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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Frankly, there has been no better comeback story in the NHL.
A year ago at this time, Devan Dubnyk was playing for the Hamilton Bulldogs in the American Hockey League. Today, he has become the toast of the NHL for turning the Wild’s season around an incredible run of success since being traded to Minnesota on Jan. 14.
The Wild workhorse goalie, who will start his 36th consecutive game tonight (35th in a row for the Wild) against the New York Rangers, has allowed two goals or fewer 26 times. He has allowed 57 goals in 34 starts, one fewer than the Wild allowed in the 14 games before he arrived. He is 26-6-1 with the Wild with a 1.70 goals-against average and .939 save percentage, which includes a crazy 14-1-1 road record with a 1.44 goals-against average and .952 save percentage.
Behind the scenes, it took a ton of work to resurrect his career and become this year’s feel-good NHL story.
If you didn’t read here, I wrote today about how Dubnyk has put himself in the conversation for the Hart and Vezina Trophies. In fact, Bovada has him as the fourth-best odds to win the Hart (15/1)
The Bill Masterton trophy is the award given annually to the NHL player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey. The Twin Cities chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association has chosen Dubnyk as this year’s Wild nominee.
Last season, Dubnyk was basically run out of Edmonton. He was dealt to Nashville, played two admittedly poor games and was traded to Montreal after the Olympic break and immediately assigned to Hamilton.
During the playoffs, Dubnyk was so far buried on the depth chart, the Canadiens permitted him to leave the team and return to his wife and infant son in Edmonton so he could be a husband and a dad.
“It was crazy. It feels like last year was so long ago now,” Dubnyk said this morning after being informed of the honor by the two Wild beat writers. “The most important thing was getting that break in the summer, really getting a chance to reflect on last year, think about what happened, what could I have controlled and what couldn’t I have controlled?
“The most important thing for me is I wanted to take the mindset of realizing that if I would have played better, I wouldn’t have been in that situation, and not think that I didn’t get a fair shake or wasn’t treated fairly somewhere. The thing is if I would have played better hockey, I wouldn’t have ended up in Hamilton.”
Last summer, the NHL allowed a free-agent interview period for teams. That turned out to be perfect for Dubnyk.
His agent knows Arizona Coyotes coach Dave Tippett well, and Coyotes goalie coach Sean Burke, like Wild goalie coach Bob Mason, always liked Dubnyk’s game from afar.
Burke and Dubnyk had a long phone conversation.
“To have them put full confidence kind of just allowed me to start from square one and feel good about what I had done and really try to forget about that period of time,” Dubnyk said.
Off the ice, Dubnyk said, “A lot of it was mental. I’ve always been comfortable as far as my summer program and conditioning. I think I got on the ice a little more early on. And then to have that opportunity to go to Vail and work with [former NHL goalie] Steve Valiquette [on a new head trajectory technique] was important for me and also going to Arizona early and talking to Burkie and starting that early.
“The reflecting part – during the season] you don’t have a chance to think about it. It’s not a lot of fun and you’re just kind of stuck in it. You go to the rink every day and it’s kind of the same old, same. You don’t have a chance to sit back, but once I was able to get away with it and get back with my family, it gives you the opportunity to really just look back on the entire situation and go through it and understand what it was that happened and what I could do to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Now, he’s come to Minnesota and was immediately embraced by his teammates. It helped a ton that he showed such commitment by flying all night after the trade to start that first game in Buffalo when the Wild so needed something different. The next day, after that 7-0 win, a lot of teammates also took note that there he was at J.P. Parise’s funeral even though he had his entire life uprooted and his wife and son were still in Arizona.
This afternoon, I am filling in for Dan Barreiro on KFAN from 3-6:30 p.m. One of my guests is Zach Parise. I pre-taped the interview because the interview is running at 5:55 p.m. and he has a game tonight.
“I remember playing against him, scoring on him a couple times before he got here, I remember that,” Parise said, laughing. “Other than that, I didn’t know much about him at all. So I was surprised and happy we traded for him because I knew he was a big guy, and it’s just been a really good story.”
