Desperate times call for desperate measures, so with the Wild’s grasp on a playoff spot slipping by the day, the Wild made a significant roster shakeup Monday.
With three games left in the regular season and the big, strong Los Angeles Kings visiting on Tuesday, the Wild made an identity switch, swapping skilled but high-risk rookies Mikael Granlund and Jason Zucker with physical but safer veterans Stephane Veilleux and Jake Dowell.
The hope is that Veilleux and Dowell, who both were playing for the Houston Aeros of the AHL, will bring energy, grit and toughness. Granlund and Zucker had struggled since their most recent call-ups. The final straw came in Monday’s 4-1 loss to Calgary when both players made mistakes and strayed from the system — things the Wild cannot afford with the standings so tight right now.
“It’s not an easy time of year for young kids, and that’s also a real compliment to Charlie [Coyle] and Brods [Jonas Brodin] that they’re still able to go out and play and not play like young kids,” coach Mike Yeo said. “But it’s a tough time right now. And the game is tough and we’ve got to make sure that we’ve got everybody in the lineup going out and helping us to get to our game, playing the game the way that we should see it being played.”
Yeo indicated that the coaches talked to Granlund and Zucker about their play in recent days, but “if it doesn’t change, then you have to look to doing it a different way.”
Veilleux, 31, who has played 382 of his 460 NHL games with the Wild, and Dowell, 28, who has played 154 games for Chicago and Dallas, would be making their season debuts.
The hope is they bring the hard-nosed element lost by recent injuries to Mike Rupp and Zenon Konopka.
But the Wild has scored four goals though during an 0-4-1 home slide. Veilleux and Dowell have combined for seven goals and 17 points in 70 combined games for the Aeros.
Asked how he justifies the need for goals with demoting Granlund and Zucker, Yeo noted that the Wild has given up 16 goals in the past four games overall.
“I think that’s a bigger issue,” Yeo said. “When we’re winning games and when we’re at our best, certainly we score, but we’re a team that’s very difficult to play against, we’re a team that’s good defensively and plays with the right structure, the right details and plays the game with an edge.”
Harding back up
As expected, Josh Harding completed his two-game conditioning stint and was recalled Monday. Darcy Kuemper was reassigned as the Aeros prepare to open the Calder Cup playoffs in a best-of-five series against Grand Rapids on Friday.
Harding gave up five goals in five periods and helped the Aeros clinch a playoff spot with a victory over Texas on Friday.
Niklas Backstrom almost certainly will start against the Kings and Oilers this week, but if the Wild has a playoff spot ironed down by Saturday, there’s a chance Harding starts in Saturday’s finale at Colorado.
“We think we got [the multiple sclerosis] under control here,” Harding said. “I went and played and I felt good and nothing bothered me. The circumstances [in the AHL] aren’t like the NHL. It’s hot and humid down there, you’re bussing, the travel schedule is difficult, your routines are different. And if I can play there under those circumstances, I know I could play here.
“… I have a responsibility as a teammate and for this team to get myself ready in case I get in there, even in practice to make the guys better by trying as hard as I can. That’s my responsibility right now. I owe it to the team to do that.”
• Konopka (broken foot) returned to practice Monday, while Rupp (lower body) skated at the start.
• Jason Pominville was the lone player to miss Monday’s optional practice, but Yeo said he is fine.
• Wild officials unveiled the Iowa Wild’s new jersey and logo at a news conference in Des Moines on Monday. They can be seen on iowawild.com. The Aeros are relocating to Iowa after this season.