The Wild recalled rugged left wing Kurtis Gabriel from AHL Iowa today. He didn’t arrive in Calgary in time for practice, but there’s a chance he could be in the lineup Friday night when the Wild visits the Flames.
While coach Bruce Boudreau said Gabriel won’t necessarily play, it’s clear Gabriel was chosen as the callup in part because the Wild’s worried the game could get chippy if the Flames seek retribution after the last meeting Nov. 15 when star left wing Johnny Gaudreau fractured a finger and ultimately underwent surgery.
The Flames have been shorthanded 97 times, the most in the NHL (34 times more than the Wild). Their penalty kill has been beatable, too, ranking 28th, killing just 77.3 percent.
Flames bloggers, especially, accused the Wild of targeting Gaudreau with 21 slashes throughout the course of the game. As you can see by the videos on the links, he seemed to first hurt himself on a Ryan Suter slash, then a couple from Eric Staal.
Asked if he expects the game to get chippy, Boudreau said, “It shouldn’t be. Look it, the Gaudreau injury, if you watch hockey, it was an accident. If you play hockey, you know the gloves are made out of nothing now. Everybody gets touched. It was Eric Staal.
“Eric Staal, what was the most penalty minutes he’s ever got in a year? If you think he’s a dirty player that’s going for Gaudreau’s hand, then we’re all mistaken. I think it was a crazy allegation by them, but at the same time, you never know what’s going to happen.”
You may laugh at the glove comment, but a couple NHLers I’ve actually talked to lately commented that if Gaudreau plans to carry the puck as much as he does, especially the circling in the offensive zone, he probably has to get better protection on the gloves.
Staal said, “I’m not worried. You play the game the same way every time regardless of circumstances. We’ll be prepared to go and try to get the two points because that’s the most important thing.”
Added Suter, “That’s a [crappy] part of the game. Guys get hurt. It [stinks]. You don’t want to see anybody get hurt. I honestly don’t expect anything. He’s a really good player and it [stinks] that he got hurt. But it’s part of the game.”
Suter said the Wild didn’t target Gaudreau, saying, “Honestly, he’s so quick and gets away from you so quick that you’re trying tap him on the stick just to throw him off. That’s part of the game.”
Boudreau also said with the Iowa Wild in Grand Rapids on Friday and Saturday and Minnesota playing in Edmonton on Sunday, the Wild wanted an extra forward with the team in case it needs to get a player here.
“He’s not necessarily playing,” Boudreau said of Gabriel, adding, “He’s coming up here, played games here last year. From all reports is he’s doing OK down there.”
Other than that, it was a big special teams practice today, and unusually the penalty kill.
The PK has cost the Wild bigtime in the previous two losses.
Remember, in the first 10 games of the season, the Wild’s kill was 26 for 27 for a league-best 96.3 percent. In the past 12 games, the Wild’s kill is 27 for 37, dousing just 72.9 percent of opposing power plays.
It has plummeted to 14th in the NHL (82.8 percent).
Before practice, the team had a PK meeting where they showed video clips of what it was doing so well the first 10 games.
It was outworking power plays, having a great neutral zone forecheck where it didn’t allow teams to enter the zone cleanly or set up and clearing pucks 200 feet.
“It was more of a meeting to reset,” Boudreau said. “Because some guys, over time, if you don’t practice it, then you get loose at it, which is why we had power play specific and penalty killing specific out there today.”
In other words, normally the Wild will practice the power play with a penalty kill unit or two going up against them. But because so many Wild power-play guys are also on the penalty kill, the Wild practiced both, which made for a little longer than normal practice the day before a game.
Staal: “We just got to get crispier in some areas. Our ability to make teams have to dump it and not set up with possession carrying it in is huge. If you can continually have teams go back and forth going up and down the ice trying to break in, that’s a big thing. I thought we were really, really good at that the first 10, 11 games using a lot of bodies and rolling over shifts and not letting teams set up. Once teams set up, guys can make plays. That’s how it is. If you can limit them opportunities to set up, for the most part you’re going to find success.”
Devan Dubnyk: “We need to get back to the way we were killing before. It’s not any magic recipe that we need to change. I just think we have to sharpen up a little bit, some small areas, as simple as getting the 200-foot clears down the ice. That was one thing we were really, really good at the first 11 games was getting pucks down the ice and getting clears and momentum.”
Erik Haula: “It’s just some little things. It wasn’t black and white as it was at the beginning of the year. I got to watch it a lot up top there for seven games [when I was hurt]. During that time, it looked really spot-on, guys working together, and now it’s a little bit of kind of guessing, should I, should I not.”
The big thing is clears, he said. “You have a chance to clear it, it’s got to go 200,” Haula said. “Otherwise it’s always one out of three at least that end up in the back of the net. You always get that feeling watching from the bench when you don’t get a clear and it stays in the zone.”
Maybe the Flames can be the PK’s tonic.
They have the worst special teams in the NHL. Besides being 28th on the PK, they’re 30th on the power play.
Talk Friday. I'll be on XM at 2:30 p.m. CT (I believe), KFAN at 5:15 p.m. and Fox Sports North Plus during the game and before the game.