Claude Giroux

NHL on NBCSN: Flyers, Wild hope to enter break on high note

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NBCSN continues its coverage of the 2013-14 campaign tonight when the Philadelphia Flyers host the Minnesota Wild at the Wells Fargo Center at 7:30 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game online.

We’re approaching the halfway point of the 2013-14 campaign and neither of these teams can be terribly happy with how things have gone so far, but they’re also far from hopeless.

Philadelphia in particular might be on the brink of an upswing as their offense, which has been a big concern for much of the season, has picked up lately.

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The Flyers have recorded at least three goals in each of their last four games. Forwards Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek have played a big part in the team’s offensive resurgence with their six and seven game point streaks respectively. Now that Vincent Lecavalier has returned from a back injury, they are becoming a very challenging team to contain.

To make matters more difficult for the Wild, Josh Harding is currently unavailable. He’s been one of the best goaltenders this season despite everything he’s had to overcome, but he needed some time off while he adjusts his treatment for Multiple Sclerosis.

That leaves the Wild with Niklas Backstrom, who has struggled mightily this season and has lost his last six starts, or 21-year-old Johan Gustafsson, who hasn’t made his NHL debut.

So the stage seems to be set for the Flyers to find the back of the net regularly tonight, but even if that proves to be the case, the Wild can’t be ruled out. That’s not so much thanks to anything Minnesota has been doing right — they rank 29th in the league with an average of 2.16 goals per game — but because of the Flyers own shortcomings.

Even as their offense has heated up, Flyers goaltender Steve Mason has taken a step back with a 3.23 GAA and .890 save percentage in eight contests this month. On the one hand, a game against the Wild might be just what Mason needs to break out of his slump, but the reverse might be true and Mason might prove to be the man that helps Minnesota snap its slump.

After all these squads have already endured, this is their chance to go into the break on a positive note. Otherwise their worries will be left to fester over the Christmas break.

Poll: Is moving Larkin to center the right move?

NEWARK, NJ - DECEMBER 11: Dylan Larkin #71 of the Detroit Red Wings leans on the bench during a timeout during the game against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on December 11, 2015 in Newark, New Jersey.  The Devils defeated the Red Wings 3-2 in overtime.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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This post is part of Detroit Red Wings day at PHT…

It wasn’t that long ago — 2013, in fact — that Detroit had a wealth of options down the middle. Pavel Datsyuk, Valtteri Filppula and Henrik Zetterberg all played center with regularity.

Now, only the latter remains.

We bring this up because, earlier this summer, Detroit GM Ken Holland announced that prized rookie standout Dylan Larkin would be making the shift to center.

Larkin, who bucked tradition by making the Red Wings as a 19-year-old last year, enjoyed a banner freshman campaign, scoring 45 points in 80 games to finish fifth in Calder voting.

But a large chunk of that success came playing wing on a line centered by Zetterberg, who “took a lot of the responsibility off Dylan,” according to Holland.

The for/against debate here is pretty straightforward.

Holland said the “long-term” plan is to have Larkin be a center in Detroit, so why not get that process underway now? That move, combined with the addition of Frans Nielsen, would allow Zetterberg to return to the wing (and potentially play alongside Nielsen.) The more options head coach Jeff Blashill has at his disposal, the more creative he can get at forward.

But would it be too much, too soon for Larkin?

There’s already the looming specter of a sophomore slump, and it’s important to remember he faded down the stretch last season, as the rigors of a full NHL campaign took their toll. He was largely shielded from faceoff duty (and still finished at just 41 percent), only turned 20 just over three weeks ago, and Blashill could go Zetterberg-Nielsen-Luke GlendeningRiley Sheahan down the middle quite easily.

As per usual, we now turn it over to you. Vote away:

Under Pressure: Ken Holland

Colorado Avalanche v Detroit Red Wings
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This post is part of Detroit Red Wings day at PHT…

There’s no denying Ken Holland’s been feeling the heat in Detroit for a while now.

But this season, the temperature could become unbearable.

There are three pressing concerns as the Red Wings look to make the playoffs for a 26th consecutive campaign, all of which fall directly into Holland’s lap:

1) Can the Wings survive without Pavel Datsyuk?

2) What will they do in goal?

3) How will they fix their defense?

To address the first issue, Holland went out and spent $31.5 million in free agency on Frans Nielsen, a good-but-not-great center that turns 33 next season. Nielsen is defensively responsible and a fairly consistent scorer — a perennial 45-to-55 point guy — but lacks Datsyuk’s playmaking ability and deft skill set.

(Though to be fair to Nielsen, most do.)

Still, a solution’s a solution. Nielsen comes to Detroit in relative high regard, earning a handful of Selke votes every season, and was one of the best options available to replace Datsyuk, which was never going to be an easy task.

So onto the goaltending.

The situation at hand — with Petr Mrazek (presumably) the club’s No. 1, and Jimmy Howard now in a backup role — is tough for everybody involved. It’s tough for Howard, who is 32 and pulls in $5.29 million annually, an albatrossian combination with regards to potential trades.

