Get your game notes: Wild at Blackhawks

2 Comments

Tonight on NBCSN, it’s the Chicago Blackhawks hosting the Minnesota Wild at 8 p.m. ET. Following are some game notes, as compiled by the NHL on NBC research team:

TOP STORYLINES

  • This will be the 3rd of 5 meetings this season for these Central Division teams – and 2nd in the last 4 days, having met in Minnesota on Thursday, a 4-2 win by Chicago (CHI has won both meetings this season, both by 2 goals). o Thursday‘s game was the first meeting in Minnesota since Game 6 of their Second-Round playoff matchup, a game won by the Blackhawks (2-1 OT), to finish the series.
  •  This second half of a home-and-home series saw each team squeeze in a game between these meetings, with Chicago stopping over in Edmonton on Friday night (5-2 loss – to the team with the fewest points in the league), before returning home, and Minnesota hosting Nashville on Saturday afternoon (3-1 loss) before hitting the road to CHI-town.
  • “We gave up a couple of funny goals tonight…We were pressing in the third, but they were checking better with the lead than what we had seen prior. That’s what happens. We had enough chances tonight. The timing of the goals they scored was tough” – Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville on the Edmonton loss.
  • Starting with that 5-3 loss at Chicago on Dec. 16, Minnesota started what is now its worst stretch this season having lost 10 of its last 12 (2-6-4).
  • The Wild have lost 4 straight (0-3-1) and have been outscored 18-7, allowing an average of 4.50 goals/game (allowed 3+ goals in each) and scoring an average of 1.75 goals/game.
  • Chicago has traded wins and losses through much of the last 4 weeks having gone 7-5-1 since Dec. 13 after having an 8-game win streak from Nov. 26-Dec. 11. The Blackhawks have lost 3 of their last 5 (2-3-0) but return home where they have won 10 of their last 12 (10-2-0).
  • Despite winning 10 of their last 12 at home, Chicago has split their last 4 home contests including losing to Colorado, 2-0, in their last game at United Center.
  • Chicago last lost consecutive games on Nov. 1 & 2, losses at TOR then at home to WPG.
  • The Blackhawks return home to Chicago after splitting a 2-game road trip with the Wild and Oilers. In their last home game back on Tuesday, Chicago set a record, but one they would like to forget, by putting the most shots on goal in a regular-season home game without scoring a goal since the league officially began tracking shots on goal nearly 60 years ago. The Blackhawks outshot the Avalanche 54-24 but lost 2-0 to Semyon Varlamov and Colorado.
  • MIN coach Mike Yeo left Wednesday‘s practice early after he became visibly agitated and verbally scolded his team. By all accounts, Yeo was frustrated with his team‘s recent performance and went on a profanity laced tirade – including breaking a hockey stick over the boards – before exciting the ice surface.
  • “We weren’t good enough. And we’re not in a position where we can come in and be, let alone decent in practice, bad at practice. I’m not going to accept that,” Yeo said.
  • Yeo added, ―”I’m not worried about that. I told you I’m not going to accept that (kind of practice)…We lost the (last) game. We come to the rink today and, what, are we going to have a practice like that? That’s not good enough….I know one thing: we can hang our heads, we can feel sorry for ourselves, we can point fingers, we can do whatever we want. But those types of things are not the types of things that winners do, and those types of things do not help you get out of something like this. I know what I’m going to control, and I’m going to make sure that I bring it.”

HEAD TO HEAD

  • Chicago has won both meetings thus far this season…
  • Dec. 16 at CHI: CHI def. MIN 5-3
  • CHI – Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews & Brent Seabrook each had one goal and 2 assists.
  • Jan. 8 at MIN: CHI def. MIN 4-2
  • CHI – Patrick Kane 1 goals, 2 assists…Bryan Bickell 2 goals…Brad Richards 3 assists.  MIN outshot CHI 44-20.
  • Central Division Matchup: Chicago sits 2nd in the division, while Minnesota is currently 7th (last)…
  • With 56 points, Chicago is 4 points behind division/NHL-leading NSH.
  • The Wild (41 points) are currently in the cellar of the Central – 14 back of 3rd-place STL in the division – and 7 behind LA for the 2nd Wild Card spot in the West…at this point last season (through 40 games), MIN had 45 points and trailed PHX for the 2nd Wild Card spot by 2 points.
  • The Wild made a second consecutive trip to the playoffs last season after the previous 4 seasons without a playoff appearance.

