Brad Hunt

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WATCH LIVE: Capitals visit Wild on NBCSN

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Sunday’s matchup between the Washington Capitals and Minnesota Wild. Coverage begins at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

This is the first of two meetings between these teams this season, facing each other again in Washington on April 2. The Wild won their last meeting against the Caps in March of last season, having lost eight straight games against Washington prior to that win.

Washington is coming off a 3-0 loss at Winnipeg on Thursday, just the second time the Caps have been shut out in this season (3-0 loss at CBJ on Dec 16). Minnesota has won five of their last six games and are currently riding a three-game winning streak. They have scored five-plus goals in each of their last three wins (17 goals total) and are coming off a 5-0 win at Columbus on Friday night. Their 17 goals scored are tied most in a three-game span in franchise history (April 2009).

While the Capitals have 21 road wins this season (second most in NHL) they have lost four straight on the road, being outscored 12-5 in that span. After starting the season 10-1-1 in their first 12 road games, the Caps have fallen back down to earth, now 11-9-0 in their last 20 on the road.

Kevin Fiala leads the Wild with 47 points this season and has had three straight multi-point games. After scoring just nine goals in his first 46 games this season, Fiala now has 10 goals in his last 13. With 19 goals on the year, Fiala is set to hit the 20-goal mark for just the second time in his career (23 goals for Nashville in 2017-18)

After facing Washington, the Wild host the Predators on Tuesday, who currently sit one point above Minnesota in the West. They then go on a three-game California road trip against the three worst teams in the Western Conference.

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 8 P.M. ET ON NBCSN]

WHAT: Washington Capitals at Minnesota Wild
WHERE: Xcel Energy Center
WHEN: Sunday, March 1, 8 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Capitals-Wild stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

CAPITALS
Alex OvechkinEvgeny KuznetsovTom Wilson
Jakub VranaNicklas BackstromT.J. Oshie
Carl HagelinLars EllerIlya Kovalchuk
Richard PanikNic DowdGarnet Hathaway

Brenden DillonJohn Carlson
Dmitry OrlovMichal Kempny
Jonas SiegenthalerNick Jensen

Starting goalie: Braden Holtby

WILD
Gerald Mayhew – Eric Staal – Kevin Fiala
Zach PariseJoel Eriksson EkJordan Greenway
Marcus FolignoAlex GalchenyukMats Zuccarello
Ryan DonatoMikko KoivuRyan Hartman

Ryan SuterJared Spurgeon
Jonas BrodinMatt Dumba
Brad HuntGreg Pateryn

Starting goalie: Alex Stalock

Gord Miller and Pierre McGuire will call the action from Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn. Kathryn Tappen will host Sunday night’s studio coverage alongside analysts Anson Carter and Mike Johnson.

Wild stay hot with back-and-forth win over Avalanche: 3 takeaways

Just about two months ago it seemed like the season was already slipping away from the Minnesota Wild.

They had won just four of their first 14 games, had one of the worst records in the league, and were set to begin a four-game road trip. It was a potential a turning point in their season as it could have easily gotten away from them.

It did not.

Thanks to their 6-4 win in Colorado on Friday, the Wild remain one of the NHL’s hottest teams since the first week of November and have played their way back into playoff contention.

You can see all of the highlights in the video above.

Let’s dig into three quick takeaways on Friday’s game and the Wild’s current strong play.

1. No lead seemed safe in this game

And that is because almost no lead was safe.

After the Wild jumped out to an early 2-0 lead and carried the play for most of the first period, Colorado responded with two goals in less than two minutes to tie the game. After Brad Hunt regained the lead for the Wild, Colorado came back with two more quick goals (one in the final minute of the second period; another in the opening minute of the third period) to take a 4-3 lead early in the third period. The Wild then responded with three goals in the game’s final 10 minutes to pick up the win.

It was a complete team effort, too.

Not only did they get goals from top-line players like Eric Staal, Mats Zuccarello, and Ryan Suter, but depth players like Hunt and Viktor Rask also contributed. Carson Soucy also continued his strong rookie season with another goal, while Kevin Fiala chipped in two assists.

