First and foremost, all my thoughts tonight are with J.P. Parise, Zach and the rest of the Parise family and all of J.P.’s friends who are so deeply affected tonight.
One of the most amazing things I witnessed tonight was Wild radio analyst Tom Reid, J.P.’s close, close friend, with tears in his eyes and heartbreak in his voice soldier on tonight and somehow call this game. This man was absolutely broken and still managed to get through.
As hard as it was to write Saturday’s game story and postgame blog just minutes after my emotional interview with Zach and hear him open up about what he and his family and his poor dad is going through, it was tougher tonight to concentrate knowing Parise wasn’t here and at his dad’s side.
“This was kind of our thing,” I kept hearing Parise say. That was one of Parise’s most gripping lines from the article in Tuesday’s paper and a reference to how hockey was the bond he shares with his father.
So I can only imagine how difficult it had to be for all his friends and teammates to play tonight’s game against the San Jose Sharks.
Jason Pominville said Wild teammates were “thinking about him quite a bit” and that “most of the talk” before the game “was about Zach. It’s just tough to see something like this hapcpening to a teammate, a friend and big part of this team.”
“A lot of guys were a little down and thinking about what was going on,” said Pominville, who added that they were able to pull together and put forth a good effort.
Parise called buddy Ryan Suter before the game to let him know what was going on.
“For him to be going through what he’s going through is just awful. I couldn’t even imagine what he’s going through and what he has been going through. To play through it says a lot about who he is and his dad would be proud of him. Zach’s a professional and it’s just too bad the circumstances right now.
“Everyone cares about each other in here. Life is so much bigger than hockey. He definitely made the right decision to be with his family and we’re all thinking about him.”
The Wild tried to go on without him, but it fell 4-3 in overtime – the fourth overtime loss in six home games – because of once again poor goaltending.
The Wild jumped out to a 2-0 lead on goals by Jason Zucker and Jared Spurgeon 2:01 apart in the first period.
Goalie Alex Stalock, the St. Paul native and former Minnesota-Duluth Bulldog, came out of his net to play the puck, Stalock froze, Pominville got his stick on it and the puck deflected right to Zucker to the left of the near post. Zucker deked and scored over Stalock’s blocker.
A few shifts later, a pinching Spurgeon made it 2-0 when Zucker set him up in the right circle for his fifth goal and second in three games.
Kuemper, coming off a fifth game since Nov. 13 in which he was chased early from the Wild net, was sharp early. He stopped all eight San Jose shots he saw in the first period, and then was good again in the second until some bad luck cost the Wild.
In the same end but opposite side of where Brent Seabrook’s line change dump-in nailed a stanchion and popped out to the slot for Patrick Kane to stick a dagger in the Wild’s season last playoff, Brent Burns, the former Wild defenseman, perfectly placed a dump-in off the stanchion.
As Kuemper came out to play the puck, the puck ricocheted right into the slot with no Wild players in the vicinity. Melker Karlsson was, however, and the 24-year-old Swedish free-agent acquisition scored his third goal in the past three games by slipping a backhander underneath Kuemper.
In the third, Joe Pavelski tied the score off a faceoff. Just 74 seconds later, Kuemper kicked a weird hop off a Tommy Wingels shot past Suter and right back to Wingels for the go-ahead goal.
Charlie Coyle set up Zucker (two goals, one assist, plus-3, eight shots, two hits) for the tying goal with 7:48 left, but in overtime, after Nino Niederreiter, Thomas Vanek, Jonas Brodin and Christian Folin got caught out on the ice a long time and trapped because of an icing (the new rule change where teams switch sides in OT to cause a long change and thus more fatigue and more goals is absolutely destroying the Wild), Kuemper somehow let in a 43-footer from atop the left circle right next to the left-wing boards to Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who scored with 4.5 seconds left in regulation the night before in Winnipeg.
Yes, the guy who broke Dany Heatley’s shoulder, which kept the Wild from buying him out two summers ago, struck again!