MINNESOTA TEAM/PLAYER NOTES

  • Despite missing the last 2 games, Zach Parise is t-2nd on the team in goals (14 – with Nino Niederreiter) and 2nd in points (30). Parise is the only player on the Wild with double figures in goals and assists (16). In his first game back on Saturday, he had 0 points and has 3G-4A in his last 8 games.
  • Jason Pominville leads the team in points (32) and assists (23)…Pominville has 4 points (1G-3A) in his last 3 games. Pominville led the team in goals (30) and points (60) last season.
  • Ryan Suter leads the league in time on ice/game (29:35) after leading the league in this category the past two seasons. Suter is 4th on the team in points (22) and 2nd in assists (21). Suter has gone without a point in his last 8 games and scored his only goal in MIN‘s season opener against COL on Oct. 9.
  • Nino Niederreiter is tied for 2nd on the team in goals (14) but has gone the last 11 games without one. He has an assist in back-to- back games but has only 3 points (0G-3A) in his last 11 games. Niederreiter has 20 points this season (played in all 40 games) – more than halfway to his career high of 36 set last season (in 81 GP) – and has already tied his goal total from a season ago in 41 fewer games.
  • Niklas Backstrom is expected to start in net for the Wild. In his 9th season, all with MIN, the Finn started in both meetings vs. CHI this season: 4 GA on 38 shots on Dec. 16; 3 GA on 19 shots on Jan. 8…In his career, he is: 6-11-1, 2.90 GAA vs. CHI. Starting with that Dec. 16 loss at CHI, Backstrom is: 0-3-2, 3.66 GAA, .876 SV% in his last 4 starts.
  • Jason Zucker leads the team in goals (15) in his 4th season in the league (all with MIN). He already has set career highs in goals and assists (5). He has 4 points (3G-1A) in his last 3 games.

CHICAGO TEAM/PLAYER NOTES

  • Patrick Kane was named the NHL‘s 2nd Star for the month of December (behind Ryan Getzlaf – ANA) after he tied for second in the league with 17 points (8G-9A) in 13 GP. CHI went 10-2-1 in December. Kane leads the team in goals (20 – 7th in NHL) and assists (25). His 45 points are 9 more than Jonathan Toews’ 36 (2nd on the team). Kane has scored a goal and had 2 assists in each meeting vs. MIN this season…He has 9 points (4G-5A) in his last 7 games.  Kane has now reached 20 goals in each of his eight NHL seasons; he is the first U.S.-born player in NHL history to post at least 20 goals in each of his first eight seasons. Kane is just the second player in Blackhawks history to tally at least 20 goals in each of his first eight NHL seasons joining Denis Savard, who posted 10 straight 20-goal campaigns for Chicago to begin his career (1980-81 through 1989-90; then added two more w/ MTL).
  • Brad Richards has 24 points (8G-16A) in his first season with Chicago. The 14-year vet had 51 points with the Rangers last season. Richards had 3 assists vs. MIN on Thursday and has 6 points (2G-4A) in his last 6 games. o Richards has 25 points (7G-18A) in 22 career games vs. MIN.
  • Jonathan Toews is right behind Kane – 2nd on the team in goals (13) and points (36). ―Captain Serious‖ has not scored a goal since Dec. 21 (8 games without one) but has 7 assists in that span. Toews has 23 points (7G-16A) in 24 career games vs. MIN including 1G-3A in 2 meetings this season.
  • Bryan Bickell scored twice on Thursday at MIN, his 2nd career multi-goal game and first since March 5, 2013 – also vs. MIN. Since 2012-13, Bickell has 6 goals in 9 regular-season meetings vs. MIN.
  • Patrick Sharp, who led the team in goals (34) and points (78) last season, has only 21 points (9G-12A) this season in 28 games (missed 14 games in Nov./Dec. with a lower-body injury). Sharp did score at MIN on Thursday and has 6 points (4G-2A) in his last 7 games.
  • Corey Crawford has made 8 starts since missing nearly a month after he injured his foot leaving a concert. He is 4-3-1 in those games. In his last start, Crawford made a season-high 42 saves on 44 shots at MIN on Thursday (Antti Raanta started at EDM). Overall this season, Crawford is 16-8-2 with a 2.19 GAA and .921 SV%. o Career vs. MIN: 6-3-2, 2.35 GAA, .913 SV%.

