Mike Reilly will make his NHL debut tonight against the Dallas Stars. Nate Prosser, who continues to take part in skates and practices, will miss his third game with an injured hand.
“It’s pretty special. Obviously I worked all summer to try to be this position as soon as possible, and now that I’m here, it’s kind of surreal,” Reilly, the 110th former Gopher to appear in an NHL game, said after today’s morning skate. “You’ve just got to enjoy this process. It’s a big game tonight for the team, so we want to come out with two points. Very exciting though.”
Reilly was paired on the left side of Jonas Brodin at the skate and we’ll see how much ice time he actually gets. My guess is without any practice, Reilly won’t initially get power-play time unless things go haywire and coach Mike Yeo and assistant coach Andrew Brunette want to tinker with personnel later in the game.
Reilly found out officially he was playing just by seeing his number on the white board this morning. After the game, Yeo skated over to Reilly and gave him the usual pep talk by reminding him players only get one opportunity to play their first NHL game.
“It’s an exciting opportunity for him, playing in your first game,” Yeo said. “Obviously, there’s a lot of emotions, a lot of nerves, but he’s up here because he has the ability to make plays and he can be a pretty dynamic player, so I don’t want him playing the game being afraid of making mistakes. He knows the way we want him to play and we’ll try to work with him with that, but I want him to come in and try to play a confident game and show us what he can do.”
His father, Mike, and older sister, Shannon, will attend the game. His mom, Lisa, is in Florida visiting his grandmother. Obviously, his other siblings can’t attend. Caitlin, who plays at the U, plays Ohio State tonight, while brothers Connor and Ryan play at Penn State.
“They’re very excited for me,” Mike Reilly said. “It kind of [stinks] that they won’t be able to watch the first one, but they’re the reason I’m even in this position. They pushed me ever since I was young. They’re my best friends.”
The top two lines stay intact at least to start tonight, meaning Zach Parise-Mikko Koivu-Jason Zucker and Nino Niederreiter-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville.
Justin Fontaine, scratched in three of the past six games, re-enters and plays the right side of Thomas Vanek and Charlie Coyle. Jarret Stoll will center Ryan Carter and Erik Haula. Chris Porter is a healthy scratch for the first time.
Marco Scandella is good to go after his scary collision with the end boards against Philadelphia. He didn’t miss a shift even though he was slow to get up and it looked like his left leg turned the wrong direction.
“It did. I didn’t know I was that flexible,” Scandella said. “Thankfully I’m alright. It was kind of a dangerous play. I got pushed in from the back. But no harm, no foul. Didn’t feel good, but just a little stretch and I was able to come back.”
Darcy Kuemper, who has missed the past six games with a concussion, will back up Devan Dubnyk. I would think that means he starts tomorrow’s home game against the New Jersey Devils. Kuemper went 4-0-2 with a 1.26 goals-against average, .947 save percentage and one shutout last month before getting hurt.
“We don’t have a decision on tomorrow yet, but part of the thought process was get him into a backup role tonight, get him following the play and making sure that your head’s in the game and hopefully that helps him a little bit tomorrow if he does get into the lineup,” Yeo said.
On tonight’s game, Yeo said, “We should have lots of energy tonight. Yesterday was a day off. We’ve had two out of our last three days have been rest days. Three out of our last five days have been rest days, so fatigue is no excuse. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to play at our pace tonight and that to me is probably the number one thing, the importance of that I feel that there’s been stretches, we’ve had spurts of showing that against these guys, but certainly haven’t come close to playing a complete game against them yet. I think that our pace and our speed could be a factor here tonight and we’re going to have to find a way to bring it.”
“That’s a great team over there that we’re playing, so we can’t accept anything less than our best here tonight. I think that, like I said, we’ve had stretches, we’ve had spurts of really good hockey against them, but when they’ve pushed we haven’t pushed back and I think that’s going to be big key tonight.”
Tonight closes the first half for the Wild. It has 50 points in 40 games. It had 41 points through 40 last year.
“I don’t think that there’s a team in the league right now that feels that they’re playoff ready or feels completely comfortable necessarily with even the spot that they’re in,” Yeo said. “There’s a lot of teams that are pushing and there’s a lot of teams that are competing hard right now, but I would say for the most part our game’s been pretty consistent, we’ve been building that consistency and working on setting ourselves up for a pretty decent second half. We talked about the (1-8) overtime (record), if we had a decent record in overtime, right now we’re probably on pace for about a 110-point season, which means that we must be a pretty decent team.”
The Stars, the NHL’s best home team at 17-4 and off to the best start in franchise history, have slipped a bit lately, going 2-3-1 in their past six. At one point, the Wild lost 16 in a row in Dallas. It has won two of its past four there and three times in its eight (3-4-1).
The Stars are 3-0 this season against the Wild, winning twice in overtime, twice rally from two- and three-goal deficits.
“I expect another tight game,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. “I think that they’re a good club. We’ve taken advantage of some opportunistic scoring. They’ve jumped to leads in their building and we’ve been able to come back and win games in different fashion. Again, I expect it to be tight. I think they’re going to be a desperate team.”