Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.
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Good afternoon from very snowy Washington, where the Wild faces the Capitals tonight at 6 p.m. CT. Love coming to D.C. Almost every trip, I try to do some sort of sightseeing.
Last year, it was the Newsium and Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Yesterday, an Air Force Major from Mendota Heights emailed me and graciously offered a private tour of the U.S. Capitol. I took the TV broadcasters and my colleague from across the river, and it was a great behind-the-scenes look. I saw a couple "celebrity" politicians and got a peek at the Congressional Black Caucus conducting a press conference, which was real neat. Also, I infiltrated a couple offices and wrote some policy.
Braden Holtby vs. Devan Dubnyk, whom I wrote about in today’s paper. Interesting story about how a game early this season here in Washington helped turn his year around.
The big news of the day is Alex Ovechkin, who leads the NHL with 43 goals and is tied with teammate Nicklas Backstrom for the league-lead with 67 points, is questionable with a lower-body injury. He is a gametime decision, Caps coach Barry Trotz announced after their morning skate at their practice facility.
For the Caps update, here’s a pregame blog from Washington Post beat writer Alex Prewitt, a former Star Tribune intern extraordinaire.
Same Wild lineup tonight. Jared Spurgeon skated, but coach Mike Yeo said the Wild doesn’t want to risk him by playing back-to-back games (the Wild’s at Carolina tomorrow night). He said Spurgeon is a possibility for tomorrow, although my guess is a lot will have to do with tonight’s outcome. If the Wild wins and/or nobody gets hurt, Yeo probably won’t change the blue line, especially with the likely odd guy out playing well – Christian Folin.
Spurgeon will miss his seventh game since taking that Mark Giordano shot to the chin in Calgary on Feb. 18. He sustained what he says is his second career concussion.
“It’s tough. Not a lot of practice time, so you use these pregame skates like practices,” Spurgeon said. “But it’s tough because with what I had, you can’t do much, so you lose it pretty fast when guys are playing every other day.”
The schedule is so condensed right now, the Wild, like all teams, barely practices because of the necessity to use the off-days as recovery days.
For instance, Sean Bergenheim was acquired Feb. 24. On the off-days since, he gathered his stuff in Florida on the first off-day, and the Wild didn’t practice Friday, Sunday, yesterday and won’t on Saturday. The Wild’s only practice in the past week was Monday.
So to put that in perspective, when Bergenheim plays his sixth game Sunday against Colorado, he will have practiced once (excluding morning skates). How about this one? Jordan Leopold and Chris Stewart were acquired Monday. By the time Sunday comes around, he may play in their fourth Wild games with no practices.
It’s a good thing they’re all veterans, so they’ve deal with this stuff before. But just imagine how tough it must be to be traded this time of year, be immediately dropped into games and yet get no practices to get acclimated to teammates and systems, etc. That’s why it often takes awhile for teams to pick up right where they left off from a chemistry standpoint and why it takes new players a little while to get accustomed to their new surroundings.
Not to mention the fact these guys dropped everything in one city, moved to another and have to get their real lives in order.
Jordan Schroeder will be a healthy scratch for a second consecutive game.
Thomas Vanek, who didn’t seem to mesh with Mikko Koivu and Chris Stewart, will skate with Nino Niederreiter and Charlie Coyle and Sean Bergenheim will move up to the Koivu-Stewart line. That’s the way the lines finished in Tuesday’s shootout win over Ottawa, which did Minnesota a favor last night by beating Winnipeg.
That means a Wild win tonight, and it moves into the top wildcard spot. That would be quite the achievement since Minnesota was 14 back of Winnipeg coming out of the All-Star break Jan. 27. But that’s what a 14-2-1 record since the All-Star break accomplishes.
Nate Prosser is feeling better. He had a nasty case of food poisoning the other night. He went for his normal pregame lunch, had some chicken, immediately got sweaty and hot, thought he could sleep it off, took an hour-and-a-half nap and then all heck broke loose.
Prosser raced down to Xcel Energy Center to get some fluids and very descriptively told me he threw up 15 to 20 times “violently”, including the first intermission.
“I got lightheaded and dizzy and thought it probably was not good for me to get back out there,” said Prosser, a plus-10 his past 16 games (even or plus in every one of those). “I wanted to play. We only had five D, and just thought before the game I should try to help the guys out on the back and try to get in as many minutes as I can. But it came to the point I couldn’t play anymore.”
Prosser gave the Wild seven first-period shifts.
