Wild and Nashville Predators tonight here in very chilly (maybe not as chilly as there) Nashville as the two division rivals face off for the first time this season.
The Wild has won a season-high five games in a row and is 7-1-3 in its past 11 games. The Predators are 10-2-2 at home but are on the outside looking into the top-8 in the West.
Bruce Boudreau talked about the importance of the Wild not letting up. He noted that if the Flyers, who have won 10 straight, lose their next game, they could fall to fifth in the Metro Division.
How nuts is that? I asked Peter Laviolette about the tight standings. The Predators coach said, “There’s nothing easy anymore. There’s not a lot of separation. It seems like teams that are way out of the playoffs are at .500 and teams that are securely in the playoffs are only four or five games over .500. So there’s not a lot of wiggle room.”
By the way, I talked to Laviolette, who coached the Carolina Hurricanes to a Cup in 2006, about the resurgence of his former player, Eric Staal, and Laviolette filled the notepad with good stuff I’ll write about in the coming days or weeks. He said prescouting the Wild, Staal’s been outstanding, as his skating.
I’m working on a number of things that Staal’s a part of. One is why he gets so many breakaways. I’ve watched a bunch over, and he’s getting them in different ways, but it also comes down to smart reads and skating and a couple other shrewd veteran things. I’ll write about that soon, but he joked today basically what I wrote the other day – he’d have 15 goals if he buried most his chances. He said he does feel there could have been penalties or penalty shots on a number of the breakaways, and that even though he got shots off as referees have told him, he often doesn’t get the shot he wants to get off because of the penalties that aren’t being called.
He said he’s in a heated battle with his brother, Jordan, who plays for Carolina, for a “nice, expensive bottle of red.” Eric has seven goals, Jordan six, and they scored seconds apart in real time the other night.
I’m also doing my Sunday column on the 2003 draft and how Staal and Zach Parise were two of the best players taken in arguably the best draft in the history of the league. Staal is the leading scorer from that draft with 801 points.
Devan Dubnyk gets the nod for the Wild. He is 7-0-2 in his past nine, tying his career longest-point streak (8-0-1), with a 1.62 goals-against average and .944 save percentage in that span.
Same Wild lines, same Wild D, meaning Teemu Pulkkinen and Nate Prosser are slated to be scratched.
I talked to Kurtis Gabriel a lot today about fighting. Some of his quotes will definitely disturb his naysayers. They even kind of stunned me. You can read those in Friday’s paper.
He has gotten into six fights in nine career NHL games, four fights in six this year. He has a black left eye, nicks on his face, carved up knuckles and a bunch of stitches on one of his fingers on his right hand.
I asked Bruce Boudreau if there comes a point where Gabriel’s fighting too much and could get himself hurt, and he deadpanned, “You tell him.”
Jason Zucker, who has 10 points in the last 10 games, is a plus-17. Boudreau said, “He’s defending. He’s playing with two pretty good defensive players as well (Mikko Koivu and Mikael Granlund). Without the puck, he’s playing really well. He’s not hanging out at the blue line waiting for passes. He’s coming back to his own zone, he’s protecting the puck. He’s doing a lot of good things.”
Funny moment when Boudreau was asked about winning lately despite no power-play goals in eight games, Boudreau interrupted the question, rolled his eyes and goes, “Thanks.”
He said, “We rectify it by keep working at it and keep trying. We definitely need to get that thing going.”
But he also noted how the Wild, which is tied for 29th in power-play chances drawn, got one power play last game, have an open net and Granlund misses it.
“The next day after, we say we haven’t scored in eight. But it should have been in the net,” Boudreau said. “The game before, overtime, we have nine chances to score on a power play. We hit three posts on one power play. Eventually they’ll start going in and we’ll be talking about how good the power play’s going.”
I reported on this a few months ago here, but per sources, Matt Hulsizer has officially been bought out as the Wild’s big minority owner. Craig Leipold now owns 95 percent of the team, roughly.
That’s it for now. Tomorrow, please come down to Hell’s Kitchen at 4 p.m. for a video show with moi, Jim Souhan and Lavelle E. Neal The Third.