2. The Wild have been one of the the NHL’s hottest teams for two months

With Friday’s win the Wild are now 15-6-5 in their past 26 games dating back to Nov. 1.

That is the fifth-best points percentage in the NHL during that stretch and has taken them from the bottom of the NHL standings to serious playoff contention in the Western Conference.

What should give Wild fans a lot of optimism isn’t just the fact they have started to dig themselves out of that early hole. It is also the fact they have a chance to keep stacking up points because of this…

3. They play 16 of their next 19 games on home ice

After spending most of the first half of the season on the road, the Wild now get to make up for that by spending almost the entire third quarter of the season in Minnesota.

Their only road games between now and Feb. 15 take them to Calgary on Jan. 9, Pittsburgh on Jan. 14, and Dallas on Feb. 7. After that, their next road game isn’t until Feb. 19 when they travel to Vancouver.

This is noteworthy because the Wild are one of the best teams in the league on home ice with a 10-2-3 record.

Even after Friday’s win in Colorado they are just 9-13-2 on the road this season.

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.

WATCH LIVE: Avalanche host Wild on NBCSN

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Friday’s matchup between the Colorado Avalanche and Minnesota Wild. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The League returns from the Christmas break with 11 games on the schedule, including this Central Division matchup – the third of five regular-season meetings between the Wild and Avalanche. Each team has won at home against the other with the Avs winning, 4-2, on Oct. 5 (second game of the season for both clubs) and the Wild pulling out a 3-2 victory on Nov. 21.

Colorado, looking to return to the postseason for the third straight year, sit second in the Central, while Minnesota is in the thick of the Wild Card hunt – two points back of Calgary for the second position – and certainly not out of the race for a division spot, just three points behind Winnipeg. The Wild missed the playoffs a season ago after making six consecutive appearances from 2012-13 to 2017-18.

Nathan MacKinnon was voted an All-Star captain for the second straight season. Having another MVP caliber season (was the Hart Trophy runner-up two seasons ago), the No. 1 pick in 2013 has played in all 37 games this season and leads the Avs in most major statistical categories – goals (21), assists (34), points (55), shots (168), power-play goals (7), power-play points (20).

Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk missed over a month with a family issue, playing on Nov. 16 and then coming back on Dec. 19. He’s played in three games since his return (two starts). He allowed five goals at Arizona in a win in his first game back and then had the shutout against Calgary on Monday.

The consistent line of Landeskog-MacKinnon-Rantanen is now fully healthy and the second line of Andre BurakovskyNazem KadriJoonas Donskoi, which is entirely new this season, has been just as productive a trio. After MacKinnon (21), it’s Burakovsky and Donskoi (13 each) and Kadri (12), who are tops on the team in goals this season.

[COVERAGE OF BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

WHAT: Minnesota Wild at Colorado Avalanche
WHERE: Pepsi Center
WHEN: Friday, Dec. 27, 7 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Wild-Avs stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

WILD
Zach PariseEric StaalMats Zuccarello
Ryan DonatoJoel Eriksson EkKevin Fiala
Jordan GreenwayNico SturmLuke Kunin
Marcus FolignoVictor RaskRyan Hartman

Ryan SuterJared Spurgeon
Jonas BrodinCarson Soucy
Brad HuntMathew Dumba

Starting goalie: Devan Dubnyk

AVALANCHE
Gabriel Landeskog – Nathan MacKinnon – Mikko Rantanen
Andre Burakovsky – Nazem Kadri – Joonas Donskoi
Matt NietoPierre-Edouard BellemareMatt Calvert
Tyson JostJ.T. CompherValeri Nichushkin

Cale MakarSam Girard
Nikita ZadorovRyan Graves
Ian ColeErik Johnson

Starting goalie: Pavel Francouz

Kathryn Tappen will host Friday’s coverage on NHL Live alongside analysts Mike Milbury and Keith Jones. Chris Cuthbert will handle play-by-play duties alongside Pierre McGuire at Pepsi Center in Denver, Colo.

