MONTREAL – Wednesday night in Ottawa, Wild third goalie Darcy Kuemper was expected to get back into an NHL cage for the first time since a poor performance Oct. 15 in Toronto.
That likely will change now.
Josh Harding was pulled for the first time this season midway through the second period Tuesday night against the Montreal Canadiens. Kuemper proceeded to give up goals on the first two shots he faced and three overall in a 6-1 loss.
Coach Mike Yeo admitted after the game he pulled Harding so he wouldn’t have to endure any more and would have “enough in the tank” so he could start Wednesday as the Wild looks for the back-to-back split.
Last month’s start in Toronto was designed to give busy Harding a respite with Niklas Backstrom out because of a strained knee. With Backstrom now sidelined by a concussion, Kuemper’s expected start against the Senators was designed to again give Harding a rare game off.
But Kuemper just didn’t look comfortable Tuesday. Similarly in Toronto, the Wild did an impressive job protecting Kuemper, yet he allowed three goals on seven shots through 31 minutes in a 4-1 loss.
“It was just one of those games where obviously things didn’t go very good, but I’m not going to let it affect me,” Kuemper said Monday. “I’ve played a lot of games since then, and my confidence is where it needs to be.”
Kuemper made three starts last season, going 1-2, giving up only seven goals for a 2.37 goals-against average and .922 save percentage.
But the former Canadian Hockey League Goalie of the Year has had an up and down season for Iowa, going 3-7 with a 2.97 goals-against average.
“The team down there is in a tough stretch, and we’ve had some tough bounces,” Kuemper said. “Not all the boxscores have been good, but I’ve felt good with my games and there’s been some unlucky goals. I’ve just worked on playing my game and being in control and good rebound control and really focusing on getting to the shot and getting my feet set and not moving into it.”
But with Kuemper’s erratic play and Johan Gustafsson’s inexperience, the pressure might be on the Wild to add a veteran backup to spell Harding if Backstrom will be out long. He is working out lightly but hasn’t taken the ice.
Right wing Torrey Mitchell injured his left leg when he crashed into the boards during a collision with Montreal’s Max Pacioretty on Tuesday.
Mitchell didn’t play in the third. Yeo didn’t think it was serious, but if Mitchell can’t play in Ottawa, the Wild will either need to dress seven defensemen or recall a forward.
Clayton Stoner has played with four defense partners this season — injured Keith Ballard, Jared Spurgeon and interchanging Nate Prosser and Matt Dumba.
Tuesday in Montreal, Prosser played and Dumba was scratched.
“Pross has been in the system a long time and knows what we’re trying to do and trying to accomplish,” Stoner said. “Dums is a smart kid. He’s getting it really fast, but you can’t expect a young guy to know everything in 20 games.
“He’s doing a great job though and when Bally gets back, we’ll have eight D, so that’ll make for some good competition. We’ll have to make sure we’re all on our ‘A’ game.”
Defenseman Marco Scandella, who grew up a short drive from the Bell Centre, played his second game in Montreal.
He said he had to buy only 12 tickets, set up 30 postgame passes and got a home-cooked meal Monday from his parents, “so in the end, I won. … It’s just kind of cool to get messages from my old teachers like, ‘Hey, I got tickets, I’m excited to see you play.’ ”