Wild captain Mikko Koivu skated this morning and the anticipation is he’ll be able to play tonight when the Wild visits the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Afternoon from the Bay area of Florida, where the Wild looks to extend its win streak to five games and hand the Lightning a third straight loss for the first time this season. Minnesota beat Tampa Bay 7-2 at home last month, but coach Mike Yeo said the team can’t hang its head on that. Yeo reminded that the Lightning was banged up and tired at the end of a five-game trip. Also, Evgeni Nabokov started and was awful.
Lightning players this morning over and over said they were “embarrassed” by the beat down from the Wild last month and wants to make amends, especially coupled with the fact they’re in their first losing streak of the season and by consecutive 5-2 defeats at the Islanders and Maple Leafs.
So Yeo expects, like Philadelphia on Thursday, a very motivated opponent tonight and a very good one. No team in the league has more goals than the Lightning’s 75, so Tampa Bay is far from a one-trick pony with Steven Stamkos. The Wild does catch the Lightning for a second time without top defenseman Victor Hedman though.
As for Koivu, Yeo is expecting him to play and “we’ll need him. We’ll need him. Good test tonight not only playing a top team in the east, but a top team in the league.”
The Wild silenced Stamkos in Minnesota, but the Lightning has last change tonight.
“We’ll do what we can to try to get matchups,” Yeo said. On Stamkos, Yeo said, “You can’t defend that guy with one guy or two guys. It’s going to have to be a five-man unit, always an awareness of when he’s on the ice and always making sure you’re doing the right things with and without the puck, and it’s not enough to do them well, you have to do them really well. But it’s not just [Stamkos on the Lightning].”
Koivu missed the final 18:50 of the third period in Philly.
He said it’s probably some flu or virus. At first, he was worried it was the mumps.
“You think about it when it goes around,” Koivu said. “You know it’s an option, but the symptoms were different. After the game, the next morning, they said it’s something else. So it shouldn’t be that one.”
The pattern though with the previous guys is illness, feeling better and then swollen glands a few days later, so Koivu doesn't sound completely confident he's out of the woods. His plan is to play tonight, but he didn’t want to say for sure until he got some lunch into him this afternoon and a nap.
If Koivu plays, Kyle Brodziak will play wing on the fourth line with Erik Haula and Ryan Carter. Koivu would center leading goal scorer Nino Niederreiter and Justin Fontaine and Mikael Granlund would be reunited with Zach Parise and Jason Pominville.
Stu Bickel would be the lone scratch.
Darcy Kuemper vs. Ben Bishop.
Koivu said the virus in Philly was “building up all day and just the first two [periods], I couldn’t recover.” He said when he came to the bench after that third-period turnover on the power play about a minute in, it was a decision they all made together to sit out the rest of the game.
On staying on the bench the rest of the game, Koivu said, “Usually you don’t do that. It was an awkward feeling. I probably should have just taken off, but you never know what happens in a game if someone else goes down.”
As you know by now, the Wild is having its father-son trip to Tampa Bay and Florida. There are dads, brothers and other mentors of players, coaches and staff.
The coolest part is trying to figure out which dads belong to which sons. For instance, you don’t need them wearing a jersey to figure out Steve Ballard is Keith Ballard’s dad: “You know how I’m going to turn out,” Keith said. Brent Kuemper has the exact same face as Darcy. Same expressions, same grin. I loved chatting with Scott Zucker, mostly because as you probably know by now I am a Vegasaholic. He is Director of Construction for Station Casinos, so not only is he in charge of 18 hotel/casinos, they have 30 or 40 other things they own. Fascinating job to say the least.
Here’s a picture of Brent chatting with his son’s goalie counterpart’s dad, Dick Backstrom today.
The Finn’s – Erik Haula and Mikael Granlund’s dads -- have been hanging out with … Matt Dumba’s dad, nonstop. No dad is funnier to shoot the breeze with than Tomi Haula.
Jamie Brunette, Andrew’s brother, sounds like and laughs like his bro.
This morning, coach Mike Yeo had all the mentors into the team’s pregame video session with the players.
“We wanted it to be as inclusive as possible so they get a good feel what we go through,” Yeo said, “but at the same time there’s a time today where we have to turn the switch” and concentrate on prepping for game.
Yeo said, laughing, that all the dads and mentors were “pretty quiet. I felt like a school teacher. I asked a couple questions and nobody wanted to talk and a couple guys started to put up their hands and their sons started to grab their arms and push them down.”
Andrew Brunette, who’s in charge of the power play, said jokingly it was a good thing Yeo didn’t bring up the power play during the morning meeting (PK and PP meetings come after the players arrive to the rink before the game) because “there would be lots of opinions, I’m sure.”
I’ll have some funny stories in tomorrow’s paper, like when Chris Prosser – Nate’s dad – took a couple funny shots at his son during an interview and how Dan Hendrickson – Darby’s brother – let me know that in 1993, the player taken right ahead of Andrew Brunette in the seventh round was … Dan Hendrickson.
Yep, the Washington Capitals had back-to-back picks and took Dan Hendrickson 173rd and Andrew Brunette 174th.
“I like to look at it as we had a great career -- we played 1,100 NHL games combined,” Hendrickson, a former Gopher, quipped.
The joke being of course that Brunette played all the games. Hendrickson was the faster skater though. :)
“I’m still Darby’s brother, but I was one pick in front of Bruno,” Dan Hendrickson said.
Talk about karma though that years later, Darby Hendrickson and Andrew Brunette would become longtime teammates, buddies and now coaches on the same staff. Brunette has become very close with the entire Hendrickson family, going camping and fishing with them, helping their dad coach at Benilde-St. Margaret’s during the 2004-05 lockout and even skating on Dan’s roller hockey team at times and his pond hockey team.
I also talked to Paul Yeo, Mike Yeo’s brother, who is four years older and has a lot more hair. Here's Paul Yeo, Jamie Brunette and Dan Hendrickson shooting the breeze.
As you can imagine, big bro is very proud of little bro.
I remember talking to Paul on the phone after Mike was hired in 2011. Mike Yeo may still be the youngest coach in the league, but he’s in his fourth season behind the Wild bench.
“Like anything, the more experience you get, the better you are, the more confident you get,” Paul Yeo said. “He’s always learning.”
I talked to Paul about the turmoil his brother fought through last winter and you can read that in tomorrow’s paper.
Josh Harding is expected to start next weekend for Iowa. He backed up last night, but with three games in three nights, Johan Gustafsson is expected to start tonight and John Curry will be recalled to start tomorrow for Iowa. Just too soon to throw Harding in as a starter.
That’s it for me. Talk tonight.