Scott Taylor

Wild Still in the Hunt to Start 2018

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 Scott Taylor

By Scott Taylor

Photos by James Carey Lauder

January 3, 2018
GAMEDAY GOLD
@staylorsports ‏

Don’t worry, be happy. That should probably be the motto of the Minnesota Wild as they head into the 2018 portion of the 2017-18 National Hockey League schedule.

On Tuesday night, the Wild got two goals from Eric Staal and two more from Matt Cullen, three assists from Jared Spurgeon and 25 saves from Devan Dubnyk as they whipped the visiting Florida Panthers 5-1.

It left the Wild with a record of 21-16-3, eight points behind first-place Winnipeg in the Central Division and one point behind the Anaheim Ducks for the final Wild Card spot in the West.

It’s not a terrible place to be with 42 games remaining. It’s not great, by any stretch, but the Wild are certainly in the hunt.

But at some point, the Wild have to turn a win like Tuesday’s into a streak. One win here or there won’t be the answer to the big playoff question. If the Wild intend to be playing in late April, the time has come to string a few wins together.

To be fair, the Wild are now 10-1-1 in their last 12 home games and that’s quite impressive. Considering that the Wild play six of their next eight at home including a match up against the struggling Buffalo Sabres on Thursday night, the Wild could get right back into the Central Division hunt during the next two weeks. With Zach Parise back in the lineup and Dubnyk playing with more confidence, the Wild are in a good position to make some noise.

Eric Staal certainly isn’t concerned. On Tuesday, the 33-year-old veteran scored his 16th and 17th goals of the season against the Panthers and with 35 points is on the first page of scoring leaders in the NHL (32nd).

Minnesota Wild forward Eric Staal gathers his momentum to go toward the puck

Eric Staal leads the Wild in the scoring.

“It’s been fun since the moment I signed here,” said Staal on Tuesday night. “It’s a really good group of guys. We’re also a confident group right now. We just have to keep this confidence going as long as we can.”

And really, that’s what it’s about at this stage. The NHL’s December dog days (deep freeze if you prefer) are now over, and hockey old-timers will tell you that now is the time when good teams start to get their game faces on. The playoff run becomes urgent. Half the season is over, and now the contenders must show that they aren’t pretenders.

That means Dubnyk has to play like he did against Florida on Tuesday for most of the rest of the season. The defensive group has to carry on the way Suter, (often-healthy-scratch) Olofsson, Dumba, Brodin, Prosser and Spurgeon did against the Panthers. Up front, Parise is back, Staal is the team’s leading scorer and Jason Zucker is a star. No question the Wild need to get more out of Nino Neiderreiter (when he’s healthy), Mikko Koivu, and Charlie Coyle down the stretch, but then again, now is the time for all hands to be on deck every single night.

This is a different Wild club than the one that made the playoffs last year – for the fifth straight year – but it’s still a team that has shown, thus far, that it can compete with teams like Winnipeg, Nashville, St. Louis and the upstart Vegas Golden Knights. With Parise back, the Wild looked as good as they have all season on Tuesday night.

“I thought Zach was good for his first game,” said head coach Bruce Boudreau after Tuesday’s win. “He did all the right things and played within himself and could have had a couple, too. That’s the way we were last year when Zach was in the lineup. He was good and we were pretty good.”

It’s not the best Wild team ever, but if it can build on its confidence with Parise back, who knows what could happen? After all, love ‘em or hate ‘em, the Wild are certainly still in the hunt.

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Scott Taylor

The Wild Aren’t Perfect but Still in the Hunt

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 Scott Taylor

By Scott Taylor

December 10, 2017
GAMEDAY GOLD
@staylorsports ‏

 

Jason Zucker has remained red-hot,Devan Dubnyk is doing just enough and the Minnesota Wild defense is playing just well-enough to hold off the opposition.

The Minnesota Wild don’t look like anything close to a Stanley Cup contender, but coming off a 3-2 overtime win against the Ducks in Anaheim, the Wild are in the hunt in the West.

And that’s big news because two weeks ago, they were heading in the other direction.

On Friday night, the Wild beat the Ducks on an OT goal by defenseman Matthew Dumba at the 3:43 mark of overtime as the Wild played a pretty nice road game.

