Alex Stalock

How the Wild played their way back into playoff contention

Just when it looked like you could close the book on the 2019-20 Minnesota Wild, they have managed to play their way back into playoff contention in the Western Conference.

Entering play on Thursday night (when the Wild visit San Jose), they sit just one point back of the Winnipeg Jets and Arizona Coyotes for the second Wild Card spot in the Western Conference while still having two games in hand on both. They are one of the hottest teams in the league over the past 20 games and have the strong underlying numbers (indicating the right process) to backup their results in the standings.

Given everything that has happened for this organization over the past year, it is a stunning turnaround.

Just consider everything that has happened since July.

Individually any one of those points is a lot for a team to deal with. Put all of them together in a span of less than a year and it is absolutely insane. Combined with how bad the team was a year ago it is remarkable they are back in a position to potentially make the playoffs.

Let’s look at a couple of key factors driving that turnaround.

Kevin Fiala has been on a roll

Chalk this one up as a win for Fenton.

One of his many in-season trades last year was to acquire Fiala from the Nashville Predators for Mikael Granlund. While Granlund has struggled to make much of an impact for the Predators (and is headed for unrestricted free agency this summer), Fiala has had a career year for the Wild and has been especially hot over the past month-and-a-half.

Over the past 20 games he has 25 points (12 goals, 13 assists) and is one of the leading scorers in the league during that stretch.

That includes nine multi-point games, including five in a row entering Thursday.

Alex Stalock has taken control of the net

This is probably the most surprising development this season.

While Devan Dubnyk has been the Wild’s rock in net for the past four years, it is the 32-year-old Stalock, a career backup, that has helped drive their climb up the standings.

He has started 14 of the past 20 games, owning a 10-3-1 record with a .926 save percentage during that stretch. It is one of the best runs of his career and has helped solidify what had been a trouble spot this season with Dubnyk struggling through the worst season of his Minnesota tenure and one of the worst seasons of his career.

They have simply found their game

One thing that probably didn’t get a lot of attention in the first part of the season is that the Wild were probably playing better than their record would indicate. During 5-on-5 play they were doing a decent job controlling the pace of the game, and most of the numbers showed that. Their share of scoring chances and expected goals were among the top-10 in the league, but it wasn’t translating into results because their goaltending wasn’t holding up its end of the bargain.

But Stalock’s play over the past two months, as well as the fact that the Wild have upped their game even more, has made them one of the hottest teams in the league.

The table below looks at their overall 5-on-5 play over the various stretches this season (league ranking in parenthesis).

If you control the share of shot attempts and scoring chances at that level, you’re going to give yourself a chance to win a lot of games. Especially if the goaltending is there. Right now, it is all clicking.

The Wild are currently on a 90-point pace which, given the current pace of every team in the Western Conference, would be enough for a Wild Card spot.

They still have a long way to go before they get there and do not have much margin for error, but they have at least put themselves back into a position where they can do it.

That is probably more than anybody expected at the start of the year. Or just a few weeks ago.

(Data in this post via Natural Stat Trick)

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.

NHL Fantasy Hockey: Fiala, Danault among this week’s top adds

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Welcome to our weekly Adds/Drops column, where I focus on highlighting players you should consider grabbing or be concerned about in fantasy leagues. As always, the goal here isn’t to recommend 10 players you must add and five players that need to be dropped. Context is everything and the context of each league is different. What this is instead is a guideline so that if you’re looking to make a change, you have potential players to target and if you see players I’ve suggested to drop, you can evaluate your potential alternates.

Players Worth Adding

Kevin Fiala, Wild – LW/RW: Fiala had nine goals and 28 points in his first 46 contests, which was pretty impressive given that he was averaging just 14:33 minutes per game. His role has increased lately though with him averaging 17:09 minutes over his last 13 games. He’s excelled during that span with 10 goals and 19 points. I don’t expect him to maintain that above point-per-game pace, but there’s still a great chance of him finishing the campaign on a high note.

