Wild get crucial, tough win against Kings

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It wasn’t always pretty against the Kings on Tuesday, but if Bruce Boudreau was looking for some fight from his team, the Wild showed quite a bit of it.

Ultimately, Minnesota gritted out a 3-2 shootout win against Los Angeles, improving to 23-20-3 in 2018-19. The Wild are currently ranked as the West’s second wild-card team with 49 points in 46 games, managing a two-point edge against the idle Canucks and Oilers, and also two points ahead of the sprawling Ducks.

[Who has the edge in these races?]

If you’re scrolling through the scoreboard alone, a 3-2 (SO) win against lowly Los Angeles doesn’t seem so impressive, and that’s fair enough.

But for the Wild, it’s encouraging. After all, Minnesota was closing out a back-to-back set after a painful 7-4 loss to the Flyers on Monday.

Fatigue must have been weighing Minnesota down, and it must have been frustrating early on, as Jonathan Quick did not make things easier. The Wild weren’t able to score in the first period despite a 14-8 shots on goal edge, and they ended up needing a shootout despite a SOG advantage of 42-33 overall.

Both teams showed a lot of effort on each of their regulation goals, with Alex Stalock stopping 31 of 33 shots, as he’s playing in place of a quietly struggling Devan Dubnyk, who’s not necessarily putting up All-Star numbers.

The Wild got goals from some key players who’ve struggled this season. First, Nino Niederreiter finally broke through midway through the second period on a nice second-effort:

Not long after being the target of Boudreau’s ire, Eric Staal was credited with the Wild’s second goal after Ryan Suter‘s shot/pass/shot-pass bounced off of him:

Grinding out a win like this won’t really “wow” many people, and it is unlikely to silence the Wild’s critics.

[Pondering Boudreau’s future in Minnesota.]

Still, it says quite a bit about this team that, instead of giving in to frustration and fatigue, they found a way to eke out this win. As much as postseason runs hinge on beating other bubble teams and contenders, it’s also important to win against teams that are languishing lower in the standings, and the Wild put the work in to do just that on Tuesday.

For all we know, getting those extra two points could end up making all the difference as these tight races go along.

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.

WATCH LIVE: Wild host Kings on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Tuesday night’s matchup between the Los Angeles Kings and the Minnesota Wild with coverage beginning at 7 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Minnesota returns home after losing at Philadelphia last night, 7-4 – tying their most goals allowed in a game this season. The Wild jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period and led 3-2 in the second period before the Flyers scored three straight to take a 5-3 lead into the third. Ryan Suter scored in the third to cut the deficit to one but that was as close as the Wild got, ultimately falling to the Flyers, who sit last in the Metropolitan Division.

Zach Parise leads the team with 41 points (19G-22A) and is averaging 0.93 pts/game – his best since 2009-10 (1.01 w/ NJ). He has 12 points (four goals) over the last 10 games. He’s on pace for 35 goals this season, which would be his most since that 2009-10 campaign.

This game begins a road-heavy stretch for the Kings, who will play nine of their next 10 games away from Staples Center. Tonight marks the start of a three-game road trip, followed by one home game against the Blues, before a six-game East Coast road trip.

Ilya Kovalchuk has gone 10 straight games without a goal, but he has three assists in his last four games and his play has improved in the eyes of Kings head coach Willie Desjardins. In November and December, Kovalchuk had been buried in the lineup and even played as little as 6:20 in a game (on Nov. 25 vs. Edmonton). But his usage has increased lately and he played 20:53 on Saturday, his third-highest total of the season, and most under Desjardins.

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

What: Los Angeles Kings at Minnesota Wild
Where: Xcel Energy Center
When: Tuesday, Jan. 15, 7 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Kings-Wild stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

[Should Wild’s future include Bruce Boudreau?]

PROJECTED LINEUPS

KINGS
Ilya Kovalchuk – Anze KopitarDustin Brown
Alex IafalloJeff CarterBrendan Leipsic
Carl HagelinAdrian KempeTyler Toffoli
Kyle CliffordNate ThompsonMatt Luff

Derek ForbortDrew Doughty
Jake MuzzinAlec Martinez
Dion PhaneufOscar Fantenberg

Starting goalie: Jonathan Quick

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

Ryan Suter – Jared Spurgeon
Jonas BrodinGreg Pateryn
Nick SeelerNate Prosser

Starting goalie: Alex Stalock

Alex Faust (play-by-play) and Jim Fox (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Xcel Energy Center.

