Mats Zuccarello

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: First place Coyotes; Zuccarello leads Wild to another win

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Three Stars

1. Mats Zuccarello, Minnesota Wild. After a pretty miserable start to the season the Wild are starting to get back on track and picked up their fifth win in a row on Thursday by beating the Tampa Bay Lightning, 5-4. Zuccarello was the big star for the Wild with three points (his first three-point game of the season) including the game-winner in the third period. His goal came just eight seconds after Tampa Bay’s Alex Killorn had tied the game. Things looked bleak for the Wild’s playoff chances in the first month of the season, but their win on Thursday moved them — at least temporarily — into the second wild card spot in the Western Conference.

2. Phil Kessel, Arizona Coyotes. And which team sits on top of the Pacific Division after Thursday’s action? It is none other than the Arizona Coyotes thanks to their 3-1 win in Philadelphia. They have been road warriors this season and now own a 10-3-3 record over their first 16 away games. They used a two-goal effort from Kessel — as well as another great goaltending performance — on Thursday to get their latest win. Kessel has yet to make the big offensive impact the Coyotes were hoping for this season, but he tends to score goals in bunches and maybe this is the start of one of those runs. Arizona is back in action on Friday when Kessel makes his first return to Pittsburgh since the Penguins traded him over the summer.

3. Alexandar Georgiev, New York Rangers. Artemi Panarin scored the game-winning goal in his return to Columbus, but the biggest difference maker for the Rangers in their 3-2 win was their goalie. Georgiev was sensational, stopping 45 out of 47 shots in helping to steal one for the blue shirts. Read all about that game here.

Other notable performances from Thursday

  • Petr Mrazek had an eventful night for the Carolina Hurricanes in their 3-2 win over the San Jose Sharks. He stopped a lot of shots, picked up a shootout win, and got punched in the face. Read all about it here.
  • Joe Pavelski scored the overtime winner for the Dallas Stars in their 3-2 win over the Winnipeg Jets.
  • The Chicago Blackhawks let a 3-0 third period lead slip away in Boston against the Bruins, but Jonathan Toews bailed them out in overtime with the game-winning goal.
  • Milan Lucic was finally able to get his first goal of the season for the Calgary Flames. It turned out to be the game-winning goal in a 4-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres.
  • Matt Calvert had a goal and an assist for the Colorado Avalanche in their 3-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens.

Highlights of the Night

The Wild looked like the Harlem Globetrotters and the Lightning looked like the Washington Generals on this Jason Zucker goal.

The Colorado Avalanche have their top line back together, and Gabriel Landeskog wasted no time in making an impact in his return to the lineup.

Maybe this is the shot that gets Johnny Gaudreau rolling for the Calgary Flames.

Blooper of the Night

Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk accidentally hip-checked a referee in their 4-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres.

Factoids

  • It was a highly competitive night around the league with eight of the nine games being decided by a single goal, including four overtime games. The only game decided by more than one goal was Arizona’s 3-1 win over Philadelphia, and even that was a one-goal game until a late empty-net goal from Kessel. [NHL PR]
  • Thanks to Ryan Pulock‘s overtime goal the New York Islanders extended their point streak on home ice to 12 games. [NHL PR]
  • Jonathan Toews’ overtime goal in Boston was the 14th of his career in the regular season, moving him into a tie for 10th place on the NHL’s all-time list. [NHL PR]

Scores

Chicago Blackhawks 4, Boston Bruins 3 (OT)
Colorado Avalanche 3, Montreal Canadiens 2
Minnesota Wild 5, Tampa Bay Lightning 4
New York Islanders 3, Vegas Golden Knights 2 (OT)
Arizona Coyotes 3, Philadelphia Flyers 1
Carolina Hurricanes 3, San Jose Sharks 2 (SO)
New York Rangers 3, Columbus Blue Jackets 2
Dallas Stars 3, Winnipeg Jets 2 (OT)
Calgary Flames 4, Buffalo Sabres 3

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.

Zuccarello salutes Rangers fans after warm ovation, tribute video

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However Mats Zuccarello felt about how the New York Rangers’ organization treated him on his way out via a trade, he knew Monday would be emotional as he returned to Madison Square Garden with the Minnesota Wild.

