Here is the Josh Harding injury. Not a good line change prior, incidentally, by the men in white after not getting the puck deep.
We spoke with GM Chuck Fletcher before the game, and Fletcher felt terrible for Harding, whom he felt was poised to have a big year. He came into camp in great shape and he looked real good in scrimmages and practices, so this is a devastating blow to obviously Harding and a team that 1) prided itself on a 1-2 punch; 2) conceivably could have tried to trade Harding, who can become a free agent next summer, this season.
Fletcher did his best to praise Anton Khudobin and say he's passed every test the Wild's given him, but he kept dancing around my question as to whether the Wild will give Khudobin the chance to seize the backup role or acquire another goaltender. I think the Wild will be watching Khudobin during Sunday's start in Montreal with very focused eyes.
Fletcher likes to think things out rationally, so I don't think he'll rush a decision. But, ... even though the Wild wants Matt Hackett to play a lot in Houston (Khudobin's presence here would allow), the Wild's overall goaltending took a big hit, especially with Dennis Endras in Germany for the year.
I, deep down, think the Wild gets somebody, and frankly, I've got to think there's a chance Fletcher contacts Jose Theodore. If Backstrom goes down, the Wild's in trouble -- plain and simple -- and Backstrom's been hampered by hip and groin problems the last two years. Theodore's the best goalie at least still on the free agent market, so if he'd come at a reasonable price (which he would have to because before filling its roster, the Wild's already less than $2 million from the cap), now is the time to get him. Not wait if the Wild suffers another injury.
There's also waivers. On Monday, a few goalies can be claimed (Grahame, Mannino, MacIntyre), and more and more will start to appear on waivers. One intriguing name could be Edmonton's Jeff Deslauriers, and not just because he's Pierre-Marc Bouchard's former junior teammate. He's a good goalie (the guy had three shutouts on a crummy team last year), but may be bumped out with the OIl. I don't know how much of an upgrade he is over Khudobin though.
Fletcher joked that he got a couple calls from some well-wishers today. Oh, those NHL GM's. Always looking to help out.
Anyway, it's just something to pay attention to. Like I said, one Backstrom injury, and uh-oh.
Before we move on, couple notes: 1) Jamie Fraser is on waivers and will be part of Monday's mass exodus if unclaimed; 2) The roster is down to 42 (40, really because it includes Sheppard and Harding) as the team returned Brett Bulmer to his junior team. He played in St. Louis last night; tonight he scored for Kelowna.
Onto tonight's game. Much, much better from a Wild team that showed some compete (coaching verb), grit and speed. Much better defensively, especially the blue-liners.
Brent Burns (looked like he hurt his hip late in OT when he fell awkwardly after checking Darroll Powe, but coach Todd Richards isn't worried) and Nick Schultz were good. Greg Zanon always competes. Nate Prosser and Marco Scandella looked like they belonged, and Drew Bagnall, the former Manchester captain, is a total beast.
Sticks up for his teammates, particularly Andrew Brunette after longtime refs Don VanMassenhoven and Ian Walsh forgot the definition of interference or charging and allowed some wildman named Zac Rinaldo to run Brunette well after he gave up the puck by the Wild bench.
In fact, the refs also must have missed the memo on clobbering a player on an icing because I heard the linesman screaming, "ice, ice," from the press box and somehow James Van Riemsdyk didn't. He absolutely hammered an unsuspecting Prosser against the glass, but the officials just grabbed the puck and skated it back to the other end for a faceoff like they had never heard of Torrey Mitchell.
I can promise you if Prosser looked like Kurtis Foster after the play, JVR would have been sent to the box.
But there's my rant for the night.
Casey Wellman, after a very jittery game last night in St. Louis (heck he broke his stick on two one-timers), looked like he belonged. Showed off his jet speed, scored a goal, created chances and looked just very good on a high-flying line with Eric Nystrom and Marty Havlat. Havlat's two exhibition games have been very good, and Nystrom looked much better, faster and grittier than his debut last night. I like Nystrom too because he can take and win draws.
Chuck Kobasew scored a goal and looked good on the right side of Brunette and Mikko Koivu as coach Todd Richards continues to experiment a top-line right wing. It could be between Kobasew and Antti Miettinen only until Pierre-Marc Bouchard returns, unless of course Wellman gets a sniff. Hey, I know he's young and inexperienced, but he's got the speed to be there and again, the Wild wants him to play a significant role if he's to be on this team.
Maybe that's too much, but he certainly looked good tonight.
The fourth line was outstanding tonight. Chad Rau's got lots of quickness and created chances. Brad Staubitz was his usual gritty self and Matt Kassian had scoring chances and beat the heck out of Matt Walker (with a big smile on his face). I still don't see Kassian making the team, but Richards said Kassian is opening his eyes and at the very least, I'm betting we Kassian make his NHL debut at some point this season after a very long time being a good soldier in this organization.
Lastly, here's your lineup for Sunday's game in Montreal:
Forwards: Almond, Brodziak, Clutterbuck, Cullen, DiSalvatore, Earl, Gillies, Kalus, Kobasew, Latendresse, Miettinen, Peters, Staubitz. Defensemen: Bagnall, Barker, Falk, Noreau, Scandella, Stoner, Zidlicky. Goalies: Khudobin (plan is for full game), Hackett.
Noreau by the way is playing his first game in his hometown since about age 10. He got 20 tickets for the game, but has scores of other folks coming.
"I've dreamed of playing at the Bell Centre for 15 years. I didn't think it would be on another team than the Canadiens though," he said, laughing.
OK, I'm running on fumes already. Got no sleep last night, drove straight to the arena after landing from St. Louis, thought I'd be here for an hour and go home for a nap, and instead, I've been sitting in the same press box seat since 10 a.m.
Time to go home. Believe it or not, I will not be in Montreal for the game, so likely no blog and no tweets. Talk to you Monday most likely.