Wild build lead, survive shotless third period to down Jets

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The Minnesota Wild are exacting a bit of revenge against the Winnipeg Jets this season.

For the second time in 13 days and third time this season, the Wild have found their way past the Jets. A 4-2 win back in November was followed up by a 3-1 win on Dec. 29 and then on Thursday night on NBCSN, the Wild did just enough to earn a 3-2 win despite not shooting one puck on goal in the third period.

Considering the Jets owned the Wild last season (3-1-0 in the regular season a before bouncing Minnesota in five games in the playoffs), it’s a decent consolation given that last season is behind them and the Wild are in a dogfight at the moment for a playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Whatever the formula is, it’s proven to be potent. The Wild have figured out how to stall Winnipeg’s power play — Winnipeg’s bread and butter — and stymie them 5-on-5.

Their game plan worked well once again after building a 3-0 lead, including back-to-back goals by Jason Zucker in the second period.

Winnipeg finally found a hole in Devan Dubnyk with 41 seconds left in the second. Given that the Jets had 57 goals this season in the third period, it wasn’t over but they needed a big period.

They engineered just that, outshooting the Wild 13-0 in the period (Minnesota’s only real flaw in the game). It was all Jets, and Mark Scheifele pulled Winnipeg to 3-2 with the extra attacker on the ice at 17:22.

But even with Minnesota’s failure to put a shot on goal, it was Devan Dubnyk, who stopped 26-of-28, that proved to be the difference as the Wild erased bad memories of a 4-0 loss to the Bruins on Tuesday.

Patrik Laine‘s struggles continued on Thursday. His most notable moment was a giveaway in the first period, which isn’t what you’d want to hear if you’re a prolific sniper.

Streaky is the name of Laine’s game, and has been since he got into the NHL as the second overall pick in 2016.

He’s got 24 goals this season, tied for 10th in the NHL, but they largely came in one white-hot stretch. Here’s the breakdown:

  • First 12 games: three goals
  • Next 12 games: 18 goals
  • Next 19 games: three goals

Laine’s bound to bite back with a vengeance, that’s what he does. But the Jets are missing that scoring, especially on the power play, where they are now five-for-25 over their past 10 games. If you take out their 3-for-4 performance against the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday, it only looks worse.

Full credit to the Wild, who paid no attention to Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba, who was operating up top on the point. That allows the Wild to cover off Blake Wheeler, Scheifele and, of course, Laine. Winnipeg’s power play went 0-for-4.

They also blocked 22 shots in the game. That’s a committed effort in a team as dangerous as Winnipeg is with the puck.

Here’s Charlie Coyle on the success Minnesota found:


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

WATCH LIVE: Jets take on Wild in Central Division clash

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Thursday’s matchup between the Minnesota Wild and Winnipeg Jets. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Minnesota is coming off a 4-0 shutout loss in Boston on Tuesday night, which snapped a three-game winning streak. This game is the Wild’s first home game in 201, and the team is looking to snap a four-game losing streak at Xcel Energy Center.

They’ve dropped six of their last eight home games (2-5-1) after going 8-2-2 in their first 12 games at home.

Zach Parise, one of the “Last Men In” All-Star candidates, has 38 points (19G-19A) in 41 games this season, and is averaging 0.93 points/game, his best since 2009-10 (averaged 1.01). He leads the team in goals (19) and has nine points (4G-5A) in the last seven games.

It was Winnipeg’s stars who all shined bright in Tuesday’s win vs. Colorado, with Blake Wheeler recording four pts (1G-3A), and Mark Scheifele (1G-2A) and Jacob Trouba each recording 3 pts (1G-2A).

While the Jets are in good playoff position entering the second half of the season, the team is focused on trying to become a more consistent force, and are trying to use last years’ experience of reaching the Western Conference Final to help lead to another successful run.

“We’re happy with where we’re at in the standings… but overall, as good as we’ve played, we know we have another level that we can get to,” said Bryan Little. “It only gets harder from here. For us, it’s just to elevate our game and to get ready for that.”

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

What: Winnipeg Jets at Minnesota Wild
Where: Xcel Energy Center
When: Thursday, Jan. 10, 7 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Jets-Wild stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

JETS
Kyle Connor – Mark Scheifele – Blake Wheeler
Patrik Laine – Bryan Little – Jack Roslovic
Mathieu PerreaultAdam LowryBrandon Tanev
Brendan LemieuxAndrew CoppMason Appleton

Josh Morrissey – Jacob Trouba
Ben ChiarotTyler Myers
Dmitry KulikovJoe Morrow

Starting goalie: Connor Hellebuyck

WILD
Jordan GreenwayEric StaalNino Niederreiter
Zach Parise – Charlie CoyleLuke Kunin
Jason ZuckerMikko KoivuMikael Granlund
Marcus FolignoJoel Eriksson EkMatt Hendricks

Ryan SuterJared Spurgeon
Jonas BrodinGreg Pateryn
Nick SeelerNate Prosser

Starting goalie: Devan Dubnyk

John Walton (play-by-play) and Pierre McGuire (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will call Jets-Wild from Xcel Energy Center. Tappen, Milbury and Jeremy Roenick will anchor studio coverage.

