Joel Eriksson Ek

Wild hold on against Lightning, snap losing streak

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What a difference 48 hours made for the Minnesota Wild.

When we saw them on Tuesday night they were getting dominated on the scoreboard and embarrassed by a lineup card gaffe that forced them to play with a shorthanded defense.

On Thursday, they went toe-to-toe with one of the NHL’s best teams and snapped their four-game losing streak with an impressive 3-2 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning. It is just the WIld’s second win in their past eight games, and their first in regulation during that stretch.

Ryan Suter‘s goal late in the second period ended up going in the books as the game-winner, while Zach Parise and Joel Eriksson Ek also scored for the Wild. Goalie Alex Stalock stopped 18 out of 20 shots he faced, including a shot from Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos at the buzzer to secure the win.

Nikita Kucherov scored both goals for the Lightning in the losing effort.

The Wild desperately needed this to win because their recent slide has really started to bury them in the Western Conference playoff race. Their playoff hopes are barely flickering right now and every point the rest of the way is going to be massive. They have almost no margin for error.

The most impressive part of this particular win is just how strong they looked for most of the game, especially on the heels of such a lackluster performance on Tuesday night. Coach Bruce Boudreau said on Wednesday he had two options after that game — either “bag skate” the team, or send them home and tell them to get away from hockey (via Michael Russo). He chose the latter, saying they would find out on Thursday if it was the right decision. It seemed that it was as they took what has been one of the NHL’s hottest teams (11-1-0 in their previous 12 games entering Tuesday), and one of the most dominating offenses, and for the most part completely shut it down.

The Lightning were on a 16-5-1 run since the start of December (second best record in the league behind only the Pittsburgh Penguins during that stretch) and averaging more than 32 shots and 3.5 goals per game. On Thursday, the Wild limited them to just two goals and only 20 shots. That shot total is the Lightning’s third-lowest of the season, and the lowest since a November 19 against the St. Louis Blues.

Thursday’s game is the first of a 12-game stretch where the Wild play 11 games on home ice, where they have actually played extremely well this season. If they are going to make any sort of a move toward a playoff spot, this is their chance.

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: Wild visit Penguins on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Tuesday’s matchup between the Minnesota Wild and Pittsburgh Penguins. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Penguins come into this game on a three-game win streak after sweeping a trio of games against three teams currently in playoff position in the Western Conference. Pittsburgh won by a 4-3 scoreline at Vegas, at Colorado (OT) and at Arizona (SO) during their road trip.

The Penguins have now won 14 of their last 18 games (14-3-1), all without Sidney Crosby. Despite their rash of injuries, Pittsburgh became the 4th team in the NHL to reach the 60-point plateau on Sunday (WSH, BOS, STL).

On the other end of the spectrum, the Wild come into this week on a three-game losing streak (0-2-1). Minnesota lost 4-1 vs Vancouver on Sunday after dropping both ends of a home- and-home series with the Flames earlier last week.

Minnesota has now lost five of their last six games (1-4-1). They haven’t dropped four straight since starting this season 0-4-0.

After games last Sunday (Jan. 5), before taking on the Flames at home, the Wild sat three points behind the Jets for the second Wild Card spot in the Western Conference. Now, after losing three straight over the past week-plus, Minnesota is seven points off the playoff pace with a brutal schedule ahead.

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6 P.M. ET ON NBCSN]

WHAT: Minnesota Wild at Pittsburgh Penguins
WHERE: PPG Paints Arena
WHEN: Tuesday, Jan. 14, 6 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Wild-Penguins stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

WILD
Jason ZuckerEric StaalMats Zuccarello
Zach PariseMikko KoivuKevin Fiala
Marcus FolignoJoel Eriksson EkLuke Kunin
Jordan GreenwayRyan DonatoRyan Hartman

Ryan SuterJared Spurgeon
Jonas BrodinMatt Dumba
Carson SoucyGreg Pateryn

Starting goalie: Devan Dubnyk

PENGUINS
Jared McCann – Sidney Crosby – Domink Simon
Dominik KahunEvgeni MalkinBryan Rust
Alex Galchenyuk – Andrew Agozzino – Patric Hornqvist
Zach Aston-ReeseTeddy BluegerBrandon Tanev

Jack JohnsonKris Letang
Marcus Pettersson  – John Marino
Juuso RiikolaChad Ruhwedel

Starting goalie: Tristan Jarry

Tuesday night’s studio coverage will be hosted by Kathryn Tappen alongside Keith Jones and Anson Carter. John Forslund and AJ Mleczko will call the action from Pittsburgh.

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.

PHT Face-Off: Pacioretty’s career year; Hart’s strong start

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The PHT Face-Off is back every Monday to break down some of the trends and storylines around the NHL.

Let’s take a look at what’s on tap this week:

Carter Hart has had a good year:

Last week, the Flyers goaltender officially hit the one-year mark in his NHL career, and it’s actually gone pretty well when you consider his age and position. Hart and backup netminder Brian Elliott were splitting starts at one point, but the youngster is now the regular between the pipes for Philly this season.

Those numbers aren’t terrible, especially when you consider how much the NHL has changed over the last two seasons. Offense seems to have gone up quite a bit and point totals are also on the rise. With all that in mind, it’s easy to see why the Flyers are excited about their future when it includes Hart. How long has it been since they’ve had a real difference-maker in goal?

Ryan Strome fitting in nicely with Rangers:

Sure, Strome has had the benefit of playing with Artemi Panarin for a good chunk of this season, but the fact that he’s accumulated 30 points in his first 35 games of the season is still impressive. The Strome’s success looks even better for New York when you realize that all they gave up for him was Ryan Spooner, who’s now playing in Europe.

