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.
As 2019 comes to a close, we’re using this final full week of the year to take a look back at the past decade. We’ll remember the best players and teams, most significant goals, and biggest transactions that have happened since 2010. Let us know your memories in the comments.
Player of the decade
SEAN: I’m going to chicken out here and allow Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin to each get a piece of the award. They both achieved so much in the decade and still have a number of years left in the NHL to add to their Hall of Fame legacies.
Let’s start with Crosby, who ended 2009 by winning his first Stanley Cup and then began 2010 by scoring the golden goal in overtime for Canada at the Vancouver Olympics. He continued bulking up his resume with another Olympic gold medal, gold at the World Cup of Hockey and the IIHF World Championship, two more Cups, two Conn Smythe Trophies, a second Hart Trophy, two Richard Trophies, and two Ted Lindsay Awards, among numerous other honors. To think his never-ending list of awards could have been even greater had he not missed so much time dealing with various injuries.
Moving on to Ovi, since Jan. 1, 2010, the Capitals captain has scored 435 goals in 765 games, 73 more than Steven Stamkos, who has the second-most over that span. When you shoot as much as he has (3,447 total shots, 844 more than Phil Kessel) you’re going to score at a rate that he does.
What else has Ovechkin done this decade? He finally won his Cup, was named winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy, picked up his third Hart Trophy, won the Ted Lindsay Award, scored his way to six more Richard Trophies, and won two golds at the Worlds. He also has a good chance at hitting 700 goals this season as he marches his towards Wayne Gretzky’s record of 894.
JAMES: Honestly, it feels like it would be facetious to name anyone except Sidney Crosby. Maybe if Connor McDavid was born a few years earlier? Perhaps Roberto Luongo if you weigh funny tweets heavily?
Crosby’s piled up some of the best numbers of the last 10 years, even as concussions made the beginning of the decade look like a possible premature end-of-the-line. Thankfully, aside from the occasional hernia hiccup, Crosby’s been able to remain on the ice. He’s collected all of the individual and team accolades one can ask for, and while others enjoyed dominant stretches, Crosby ranks the highest by just about every objective measure.
Would it kill him to crack a few jokes, though?
JOEY: It might be the easy answer, but it’s hard not to go with Sidney Crosby. He captained the Pittsburgh Penguins to back-to-back Stanley Cups this decade and he won the Conn Smythe Trophy in both those years too, He won a Hart Trophy in 2014. He took home an Art Ross Trophy, a Rocket Richard Trophy, two Ted Lindsay Awards and he was named a First-team All-Star three different times. On the international stage, he took home Gold Medals at the 2010 and 2014 Olympic Games. How do you argue with that? Yes, a lot of these accomplishments are team accomplishments, but it’s no coincidence that Crosby’s teams tend to do well. He’s a great player. Clearly the player of the decade.
ADAM: It is the same answer that everyone else is going to give, but how can it be anyone else other than Sidney Crosby? He added two Stanley Cups, two Conn Smythe Trophies, another scoring title, another goal-scoring crown, and another MVP to his individual trophy case and was the most productive player of the decade. He is only 20 points behind Patrick Kane for most total points since the start of the 2010-11 season, but you have to keep in mind that Crosby has played in 104 fewer games because of injuries, with his peak offensive years in the league being crushed by injuries and a lockout. I want to see what he would have done offensively with 82-game seasons between the 2010 and 2014 seasons.
SCOTT: Sidney Crosby will be a popular choice, but Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks has been a joy to watch this decade. Three Stanley Cups, a Conn Smythe and a Hart trophy are just some of the awards Kane has gathered this decade. Additionally, No. 88 should finish the decade with the most points of any NHL player.
Kane is an electric player and has proven that he can thread a pass in the tiniest of windows and can snipe the smallest of corners from any angle. The NHL is a better sport when a player as special as Kane is on the ice.
Favorite goal from the past decade?
