Zach Parise

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The Buzzer: Grabner’s hat trick helps Rangers rout ‘Canes; Pavelski hits milestone

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Player Of The Night. Michael Grabner, New York Rangers.

The New York Rangers had a miserable start to the season with losses seven of their first eight games.

Since then? They have been on a roll and after their 5-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday night they are now 13-5-0 in their past 18 games and have won 11 out of 14.

Friday’s game was probably not as lopsided as the 5-1 final score would indicate (it was 2-1 until there were three minutes remaining in regulation) but Michael Grabner helped turn it into a blowout with a pair of empty net goals. Those two empty net goals, along with the goal he scored in the second period (officially the game-winner), gave him his fifth career hat trick.

Grabner was a surprise star for the Rangers a year ago by scoring 27 goals and he is off to an even better start this season with 13 goals in his first 26 games.

He has been an outstanding find for the Rangers.

Highlight Of The Night.

There are few players in the NHL that can rip it the way Patrik Laine can. He demonstrated that on Friday night with this power play goal in the Winnipeg Jets’ win over the Vegas Golden Knights.

Save Of The Night.

There was not much goaltending or defense in the Ottawa Senators’ 6-5 win over the New York Islanders, but Mike Condon needed to make one huge save on Jordan Eberle just before the buzzer to help preserve the win for the Senators to finally snap their seven-game losing streak.

Factoid Of The Night.

Joe Pavelski has been one of the best goal-scorers in the NHL for a few years now. On Friday night he hit a personal milestone by scoring his 300th career goal, making him one of just three active American-born players to reach that mark. Phil Kessel and Zach Parise being the other two.

Scores

Pittsburgh Penguins 4, Buffalo Sabres 0

Ottawa Senators 6, New York Islanders 5

New York Rangers 5, Carolina Hurricanes 1

Columbus Blue Jackets 4, Anaheim Ducks 2

San Jose Sharks 2, Florida Panthers 1

Los Angeles Kings 4, St. Louis Blues 1

Winnipeg Jets 7, Vegas Golden Knights 4

New Jersey Devils 2, Colorado Avalanche 1

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Minnesota Wild GM says team has been “incredibly disappointing”

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It’s never a good sign when your general manager has to address the state of his floundering team two months into the season.

It’s even worse when lays it out ever-so bluntly.

“Incredibly disappointing,” Minnesota Wild GM Chuck Fletcher told the Pioneer Press on Wednesday.

Ouch.

Fletcher’s comments come just two days after the Winnipeg Jets embarrassed their Central Division foes 7-2 — this after the Wild held a 2-0 lead in the first period — on Monday in Winnipeg.

The Wild’s start to this season is in stark contrast to how they finished the last one.
Minnesota was a dominant force last year, piling up 106 points to cross the regular season finish line in second place in the Western Conference.

A 12-game winning streak, like the one the Wild embarked on last year, or any sustained winning streak for that matter, seems like a pipe dream at the moment for the struggling Wild.

What’s going wrong?

Fletcher specifically called out his forward contingent on Wednesday.

“Until our forwards in particular start to play the game the right way, we will not win,” Fletcher said. “It’s somewhat surprising that Monday’s result hasn’t happened sooner. … We want to encourage our forwards to make plays when they have open ice or when they have an odd-man rush. We want creativity. We want skill. That said, when we’re through the neutral zone and there’s three or four defenders lined up, to think that we can make cute plays through them, I think we’ve seen the results.”

Truth be told, the Wild are 14th in the NHL in goals for with 71. Their goals-per-game is 13th at 2.96. They also own the fifth best power-play unit and ninth best penalty-killing squad heading into Wednesday’s action.

These aren’t the numbers of a team sitting second-last in the Central Division. The Wild are actually 6-3-1 in their past 10 games.

So what’s the real problem?

Consistency, for one.

The Wild have traded wins and losses, winning streaks and losing streaks, this season.

“We just have to get back to work, we have a way to go,” Matt Cullen said after Monday’s game. “I think we’d all agree we’re not where we need to be yet as a group. I think we all need to make a decision about how we’re playing. We’ve got to turn things around. We’ve got the pieces to do it.

“To play the way we did is unacceptable. It falls on all of us. When we’re playing well, we’re playing solid defensively and tonight we had some big breakdowns in our own end that turned the momentum and they cost us.”