The Caps are good, especially at home. Their power play is second in the NHL, the Wild’s PK is second in the NHL and on a 47 for 48 hot streak since the All-Star break. The Wild’s power play is 1 for 17 the past nine games (1.9 power plays per game amazingly enough).
The Caps are sixth-best offensively and defensively. The Wild allows the fewest shots per game in the NHL.
A good start is imperative tonight. The Caps are 30-1-4 when scoring the first goal, 28-1-3 when leading after two, so Yeo said the Wild needs to “get on the hunt” tonight, be aggressive and not respect them too much.
Yeo said Marco Scandella’s injury isn’t considered serious and he’s only supposed to be out a week.
Yeo said the Wild hasn’t decided yet which goalie will start tomorrow in Raleigh. They’ll decide that after the game in concert with Dubnyk and goalie coach Bob Mason. If it’s Darcy Kuemper, it’ll be his first NHL start since Jan. 6 and appearance since Jan. 20.
“Especially early in the game, it’d be nice to give [Kuemper] a really good chance to settle into the game,” Yeo said IF Kuemper plays. He said practices are a “different intensity, a different feeling, so we’ll have to give him a chance to settle into the game.”
The Wild asked Jordan Leopold and his wife, Jamie, if 10-year-old daughter, Jordyn, who wrote the infamous “Letter” if she’d like to do the Let’s Play Hockey before Sunday’s game against the Avalanche.
Jordyn is pretty shy, so the Leopolds asked family friend Paul Allen, the KFAN morning host who made that letter go viral, if he would do it with her.
Allen was touched and honored and agreed.
The Wild has been inundated with dozens of national media requests to interview Jordyn and the Leopold family. Jordan said the family plans to do only one and has pretty much decided which national outlet they will sit down with.
That will be revealed soon, he said.
“We’re humble, private people, so this is tough,” he said.
“I am very old school as far as technology,” Leopold said. “Everybody had Blackberry’s and I still had the old [flip] phone. I’m not on social media, so I don’t even know what’s out there. People had to tell me.
“Quite honestly, I don’t know how big it really is because I’m not on Twitter, not on Facebook, not on all the sites. The only thing I see is what’s on your site and the TV. The response has been tremendous. My daughter has become somewhat of a folk hero or whatever you want to call it. She’s liking it. I asked her today how she’s feeling about it, and she said, ‘It’s good.’”
Leopold knows that if the Wild’s healthy, he’s probably going to be in and out of the lineup, but “whatever my role is here, I don’t care. I’m happy with it.”
“It’s funny, this is my hometown, but I played for the Gophers 13 years ago. I looked in the stands the other night and saw all these little kids and they have no idea who I am. But I think this is special for people who shared those experiences of the Gophers [national championships].
“This is home. This is where I always wanted to be. I can’t think of a better time to be here. Most likely I will end my career in this jersey. My family isn’t going to move again. It’s been fun so far. We have things to do as a team and goals to accomplish.”
Leopold isn’t saying he’s necessarily retiring after this year, but if the Wild doesn’t want to re-sign him after this season, he’s saying he’s probably not willing to sign anywhere else. All that will depend obviously on how he plays and what it has planned in terms of adding depth defensemen.
Some light reading for ya, and I'll be on KFAN at 4:30 p.m. and Fox Sports North tonight during the pregame show and first intermission.
Wild, 13-2-1 in its past 16, vs. the Ottawa Senators, winners of five straight including three on this road trip, tonight at Xcel Energy Center.
Chris Stewart and Jordan Leopold will make their Wild debuts and Sean Bergenheim his home debut.
Jordan Schroeder is the odd guy out tonight (and more on that in a few).
First the news:
Marco Scandella had, what coach Mike Yeo called, a setback and will be out at least a week. I’m hearing he has an oblique issue.
Jared Spurgeon skated today, looked good and Yeo said is a possibility for Thursday’s game at Washington. However, there’s no practice Wednesday, so maybe that’s a stretch.
Ryan Carter (upper body) skated for the first time today. Matt Cooke has been skating for a week. Both skating by themselves and are still a way’s off. Jason Zucker continues to work out off the ice and was in the shooter tutor ripping pucks today.
Also, Matt Dumba and Schroeder are definitely here the rest of the year. The Wild made a paper reassignment and recall yesterday that will allow Christian Folin to be sent to Iowa if it turns out he’s a healthy scratch for an extended period again. Players had to be on Iowa’s roster yesterday in order to play there again this season.
Teams get four non-emergency recalls after the trade deadline and this was one of them.
Devan Dubnyk will make his 21st straight start, setting a Wild record.
