Greetings from the Center of the Hockey Universe, which by definition is greater than the State of Hockey.
Sorry, but it's true>>>>
Wild and Toronto Maple Leafs tonight. Wild, 12-1-2 in the Devan Dubnyk era on the road, will be searching to extend its franchise-record road winning streak to nine.
The Leafs, who will start Jonathan Bernier, have lost five in a row and have no regulation wins since March 3 (1-7-1 since). The Leafs have allowed the fourth-most goals per game (3.18). In 30 games under Dubnyk, the Wild has allowed 52 goals. The Leafs have allowed 52 goals the past 13 games (40 the past nine).
They have won seven games since Dec. 23. It's been a total collapse since Randy Carlyle was fired. Can't score. Can't defend.
But, if you believe in trends, the Wild, which grinds out most of its road wins, won't just walk in here and run the Leafs out of their rink. The Wild has won once in this building in seven visits, scoring one goal or fewer in each game. Last year, the Wild lost here despite outshooting the Leafs 38-14. That was the game Darcy Kuemper had to be yanked from after giving up three goals on seven shots.
Dubnyk will make his 31st consecutive start for the Wild tonight and 32nd in a row overall. That ties Jonas Hiller for the most consecutive starts in the NHL since 2011-12. I don't get it, but there was some debate on Twitter as to why you start Dubnyk tonight. The laundry list of reasons is endless starting with there are no pushovers in the NHL, if you start Kuemper you're subconsciously hinting to your team that the Maple Leafs aren't a team that should be taken seriously or you can look past, the fact that Dubnyk keeps racking up wins, and on and on and on.
If Dubnyk starts tomorrow at the Islanders, that would be 33 in a row. No goalie has started that many in a row since Antti Niemi started 34 straight from Jan. 15-April 4, 2011. Next up would be Dwayne Roloson, who started 36 in a row for Edmonton from Jan-April, 2009.
All of those numbers are according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
The only way I'd think the Wild would even consider giving Dubnyk the night off tomorrow is if something bad happened tonight or if the Wild won and maybe both the Kings and Jets lose. But who knows?
As the Wild has shown the past two second of back-to-backs, if not for great goaltending from Dubnyk, zero chance it wins in Raleigh and St. Louis. In fact, in the three second half of back-to-backs Dubnyk has started since the first time he was pulled at Detroit on Jan. 20, Dubnyk is 2-0-1 with a 1.30 goals-against average (four goals allowed in 184 minutes) and a .965 save percentage (110 saves on 114 shots).
If you didn't see, this was a column I wrote on Dubnyk yesterday on how he has settled a home Zach Parise took off the market, how much he loves Minnesota and how much he hopes to re-sign here after the season ends.
Ryan Carter has been cleared to return. He'll miss his 21st game tonight since separating his AC joint Feb. 9 against Vancouver on a hard check into the end wall by Yannick Weber.
Depending on how tonight goes will determine if Carter returns against the Islanders. As of now, no lineup changes tonight, meaning Jordan Schroeder will be scratched for an eighth consecutive game. I talked to Schroeder this morning, and as hard as it is for him, he's trying to stay positive. Barring injury, when Carter returns, it'll obviously be for Sean Bergenheim.
"For a long time it was week to week, but it’s day to day now," Carter said. "The light is there at the end of the tunnel, so I’m happy about that."
Most importantly, Carter has to feel comfortable enough with his shoulder that he can play physically.
"I have a certain role and I have to be ready to play that role," Carter said. "I have to make sure when I come back I can be physical and winning those battles. We tested it a little bit. A little more today. It’s respeonded well."
He said this was a difficult stretch of games to miss. "It's difficult mentally getting injured this time of year because you want to help the team win games. But the fellas made it easier by going on the streak they went on. It was fun to watch, but I'm excited to get back into it."
Chris Stewart is excited to be back in Toronto. He grew up in nearby Scarborough and has 15 family members coming tonight, including his brother, former hockey player and FLORIDA PANTHERS first-round pick Anthony Stewart. He said his sister made a big feast of lasagna last night for the family.
I'll be writing a cool story on Stewart for Thursday's paper, I believe.
Tomorrow's lead note in the notebook will likely be on Thomas Vanek, who's returning to Long Island tomorrow for the first time. "First time being booed there," he joked.
Vanek is riding a seven-game point streak into tonight's game, which isn't too shabby for a guy whose ice time is down to 11 and 12 minutes a game due to third-line role, second power-play role (lack of power plays lately, too) and the way the lines shake out after power plays and penalty kills.
But he said he's not complaining. Team's winning and it's winning in large part to rolling four lines nightly. As Kings coach Darryl Sutter said recently of NHL fourth lines, "If they're only five or six or seven-minute players, then you're not a playoff team."
The Leafs’ first line of James van Riemsdyk (minus-32)-Tyler Bozak (minus-33)-Phil Kessel (minus-35) rank 850th, 851st and tied for last at 855th in NHL plus-minus, respectively. In the past 12 games, Kessel has one goal and is minus-16.
The Wild has a league-best plus-41 goal differential the past 30 games and ranks third in the NHL with 153 5-on-5 goals. The Wild’s power play is the worst in the NHL on the road (10.2 percent). The Wild hasn’t scored a road power-play goal since Feb. 1 (two of those games it didn't get a power play), yet in those 10 games, the Wild's 8-1-1.
That's it for moi. For now.