Alex Steen

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


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.

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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

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.

Health woes continue in Boston as Backes undergoes elbow procedure

BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 20:  David Backes #42 of the Boston Bruins skates against New Jersey Devils during the third period at TD Garden on October 20, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Bruins defeat the Devils 2-1.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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In last night’s 5-0 loss to the Wild, the banged-up B’s were without David Backes, Anton Khudobin, Tuukka Rask, Kevan Miller and Frank Vatrano.

On its own, a bad injury situation.

But today, things got even worse.

GM Don Sweeney announced that Backes has undergone the remove of the olecranon bursa from his elbow, and that Backes’ condition will be updated after this weekend.

(It’s surgery to correct elbow bursitis, basically.)

That would mean, presumably, the veteran winger is out until after the weekend — meaning Backes will miss games tonight against the Rangers, and Saturday against the Red Wings.

It’s a fairly significant blow.

Backes looked good in his first few games in a Bruins uniform, posting two goals and four points in five games while averaging a healthy 18:45 TOI per night.

As mentioned, the B’s are back in action tonight on Rivalry Night at MSG (8 p.m., NBCSN).

NHL officials in South Korea to inspect Olympic venues

PYEONGCHANG-GUN, SOUTH KOREA - JULY 07:  South Koreans celebrate being selected as 2018 Winter Olympic host city at Alpensia Resort on July 7, 2011 in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Pyeongchang finally won the Winter Olympic host race after being beaten by Vancouver for 2010 and Sochi for 2014.  (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) National Hockey League representatives are in South Korea to inspect Olympic facilities as the league mulls a decision on whether to let its players appear for a sixth consecutive Olympics in Pyeongchang.

Pyeongchang’s organizing committee said the NHL delegation, led by vice president of international strategy Lynn White and facilities operation manager Dan Craig, will make inspections on Thursday and Friday of facilities in Gangneung, a city near Pyeongchang which will host the ice hockey tournament during the 2018 Winter Games. They will be joined by NHL Players’ Association officials Sandra Monteiro and Mathieu Schneider and the International Ice Hockey Federation’s Hannes Ederer and Christian Hofstetter, the organizing committee said.

Pyeongchang organizers consider securing the participation of NHL players as a critical issue as ice hockey is one of the most popular sports at the Winter Games. The International Olympic Committee’s negotiations with the NHL over having the league’s players competing in Pyeongchang have stalled over the IOC’s decision not to pay for NHL players’ travel and insurance as it has in the past.

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly recently told The Associated Press he felt “negative” about the chances the league’s players will compete in Pyeongchang.

Christophe Dubi, the IOC’s executive director of the Olympic Games, told reporters earlier this month that the NHL deciding to inspect the Gangneung facilities was a “very positive step,” but didn’t offer a firm answer on whether the IOC would consider allowing the NHL to skip the Pyeongchang Games before returning for Beijing in 2022.

Related: Jan. 15 is deadline for Olympic decision, says IOC

NHL on NBCSN: Bruins need a rookie goalie to step up against Rangers

BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 25:  Malcolm Subban #70 of the Boston Bruins allows a goal against Minnesota Wild during the second period at TD Garden on October 25, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2016-17 campaign tonight when the New York Rangers host the Boston Bruins at 8:00 p.m. ET. If you want to watch the game online, you can do so here.

The Boston Bruins have been without starting goalie Tuukka Rask (lower body) for two games now and things haven’t gone well.

When Rask is between the pipes, Boston is 3-0-0, but when he’s not, they’re 0-3-0.

They dropped Saturday night’s game to the Montreal Canadiens with Anton Khudobin in goal and with him on the shelf too, the Bruins were dismantled 5-0 by the Minnesota Wild last night.

The Bruins turned to former first rounder Malcolm Subban yesterday and he lasted a little more than 30 minutes before being pulled for Zane McIntyre.

“There are some goals — I’m not going to lie — there are some goals that we thought our goaltenders should have had,” head coach Claude Julien said after the loss to Minnesota, per CSN New England.

But Julien wasn’t willing to pin it all on his rookie goalies.

“[I’m] not here to talk about a goaltender — who’s in one of his first few games — because he let in a couple of bad goals,” added Julien. “We were terrible in front of him . . .  and that’s the big picture. That’s more important.”

Still, Subban has made two starts in his NHL career and has been pulled both times. He’s allowed six goals on just 22 shots during his two brief stints in the league.

It’ll be interesting to see which rookie Julien turns to tonight.

For the first time this season, the Rangers have strung together back-to-back wins.

They’re dealing with some injuries of their own, as Chris Kreider and Pavel Buchnevich are both out for this one.

Kreider, who has seven points in five games this season, will miss his second consecutive game because of a neck injury, while Buchnevich remains on IR with back pain.

Unlike the Bruins, the Rangers have no question marks in their crease right now.

Henrik Lundqvist will make his fourth consecutive start tonight. The 34-year-old has allowed two goals per game in each of his last three outings.  That doesn’t exactly bode well for a Bruins team that’s scored four goals in their last three contests.

Don’t look now, but the Red Wings have won five straight

DETROIT, MI - OCTOBER 21: Gustav Nyquist #14 of the Detroit Red Wings celebrates his third period goal with teammates while playing the Nashville Predators at Joe Louis Arena on October 21, 2016 in Detroit, Michigan. Detroit won the game 5-3. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

A 26th straight playoff appearance? It seemed, when this season began, that not many were giving the Detroit Red Wings much of a chance to accomplish the feat.

Time will tell.

Despite their doubters, the Red Wings have now won five straight games, following a pretty uninspiring start with back-to-back losses in Florida to begin the season.

Their latest win came Tuesday, as the Red Wings beat the Carolina Hurricanes 4-2. (For Carolina, that wraps up a six-game road trip to begin the season.)

Dylan Larkin, who had 23 goals as a rookie in 2015-16, finally got his first two goals of this season, scoring twice against the Hurricanes.

So far, 11 players on their roster have scored, with Darren Helm leading the way. Nineteen of 20 players have also recorded at least a single point. As a team, they’ve been able to extend leads against the opposition over the course of this streak, which is a welcomed change for coach Jeff Blashill.

“I said that to the coaching staff after the game,” he told the Detroit Free Press. “That’s the biggest difference – we score the fourth goal this year. So now you’ve got a two-goal cushion and if something goes the wrong way, you’re still fine.

“It’s a huge difference.”

A big help has been the play of their goalies — Jimmy Howard and Petr Mrazek.

As per, the Red Wings currently have the second best save percentage (95.95) at five-on-five through six games, not to mention the 10th best shooting percentage (9.86).

Howard, who was part of trade speculation last season, has allowed only a single goal on 63 shots.

So far, so good for the Red Wings.

Not many seemed optimistic about this team as the season approached.

Sure, the Red Wings had made 25 consecutive playoff appearances, but they also entered this season with an older Henrik Zetterberg, and the health of Niklas Kronwall (click here) and Jonathan Ericsson (click here) in question.

They are also without Pavel Datsyuk, who returned to Russia. But the Red Wings tried to make up for that loss by signing Frans Nielsen.

Pundits and prognosticators, including the overwhelming majority at PHT, said the Red Wings’ playoff streak would be snapped this season.

A winning streak this early might not be enough to make doubters think twice.