Parise also said how well he’s fit in, saying, “He’s a really easygoing guy, very easy to get along with. You’ve got a guy like [Niklas] Backstrom, you can’t talk to him on the day of a game. It’s like you don’t even exist.” He said, kiddingly, “I don’t know how he lives his life like that. So it’s kind of refreshing to have someone you can joke around with in the locker room before the game.”
Dubnyk said he is enjoying everything about being here.
“I’ve been trying to do that the whole way through,” Dubnyk said. “You want to stay level. You don’t want to get too high and think too much about it, but at the same time my approach from the get-go this year was to really try to enjoy and embrace every opportunity that I got. That continued when I got here, just taking those days in between games to just enjoy the wins and enjoy the feeling that we have here and what we’re doing because it is a special thing, and that’s made it that much more special. It’s not like I’m trying my best to pretend nothing’s going on here. It’s been fun and I’m enjoying it, so it’s just going to get more exciting from here on out.”
In 2013, Josh Harding won the Masterton Trophy.
The Wild’s all-time nominees are Harding (2013-14, 2012-13), Clayton Stoner (2011-12), Pierre-Marc Bouchard (2010-11), Guillaume Latendresse (2009-10), Kurtis Foster (2008-09), Aaron Voros (2007-08), Marian Gaborik (2006-07), Wes Walz (2005-06, 2000-01), Alexandre Daigle (2003-04), Dwayne Roloson (2002-03) and Richard Park (2001-02).
As I mentioned, I am filling in for Barreiro today.
Besides Parise, my guests include Super Troopers/Beerfest, etc. actor/comedian/writer/director Erik Stolhanske, Edmonton Journal hockey writer Jim Matheson, Rangers play-by-play guy Kenny Albert, Minnesota United coach Manny Lagos and the Wild’s Kevin Falness will be in with me as well.
I’ll also be on Fox Sports North tonight to talk about the Wild, Dustin Byfuglien, Dubnyk and the Wild’s upcoming schedule and potential playoff opponents if the Wild makes it.
Lineup the same as has been reported all week.
Coach Mike Yeo said today that Matt Cooke’s conditioning after so much time off still needs to improve, so the first “realistic goal” for Cooke to return is likely next Tuesday in Chicago.
The Rangers are awesome on the road. The Metro leaders are a road win for its 26th to break a team record. They are fast and good, so the Wild will have to beware the first 10 minutes tonight to make sure the inevitable rust from four days off doesn’t kill them.
Yeo is worried about an emotional letdown after two big wins and just wants the Wild to get back to that desperation level it was playing with every night.
Also, after four days of hearing how good they are and after four days of so much talk that they’re already in the playoffs, Yeo wants to make sure his players remember they’re not yet.
Yeo met with the six potential fourth-liners down the stretch, tonight’s fourth line of Ryan Carter, Kyle Brodziak and Jordan Schroeder and scratched Erik Haula and Sean Bergenheim and the injured Cooke to explain that they all have arguments as to why should play down the stretch, but if they’re not, it is incumbent on them to have good attitudes, support the rest of the team, not create problems and work hard.
He doesn’t foresee problems but wanted to get ahead of it and explain the situation.
“It’s healthy for a team to have competition,” Schroeder said. “It pushes guys. But at the same time you don’t want guys being upset and negative around the locker room. You want guys to be upbeat and positive and trying to help and support each other.
“Good teams have depth. It’s difficult for everyone from the coaches on down to make decisions when guys are playing so well and the team’s playing so well. So if you’re in, play your butt off and try to stay in the lineup. But things can change night to night.”
I wrote a ton about Devan Dubnyk and Zach Parise in the game story, so I’ll try to touch on some other stuff from tonight’s come-from-behind 2-1 shootout win over the Islanders.
On an aside, funny story, but I met a person the other day that said, “I love your blogs.” I laughed and said, “How about the articles?” He goes, “What articles?” Yes, I write those, too. That's what I'm doing when I disappear on Twitter every third period.
I just thought that was funny, and on a night like tonight where I spent the majority of the gamer talking about Dubnyk, I don’t want you to think I’m completely out to lunch if I don’t touch on him as much in here. Start reading the articles, too, if you don’t (ha). I try to make this more of a supplement.
