Alex Steen

NHL on NBCSN: Hot Wild, Blues fight for edge in Central Division

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NBCSN continues its coverage of the 2013-14 campaign tonight when the St. Louis Blues host the Minnesota Wild at the Scottrade Center at 8:00 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game online.

In some ways, the Blues and Wild are similar stories. Both franchises are on the upswing and hungry for more after disappointing first round exits in 2013.

Neither team is one of the most popular picks to win the Stanley Cup, but both have a lot of promise. They have young forwards stepping up like Nino Niederreiter in Minnesota or Jaden Schwartz in St. Louis along with elite defensemen capable of leading a playoff team like the Wild’s Ryan Suter and Blues’ Alex Pietrangelo.

Editor’s Note: Pro Hockey Talk’s partner FanDuel is hosting a one-day $2,500 Fantasy Hockey league tonight (Monday). It’s just $10 to join and first prize is $500. Starts at 7:00 p.m. ET. Here’s the link.

Most importantly though, lately they have been able to do no wrong. Of the combined 23 games these two squads have participated in this month, they have only lost three in regulation. It’s no wonder that St. Louis and Minnesota have two of the best records in the league at 16-3-3 and 15-5-4 respectively.

Of course, there are plenty of differences between these two squads too.

In addition to playing a solid defensive game, the Blues have managed to crush their competition by overwhelming them offensively. That’s due in no small part to Alexander Steen’s remarkable start with 17 goals and 27 points in 22 games, but even as he starts shows signs of slowing down, St. Louis is far from vulnerable.

The Blues have six players that have recorded at least 16 points this season and 11 with a minimum of 10 points. Forwards David Backes and T.J. Oshie are enjoying the best campaign of their careers and they’re still hot going into tonight’s contest.

They’ll run up against one of the best defenses in the league though. Minnesota has limited its competition to an NHL-best 25.3 shots per game. That’s helped them maintain a team 2.17 GAA, although that statistic comes with an asterisk tonight.

Goaltender Josh Harding has been a big part of the Minnesota Wild’s success, but he suffered a lower-body injury on Saturday. Harding has since gotten good news from an MRI, but the best case is that he serves as the backup tonight, according to NHL.com.

That puts the Wild’s fate in the hands of Niklas Backstrom, who was great in his recent contest against Winnipeg, but has struggled overall this season.

Combine that with the Blues’ home ice advantage and the fact that they’ve won their last five games against Minnesota and it seems fair to give them the edge. But given how good these teams have been, anything is possible.

Blues, Capitals to play exhibition game in Kansas City

Pedestrians walk past the Sprint Center, Sunday, March 24, 2013, in Kansas City, Mo. The city was preparing for the third round of the NCAA college basketball tournament at the arena after the region received 6-10 inches of snow overnight. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
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Kansas City is going to host another NHL exhibition game.

The St. Louis Blues announced today that they’ll take on the Washington Capitals on Oct. 5 at Sprint Center. Both Vladimir Tarasenko and Alexander Ovechkin will be there, at least according to the press release.

The Blues last played in K.C. a couple of years ago when they took on the Stars in exhibition play. In 2011, a sellout crowd watched the Penguins and Kings at Sprint Center.

A market once considered a candidate for expansion or relocation — particularly after Sprint Center opened in 2007 — the NHL-to-Kansas City buzz has since died down. Last year, there was no interest from Kansas City when the league called for expansion applications.

Sensing an opportunity to make their team a favorite of all Missourians, not just the ones in St. Louis, the Blues have said they’d like to cultivate their fan base across the state in Kansas City.

Report: Pens won’t make Fleury (talks too much) available to media

at Pepsi Center on December 9, 2015 in Denver, Colorado.
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Don’t expect many updates on Marc-Andre Fleury‘s health over the next little while.

Well — don’t expect them to come from Fleury, anyway.

Per TVA Sports, Fleury has been shut down from speaking with reporters until he’s fully recovered from the concussion that’s sidelined him since Apr. 2.

A translation of Renaud Lavioe’s piece for TVA, per PHT’s Joey Alfieri:

Fleury practiced with his teammates this morning at the Verizon Center.

What I can tell you is he’s feeling better, but the Penguins have decided not to make Fleury available to the media because he says too much.

The next time Fleury talks to the media, it’s because he’ll be ready to return.

Not to be mean, but Matt Murray has given up three goals or more in back-to-back games.

Earlier this week, Fleury told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that — despite participating in on-ice workouts — he’s still dealing with concussion symptoms.

“It’s one of the toughest things I’ve been through,” he explained. “Some good days, when you think you’re back, and some bad days, when you think it’s never going to get fixed.”

The Fleury situation seems to have rankled some within the Penguins organization — like head coach Mike Sullivan, who took issue with questions about the club’s handling of Fleury.

Here’s a related series of tweets from DKonPittsburghSports’ Josh Yohe:

Game 2 of the Pens-Caps series goes tomorrow from Verizon at 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN). Matt Murray, who allowed four goals on 35 shots in the Game 1 loss, is expected to start in goal.

North Dakota loses another d-man as Kings sign LaDue

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 09:  Paul LaDue #6 of North Dakota skates against the Boston University Terriers during the second period of the 2015 NCAA Division I Men's Hockey Championship semifinals at TD Garden on April 9, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Keaton Thompson, Troy Stecher and now, Paul LaDue.

On Friday, the Kings announced that LaDue — the junior d-man that helped North Dakota win the Frozen Four — agreed to a one-year, entry-level deal, forgoing his senior season in the process.

LaDue, 23, was part of a talented UND blueline that also featured fellow juniors Troy Stecher — who since signed with Vancouver — and Thompson, who inked with the Ducks.

So yeah, bit of an exodus.

Thankfully for North Dakota, freshman scoring sensation Brock Boeser has already committed to returning for his sophomore campaign, while junior defenseman Gage Ausmus — a San Jose draftee — vowed to go back to school as well.

As for Frozen Four MOP Drake Caggiula — a senior that was already leaving school — he’s already begun his tour of interested NHL suitors.

Per TSN, Caggiula has shortlisted six clubs: Philadelphia, Edmonton, Ottawa, Vancouver, Chicago and Buffalo.

Wilson fined for kneeing Sheary

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No suspension for Capitals forward Tom Wilson. Only a fine.

That’s what the NHL’s Department of Player Safety decided after Wilson kneed Pittsburgh’s Conor Sheary last night in Washington.

The fine of $2,403.67 is the maximum allowable under the CBA, and, at the very least, it puts Wilson on official notice.

Wilson was not penalized on the play, and Sheary was able to leave the ice under his own power and remain in the game.

“We’re just going to play hockey, and the refs are going to call it the way they see it,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan told reporters afterwards. “Our guys are going to play.”

This morning, Capitals coach Barry Trotz reportedly said of the play, “It was OK, but it wasn’t I would say necessary.”