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.

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

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.

WATCH LIVE: Wednesday Night Rivalry (Flyers-Islanders; Blackhawks-Sharks)

Ryan White, Matt Martin
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You can check out tonight’s Wednesday Night Rivalry doubleheader on NBCSN, and you can also stream them online.

Here are the handy links for the two contests.

First, the New York Islanders host the Philadelphia Flyers.


After that, the Chicago Blackhawks visit the San Jose Sharks.


Braun out with upper-body injury; Zubrus to make Sharks debut

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The San Jose Sharks will be missing a top-4 defenseman tonight when they host the defending champs from Chicago.

Justin Braun has an upper-body injury. His status is considered day-to-day.

“Brauny has been one of our unsung heroes here through the first quarter of the season,” coach Peter DeBoer told CSN Bay Area. “He’s played some outstanding hockey. So, we’re going to miss him, but it’s a great opportunity for Mueller and Tennyson and one of these guys to establish themselves. It’s a great opportunity for us to reward Dillon for how well he’s played.”

Against the Blackhawks, Brenden Dillon will take Braun’s spot on the top pairing alongside Marc-Edouard Vlasic; Paul Martin and Brent Burns will stay together on the second pairing; and 20-year-old Mirco Mueller will skate with Matt Tennyson.

Mueller has played just four games for the Sharks this season. In his last game, Thursday in Philadelphia, he received only 9:13 of ice time.

Also tonight, new Shark forward Dainius Zubrus is expected to debut on the fourth line.

Related: Sharks sign Zubrus, because DeBoer

Johansen calls trade rumblings ‘weird,’ says relationship with Torts is ‘great’

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One day after reports surfaced of Ryan Johansen being at the center of trade talks, all parties involved from Columbus did what they’re supposed to do — downplay the situation.

You can read the denials in full over at the Dispatch, but here’s the gist:

— Johansen said the rumors were “weird” and that he’s “never seen it before.” He also said there were no issues between him and head coach John Tortorella, calling the relationship “great.”

— GM Jarmo Kekalainen wouldn’t address the report, nor would Johansen’s agent, Kurt Overhardt.

— Johansen added he hasn’t spoken to any of Columbus’ management about the trade rumblings.

So there’s that. What’s next?

At this stage of the game, it’s hard not to think about another Overhardt client, Kyle Turris.

Turris, you’ll recall, spent four (mostly) stormy years with the Coyotes before his trade out to Ottawa was orchestrated. Turris eventually told GM Don Maloney “this is not going to work out” with the club, and he was gone.

So, consider the similarities now:

— Turris was 22 at the time of the trade, with four years and 137 games under his belt.

— Johansen is 23, with five years and 291 games.

— Both had contentious contract holdouts with their respective clubs.

— Both are Overhardt guys.

— The Turris trade happened after the Coyotes went from Wayne Gretzky to Dave Tippett as head coach.

— Johansen is already on his third head coach (Scott Arniel, Todd Richards, Tortorella).

For now, these are all coincidences (or a forced narrative, depending what you think of the author).

And, of course, the one big — big — difference between the two is that, at the time of his trade, Turris wasn’t as good or established a player as Johansen currently is. Therefore, logic suggests any Johansen trade would be a lot more blockbuster-y and, therefore, probably more complex.

And as we know, complex deals aren’t easy to pull off.

Flyers’ Gagner to miss another week after Malone hit

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The nasty blow Sam Gagner took in Monday’s game against Carolina will keep him on the shelf for a little bit.

On Wednesday, Flyers GM Ron Hextall said the club expected Gagner to be out around a week with injuries suffered on the hit, delivered by ‘Canes forward Brad Malone (per the Inquirer).

Gagner suffered a fairly significant facial laceration, which forced him from the game entirely. He didn’t practice on Tuesday and, in a corresponding move, the Flyers called up Colin McDonald from the AHL to fill Gagner’s spot on the roster.

This is the second facial injury Gagner’s suffered in recent years. He’d previously had his jaw broken by an errant Zack Kassian high stick, while he was with the Oilers and Kassian the Canucks.

Prior to getting hurt, Gagner had two goals and five points in 18 games, averaging just under 12 minutes per night.