Duncan Keith, Blackhawks – D: Keith isn’t the offensive force he once was. In fact, this is on track to be one of the worst seasons of his career in terms of points-per-game. To be fair, part of the reason that’s the case is because he’s set the bar so high throughout his career that his current two goals and 22 points in 56 contests pales in comparison. Those aren’t standout numbers for a defenseman in most fantasy leagues, but it’s still noteworthy contributions. The main reason why he’s being highlighted here though is because of how hot he’s been lately. With a goal and seven points in his last six contests, this would be the time to take a chance on him.

Kailer Yamamoto, Oilers – RW: When it was announced on Feb. 25th that Yamamoto sustained an ankle injury, he was listed as week-to-week. A fair number of fantasy owners likely dropped him when the extent of his injury was revealed, but in the end it looks like he’ll miss significantly less time than anticipated. In fact, he might even make his return tonight. If he’s healthy then he’s a great addition to any team. He has nine goals and 21 points in 21 games.

Jordan Eberle, Islanders – RW: Eberle had a petty mediocre start to the campaign, scoring three goals and 17 points in 31 contests. He found his rhythm though and hasn’t looked back. Over his last 23 games, he’s scored 12 goals and 20 points. He’s had a couple small rough patches, but on the whole, he’s been an excellent contributor for nearly two months now. He’s a solid pickup for the rest of the season.

Dominik Kubalik, Blackhawks – LW/RW: Kubalik had an incredible run of 13 goals and 19 points in 15 contests from Dec. 19-Jan. 19. He slowed down after that with just a goal over his next seven contests, but he’s bounced back in a big way with seven goals and 11 points in his last eight games. At this point, he’s got 29 goals and 44 points in 63 games, which makes him by far the league leader in goals among rookies.

Mikael Backlund, Flames – C/RW: Backlund has been one of the leagues’ top players recently, scoring nine goals and 19 points in his last 13 games. He’s been a reliable secondary scorer for years, surpassing the 40-point milestone for five consecutive seasons, including this one. That’s not good enough to hold onto him at all times, but when he’s this hot, there’s potential upside if you roll the dice on him.

Nikita Gusev, Devils – LW/RW: Gusev’s first campaign in the NHL has been something of a mixed bag, but it’s been more positive than negative, with him scoring 12 goals and 42 points in 62 games. That’s still not quite good enough to hold onto him at all times in standard leagues, but there have been various points in the season where he would have been worth owning. Right now, for example, he’s doing rather well with two goals and nine points in his last six games.

Phillip Danault, Canadiens – C: Danault endured a prolonged rough patch from Dec. 29-Feb. 18 where he scored just two goals and 10 points in the span of 24 contests, but he finally seems to have thawed. He’s on a three-game point streak, scoring a goal and four points in his last three contests. He had a great first half of the season with 10 goals and 30 points in 38 games and now that his cold stretch is behind him, he could have a strong finish to the campaign as well.

Chris Tierney, Senators – C: The Senators were heavy sellers on the trade market and Tierney is among those who got a bigger role as a result. He went from averaging 16:54 minutes through 62 games to 20:36 minutes in his last four contests. He’s registered five assists over that recent four-game span and if the Senators keep leaning on him that heavily then he should be solid for what’s left of the season.

Alex Stalock, Wild – G: This has been a pretty rough season for Devan Dubnyk, who has a 11-15-2 record, 3.34 GAA, and .892 save percentage in 29 contests. It seems the result of that is that Stalock en route to finish the campaign as the de facto starter. Stalock got his fourth straight start on Sunday and while his latest effort wasn’t great, he’s still been the Wild’s better option this season with a 18-10-4 record, 2.64 GAA, and .909 save percentage in 35 games. If you’re hurting for starts, Stalock might your best bet among the likely free agents.

Players You May Want To Drop

Steven Stamkos, Lightning – C/LW/RW: Stamkos is still owned in 83% of Yahoo leagues and unfortunately he shouldn’t be occupied in any single season leagues at this point. He’s expected to miss the next six-to-eight weeks due to a core muscle injury, which basically means he won’t be back before the end of the regular season. In fact, he might end up missing the first round as well, which dampens his value in playoff leagues as well. If you’re in a keeper league though, Stamkos should bounce right back in 2020-21, so he’s an easy one to keep.

