‘Twas a very eventful practice this morning down Xcel Energy Center.
No, Mike Yeo didn’t go loco or try to “rattle the cage.” Instead, the Wild’s first bona fide practice in nine days wounded a few key players.
Goalie Devan Dubnyk was hurt early in practice on what defenseman Ryan Suter called a “fluky cut.” That, it was, when Dubnyk grimaced after stopping a shot with his right wrist. I’m not sure if the puck got between his blocker and arm or what, but Dubnyk got what Yeo called a “pressure cut” and took a half-dozen stitches.
Yeo said Dubnyk should be OK to play Monday against the Detroit Red Wings, but Yeo didn’t announce the goalie and that makes me think Darcy Kuemper may start regardless of Dubnyk’s health. The Wild has lost three of its past four with Dubnyk in net and Kuemper is 4-0-2 with a 1.26 goals-against average, .947 save percentage and one shutout this month.
Ten minutes after Dubnyk’s injury, Zach Parise limped off the ice for good. Neither player returned to practice, but Yeo said Parise will be fine and should be OK to play Monday. I spotted Parise as I was leaving the arena and he, too, said he’d be OK.
“He could have continued through practice, but we just said, ‘What’s the point? Get him off and get him rested,’” Yeo said of Parise.
Assuming Parise can play, Justin Fontaine will be the healthy scratch Monday. Since returning from a sprained MCL, Fontaine has one goal, three assists, 11 shots and is plus-7 in 13 games. The last few games, he has not been good, and against Pittsburgh, he had an unbelievably tough night with turnovers, bad passes and getting beaten to the net on the key second goal. With Jarret Stoll now in the fold, Fontaine’s part of that group with Erik Haula, Chris Porter and Ryan Carter that doesn’t have much room for error as long as the team is healthy up front.
Haula centered Nino Niederreiter and Charlie Coyle today and Stoll centered Porter and Carter. Marco Scandella was paired with Matt Dumba on the second pair and Jonas Brodin was paired with Nate Prosser on the third pair. Brodin and Dumba had a tough night last night.
Reportedly, Dylan Larkin, who leads NHL rookies with 13 goals, is doubtful to play against the Wild. Petr Mrazek will start in goal.
Suter called today’s practice a “good, hard practice. Really hard. We need it. We haven’t practiced in awhile. It got the cookies out of us.”
Since a 6-0-3 point streak, the Wild has lost three of four. Two of those games, the Wild was pretty atrocious and even the Montreal win was convoluted at times.
“It’s important we get refocused and find a way to get back to it,” Yeo said. “We have to know as a group that we’re not a team that can just go out there and play off skill and be OK. We want to play the game with skill, but there’s other ingredients that have to be there if we’re going to be successful. It’s a long year. And it’s tough to bring the work ethic that you need every day, to bring the focus and the preparation that you need every day. But that’s what we’re working on here.”
Yeo reiterated that, “There’s not concern. We’re not worried about our positioning [in the standings] or what’s happening here. This is part of the process. You have ups and downs through the course of the year, but we have to make sure we’re a team that’s not OK with the downs and make sure we’re working on our game and working toward being better and finding solutions to things that are not there. As a group, we recognized that we haven’t been at our best.”
Thomas Vanek said, “The past five games, we’re not being creative enough in my opinion [in the offensive zone]. We’re sloppy through the neutral zone, we get it deep, we’re a little late on it and when we do get it, we just shovel it up to our D-man. They get a shot blocked and back down. The creativity’s a little bit missing. When we’re dangerous, we cycle it low and use our D-man rolling down.
“It’s about being better on the puck, more cycles and getting shots on net.”
Yeo doesn't disagree, but he feels one big issue is the Wild's being too fancy in the neutral zone and that's led to the sloppiness.
Yeo said, “Our lack of execution through the neutral zone has hurt us. I feel we’re trying to be overly creative and throwing four-foot saucer passes across the ice that are turnovers that come back at us. We haven’t done a very good job executing to get in on the forecheck.
“Sometimes when their team’s in good structure, it seems it’s at those times we’re turning pucks over as opposed to understanding that there’s not really a clean, open ice, easy play there. When we’re on top of our game, we’re a real strong forechecking team, we’re recovering pucks, we’re playing in the offensive zone and I feel that part of our game has really been missing.”
Vanek said it’s simple to get it back, “but you have to start somewhere. Last night, Scandy scores that one early on (he hit the post on a Vanek setup), maybe the energy’s different. But right now, the little chances we’re getting we’re not scoring and we’re not creating enough to come back from a two-goal deficit right now.”
Suter said it’s frustrating to always be hovering around the seventh and eighth spot in the West.
Suter said, “Every team that is elite is consistent. Within games, we’ve been consistent at times, we’ve been very inconsistent at times. But overall we need to be more consistent game in and game out.”
That’s it for me. Talk to you Monday. Roster freeze ends at midnight tonight.
Monday at 4 p.m. at Tom Reid’s, I’ll be co-hosting a podcast with columnist Jim Souhan. Come on out.