Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.
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If you didn't see my big Sunday piece on Thomas Vanek's return to Minnesota, here it is.
Soooo, you know the previous blog post.
Give it a read for Mike Yeo’s thoughts this morning on maybe starting the season with Charlie Coyle at center, maybe Matt Cooke on the Thomas Vanek-Mikko Koivu line and Stu Bickel on the fourth line.
BUT, it turned out, that lineup I posted this morning wasn’t even close to accurate.
After meetings this morning and after taking a look at the Blues lineup for tonight’s game, Yeo called an audible and changed his lineup. The team recalled Joel Rechlicz and Kurtis Gabriel (Gabriel ended up not playing, and both will be sent back to Iowa Sunday) and let Cody Almond, Stephane Veilleux and Matt Dumba about 90 minutes before the game that they would be playing.
Charlie Coyle, Jason Zucker, Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon ended up getting the night off and Yeo said they wouldn’t have unless the team was “completely confident they are ready.”
YES, Yeo included Zucker in that listing and made clear after the Wild’s 5-4 overtime victory yet again that he has been very happy with Zucker’s camp and “it would be a tough thing to do to try to find a reason why he wouldn’t be [here opening night].”
You have to give Zucker credit. What was supposed to be minor knee surgery last season turned into a subsequent season-ending one. He had major rehab to do, came in on a two-way contract and still overcame the easy ability for the team to send him down to at least initially make the team out of camp.
Yeo said he also scratched Coyle because after meeting with Erik Haula yesterday to inform the second-year forward how underwhelmed he was with his training camp, “I wanted Haulzy in that spot. Some of the things that we talked about, I wanted him to have a chance to come back and have a strong game today and he did.”
Haula scored a goal, as did Mikael Granlund and Thomas Vanek on the power play. Jason Pominville had three assists, including the set-up of Koivu’s OT winner. Pominville’s forecheck led to Jordan Leopold’s ghastly turnover and boom, Pominville fed Koivu in front for a deadly winner with 31.2 seconds left.
“[Pominville did all the work basically,” Koivu said.
Pominville led the Wild with eight points in the preseason, while Granlund, Zach Parise and Dumba had five each.
OH, speaking of Dumba, he scored a goal, assist, had three shots and nearly scored twice in overtime in 23:28 of ice time.
Afterward, Yeo said the Wild would need to find “creative reasons” to not put Dumba on Thursday’s opening-night roster.
“[His game], for sure it’s not perfect,” Yeo said. “There’s some areas defensively that we know he can still improve. Sometimes he has tendency to go for the home run when you just have to maybe hit a single.
“But he does some things that are special. We’ve talked about how we want to increase our offense from the back end, and he’s showing us that he can probably help.”
Dumba sure hopes he sticks, saying, “It’s pretty stressful. These last couple days, it plays with your mind. I try to keep my head out of the media (laughing).”
Christian Folin also had another good game.
“Both those guys have had very strong camps,” Yeo said. “It’s hard for me to say they had a bad game let alone a bad period. That’s what you want. Those guys have made things difficult on us.”
Sunday is a day off. Final cuts may come Monday. Justin Fontaine skated on his own today, so he’s ahead of schedule. But he’s expected to start the season on injured reserve.
That means the Wild technically only has to make one more cut.
If Zucker made the team, and Yeo seems to be indicating that in his mind, Dumba and Folin should, the Wild will have to reassign one of Cody Almond, Stephane Veilleux, Nate Prosser or Stu Bickel (barring another injury).
Almond played well tonight, I thought, and is on a one-way contract and could go back to Switzerland if he cleared waivers. GM Chuck Fletcher and Yeo have given every indication that they didn’t claim Prosser off waivers to throw him right back on two days later. And Yeo has talked up Bickel’s physicality and ruggedness for three weeks (see the quotes on the last blog). So Veilleux could be the guy unless the Wild shocked us and placed veteran Keith Ballard on waivers.
I’d be beyond shocked at that. But, at this point, it wouldn’t shock me if Ballard starts the season as the seventh defenseman and Dumba and Folin both play Thursday.
Remember, this is the opening-night roster. The Wild will be tinkering all season like all teams, so nothing’s permanent.
But Dumba adds a dynamic to this team that it lacks. He’s a risk-taker and power-play threat every time. And this is a Wild team that wants to improve on last year’s 16th-ranked power play and 24th-ranked offense.
Dumba assisted on four of the Wild’s seven preseason goals.
