Minnesota Wild v Los Angeles Kings

NHL on NBCSN: Kings-Wild highlights a Monday night doubleheader

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NBCSN continues its coverage of the 2013-14 campaign tonight with a doubleheader. The New Jersey Devils host the Florida Panthers at Prudential Center at 7:30 p.m. ET followed by the Los Angeles Kings hosting the Minnesota Wild from Staples Center at 10:00 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game online.

The Western Conference playoff race isn’t quite as exciting as the Eastern Conference, but when the Kings host the Wild tonight, it’s a crucial game for Minnesota.

The Wild have the Coyotes nipping at their heels in the wild card race. Minnesota has the first wild card with 87 points and Phoenix is right behind them with 84. The Wild would ideally like to get some distance on the Coyotes as the Dallas Stars are just one point back of them and in this situation, three is definitely a crowd.

One problem for the Wild will be dealing with a Kings team that’s won six in a row and 14 of the past 17 games. L.A. is rolling and causing headaches for either the San Jose Sharks or Anaheim Ducks when it comes to the playoffs. Whoever doesn’t win the Pacific Division of those two teams has a date with the Kings in the first round.

Facing the Kings means having your hands full with Jeff Carter, Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, and Jonathan Quick. That means Zach Parise, Jason Pominville, and Ryan Suter have their work cut out for them.

Editor’s Note: Pro Hockey Talk’s partner FanDuel is hosting a $1,000 Fantasy Hockey league for Monday’s NHL games. It’s just $10 to join and first prize is $200. Starts Monday at 7:30pm ETHere’s the FanDuel link.

source: APIn New Jersey, the Devils are hoping to keep the playoff dream alive. With eight games to play, the Devils are five points behind Columbus for the second wild card. A loss to Florida would put a major dent in their hopes and any slip-ups from here on out are potential season-enders.

Patrik Elias, Jaromir Jagr, and Adam Henrique have been the offensive studs for New Jersey this season with Jagr outpacing everyone. Leave it to a legend to show the way. In goal, things have been a bit more nerve-wracking as Cory Schneider has been in a funk and Martin Brodeur has stayed at about the same level he has this season. Hearing Brodeur talk about what his future might have in store for him isn’t helping much either.

The Devils catch a bit of a break facing a Panthers team that has Roberto Luongo out injured. The Devils also have to be happy Florida   is one of the lowest-scoring teams in the league. Scottie Upshall leads the team with 35 points and Brad Boyes is the top goal man with 19.

Unless Brodeur or Schneider are totally off their game, the next two games on New Jersey’s schedule could help them put a scare into the rest of the teams chasing the wild card in the East as they head to Buffalo on Tuesday.

Columbus giving prized rookie Werenski ‘every opportunity to run the power play’

2015 NHL Draft - Portraits
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The Blue Jackets aren’t easing Zach Werenski into his freshman campaign.

Werenski, the highly touted blueline prospect, has been tasked with running the Columbus power play during the exhibition campaign — often as the lone defenseman with four forwards — and it looks like a role he might reprise throughout the regular season.

Even though he’s yet to play an NHL game.

“I want to give him every opportunity to run the power play,” head coach John Tortorella said after an OT win over Nashville, per the Blue Jackets website. “He certainly did a good job of that tonight. We’ll keep on giving him opportunities and we’ll see where we go.”

More: Looking to make the leap: Zach Werenski

The Werenski hype train has been full steam for just over a year now. The eighth overall pick in 2015, Werenski spent two highly decorated years at the University of Michigan before turning pro at the end of last season.

Dispatched to Columbus’ AHL affiliate in Lake Erie, the 19-year-old had a fantastic professional debut. He was a major catalyst on the Monsters’ defense, scoring 14 points in 17 playoff games en route to the Calder Cup championship.

“The skill set he has — his size, strength and poise with the puck, he’s a complete player,” said Monsters coach Jared Bednar (now the head coach in Colorado). “To be able to step into our lineup in intense games and get the job done, it’s impressive especially for his age and that’s why everyone’s so excited about him.”

All signs point to a very talented — and young — Columbus defense this year. It was already assumed 21-year-old Seth Jones and 23-year-old Ryan Murray were going to play major roles, and now it sounds like Werenski will be leaned on just as heavily.