SEAN: Bobby Ryan once scored a goal with Mikko Koivu’s stick, then taunted the Wild forward in response to Koivu swiping his stick moments earlier. It was unique, petty, and just so damn wonderful.
JOEY: I’m going to have to go back to the start of the decade. Patrick Kane’s Stanley Cup winning goal in overtime in 2010 wasn’t a highlight goal, but it was a funny way to end an incredibly long Stanley Cup drought. Kane was the only person in the world who knew that his shot from a sharp angle went into the Flyers’ net. His reaction was priceless and the fact that everyone else is just looking around made it even more memorable. Again, it wasn’t the prettiest goal, but it’s one that I’ll never forget just because of how unique it was.
ADAM: Two words for you: Butt goal. Buffalo Sabres vs. Arizona Coyotes. Overtime. A loose puck gets deflected in the air, falls into the back of Mike Smith‘s pants, and he then slides his entire body across the goal line into the back of the net and inadvertently gives the Sabres a free overtime win. Easily the most unique, absurd, and ridiculous goal of the decade. Many players have scored Stanley Cup clinching goals or playoff series clinching goals, but how many butt goals do you see? Will also give honorable mention to the three goalie goals of the decade — Cam Ward, Martin Brodeur, and Smith. Smith gets extra credit because his was one he actually shot into the net (not an own-goal by the other team where the goalie was most recent player to touch it). It also came just two months before his butt goal. It was an eventful season for Mike Smith.
SCOTT: John Tavares’ wraparound in double overtime of Game 6 to lead the Islanders to their first playoff series since 1993. The Islanders needed to get the monkey off their backs and to see a captain deliver in the clutch was a special sight.
Accountant by day, EBUG by night, Foster played 14 minutes of a Blackhawks win in 2018 as his beer league buddies watched. He wasn’t scored on by the Jets and can forever tout a 0.00 goals against average and 1.000 save percentage … until he’s called upon again.
JAMES: As many great things happened on the ice, I’d be a liar if I said it wasn’t meeting my future wife at the NHL Awards.
(Besides, while I followed her to Canada, I’m not yet ready to betray my American brethren by choosing Crosby’s golden goal.)
JOEY: I was thrilled to see. Alex Ovechkin finally win a Stanley Cup with the Washington Capitals. There was all this silly talk about him not being able to lead his team to a cup, and for a moment it looked like their window had closed. Once they dropped the first two games of their first-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets, everyone got that “here we go again” feeling, but the Capitals managed to prove everybody wrong.
ADAM: I have been writing about the NHL for more than a decade now and have attended several outdoor games, many Stanley Cup Final games, saw the Blackhawks win it in Boston and get to walk out on the ice during their celebration, and was at the Penguins’ double-overtime Game 7 win against Ottawa in the 2017 Eastern Conference Final. All of those memories are amazing. If I am being honest, though, my favorite memory of the past decade is another completely absurd one. Mainly because I love celebrating the absurdity and chaos of sports. It is being in the building the night an angry Henrik Lundqvistflipped the net over during play in a game against the Pittsburgh Penguins. That was a huge turning point game for the Penguins because at the time they had not won the second Stanley Cup in the Crosby-Evgeni Malkin–Kris Letang era and were trying to change the “disappointment” narrative around them. Lundqvist had owned them for a couple of years and eliminated them in back-to-back years in the playoffs. When he flipped the net everyone in the building was completely bewildered in a “what did we just see?” sort of way, and no one could believe it after. It was all surreal. Lundqvist was never the same against the Penguins after that, the Penguins won the Stanley Cup a few months later after going through the Rangers in Round 1, then repeated the next season.
SCOTT: Mother’s Day 2014. Martin St. Louis scored one of the more emotional goals of the decade. The Hall of Fame forward lost his mother earlier in the week but returned to the New York Rangers to help them overcome a 3-1 series deficit against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Best and worst NHL jersey of the past decade
SEAN: Best: As much I hope more teams add some color to their jersey designs, I’ve always had a soft spot for the Sharks’ stealth jerseys. The combination of the black with teal looks real sharp and comes across so nice on HD TVs.
