Darcy Kuemper vs. Kahi Lehtonen tonight at Xcel Energy Center.
The Wild has lost 10 of 11 and 13 of 16 this calendar year. The Stars have won three of four and four of six.
Last time Kuemper faced the Stars, the Wild blew a 3-0 lead at home and lost 4-3 on Tyler Seguin’s OT winner. That was back on Nov. 28.
The last time these two teams faced each other was Jan. 9 in Dallas. The Wild won 2-1 but returned home to face New Jersey – the start of a 0-3 homestand and a month of misery.
The Wild has to be disciplined tonight, both with its game and when it comes to penalties. The Stars are a team that often has four or even five guys join the rush. Won’t be easy with injured defenseman Jared Spurgeon and Jonas Brodin out, so the Wild will need its forward to play smart, track back and play with the puck. Too often lately the forwards spring out of the zone and give their D no outs. I’m thinking specifically of two top-6 wingers when I say that.
They are the second-highest scoring team in the NHL (the highest is Thursday’s opponent, Washington) and have the fifth-best power play in the NHL (the top two are Thursday’s opponent and Saturday’s opponent, Boston).
Yeah, three dangerous opponents arrive in the homestand, which is why losing to such mediocre teams at home last month was so damaging.
As coach Mike Yeo said this morning on KFAN, the Wild’s close to save its season mode.
It needs 40 points in the final 30 games to at least get to 95. Won’t be easy for a team that hasn’t shown an ability to win the past several weeks and hasn’t had more than a three-game winning streak this season.
Today at 4 p.m., by the way, the Russo-Souhan Show returns to Tom Reid’s Hockey City Pub. Stop on by or listen later at www.malepatternpodcasts.com.
Mikko Koivu, who left practice with an injury yesterday, didn’t skate during this morning’s optional, but Yeo said Koivu will play tonight. So will Thomas Vanek and Jason Zucker, who were scratched Saturday in St. Louis. Yeo wouldn’t say which forward would come out of the lineup, but Chris Porter skated longer than most the guys.
Vanek is happy to be back in. Asked if he could take anything out of being scratched though, Vanek said, “No. It [stinks]. There’s nothing positive from it for me. … Doesn’t take a scratch for me to realize I need to be better. … Just trying to find my game, still am and I’ll start tonight by being better.”
He said, “We’ve got to win and it starts with one win. We can’t look ahead at this week and say we need three wins. Obviously that’s the goal we want, but it starts by playing good hockey, 60 minutes and getting win the tonight and then build from there.”
You can bet Zucker will be motivated, but he said he won’t be trying to prove himself.
“You start doing that, you start thinking too much and you’re not going to play your game anyways,” he said. “For me, it’s just trying to get back to my game that I know I can get to and try to do it early.”
Yeo said he knows “those guys care very much,” but he wants to see a “response” from them and the team.
“That’s not a one game thing,” he said. “This is going forward as well. Whether it’s them, whether it’s somebody else, his is something we have to continue to be prepared to do.”
He means scratching high-profile players.
Why Kuemper over Devan Dubnyk?
“This has definitely not been Duby’s fault. When I evaluate his games, I’m not going to say he’s playing badly. He’s not. But you can tell that he’s grinding right now. You can, like everybody, the losses have gotten to him. Kuemps has been part of this, but not to that level, and I think he’s probably got a fresher mind coming into the game.”
Very undermanned blue line tonight. Ryan Suter and Marco Scandella will likely get huge minutes, and Yeo is looking for Scandella to be a “huge piece to the puzzle. We need him to be real solid in his game.”
Mike Reilly, part of an Iowa team that has shown a resurgence the past month, is back up and will play his fifth game. He debuted in Dallas on Jan. 9.
He says it’s been more fun coming to the rink every day.
Also, if you didn't see, Wild prospect scored the overtime winning goal for Boston College against rival Boston University last night to win the Beanpot:
That’s it for now.