Koivu injury further complicates trade deadline for Wild

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By Dave Campbell (AP Sports Writer)

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Their hold on a spot in the playoffs hardly firm, the Minnesota Wild’s streak of six straight postseason appearances took a hit when captain Mikko Koivu tore the ACL and meniscus in his right knee .

For the 35-year-old Koivu, who has never advanced past the Western Conference semifinals and has just a 16-39 record with the Wild in the playoffs, this severe late-career injury was a most unwelcome development even for a determined, intense player like him.

For the Wild, the absence of their second-line center and best defensive forward will be impossible to cover up.

For general manager Paul Fenton it created an unexpected complication to an already unclear picture about how to approach the NHL trade deadline on Feb. 25. Is this a postseason-caliber team, with the opportunity to make some noise in a tournament that’s one of the most unpredictable in sports? Or are the Wild bound for mid-April vacations and a higher-than-usual draft pick? Throughout his first season on the job, well, Fenton has acknowledged his own uncertainty.

Should he try to buy and bring in a veteran center for the final push? Or start selling to restock the prospect pool? Stay tuned was Fenton’s answer to that question on Thursday morning, before the Wild hosted Edmonton.

”I’m going to watch them play here a little bit. I actually have meetings with our staff to talk about where we are and how we are going forward here,” Fenton said. ”I’m not trying to be mysterious. You guys watch our team as much and you look at the standings. Everybody is in it. It isn’t like we can say ‘Yes,’ or ‘No,’ or ‘You’re definitely in,’ or ‘You’re definitely out.’ It’s going to be a dogfight right to the end.”

The Wild entered play Thursday in fourth place in the Central Division and in control of the first wild card spot, with one game in hand and a three-point lead on Vancouver. They haven’t produced a winning streak longer than three games since a five-game run that ended on Oct. 29, and in the first three games this month out of their bye week they snagged just two of six points.

”It’s an opportunity for somebody else to step up and to make their mark,” Fenton said.

The recently acquired Victor Rask will move up one line. Joel Eriksson Ek, who was recalled from the AHL after Koivu was hurt at Buffalo on Tuesday night, also will be heavily relied on.

”We’re really going to miss Mikko, because he might be the best player this franchise has ever seen,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. ”But if you sit and pout and go, ‘Woe is me,’ you’re going to be all done.”

Koivu, who will have surgery Friday, did not speak to reporters. Fenton declined to speculate on his readiness for training camp in September, but the typical recovery timeline for an ACL would put his availability for the 2019-20 season opener in doubt. That’s the final year on Koivu’s contract, with a $5.5 million salary cap hit.

In the meantime, his defense will unquestionably be missed the most.

”That’s my favorite part of his game,” goalie Devan Dubnyk said.

Koivu missed just three or fewer games in eight of his first 13 seasons in the NHL. This one will be his career low for a non-lockout schedule.

”I’m sure there’s a lot of teams in the league that play against this team that are thinking that, ‘Finally, we don’t have to play against that weight and size that he brings to the game,’ because he’s a very competitive guy,” Oilers coach Ken Hitchcock said. ”I’ve seen him wear down a lot of good centers.”

More AP NHL coverage: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

AHL’s Bakersfield Condors can’t stop winning, boast 15-game streak

Bakersfield Condors
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The parent club has won once in 11 games. The minor league affiliate is the hottest team in the American Hockey League.

If you’re an Edmonton Oilers fan, well, maybe there’s some hope down in the AHL that can lead to a turnaround in the future. The Bakersfield Condors are red-hot right now having won 15 straight games, with their last defeat coming on Jan. 11.

They won No. 15 on Saturday night, thanks to an overtime goal from Cooper Marody. Here are the highlights and the call from the great Ryan Holt:

The streak has put the Condors in first place in the AHL’s Pacific Division and second in the Western Conference.

Now for the fun facts:

• The Condors are the seventh AHL team to win 15 consecutive games.

