Afternoon from the Xcel Energy Center press room.
Apologies with the late blog, but I was working on a bunch of stuff after practice, which was a well-attended optional. Only some of the banged-up and/or big-minute players didn’t skate.
The Wild hosts the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday night before heading out on a two-game trip to President Trophy-frontrunner Nashville (first of three visits to the league’s best home team; 25-3-1 at Bridgestone) and Colorado.
The Wild is a league-best 13-2-2 since Jan. 15 and league-best 11-1-1 since the All-Star break. The Wild is 20-2-1 against the Oilers at home since Jan. 16, 2007 and has beaten Edmonton twice in Edmonton this season, including two games ago, 4-0.
Devan Dubnyk will make his 18th consecutive start Tuesday. That’s two from tying Niklas Backstrom’s team record, which was set in 2009.
Dubnyk is 5-0 with a 0.79 goals-against average and .970 save percentage (128 saves on 132 shots) against his old team this season. He is 13-2-1 with the Wild with a 1.64 goals-against average and .936 save percentage.
Wild left wing Zach Parise now ranks 10th in the NHL with 25 goals. He is one of three players in Wild history to hit the 25-goal mark twice (Marian Gaborik, 5 times; Brian Rolston, 3 times).
Captain Mikko Koivu has 12 points in the past 10 games. Defenseman Jonas Brodin is on a career-best four-game assist/point streak and is tied for eighth among NHL defensemen with a plus-17. Defensemen Christian Folin has three assists in the past two games and Matt Dumba two goals in his past three. Defenseman Ryan Suter is a plus-9 his past 13 games and continues to seem much more effective in the 26-minute range nightly. Defenseman Nate Prosser is a plus-8 in his past 13 games and an even or plus in each one of those 13. The accolades go on and on for players throughout this 11-1-1 streak particularly.
The Wild will be without defenseman Jared Spurgeon for a third consecutive game Tuesday. Spurgeon was hit by a Mark Giordano shot on his second shift last week in Calgary. He remains day-to-day. Coach Mike Yeo said today there’s no update and no change.
“Just continue to monitor it and consider it day to day,” Yeo said of Spurgeon, who by all indications has concussion-like symptoms.
Yeo said he’s not ruling him out for the road trip, but if Spurgeon doesn’t practice Wednesday, I’d guess he’s out for the trip because the Wild has a scheduled day off Friday in Denver (although it does have ice reserved in the burbs if it chooses to change that schedule)
On Ryan Carter (upper body believed to be shoulder) and Matt Cooke (sports hernia surgery), Yeo said, “I need to get more on Carts. I was talking to Cookie this morning and we’re still a little ways away here, for sure, on both guys. I would say they’re still week to week, both of those guys, but I don’t have a firm timetable.”
I chatted a little with Jason Zucker in the press box last night. He’s in good spirits for a guy that just had his clavicle snapped. He was in sweats in the locker room today, so it appears he has started working out. But again, the timetable given was three months, which takes the Wild into mid-May.
On being in the top-8 (Wild can move into the top wildcard spot if it beats Edmonton and Winnipeg loses in regulation to defensively-terrible Dallas on Tuesday), Yeo said, “Well, I think our backs are still against the wall. It’s a logjam in the Western Conference. The message today is pretty simple: it’s nice to be in the top-8, but 69 points is not going to get you into the playoffs. We’re going to have to continue at a real good pace. That’s the challenge right now. I think that we’ve had a real urgency to our game and it hasn’t been real difficult to have it, the fact that we’ve been outside looking in and the fact that we knew we had to catch teams; knowing the importance of every game, every point in the standings and that hasn’t changed. Just because we’re in a better spot today, that stuff hasn’t changed. I think that our guys have a pretty good understanding of that, and I’m pretty sure we’ll be good there.”
Good philosophy, and let’s be honest: I’m not taking anything away from the admirable job the Wild has done since Dubnyk arrived, but the Wild has had a cupcake schedule for the most part. The schedule toughens up in March with much more difficult opponents and four sets of back-to-backs.
Yeo talked today about the way some guys like Justin Fontaine, Jordan Schroeder, Nino Niederreiter, Folin, Dumba, Prosser, etc., have stepped up: “We felt like they had the potential to [step up]. It’s always difficult when you lose guys. And certainly the way that you’re making up your lines, there’s a lot of things that change and guys have stepped up. And with that, it’s not just those guys stepping in, it’s how they affect the players that are playing with and I think those guys have done a good job incorporating the new lines or incorporating new players onto their line. It’s been a relatively seamless transition.”
