I’m back. Miss me?
Hope all’s well and you are enjoying this beautiful … spring day.
The Wild, in the middle of another four days off, had an off-ice workout today and will practice Tuesday and Wednesday before testing its 5-0 home record against three tough teams – Nashville, Tampa Bay and Winnipeg.
Coach Mike Yeo said all players, including Marco Scandella (I received some tweets from fans worried that he got hurt when he, uh, saved Jason Zucker’s winning goal in overtime from the goal line), came out of the St. Louis game healthy.
We’ll see in Tuesday’s practice whether Yeo plans to change up the lines or defense pairs in preparation for the Predators game. He has to figure out a way to get this Zach Parise-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville line going probably without touching the Zucker-Mikko Koivu-Nino Niederreiter line.
Granlund and Pominville have no even-strength points in the past eight games and one combined goal in 11 games.
I asked Yeo if the Wild would consider sending defenseman Christian Folin, who has been scratched three straight games, to the minors if he’s going to continue to be scratched for Nate Prosser. Folin would make his full $725,000 in the minors, but he doesn’t require waivers to get there and it would be a way to get him playing some games and to save a little salary-cap space (with Justin Fontaine hurt and Jordan Schroeder here, the Wild getting awfully close to the ceiling).
Yeo said that is an option, but he kind of made it more sound like Folin may play against the speedy Preds.
“We haven’t decided what the lineup will be next game,” Yeo said, before talking about Folin. “We don’t want him sitting around not playing for long periods of time, so if the same group is going, then yes, maybe that’s something we have to consider. But we also have to consider getting him back in here. He did not come out based on his play, so we would like to get him back in soon.”
I asked Yeo a lot about the upside down stats today (the Wild ranks fifth in goals per game, 21st in goals allowed per game, 11th on the power play and 24th on the penalty kill). That’s pretty much the opposite of the Wild identity one month into this season.
I also asked him how much of this is due to goaltending. Darcy Kuemper was pulled in Winnipeg and Devan Dubnyk, despite his 7-2-1 record, has a 2.59 goals-against average and .898 save percentage.
Dubnyk set such a high standard last year, we’re not used to seeing him with such average numbers and throwing conniption fits like he did as he, clearly frustrated, departed the ice after allowing the David Backes overtime winner the other night.
“The first goal last game was not good, whether it was deflected or not, that’s for sure,” Yeo said. “I thought the rest of the game he was really solid. Him, just like the rest of the group, we’re trying to build our game. What I love is we can all say that Duby hasn’t been at his best, but what I can say is when he’s needed to be at his best … closing out games, he’s been his best.
“I think last game was a great example of that to give us a chance to get to overtime, that was when he played his best hockey. The Chicago game, that third period, that was when he played his best hockey. That’s one thing he’s done this year. We can look at his goals-against average and save percentage, but one thing I always put first is wins and losses and he’s doing pretty well in that regard.”
As for the team’s offense vs. the team’s defense, Yeo said, “We’ve worked awfully hard to try to become a better offensive team, and that’s helped get us through some of our areas that haven’t been good enough [this season]. It’s also helped contribute to some of the reasons why we’re not as strong in that area. You have to live with a little risk and live with some mistakes, but at the same time we have to prove that we’re getting better.
“Without the puck , I like a lot of the things we’re doing defending-wise. Occasionally, our third man [high] could be a little better in the offensive zone. But for the most part, a lot of the things coming back against us are a result of something we’re doing with the puck. So puck management in certain situations can get better.”
The good news is the Wild has proven year after year under Yeo and Rick Wilson that it’s an exceptional defensive team, so the hope is the Wild will be quick learners and rediscover its defensive identity.
“I know that we could play that type of game,” Yeo said of being a high-scoring team. “Still, that said, I think we have to show that we’re getting better in [the defensive] area. But I think we’re trending in the right direction.
“I feel like we’re getting there, but it’s as much a mentality as anything. We’re trying to be aggressive and push it the limit as far as possible without getting careless, and that’s not an easy thing to do.”
But Yeo said lately, the scoring chances and shots against have been down and the Wild had the better puck possession against the Blues.
Matt Dumba continues to be a work in progress. He has been off the power play lately (six straight games) and played less than 13 minutes the past two games.
Yeo said the last game was not as much a reflection in Dumba as it was how well the rest of the blue-liners were playing.
“Losing the power play, that was for him to get his game back in order. He’s showing some signs, but this is not going to be something that’s just going to happen overnight. You’re not just going to have one good shift and all of a sudden you’re back. You’re not going to have one good game and all of a sudden you’re back
“I do feel like he’s building back in the right direction.”
But Yeo said his ice time is impacted by his play and the play of others.
“We don’t decide how much the players play. They will with their play and I think he’s a good example of that,” Yeo said.
I’ll talk to you after Tuesday’s practice. I’ll also be in-studio with Paul Allen on KFAN at 9 a.m. Tuesday and Saturday at 4 p.m. at Tom Reid’s Hockey City Pub in St. Paul, Jim Souhan and I will be taping another podcast. Come on down before the Wild-Lightning game. Also, next Monday at 5:30 p.m. at Tom Reid’s, we’ll be taping a podcast with Wild owner Craig Leipold. Come on down.