Happy Hockey Day Minnesota everybody.
Wild and the Minnesota’s former NHL team, the Dallas Stars, will face off tonight at 8 p.m. at the X. That’s also known as a deadline nightmare on a Saturday night! This is the first of a home-and-home that ends in Dallas on Tuesday. Dallas is eight points behind the Wild is 10th place.
Darcy Kuemper (3-2 with a 2.17 goals-against average and .917 save percentage) will make his fourth consecutive start and it’ll come against Kari Lehtonen (17-13-7 with a 2.64 goals-against average and .916 save percentage). Banged-up Ray Whitney and Sergei Gonchar will both play for Dallas.
The Wild is 6-2 this month, the Stars are 1-7. I was just chatting with Stars coach Lindy Ruff and he said it started with a flu bug and has just compounded from there. It’s now a matter of rediscovering their game, which is difficult in a compressed schedule where there are limited practices (because of the condensed schedule AND the new four mandatory days off per month) and you don’t know how hard to push a team when there happens to be a practice.
Sound familiar? Ruff voiced the words of almost every coach I’ve spoken to lately, so you can see, it’s not just Mike Yeo who talks about the difficulty of coaching right now.
Here’s one for ya: The other night, Edmonton played in Dallas and had a planned day off in Minnesota the next day. But, instead of getting a good night sleep in Dallas and flying to St. Paul in the morning, the Oilers were forced to fly immediately after the game to Minnesota so the schedule day off would actually count as one of the mandatory days off. In other words, a chartered flight with incredible food and first-class seats would have counted as a working day if the Oilers had flown in on the off-day.
Same lineup tonight for the Wild, meaning Mike Rupp is the lone scratch for the ninth straight game and 17th time in the past 20. I say “lone” because defenseman Jon Blum was, likely temporarily, reassigned.
Blum wasn’t playing tonight and with a scheduled day off Sunday, the Wild sent him to Iowa to play this afternoon. With Jared Spurgeon’s return still off in the distance, I’d assume Blum gets recalled again next week because the Wild would probably want to bring an extra defenseman on the four-game trip to San Jose, Anaheim, Denver and Calgary.
Zach Parise skated again today and said he thinks he’ll ramp it up in Monday’s practice and begin bumping and being more involved in game-like situations in practice. He’ll miss his 13th game tonight and won’t play in Dallas on Tuesday, so the soonest he could come back is Thursday against Chicago. We’ll see if that’s pushing it, but if he does start practicing fully Monday, that would give him Monday and Wednesday practices.
I’m not sure if that’s enough though. My gut says he’ll be back Thursday or in Saturday’s game at San Jose. He did tell me he plans on going on the four-game road trip.
Spurgeon skated on his own for the first time today.
The big question right now is what’s going to happen with the Wild’s goalie situation.
Kuemper starts tonight. It sounds like the Wild really would want Josh Harding to eventually agree to go to Iowa on a conditioning stint. The team has been vague.
Harding has practiced all week and looks good.
Yeo said the team will “keep going day to day and figure out how he’s feeling. He’s making progress and he looks good and I’m kind of waiting for a final word or a little bit more information as far as what I’m told from the trainers and the doctors and when he can progress from there.”
On Iowa, Yeo said, “I don’t know. It depends on what we need and what we really determine he needs.”
I asked Yeo if the Wild could conceivably have three goalies on its 23-man roster if Kuemper keeps winning.
Yeo said, “If he keeps winning games, we’re not going to send him down. I can’t see why we would do that. These things always have a way of sorting themselves out. We can’t start looking too far ahead.”
I keep getting questions if the Wild may trade Backstrom. First off, with two more years left on his deal, I’m not sure the team could. Secondly, I don’t know how if you’re Chuck Fletcher you can risk trading Backstrom with Harding’s health situation so uncertain.
So my guess is the Wild will just have to ride this out for a bit. If the Wild’s three goalies keep winning games, it’s not a big deal at all. Remember, Backstrom has won three of four with maybe his best outing in a few seasons two starts ago at Phoenix.
That’s it for now. I’ll be on Fox Sports North around 12:30 p.m.