Starting in Calgary, Yeo astutely broke up his top line of Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Jason Pominville so No. 1 D pair Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie, with last change, couldn’t play the entire night against that line. That line was completely bottled up in Vancouver and that was with the Canucks’ best two D injured.
Since the line changes, the Wild has gotten more balanced scoring than it has all year. All four lines have contributed on the scoresheet.
“It was something we were looking at before the Vancouver game, to be honest,” Yeo said. “Just as far as, spreading the wealth or balancing things out and with the pieces we have right now, we just felt it was something we were capable of doing as far as, not necessarily having two scoring lines or loading up a top line. We felt that we had with the group, the possibility of, and certainly you look at the line of Brodzy, Haulzy and Steph Veilleux, it’s great that they scored a goal last night, but we’re not counting on them to score a goal every night, that’s not their role. If they create that, that’s the way they should do it, going to the net, creating off shots, creating off the forecheck in the offensive zone play. But the other three lines have the ability to create offense on a nightly basis. And in doing so, making sure they’re playing well responsibly and playing well defensively as well.”
Yeo has talked lately about how Niederreiter and Schroeder seemed to change their game when they’re in top-6 roles. We saw that again last night with Niederreiter, who did seem to be throwing pucks away left and right. But Yeo loves the fact that Fontaine, a guy who has been in and out of the lineup, always seems to be able to step into a top-6 role and not alter his game.
In fact, if you think about it, considering he has been a scorer his entire life at UMD and for the Houston Aeros, it was probably a bigger transition changing to a bottom-6 role for Fontaine. So because he has the skillset, he looks the part whenever he plays in a top-6 role. I talked to Yeo and Fontaine about that and will write more about it in Tuesday’s paper.
On Fontaine, Yeo said, “He’s a smart player. I think that’s the biggest thing for me. He’s got skill. I think that’s why he’s an adaptable guy who can play on different lines, play on different roles. Whether it’s maturity, whether it’s the fact that he’s a little bit older, he’s been doing a good job of not changing his game. If you move him up to the first or second line, he’s not going to change his game. He’s going to play the same game. And if you move him to the third line – even though that line might have a different role he’s going to continue to play the same game and be effective in it. And I think that’s been the biggest thing for me.”
On Dumba’s improved play, Yeo said, “More consistency. That’s the biggest thing. Coming off a bad shift, he’s able to get back to his game. Coming off a good shift, he’s able to remember what he did well and likewise from game to game. The power-play goal last night’s a great play and it’s a great shot, and he has the ability to make those plays and has the ability to make very impactful plays through the course of the game, especially on the offensive side of things. But we need him to be, when those home-run plays aren’t there, we’ve got to make sure you’re not making mistakes trying to make those plays. He’s been managing the game better that way.”
Yeo was asked about the trade deadline and how he balances the way the team is playing with maybe the need to add players, and he said, “If my opinion is asked of [by GM Chuck Fletcher], then for sure I will give it. But right now it’s just looking at our group and operating the same way we have been the last three weeks. Right now I’m just going over our video again against Edmonton and just doing what we can to get ready for that game.”
I ran into Fletcher this morning (truthfully ran into him, not my usual “run into” when I’m actually stalking) and took the opportunity to check in on the trade deadline, which I’ll write about Tuesday. And he basically confirmed what I sorta wrote last night. If he can upgrade he will, but the way the team is playing and the way certain defensemen like Folin, Prosser and Dumba are playing, the most important thing may be for him to add a depth defenseman and forward at the deadline.
Before, it seemed like the Wild may have to go out and make a bigtime rental defenseman move. But now, it may be most important to at least get a depth guy in here in case of injury. As we’ve seen the past two games, there have been scares with Brodin and Marco Scandella, who did get banged up late in the second yesterday but is fine for the Oiler game.
More on this in the paper. OK, I better write for the paper now. Also, Chip Scoggins is doing a column for Tuesday.
I’ll be on KFAN from 10:15-10:45 a.m. Tuesday and on Fox Sports North during the next three FSN telecasts. It must be sweeps week!