Minnesota Wild Defenseman Matthew Dumba

Matt Dumba is becoming “Mr. Overtime” for the Wild…

For Dumba, it was a bit of déjà vu. Last Saturday, in a 2-1 OT win over the St. Louis Blues, Dumba did the same thing. He’s becoming Mr. Overtime, and his goal-scoring skill – or luck, doesn’t matter – couldn’t have come at a better time.

There is little doubt this Wild team is struggling. At 14-11-3, the Wild slipped out of Friday’s action with 31 points, good enough for 10th in the West. It left them two points behind the first Wild Card qualifier (16-12-1 Dallas) and two behind the No. 2 qualifier (14-11-4 Vancouver).

But it’s only early December and the Wild are still in the hunt. It’s kind of silly to be talking playoff positions with 50-plus games remaining, but the Wild could be Edmonton, Arizona or Colorado and already wondering what they’ll have to do to get back in the race – if there is anything they actually can do.

The Wild aren’t great, but they’re fine. And for December, that’s OK.

There was a time this season when 12-of-20 Wild players were not on the team at playoff time last spring. This team – for different reasons – allowed Jason Pominville, Erik Haula, Marco Scandella, Jordan Schroeder and Christian Folin to leave. That’s a lot to lose. Pominville had 13 goals and 47 points last season while Haula had 15 goals and has played well in Las Vegas. Zach Parise hasn’t been part of the club all season. They brought in Kyle Quincey, who was a bust. The aging 41-year-old Matt Cullen has been a bad fit. Daniel Winnik has two goals and nine points in 28 games. Tyler Ennis has five goals and eight points in 28 games and plays about eight minutes a night.

The Wild is not a particularly fast team. It is not a consistent team. Its leadership isn’t where it should be. It hasn’t received the goaltending it has in the past two years because the defensive unit isn’t as good as it should be. Head coach Bruce Boudreau is apparently losing sleep.

But despite all the problems, the Wild is a long way from out of the playoff conversation. Zucker scored his team-leading 14th of the season on Friday night, and in the last 16 games, he has 13 points. Zucker has 24 points in 28 games this season, and while he won’t replace Parise every night, he has stepped up and kept his team in the argument.

In 22 games this season, goaltender Devan Dubnyk is 12-8-0-2 with a 2.73 goals against average and a .914 save percentage.

Minnesota Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk positions himself for an incoming shot on goal...

Dubnyk and the Wild “D” need confidence to succeed…

He’s not close to the goalie who saved the Wild in 2014-15 (1.78 GAA with a .936 save percentage), but he was good on Friday (stopping 26 of 28 shots) and while Alex Stalock is a decent backup, Dubnyk will be the guy who will make or break the defensive numbers on this club.

“To see everybody just stay with it when they get one and go to overtime and still get two points was good for us,” Dubnyk said on Friday. “That’s how we can start building good feelings.”

That’s one of the problems, of course. There are nights when this team just doesn’t have any confidence in itself, and putting together a consistent run won’t happen without confidence.

Still, Boudreau is convinced that his group can turn the season around. 

“We’ve still got a shot at winning the week, and our goal every week is to just win the week,” Boudreau said. “If you keep winning the weeks, then eventually you’re going to find yourself in the playoffs.

“Starting tomorrow (Sunday night in San Jose) we’ve got five games in eight nights. It’s going to be tough. We’re certainly going to need both of our goaltenders in this stretch. So at some point, Alex is going to play whether it’s Sunday or whether it’s against Calgary (Tuesday) or against whomever.

“We have a chance to make something good happen in the next eight nights. We going to need everybody playing well, and we’ll need good goaltending. But we have a chance to make something if we can win this coming week.”

The Minnesota Wild is not a Stanley Cup contender. But the club is also far from being eliminated. A good week against San Jose, Calgary, Toronto, Edmonton and Chicago will mean that the Wild could be a force by the New Year.

And who would have expected that?

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Scott Taylor

Wheeler Named NHL’s Weekly Best

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 Scott Taylor

By Scott Taylor

December 4, 2017
GAMEDAY GOLD
@staylorsports ‏

WINNIPEG — Winnipeg Jets captain and native Minnesotan, Blake Wheeler, had himself quite a week. So did his team.

Wheeler’s stretch was so good, in fact, that on Monday, the 31-year-old winger from Plymouth, Minnesota, was named the NHL’s First Star of the Week for the week ending December 3.