The Wild’s power play was awesome in the preseason, but Yeo keeps cautioning that this is the preseason and it’s a whole different animal in the regular season when teams are playing their real penalty killers and guys are sacrificing their bodies to get in shooting lanes, etc.
But, Yeo said, “Definitely a lot of things to feel good about.”
He also has a ton of weapons suddenly. Koivu, who had an outstanding game tonight, is one guy who has had to accept a second power-play unit role. He told me after the game it’s up to Yeo what decisions are made and he’ll do whatever’s best for the team. There may be times Vanek has to play the second unit. If Dumba makes the team, Spurgeon may see second unit time.
“Everybody’s been unbelievable about that,” Yeo said. “I think our guys understand that we’re in a different place right now. We have more strengths, we have more weapons. It makes us a better team, it also creates more competition within our group. In the end it all evens out and in the end it’s all going to help each other. We’re all trying to accomplish the same goal. The guys have been fantastic about that.”
It wouldn’t shock me if Yeo goes with the vet Niklas Backstrom opening night. We will see. He was real good in St. Louis, had a good camp and the Wild wants to keep him feeling good. Or, maybe they go with Darcy Kuemper and start Backstrom in Denver two nights later, where his numbers are so good in his career.
I think it’ll be a platoon situation early. There aren’t a lot of games and if both these guys aren’t playing games, suddenly you could have a rusty 1B or 2 (whatever you want to call it) on your hands.
Darcy Kuemper gave up four goals on 23 shots tonight, but Yeo said, “it’s hard to sit here and say that Kuemps wasn’t good. The goals that he gave up, he had no chance. Those were big breakdowns and kind of empty nets that he has no chance to recover on. Also including Bryz, our goalies had a good camp. They’re all ready for their opportunity, so we’ll have to make decisions going forward.”
I have got to think Bryzgalov will be offered a two-way deal or AHL deal by the Wild. It’ll be up to him if he accepts or is simply released from his tryout. But the Wild’s not going to keep three goalies, I don’t think. So the only other option is to send Kuemper to Iowa and pay him his NHL salary there, but he did nothing in camp to say he deserves to play in Iowa. If anything, he could warrant being the Wild’s No. 1.
Again, Sunday is a day off and “Monday we’ll be getting down to it,” Yeo said of the roster.
Here's your stream of consciousness blog following tonight's slugfest exhibition game between the St. Louis and the "Minnesota Wild."
I put that in quotes because the game featured minor-leaguers, roster hopefuls and a smattering of regulars like Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle, Kyle Brodziak, Erik Haula and Keith Ballard.
-- Blues won 4-1. Outshot the Wild 37-15. Nik Backstrom, behind a severely overmatched team, was solid with 33 saves. The Blues buzzed for 60 minutes basically, and at a minimum, Backstrom got a workout.
"He was great all night," said coach Mike Yeo.
Not an easy game for Backstrom. The Wild arrived at the rink about 5:30 p.m. after taking a similar re-route into St. Louis that I mentioned I took on my flight. Not easy to skate in Minnesota, fly to a city and arrive that late, especially when you're a goalie with pregame routines as well-documented as Backstrom.
"It’s a pretty good team," Backstrom said. "They played with a great lineup. It was a challenge for us. We battled hard. It was a long, tough day for us. It was tough for us to prepare the right way for this game, so we hung in there."
On his game (the game was 1-1 despite the Wild being outshot 23-10 after 2 and spending almost every second of the second period in the defensive zone: "You want to win, even if it’s preseason. You want to win. You want to get better. It’s still a process for me to try to improve everyday, get heading in the right direction. Tomorrow’s a new day. I’ll try to work on my game a bit better tomorrow."
As I documented on yesterday's blog, the Wild often lose goalies in St. Louis. Athletic therapist Don Fuller had to run onto the ice when Backstrom was crashed into in the second period after making a nice save on Jay Bouwmeester. Backstrom shook it off though.
"Wakeup call, but I’m still here," he said.
-- Gongshow tonight. Ninety-two combined penalty minutes in the game, with Joel Rechlicz, called up for this game, compiling 25 of the Wild's 50 PIM's.
Just a nasty game right from the outset. It started early when Paul Bissonnette nearly ran Matt Dumba into East St. Louis. Luckily, Dumba saw it coming and dodged the charge. Seconds later, Ryan Reaves almost took Joel Rechlicz's head off at center ice.
Rechlicz was slow to get up, finally did, saw Reaves coming and tried to slash him. When Reaves skated in on the forecheck, Rechlicz turned and made a beeline for the Wild end and jumped Reaves, a sign of things to come.