Obviously, Dubnyk continues to be the Wild’s MVP and lifted the Wild to yet another gigantic win tonight. The Kings just keep winning, so the Wild stayed five points up on a playoff spot with eight games left. Winnipeg blew a 2-0 lead in Vancouver and lost 5-2.
That means the Wild is three up on the first wildcard spot.
I knew the Wild had a travel delay out of Toronto last night, but I didn’t realize until after the game that the Wild got to its hotel at 3 a.m. I think the Wild kept that to itself in order to make sure that the Wild’s potential fatigue wasn’t part of Jack Capuano’s gameplan. Didn’t matter. The Islanders always come out hard and home and they had the Wild firmly planted on its heels in a first period in which the Wild was outshot 16-5 and out-attempted 32-9.
“First period, we were turning pucks over like crazy, turning pucks over in front of their defensemen, making hope plays and forcing plays and allowing them to counter back with their speed,” Yeo said. “You can’t play with good structure when you’re turning pucks over like that.”
But Dubnyk, the rock star, kept the Wild in a scoreless game.
“They’re big on their starts and they try to overwhelm you and sometimes on the road like that, it’s important to just survive, just get through that first wave and gather ourselves,” Dubnyk said after his 37-save effort. “Exactly what we did.”
The Wild started to play much better in the second, started to get some chances on Jaroslav Halak, who didn’t have to exert himself early, started to come with speed. Halak made a nice save on a deflected Thomas Vanek (his eight-game point streak ended) shot and a great save on Jason Pominville off a Parise setup.
But with 23.7 seconds left in the second, the moment a penalty on Mikael Granlund expired, John Tavares jammed in the game’s first goal.
But Yeo altered his lines in the third to create some offense and the Wild responded by buzzing shift after shift for eight or nine minutes. Parise and Pominville played with Mikko Koivu, Granlund played with Nino Niederreiter and Chris Stewart and Thomas Vanek and Charlie Coyle played with Jordan Schroeder (more on him in a sec).
Finally, Pominville found Parise in front, Halak stopped Parise’s first shot and Parise scored his 29th goal on his rebound. Parise scored 29 last season, so he’s a goal from his personal-best with the Wild. He was great again. Goal, shootout winner, four shots, four hits, four blocked shots (huge one in last minute).
The Wild got to overtime and Dubnyk was great again, especially on a robbery of Johnny Boychuk.
“I can’t even count the times that guy’s scored on me in the American League and even when he was in Boston, so I was lucky I could at least return the favor a couple times,” Dubnyk said. “It probably would take about 10 times before I could get him back on all the goals he scored on me.”
In the shootout, Dubnyk wasn’t beaten on three attempts and Parise’s 39th career shootout goal was the difference.
“I’ve seen that before. Just never happened to me,” Parise said of his post and in goal.
10th straight road win to extend franchise-record and 14-1-2 on the road under Dubnyk. He is now 14-1-1 on the road in 17 starts with a 1.44 goals-against average and .952 save percentage.
He is now 3-0-1 with a 1.20 GAA and a .967 SV% in the second of back-to-backs since being pulled Jan. 20 at Detroit in his first try with the Wild in such a situation.
YES, HE WILL START BOTH RARE BACK-TO-BACK GAMES THIS WEEKEND AT HOME AGAINST CALGARY AND L.A., AND WE DON’T EVEN HAVE TO ASK YEO!
“He deserves this story right now and deserves to be talked about. It’s a guy you want to cheer for,” Yeo said of Dubnyk.
The Wild now has eight wins when trailing after two periods. That’s fourth-most in the NHL.
“We shouldn’t get in the habit of it,” Ryan Suter, who logged 32:04 of ice time, said. “The past two weeks, we’ve been coming out slow and finding ways to win at the end, which is a good thing to have. But we don’t want to make a habit of it.”
Dubnyk said, “We’ve won games where we’ve absolutely dominated, we’ve won games like this. But we always find a way to gather ourselves and get our game going and get the important goals. We just find ways to do it in every way imaginable. Road wins are huge in the playoffs.”