Penguins keep heating up; Struggling Stars sink lower

Leave a comment

Is it time for the Dallas Stars to throw Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn under the bus again?

We’re still in October, and things are looking unsettling for a team that navigated some serious highs and lows in 2018-19 to eventually drum up lofty expectations for 2019-20. So far, the Stars have flopped in their encore performance, like a band tripping over all of their instruments while the crowd raises its lighters.

On paper, you’d think it would be the Pittsburgh Penguins who were struggling against the Stars on Friday. After all, they are the team still dealing with injuries to Evgeni Malkin, Alex Galchenyuk, Nick Bjugstad, and Bryan Rust, while the Stars recently got interesting offseason addition Corey Perry back in the lineup.

Instead, the two teams continued on their opposite trajectories. The Penguins keep finding ways to win, in this case riding two Kris Letang goals to a 4-2 win against the Stars, pushing Pittsburgh’s winning streak to five games. Dallas, meanwhile, lost its fifth game in a row (0-4-1), and the Stars saw their overall 2019-20 record sink to a deeply unsettling 1-7-1.

Former PHT editor Brandon Worley captured much of the mood among Stars fans after another dispiriting loss.

Most are shaking their heads in dismay, with some feeling like it shouldn’t be a surprise.

Like many, I didn’t expect Ben Bishop, Anton Khudobin, and other Stars goalies to combine for a .923 team save percentage like they did in 2018-19, which towered over last season’s league average of .905.

It absolutely was a red flag that the Stars only marginally outscored the opposition (209 goals for, 200 against) last season despite that Herculean goaltending.

Still, there were signs that Jim Montgomery’s system was putting Bishop and Khudobin in a situation to succeed, and there are elements of a modern puck-moving defense in place. One could picture another step for sizzling sophomore Miro Heiskanen, and the Stars made the playoffs despite dark horse Norris candidate John Klingberg being limited to 64 regular-season games. More Heiskanen, more Klingberg, another step for Roope Hintz, plus the additions of Joe Pavelski and, to a much lesser extent, Corey Perry? There were worse formulas for success heading into 2019-20, so fools like me wondered if the Stars might be able to rekindle that magic.

Luck should improve

And, to be fair, counting the Stars out just a little more than two weeks into 2019-20 would be hasty.

Hintz and Heiskanen are some of the only Stars off to the starts you’d expect, with Seguin parked at four points in nine games, Pavelski only managing one goal and one assist, and Klingberg being limited to a single point.

Things should regress in a positive way, even in the highly likely instance that neither Bishop nor Khudobin will rekindle that 2018-19 magic. Much like the slow-starting Wild, the Stars have played most of their games on the road (six of nine away from home) so far. After Saturday’s trip to Philly to play the Flyers, the Stars play six of seven games in Dallas from Oct. 21 through Nov. 5. The outlook could look quite a bit rosier by the end of that stretch.

It doesn’t change the fact that the Stars dug themselves a formidable hole. While the Stars have a hapless divisional neighbor in the Minnesota Wild, the bottom line is that the Central Division figures to be unforgiving.

A matter of philosophy?

Maybe it’s too early to panic, but it’s absolutely time to ask tough questions. The Stars aren’t that far removed from being one of the most electrifying teams in the NHL, only to turn their back on that formula at the first signs of pushback, instead going the “safer” route of becoming more defensive-minded under Ken Hitchcock and then Montgomery.

It was easier to watch that beautiful thing die when the Stars were winning, yet it’s debatable if dumbing things down by going all-defense is truly the “safe” route, especially with a team fueled by offensive talent from Seguin and Alexander Radulov on offense and skilled defensemen like Klingberg and Heiskanen on the blueline.

Maybe losing to a depleted Penguins teams at least provides another chance to do some soul-searching?

The Penguins carried the Stars’ outscore-your-problems torch once Dallas wavered, and Pittsburgh marched to two consecutive Stanley Cups despite defense that ranged from shaky to shabby. Then, for reasons even more perplexing, the Penguins began to lose confidence in that approach, and ended up losing some ground in the process.

As of Friday, the Penguins and Stars are moving in very different directions, and one can bet that they’ll see other dramatic shifts over an 82-game regular season. Maybe both can provide each other lessons about playing to your strengths and knowing who you are, though.

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Nationals’ Scherzer drops ceremonial baseball before Capitals game

Leave a comment

The Washington Nationals have some time to kill before the 2019 World Series after sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals, so why not take in a Washington Capitals game … and maybe put a new knuckleball-like spin on a common hockey photo-op?