Worst: The Sabres’ Turdburger jerseys were bad, yeah, but what was up with those red Atlanta Thrashers thirds with THRASHERS in that odd font and the number right on the belly? The shoulder patch logos were fine, but altogether it was just a mess.
JAMES: Considering the Sabres’ checkered history of bad logos and design choices (note: the Hurricanes are the organization that actually dominates literal checkers), it’s refreshing that their gold-encrusted anniversary duds rock so, so hard. Really, anything classic and simple-looking will probably produce some drool, so I will hear your arguments for slick stuff like these Flames sweaters. (The Sabres’ gloves break the tie for me, for what it’s worth.)
While I’m sure there are uglier looks than the Lightning’s “stealth mode” jerseys, that moniker brings about unintended consequences, because frankly, there are times when it’s tough to read players’ numbers. Form is important, designers, but functionality matters in cases like these, too. I’d rather grimace at a bad design than squint. No Robert De Niro impressions here.
Also, as a colorblind person, I a) should probably be disqualified from this discussion anyway and b) would like to gently request that “color vs. color” stays a novelty rather than becoming a regular thing.
JOEY: Worst: It has to be those brutal black New York Islanders jerseys that had the grey shoulders, the world “Islanders” in orange letters on the front and the player’s number on the front of the shirt. Thankfully the Isles retired those a while ago. If we never see those uniform, we’ll all be better for it.
Best: I’m always a fan of the classics. The Montreal Canadiens and Chicago Blackhawks will always be my favorites, but if I had to give another one, I’d go with the Vancouver Canucks black “skate” jersey. I was so happy to see them bring those back this year for their 50th anniversary. Those things are incredible. I don’t really buy jerseys anymore, but that’s one I might have to purchase in the near future. It’s incredibly gorgeous.
ADAM: Worst: The Los Angeles’ Kings stadium series jerseys, the ones with the silver on the top part and plain white on the bottom. Hated them from the minute I saw them and they have never grown on me since.
Best: Probably an unpopular opinion because everyone prefers their teal look, but the San Jose Sharks’ stealth jersey is near the top of my list. I also have no real reason for liking it, but the New York Rangers’ 2012 Winter Classic jersey is one that always appealed to me.
SCOTT: Worst: The Islanders’ black alternate jerseys. They were not the ugliest looking sweaters but were extremely out of place for a franchise that wore blue and orange throughout their history. The organization was not ready to embrace a move to the Barclays Center and the black jerseys did not help the situation.
Best: The Maple Leafs have a classic sweater to begin with, but the white jerseys they wore during the 2018 Stadium Series against the Washington Capitals were super sharp.
One bold prediction for the NHL’s next 10 years
SEAN: The NHL gets fully on board with the idea load management and slashes the schedule to 70 games, beginning the season in mid-September and handing out the Stanley Cup in mid-May. Players get more time to rest; teams get more time to practice; and we’re not worrying about ice conditions deep into June.
Where do the players and owners make up for that lost revenue from the 12 fewer games? Welcome back, World Cup of Hockey. Hello, increased presence of gambling sponsorships. How ya doin’, China market cash cow.
(OK, maybe this is a wish rather than a bold prediction?)
JAMES: Canadian NHL teams will win at least four Stanley Cups, with Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews finishing the decade with at least one Stanley Cup victory apiece.
JOEY: By Dec. 31, 2029, I believe we’ll see a European branch of the NHL. I’m not sure how it’s going to work, but I can see the NHL wanting to go global. I don’t think they’ll expand in North America after Seattle, but I can see them add more than one team in Europe/Asia before the start of the next decade. Leagues are looking to expand their reach. The NFL will be heading to London full-time sooner or later, so it wouldn’t shock me to see Gary Bettman make a similar announcement. Imagine if a Finnish team taking on a Swedish team in the Stanley Cup Final. That might be closer than you think.
