Cal Clutterbuck is expected to return tonight against the scorching hot Dallas Stars (9-0-1 in the past 10) after missing the past three games. The Wild also expects Devin Setoguchi to play, although coach Mike Yeo said he missed the morning skate due to maintenance.
The 18th skater spot will be a gametime decision. Matt Kassian tweaked his groin during yesterday's practice. He did skate today, but if he can't play tonight, Yeo will go with seven defensemen and Kurtis Foster, a healthy scratch last game, will play.
Nick Johnson is scratched, regardless. An invite as a rookie to partake in the All-Star Game's skills competition in January, Johnson has slipped, Yeo feels. I mentioned when Erik Christensen was scratched recently that my guess was Johnson was next. His defensive-zone reads have been way off a lot lately, and Yeo feels when Johnson is on his game, it's easy to see why -- his sense of urgency.
Yeo feels that urgency is missing and he's glad there's one extra guy now because if that's what it's going to take to hold guys accountable, he's willing to pull that level and bench struggling players.
Yeo hasn't had that ability for much of this season because the Wild has been so devastated injury-wise.
"I don't want to say we're making an example of him, but that's what it is right now," Yeo said. "I didn't like his game last game."
Johnson is a minus-9 the last 9 games, a minus-14 the last 16 games. He's been a plus player once in the past 17 games.
Personally, I think Darroll Powe might be next, although at least his effort is obvious every night. But he's also been off defensively lately and that's the lone area he contributes. He's been a plus player one game in the last 23. In those 23 games, he is minus-13, has no goals and two assists. He's a team-worst minus-20, which as of yesterday, was tied for third-worst in the NHL among forwards.
He better be good tonight because he should see plenty of Loui Eriksson, Mike Ribeiro and Michael Ryder, the best line in the NHL over the past 30 days.
Matt Hackett starts tonight. Josh Harding will back up. But Niklas Backstrom partook in the morning skate, so if he's close to returning from a groin injury, Hackett will soon be back in Houston. The Aeros are playing with two ECHL goalies. Darcy Kuemper, by the way, has gotten good news, doesn't need surgery to his upper body and should return this season.
I talked to Foster a lot this morning about hybrid icing. I think the GM's are going to vote and pass this finally today. Remember, Foster broke his femur in 2009 when he was hit from behind by Torrey Mitchell in a foot race for an icing. Foster is delighted and he has been a big proponent of getting rid of touch icing.
When Taylor Fedun, the Oilers' rookie, broke his femur in this arena during an exhibition game this year, Foster immediately texted me to voice his feelings again, then called the NHLPA to say, "Now is the time," for this movement to gain traction again. It feels like GM's have finally woken up.
I'll be interested to see the specifics of the rules, but typically, it's a race to the faceoff dots. If the defending player gets there first, it's blown dead. If the attacking player gets there first, the puck is alive.
But in a league where defensemen can no longer fence off forwards at the blue line, in a league where there's little obstruction in the neutral zone, defensemen have been made lame ducks in the corners to high-speed forwards.
Accidents don't happen often, but when they do, they're usually catastrophic. Luckily Foster is playing again. Luckily Fedun has started skating again.
Lastly, check out this awesome video montage of the State High School Hockey tournament produced by TV director Pat O'Connor. KSTC-Channel 45 televised 14 games over four days. There is no comparison in the country for a high-school hockey tournament.
TV ratings peaked in the high 8's and 19,983 were in the house on Friday night - an all-time record for any hockey game ever in Minnesota.
Ben Clymer, who won a state title with Jefferson in '94, was an analyst. So were Phil Housley and Lou Nanne. They interviewed guys like Brett Hull and Shjon Podein. They interviewed Matt Cullen during the Moorhead Spuds game.
In his interview, he was asked what his hockey dreams were as a kid, was it to make it to college, or playing pro, or winning a Cup like he eventually did. Cullen said, no, his dream as a kid was to become a Spud. That's what high school hockey means in Minnesota.
Talk to you after the game