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The Buzzer: Make your Mark

Three Stars

1. Mark Scheifele

The last time the Winnipeg Jets took off for a huge victory, it was Blake Wheeler who was stealing the headlines with a rousing five-point night. Scheifele wasn’t half-bad on that Friday, either.

On Sunday, the roles were reversed. Wheeler extended his point streak to 10 games, collecting two assists. Scheifele was even better, generating a helper to go with two goals, with one of his tallies being the game-winner.

Scheifele, like Wheeler, often stacks the stat categories, and Sunday was no different. The star-on-a-bargain-contract enjoyed a +3 night, fired four shots on goal, blocked a shot, and went 12-8 in the faceoff circle.

(It would be surprising if Paul Maurice changes the third member of that line anytime soon, as talented young winger Nikolaj Ehlers provided a goal and an assist; his speedy transition game makes this top line horrifying … and oh yeah, the Jets also have Patrik Laine for weaker defenseman and Dustin Byfuglien stomping around as if he realizes that no one can contain him. Gulp.)

2. Joe Pavelski

This is a tough one, because while Pavelski ties Scheifele as the only Sunday scorer to collect three points, it’s inflated a bit by his goal being an empty-netter.

That extra point feels like a fair tiebreaker, though, especially since Pavelski paralleled Aleksander Barkov and others by contributing a strong all-around night. Along with that goal and two assists, Pavelski was +3, generated three SOG, delivered four hits, and blocked four shots while going 9-5 on draws.

People don’t really hammer scorers for failing to get assists in the same way they pick on someone when they haven’t managed their first goal of a season, but it has to be a relief for Pavelski to grab his first two assists of 2018-19. Considering that he’s in an uneasy contract year situation, he – and his agent, and the Sharks – are likely counting these things.

3. Darcy Kuemper

Again, this is a spot where you could argue for Barkov, or maybe Jaroslav Halak, who finished Sunday with only one fewer save (37). How much do you weigh Barkov’s strong overall performance/two goals over Kuemper’s nice work and 38 stops?

To me, Kuemper gets the edge for a few reasons:

  • Kuemper was facing a rested team in Washington, while Arizona was wrapping up a back-to-back following frustrating 4-0 loss to the Penguins on Saturday.
  • That rested team was the Capitals, a squad that can manufacture goals even when it’s playing 50-50 hockey, and even if they are the one dealing with more fatigue.
  • Other goalies with similar stats didn’t face that rest disparity.
  • He likely came into Sunday with fire in his belly, yet low confidence, as he had allowed a total of 13 goals in his past three starts.

Maybe you prefer the work of Barkov or someone else, but you have to admit that Kuemper enjoyed quite the performance.

Highlights

A player as smart and skilled as Barkov can make you pay for a mistake and/or unlucky bounce in a matter of seconds:

The Minnesota Wild are red-hot lately, and Devan Dubnyk usually is at the forefront of their hot streaks. Making saves like these reminds us that he’s one of the better goalies in the NHL during the (rather frequent) spans when he’s on his game:

Lowlight

Former Bruins goalie (prospect) Malcolm Subban will like to forget the first goal of Jeremy Lauzon’s career (which he, of course, will never forget):

Factoids

Hot take: David Pastrnak having 16 goals before we’ve even reached Nov. 16 is quite impressive.

Pavel Bure wasn’t a member of the Panthers all that long, yet he authored some astounding moments in Florida, so Mike Hoffman and Evgenii Dadonov flirting with one of his club marks is impressive. Also: scary, since the Panthers also employ that Barkov fellow. Oh, And Vincent Trocheck. And Keith Yandle. And …

Scores

MIN 3 – STL 2
FLA 5 – OTT 1
ARI 4 – WSH 1
WPG 5 – NJD 2
BOS 4 – VGK 1
SJS 3 – CGY 1
COL 4 – EDM 1

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.

Wild ’15-16 Outlook

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When looking at the Minnesota Wild, it’s easy to see their potential, but without making any major additions over the summer, are they in a position to get past the second round for the first time since 2003?

To a decent extent, Minnesota’s fate rests on Devan Dubnyk’s shoulders. This is a team that was in a free fall when he was acquired and his stellar play helped right the ship. Minnesota doesn’t necessarily need him to win the Vezina Trophy, but if he struggles mightily, as he did in 2013-2014, then Minnesota could be in serious trouble. Of course Darcy Kuemper and perhaps even Niklas Backstrom could step up to fill the void in that scenario, but Backstrom is 37 years old with a history of injuries while Kuemper is coming off of an erratic campaign.

Part of the reason why so much rides on Dubnyk though is because Minnesota’s offense hasn’t been anything to write home about. Which is a shame because in theory, Zach Parise, Jason Pominville, Thomas Vanek, and Mikko Koivu should make for a great core and when you throw in promising youngsters like Mikael Granlund, Nino Niederreiter, and Charlie Coyle, the potential is there for the Wild to be more than a middle of the road team when it comes to offensive production.

That’s what they were last season though, in part because Koivu regressed while Granlund, Niederreiter, and Coyle weren’t able to make meaningful offensive improvements compared to their 2013-14 campaigns. Perhaps that will change this season though and if it does, that would certainly take some of the pressure off of the Wild’s goaltending.

