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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The Wild’s trying to take steps toward rediscovering that effective game we saw in October and the first part of November, the type of play that helped it at one point build a 7-1 home record before the rug started to be pulled from under its season.
For about 35 minutes tonight, fans at Xcel Energy Center saw lots of reminders of what that game looked like.
Playing against a down-and-out Arizona team that is about to begin a major rebuild, the Coyotes are still a hard-working, well-coached team, so there was no way this game was going to be as easy as the Wild’s game at Buffalo a few nights earlier.
The Wild played a strong puck possession game in the first half, looked fast and constantly spent time in Arizona’s zone and probably should have had a three- or four-goal lead if not for the netminding of Mike Smith. It built a 2-0 lead though en route to a 3-1 win.
It wasn't an easy one though. The game's complexion changed when Mikko Koivu made one of those mistakes you typically make when you're tired. Koivu, who had a solid game with the exception of this one shift, was late in his shift, so he was slow to make a decision as to whether to chip a puck out or force an exit pass while his linemates went to the bench. He was pickpocketed, took a penalty and the Wild’s 2-0 lead became 2-1 on the penalty kill.
From there though, the Coyotes pushed hard and Devan Dubnyk, facing his old team from only three days earlier, had to be good. He was, as Dave Tippett called him to me a few hours earlier, “very settling.” He made big saves, froze pucks, alleviated pressure on forechecks by coming out and playing pucks for his D.
He showed his size a few times by making outstretched pad saves that looked like they would be sure goals. He stopped all 11 pucks he saw in the third and 25 in all for his second straight win in a Wild sweater and the Wild’s first two-game winning streak since Nov. 16-20.
“He’s made some huge saves,” said Jason Zucker, who scored the winning goal on a second-period brief breakaway that was created by his speed, a nifty chip pass by Justin Fontaine and Dubnyk bypassing a few Coyotes with a clear. “There were definitely a few we thought would go in and somehow he kept them out.”
Dubnyk’s assist on the Zucker goal was the second of his career and the Wild’s first since Niklas Backstrom on Dec. 2, 2011. He is the sixth Wild goalie in history to record an assist. Regardless of the assist, Dubnyk’s puck-handling has been noticeable and a huge plus. He just negates forechecks coming out to play pucks and deeps the defensemen, that you know get hurt often, from getting smashed. Ryan Suter talks about that in my game notebook, which is on the statribune.com/wild page and paper Sunday.
I wrote most my gamer on Dubnyk and how the Wild was able to magically turn his Coyotes mask into a Wild-looking mask so quickly. So check that out if you wonder. He’s also wearing his Coyotes pants only with Wild green on top of his breezers. The pads were also the same Coyotes pads, but the Wild has leather swatches in Wild colors. Assistant equipment manager Rick Bronwell cuts traces of the pattern in the pad and the leather pieces just stick on.
Dubnyk had a bunch of cool stuff to say after the game and you can read that in the gamer.
“It was weird [playing my old team],” he said. “It was more weird being around the hotel and seeing them around there and walking over to the rink and stuff. I had the opportunity to play against Edmonton for the first time this year. I just tried to draw off of that experience and different things I do to just try to make the picture small and not worry too much about the situation and just concentrate on the game.”
Charlie Coyle looked like the Coyle fans want to see. Scored a goal, wiggled down the boards brushing off checks to set up one chance, got into a major-league battle with Michael Stone. Played angry, and coach Mike Yeo sat down with him a few days ago to let me know he wants more.
I loved Jonas Brodin’s game. Obviously was on for the one goal though. Jared Spurgeon was great for a second straight game. I liked Jason Pominville’s game early and how impressive was Marco Scandella?
Doesn’t practice after missing five games and comes in to play 24:48 and be plus-3. He just adds a different dimension.
“I was ready mentally,” Scandella said. “You just got to convince yourself you’re ok. I didn’t practice as much as I liked to, but I felt great.”
On the Coyotes’ push, Dubnyk said, “That’s a great group of guys that work hard over there and at some point they’re going to make a push and they did in the third. It’s how you handle those pushes and we did an incredible job. Lots of stuff from the outside and it’s my job to handle those.”
