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Wild hit reset button after franchise record winning streak comes to an end

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) The longest winning streak in franchise history halted a few hours before the end of 2016, the Minnesota Wild were handed a natural opportunity to start fresh.

If they return to the defense-first formula that coach Bruce Boudreau has pushed them to follow, they’ll be in position to get going on another run. The beginning of the new year brought four days of rest from game action, before resuming play at San Jose on Thursday.

“That’s what we want it to be, a reset,” Boudreau said before the team departed for a three-city California road trip. “We worked on a couple things the last few days that’ll get us back to playing the way we were.”

After following a shootout loss with 12 victories in a row to start December, the Wild were defeated 4-2 on Saturday by Columbus, the only team in the NHL that’s been more unbeatable lately. The Blue Jackets now have a 16-game winning streak, one short of the all-time league record.

The warning sign of a slip in performance for Boudreau and the coaching staff arose the week before, though. Two of the last three wins on the streak were out-of-character: 7-4 at the New York Rangers and 6-4 against the New York Islanders.

Over the last four games, the Wild have allowed 14 goals. They’re still second in the league behind Columbus, with an average of 2.06 goals allowed per game.

“We have gotten away from the way that we play, most likely because we’ve been scoring goals,” Boudreau said.

Wait, what?

“You end up changing your mindset as an individual when you score goals,” the coach said, adding: “We have to get back to winning 2-1, 3-2. That is what’s going to make us win. If we’re thinking we’re going to be a team that’s going to win 5-4 every night, we’re in trouble.”

That’s the potential pitfall for a team that has balanced lines but lacks a prolific scorer. Offensive success, per human nature and the competitive makeup of the sport, can prompt players to pursue goals at the cost of defensive commitment and discipline. So the key on this West Coast swing, with games at Los Angeles and Anaheim over the weekend, will be to keep those red goal lights from glowing too much.

“Well, it’s not like we’re trying to score less,” right wing Charlie Coyle said. “That’s the mindset, to play well defensively. When we do that, a lot of times it’s not going to be a high-scoring game because we’re not going back and forth with teams.”

The loss to the Blue Jackets was only the second all season for the Wild by more than one score, and the first recipient of credit for that is goalie Devan Dubnyk. He went 10-1-1 in December with a 1.88 goals-against average and a .934 save percentage. He leads the NHL in both of those categories for the season.

“We were playing the right way and playing how we can, winning games how we can, getting contributions from top to bottom in the lineup, and that’s really why we’re a great hockey team,” Dubnyk said. “We’ve got a lot of depth, and we showed that over 12 games how we’re going to be capable of putting strings together.”

With 50 points in 36 games, the Wild are one point behind Chicago for the Western Conference lead. The Blackhawks have played 40 games.

“It’s just the same mindset that we’ve been taking this last month,” defenseman Matt Dumba said, “just believing in our structure and not worrying about anything else except for how we’re going to play and what we have to do that night.”

Boudreau, who became the first coach in NHL history to oversee winning streaks of 10 games or more with three different teams, has made an immediate impact on a team that had its share of midseason slides over the last several years. Led by defenseman Ryan Suter (plus-26), the Wild have five of the top nine players in the league in plus-minus rating.

“It was a fun stretch. Everybody was smiling when they came to the rink, so hopefully we can keep winning a little bit. That makes this game so fun,” said Mikael Granlund, who’s a plus-18. “We know how we need to play to be successful, and we have all the tools for that.”

Habs president Molson pens glowing farewell letter to Markov

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Another bold move by GM Marc Bergevin, another statement from Montreal Canadiens president/CEO Geoff Molson.

However Molson actually feels about the franchise’s decision to let Andrei Markov leave for the KHL, he provided quite the goodbye letter regarding the 38-year-old defenseman. One can’t help but wonder how Molson feels about Montreal’s overall makeover, whether you believe Mark Streit is really “replacing” Markov or not.

Anyway, that will need to wait. In the meantime, here’s the very kind statement from Molson to Markov:

“On behalf of the entire organization, I would like to thank Andrei for his great contributions during his 16 seasons as a proud member of the Montreal Canadiens. Arguably one of the best defensemen in franchise history, Andrei was a model of dedication to the great game of hockey. A respected figure around the league and among his teammates, Andrei demonstrated leadership both on and off the ice. Andrei’s commitment to our franchise was second to none, proven by his overcoming three serious and potentially career-ending injuries. I would like to wish Andrei the best of luck in the next step of his career, and happiness with his family.”

Speaking of Canadiens all-timers, Larry Robinson had plenty of nice things to say about Markov, too.

Related

Markov, Habs officially part ways.

Markov is headed to the KHL.

Sabres re-sign Eichel’s buddy Rodrigues for two years

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The Buffalo Sabres might have signed Evan Rodrigues back in 2015 in part because he enjoyed so much success as a college linemate with Jack Eichel at Boston University, but the undrafted forward seems like he’s making a case that he’ll be a part of their future in his own right.

The Sabres handed Rodrigues a two-year deal that is two-way in 2017-18 and one-way in 2018-19. Whenever he’s at the NHL level, it’s worth $650K per season.

Rodrigues debuted in 2015-16, scoring a goal and an assist in two games. He managed to play in 30 regular-season contests for the Sabres last season, collecting six points.

He’s shown quite a bit of improvement at the AHL level, in particular. After collecting 30 points in 72 games for the Rochester Americans in 2015-16, he scored 30 again in 2016-17, although he only needed 48 contests to do so. Rodrigues isn’t quite Matt Moulson to Eihel’s John Tavares just yet, but it’s possible that he might at least development into a regular NHL player.

Buffalo’s work isn’t done for the summer just yet, as RFAs Zemgus Girgensons and Nathan Beaulieu still need deals.

Andrei Markov opts for KHL after saying goodbye to Canadiens

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Andrei Markov wanted to play his entire career with the Montreal Canadiens. With that option officially off the table, Markov announced that he’s headed for Russia and the KHL.

“I didn’t see myself with any other NHL team,” Markov said during a conference call wrapping up his lengthy stay with the Habs. “I didn’t see myself wearing another jersey.”

(At least not the jersey of another NHL team.)

The 38-year-old also noted that he hasn’t closed the door to a return to Montreal. That makes sense since it seems like it was largely the Canadiens’ decision to part ways with Markov, essentially replacing him with Mark Streit at a heavily discounted rate.

Beyond the comforts of home, Markov was almost certainly motivated to play in the KHL because of the 2018 Winter Olympics.

The veteran blueliner did not mention which KHL team he’ll end up playing for. There were some rumblings that Markov might sign with the Florida Panthers, but that turned out to not be true.

If it’s a one-year deal, a return to the Habs is at least feasible in 2018-19. Considering his age, it sure seems like this is the end of Markov’s lengthy run with the Canadiens, though.

After making NHL debut, Jones re-ups with Isles

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One of the Isles’ feel-good stories from last season wrote a new chapter on Thursday.

Connor Jones, the undrafted 26-year-old that made his NHL debut in April, has signed a one-year, two-way extension, the club announced.

Jones certainly earned his way to the show. He spent four years at Quinnipiac before catching on with the Oilers, spending time with both their AHL and ECHL affiliates before jumping to the Isles organization in 2015.

Though he’s not an offensive producer — just 19 points in 58 games with Bridgeport last season — Jones emerged as a good energy guy that proved an effective penalty killer.

With AHL Bridgeport, he also played alongside his twin brother, Kellen, who was in attendance as Connor made his NHL debut in April.

Connor would go on to play four games for the Isles, averaging just under 12 minutes per night.