Wild vs. Penguins tonight at Xcel Energy Center as both teams resume their seasons after the holiday break. The Wild was off for three days, the Penguins for four.
Devan Dubnyk (14-9-2, 2.39 GAA, .916 SV%) vs. Matt Murray (1-1, 2.02 GAA, .920 SV%). Those are Murray's only two games of his NHL career as he fills in for the injured Marc-Andre Fleury. He's 21 and a 2012 third-round pick from Thunder Bay, Ontario, so I assume he'll have a lot of friends and family members at tonight's game.
He was the best goalie in the AHL last year, winning the Baz Bastien Award, and was the AHL Rookie of the Year after an AHL-best 1.58 goals-against average and .941 save percentage.
Erik Haula wasn't on a normal line during rushes this morning, but coach Mike Yeo said Haula will play because Ryan Carter isn't 100 percent with an upper body injury. Chris Porter, who missed the Montreal game with a lower-body injury, will return.
The Wild is usually pretty atrocious in its first game after the Christmas break. It's 1-6-1 in its past eight, losing four in a row. It has been outscored 37-21 with a minus-71 shot differential in that span.
That's why Yeo had a longer than usual morning skate today. You're not allowed to practice during the break, so this was the Wild's first day on the ice since edging Montreal on Tuesday.
"Right back on the horse here. These are always interesting games, and with the skill level on the other side, we have to find a way to get our heads into it and make sure that we have the right approach coming into the game," Yeo said.
On how his player's hands and legs were this morning, Yeo said, "It’s always a little bit sketchy to start. Execution won't be quite there, and even to start the game, I would expect that from both teams, but we have to find a way to pull that in and you do that with your work ethic. ... Whoever can turn their brain on the quickest here is going to have a leg up on the opposition."
Dubnyk said he felt fine on the ice today despite the time off.
"It doesn’t feel like anything different," he said. "It’s not like a week or the Olympic break. The three days isn’t bad. You get the lungs burning a little bit early, but that’s why we stay out there a little bit longer."
Added Jason Zucker, "Your hands are going to feel a bit weird. You've got to use that time to take an extra couple shots. We had a longer practice and it gets us back in that rhythm of things. Your legs probably feel a little bit off, but that’s probably from sitting on the couch for three days. But overall wasn’t bad at all."
Yeo said even against Montreal, it was too much of an up and down game for his liking. He said the Wild needs to get back to controlling the puck more, being aggressive and drawing penalties, which the Wild hasn't done a lot of lately because it hasn't had the puck enough.
The Penguins have beaten the Wild in five of the past six meetings and they've often been ugly. Yeo said when the Wild plays skilled teams, it's usually aggressive and attack. He feels the Wild has erred on the side of caution too much against Pittsburgh.
The Penguins, who just won their first game in five under new coach Mike Sullivan on Monday, are 2-6-1 in their past nine, have averaged the second-fewest goals per game in the East (2.27) and have the worst power play in the East (16.1 percent).
Evgeni Malkin, who had a season-high two goals and two assists against the Wild in November, has five goals in his past six games, including a 10-shot performance in a shootout loss to Los Angeles. His 13 goals since Nov. 17 is the most in the NHL in that span. Sidney Crosby, who missed Pittsburgh’s last game with a lower-body injury, is having the least productive season of his career with six goals and 22 points in 32 games.
He skated this morning and is expected to skate on a line with Chris Kunitz and David Perron.
Kris Letang also looks like he's returning from an undisclosed injury, although he hasn't officially been taken off injured reserve yet as of this writing. The No. 1 defenseman was paired with Olli Maatta.
Nine games are being played tonight. All road teams weren't permitted to fly in until this morning, although players are allowed to fly in on their own to the road city anytime. And a number Penguins, like Crosby, arrived last night.
The NHL returns from its holiday break with 42.0% of the regular season in the books (516 / 1,230 GP).
