Afternoon from icy Edmonton, where I've been slip-sliding around town all day.
I've never been a good skier, but I went sliding down the Rexall Place loading dock this morning in my boat shoes. It was quite the scene, man. I nearly broke my kneecap, and frankly, if I didn't fall on the bottom, there's a good chance I would have wound up in the Zamboni entrance.
Niklas Backstrom returns to the cage tonight for the Wild, which moved from No. 2 to No. 1 in the West last night despite being idle because of Chicago's loss. A win tonight over Edmonton, and the Wild would regain the top spot in the NHL.
Colton Gillies, one game after being scratched against the Lightning, returns to his fourth-line left wing position and Casey Wellman will be scratched.
"Just a bigger body and physical presence," coach Mike Yeo said of reinserting Gillies. "He's done a good job for us and as you know, I like to give guys a chance to respond. Casey did a good job last game. I thought their line was good, but Colton's been with us the whole season, and since he's come out for one game, I'd like to give him a chance to get back in there and see what he does."
A big storyline tonight will be Brad Staubitz vs. Darcy Hordichuk, and whether there will be any fireworks after last week's clashes during Edmonton's 5-2 win at Minnesota. If you don't remember what happened, here's my story from that night with some decent Hordichuk quotes.
You know how this works with big buildups. Usually nothing happens or very little transpires. My guess is tonight, Hordichuk challenges him on their first shift to let all the fans see (I know him well), Staubitz accepts, they fight and it's over with and onward with the game. It's not like the Hordichuk/Staubitz storyline will be the dominant theme of the evening.
I talked to Hordichuk this morning, and, with a wink, "I won't read the future. I guess we'll find out tonight. We'll see what happens. It's definitely in the back of my mind, but I'm going to do what's right for the team."
As for Staubitz, who was baited into eight penalty minutes in the first period by Hordichuk the other night, Yeo said the coaching staff addressed it with Staubitz that he must be more disciplined tonight and not get goaded into dumb penalties again.
"We've talked. We've talked," Yeo said. "Whether it's a Staubitz or anyone else on our team, we're the ones that are in control. I thought for a couple games we got away from that. Whether it was [Staubitz] or it was the next game, squirting Iginla with a water bottle, you know, we don't do those things. That's things that other teams do to us."
As for Staubitz, Yeo said, "He should be the guy that other people are trying to fight, and I think for the most part he's done that this year. He's not a guy that's taking penalties and retaliating. He's a guy that's initiating and stirring things up and being real physical. ... It should be on his terms. If he thinks he needs to change the momentum, then change the momentum however you have to do it. But let's not lose any momentum by going out there and reacting to something they did. And he's done that for almost the whole year minus a couple games."
Those couple games were last week vs. Edmonton and in Vancouver.
As for tonight's game, Yeo talked about the other night and how good Edmonton was, but having said that, he said it was still a "50-50" game until the third period and the Wild actually outchanced the Oilers.
"But that's what we have to change. We can't go into this game looking to trade chance for chance with this team. They're too skilled. They've got too many weapons out there. We have to go into this game with a real purpose in how we're going to play the game as far as limiting their scoring chance, being tough to play against defensively, physically, and offensively making sure we're doing the right things on the attack, making sure we're controlling the puck, possessing the puck and making sure we're a frustrating team to play against."
Basically, the Wild needs to get back to its 1-4 forecheck. Just a joke, just a joke.
This is the first of six of seven on the road and 20 of the next 29, so this will be a huge stretch for the Wild where it'll have to manage practice time and rest and all that good stuff.
OK, that's it for me. I'll talk to you afterward and on Twitter tonight at www.twitter.com/russostrib.