Henrik Lundqvist, Rangers – G: Lundqvist is owned in 45% of leagues, which is surprisingly high under the circumstances. Although he will always be a big part of the Rangers history, the team seems to have largely moved on from him. He went nearly a month between starts before he finally got the nod on Sunday. He didn’t do anything to force the Rangers to play him more either, stopping just 21 of 26 shots in a 5-3 loss to the Flyers. It wouldn’t be shocking if he only had just one more start with the Rangers this season and then was bought out or otherwise moved over the summer.

Evgenii Dadonov, Panthers – LW/RW: Dadonov is owned in 73% of Yahoo leagues, but there are probably a fair number of them where there’s better options out there. He has 25 goals and 46 points in 66 contests this season, which isn’t bad, but he hasn’t done much lately. He has just two goals and five points in his last 15 contests.

Ilya Kovalchuk, Capitals – LW/RW: Those who were hoping that Kovalchuk would be sparked by the trade to the Capitals have been left largely disappointed. He has just an assist in his first three games with Washington, which isn’t terribly surprising given that he’s averaged 15:14 minutes over that span. He has been a streaky player since coming back from the KHL and with his more limited role with Washington, he’s not worth owning in most leagues.

Nick Suzuki, Canadiens – C/RW: Suzuki had a fantastic run from Jan. 27-Feb. 18, scoring four goals and 13 points in 12 contests. Since then though, he’s gone five straight games without a point. He’s having a solid season, but isn’t quite good enough to hold onto in standard leagues at all times, so for most owners it makes sense to drop him now that he’s cooled off.

If you’re looking for fantasy hockey information, Rotoworld is a great resource. You can check the player news for the latest information on any player and insight into their fantasy outlook.

Every week Michael Finewax looks ahead at the schedule and offers team-by-team notes in The Week Ahead. I have a weekly Fantasy Nuggets column where I basically talk about whatever’s captured my attention that week. Gus Katsaros does an Analytics columns if you want to get into detailed statistical analysis. If you’re interested in rookies and prospects, there’s a weekly column on that written by McKeen’s Hockey.

The Buzzer: Voracek leads Flyers to fifth straight win; Wild remain in wild-card race

Kevin Hayes #13, Jakub Voracek #93, and Scott Laughton #21 of the Philadelphia Flyers celebrate
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Three Stars

1) Jakub Voracek, Philadelphia Flyers

Voracek dished out four helpers in the Flyers’ 5-2 win against the New York Rangers Friday. Philadelphia picked up their NHL-leading 23rd home victory and improved its current winning streak to five games in addition. Voracek had several pretty passes throughout the evening to set up his teammates. In the opening period, he fed Sean Couturier while Rangers defenseman Brendan Smith broke his stick and was unable to break up the pass. Late in the second period and early in the third, Voracek helped Claude Giroux score twice to seal the victory in favor of Philadelphia. All of a sudden, the Flyers only trail the Washington Capitals by three points for the top spot in the Metropolitan Division.

2) Alex Stalock, Minnesota Wild

The odds were stacked against them, but the Wild are not giving up on their pursuit of a spot in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Stalock made 24 saves and picked up his fourth shutout of the season as Minnesota blanked the Columbus Blue Jackets, 5-0. Stalock has quietly put together an impressive season with an 18-9-4 record, 2.60 goals against average and a .910 save percentage. Only two points separate the Wild from the top wild card spot in the west.

3) Tyson Jost, Colorado Avalanche

With Mikko Rantanen sidelined, the Avalanche need more offensive production from everyone in the lineup. Jost stepped up with two goals as Colorado defeated the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 and extended its winning streak to five games. The first-round pick from the 2016 NHL Draft opened the scoring 6:34 into the first period when his shot whizzed past Anton Forsberg. Jost took a bouncing puck away from Jake Gardiner prior to the goal. He gave the Avalanche a two-goal lead when he tucked a shot past Forsberg halfway through the middle frame. Colorado has two games in hand on the division-leading St. Louis Blues and only trail by three points. Home-ice advantage in the Western Conference will be awarded to the eventual winner of the Central Division.