After the one goal, Antoine Vermette, his old teammate, said something to him. Asked what, Dubnyk, laughing, said, “He wanted me to give him a couple more. I said, ‘Sorry I can’t, maybe another time, not right now.’”
Yeo said the first half of the game was “fantastic, and then it seemed like we were getting a little bit frustrated that we weren’t extending our lead and we started to get away a little bit, which really doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. So there’s some good teaching points in that game.
“Things we were doing early in the game that were leading to chances and that were making it so difficult and frustrating for them we started to get away from. We have to make sure on top of it the full 60 the next game for sure.”
Yeo felt the Wild defended well late and didn’t scramble the way it would have in recent games, but he felt players weren’t completely as composed as they needed to be in the third.
But a few weeks ago, the Wild probably would have lost this game. It won this won and maybe it’s starting to take steps in the right direction. We’ll see if the Wild can build on this in home-road back-to-backs Monday and Tuesday against Columbus and Detroit.
That’s it for me. Check out my Sunday Insider in the paper and startribune.com/wild on tanking, too. Rachel Blount is covering Sunday’s practice and Monday’s game, although I’ll come to the game and tweet away before my Tuesday morning flight to Detroit.
I'll also be on Rosen's Sports Sunday on CCO-TV on Sunday night.
I'll also be doing a live chat on startribune.com/wild at 1 p.m. CT Tuesday from Detroit.
Happy Hockey Day Minnesota everybody.
Man, am I getting old. Just got out of the Coyotes locker room, where I was shooting the breeze with Connor Murphy.
I remember him as a toddler learning how to skate at Gold Coast Ice Arena in Pompano Beach, Fla., when I covered his dad, Gord Murphy, on the Panthers. Across the room was Sam Gagner, who I remember as a kid dominating youth hockey at Incredible Ice in Coral Springs when I covered his dad, Dave Gagner (the former North Star).
Connor said there are actually pictures of he and young Sam together on the ice as kids.
Wild and Coyotes tonight – two struggling teams, with the Coyotes about to begin a severe rebuild that was started with Devan Dubnyk being dealt to Minnesota and Keith Yandle and Antoine Vermette at least likely to be traded this season.
Dubnyk, three days after being traded from Arizona, vs. Mike Smith (the NHL’s worst qualifying goalie in SV% and GAA, tonight.
“He was just solid,” coach Dave Tippett said this morning of Dubnyk. “I’d like to say he came in and just reinvented himself, but he just came in and played a solid, simple game. I don’t think anybody anticipated Smitty’s struggles and when Smitty was struggling, he just came and stabilized things. Probably that’s why Chuck [Fletcher] thought he’d be a fit here right now. There’s nothing extraordinary about his game. He’s a big guy, just plays strong position and is very settling in there.”
Dubnyk was only in Arizona half a season, but he created quite a bond with his ex-teammates and went to dinner with a bunch of them last night.
“I made a lot of good friends there in a short period of time,” Dubnyk said.
But he said this is a great opportunity in Minnesota and said the Buffalo win was “One of the best games I’ve ever been a part of.”
He said he came to Arizona hoping for an opportunity at some point, whether it be this year or next and to get the opportunity to “get in the net and play again and to get it so soon, it’s real exciting to think about.”
Niklas Backstrom, one of the best pros around, was treating him royally today despite his future is in severe flux. Darcy Kuemper was back on the ice today with a new hipster haircut. I said, “Did you ask for the Scandella?” Turns out he did go to Scandella’s barber.
He’s getting close. Mikael Granlund has a doctor’s appointment today to see if he can get cleared to return for tomorrow’s practice. Ryan Suter has a game left in his suspension. And Scandella will be surprisingly put in the lineup tonight, so Yeo said, “We’re getting close to what our group should look like.”
Yeo does not have an answer yet how he’ll manage the three goalies once it arises. Only one can start, only one can back up. He said the most important thing is to make sure they’re all getting the reps, so to speak. Rachel Blount will have more on the goalie situation most likely in Monday’s paper because it’s expected they’ll make Backstrom available tomorrow.