The Wild has won once on the road in the past two playoffs, so this is big the confidence the Wild has on the road. And if the Wild makes the playoffs, it’ll start on the road barring a mathematical miracle.
Finally, Schroeder. Scratched in eight straight because of a number’s game. He played his first game since March 6 tonight because of Kyle Brodziak’s minor upper-body injury.
Schroeder’s speed was a threat all night, and after starting on the fourth line with Erik Haula and Sean Bergenheim, he was elevated to the third line, played on the Wild’s one penalty kill and played in overtime.
“He brought a lot of energy, he brought a lot of speed,” Yeo said. “I do think that part of our [problematic] start is the game was happening fast for us and he was a guy that was thinking the game and playing the game at the speed it was going out there.”
That’s pretty impressive for a guy who hadn’t played in 2 ½ weeks.
“Every time he was on the ice, he was bringing some momentum to us, he was having some good shifts and he earned more opportunity through the game,” Yeo said.
Even though I liked Bergenheim’s game much better the past two games, I’d have to think now if Brodziak can play this weekend, Schroeder would stay in and Bergenheim would come out. But we will see.
The Wild is off Wednesday. I’ll write a follow and I’m actually staying in New York for the day and will be back Thursday. Rachel Blount has Thursday’s practice and I will be doing another podcast with Jim Souhan Thursday afternoon at the Liffey in St. Paul. You can also listen at souhanunfiltered.com.
Afternoon from across the street of Hofstra University on Lawng Island, my old stomping ground where I don’t mind admitting I’m exhausted from my 3:15 a.m. “wakeup call” in Toronto. I put that in quotes because I’m not entirely sure I actually got any sleep to “wake up” from.
Barring a Wild-Islanders Stanley Cup Final (which would be epic), tonight will be my last game at Nassau Coliseum. I’m not kidding you when I say it actually had me a bit glum walking around the bowels of the arena this morning as I stared at the banners on the rafters, the stained seats, the plaques in front of the Islanders room. I’ll be on Fox Sports North gushing about this great franchise (sorry North Stars fans) tonight during the pregame show and first intermission. Or, if you want, you can read my gushing of the Coliseum and how I became a hockey fan in this old 2011 blog here.
The Wild will be trying to extend its franchise-record 9-game road winning streak tonight against John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, Anders Lee, Brock Nelson and the always-affable Nick Leddy. Leddy, whom I bumped into for a few minutes this morning, and Johnny Boychuk recently signed mega-extensions and this talented Islanders team looks like it’s got something cooking for the next several years IN BROOKLYN!!!!
WHAT THE %&$@#???????????
But I digress.
Jaroslav Halak vs. Devan Dubnyk tonight, and more on Dooby, Dooby, Doo in a minute. If you didn't see my game notebook from last night on Mario Lucia and Thomas Vanek's return to Long Island, here it is.
Kyle Brodziak, a big part of the Wild’s penalty kill and a solid fourth line for awhile, won’t play tonight due to an upper-body injury sustained in last night’s fight with Dion Phaneuf. Coach Mike Yeo said it’s not a concussion and that it’s minor tightness that just won’t loosen up, so probably neck or back. He doesn’t anticipate Brodziak will miss Friday’s game against Calgary.
Brodziak, in six seasons, has played 440 regular-season games for the Wild. This is the fourth game he has missed due to injury or illness, and technically the final regular-season game of last season was to rest him in a meaningless game because he had something nagging. Brodziak’s games played entering this season for the Wild were 82 of 82, 80 of 82, 82 of 82, 48 of 48 and 81 of 82.
Brodziak got hurt standing up for Erik Haula and Jared Spurgeon. Players were still giving him props in the locker room this morning and, Yeo said, “Obviously, we wish he was in the lineup tonight, but those types of things are things that you have to do for your teammates. He sent a pretty good message to our group there.”
Jordan Schroeder, scratched the past eight games, will play for the first time since March 6 at Raleigh. In his past 14 games, he has seven points and is plus-9.
Ryan Carter’s return will wait at least a few more days. If you read between the lines from his quote in today’s paper, he has to be comfortable he can play his brand of physical hockey after separating his shoulder. So a few more days won’t hurt.