ADAM: Connor McDavid plays for a team that is not the Edmonton Oilers not only within the next decade, but within the next five years. I am going big with this bold prediction. I do not trust the Oilers to ever get it right around him and he is going to want to eventually win.
SCOTT: Player tracking will be taken to a whole new level and play a crucial component for NHL teams to use when making roster management decisions.
Minnesota Wild forward Eric Staal had to leave Tuesday’s game against the Anaheim Ducks after he was involved in a scary collision with a linesman along the boards in the first period.
As Staal and Anaheim forward Derek Grant raced for a puck, Staal went head first into linesman David Brisebois and immediately fell to the ice. He remained down for several minutes before finally being able to get to his feet and skate to the bench with assistance. He did not return to the game, while the Wild have yet to offer an update on his status.
You can see the play in the video above.
It could be a significant injury for the Wild as they are already playing without veterans Mikko Koivu and Jared Spurgeon due to injuries at the moment. Staal entered Tuesday’s game tied with Jason Zucker for the team lead in scoring with 21 points (eight goals, 13 assists) in his first 30 games this season for a Wild team that has rapidly been turning its season around after a brutal start.
The Ducks ended up winning Tuesday’s game, 3-2, in a shootout. The Wild are still 8-1-4 in their past 13 games.
Expectations surrounding the Minnesota Wild were pretty low heading into this year. They were old, fired general manager Paul Fenton after he was allowed to sign players last summer, and they missed the playoffs by seven points in 2018-19. So, forgive the hockey world if they didn’t expect them to play much of a role in this year’s playoff chase.
The season started off the way everyone expected. Minnesota dropped their first four games to Nashville, Colorado, Winnipeg and Pittsburgh. They also lost six of their first seven games. During that opening seven-game segment of the season, they allowed at least four goals in all six of their losses.
They managed to tighten up a little bit after that point, but their season really took off when they returned home from their West Coast road trip on Nov. 14. That day, they beat the Arizona Coyotes, 3-2. They followed that up by losing to Carolina in overtime, beating Buffalo and Colorado and losing to Boston in overtime. They suffered an OT loss to the Rangers in New York, beat the Devils in New Jersey and took down the Senators and Stars in Minnesota. They’ve hit the road for back-to-back games in Florida and managed to beat the Panthers and Lightning on Tuesday and Thursday of this week.
Add it all up and the Wild have won five games in a row and they’ve collected a point in the standings in 11 consecutive contests. Yeah, that’s an impressive accomplishment for any group, especially this one.
A lot has gone right during this 8-0-3 run. Their big free-agent signing, Mats Zuccarello, has started producing with a lot more regularity. The veteran had a three-point effort in last night’s win over the Tampa Bay Lightning and he’s picked up nine points in his last nine contests.
Who saw Alex Stalock emerging as a quality starting goalie for the Wild? Since starter Devan Dubnyk has been away from the team for personal reasons, Stalock has gone 5-0-2 and he’s held the opposition to two goals or fewer in four of those outings.
And it’s not like the Wild haven’t had to overcome even more adversity throughout this streak. For example, on Tuesday night against Florida, they were down 2-0 in the first period and lost both Mikko Koivu and Jared Spurgeon to injury. Instead of folding, they came back and won the game in regulation.
Last night, they were down 1-0 in the first period and they blew 3-1 and 4-3 leads, but still managed to take down the Bolts in the regulation.
This team clearly believes in itself right now.
“You haven’t seen that with this team for a while, but I think it’s the belief in them right at this point,” Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau said after the win over Tampa, per NHL.com. “Instead of saying, ‘Oh, woe is me,’ they’re saying, ‘Let’s go, let’s get these guys right away.’ It doesn’t work all the time. When you’re winning and things are going good, it works. They’ve dug deep and [are] really playing for each other. When you do that, good things happen.”
