The Wild and Los Angeles Kings play Sunday at 2 p.m. CT (Fox Sports North and Kool-108) in the first of a Staples Center doubleheader. Lakers and Jazz play in a preseason game later in the day.
I’ll be on FSN in the pregame show and first intermission.
Good afternoon from L.A., where the Wild practiced this afternoon at the famous luxurious arena.
As you can imagine, with the short turnaround between Friday night’s game and Sunday’s noon local time start, today’s practice wasn’t overly strenuous. It was all about execution around the net, not a shock considering the way the Wild lost, 2-1, Friday night 45 minutes south of here in Anaheim.
Say what you want about the dubious officiating – like missing too many men penalties or Eric Furlatt ignoring three guys (Getzlaf, Perry and Beleskey) all without gloves on one skirmish and somehow finding a way to put the Wild shorthanded or allowing Perry to sit on Erik Haula for 10 seconds or watching Zach Parise get cross-checked in front of the net on power plays and so on and so on and so on – and say what you want about a couple costly young mistakes by Wild players, the Wild lost the Ducks game because of a remarkable lack of sharpness around the net by several players on golden opportunities.
That’s why the Wild lost. Shanked shots, missed nets, whiffed pucks, one clanked post and Frederik Andersen stoning guys like Thomas Vanek, Parise and Jonas Brodin on terrific scoring chances.
So, that’s what the Wild worked on today heading into Sunday’s game against the defending Cup champs, who will be without Marian Gaborik, Jake Muzzin and Trevor Lewis.
As coach Mike Yeo intimated all week, despite Darcy Kuemper’s stellar start to this season, he feels he has to get Niklas Backstrom in a game because the Wild will need him. It plays next Monday and Tuesday at the Rangers and Bruins, so if you don’t play Backstrom now, he’ll be going on four weeks without a start if he gets the nod in Boston.
Sooooo, Backstrom, coming off season-ending abdominal and hip surgeries, will make his season debut Sunday against the Kings. It’ll be his first start since Jan. 11 and first appearance since Jan. 30. Remember, it was at L.A. last Jan. 7 that Backstrom was scratched from his start because he received a cortisone shot in his achy abdomen. Kuemper, who didn’t start since allowing four goals on seven shots in Toronto on Oct. 15, got the surprise nod at L.A. and made 39 saves in a shootout win during a game the Wild was outshot 40-17.
“I’m real happy with Kuemps’ game right now, but Backy had a great training camp, too, and we’re a team and I want to make sure everybody feels part of that team,” Yeo said.
Same forward lines are expected to play against the Kings, meaning Kyle Brodziak is expected to be scratched again. As expected, defensemen Nate Prosser and Christian Folin will play and Keith Ballard and Matt Dumba won’t. Again, this was the plan all week because Yeo doesn’t want defensemen sitting around and he believes Prosser and Folin should be able to play a heavy game against a heavy opponent.
The Wild’s power play is 0 for 11 with one shorthanded goal against. Yeo said after last night’s game it needs to be addressed, and today it was with two brand new units (in fact, other than arguably a flip in centers, the units I think the Wild should have started the season with).
The first unit today was Zach Parise-Mikko Koivu-Thomas Vanek with Jason Pominville and Ryan Suter at the points. The second unit was Nino Niederreiter-Mikael Granlund-Charlie Coyle with Jared Spurgeon and Jonas Brodin at the points.
Vets and youths.
“I think that young group can really challenge the first group,” Yeo said. “They’re really comfortable with each other. Sometimes the young kids go out there with an older guy and they defer.
“And you look at the personnel we have on the top group, there’s no question that that should be a dangerous unit too.”
Maybe it’ll get Koivu and Vanek going. Koivu, the all-time leading scorer for the Wild, has no points in three games. Vanek is searching for his first goal, although he had seven shots last night and some Grade A chances, so it should be coming.
Yeo said he’s really, really happy with Niederreiter and Coyle, especially Coyle.
“I’m looking at the scoresheet after the game last night and the way Charlie played, I’m just saying I didn’t play him enough,” Yeo said of Coyle’s 12:33 ice time (of course, part of the reason for the low ice time is he spent six minutes in the box).