Wheeler had two goals and 10 points in four games last week, and he led the Jets to a 3-0-1 record. Winnipeg is now 17-6-4, first in the Central, first in the West and tied with Tampa for first overall.

Wheeler now leads the NHL in assists with 28 and is fourth in the league in scoring with 35 points.

Winnipeg Jets Blake Wheeler

Blake Wheeler leads the first place Winnipeg Jets

Wheeler scored a goal and added a pair of assists in a 7-4 win against the Minnesota Wild on November 27. He didn’t score in a 3-2 OT loss in Colorado, but he had three assists in Winnipeg’s 7-4 win over Vegas on December 1. He then finished the week with a goal and three more assists in a slick 5-0 victory against the Ottawa Senators at Bell MTS Place on Sunday.

After the Sunday game, he paid tribute to his power-play linemates.

“Mark Scheifele and Patty Laine are two of the best right-shots in the world and they’re on the same power play,” said Wheeler, after being informed that he now led the NHL in assists. “Yeah, it (the league-lead in assists) showed on the board and guys started saying stuff. But that’s not what I’m trying to do, to be honest with you. I’m trying to play how we’re trying to play every single night. Play hard, play fast every single night. It’s December, we’re not slapping ourselves on the back. I think where we’re at right now is that we’re excited with where our team is at. It’s the best we’ve done since we’ve been back in Winnipeg and we’re excited about that.”

This is the second time in his career that Wheeler has been selected in the NHL’s Three Stars of the Week. He was the Second Star for the week ending Feb. 20, 2012. That was way back in his first full season with the Jets.

The last Winnipeg player to be named to the NHL’s Three Stars of the Week was Nikolaj Ehlers, who was First Star earlier this season for the week ending Oct. 16, 2017.

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Scott Taylor

The Wild in Winnipeg

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Scott Taylor

By Scott Taylor

November 27, 2017
GAMEDAY GOLD
@staylorsports ‏

Everybody is entitled to a stinker

So the Minnesota Wild stepped onto the ice in Winnipeg on Monday night and jumped out to a 2-0 lead before the 14-minute mark of the first period.

Jason Zucker scored his 13th of the season and Chris Stewart scored his seventh and the Wild were rolling.

Fact is, it could have been 3-0, but a big rebound goal was overturned because Charlie Coyle was a skate-blade offside.

Still, at this stage of the hockey game, the Wild were completely dominating a very good Winnipeg Jets team and looked as if they could be on their way to their 12th win of the season.

Then, the Jets’ Joel Armia scored on a rebound and big-time NHL star, Mark Scheifele, scored his 12th of the year on a wicked shot that Alex Stalock will get to see for the first time in the post-game video. Suddenly, it was 2-2, and the Wild simply disappeared.

From the opening faceoff of the second period to the final buzzer, the Jets scored five more unanswered goals – Jacob Trouba, Mathieu Perreault, Kyle Connor, Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler scored to make it 7-2. By the end, it looked like a beer league game.

The Winnipeg Jets celebrate one of their seven goals against the Minnesota Wild

Who are these guys?…

It was the second straight big loss suffered by the Wild against divisional rivals. They lost 6-3 on Saturday in St. Louis and now 7-2 to the Jets. After shutting out Montreal and then Philadelphia twice in five nights, the Wild have had trouble keeping the puck out of their own net. They have allowed 30 goals in their last seven games (they’re 3-3-1 in that stretch), and their head coach has developed a migraine over it.

“We sure have to play different than we have the last two games if we want to turn this around,” Boudreau replied during the post-game scrum.  “It’s frustrating all the way around. We’ve given up 30 goals in seven games. That’s 4 ½-goals a game. If you want to do that, you can’t win in the NHL. It’s impossible for me to even think that you get three shutouts in a row and then, seven games later, you’ve allowed 30 goals. After those shutouts, we were third in the league defensively. Now, I don’t know.”

On Monday night, the Wild were either tired, bored or uninterested. After jumping out to the early lead, they proceeded to muster only 13 more shots on goal, six of them late – when the two teams had started playing beer league shinny.

Boudreau was confused.

