Mikko Koivu

Get your game notes: Wild at Blackhawks

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Tonight on NBCSN, it’s the Chicago Blackhawks hosting the Minnesota Wild starting at 8 p.m. ET. Following are some game notes, as compiled by the NHL on NBC research team:

• Losers of three straight in regulation (all away games), the Blackhawks return home tonight seeking to avoid their second four-game losing streak of the season (0-2-2 from Jan. 22-28). Only three teams in NHL history have had losing streaks of four or more games after March 1 and gone on to win the Stanley Cup: the 1936 Red Wings (0-4-0), the 1986 Canadiens (0-6-0) and the 2011 Bruins (0-2-2).

• The Wild are 3-1-0 vs. the Blackhawks this season. In their only trip to the United Center this season, on Oct. 26, Minnesota defeated Chicago 5-3, thanks in large part to two goals by winger Jason Pominville. Since 2000-01 (the season the Wild entered the NHL), they have the league’s fifth-best regular-season road record against Chicago (13-10-1, .563 points%). Minimum: 10 games played…

Team | Road record at CHI, 2000-present | Points%
1. Detroit, 20-11-7, .618
2. Vancouver, 12-7-5, .604
3. Anaheim, 14-9-3, .596
4. Phoenix, 10-6-7, .587
5. Minnesota, 13-10-1, .563

• The Blackhawks will be without both captain Jonathan Toews (upper body) and winger Patrick Kane (leg) for the rest of the regular season. Tonight’s game will mark only the second time since the stars entered the NHL (2007-08) that they will both be out of the Hawks’ lineup. They were rested in the final game of the 2012-13 season, a 3-1 loss at St. Louis.

• Wild winger Zach Parise needs one point to reach 500 for his NHL career (240 goals, 259 assists). He has been on a tear lately, with four goals in his last three games and five in his last five, for a team-high 28 goals in 61 games this season. The Wild are 18-3-2 when he scores a goal.

• Blackhawks winger Marian Hossa needs nine points in Chicago’s final six games to become the 80th player in NHL history (and seventh active) to register 1,000 points. Of his 461 career goals, 29 are shorthanded, tied for the most among active players (Rangers’ Martin St. Louis).

• Wild captain Mikko Koivu enters tonight’s game on a season-long, six-game point streak (two goals, seven assists) which included three multi-point games (all wins). The Wild are 79-17-9 when their all-time leading scorer (447 points) registers two or more points.

• The Blackhawks rank second in the NHL in goals (243) and goals/game (3.20), trailing Anaheim (245 goals, 3.22 goals/game) in both. Their leading goal-getter, winger Patrick Sharp (31 goals, T-11th in the NHL) has recorded career-highs in assists (42), points (73, T-9th in the NHL) and shots on goal (294, 2nd in the NHL). Since the beginning of the 2012-13 season, the Hawks are 25-2-3 when Sharp scores.

• Wild goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov is 4-0-2 with a 2.16 GAA, .909 save% and one shutout since his acquisition from Edmonton on Mar. 4. However, the “Madhouse on Madison” has been a house of horrors for the 33-year-old Russian netminder since the 2007-08 season. In six starts (all with Phoenix), he is 0-5-1, with a 4.23 GAA and .865 save%. Prior to that, he had won his two starts, with Anaheim.

• Wild head coach Mike Yeo, the youngest bench boss in the NHL (40 years old), picked up career win number 100 vs. Los Angeles on Monday. It took Yeo 206 games to become the second coach in franchise history to reach the milestone. The first, Jacques Lemaire (who won 293 games for Minnesota from 2000-2009), needed 262 games to pick up his first 100 wins with the Wild.

Looking to make the leap: Nikita 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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This post is part of Toronto Maple Leafs day at PHT…

“I think he’s going to surprise a lot of people. The physical part of the game will be different for him in the NHL, but the way he moves the puck and skates and how defensive you now have to be to play, it just really makes you think he can be really successful for the Leafs.”

That quote was from former NHL defenseman Ryan Whitney, speaking in May about newly minted Toronto defenseman Nikita Zaitsev, who went up against Whitney in the KHL.

So needless to say, expectations for Zaitsev this season are fairly high.

And they’re high for reason. At 24, the undrafted blueliner has a wealth of professional experience — seven full campaigns, split between Novosibirsk and CSKA Moscow — and really came into his own over the last few years. He routinely led CSKA in d-man scoring, and was named a KHL first-team all-star in ’14-15.

That pedigree should translate into plenty of opportunities in Toronto.

And hey, Toronto has plenty of opportunities to offer.

It’s likely one of the big reasons Zaitsev chose the Leafs over other interested suitors like Calgary, Vancouver, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh (per Sportsnet). The Leafs are still in the early stages of their rebuild, and it shows on defense — based on current projections, Zaitsev could open as a top-four guy alongside Morgan Rielly, Jake Gardiner and Matt Hunwick, leapfrogging the likes of Martin Maricin, Roman Polak and Connor Carrick in the process.