Penguins sign goalie DeSmith to cheap, smart extension

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The Pittsburgh Penguins are guilty of their fair share of salary cap snafus (screams in horror at Jack Johnson‘s contract), but they’re among the NHL’s sharpest when it comes to handling their goalies.

Yes, Marc-Andre Fleury has been absolutely outstanding in Vegas, but there are many teams that saddle themselves with problem contracts.

Instead, the Penguins have found ways to carve out impressive flexibility at the position by being proactive.

While Matt Murray‘s struggled with injuries and the occasional bout of inconsistency, he’s only carrying a $3.75M cap hit through 2019-20, and Pittsburgh locked him up after his brilliant work in their 2015-16 championship run.

Now they’ve managed to land some cost certainty with Casey DeSmith, as the team announced a three-year extension that will carry a paltry $1.25M cap hit beginning next season.

“Since joining the Penguins’ organization, Casey has excelled for us at every level, first in Wheeling and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, and now here in Pittsburgh,” GM Jim Rutherford said. “We’re pleased to have him signed with our organization for the next three-and-a-half seasons.”

Rutherford isn’t wrong there.

Obviously, Smith’s NHL numbers jump out at you first. The 27-year-old is 12-7-4 with a splendid .924 save percentage this season, and he also has a .923 save percentage over 40 career NHL games. Sean Tierney’s visualization of Corsica’s Goals Saved Against Average numbers show that DeSmith’s been one of the more valuable netminders so far in 2018-19:

Now, sure, it’s likely that DeSmith will cool off from here, but the Penguins aren’t really making that large of an investment in him. This decision compares nicely to the Predators locking down Juuse Saros for three years at $1.5M a pop (Saros has the better pedigree; DeSmith’s having the better 2018-19).

And, as Rutherford mentioned, DeSmith’s had success at other levels.

Check his AHL and NCAA numbers and you’ll see that DeSmith’s enjoyed success in most other seasons. That might not sounds like much, but compare his work at other levels to, say, Scott Darling, who faced a bumpy road through the ECHL and other leagues before things took off for him starting in 2013-14.

It’s not that difficult to picture a scenario where DeSmith got a much richer deal if he waited, particularly if he was the guy who helped Pittsburgh make a big run.

Instead, the Penguins went low-risk, with some enticing potential rewards.

The best-case scenario is that DeSmith ends up being a legitimate difference-maker who can sport something close to a .920 save percentage at that bargain-basement price. The worst? Maybe DeSmith flops and the Penguins have to buy him out or bury his contract in the AHL, while possibly stunting the growth of Tristan Jarry and others.

Cutting in between, it’s quite possible that DeSmith could be a useful backup who might be able to provide relief if Murray struggles or gets hurt.

***

Looking at the Penguins’ salary structure at Cap Friendly, there are a lot of players above the age of 30 who are receiving a lot of money and sometimes-scary term. There are risks of the Penguins slipping into a Kings-like lull if too many players hit the wall.

Still, Murray and DeSmith will carry just a $5M cap hit next season, compared to $6M per year for 32-year-old Jonathan Quick.

Sure, it’s easier to herd cats than predict which goalies will excel in a given year, but all things considered, this is some masterful work by the Penguins.

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.

WATCH LIVE: Kings battle Sharks on NBCSN

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Monday night’s matchup between the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks with coverage beginning at 10:30 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Despite still being in the basement of the Pacific Division, there is some room for optimism for the Kings. LA has won six of its last nine games and beaten some good competition along the way, with victories over Winnipeg, San Jose, Vegas and Colorado. Their latest win came on Saturday in a 4-0 drubbing of the Edmonton Oilers.

Anze Kopitar scored his 300th career goal during the Edmonton game and became the fifth player in franchise history to reach that mark, joining Luc Robitaille (557), Marcel Dionne (550), Dave Taylor (431) and Bernie Nicholls (327). Jonathan Quick needed just 16 saves in the shutout, which was also his 300th career win. The Connecticut native is the fifth U.S.-born goalie to reach the 300 wins.

The Sharks had arguably their best win of the season on Saturday in a 5-2 victory over the NHL-leading Tampa Bay Lightning. San Jose’s win snapped Tampa’s winning streak at seven and their point streak at 16. The Sharks became the first team to defeat the Lightning in regulation since Anaheim did so on Nov. 27 (3-1 W). They’ve been red hot since early December, with wins in 11 of their last 16 games (11-3-2).

