Apologies for the late blog, but I needed to speed through my game story and notebook and hustle to the airport for a 7 p.m. flight.
Greetings from the friendly skies.
One piece of news: Defenseman Clayton Stoner left tonight’s 3-2 loss to Detroit with about five or six minutes left. He limped down the runway. I didn’t see what happened, but Stoner’s been limping around the past three or four days, has had a part of his lower body wrapped with ice the past few days and probably aggravated it.
Either he didn’t make the trip to Detroit or is a question mark, but defenseman Jon Blum didn’t play the third period for Iowa tonight and is being called up (Remember, Keith Ballard is hurt). I think the plan was to call up Steve Kampfer, but he actually got injured in tonight’s Iowa game.
Tonight’s loss to Detroit was so typical of the Wild. Play an even first period, leave 1-1. Outplay Detroit in the second, leave down 2-1. Stoner turned the puck over, then reacted by taking a high-sticking penalty. Kyle Brodziak actually makes a great play to get a puck on the PK and promptly hands its back to Detroit with a slow clear. Not long after the giveaway, David Legwand scores a goal that Darcy Kuemper had no chance of stopping. Third period, Charlie Coyle, who had a great game today, draws a penalty shot and ties the game 15 seconds in by using the same slick move he used to win that shootout in Winnipeg around Thanksgiving.
And five minutes later, Gustav Nyquist, the hottest goal scorer in the NHL since Jan. 20 with 16 goals, makes a great play to skate through the Wild’s defense before ripping a shot off the post and in.
Wild draws a power play late, can’t score on it and falls 3-2. It has now won 2 of 9 games since the trade deadline (2-3-4).
After the game though, I think Mike Yeo made a big mistake. He came to the press conference ready to paint a rosy picture on what’s going on. He’s well aware fans and media always pin late-season swoons on Yeo’s Wild. He’s very sensitive to this analysis, especially since if you actually look at the Wild’s history, late-season swoons preceded him.
Nevertheless, Yeo opened the presser with the statement: “We’ve got to find a way to win that game.”
That opened the door for me to respond, “But you’ve got two wins in your last nine. You’ve got to get some wins here, right?”
He responded, “How did I know that was coming?” and proceeded with a two-minute soliloquy about how this is not another late-season stumble and this is a different team and had some NHL-style math on a yellow sheet of paper to show that things aren’t as bad as they seem.
“You could also say we’ve got a point in nine of our last 11 games,” said Yeo, staring at a yellow piece of paper. “You could also say that was our first regulation loss in 11 games at home (7-0-3 since Jan. 14). You could also say that we’re 7-3-4 in our last 14 games. So, of course, are we sitting here and saying that we’re completely on top of it? No, definitely not.
“There’s a lot of things that we have to do better. [Penalty kill] is number 1 on our list. And finding ways to win a lot of these one-goal games. … We’re not completely happy or satisfied, believe me. But at the same time, what I hope is we don’t try to turn this into a big story of, ‘Oh no, here we go again.’ Because I can tell you that inside the room, we don’t have that feeling. I can tell you that we’re a different team.”
Basically though, he turned the narrative of a tough loss game story into an entire game story reminding folks of the late-season stumbles the past two seasons and how what’s going on now should not be considered, “oh no, here we go again.” I can honestly tell you, I wasn’t going this route with my gamer until his spiel.
I just don’t know what he was trying to accomplish. Convince the fans? Convince the media? Convince himself? Convince the players? If his intention was to stop the outside noise of a potential late-season implosion, to me, he made it a focal point, he made it the story.
And frankly now, he better hope his players prove him right.
We’ve written so much lately about young kids like Coyle and Nino Niederreiter and how they need to step up. They did tonight. Niederreiter was better. Coyle was tremendous, and in fact, to me set the bar about what he can bring every single night. He was a force tonight and was elevated back to the Matt Moulson-Mikko Koivu line because of it.
But Yeo has given tons of rope to veterans, especially Brodziak. Tonight, Brodziak was on the ice for all three goals, losing the faceoff on Detroit’s first power-play goal and turning it over before Detroit’s second.
We can all accept that despite the glorious chances Brodziak gets almost nightly that he is not a scorer. But if you’re not going to score, you certainly can’t be costing goals. His turnover in Boston three games ago led to the Bruins’ winner in that game.
Dany Heatley, one game after being a minus-2 in New Jersey, had one shot and was a non-factor.
The Wild needs more from those guys.
The Wild’s penalty kill is killing them lately. Yeo even volunteered that the penalty kill is 68 percent over this stretch. Can’t win games like that, not when you’re as offensively-challenged as the Wild continues to be.
The common theme is not winning draws and not getting clears when they get the puck. Yeo said that needs to stop.
I thought the power play looked much better today. Mikko Koivu was even shooting the puck for a change and scored a goal. Unfortunately for them, they couldn’t score on the last one, but it definitely had a different look and feel on the man advantage than it did in recent games.
Kuemper has given up three or more goals in four of his past six starts. In one of those other two, he blew a 2-0 shootout lead. Hopefully he’s not cracking here (there have been some stoppable goals allowed lately, like those goals in the Edmonton game, the first goal in Boston, arguably the third tonight), because again, the Wild doesn’t score enough to absorb average goaltending.
Anyway, big game Sunday in Detroit. The Wild needs to rebound, to get some W’s. But they’re going into a building where Detroit is 8-0-2 in the past 10 games since Jan. 20.
Yeo reminded again, that this is a team that doesn’t want to just eke into the playoffs, they want to do damage once they’re there.
“We’re in a different spot, we’re a different team, we’re a confident team, and we feel good where we’re going,” he said. “We just have to jumpstart things.”
Dallas is six points back now.