Alex Stalock

These are Wild times in Minnesota

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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?

This will be an intriguing situation to follow.

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.

The Buzzer: van Riemsdyk helps Flyers rally; Drouin continues great start

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Three Stars

1. James van Riemsdyk, Philadelphia Flyers. With less than 10 minutes to play the Flyers trailed by a pair of goals and looked to be headed to a tough a loss against the Columbus Blue Jackets. It was at that point that they rallied with five goals in the remaining nine minutes to steal a 7-4 win and win their third game in a row. van Riemsdyk was one of the many stars for the Flyers, scoring a pair of goals and adding an assist in the win. His second goal of the game was the game-tying goal late in the third period.

2. Jonathan Drouin, Montreal Canadiens. Big win for the Canadiens on Saturday night as they handed their arch-rivals from Toronto a 5-2 loss. Drouin played the starring role with a pair of goals to continue what has been a great start to the season for him. He is now up to five goals and 10 total points in the Canadiens’ first 11 games and looks like he could be on his way to a much-needed breakout season in Montreal.

3. Roman Josi, Nashville Predators. Josi has been outstanding for Nashville so far this season and had one of his best games on Saturday with a goal and two assists in a come-from-behind 3-2 overtime win against the Tampa Bay Lightning. That performance gives him 13 points on the season and puts him in a tie for the team lead in scoring alongside Ryan Ellis. That puts the Predators in the rather uncommon position of having their top two-scorers both being defenders.

Other notable performances on Saturday

  • Andrei Svechnikov scored a pair of goals for the Carolina Hurricanes as they handed the disappointing Chicago Blackhawks another defeat. Read all about the Blackhawks’ struggles here.
  • David Pastrnak scored his league-leading 11th goal and Tuukka Rask recorded his second shutout of the season to help the Boston Bruins defeat the St. Louis Blues in a Stanley Cup Final rematch. Read more about it here.
  • The Pittsburgh Penguins were able to get a couple of forwards — Bryan Rust and Nick Bjugstad — back on Saturday night and they made an immediate impact. Rust scored one of their goals in a 3-0 win over the Dallas Stars. Matt Murray stopped all 25 shots he faced to record the shutout.
  • Alex Stalock stopped 30 shots and five different Minnesota Wild players scored goals in a 5-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings.
  • Adam Henrique scored his sixth goal of the season for the Anaheim Ducks as they picked up an impressive 5-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche.
  • Josh Morrissey and Bryan Little scored the goals for the Winnipeg Jets as they rallied late to defeat the Calgary Flames in the 2019 Heritage Classic in Regina, Saskatchewan. Read more about the game here.

Highlights of the Night

Kevin Hayes was one of the Flyers’ big offseason acquisitions, signing a massive contract after his free agent rights were acquired in a trade. He made a big impact on Saturday, scoring a shorthanded game-winning goal. It was an absolutely beautiful play, too.

Speaking of beautiful game-winning goals, here is Montreal’s Joel Armia scoring just seven seconds into the third period against Toronto.

Ellis scored the game-winning goal for Nashville on the power play, and he made it look easy.

Blooper of the Night

Dominik Kahun scored his first goal as a member of the Penguins on Saturday night and it officially goes in the books as the game-winning goal. It was a pretty bizarre play.

Factoids

  • The bright spot for the Avalanche on Saturday is Nathan MacKinnon extending his season-opening point streak to 11 games, the fifth-longest in franchise history and longest since the team relocated to Denver. [NHL PR]
  • Pastrnak is the eight player in the past 27 years to score at least 11 goals in his team’s first 10 games. [NHL PR]
  • Dougie Hamilton has 12 points for the Hurricanes in their first 11 games, the most for a Hurricanes/Whalers defender through the same number of games since the 1984-85 season. [NHL PR]
  • Saturday was the anniversary of Wayne Gretzky, then a member of the Los Angeles Kings, becoming the first and only player in NHL history to record his 2,000th career point. [NHL PR]
  • Flames goalie David Rittich stopped 43 out of 45 shots on Saturday night, the most saves ever made by a goalie in an NHL outdoor game. It is also one save shy of his career high. [NHL PR]

Scores

Carolina Hurricanes 4, Chicago Blackhawks 0
Boston Bruins 3, St. Louis Blues 0
Montreal Canadiens 5, Toronto Maple Leafs 2
Nashville Predators 3, Tampa Bay Lightning 2 (OT)
Philadelphia Flyers 7, Columbus Blue Jackets 4
Pittsburgh Penguins 3, Dallas Stars 0
Minnesota Wild 5, Los Angeles Kings 1
Anaheim Ducks 5, Colorado Avalanche 2
Winnipeg Jets 2, Calgary Flames 1 (OT)

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.

The Buzzer: Pastrnak nets four; Blackhawks hand Oilers first loss

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Three Stars

1. David Pastrnak, Bruins: Pasta scored four goals and recorded his fifth career hat trick as Boston doubled up the Ducks 4-2. His linemate, Patrice Bergeron, was the last Bruins player to tally four in a game when he achieved the feat on Jan. 6, 2018 against the Hurricanes. According to the NHL, Pastrnak is now the third player in Bruins franchise history, along with Barry Pederson and Cam Neely, to net five regular-season hat tricks before turning 24.