Their possession numbers are very poor at 28th in the NHL. They’re 24th in shooting percentage.

Team defense is struggling, even when they’re winning. The Wild are allowing 3.04 goals per game, including 30 goals in their past seven games.

“That’s four-and-a-half goals a game,” Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said after Monday’s loss. “If you’re going to do that, you can’t win in the NHL. It’s almost impossible for me to think you can get three shutouts in a row and seven games later you allow 30 goals. After those shutouts, we were third in the league defensively.”

Furthermore, Devan Dubnyk hasn’t looked like the same goaltender that won 40 games and posted a .923 save percentage a year ago (although he did string three straight shutouts and five straight wins together recently).

Sure, injuries haven’t helped.

Charlie Coyle only returned on Nov. 20 after missing 16 games with a fibula fracture. Nino Niederreiter missed six games ankle sprain, Mikael Granlund missed five with a groin issue and now Jared Spurgeon will miss some time with a groin strain of his own.

Zach Parise has missed all 24 games this season after microdiscectomy surgery in late October. But he’s getting there.

But it takes a team effort to get blown out 7-2. And it’s taken that same team effort to get to where the Wild are now, which is the dumps.

Maybe it wasn’t Mike Yeo’s fault after all.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Wild get key weapon back in Nino Niederreiter

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The Minnesota Wild have been on an upward trend lately, with three wins in four games. Even so, their 4-3-2 record tells the fuller story that Bruce Boudreau’s bunch haven’t always been able to navigate some significant injury challenges early in 2017-18.

On the bright side, they’re calling in a key reinforcement on Tuesday, as Nino Niederreiter has been activated from injured reserve before tonight’s game against the Winnipeg Jets.

The 25-year-old hasn’t appeared in a game for the Wild since Oct. 12. Even with that in mind, this must be an antsy time for “El Niño,” who has yet to score his first point in 2017-18 after signing a five-year, $26.25 million contract during the summer.

MORE: Niederreiter expects the Wild to break through in the playoffs

Even with Charlie Coyle sidelined and Zach Parise dealing with some disturbing back problems, Niederreiter suddenly gives the Wild some balance on offense. These were their lines earlier today:

Nino Niederreiter – Eric StaalLuke Kunin

Jason ZuckerMikko KoivuMikael Granlund

Marcus FolignoJoel Eriksson EkChris Stewart

Tyler EnnisMatt CullenDaniel Winnik

Not bad, and you can imagine that group climbing to explosive with Coyle and (ideally) a semi-healthy Parise in the mix.

Niederreiter was already showing some promise early in his Minnesota career (three straight 20+ goal seasons), but 2016-17 seemed to signal a breakthrough to another level. The Swiss-born winger generated career-highs in goals (25), assists (32), and points (57), while also continuing to be a fancy stats darling with outstanding possession numbers.

Maybe the Wild lack outright superstars, but players such as Niederreiter are difference-makers at forward, and you can bet that he’s been sorely missed.

Considering the firepower on hand for the Winnipeg Jets, the Wild could really use the boost, and it wouldn’t be surprising if the two teams traded blows in a fun affair.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

PHT Morning Skate: Marleau is ready for ‘really weird’ return to San Jose

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–Trades are never easy to make, especially early in the season. Here’s three deals that happened early on over the last 10 years that ended up being pretty significant. Sergei Fedorov to Columbus happened in November of 2005. (Sportsnet)

–The ESPN hockey crew looks at the top feuds going on in the NHL right now. Whether it’s Matthew Tkachuk vs. Drew Doughty or Matt Duchene vs. the Colorado Avalanche, there are some interesting ones. (ESPN)

–Speaking of Tkachuk, he’s a really important piece of the puzzle for the Flames. His performances on the ice and his desire to win make him one of the key figures in that Calgary locker room. (flamesnation.com)

–The Oilers have been one of the biggest disappointments of the season so far, so The Score looks at three ways they can fix their offensive issues. Is it time to sign one of the veteran free agents still on the market? (The Score)

Patrick Marleau is making his first return to San Jose since signing a deal with the Maple Leafs this off-season. There’s a good chance this ends up being an emotional night for him. “Kind of just anticipating it to feel really weird, I think,” Marleau said. “Just a little awkward. But I’m going to try to use that energy for myself to be playing well and playing hard.” (San Jose Mercury News)