Rechlicz got four minutes, Reaves two.
Soon, BizNasty fought Stu Bickel in a quick bout -- Bickel's third of the preseason. Later, David Backes ran over Christian Folin for a penalty and later punched Charlie Coyle in the back of the head. In the third, the Blues captain, who loves to pick on the Wild, went after Jason Zucker and Coyle jumped in to stand up to Backes.
In the second, after a Blues icing, Mike Yeo threw his fourth line on the ice for an offensive-zone draw. There was a quick stoppage, so when Yeo only changed his D, Ken Hitchcock threw his fourth line on the ice.
That was an indication that we would see the long anticipated Rechlicz-Reaves bout, and it was a nasty smackdown with big bombs thrown. Later, Justin Falk fought BizNasty. After the ensuing faceoff, Rechlicz and Reaves, who running around aimlessly all night, got into it again. Referee Francis Charron gave Rechlicz two for unsportsmanlike conduct and a 10-minute misconduct for inciting.
In the third, more rough stuff. Patrik Berglund got away with cross-checking Nino Niederreiter right in front of the ref. Reaves pushed Jon Blum onto Backstrom. No call. Late, Keith Ballard hauled down Alex Steen. Steen slashed Ballard, and Ballard retaliated with a slash to the gut. Kevin Shattenkirk sprinted in from the blue line and jumped Ballard with 4:07 left.
Ballard got 2 for holding, 2 for slashing and a 5 for fighting. Shattenkirk got two for ROUGHING, five for fighting and a 10-minute misconduct. I put that in caps because the rough is hysterical. If that was a 2-5-10 for instigating (like it should have been), Shatternkirk could have gotten a possible suspension and Hitchcock a fine because it happened with 4:07 left (less than five minutes left in a game). But the refs gave them a break.
Then, in the final moments, Yeo and Hitchcock put their fourth lines on the ice. Rechlicz and Reaves predictably were running around at the buzzer and a huge scrum erupted.
Rechlicz said it was the first time he ever played Reaves and felt the Wild did a great job standing up for each other.
I asked Yeo what he learned tonight:
"I expected a physical game," Yeo said. "We’ve been in this building enough times that we’ve seen a few of these games. You know what, our guys didn’t back down tonight, that’s for sure. We learned who’s ready to come and play in a game like this, and that’s what you need to see. We’re going to play in a lot of tough buildings and we’ve got to be ready to execute when you know that the other team might come and finish a check. We saw guys that were ready and willing to do that and get in there for their teammates.
"I think we got what we needed from this game from an evaluation standpoint."
Yeo said he liked the way Ballard battled for his teammates and thought Charlie Coyle was a "big, strong horse. I think he needed that." I agree Coyle played a gutsy game, but this morning, Yeo said he wanted Coyle to make plays and I didn't see much of that.
I liked Nino Niederreiter's game.
-- Jason Zucker scored a goal (awesome thievery of Patrick Berglund in the first), nearly scored another and set up Erik Haula for a chance.
Of Zucker, Yeo said, "There was good moments. I would say overall I would rate his game as good, definitely better than average."
"We were all coming in here with the mindset to battle," Zucker said. "We know it’s a hard building to play in. On paper, it was a little bit of a mismatch with their lineup and ours, but we just wanted to come in and battle, and I thought we did that."
On his camp: "I think I’ve come in and done what I wanted to do. Tried playing hard. We’ll just see what happens."
I personally don't see how he doesn't deserve to make the team. With the Wild's top-9, he offers more to the fourth line than any other roster hopeful I have seen in camp. He has worked to get better defensively. He has tried to play physical. He brings speed, which can bring momentum. And he has embraced the penalty kill role and done it well.
-- I liked Christian Folin's game a lot. Four shots, solid defensively. He's just smart and keeps things simple, and gives Minnesota a big body.
Yeo said he liked Folin's game and Dumba's tonight, and he liked Bickel's ability to play tough and strong in front of his net.
I admit. With Nate Prosser in the fold now, I have no clue what's going to happen. My gut still is Dumba starts down. This is about development and the need for a 20-year-old to develop the proper way.
But, let's just say six defensemen that stay now are obviously Ryan Suter, Jonas Brodin, Jared Spurgeon, Marco Scandella, Ballard and Prosser. Do you keep seven or eight?
If it's eight, and Folin and Dumba both make it, that means Ballard and Prosser are seven and eight. If the Wild wants Ballard to start the season inside the top-6 and Prosser is here, that leaves room for only one of Folin or Dumba.