“From about the 13-minute mark of the first period, we just quit playing,” he said. “I don’t know. It takes a lot of soul searching. It’s easy to say we’re going to watch the video, but I mean it’s just a compete level, once (the Jets) started to play a little bit better, we were just ‘woe is me,’ you know. We didn’t compete again.”

The Minnesota Wild's Nino Niederreiter attempts to gain control of a loose puck

Nino pokes the puck…

“I don’t want to ‘woe is me,’ anything. We started out tonight, we were ahead of the game. And we should have been pretty excited about the way things were, even after the first period when they got two goals. I thought ‘OK, we’re right in this thing,’ and then I don’t think we got a shot in the first 10 minutes of the second period.”

“They get two goals and it’s like, ‘Wow….’… I don’t know what to say.”

Fortunately, the coach did have more to say and his answer to the question, “How does this happen?” was rather blunt.

“It’s people not doing their jobs,” he said. “You can see that there is a disconnect somewhere. But it’s a reason why you need a practice. We haven’t practiced in two weeks and we have to get back to square one when we do.”

“If tomorrow (Tuesday) wasn’t a scheduled day off, we’d be working.”

The Wild get the day off Tuesday, and then they’ll get back to square one on Wednesday. Thursday night, the surprising red-hot Vegas Golden Knights come to town, and it won’t be an easy assignment for the suddenly slumping Wild.

However, to be fair, the Wild lost to the No. 1 team in the NHL on their home ice on Saturday, and they lost to the No. 3 team in the NHL on their home ice on Monday. That’s allowed during an 82-game schedule.

The Wild laid an egg in Winnipeg on Monday. A big, hard-boiled egg, right on the dot at centre ice of the Bell MTS Place. But they are still 11-10-3, still above .500 and they have two home games coming up before meeting the slowest team in the NHL, the Los Angeles Kings, in L.A. on Tuesday. This is a stretch in which the Wild can get back on track and be right in the hunt in December.

Everybody is entitled to a stinker. The Wild stunk it out on Monday. But with Wednesday’s practice and a better effort at home on Thursday, all will be forgotten.

Then again, if they lay another egg on Thursday … well, you know the drill.

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Scott Taylor

Could Wild Already Be Behind the Eight Ball?

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Scott Taylor

By Scott Taylor

November 7, 2017
GAMEDAY GOLD
@staylorsports ‏

 

Those of us old enough to remember the winter of 2015 when Devan Dubnyk arrived in St. Paul, understand that the Minnesota Wild is never out of it.

After all, when the desperate Wild traded with Arizona to acquire the journeyman net-minder, they were pretty much “out of it.” They were 19-19-6 and battling to keep up with Dallas, Colorado, Los Angeles and San Jose in the West. They weren’t doing well. When you consider that L.A. finished 13 games above .500 and still missed the playoffs, the Wild were definitely “out of it.”

But then, Chuck Fletcher dealt a third round pick to the really, really, really out of it Coyotes, and he got a guy who has been the backbone of the team for the past three seasons. Dubnyk got the Wild into the playoffs almost single-handedly in 2014-15 and has played a major role on playoff teams in 2015-16 and 2016-17.

Now, however, things are not so rosy for the Wild.

Monday night, they were outshot 34-27 by a banged-up Boston Bruins team at TD Garden in Boston and were beaten 5-3. Dubnyk started and gave up four goals on 24 shots and was replaced by Alex Stalock, who stopped all nine shots he faced (the Bruins fifth goal went into an empty net). Last year, Dubnyk went 40-19-6 with a 2.25 goals against average and a .923 save percentage and led the Wild into the post-season. This year, he’s 4-5-1 with a 3.03 GAA and a .907 save percentage, and that’s not good.

Worse yet, he just doesn’t look comfortable.

Minnesota Wild Goalie Devan Dubnyk

Devan Dubnyk and the Wild are off to a less than stellar start in 2017.

In a recent game in Winnipeg, he gave up four goals on 30 shots and was flopping all over the ice. A tall goaltender who can look awkward at times, he looked like a fish out of water — in front of his family from Regina – that night in the ‘Peg. Slow to react… clumsy. He was down too much and out of position too often. His defensemen have bailed him out more than once, and as Wild fans have witnessed this season, the defense hasn’t been great shakes either.

Now to be fair, the Wild are 5-6-2, have lost two in a row and are 4-5-1 in their last 10. This could simply be an early November slump. Dubnyk could very well light it up in January and February again, and all could be right with the world.

