Jason Pominville

Stewart to open with Vanek, Koivu in Minnesota


Upon acquiring Chris Stewart from Buffalo yesterday, Wild GM Chuck Fletcher said the 27-year-old power forward would be able to play up and down the Minnesota lineup.

To start, though, he’ll be near the top.

Stewart will open on a line with Thomas Vanek and Mikko Koivu, head coach Mike Yeo told KFAN radio on Tuesday. The Zach Parise-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville line will remain intact, meaning the club’s other new forward — Sean Bergenheim — will play with Nino Niederreiter and Charlie Coyle (Bergenheim had debuted on the Koivu-Vanek line.)

It’ll be interesting to see how Stewart fits with his new running mates. It’s clear by both his and Fletcher’s comments that the goal is to provide a physical element and more size; it’s also likely Stewart will be a net-front presence and feed off the offense generated by Vanek (who has nine points in his last 11 games) and Koivu (12 in his last 14.)

“Adding my size and my physicality to that lineup, I think that’s something they’re looking for,” Stewart said, per the Star-Tribune. “I’m a big guy, a power forward, I have some pretty good speed and I like to play a hard-nosed game and get in the corners there and on the forecheck and create turnovers.

“It’s going to be a great challenge. I look forward to it.”

Wild get Stewart as Buffalo-to-Minnesota pipeline continues


Jason Pominville, Matt Moulson and now, Chris Stewart.

For the third consecutive deadline, Minnesota GM Chuck Fletcher has gone shopping for a forward in Buffalo — this time, he’s plucked Stewart in exchange for a second-round pick at the 2017 NHL Entry Draft.

Stewart, 27, has been on the trade block for over a year after arriving in Buffalo last season from St. Louis. A two-time 20-goal scorer, he’s got the skills and size (6-foot-2, 230 pounds) to be a quality power forward but has lacked consistency throughout his seven-year NHL career, and is now on his fourth team.

Stewart is a pending UFA, though, and should be motivated to play for a new contract on a Minnesota team that is fighting for its playoff life. Speaking of contracts, sounds like Buffalo will retain half of Stewart’s $4.2 million ($4.15M cap hit) in this deal:

It’s also worth noting that, in keeping with the theme above, the Wild also acquired Thomas Vanek in the offseason, though not directly from Buffalo — he went from the Isles to the Habs before signing with the Wild last summer.

NHL on NBCSN: Wild need two points from NHL-leading Preds


NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2014-15 campaign when the Nashville Predators host the Minnesota Wild at the Bridgestone Arena at 8:30 p.m. ET tonight. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game and pre-show online.

Under normal circumstances, losing a single game against any team — even the lowly Edmonton Oilers — after winning 11 of 13 wouldn’t be an issue, but it is for the Minnesota Wild. Their midseason struggles combined with the increasingly competitive nature of the Western Conference Wild Card race has put Minnesota in a situation where it can’t afford to absorb many more setbacks.

So while a loss against the NHL-leading Nashville Predators would be understandable, it would also be ill-timed. The Wild should consequently have no trouble finding motivation tonight, but it will still be an uphill battle given Nashville’s near complete dominance at home. The Predators have a 26-3-1 record at the Bridgestone Arena while the Wild are mediocre 14-14-2 on the road.

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As has consistently been the case since he was acquired from Arizona, the Wild will likely lean on goaltender Devan Dubnyk. However, he’ll be backed by another reinforcement in forward Sean Bergenheim. The Wild acquired him from the Florida Panthers on Tuesday along with a 2016 seventh-round pick in exchange for a 2016 third-round selection.

Bergenheim spent six straight games in the press box before the trade and only averaged 14:09 minutes per contest even when he did play, but Minnesota is betting that he can bounce back if given the chance.

“I’m pretty happy with how I’ve played this season in the role I’ve been given,” Bergenheim told the Star Tribune. “But I know there’s a lot more energy in me to play a better role.

“I want to bring energy, I want to bring forechecking, I want to bring pressure in the offensive zone. I want to get the pucks to the net, get myself to the net, and hopefully score some goals. I think in that sense I can help the team.”

Jason Pominville will be another Minnesota forward to keep an eye on. He’s second on the team with 41 points in 60 contests, but he’s been held off the scoresheet for six straight contests and has finished without a point in 11 of his last 14 games. The Wild have excelled lately even without his normal offensive production, but at some point they’re going to need him to step up if they want to maintain their recent pace.

Given how effective Nashville has been, tonight might be the night Minnesota needs Pominville to bounce back.

Video: Kassian snaps Dubnyk’s 136-minute shutout streak


It was nice while it lasted.

Devan Dubnyk, the NHL’s reigning first star of the week, came into Monday against Vancouver action riding a shutout streak of 126 minutes and 39 seconds — one that got all the way to 136:57 before Zack Kassian scored his fourth of the season midway through the opening period:

Dubnyk’s streak began, ironically enough, against this same Vancouver squad. Back on Super Bowl Sunday, he surrendered a goal to Daniel Sedin with under seven minutes left in the final period, then posted back-to-back shutouts against Chicago and Colorado.

Kassian’s goal didn’t do much to slow down the red-hot Wild, however. They raced out to a 3-1 lead in the first period on the strength of goals from Jordan Schroeder, Jason Pominville and Nino Niederreiter.

Sabres reject notion that they’re tanking


The Buffalo Sabres were never expected to do much this season and while they had a great stretch from mid-November to mid-December, they did enter the All-Star break in last place after losing 11 straight.

Since before the season even began they’ve had to live with accusations that they’re tanking in order to land Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel. Both are considered to be players you could potentially build a franchise around. Still, the idea that they would intentionally try to slip into last place is insulting to Sabres head coach Ted Nolan.

“I’ve been around with the game for a long time,” Nolan told ESPN.com. “I’ve never been associated with anyone who said, ‘Let’s lose this game.’ Hey, winning is hard. There’s no sense in planning not to.”

The accusations have their root less in what Nolan or his players have done though and more with how the team was assembled in the first place. The Sabres dealt key veterans like Jason Pominville and Ryan Miller last season, leaving the squad underwhelming on paper. If trading away top veterans in exchange for picks and/or prospects is what it takes to be accused of tanking though, then Sabres president Ted Black thinks it’s become shorthand for rebuilding.

“You diminish yourself significantly in the present,” Black said of trading veterans. “But the hope is that it’s the future. We’ve gone through a dismantling. Are we trying to tank? No. But the performance is going to slip when you trade All-Stars for picks. It’s a consequence of a rebuild that’s going to require patience and time.”

Above all, captain Brian Gionta doesn’t want his teammates to get the idea that losing is acceptable under any circumstances.

“You don’t want guys coming in after a loss and feeling like we made strides,” Gionta said. “This game is all about winning. Part of the turnaround is changing that culture, the feel in the room, what’s acceptable and what’s not.”