As I guessed on last night’s blog, my gut said Schroeder would be the odd guy out. It’s a shame because he has been playing so well, but the fourth line has been solid the past two games and all three are penalty killers partially responsible for the Wild’s 43 for 44 post-All-Star break 16-game run. And if Schroeder comes out, it leads to the most minimal disruption of the other lines.
“It was going to be a tough decision no matter who we took out of the lineup tonight,” Yeo said. “Obviously, you trade for a guy like Stewy, we’re going to put him in and that takes somebody out of the lineup, so it was going to be a tough decision one way or the other. It kind of came down to the fact that Schroeds doesn’t have a penalty-kill role, doesn’t have a power-play role right now. But things could change here in the near future. When it comes to the group, there’s always challenges when you add a couple new players and getting to the chemistry right off the hop.”
On the Vanek-Koivu-Stewart line, Yeo said he will be watching to make sure they have enough speed in tonight’s game. Stewart can skate well, but he is gigantic, so we will see his speed tonight.
Yeo said on that line, “We know with the Granlund line, there’s a lot of chemistry there, we’ve seen the way that the Brodziak line has been playing the last couple games for us. And Nino and Charlie have some real chemistry together. We feel that Bergy can be a real complement to that line in terms of his north-south mentality and being a guy that plays kind of a big game and a hard game along the boards. And he should be a tough guy to play against. We put three skilled players together as far as Thomas and Mikko, we know that both those guys have the ability to create and Stewy is a big body who’s going to go to the net and hopefully go retrieve a lot of pucks and be strong down low in the offensive zone. There’s no magic formula where you can just punch in a program and come out with the perfect combination. We have to try some things and see how it works out.”
I did grab Schroeder and he’s obviously disappointed. He has three goals and four assists in his past 11 games and is plus-8 in that stretch.
“Mike told me to keep my head up,” Schroeder said. “It’s obviously a difficult decision. That’s part of the business, that’s part of the game. Am I disappointed? Yeah. Who wouldn’t be? Everyone wants to play and contribute and I thought I’ve been doing a great job of just coming in here and making plays and using my speed. Next time I get in the lineup, I’ll be determined to prove to them that I need to stay in the lineup. That’s all you can do, be ready for the next time you get slotted in. It stinks, but that’s life. Sometimes you’ve got to take a few punches to make it. I’ve been through this before. Just keep my head up and keep working hard.”
Yeo said the one benefit of adding Stewart is “people probably looked at our team and we’ve felt it in games, I’ve seen it many times where teams think they’ve got an edge on us physically and they try to impose that in the game. Our team is tough in a much different sense than most people think. We respond well in those games, our guys continue to go to the hard areas, we win a lot of battles, but we’re not necessarily a physically imposing team in a lot of ways. I think Stewy changes a lot of that identity. I think just adding one player like that, all of a sudden you start to look like a big team. You look at some of the big bodies that we have out there, in this day and age, I think it’s how you play the game that’s most important. And if we play a big game, that could change that identity quickly. It’s going to take a little bit of time to figure it out, but we can’t allow for it to take too much time.”
At some point, Carter, Cooke and Zucker will be back, too. That means more difficult decisions.
“That’s what we have to deal with,” Yeo said. “We have one extra forward right now and arguably sitting a guy that played some really good hockey lately, and that’s not easy. We’ve got a couple guys that are on the mend that are not too far away. Things change quickly. We’ve got three games in four days right now and these types of things play out. We’re not looking too far ahead.”
Jordan Leopold addressed the media for the first time today.
He is very excited.
“This is home to me and this is pretty special,” the former Gopher said. “I got the phone call yesterday from Jarmo [Kekalainen] and didn’t know what to make of it. I’ve always dreamed of it and knew it was possible, but the fact that it becomes reality tonight is something special.”
On putting on the jersey tonight, Leopold said, “It will be pretty nuts, I anticipate there will be quite a lot of friends and family in the crowd. I heard from a lot of people yesterday, I turned my phone off for about 10 minutes and got about 150 texts. Anybody that knows me and has my number has contacted me, but it’s been great. The thing with my daughter writing the letter, it’s been a humbling experience.”
