Afternoon from Winnipeg, where it's a little whiter and colder out than the last time I was here in late December.
Wild and Jets tonight at the house that Jordan Schroeder built, MTS Centre. I landed at 12:21 p.m., the Wild had an optional skate and coach Mike Yeo is available two hours before the game, so there'll be a lot of conjecture on this blog until I grab Yeo pregame.
Michael Hutchinson vs. DXXXX XXXXXX.
As of now, all I can tell you is the first name of tonight's Wild starting goalie without a doubt will start with the letter D. I'm putting six X's instead of seven on the second name because if it were me, I'd fill in DUBNYK on the lineup card.
But I also understand the rationale if the coaches decide to go with Darcy Kuemper.
Dubnyk has started 10 straight, the Wild after tonight play every other day for the next nine games including travel, Kuemper played well in Winnipeg in December with a 28-save victory, Dubnyk did look to tweak his back in Friday's practice and Dubnyk did allow four goals on 10 shots in his only other second of a back-to-back last month in Detroit.
Those would be the reasons -- all valid ones -- if Kuemper starts.
BUT, Dubnyk is riding a career-best six-game winning streak, is 8-1 in 10 starts (no decision in Detroit) with a 1.49 goals-against average, .940 save percentage and four shutouts, undeniably gives the Wild its best chance to win, the team seems to play in front of Dubnyk better and has more confidence in Dubnyk, Kuemper is coming off a statistically poor conditioning stint, Dubnyk's puck-handling allows the Wild to go north much easier and quicker AND after such a big win over Vancouver last night to pull within three of a playoff spot, Wild players deserve the best possible chance to pull within one of a playoff spot tonight and four of Winnipeg for the top wildcard spot with THREE games in hand.
Dubnyk provides that best possible chance. In other words, the Jets have to feel the Wild in the rearview mirror. Keep it coming.
Now, as I stated on a previous blog and on the radio, it's imperative not to burn out Dubnyk and we all can guess the Wild's playoff chances if Dubnyk ever did get hurt. But I think the Wild brass will consider all the points in the above paragraph and choose Dooby Dooby Doo.
Not to mention, the Wild has a CBA-mandated day off Wednesday, so Dubnyk can rest up.
Again, we shall see. It's tempting to start Kuemper for the other reasons mentioned above plus the fact the Wild has to find him a game at some point, I'd assume.
I asked Yeo yesterday if he's worried about the Wild reverting back to its old ways if Kuemper comes back in and struggles and he said the team needs to be mentally stronger than that if Kuemper doesn't get off to a good start when he eventually gets in. Kuemper did play in the game before the All-Star break in Detroit and stopped 14 of 14 shots in the Wild's come-from-behind shootout loss.
The Wild definitely made clear it started to lose confidence in Kuemper when it continually had to chase games or overcome bad goals.
Zach Parise said to me yesterday though, "[Kuemper] doesn’t need to prove anything to us. We know he’s a good goaltender. I don’t think that should be and I don’t think that is his mindset. For him I'm sure he wants to get in there and play well and gain that confidence back that he had. But we know he’s a good goalie. Everyone goes through stretches as a forward where you're not scoring and as a goalie where you're not seeing the puck. But at the same time Dubnyk has played really well for us. We just want them all feeling good about their game and for us, whoever’s in, that can’t affect how we play our game in front of them."
The Wild is 8-1-1 under Dubnyk. Here's a stat-and-a-half for ya.
In the Wild's six-game winning streak since the All-Star break, the Wild has scored first in every game AND not trailed in any game. It has not trailed in 371 minutes, 39 seconds (6:39 left in the third period in Detroit when Parise stole that puck from Jonathan Ericsson and tied the score).
In the Wild's eight wins in this streak, the Wild has scored first. In the 0-1-1 games, the Blue Jackets and Red Wings scored first.
As updated on the previous blog, the Wild has recalled Brett Sutter (two assists in that Dec. 29 come-from-behind win) and Stu Bickel. To make room, Jason Zucker and Ryan Carter had to be placed on injured reserve.
Perhaps Yeo will have more specifics on their injuries before the game, but they're obviously long-term.
Carter was wearing a sling after last night's game. I think Zucker is a similar injury -- shoulder or collarbone.
Not good. Not good at all.
Good thing Sutter and Bickel were with Iowa in Hamilton. They were able to drive to Toronto to catch a jam-packed flight to Winnipeg. The NHL was actually having trouble getting a ref who had a mechanical issue in for tonight's game and were looking to parachute somebody else in from Vancouver, so we'll see if the refs change tonight.
Sutter will obviously play tonight. I'd think Justin Fontaine would, too. So we'll see if Bickel comes in for somebody like Erik Haula, who continues to struggle.
Unless there's an injury, I'd think Christian Folin would be scratched a sixth consecutive game tonight. The blue line, including third pair Nate Prosser and Matt Dumba, has been playing well.
I'll update this blog after Yeo's availability.