Scandella did have a concussion from that puck to the head Jan. 6 and missed the past five games.
“Extremely frustrating. Team got a big win last game and just want to come in and hopefully help out,” he said. “I’ve been skating a bit, so you just go out there and play simple. I feel good, my head’s good. I’m just ready.”
On returning with zero practices under his belt and only a few days of practice, Scandella said, “That’s the luxury that sometimes you don’t get. But I worked hard on my way back. I feel great. Head, mind, everything, body feels great. Little rested too because the time off obviously helps with bumps and bruises.”
Yeo said he’s “very happy to have him back. I thought the defense did a great job last game, but he’s a huge part of our defensive group.”
On playing him with no practices, Yeo said, “He’s got a good base. He’s been skating,” and that he hasn’t been out for three or four weeks like Granlund, “so the fact that he hasn’t been out very long and given where we’re at in this season, I think we’re confident that he’s OK.”
Yeo has a busy day.
He was sprinting over to the airport to watch his son, Kyler, play for Hill Murray outdoors against St. Thomas Academy. His daughter, Braeden, has senior night at 3 for East Ridge against Roseville. Yeo had to go there to take part in the opening ceremonies and helped last night with her senior night posterboard.
“I’m pretty good with the arts and crafts,” he joked. “Typically on a gameday I go home and get my beauty sleep, but these are things you can’t miss as a parent.”
Yeo said most important is the Wild must get back to being a good home team tonight. This is a team that has won once in the past eight home games. It also hasn’t won two in a row since Nov. 16-20.
“Since I’ve been here we’ve always had stretches where we get on six-, eight-game runs,” Yeo said. “I guess one positive is we haven’t done that yet. I am optimistic that will happen at least once this year and hopefully more than once. Generally when we play a consistent game,” it gives them a chance to win every night.
We talked to Suter today about his time off and he had a lot of interesting stuff to say I’ll put in Sunday’s paper. Great stuff on what it’s like to watch the game from upstairs and also if he thinks the time off will help him. Also good stuff on Dubnyk.
Same lines tonight, meaning Jordan Schroeder is scratched.
Blum is scratched. Shane Doan is hurt for Arizona.
Yesterday was J.P. Parise’s funeral. Suter lost his dad, Bob, in September.
“It was a good tribute to Zach’s dad,” Suter said. “It’s so sad and brings back memories to see him going through that, good friend, close friend. It went smooth. Hopefully it starts the healing for them.
“For him to be playing and then go bury your dad, it would have been hard to do. Now that’s it over, hopefully we can all move on.”
Yeo said, “It really hurts to see a teammate hurt.”
Rex Ryan has a lot more work to do to fix the Buffalo defense than he imagined.
Oh, wrong coach, wrong team.
Fine night for the Wild to face the Sabres.
As I wrote the other day on the blog, it’s a little eerie that one year ago, the Wild was in the midst of a six-game losing streak entering its 43rd game of the season against the Buffalo Sabres. Mike Yeo’s job was in peril, the Wild’s goaltending was in shambles.
One year later, the Wild was in the midst of a six-game losing streak entering its 43rd game of the season against the Buffalo Sabres. Mike Yeo’s job is in peril, the Wild’s goaltending has been in shambles.
Last January, the Wild beat the Sabres, went on a 23-10-7 the rest of the way for the third-best record in the NHL and stormed into the playoffs.
This January, the Wild’s hoping its easy 7-0 win tonight over the Sabres with new goalie Devan Dubnyk in net was the start of the same turnaround.
The Sabres are awful, are in bottom-out, rebuild, go for Connor McDavid/Jack Eichel mode and it showed tonight. But the Wild got back to basics, defended well with a mishmash blue line and protected Dubnyk bigtime. Yes, it was the Sabres, but man, the Wild needed a game to start feeling good about itself again.
He was barely tested, making only 18 saves to become the first Wild goalie to ever debut with a shutout.