On that letter (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, please look at the story in the paper and the past two blogs) written by actually his 10-year-old daughter (not 11), Jordyn, Leopold said, “That letter was written by my daughter back in January. With anybody that has kids, you know they take things upon themselves sometimes. She was writing a little bit persuasively at school and thought it was a good idea to write a persuasive letter. That was something our family shared, ended up putting it on Facebook. Friends and family saw it and some other wives through the years that can relate to it, it definitely has some sentiment. I actually told my wife maybe she should take that off before deadline, but it ended up staying on and going out there. A local friend who is on the radio (Paul Allen) ended up getting it from my wife and made it public just before the deadline. It is what it is, it’s a good story and I’m happy the media spun it the right way because really, in the end, this business is hard on families. It really is. Myself, with the experiences I’ve had over the years, it’s been crazy. But I woke up this morning and Carson Daly is reading the letter on the Today Show, and we’ve been contacted by everyone to get my daughter on TV. We’re quite humble people, the fame or whatever you call it, we don’t want it to get to their heads, but it’s nice. But like I said, there are many teammates that have reached out and said it was a good thing. I think the hockey community sees it that way as well. It has definitely been an interesting 24 hours.”
Asked how Jordyn reacted, Leopold, getting emotional, said, “My daughter is very shy. But my kids picked me up at the airport last night with open arms and it was special. I try not to get emotional, but it is. It’s a good thing.”
On what it will be like tonight, Leopold said, “As most people know, I won a national championship for the hometown team. Those days in this building are very special and they meant a great deal to me and my family. Anyone associated with Minnesota hockey has been excited about this story, and also the fact that my family has always wanted me to come home, and it’s time. Here I am. It’s going to be an emotional first five minutes, I can tell you that. But after that, it’s playing hockey again and doing what I grew up loving to do.”
He said it’s been an emotional 24 hours: “I didn’t think the letter was going to go viral, but it did. It’s something that I never asked for, all the attention but... my daughter doesn’t know what to think. … She’s pretty shy. Like anyone who has kids (knows), your kids can say some pretty funny things and do some pretty funny things.”
Leopold has been traded eight times. On yesterday, he said, “As a player going through it, you kind of joke around any time you get a phone call on deadline day even if it’s your dad or your mom or whatever it may be. Anything is possible. I’ve been traded four times on deadline. It’s never a comfortable feeling, you know it’s in the back of your mind. The good thing is I’ve been able to adapt pretty well to wherever I’ve been moved. That’s probably part of the reason I’ve been traded so many times. I’d like to look at that as a positive. People want you and feel you can fit in and help the team and that’s why I’m here.
“This team is hot right now. I’ve always followed the Wild. It doesn’t matter. They’re my hometown team, I can relate to the people, I want to see success at home and it’s good for the community. To have the opportunity to come back home is quite neat. We’ve just got to keep this thing on a roll. When you win hockey games and put streaks together, you know every night that when you come to the rink you’ve got a good chance of winning. That’s a good feeling.
On how tough this has been for his family living in Columbus, he said, “It’s not one of those things that people really see. The kids do suffer. Our wives definitely live a tough life at times. We aren’t asking for any sympathy. I can tell you that. It comes with the territory and we signed up for this. I chose to have kids at a young age. My career is not going to last forever. There’s more important things than hockey and the kids rank up there.”
On how tough it was in Columbus: “There were some discussions with management. Not a lot. But there was a time when we had 9 D men active on the roster and I was the ninth D man. I knew I was either going to get waived or traded at some point in time. But they were very respectful. I owe it to them for being respectful. They did the right thing and now I get an opportunity at home.”
By the way, Stewart called Leopold yesterday and started singing the Peaches and Herbs song, “Reunited.”
Stewart joked this is the third time he has played with Leopold: “I can’t shake him.”
He said, “I'm just happy this is over with, and I'm here now, excited to be a part of this team. I'm looking forward to the future and having a great run here. It's kind of still surreal. It's been a long 24 hours, but finally got in here last night and got a good night's rest. I think once the puck drops and all that's complete, the easiest thing is just playing hockey.”
On coming to a playoff contender, he said, “It's great. It's a dream come true. Last year, I was on the exact reverse situation. I went from St. Louis to Buffalo, who was dead last at the time. I wasn't too happy about that. So to be in the opposite shoes this time around, it's definitely a good feeling.”
On playing in the West again, he said, “I just think, me personally, it's a lot more physical brand of hockey. The East, I think it's a lot more high-offensive, run-and-gun, and a little bit looser defensively. I think going up against some of the bigger teams in the Western Conference will probably bring a lot more out of me.
“The way the team is set up and knowing the players in the room, I think my job's pretty simple. They've got the high-end skill guys here who can put the puck in the net. I think for me, I've just got to come in and bring that physical and that power element. When you're only worried about one or two or three things a game, it's really easier to play.”
Zach Parise talked about the trades, saying, “It sends a good message to us, that they’ve done it the last couple of years now. They’ve gone out at the deadline and got players. It just means that they believe in us, you know? They believe in what we’re doing. They think that just a little boost can help us even more.”