The Buzzer: Seguin again; Karlsson keeps cooking

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Three Stars

1. Blake Wheeler

By my most recent count, there were 12 skaters who generated at least three points on Tuesday, so sussing out three stars is especially difficult. (At least the goalies mostly cooperated, as Tuukka Rask‘s shutout was of the modest, 24-save variety.)

Wheeler is the one player whose night stood out the most, as he topped everyone with four points: one goal and three assists. His goal was a) shorthanded and b) one of the best highlights of the night, throwing two cherries on top.

Two of Wheeler’s Jets teammates hit three points in Winnipeg’s win, as well, as both Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba enjoyed one-goal, two-assist performances.

2. Tyler Seguin

In determining the other two stars, let’s go with the most exciting stories. This is highly subjective, so feel free to close your eyes and picture your choices taking up these spots, instead.

(Going to stand my ground about Wheeler, though. That’s math for you.)

Seguin remains red-hot, with the only drawback being that a ton of people are probably going to give profanity-laced CEO directives the credit, rather than a prodigiously talented player who’s finally getting the bounces we’ve been wah-wah-ing about.

The Stars star extended his point streak to six games with two goals and an assist. Seguin’s generated six goals and four assists during that span, with half of those games including multi-point efforts.

3. Erik Karlsson

Seguin gets the edge because two of his three points were goals, while all three of Karlsson’s points were assists. But Karlsson is going to ratchet up his Norris Trophy hype considering just how scorching his streak really is.

Karlsson now has a 14-game assist streak, joining a ridiculous group of scoring defensemen that only includes Bobby Orr, Paul Coffey, Phil Housley, and Brian Leetch. Expanding out, he’s only the 13th defenseman to generate a point streak of at least 14 games, and just the sixth since 1990-91.

Karlsson’s plus/minus ended up being +3 in this one, he generated five shots on goal, and logged 23:45 of ice time, so this was quite the all-around effort. The Sharks are really heating up, and it’s no coincidence that Karlsson and Brent Burns are leading the charge.

Again, Tuesday was brimming with other worthy runners-up. Sharks forward Evander Kane was one of the other players who generated three points, by the way.

Highlights

Again, that Blake Wheeler SHG was sweet. Scheifele deserves serious kudos here, too, naturally.

What do you get when you combine a figure skater with a high-end sniper? You get Jeff Skinner, who’s going to get paid.

Andreas Athanasiou provided some sweet sniping, particularly on the first of his two goals (jump in around the 1:10 mark to see it develop):

More Factoids

Scores

BOS 4 – MIN 0
BUF 5 – NJD 1
CAR 4 – NYI 3
PIT 5 – FLA 1
WSH 5 – PHI 3
MTL 3 – DET 2
TBL 4 – CBJ 0
DAL 3 – STL 1
WPG 7 – COL 4
VGK 4 – NYR 2
SJS 7 – EDM 2

(Seems like quite a busy night to have no overtime, eh?)

MORE: Your 2018-19 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.

Maple Leafs among NHL teams facing cap crunches next year

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By John Wawrow (AP Hockey Writer)

There are questions Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock won’t touch with a 10-foot hockey stick.

The challenge a team brimming with young talent faces in managing its payroll structure was one topic Babcock particularly enjoyed sidestepping shortly after Toronto and forward William Nylander ended a lengthy contract dispute this month.

”Well, I think you’ve got to talk to a manager about that,” said Babcock, referring to general manager Kyle Dubas.” I just coach the players.”

Babcock was so pleased with his response, he winked and added: ”I bailed on that one, eh?”

Funny, sure, but it doesn’t make the issue go away.

Nylander signing a six-year, $41.4 million contract was merely a prelude to what will be a busy 2019 for Dubas, who will have to be creative in keeping the young core of his team intact within the constraints of the NHL’s projected $83 million salary cap. With $55 million in salary already on the books for next season, the Leafs have little wiggle room with 2016 first-round draft pick Auston Matthews and forward Mitchell Marner, the team’s current leading scorer, both completing the final years of their contracts.

