Jet City Ice helps you make the most of your limited TV hockey time
with our picks for the upcoming weekend.
Minnesota Wild vs. Chicago Blackhawks
When: Sunday, 12/15, 4:00pm PST
Where: NHL Network
Slim pickin’s on NBC SportsNet, as usual, so we are treated instead to a Battle of the Central Division Cellar Dwellers on the NHL Network. Our other choice was Detroit visiting Montreal, two more teams with primarily red logos. Hmmm…
The Wild are above .500 this season at 15-12-5, but still sit 5th in the division 5 points ahead of the last place Blackhawks. Their last 10 games have been encouraging for Wild fans, with Minnesota racking up 6 wins and coaxing 15 points out of a possible 20 during that stretch. They capped that off last night by eating the Edmonton Oilers’ lunch with a 6-4 thrashing in front of the hometown fans. There are some question marks in the current roster: captain Mikko Koivu and blueliner Jared Spurgeon are both on IR; and the goal is being tended by backup Alex Stalock and youngster Kaapo Kahkonen while starter Devan Dubnyk is on leave from the team to be with his wife as she addresses medical issues. The Wild are spreading the workload around in the scoring department — Jason Zucker and Eric Staal are leading the charge with 23 points apiece, and 11 more players have 10 points or more through 31 games. Plus, look at D-man Matt Dumba pounding 73 shots on goal so far this season, the most on the team. The kid has an absolute cannon from the point.
Minnesota arrives in Chicago to take on a Blackhawks team that might as well be bleeding from the head. The only thing going right for the Blackhawks these days are above-and-beyond goaltending, and a second line of Patrick Kane, Dylan Strome, and Alex DeBrincat who have the puck on a string and are responsible for one-third of the ‘Hawks goals this season. Their blueline corps, however — which wasn’t winning any prizes to begin with — is now in shambles. Chicago was already limping along with stalwart Duncan Keith on injured reserve. Then during Tuesday’s 5-1 loss to (not Las) Vegas veteran Calvin De Haan, currently leading the team in plus-minus, suffered a shoulder injury and was placed on IR on Thursday. This is the same shoulder De Haan had surgery on just 7 months ago, so optimism about his return to the lineup is scarce. This leaves 19-year-old Adam Boqvist, untested Slater Koekkoek, and call-up Dennis Gilbert to carry the load on the bottom pairing for the foreseeable future — news that led one fan on the Blackhawks’ subreddit to comment, “Hello darkness, my old friend…”
Possible Future Seattle Players: From the Wild, beyond the players they have on long term deals there are 8 restricted free agents due for new contracts before the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft. It’s a crap shoot as to who among those 8 they will decide to retain and protect, but there is one standout among them: Ryan Donato. The Boston native who played for Harvard before being drafted in the 1st round by the Bruins has made his way to Minnesota and is starting to mature into a well-rounded player. He’s a sniper when he gets the opportunity, preferring the right circle for his fade-away one-timers, but will also jump into the slot to screen goaltenders and clean up the trash. He’s not big, he’s not exceptionally fast, and he isn’t a particularly physical player. But 104 points in 97 games with the Crimson shows that he can deliver once he gets used to his surroundings. If he’s the odd-man out in June of 2021, he’ll be worth a look.
Chicago has 5 defensemen signed through 2022 or later, and based on performance so far and propensity for injury I would guess that they choose to leave Olli Maatta and the aforementioned Calvin De Haan unprotected. Hard pass on both with AAV’s over $4 million each. So I’ll suggest Seattle might look at a possible backup goaltender option in the form of Collin Delia. He has shown poise in his 18 NHL games, has good up-and-down speed, covers the net well, and (thus far) appears to maintain his cool under the kind of rapid-fire assaults that goaltenders can endure between the pipes in Chicago. In my opinion he challenges too far from his crease with opponents close in, and on occasion he gets a case of the “flops,” so there is still room for improvement. Next year he could get the backup job behind Robin Lehner (assuming Corey Crawford retires); how he performs in that role will determine whether his $1 million cap hit is a bargain or a waste of money.
NHL Center Ice/NHL.tv
Carolina Hurricanes vs. Calgary Flames
Saturday, 12/15, 1:00pm PST
We’ve got two teams on hot streaks that are coming together for some speedy, offense-driven hockey on Saturday. One or both of the guys who light the lamps after a goal may end up with carpal tunnel at the end of this one.
Carolina has reached the middle of their 5-game west-of-the-Mississippi road trip, and begin Saturday’s game having won 3 out of their last 4. They have put up 6 goals twice during that stretch, and are rarely allowing more than 2 goals against. It’s easy to see why their goal differential is +18 to this point in the season. As a team, the Hurricanes are in the top 10 in the league in all of the following categories: goals for, goals against (lowest), shots, shots against (lowest), power play percentage, and penalty kill percentage. There appears to be nothing that Carolina is doing wrong right now, and they are going to be quite the handful for host Calgary.
The Flames for their part are on a 7 game win streak, 8-1-1 in their last 10, and they posted 22 goals in the last 5 games of that stretch. These wins aren’t pretty, since 5 of the 8 they’ve racked up recently are by a single goal. Last night was another example: they went into the 3rd down 2-1 to the Maple Leafs, then pounded in 3 goals in the first 3 minutes of the final frame and took the game 4-2. But as the saying goes, they don’t ask how, they ask how many. By hook or by crook — or by one-timer so quick after the face-off that the camera misses it — the Flames are getting the job done.
One tidbit you really have to dig to find is, you do not — I repeat, do not — want to go to a shootout with the Flames. The league average shooting percentage during shootouts is 32.0%. Calgary’s shooting percentage — 71.4%. So win it in OT, or just hit the showers because it’s already over. The trio of Matthew Tkachuk, Sean Monahan, and Johnny Gaudreau will finish you with 3 shots. That’s all they have needed to bury opponents thus far.
Possible Future Seattle Players: From the ‘Canes, I took a look down the list of potentially draft-eligible players, and one name jumped out at me — Morgan Geekie. “Heh heh… Geekie… That’s funny…” Then I looked at his stats and soiled my Underoos. 113 points in 88 games in Midget AAA. 199 points in 206 games with the WHL’s Tri-City Americans, posting a +25 over that stretch without one season in the negative. 46 points in 73 games with Charlotte in the AHL last season, while keeping his plus-minus at +24. He also chipped in 18 points over the Checkers’ 19-game playoff run, so the kid brings it when it counts. He does need to put on some muscle mass, currently looking a lot like his moniker at 6’2″ and a scrawny 168 lbs. But there’s plenty of time for the strength and conditioning coaches to put some meat on his bones. If he’s left exposed in June of 2021, I think Seattle should bring home some Geekie. After all, it was Ron Francis who drafted him!
From the Flames, we previously said that Derek Ryan was all but a lock to be Seattle’s pick from Calgary, so here’s an update: he has 17 points through 34 games and leads the team in plus-minus. But a long-shot pick would be goaltender Artyom Zagidulin. An undrafted prospect signed by the Flames this past spring, he posted some unreal numbers in the KHL — 1.96 GAA and .924% SVG last season for Metallurg Magnitogorsk, with his performance actually improving as his team began the playoffs. He hasn’t exhibited that kind of dominance in the AHL as yet, but Zagidulin certainly has potential, and at the very least could be a way to provide some early depth in goal and start the Palm Springs farm club off on the right foot.