Asked how they incorporate Stewart into a team that’s running well, Parise said, “It’s never a problem. When you bring in guys, they want to come in and contribute. They know how we’ve been playing lately, and they want to contribute and they want to be a part of it. And these guys are no different than that. They want to help out in any way that they can. So to me, the chemistry thing is never going to be an issue.”
The Wild has made two moves prior to the deadline, and one came out of the blue because the price dropped dramatically.
Buffalo Sabres GM Tim Murray, who had been trying to trade Chris Stewart all year long for a huge return, may have overreached at the end. The Wild was able to snag the power forward for a 2017 second-round pick. The Sabres are also picking up half the $465,000 still owed to the free-agent-to-be.
Stewart is a gamble because his commitment, fitness, defensive reliability and work ethic have long been questioned. But when he is engaged, he is an absolute menace (listed at 6-2, 231 pounds) who can score and this is clearly a move to help the Wild compete in the playoffs against more rugged Western Conference teams.
He scored 28 goals as a second-year winger for the Colorado Avalanche in 2009-10 and a combined 28 goals for Colorado and St. Louis in 2010-11, and it has been downhill ever since. This year, he has scored 11 goals and 25 points in 61 games and is minus-30, tied for second-worst in the NHL.
Thirty-two of his 126 career goals have come on the power play. It'll be interesting to see if he plays the No. 1 unit because Thomas Vanek has had a propensity for turnovers, especially the past two games, on that unit. Stewart has 253 points and 510 penalty minutes in 443 games.
Don't know yet who comes out of the lineup. We'll get GM Chuck Fletcher soon, but the fourth line is playing great (Justin Fontaine seems to make every line lately churn) and Jordan Schroeder has brought offense and speed and Sean Bergenheim has just been added to the lineup.
So it'll be interesting how coach Mike Yeo proceeds with a lineup that is playing well, has been fast, hard-working and structured. Also, at some point, Matt Cooke, Ryan Carter and Jason Zucker should return. That's the risk with this trade: The coach may have to mess with four lines that have been going really well, which is a little surprising after Fletcher talked Saturday about not wanting to mess with the chemistry.
TSN, funny enough, had Stewart ready to come on when the trade went down and broke the news to Stewart live on TV.
His reaction: "The Minnesota Wild? Sounds good. ... I'm excited I'll get a chance to play in the playoffs. I had a rough start of the year, and I thought the last 30 games I definitely turned my game around.
"They definitely have a lot of skill in their lineup, so me personally, I'd like to bring that power forward game, bring that grit and get in there, forecheck, create turnovers and just use my presence, go to the net, score some ugly goals."
The Wild also acquired Leopold for a fifth-round pick and Justin Falk, whom sources say asked to be traded.
Leopold was acquired from St. Louis for a 2016 fifth-round pick in November.
Leopold, 34, is most importantly a left-shot that could bring depth in case of injury. Good vision, moves the puck well, suspect at times defensively, good locker-room guy and again would be a depth player to have around for a playoff run.
He has scored 67 goals and 213 points in 677 games for seven teams (Calgary, Colorado, Florida, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, St. Louis and Columbus).
The former Hobey Baker winner won a national title with the Gophers in 2002, scoring 20 goals and 48 points in 44 games.
This letter is courtesy of KFAN's Paul Allen, who received this letter written by Leopold's 11-year-old daughter and read it on the air today.
The Wild also made a minor-league move, sending 2011 first-round pick Zack Phillips to Boston for 2010 second-round pick Jared Knight. Phillips flamed out bigtime and was a source of much frustration for the Wild because he had all the skill without the commitment off the ice.
FROM BEFORE THE TRADES:
Once in Calgary, Todd Richards pulled a phone out of his practice garb and pulled Eric Belanger off the ice for his trade to Washington. Coach Mike Yeo said he didn't bring his phone on the ice today.
Yeo on the trade deadline: "Boring for us. I went into this day understanding and knowing – obviously things could change, but first off we like the team, we like the way that we’re playing right now – a lot of the moves that we’ve done, we did them early. You look at Duby (Devan Dubnyk), it speaks for itself what a good deal that was for our team. You look at Sean [Bergenheim], the two games that we’ve seen him, we’ve been very pleased with what he’s brought. Also looks like a good fit."
On the possibility of trading for a depth defenseman, Yeo said, "[Fletcher] has our support on that. That’s not because of the play because of the guys that are in the lineup right now. We’ve been very pleased with that group (Nate Prosser, Matt Dumba and Christian Folin) and what they’ve been doing and the progress of our young kids. But that said, you have to prepare for injuries and make sure you’re protected that way. We would welcome anything like that."