Episode 2 of the three-part docuseries “Road To The NHL Winter Classic” will air on Friday, Dec. 27, at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. The season finale will be presented on Monday, Jan. 6, at 10:30 p.m. ET immediately following Oilers-Maple Leafs on NBCSN. 

The series will chronicle the Stars and Predators as they prepare to meet outdoors in the 2020 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on January 1 at Cotton Bowl Stadium at 1 p.m. ET on NBC.

Wild’s Spurgeon 10 seasons into size-defying career

ST. PAUL, Minn. — The defining moment of Jared Spurgeon‘s hockey career came when he was just 13: His peewee coach in Edmonton moved him from forward to defenseman.

There was no going back for Spurgeon, even though he hasn’t grown much bigger since then. Minnesota’s 5-foot-9, 167-pound stalwart on the blue line has been defying size stereotypes ever since.

”I just fell in love with the position,” Spurgeon said.

The Wild have felt the same way about him over the last 10 seasons. The 30-year-old Spurgeon, who set career highs in games (82), goals (14), assists (29), shots (152) and hits (91) during the 2019-19 season, signed a seven-year, $53 million contract extension at the beginning of training camp.

Not bad for a sixth-round pick the New York Islanders ultimately declined to sign, paving the way for a tryout with the Wild two years after he was drafted.

”Probably the best in the NHL at breaking the puck out. Unbelievable on his edges. One of the smartest players in the game,” said Buffalo defenseman Marco Scandella, who played with Spurgeon in Minnesota for seven seasons. ”He’s got a lot of things in his toolbox, and he doesn’t even need the size.”

Spurgeon, who is halfway through an expected two-week absence for a hand injury sustained while blocking a shot, has ranked over the last four years in the top 20 among NHL defensemen in goals, power play goals, blocked shots and time on ice.

”That’s one of those players that you’re just like, ‘How?’ ” Scandella said. ”You just have to watch him over a season. Play with him, and you understand how good he is.”

The ability to skate – and pass – quickly will always be critical for a player with Spurgeon’s frame. Part of that is being fast enough to elude opponents, but it also means maximizing his power by maintaining leverage and balance for the moments when he does initiate or absorb contact.

”You don’t need to be huge and massive to be strong on your skates,” said St. Louis center Ryan O'Reilly, who faces Spurgeon frequently as a Central Division rival. ”You go in and forecheck, and he is so strong. It’s like going against a big guy.”

Awareness is just as important as fearlessness to succeed as a 5-foot-9 player, of course.

Spurgeon simply doesn’t get pushed around much because he’s rarely caught off guard by a big hit. The advantage of vision from the blue line, being able to see the plays develop in front of him, was one of the benefits that immediately drew Spurgeon to defense. He tried to emulate players who came before him like Brian Rafalski and Dan Boyle, sub-6-foot defensemen who were offensive threats but never a liability in their own zone.

”The emphasis of moving the puck and getting up ice and being able to contribute offensively as well is a whole lot different than it used to be, where maybe you had one of those guys before and a bunch of a big, mean guys,” Spurgeon said. ”But I think now the game is so fast that I think it gives the ability for smaller guys to play.”

According to Sportradar data, there are 41 defensemen who have appeared in at least one NHL game this season and are listed at 5-foot-11 or shorter. That number drops to 18 at 5-foot-10 or less and to six at 5-foot-9 and under.

In the 2005-06 season after the lockout, which brought rule changes to encourage more free-flowing action in the neutral zone and increase goal scoring, there were only 29 defensemen at 5-foot-11 or shorter, 11 at 5-foot-10 or less, and three at 5-foot-9 and under. Twenty years ago, there were fewer still: 22 players at 5-foot-11 or shorter, eight at 5-foot-10 or less, and just one at 5-foot-9 and under.

The Wild have two 5-foot-9 blue-liners with Spurgeon and Brad Hunt. Boston’s Torey Krug is another standout in the club. Those lanky veterans around the league like St. Louis’ Colton Parayko (6-foot-6), Carolina’s Dougie Hamilton (6-foot-6) and Boston’s Zdeno Chara (6-foot-9) have obvious advantages with reach and strength, but there’s plenty more to sound defense than being able to poke a stick at a puck.