If he felt slighted by that parting, the reunion was pretty sweet. As you can see from the video below, Zuccarello watched on as the Rangers put together a nice tribute video, and the crowd provided an even nicer ovation. Henrik Lundqvist also saluted a player who became a good friend.

Here’s the video:

The best part might be the fans who wore shirts to spell out “ZUUC” letter by letter, although Zuccarello’s victory lap was nifty, too:

(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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.

Zuccarello ready for fans’ reception ahead of MSG return

Mats Zuccarello wasn’t surprised that his nearly decade-long relationship with the Rangers ended at last season’s trade deadline, he just wishes the lines of communication between his camp and the team were a little better.

“It was tough to accept because you were passionate about your team and and you felt like you gave everything,” Zuccarello said via the Pioneer Press. “Then suddenly they don’t want you anymore or whatever. They go in a different direction.”

The 32-year-old Norwegian spent nine seasons with the Rangers and quickly became a fan favorite for his work ethic. It was clear how much he meant to the organization just by hearing how emotional Henrik Lundqvist was following the trade.

As the franchise decided to move toward a younger look, Zuccarello’s pending free agency made it clear he would be moving on from Broadway at some point. Then came last February when he was dealt to the Stars for their playoff push. When free agency opened on July 1, he signed a five-year, $30 million deal to join the Wild, a contract that was never going to come from the Rangers.

After a slow start in Minnesota where he was critical of himself, Zuccarello’s offense has picked up. He enters Monday’s game with a three-game point streak and four goals and 11 points in 19 games this season.

Hard feelings are in the past now, but Zuccarello isn’t sure just how emotional his return will be when he steps on to Madison Square Garden ice for the first time as a visitor.

Editor’s note: Need tickets to see his MSG return? Click here

“I came there young and kind of grew up there,” he said. “That’s where I’m living almost my whole 20s. Obviously it’s a big part of me. So yeah, I don’t know if it’s going to be emotional.”

While he may not think it’s going to be emotional, it will be for the fans inside MSG, who will give him an extended, roaring ovation when the time comes. It will be a thank you for his years of service to the franchise, which were appreciated by the franchise.

“The fans, they did so much for me and helped me and supported me all those years,” he said. “So that’s going to be special, for sure.”

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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.

NHL Fantasy: Krejci, Perry highlight this week’s top adds

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

Brock Nelson, Islanders – C/LW: Nelson set a career-high last season with 53 points in 82 games and at this rate the 2019-20 campaign will be even better. He has eight goals and 19 points in 21 contests, though that point-per-game pace has been skewed by his recent run of nine points in six contests. It also helps that Nelson is averaging 19:01 minutes a game, which is up from 17:58 minutes in 2018-19 and way up from 14:44 minutes in 2017-18. While I do expect him to slow down somewhat, it wouldn’t be shocking to see him reach the 60-point milestone this season.

Oliver Bjorkstrand, Blue Jackets – LW/RW: Bjorkstrand got off to a pretty rough start this season with just four goals and six points in 19 games. He’s been red hot lately though with a goal and six points in his last three contests. While he’s likely to be a borderline player in standard fantasy leagues overall in 2019-20, he’s worth taking a chance on as long as he’s hot.

Anthony Duclair, Senators – LW/RW: Duclair has been somewhat hot-and-cold this season and right now he’s hot. He has four goals and six points in his last four contests. He’s up to 10 goals and 15 points in 23 contests this season, which puts him on pace to best his previous career-high of 44 points. That’s not surprising though, given that he’s averaging 16:25 minutes per game, which is up from just 12:42 minutes in 2018-19 when he recorded 33 points in 74 contests.

Corey Perry, Stars – RW: Perry is definitely a risk, but one that could pay off nicely. He didn’t make his season debut until Oct. 16th due to a foot injury. After that, he was slow to get going with his new team, scoring two goals and four points in 14 games. Now he’s showing signs of getting going though. He contributed a goal and an assist on Nov. 19th and he registered three assists on Nov. 21st. It’s been a while since we’ve seen Perry as a major offensive threat, but he’s also had a lot of injury troubles in recent years. There’s absolutely a chance that his recent strong performances are nothing more than a blip on the radar, but if you’re feeling bold, this is a time to try him.