Trouble is, October and November is a good time to pick up wins that will be important in April. NHL observers have long claimed that the best teams in the league don’t start turning it on until the New Year. If you’re ever going to beat Boston in Boston, beat them in early November when they have half a dozen starters out of the lineup.

It simply didn’t work out that way.

“It’s like the Keystone Kops out there,” Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau said, candidly. “Guys that know how to play hockey aren’t playing very well. We just weren’t very competitive the first two periods. That was probably the most embarrassing two periods I’ve been involved with on a lot of teams.”

“They (Boston) were doing nothing in the first 10 minutes, and then we give them two goals, and we give them life. And then, all of a sudden we sit back and don’t do anything. It’s embarrassing.”

Granted, the Wild is still without offensive leader Zach Parise, but scoring goals doesn’t seem to be a pressing issue. They’ve scored 40 times which is better than three teams with playoff records in the West. Trouble is, they’ve given up 40.  That’s more than three a game, and that’s not good.

Despite all the problems that their coach sees, it’s apparent that with better goaltending – one extra save every two games, the Wild would be in the early season hunt. If the goaltending doesn’t get better, the Keystone Kops will be playing golf in mid-April.

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Scott Taylor

Wild’s Boudreau Sounds Depressed

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Scott Taylor

By Scott Taylor

October 21, 2017
GAMEDAY GOLD
@staylorsports ‏

 

Friday night in the bowels of Bell MTS Place in downtown Winnipeg, Minnesota Wild coach Bruce Boudreau sounded depressed. He sounded like a man in need of a Zoloft.

Frowning, Boudreau was as quiet as a mouse during the post-game scrum. He was angry. He never raised his voice above a whisper. His Wild had just been beaten 4-3 by the Winnipeg Jets despite the fact they led the game 3-2 late in the second period and were tied at 3-3 with just seven minutes to play.

The Wild had blown another lead and Boudreau wasn’t angry, he was depressed about it.

The first thing he was asked was about the defense and goaltending.

“Obviously, they got four,” he said softly. “So it’s not as good as you want it…

“You want it better. You want it better if you want to win it. You can’t keep giving up three, four, five goals a game. Just look at the end of the year, look at the teams with goals against that are three-and-over and see where those guys are. They’re never in the playoffs.”

Minnesota Wild Defenseman clears some space for his goaltender Devan Dubnyk

Mike Reilly clears the crease for Dubnyk

The 1-2-2 Wild have played five games this season (most other teams have played at least six, maybe seven, so that’s an odd schedule). They lost 4-2 in Detroit and then 5-4 at home to Carolina in a shootout. They beat Chicago at United Centre 5-2 and then blew a late 4-2 lead and lost 5-4 in overtime at home to Columbus. Friday night, they fell 4-3 to a Jets team that was coming off a 5-2 home loss to the Blue Jackets.

On average, the Wild have given up four goals per game. The defense has been shaky while the goaltending has been really mediocre. In Winnipeg on Friday night, Devan Dubnyk looked slow, clumsy and confused.

“I think you can find fault with a whole bunch of guys,” said Boudreau. “But the guys making the biggest mistakes are the guys we rely on. You can sit and talk about the Mitchells and Kunins and Ferarros, but those guys aren’t making the mistakes. It’s the guys who are supposed to be our better players who are making the mistakes and that’s why we’re losing the games.”

To be fair, the Jets scored two power play goals on Friday night, but Boudreau refused to use that as an excuse.

“(The penalty kill) is frustrating,” Boudreau conceded. “But it’s not the penalty kill itself. It’s how the opposition’s power play goals are going in. How many deflections in the five games have gone in? But again, that’s an excuse. The fact is, they’re going in. We gotta stay out of the box. We only took three penalties tonight, but when two of them go in, that’s not good.”

Minnesota Wild forward Eric Staal gathers his momentum to go toward the puck

Eric Staal eyes the puck in the corner…

One reporter tried to give Boudreau an out by suggesting that his team hadn’t played in five days so maybe some rust had sent in. The Wild coach would have no part of that lament.

“I think (the team was flat) for the first 10 minutes and that was it,” Boudreau said. “But after the first 10 minutes we started to find our legs and we took the play to them.