A lot will depend on whether the Wild feels it needs Dumba to now play that second PP-unit pointman role. If not, maybe he starts in Iowa.
I really like Folin's game. His game seems more NHL ready. He has a big shot. He's poised, offers a big shot in front of the net and can play the PK.
And then there's Bickel, who as we have said before can be a rover -- blue line or wing, and brings a toughness Yeo loves.
OK, now I'm really confused. I had a better feeling of what was going to happen before Prosser was in the mix. Now, I just don't know.
Up front, again, I think Zucker makes it. With Justin Fontaine hurt, there's two spots if Zucker makes it. Michael Keranen, Cody Almond (one-way, can go back to Europe if he clears waivers), Brett Sutter, Stephane Veilleux and again maybe they look at Bickel as the extra.
-- OK, onto Prosser. I chatted with Chuck Fletcher before the game and his reasoning for taking Prosser off waivers was pretty much what I spelled out earlier. The coaches know and trust his game, he's a good character guy who fits well in the Wild room and he provides veteran depth. Last year, he proved valuable when the Wild lost Keith Ballard, Clayton Stoner, Jared Spurgeon and Marco Scandella to injuries at different times.
Ballard is oft-injured and already experienced abdominal soreness in camp, so Fletcher thought he would get some insurance, saying that Prosser is the type of player who wouldn't have been available a month from now. Blues writers say Prosser outplayed Petteri Lindbohm in camp, but Lindbohm has the hammer to return to Finland if he doesn't make the team. It's kinda like Almond, who can return to Switzerland, or Keranen, who can return to Finland.
If Keranen doesn't make the team, by the way, the Wild seen to think he'll try Iowa initially. I just don't think he's ready. He's skilled and smart, but his strength is a real issue, and if there's no room on the power play, can he play a momentum-turning fourth-line role?
Back to Prosser. Fletcher said the coaches will determine the team. But he also said he didn't envision the Wild claiming Prosser off waivers only to throw him back on in two days.
So sounds like he's here, which either hurts Bickel or means Dumba or Folin will initially start in Iowa. Again, they're only both playing if they're both inside the top-6. The Wild's not keeping one if they're going to be an oft-healthy scratch.
The Wild may make some cuts Friday, so perhaps we'll get a better indication. Yeo also said a couple of these guys the Wild may want to make another evaluation on could play in Saturday's exhibition finale.
Fletcher also said the Prosser move wasn't a precursor to another move. In other words, some have speculated Ballard's about to be moved and that's why he got Prosser. Fletcher said this isn't the precursor to anything, that it was honestly just an insurance move and you can never have too many NHL defensemen.
He said it's no secret that back in July he said at some point he wanted to add another NHL defenseman and that it's much easier to do that now than a month from now.
He also reminded that whatever the opening-night roster ends up being, "Whatever we start with first game is going to change repeatedly. It'll be very fluid all season long due to poor performance, injuries or adjustments the coaches want to make. We’re going to need a lot of defensemen."
In other words, the Wild opens with two games against Colorado. Patrick Bordeleau is hurt, so maybe the Wild goes with a speedier, lighter lineup in those games but makes adjustments in Games 3 and 4 when it travels to Anaheim and L.A. to get a heavier lineup.
So Fletcher basically is saying don't freak out if the opening night lineup is not exactly what you envision because in his eyes, he's coming up with lineups from game to game.
Anyway, that's it for me. Hopefully I didn't confuse you more than you already were. I have to get back to the hotel now because I'm planning a little 3-4 a.m. WAKEUP!!! (yikes) so I can try to bang out my Sunday piece before my a.m. flight.
I'll be at practice Friday working ahead of some stuff for next week's preview section, but I'll tweet and blog when there are some cuts. Kent Youngblood is technically doing the daily coverage though Friday.
Tuesday update: Jon Blum, Justin Falk and Joel Rechlicz cleared waivers, officially assigned to Iowa.
Ilya Bryzgalov, always the character, was a riot tonight during the Wild's 4-1 exhibition victory over the Pittsburgh.
Bryzgalov, who had a sensational attitude all camp even though he's on a tryout and will likely be released from that tryout unless something unexpected happens with Darcy Kuemper or Niklas Backstrom, took selfies with fans during the third period through the glass as he sat on the Wild bench.
In fact, a line began to form during play and finally the ushers had to put an end to it.
Here are some pics from Twitter:
Hey Bryz pic.twitter.com/630S4oTGm3— Bobby Erickson (@bobayerickson) September 30, 2014
Then, after Jason Pominville's empty-net goal -- the third in the third period by Pominville for the natural hat trick -- Bryzgalov threw his toque on the ice as part of the celebration.
