Early this season when the Wild was carrying eight defensemen, coach Mike Yeo rotated defensemen in and out of the lineup to keep everybody involved.
With five forwards suddenly vying for three fourth-line spots even before the eventual return of Matt Cooke, the Wild coach might be leaning toward something similar.
Yeo said Wednesday that forward Erik Haula won’t play Thursday against the New York Rangers but likely will play Saturday against the Detroit Red Wings. Yeo plans to go with a Ryan Carter-Kyle Brodziak-Jordan Schroeder fourth line against the Rangers. Sean Bergenheim won’t play for a second game in a row.
“I don’t know that we have necessarily a plan, but we’ve got to find a way to get some guys in,” Yeo said. “We’ve got to find a way to make sure everybody’s getting some game action and trying to keep everybody involved. Everybody’s had an impact getting us to this point. … We’ll sort through it day by day.”
As long as the scratched players accept the decisions, have a good attitude, work hard and support their teammates when they’re not playing, Yeo said, “I don’t foresee it being a problem. We have a goal to make the playoffs and then to go a long way in the playoffs, and depth always comes into play in those situations.
“This is what we have today, but things change rather quickly [with injuries].”
Yeo met with Haula to explain his decision. He loves the job Haula has done on the penalty kill, but he said bad habits have crept into Haula’s game the past few games. Yeo didn’t elaborate, but Schroeder has been a more noticeable threat with his speed and earlier this season, Yeo felt Haula was skating east-west too much and not being strong enough on the boards.
Haula has been scratched five times, and Yeo said he believed his play elevated after his last scratch Jan. 29.
“I don’t think that he’s playing bad, but I don’t think he’s playing at quite the level he was at,” Yeo said.
Just 2½ weeks after spraining his medial collateral ligament in St. Louis, defenseman Nate Prosser practiced Wednesday.
Prosser, a plus-13 since the All-Star break and a solid partner on the left side mostly with rookie Matt Dumba, said his knee and endurance felt good. “So whenever I’m needed, I’ll be ready,” Prosser said.
Yeo said Prosser will need a few practices.
“He’ll get back in,” Yeo said. “We look at these games down the stretch here — we’ve got to make sure we get in, but we also got to make sure that our game’s sharp and we’ve identified the group we want to start Game 1 with.”
The Wild, off since beating Los Angeles on Saturday, is 4-0-1 this season coming off three-day breaks, 1-1 coming off four-plus-day breaks. The Wild is 24-5-1 since the All-Star break and has won five in a row, but Yeo said Thursday won’t be easy.
“It’ll be a challenge bringing our intensity and focus to where we were when we were in a rhythm,” he said. “That’s not just going to carry over. We’ve got to find a way to make sure we start that up again.”
Zach Parise isn’t worried, saying: “We played a lot of hockey. It felt like we were playing every other day. You get tired. It was a welcome break. I don’t see us losing any of that momentum that we had. It was good timing.”
Odds are …
Bovada released its latest Stanley Cup odds Wednesday and the Wild is the third-biggest favorite at 8-1 (it was 66-1 on Jan. 15 before Devan Dubnyk’s debut). The Rangers are the favorite at 13-2, and Chicago is second at 7-1.
The Wild is 9-2 (second-best odds) to win the West.