Stephane Veilleux was assigned to AHL Iowa to create two roster spots.
Also, injured defenseman Marco Scandella and Jared Spurgeon didn't practice this morning. Everybody else did.
Yeo said there was good news with Scandella and there's nothing structural with this undisclosed injury and nothing to worry about. He said Scandella is feeling better and Yeo is "optimistic" he can play Tuesday against red-hot Ottawa.
Also, defenseman Jared Spurgeon will miss his sixth straight game with what's believed to be a concussion, but he skated this morning, is feeling better and the hope is he can return Thursday in Washington.
Also, the NHL will announce today the Colorado fines for Patrick Roy, Gabriel Landeskog and Cody McLeod.
The Landeskog and McLeod fines will seem insignificant, but remember, there is a maximum players can be fined under the collective bargaining agreement. A non-repeat offender with no hearing can be fined half of one day's pay not to exceed $5,000. So the fines are to bring attention to the rest of the NHL that the incidents were unacceptable and to establish a history with the players for future potential discipline wrongdoings.
Kyle Brodziak on McLeod jumping Mikael Granlund with three seconds left in a 3-1 defeat: "Clearly frustration or somebody told him to go do that because there's no point. What did Granny do? Just shows no class and lack of emotional control or whatever it is."
Koivu didn't bite talking about Landeskog, saying it is what it is and part of hockey and an emotional game.
Yeo on Dubnyk winning NHL First Star of the Month: "Very pleased for him that he could accomplish that. We’ve benefited from his solid play along the way. Very deserving of it. Anytime any player wins any kind of award and gets any kind of recognition like that, there’s a lot of people that helped him along the way. Certainly I think the team and the game they’ve played in front of him deserves a lot of credit for that. But there’s no doubt he’s very deserving and we’re all very happy for him."
Dubnyk also credited the team and was very honored.
I'll be back if there's a trade or after the deadline.
For as long as I've covered hockey, in back-to-back situations, when a team is on the road and the next night's opponent is already waiting in your city, the coach always reminds the media of that fact preemptively after the front-end road portion of the schedule.
Tonight, the Wild is that quintessential, "They've been back in Denver waiting for us" team.
Last night, the Colorado Avalanche played in Dallas. The Wild has been sitting in Denver since arriving in the wee hours of Friday morning after its convincing 4-2 win at Nashville.
So the Wild, which didn't practice Friday, should have plenty of energy tonight against the Avalanche, which rallied to beat the Stars in an entertaining game and shootout last night. 9 p.m. CT start time. I'll be on Fox Sports North during the pregame show.
Devan Dubnyk will make his 20th consecutive start tonight for the Wild, tying Niklas Backstrom's 2009 team record. He is 14-3-1 with the Wild with a 1.68 goals-against average, .934 save percentage and five shutouts.
In today's paper, I did a story on what Darcy Kuemper and Niklas Backstrom have been up to. Here's a link.
The Wild has shut out the Avs in three consecutive meetings this season by a combined 9-0 score (outshot them 111-64). According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Minnesota is trying to become the first NHL team to post four straight shutouts vs. one opponent in the same season since 1928, when the Pittsburgh Pirates earned four straight shutouts vs. Boston (12/1/27-1/28/28).
The Wild, 12-2-1 since the All-Star break and NHL-best 14-3-2 in its past 19 games, has won six of eight on the road to climb over .500 on the road (15-14-2) for the first time since being 1-0 with a 3-0 win at Colorado on Oct. 11.
It is 14-3-3 in its past 19 regular-season games in Denver.
In the past eight overall regular-season games between the Wild and Avs, the Wild is 7-1, outscored them 25-11 and have a shot differential of plus-101.
Coach Mike Yeo though is expected the Avs' best after being shut out three times by the Wild. Also, Nathan MacKinnon was benched for parts of last night's game in Dallas, so expected a jacked-up No. 1 overall pick.
The season series ends in Minnesota on March 8 with a 5 p.m. game.
Other tidbits: The Wild has outscored opponents 24-8 in the 19 first periods since Dubnyk’s arrival. The Wild is 26-6-3 when it scores first and has scored first in 12 of 15 games since the All-Star break. … The Wild has killed 36 of 37 opposing power plays since the All-Star break. That's an NHL best 97.3 percent. To put that in perspective, in the 13 games before this stretch, the Wild's PK was 72.2 percent (27th in the NHL over that span).
