Update: Defenseman Ryan Suter is in the lineup vs. Columbus, Matt Cullen is not. Justin Falk and Nate Prosser are scratched. Brett Clark plays.
The Wild’s lineup is unclear heading into tonight’s oh-so important game against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Veteran center Matt Cullen was a surprise presence at this morning’s skate, but defenseman Ryan Suter did not skate. However, it was an optional skate, so it’s uncertain if Suter is a gametime decision or won’t play. Devin Setoguchi, Kyle Brodziak, Clayton Stoner, Mike Rupp and Zenon Konopka didn’t skate either this morning.
It’s unclear if they all took their options or are banged up.
One guy I know is hurt is Konopka. He left the rink in a walking cast this morning and I’m pretty sure he has been playing on a broken foot. No chance Konopka, who has been playing the fourth line, would have exercised his option otherwise.
Coach Mike Yeo, usually as truthful as he can be about the lineup, was coy this morning.
“Actually I’m not going to talk about the lineup,” Yeo said when asked about Cullen.
A couple more attempts by us wretched reporters, and he said, “We’re just trying to keep you guessing. It’s working.”
A question about Suter, and Yeo said, “I’ll say this again actually. I’m not going to talk about the lineup.”
Suter has been playing hurt for a couple weeks. I guessed the other night he may have pulled a muscle in the game. I’m pretty positive that’s not the case now and he’s been dealing with another lingering issue that was aggravated the other night.
Even if he plays, he won’t be 100 percent.
Same with Cullen. When Cullen returns, whether tonight or maybe the road trip, it’s obvious it’s because of the urgency of the situation. No chance he is fully healed.
GM Chuck Fletcher told me during the skate he didn’t think Cullen would play tonight, but he wasn’t entirely sure. He said there’s a risk of aggravating the injury, so they’ve got to be somewhat cautious. Cullen certainly skated this morning like he wants to play tonight, but he hasn’t practiced in 12 days. So tonight may be pushing it.
If Suter doesn’t play, the blue line has to step up to take his 27-plus minutes a game. Assuming Stoner isn’t also hurt and Suter doesn’t play tonight, the pairs should look like Jonas Brodin-Jared Spurgeon; Stoner-Tom Gilbert; Justin Falk-Nate Prosser.
Nik Backstrom obviously in goal.
As of yesterday, the lines looked like Parise-Koivu-Coyle; Zucker-Granlund-Setoguchi; Bouchard-Brodziak-Pominville; Rupp-Mitchell-Clutterbuck.
When Cullen returns, there’s a chance maybe Granlund moves to wing and Bouchard is taken out.
But Yeo is hoping for an offensive outburst from a team that's been shut out in three of four.
The Wild apparently just had enough cap space to get Zucker here without putting Josh Harding or Dany Heatley on long term injury reserve to gain extra cap space. But if the injuries keep mounting, and Fletcher indicated there are other guys legitimately hurt, the Wild will have to LTI somebody to gain extra space. That could be a way to eventually get Marco Scandella here, perhaps?
The only way last night could have been worse for the Wild is if Detroit and Phoenix had won in overtime. Instead, the Red Wings lost in a shootout and the Coyotes lost in overtime to only get one point.
But Dallas and Columbus won, meaning those four teams right behind the slumping Wild got closer.
The Wild’s now three up on ninth heading into tonight’s game.
Basically, it’s simple. The Wild, which has lost six of eight, controls its own destiny. It must start winning.
Asked about the standings, Yeo, at first, wasn’t pleased the topic was brought up.
He then said, “It’s funny how it changes though, isn’t it? You win a game and all of a sudden you’re looking at the teams that are in front of you and you lose a game and all of a sudden you’re looking at what’s behind you. It’s very difficult not to pay attention to that kind of stuff. There’s no question about that. But the way I see it, we’re already in the playoffs. These are playoff games. When you’re in the playoffs, you’re aware of it, but you’re not really concerned who’s winning or losing their other games. The only thing you know is you got to win games and that’s what we have to focus on.”
On the state of the team, Yeo said, “Our guys are battling hard. We’ve got to be better. We know that. We have better and we know that. The one thing that is definitely a positive in this is it’s forcing us to be better. That’s what you want.”
In other words, you get wins now and get in the playoffs, you’re on top of your game. As Suter told me the other day in Columbus, if you enter the playoffs with your game not in order, it’s usually a quick death anyway.
Yeo expects a different Columbus team tonight than the one that lost to the Wild 3-0 there last Sunday. First, the Jackets have injured Brandon Dubinsky and hard-nosed Jared Boll back in the lineup. Marian Gaborik should be motivated tonight to put a stake in the Wild.
Since that loss, the Jackets shut out San Jose 4-zip and beat St. Louis, the same team that blanked Minnesota two nights ago, 4-1. Yeo said they’re playing with a swagger and loose.
Jason Zucker is back. I talked to him about the fan campaign on Twitter to get him back. I’ll write more about that in Sunday’s paper.
Again, lineup is uncertain tonight. Very, very, very clear behind the scenes, this organization is very uptight right now with the pressure mounting.
The Wild badly needs a victory for a big sigh of relief, both internally and externally.
I’ll have lineup updates during warmups on my Twitter account at @russostrib and I’ll toss up a blog before the game as well.

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