Afternoon. I’ll be on Rosen’s Sports Sunday tonight on Ch. 4 and on KFAN at 10:15 a.m. Monday (Vox in the Box with Paul Allen).
The Wild held an optional practice at Xcel Energy Center today in preparation for Monday’s big regular-season home finale against the Winnipeg Jets. Win in regulation, and the Wild clinches a playoff spot. Win in overtime, and the Wild would need the Los Angeles Kings to lose in regulation at Vancouver to clinch a playoff spot.
Sixteen skaters, including Jason Zucker and Matt Cooke and excluding captain Mikko Koivu (scratched cornea), and goalies Darcy Kuemper and Niklas Backstrom practiced.
The Wild still sounds as if it’s planning for a Cooke return Tuesday in Chicago. It sounds like the hope is Zucker can return Thursday in Nashville. Coach Mike Yeo said he honestly doesn’t have a plan, but Zucker hopes to get one or two games and Yeo said, “I don’t want to throw him into the playoffs in Game 1 having not played any game.”
The Wild isn’t practicing Wednesday in Nashville, but a Thursday return would give Zucker three consecutive morning skates to prep more and two games before the playoffs. I’m not sure you want Zucker’s first game coming against the rugged St. Louis Blues in Game 82.
For the first time Sunday, Zucker really ramped up the contact. Assistant coach Darby Hendrickson battled with him throughout practice, so Zucker said how he feels Monday will be a big indicator as how his week should go.
Yeo didn’t have an update on Koivu today. But the captain who missed last night’s game is expected to play Monday. If not, Yeo said the Wild will have a Plan B
Yeo did say regardless of Koivu playing, Erik Haula will be given a chance to respond from his poor game (a shootout loss) last night against the Detroit Red Wings. Yeo met with Haula this morning.
So if Koivu plays, I’d think Jordan Schroeder will be scratched because one would assume Ryan Carter needs to play against the big, physical Jets. If Koivu doesn’t play, Schroeder would likely play.
This is conjecture.
Yeo said, “I know that Haula can play better. I just want to get him to the level that he was playing at two weeks ago. I know it’s there. I know he’s capable of it and I know we can get him back there.”
Haula was such an important, impressive piece to the Wild’s postseason last year that Yeo badly wants Haula to get back to that level so he can play him this postseason. Right now, his game doesn’t warrant it.
“It would be easy to take him out of the lineup [Monday],” Yeo said. “But sometimes you have to make decisions based on the bigger picture. Sometimes those decisions you have to think a little bit deeper. We want to give him a chance to respond and see if he can get his game up to that level because we know what he’s capable of and we know how effective that can be in the playoffs.”
If I had a dime for every story I’ve written this year with Haula falling on the knife, I’d probably have … a dollar.
He did again today: “I know what it is and the things that I do well and when I don’t play well the things that I tend to do. Maybe as not as big of a guy and whatnot, I have to really focus on the compete part. It’ll be there next game for sure. I’ll make sure I bring that, the extra efforts.
“Everyone competes. But just those little things stick out. A good example was the penalty I took [Saturday], that was probably my worst shift of the game. I know it was a bad shift.”
Play against Winnipeg, and a player has no choice but to compete. So this will be a huge test for Haula to show Yeo something.
On wanting to be in the lineup in the playoffs, the former Gophers two-time leading scorer said, “Everyone brings something different. I just want to get back to that. I feel like I get that extra drive when the playoffs start. I’ve always been like that. Not to say that this year’s going to be like last year because last year was obviously top of the line, but I want to definitely be a big piece when we get there and be in the lineup.”
The Wild has the most points in the NHL since Jan. 15. It has won a franchise-record 10 in a row on the road. It had won five in a row overall, including big wins over St. Louis, Calgary and L.A. It took four days off and it has seemed to lost its mojo.
“If there’s anything we’ve done well over the past stretch, you put the previous result behind you and get ready for the next game,” Yeo said. “It’s tougher to do with losses than it does with wins.”
Yeo just wants the Wild to do all the things in Monday’s game that helps the Wild get to its game. You can’t just go on the ice and expect it to be there, he says.
“We know what’s at stake for them, we know what’s at stake for ourselves. We know it’s going to be an intense game. Our third period [against Detroit] was a much better indication of how we have to play the game, but it’s how we approach the game that’s going to be important,” Yeo said.
Yeo said all week he tried to guard against a lost desperation level that naturally may come with a cushion and the fact there’s no motivation anymore about being able to catch the second- or third-place teams in the Central.
“We’re stuck in between a little bit and that’s the way the last couple games have played out,” Yeo said. “We’ve got to invest in the game.”
I talked to Thomas Vanek a lot about his around the world shootout move this morning, and I’ll squeeze that into Monday’s newspaper.
On Monday, Vanek said, “We just need to get back to our game and controlling the game. After those four days off, I don’t know, I don’t think we lost anything, but we wanted to win so bad to clinch a spot that sometimes when you think too much it goes backwards.”
He said those days off will help the Wild in the long run, but now it has to get back to the mindset of just playing well. “We didn’t worry about [being so close to the playoffs] the last two months. We just knew we needed to win and play well. We have to get that mentality.”
See you on Rosen’s tonight and talk to you tomorrow.