Niklas Backstrom will be off the ice for a few days because he had another injection in what coach Mike Yeo is calling "a nagging lower-body injury," so the Wild has recalled Johan Gustafsson from AHL Iowa to back up Darcy Kuemper on Tuesday night in Dallas.
Also, Josh Harding, who practiced all last week, didn't practice today because Yeo said he's not feeling well again. Harding has missed nine consecutive games and 13 of the past 15 games since having a "minor adjustment" to his treatment for multiple sclerosis.
The net is Kuemper's for awhile, although Yeo expects Backstrom back for Wednesday's practice.
Kuemper has started four consecutive games and five of the past seven and is 4-1 in his past five with a 1.37 goals-against average and .954 save percentage.
"Sometimes your third goalie is called upon to back up and maybe play a game here or there, but he’s been thrown into more of a starting role for us and he’s taken that opportunity,” Yeo said. “Good for him and good for us. I just read a quote the other day that opportunities multiply as they’re seized and he’s living by that right now."
Kuemper is confident he can run with the net if needed. The Wild has no back-to-backs before the Olympics and he reminded he's been a No. 1 goalie at every level he's ever played at.
"Things have been going pretty good, so I’m confident every time I go in there," Kuemper said. "With the situation right now, I’ve gotten an opportunity to play, so I just have to do my best to give the team a chance to win every night."
Kuemper's turn in net began in L.A. because Backstrom had a cortisone shot the day before for this injury.
In Phoenix a few days later, Backstrom, who missed last year’s playoffs with a sports hernia, admitted to me he played the final month last season with a “tear in the core muscle.”
Backstrom, who played 42 of 48 games last season because of Harding’s absence due to complications from multiple sclerosis, had previously maintained the injury he sustained in warmups of Game 1 against Chicago was the first time he experienced any discomfort.
Backstrom believes the abdominal stiffness he's experiencing is related to last year’s injury.
“You have a problem somewhere and you compensate with something else, so I think it’s from that and related,” Backstrom said in Phoenix. “But compared to yesterday, today was a big difference, so I feel it’s heading in the right direction. I’m getting to where I want to be.”
Yeo basically called the Wild's goaltending situation day-to-day, and something that will be evaluated daily.
That's been the case all season frankly, but this is the first time Backstrom and Harding have been sidelined together.
GM Chuck Fletcher has talked trade with other teams, but last week two goalies were taken off the market essentially when Devan Dubnyk was traded from Edmonton to Nashville and Ben Scrivens was acquired by Edmonton from L.A.
Internally, the team has talked about maybe signing Jose Theodore if it needs insurance eventually. Theodore is a free agent living in South Florida. He works out daily and has been going on the ice all season.
Again though, it's hard for Fletcher to proceed with everything so in flux. You can't afford to sit there and suddenly have three goalies sitting on the roster on a permanent basis.
Fletcher said today that with Kuemper playing well, the anticipation that Backstrom will be back Wednesday and the fact there's not a lot of games left before the Olympics, "we feel we can [currently] manage the situation."
Jon Blum has again been recalled to give the Wild an extra defenseman. Yeo would not say if he'd play in Dallas. Jonas Brodin is fine by the way from the high-stick the other night.
Yeo also wouldn't say if maybe Mike Rupp would play. Rupp did take some shifts on the fourth line today.
Zach Parise's non-contact yellow jersey is in the washing machine and he's wearing a real practice sweater again. He took part in some regular shifts today and took part in game-like situations and bumping. He'll get more reps in Wednesday's practice and Yeo said there's a chance he returns Thursday against Chicago. He is definitely coming on the upcoming four-game trip if for some reason he doesn't play the Blackhawks.
He did not fly with the team to Dallas.
Matt Cooke didn't want to touch the whole Jamie Benn not being suspended thing today. Interestingly, according to TSN's Bob McKenzie, Ottawa's owner Eugene Melnyk and GM Bryan Murray were spotted at NHL headquarters today and the assumption is Melnyk planned to submit his forensics investigation into his contention that Cooke purposely sliced Erik Karlsson's Achilles' tendon last season.
And no, this isn't a joke.