Stephane Veilleux cleared waivers this morning. He's staying on the roster at least as of right now. If the Wild needs his roster spot because of a trade, it can assign him to Iowa now.
A flood of players were placed on waivers today and will be tomorrow (last day before Monday's 2 p.m. deadline) as teams try to create similar flexibility as the Wild.
The Wild's looking for a left-shot D. As I reported today, Jordan Leopold is one name it's looking at. Not sure how the Wild brass values him, but Tim Erixon was placed on waivers by the Hawks today as they prepare to make a trade. Left-shot D drafted in the first round by Calgary that has bounced around to the Rangers, Columbus and Chicago, so his stock has dropped. But he has NHL experience and wouldn't cost an asset other than the waiver claim money.
By the way, Wild GM Chuck Fletcher and assistant GM Brent Flahr attended Friday’s University of Denver-Miami University game to watch the RedHawks’ Louis Belpedio, a freshman drafted by Minnesota in the third round last June.
Wild and Nashville Predators tonight on NBC Sports Network. Dave Strader upstairs with us wretches, Brian Engblom between the benches.
Sean Bergenheim will make his Wild debut on a line with countryman Mikko Koivu and Thomas Vanek (more on this below), Devan Dubnyk will start his 19th consecutive game (more on this below) with Darcy Kuemper riding shotgun and Niklas Backstrom's former backup, Pekka Rinne, getting the nod for the Preds.
On an aside, I had an awful morning. For the first time in my coffee-drinking career, I spilled an entire cup of Starbucks!
So, first off, before I illustrate how damaging that loss was to the lowly Edmonton Oilers the other night, here’s what the Wild is up against -- not only tonight, but three times in the final 22 games this season (to really put you in a good mood).
--The Predators are 26-3-1, including six consecutive wins, this season at rabid Bridgestone Arena and the other night in destroying the Colorado Avalanche tied an NHL record for the most wins by a team through its first 30 home games of one season (26, per the Elias Sports Bureau). So again, the Wild plays the first of three times the rest of the season in Smashville tonight, where the Preds have lost THREE times in regulation in 30 games.
--Renne, the 29th goaltender taken in the 2004 draft at 258 overall, leads the league with 35 victories and owns as 23-3-1 record at home with a 1.84 goals-against average and .932 save percentage.
--The Preds are the best team in the NHL with a 41-13-7 record 89 points, a six-point lead in the race for the President’s Trophy.
--The Wild is 2-4-2 in its past eight in Nashville, including one regulation win in that eight-game stretch. In the past eight games here, the Wild is 3 for 22 on the power play.
-- Some other tidbits: The Wild’s penalty kill is 34 for 35 in the past 14 games (11-2-1). Former Predator Devan Dubnyk, who will start his 19th consecutive game tonight (one off Niklas Backstrom’s team record), has allowed 29 goals in 18 games. Jordan Schroeder has five points in his past five games. Jason Pominville has really dried up. The streaky scorer is known to go through droughts, but usually in those cases, he’s getting chances. Pominville has 11 shots and no points in the past six games since scoring goals in three straight games. That six-game pointless streak is his longest drought in parts of three seasons with the Wild.
That Oilers loss the other night was so damaging to the Wild in the standings. Not only did Winnipeg, Los Angeles and Vancouver all win that night, Calgary lost. So the Wild could have gone three points up on eighth.
Instead, the Flames rebounded last night with a win at awful New Jersey, so the Wild is back into ninth place – one point behind the Flames with a game in hand and one point ahead of the Sharks with a game in hand. The Wild’s four back of the seventh-place Jets with two games in hand.
So the Wild’s task tonight is to rebound from losing to the worst team in the Western Conference against the best team in the NHL inside in an arena where the Predators rarely lose.
As I said when the Wild got into the top-8, the final stretch of the season would still have lots of jockeying for position, probably a temporary spot inside that top-8 and a roller coaster of emotions the rest of the way.
Bergenheim was supposed to get into snowy Nashville last night, but there was bad weather both in Atlanta and here, so his Atlanta to Nashville connection was cancelled.
So he woke up at 5:30 and flew nonstop to Nashville from Ft. Lauderdale this morning. After the morning skate, he sat with assistant coach Darryl Sydor to go over every facet of the Wild’s systems for a half-hour.
So he may be playing on some adrenaline tonight on that Koivu line.
The lines tonight:
Stephane Veilleux is scratched.
