Morning from Calgary.
We just met with coach Mike Yeo in the lobby, and Josh Harding will make his first start since sustaining a neck injury Dec. 6 in San Jose. Niklas Backstrom is 5-0 in his last six in Calgary with a 0.52 goals against average and .984 save percentage and hasn’t been scored on there in 125-plus minutes.
"He's fresh and he's played real well for us this," Yeo said. "I know Bax has had good success in this building, but Josh is a guy we feel real confident going in with as well. ... Bax, you can't fault him one bit for that game last night. He gave us a chance, and Hards we're expecting the same thing from him. He's done that all year long."
As for the rest of the lineup, Yeo said he is not expecting Mikko Koivu to play tonight for a third consecutive game with a leg injury barring Koivu coming back from the rink this morning and saying he suddenly perfect. He skated a long time after practice yesterday with Justin Falk and Chad Rau, and Yeo said Koivu "felt it. ... We're very hopeful [he plays in Edmonton]. We're not going to put a guy in there that's not ready to go. We have to look at the big picture here."
If Koivu doesn't play, the Wild will go with seven defensemen. Falk will play for the first time since being injured Nov. 27, and Greg Zanon will return as well from being a healthy scratch in two of the past three games.
Mike Lundin, on the ice for three goals yesterday with defense partner Nick Schultz, will be a healthy scratch.
"I'm not going to just blame him for that loss last night, but certainly when we've got eight quality defensemen, performance will dictate some of it," Yeo said. But Yeo said part of it is he wanted to get Falk back in there. He's healthy and ready to go, and he's been impressed with Zanon's professionalism during a difficult situation.
Colton Gillies, completely out of sorts lately other than a strong game against the Islanders and I felt the Blackhawks, will be scratched as well. Gillies had a game-turning penalty last night in the first period. Again, call it iffy if you want, but if you from behind stick your blade in a player's gut in the neutral zone, it will be called nine times out of 10. This is no longer the new NHL. These have been the rules since 2005.
Gillies was also a minus-2, playing a big part in the third goal.
I'll write more about this in tomorrow's paper, but Yeo talked to him last night and Gillies feels like he's letting the team down. It sounds barring injury that he won't play in Edmonton either because Yeo said the Christmas break will be good for Gillies to get away from the rink.
I like Gillies, but just look at his facial expression after he took that penalty with 2:08 left. That was a kid completely lacking confidence and dejected, and right now with a team on a four-game winless streak, you can't afford a player with that mindset. Basically, he's trying to do too much. He has no goals, two assists and is minus-5 in 31 games.
"He's like a whipped puppy right now. It's like he's waiting for something bad to happen," Yeo said. "This is a guy that cares. It's our responsibility to try to get him through this."
Also, the Kyle Brodziak-Nick Johnson line (Clutterbuck last night, Powe the game before) has not been the same line the last few games. Brodziak looks real tired, too, taking on the extra responsibility with Koivu out.
"I've used him a lot. That's what happens when guys get out," Yeo said. "I don't know if his line has played the same game. They've got to get back to their type of game."