The Wild conducted a fairly routine practice Friday at Xcel Energy Center, with Thursday’s win over the New York Rangers having lifted some of the pressure of two consecutive shootout losses to start their four-game homestand. Everyone was healthy and active, including TV analyst Mike Greenlay, who was sporting an impressive shiner to go with his five stitches. Greenlay was none the worse for wear after being clipped under the left eye by a stick while calling Thursday’s game from between the benches.
Darcy Kuemper bounced back from a subpar game against Edmonton on Tuesday, making 29 saves for his 12th victory of the season. That breaks the Wild’s record for victories by a rookie; the previous mark of 11 was set by Josh Harding in 2007-08. Kuemper is now 12-4-3 and has not lost consecutive games in regulation this season.
Coach Mike Yeo had anticipated a strong comeback by Kuemper, calling him a “water off the duck’s back kind of guy.’’ That kind of resilience, Yeo said, is an “extra important quality’’ in the NHL. He added that Kuemper probably was helped by his extensive junior hockey experience, when he also had to get past bad performances quickly because of a rigorous schedule that left no time for moping.
“Everyone’s going to have an off night, and everyone’s going to have a great night,’’ Yeo said. “You can’t sit around and be thinking about that and preparing for the next game at the same time.
“Young players have to learn how to prepare, how to learn, in a lot of ways, what it means to be a pro. For a guy like (Kuemper), one thing that’s helped is the fact he’s played junior hockey, where they play a schedule that’s similar in the amount of games they play and how up and down a season can be. And also, spending the time in the (AHL). For a player like that, that’s a big help.’’
Yeo is likely to stick with the same lines Saturday, when the Wild end the homestand against Columbus. He said he would like to get Justin Fontaine back into the lineup, but Fontaine is a victim of circumstance. He is tied for third among Wild forwards with 12 goals, but he has not played since March 3, sitting out the past four games.
“Part of it is based on roles right now,’’ Yeo said. “We’re going to need our fourth line to play, and we’re going to need them to eat up minutes. It’s not just the five-on-five. We’ve got (Dany Heatley), who’s playing on the power play, he’s taking up minutes there. We’ve got (Erik) Haula and (Cody) McCormick, both key guys on the penalty kill right now.
“Unfortunately for (Fontaine), he wouldn’t factor in on either one of those right now; he’s not a penalty killer, and he’s not a power-play guy with the guys we have in the lineup. So we do want to get him in the lineup, but at the same time, we’ve got guys in roles right now, so we have to approach it that way.’’
Yeo lauded Haula, but hedged on whether the center might move up from the fourth line to the third. Yeo said he is considering it, but added that Haula has to continue earning his assignments on a nightly basis.
Columbus should be another good test for the Wild, Yeo said. The Blue Jackets are healthy and have four solid lines, and he anticipates the game will be a tight-checking one, similar to the Rangers game.