On the flip side, when you look at his numbers without Panarin, you quickly realize just how good the Russian winger is at making those around him better. Almost all of Strome’s individual numbers drop when Panarin isn’t by his side, according to Natural Stat Trick.

With Panarin, Strome has a 47.39 CF%, a 47.86 FF%, a 61.76 GF% and an XGF% of 48.79 percent. Without him, he has a 43.6 CF%, a 42.91 FF%, a 45.45 GF% and an XGF% of 41.76.

Yeah, those numbers are definitely inflated by a talented linemate, but nobody will really mind if he continues to put up points throughout the season.

• Veterans coming through for Wild: 

Nobody really expected much from the Minnesota Wild this year, but a solid couple of months has them in the mix for a playoff spot heading into the Christmas break. Eric Staal, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter have a lot to do with the teams recent play.

Parise has 16 points in his last 19 contests, Staal has picked up 11 points in his last nine games and Ryan Suter has seven points in his last six games and, oh by the way, he’s averaging over 25 minutes of ice time per game for the season. There’s no denying that the Wild are an aging team and they’re still not likely to make the playoffs, but maybe this group of old timers (no offense) can get them back into the postseason one last time.

This is a stat that dates back to last week, so the numbers have changed a little bit, but look at the balanced scoring they’re receiving and look at the names of the players contributing.

Overcoming the Zucker injury won’t be easy (he’s expected to miss a month). The good news is that the team has activated Joel Eriksson Ek from injured reserve.

Max Pacioretty is playing best hockey of career:

The Golden Knights paid a huge price to land Max Pacioretty from the Montreal Canadiens last fall, as they gave up Tomas Tatar, top prospect Nick Suzuki and a second-round draft pick. Tatar has been solid for the Habs and Suzuki has made quite the impression during his rookie season, but you can’t overlook what Pacioretty has done in his second year with Vegas.

The 31-year-old is on pace to score 32 goals this year, which wouldn’t be a career-high, but he could also surpass the 70-point mark for the first time in his career. Even though Pacioretty is known as a scorer first, he’s found a way to help set up teammates this year. He and Mark Stone have given the Golden Knights another incredible forward line.

He’s heading into this week with 10 points in his last seven games. On top of all that, his CF%, SF% XGF%, SCF%, and HDCF% are all at 55 percent or higher, per Natural Stat Trick.

The fact that he’s no longer playing in a hockey-crazy market like Montreal seems to be helping him.

“I haven’t really thought about it, but that’s kind of my personality. Not really attention-grabbing,” Pacioretty told The Athletic. “You’re never as good as they say you are. You’re never as bad as they say you are, so I try to stay even keel. Good news is right now we’re getting contributions from everybody and we’re winning as a team.”

• Are the 200-minute penalty men back?

Last season, only one player surpassed the 150-minute penalty mark, and that was San Jose Sharks forward Evander Kane. In all, only six players had more than 100 minutes in the sin bin (Kane, Tom Wilson, Antoine Roussell, Ian Cole, Brendan Lemieux and Zack Kassian. Yes, those numbers would’ve been higher had each of those players not missed games, but those are still low totals.

This year, the high-end penalty minute takers appear to be back in find form. Leading the way this season is Erik Gubranson of the Anaheim Ducks, who has 86 penalty minutes in just 33 contests. That puts him on pace for 203. Lemieux is right behind him, as he has 85 PIMs in 33 contests. Kane is right behind both of them with 83 minutes in 35 games.

This is what happens when Lemieux and Gudbranson go head-to-head:

What’s coming up this week?

• The Christmas break runs from Dec. 24 to Dec. 26, but that means we’re loaded with hockey games on Monday and Friday night.
• The World Junior Hockey Championship begins on Boxing Day.

NHL on NBCSN

• New York Rangers vs. Philadelphia Flyers, Mon. Dec. 23, 7 p.m. ET
• Minnesota Wild vs. Colorado Avalanche, Fri. Dec. 27, 8 p.m. ET

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: GMs talk offside rule; hearing for Hathaway

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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.

• During Tuesday’s general manager meetings in Toronto, the group discussed modifying the current interpretation of offside, something they’ll follow up on when they get together again in March. [NHL.com]

• After the controversial play involving an injured Matt Calvert over the weekend, NHL director of officiating Stephen Walkom said there was no interesting in changing the rule. [ESPN]

• Capitals forward Garnet Hathaway will have a Wednesday hearing after spitting at Ducks defenseman Erik Gudbranson Monday night. [TSN]

• Seattle GM Ron Francis says the expansion team will decide on a name in the first quarter of 2020 and the demand for season tickets is off the charts. [NHL.com]

Kirby Dach has made an immediate impact with the Blackhawks. [NBC Sports Chicago]

• Something has to change with the struggling Flames. [Sportsnet]

Patrik Laine’s complete game has taken a big step this season. [Winnipeg Free Press]

• Does Lias Andersson have a future with the Rangers? [NY Post]

Cale Makar is turning out to be better than many expected for the Avalanche. [Mile High Hockey]

• The Bruins are closing getting closer to full health. [Bruins Daily]

• How Jordan Greenway, Joel Eriksson Ek and Luke Kunin are helping fix some of the Wild’s problems. [Pioneer Press]

• Another collapse on the horizon for the Sabres? [Spector’s Hockey]

Matt Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier have been stepping up for the Islanders. [Gotham Sports Network]

• At what point should Tristan Jarry start more for the Penguins? [Pensburgh]

• A look at some of the top prospects who will likely go high in June’s entry draft. [Rotoworld]

• What are Paul Henderson’s chances of making the Hockey Hall of Fame? [Featurd]

• Finally, Brandon Hawkins of the Wheeling Nailers pulled off the lacrosse move Tuesday: