Wild and Nashville Predators tonight on NBC Sports Network. Dave Strader upstairs with us wretches, Brian Engblom between the benches.
Sean Bergenheim will make his Wild debut on a line with countryman Mikko Koivu and Thomas Vanek (more on this below), Devan Dubnyk will start his 19th consecutive game (more on this below) with Darcy Kuemper riding shotgun and Niklas Backstrom's former backup, Pekka Rinne, getting the nod for the Preds.
On an aside, I had an awful morning. For the first time in my coffee-drinking career, I spilled an entire cup of Starbucks!
So, first off, before I illustrate how damaging that loss was to the lowly Edmonton Oilers the other night, here’s what the Wild is up against -- not only tonight, but three times in the final 22 games this season (to really put you in a good mood).
--The Predators are 26-3-1, including six consecutive wins, this season at rabid Bridgestone Arena and the other night in destroying the Colorado Avalanche tied an NHL record for the most wins by a team through its first 30 home games of one season (26, per the Elias Sports Bureau). So again, the Wild plays the first of three times the rest of the season in Smashville tonight, where the Preds have lost THREE times in regulation in 30 games.
--Renne, the 29th goaltender taken in the 2004 draft at 258 overall, leads the league with 35 victories and owns as 23-3-1 record at home with a 1.84 goals-against average and .932 save percentage.
--The Preds are the best team in the NHL with a 41-13-7 record 89 points, a six-point lead in the race for the President’s Trophy.
--The Wild is 2-4-2 in its past eight in Nashville, including one regulation win in that eight-game stretch. In the past eight games here, the Wild is 3 for 22 on the power play.
-- Some other tidbits: The Wild’s penalty kill is 34 for 35 in the past 14 games (11-2-1). Former Predator Devan Dubnyk, who will start his 19th consecutive game tonight (one off Niklas Backstrom’s team record), has allowed 29 goals in 18 games. Jordan Schroeder has five points in his past five games. Jason Pominville has really dried up. The streaky scorer is known to go through droughts, but usually in those cases, he’s getting chances. Pominville has 11 shots and no points in the past six games since scoring goals in three straight games. That six-game pointless streak is his longest drought in parts of three seasons with the Wild.
That Oilers loss the other night was so damaging to the Wild in the standings. Not only did Winnipeg, Los Angeles and Vancouver all win that night, Calgary lost. So the Wild could have gone three points up on eighth.
Instead, the Flames rebounded last night with a win at awful New Jersey, so the Wild is back into ninth place – one point behind the Flames with a game in hand and one point ahead of the Sharks with a game in hand. The Wild’s four back of the seventh-place Jets with two games in hand.
So the Wild’s task tonight is to rebound from losing to the worst team in the Western Conference against the best team in the NHL inside in an arena where the Predators rarely lose.
As I said when the Wild got into the top-8, the final stretch of the season would still have lots of jockeying for position, probably a temporary spot inside that top-8 and a roller coaster of emotions the rest of the way.
Bergenheim was supposed to get into snowy Nashville last night, but there was bad weather both in Atlanta and here, so his Atlanta to Nashville connection was cancelled.
So he woke up at 5:30 and flew nonstop to Nashville from Ft. Lauderdale this morning. After the morning skate, he sat with assistant coach Darryl Sydor to go over every facet of the Wild’s systems for a half-hour.
So he may be playing on some adrenaline tonight on that Koivu line.
The lines tonight:
Stephane Veilleux is scratched.
On the line changes, coach Mike Yeo said, “Obviously when you have a change to your lineup like [trading for Bergenheim], it’s going to affect a lot of things. We tried to look at a lot of different scenarios and first off putting a couple lines together that have had chemistry in the past with Nino, Charlie, Schroeds and also Granny, Zach and Pommer.
“Thomas, his game lately, he’s involved in probably six to eight scoring chances every game, so we think where he’s at with Mikko and the way that Mikko’s been playing, that line has the ability to create. But we also think that they need somebody that’s going to be on the puck, that’s going to hound pucks, that’s going to forecheck, that’s going to go to the net, but also that’s going to be responsible at both ends of the ice. We’ll see how it works at.”