Dubnyk will start his 33rd consecutive game tonight and 32nd in a row for the Wild. The 33 is the most since Antti Niemi started 34 in a row in 2010-11. Next up is Dwayne Roloson, who started 36 straight in 2009. Obviously, at this point, Dubnyk in there until the Wild clinch. Pretty much no choice now considering Darcy Kuemper hasn’t started since Jan. 6, Niklas Backstrom since Jan. 13 AND all Dubnyk does is win.
In last night’s 2-1 win at Toronto, a game in which the Leafs drew an announced 18,366 fans (lowest attendance in 16 years at Air Canada Centre), Dubnyk made 35 saves to improve to 32-11-3 this season with a 2.10 goals-against average and a .929 save percentage. Since debuting with the Wild on Jan. 15, Dubnyk has a 23-6-1 record, 1.74 goals-against average, .937 save percentage and five shutouts. He has allowed two goals or less in 23 of those 31 games.
Asked if he’s worried about starting Dubnyk over and over again, Yeo said, “I worry about not starting him.” When all the reporters laughed, Yeo said, “Sorry, that’s as honest as I can be.”
Dubnyk is 13-1-1 in 16 road starts with a 1.48 goals-against average and .951 save percentage (one no-decision in Detroit on Jan. 20, pulled at 4-1, Wild rallied for three in the third to make Kuemper the goalie of record. He stopped 14 of 14 shots in a great effort before a shootout loss).
Dubnyk has won a franchise-record nine straight road games. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, only two other active goaltenders have posted a single-season road winning streak of nine or more consecutive decisions: Jimmy Howard (10-0-0) with the Red Wings in 2010-11 and Carey Price (10-0-0) with the Canadiens earlier this season (Dec. 23-Feb. 26).
This will be the fifth time he starts back-to-backs. Since being pulled Jan. 20 at Detroit, Dubnyk is 2-0-1 in the second of back-to-backs with a 1.30 goals-against average and .965 save percentage.
Yeo was more displeased with the Wild’s game yesterday this morning than last night. Not a shock, since he got to watch it again and he’s trying to ramp up the Wild’s urgency.
“We weren’t good enough in our game in a few areas,” Yeo said. He said the Wild lost the details in its game, did a “a little too much circling, a little too much getting away from the structure we normally play with.” He said the back and forth game suited the Leafs and because of the way the Wild managed the puck, there were too many one-and-done’s in the offensive zone.
“We’ll take the two points, but we’ve also got to understand we’re going to need a lot better tonight,” he said.
Tonight’s start will be big. The Islanders usually come out fast and hard, so the Wild’s got to be ready to try to jump out to a lead in case the legs become mush in the third period. Isles have been off since Saturday.
Before I go, I actually put the news of the day at the end: The Property Brothers were on my flight to JFK this morning. Seemed like good dudes and my hope was they were parachuting into Uniondale to save the Coliseum, but bummer, no. They’re on their way to New Yawk City to film, I believe, and they were cool to the freaking-out flight attendants who were posing for pictures with them as we taxied out to the runway. One of the flight attendants didn’t want me to feel left out, so she humorously posed for a picture with me after taking pictures with Drew and Jonathan Scott.
The real news of the day?
Wild and the Washington Capitals tonight at Xcel Energy Center. Minnesota, winners of eight straight on the road, is trying to get its game going at home, where it has lost three of five with only one regulation win in that stretch. The Wild has 20 road wins compared to 19 home.
The Wild’s the only good team in the NHL that has more road wins than home. The others are Columbus, Dallas and Arizona, who all stink at home. A number of teams coincidentally have the same amount of home-road wins.
“I don’t think we relax necessarily,” coach Mike Yeo said. “I do think we’re maybe a little more simplistic in our approach on the road. I think we shoot pucks a little bit more, we go to the net a little bit more. And a very strong focus on defending. So certainly we can take some of that and use it in our home game as well.”
The Caps are the only team in the NHL that hasn’t won in St. Paul. The Wild is 7-0 at home against Washington (Caps are 0-6-1).