Matthews, who followed up his 40-goal rookie season with 34 last year, is expected to command a contract similar to the eight-year, $100 million deal Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid signed in the summer of 2017. And Marner, the fourth pick in the 2015 draft, likely won’t be far behind because he is on pace to top the career highs of 22 goals and 69 points he had last season.

”I don’t think any of our group and our whole organization should forgo the enjoyment of the season because we have good players that need contracts,” he said. ”I think it’s a fortunate position that we’re in.”

Dubas is not the only one in this fix.

In Winnipeg, forwards Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor and defenseman Jacob Trouba are eligible to become restricted free agents. With an eye on the future, the Jets were unable to retain Paul Stastny, who elected to sign a better offer with Vegas last summer.

In Buffalo, newly acquired forward Jeff Skinner‘s asking price goes up with each goal he scores. Skinner has 25 already to match last season’s total and ranks second in the NHL behind only Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin. Skinner will be an unrestricted free agent this summer if the Sabres can’t re-sign him.

Buffalo will have money to spend, but has to be cautious with center Jack Eichel in the first year of his eight-year, $80 million contract. And the team will also have to keep open a large portion of cap space once No. 1 overall pick Rasmus Dahlin‘s entry-level contract expires in three years.

The question becomes how teams retain their young stars while keeping enough money aside to fill the remainder of their roster.

”The philosophy is simple, and you’re seeing it around the league. The only way you can keep a lot of your top-end players is if you have other players coming up through the system,” Sabres GM Jason Botterill said, placing an emphasis on scouting and player development.

Botterill saw that firsthand working in Pittsburgh, where the Penguins complemented their core of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang by filtering in younger players on cheaper entry-level contracts.

Still, it can get complicated once a team’s high-priced core starts aging.

The troubles are apparent in Chicago, which won three Stanley Cups from 2010-15 with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews but is now a team in transition with some big contracts in place. It’s no different in Los Angeles, where the Kings have been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs and missed the postseason three times since 2014, when they won their second Cup in three years.

”It’s not a perfect business,” Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland said. ”You make decisions and you may wake up two years later with different information, but it’s too late and you have to manage around that decision.”

What’s changed over the past decade? Teams are spending more money on retaining players over adding them in free agency.

It’s a philosophy that places an emphasis on evaluating potential at a younger age and determining whether they can perform to the value of their contract. Otherwise, a team could be stuck with a player with a high-priced guaranteed contract that handcuffs future decisions.

”I don’t think there’s any easier answer to it. I mean, you just have to make the right decisions on the player,” Nashville Predators general manager David Poile said. ”One bad contract and it knocks everything out of line.”

Poile has done an adept job in maintaining a competitor on a roster that features six players taking up a combined $40.25 million in salary cap space this year.

Dallas Stars GM Jim Nill said keeping a team’s payroll structure in line also requires making unpopular decisions.

”You’ve got to be willing to say, ‘You know what, the guy that doesn’t quite fit in that core, we may need to make a decision that you have to move him,”’ Nill said. ”I know sometimes fans are going to say, ‘Whoa, why are they doing that?’ You’ve got no choice.”

The Maple Leafs are among the exceptions in trying to build through the draft and free agency, after signing John Tavares to a seven-year, $77 million contract last summer.

Dubas insists retaining the team’s young talent is ”of vital importance.” Re-signing Nylander was the first step.

BUFFA-LOVE

After missing the playoffs during each of his eight seasons in Carolina, Skinner is enjoying the buzz the Sabres have created in Buffalo, a year after finishing last for the third time in five years.

”I haven’t really been here before and realized how much they love the Sabres. It’s been fun,” said Skinner, who waived his no-trade clause to approve the Hurricanes dealing him to Buffalo for prospect forward Cliff Pu and three draft picks in August. ”Hopefully, we can keep giving them something to be proud of.”

Skinner was reminded of how those same fans want him to stay in Buffalo beyond this season.

”Ha, ha, I’ve heard,” Skinner said. I’m having a lot of fun, too.”

LEADERS (through Tuesday)

Points: Mikko Rantanen (Colorado), 56; Game-winning goals: Skinner and Gabriel Landeskog (Colorado), 6; Rookie goals: Elias Petterson (Vancouver), 17; Goals-against average: Pekka Rinne (Nashville), 2.07; Shutouts: Marc-Andre Fleury (Vegas), 5.

GAME OF THE WEEK

Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins travel to face Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals on Wednesday night.

AP Hockey Writers Larry Lage and Stephen Whyno and AP Sports Writer Teresa M. Walker contributed to this story.

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

Lightning keep signing rising stars to killer deals

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While mere mortal franchises struggle to convince their William Nylanders and Jacob Troubas to stick around, the Tampa Bay Lightning find ways to sign homegrown talent to what are almost always absolute bargain deals. They keep doing it, over and over again.

