When it came to difficult decisions, Wednesday was a “yes and no” day for Mike Yeo.
The Wild coach announced that Devan Dubnyk will start Thursday against the New York Rangers. It will be the goaltender’s first start since straining a groin Dec. 5. Asked if it was difficult to change goalies when Darcy Kuemper is playing so well (six goals allowed in five games), Yeo said, “Yes and no.”
The Wild coach wouldn’t divulge if newly acquired center Jarret Stoll will make his Wild debut against the Rangers (he very likely will), but when asked if it would be hard to change the lineup coming off a 6-2 victory and with the team having peeled off 13 out of 16 points during an eight-game point streak, Yeo said, “Yes and no.”
Later, when asked if center Erik Haula could play wing if Stoll were to debut, Yeo immediately realized a sneaky reporter was trying to ascertain if Haula would be scratched for Stoll. Yeo, with a big smile, kidded, “Yes and no.”
“It’s a good thing,” Yeo said of all the “yes and no” answers, referring to the fact that at least decisions are tough right now because the Wild is healthy, gobbling up points and has two goalies playing well. “At least I’m not saying ‘I don’t know.’ ”
Stoll, a veteran of 13 seasons, 821 games and three teams, was picked up off waivers from the Rangers on Tuesday. Dubnyk, Stoll’s former Oilers teammate, called him an “unreal” penalty killer, and the Wild’s penalty kill ranks 26th in the NHL. Yeo likely will rely on Stoll for big late-game faceoffs.
Yeo also said he watched video of Stoll on the Rangers and sees “a lot of the things that we remember from L.A.,” where Stoll played seven seasons and won two Stanley Cups.
“He plays the game hard, he plays the game physical, he’s an honest player,” Yeo said. “He’s got some sandpaper to his game. He’ll be responsible defensively, he’s a guy that can play in a defensive-minded, shutdown role but also can contribute [offensively] a little bit.
“We didn’t pick him up not to play.”
That could mesh well on a line with energy guys Chris Porter and Ryan Carter. Stoll also gives the Wild flexibility. If the Wild needs speed, it can play Haula (two goals, two assists in 28 games) at center or maybe move Charlie Coyle to right wing. If the Wild needs “sandpaper” or somebody to take that clutch draw, Stoll should help.
“As a coach, it’s nice to be able to tinker with different things based on your opponent, based on what you see from certain individuals a certain night,” Yeo said.
Haula, Carter, Porter and Justin Fontaine, arguably the four players who could be nightly lineup casualties with Stoll in the mix, looked to feel a sense of urgency Tuesday against the Canucks. All four played hard and well.
“It raises the competition level,” Carter said. “I don’t know that we haven’t been competing, but when the reality is now there’s extra forwards, it’ll create a competition. … We all know when something’s on the line, you compete a little harder, you play a little better.”
Stoll’s debut could come against a team that just put him on waivers.
“It’ll be a little weird two days ago practicing with them and now playing against them,” Stoll said after Wednesday’s first practice, an optional, with the Wild. “I just want to get in a game and get going with the new team here.”
As for Dubnyk, who gave up one goal in 2 ½ games before getting hurt, he says he’s ready. Yeo said Dubnyk and Kuemper will each start one of next week’s home back-to-back games against Dallas and Montreal. Kuemper’s play the past week-and-half should give Yeo more confidence to play Kuemper more often than the three starts he got in the first 25 games this season.
“We count on Devan,” Yeo said. “Devan’s proven that he can play a lot of games and carry a heavy workload, but too much is too much. And for Darcy to be able to come in and not just give us solid hockey but play really well and win hockey games for us, that’s going to be key down the stretch.”