“What’s he think he’s a model?” joked equipment manager Tony DaCosta, who stood next to him. “Then he starts waving them all down! Then he throws his [toque] on the ice when Pommer gets his hat trick. That's our last one!”
Tonight's game was dreadful at times to watch, so naturally, my first question to coach Mike Yeo in the postgame presser was about Bryz.
"No comment. No comment," Yeo said, laughing, when asked about the selfies and throwing his toque on the ice.
Man, Bryzgalov can be refreshing to cover sometimes. I ran into him at a restaurant in Pittsburgh the other night and had a tremendous conversation about real-life world stuff. The more I cover him, the more I truly think he is pretty misunderstood. A lot of people have asked me if he'd take a two-way, but I can't imagine him riding the AHL buses and regional jets.
And after tonight's 32-save effort by Kuemper in a game his teammates were pretty bad, I don't think there's any concern from management to put him on the team. In fact, after the game, Yeo went on and on about how good Kuemper is at controlling rebounds and making plays die by freezing pucks. That key strength could be his inside track toward being the eventual No. 1.
Yeo said he doesn't mind stoppages in the D-zone because the Wild's such a good faceoff team.
And Backstrom is on the team, so since there's only one goal and preferably two spots for goalies, Bryzgalov is likely what he thought he would be -- Kuemper/Backstrom insurance.
Onto the game:
With the score tied 1-1 entering the third period, the fourth line of Stephane Veilleux, Cody Almond and Zack Phillips had a good momentum shift early in the period for what honestly was the first sustained pressure by the Wild in the entire game.
Then, finally the Wild got going.
Zach Parise, who scored a first-period power-play goal from Mikael Granlund and Matt Dumba, dropped a pass for Pominville. He unloaded the tee-up by Jeff Zatkoff at 8:39 of the period. Four minutes later, after a tremendous shift by Parise in every zone, Pominville gobbled up Jonas Brodin’s shot off the back wall and scored on a wraparound. Finally, Pominville took Granlund’s pass for the natural hat trick empty-netter.
Parise on the game: It wasn’t great. Special teams was good again. It was solid, but I thought 5-on-5 wasn’t very good. They did a good job. They were in our face a lot in the neutral zone, but we were doing a lot of swinging, we were trying to hit stretch plays and a lot of turn our back through the neutral zone and because of that we spent a lot of time in our zone.”
On Pominville and his line: “Great preseason. We all need to be a lot better. Our line needs to be a lot better and play a little more consistent. I think right now we’re to some extent still playing summer hockey, a lot of stick checking and you’ll see flashes of playing normal hockey, but we need to do that a little more often.”
The Thomas Vanek-Mikko Koivu-Charlie Coyle line wasn’t very good, at least not nearly as good as they were in Pittsburgh last Thursday. Vanek didn’t have a great debut. He actually had a breakaway but tried to drop a pass that went right to a defender.
The third line of Matt Cooke, Kyle Brodziak and Jordan Schroeder? Yeo said they weren’t great all game and Schroeder was placed on waivers Tuesday for the purpose of sending to Iowa. Phillips was also reassigned, although Yeo said while he’s not ready yet to make the Wild, he’s much improved and this was the best game he has seen Phillips, the 2011 first-rounder, play. Yeo said he has come to camp in much better shape, which has made him move better on the ice. Both of those – fitness and skating – has been his professional downfall so far, but it seems like he got the message this summer.
The Wild’s roster is now at 30 (Brandon Whitney was returned to his QMJHL team today). Technically, with Josh Harding suspended, it’s at 29. Technically, with Gustav Olofsson expected to be reassigned to Iowa once he’s healthy, it’s at 28. Remember, 23 can make the team.
The roster as of now:
Forwards (17): Charlie Coyle, Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Cody Almond, Justin Fontaine, Jason Zucker, Stephane Veilleux, Kyle Brodziak, Nino Niederreiter, Matt Cooke, Thomas Vanek, Brett Sutter, Jason Pominville, Michael Keranen, Curt Gogol, Erik Haula, Mikael Granlund.
Defensemen (9): Keith Ballard, Stu Bickel, Christian Folin, Marco Scandella, Ryan Suter, Gustav Olofsson, Jonas Brodin, Jared Spurgeon, Matt Dumba.
Goalies (4): Ilya Bryzgalov (tryout), Niklas Backstrom, Darcy Kuemper, Josh Harding.