The Wild is 8-1 in its past nine against the Eastern Conference, including five consecutive wins, and 21-5-2 in its past 28 and 19-4-1 since the All-Star break. The Capitals have won three of five since blowing a third-period lead in a 2-1 home loss to Minnesota on March 5. Superstar Alex Ovechkin, the NHL’s leading goal scorer, missed that game. He’s playing tonight.
Ovechkin and C Nicklas Backstrom are tied for second in the NHL with 71 points each with Ovechkin leading with 45 goals, 21 power-play goals and 10 game-winners. He has four goals and seven points in seven games vs. Minnesota. Backstrom leads the NHL with 53 assists and Ovechkin and Backstrom are tied for second with 30 power-play points each.
Big news of the morning: Bubbly, big-shot former Gophers defenseman Nate Schmidt, a native of St. Cloud, may play his first NHL game at Xcel Energy Center. He was supposed to be sent down if Brooks Orpik could play. Orpik looks like he’s playing, but Tim Gleason may be out now with an upper-body injury.
Schmidt was on a regular pair today with Mike Green and was forced into leading the late-skate team stretch in the middle. He took a lot of ribbing. Here's a feature I wrote on him last season.
Schmidt looked high as a kite this morning, but when is he not? “It’s my personality,” Schmidt said. If he plays, he’s looking to face former teammate Erik Haula again. Feeling’s mutual, Haula joked, after Haula took a shot from Schmidt last year that bruised his leg.
The Caps are staying in Minneapolis, so he played tour guide this morning and “showed everyone a specific campus and explained the beauty of it. It was hard to do it justice from the bus, and [former UMD Bulldog Matt Niskanen] wasn’t having any of it.”
Big Wild news of the day?
Uh, uh, uh, well, lots of Wild fans asked me on Twitter what Zach Parise chirped at Shea Weber after Matt Dumba’s OT winner Tuesday. Said Parise with a big laugh: “Nothing you want to write. We were just going after each other all game. You reach your boiling point. I think he reached his, too.”
Same Wild lineup tonight.
Marco Scandella is starting to rip the puck a little harder and is getting real close, he said. He will miss his ninth game tonight. He said in that Colorado game, the injury actually occurred the first shift when hit from behind by Gabriel Landeskog. He was hurting until finally he couldn’t play anymore.
When Scandella returns, Christian Folin would likely sit if Jonas Brodin goes back to right D with Ryan Suter. If Brodin stays at left D, Jordan Leopold would likely sit and Folin stays in.
Folin didn’t miss a beat the other night after being scratched four straight and Yeo says often it’s the second or third game back where one’s play tails off, so tonight’s a big test for Folin.
“Even though he’s a young player, he’s got a good idea of what he needs to do to be effective as a player,”
Folin Yeo said. “He just plays a solid game. I thought his skating was really good, I thought his gaps were tight and he was moving the puck well [against Nashville].”
When Ryan Carter returns, I’ve got to think Sean Bergenheim sits with Erik Haula and Kyle Brodziak so valuable on the penalty kill. Honestly, how good was Haula, Brodziak and Brodin on that game-turning 3-on-5 the other night against the Preds?
I talked to both a lot today about defending 3-on-5’s and I’ll maybe toss that in tomorrow’s notebook. The Wild’s NHL-best penalty kill is 60 for 63 the past 24 games overall.
The Capitals rank first on the power play (25.7 percent), scoring on nine of 17 advantages the past eight games with the second unit outscoring the first unit, 5-4.
Chris Lee and Graham Skilliter the refs tonight. We’ll see if the Wild, uh, gets a power play.
The Wild hasn’t generating a single power play in two of the past 13 games and has drawn two or fewer power plays in 12 of the past 17 games. Since Jan. 15, the Wild is tied for 23rd in power plays drawn. For a team that is 21-5-2 since Jan. 15, there is little rhyme or reason for that.
“We’ve been playing some pretty good hockey and I always believe the more time you spend in the offensive zone, the more time you spend with the puck, generally you’re going to draw more penalties,” Yeo said. “It’s funny though because our puck possession stats, maybe not so much the last couple games, are very good. That’s when it’s frustrating is you feel you have the puck the majority of the time yet the other team seems to be going on the power play.
