The Wild, which won its last five back end of back-to-backs (say that five times) last season, will get its first crack at such a scenario tonight at 9:30 p.m. CT against the winless Los Angeles Kings.
Good afternoon from L.A., where the Wild, one of four unbeaten teams in the NHL, all gathered at the Staples Center for a meeting, workout and very optional skate today.
Besides the fact Darcy Kuemper will make his season debut between the pipes tonight, the only lineup change for Minnesota will be defenseman Christian Folin getting in for Nate Prosser.
Take a look at this notebook lead for a Kuemper advance and his history in L.A. That’s part of the reason he gets the start. The other reason is coach Mike Yeo doesn’t want him sitting around for a month.
Devan Dubnyk (30 of his 100 career wins have come in 42 games with the Wild) will back Kuemper up. There had been some questions from Wild fans on Twitter wondering if Niklas Backstrom may back up and Dubnyk get a mental day.
Kuemper will have to be sharp tonight. In those last five back-to-backs last year, the Wild got outplayed (in my opinion) in each, but Dubnyk stood tall by allowing one goal in each of the games.
Kuemper will surely be playing behind a tired group tonight after playing last night and most notably having to kill penalties the majority of the third period. Also, coach Mike Yeo expects a desperate Kings team.
He said he feels they’ve been unlucky to be winless and at a minimum only having two goals in three games. He says they are creating plays and putting a lot of pucks to the net, and they just haven’t gone in for them.
Duluth native Derek Forbort will make his NHL debut tonight for the Kings on the blue line.
-- In tomorrow’s Star Tribune, I’ll have a lead note on Thomas Vanek’s 300th goal and also the stick he took to the face in the second period. Vanek can’t feel the top four teeth in his mouth and will need some dental work when the team returns to Minnesota. Besides his two goals, Vanek is playing real well. He worked his butt off last game. Yeo said if he keeps doing that, he’ll be rewarded with more and more ice time
-- I’ll also have a note on Ryan Suter and his run-ins last night with Steve Downie. Last season, Downie, a longtime agitator in the NHL, got elbowed by Suter in Pittsburgh and Suter was suspended two games. Suter said Downie skated up to him in the first period last night to warn him that Downie owed him one. Suter retorted that he owed him a lot of money for the dive he took last year. “That made him mad,” Suter said.
Yeo, by the way, is real pleased with Suter’s game understandably so.
-- I’ll have a note on Jason Zucker, who will be on the highlight reels for awhile and not for the great hustle and great play he made to set up Mikko Koivu’s shorthanded goal. Zucker got tripped up when Connor Murphy’s stick got caught in his skate blade. When Zucker tried to get up, the stick got caught in both his skates. Zucker gave play by play of the incident this morning and Yeo joked, “I was trying to lobby for a tripping call, but I guess they could have argued for a holding the stick penalty, too.”
-- Yeo was real pleased with Justin Fontaine’s game last night 5-on-5 and especially on the penalty kill. He also said it was by far Marco Scandella’s best game, and in Sunday’s paper, I will likely write about Scandella and how Yeo is trying to convey to him to not think of himself as a third-pair defenseman right now.
-- The stat sheets last night for real messed up and the Wild is trying to get the league to fix it. Shots are a mess, they have the Wild giving up a fourth power-play goal this season (which is untrue), ice times are a total butcher job. At one point last night, Ryan Carter and Chris Porter had like 22-25 minutes each. They still have Charlie Coyle with 10 minutes of ice time, Nino Niederreiter with less than nine. Some stories made note that Vanek played only 8:04 like he’s in the doghouse or something (although that may not be far off because he missed a lot of the second period getting his face repaired and the Wild killed all third period and he’s not on the PK).
-- Always good in L.A. to see actor John Hawkes. The Academy Award-winning actor is buddies with goalie coach Bob Mason and he took in the morning skate today. The Minnesota native was there with his cousin, musician and actor Mike Lutgen.
Talk to ya tonight. Don’t freak, but the Wild game may be joined in progress depending on how late the Gopher game goes. There is no Wild pregame show tonight on FSN.