Greetings from beautifully brisk Minneapolis, where the Wild held a practice today at Ridder.
Wild and Blues on Sunday at 5 p.m. It'll be former coach Mike Yeo's first return to Xcel Energy Center. The Blues associate coach -- and Ken Hitchcock's successor next season -- has faced his former team in St. Louis, going 2-0 (Wild did get a point in a shootout loss six games ago).
I chatted with Yeo before the Blues faced the Devils on Friday for a story on his return, which you can read right here.
During a first-period TV timeout, the Wild plans to acknowledge Yeo and assistant coach Rick Wilson, who remember actually coached with the Wild for six full seasons -- one with Todd Richards, five with Yeo/John Torchetti.
Please give my Sunday Insider a read on Cam Stewart, the former Wild forward who still has lingering concussion issues and wishes the scrutinized concussion protocol in today's NHL was in yesteryears.
Tweaks to the Eric Staal and Erik Haula lines today at Ridder with Jason Pominville and Charlie Coyle swapping spots.
So, the lines were:
Some factoids: Devan Dubnyk, Sunday's starter, is 5-0-2 in his past seven and leads the NHL with four shutouts, a .946 save percentage and 1.66 goals-against average (Chip Scoggins wrote a column on him for Sunday's paper). Koivu and Niederreiter have eight points each in the past nine games, Zucker has three goals and eight points in the past eight games. Staal is a point away from 800. Parise has no points in the past six games.
Minnesota leads the NHL in team save percentage (.934) and goals-against average (2.01). The Wild has allowed 22 even-strength goals in the past 20 games.
The Wild’s power play is 0 for 14 in the past six games.
Eighteen of the Wild’s 26 games, including six in a row, have been one-goal outcomes (7-7-4). Blues just got through a stretch of seven straight one-goal games.
Defensemen Christian Folin and Nate Prosser were rotating on and off Marco Scandella's pair, which makes me think Folin's return won't come against the Blues. I only say that because I'd think Folin would return to Jonas Brodin's pair once he returns.
Bruce Boudreau can be heard on this subject later in this here blog.
The Wild’s searching for its first four-game winning streak of the season. It has also won three games in a row at home and has points in eight of its past nine games overall (5-1-3).
Five of those games have gone into overtime, including a shootout loss at St. Louis two Saturdays ago. The Wild's 0-1-1 against the Blues, who are 4-7-1 on the road. They've lost six of their last eight on the road. The Wild’s 5-5-4 in its last 14 against the Blues, 3-1-2 at home.
A couple Blues are red-hot:
Jaden Schwartz has 10 goals and 16 points in the past 16 games. Vladimir Tarasenko, who scored six goals in six playoff games against the Wild in 2015, has nine goals and 22 points in the past 17 games. Robby Fabbri had no goals in the first 12 games and eight in the past15.
In his last 10 games, Jake Allen, Sunday's starter, is 9-1 with a 2.16 goals-against average and .922 save percentage.
They have a couple Wild killas, too. Paul Stastny leads the Blues with 37 points in 56 games against the Wild. My guy David Perron has 18 points in 24 games vs. Minnesota.
"They're good," Boudreau said. "They've got six forwards that can burn you at any time. Their third line is pretty good themselves, and I see [Ryan] Reaves scored last night, so the fourth line is chipping in. They're a four-line team, and they keep coming at ya. They have a big defense with an offensive upside. And Jake Allen's been pretty good. So they've got all the ingredients as we read every year about them to win a Cup, so they're going to be a tough challenge. We're looking forward to it ..., I think."
I'm holding the story likely for my game notebook Sunday for Monday, but Tyler Graovac was a big topic after today's practice. If you remember, Boudreau was beyond disappointed with Graovac's training camp and was beyond candid about it today, saying he has been a "100 percent different player" and after being told in the summer by GM Chuck Fletcher how good Graovac was, Graovac showed Boudreau "nothing" in camp. "I didn't see anything in training camp," Boudreau said. He told Graovac that when he was placed on waivers, which he cleared and got assigned to Iowa.
Graovac said today that he hit "rock bottom" and had to work his way back up, and now he is playing well and also knows Zac Dalpe, practicing again after knee surgery, is on his heels.
Like I said, I'll write this for Monday's paper. Graovac was good today talking about this.
The fourth line was a big topic again. Since Gabriel's recall, the line has played three good games in Calgary, Toronto and at home against the Oilers and a so-so game in Edmonton.
"The line in itself is giving me more faith in them," Boudreau said. "I'm pleasantly surprise because I didn't know what to expect. I didn't know what to expect with Stewy playing left wing, I didn't know what to expect from Gabes, quite frankly. They've held their own defensively and potted the odd goal."
Stewart's an interesting case study now. Is it only because Gabriel's up that he has suddenly played better since Calgary (Boudreau says it may be because he has "back up" in Gabriel, like last season when he played on a big line with Patrick Maroon in Anaheim) or could it possibly be because Boudreau gave him a talk at some point recently about his sub-par play and work ethic, on and off the ice?
Maybe a little bit of both.
"He's gotten better," Boudreau said of Stewart's work ethic and skating. "Sometimes you have to talk to them on a lengthy basis, sometimes it's one word, sometimes it's a glare. ... We've got pretty good lines of communication open. He's working harder now off the ice than I've seen him work last year, so that's all good."
On the Folin-Prosser decision, Folin did extra skating after practice and Boudreau said, "I don't know what the plan is for [Sunday] or whether it's Tuesday. ... It would be tough [to take Prosser out]. The one thing about Pross is he understands his role. He knows he's playing well and he knows we're counting on him. But Fols was playing really good before he got hurt, and he was a top-four defenseman. So we'll talk about it as coaches, and I'll talk to [GM Chuck Fletcher] today and we'll see where it leads [Sunday]."
That's it for now. Talk to you Sunday. I'll be on Fox Sports North ++++++ during the pregame and first intermission.