“I guess in some situations maybe we can move our feet a little better, in some situations we can maybe drive to the middle or try and take the puck to the net and if you got a bit of an advantage on a guy and force them to hook and hold you.”
The Wild’s power play is 3 for its past 35 in the past 16 games (8.6 percent).
WCHA Final Five is here this weekend and all the teams were at Xcel Energy Center this morning getting ready to practice.
I’ll be on the Bald Spot cam tonight on NHL Network at 5:40 p.m. CT. I’ll be on SiriusXM NHL tomorrow at 8:45 a.m. CT.
The Wild, an NHL-best 11-1-2 on the road since the Jan. 14 trade of Devan Dubnyk, will be looking for a franchise-record eighth consecutive road win tonight when it faces the Nashville Predators at 7 p.m.
One of the Wild's most impressive road wins during this stretch came late last month in Nashville when it beat the Preds, 4-2. That was the start of a Predators' tailspin. In first in the NHL at that juncture with three regulation home losses all year, the Preds are 2-8 in their past 10 with one regulation win starting with that defeat to Minnesota. This should be a tough game for Nashville. They played back to back in L.A. and Anaheim, landed early yesterday morning, so this is usually a tough game in that scenario for the home team.
Afternoon from Nashville. I'll be on Fox Sports North tonight at 6:30 p.m. during Wild Live and again during the first intermission. We'll be talking a fair amount about what's going on at the GM's Meeting in Boca, my old hometown.
Tomorrow at 4:30 p.m., columnist Jim Souhan and I will be doing another podcast at the Liffey in St. Paul. Stop on by or you can listen live or at a later day on www.souhanunfiltered.com.
Heckuva city, Nashville is. Any Wild fan that hasn’t taken a trip here to watch the Wild knows this.
In fact, coach Mike Yeo noted that I looked like I missed curfew last night.
With left-shot defensemen Marco Scandella and Nate Prosser injured, Yeo was forced to scramble his entire blue line tonight.
The Wild loves left-shot Ryan Suter and left-shot Jonas Brodin as a pair, but with four righties and two lefties in the lineup, Jared Spurgeon will move to the right side of Suter, Brodin will move to the left side with Matt Dumba and Jordan Leopold will play on the left side of Christian Folin, who had been scratched the past four games.
Scandella is close to a return, Yeo said. Yeo said there’s a chance he plays Thursday vs. Washington, although he said that’s only a possibility. He still has not taken contact in practice yet, although he was getting in another good skate today.
Ryan Carter, after tomorrow’s practice, will also be considered day-to-day, like Scandella.
The rest of the lines remain the same, meaning Jordan Schroeder will be scratched for the fifth game in a row and sixth time in eight games.
The coaches showed some clips this morning to the team regarding faceoffs and how the defensemen and wingers need to do a better job helping win these draws and gain possession
Still, some centers, especially Mikael Granlund, must do a better job. He has won 34 percent of his faceoffs the past nine games (43 for 126). When the top line center loses 6.6 out of every 10 faceoffs, that just makes it awfully hard for Zach Parise, Granlund and Jason Pominville to create offense.
Yeo also admitted that it’s a factor as to why Granlund’s not on the No. 1 power play. Draw a power play, the faceoff starts in the offensive zone. So you want to win that draw, not waste 15 to 30 seconds retrieving the puck, breaking out and entering the offensive zone.
Mikko Koivu has the third-most faceoff wins in the NHL.
As my illustrious editor Chris Miller reported today, Matt Dumba will remain on the top power play tonight with Suter, Parise, Koivu and Pominville. Thomas Vanek goes to the second with Chris Stewart and Granlund. Because none of those forwards can play the point, Spurgeon and Brodin are expected to be at the point. That takes a forward off, and so far, it looks like Nino Niederreiter, the team’s second-leading goal scorer. He has five power-play goals but nine since Dec. 13.
Yeo did indicated that he may alternate Stewart and Niederreiter because he wants to keep both guys involved. We will see.