Cue Suter: “I thought we competed hard. I thought we played well. I’m sure the last couple Kuemps would like to have back. That’s part of the game. We competed well. We have to continue to compete like that and the luck will change for sure.”
Asked to expand on the erratic goaltending (not just lately, but the past two months), Suter said, “It’s a team game. We’re going to stick together. He’s the future of this team and we have to stand with him. He’ll get out of it. He’ll come around and until he does we just have to play even harder.”
Coach Mike Yeo opened his presser by saying, “Most of the things about that game I liked. I liked our resiliency to battle back after the third goal, I liked our resiliency to kill that penalty late in the game (on Vanek) and even before the goal in overtime I thought we had control of the play there until the one shift in the defensive zone.”
Asked what he thought of the goaltending, Yeo said, “We’re not in a position where we can have anybody be below average and it always starts and ends with goaltending. It’s a tricky one trying to be sensitive to his confidence, but that goal in overtime can’t go in.”
Kuemper is 24, but he ranks 53rd in the NHL with a .902 save percentage. Niklas Backstrom ranks 60th with an .896. As many flaws as the Wild has right now, the team’s game began to fall apart when the goaltending did. It is hard to play if you’re confidence in your goalies wane.
Yeo said, “You try to be sensitive to confidence. I’ve never believed it’s a one-man show out there, but it does start with goaltending and it ends with goaltending. That’s just the reality of the position, that’s what you sign up for when you play. But we’re just not in a position where we can have anybody, regardless of whether it’s a goaltender or a centerman or a defenseman or a winger, we can’t have anybody playing below average games right now. We’ve got Granny out of the lineup, we have Zach out of the lineup, and at that point, guys need to elevate their games in every position. I thought collectively as a team we did a lot of things very well tonight, but whether it’s a goaltender or anybody else, you’ve got to make sure that you’re bringing your share to the party.”
Pressure’s on GM Chuck Fletcher here. Josh Harding’s not coming back. That’s obvious. Backstrom is likely unmovable. Kuemper can’t be sent to the minors without waivers, and he’d be claimed for sure.
So either you continue to ride this instability out and have it maybe cost you this season or you trade for a goalie and probably have to keep three on the active roster. And, how much of an asset can you really give up for said goalie when there’s no assurance a goalie saves your season? Even Yeo admitted in a different context after the game, “There’s a lot of points that we’re leaving out there right now, so that’s disappointing.”
But Yeo again made very clear his displeasure tonight was with Kuemper because when a reporter asked about others not playing well tonight, he replied, “We were good tonight,” and essentially wouldn’t allow the question.
“I cannot be disappointed with our game tonight. The one thing that I was unhappy with probably is we passed up some opportunities to shoot the puck when we were ahead (Vanek a gigantic culprit here, Pominville, etc.) and had a chance to attack and be a little more aggressive, but for the most part, we did a lot of things well.”
Yeo was obviously very happy with Zucker’s game after clearly not being ready to return during a tough first game back from the flu last game in Dallas. Tonight, he was a stud.
On his great game, Zucker said, “I don’t care. We need to win. That’s all I care about. It would have been really nice to get that second point.”
Also, bad news, but Marco Scandella was lost in the third period after three shifts because of an undisclosed injury. Yeo said he’d supply an update after Wednesday’s practice. Scandella was struck in the head by a puck in the second period, but Yeo didn't think it was that. I watched his three third-period shifts and he was checked hard into the glass by Freddie Hamilton on his last, but he played on.
Unbelievable, but my gigantic personality profile on Scandella was supposed to run Thursday. It’s been held multiple times because of his suspension, the team’s slump and now this. This morning, I told him it was coming and he jokingly told me that it just needs to run because every time it’s supposed to, “Something happens.”
I am the ultimate jinx.
Anyway, again, please keep the Parises in your thoughts and prayers.
This is, as J.P. Parise calls me, “Michel Rousseau” signing off. Yeah, J.P. refuses to accept that I’m Italian. “You’re a Frenchman,” he’d say. :(