The Wild looks to either get back inside the playoff bubble or keep pace with the Avalanche tonight when it visits the Chicago Blackhawks.
If the Wild wins and the Avs lose in regulation in Edmonton, the Wild’s back inside the top-8. If the Avs win and the Wild lose in regulation, the Wild returns to three back. We’ll leave the overtime loss scenarios to the postgame gamer and blog if it so happens.
If you didn't check out the oodles of hockey coverage in today's paper, at least give my Sunday Insider a read on expansion.
As you know, coach John Torchetti doesn’t discuss his lineup or lines pregame. It’s part superstition, part knowing full well that the coach on the other side, his good friend Joel Quenneville, is a king matchup guy. So the coaching will be matching wits tonight.
Torchetti didn’t say, but considering Thomas Vanek and Nate Prosser were out on the ice with assistant coaches Andrew Brunette and Darby Hendrickson and goalie coach Bob Mason long after the team was gone with Jason Pominville and backup goalie Steve Michalek, we know Vanek and Prosser will sit again tonight.
That means Chris Porter draws in for injured Ryan Carter, who did make the trip to get treatment on his upper-body injury. The hope is Carter will be out days, not weeks. But he will be out for a bit, I’m told.
As for Vanek, quite the slight to not draw in for a second game in a row. Mike Reilly, benched the final 27 minutes of last night’s game after his bad read led to Carolina’s first goal, will get a chance to respond. (More on that below in the blog).
Back to Vanek. Publicly, he’s handling it maturely.
Asked what Torchetti has said to him, Vanek said, “Actually I haven’t talked to Torch yet, so I don't know. I think at this point there’s no need to talk. We’re trying to win games and if that's what he thinks is the best lineup, I've got to respect that. It is what it is. Am I happy about it? Of course not. I still feel like I can make a difference in this league. It's obviously been a tough year, but at the end of the day it's tough to score goals, and I've got 18 of them, which is not where I would like to be. But again, it is what it is. I'm not going to get frustrated here or be negative. I'll just work hard and wait for my chance to get back in and to make a difference."
Asked though if he’s frustrated that he was the one pulled when there were several candidates after the ghastly loss in Jersey, Vanek said, “Again, it is what it is. I mean, do I speculate or have my thoughts? Sure, but I keep those to myself. It's adversity and I'll just be a good teammate and work hard, and wait for my chance.”
Asked what he wants from Vanek, Torchetti said, “Just a solid game. That’s all we’re looking for from all our players. We put the lineup in that we feel that’s going to help us win and if you’re not in, you’ve got to wait your turn. And then when you get back in, stay in the lineup.”
Vanek is the Wild’s third-leading goal scorer and fourth-leading point-getter, but I think it’s safe to say this has nothing to do with his goal slump.
This has to do with work ethic, being on the “right side of the puck” and taking care of the puck. As I wrote after the Montreal game last week, a game in which Vanek was awesome from a net-front standpoint, battle standpoint and worth ethic standpoint, he set the bar that night. That’s what Torchetti wants to see from him every night, but it does seem like Vanek has to be prodded to play that way nightly.
As I mentioned, Reilly gets back in and assistant coach Rick Wilson talked with him briefly after last night’s game to let him know why he say and why he’d be back in tonight.
Reilly knows he messed up but is confident and believes he’ll bounce back. It’ll be his first game in Chicago since the Blackhawks wooed him as a free agent last summer by bringing him for the Stanley Cup Finals. He’s excited to play in what is kinda sorta his hometown. He was born in nearby Glenview and will have lots of family and friends at the game, including his sister, Shannon, who works in Chicago.
On coming back with Reilly, Torchetti said, “We always want to see how the rookies respond, but … he’s a kid. That’s what kids do. The same thing, [Matt] Dumba’s still young, too. They’re learning trial by error. We’d love them all to play a perfect game, but it doesn’t happen that way. I think [Reilly’s] done pretty well for a rookie so far. Don’t forget, I’ve had him the whole time down in Des Moines in the American League and have watched his chart get better and his defensive game has improved immensely and just dealing with situations. They’re all new beginnings for him. He’ll respond well.”