The seven-goal win was not only the largest margin of victory in Wild history, it was the largest margin of defeat for the Sabres since they moved from the Aud to the First Niagara Center in 1996. So, you may discount the win as the Wild beating a peewee team, but as much as the Sabres lose, they have never lost like this, not only this season, but not at home in 18-plus years.
“We’re all embarrassed. I’m speechless,” Sabres coach Ted Nolan said.
Hey, he stole the Wild’s line, at least of late. Usually it's the Wild which says it's embarrassed. But the Wild won for the first time since Jan. 3 and first time on the road since Dec. 29 and most of all sat inside a happy locker room for a change after a game.
Funny Matt Cooke/Dubnyk anecdote to lead my gamer, so read that when the new one gets on at startribune.com/wild, but it’ll give you a good idea of just how much work Dubnyk had in his debut.
“The guys came out and worked so hard for me and allowed me to settle into the game,” he said. “We had a lead and the way we were playing we weren’t about to give it up. I could concentrate when the pucks came across the blue line, which wasn’t too often because of how solid we played.”
Dubnyk admitted he had some nerves, but mostly because his body was a little tired from his red-eye and 8 a.m. Buffalo arrival and the quick turnaround, but he tried not to build it up too big and just focused on making the save.
Zach Parise scored the winning goal 5:13 in, had an assist and six shots. Thomas Vanek had a season-high eight shots and also scored a power-play goal and assist against his longtime team. Kyle Brodziak (shorthanded, real good game) and Erik Haula (real good game) also had a goal and assist and Matt Dumba (plus-3, first pro fight), Jared Spurgeon (plus-4 a game after being minus-4) and Matt Cooke also scored as the Wild outshot the Sabres 37-18.
There were actually too many good games to list tonight.
Mikko Koivu had two assists for the first time since Nov. 24.
Jason Pominville posted his 31st career three-point game with three assists on a night the classy former Sabres captain was welcomed back with a video tribute that bizarrely didn’t happen last season.
He didn’t know it was going on until Parise told him while the team was on a power play. He was very appreciative.
Since Nov. 16, Pominville has 22 assists, tied for first in the NHL with Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf over that span.
He now has 134 career multi-point games and three in his past six games.
Parise said, “We were playing a team that was struggling, too. There was an emphasis on defending and let the other stuff come. We wanted to make sure we were taking care of our own end first and coming up the ice together, but limiting their chances. I thought we did a good job of that.
“When we’re playing well, that’s what we’re doing. We’re really not giving up too many Grade A chances. Throughout all zones, we played more of a five-man unit.”
He said, “When the goals are coming, when guys are talking, supporting each other, you get that excitement. It felt like everything just fell into place.”
Haula said, “We just had the mindset we’re going to put everything just out there and battle.”
Brodziak said, “There’s been a lot of talking lately and I thought everybody was focused on playing the right way. As the game wore on, you see what it does to other teams. Now we just have to bring that every single night and every single period.”
Dumba was real good for his first NHL game since Nov. 28. He said, “It’s kind of weird. Its didn’t feel like that at all. It just felt like I was very engaged, focused right from the get-go. Once I made a couple good, solid plays, I just played from there.”
Yeo like Dubnyk’s poise and size in net and the way he played pucks to alleviate pressure.
“We needed to give him a good chance and we needed to give our defensive group a good chance to play a solid game,” said Yeo, who loved the Wild’s overall game, the play of the D and the forwards and called it one of the best defensive games in weeks and proof that if you defend well, offense comes from that.
On Dumba, “We want him be impactful. … I like the fact that he’s trying to make a statement every time he’s on the ice.”
He liked Haula’s game a lot and wants him to continue to build his game.
On the win, “We can’t sit around and start feeling really good about ourselves. Unfortunately, we put ourselves in a pretty deep hole here, so as good as this game was, the next game’s more important.”
That’s it for now. The Wild is off Friday as the team will have a hard, emotional day as it supports Parise at his dad’s service. Then, Hockey Day Minnesota on Saturday when Dubnyk will face the Coyotes so soon after being traded from there.
I’ll have a story on that in Saturday’s paper and I’ll also be writing my Sunday Insider on “tanking” for McDavid and Eichel.
