 points (17G, 14A) in 38 games. A pending unrestricted free agent, he’ll no doubt be looking for a raise beyond his current cap hit of $4.175 million.

One comparable contract is Andrew Ladd‘s seven-year, $38.5 million deal with the Islanders.

Loui Eriksson‘s six-year, $36 million deal with the Canucks is another.

And one more for good measure: David Backes‘ five-year, $30 million deal with the Bruins.

All three of those contracts have a cap hit of around, or exactly, $6 million. Ladd and Eriksson are a year older than Oshie, while Backes is two years older. They’re all reliable veteran wingers, just like Oshie.

Now, the Caps could always try and convince Oshie to take a home-town discount. They may even be able to keep him without a discount.

That being said, their No. 1 priority has to be getting Evgeny Kuznetsov, a pending restricted free agent, locked up. And they also need to keep in mind John Carlson, their No. 1 defenseman who can become unrestricted in the summer of 2018.

“We’re going to have some decisions to make as far as veteran players, and our young guys are going to be due for some pay raises,” Caps GM Brian MacLellan said last season.

When he said it, MacLellan saw his team in a “two-year window.”

Alas, only one year of that window remains. Hence, the urgency to finally win the Stanley Cup this spring.

Like Oshie, Justin Williams and Karl Alzner are pending UFAs.

And like Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky, Brett ConnollyDmitry Orlov, Nate Schmidt, and Philipp Grubauer are pending RFAs.

The Caps host Carolina tonight.

Related: Kuznetsov sets table for Jakub Vrana’s first NHL goal

Galchenyuk re-injures knee, but not believed to be serious

MONTREAL, QC - NOVEMBER 08:  Alex Galchenyuk #27 of the Montreal Canadiens looks on during the warmup prior to the NHL game against the Boston Bruins at the Bell Centre on November 8, 2016 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Boston Bruins 3-2.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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Given that Montreal center Alex Galchenyuk‘s already missed 18 games this season to a knee injury, there was some consternation on Monday as head coach Michel Therrien said Galchenyuk had aggravated the ailment, and would miss Tuesday’s game against Calgary.

Thankfully for the Habs, it doesn’t sound like a serious issue.

Therrien said Galchenyuk “slightly injured” his knee, and is listed as day-to-day. This falls in line with what occurred during Saturday’s OT loss to Buffalo — even though Galchenyuk suffered the ailment during the game, he was able to play through it and finish with 16:36 TOI.

It’s unfortunate this knee issue has lingered, as the fifth-year pro is having a great season. Galchenyuk has 11 goals and 27 points through 30 games and, had he been healthy, probably would’ve eclipsed last year’s production, when he scored 30 goals and 56 points.

Looking ahead, it’ll be interesting to see when the Habs opt to get Galchenyuk back in the lineup. After tomorrow’s game against Calgary, they have just one game left until the All-Star break, on Thursday in Brooklyn.

After that, they don’t play again until Jan. 31.

Rangers’ Hayes out 2-3 weeks with lower-body injury

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Kevin Hayes, who sits third on the Rangers with 35 points, will miss the next couple of weeks with a lower-body ailment, the club announced on Monday.

The news comes one day after Hayes exited New York’s 1-0 OT win over Detroit after playing just 8:41. Per Newsday, it’s a left leg ailment.

It’s a tough blow for a guy that had been playing well lately. Hayes had been a point-per-game producer in January, with two goals and five assists through seven games, developing chemistry on a line with Michael Grabner and J.T. Miller.

If there’s a silver lining here, it’s the schedule. Hayes’ absence will coincide with the All-Star break, so he won’t miss as many games as he would’ve under usual circumstances.

Still, if he’s shelved for the full three weeks, that puts his return around Feb. 13 — meaning he could miss up to eight contests.

In related news, the Blueshirts activated Matt Puempel off IR today. He’d been out since December with a concussion.