Matt Dumba flashed some stuff again. He’s a risk-taker and plays with flair and pizzazz. He has got guts and had an assist for a third straight game.
“I feel like I’m doing a lot of good things right now,” Dumba said afterward. “My skating, just everything, is all coming together and feels really good. I’m really on top of my game right now. I’m happy with the summer I had and happy the way I came in. I just have to continue doing that. That’s what it’s about being a pro, that consistency. If I can just keep doing that over the next couple weeks, I think if all goes as planned, hopefully I stay here.”
Frankly, not a couple weeks. A couple days. The final roster is on the horizon.
On Dumba, Yeo said he saw “a lot of good” tonight. “There’s a couple plays I’m not thrilled with, but at the same time, we understand that he’s trying to make our team and he’s not going just make our team by being a safe player all night long, too. He has the ability to create some things and do some things that are definitely at the NHL level and there’s some parts as far as game awareness and understanding the situation that he still has to work on, but it’s easy to sit here and nitpick on a guy like that, but we had a lot of guys that were making mistakes tonight, so overall I thought he was good.”
Pominville on Dumba: “He’s a good skater, moves the puck well. He can shoot. He defends well, too, I think a lot of times he’s aggressive and he’ll create things offensively by being aggressive. It’s fun having a guy out there, you know he’s going to move the puck and he’s going to join and create things offensively. He brings a lot to the table. Obviously he’s still young, but he has a bright future with us.”
On the game, Yeo said after I pointed out that the first two periods were hard to watch: “Third period was very tough to watch in spurts, too. That’s preseason. You end up being pleased with some players, disappointed with some players, but at the same time you’ve got to make sure you don’t overreact or get too excited when things are going well, too.”
The three players Yeo raved about were Kuemper, Parise and defenseman Marco Scandella, who “was a horse all over the ice.”
Pominville, after a tough game I felt in Pittsburgh last week, had a second straight good game. Yeo raved about the job Parise is doing in these preseason games. His work ethic is ridiculous when you consider he’s a vet and vets often mail in the preseason or at a minimum are in do-not-get-hurt mode.
“Go watch that goal, Pommer’s second goal again, and watch Zach that shift,” Yeo said. “It was a great play by Pommer to bury it, but Zach, he knows he’s here, his position’s not really in doubt with us (Yeo said that sarcastically obviously), but he does the right thing in D zone, then he wins a battle, then he wins a race, then he’s the first forechecker, then he continues to stay on the hunt. He was just relentless that shift.”
On Scandella, Yeo said, “He’s walking tall right now. He’s playing the game that way. He’s standing his ground. He’s playing hard in front of the net. He’s a big, strong guy and we need our big, strong guys to play big games.” He compared it to the late-season conversations he had last year to challenge Nino Niederreiter and Charlie Coyle, saying it has nothing to do with fighting, it’s about them playing big games.
Yeo said of Scandella: “He took a huge step last year in his game and up to this point in camp he’s been in another level from that.”
That’s it for me. The Wild has the day off Tuesday, which means I can work ahead. I’ll update the blog once it’s known whether Jon Blum, Justin Falk and Joel Rechlicz clear waivers. Again, when those guys clear, Schroeder will go on waivers for 24 hours before he is officially assigned to Iowa.
The Wild is 2-1-1 in the preseason now with two games left against St. Louis -- Thursday in St. Louis and Saturday at home. Opening night will be here before you know it.
Again, if you want a good taste of what Yeo and GM Chuck Fletcher are thinking about the blue line right now, see the previous blog. That also has a link to the new podcast with myself and the Denver Post’s Adrian Dater.
Have a good Tuesday folks.
The Wild scored three power-play goals and registered 10 shots on four power-play attempts during Saturday’s 4-3 preseason win over the Winnipeg Jets.
Jared Spurgeon’s snipe with 4 minutes, 51 seconds provided the winner. Nino Niederreiter scored a goal and assist, Mikael Granlund scored a goal, Erik Haula scored on a penalty shot and Michael Keranen assisted on two goals.
Before I get going on the game, please give my Sunday story a read.
J.P. Parise is going through the fight of his life with treatment for Stage 4 lung cancer. I talked with J.P. and his son, Zach, about what they’re going through. It’s a sad but, in a lot of ways, uplifting story. Let’s all keep J.P. and the Parise family in our thoughts and prayers. J.P., who was at tonight’s game, is a wonderful man and it meant a lot that the Parises were willing to share such a personal story with me.
As for the game, the Wild was impressive on the power play. It had a shooter’s mentality right from its four-shot first one, one that ended with a Granlund goal from the slot off passes from Jason Pominville and Mikko Koivu.
