The Wild woke up this morning in Calgary, the sun was out, the sky didn’t fall, life moved on and they got right back on the horse to combine a bunch of bad clichés, sayings, analogies, whatever.
Afternoon from Calgary, where the Wild just got done with practice at the Saddledome prior to tonight's Western Hockey League clash between the Calgary Hitmen and the Medicine Hat Tigers.
As you know, the Wild, which was 8-0-2 in 10 games since Jan. 19, lost one game against Vancouver, then looked at the highlights and discovered the Flames rallied from three down to beat Boston on a fluke goal with 2.4 seconds left in OT and that the Winnipeg Jets rallied three times from a goal down to beat Edmonton in a shootout and that the L.A. Kings rallied to beat the Tampa Bay Lightning.
So the Wild enters tonight’s play in 10th, four back of the Canucks and Flames, three back of the 8th-place Sharks and one back of the Kings.
“It’s tough because you lose one game in three weeks in regulation and it feels like you’ve lost probably four or five in a row,” coach Mike Yeo said. “But that’s part of the challenge, that’s part of the journey of getting there. We’ve had some experience of going through things like this. I know we did last year, and we understand you have to be able to get right back on the horse.”
Last night’s bad outcomes magnify Wednesday’s game against the Flames, but goalie Devan Dubnyk said the Wild can’t go into these games thinking every one’s a must-win.
“We’ve done a really good job of just approaching each game as its own single challenge,” Dubnyk said. “Last night’s loss was very disappointing and yeah you look at the standings and think, ‘That’s a blow,’ but there’s a lot of points left to be had. The simple fact is if we keep winning games, we’re going to be in the playoffs.
“If we keep playing the way we have and keep winning hockey games, we’ll be where we need to be at the end of the year. We can’t look at the game last night and [Wednesday] and approach them like, ‘Oh my God, we can’t lose this game.’ That’s not a way to be successful.”
Zach Parise concurred, saying yesterday is “going to happen, but when it does, it’s a crummy feeling.”
But the Wild, he said, can’t now feel like all the good it has done the past three weeks went down the drain, saying, “we’re back in the mix when for awhile it was looking really thin.” He said every game is important the rest of the way, not just when it plays teams it’s chasing like Calgary, but when it goes to play Edmonton on Friday.
“They’re all really important for us,” Parise said.
Thomas Vanek missed today’s practice due to a lower-body thing he has been dealing with for some time. Yeo said he’s expecting Vanek to play, although the Wild may recall a forward if Vanek can’t play or if Yeo just wanted to change the lineup.
The fourth line of Stephane Veilleux-Erik Haula-Kyle Brodziak was on for the winning goal against the Canucks and Yeo said, “The idea behind a checking line is to make sure you don’t get scored on.” Yeo did say they have been doing good things though and have been good on the Wild’s 26 for 26 penalty kill since the All-Star break.
The Wild will likely break up the Parise-Mikko Koivu-Jason Pominville line against the Flames because if the Wild doesn’t spread the wealth, with last change, Flames coach Bob Hartley can just continually throw out top-pair, Norris Trophy candidates Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie against that line.
“It’s something we’re thinking about. But nothing concrete yet,” Yeo said.
In practice, Parise and Mikael Granlund were on a line together with Jordan Schroeder on the right. My guess is Schroeder was just a placeholder for Vanek.
That line was together in the Wild’s win at Calgary a few weeks ago, although the always-honest Parise said, “We scored, but we didn’t get a lot of offensive-zone time and we were pretty careless with the puck if I remember right. We happened to score on a turnover and that’s pretty much all we did.”
But after last night’s lack of chances and the need to get the three best offensive players away from Giordano and Brodie, he understands why the coaches are considering breaking up the three vets.
Nino Niederreiter was back on a line with Mikko Koivu and Jason Pominville like last Tuesday’s game in Winnipeg. As I think I mentioned on yesterday morning’s blog, it seems like every time Niederreiter is moved into a top-6 role, he’s not nearly as effective and changes his game.
Yeo said in Vancouver that Niederreiter is a lot more comfortable in his skin playing with guys like Charlie Coyle and Schroeder because he doesn’t always defer to the vets. Niederreiter actually said the same thing to me the first game after the break in Edmonton.
So Yeo plans to meet with Niederreiter in the morning and implore him not to change his game. Be strong on the puck, be good along the wall and go to the net like he did on his two goals in Vancouver.
The Parise-Koivu-Pominville line had a good amount of offensive-zone time in Vancouver but not a lot of scoring chances. He said it was tough playing against Vancouver because the Canucks do a good job collapsing down low or doing those swarms in the corner. He said playing against Vancouver without its two top D and only having 17 shots before that last-minute flurry, “That’s not very good and that’s part of why they’re line changing.”
The Flames are the best third-period team in the league. They have rallied 10 times in the third period for wins, a team record and two off the NHL record.
“They play a good game and they don’t break,” Yeo said. “They’re disciplined in their game. They’re a well-conditioned team. They’re a pressure team and quite often it leads to a lot of frustration for the opposition and the opposition may change their game a little bit. We saw it last game [against Boston], they can be down 3-nothing and they’re just going to keep on coming. They’re a young motivated group, so it will be a good test.”
Last month, the Wild held the Flames off in the third from rallying in large part to Dubnyk’s great goaltending.
As I said, I’d expect a callup. It may be somebody like Brett Sutter though (the Wild had seven hits yesterday and the fourth line was on for the winning goal) instead of rookie Tyler Graovac.
“These games are pretty rich right now,” Yeo said when I asked about maybe recalling Graovac. “That’s not to say he’s not an option, but to throw somebody in without a lot of experience playing this time of year can be a tough thing for somebody, too.” So Yeo said they’re talking about Graovac, somebody else or maybe going with the status quo. If there’s a change, I don’t see it being Stu Bickel though.
Wild wants a player who can play somewhat of a regular shift.