Afternoon from Minneapolis.
Nino Niederreiter, Jared Spurgeon and the Wild faces (my!!!) New York Islanders, who boast a lineup that includes John Tavares, Brock Nelson, Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielsen, Cal Clutterbuck and (who else????) NICK LEDDY, Tuesday at Xcel Energy Center.
Against one of the top teams in the East (Isles lead the league with 19 wins), the Wild looks to wrap up a pedestrian 1-1-1 homestand on a good note before heading out on a three-game road trip to San Jose, Glendale (Ariz.) and Chicago.
The Islanders used to be my favorite team as a kid. Those allegiances are long gone, but I always get a little nostalgic when the Isles come to town and especially during my annual trip to Long Island. Sadly in March, I will be covering my final game at Nassau Coliseum because the team moves into its new digs in Brooklyn next season.
It will be emotional.
I’m also excited that Hall of Fame broadcaster Jiggs McDonald will be in town Tuesday to come out of retirement (so to speak; he fills in every now and then on Islanders and Panthers broadcasts). The great Howie Rose (infamous for his “Matteau! Matteau! Matteau! Stephane Matteau!!!! call when the Rangers beat the Devils in OT to advance to the 1994 Stanley Cup Final) has the game off, so Jiggs will swoop into Minnesota, where he has family, to work with Butch Goring, the best trade deadline player acquisition EVER (in the Billy Harris/Dave Lewis trade in 1980 prior to the first of four straight Isles Cups).
I became friends with Jiggs when he called Panthers games on radio full-time back when I covered them in the latter part of my Fla. career at the Sun-Sentinel. That was real cool because I grew up watching Jiggs do Islanders games on the former SportsChannel with Ed Westfall. In fact, the neatest part of covering the Panthers when I was a young pup? As an old Islanders fan, imagine covering a Florida organization that had Bill Torrey as its President, Billy Smith as its goalie coach, Denis Potvin as its TV color analyst and Duane Sutter as assistant coach (and eventual head coach). Was pretty cool starting out as a hockey writer with so many people I rooted for as a kid around.
OK, onto the Wild.
1. Captain Mikko Koivu, who missed Saturday’s practice with what was described as a very minor strain, practiced today, as did defenseman Ryan Suter, who missed the past two games with the mumps. He is expected to return vs. the Isles (more on this below)
Yeo didn’t divulge yet which defenseman (Nate Prosser, Keith Ballard or Christian Folin will come out of the lineup.
Niklas Backstrom will be in net (more on this below).
Charlie Coyle missed practice today because he’s sick.
“I was told it is definitely … not… the mumps,” coach Mike Yeo said. “It’s a stomach ailment. We’ll see where he’s at [Tuesday].”
If Coyle is questionable, the Wild will either have to play Stu Bickel at wing or call up a forward from Iowa later today or in the morning. Yeo may want Bickel playing against a tough Isles team.
Typically, we’ll get word after 4 p.m. CT because the salary cap is computed daily. The Baby Wild plays at Charlotte tonight.
Matt Cooke is still not practicing due to the hip flexor. Eighteen games out and counting now. Wild misses him badly.
2. Speaking of Charlotte, I updated the top of the last blog that goalie Josh Harding left Saturday’s game after two periods due to dehydration.
It was so serious, he was taken to the hospital and remained hospitalized until he was released late Sunday. Multiple sources say this is related to his multiple sclerosis. Harding is listed day-to-day with dehydration, but this will likely be one of those indefinite day-to-day’s. It’s very unlikely he will play another game for Iowa until this is figured out.
Iowa has recalled Johan Gustafsson from ECHL Alaska to back up John Curry tonight in Charlotte and the Wild was making arrangements on getting Harding back to Minnesota.
So, wish Harding well.
3. From a Wild perspective, Harding is out of the picture for the time being, meaning Darcy Kuemper and Backstrom are the two goalies … period. Somebody suggested to me that perhaps the Wild swoops in on Anaheim and signs Ilya Bryzgalov as insurance (technically Bryzgalov is on a tryout with the Ducks and still a free agent), but I’d think that is improbable.
Backstrom, who is 3-2-1 with a 1.97 goals-against average and .917 save percentage in nine appearances, gets the start vs. the Isles.
“We feel that’s what the team needs right now and part of that is [Backstrom] deserves to start,” Yeo said.
There’s no doubt the Wild would love Backstrom to get in the net and play a string of good games to 1) help the team and 2) give Kuemper some internal competition.
Yeo alluded to this the other day, but it does seem the second Kuemper hit the 14-game threshold that mean he required waivers to get to Iowa, his game has been inconsistent.
Columnist Chip Scoggins is writing about the Wild goalie situation for Tuesday’s paper. It certainly seems like the Wild’s biggest concern right now. The Anaheim game really showed that. The Wild gave up about eight scoring chances in the game and Kuemper was beaten cleanly on five of them (on only 18 shots).
Yeo said, “That’s the struggles of any young goalie. We know that he has the technical ability, we know that he has the athletic ability, we know that he’s a great kid and he’s going to put the work in, but the reason why it takes goalies a little longer is because of the mental aspect of it, how you prepare, how you find consistency in your game.”
