Wild coach Mike Yeo completed his pregame availability about 30 minutes ago and he explained his reasoning for coming back with Darcy Kuemper.
Kuemper enters tonight's game with two wins in his past eight starts and has allowed three or more goals in five of his past seven.
“Good goalies have games when they’re not at their best, they have stretches when they’re not at their best, but good goalies find a way to bounce back, find a way to get on top of their game,” Yeo said. “That’s his challenge. This is as important to his development as a player as it is to our team.”
That’s because not only does the Wild have to figure out if Kuemper’s got the ability to be its No. 1 goalie next season, it’s got to figure out if he has got what it takes to be ridden during the playoffs.
“Coming in against a team like St. Louis, in their building, coming off the heels of a tough game, these are the kind of emotions and things that can get in your head that you have to deal with [in the postseason],” Yeo said. “For a goalie to be successful in the playoffs, they have to be able to deal with that stuff.
“He’s shown that he has the mental makeup.”
He said this is another opportunity to prove it. He said hopefully that's tonight, but he did make clear this is not some precondition that he must win tonight or else.
Yeo said the Wild has full faith in Kuemper because of the way he helped rescue its season when Josh Harding and Niklas Backstrom were sidelined.
“If it was lightning in a bottle the way he was playing earlier, than we’d be scared,” Yeo said. “But we know that he’s going to get back to that level.”
Yeo said the Wild allowed Kuemper’s average game against Vancouver to “become the story” because of the way it played the game defensively.
“The biggest thing with our group right now is to find consistency in our game,” said Yeo, contrasting the strong game the Wild played Sunday in Detroit with Wednesday’s 5-2 home loss. “We didn’t have the right mindset to play that game. Let’s play the right game in front of our goalie.”
Dany Heatley, once a feared goal scorer, enters tonight's game with four shots in the past 10 games, no goals since Feb. 27 and 12 in 73 games. He is minus-5 in the past four games playing a third- and fourth-line role and a team-worst minus-16.
Yeo wants more from Heatley and said even if he’s not scoring, he’s a big body that can finish checks, be strong on the puck and solid defensively.
Heatley hasn’t yet scratched the proud veteran, but it could be coming if his play doesn’t improve.
“What I’ll say is he’s in the lineup tonight,” said Yeo, adding when I asked if he'll treat him like the rookies Justin Fontaine and Erik Haula and pull him, “We’ll treat everybody the same. The team always comes first. I'm excited to see his game tonight."
Yeo said Heatley isn't the only underperforming player: "We have some guys that have to establish themselves in their place in our lineup and we’ll be a much better team for it when that happens."
--I asked Yeo again about his "arrogance" comment last night.
"I want us to come into games with a swagger," he said. Like tonight, he says any good hockey team would come into a game like tonight at St. Louis and not wait to see what St. Louis brings, not be afraid. "We have to have that.
"But there's a difference between swagger and sort of that idea, 'We’re really good, we can just go out and play the way we want to play and it’s going to happen for us.' We have to remember how hard it is, what it takes and we have to be willing to do it."
So, in other words, there was a way he wanted last game started. He wanted pucks deep and to go to work on Vancouver's D like the Wild did in Detroit. Instead, when the Wild play at home lately, it has a tendency to try to make all these fancy, risky plays, whether it be too much passing or carrying pucks into the zone and turning them over for odd-man rushes. There's a process to winning a game, a gameplan, and he wants it followed.