On your mark, get set, go!!!

Here we go, the start of a hellacious schedule to start the season for the Wild. Through the Wild’s 17-3-1 post-All-Star Game and 19-4-2 post-Devyn Dubnyk trade runs, the Wild took advantage of what even coach Mike Yeo and Zach Parise admit was a pretty light schedule.

The Wild didn’t face most the big dogs in the West.

Well, coincidentally (and amazingly), the Wild’s next three games are against the three teams that are all tied for the most points (91) in the Western Conference – vs. Anaheim, at St. Louis, at Nashville.

“It’s fun to play games this time of year when everything’s on the line,” Yeo said. “…Right now, this is where you make your money. … You have to find a way to play your best hockey, to go into tough buildings to win hockey games and pick up points and that’s what we’re facing.”

As the standings sit right now, St. Louis is first in the conference, Anaheim is second and Nashville is second in the Central. As the standings sit right now, if the season ended right this moment, the Wild would face the Ducks in the first round.

Parise said it’s too early to really start thinking like that, that the last 15 games is all about improving the team’s game, but “in the back of our mind, everyone knows the standings.”

“It’ll be a tough stretch of games. It’ll be good to see where we are at,” Parise said. “We’ve played some teams that aren’t in the playoffs lately, so it’ll be good to see where we are at compared to these guys (Anaheim) who have had a pretty good hold on their division lead for awhile now.”

The standings are super tight with the Kings on fire, the Sharks (on the outside looking in now) on a roll and the Jets, now three points behind Minnesota in ninth, having lost a couple tough games in a row. Calgary and Vancouver will be jockeying now that the Kings are pushing them from the rear in the Pacific.

Every point is crucial. Eighth-place L.A. is on pace for 96.8 points. The Wild’s at 81 right now with 15 games left (30 possible points left).

Because of that, I’d be shocked if anybody but Devyn Dubnyk starts tomorrow in St. Louis, a place the Wild hasn’t won at in regulation since 2007.

Dubnyk vs. John Gibson tonight. Matt Beleskey, the Ducks’ third-leading goal scorer with 21, returns from a shoulder injury tonight.

Same Wild lineup and lines, meaning Jordan Schroeder and Christian Folin are scratched again.

Lots of talk about the Wild’s power play this morning. Parise says it hasn’t been close to good enough, ranking 28th in the NHL at 14.9 percent (16th at home at 18.8 percent). It ranks 29th on the road with 10 power-play goals all year on 96 tries. The Ducks’ power play is 22nd at 17 percent.

The Wild’s made up for the poor power play with the best penalty kill overall and at home (10 power-play goals allowed on 95 opposing tries) in the NHL.

But Yeo said, “At some point here going forward, we’re going to need to rely on it, we’re going to need it to win a game or two for us along the way.”

Injury updates: Marco Scandella is gingerly shooting pucks, Yeo said, so he’s not going to be back in the next few games.

Jason Zucker had some good news at the doctor and that’s that his bone is healing properly. But Yeo still said he’s probably a month away from even being a consideration. Today is March 13. The regular season ends April 11.

He says it’s a possibility he can come back by the end of the regular season, but “that’s coming upon us pretty quickly, so I’m not sure.” Yeo said there’s a specific three-month timeline for the bone to heal properly, but he said the good news is because he is doing so much right now on the ice to keep his fitness, he doesn’t think he’ll need a huge amount of time once he’s cleared for contact. But there is a timetable that must be followed.

Ryan Carter could practice Monday, Yeo said. He will miss his 16th game tonight, injured in the same Feb. 9 game against Vancouver that Zucker got hurt in.

Dubnyk said of Lester McLean’s TSN song, “Dooby Dooby Doo,”

“It’s hilarious. I just saw it yesterday. It’s pretty funny. It’s pretty cool to have something like that about you.”

