Consecutive games on Sunday and Monday against the Cleveland Monsters could go a long way toward the Iowa Wild’s hope of making the playoffs for the first time since relocating from Houston.
The top four teams in each AHL division based on points percentage make the playoffs, and Iowa, which sits fourth in the Central, and Cleveland, which sits fifth, have gone back and forth for some time. The Wild is at .538, Cleveland is at .531, with Cleveland having played four fewer games.
“We haven’t accomplished anything yet, but we’re over .500 and in the playoff hunt,” first-year coach Derek Lalonde said. “It’s very rewarding just seeing the growth and excitement in the guys.”
Lalonde took over an Iowa team that had the fewest points in the AHL the past two seasons and was the worst team in the Western Conference three years ago.
But Lalonde was on the coaching staff at Ferris State when it won its first CCHA championship, had success as an assistant at University of Denver and won a championship as head coach with USHL Green Bay.
In Toledo of the ECHL, the Walleye won consecutive Eastern Conference and North Division regular-season championships after making a league-record 58-point improvement during Lalonde’s first season.
“One of my most rewarding experiences was that worst-to-first situation, so I was intrigued by this situation,” Lalonde said. “It starts with our leadership core — Max Fortunus, Jeff Hoggan, Mike Weber, Pat Cannone, Alex Stalock.
“We preached early on winning habits, holding yourself accountable to winning and losing, but it comes from the room, and they bought into the message and went out, did it and the kids followed.”
Lalonde picked up another veteran Saturday. Ryan Carter, who has been skating with the Wild since Feb. 10, signed a professional tryout with Iowa and will debut Sunday. Carter, who played for the Wild the past two seasons but underwent shoulder surgery in October, hopes to earn a contract with Minnesota before the March 1 trade deadline to provide depth and be eligible for the playoffs.
Lalonde also has been paying attention to Alex Tuch’s play in Minnesota.
“I appreciate that he’s playing the game safe, he doesn’t want to make that egregious mistake to hurt his team, but he’s playing a little hesitant and there is more from him,” Lalonde said.
“… I don’t think there’s any doubt in my mind he’ll be a great player. It’s going to take some growth and time.”
Nino Niederreiter has an extra $200 to spend during the Wild’s five-day “bye” next week.
The NHL rescinded the game misconduct that came with his five-minute major for interference Thursday night against Dallas, multiple sources said. The $200 fine he saves is less important than the misconduct coming off his record. Any player who receives a “physical fouls” game misconduct is suspended if a second one occurs before playing in 41 consecutive games without such penalty.
“It happened so quickly,” said Niederreiter, who upended Patrick Sharp. “[Radek] Faksa almost tripped me, I lost balance, I didn’t see Sharp coming and I don’t think he saw me coming. I just knew [John] Klingberg was right behind both of them, so I couldn’t go anywhere else.”
•Jonas Brodin returned Saturday against Nashville after missing 14 games because of a broken finger. The left-shot defenseman played the right side next to Gustav Olofsson.
• Defenseman Matt Dumba, who has missed the past four games because of a knee injury, skated Saturday morning. Coach Bruce Boudreau said if he has a good practice Monday, he might return Tuesday against Chicago.