With Keith Ballard still recovering from taking a puck in the face a week ago, Wild coach Mike Yeo said his absence would open up opportunities for other defensemen. Nate Prosser will be the beneficiary tonight against Nashville, when he will be in the lineup for only the second time this season.
Prosser was paired with Clayton Stoner at the Wild's morning skate Tuesday and is excited to get back in. Yeo said the Wild's difficulties on the penalty kill--which has allowed at least one goal in eight of nine games this season--played into the switch. He also appreciates Prosser's professional approach to his situation.
"He's worked his tail off, and he's come to the rink with a good attitude,'' Yeo said. "We told him he needed to have some patience in the early part of this year, and he's done everything we've asked. But the reason for getting him in is more than that. We need help with our penalty kill. We're playing a team that the way they attack the net, we're going to have to have some guys who are ready to compete and battle around that area, and he provides that.''
Prosser's only appearance this season was on Oct.15 at Toronto, when he played 13 minutes, 41 seconds. He said he has concentrated on controlling the things he can control and not worrying about the rest.
"I'm ready to go, and I'm pretty pumped up,'' he said. "I've been working hard in practice and in the weight room to prepare for this moment. I've kind of had to wait for my number to be called. Now it is tonight, so I want to be ready to do what I can to help the team win, whether that's blocking shots or being good on the penalty kill or making a good first pass. I've just got to make sure I'm sharp and make the simple plays.''
With Prosser in, Matt Dumba will watch from the press box. Yeo has given him a to-do list while he's there. Dumba will be expected to view the game with an analyst's eye, taking mental notes on what the defensemen are doing and looking for things he might incorporate into his own game.
Yeo lauded Dumba for maintaining a consistent level of play, even as the pace of the league has picked up through the early weeks of the season. Dumba said he's comfortable on the ice, but not content.
"I never want to be comfortable here,'' he said. "Right now, I know I'm in a different situation than most guys. I've got to come to the rink every day and be at my best. I have to challenge myself every day to get better, to do whatever it takes to stay in the lineup.''
Josh Harding will be in goal for the Wild tonight, and the lines will be the same as they were before they were mixed up for the loss in Florida: Parise-Koivu-Niederreiter, Heatley-Granlund-Pominville, Cooke-Brodziak-Fontaine, Veilleux-Konopka-Mitchell.
Injured center Charlie Coyle, recovering from a strained knee, skated by himself before the morning skate.
Former Wild center and Virginia native Matt Cullen, who signed last summer with Nashville, said it felt strange to walk past the home locker room when the team arrived Monday at Xcel. His place in the Predators' lineup, though, feels great. Cullen is playing between Gabriel Bourque and Craig Smith, a pair of third-year players who have developed some nice chemistry with the veteran on the second line.
As he did with the Wild, Cullen is mentoring his young linemates, much to the delight of coach Barry Trotz. "He's a veteran player who prepares well, a real good pro on and off the ice,'' Trotz said. "Young guys feed off of that. They learn from those guys. He's good at communicating with them. That line for us has been a good line.
"(Cullen) has been playing in every situation. On the power play, he's had a regular shift, and he's killing some penalties. I think he was a little snakebit the first four or five games; he was getting glorious chances, and nothing was going in. They've started to go in for him. He's been a real good fit for us.''
Cullen visited with some friends yesterday and will have some friends and family coming to Tuesday's game--though not everyone. "I think a lot of people are sick of watching me play,'' he said, laughing. "They’ve seen me enough. They'll stay home and watch on TV.
"To be on the ice here in this building, on the other bench, will be a strange feeling. It'll be fun. I was looking forward to getting back here. I just love playing here. I have great memories here.''