The Wild hosts the Anaheim Ducks, who have the second-best record in the NHL and have lost once in regulation in the past 14 games.
Niklas Backstrom vs. Viktor Fasth or Jonas Hiller. Said coach Bruce Boudreau humorously and with a grin, “One of those two will go, … and with good reason.”
Both have beaten the Wild this season. Defenseman Tom Gilbert, who missed Sunday’s win over Vancouver with the flu, returns and will be paired with Justin Falk, who played well the past few games. So did Clayton Stoner, and Jared Spurgeon continues to be on top of his game.
Nate Prosser sits. The Wild continues to go with the same four lines, so Pierre-Marc Bouchard continues to be the odd man out.
Big opportunity for the Wild tonight. It hasn’t won three in a row all year and wants to continue to sit atop the Northwest Division. Vancouver is in Columbus, which has won five in a row. The Wild is 0-2 against the Ducks, but the Wild did dominate the last two periods of the 3-2 loss in Anaheim a few weeks ago.
As you know, the Wild reassigned Mikael Granlund to the minors. Very smart move. He has been scratched five times and four times in the past eight games. Coach Mike Yeo is trying to settle on lines and has found identities with each.
Charlie Coyle is playing with Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu. The Jason Zucker-Matt Cullen-Devin Setoguchi line continues to look good and frankly probably warrants more ice time. Granlund shouldn’t be on the fourth line. The Wild wants a big, tough, aggressive fourth line, one that spends time in the offensive zone, creates momentum and is defensively responsible. Mike Rupp, Zenon Konopka and Torrey Mitchell have played well together. That leaves the third line of Cal Clutterbuck, Kyle Brodziak and Dany Heatley. Yeo is not sitting those three.
So sending Granlund to Houston, where he can play on the first line and first power-play unit and get his confidence and his game back is the smart decision here. As big as the expectations were for Granlund, the reality is most top players in the NHL develop in the AHL.
“Young kids have to play,” Yeo said. “The lineup that we have right now deserve to go out there again and gives another a chance to play the way we have the last couple games. As an organization, he’s too important to us to have him sit here not playing. We need to make sure that he’s on top of his game and continuing to develop to play important minutes and important role.”
So, this could be for two weeks, two months, whatever. He’ll be back. We saw the Wild sent Charlie Coyle back to Houston for a week or so, he says he felt much more confident down there and that has filtered to even a better player once recalled.
“Confidence is everything,” Coyle said. I'll have more stuff from Coyle on Granlund, a fellow 2010 first-rounder, in tomorrow's paper (notebook).
Yeo said Granlund was “understanding but disappointed. And that’s good. I don’t think we want people around here that aren’t extremely driven and proud. And certainly he’s that. We’re also confident that he’ll go down and handle it the right way, too.”
It’s easy to see why Coyle and Jason Zucker function in the NHL. Coyle is big and fast and goes to the net. Zucker is super fast and a finisher. Granlund lacks size and foot speed, in my opinion. I asked Yeo what Granlund has to do to overcome a couple deficiencies. Yeo says not to worry. He will adjust to the NHL game and has shown signs of this, Yeo said. In fact, Granlund was starting to play better. But Yeo wants everybody to play a certain role and has settled on these lines.
“He’ll get there. He’ll get there,” Yeo said. “In fairness to him, he’s done a lot of good things when he’s been in the lineup, too. I know as a coaching staff we have a great deal of confidence in him that we can put him out there. He’s definitely learned how to battle and compete at this level. His pace will not be a problem whatsoever in this game. It’s just a matter of continuing to develop, continuing to get confidence and learning the league. We have no doubt that he’ll get there.”
There is no shame in playing in the AHL. This is why teams have affiliations.
“Most the great players in this league have spent some quality time in the AHL,” Yeo said. “It’s just a step in his development and this is just an opportunity for him to go there to get some confidence, get some quality minutes and to make sure when we need him that he’s on top of his game. … This kid is just a huge part of our organization and this is just what we needs and what we need for him right now.”
Mikko Koivu celebrates his 30th birthday today. He says, “I still feel like a young pup.”
He had dinner last night with brother, Saku, and Mikko bought “as usual.” Koivu joked that the first thing he thought about this morning is how he has had to deal with me for eight years. I joked, “Good thing you only have another five years left on your deal.”
produced by Pat O'Connor and his crew from the 2013 Minnesota High School State hockey tournament.
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