As I tweeted this morning, I suspect the Wild will be facing a very surly Philadelphia Flyers team when Minnesota opens up a three-game roadie.
After watching his team’s uninspired 2-0 loss at Madison Square Garden (a third straight defeat), Flyers GM Ron Hextall, the former goalie who didn’t mind dropping the gloves every once in a while either, could be heard by reporters screaming at his team in the changing room. He dropped profanities, made clear the effort was “embarrassing,” and apparently slammed doors and kicked over a garbage can.
Wild coach Mike Yeo expects a motivated Flyers team tonight, and even though the Flyers don’t have the tough makeup they had in the '80s, '90s and even in recent years, Yeo will toss Stu Bickel, the Wild’s toughest customer, in the lineup tonight. Kyle Brodziak will be scratched.
Bickel will see shifts on the fourth line, and, most likely, Yeo will alternate double-shifting other forwards at times in the game to skate with Erik Haula and Ryan Carter.
“I liked what [Bickel] brought last time we were on the road [in Dallas] and coming in to play against a team that I think is going to be very motivated, I want to make sure our guys are ready to play a physical type game.”
The Wild is 3-6 on the road and Yeo felt that the tough element Bickel brought in Dallas may have helped in that 2-1 win and “maybe that’s something we’ll look at going forward. He did a good job and we’ll get him back in today and we’ll take it from there.”
--Tonight’s game is scheduled to start at 7:59 p.m. and 30 seconds ET. (Returning to the hotel around 1 a.m. should do wonders for my productivity tomorrow after a 3:30 a.m. wakeup call to get to my flight to Tampa via Atlanta!!!)
The reason is Eric Lindros and John LeClair, two members of the Flyers’ old Legion of Doom line, will be inducted into the Flyers Hall of Fame at 7 p.m. ET. Warmups start at 7:22 p.m. The Wild will be in the locker room during the ceremony, so this will be treated by the team like a typical 8 p.m. (7 p.m. CT) game.
--Yeo is juggling his lines tonight for really three reasons: 1) He says the Wild keeps getting stale during win streaks (three in a row now); 2) He wants to create three scoring lines on the road (32 home goals vs. 17 road goals in 9 games); 3) To get Thomas Vanek going.
And, frankly, that’s the real catalyst to all this. Vanek has one goal. He has 33 shots (14 in two games meaning 19 in 15 others). If Vanek was doing playing well 5-on-5, there wouldn’t be such a need. So tonight, Charlie Coyle will slide in to center the Vanek-Jason Zucker line, Justin Fontaine will move to the Nino Niederreiter-Mikael Granlund line and the top line of Zach Parise-Mikko Koivu-Jason Pominville will stay intact.
Coyle will be Vanek’s fifth center this year. Zucker has no goals in 10 games, no points in eight. And Coyle, a minus-2 last game, had three assists in the two previous games but no goals since Oct. 23 (12 games).
Let’s go point by point as to why Yeo is juggling his second, third and fourth lines despite a three-game winning streak:
1. Yeo: “There’ve been times we’ve won games consecutively and then we almost get a little bit stale. Our staff feels there are times where you should leave it alone and there’s other times that just because you got the result that you wanted, I think you have to look at the game as a whole. We have to male sure we’re keeping the guys on edge as well.”
Basically, Yeo also said despite the winning streak, you look at each game and the Wild did have rough times, especially the past two. The first half of the game in Dallas wasn’t good. The Wild coughed up a 3-0 lead in the third Sunday against Winnipeg before winning in overtime.
2. Yeo believes Coyle’s speed and skill through the middle of the ice will help. Yeo: “We’ve got to score more goals on the road. Even the game in Dallas, we won 2-1, which is great, but you can’t keep doing that all the time. We have to win some games like that, but we have to find a way to score at least three goals on the road, so we can’t just rely on one line, maybe even two lines to do that. We have to get some more scoring throughout our lineup and if that means we have to split up some lines and try some things, again, we’re not satisfied that we’ve won three games in a row. We have to try to continue to get better here. Hopefully this works and if it doesn’t work, then we’ll find something else.”
