Good day from sunny, beautiful but very cold and windy Raleigh, where it's fun to be with March Madness starting Thursday.
Eric Staal, three games shy of becoming the fifth player in history to skate in a 1,000th game in a Wild sweater, returns to where it all started for the second time. He played here once last season after his trade to the Rangers, and the Canes won that game.
I did a big story on Staal for Thursday's paper. I sat down with his parents, Henry and Linda, early in the road trip in Tampa, and this is one of two big Staal stories I have planned here in the next month. It was such a fun interview.
Staal is tied for the team lead with 23 goals and is en fuego with six in his past six games, four in his past three. In Whalers/Hurricanes history, he's basically second in everything to now-GM Ron Francis.
After a lot of media obligations at his old barn following practice, Staal was heading to his brother Jordan's home to see his bro, sister-in-law and two nieces.
As for practice, defenseman Marco Scandella didn't practice. Maintenance day, coach Bruce Boudreau called it. Scandella was riding the bike and stretching a bunch during practice, so my guess is he tweaked his groin or something.
If for some reason he can't play the Canes on Thursday, the Wild will need a defenseman like Mike Reilly.
Today in practice, center Erik Haula was placeholder at left D alongside Nate Prosser. He looked good there, but Boudreau promised he wouldn't make Haula play the position.
“Bruce came to me before practice and we talking about who would play [defense],” Haula said. “I guess [assistant coach Scott Stevens] thinks I can play defense. So [Boudreau] was like, ‘OK, you can play [defense] today.
"I was kind of trying to follow the d-men going in front of me."
Haula said, laughing, "I was telling [Boudreau] after practice, ‘Just make sure [Stevens] doesn’t recruit me to that side [of the bench].’”
Apparently Stevens has told Boudreau all year that Haula would make a good D because he's such a good backwards skater.
As for the Wild, not good lately at all, and Boudreau ain't happy!!!
The Wild, which entered this five-game road trip with the second-best road points percentage in the NHL, is 1-3 on the trip and has lost four of its past five games. The Wild’s 4-5 since its bye.
Darcy Kuemper was slated to start Thursday's game, but it wouldn’t be surprising if the Wild changes course and starts Devan Dubnyk. After all, he barely played in Chicago, and if Kuemper starts, he'll likely start two of the next three games because Kuemper's obviously going to start in Winnipeg.
The Wild must get its act together. The Wild has held a lead for 12 minutes, 40 seconds out 300 minutes in the past five games (4-5). The Wild has allowed the first goal in eight of the past 10 games.
This used to be a structured, disciplined team. Not right now.
Boudreau thinks they're tired, but he thought it was important to practice them fully today.
"We move on by getting back to the basics," he said. "It’s a combination of way too many things that I’m going to go over here. We started with a good video session today. You can’t fix 10 things in a day, but you could certainly work on one or two and get them straightened around, and then whenever we practice again, hopefully this stays with them and we can work on some more things.
"I’m sure every team goes through it, but it’s really hard to do when you don’t practice. That’s why you see teams when they go on losing streaks say we need a couple good practices. That’s what we need. We need a couple good practices."
The issue? The Wild plays 14 games in the next 24 days. The Wild won't practice Friday. Satuday and Sunday are games. The Wild won't practice Monday. Tuesday is a game. The next practice is a week from today (Wednesday).
"Sitting there last night, we said, 'They look really tired out there,'" Boudreau said, adding that they wondered, "Is it fatigue, are they getting out of shape because they haven’t practiced, is it the travel?' You're sort of guessing which one it is. I felt we needed to practice more than we needed rest today."