Other notable performances from Friday

  • Pavel Francouz made 45 saves and would be in the Calder Trophy conversation if not for the outstanding play of defensemen Cale Makar and Quinn Hughes.
  • Teuvo Teravainen scored twice in the Hurricanes’ 3-2 loss and Sebastian Aho extended his point streak to 14 games.
  • Zach Parise and Kevin Fiala each recorded a goal and an assist as the Minnesota Wild won their third straight game.
  • Jason Zucker recorded two goals but the Penguins fell in regulation for the fifth consecutive game.

Highlights of the Night

Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog delivered a pretty cross-ice pass to set up Samuel Girard for the third-period go-ahead goal.

Artemi Panarin extended his point streak to 12 games with this jaw-dropping stretch pass to set up Jesper Fast.

Golden Knights forward Nicolas Roy converted this slick deke to even the score at 1-1.

Giroux pushed the Flyers lead to two goals with this one-timer that clanked off the crossbar before finding the back of the net.

Stats of the Night

https://twitter.com/PR_NHL/status/1233588561666039809

Scores

Philadelphia Flyers 5, New York Rangers 2

Minnesota Wild 5, Columbus Blue Jackets 0

Colorado Avalanche 3, Carolina Hurricanes 2

Vegas Golden Knights 4, Buffalo Sabres 2

Anaheim Ducks 3, Pittsburgh Penguins 2


Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

The Buzzer: Benn’s hat trick; Draisaitl keeps rolling for Oilers

NHL Scores
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Three Stars

1. Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars. It hasn’t been the best season for Benn but he is refusing to go down quietly and now finds himself as the Stars’ leading goal scorer (18) this season thanks to his hat trick on Tuesday night in a 4-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes. He has scored nine of those goals in the 15 games since January 1, and is just one goal away from the 300-mark for his career. He is now on pace for 26 goals this season.

2. Mike Matheson and Mark Pysyk, Florida Panthers. It might be cheating to include two players as one entry in the three stars section, but look, these two guys deserve some recognition here. The Panthers dressed eight defensemen on Tuesday night against the New Jersey Devils and played two of them — Matheson and Pysyk — at forward on a line with Noel Acciari. All that line did was score three goals (one for each player) in a 5-3 win, while Matheson and Pysyk each had a goal, two assists, and finished as a plus-three. Pysyk has previously played forward for the Panthers this season and had a hat trick a couple of weeks ago.

3. Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers. No Connor McDavid, no problem for Draisaitl and the Oilers on Tuesday. The Oilers were 5-3 winners over the Chicago Blackhawks and it was Draisaitl leading the way with a four-point night (one goal, three assists) as he extended his current lead in the NHL scoring race to eight points over McDavid. He is now at 89 points on the season and on pace for 129 points this season. He had 105 points a year ago. If he continues that level of play during McDavid’s absence and helps get the Oilers back in the playoffs it might be enough to take the MVP award away from his teammate.

Along with Draisaitl, 2017 first-round pick Kailer Yamamoto also had another big game for the Oilers, scoring two goals in the win. He is now up to seven goals and 14 points in his first 15 games this season after joining the team in late December.

Other Notable Performances From Tuesday

  • Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 37 shots for the Tampa Bay Lightning as they beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in overtime to extend their winning streak despite a growing injury list. Read all about it here.
  • Alex Stalock stopped all 26 shots he faced for the Minnesota Wild as they shut out the Vegas Golden Knights. Kevin Fiala also had a big game for the Wild to extend his point streak to five games.
  • Another strong game for rookie New York Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin as he stopped turned aside 42 shots in a 4-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets. Chris Kreider also scored two goals in the win.
  • Mathew Barzal had three assists for the New York Islanders as they won a wild game over the Philadelphia Flyers. Read all about it here.
  • Philipp Grubauer stopped 36 shots for the Colorado Avalanche in a 3-0 win over the Ottawa Senators.

