Sidney Crosby just gets it.
Like few other superstars in the NHL, the Penguins star understands his role as an NHL spokesman. He’ll sit at his stall after practices and morning skates and games and just talk and talk and talk to the media.
This morning was a great example. I moseyed on into the Penguins’ room after Crosby had conducted his big scrum. I asked the Pens PR guy if I could still grab Crosby to ask him about J.P. Parise. As I strolled over to his locker, Crosby was having a conversation with Brian Engblom. Soon, Dave Strader came over and the three of them were talking for several minutes.
During that time, I shot the breeze with former Wild Andrew Ebbett and Minneapolis resident Taylor Chorney.
I finally tiptoed back to Crosby and began chatting with him about J.P. and one of his favorite people, Mike Yeo, for about 10 or 15 minutes.
By the time we were done, I turned around and was stunned to realize the doors were closed and there was not one person in the room besides Crosby and I during the entire interview. I looked at the clock and it was 11:30 a.m., the start time for the Wild’s skate. So 35 minutes after Crosby had left the ice, he was still talking to the media, still wearing his gear.
That really says something right there about Crosby.
I’ll write my game notebook in tomorrow’s paper on Crosby’s thoughts on J.P. Parise and J.P.’s influence on Crosby when he played at Shattuck-St. Mary’s. Crosby told me almost every day off from school or practice, he would go to the home of Donna and J.P. Parise for a home-cooked meal with Zach.
I’ll also write my game notebook in tomorrow’s paper on Crosby’s thoughts on Wild coach Mike Yeo and how much influence Yeo had on his career as a longtime Pens assistant. He’s obviously rooting for Yeo right now to survive this adversity. I'll have all the quotes in tomorrow's paper, but a taste:
“I’m sure they’ll find a way to get themselves out of this,” Crosby said. “They’ve got a good team. You look at their team, the depth that they have, we all go through that where it doesn’t matter what you do, it seems like the puck’s in your net. It’s just a matter of fighting to get out of it. But Mike is always good in those situations. When things got tough here and we went through adversity and tough times, Mike was a big reason why we got out of it.”
The Penguins have lost six of nine (3-5-1) and have scored two or fewer goals in six of its past seven games. Crosby has 12 goals and says he just has to start burying pucks, that the chances are there. The Wild is winless in five, has lost 11 of 13 and 16 of 23.
Please give my midseason report a read on startribune.com/wild, as well as Chip Scoggins' column.
Marc-Andre Fleury, who is 21-7-4 this season with a 2.16 goals-against average, .926 save percentage and six shutouts, gets the start. He is 0-5 all-time vs. the Wild with a 3.76 goals-against average and .853 save percentage.
Niklas Backstrom, winless since Dec. 13, will make his fourth consecutive start. He has allowed 24 goals in his past seven starts and was in net when the Wild was destroyed in Pittsburgh last season. In fact, if you remember, Backstrom got the starts on all three games in that road trip because that was when Josh Harding had to have what was thought to be a “minor adjustment” of his treatment for multiple sclerosis.
ALSO, if you remember, Backstrom had to start back-to-back in New York and Philly on that trip because Darcy Kuemper, who was supposed to be recalled to start the game in Philly, got hurt in his last Iowa start preceding the anticipated callup. You honestly can’t make up the Wild’s goalie instability from a health perspective the past three years, not just in Minnesota, but Iowa.
Vanek-Haula-Fontaine (theoretically could be the second line)
Winger Jordan Schroeder and defenseman Jon Blum, on for the first two goals in Chicago, are scratched.
Yeo just continues to have to rotate amongst these same three third-pair guys with Marco Scandella and Keith Ballard hurt and the Wild having yet to make a long-anticipated move for a defenseman.
Why is Schroeder out for a second straight game after registering seven shots in the home meeting against Chicago?
Great question. I asked Yeo. Agree or disagree, here’s his rationale: “Going with the group that we think can give us the type of game that we need tonight. If we come in here thinking that we’re just going to go out and trade chance for chance and go out and drop our sticks down and try to score more goals than this team, we’re going to get killed. So we’re going with guys who understand the system, guys who have the ability to play well defensively and give them a chance to respond.”
Yeo said both Marco Scandella and Kuemper are feeling better and both guys were to hit the ice today. He said he didn’t have an answer if they’d fly to Buffalo for Wednesday’s practice, but he also said it’s doubtful and would be rushing it because neither guy has been on the ice.
More than likely, if today’s skate goes well, they’ll skate on their own Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and perhaps join the team for the pregame skate Saturday. The Wild most like will cancel practice Friday for the rest of the team because the team plans to attend J.P. Parise’s visitation and service.
The Wild had one of its CBA-mandated days off (four a month) yesterday. Yeo said besides some one-on-one meetings that he didn’t want to elaborate on, he purposely left the team alone to decompress and clear heads yesterday.
He said with the day off, it took a little time in the morning skate for the execution to get to where it needs to be, but “I think the guys’ heads are in the right place, and that’s the most important thing right now.”
Yeo has said this a lot lately, mentioning how players need to stop feeling sorry for themselves and come to the rink with a good attitude. You got a little taste of the glum attitudes after the loss in Chicago when some of the quotes from the Wild’s leaders were melancholy.
“It’s difficult not to feel those things and not to be frustrated and disappointed. I mean, that’s human nature, let’s face it,” Yeo said. “But that’s the challenge that we face. We have to understand how we’re going to get out of this.”
He said most importantly is work ethic and earning victories.
“Secondly, we have to pick up our defensive game,” Yeo said. “We’ve got the system to do it and the breakdowns and the mistakes that we’re making, these are not system errors or tactical errors. These are a focus or a total commitment that we need to get back to.”
Wild has had a lot of low energy games lately. Prior to the game in Chicago and after the Nashville game in which a couple Predators players told me how stunned they were that the Wild became so unenergetic after a great first period, I asked Yeo about this. He said that as much as it’s on the shoulders of the leaders to help the team gain energy, he singled out the fourth line of Matt Cooke, Kyle Brodziak and Ryan Carter for having to do a better job.
Yeo talked to the line and felt the trio did a much better job in Chicago bringing energy, momentum, offensive-zone shifts and chances. Cooke, out from Oct. 28-Dec. 20, scored his first goal (the Wild’s lone goal) since helping the Wild rally in the third period to beat Boston on Oct. 28.
“I thought that was probably Cookie’s best game that I’ve seen him play since coming off the [hip] injury,” Yeo said.
He wants that line and Cooke to continue to play in straight lines and physical and be momentum-turners and play well defensively.