“That is the tough part for sure,” Yeo said of the revamped units. “We have good players not getting an opportunity.”
The GM’s will be recommending to the Competition Committee and Board of Governors for approval 3-on-3 in overtime and extended video review for goalie interference and pucks shot into the crowd.
As for 3-on-3, they don’t have a model yet, but in the American Hockey League this season, they do three minutes of 4-on-4. Then, after the first whistle after three minutes, they go 3-on-3 until seven minutes.
Last year, 75.9 percent of games were decided in regulation. This year, through March 15, 75.7 percent of games were.
Last year, 8.5 percent of games were decided in 4-on-4 overtime and 15.6 percent were decided in a shootout.
This year, 18.5 percent of games were decided in 4-on-4 and 3-on-3 overtime and 5.7 percent were decided in a shootout.
So 3-on-3 has dramatically decreased the number of shootouts in the AHL.
In overtime last year, there were 97 overtime goals and 178 shootout goals. This year, 171 overtime goals and 53 shootout goals (and again, the season’s not over).
This year, in overtime, there have been 98 4-on-4 goals and 73 3-on-3 goals.
Most interesting, the two extra minutes, of the 73 3-on-3 goals, 51 were scored then – 22 in the 6th minute, 29 in the 7th minute.
Of the 257 NHL games sent to overtime this season, 110 have been decided in OT (42.8 percent, up from 42 percent last year, so the changing of sides for the longer change hasn’t had the desired effect) and 147 in shootouts (57.2 percent).
Parise’s 38 career shootout goals is third-most in the NHL behind Jonathan Toews (40) and Brad Boyes and Mikko Koivu, who have 39 each.
But Parise said, “I believe in anything to end it not in a shootout and not in a tie. If that’ll help end games before a shootout, I’ll be all for it. It’ll be fun to play and probably be fun to watch too. Rush, turnover, rush.
“I just don’t think games should come down to shootouts. Play 65 minutes hard, why turn it into breakaways? To me it doesn’t make sense.”
Jason Pominville, who has 23 career shootouts goals, agreed.
“Rush chances up and down, it’ll be fun. It’ll be interesting to see how coaches deal with it in training camp.”
Tactically, Yeo said that’ll be the biggest thing. Do you go with two forwards and a D? Systematically, can you figure out ways to be effective in this situation that almost never appears in a game?
“It’s new to all of us. We deal so little with it,” Yeo said. “I think it’s going to be exciting for the fans. I think it’s going to be great. You get that kind of skill on the ice, you get that type of openness to the game, you’re going to see some great plays.”
Devan Dubnyk said it’s terrifying for a goalie those rare times you get 3-on-3 in the middle of a game, but he loves the ice.
But he said, “Selfishly from a goalie standpoint, I’d like to see some separate statistics for 3-on-3 just like they have separate shootout statistics. If you have guys in a lot of 3-on-3’s compared to other goalies, it’ll significantly affect goals against and save percentage.
“As a goalie I’m biased toward that.”
In the AHL, all OT stats count in a player’s individual statistics.
In the AHL, any penalties in 3-on-3, you go to regular OT rules, so it would be a 4-on-3, not a 3-on-2. I’d assume it would be that way in the NHL, too.
As for coach’s challenges, a coach would have to have his one timeout in order to challenge.
This would be like the scenario in Denver a few weeks ago when the Avs scored on a dump-in after Cody McLeod pushed Dubnyk into the net.
Yeo said, “I’m all for it. I think it’s good for the game. What you definitely want is the outcome to be true. If a call’s made, you want it to be the right one. I know the refs wants that, I know the league wants that as well.”
Dubnyk loves this, too, and hopes the ref will be able to make the decision himself through a video monitor in the press box like college hockey. That doesn’t appear to be the plan.
“I think it’s good,” Dubnyk said. “It’s a real tough play for the ref to call. They’re only on one side of the net, it depends on the angle they see, they have to be watching for a lot of different things. It’s a lot for them to watch, but I think the ref needs to review it after a challenge because it’s important for them to still be part of the game. Refs are part of the game, plain and simple. They’re the ones making the call.”
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