Highlights of the Night

Mikko Rantanen scored an absolutely beautiful goal late in the first period against the Ottawa Senators, starting it off with a spin move at the blue line.

Here is one of Mathew Barzal’s three assists on Tuesday night, setting up Jordan Eberle for a first period goal to give the Islanders a 3-0 lead. He just flipped it to himself and created a shot like it was nothing.

Not long after a potential Arizona Coyotes game winner was overturned for goaltender interference, Kasperi Kapanen scored the winner for the Toronto Maple Leafs by batting a puck out of mid-air, sending himself on a breakaway, and scoring the goal.

Moment of the Night

Jacob Trouba returned to Winnipeg for the first time as a visiting player on Tuesday night. He did this before the game.

 

Factoids

  • Kucherov extended his point streak to 12 games before leaving with an injury. It is the longest current point streak in the NHL and the fifth-longest in Tampa Bay Lightning franchise history. [NHL PR]
  • Rasmus Dahlin is now tied for the most assists (76) by a teenage defenseman in NHL history. [NHL PR]
  • Jack Hughes became just the third 18-year-old to record at least 20 points in a season for the New Jersey Devils. [NHL PR]

Scores

Buffalo Sabres 3, Detroit Red Wings 2
Toronto Maple Leafs 3, Arizona Coyote 2 (OT)
Florida Panthers 5, New Jersey Devils 3
New York Islanders 5, Philadelphia Flyers 3
Tampa Bay Lightning 2, Pittsburgh Penguins 1 (OT)
Minnesota Wild 4, Vegas Golden Knights 0
New York Rangers 4, Winnipeg Jets 1
Dallas Stars 4, Carolina Hurricanes 1
Colorado Avalanche 3, Ottawa Senators 0
Edmonton Oilers 5, Chicago Blackhawks 3
St. Louis Blues-Anaheim Ducks (Postponed)

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.

Matt Dumba, Kevin Fiala lead Wild past Blackhawks in OT

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The Stanley Cup Playoffs were a long shot for both the Chicago Blackhawks and Minnesota Wild entering Tuesday. Matt Dumba helped Minnesota’s cause with the overtime winner as the Wild gained a critical two points.

Kevin Fiala scored twice as the Wild picked up their fourth win in six games. Alex Stalock added 27 saves.

Olli Maatta’s third-period equalizer allowed Chicago to earn one point in the tough overtime loss. Adam Boqvist also scored and Corey Crawford made 31 saves as the Blackhawks lost for only the second time in the previous eight games. Patrick Kane’s 12-game point streak was snapped

Can Dumba get going?

The Wild were hoping Dumba was ready to take a quantum leap and become one of the more dynamic defensemen throughout the league when they entered the season.

Dumba needed surgery in December of 2018 to repair a ruptured right pectoralis which caused him to miss the remainder of last season. Despite starting the season on the active roster, the road to a full recovery has been slower than expected.

The 25-year-old converted a slick forehand-backhand-forehand deke as he scored his fourth of the season to propel Minnesota in overtime.

Dumba’s value will be an interesting topic as the deadline approaches for Bill Guerin and his staff. He has three years remaining on his contract after this season that carries a $6M AAV. Can he return to being a power-play quarterback that regularly tops 40 points in a season? Or has he become an overpaid defenseman that has a reputation for missing time due to injury?

Only time will tell…

Missed opportunity

While the three-point deficit for a spot in the postseason doesn’t seem like a lot the Blackhawks squandered an opportunity.

Leapfrogging teams in the standings has become increasingly difficult with three-point games more prevalent in the NHL. The Blackhawks not only have to jump the Nashville Predators but also have the Winnipeg Jets and Wild ready to surpass them at a moment’s notice.

With only nine games remaining before the NHL trade deadline, Chicago’s front office will have to decide on its buying or selling strategy in the near future.


Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.