“I thought we took the play to them until we got the lead and then it seems like we’re afraid to win. In all five games we’ve been tied or ahead with less than 10 minutes to go in the third period and you look at our record, it’s just not good enough. When you’re that close it — doesn’t matter who’s in our lineup – but when you’re that close and you come away with nothing you have to do some soul searching.”

Fear of winning? That has to lead to depression and soul searching. If Boudreau’s team doesn’t get things turned around soon, this could be a long winter in the State of Hockey.

Frankly, this Wild team is way too good to be (a) below .500, (b) blowing leads late in the game and (c) playing as confused and as confusing as it has been so far this season.

Nobody really believes that Game 6 in an 82-game season is a big game. However, for this year’s version of the Minnesota Wild, it be bigger than anyone could have imagined back in training camp.

It will definitely be big for the team’s confidence and maybe even bigger for the coach’s mental health.

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Scott Taylor

Blaine’s Hendricks Signs One-Year Deal with Jets

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Scott Taylor

By Scott Taylor

September 1, 2017
GAMEDAY GOLD
@staylorsports ‏

 

A National Hockey League team located about seven hours by car north of the Twin Cities has decided that Minnesota hockey players make the best leaders.

In fact the three players considered to be the “leaders” of the Winnipeg Jets are Minnesotans – captain Blake Wheeler from Plymouth, defensive star Dustin Byfuglien from Roseau and now, highly-regarded penalty killer Matt Hendricks from Blaine.

This week, the Jets agreed to terms with the 36-year-old veteran Hendricks on a one-year deal worth $700,000.

Hendricks Tweeted: “Very happy to be joining the @NHL Jets organization. Can’t wait to meet the guys and get the season off to a good start!”

Hendricks spent the last four seasons with the Edmonton Oilers. Last year, he had four goals and seven points in 42 games and for the second straight season he led the Oilers in the faceoff circle, winning 132-of-232 draws (56.9 per cent).

photo courtesy: Edmonton Oilers

Hendricks, a left-handed shooting centerman, has also been a staple on the Oilers penalty kill. In fact, he is among the Top 25 NHL forwards in shorthanded time-on-ice during the last five seasons.

He has played 521 career NHL games with Colorado, Washington, Nashville, and Edmonton and has totaled 49 goals and 100 points with 664 penalty minutes and a career faceoff percentage of 53.9 per cent.

Hendricks, who is 6-foot, 205 pounds, was drafted by the Predators in the fifth round (131st overall) in the 2000 NHL Draft. He’s the son of an American Marine and a Swedish mother. He and his wife Kimberly have five-year-old twins, son Gunnar and daughter Lennon.

He represented the United States at the World Championships in 2015.

He has been called, “a great team player,” and “an outstanding leader.” In Winnipeg, that would describe all three Minnesota players.

 

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Scott Taylor

NHL Expansion Draft: The Knights Are Now on the Clock

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Scott Taylor

By Scott Taylor

The Las Vegas Draft

The Las Vegas Knights are now on the clock. All 30 National Hockey League teams have released their protected lists and available players for the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft and the Knights have until 12 Noon (CST) on Wednesday to make their selections.

There are some good players available, depending on their contract status, such as goalies Petr Mrazek and Marc-Andre Fleury, defensemen Josh Manson, Marco Scandella, Matt Dumba, Jason Demers, Mark Methot, Sami Vatanen and Kevin Shattenkirk and forwards T.J. Oshie, Marcus Kruger, Eric Staal, David Perron, Carl Hagelin, Dustin Brown, Ryan Strome, Marian Gaborik, Vladimir Sobotka, Joe Thornton, Darren Helm and James Neal.

Las Vegas will have plenty of decisions to make. Take a UFA and try to sign him (like 30-year-old Oshie)? Wait until after the draft and take a run at a few UFAs? Claim vets, young unproven players or a combination? Grab some old Wheat Kings like Eric Fehr and Matt Calvert (after all, Kelly McCrimmon is assistant GM)?

The Wild have left Matt Dumba, Erik Haula, Marco Scandella and Eric Staal unprotected. I would not be surprised if one of that group was the player selected by Las Vegas and with McCrimmon’s knowledge of the Western Hockey League, I’d place a large bet that it will be Dumba.

