Long blog, I know, but try to get to the bottom because I do address the Travis Hamonic rumors and I will further in my Sunday column.
I’m already getting a lot of questions asking if this is the type of road trip (1-2-1, zero leads in regulation) that could cause Zach Parise to come to the rescue at Friday’s practice.
But the Wild, which lost tonight 4-2 here in Boston, has not yet said if Parise has been medically cleared to practice. And regardless, since he hasn’t practiced since being hurt Nov. 5, it’s not like one practice would magically land him in Saturday’s lineup anyway.
No, the current cast, sick or not, will need to step it up in order for the depleted (in terms of body and energy) lineup to get out of this (so far) mini three-game slide (0-2-1).
We’ll find out Friday if Jason Zucker is the latest in the injury ward. In the final seconds, he was slashed in the back of the leg by Matt Beleskey. Zucker went down in a heap and was in a lot of pain. He stayed down for awhile afterward, then had to be helped off by athletic therapist Don Fuller and teammate Thomas Vanek. He put no weight on his leg.
He was seen by Bruins doctors for about 15 minutes, then I saw him limp badly but on his own power into the changing room.
“I didn’t think it was that bad,” Beleskey said. “I did slash him but, … I didn’t try to break his leg and I don’t think it did either, so hopefully he’s alright.”
Coach Mike Yeo didn’t provide an update after the game. Hopefully for the Wild and Zucker’s sake, Beleskey just got him in the sweet spot and hit a nerve or something.
Tonight was like most every road game since Road Game #3 this season. Get down early, chase the entire game and (usually) not recover. The Wild, 15-2-2 on the road after the Devan Dubnyk trade last season, is now 1-4-3 in its past eight road games because the game’s either always tied or it’s trailing.
Hard to believe, but the Wild’s lone lead in the last eight road games lasted 1 minute, 12 seconds. Maybe it’s not hard to believe. The Wild was swept by the Hawks in last year’s playoffs without a single lead in four games.
Tonight, Marco Scandella (lower body) and Jonas Brodin (tried to warm up, but he couldn’t play because of illness) were out and it made for a convoluted back end with Gustav Olofsson, who played quite well, becoming the fourth Wild player in the past six games to make his NHL debut.
But as usual, the Wild’s penalty kill (despite Dubnyk making seven saves on back-to-back power plays before Jason Zucker’s tying goal) failed the team and the Wild was sloppy with the puck.
The turning points?
After Jason Pominville was sliced open by a follow through high-stick off a Bruins pass, Thomas Vanek was called for hooking. He complained that his stick was being held. Regardless, Loui Eriksson scored the second of his three goals when Patrice Bergeron’s pass deflected in off his leg.
The Wild, which has the league’s second-worst penalty kill only in front of Boston, allowed its sixth power-play goal in five games and 12th this season. It has allowed at least one power-play goal in 10 of 18 games.
But the Wild got within a goal 2:16 later when Ryan Suter’s lob from the blue line weaved through traffic, breezed off Jordan Schroeder’s glove along the path and got past Jonas Gustavsson. It was Schroeder’s first goal and point this season.
But in the third, Nino Niederreiter turned a 4-on-2 into a turnover and Eriksson completed the hat trick off a 2-on-1.
Here’s Mike Yeo on the game: “Chasing. Chasing. Makes it tough. Obviously you squeeze the stick a little more, you force things a little more, you use certain guys a little more, so we’ve got to find a way to rectify this. It’s one thing if it’s one game, but it’s continuous. It’s game after game. It becomes a problem.”
On how sloppy the Wild continues to be with the puck, Yeo said, “We saw [last] year the difference of our road play when we were chasing night after night and the difference later in the year when we were able to score the first goal. That’s not an excuse. Typically we’re a team that continues to battle. I thought that we battled, but we just make it harder on ourselves when it’s night after night after night. It’s been going a long time, so we’ve got to find a way to rectify it. We have to be a little tighter.”
With all the injuries and the sicknesses, Yeo said, “We’ve got to cut down what we’re giving up because we’re not going to score as many goals right now, not with the guys we have out of the lineup. So if we think we can give up four goals a night and win, we’re not.”
On the injuries and illness, Yeo said, “It’s tough, but there’s no excuse. There’s no excuse. We still got players that are capable, and I give a lot of guys credit tonight. We did battle. We don’t always make it easy on ourselves, but we had a lot of guys that were sick playing in the game. I give us credit for the work, but we’re not in the business for looking for consolation points here. We’ve got to win hockey games.”
On the annual sickness that seems to hit the Wild (remember, flu shots don’t stop stomach viruses), Yeo said you’re more susceptible on the road. “You’re with each other all the time, on the bus, in the dressing room. But we’re not going to sit around and make excuses.
“We’re playing teams that are healthy. Hopefully we’re getting it all out of the way now.”
On his goal: “I was gripping my stick too tight on those scoring chances lately. It’s kind of what you need to get your game going, a bounce like that, but bottom line we didn’t win the game and you want to help your team win.”
On chasing every game: “It’s tough to win hockey games when you’re playing from behind. This league’s too good to come from behind night after night. We have to find ways to come out better, get the lead and hold onto it.”