Apparently they’re continuing to do so now that Julien BriseBois is in charge as GM instead of Steve Yzerman.

The Lightning announced that rising star forward Yanni Gourde agreed to a six-year extension that carries a modest $5.166 million cap hit (so just under $31M overall).

“We are very pleased to have Yanni as a part of the Lightning organization for the foreseeable future,” BriseBois said. “Yanni personifies our team’s identity with his speed and relentlessness on the ice and his strong character off of it. He is proof of how far hard work and dedication can take you, and we look forward to him continuing his career in Tampa Bay.”

BriseBois didn’t say it, but Gourde also fits the profile of many of the prospects of the Yzerman/BriseBois era by a) being a player just about any team could have had, as he went undrafted and b) likely being passed over because of his lack of size.

The Lightning have been feasting on that scouting prejudice/deficiency for years now, and while they haven’t won a Stanley Cup in the Steven Stamkos era, they’re very much in the mix for the present and at least the near future.

Another bargain extension

Locking up talent like Gourde to relatively cheap deals – often showing foresight in doing so while their resumes are small – ranks as a big reason why the Lightning boast depth that other teams can only dream and drool about.

Gourde, 26, covers a lot of the bases you’d hope for.

He’s flourishing in the most exceedingly obvious ways, with 12 points in as many games so far this season. Gourde broke through in 2017-18, generating 25 goals and 64 points in 82 games. It says a lot about his overall polish that Gourde also has positive possession numbers, even relative to his teammates.

This deal reminds me a lot of the Nashville Predators getting an absolute bargain for Viktor Arvidsson. Both players are productive forwards who probably could have commanded more money, yet their teams were able to retain their services thanks to some combination of being a part of a talented roster, earning long-term security over maximum dollars, tax breaks in Florida/Nashville, and possible internal ceilings.* Arvidsson continues to assert that he’s a legitimate top-line winger, and Gourde sure seems slated for a similar designation.

Shrinking to-do list

Extending Gourde to what could be an extremely team-friendly extension crosses a big name off of the Lightning’s to-do list, and it provides another bullet point in case things get dicey with Brayden Point, the other splendid young Bolts forward who’s currently approaching RFA status in a contract year.

With all due respect to Anton Stralman, Braydon Coburn, and Dan Girardi, the biggest situations to settle outside of Point’s future come with contracts that will expire after 2019-20. Mikhail Sergachev will see his rookie deal end then, while Andrei Vasilevskiy‘s bargain $3.5M cap hit will evaporate, too.

Some painful decisions may come soon, yet the Lightning continue to solve tough riddles earlier than most of the league.

Smart gambles, but gambles nonetheless

Even so, there really are a lot of investments in Tampa Bay. Take a look at the players signed to significant deals (at least three years remaining):

Stamkos, 28: $8.5M through 2023-24
Kucherov, 25: $4.767M this year, $9.5M through 2026-27
Hedman, 27: $7.875M through 2024-25
Ryan McDonagh, 29: $4.7M this season, $6.75M through 2025-26
Ondrej Palat, 27: $5.3M through 2021-22
J.T. Miller, 25: $5.25M through 2022-23
Gourde, 26: $1M this season, $5.16M from 2019-20 to 2024-25
Tyler Johnson, 28: $5M through 2023-24
Alex Killorn, 29: $4.45M through 2022-23

Phew. That’s a lot, right? Cap Geek estimates that the Lightning will have $72.425M in cap space devoted to just 14 players in 2019-20, and that’s without whatever significant dough Point will command.

Now, sure, the Lightning will see some troublesome deals expire. Again, Girardi’s is up this season, and Callahan’s problem contract ends in two seasons.

It’s also true that there are some contracts that could be moved out; Tyler Johnson’s name has cropped up already, and will probably boil to the surface even more as time goes on and the cap crunch really starts to add some bite.

So, there are some worries, yet almost every other team in the NHL would pull a hammy running over to trade situations with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Signing Gourde for what’s likely to be a fantastic bargain only cements that notion.

The nature of the salary cap beast is that, even with a situation that seems generally well-managed (sometimes to the level of potential witchcraft), the Lightning are making some gambles. This Gourde one just happens to be a wise one.

And not just because his first name inspires jokes about a widely mocked musician, while his last name is perfect for the fall season of gourds, not to mention other cheesy puns.

Gourde really might be a steal in that area alone, to be frank.

* – One would think that it’s easier to limit a player’s asking power when Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, and Victor Hedman are signed to fairly thrifty contracts.

MORE: Your 2018-19 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.