With two assists on Saturday, Erik Karlsson extended his personal point streak to 12 games (1G, 18A), which is the longest active streak in the NHL. He did miss two games (Dec. 23 and 27) in this stretch due to a suspension from a hit to the head of Kings forward Austin Wagner when these teams last met.

Karlsson is the 21st different defenseman in NHL history to record record at least one point in 12 or more consecutive appearances and just the third to do so in the last 20 years (since 1998-99), joining Mathieu Schneider (Detroit) in 2006 (12 games) and Shayne Gostisbehere (Philadelphia) in 2016 (15 games).

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 10:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Los Angeles Kings at San Jose Sharks
Where: SAP Center
When: Monday, Jan. 7, 10:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Kings-Sharks stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

KINGS
Ilya Kovalchuk – Anze Kopitar – Dustin Brown
Alex IafalloJeff CarterBrendan Leipsic
Carl HagelinAdrian KempeTyler Toffoli
Kyle CliffordNate Thompson – Austin Wagner

Derek ForbortDrew Doughty
Jake MuzzinSean Walker
Dion PhaneufOscar Fantenberg

Starting goalie: Jack Campbell

SHARKS
Marcus SorensenJoe ThorntonJoe Pavelski
Lukas RadilLogan CoutureTimo Meier
Evander KaneTomas HertlJoonas Donskoi
Kevin Labanc – Barclay GoodrowMelker Karlsson

Joakim RyanBrent Burns
Brenden Dillon – Erik Karlsson
Jacob Middleton – Tim Heed

Starting goalie: Martin Jones

Alex Faust (play-by-play) and Jamie Baker (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will call Kings-Sharks from SAP Center at San Jose. Paul Burmeister hosts studio coverage alongside analyst Anson Carter.

MORE: Timo Meier powering Sharks during breakout season

Kings dusted off ‘glow pucks’ and robots for ’90s Night

via Fox Sports West
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As bittersweet as it is to admit, there are a lot of ’90s things that maybe should be left in the dustbin of nostalgia.

Some would argue that nu metal and Crystal Pepsi should be shuttled away into closets with Jnco jeans. That crowd would probably roll their eyes at the Los Angeles Kings (and Fox Sports West) having a lot of fun with ’90s Night during Saturday’s 4-0 win against the Edmonton Oilers.

Remarkably, there were some big Kings milestones in that win, as Anze Kopitar scored his 300th career goal, while Jonathan Quick nabbed his 300th career victory. Seeing the Foxtrax-inspired “Glow Puck” (and puck movement laser beams?) added to Kopitar’s milestone goal is a real treat, or really stomach-turning if you’re not much for fun:

That glow puck emoji is pretty nifty, if nothing else.

Fox Sports West broadcaster Alex Faust played a role in making the TV presentation push ’90s Night to a higher level, as the Kings website noted.

“During the summer, I like to drop by the Kings office, pretending to do actual ‘work.’ One day, I happened to notice ’90s Night’ as a date on the promotional calendar. Then it dawned on me … what could be more 90s & hockey related than the glowing puck, animated robots, and kitschy opening montages from the NHL on FOX?” Faust said. “I e-mailed Hoover, our producer at Fox Sports West, and he got the ball rolling from there. Needless to say I’ve been irrationally excited about this night for a while.”

Yes, indeed, there were animated robots.

In addition to that, “Silicon Valley” star Thomas Middleditch – or his “long lost brother?” – tried his hand at an old timey broadcaster gimmick in portraying “Tony Babcock,” which is somehow not a combination of Mike Babcock and Tony Clifton.

Honestly, that pales in comparison to Ray Romano’s faux “Sportscenter” work as Chet Harper (“sweet sassy molassy”), but kudos to everyone involved for at least being committed, to the point of making a Twitter page for Tony Babcock.

The Kings also used fanny packs and did a “Saved By the Bell” riff, although I’d have to give the edge to the Flyers’ rendition:

Oh well, it’s still a good time, so thanks to the Kings and Fox Sports West for reminding me that I’m old, as if it somehow being 2019 wasn’t effective enough.

All of this great stuff does demand one final gripe, however: why not go all the way and use those Gretzky-era uniforms, rather than going almost that far with their current look? Just saying.

via Getty

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.