UPDATE: John Curry was recalled from Iowa and will start tonight. Niklas Backstrom was placed on IR (retroactive) with the stomach plague. He did skate this morning. Darcy Kuemper is sick, too, and will back up Curry.
Wild and Winnipeg Jets tonight at Xcel Energy Center as the Wild opens a critical home-and-home (completed Monday at the PEG). Morning from the arena’s press room. I’ll be on KFAN at 11:30 a.m. and I’m doing a Podcast today with columnist Jim Souhan at 3 p.m. on souhanunfiltered.com.
If you didn't read my state-of-the-team article with GM Chuck Fletcher today, here is the link (also see last blog for full transcript).
Wild’s eight back of Winnipeg for the top wildcard spot with three games in hand. Win both games in regulation somehow, and it’ll be four back with three games in hand. Lose both in regulation, and it’ll be 12 back with three games in hand.
The Jets, who have overcome a devastated top-4 all year long, are 8-1-4 in their past 13 overall, 4-0-3 in their past seven on the road and are 10-4-4 on the road this season. They did lose in overtime at Minnesota on Nov. 16.
The Wild is 5-6-3 in its past 14 overall and 2-3-3 in its past eight at home. The Wild is 11-4-3 all-time vs. the Jets/Atlanta Thrashers and 5-2-1 since Atlanta’s move to Winnipeg. The Wild is 3-0-1 at home against the Jets.
Coach Mike Yeo met with the team prior to this morning’s skate. Nino Niederreiter said the message was simple: “We have to start a new chapter. It’s not the end of the story. That’s the main thing. It was a chapter. We passed it. We just have to look forward. We have 50 games left. We just have to make sure we leave it all out there to make sure we get a playoff spot.”
The norovirus (not kidding) that’s been hammering Wild players the past three weeks. It’s now hit Jason Zucker. “It’s his turn,” Yeo said with defeated sarcasm.
Darcy Kuemper will start in goal. The first game after the break is usually hairy, and as we know, the Wild and Kuemper haven’t played well for awhile. Remember, both teams haven’t been allowed to practice or play the past three games (the Jets flew here this morning).
Last year in the first game after the break, the Jets had a 4-3 lead after one period against the Wild en route to a 6-4 win. Sloppy game, to say the least, particularly by the goalies.
Asked if Kuemper may have taken shots during the break, Yeo said he didn’t ask and hoped not.
“I actually hope that he turned his brain completely off, to be honest with you,” Yeo said. “That’s what our entire group needed. Sometimes mentally, just to step away, that’s the best thing that can happen.”
Kuemper has an .860 save percentage and 4.23 goals-against average in his past seven appearances (23 goals against).
As for the team, “First game back, the biggest challenge is finding your execution level, finding your timing, conditioning. I find that the guys are a little bit heavy, a little bit more winded as the game goes on. But I think more than anything else, it’s the details, the challenges of finding the details in the game.”
On the Wild’s struggles and lack of confidence recently, Yeo said, “We can’t just snap our fingers and make it reappear. I think that’s the main thing that we have to understand. There’s going to be some work involved. Every game is big for us because it’s another opportunity to move closer to the way that our game should look, and once we get our game looking the way it should look, then results will follow that. there’s no better time to start than right now. You look at this game tonight, this is a team that occupies a spot that we want to get. This is a team that we want them to know that we’re coming for them.”
He said the past 14 games are irrelevant as far as he’s concerned.
“What matters is what’s in front of us,” Yeo said. “At the end of the year, there will be a story. The story has not been written yet. There’s been a couple chapters in the story, but we get to decide how it plays out still.”
Yeo is scratching Nate Prosser and Christian Folin tonight for … Justin Falk and Stu Bickel. It’ll be Bickel’s sixth game and second on the blue line (he played there at Arizona when Jared Spurgeon got the norovirus).
Why Falk and Bickel? “That’s what we thought we needed for tonight,” Yeo said. “Big, physical pair against a physical team.”
I asked Yeo if the Wild needs to trade for a defenseman immediately with a string of games where clearly there’s not a lot of confidence in the third pair when they’re playing six, seven, eight minutes a night.
“I’m not going to sit here and say they’re only going to play six, seven minutes tonight. We’ll see what they bring tonight,” Yeo said. “I’m definitely not going to say that we need anything right now. We’re very confident and comfortable with our group. There’s no question that we need to find a little bit more consistency, and some of that will lend itself to having a little bit more of a consistent lineup, but we are very confident with the group that we have.”