The Wild, minus goalie Darcy Kuemper, boarded a charter this morning for Edmonton, Alberta.
As was indicated last week, the Wild still went through with a two-week conditioning stint for Kuemper to Iowa after the All-Star break. As he said after the game in Detroit, Kuemper was open to it, although after seeing him save the day there for at least a point by stopping 14 of 14 shots prior to the shootout in relief of Devan Dubnyk, I wondered if the Wild would change its mind and not mess with the goaltending right now.
But since the plan is likely to start Dubnyk all three games on this road trip and the fact the Wild only has six games in the next 14 days and won’t play back-to-back next until Feb. 9-10, the Wild’s willing to send him to Iowa for a little bit to get some games.
“Playing time, practice time before he gets the playing time,” coach Mike Yeo said is his goal for Kuemper. “But more than anything else, just to mentally get himself back on track. I actually thought he played well in the Detroit game, but he needs to get more of a base underneath him. Just as far as the way things had gone, we were able to get him in a game here and there and once in a while it was a good game, once in a while it was a bad game. I’m just hoping for him to get a real good foundation coming back here as far as the confidence level, and obviously the playing time will be huge for him.”
Center Mikael Granlund will return Tuesday night when the Wild opens its western Canadian swing in Edmonton.
He underwent wrist surgery on Dec. 29 and the Wild went 4-7-2 without him. He’ll skate on a line with Zach Parise and Thomas Vanek. Mikko Koivu will center Jason Zucker and Jason Pominville. Kyle Brodziak will center Matt Cooke and Justin Fontaine, and Charlie Coyle will center a line with Ryan Carter and Nino Niederreiter. Erik Haula isn’t slated to play, nor is extra Stu Bickel, who was called up from Iowa to add an extra body for the trip.
Parise, named the NHL’s Third Star of the Week today for scoring three goals in two games, is excited to get Granlund back.
“You need depth at center. That’s the only way you win in this league. You need deep centermen,” said Parise, who’s riding a four-game goal streak. “Everyone knows how good a player he is and how well he’s played, so for him to hop right back in and make a difference in our top-6, and power play as well, we’re ready and excited to get him back.”
Mikko Koivu has 10 points in the past 12 games and 26 points in 46 games. Charlie Coyle has five in the past 11 games. Kyle Brodziak and Erik Haula have combined for 19 points this season.
Granlund has 15 points in 32 games.
That is not enough production up the middle, something Yeo has mentioned more and more lately.
So Yeo is hoping Granlund can add speed and scoring.
“Mikko has certainly been putting up some points lately, but you need more than one guy,” Yeo said. “And that’s not anything against Brodzy or Charlie or Erik. That’s not really their role. Their role is a little bit more of a checking role and so to get a scoring top-2 line centermen back that’s obviously a huge addition for us.”
Look at the standings, and the Wild’s quite the chore to get back into the playoff race. It’s seven points behind Calgary for the second wildcard spot, FOURTEEN behind Winnipeg for the top wildcard spot and even to get back into eighth, the 12th-place Wild has to hop four teams.
“We’ve got to win. There’s no other way to put it,” Parise said. “There’s not a lot of room for error and it’s going to be hard. We know that. It’s going to be very hard. But we’re not going to quit. We’ve got to keep improving and get our game going in the right direction.”
How do you play when every game you go in, you feel it’s a must-win? Parise said, “We can’t put ourselves in an every game’s a win or season’s over type scenario. You stress yourself out and all of a sudden mentally you’re making the game a lot harder. You try to put it in small things where tomorrow night we’ve got to win the first period and then go from there. We can’t win the game right away, but we’ve got to win the first period. That’s got to be our approach as we go on through this road trip and the rest of the season. We know what the standings look like. That’s no secret. But we can’t make up all those points this week. We’ve got to start small.”
Granlund said, “There’s still 30-something games left. A lot of things can happen and I think every guy in this locker room believes we can make it to the playoffs. We need to go game by game. That’s the only thing we can do now.”
Yeo said the break was a “good opportunity to clear the head. And it was an opportunity to re-charge and I think that we had a pretty good energetic practice today so hopefully everybody feels the same way.
“Where do we go from here? That remains to be seen. But as much as anything message wise, certainly when you look at the standings and where we’re sitting right now, a very large portion of the season remains here. If we start looking at the big picture too much, then we’ll lose sight of the individual focus that we need on each day and that’s the message from here. We can’t get caught up about what other teams are doing or what’s out of our control. We just have to make sure that we’re prepared and ready for a good hard test tomorrow. It’s a team that’s been playing well. They definitely have a little more confidence in their game and they’ve been playing hard.”
The Oilers, yes, have been playing much better since Dallas Eakins was fired and has won two in a row.
Matt Dumba is in the AHL All-Star Game tonight and that game can be seen on FSN-plus. Yeo said, “What you’re looking for is progress from those guys. He’s just playing in every situation. His ice time is so valuable down there. The game is on his stick every game and [John Torchettii] is doing a great job with him, so we’ll keep letting him develop and if we need him and we feel he can help us win, then we’ll make that decision. But certainly we’re very focused on his development too. “
Yeo didn’t watch Ryan Suter in the NHL All-Star Game, joking, “I watched that game about as intensely as it was played.”
On Haula and what he wants to see from him the last couple months, Yeo said, “I would say consistency in his game. And consistency in the battle level. To me it’s not about skating in open ice and it’s not about skating fast in a straight line. It’s about the compete level in the small areas, it’s about being strong on the puck and puck strength and stick strength and D zone coverage. These are the things that we need to see from him.”
Dubnyk went back to Arizona during the break to, well, pack up his life. His wife and child will be moving to Minnesota on Feb. 4 and he found a place in the Twin Cities.
“It was nice to have that timing wise to get back home and gather up some stuff and get prepared to move some things and all that. It actually worked out great to get that timing to go back there and organize everything and be ready to go when we get back from this trip.”
The Oilers first-round pick, who lost his starting gig with them last year, is 3-0 against them this year with a 0.97 goals-against average and .968 save percentage.
“It’s been fun. I played with a lot of those guys for a long time so I still have some great relationships there and played a lot of games at Rexall,” he said. “The first one I was definitely most nervous for. It’s still a little bit weird to play there, but probably not as weird as having to play Arizona three days after the trade. So it’ll be alright.”
I better write for the paper. I’ll be on KFAN on Tuesday at 9:55 a.m. and Fox Sports North during Tuesday’s pregame show and first intermission.
I got a lot of questions about Mike Richards being on waivers from Wild fans. He has a $5.75 million cap hit the next five years and the big problem with him is the same problem with Ryan Suter and Zach Parise if they retire prematurely (see this story). If Richards hangs it up early, the team that picks him up (or frankly ever trades for him) would be on the hook for a cap recapture penalty. So it’s a big risk.
Can’t see anybody taking Richards. This is just a way to maybe drum up more trade interest. The problem is the Kings is so close to the cap, if you’re making a trade with the Kings, it’s hard for them to take any of your bad contracts or even retain some of the salary and cap hit. Hope that makes sense.
Have to really write for the paper. Just realized it’s 6:15 back there.