NHL on NBCSN: After a ‘highly earned shutout’ against the Pens, Blues go back to Hutton vs. Wild

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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2016-17 campaign tonight when the Minnesota Wild host the St. Louis Blues at 8:00 p.m. ET. If you want to watch the game online, you can do so here.

Raise your hand if you expected the Blues to shut out the high-flying Penguins on Tuesday night (no one should have their hands raised). But that’s exactly what they did, as Carter Hutton kept Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel and company off the board.

Prior to their last game, the Blues said Jake Allen would return to the net for tonight’s tilt against the Wild. Now, it’s a little difficult to envision them going away from Hutton after he stopped all 34 shots the Pens fired at him the other night.

“The last game changed that … based on play,” Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock said, per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I mean there’s shutouts and then there’s shutouts that are highly earned. That was a highly earned shutout and you have to reward that. Any coach has to reward that. He had a lot of work, he made big saves, made big saves when it was 1-0, so to me that’s an earned shutout and we’ve got to reward that.”

The Blues told Allen to stay home so he could “reset” after his recent struggles. He didn’t accompany the team to Winnipeg or Pittsburgh, but that will change tonight. Yesterday, St. Louis assigned Pheonix Copley back to the minors, which opens the door for Allen’s return…as the backup.

Not only did the win over Pittsburgh snap their three-game losing streak, but it was also the first time they held an opponent to under five goals since Jan. 15.

The Blues still find themselves in the top Wild Card spot in the West, but unfortunately for them, the teams in the rear-view mirror are very close.

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Regardless what happens tonight, the Wild will be satisfied with their overall play from the start of the season to the All-Star break.

After all, they’re two points clear of Chicago for top spot in the Central Division and they have three games in hand on the ‘Hawks.

“It’s one thing to be here right now and to get to this spot,’’ forward Charlie Coyle said, per the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “But it’s another thing to stay there, and to be there come playoff time and get that home ice. That’s something we want to do, and something we’re capable of.

“We want to get as many points as we can. It will be good for us to get a mental and physical break. But we’ve got to take care of [tonight’s] game, and that’s our focus right now.’’

Unlike St. Louis’ shaky goaltending, the Wild have received incredible performances between the pipes from Devan Dubnyk this season. The Wild goaltender would arguably be the favorite to land the Vezina Trophy if the season ended today and he’d likely receive some Hart Trophy votes too.

Dubnyk currently owns the best save percentage (.935) and goals-against-average (1.91) in the league, and he’s second in wins (26) and second in shutouts (5).

This should be a good one!

Video: Whoa, this is one sweet Mike Hoffman backhand goal

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Monday’s game won’t help the Ottawa Senators defy critics about last season running on luck, at least in that it doesn’t count in the standings.

Senators sniper Mike Hoffman didn’t seem to care.

Hoffman owned last night’s pre-season NHL highlight reel (sorry Nico Hischier), scoring two very different goals.

The best one can be viewed in the video above this post’s headline, as he burst through the Maple Leafs defense for a ridiculous backhander on the rush. Wow.

His first of the night was memorable for a different reason, as Hoffman shook off a near-miss (eventually) to score this goal.

Weird/cool/good, indeed.

Prediction: Hoffman will score a lot of goals that will “count” in 2017-18, too.

Wild extend captain Mikko Koivu’s contract for two years, $11M

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Minnesota Wild fans fearing that the 2017-18 season could be Mikko Koivu‘s last can breathe a sigh of relief, and that suspense didn’t even carry into opening night.

Instead, the Wild signed Koivu to a two-year contract extension worth $11 million.

That $5.5M cap hit kicks in during the 2018-19 campaign and ends after 2019-20. It represents a minor cut in pay for Koivu, as he’s entering the final year of a deal with a $6.75M cap hit.

Koivu, 34, enjoyed a strong first season under Bruce Boudreau, becoming a Selke finalist for the first time in his underrated career. He’s been Minnesota’s captain since 2008-09.

Koivu’s deal would qualify as a 35+ contract, according to Cap Friendly.

The Finnish forward likely valued stability, maybe taking a little less in AAV for the sake of peace of mind.

This continues a busy week-or-so for the Wild, who also broke their impasse with RFA Marcus Foligno by handing him a four-year, $11.5M deal.

Opinion: this Koivu deal is a much, much easier decision to justify, even taking into account his advanced age.

Predators captain announcement looming; they have some great options

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Multiple reporters* indicate that the Nashville Predators will name their captain (and alternates) on Wednesday.

Mike Fisher briefly held the title, and before him, Shea Weber wore the “C.” Both were safe, obvious choices; this time around, there are some intriguing options. The Tennessean’s Adam Vignan reports that the Predators themselves realize that there are quite a few logical captains in their midst (which probably isn’t a bad problem to have).

“It’s totally different this time around,” Pekka Rinne said. “I think Mike last year, I think everybody saw that coming. Everybody agreed. Everybody was really comfortable with it. I think now we have, in my opinion, at least four great options to choose from.”

Note: the Predators would be wise not to pull a Canucks with Roberto Luongo as captain experiment, even if Rinne’s easily one of the team’s leaders.

Some of the most obvious options include young-yet-veteran defenseman Roman Josi, big-dollar-center Ryan Johansen, and star blueliner P.K. Subban.

(Honestly, though, it’s difficult to imagine Subban wearing the “C” after all the weird, Listerine-scented stuff with the media happened during the 2017 Stanley Cup Final.)

As strong as those options are, it sure feels like Josi is the favorite, especially since he’s been around longer than Subban, Johansen, and Viktor Arvidsson.

Vegas oddmakers agree:

And so do reporters covering the team on a day-to-day basis:

One moment of devil’s advocacy, though: Subban, Johansen, Arvidsson, Filip Forsberg, and Mattias Ekholm all have more term on their contracts than Josi, who is a bargain at $4M for three more seasons.

OK, that’s kind of a weak argument, but hey … sometimes it’s a pain to have to deal with captain questions so often, and you never know if the team might determine that Josi is expendable, considering their deep war chest on the blueline.

Nah, Josi’s probably the easy and correct choice. Right?

* – Including Cory Curtis of WKRN-TV and Justin Bradford of 102.5 The Game.

Duchene dusts off ‘one day at a time’ for Avalanche trade questions

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The Denver Post’s Mike Chambers posted an exclusive video interview with Matt Duchene, who was verbose …

… Compared to the terse statement he provided, without questions, last week regarding what must seem to him like ubiquitous Colorado Avalanche trade rumors.

Check out Duchene’s comments in the video below, which seem to mix saying a lot of the right things – and finding a new way to use the “one day at a time” cliche – with a little bit of edge that makes you wonder how well he’ll contain his frustration in other situations.

How often will he be available for such questioning on the road, particularly in big media markets and/or around reporters covering teams who’ve long been connected to Duchene?

Either way, Chambers’ video is another reminder that, for all the times people roll their eyes at canned responses during press conferences and locker-room interviews, reporters can get less-guarded moments where you can parse out greater truths.

(And, hey, it’s nice to give Duchene a chance to make faces that seem a little less … depressed?)

Chambers transcribes an especially intriguing part at the end of the interview (click here for more transcriptions from Chambers at the Denver Post, if video isn’t an option or your preference).

What if he’s not traded? “I’m not looking that far (ahead),” he said. “I’m taking one day at a time.”

Hmm, interesting, right?

/Refreshes the #FreeDuchene hashtag.