I will be doing a Podcast with Star Tribune columnist Jim Souhan on Friday at 5 p.m. at O’Gara’s in St. Paul. Either come on down or listen live or later at souhanunfiltered.com.
Barring news, talk to you Saturday.
Devan Dubnyk, after taking a red-eye from Phoenix to Buffalo via JFK, arrived in Buffalo at 8 a.m. and despite the long night and early morning, he’ll make his Wild debut tonight against the Sabres.
The Sabres, the NHL’s worst offensive team, have lost a franchise-record eight in a row. The Wild is 0-5-1 in its past six and has lost 12 of 14.
The Wild will be using a mishmash blue line with Ryan Suter suspended and Marco Scandella and Justin Falk hurt. Five right-shot D’s play tonight, so as of now, the pairs are:
Spurgeon (left side for first time in his pro career)-Prosser
Blum (who has struggled every time the Wild has seen him on the left side)-Dumba
Jordan Schroeder is scratched for a third straight game.
If you didn’t see the advance stat blog that our Michael Rand wrote on Dubnyk today, check that out here.
As advertised, Dubnyk is very affable and the Wild abandoned at least for today its team policy that the starting goalie doesn’t talk on a game day.
Dubnyk, who wore his Coyotes mask and pads in the morning skate, said the trade from the Coyotes to the Wild was a “bit of a roller coaster. I didn’t see it coming. I was aware of rumors and whatnot and I was just driving home from the rink and got a call. As the day went on, it settled in and I just got more and more excited. It’s an opportunity for me to come play. The way that things were in Arizona and Smitty (Mike Smith) there and they’ve got a great goalie locked up for a lot of years, to get a chance to come somewhere and play games is exciting for me. I’m looking forward to that.”
Honestly, in my opinion, Dubnyk has to look at this as a no-pressure scenario. Just play. The Wild has struggled. The goalies have struggled, so just get in there, play and try to allow the Wild to rediscover its game.
Unfortunately, what we’ve seen is the Wild’s game started to erode once the goaltending turned south. They started to cheat defensively to protect the goalies better, they started to get down in the dumps once the bad goals started to occur and now the game is MIA. There have been signs recently in the home game against Chicago, first period against Nashville, first and second periods against Pittsburgh that the structure is still there. So maybe tonight can be the beginning of the tonic, so to speak. We shall see.
Dubnyk, who has a wife and 17-month-old, wanted to make it here for the skate so he could get as much of a normal gameday routine as possible.
He said he got a little sleep on the red-eye, but he said laughing, “I’m 6-5, so I don’t fit on planes that well. I crunched up into a ball as best as I could. I think my tailbone will be reminding me of that flight for a couple weeks to come.”
Last year was “tough,” he said. As I wrote in my coverage in today’s paper, he lost his job in Edmonton, was traded to Nashville and Montreal and ended up in the minors.
“If you asked me before the start of last season what the absolute worst outcome of a season could be, I probably wouldn’t have told you half of what happened,” Dubnyk said. “That’s the way the things can go in professional sports. It was a long and difficult season for me. I was able to take a step back in the summer and I was fortunate to get a great opportunity to go to Arizona and get to work with [goalie coach] Sean Burke and an organization that gave me full confidence and an opportunity to go in and just get my game back. To feel fortunate to have an opportunity to play in this league, you realize how quickly it can be taken away from you, whether in your control or not. And to come back and just be grateful to be at the rink every day, maybe it’s a good thing in the long run.”
Burke and I are fairly tight. I covered him in Florida. In fact, I told a story to Dubnyk today about me sharing a cab with Burke coincidentally to a morning skate in Buffalo in the final week or two of one season. Burke’s hip was a mess and he told me he was shutting it down after that game and Kirk McLean would take over.
He told me he’d go out fighting that night. I didn’t take him literally. Early in the game, Vaclav Varada came within a few feet of the crease and Burke went to town on the Sabres agitator. Just pummeled him. Burke, when I covered him, had more fighting majors I believe than any active goalie at that time.
“I don’t have that side,” Dubnyk said of Burke. “I wouldn’t pick a fight with him. I’ve seen him in the gym, so I’d probably stay away.”
