The Wild’s third long hiatus of the short season is behind us, and tonight, the Wild takes on the Nashville Predators. Usually, especially in Minnesota, they’re very exciting games and sometimes strangely high-scoring.
Nine of the past 16 overall contests between the Wild and Predators have been decided by one goal (Wild’s 8-5-3).
The Preds are a fast team with Peter Laviolette at the helm and a blue line built perfectly for his style. He loves defensemen joining the attack, and he’s got the future Hall of Famer (future, as in Monday) Phil Housley working with an impressive group that includes Shea Weber, Roman Josi (always a threat vs. the Wild), Seth Jones, Ryan Ellis and recently-extended Mattias Ekholm.
Housley, by the way, said Monday’s special day will sink in after tonight because he leaves for Toronto tomorrow. His wife and four kids will be there. I’ll write my Sunday column on Housley, the South St. Paul native.
The Predators, after a 6-1 start, are 1-1-2 in their past four. Really, their only stinker was in Anaheim. They had a cupcake schedule to start the season and tonight is their first game, believe it or not, inside the division.
Both teams should be fresh tonight, which could make for a fast game. Or, .... both teams could be flat.
The Wild hasn’t played since Saturday, the Preds since Sunday, and they’ve been lounging around California ever since.
One giant reason the Wild made the playoffs last season is it won three road games in Nashville in the final six weeks. Before that string, the Preds were 23-4-1 at home.
What did the Wild do well?
“We checked well, and we’re going to have to do that again,” coach Mike Yeo said.
Yeo wants the Wild to be very disciplined with how it plays the game and understand that the Preds are terrific on the counterattack largely because of those stud defensemen and they use turnovers to get going the other way in a hurry. “Their game is very consistent,” Yeo said.
And if you read my article in Tuesday’s paper, Yeo likes how the Wild is playing without the puck, but part of the reason the Wild’s 21st in the NHL in goals against this season is poor puck management. The other reason frankly is Devan Dubnyk hasn’t been as good (the Wild has the NHL’s sixth-best shots allowed average but Dubnyk has an .898 save percentage and is giving up goals from “low danger” areas as war-on-ice.com calls it. Here’s Mike Rand’s blog from yesterday.
Here's also Rand's blog on this "paid patriotism" controversy that really isn't a controversy in my opinion. The Star Tribune wrote about this in May, by the way, regarding the Wild and Vikings.
Dubnyk, by the way, is unveiling his new one-piece Bauer foam pads tonight (no stitching). He has been working them in the past few weeks in practice.
In today’s paper, I wrote about the struggles of the Zach Parise-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville line, and especially Pominville. Here’s the story, and if you remember, usually when I’ve written about Pominville’s slumps in the past, he breaks out somehow the next game. It's uncanny.
In Friday’s game notebook, I’ll be leading with Don Lucia coaching against Mario Lucia this weekend at Notre Dame for the last time. Lucia is a senior and should be signing with the Wild in the springtime. I talked to The Don, an Irish alum, yesterday about the final meetings and what he expects.
Also, tonight, it’s Mikko Koivu’s 10-year anniversary from his NHL debut Nov. 5, 2005, at San Jose. I covered that game and it was a heckuva win as Brian Rolston, Koivu’s eventual Wild mentor, notched his only hat trick with the Wild.
After missing the first 14 games of his rookie year with a sprained medial collateral ligament after being kneed by … Buffalo’s Thomas Vanek in an exhibition game in Rochester, N.Y. (my first road game I covered for the Wild, and on the flight I was worried the game was actually in Rochester, MN).
When Koivu debuted, Nino Niederreiter was 13 years old, Jonas Brodin 12, Matt Dumba 11.
Koivu skated 20 shifts totaling 13 minutes, 1 second, collecting two penalty minutes (a tripping minor), taking one shot and losing all four faceoffs he took that night. His fourth-line linemates that night were Derek Boogaard and Kyle Wanvig.
Koivu said because he missed so long, he was “probably more nervous. You didn’t know what to expect. I remember the first shift, Patrick Marleau was just flying by me and shot the crossbar right in front of me. I was like, ‘woah, this is fast.’”
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Koivu is one of 20 players who were rookies in 2005-06 that have played for the same team in the 10 years since. He has played 692 games for the Wild – 51 from his buddy Nick Schultz’s team record.
He has had 157 teammates with the Wild and is the franchise leader with 364 assists, 511 points, 116 multi-point games and 39 shootout goals. He’s the sixth-longest tenured captain in the NHL.
On 10 years, Koivu said, “It does feel like 10 years, but only in a good way. There’s a lot of ups and downs like in sports always, but there’s so many good things with being able to play with one team and one city and the friendships that you create. That’s the biggest thing outside of hockey that you really appreciate. You feel like you’re at home. Now I have family and two kids, so a lot of things changed in 10 years sitting in this locker room.”
The Wild will acknowledge Koivu during one of the TV timeouts tonight, but Koivu asked for the team to do nothing big.
Christian Folin is scratched a fourth straight game tonight for Nate Prosser.
“This is not on him, but the way things have gone lately, guys have been doing a pretty good job,” Yeo said. “We’ll reevaluate it after. Obviously his development is real important to us, but we can’t forsake winning games. That doesn’t mean we think he’s a liability, but we have to give ourselves the best chances, and that’s what we figure for tonight.”
As I asked Yeo the other day, there is a chance Folin eventually is assigned to Iowa. He’d make his full $725,000 NHL salary there, but he doesn’t require waivers.
“If that arises, that arises,” Yeo said today.
I'll be on KFAN at 3:55 pm.