3. Which brings us to Vanek because point 2 wouldn’t be a problem if the Wild wasn’t having such a hard time finding him linemates that could help him score. He has made plays obviously, proven by his team-high nine assists, but he was brought here to score goals and he’s barely even attempting shots, which is unbelievably concerning to the coaching staff right now. That has been abundantly clear lately.
Yeo: “We have to get him going, and skill guys have to play with skill players. We’ve talked a lot this year about how Charlie we think there’s another level to his game, but what a great compliment to him that every time we have moved him off a line this year it’s because we’re trying to get somebody else going. We put him with Mikko because we think he could help Mikko. We put him with Granny because we think he can help Granny. And now we put him with Thomas because we think he can help Thomas. And that’s a real compliment to the player.”
So could this be permanent with Coyle?
“It could be,” Yeo said. “We don’t seem to be right now anyways a team that has two lines that are going to go out and just score basically every night. So we’ve got to make sure that we have another line that gives us that threat, gives us that possibility. When we’ve struggled, it’s because we don’t score. We’ll do the right things defensively and play the right game without the puck,” but they’re not scoring when they do the other stuff, so “it’s worth a try.”
And one big reason why the Wild has to try this is because Erik Haula hasn’t produced the way the Wild expected after his solid postseason. He has two goals and no assists.
-- Yeo coached LeClair briefly in Pittsburgh and says he was a class act and pro and he said he had the “misfortune” of having to play against Lindros when he played for Oshawa and Yeo Sudbury.
“He was just a man amongst boys,” Yeo said.
He was a foot taller and Yeo said, “40 pounds heavier and faster and more skilled. For somebody to be able to dominate the game the way he did both physically and skill wise, it was hard to watch playing against him, but it really was impressive. He could really take over a game in any way,” meaning he was great if you wanted to play a skating game, a skill game or a physical game, he’s just “power right through ya.”
-- The Wild will fly to Tampa right after tonight’s game to begin the father-son trip. Many of the fathers or other mentors will already be waiting for the team in Tampa, others are arriving in time for practice Friday.
I have to look it up, but the Wild has been pretty atrocious during its, I think, three prior father-son trips and one mother-son trip. You’d think it would serve as motivation. But last time the Wild did this in January 2012, the Wild got absolutely annihilated in Philadelphia and Toronto.
The Wild has previously done father-son/mother-son trips in Southern California and I think once to Chicago. Two of those came in the Doug Risebrough-Jacques Lemaire era, and I don’t think the Wild has a single point in the two done in the Chuck Fletcher era.
“What I hope and what I told our guys, that trip hasn’t started yet,” Yeo said. “We have an opportunity to make it a special trip, but it’s not fun and it’s not special unless you win. Ideally, you go in there tomorrow and we have an opportunity to see everybody and we’re feeling good about a game tonight. All-in for this game and nothing else matters.”
I’ll have a lot more on the father-son trip in Saturday’s paper. Also, if you didn’t see my story on Zach Parise and Ryan Suter’s sorrow that their fathers can’t be on the trip, here’s that link.
-- Lastly, Matt Cooke is on the trip and will have his father-in-law tagging along with him in Florida.
The Wild misses Cooke's hard-nosed game and frankly that fourth line was scoring every game with Cooke on it. Cooke leads the NHL in points per 60 mins (4.42). Ryan Carter's 4.02 is third, by the way.
Cooke will miss his 10th game tonight with a hip flexor injury and just hasn’t been able to get it right. The Wild wants to get him 100 percent so he doesn't have to deal with this all year. Cooke played on it for awhile after hurting it Game 2 in Denver. He’s obviously frustrated by the length of time out because he typically doesn’t miss games for injury, but the hope is he can begin skating after the road trip that ends at Florida on Tuesday.
Cooke feels awful for old Pittsburgh teammate and former Wild Pascal Dupuis, who will miss the next six months to treat a blood clot in one of his lungs. Cooke said he texted with Dupuis.
“Missing games are never easy,” Cooke said. “He went through a tough situation last year with his knee, and now, this, just terrible. He’s a guy that has his priorities in the right spot. As much as none of us want to step aside from our livelihood, he knows he has got to make sure he’s healthy for his wife and kids.”