The Wild held an optional practice here at the X today in preparation for Monday's home game against the Central Division rival Chicago Blackhawks. The Wild will wear its road whites and currently towels resembling those uni's are being draped over every seat.
I will be on Fox Sports North's pregame show and first intermission Monday, so please tune in for some astute insight. I'll also be on Siriusxm NHL Network Radio on Monday at 8:45 a.m. CT.
Johan Gustafsson was reassigned to the Iowa Wild on Sunday because Josh Harding, who sustained a strained left hamstring Thursday, is expected to skate Monday morning and back up Niklas Backstrom later that night.
Charlie Coyle, Keith Ballard and Mike Rupp practiced today, with Coyle and Rupp staying on a long, long time after practice working with the assistants. Jonas Brodin skated before practice. All four won't play against the Blackhawks, but Friday against Montreal may be a possibility for Coyle, Ballard and Brodin to return.
Coach Mike Yeo admitted today that he and his staff spent part of the short plane ride back from Chicago last night discussing potential line combinations and defense pairs once guys like Coyle return.
It'll be interesting because Mikael Granlund has assumed Coyle's No. 2 center role and is playing very well alongside Jason Pominville.
Do you maybe put Coyle at second-line center again and move Granlund to left wing, and then if that happens, where do you put Nino Niederreiter? Or, do you maybe have Coyle return to last year's role to start out and put him back at top-line right wing with Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu, and then if that happens, where do you put Justin Fontaine, who has played well up top?
All good problems to have.
It's impressive this season that the Wild has been able to keep its head above water without Backstrom (thanks to Harding) and without Coyle (thanks to Granlund and others) and the past two games, Brodin (thanks to quality play from the defense, particularly Marco Scandella and Nate Prosser).
Monday will be Matt Dumba's ninth game and then the Wild has to decide whether or not to return him to Red Deer. Again, he can stay and it would burn the first year of his contract. GM Chuck Fletcher has said over and over again that he's not worried about that.
I think he stays, for no other reason than what this last week proved. It is so simple to lose two defensemen, and we just saw that with Brodin and Ballard going down. If Dumba wasn't here, the Wild would have had to turn to Iowa.
Not only do I feel it would help Dumba's development to continue to work with Rick Wilson and Darryl Sydor, he adds much-needed depth. I just think it's risky to return him now, and if it's true Fletcher could care less if Dumba's three-year contract kicks in, why send him back? It's not like his development has been hurt by spending this past month in the NHL. He's learning on and off the ice, and witnessing what it takes to be a pro.
This is just my opinion. We'll find out what the Wild feels soon.
The Blackhawks should be pumped to avenge Saturday's 5-3 loss as the Wild looks to win its fourth in a row overall and fifth in a row at home.
"Games like tonight, we’re not happy with the result or the way things went tonight," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said after Saturday's game. "I think we should all be disappointed with the way things evolved tonight and be excited that we get them on Monday.”
The Hawks didn't practice Sunday.
Yeo said he expects to see different looks from Chicago and they should expect to see different looks from the Wild.
"It should be an entertaining, intense game," Yeo said.
Yeo was happy with the Wild's penalty kill in Chicago. When the Wild needed big kills, it got big kills and he wants the Wild to keep its urgency level high on the PK, which shouldn't be too hard against a team with as many weapons as the Hawks, Yeo said.
BUT, Yeo added, "We have to quit taking seven penalties in a game. We just put our penalty killers under so much pressure," not to mention rust up non-penalty killers and give opponents momentum.
Stay out of the box was Yeo's message. The Wild has been on the PK 26 times in the past five games.
That's it for me. Talk to you after Monday's morning skate. I'll be in studio with Paul Allen on KFAN on Tuesday at 9 a.m.