Torchetti’s “home” debut as interim coach was the outdoor game, a 6-1 win over the Blackhawks, the team he was an assistant for for three years and with whom he won a Cup with in 2010.
He was the Atlanta Thrashers’ associate coach in 2010-11 and they didn’t play in Chicago that year, so this is Torchetti’s first game back at the United Center in almost six years.
“It’s nice to see the banner, finally. I haven’t seen it,” he said. “That’s the No. 1 thing I wanted to see. And then the outside of the locker room here, that was fun. Now it’s just another regular game for me. The emotions were the outdoor game and against your old team now, you’re playing the Stanley Cup champions and we better be ready to go tonight.”
He did get his Cup ring. “It’s in the bank vault (laughing). You can’t wear it.”
On tonight’s game, Torchetti said, “We know from our last game against Chicago that they’re going to come out in the first period and probably press us. We’re playing back to back and they’re coming off a rest day and I’m sure they want to send a message to us, so we need to come out and have a good, strong first period. That’s our no. 1 motive going into the game. Nothing else, just focus on the first period.”
The Wild has won five consecutive regular-season games – three this year – against the Blackhawks, who also have been inconsistent of late.
Chicago captain Jonathan Toews said the Wild seems to have a chip on its shoulder every time they face Chicago. That obviously stems from the Blackhawks ending Minnesota’s season three consecutive years.
“There's no doubt that we've got to use a little bit of a fire that comes off of the loss we had in the outdoor game,” Toews said. “That obviously didn't feel good. But I think more than anything, I think we've got to recognize this is a team that has a little bit of a chip on their shoulder when they play us, given the history that we've had in the playoffs. So, we can imagine if it was the other way around, we would be the exact same way. So, we've got to be more prepared for that, and tonight I think it's more and more it's an important game for both teams. We played a better game against Winnipeg, finally got the result, maybe a little more confidence from seeing a few more goals go in for us, so we've got to go out there and build off of that, and really play as hard as we can. Be ready for what we know they're going to bring tonight."
Torchetti hasn’t been with the Wild long, but he said he would hope the Wild has a chip on its shoulder when it plays the Hawks.
“I know when I was here, that’s how we were with the Red Wings,” Torchetti said. “The Red Wings were our bar, and then good things happened to us and we moved up. And I think the Blackhawks are our bar. That’s the bottom line. Until you knock the best team off, … we can’t be too happy being knocked out by a team in the playoffs several times.”
Torchetti was asked which players he has been most happy with.
“Several of them. A guy like [Nino] Niederreiter, I think he’s just kept his game really simple and just straight forward. His battle level’s been really good. The kid we just picked up, [David Jones], his game’s really notched up a level, I think his battle level has been great. A [Ryan] Suter, I’ve been very happy with his game and his buy-in to me as a coach. We talk a lot, we talk about different situations. And Mikko [Koivu]. I like the whole team.
“I’ve only been here for 17 games (10-6-1), and I’ve liked everything about it. We’ve had really one bad game [in New Jersey], and it happened to come at a tough time with us in a playoff race, but you can’t get mad at your team when you’ve played 17 games and played at least 42, 43 good periods out of 48 (51).”
Nothing much else. Pominville did skate hard today. The Wild has Monday off, so we’ll see if he skated with the team Tuesday morning or practices Wednesday.
Also, for the second consecutive season, defenseman Gustav Olofsson has had season-ending shoulder surgery. GM Chuck Fletcher said Olofsson is expected to be ready by training camp.
Last season, Olofsson only played one game for Iowa. This season, he got 52 plus two games with Minnesota.
“So at least he got about 80 percent of the season this time,” Fletcher said, meaning it wasn’t a wasted year.
I’ll be on the NHL Network’s Bald Spot Cam at 6:05 p.m. CT