I talked to Chris Stewart a lot about playing St. Louis, the team that dealt him to Buffalo at last year’s deadline. Let’s just say, he wants to beat them in all three games the Wild plays them. I’ll write about that in tomorrow’s paper. He has a lot of good buddies there after playing for the Blues for 3 ½ years. In fact, Kevin Shattenkirk and Ryan Reaves were in his wedding.

The Wild is 2-7-2 in its past 11 at St. Louis, having been outscored 38-19 with no regulation wins in that stretch. Parise said, not wanting to look past tonight game, said of tomorrow, “It’s always a big game. It’s a good team. It’s a really good team. We know how well they play in their building and how good a team they are. I think everyone could see them the last couple weeks getting ready to take over that No. 1 spot. It’ll be a tough game. It’ll be a good place to see where we are at right now.”

Ducks defenseman Clayton Stoner was ticked with the two Wild beat writers, including yours truly, because of how we apparently spun a quote of his in the Orange County Register in January.

This is how I wrote it:

Former Wild defenseman Clayton Stoner, a 2004 third-round pick who played 227 games for Minnesota, took some potshots in a recent Orange County Register article.

Stoner, playing well for Anaheim after signing a four-year, $13 million contract last summer, was quoted as saying, “I didn’t like the way it was run in Minnesota. They kind of just give one defenseman [Ryan Suter] all the minutes and the rest suffer. And I wasn’t happy there. I don’t think the minutes displayed how I was playing. It was more of just the way things were run there.”

Suter is on his way to leading the NHL in ice time per game for a third consecutive season, although this season, the Wild has three defensemen in the top 21 in average ice time per game (Jonas Brodin and Jared Spurgeon).

Coach Mike Yeo wouldn’t comment about Stoner’s criticism other than to say, “I don’t think that Suts played 59 minutes of every game.”

Stoner’s average ice time took a hit last season at 13 minutes, 20 seconds per game. He is averaging 17:36 this season with Anaheim — less than he averaged in 2013 with the Wild (18:13 a game) and exactly what he logged in 2011-12 (17:36). In his career with the Wild, Stoner averaged 16:12 per game.

The Wild misses Stoner’s left shot, size and physicality though, particularly with Keith Ballard out indefinitely because of a concussion.

Today, when asked about that quote, Stoner said he was disappointed and hurt by the way we portrayed his quote, saying, “You guys twisted that story. The story wasn’t anything about the Wild. It had to do with me liking the way the coach coached the back end on our team.”

I asked him to clarify. He said, “Well, as a player, I like to play more minutes, right? So who wouldn’t? It’s just common sense. I said I really liked how the coach here disperses the minutes and has trust in everybody, and that’s all I said. The article was about me, it wasn’t about any other team.

“I didn’t call out Suter and the coach. … I like how they have trust in everybody here. Everybody’s got 18-24 minutes. I like that. It’s great as a player. It shows confidence in me. That’s it. That’s all. It’s refreshing, but am I calling them out? I had a great time here and respect the coach, respect Suter. He’s one of the best players in the league. Why would I call them out?”

At least in what I wrote, not sure where I twisted anything. I wrote it pretty straight. He was the one quoted saying, “I didn’t like the way it was run in Minnesota. … And I wasn’t happy there.”

They were his words. The beat writer who wrote the article is here and said those were direct quotes.

I like Stoner as a person and player, so it’s a shame he feels wronged by us.

Interestingly, Suter’s ice time has been intentionally lowered since the All-Star break.

The first 42 games of Suter’s season, he averaged a league-high 29:38 per game. He has averaged 28:02 since, but mostly in the 26-minute range. He topped 30 minutes 15 times in his first 42 games and three times since (games the Wild suffered injuries to its defensemen early in games).

That's it for me. I'll be on KFAN at 4:30 p.m. and Fox Sports North during the pregame show on the desk with Wes Walz and the first intermission

Older Post

High-energy practice prepares Wild for tough stretch

Newer Post

Postgame: Power play scores once but lets the Wild down yet again in a one-goal loss