Minnesota Wild Defenseman Matthew Dumba

Matt Dumba is on the Las Vegas Knights “Available List”…

The Knights must take one player from each team and a minimum of 14 forwards, nine defensemen and three goaltenders.

The selections will be announced at the NHL Awards Ceremony on Thursday night in Las Vegas.

 

The following linked-lists

 courtesy of the National Hockey League:

Anaheim Ducks Arizona Coyotes Boston Bruins
Buffalo Sabres Calgary Flames Carolina Hurricanes
Chicago Blackhawks Colorado Avalanche Columbus Blue Jackets
Dallas Stars Detroit Red Wings Edmonton Oilers
Florida Panthers Los Angeles Kings Minnesota Wild
Montreal Canadiens Nashville Predators New Jersey Devils
New York Islanders New York Rangers Ottawa Senators
Philadelphia Flyers Pittsburgh Penguins San Jose Sharks
St. Louis Blues Tampa Bay Lightning Toronto Maple Leafs
Vancouver Canucks Washington Capitals Winnipeg Jets

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Scott Taylor

Two Late Goals Give Penguins the Stanley Cup

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Scott Taylor

By Scott Taylor

Pens Win Cup

The Nashville Predators did not score a goal in the final 123 minutes and 23 seconds of the Stanley Cup final.

And that’s why the Pittsburgh Penguins are the 2017 Stanley Cup champions.

Thanks to two late goals – a bit of a fluke by Patric Hornqvist and an empty netter by the speedy Carl Hagelin – the Penguins won their second straight Cup with a 2-0 win over the Predators in Game 6 of the Championship Final.

Penguins captain Sidney Crosby also won his second straight individual award – the Conn Smythe Trophy, which is awarded to the playoff MVP.

Pittsburgh Penguins hoist the Stanley Cup for the second straight year

Pittsburgh wins their second straight Stanley Cup

It was the first time since the 1997 and 1998 Detroit Red Wings that any team had won two straight Stanley Cups.

“This was our goal at the start of the year, we knew it hadn’t been done in a long time,” Crosby told NBC Sports. “To be able to accomplish it is a great feeling.

“We knew it was going to be tough all year. We just tried to keep with it. We had a lot of injuries and things like that, so we just kept finding ways. That’s really what we did all season, all playoffs, and it’s great to be able to do it.”

On Sunday night at Bridgestone Arena in Smashville, the high-spirited, and yes, magnificent, home crowd couldn’t coax their heroes into a goal. The Predators did not score a goal since Filip Forsberg scored his only goal of the final at the 16:37 mark of the third period of Game 4.

In Game 5, Matt Murray made 24 saves to get the 6-0 shutout in Pittsburgh and then, in Game 6 on Sunday, made 27 saves to get the 2-0 shutout in Nashville. In a series in which every expert claimed that the only way Nashville could win was if their netminder, Pekka Rinne, was significantly better than Murray, the Pittsburgh puck-stopper was clearly the best.

The goals on Sunday weren’t pretty. Of course, they didn’t have to be. The winner was a shot from behind the Nashville net, off Rinne’s back and up into the twine with 1:35 left in regulation time. The winner was a result of Hagelin’s under-rated speed as he won a race to a loose puck and almost skated that puck right through the net.

“It’s going to be the biggest goal I’m ever going to score,” Hornqvist said during a postgame interview on CBC-TV. “I just got lucky to score the first goal.”

“This was a team effort from the first shift to the last shift. This was a battle through the whole series. They played really well Nashville, but we came up big when we needed it.”

It was an amazing scene in Nashville after Hornqvist scored the winner. After all, it was the Predators who made Hornqvist the very last pick, No. 230, in the 2005 NHL Draft. For those who might have forgotten, Crosby was the first pick in the 2005 NHL Draft.

Hornqvist scored 106 goals in 363 games for the Predators before he was traded to the Penguins, along with forward Nick Spaling, for forward James Neal on June 27, 2014. The trade was the very first one made by Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford. It’s a crazy world.

Of course, this was a huge series for the three most important players, Murray, Hornqvist and Crosby, but it was also deeply important and even heart-warming for three American players: Virginia, Minnesota’s Matt Cullen is expected to retire today. He won the Cup at age 40. Woodbury, Minnesota’s Jake Guentzel tied a rookie playoff scoring record with 13 goals and 21 points. And Bolton, Connecticut’s Ron Hainsey, in his first NHL playoff at age 36, was the man Crosby handed the Cup to after the captain took the first skate.