On how he resurrected his career this year and frankly played better than Smith, Dubnyk said, “It was very simple. It was a combination of going in there with [Burke] and [Dave] Tippett and all the coaches in that organization and them just showing me the confidence right from the day I showed up there. That was never in question for me, which after a season like last year was one of the most important things. For them to show that to me was a great start and it’s real simple with Burkie. He’s a big guy, he played a similar style, so it’s about beating the play and being set for the play and being patient on your feet. He told me he had all the confidence in the world that I could stop the puck from there, so if we put in the work to be ahead of the play, then I can just go play goal and have some fun.”
Yeo said that Dubnyk looked good in the morning skate.
“We’re just excited. I know from playing against him that I really do believe that this is a guy who can come in and be successful here,” Yeo said.
Yeo said he hopes Dubnyk’s arrival would give the team confidence going into games.
“Sometimes just adding an NHL player, whether it’s goaltender or any position, it does something to the psyche, does something to the confidence, and particular with the goaltending position, and this is not to place blame on Backy or Kuemps, our game has not been good enough,” Yeo said. “I think a lot of times the goals have been going in and for whatever reason our game starts to deteriorate after we let in one or two goals and this could gives a chance to reset and focus on our own jobs.”
Yeo continued, “The way things have gone lately between Backy and Kuemps, there’s no doubt that their confidence is not high right now. Part of the fact that both guys have not been quite on top of it doesn’t really give the other one an opportunity for a break. I think one other guy coming in here and hopefully he can find his game quickly and establish himself right away, I know that it’ll help the other guys as well.”
I assume John Curry has been reassigned. He was working off the ice with injured Justin Falk as the Wild skated.
“He’s got a lot of facial hair, so he definitely matured a little bit while he’s down there,” Yeo kidded. “We know he has a chance to come in and be impactful in areas of his puck play and his execution on the back end, [especially offensively]. I definitely want to see the consistency … in his defensive game, his position, his reads and that’s what I’m excited to see. From my understanding, he’s been playing more of a controlled game and we’re going to need that from him.”
Dumba, on his goatee, said jokingly, “That’s what I was going for. I needed to grow a good goatee just like him. It’s been a good experience down there. I’ve been playing lots of minutes and I think my game’s coming in a good way. Just want to keep going on that, keep improving every day.”
On Iowa, Dumba said, “It’s been fun, get back to playing all those scenarios (power play, PK, No. 1 pair). It’s been good. With those guys down there, too, it’s been fun. A lot of guys my age and friends I’ve made over the last couple years, so it’s fun. It’s all working back to this and trying to get your game to the best it can be so you can be here.”
Suter didn’t want to talk today. He’s very disappointed the league didn’t give him the benefit of the doubt after years of clean play.
But he does have a minus-21 in his past 20 games, so Yeo said, “Mentally as much as anything, a chance to reset. We’ve talked a lot about his plus-minus and how frustrating and disappointing that is for him, [so this is a chance] to clear his head a little bit on that. But physically, we demand so much from him, especially when Marco’s been out. It seems like we’ve had one of our top-4 Dmen out almost all year long, and with that, we’ve asked an awful lot of him, especially with him coming back after being sick. So typically what we would do on a day like today, we would skate them into the ground. But we’ve instructed our coaches that he really does basically no extra work today. Tomorrow [with J.P. Parise services], another off day for him. Two good rest days.”
Yeo said Scandella is hitting the ice today. He took a couple days off because he wasn’t progressing.
Yeo said Kuemper is close, and Mikael Granlund is close. The Wild is 2-6-1 since he broke his wrist. Granlund and maybe Scandella and Kuemper will be able to join the team at Saturday’s morning skate and practice Sunday.
Again, as I wrote in yesterday’s blog, the Wild may talk to Kuemper about going to the All-Star break for a brief rehab assignment. Let’s be honest: He could use it, but he’d need to accept if the team goes that route.
Yeo said one positive: “We do have some help on the horizon.”
Considering I woke up in Pittsburgh like 19 hours ago, it’s been a slightly busy day. If you didn’t see all the day’s events, please see the previous meaty blog. Lots of good quotes in there.
