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Weekend preview: Wild-Wings doubleheader, Blues invade Pennsylvania

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A quick look ahead at some of the narratives at play this weekend…

Detroit and Minnesota go back-to-back

Two teams in the thick of their respective playoff chases will square off twice this weekend — the Wings will take on the Wild in Minnesota on Saturday, then host ’em at the Joe on Sunday (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

Improbably, Detroit has rallied to win three of its last four and move within one point of the Rangers for the final wild card spot in the East. The rally is improbable given their rash of injuries — in Thursday’s 5-4 OT victory over Pittsburgh, the Wings were without the services of (deep breath) Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Stephen Weiss, Justin Abdelkader, Joakim Andersson, Dan Cleary, Jonathan Ericsson, Tomas Jurco, Darren Helm and Mikael Samuelsson (phew).

Minnesota, meanwhile, is trending in the opposite direction — the Wild have lost six of eight, though did manage to accumulate eight points over that stretch. That’s left them with 83 going into the weekend, good enough to hold the first of two wild card spots in the Western Conference.

St. Louis to take on Philly, Pittsburgh

The Keystone State will get a good look at the NHL’s No. 1 team this weekend, as the Blues — first in the league with 101 points — take on the Flyers in Philadelphia on Saturday, then face the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Sunday.

Boasting an 8-1-1 record since acquiring Ryan Miller and Steve Ott at the NHL trade deadline, St. Louis has looked like a legit Cup contender in recent weeks, but did suffer a setback on Wednesday with a disappointing 4-0 loss in Chicago (y’know, the reigning Cup champ.) With that it mind, the Blues will head into this weekend looking to rebound from the Chicago loss and test itself against two of the East’s most talented teams — Pittsburgh sits atop the Atlantic Division with 45 wins and 95 points while Philly remains one of the hottest teams in the league, going 7-2-1 over its last 10 games.

Seguin resumes skating in Dallas, Ruff notes ‘they have flights into St. Louis every day’

Dallas Stars' Tyler Seguin makes a pass during the first period of a preseason NHL hockey game against the St. Louis Blues Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
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The latest on Tyler Seguin (and fellow injured Stars forward Patrick Eaves), per the Dallas Morning-News:

Q: On the statuses of Patrick Eaves (leg) and Tyler Seguin (Achilles)

Lindy Ruff: “Both skated today, both progressing.”

Q: On if Seguin and Eaves will travel with the team to St. Louis for Game 3

LR: “No, but they have flights into St. Louis every day.”

Seguin, as you’ve probably heard, hasn’t played since a Game 2 win over Minnesota in the opening round.

That was on Apr. 16.

Dallas’ All-Star center returned from a partially lacerated Achilles to participate in said Game 2, a nasty injury that cost him the final 10 games of the regular season and the series opener against the Wild.

The Stars say this latest injury has nothing to do with the previous one, but reporters haven’t been privy to much information beyond that.

In speaking last week, Ruff didn’t even want to put a timetable on Seguin’s return, for fear of what an inaccurate timetable might cause.

“I really can’t,” Ruff said. “I don’t even have a guesstimate on it. I don’t even think it’d be fair. If I guessed and if I’m off, everybody else will be wondering why did he guess that?”

GM Jim Nill did say the club expected Seguin to miss the first two games of the Blues series and, as of last Thursday, confirmed Seguin wasn’t skating.

“He’s day-to-day,” Nill explained. “Once he gets on the ice, it’s probably four to five days from there.”

This series, currently tied 1-1, will resume on Tuesday from the Scottrade Center in St. Louis.

Trotz ‘disappointed’ in length of Orpik suspension, suggests NHL favors Penguins

Washington Capitals head coach Barry Trotz, top center, shouts to his players during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the New Jersey Devils Friday, March 25, 2016, in Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
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Barry Trotz thinks the NHL is biased in favor of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

That’s the only way to take Trotz’s remarks following Brooks Orpik‘s three-game suspension for hitting Olli Maatta late.