Five clubs that did not qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2014-15 currently hold postseason spots (BOS, DAL, FLA, LAK and SJS). There has been a playoff turnover of at least five teams in eight of the past 10 seasons, including a record seven clubs in 2014-15. Overall, 26 teams remain within eight points of a playoff berth this season.
A look at some of the top team and individual performances thus far:
1. Dallas Stars (26-7-2): 54 points
2. Washington Capitals (25-6-2): 52 points
3. St. Louis Blues (21-11-4): 46 points
4. New York Rangers (20-12-4): 44 points^
5. Chicago Blackhawks (20-12-4) 44 points^
^ NYR holds head-to-head tiebreaker (NYR: 1-0-0, CHI: 0-1-0)
t-1. Chicago Blackhawks (14-4-1): 29 points
t-1. New York Rangers (14-5-1): 29 points
3. Dallas Stars (14-4-0): 28 points
t-4. Washington Capitals (13-3-1): 27 points
t-4. Minnesota Wild (13-4-1): 27 points
1. San Jose Sharks (13-6-2): 28 points
2. Dallas Stars (12-3-2): 26 points
3. Washington Capitals (12-3-1): 25 points
4. Boston Bruins (11-2-2): 24 points
t-5. Colorado Avalanche (11-9-0): 22 points
t-5. New Jersey Devils (10-5-2): 22 points
t-5. St. Louis Blues (10-5-2): 22 points
t-5. Florida Panthers (10-6-2): 22 points
t-5. Vancouver Canucks (8-8-6): 22 points
1. Boston Bruins (26 for 90): 28.9%
2. Washington Capitals (27 for 105): 25.7%
3. Dallas Stars (27 for 116): 23.3%
4. Chicago Blackhawks (24 for 111): 21.6%
5. New York Rangers (22 for 102): 21.6%
1. Anaheim Ducks (100 for 114): 87.7%
2. St. Louis Blues (103 for 118): 87.3%
3. New York Islanders (87 for 100): 87.0%
4. Montreal Canadiens (101 for 119): 84.9%
5. Washington Capitals (81 for 96): 84.4%
SHORTHANDED GOALS FOR
1. Ottawa Senators: 8
2. Montreal Canadiens: 7
t-3. Boston Bruins: 6
t-3. Dallas Stars: 6
5. Winnipeg Jets: 5
t-1. Jamie Benn (DAL): 22
t-1. Vladimir Tarasenko (STL): 22
3. Patrick Kane (CHI): 21
4. Tyler Seguin (DAL): 19
5. Joe Pavelski (SJS): 18
t-1. Patrick Kane (CHI): 29
t-1. Erik Karlsson (OTT): 29
t-3. John Klingberg (DAL): 27
t-3. Tyler Seguin (DAL): 27
5. Blake Wheeler (WPG): 25
1. Patrick Kane (CHI): 21-29—50
2. Jamie Benn (DAL): 22-24—46^
3. Tyler Seguin (DAL): 19-27—46^
4. Taylor Hall (EDM): 15-24—39
5. Vladimir Tarasenko (STL): 22-16—38^
6. Erik Karlsson (OTT): 9-29—38^
^ Most goals is first head-to-head tiebreaker
1. Braden Holtby (WSH): 21
2. Corey Crawford (CHI): 18
3. Jonathan Quick (LAK): 17
t-4. Jake Allen (STL): 16
t-4. Henrik Lundqvist (NYR): 16
GOALS-AGAINST AVERAGE (Minimum: 10 GP)
1. Braden Holtby (WSH): 1.96
2. John Gibson (ANA): 1.97
3. Ben Bishop (TBL): 2.00
4. James Reimer (TOR): 2.01
5. Thomas Greiss (NYI): 2.03
SAVE PERCENTAGE (Minimum: 10 GP)
1. Michal Neuvirth (PHI): .937
2. James Reimer (TOR): .935
3. Carey Price (MTL): .934
4. Thomas Greiss (NYI): .933
5. Braden Holtby (WSH): .931