It’s tough for Mrazek, who now faces the added pressure of making good money himself ($4M annually), but is still coming off a year in which he lost the starting gig to Howard, only to regain it halfway through the playoffs.

The situation is tough for Holland, too.

Sinking nearly $10 million into the position was all his doing, and he doesn’t seem to know how to get out of it. He’s flip-flopped on Howard — first saying he’s thought “lots” about trading him, only to later envision a scenario in which Howard sticks around.

Then, there’s the defense.

Holland’s made no secret of the fact he’d “love to get a top-three defenseman” in the door, and was reportedly in talks with Anaheim about a potential Cam Fowler trade. But as we saw with Edmonton trading Taylor Hall to get Adam Larsson, the acquisition price for good blueliners is sky high.

Which could be why Holland hasn’t addressed the position yet.

At the time of writing, Detroit will enter this season with a top-seven group of Danny DeKeyser, Mike Green, Jonathan Ericsson, Niklas Kronwall, Brendan Smith, Alexey Marchenko and Xavier Ouellet.

It’s a good group, but one with warts. There’s not an elite level guy, and it’s not especially young. Green is 30, Ericsson is 32 and Kronwall’s 35… and was just dropped from Sweden’s World Cup team due to a knee injury.

Add it all up, and you’ve got a team with more questions than answers.

And a GM who sounds like he knows the pressure is on.

“I don’t know that there are more than five or six legitimate Stanley Cup contenders; we’re probably not in that group,” he said, per NHL.com. “After that five or six, there are 20 teams without much difference between them. We’re in that group of 20.

“Certainly there are lots of questions about our team.”

Kronwall out for World Cup, Sweden names Lindholm as replacement

NEWARK, NJ - JANUARY 04:  Niklas Kronwall #55 of the Detroit Red Wings mugs for the camera during the second period against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on January 4, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Appropriate timing for this news, given it’s Red Wings day at PHT — Team Sweden has announced that Detroit d-man Niklas Kronwall will miss the upcoming World Cup of Hockey, and has been replaced by Anaheim’s Hampus Lindholm on the active roster.

Kronwall, 35, has been dealing with a troublesome knee issue all offseason. Shortly after getting eliminated by Tampa Bay, Kronwall acknowledged he had a “rough year” and was seeking options for the knee — but going under the knife wasn’t one of those options, according to Red Wings GM Ken Holland.

That he avoided surgery led some to believe that rest and rehab was the way the club and “Kronner” wanted to fix the injury. If that’s the case, missing the World Cup makes sense — it would give the veteran an additional month to get healthy.

As for Lindholm, scoring this roster spot is a nice feather in his cap. At 22, he’ll be the youngest d-man on the team and got the nod over the likes of Dallas’ John Klingberg, Edmonton’s Adam Larsson, Vancouver’s Alex Edler and Winnipeg’s Tobias Enstrom.

Lindholm is still without a contract, however, so his situation will be worth monitoring as the tournament draws close.

Related: Rakell added to Sweden World Cup roster to replace Alex Steen

Rich get richer: Dallas signs Hudler to one-year, $2 million deal

SUNRISE, FL - MARCH 10: Jiri Hudler #24 of the Florida Panthers looks up at the scoreboard as he skates prior to the game against the Ottawa Senators at the BB&T Center on March 10, 2016 in Sunrise, Florida. The Panthers defeated the Senators 6-2. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
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One of the NHL’s most dynamic offenses has gotten even better — per the Morning-News, the Dallas Stars have inked veteran winger Jiri Hudler to a one-year, $2 million pact.

The confirmation comes after some loud, heavy rumblings that Dallas was in on the former 30-goal man.

On Tuesday evening, a report from Today’s Slapshot claimed that Hudler’s agent, Petr Svoboda, confirmed a deal with Dallas was done.

That initial report was later corroborated by KTCK Radio Dallas host Bob Sturm who, on Wednesday morning, tweeted out “Hudler is true. Book it.”

Shortly thereafter, longtime Stars beat writer Mike Heika made it official.

Adding Hudler to the lineup is a major boon for Dallas. The 32-year-old is just one year removed from posting career-highs in goals (31) and points (76), capturing the Lady Byng trophy in the process.

Though Hudler had a tough time replicating that success last season, he was still fairly productive, scoring 35 points in 53 games for Calgary, and 11 in 19 games for Florida after being flipped to the Panthers at the deadline.

All told, Hudler finished the year with 46 points.

In Dallas, he’ll join a squad that led the league in offense last season (3.23 goals per game) and compete for top-nine minutes in a forward group that features the likes of Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, Jason Spezza, Patrick Sharp, Ales Hemsky, Valeri Nichushkin and Cody Eakin.

Loaded, to say the least.

The move also reunites Hudler with Stars GM Jim Nill. The two spent considerable time together in Detroit, and won a Stanley Cup together in 2008.