We will see. Not sure what I think of Vanek there. I’d put Schroeder, but I think they want to reunite that Nino-Coyle-Schroeder line that was real good in Vancouver (Schroeder to Nino for 2 goals) and Vanek can’t be on the fourth line. And we know by now, Fontaine can adjust from role to role.
Bergenheim hasn’t played since Feb. 12 in Minnesota, a healthy scratch by Florida since asking to be traded.
“He says he’s been trying to do his part in practice,” Yeo said. “Obviously games are a different situation, so we’ll be keeping an eye on that during the course of the game. But at some point we have to make sure we’re playing him in shape here, too, so we might as well throw him right into the fire.”
Bergenheim doesn’t look out of shape. Yeo called him a big guy the other night and I took that to mean tall. He’s only 5-10. But Yeo meant was thick. The guy is jacked and looks to be very well-conditioned and definitely plays a hard game when it comes to battle and finishing checks. He also skates well.
Yeo said, “I don’t think it’s fair for us to expect or demand perfection right from the start. New system, new players. There will be a lot of changes, but he should be able to provide some energy for us.”
Bergenheim said, “It was an interesting 24 hours because I had to try to travel quite a bit (he first went from Chicago to Florida). But the mood is very, very good and I’m very excited to be here.
“I packed a few warm jackets and now I’m good to go.”
On not playing for so long and maybe having to play 18-20 minutes tonight, Bergenheim said, “I’m in good shape. I’ve been training hard. I don’t feel like I haven’t played in two weeks. I feel good. That’s all that matters.”
He’s got the Finnish Granlund-like blonde blow going. In fact, Bergenheim could be what Granlund will look like in 10 years.
Speaking of Finns, Haula played six minutes the other night and was responsible for the second goal largely with mistakes in the neutral zone and the D-zone. He saw his stick in half afterward.
“I talked to him about it, and he’s aware of it and he was not happy with himself on it,” Yeo said. “In that game, he was doing some good things, hit the post, another chance off the rush. But you look at the way our lines are constructed right now, we need him and we need that line to make sure that they’re extremely good defensively.
“He’s still a young kid who’s still trying to learn from that stuff.”
With Fontaine on the right, Brodziak moves to the middle because Yeo doesn’t want Brodziak to have to play his off wing. But there will be times on the left side in the D-zone Haula may take draws.
Dubnyk’s “This is Your Life” tour, which I stole from somebody on Twitter I think (can’t remember where I saw that), continues tonight in Nashville.
We’ve seen him play Arizona. We’ve seen him play Edmonton. We’ve written a ton about his experience playing in Montreal’s farm team in Nashville.
Well, what the heck happened in Nashville, where he played two games, allowing five goals on 29 shots in a 5-4 debut loss to Colorado and four goals on 31 shots in a 5-4 shootout loss in Calgary?
He never played again, was put on waivers and ultimately sent to Montreal.
“My confidence wasn’t overly high at the time of the trade [from Edmonton],” Dubnyk said. “I only got the opportunity to play two games. Unfortunately my first game, I didn’t do a very good job. I was pretty nervous. When I came to Nashville, I think I put way too much pressure on myself. You just can’t perform that way. I wasn’t very good my first game at all and second game was ok and then that was kind of it.
“Carter Hutton was lights out. He earned every start he got. When you watch a guy that’s as good a guy as he is, how hard he worked and how well he was playing, you just try to wait for your turn and unfortunately it didn’t come. Peks came back after the Olympic break and I was the odd man out.”
Expect a motivated Parise tonight. He had an unbelievably frustrating night of knee hockey.
He lost all three games he played last night at Matt Cullen’s Brentwood house.
Cullen’s three boys picked the teams. The teams switched every game. And Parise ended up on the losing team every single time, he said, laughing hysterically.
“But it was a blast. Just awesome. What a great family,” Parise said.
I may be doing my Sunday column this week on Cullen, who’s in the last year of his deal and looking to win his second Stanley Cup with his favorite coach, Peter Laviolette, as bench boss.