This lengthy unbeaten streak has allowed the Wild to climb back into a playoff spot, as they’re currently in the second Wild Card position. Sure, Vancouver, San Jose and Calgary are all breathing down their neck, but they shouldn’t care about that. They need to keep this run going for as long as they can.
One thing that jumps out when looking at Minnesota’s home and road splits, is the amount of games they’ve played away from Xcel Energy Center. The Wild have an awesome 7-1-2 record at home. They’ve also won seven games on the road, but their record away from home is 7-10-2. We’re less than three months into the season and they’ve already played nine more road games than home games. The fact that they’re in such a good position is even more remarkable when you consider all that.
After Sunday’s road game in Carolina, the Wild will get to enjoy a week at home, as they’ll take on Anaheim, Edmonton and Philadelphia before embarking on another three-game road trip.
If they can stay within striking distance of a playoff spot, does new GM Bill Guerin pull the trigger on a trade for a rental?
Sunday night was quite the night for players putting up the sort of numbers you’d expect halfway through the 2019-20 season, not reaching such totals by the first night of December.
First up: the duo of Draisaitl and Connor McDavid.
The two scored two points apiece, with Draisaitl scoring two goals and McDavid providing two assists. With that, McDavid (51 points) and Draisaitl (50) became the first players to hit the 50+ point mark this season. Draisaitl scored the Oilers’ second and third goals of a 3-2 win against the Canucks, both on the power play (so, in case it escaped you, Draisaitl nabbed the GWG).
Draisaitl now has five game-winners so far this season, which would also translate into a lofty half-season total, and really not a bad mark over 82 games, either, for that matter. In fact, five GWGs matches Draisaitl’s career-high.
It was David Pastrnak, not Rask, who best fits into the storyline of reaching the sort of numbers you’d expect from a league leader at the halfway mark. Pastrnak’s swaggery goal marked his 25th goal of 2019-20, which is pretty absurd since he’s only played 27 games.
Rask made 28 out of 29 saves against the Canadiens, only allowing a Joel Armia goal off of an odd bounce about two minutes into the game. The veteran goalie is now on a personal six-game winning streak, and he’s putting together some of the best work of his impressive career with a sparkling .933 save percentage in 2019-20.
Sunday marked one of the speedy sniper’s better performances during that span. Fiala scored a goal, grabbed a primary assist, and nabbed a shootout tally as Minnesota narrowly beat Dallas. Fiala was busy overall, with a robust eight shots on goal.
Highlight of the Night
Again, ouch, harsh. The celebration from Pastrnak really dug the knife deeper:
If you want to be sentimental and give Mikko Koivu the third star after he scored a goal and the shootout-winner during his 1,000th NHL game, that’s fair. Also, Koivu probably deserves to have a Selke on his resume, so maybe a nudge toward the third star is in order?
(The Wild note that Koivu hit point 700. By using my unparalleled math abilities, I estimate that Koivu’s scored points in 70 percent of his NHL regular-season games.)
McDavid and Draisaitl tower over contemporaries, so you have to roll things back and channel Wayne Gretzky to keep them humble at 50 points before everyone else. Gretzky hit 50 before anyone else for seven straight seasons, according to NHL PR. There’s a lot of Gretzky, Gretzky + Mario Lemieux, and some Jaromir Jagr/Peter Forsberg sprinkled into the various milestones McDavid and/or Draisaitl have managed.
Speaking of Lemieux, Pastrnak is the first player to hit 25+ goals by Dec. 1 since Mario did it in 1992-93, according to NHL PR. Pastrnak is one of 11 players to manage this feat … and yes, Gretzky is also on that list. Sportsnet specifies in games played rather than by a date: Pastrnak’s 25 goals in 27 games is the best start since Jaromir Jagr in 1996-97.
Also via Sportsnet: this eight-game losing streak is the third-worst in Canadiens’ history, and their worst since losing nine in a row 1940. The worst mark was 12 in a row, set in 1926.