The Wild did a great job working the half wall and using that man, whether it be Koivu, Granlund or Keranen, to draw defenders to them to free up open ice around the net. The Wild constantly moved the puck and got pucks to the net with traffic. Parise said systematically there have been no changes.
It was just a mindset tonight, he said, and maybe a sign of things to come.
5-on-5, Parise said, “Until almost 10 minutes left in the third, it seemed like a preseason game. I think we were pretty sloppy. We weren’t that great with the puck and we didn’t get a lot of good chances off the rush. To me, it seemed like a mindset. Once we kind of turned it on, almost got serious, we got a lot better. But up until then, we were swinging away from the puck and reaching for a lot of pucks, not really too much determination to get pucks back. It’s an easy fix, but we should start thinking about it now.”
I loved Granlund’s game tonight. Obviously there was the one play in the third in the slot where he tried to force a pass instead of shoot, but he was real good.
Ryan Suter was solid for his first game. Nothing to worry about with this guy.
Matt Dumba was very impressive. He made a tremendous play to set up Niederreiter’s goal and he was physical, which I think is a sign of confidence and feeling more comfortable. Remember, besides his big shot and playmaking, his trademark when drafted was physicality. We didn’t see a lot of that during his 13-game taste last season, but he looked good.
I’m on record that if he’s not getting power-play time here, I think he should go to Iowa and develop. But if he plays like he did tonight, he adds a big threat to that second unit on the point. He certainly showed Mike Yeo and the brass a lot tonight as he likely battles Christian Folin for that third-pair spot.
Keranen is an interesting one. Is there a place for him on this team if he’s healthy? Frankly, maybe not.
If Thomas Vanek is healthy and the Wild’s healthy coming out of camp, your first unit forwards are Parise, Granlund and Vanek with Pominville at the point. On the second unit, likely Niederreiter, Koivu and Coyle, and that’s skipping pretty good offensive players like Haula, Jason Zucker and Justin Fontaine.
So where does Keranen fit? One thing for sure, last year’s Finnish Elite League co-leader in points is super-skilled with great vision. Yeo didn’t like his first two periods. Yeo said Keranen, 24, showed him a different level in the third period, that he earned himself another game because of that, and in the next game, Yeo wants to see consistency for a full 60.
Yeo really liked Gustav Olofsson’s game tonight. He said he has stuff to learn, “but he’s got some NHL poise with the puck and vision.” Olofsson did suffer “a bit of an upper body injury at the end of the game,” Yeo said, and the team will reevaluate him Sunday.
If I remember, Olofsson was checked awkwardly and had trouble getting to his feet.
Niklas Backstrom gave up three goals on 17 shots. The first goal was off poor angle but a perfect shot. The second goal was a weird deflection. The third goal was with Adam Lowry camped in front and Yeo said the toughest thing for a goalie early in camp is tracking pucks through traffic. Yeo noted that Backstrom made a number of clutch saves in the second period.
Overall, I see a much different-looking goalie than we saw in camp last year. In practice, he just looks better.
Joel Rechlicz only played five shifts. Yeo said he brought a good vibe to the bench, joking that he likes to chat.
Great line by Yeo on the new scoreboard: “I always stare at the scoreboard after the other team scores. Bit of a clearer picture on the mistakes that we made (laughing).”
That’s it for me. I’ll talk to you after Sunday’s practice.
I had to trim this out of the notebook in Sunday’s paper, but,
There was a special scene on the ice after Saturday’s morning skate. Goalie Darcy Kuemper was part of a marriage proposal.
As the skate ended, goalie coach Bob Mason slipped an engagement ring into Kuemper’s glove. As he was leaving the ice, a man named Jack Baker -- a former neighbor of Mason -- asked for Kuemper’s autograph. Kuemper said he actually had something for Baker’s girlfriend, Alaina Olson (Esko, Minn.).
Kuemper handed over the ring and Baker, a Bloomington native, popped the question.
“She was shocked,” Kuemper said, laughing. “It was pretty cool to be a part of it.”
Evening from the friendly sky following the Wild’s 3-2 overtime exhibition loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Pretty choppy game after some early flow in the first 10 minutes.
Brandon Sutter scored two goals, including the overtime winner after Ilya Bryzgalov couldn’t handle Simon Despres’ shot off a faceoff. The puck hopped up in the air and landed on the ice for the easy Sutter slam dunk.