–When this hockey fan was seven years old, he got a signed hockey stick from J.P. Parise. 40 years later, he wanted to give it to Wild forward Zach Parise, who’s J.P.’s son. “It was a thrill to come down here and meet Zach and give him that stick and a photo of that night I got it. It will [be weird to not have it] for awhile. But instead of not having that stick at home, I have the memory of meeting Zach and the story to tell my kids, my family and my friends. That’s a pretty good trade-off.” (NHL.com/Wild)

–There has been many theories about the Golden Knights’ hot start, but here’s an interesting one. With so many of their early games having been played at home, some are wondering whether or not the “Vegas flu” is real. Do opposing players party too hard in Vegas the night before games? That’s an interesting theory. (Sinbin.Vegas)

–Samuel Morin is back up with the Flyers. He was recalled from the minors after Shayne Gostisbehere was injured against the Maple Leafs on Saturday night. (Philly.com)

–One of the reasons why NHL players aren’t going to the Olympics is because the league refuses to shut down for two weeks during the season. The NWHL stars are still going to the Olympics, but instead of shutting down, their star players just won’t play. (ESPN.com)

–There’s little doubt that Leafs sophomore forward Mitch Marner is a more dynamic offensive player than Lightning forward Brayden Point, but the stats say Point is a better all-around player. Here’s a thorough comparison between the two players. (rawcharge.com)

–A Florida Panthers fan was hit with an Octopus during Saturday’s home game against Detroit. Not cool. “It was quite heavy. It hurt me, and I was quite shaken up by it. I certainly wasn’t expecting to get hit in the head by a large animal of some type.” (WSVN.com)

–Unfortunately, NHL players don’t like to show their true personality during interviews. That’s just the way the league has trained its players to think over the years. Instead of saying anything negative, they just spit out the company line. Being a little more colorful could help grow the game, but it’s just not happening. (stlouisgametime.com)

–Daniel or Henrik? Which of the Sedin twins has been the better player during their time in Vancouver. The Hockey News recently chose Daniel, but greatesthockeylegends.com believes Henrik should have gotten the nod. (greatesthockeylegends.com)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Mr. 300: Kessel’s milestone goal leads Penguins over Jets

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PITTSBURGH (AP) Phil Kessel‘s 300th career goal at 1:07 of overtime lifted the Pittsburgh Penguins to a 2-1 victory over the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday night.

Kessel, who also scored the overtime winner against Edmonton on Tuesday, became the 18th American-born player to reach 300 career goals and the second active behind Minnesota’s Zach Parise.

Kessel stripped Patrik Laine of the puck at his own blue line and went the other way on a breakaway. Kessel, with nine points in his last seven games, snapped a wrist shot between the pads of Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck for the winner.

Conor Sheary scored his fifth for the Penguins, who won for the fifth time in six games. Pittsburgh has won seven of nine since losing the first two games of the season.

Read more: Penguins defense is hurting heading into scary stretch

Pittsburgh also won its 17th straight home game against the Jets dating back to March 24, 2007. Overall, Pittsburgh won 17 of the last 20 meetings against the Jets, who last won in Pittsburgh, Dec. 27, 2006, when they were the Atlanta Thrashers.

Matt Murray won his seventh straight since allowing 11 goals on 65 shots in his first two appearances. Murray, who stopped 30 shots, helped Pittsburgh earn points in all eight starts this season.

Josh Morrissey scored his second for the Jets, who had won four of their previous five after being outscored 13-5 in the first two games of the season against Toronto and Calgary.

Hellebuyck, who made 34 saves, saw his four-game win streak end. He was seeking a personal best five-game streak and the team record for the longest win streak by a goaltender to begin the season.

Sheary opened the scoring 1:25 into the game when he re-directed Jake Guentzel‘s pass between Hellebuyck’s pads.

Morrissey tied it later in the period when his shot from the point caught the stick of Penguins’ D Kris Letang and went past Murray’s glove hand.

Murray kept the game tied entering the third period, first with a sharp blocker save on Nikolaj Ehlers before back-to-back stops on Tyler Myers and Laine. He stopped Myers on a breakaway and Laine during a two-on-one with Ehlers.

Laine tried again with a wrist shot 30 seconds into the third period, but Murray made the save and a follow-up pad stop on Kyle Connor.