Backstrom doesn’t look like the same goalie as the past few years. He just looks more confident and healthier in net because he is healthy. He does his rehab work daily and it’s to the point he’s not thinking about being in pain on the ice.
Tuesday’s game will be Backstrom’s 400th of his Wild career. He is the winningest goalie in Wild history and owns 25 individual goalie records.
He’s not used to being a backup but says, “You have to find a way to be there for the guys. You can’t hide behind excuses even if it’s something you’re not used to. You just have to find a way.”
Kuemper’s big issue seems like he lets goals affect him instead of forgetting about it and moving on. I asked Backstrom his perspective on Kuemper as a veteran: “For everyone, even young and older, you learn every day. You learn about yourself, you learn about the game. For sure you want to stop every puck, but it’s a big thing for a goalie, you have to realize if you do everything right, and they score, you can’t let that bother you. You hate to get scored on but you have to forget it and move on and focus on the next shot. Even if you’re my age, I think if you talk to every goalie, you work every day just to be in the moment and not look behind you. You can’t fix what happened in the past. You have to learn from it and move on. I don’t know, maybe when you retire, you realize you learned it. But before that, for a goalie, for sure a lot of the game is physical, but it’s mentally, too. You have to be comfortable about there. You can’t be afraid of letting in goals and making mistakes because it’s going to happen. It’s part of the game.”
Kuemper talked to Chip today and said he has had some bad luck recently at home, but his body of work is still good.
“I’m definitely learning,” Kuemper told Scoggins. “It’s been a little bit tough with new D-men every night it seems with the disease going through. Not that that’s an excuse. But the mumps makes it tough. But I’m kind of learning as I’m going. Obviously you want to be as consistent as you can. I don’t feel like I’m going in there one night feeling awesome and one night fighting the puck. Sometimes there’s some puck luck as well. I’ve been consistent at every level and I know it will come here.”
On the so called meltdowns, Kuemper said, “I think it’s just coincidental. The only game that I’d say really went awry was that New York game. I think that kind of put some thoughts into peoples’ heads. So when two goals happen, then all of a sudden, it’s, ‘Oh no. It’s happening again.’ But really it’s just situational.”
Check out Chip’s column Tuesday.
4. I’ll be writing about Suter, who is coming back from the mumps.
“I’m glad it’s out of my system,” he said. “There’s a few days there where you really can’t do anything. It’s a miserable virus and I’m glad it’s out of me. It was miserable. I’m fortunate we only played a few games there, a few off days. So that helped. My version was pretty bad.”
Suter was hoping to return Friday against Anaheim, but at the morning skate, he was dizzy and nauseous. Saturday, the Wild had a very tough practice and Suter looked exhausted afterward. He said he felt much better after today’s practice.
Suter said he woke up Sunday morning with one of the symptoms bigtime. He thought the worst (i.e. cancer), but after some ultrasounds and bloodwork, it was confirmed he had the mumps.
“I was just locked in the room,” he said. “My wife was great. She’d knock on the door, leave the food outside the door and I’d go and get it. She’s an angel.”
Suter has two kids and another on the way, so he quarantined himself from his pregnant wife, Becky, and kids.
He never got the swollen facial glands, but it did hurt and “you could feel the heat coming off the virus,” Suter said as he touched his face.
Suter admitted, “As I was laying in bed, I kept thinking to myself, ‘Why didn’t I get the booster?’” he said, laughing.
Teammates all got mumps boosters in mid-November. He chose not to because, “That’s the thing, I probably wash my hands more than anybody. I go out of my way to make sure I’m a clean guy. So for me to get it, I always tell these guys, ‘You’ve got to be mentally strong and you’ll never get sick.’ So they’re all giving me a hard time, ‘What were you thinking while you were laying in bed sick?’”
“I’m glad it’s over.”
So is Yeo. If you look at the goals against vs. Anaheim, you know Suter would have been on the ice for a lot of those hairy moments.
“It’s hard to really quantify what he means to our team,” Yeo said. “You’re talking about half the game first of all and you’re talking about every key situation against every key player. I thought we did OK against Montreal without him, but certainly his presence was missed last game against a bigger, heavier puck possession team. That’s where he comes into play. He makes it so difficult for them to establish that type of game because of his execution, the way he’s able to break their pressure, but then if they do get set up and they do have control, he’s so sneaky strong, he’s so good with his stick and is in such good position that he helps us defend much quicker.”
5. So, we’re in the press scrum today when I happen to glance at Twitter and see that Ottawa coach Paul MacLean, who had been saying some weird, outspoken comments after games and practices lately, was fired.
I always make fun of Yeo’s poker face to you. Well, now I have to fess up. Apparently I showed pocket aces to Yeo. The coach looked at me and my wide-open eyes and interrupted the press scrum with a, "What do you got?”
I told him the news, and his eyes turned stunned, too, especially because the Sens rallied from 3-0 down to beat Vancouver in overtime yesterday.
Yeo then had the perfect exit to his press scrum. He put his hands on his head and walked away: “Thanks for the constant reminders!”
It was a funny ending to the practice availability.
Lastly, here's a TSN update on expansion talk at the Board of Gov's meetings in Boca Raton, my old hometown. I even make a cameo in Bob McKenzie's story.
Talk to you Tuesday.