Darcy Kuemper

Should Minnesota keep starting Kuemper?

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Heading into this year, Darcy Kuemper was the No. 3 goalie in the Minnesota organization, parked firmly behind Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding in AHL Iowa.

Today, he’s the club’s No. 1 — and feeling the pressure that comes along with it.

Kuemper suffered his second poor outing in a row in Thursday’s 5-1 loss to St. Louis, which came 24 hours after he was hooked in favor of Ilya Bryzgalov for allowing three goals on 12 shots against Vancouver. Suddenly, the Wild — who were in good shape for the first wild card berth in the West — are just one point up on eighth-place Phoenix, and six up on ninth-place Dallas.

“I’ll be honest, I feel bad for [Kuemper]. I do,” head coach Mike Yeo told the Minnesota Star-Tribune. “This is a guy, we wouldn’t even be sitting here in the position that we’re in if he didn’t give us the stretch of hockey that he’s given us.”

On the year, Kuemper’s numbers are solid — 12-8-4, .915 save percentage, 2.43 GAA — but his recent performances have been bad. He’s allowed at least three goals in each of his last four starts, all losses, while posting a ghastly .851 save percentage.

Unsurprisingly, the heat of the playoff chase seems to have gotten to Kuemper. At 23,  he’s got a very limited body of NHL work — just six games last year, 26 this year — and it’s important to remember that two years ago, he was in the ECHL with the Orlando Solar Bears.

The inexperience might be starting to show. On Thursday, Kuemper appeared somewhat flustered after a series of altercations with Blues captain David Backes.

From the Star-Tribune:

[Backes] cross-checked little Jared Spurgeon, crushed little Mikael Granlund and ruthlessly trash-talked goalie Darcy Kuemper from the bench.

Kuemper initiated things with Backes by cross-checking him at the goalmouth, then got in his face.

“That’s where I’ve played a long time,” Backes said. “When I feel disrespected, I’m going to stand my ground and see if there’s any response.”

Backes’ verbal abuse of Kuemper wasn’t done there, either:

The issue Minnesota’s facing now is much more than a question of whether Kuemper or Bryzgalov should start for the rest of this season and the playoffs.

If Kuemper’s the goalie of the future — and by the way people within the Wild organization talk, they believe he is — there has to be some consideration to protecting him, and keeping his confidence from getting shattered.

Flyers staff give Gudas a talking to as questionable hits pile up

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1The list of questionable Radko Gudas hits — some of which he’s been suspended for and others he has escaped discipline — has grown again, prompting Philadelphia Flyers coach Dave Hakstol to apparently have a chat with the 25-year-old defenseman.

There was no hearing for Gudas from his latest infraction, a major penalty for charging called against him for a hit on Buffalo Sabres rookie Daniel Catenacci on Thursday.

Catenacci has since been put on injured reserve, after he went through concussion protocol, as per John Vogl of the Buffalo News.

The NHL didn’t hand out supplemental discipline in this case, but the Flyers brass held a meeting of their own with Gudas, because hits like this could end costing Philadelphia results and precious points in the Eastern Conference standings.

The Flyers are four points out of a playoff spot.

“There’s a big picture to all of it in terms of our main concern,” Hakstol told CSN Philadelphia. “Our main goal right now is to do all the little things necessary to win hockey games.

“In keeping with that, how individually does everybody do their part to help us win games. That’s the basis of my conversation with Radko.”

In December, Gudas was suspended three games for a head shot on Mika Zibanejad. Earlier this month, he was given a major penalty and game misconduct for clipping in a game against the Habs, but escaped discipline for that, as well.

Gudas, who didn’t want to comment on the hit on Catenacci, also spoke with Flyers GM Ron Hextall about this latest incident.

Asked about that conversation, Gudas told reporters, “Just making sure I pay attention and not get suspended again and make a good hockey play or make a good hit.”

After 11-game absence, Savard (oblique) back for Columbus

David Savard
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These are pretty decent times for the Blue Jackets.

The team is 7-3-2 in its last 12, recently re-upped with Ryan Murray on a two-year deal and, on Friday, announced that blueliner David Savard has been activated from IR after missing the last 11 games to an oblique strain.

Savard, 25, was a pretty integral part of John Tortorella’s defense when healthy. He averaged over 24 minutes per night and had 15 points through 39 games prior to being sidelined by the ailment.

He’ll presumably draw back into the lineup when the Jackets take on Ottawa on Saturday. No word yet on a corresponding roster move.

Who’s got the best/worst combined special teams?

The Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin, (8), of Russia, leaps in the air in celebration after scoring his 500th career NHL goal during the second period of a hockey game against the Ottawa Senators in Washington, D.C., Sunday, Jan. 10, 2016. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
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Recently, the Washington Capitals went five whole games without scoring a power-play goal.

It was a real nightmare for those guys.

Despite the fact Washington went 3-1-1 over those five games, one headline called it a “troubling power-play drought” — which tells you how few “troubling” things the Caps have had to deal with this season.

Overall, special teams have been a boon for Washington, which ranks first on the power play and fifth on the penalty kill.

Compare that to, say, Calgary, which ranks 29th and 29th, respectively. Now that’s troubling.

Anyway, here’s how all 30 teams rank when their special teams are combined:

Rankings

Not surprisingly, there’s a strong correlation between good special teams and winning hockey games.

In the left column, 12 of the 15 teams are currently in a playoff spot. New Jersey, Buffalo, and Montreal are the exceptions.

On the right, only four teams — Colorado, Detroit, Nashville and the Rangers — are in a playoff spot.

John Scott to return to Habs’ AHL team this weekend

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John Scott’s had enough time off following his All-Star Game MVP award.

Now, he wants to get back to work.

Scott, who made major headlines at the end of January thanks to his unforgettable All-Star performance in Nashville, will return to Montreal’s AHL affiliate in St. John’s this weekend, as the IceCaps play a pair of games against the Toronto Marlies.

“It’ll be nice to [be] back playing hockey and doing my thing. I’m actually really excited for it,” Scott said, per ESPN. “This has been the longest break I’ve had, ever. But I play like 7-8 minutes, I won’t be too out of shape, I’ll be able to keep up.”

Scott, 33, hasn’t played since his Pacific Division team won the annual ASG 3-on-3 tournament on Jan. 31. Following that whirlwind weekend, the Montreal organization allowed him to take a leave to be with his wife, Danielle, who gave birth to twin girls on Feb. 5.

Scott only appeared in four games for St. John’s prior to the All-Star Game, going pointless with six penalty minutes and a minus-1 rating.

Related:

The John Scott story, coming to a theater near you?

Therrien on Habs recalling Scott: ‘You never know’