One of the great things about hockey, what makes it more, well, player-friendly, than other major professional sport is that this is the only one in which the commissioner hands the trophy to the team captain, not the team owner. When Gary Bettman handed the Stanley Cup to Sidney Crosby for the second straight year, it pretty much solidified Crosby’s place among the greatest players in the game’s history.

The fans in Nashville didn’t like him and there are a lot of hockey fans all over who don’t care for Crosby’s form of passion. However, if you’re going to build a franchise around one player, it would be Sid the Kid. And he proved it again with a second straight Stanley Cup and a second-straight Conn Smythe Trophy.

 

 

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Scott Taylor

Crosby Stars, Kessel and Malkin Show Up

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Scott Taylor

By Scott Taylor

Penguins Win Big

The Pittsburgh Penguins will head into Nashville on Sunday night with a 3-2 lead in the NHL’s championship series. They will also have good reason to believe they can lock up their second straight Stanley Cup, this time on the road.

The Nashville Predators, meanwhile, have to bounce back from a 6-0 shellacking in Pittsburgh on Thursday night. Of course, in this series they’ve done that before.

Thursday night, Sidney Crosby set up three goals, the heretofore AWOL Phil Kessel and Evgeni Malkin showed up and scored goals and Matt Murray recorded the shutout as the penguins built a 6-0 lead after two periods and coasted to their third win in the series. They are now just one win away from being the first team in 20 years to win back-to-back National Hockey League championships.

“There is still a lot of work to be done,” said Crosby, making sure he sticks with those meaningless, oft-ignored clichés. “Still, the way we played tonight, if we can build off that momentum, that’s important. Yes, we know we’re going to be facing a desperate team and we’ve already played two games there and know the atmosphere and know how much they feed off their fans. So we still have a lot of work to do.”

Ever since that bizarre Game 1 when Pittsburgh built a 3-0 lead, allowed Nashville to tie it up and then won it 5-3 by scoring five goals on 12 total shots; the series has been one blowout after another. The Pens took a 2-0 series lead with a 4-1 win in Pittsburgh in Game 2, then Nashville won 5-1 and 4-1 at home to tie the series and then Pittsburgh whipped Nashville 6-0 in Game 5. Now, now we head back to a place where Nashville is 9-1 in the playoffs and has already outscored the Pens 9-2.

“We’re going into Game 5 with the same approach,” said Nashville coach Peter Laviolette at today’s news conference. “We need to win a hockey game. We came back after losing two and I said at that point that there’s a lot of confidence in our group on how we play the game. We’ve liked a lot of what we’ve done in this series. We don’t like the way we played Thursday. We’re all ready to own that. We’re ready to admit that, and we’re ready to move forward from it.”

They should certainly have confidence on Sunday. After all, they don’t lose very often in Smashville.

However, while Justin Schultz, Bryan Rust, Conor Sheary and Ron Hainsey also scored for the Pens on Thursday night, Woodbury’s Jake Guentzel tied the NHL record for playoff points by a rookie with 21 (13 goals and eight assists). Even more important, Malkin and Kessel made an appearance and that has to be disconcerting for Nashville. The Preds had shut down two of Pittsburgh’s Big 3 for most of this series. If those two are actually ready to go hard in Nashville, it could be tougher than the Predators think.

Meanwhile, there was also a bit of a goaltending worry – again – for Laviolette. While Murray made 24 saves to get the shutout, Laviolette yanked Pekka Rinne after giving up three goals on nine shots. Backup Juuse Saros didn’t fare much better, allowing three more on 15 shots.

Still all five games of the series have been won by the home team (strangely, that’s happened only 12 times since 1939), so Nashville has that going for it in Game 6 on Sunday. However, the Preds need to get off to a good start. Pittsburgh has outscored Nashville 9-2 in the first period of each the five games so far in this final.

Oh, and history says that the team that won Game 5 has gone on to win the Stanley Cup 17 of the last 24 times.

Almost two weeks ago, we picked the Penguins to win this series in six. If Crosby continues to play at the level he’s played at throughout this series, if Malkin and Kessel show up again and if Pekka Rinne struggles one more time, we just might be right.

 

 

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