ST PAUL, MN - JANUARY 23: Marian Hossa #81 of the Chicago Blackhawks controls the puck against Matt Cooke #24 of the Minnesota Wild during the game on January 23, 2014 at Xcel Energy Center in St Paul, Minnesota. The Wild defeated the Blackhawks 2-1.

NHL on NBCSN: Hungry Wild challenge battered Hawks


NBCSN continues its coverage of the 2013-14 campaign tonight when the Chicago Blackhawks host the Minnesota Wild at the United Center at 8:00 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game online.

The defending Stanley Cup champions have already secured a playoff berth, but they want to do more than just limp into their probable first-round series against the hot Colorado Avalanche. That’s exactly what they’re doing right now though.

Chicago just returned from a three-game road trip where they were outscored 12-4 and didn’t earn a single point. On top of that they lost captain Jonathan Toews, who will join Patrick Kane on the sidelines for the rest of the regular season.

Editor’s Note: Pro Hockey Talk’s partner FanDuel is hosting a $1,000 Fantasy Hockey league for Thursday’s NHL games. It’s $10 to join and first prize is $200. Starts Thursday at 7:00 p.m. ET. Here’s the FanDuel link.

As deep as the Blackhawks’ offense is, that’s a ton of firepower sitting out of tonight’s game, which is music to the Wild’s ears. The duo has been a thorn in Minnesota’s side this season with a combined three goals and seven points in four games. Even with them though, Chicago is still down 1-3-0 in the season series.

So as much as the Blackhawks would like to avoid losing four straight contests in regulation for the first time since Feb. 2012, this will be a tough one for them.

It doesn’t help that this game means more to the Wild in the first place. Minnesota is in a good spot in the battle to secure a Wild Card spot, but every point remains critical.

That’s especially true given how hard the rest of Minnesota’s schedule is. On top of playing Chicago, the Wild will also play against Pittsburgh, Boston, and St. Louis in the last week and a half of the season. If they aren’t careful, the losses could still pile on and deny them a playoff spot.

The Wild aren’t completely health either. In fact, Ilya Bryzgalov is projected to start partially because goaltenders Niklas Backstrom, Josh Harding, and Darcy Kuemper are all hurt. They are also likely to be without forward Mikael Granlund, who is dealing with a possible head injury.

Unlike Chicago though, they have their top two forwards in Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise. The duo has been hot lately with a combined six goals and 14 points in their last five games. The Wild will be looking for them to be the difference tonight and add to Chicago’s slump.

DiMaio named Blues’ director of player personnel

via St. Louis Blues
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The St. Louis Blues named Rob DiMaio their director of player personnel on Tuesday.

He’s been with the organization for some time. He joined as a pro scout in 2008 and was the pro scouting director starting in August 2012.

He was also a scout for the Dallas Stars before landing with the Blues (one would assume his biggest connection is GM Doug Armstrong, then).

In case his nose didn’t give it away, he also enjoyed a lengthy hockey career over 19 seasons.

No doubt about it, this is a pivotal season for the Blues after multiple campaigns in which strong regular seasons dissolved into playoff disappointments. Perhaps DiMaio can make a difference in a heightened role?

Hitchcock going to more aggressive attack for Blues

Ken Hitchcock

ST. LOUIS (AP) After three straight first-round playoff exits, the St. Louis Blues have learned to temper expectations.

They have been consistently among the NHL’s best in the regular season and realize it is past time to build something for the long haul. The sting still lingers from the latest failure, against the Minnesota Wild last spring.

“We’re all disappointed, everybody can agree on that,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “It’s never easy to kind of think about your failures, but we grow every time it happens.”

Management isn’t ready to tear it all down yet.

“We play, in my opinion, one of the toughest if not the toughest division in the NHL, and we’ve finished first or second in the last four years,” forward Alexander Steen said. “So we have an extremely powerful team.”

Maybe a change in strategy will be enough: Coach Ken Hitchcock is back with a mandate for a more aggressive, even reckless, style of play from a roster that hasn’t changed appreciably.

“We’re coming hard from the back and we’re coming hard to see how close we can get to the attack,” Hitchcock said. “I think it’s where the game’s at; I think it’s where the game’s going to go.”

The 63-year-old Hitchcock is pushing forward, too, unwilling to dwell on the flameouts. Coach and players agree that would be “wasted energy.”

“My opinion is when you sit and think about the past, you do yourself no good,” Hitchcock said. “If you learn from the past, that’s when you do yourself a whole bunch of good.”

There were only two major roster casualties. Forward Troy Brouwer came from Washington in a trade for fan favorite T.J. Oshie. Defenseman Barret Jackman, the franchise career leader in games, wasn’t re-signed.

“If you were expecting 23 new faces to be on the roster this year, I don’t think that was realistic,” captain David Backes said. “We’re going to miss those guys in the room and on the ice, but there has been some changeover and I think it’s pretty significant.”

Things to watch for with the Blues:

GOALIE SHUFFLE: Just like last year, there’s no true No. 1 with Brian Elliott and Jake Allen sharing duties. The 25-year-old Allen missed a chance to seize the job last spring when he failed to raise his level in the playoffs.

TOP THREAT: Vladimir Tarasenko had a breakout season with 37 goals and was rewarded with an eight-year, $60 million contract. The 23-year-old winger is by far the Blues’ most dangerous scoring option and said he won’t let the money affect his play. “I never worry about it,” Tarasenko said. “If you play good, you play good.”

NEW FACES: Brouwer and center Kyle Brodziak add a physical element that was perhaps lacking a bit last season. Brouwer has three 20-plus goal seasons and Brodziak, acquired from Minnesota, fills a checking role. Veteran forward Scottie Upshall got a one-year, two-way deal after being coming to camp as a tryout. Rookie forward Robby Fabbri, a first-round pick last year, will get an early look. Another promising youngster, forward Ty Rattie, begins the year at Chicago of the AHL.

RECOVERY WARD: Forward Jori Lehteri bounced back quickly from ankle surgery and opens the season without restrictions. Another forward, Patrik Berglund, could miss half of the season following shoulder surgery.

TRACK RECORD: The Blues won the Central Division last season and Hitchcock, fourth on the career list with 708 regular-season wins, has consistently had the team near the top of the standings. “He is our coach, tough cookies if you don’t like it,” Backes said. “From my experience, he puts together one heck of a game plan.”