Which means it’ll be interesting to see what happens to the vets.

Jack Johnson averaged over 24 minutes per game last year, a figure that will undoubtedly decrease. It’ll also be curious to see what happens to David Savard, who was playing more than 23 minutes a night — do remember that, at the start of last season, the Jackets gave Savard a hefty five-year, $21.25 million extension.

The playoff race in the West could be ‘tighter than ever’

ST. LOUIS, MO - MAY 9:  Goalie Kari Lehtonen #32 of the Dallas Stars makes a save against Kyle Brodziak #28 of the St. Louis Blues in Game Six of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Scottrade Center on May 9, 2016 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
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The NHL’s Western Conference should be wild all season, perhaps as much as ever as parity reigns and points are tough to come by on any given night.

A slew of teams have a shot at advancing to the Stanley Cup finals.

The defending Conference champion San Jose Sharks, who had five players in the World Cup of Hockey finals , certainly appear to have a chance to be among the final two still skating in mid-June. That alone would be a feat because no team from the conference has pulled it off since the Detroit Red Wings, now an Eastern Conference team, won the Stanley Cup in 2008 and came within a win of repeating.

Chicago, Los Angeles, Anaheim and St. Louis will likely be among the contenders. Dallas, too.

The Blackhawks and Kings, who alternated as champions from 2012 to 2015 and won five Cups in a six-season span, failed to even make it out of the first round last in 2016.

Both teams certainly have a chance to bounce back this season.

“This is my sixth season in the Central Division and this looks like the most challenging year yet,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said Thursday in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. “The crunching between the top and bottom started last year, and it’s going to be closer this year.”

Hitchcock and Stars general manager Jim Nill both believe the teams that were at the bottom of the conference last season on moving up.

“The Winnipegs and the Colorados are going to be better teams,” Nill told the AP. “I think it’s going to be tighter than ever.”

How tight?

“Everyone has a shot,” San Jose’s Logan Couture said.

 

Related: There’s only one ‘vision’ in Vancouver this season, and that’s winning

 

Tough blow for Blues: Schwartz out ‘at least four weeks’ with elbow injury

ST. LOUIS, MO - FEBRUARY 23: Jaden Schwartz #9 of the St. Louis Blues shoots the puck against the Columbus Blue Jackets at the Scottrade Center on February 23, 2013 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
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The St. Louis Blues will have to start the season without one of their most dangerous forwards, Jaden Schwartz.

Schwartz “will miss at least four weeks after injuring his left elbow during a training camp practice on Sept. 29,” the club announced today.

It’s another frustration for the 25-year-old winger. Schwartz was limited to just 33 games last season, after fracturing his ankle in October.

As for this latest injury, Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock originally predicted that Schwartz would only need a “couple of days off.”

St. Louis opens its regular season Oct. 12 in Chicago. If Schwartz is out until the end of October, he’ll miss nine games.

Related: Schwartz signs five-year extension

More bad news in Dallas: Janmark (knee surgery) out 5-6 months

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 22: Mattias Janmark #13 of the Dallas Stars looks on against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the game at Consol Energy Center on October 22, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Matt Kincaid/Getty Images)
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Earlier this week, we passed along word that Stars forward Mattias Janmark was spotted on crutches at the team’s practice facility.

Now we know why.

Janmark suffered a knee injury that requires surgery, GM Jim Nill said on Thursday. The procedure is expected to sideline the Swedish forward for 5-6 months, putting his return in the neighborhood of February-March of next year.

It’s a big blow for the Stars.

After surprising onlookers by making the team out of camp last year — a “great story,” according to GM Jim Nill — Janmark, 23, went on to have a pretty successful rookie campaign, scoring 15 goals and 29 points in 73 games.

He also fared well in the playoffs, with five points in 12 contests.

Today’s news compounds what’s been a lousy September in Dallas. The club previously lost Tyler Seguin (heel), Cody Eakin (knee) and Ales Hemsky (groin) to injuries, and saw Russian forward Valeri Nichushkin sign in the KHL.

Looking at the schedule, Janmark projects to miss anywhere between 60-70 games this season, assuming the 5-6 month timeline is accurate. That’s a big chunk of man power to replace.