Wild looks to close its three-game road trip with a second consecutive victory tonight when it visits the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center.
Good chance Zach Parise draws into the Wild’s starting lineup of his first return to New Jersey since departing as a free agent two summers ago.
Ilya Bryzgalov vs. Cory Schneider in goal. For the Wild, Erik Haula is scratched a second consecutive game (more on that below) and defenseman Keith Ballard is sidelined with a groin injury. He apparently hurt it the other day and tried to give it a shot this morning. He had to leave the pregame skate early.
--Left wing Jason Zucker is indeed out the rest of the season. General Manager Chuck Fletcher said Zucker will need additional surgery to repair a tendon in his right quadriceps.
“It’s a setback, but he should be fine for next season,” Fletcher said. “It’s frustrating it came to all this. I feel badly for the kid.”
Zucker was initially injured Jan. 9 late in the third period at Phoenix. He blocked a scorching Shane Doan blast just above the right knee. The decision was made to hold off surgery until the Olympic break.
“Honestly, it’s a fluky injury, one I’ve never heard of,” Fletcher said. “When they initially went in, it was worse than they thought. They fixed it, but he reaggravated it while training.”
--Parise will play his first game tonight at the Rock. Fans will boo. Future Hall of Fame goalie Martin Brodeur says fans have that right.
And while maybe Devils fans have every right in the world to be upset Parise left New Jersey for home in Minnesota, Brodeur said it was the Devils who made the mistake by not trying to sign Parise earlier.
“We had plenty of chances,” Brodeur said. “We had two years to talk to him and figure out something and we waited and waited and it was too late.”
I asked him to follow up on that and he said, “When you know you have an athlete that is going to be a gamebreaker and he’s going to be one of the top [available] players and the rules are free agency comes a lot younger than it used to, you have to make commitments. You see around the league some of the young guys, the (Steven) Stamkos’ and etc., they don’t wait. They get them done. And we let him walk to free agency. That’s a decision of the organization, regardless of it was financial at the time with the ownership that we had, but he was our property for a long time and we lost him.”
GM Lou Lamoriello has had a long policy of waiting to sign his pending free agents. In fact, Brodeur’s one of the few who has been signed in the middle of the season. Everybody from Scott Niedermayer to Scott Gomez to Brian Gionta to Alex Mogilny to even Doug Gilmour left.
The moment New Jersey signed Ilya Kovalchuk to a 15-year, $100-million contract in August 2010, it seemed the homegrown Parise was destined to be elsewhere.
“That’s too hard to say,” Parise said when asked if it would have changed things if Lamoriello tried harder to extend him earlier. “I know Lou has his policies and his way of doing things. It’s not as if Lou waited ‘til June 29 or 30 to pick up the phone. We had talked for a long time before that. … I don’t think it’s fair to say that Lou waited ‘til the last minute because that wasn’t the case.”
By the way, Parise said Tuesday that Lamoriello doesn’t hold a grudge and they still have a good relationship, that Lamoriello understands this is the way it works in the NHL.
As far as Devils fans apparently being upset that Parise kept saying he wanted to stay, Parise said, “I wasn’t lying. I have no reason to lie about that stuff. I was always being completely honest. It basically came down to Minnesota or here.”
Brodeur said, “I had good conversations with him. He really was debating going to Minnesota or staying with us. I talked to him a lot that day about it and he was torn a little bit about making that decision. But a lot of people have influence on players – agents and families and stuff like that, and if he went anywhere – I don’t have to name the team – it would have been a lot [more] heartbroken for the fans than going to Minnesota, that’s for sure.”
I assume he was talking about the Rangers, although the Rangers were never in the mix. Philly and Pittsburgh went hard after Parise, as well as Chicago. Detroit was the big team after Ryan Suter.
“We’re hockey players,” Brodeur said. “We have different views than fans as far as what’s expected from people in the locker room and stuff like that. “So, the fans for sure are not pretty pleased with his decision to leave us, especially being the captain. The only drawback is he went home to Minnesota, so I think you have fans that will be a little understanding. But those fans are pretty rare. It affected our organization in a big way losing him, and that’s what the fans care about. Us, it’s part of the business.”
-- Talked to Justin Fontaine, who had a goal and assist against the Islanders in his second game being scratched for five straight. He was on a line with Matt Moulson and Mikko Koivu.
“No one likes sitting out. It’s definitely frustrating,” he said. “I just came to the rink with the right attitude. That’s why I said about staying sharp and staying positive around the rink, being a good teammate. You never know the role you’re going to get thrown in and you’ve got to take advantage when you get that opportunity.”
Coach Mike Yeo had the same conversation with Haula. As I wrote the other day, Yeo isn’t unhappy with Haula. He feels he wants to get everybody in roles, and while fans and media say he simply should elevate Haula to a third-line status, he doesn’t yet feel that Haula is ready to play 18 minutes a night against top players.
Yeo said Fontaine is a “good example for a guy like Haulsy. We’ve got a lot of guys. We added a couple guys to a team that we already felt was strong, so that means every night there’s two, three guys out of the lineup. So when you’re not in there, it’s how you use that time to make sure you’re ready when you do get in. It speaks volumes [about Fontaine] the attitude he had while he was out and how he worked to make sure he was ready for that opportunity. I talked to [Haula]. He’s been playing well, and he’s going to get back in [eventually] and we have to make sure when he gets back in he’s at that same level.”
-- Teammates have been calling defensive defenseman, No. 4 Clayton Stoner “Bobby Orr” since his highlight-reel breakaway goal Tuesday against the Islanders.
“Today anyways. I'm sure it'll change tomorrow,” Stoner joked.
Yeo said, “His play has been very strong lately. He’s been making the right decisions with the puck. He’s been moving the puck quickly and efficiently. …. His defending has been very strong, from his gaps through the neutral zone, his one-on-one play to his D-zone coverage, I’ve been very impressed with how he’s been playing the game.”
Stoner said he’s OK from his crash into the corner wall after scoring. He said he tripped over goalie Anders Nilsson’s stick.
Stoner scored his first NHL goal in this Devils’ arena in 2011. It was a dump-in that Johan Hedberg came out to play. But the puck hit a stanchion on the glass and ricocheted into the open net.
Stoner said he tested it this morning. Stanchions have changed, he disappointedly said.
-- On Bryzgalov starting, Yeo said the Wild used the “guideline” of coming back with a goalie coming off a shutout. Bryzgalov made 36 saves for his 32nd career shutout and first with the Wild on Tuesday on the Island.
Yeo said Bryzgalov was a calming influence in the net that night and “looked big. I want to see if he can get back at it.”
He also has a 2.07 GAA lifetime against New Jersey.
-- Same forward lines at 5-on-5 to start tonight. PP units are Parise-Koivu-Moulson-Suter-Pominville; Heatley-Granlund-Nino-Brodin-Spurgeon.
Yeo said he wants to spot Charlie Coyle in more on the penalty kill and the Nino spot on the power play may rotate between Nino and Coyle depending on “who’s playing better.”
-- Greg Carey, the senior at St. Lawrence University, signed with the Phoenix Coyotes yesterday. The Wild is waiting to hear today a decision from his younger brother, Matt Carey, 22. The freshman is said to play more of a pro style but is raw. He’s tied for 38th in the country with 37 points (18 goals).
Also, as I wrote a few days ago, the Wild, Philadelphia Flyers and Boston Bruins are among many teams after Swedish defenseman Christian Folin, who plays at Massachusetts-Lowell. Many scouts say Folin has the ability to step right into an NHL lineup. He can’t be signed until they’re done playing, and that could be a bit.