Lots of good quotes in here, too.
About an hour ago, I got off the phone with General Manager Chuck Fletcher, who has been in Ft. Lauderdale conducting scouting meetings. Almost every team in the league right now is doing their amateur and/or pro scouting meetings, and they don’t seem to do them in Winnipeg or the Yukon Territory.
They usually go to Boca, Lauderdale, Palm Springs, Vegas and Scottsdale. You can the picture.
Fletcher said this hasn’t been the most relaxing few days of his life. The stressed, very disappointed GM said he actually had to leave the scouts in the middle of watching Tuesday’s 7-2 loss at Pittsburgh because he was so disturbed at what he was watching.
“It’s like a dark cloud hanging over us,” Fletcher said. “It’s unbelievable. Anything that can go wrong is going wrong right now, I can tell you that much.”
Earlier this evening, Fletcher traded a third-round pick to Arizona for goalie Devan Dubnyk, who had a rough year last year as I described on the previous blog but seems to have rehabilitated his career this year.
“I don’t think it’s any secret we have bigger expectations for our goaltending than what they’ve provided for us this season,” Fletcher said. “We were looking to add some depth and add a goaltender that’s capable of coming in and winning games and pushing the other two as well. We need to play better team defense in general, but I think adding another goaltender made a lot of sense. It’s not easy to find players this time of the year. More players are looking to add players than subtract and we’re fortunate we were able to get Devan. He’s had a very good season in Arizona and four of his last five seasons his statistics are quite good and at this point we’re hoping he can deliver more of the same. We’re just looking for him to play the way he’s played in four of the last five years and we’ll go from there. And hopefully the competition will help too.”
Dubnyk, who is supposedly an awesome guy and more importantly a great quote (yes, it’s about me), is expected to join his new team in Buffalo. Coach Mike Yeo hopes that he’ll be able to start Thursday against the Sabres, but the two will chat on Thursday to make sure he’s able.
The hope is Darcy Kuemper, pulled in five of his past seven home starts before aggravating a lower-body injury, can return before the All-Star break or right after. I asked Fletcher directly if he would try to get Kuemper to maybe accept a conditioning stint and play a few games for Iowa during the NHL All-Star break, and he said yes.
Harding is still out with multiple sclerosis issues: “It’s too hard to speculate” if he’ll play again for the Wild, Fletcher said. “He isn’t an option for us right now and isn’t close to being an option.”
Niklas Backstrom has allowed 30 goals in his past eight starts.
If Kuemper, Backstrom and Dubnyk are healthy all at the same time, Fletcher said the Wild will have to carry three goalies on its 23-man roster.
Fletcher said, “We need to find out what our team really is. I’ve been waiting for the answers to come from the inside. I’ve been calling around for weeks. It’s not easy to get teams to sell players early. Most teams are still in and we’ve been waiting and hoping that the answers would come from within, but we’re at a very critical time right now. We’ve got to stabilize here. We’ve got to find a way to win a game and start to play the right way. You’re not just going to snap your fingers and everything’s going to get back to normal, but we’ve shown at points of this year we’re a good hockey team, we have good players, we have good coaches and we need to find a way to become a good team again. Right now we’re not a good team and this is a small step. Everybody’s lost confidence and that happens when you go through these stretches.
“I thought it was time for me to give this team a shot in the arm and we’ll keep trying. We’ll see if we can add more pieces. If we can do it great, but it has to come from the inside too and maybe this is a spark they need to get going.
“I think Mike’s a good coach, and I think we have a good team. But right now we’re in a perilous position for our season and we have to win some games. We’re capable of doing it. But we have to stabilize here. We’ll see where it takes us. We’ve got to get going. We’re better than this. It’s time. It’s more than time.”
Fletcher again said that Yeo is safe.
“We’ve got an overall performance issue here,” he said. “I’m not looking at Mike at all right now. He’s our coach. He’s a good coach.”
OK, that's it for me. I think I've written 50,000 words today. I'm spent. Night. Talk to you after the morning skates Thursday.
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