On the line changes, coach Mike Yeo said, “Obviously when you have a change to your lineup like [trading for Bergenheim], it’s going to affect a lot of things. We tried to look at a lot of different scenarios and first off putting a couple lines together that have had chemistry in the past with Nino, Charlie, Schroeds and also Granny, Zach and Pommer.
“Thomas, his game lately, he’s involved in probably six to eight scoring chances every game, so we think where he’s at with Mikko and the way that Mikko’s been playing, that line has the ability to create. But we also think that they need somebody that’s going to be on the puck, that’s going to hound pucks, that’s going to forecheck, that’s going to go to the net, but also that’s going to be responsible at both ends of the ice. We’ll see how it works at.”
We will see. Not sure what I think of Vanek there. I’d put Schroeder, but I think they want to reunite that Nino-Coyle-Schroeder line that was real good in Vancouver (Schroeder to Nino for 2 goals) and Vanek can’t be on the fourth line. And we know by now, Fontaine can adjust from role to role.
Bergenheim hasn’t played since Feb. 12 in Minnesota, a healthy scratch by Florida since asking to be traded.
“He says he’s been trying to do his part in practice,” Yeo said. “Obviously games are a different situation, so we’ll be keeping an eye on that during the course of the game. But at some point we have to make sure we’re playing him in shape here, too, so we might as well throw him right into the fire.”
Bergenheim doesn’t look out of shape. Yeo called him a big guy the other night and I took that to mean tall. He’s only 5-10. But Yeo meant was thick. The guy is jacked and looks to be very well-conditioned and definitely plays a hard game when it comes to battle and finishing checks. He also skates well.
Yeo said, “I don’t think it’s fair for us to expect or demand perfection right from the start. New system, new players. There will be a lot of changes, but he should be able to provide some energy for us.”
Bergenheim said, “It was an interesting 24 hours because I had to try to travel quite a bit (he first went from Chicago to Florida). But the mood is very, very good and I’m very excited to be here.
“I packed a few warm jackets and now I’m good to go.”
On not playing for so long and maybe having to play 18-20 minutes tonight, Bergenheim said, “I’m in good shape. I’ve been training hard. I don’t feel like I haven’t played in two weeks. I feel good. That’s all that matters.”
He’s got the Finnish Granlund-like blonde blow going. In fact, Bergenheim could be what Granlund will look like in 10 years.
Speaking of Finns, Haula played six minutes the other night and was responsible for the second goal largely with mistakes in the neutral zone and the D-zone. He saw his stick in half afterward.
“I talked to him about it, and he’s aware of it and he was not happy with himself on it,” Yeo said. “In that game, he was doing some good things, hit the post, another chance off the rush. But you look at the way our lines are constructed right now, we need him and we need that line to make sure that they’re extremely good defensively.
“He’s still a young kid who’s still trying to learn from that stuff.”
With Fontaine on the right, Brodziak moves to the middle because Yeo doesn’t want Brodziak to have to play his off wing. But there will be times on the left side in the D-zone Haula may take draws.
Dubnyk’s “This is Your Life” tour, which I stole from somebody on Twitter I think (can’t remember where I saw that), continues tonight in Nashville.
We’ve seen him play Arizona. We’ve seen him play Edmonton. We’ve written a ton about his experience playing in Montreal’s farm team in Nashville.
Well, what the heck happened in Nashville, where he played two games, allowing five goals on 29 shots in a 5-4 debut loss to Colorado and four goals on 31 shots in a 5-4 shootout loss in Calgary?
He never played again, was put on waivers and ultimately sent to Montreal.
“My confidence wasn’t overly high at the time of the trade [from Edmonton],” Dubnyk said. “I only got the opportunity to play two games. Unfortunately my first game, I didn’t do a very good job. I was pretty nervous. When I came to Nashville, I think I put way too much pressure on myself. You just can’t perform that way. I wasn’t very good my first game at all and second game was ok and then that was kind of it.
“Carter Hutton was lights out. He earned every start he got. When you watch a guy that’s as good a guy as he is, how hard he worked and how well he was playing, you just try to wait for your turn and unfortunately it didn’t come. Peks came back after the Olympic break and I was the odd man out.”
Expect a motivated Parise tonight. He had an unbelievably frustrating night of knee hockey.
He lost all three games he played last night at Matt Cullen’s Brentwood house.
Cullen’s three boys picked the teams. The teams switched every game. And Parise ended up on the losing team every single time, he said, laughing hysterically.
“But it was a blast. Just awesome. What a great family,” Parise said.
I may be doing my Sunday column this week on Cullen, who’s in the last year of his deal and looking to win his second Stanley Cup with his favorite coach, Peter Laviolette, as bench boss.
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