Tuesday update: Jon Blum, Justin Falk and Joel Rechlicz cleared waivers, officially assigned to Iowa.
Ilya Bryzgalov, always the character, was a riot tonight during the Wild's 4-1 exhibition victory over the Pittsburgh.
Bryzgalov, who had a sensational attitude all camp even though he's on a tryout and will likely be released from that tryout unless something unexpected happens with Darcy Kuemper or Niklas Backstrom, took selfies with fans during the third period through the glass as he sat on the Wild bench.
In fact, a line began to form during play and finally the ushers had to put an end to it.
Here are some pics from Twitter:
Hey Bryz pic.twitter.com/630S4oTGm3— Bobby Erickson (@bobayerickson) September 30, 2014
Then, after Jason Pominville's empty-net goal -- the third in the third period by Pominville for the natural hat trick -- Bryzgalov threw his toque on the ice as part of the celebration.
“What’s he think he’s a model?” joked equipment manager Tony DaCosta, who stood next to him. “Then he starts waving them all down! Then he throws his [toque] on the ice when Pommer gets his hat trick. That's our last one!”
Tonight's game was dreadful at times to watch, so naturally, my first question to coach Mike Yeo in the postgame presser was about Bryz.
"No comment. No comment," Yeo said, laughing, when asked about the selfies and throwing his toque on the ice.
Man, Bryzgalov can be refreshing to cover sometimes. I ran into him at a restaurant in Pittsburgh the other night and had a tremendous conversation about real-life world stuff. The more I cover him, the more I truly think he is pretty misunderstood. A lot of people have asked me if he'd take a two-way, but I can't imagine him riding the AHL buses and regional jets.
And after tonight's 32-save effort by Kuemper in a game his teammates were pretty bad, I don't think there's any concern from management to put him on the team. In fact, after the game, Yeo went on and on about how good Kuemper is at controlling rebounds and making plays die by freezing pucks. That key strength could be his inside track toward being the eventual No. 1.
Yeo said he doesn't mind stoppages in the D-zone because the Wild's such a good faceoff team.
And Backstrom is on the team, so since there's only one goal and preferably two spots for goalies, Bryzgalov is likely what he thought he would be -- Kuemper/Backstrom insurance.
Onto the game:
With the score tied 1-1 entering the third period, the fourth line of Stephane Veilleux, Cody Almond and Zack Phillips had a good momentum shift early in the period for what honestly was the first sustained pressure by the Wild in the entire game.
Then, finally the Wild got going.
Zach Parise, who scored a first-period power-play goal from Mikael Granlund and Matt Dumba, dropped a pass for Pominville. He unloaded the tee-up by Jeff Zatkoff at 8:39 of the period. Four minutes later, after a tremendous shift by Parise in every zone, Pominville gobbled up Jonas Brodin’s shot off the back wall and scored on a wraparound. Finally, Pominville took Granlund’s pass for the natural hat trick empty-netter.
Parise on the game: It wasn’t great. Special teams was good again. It was solid, but I thought 5-on-5 wasn’t very good. They did a good job. They were in our face a lot in the neutral zone, but we were doing a lot of swinging, we were trying to hit stretch plays and a lot of turn our back through the neutral zone and because of that we spent a lot of time in our zone.”
On Pominville and his line: “Great preseason. We all need to be a lot better. Our line needs to be a lot better and play a little more consistent. I think right now we’re to some extent still playing summer hockey, a lot of stick checking and you’ll see flashes of playing normal hockey, but we need to do that a little more often.”
The Thomas Vanek-Mikko Koivu-Charlie Coyle line wasn’t very good, at least not nearly as good as they were in Pittsburgh last Thursday. Vanek didn’t have a great debut. He actually had a breakaway but tried to drop a pass that went right to a defender.
The third line of Matt Cooke, Kyle Brodziak and Jordan Schroeder? Yeo said they weren’t great all game and Schroeder was placed on waivers Tuesday for the purpose of sending to Iowa. Phillips was also reassigned, although Yeo said while he’s not ready yet to make the Wild, he’s much improved and this was the best game he has seen Phillips, the 2011 first-rounder, play. Yeo said he has come to camp in much better shape, which has made him move better on the ice. Both of those – fitness and skating – has been his professional downfall so far, but it seems like he got the message this summer.
The Wild’s roster is now at 30 (Brandon Whitney was returned to his QMJHL team today). Technically, with Josh Harding suspended, it’s at 29. Technically, with Gustav Olofsson expected to be reassigned to Iowa once he’s healthy, it’s at 28. Remember, 23 can make the team.
