Wild and Ottawa Senators tonight at Xcel Energy Center, and the Wild, in desperate need of a break, may have gotten one if Senators captain Erik Karlsson is sidelined for the first time in 325 games.
The NHL's second-leading-scoring defenseman blocked a shot against Philadelphia and may miss his first game since the Achilles’ injury he sustained in Feb. 2013. He’s a gametime decision after skating for only two minutes this morning.
Alex Burrows is out.
Craig Anderson vs. Alex Stalock as Stalock makes his first NHL start in 13 months. Coincidentally, his first cousin, Adam Wilcox, got recalled for the first time today by Florida to back up Reto Berra in Montreal.
Joel Eriksson Ek plays his first game since Nov. 12. He played wing down the stretch for Farjestad, but he’s expected to start tonight’s game at center. Erik Haula’s expected to play wing. I’ll tweet the lines during warmups, but Zach Parise, Jordan Schroeder and Nate Prosser aren’t expected to play.
Folin returns, and Parise, even though he surprised everyone by skating today, is expected to sit out at least until Saturday’s game in Nashville.
So, as you know from reading this story today, the Wild feels Devan Dubnyk needs a rest. But instead of starting Darcy Kuemper, Stalock is recalled.
Bruce Boudreau said it’s not fair to keep putting Kuemper in the nets and expect him to win when he hasn’t had chances to get reps in practice. But make no mistake, the Wild’s not happy with Kuemper and feels the best chance for the Wild to win tonight would be to play Stalock over him.
“One of the things is, we haven’t practiced; it’s like a broken record here the last month because of the schedule, and it’s unfair to throw Kuemps in as a backup when we haven’t had a chance to practice and he plays once every two weeks, and he goes in and we’re asking him to do the right things,” Boudreau said. “Alex has done a great job down in Iowa, with two shutouts in the last week. He was sick earlier in the season, but right now, he’s one of the better goalies in the American Hockey League, he’s playing every day, so he’s feeling it.
“Thirdly, we can’t keep going with Doobs, at one point, we have to give him a rest. … We signed [Stalock], he’s going to be with us for the next two years, whether it’s here or in Iowa, so it was something we thought this was a good time to do it. Duby looks tired, and like I said, Kuemps wasn’t getting enough reps to make him sharp. Hopefully this will work and work out for us.”
The Wild has the 30th-ranked save percentage (.879) this month. I asked Boudreau about how much his two goalies need to get better if the Wild expects to do anything in the postseason.
“Well I don't think .879 is great,” he said. “So obviously the answer is it's got to get better. I think one of the great things that we're doing here is Duby had a chance to practice yesterday and he had a chance to practice today and he has chance to practice tomorrow. Our three things that we haven't had an opportunity to work on. So he worked very hard the last two days on getting back to the things that he's doing wrong. I think that'll continue and it'll make him better for it."
Asked if there’s a chance we don’t see Kuemper this weekend either in one of the back-to-back games, Boudreau said, “The only thing I know is that Stalock is playing today. It's a day to day situation. Who knows? He may play again Saturday. Then again we might go back to the rotation after giving the other two goalies some time off. We will make that evaluation after every game.”
The Wild didn’t make Kuemper or Dubnyk available for comment today.
They both worked alone on one end of the rink with assistants Darby Hendrickson and Scott Stevens as Stalock worked the optional on one end of the rink.
As Parise, Schroeder and Prosser were bagged, Kuemper saw the shots and goalie Bob Mason and Dubnyk sat on the ice and talked.
Eriksson Ek, if he’s here, I’d give him a larger role than fourth-line center. I’m a little surprised he’s not on the left side of Eric Staal or Martin Hanzal tonight.
Boudreau said, “He was pretty good for us earlier on in the year, and from what I gathered from everything that everybody has said, he did a great job over in Europe and he's gotten bigger and stronger already. I think he'll be excited. And if you remember the first nine games that he played he was pretty darn good here. Just by the experience alone of playing in the men's league in Sweden and those things I think he'll bring energy. He's strong. He's a hard worker. He's a meat and potatoes kind of player. He can play left wing or center which is good.”
Boudreau said he was surprised to see Parise on the ice, saying kiddingly, “I'm waiting for him to come in and ask me to play tonight quite frankly. He looked OK which is great news for us that the injury to his eye and upper body weren't as bad as we thought."
Parise wasn’t available for comment.
On being recalled, South St. Paul’s Stalock said he was surprised: “Obviously, we’ve got a good thing going in Iowa and we’re making a playoff push there as well. It’s been a blast down there playing with a good group.”
His game has been solid since November: “I think just playing the minutes again. For a goalie it’s crucial to play back-to-backs or games consecutively to get some confidence and roll with it; to have the ability to play a lot of minutes and it’s been good.”
On playing his first NHL home game at Xcel, he said, “That’s pretty special, too. Family will be in attendance, a lot of friends; playing in this building before at different levels has been pretty exciting, obviously playing on opposing team playing in this building. Playing in this building for the hometown team, not many kids get to do from Minnesota and it’s a pretty special chance.”
He sympathizes with Kuemper: “It’s tough to play once or twice a month in this positon. To get in there every night, and say you don’t have a good night, [to] get back in there and get another chance to fix it, it’s been beneficial for my game and I’ve taken it and run.
“Any goalie that’s penciled in as a backup in this League, they understand it’s tough when the guy ahead of you is playing so well and then when you go in you’re expected to be lights out to get the team a chance to win. It’s not easy and being through it, it’s a hard position to be in but it’s something that it takes time to figure out maybe mentally or get in there and get reps. Practice isn’t the same speed and you need games.”
Stalock said, “I think anybody would lie if you’re not nervous going in to any game. You want to do your best every game and I think if you don’t have nerves, you don’t have the competitive juices flowing. I want to come in here and give the team a competitive chance and get the juices flowing.”
As for the game preview, The Wild, which has snagged eight of a possible 30 points in March, is 2-9-2 in its past 13 and coming off consecutive overtime losses to Detroit and Washington. After winning six in a row, the Senators are 2-3-3 in their past eight. Since 2003-04, Ottawa has the best points percentage of any NHL team against the Wild (.786). The Wild’s 2-5-2 all-time at home vs. Ottawa.
C Eric Staal’s 10 goals since March is tied for second-most in the NHL in that span. He leads the Wild with 27 goals and has 39 points in 44 meetings with Ottawa.
RW Bobby Ryan has 25 points in 26 all-time games vs. the Wild. C Kyle Turris leads the Senators with 26 goals.
Since March 1, the Wild ranks 30th in the NHL in save percentage (.879), 28th in goals against per game (3.20), 29th in shooting percentage (.071), 24th in penalty killing (76.2 percent), tied for 24th in goals per game (2.33) and 26th on the power play (10.9 percent).
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