Coyle had five shots last night, and that doesn’t count the pipe with the score tied, 1-1.
“He deserves more and he deserves more of an opportunity and he’s going to get that.”
Yeo reminded that the power-play goal the Wild actually should have scored in Denver was because of Niederreiter crashing the net and Coyle scoring (bad call, but the referee waved it off because Niederreiter was on Semyon Varlamov; he was pushed onto him by Jan Hejda).
So Yeo feels Niederreiter and Coyle will be two big bodies that’s going to cause some net-front presence and traffic on the power play (which is why, like the preseason, they should have been on there all along in my opinion)!
But Yeo said he wants the Wild to become a team where the players know that when they’re playing well, they should get rewarded, and Niederreiter and Coyle warrant more ice time.
On Coyle, Yeo said, “He’s creating things when he’s out there, playing with a physical presence, playing a big game and he’s been frustrating for a lot of these guys to play against, and I can understand why.”
One thing that bothered me about last night is Ryan Kesler’s run at Granlund, which he seems to have survived because he practiced today.
Kesler got a major charging penalty at the buzzer. What he did though didn’t cross the line into supplemental discipline, so basically there’s no repercussion at all for a very dirty play. Look at the replay and it’s clear that Kesler knew exactly what he was doing. It’s interesting, but Colie Campbell used to bring this up at GM’s meetings about how if a player is running around dangerously late in a game and gets a major like this, maybe there’s a traveling penalty and he has to serve it to start the next game. Maybe, the team isn’t shorthanded to start the next game, but the player has to sit.
There was never any appetite from the GM’s to do something like that, but what’s going to stop Kesler from doing this again and getting a free lick on an unsuspecting player when another team’s got their skilled players on the ice late in a one-goal deficit?
I brought it up to Parise today and he found it interesting until he remembered he got a cross-checking major on Kesler at the buzzer.
“Then I’d have to sit, too, so I don’t like it,” Parise said, laughing.
Credit to Wild for sticking together! Parise and Suter standing for teammates! #greattosee— Mike Rupp (@Rupper17) October 18, 2014
There are heavier teams than the Wild in the West – Anaheim, St. Louis, L.A. I asked Yeo again today how he counteracts that when the Wild’s not made up the same way.
“We’re a team that’s built on speed and I think that style of hockey, that brand of hockey is very exciting for the fans,” Yeo said. “I just felt in the game there were times where our speed was very frustrating for them and creating a lot of momentum for us, and there were times where they started to do things that should have warranted power plays for us.
“This is not to get into the debate of having tough guys. I love toughness too, but there’s no question it’s hard to build your team only around speed if that stuff isn’t taken care of by giving us a chance to go on the power play when that happens. Again I want to be careful what I say here, but I felt there were times in the game last game where we should have ended up on the power play and that’s a deterrent for that kind of behavior.”
But Yeo made clear he’s ready to move on and officiating was hardly the reason the Wild lost last night.
The Wild lost because a few players seemed to have holes in their sticks.
Yeo, by the way, gave Jason Zucker a pep talk on the ice. It was his pass into Matt Dumba’s skate that led to Corey Perry’s winning goal.
“With his speed, it’s just kind of a minor thing and these are learning moments,” Yeo said. “If he can have a bit of a shoulder check, he can realize that he has a little bit more time and space, that he’s part of the attack as opposed to just moving it to somebody. It’s just trying to get his feet going and with his speed, that could be such a factor for us. We saw it on his goal. As much as anything else, I wanted to make sure he knows that one mistake, that’s part of the game, that’s part of the process for a young player and he’s still developing and you’ve got to move on from that and learn from it.”
Basically, Yeo said the right play for Zucker was to look and see where the defenseman is. He said a pass is a fine play if it’s on Dumba’s tape, but the better play would have been to take the ice because then Zucker’s part of the attack and part of the rush as opposed to making a stationary play and then being behind the play.
OK, that’s it for me. See you on FSN on Sunday, on Twitter during the game and on here after the game.