2. Victor Olofsson, Sabres: While Carter Hutton denied the Stars all afternoon during a 25-save shutout in a 4-0 win, it was the rookie winger making history. The 24-year-old Olofsson recorded his fifth power play goal of the season and set an NHL record by becoming the first player to score his first seven career goals with the extra man. Via the AP, the Sabres’ 5-0-1 start has earned them a point in their first six games for the first time since a 6-0-2 start in 2008-09. Their 4-0-0 record at KeyBank Center is their best start at home since 2006-07.

3. Alex Stalock, Wild: Stalock’s 26 saves helped the Wild to their first win of the season with a 2-0 blanking of the Senators. The shutout was Stalock’s sixth of his career and first since Dec. 14, 2017. Minnesota’s shorthanded units get a shoutout here after killing off five Ottawa power plays. (The Senators’ power play, by the way, is now 0-for-17 on the season.)

Other notable performances
• Behind two goals from Brett Connolly, the Panthers erased a 4-1 deficit to top the Devils 6-4. New Jersey is now 0-4-2, their worst start to a season since they started the 2013-14 campaign 0-4-3.

Matt Barzal‘s goal with 27 seconds left forced overtime and Devon Toews completed the Islanders’ comeback with the winner as the Blues surrendered a 2-0 lead with less than six minutes to play.

Nazem Kadri and Mikko Rantanen each had a goal and two assists as the Avalanche downed the Capitals 6-3 to improve to 5-0-0.

James Neal scored his NHL-best eighth goal of the season in a loss to the Blackhawks that ended Edmonton’s undefeated season after five games.

Highlights of the Night

Jonathan Huberdeau needed only 16 seconds to open the scoring vs. the Devils:

• Agile Brad Marchand:

• Former Capitals Andre Burakovsky made his first visit back to D.C. as a member of the Avalanche:

• Nice sequence here by the Avs, which was finished off by Nikita Zadorov:

Factoids of the Night
• The Stars’ 1-5-1 start is the team’s worst since the franchise opened with an identical record in 1990-91 when they were the Minnesota North Stars.

• The line of Pastrnak, Bergeron, and Marchand have combined for 24 points through five games.

• Via AP, the worst start in Devils franchise history was 0-8-1 in 1974-75 when they were the Kansas City Scouts.

Scores
Bruins 4, Ducks 2
Wild 2, Senators 0
Panthers 6, Devils 4
Islanders 3, Blues 2 (OT)
Sabres 4, Stars 0
Avalanche 6, Capitals 3
Blackhawks 3, Oilers 1

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Wild give goalie Alex Stalock 3-year contract extension

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The Minnesota Wild and backup goalie Alex Stalock have agreed to terms on a three-year, $2.355 million contract extension.

The deal, announced Tuesday, carries an annual average value of $785,000 against the salary cap over the 2019-20, 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons. The 31-year-old Stalock is in his third season with the Wild, with a 2.92 goals-against average and .894 save percentage over 14 appearances. He has made 10 starts in relief of All-Star Devan Dubnyk.

Stalock played at South St. Paul High School, just five miles from the Wild’s home arena, and in college for Minnesota-Duluth before beginning his NHL career with San Jose. Stalock, who played in a career-high 28 games last season, is 41-35-11 in 106 career NHL games.

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

San Jose Sharks ’15-16 Outlook

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The last time the San Jose Sharks missed the playoffs in back-to-back years was in 1996 and 1997, but they’re in danger of it happening again.

Whether or not they’ll be able to prevent that will depend largely on their goaltending. With Antti Niemi gone, San Jose is going with a combination of Alex Stalock and Martin Jones between the pipes. There’s certainly potential there, but the duo only has 83 games worth of NHL experience between them.

Stalock wasn’t that great last season either and while Jones had an impressive 2.25 GAA in Los Angeles last season, his .906 save percentage left something to be desired. Besides which, Los Angeles only called on him 15 times last season and just 11 of those were starts. So it’s entirely possible that neither will be ready to take the reigns in 2015-16 and that alone could sink the Sharks.

If their goaltending proves to be adequate though, then they still might run into issues offensively. Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau will both be 36 years old by the time the season starts and they declined somewhat last season. The Sharks no longer need them to be the team’s offensive leaders, but they do have to be significant contributors and if their age is catching up with them then that could be a big problem.

At the same time though, the Sharks do have reasons to be hopeful. They have some promising young players, including Tomas Hertl, who has shown flashes of brilliance but struggled in his sophomore season. Still, he’s just 21 years old and could be major part of this team going forward. On the defensive side of things, Brent Burns is coming off of a great campaign and newcomer Paul Martin should help solidify their top-four.

San Jose has the potential to be competitive this season, but it all comes back to Stalock and Jones as it’s hard to see this group doing much if neither of those two step up.