As far as their defense goes, Ryan Suter is expected to once again play in nearly half of every game. Jared Spurgeon, Marco Scandella, and Jonas Brodin are projected to make major contributions too, but the X-factor is 21-year-old Matt Dumba as he should play a bigger role in his sophomore campaign after being limited to 15:00 minutes per contest last season.

The makings of a contender are there. It’s just a question of if everyone will click this time around.

It’s Minnesota Wild day at PHT

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The Minnesota Wild’s 2014-15 campaign was a tale of two seasons. There was the time before Devan Dubnyk and then the time after his arrival.

Before Dubnyk was traded on Jan. 14, the Wild were a team in disarray. They had lost 12 of their last 14 games, shifting the question from if they could take a step forward from their 2014 second round exit to if they could even make the playoffs. Now in the third season of the Zach Parise and Ryan Suter era, their stagnation was tremendously disappointing.

On Jan. 7, Wild coach Mike Yeo seemed to lose his cool during a team practice in dramatic fashion. To make matters worse, goaltender Darcy Kuemper left the same practice with a lower-body injury.

The Minnesota Wild went on to lose another four games, including a 7-2 defeat to Pittsburgh on Jan. 13.

“We’re so easy to play against,” Zach Parise said after the game, per the Associated Press. “We lose battles. The details of our game are terrible. We don’t make it hard on the other team.”

Then Minnesota acquired Dubnyk from Arizona for a third round pick and he was given the nod on Jan. 15. He ended up starting in 39 of the Wild’s final 40 games and posted a 1.78 GAA and .936 save percentage over that span to salvage their campaign.

Once in the postseason, Minnesota bested the St. Louis Blues in six games, setting up a series against the Blackhawks for the third consecutive year. Chicago had beaten them twice before and despite all the Wild had accomplished on their road to Chicago this time around, the outcome would not be any different. The Blackhawks powered past Minnesota in four games.

Offseason recap

After his strong performance, the big question for the Wild this summer was how much re-signing Dubnyk would cost them. Determining fair value was no simple matter given Dubnyk’s rocky history, but the two sides ultimately settled on a six-year, $26 million deal.

Up against the cap, this has been a quiet summer for Minnesota as far roster changes go. Chris Stewart and Kyle Brodziak walked as unrestricted free agents while former Wild players Sean Bergenheim, Matt Cooke, Jordan Leopold, and Keith Ballard remain unsigned. On top of that the Wild haven’t made any significant additions thus far.

That’s to be expected though as the team has to factor in the potential raises that Jason Zucker, Jared Spurgeon , Matt Dumba, and Kuemper might get as restricted free agents next summer.

Wild remain optimistic about Kuemper despite ‘erratic’ season

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Now that goaltender Devan Dubnyk has inked a six-year, $26 million contract with the Minnesota Wild, where does that leave Darcy Kuemper?

Kuemper had an opportunity to establish himself as Minnesota’s starter last season, but he barely played at all after the Wild acquired Dubnyk last season. Still, it sounds like there’s an opening for the workload to be far less one-sided in 2015-16.

“Well we’re still very excited about Darcy Kuemper,” Wild GM Chuck Fletcher said, per the Star Tribune. “He’s a young man, and two seasons ago he had a tremendous year. Last year he was certainly more erratic. He started well and had a tough stretch in the middle of the year.”

Kuemper is just 25 years old and has enjoyed some good stretches. Overall he has a 2.48 GAA and .910 save percentage in 63 career starts.

Meanwhile, Niklas Backstrom is set to begin the season as the team’s third-string goaltender as the 37-year-old plays out the final campaign of his three-year, $10.25 million deal. He played in just 40 games over the first two seasons of that contract.

Keeping three goalies on a team’s roster is typically not seen as ideal, but in Minnesota it’s fast becoming the norm.

“For a lot of the last two years, we’ve had to carry three goalies, and it looks like that’s how we’re going to have it to start this season as well,” Fletcher said.

Report: Wild’s Backstrom suffered serious nerve damage in elbow

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More is coming to light about the injury that hampered Minnesota goalie Niklas Backstrom through most of last season.

Per the Star-Tribune — working off an interview Backstrom did with Finnish TV station MTV 3 — Backstrom apparently aggravated an early-season elbow injury this past spring, to the point where he couldn’t perform standard activities with his right hand.

More, from the Trib:

“It was a bit scary situation,” Backstrom told MTV 3’s Timo Kunnari during an interview that was translated for the Star Tribune by Usanomat hockey writer Juha Hiitela. “It happened pretty fast. All of a sudden two fingers are not working. Even in rest, two fingers were motionless. I couldn’t use my right hand to drive a car or to hold a phone.

“There’s a lot of stuff that’s happened during my career, but this really made me stop and think. You need your hand for the rest of your career. I’m righthanded.”

Backstrom, 37, underwent surgery to repair the injury in May and didn’t dress in the playoffs. It’s believed the Wild wanted to buy him out of the last year of his contract (he’s carrying a $3.417M cap hit), but was unable to given the Finnish netminder was injured during the buyout window.

As a result, Minnesota could head into next season with nearly $9 million tied up in three goalies — Backstrom, Devan Dubnyk and Darcy Kuemper.

Further compounding the issue? Player agent Jay Grossman claims Backstrom should be cleared to play for the start of the regular season, which could rule out putting Backstrom on long-term injured reserve, and getting the cap relief that comes with it.

Per the Tribune, Wild GM Chuck Fletcher declined to comment on the Backstrom situation.