Instead of dropping the ceremonial first puck before Friday’s Capitals – Rangers contest, three-time Cy Young winner Max Scherzer elected to drop a baseball instead. You can watch video of that fun ceremony (which vaguely reminded me of Auston Matthews doing a little Globetrotter spin with a Raptors basketball) in the video above. Sports city synergy is fun, is what I’m trying to say.

As a baseball not-knower, this brings up a lot of questions — some I can answer, some not so much.

  • Was it one of those new-fangled “juiced” baseballs? Scherzer probably doesn’t like those, if they’re really a thing.
  • I was wondering about Scherzer’s (maybe somewhat intimidating) different-colored eyes. Apparently Scherzer was born that way, although one eye was blue and the other was green, originally. (The blue eye turned bluer, while the green one turned brown.) Dany Heatley is a hockey player who comes to mind with that, but his story is less fun and more upsetting.
  • CNN clears up the Nationals’ connection to “Baby Shark,” which I wondered about thanks to this:

(Even Capitals fans would probably admit that this is swimming a bit close to San Jose’s waters.)

  • In case you were wondering, that sports city synergy went both ways, as you can see from Alex Ovechkin hugging Scherzer before a Nationals game in June 2018 (via Getty):
(Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)

As of this writing, the Capitals lead the Rangers 3-2 and the New York Yankees are trying to protect a 4-1 lead against the Houston Astros in Game 5 of the ALCS. If the Astros win, they’ll face Scherzer’s Nationals.

… And that about concludes my baseball-knowing.

/chews imaginary tobacco/Major League Chew

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Devils, Hischier agree to seven-year, $50.75 million extension

Getty Images
3 Comments

While the Devils don’t know yet if Taylor Hall will sign an extension to remain in New Jersey or find a new home next summer in free agency, GM Ray Shero has young locked down one of the team’s core pieces.

On Friday, Nico Hischier agreed to a seven-year, $50.75 million extension that carries a $7.25 million cap hit through the 2026-27 NHL season. The deal buys three unrestricted free agent years since the Devils forward has been playing since he was 18, per Cap Friendly.

“Nico is a special person who possess a team-first mentality combined with an inner drive to succeed,” said Shero in a statement. The entire organization is thankful to him and his family for believing in our future. We are excited that he will continue to play a prominent role with us for many years to come.”

According to the Devils, here’s the year-by-year breakdown:

2020-21: $7,000,000 (includes $3 million signing bonus)
2021-22: $7,250,000
2022-23:  $4,500,000
2023-24:  $7,750,000
2024-25:  $7,750,000
2025-26:  $8,000,000
2026-27:  $8,500,000

The extension also features a modified no-trade clause in the final three years.

In 157 NHL games, Hischier, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 draft, has 37 goals and 101 points while averaging over 17 minutes a night. His offense has been just fine with a 20 and 17 goals in his first two seasons, but his two-way game is what’s really boosted his talent.

The 20-year-old center joins the list of NHLers who passed on restricted free agency in 2020 to put pen to paper on a new deal, joining the likes of Alex DeBrincat, Clayton Keller, Thomas Chabot, and Sam Girard.

Mathew Barzal, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Dylan Strome, and Mikhail Sergachev are some of the other potential 2020 RFAs who will be looking for extensions before next season.

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Helm fined $5K for slash on Flames’ Lindholm

Getty Images
2 Comments

Darren Helm and Elias Lindholm had a little battle in the third period of Thursday’s 5-1 Flames win and it has resulted in a $5,000 fine for the Red Wings forward.

It all began during a face-off when Lindholm got taken down by Helm. The Flames forward took exception and skated after Helm as the puck entered the Calgary zone. The tiff continued on with Lindholm throwing an elbow at Helm, who responded by getting up off the ice and slashing Lindholm in the back of the leg.

“Their guy comes with an elbow that should have probably been called right away,” said Red Wings head coach Jeff Blashill. “Then Darren reacts to that as most guys would, you get an elbow to the face for no reason you’re going to react. We got to be more disciplined in those situations, but he slashed him. I don’t think the slash was that super-hard, but it sure looked hard the way he went down.”

The fine is the maximum amount allowable under the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Helm was given a major for slashing and a game misconduct, while Lindholm got off with just an interference minor. Lindholm was helped to the dressing room and there’s been no update yet on his condition.

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.