The Wild hosts the Dallas Stars tonight for the first time since the Wild’s quarterfinals Game 6 comeback attempt was never completed.
I’ll be on Fox Sports North during the pregame show and first intermission tonight.
Kari Lehtonen vs. Devan Dubnyk, a perfect 65 for 65 the past two games.
It’s the first of five meetings. The Stars went 4-1 in last season’s regular season, including a 3-0 mark in St. Paul after a couple bigtime comebacks and overtime doozies. The Wild’s typically lit up by Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and John Klingberg, which is why Bruce Boudreau doesn’t care one iota that the Stars are ravaged by injury (Jason Spezza and Jiri Hudler may return tonight).
As long as they’re in, they’re dangerous if you’re not ready, the coach said.
Seguin, who finished tied for seventh in the league with 37 points on the road and shared fifth in road goals (19), has points in six of his last seven games against Minnesota (4-7=11), including a three-game point streak (2-4=6) at Xcel Energy Center. In 15 career games against the Wild, Seguin has recorded 17 points (5-12=17).
Benn has 10 goals and 24 points in 26 career regular-season games against the Wild. He had four goals, 10 points and a six-game point streak against the Wild in last April’s playoff round.
Klingberg has eight points in nine games for the Stars.
As for the Wild, Teemu Pulkkinen cleared waivers and Tyler Graovac, who has gotten off to a terrible start in Iowa but is coming off a couple good games in a row, was recalled.
The Iowa Wild gets the leading goal scorer in the AHL two years ago in Pulkkinen (34). He had 31 goals three seasons ago there.
As I mentioned in the blog the day the Wild plucked him off waivers from Detroit, his skating is the issue. He’s in exceptional shape and he has an NHL shot, but if you can’t separate from defenders, you can’t flash that NHL shot.
We didn’t see one rip in any of his eight games. He finished with a redirected goal and four total shots. Yes, he averaged 9 minutes, 9 seconds, but he didn’t earn a top-9 role and he certainly proved that he’s not fit for the fourth line. So he’ll hopefully help out Iowa and will be available for Minnesota at a later time if it needs some offense.
As for Graovac, who will play his sixth NHL game tonight, he had three goals in his past two games in Iowa after a terrible start. He comes up with three goals, an assist and a minus-9 rating in six games. He was also scratched for a game.
“I’ve been put in a situation to kind of get stronger mentally,” said Graovac, the Wild’s biggest training camp disappointment after the team essentially saved a spot for him to grab. “I went from being the captain down there (for a game because Iowa’s rotating the C) to taking a step back and watching a game and then back up to first line and power play and then doing well.
“So it’s kind of been a little bit of a whirlwind, but I’m just not looking back.”
On his reaction when he didn’t make the big club, Graovac said, “I came into camp wanting to earn a spot and it was a little bit of a reality check. ... I found my legs. I felt great in Oowa. Last night I felt awesome.”
On what he has to prove tonight, Graovac said, “Just trying to prove who I am as a player. I don’t think I brought my game in camp. I don’t think I’ve proven really what I have the potential to do. I’m not trying to be a hero here. If I’m on the fourth line, I’ll play my fourth line role properly.”
Boudreau said, “We want to see his competitiveness that maybe we didn’t see as much in training camp and how bad he wants to play in the NHL.
“We’re not asking for him to go out and pull an Auston Matthews and get four goals in his first game. We just want him to be a solid contributor and play like he belongs here. And if he does that, that’s a great thing.”
I’m not certain of the lines tonight yet.
Not sure if Dalpe or Graovac are playing wing or maybe Joel Eriksson Ek moves to wing, perhaps on the Eric Staal line because that line wasn’t very good in Buffalo. Maybe Nino Niederreiter moves down? Not sure.
Also, the Wild had an optional today, so perhaps somebody else is banged up and another recall is on the horizon. We'll find out later.
I bring up wing for Eriksson Ek because he played there all of last season for Farjestad and assistant coaches Scott Stevens and Darby Hendrickson worked with him on wall plays this morning. Maybe he’s going to play the power play like Boudreau suggested after the Buffalo game.
Personally, he’s playing so well with Jason Zucker, I wouldn’t move Eriksson Ek away from the middle of that line yet UNLESS somebody else is banged up and there will be a surprise scratch and recall.
“I said [to the assistants] work him a little bit on the wall just in case we throw him at wing,” Boudreau said. “We’ve got some options now, but we’ll see where we play him.”
Defenseman Jared Spurgeon returns after missing four games with a rib injury. He got nailed on the corner dasher by Toronto’s Matt Martin, the same forward who effectively ended Keith Ballard’s career when he played for the Islanders.
“It wasn’t an outrageous hit, but just the way he got me,” Spurgeon said. “I knew he was coming, but I already moved the puck. Most guys swing by, but I guess I should have known who it was.”
With Marco Scandella injured, right-shot defenseman Nate Prosser will start on the left side of Spurgeon because Boudreau doesn’t want to break up the Ryan Suter-Matt Dumba pairing that has played well the previous four games.
That’s it for me.
The latest Russo-Souhan Show is at this link.