The roster as of now:
Forwards (17): Charlie Coyle, Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Cody Almond, Justin Fontaine, Jason Zucker, Stephane Veilleux, Kyle Brodziak, Nino Niederreiter, Matt Cooke, Thomas Vanek, Brett Sutter, Jason Pominville, Michael Keranen, Curt Gogol, Erik Haula, Mikael Granlund.
Defensemen (9): Keith Ballard, Stu Bickel, Christian Folin, Marco Scandella, Ryan Suter, Gustav Olofsson, Jonas Brodin, Jared Spurgeon, Matt Dumba.
Goalies (4): Ilya Bryzgalov (tryout), Niklas Backstrom, Darcy Kuemper, Josh Harding.
Matt Dumba flashed some stuff again. He’s a risk-taker and plays with flair and pizzazz. He has got guts and had an assist for a third straight game.
“I feel like I’m doing a lot of good things right now,” Dumba said afterward. “My skating, just everything, is all coming together and feels really good. I’m really on top of my game right now. I’m happy with the summer I had and happy the way I came in. I just have to continue doing that. That’s what it’s about being a pro, that consistency. If I can just keep doing that over the next couple weeks, I think if all goes as planned, hopefully I stay here.”
Frankly, not a couple weeks. A couple days. The final roster is on the horizon.
On Dumba, Yeo said he saw “a lot of good” tonight. “There’s a couple plays I’m not thrilled with, but at the same time, we understand that he’s trying to make our team and he’s not going just make our team by being a safe player all night long, too. He has the ability to create some things and do some things that are definitely at the NHL level and there’s some parts as far as game awareness and understanding the situation that he still has to work on, but it’s easy to sit here and nitpick on a guy like that, but we had a lot of guys that were making mistakes tonight, so overall I thought he was good.”
Pominville on Dumba: “He’s a good skater, moves the puck well. He can shoot. He defends well, too, I think a lot of times he’s aggressive and he’ll create things offensively by being aggressive. It’s fun having a guy out there, you know he’s going to move the puck and he’s going to join and create things offensively. He brings a lot to the table. Obviously he’s still young, but he has a bright future with us.”
On the game, Yeo said after I pointed out that the first two periods were hard to watch: “Third period was very tough to watch in spurts, too. That’s preseason. You end up being pleased with some players, disappointed with some players, but at the same time you’ve got to make sure you don’t overreact or get too excited when things are going well, too.”
The three players Yeo raved about were Kuemper, Parise and defenseman Marco Scandella, who “was a horse all over the ice.”
Pominville, after a tough game I felt in Pittsburgh last week, had a second straight good game. Yeo raved about the job Parise is doing in these preseason games. His work ethic is ridiculous when you consider he’s a vet and vets often mail in the preseason or at a minimum are in do-not-get-hurt mode.
“Go watch that goal, Pommer’s second goal again, and watch Zach that shift,” Yeo said. “It was a great play by Pommer to bury it, but Zach, he knows he’s here, his position’s not really in doubt with us (Yeo said that sarcastically obviously), but he does the right thing in D zone, then he wins a battle, then he wins a race, then he’s the first forechecker, then he continues to stay on the hunt. He was just relentless that shift.”
On Scandella, Yeo said, “He’s walking tall right now. He’s playing the game that way. He’s standing his ground. He’s playing hard in front of the net. He’s a big, strong guy and we need our big, strong guys to play big games.” He compared it to the late-season conversations he had last year to challenge Nino Niederreiter and Charlie Coyle, saying it has nothing to do with fighting, it’s about them playing big games.
Yeo said of Scandella: “He took a huge step last year in his game and up to this point in camp he’s been in another level from that.”
That’s it for me. The Wild has the day off Tuesday, which means I can work ahead. I’ll update the blog once it’s known whether Jon Blum, Justin Falk and Joel Rechlicz clear waivers. Again, when those guys clear, Schroeder will go on waivers for 24 hours before he is officially assigned to Iowa.
The Wild is 2-1-1 in the preseason now with two games left against St. Louis -- Thursday in St. Louis and Saturday at home. Opening night will be here before you know it.
Again, if you want a good taste of what Yeo and GM Chuck Fletcher are thinking about the blue line right now, see the previous blog. That also has a link to the new podcast with myself and the Denver Post’s Adrian Dater.
Have a good Tuesday folks.