“I’m disappointed, but I’m not surprised based on who we’re playing and all that,” the Capitals’ head coach told reporters today.

When asked what he meant by that, Trotz replied, “Take it for whatever you want.”

Orpik, meanwhile, called the NHL’s decision “fair.”

“Bad hit,” he said, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “Split-second decision you make. You’ve just got to live with it.”

But let’s get back to Trotz, because he was also upset that Orpik was labelled a “predator” by NBC Sports commentator Mike Milbury.

“A predator is a guy that’s trying to hurt people,” said Trotz, per the Washington Post. “And I think it’d be very unfair to paint him that way. If you know anything about Brooks, he’s one of the classiest guys, one of the true pros in the league. And so I just think that’s really unfair.”

Regardless of Orpik’s intentions, Maatta will miss tonight’s Game 3 with an “upper-body injury.” The speculation is that the young defenseman suffered a concussion on the hit. The Penguins are hopeful that he’ll be able to play again in this series, but aren’t certain.

As for Orpik’s spot in the lineup, that’s expected to be filled by Dmitri Orlov, a healthy scratch in Game 2.

 

Leafs sign Russian d-man Zaitsev

BUFFALO, NY - DECEMBER 26: Defenseman Nikita Zaitsev #2 of Russia dumps the puck in as forward Cody Eakin #21 of Canada tries to block the puck during the 2011 IIHF World U20 Championship Group B game between Canada and Russia on December 26, 2010 at HSBC Arena in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
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The Toronto Maple Leafs made it official today, announcing the signing of Russian defenseman Nikita Zaitsev to a one-year entry-level contract.

It was reported all the way back in January that the Leafs were expected to do just that.

From the press release:

Zaitsev, 24, collected 26 points (eight goals, 18 assists) and 20 penalty minutes in 46 regular season games with CSKA Moscow of the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) this past season, before adding 13 points (four goals, nine assists) in 20 playoff games. His 13 points in the post-season were tied for the most among KHL defenceman. Zaitsev was twice selected to play in the KHL All-Star Game and was named a KHL first-team all-star in 2014-15.

Safe to say that the undrafted Zaitsev will have a good chance to crack a Leafs defense that’s short on overall quality, and especially short on right shots.

Losing Granato might not be only change behind Detroit’s bench

Detroit Red Wings head coach Jeff Blashill, left, and assistant Tony Granato watch their preseason NHL hockey game against the Blackhawks during the third period at Joe Louis Arena Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)
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Jeff Blashill will definitely have one new assistant in Detroit next season, with Tony Granato having accepted the head coaching gig at Wisconsin.

But could other changes be coming as well?

From MLive:

Pat Ferschweiler, in his first season as an NHL assistant coach, was in charge of a power play that struggled much of the season, despite finishing 13th in the league following a late surge. It was ineffective in the playoffs (1 for 25).

Blashill didn’t rule out changing roles on the staff.

“We’ll look at everything,” Blashill said. “How I can be better is partly how we all can be better as a staff, so we’ll look at everything in totality and how we can make ourselves more productive. Our goal is to try to get better and if that’s done through our staff then we’ll certainly address that.”

Given Blashill’s the NHL’s second-youngest coach (at 42) and Ferschweiler doesn’t have a ton of experience, the Granato loss becomes even more profound. He was the only guy on staff with history as a player and former NHL head coach.

As such, all signs point to Detroit going for a veteran hockey guy behind the bench (or hockey guys, plural, if Ferschweiler isn’t retained.)

But who?

Adam Oates would be an interesting name, if Oates hadn’t recently told Sportsnet “I presume my coaching days are over,” and “I’m not planning on coaching anymore.” Remember, Oates spent some time at Detroit practices this year as a power-play/skills coach (read more from the Free Press here) and is familiar with the organization, having broken in with the Red Wings during the mid-80s.

What’s more, Oates has experience as a head coach on two NHL benches — Washington and New Jersey — and also served as an assistant in Tampa Bay.