MONTREAL – Marco Scandella grew up a die-hard Montreal Canadiens fan, but he guesses he has only been to five of their games in his life because tickets were so expensive.
When Scandella plays the second game in his NHL career at the Bell Centre on Tuesday, the Wild defenseman expects to buy more than 15 for family and friends.
“This is the last time,” Scandella, who grew up five minutes from downtown Montreal, said, laughing. “Next time, just my parents.”
The Wild hasn’t played in Montreal since March 1, 2012, a 5-4 shootout loss that included two goals by enforcer Matt Kassian and an embarrassing Devin Setoguchi spill in the shootout that made all the highlight shows.
“It just kind of flew by,” Scandella said of the game.
Scandella was trying to find his identity as a hockey player then, so much so that he spent most of last season in the minors before being called up to play more than 20 minutes a night in the playoffs.
After a tough start to this season, Scandella is playing better than coach Mike Yeo ever has seen. Scandella is a plus-9 the past 15 games with a single minus-1 crammed in there. Most of all, he has been consistent.
“He’s a great story for us right now,” Yeo said. “He’s not playing like a young kid. He’s playing a very mature, very confident game. [He’s skating] stride for stride with some of the fastest guys in the league, the strength in his battles, defending — just smart and solid.”
This is the first season Scandella cannot be sent to the minors without clearing waivers, and General Manager Chuck Fletcher believes that has taken pressure off. Yeo also noted that Scandella, a 2008 second-round draft pick, is 23 now, which is the “point in your career where young defensemen usually take a big step.”
Scandella is watching more video than ever to “fine tune my game positionally,” is working often with assistant coaches Rick Wilson and Darryl Sydor, and eyeballs veteran defenseman Ryan Suter because he’s “rarely, rarely out of position.”
Harding, who went 3-0 last week with a 1.38 goals-against average and .939 save percentage, was named the NHL’s Third Star of the Week on Monday. Los Angeles’ Ben Scrivens and Dallas’ Tyler Seguin were named first and second stars, respectively.
Unless the Wild acquires a stopgap goalie for injured Niklas Backstrom by Wednesday, Darcy Kuemper is expected to start that night’s game at Ottawa.
Fletcher is considering adding an experienced goalie if Backstrom (concussion) is out long. Last month, Fletcher considered Ilya Bryzgalov when there was uncertainty how much time Backstrom would miss because of a knee injury and before it was clear Harding would take the reins as the clear-cut No. 1.
Edmonton placed veteran backup Jason LaBarbera on waivers Monday, but the Wild is not expected to put in a claim.
Kuemper was recalled from AHL Iowa on Monday and less experienced Johan Gustafsson reassigned. Kuemper went 1-2 with a 2.08 GAA in six games (three starts) last season but was pulled after allowing three goals on seven shots last month in Toronto.
“We believe he’s a big part of our future,” Yeo said. “There are ups and downs for all young players, every position, and obviously goaltending is as challenging as any one.”