• The 15-game winning streak is the fourth-longest in AHL history.

• They kicked off 2019 with an 0-4-1 record and were in fifth place in their division — 11 points out of first place —  before the streak started.

• Bakersfield has outscored opponents 69-31 over their last 15 games and have only trailed for 49 minutes total.

• Per Holt, if the Condors win No. 16 next Saturday against Tucson they will match the 1984-85 Baltimore Skipjacks’ 16-game winning streak. That Skipjacks roster featured Steve Carlson (a.k.a. Steve Hanson), Bruce Boudreau, Marty McSorley, Bob Errey, Phil Bourque, and Andy Brickley. “Nobody on the roster was even alive then.”

• Only two teams in AHL history have had winning streaks greater than 16 games: The 2004-05 Philadelphia Phantoms won 17, and the record-holders, 2011-12 Norfolk Admirals, went on an insane run winning 28 straight. Both teams won the Calder Cup in their respective seasons. (That Norfolk roster featured the likes of Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat, and were coached by some guy named Jon Cooper. Wonder whatever happened to those three?)

If the Condors keep the wins coming they could match the Admirals’ record on March 30 against the San Jose Barracuda and break it against the Manitoba Moose on April 2.

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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.

NHL on NBCSN: Dominant Lightning still have chip on their shoulder

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Monday’s matchup between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Columbus Blue Jackets. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Lightning have put together an incredible season thus far. How great have they been? Well, just take a look at the league standings. Through 59 games, the Bolts have accumulated 92 points. That puts them 15 points ahead of the Calgary Flames, who are the second-best team in the NHL right now.

If you were expecting the Lightning to slow down with such a big lead, you were mistaken. Tampa Bay still hasn’t dropped a game in regulation this month, as they’re in the middle of a 7-0-2 stretch in the month February. And it’s not like they’re beating up on bad teams, either.

They’ve taken down the Islanders, who are the best team in the Metropolitan Division, the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Calgary Flames, Dallas Stars and Montreal Canadiens over the last three weeks.

How do they stay motivated with a such a big lead in the standings? Clearly, they’re being fuelled by their lack of Stanley Cup Championships.

“We have a chip on our shoulder,” Steven Stamkos said, per USA Today. “I’m sure there are a lot of teams that would be happy to go to a Stanley Cup Final and three of the last four Eastern Conference Finals. That’s tough to do. But with the expectations being so high for our group, we came into this year thinking this was our year, our turn.”

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

Here’s how good they’ve been in 2018-19:

• They have a plus-73 goal differential. The Maple Leafs are second in that category and they’re at plus-42.

Nikita Kucherov has 94 points in 59 games. He’s six away from setting a new career high. Oh, and Patrick Kane is second in scoring this season (87 points in 58 games).

• The Lightning have three players in the top nine when it comes to scoring. Kucherov, Brayden Point (75 points in 58 games) and Steven Stamkos (71 points in 59 games). Only Colorado has more than one.

• Tampa has the best power play in the NHL. They have a success rate of 29.7 percent. The Bruins are 3.2 percent away from the Lightning in this category.

• Their penalty kill is ranked second in the league at 84.6 percent. Only Arizona (85.2 percent) is ahead of them.

All impressive totals, right? So let’s take a look at the advanced numbers, too (all stats via Natural Stat Trick):

• The Lightning are eighth in CF% at 51.95 percent. San Jose, Carolina, Vegas, Montreal, Nashville, Boston and Calgary are all ahead of them.

• When it comes to scoring chances, they have a 53.16 percent share of those opportunities this season. Only Vegas, Carolina, San Jose and Minnesota have a bigger share of the scoring chances.

• When it comes to high-danger scoring, as you’d imagine, the Lightning find themselves with the sixth-highest percentage in that category.

The Lightning have been dominant all year and now they just have to hope that they can stay healthy before the start of the playoffs.

MORE: What should Lightning add at trade deadline?