The great unknown, of course, is how his success in the KHL will translate into North America. Every NHL club is hoping to land the next Artemi Panarin, but it’s important to remember that 1) Panarin is a forward, and 2) jumped onto a line next to Patrick Kane.

The transition for defenders has generally been tougher, something folks in Philly saw last year with the failed Evgeny Medvedev experience.

Of course, Zaitsev has a few more things going for him than his fellow Russian. He’s younger than Medvedev by nearly a decade, and is a coveted right-handed shot (Medvedev’s a lefty).

And like most players coming over from the KHL, Zaitsev’s on a one-year, performance bonus-laden contract that amounts to a “prove it” deal in the NHL.

That should be enough motivation to help him make the leap.

And if it’s not, there’s always the leap back to Russia.

‘Canes extend GM Francis, who’s ‘rebuilt our organization the right way’

Ron Francis
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The Carolina Hurricanes locked in a key part — arguably the most key part — of their rebuild on Tuesday, signing GM Rom Francis to a contract extension through the 2018-19 campaign.

“Ron has rebuilt our organization the right way, stocking our team and system with young players who will help this franchise compete for the Stanley Cup year in and year out,” club owner Peter Karmanos said in a release. “I’m thrilled that he will continue to see the job through.

“The future is very bright for the Hurricanes in Carolina.”

Francis, 53, has been on the job in Carolina for the past two years, and has done a terrific job of stockpiling young talent through the draft and via trade: Noah Hanifin, Teuvo Teravainen, Sebastian Aho, Haydn Fleury, Jake Bean and Julien Gauthier, to name a few.

Francis was also instrumental in hiring head coach Bill Peters. At the time of the hire, Peters was something of an unknown — an under-the-radar assistant with no NHL head coaching experience — but has since developed into one of the game’s more respected bench bosses.

Peters was named the bench boss for Team Canada at the most recent world championship, and led the country to gold.

This fall, he’ll reprise his role as Mike Babcock’s assistant for Canada at the World Cup of Hockey.

“When you go back a couple years ago, there were a lot of questions about who we had hired,” Francis explained in July, when he extended Peters’ contract through 2019. “[Peters] wasn’t really well known, but in the two years he’s been here, he’s done a tremendous job.”

For all the praise Francis has received during his short time on the job in Carolina, there is one area of concern — goaltending. This summer, Francis made the curious move of bringing Cam Ward back on a two-year deal, resurrecting the Ward-Eddie Lack tandem that struggled at times last season.

It’ll be interesting to see how that move plays out.

It’s Toronto Maple Leafs day at PHT

BUFFALO, NY - JUNE 24:  Auston Matthews poses for a portrait after being selected first overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs in round one during the 2016 NHL Draft on June 24, 2016 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Jeffrey T. Barnes/Getty Images)
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In a lot of ways, the 2015-16 season represented more of the same for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The results were nearly identical to 2014-15, right down to finishing in the basement of the East (69 points last season, 68 the one the year before).

Indeed, Brendan Shanahan is probably correct in saying that the Maple Leafs earned the No. 1 pick “the hard way,” or at least “earned” the higher draft lottery odds that helped them land Auston Matthews.

The big question, really, is how long will fans be patient with the Maple Leafs taking baby steps in the right direction?

Off-season

Naturally, the team tried to make more a leap forward in seeking Steven Stamkos and, to a less dramatic extent, Jimmy Vesey.

They fell short in those regards, but that doesn’t mean that management merely idled while hoping for improvements from in-house development.

The Maple Leafs made bold changes in net, ending the Jonathan Bernier era while betting big on Frederik Andersen and also bringing in a promising backup in Jhonas Enroth.

Beyond those big moves in net, the Maple Leafs made some minor adjustments. They handed surprising money and term to Matt Martin while taking short-term fliers on veterans Milan Michalek and Roman Polak.

On paper, this team still looks quite a few steps away from being a playoff contender, but perhaps we’ll start to see things come together?

A lot of that rides on the work of Matthews, Morgan Rielly and other young players (William Nylander, Mitch Marner) who may or may not make a lasting impact on the regular season roster.

Will the rebuilding plan start to pay dividends? PHT explores the iconic franchise on Tuesday.

Keep your head up: Hurricanes reportedly hand Raffi Torres a PTO

VANCOUVER, CANADA - MAY 3:  Raffi Torres #13 of the San Jose Sharks celebrates after scoring the game-winning goal against the Vancouver Canucks for a 3-2 victory in overtime in Game Two of the Western Conference Quarterfinals of the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs, May 03, 2013 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)
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From opting against fighting the NHL’s 41-game suspension to seeing his season derailed by knee issues, there was the feeling that the league had seen the last of controversial forward Raffi Torres.

Perhaps not.

The Carolina Hurricanes reportedly handed the 34-year-old a PTO, according to former Hurricanes defenseman Aaron Ward.

It’s something the Raleigh News & Observer’s Chip Alexander also mentioned on Monday.

With Bryan Bickell added to the mix during this off-season, the Hurricanes seem interesting in adding some beef. It’s unclear if Torres is really in the sort of condition to make a mark, but Carolina’s going to at least take a look at him.

Beware, pre-season opponents and training camp teammates.