Good early evening from the X, where I just completed a feature on defenseman Jon Blum for Wednesday’s paper. Please definitely give this one a read. It’s pretty gripping. Get used to seeing Blum with Clayton Stoner and Keith Ballard injured right now. He certainly played a great game in Detroit this past weekend.
The Wild held an optional practice this morning at the X. Eight of the big-minute guys – five top-6 forwards except Charlie Coyle, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon and Matt Cooke – didn’t practice.
Coach Mike Yeo opted for an optional despite yesterday’s off-day based on the team just completing five games in seven nights and the four games in six nights about to come up.
“We deemed this the one opportunity to try to put a little extra back in the tank and get ready for this final push,” Yeo said.
Yeo loved the Wild’s game in Detroit on Sunday, especially because coaches have been preaching that the way to score goals this time of year is to get pucks and bodies to the net.
Important game coming up against a desperate Vancouver opponent on Wednesday (6:30 p.m.). On Thursday in St. Louis, the Wild begins a four-game trip to the Blues, Phoenix, L.A., and Chicago.
Entering tonight’s action, the Wild is five points up on Phoenix and six up on Dallas. The Coyotes play in Pittsburgh and just lost Mike Smith with a knee injury. The goalie’s listed day-to-day, so that could prove big. The Stars are in Chicago.
Yeo wouldn’t say which goalie is starting against the Canucks. I’d think it’d be Darcy Kuemper, especially when one considers how awesome he was in Vancouver during that 7-round shootout win last month.
That would leave Ilya Bryzgalov to likely start in St. Louis. The Wild has lost eight in a row against the Blues and could probably use new blood in net in St. Louis, where it rarely puts up a fight.
If Kuemper is going to be the Wild’s No. 1 down the stretch and into the playoffs (Yeo said he wants to ride one goalie in the postseason), I’d give him the Coyotes game. That’ll be like a playoff game when you consider how critical that game is in the standings. So what better way to see if Kuemper can handle the pressure than to throw him into such a big game?
And we know Kuemper was tremendous in L.A. back in January, so I’d think you’d want to start him there, too. That Jan. 7 game in L.A. set in motion Kuemper taking over the Wild’s No. 1 reins.
Yeo said today that he’s not going to say these games will serve in determining the Wild’s No. 1 goalie if it makes the playoffs, but he said there’s no question the Wild will use these next 10 “days” to sort things out.
Kuemper’s game hasn’t been as strong as it was before the trade deadline. He has allowed three or more goals in four of his past six starts, but Yeo said he doesn’t think Kuemper is that far off from his “A” game.
As for Bryzgalov, who is 2-0-2, Yeo said, “He’s got experience being deep in the playoffs, which can be a real positive. Kuemps and his personality and his situation as far as being part of our future is going to play into it. He shows signs of being a guy that could be not only a good goalie, but a really good goalie in the playoffs because of his mental makeup, because of how he’s handled pressure, because how he’s been able to stay focused and stay in the short term and not get too wrapped up in what’s happened.”
Talk to you Wednesday. I’ll be on KFAN starting at 9:55 a.m. and I’ll be on Fox Sports North during the pregame show Wednesday and first intermission.