[For more fantasy sports analysis, check out Rotoworld]

Anthony Beauvillier, Islanders – C/LW: Beauvillier enjoyed four consecutive multi-point games from Nov. 13-21. He’s up to eight goals and 16 points in 21 after that run, which is a huge start for him given that he was limited to 28 points in 81 contests last season. That said, his jump in production has gone hand-in-hand with added responsibilities. He logged 14:39 minutes per game in 2018-19, which at the time was a career-high for him, and that’s jumped to an average of 17:52 minutes this season.

David Krejci, Bruins – C: Krejci had 73 points in 81 games last season and the 2019-20 campaign is shaping up to be similarly strong. He has four goals and 15 points in 17 contests so far. He’s only owned 31% of leagues despite his strong offensive numbers. That’s largely due to him being only eligible as a center and because the vast majority of his points coming from assists, but even still, he certainly has value. At the least, you can keep him in mind as a potential stopgap measure if your team takes a hit due to injuries.

Anthony Cirelli, Lightning – C: Cirelli is another center-only option, but he’s a very different case than Krejci. Rather than be just a steady option, Cirelli is someone you’d want to consider taking because of how hot he is. He has four goals and seven points in his last four contests. He’s not likely to be a long-term option, but if you’re hoping to just ride a hot player, then he’s certainly worthy of consideration.

Mats Zuccarello, Wild – RW: Zuccarello had just an assist in his first seven games, but that was probably due in part to him adjusting to life with the Wild. Since then, he’s scored four goals and 10 points in 12 contests. He is only averaging 15:49 minutes, which is somewhat concerning, but given how well he’s done lately, he’s still a good pickup in most situations.

Bryan Rust, Penguins – LW/RW: Rust is still only owned in 34% of Yahoo leagues, but he’s been really good this season. Part of the reason why he’s been able to fly under the radar is because he didn’t make his season debut until Oct. 26th. In terms of his points pace though, he’s been superb with eight goals and 13 points in 12 contests. He’s never recorded more than 38 points in a single season, so it’s reasonable to ask if he can keep this up, but so far he hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down. He’s only been held off the scoresheet in two contests and is on a four-game point streak.

Brett Connolly, Panthers – LW/RW: With 11 goals and 18 points in 24 contests this season, Connolly has been pretty solid. It’s been something of a hot-and-cold campaign for him, so he might be more of a player to grab in certain situations than to own all the time. Even if that’s the case though, this would be the situation to grab him in given that he’s hot right now. He has five goals and seven points in six contests. 

Players You May Want To Drop

P.K. Subban, Devils – D: I had high hopes for what Subban could bring to the Devils, but he’s ended up doing very little offensively. He has just two goals and five points in 22 games this season. He hasn’t shown any signs of turning around either. In fact, he has no points over his last 10 contests.

Viktor Arvidsson, Predators – LW/RW: Arvidsson is unfortunately a pretty cut-and-dry case. He was injured Saturday night and is projected to miss the next four-to-six weeks as a result. He’s a solid forward, but not good enough that he’s worth holding onto for over a month while he’s notplaying.

Conor Garland, Coyotes – LW/RW: Garland has managed to score 10 goals in 25 games, but he hasn’t done a whole lot else. Those goals have come in bunches too with his latest batch being three goals in four games from Nov. 12-18th.  Now that he’s cooled down again, he’s probably not worth hanging onto, but it would still be good to keep an eye on him as you may want to grab him again later.

Andreas Johnsson, Maple Leafs – LW/RW: Johnsson is one of those forwards whose worth owning in standard leagues when he’s hot, but not at all times. Right now, he’s gone cold with no points in his last six games. There’s also a secondary consideration with him because his role may be somewhat reduced under new head coach Sheldon Keefe. He logged over 18 minutes in six of his final seven games under Mike Babcock. In Keefe’s first two games, he was on the ice for 15:49 minutes and 16:12 minutes. Not a huge drop, but it is noteworthy.

Shayne Gostisbehere, Flyers – D: Gostisbehere set a career-high with 65 points in 2017-18 before dropping to 37 points in 2018-19. This season is shaping up to be another sharp decline for Gostisbehere as he’s scored just a goal and six points in 22 contests so far. He’s also averaging 18:30 minutes, which is his lowest ice time per game since his two-game stint as a rookie in 2014-15.

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. 

For everything fantasy hockey, check out Rotoworld’s Player News, and follow @Rotoworld_ HK and @RyanDadoun on Twitter.