“Maybe the brass will get confused which Sutter got two tonight,” joked Wild center Brett Sutter, Brandon’s cousin, as he stretched on the Wild’s locker-room floor after the game.
Brett Sutter, the son of L.A. Kings coach Darryl Sutter, played a solid game and coach Mike Yeo was happy with the “momentum shifts” he got from the fourth line of roster hopefuls Sutter, Cody Almond and Stu Bickel.
He said for the most part he liked what he got from his big guys, too, and Mikko Koivu set up Thomas Vanek for a second-period power-play goal and Mikael Granlund set up Zach Parise for a nice goalmouth tap in after some good battle and cycling from Parise, Granlund and Jason Pominville.
Darcy Kuemper stopped 14 of 15 shots and had no chance had denying Sutter’s first goal, which was set up by Beau Bennett. On a 3-on-5, Marco Scandella picked off a pass and took off with Matt Cooke.
Paul Martin hustled to break it up, so it became a 4-on-1 heading the other way. The Wild recovered, but Scandella was perhaps so out of gas that he fanned on his clearing attempt. That left Jared Spurgeon and Kuemper stranded and Bennett set up the easy goal.
But Kuemper, other than a couple miscues with the puck, was happy with his game, as was Yeo.
“He looked in control, comfortable and definitely didn’t have any chance on the one he gave up, Yeo said.
Said Kuemper, "It was a good starting game and now I just have to keep getting better and preparing for opening night."
On Vanek’s goal where he established position at the goalmouth and scored off a redirection, Yeo said, “He’s got a knack for that, that’s for sure. This is what we talked about, how he’s able to position himself, free his stick up. There were a couple others where he got sticks on pucks where a lot of people can’t get their sticks on. He’s a threat there and it’s nice when Mikko recognizes that.”
Vanek was also a pest in the offensive zone, forcing a couple turnovers and near scores with Koivu and Justin Fontaine. The line combined for seven shots.
“They had some good moments,” Yeo said. “I thought Fonzie did a good job, they had good pressure going. I think we were able to generate some good shifts in the offensive zone. We didn’t shoot particularly well tonight [as a team]. I didn’t think we shot quick enough. I think we ended up getting a lot blocked and a lot that went off sticks, and we missed the net a lot. But overall we generated some chances.”
Matt Dumba had two shots in 24-plus minutes and made a nice play to Koivu before Vanek’s goal. But Yeo noted how prior he passed up a shot.
“These are the things that we’ll teach him and things that we’ll work on, just scanning the ice and recognizing there was an opportunity. He could have grabbed the puck and taken a couple strides toward the end and really let one rip, but he’s got that quickness to jump backdoor and jump into holes and he’s a threat to shoot back there.”
On the Parise-Granlund-Pominville line, which had a bunch of good plays around the net, Yeo said, “They were good all night long. I liked a lot of our top guys tonight. First game, you always know that these guys, … the pace of play picks up from the scrimmages, so now getting that first game, I’d expect us to keep getting better.”
Erik Haula had a tough night. Had some glaring turnovers and appeared to get hurt late, although he stayed in the game. Jason Zucker also had a tough night physically. He took an uncalled high stick, got run a few times and got into a fight with Despres, who is 6-foot-4. Zucker is not 6-4, so he took a pretty good whipping and was seen walking into the medical room after the game.
But he stayed in the whole game and had a strong second half of the game, especially on the penalty kill.
This is key because the way the Wild shapes up, Zucker is unlikely to get No. 1 or 2 power-play time if he makes the team. Yeo wants everybody to typically play a special teams role and he’s played Zucker on the penalty kill the first two preseason games. Zucker has performed quite well.
“He’s playing hard. He’s just showing he wants to be here,” Yeo said. “We’re trying to give him every chance and he’s buying into it and doing a good job.”
Defenseman Keith Ballard sustained a lower-body injury. He had soreness in the area where he had his surgery to repair a sports hernia, so the team was just being cautious.
When Ballard left the game, Bickel, who was playing wing, slid over to sit with the defensemen. But he ended up not playing (in overtime, the Wild went with three forwards for part; Pominville), but it was another area where Bickel provides value.
On Dumba and Christian Folin, Yeo lumped them into the same category, saying, “Both of them showed strong moments and both showed some young moments.” Yeo said Dumba and Folin, vying for that sixth D spot, will see more preseason action so the team can help them “get rid of the young moments.”
I am actually off Friday because I need to sit down to write a big story for Sunday’s paper that you will all want to read. Rachel Blount will cover practice for me. I’d suspect Friday will be a fairly significant cut-down day because Iowa’s training camp starts up.
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