Good late afternoon from Toronto, where the Wild practiced out at the Toronto Maple Leafs' practice facility today.
I was Mr. Popular as always. Man, fun times covering this team right now.
The Wild unveiled new lines (again) and had a team meeting before practice to try to alleviate some of the tension going through the room and get their heads on straight to try to snap out of this 10-game winless road streak tomorrow night against the Leafs. Toronto's lost three in a row, but the Wild has been slump busters for a number of teams the last month.
Coach Mike Yeo said the Wild had this "great thing in front us that starts to slip away. Guys are feeling that, creates a lot of tension."
That's why we're seeing guys now smashing their sticks every practice (today Devin Setoguchi, in St. Louis Cal Clutterbuck), that's why we're seeing undisciplined penalties (Clutterbuck's 8 PIM in Philly), that's why we're seeing intense battles in practice (today Marek Zidlicky giving Dany Heatley a love tap across the lower leg).
Before we get into practice sights and sounds, the interesting news of the day is General Manager Chuck Fletcher just got off the phone with NHL executive Brendan Shanahan, who "was great." Shanahan has agreed to give the Wild a few more days to see if Mikko Koivu continues to respond to treatment with his shoulder injury. Koivu would love to still try to play in the All-Star Game, and "Mikko's earned that," Fletcher said to me by phone. "Medically, whether this happens or not, I don't know. But I never doubt Mikko. Mikko is a proud guy, and in a perfect world, he'd love to play."
After practice, Fletcher also said, "I don't know if that's realistic. I say week-to-week 'cause I don't know. I just don't know. I've seen guys come back in two weeks from these types of injuries and I've seen it take quite a bit longer. So we'll see."
We will see. I think the All-Star Game is a stretch, but Koivu sees what's going on with the team and you know he's going to push the one month window I've been told. He was in a sling yesterday. Today he was out of the sling and seemed to be in a harness, so this could be a good sign that he is responding to treatment.
As for practice, Fletcher talked a lot about his attempt to make a trade. I will write about this in tomorrow's paper, but he said he won't force something because that's when you make mistakes, but he does feel he owes it to this group to try to provide the ammunition to make the playoffs. (TYPO FIXED)
Problem is most teams are in the playoff hunt, so those teams are not about to give up top-6 forwards. And it does seem several teams are competing for the same players on the trade market. Like I said, Fletcher talked a lot about this today and that'll be in the paper.
As for the lines, Warren Peters is your first-line center vs. the Leafs. He'll center Setoguchi and Heatley. Matt Cullen will center Clutterbuck and Casey Wellman, the Darroll Powe-Kyle Brodziak-Nick Johnson has been reunited. Carson McMillan, whom I thought was good yesterday, will center Brad Staubitz and David McIntyre. Looked like the same D pairs. I'd think Niklas Backstrom will start for the first time since Jan. 7, but to be honest, I didn't even think of asking since coach Mike Yeo said yesterday that was his initial thought and that was before Josh Harding gave up five to the Flyers.
The objective of the lines? The Wild wants to reestablish its identity (I know, talking point for three weeks), so they're trying to find pieces that have played together and are familiar. That third line has done it and knows how to do it, in terms of the team identity, so that's the goal.
Then, the Peters line. Yeo has found Heatley's line continues to spend too much time in its own zone because the Wild's defensemen aren't executing well lately. So Heatley spends 30 seconds of his shift in the D zone and then can't create offense because of it. Now, the hope is Peters is so good defensively that he can allow Heatley and Setoguchi do what they do best -- play in the offensive zone.
The Wild's searching for solutions.
Talked with a lisping Clutterbuck for awhile and he admitted how doggone frustrated he is and the team has been. He obviously didn't handle yesterday well with the four minors. He lost half an upper front tooth -- one of his few real ones -- and then just lost it when the game went south. But he said he woke up happy today, is excited to play in front of several friends and family members tomorrow (he's from Welland, Ont.) and "I'm going to go win a hockey game tomorrow."
Also watched the Maple Leafs practice, which just reminded me because his brother, Jake, plays for the Leafs, but word on the street is that Minnetonka's Max Gardiner, a Blues draft pick who left the Gophers for the USHL this season, is close to committing to Penn State.
OK, that's it for me. Just a wonderful day today folks. Let's all hope tomorrow's a new one.