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.

NHL on NBCSN: Martin Jones might be key to long playoff run for Sharks

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Monday’s matchup between the Boston Bruins and San Jose Sharks. Coverage begins at 10:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Sharks have been one of the elite teams in the NHL this season. They’re in a tight battle with the Calgary Flames for the Pacific Division. As of right now, only the Tampa Bay Lightning have more points than San Jose’s 77. What makes this run even more impressive for the Sharks, is that they’ve done all this with subpar goaltending for most of the season.

Starting netminder Martin Jones owns a 28-11-4 record, which is far from terrible, but his individual stats leave a lot to be desired. He owns a 2.88 goals-against-average and a .899 save percentage in 2018-19. Those numbers include his recent surge, which tells you just how bad they were a little while ago.

In fairness to Jones, he’s been a lot better of late. The 29-year-old has rattled off six victories in his last seven games and he’s allowed two goals against in five of those contests. Since Christmas, he’s posted 14-3-0 record. So that’s encouraging. The Sharks just need to make sure he keeps rolling as the regular season comes to a close.

Backup goalie Aaron Dell hasn’t been much better (he hasn’t been better than Jones at all). In a smaller sample size, Dell has posted similar numbers to Jones. He has a 3.04 goals-against-average and a .892 save percentage.

What makes this issue a little more complex, is that general manager Doug Wilson can’t just go out and get himself another goalie. Wasting an asset or two on acquiring a goalie from another team when you’re paying Jones $5.75 million on a long-term contract isn’t good business. And it’s probably not the message you want to send Jones, who has five years remaining on his current deal.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 10 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

Sure, Wilson could add Sergei Bobrovsky, Jimmy Howard or someone else, but there’s no guarantee that any of those goalies on the trade market will help get them further than Jones can. At this point, it seems like they’ve hitched their wagon to Jones, so he’s one of the players that will dictate how far they can go in the playoffs.

The Sharks have enough talent up front and on defense that they can overcome some average goaltending, but Jones can’t post a goals-against-average of three and a save percentage under .900 when the playoffs role around. There’s only so many more cracks this group of players will get at the Stanley Cup.

Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Brent Burns are in their 30’s, while there’s no guarantee that Erik Karlsson will sign an extension to stay in San Jose.

If Jones can continue giving the Sharks some quality goaltending like he has been over the last few weeks, they have to be considered one of the favorites to win it all. If he reverts back to being average, they may only last a round or two.

All eyes will be on San Jose’s crease this spring.

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Ducks retire Niedermayer’s no. 27; Is Simmonds heading to Tampa?

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• The Hockey News provides us with top 10 lists of active players in different categories that mean the most. (The Hockey News)

• The Anaheim Ducks retired Scott Niedermayer’s no. 27 last night. (NHL.com)

• The Columbus Blue Jackets are starting to suffer trade deadline fatigue. Their fans are counting down the days until Feb. 25. (The Cannon)

• Campbell Weaver has been added to the Bruins analytics department. (Stanley Cup of Chowder)

• After the Lightning and Canadiens faced off on Saturday night, the Montreal Gazette made the comparison between the Bolts and 1976-77 Habs. (Montreal Gazette)

• Capitals head coach Todd Reirden found an interesting way to connect with some his foreign players. (Washington Post)

• Is Wayne Simmonds heading to Tampa? The Tampa Times answers five questions on that subject. (Tampa Times)

• The Maple Leafs are going to need their veterans to perform better than they are right now. (Toronto Star)

• The fact that the Islanders are going to be playing their first-round playoff series at Nassau Coliseum is nothing but good news. (Newsday)

• Should the Florida Panthers trade Mike Hoffman? (The Rat Trick)

• The Avs have plenty of cap space, so they should use it to buy bad contracts from other teams. (Mile High Hockey)

Mark Stone should be the Golden Knights’ top target at the trade deadline, according to Steve Carp. (Sinbin.Vegas)

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.