“I think our game overall lately has been frustrating, but obviously individually as well. The way things have been going, I thought I had a good backcheck on one of the goals and had my guy, but it hits my skate and ends up going in and they get a goal off of it. Unfortunate bounce, but we’ve got to find a way individually and as a team to be better and to re-group. We’re going home and we’ve got to be better. Our starts have to be better, our special teams have to be better, and just overall our game.”
Why no leads EVER??? “We’ve got to figure that part out for sure. It’s tough to win in this league when you get behind the eight ball. We have quite a bit lately and we’re always chasing the game and opening the game up and they made some plays off the rush. Obviously they have some talent, but it’s on us to be better.”
On the injuries/illness: “You never want to lose guys and you guys have been sick. It hits one guy and it hit a couple more, but we’re not going to make any excuses for that. It falls on the guys that are here to pick it up and find a way to be better. We’re going to have to dig deep and re-group and be better at home for sure. Even though there are key guys out, we’re not going to take that as an excuse.”
On his career-long 18-game drought: “It’s been extremely frustrating, frustrating to even talk about it. But I’m just trying to not let my frustration get to my teammates and be a good teammate and keep working hard. And hopefully get a bounce here or there. I mean, the frustrating part is I’ve had some looks, had some opportunities, but they haven’t gone in. Sometimes when things are going well, you get the easy ones and right now they’re not coming. I’ve got to find a way to get an ugly one and get going from there.”
“I think we got away from it at the start a little bit again. That’s a team that obviously makes you pay for it. We keep showing flashes of what we want to do. I thought in the third period, especially toward the end, we showed what we’re capable of doing. But a couple bounces here and there and sometimes you get away with those games.”
No leads? “We don’t think about stuff like that. You can’t approach it like that. Especially with this group. We’ve got a big game against Nashville on Saturday and we’ve got to prepare for that the same way we would if we were 4-0 on the road trip. That’s an important game.”
On his mishmash blue line in front of him: “There are always injuries. I thought Ollie (Olofsson) played really well tonight. He had some real good scoring chances. Any time you have guys coming in and out of the lineup it takes some time to get a feel and get some chemistry with your partners. But I certainly don’t think that’s something that every team in the league doesn’t go through. We’re fine, we’ve got the guys that can do it.”
“It is what it is. It’s 4-2. You lose the game. We’re not playing 60 minutes and that’s the result. I don’t think you want to obviously be behind. Like I said, it is what it is. It’s everything. There’s a reason for that and we’ve got to figure that out.”
Injuries/illness: “It doesn’t matter. Every team goes through injuries. Every year is the same thing. There are injuries and we talk about that. Every year it’s the same answer. I think every team goes through injuries. I don’t think there’s one team that is going to stay healthy. There is flus and whatever. It’s part of the game. You better deal with that as well.”
He found out about the callup late Wednesday and slept through the call, saying now he knows to keep his ringer on when sleeping. He found out he was debuting right after warmups when Brodin couldn't go.
"It's surreal," he said. "When I get back tonight or something, I'm sure I'll make sure to close my eyes and think about it."
Lots of talk that the Wild's in on Travis Hamonic, the top-4 Islanders defenseman who asked to be traded before the season due to a family matter (as first reported by Elliotte Friedman). I talked with folks inside the Wild before the game, and there's little doubt that Islanders GM Garth Snow has talked to Wild GM Chuck Fletcher lately. But my understanding is Fletcher has yet to talk to agent Kevin Epp, and the Wild would want to know the reason Hamonic wants to be moved.
Regardless, the Wild's at the cap, has a deep, expensive blue line as it is and can't just take on a player making a little under $4 million without giving up a significant salary. Also, Fletcher's first priority I'm told if he were to make trades right now would be to add up front, not on the back end.
The Islanders would want a similar top-4 defenseman if it were to trade Hamonic, according to the respected TSN guys Darren Dreger, Bob McKenzie and Pierre LeBrun. That would have to mean Jonas Brodin, Marco Scandella or Jared Spurgeon (unless the Wild was willing to trade Mike Reilly or Olofsson, although that wouldn't make the money work for Minnesota). I just don't know if Fletcher would be willing to go there. Spurgeon is indeed in the last year of his deal and will warrant a big raise, maybe one the Wild can't afford. But he is unrestricted in two summers, and would the Islanders really risk trading Hamonic for Spurgeon, a guy they threw in the garbage once upon a time and a guy that maybe not be willing to sign long-term there because of it?
We'll see if this heads anywhere, but as of now, the Wild indicated that it hasn't even been given an asset price for Hamonic and nothing is close.
I had to trim this out:
One day after his father, Carl, attended the Wild-Penguins game because he was in Pittsburgh on business, Wild prospect Alex Tuch, a first-round pick in 2014, attended his first-ever Wild game in Boston.
“My dad’s my best friend,” Tuch, a sophomore at Boston College, said. “Every weekend, every hockey tournament, he would wake me up at 5 in the morning to bring me to shooting lessons. He was my worst enemy at times when I wanted to be a little lazy growing up, but he got on me and pushed me and I love him even more for it.
“Not just with hockey, too. Homework, if my grades weren’t good, I wasn’t playing hockey. It never came down to that, Thank God.”
That’s it for me. Early flight. My editor, Chris Miller, may actually be covering Friday’s practice (assuming it doesn’t get scrapped) because of my flight and the need for me to get my Sunday package done.