”We have the quickness and the first two or three strides in order to close plays so that they don’t get the possession of the puck and move on. I think it’s just using our skating abilities,” Krug said. ”I think it’s been a long time coming, especially with the real changes in the way the game is trending. It’s funny, years ago to have one of those guys on your team, people kind of scoffed at that. Now we’ve got two and sometimes three in the lineup at once, and it creates really mobile back end.”

STREAKING

Pittsburgh goalie Tristan Jarry had a franchise-record scoreless run of 177:15 that ended during a 4-1 loss to Montreal on Tuesday, just the second defeat in eight starts for the backup to Matt Murray. Jarry stopped 82 consecutive shots during the streak, the longest in the league this season.

SLUMPING

The Detroit Red Wings are sliding toward a four-year absence from the playoffs after the end of their famous 25-season streak of making it. The Red Wings are on a 12-game winless streak, going 0-10-2 since Nov. 12, and have the worst record in the NHL at 7-22-3. They’ve dropped 10 straight games in regulation by a 47-16 margin.

It’s Minnesota Wild Day at PHT

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Minnesota Wild. 

2018-19
37-36-9, 83 points (last in Central Division, 11th in Western Conference)
Playoffs: Did not qualify

IN
Ryan Hartman
Mats Zuccarello

OUT
Eric Fehr
Anthony Bitetto
Pontus Aberg
Nate Prosser
Matt Read

RE-SIGNED
Ryan Donato
Brad Hunt

2018-19 Season Summary

The Minnesota Wild failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since the 2011-12 season. That’s a pretty solid run, but it’s one that didn’t result in them doing much damage in the spring. In the three previous years, they had been bounced in the opening round of the playoffs. It sure looks like their championship window has been slammed shut given the age of some of their core players.

As you’d imagine, they didn’t get off to the greatest of starts in 2018-19. The Wild had just one win in their first five games, but they managed to rattle off five wins in a row later on in October. Minnesota went 7-6 in November before things really fell apart in the month of December.

The final month of the calendar year didn’t treat the wild too kindly, as they won just four of the 13 games they played in December. Three of the four games they won came against teams that, like Minnesota, didn’t make the playoffs in 2019.

The ups and downs just kept coming for the Wild. They bounced back in January by winning eight of 12 games, but they fall apart again in February when they dropped nine of their 10 games that month. Even though they looked good at times, they clearly weren’t consistent enough to be one of the top eight teams in the Western Conference.

[MORE: Under Pressure | Three Questions | X-Factor]

“It’s a bitter pill to swallow,” head coach Bruce Boudreau told the Wild’s website this offseason. “It’s something that I never want to happen again and I think we’re taking steps to make sure that it never does. A little bit has to do with luck and injuries, but it makes for an awful long summer, and as much as you like summer, it’s not what you want when you’re a hockey coach. I don’t know what else to say, other than I’ve hated it and it’s a feeling I don’t want to have to happen again.”

Injuries to key players certainly didn’t help their cause. Mikko Koivu (knee) was limited to 48 games and Matt Dumba (pectoralis muscle) played just 32 contests. Zach Parise, who led the Wild in scoring, only missed eight games, but he’s battled injuries over the last few seasons. There’s no guarantee they’ll be able to count on him for 74 games next year.

This team, which currently has no general manager, has a lot of work to do in order to get themselves back into the top eight. Paul Fenton’s replacement will have some good pieces to work with, but there’s also a long list of older players on the roster, too. Parise, Eric Staal, Ryan Suter and Devan Dubnyk are all at least 33 years old. Their biggest free-agent acquisition, Mats Zuccarello, is going to be 32 once the season starts. That’s an old group.

Also, the fact that Fenton traded Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle and Mikael Granlund away for Victor Rask, Ryan Donato and Kevin Fiala probably won’t help Minnesota. On paper, it sure looks like the Wild would’ve been better with the three players they gave away.

How quickly can this team turn themselves around?

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.