Wild, 5-0-3 in its past eight, takes on Ryan McDonagh, Brady Skjei and the New York Rangers on Thursday night at Xcel Energy Center.
Even though coach Mike Yeo wouldn’t divulge his plans after today’s optional practice, I’d expect veteran Jarret Stoll to make his Wild debut against his former team. Yeo did say Devan Dubnyk will return to the Wild net.
“That’ll be a little weird,” Stoll said of playing against his old team right off the hop. “It’s funny how the hockey world works and the scheduling works and the timing. It doesn’t really matter. I just want to get in a game and get going with the new team here. It’ll be a little weird two days ago practicing with them and now playing against them. It’ll be a little different. But we still have to play the game.”
Stoll said we’ll see if Stoll’s on a regular line at Thursday’s morning skate, and like I said, I’d be shocked if he wasn’t despite last night’s 6-2 win and despite the fact that arguably nobody deserves to come out of the lineup right now.
“We didn’t pick him up not to play,” Yeo said. “He’s a guy that we think can add a lot to our group.”
On Stoll, Yeo said, “It’s depth at center, but it’s not just a guy that can sit around and play if we need him to play. Watching him play, I’ve looked at some video, I see a lot of the things that we remember from L.A. and you would expect from his type of game. He plays the game hard, he plays the game physical, He’s an honest player. He’s got some sandpaper to his game. He’ll be responsible defensively, he’s a guy that can play in a defensive-minded shutdown role but also can contribute a little bit.”
My guess is Erik Haula will come out. It’s just the easiest move unless Yeo plans to move Haula to wing.
You can tell all the fourth-line forwards (Haula, Chris Porter and Ryan Carter) and Justin Fontaine all worked their butts off last night with Stoll now in the fold. They’re not dumb. All played well.
“It raises the competition level,” Carter said. “I don’t know that we haven’t been competing, but when the reality is now there’s extra forwards, it’ll create a competition. … We all know when something’s on the line, you compete a little harder, you play a little better.”
Dubnyk, who played with Stoll for a little bit in Edmonton, said Stoll is “extremely, extremely hard working, he’s got a great shot and unreal on the penalty kill. I think that’ll be a great addition for us for killing penalties.”
The Wild ranks 26th on the PK.
Darcy Kuemper has allowed six goals in five games (four starts) since Dubnyk was injured Dec. 5. He’ll come out for now for Dubnyk, who had given up one goal in 2 ½ games before the injury.
“Kuemps is on top of our game right now, so that’s a good thing for us,” Yeo said. “We’ve got a number of games coming up here in a short period of time. Both guys will get a chance here before Christmas.”
That means they’ll split Monday and Tuesday home games against Dallas and Montreal, respectively.
“It’s difficult when you’re thinking about Kuemps and the fact that he’s playing real well right now, but not difficult in the sense of what Duby’s done for us,” Yeo said. “We have to get him back in there.”
Kuemper has now given Yeo confidence that he can toss him in the net whenever the Wild needs solid play or to spell Dubnyk. Frankly, the Wild hasn’t had a lot of faith in Kuemper since last year’s first half.
“We count on Devan,” Yeo said. “Devan’s proven that he can play a lot of games and carry a heavy workload, but too much is too much. And for Darcy to be able to come in and not just give us solid hockey but play really well and win hockey games for us, that’s going to be key down the stretch.”
Yeo loved Thomas Vanek’s game last night, and not just because of the four points against Vancouver. He competed, he played smart, disciplined hockey. Before Jason Zucker’s goal, Vanek was the third guy high, and then hustled and pounced at the perfect time. On the Mikko Koivu goal, Vanek was the first guy into the zone on a Nate Prosser dump-in.
“That’s a really good sign for me,” Yeo said. “He’s committed to that type of game. I’ve noticed a competitiveness to his game. For the most part it’s been there night after night. I noticed he’s putting an emphasis on the details of the game, his play without the puck.”
Last night, Prosser fought Derek Dorsett with 1:33 left in the game. The two took coincidental roughing minors 10:59 into the second period when Dorsett tried to goad Prosser into a fight.
They got into a chirping match in the penalty box. Prosser called it “friendly chatter.”
“He wasn’t too happy that I wouldn’t go with him when it was 5-1 in the second period,” Prosser said, rolling his eyes. “I told him, ‘You guys go score a couple goals and come talk to me.’”
Then, late in the third, Dorsett boarded Prosser.
“I turned around and I looked and I saw it was him, and then he dropped his gloves,” Prosser said. “It almost felt like he wanted to come at me swinging, so I better take my gloves off, be prepared for it and protect myself. It’s 6-2, a minute and a half left, I’m not looking for a fight.
“I’m not usually out there looking at individual guys and want to fight this guy or that guy. I like getting in guys heads and getting in guys ears and he seems like a guy that always comes after me, so I try to give it back to him.”
Reminder, the next Russo-Souhan Show is Thursday at 4 p.m. at Tom Reid's Hockey City Pub. FOX, NBC and MSG play-by-play guy Kenny Albert will be our special guest, so come on by. All of our podcasts are on malepatternpodcasts.com.