A snow emergency in the District of Columbia has shutdown the federal government, but the heavy falling flakes just made the commute to the Verizon Center for the Minnesota Wild’s morning skate feel like hockey weather.
Winners of four straight road games, the Wild looks to plow ahead tonight facing the Washington Capitals. It’s the first time the teams have met this season and will clash twice in the month, the second game coming back in the State of Hockey on March 19. However, that’s a long ways away in a hockey season.
Tonight’s contest will feature a battle of strength versus strength, the Wild’s penalty kill against the Caps’ power play. Minnesota’s penalty kill has been the League’s best since Jan. 29, killing 47-of-48 (97.9%) of opponent power play chances in its last 17 games. On the season, the club has the second-best penalty kill (87.0 percent) in the NHL.
Washington owns the second best power play in the league at 23.9 percent. At home, the Caps are clicking at 26 percent.
Defenseman Nate Prosser has been a key to the Wild’s PK success of late. The blueliner left Tuesday’s game due to illness, but is healthy today and ready for the challenge of facing the Caps.
“We’ve been bearing down,” Prosser said. “Trying to get that first exit going down 200 feet.”
The blueliner said that the team’s been excellent of winning faceoffs while shorthanded and icing the puck, which knocks time off the clock. When the opponent does carry in, the Wild’s gap has been slimmer than any bill passing through Congress. If the Caps do gain entry, that’s when Prosser shines.
“Making sure we’re blocking shots and paying the price,” Prosser said. “We’ll have success if we do that.”
The earmark of the Caps’ power play is Alex Ovechkin. The Wild might not have to worry about the high-scoring forward, as he’ll be a game-time decision due to a lower-body injury. However, the Wild is preparing like Ovechkin will be in the lineup.
“You could argue that they’ve got the best goal scorer in the League,” Yeo said. “He does a phenomenal job of finding lanes, finding seams. With his shot, it’s a threat every time.”
“Fear makes the wolf bigger than it is,” Yeo said. “And we have to be sure that we don’t come in here with too much respect for them.
“You have to make sure you’re aggressive in our game and that’s what we’ve been doing all year.”
Spurgeon Another Day
Defenseman Jared Spurgeon will wait at least one more day before rejoining the lineup. Yeo said that he didn’t want to put the blueliner into a back-to-back situation with the team playing against the Carolina Hurricanes tomorrow night in Raleigh.
“I’m not 100 percent that he’ll be back in tomorrow,” Yeo said. “But we’ll see how it goes.”
The Wild has acquired three new players in the last week through trades, but has essentially had no practice time (morning skate doesn’t really count because the players are just trying to get their legs warmed up for the day) for the new guys to get acclimated to the team or its systems.
“It’s tough, we’ve got to rely on video,” Yeo said. “There’s a lot of teaching moments and things that you can learn throughout the course of the game. The good thing is they’re older players and they’ve been around, so I don’t think it’s a huge adjustment for them.”
Making the adjustment together will be fresh forwards Sean Bergenheim and Chris Stewart. The wings flanked captain Mikko Koivu at the team’s morning skate, so expect things to start that way against Washington.
When scoring first, Washington’s record is better than any politician’s on Capitol Hill. The Caps are a ridiculous 30-1-4 when notching the game’s first goal.
Conversely, The Wild has scored the first goal in 14 of its last 17 games and has won 15 of its last 16 games when it has scored first. Overall, the team is 28-6-3 when striking first.
“We’ve had good starts but we’ve understood that is setting the game up,” Yeo said.
No Decision In Net For Tomorrow
Yeo said that he hasn’t come to a decision in regards to tomorrow’s starting goaltender against the Canes. Devan Dubnyk will get his 22nd straight start in goal tonight. The bench boss said he’d make his decision based on tonight’s game.
“Reunited and it feels so good,” newly acquired Minnesota Wild forward Chris Stewart sang the Peaches & Herb verse over the phone to Jordan Leopold when the pair spoke about coming to the State of Hockey. They were teammates during Stewart’s rookie season with the Colorado Avalanche and again with the St. Louis Blues.
Yesterday, the pair became teammates for a third time, as the Wild acquired both players at the National Hockey League’s Trade Deadline. Finding out that they had been acquired by Minnesota was welcome new for both.
For Stewart, it ended a year of speculation that the struggling Buffalo Sabres would move the power forward.
The Minnesota Wild has seen some high times against the Colorado Avalanche since last year’s first-round Stanley Cup Playoffs series win.
This season, the Wild has yet to yield a goal against the Avs in three games. According to Elias Sports Bureau, it’s the first time in franchise history the Wild has shutout the same opponent in three consecutive meetings in a season, becoming the first NHL team since 2007-08 (Detroit vs. Colorado and San Jose vs. Arizona) to blank an opponent in three straight. According to Elias, Minnesota is trying to become the first NHL team to post four straight shutouts against one opponent in the same season since 1928, when the (NHL) Pittsburgh Pirates earned four straight shutouts against Boston (12/1/27-1/28/28).
Holding the Avs scoreless in a trio of contests might come as a surprise following last year’s intense seven-game series. The Wild knows all about the young firepower Colorado boasts up front. Last night, the Avalanche won in a shootout in Dallas, but Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo expects its opponent’s best effort of the year tonight.
“You look at the group of forwards they have up there and it’s a very talented group,” Yeo said to WildTV. “If you’re not sharp they’ll take advantage of it.”
Since the All-Star Break, the Wild has been the hottest team in the National Hockey League, posting a League-best 25 points (12-2-1) in 15 games. Much of the team’s recent success can be credited to goaltender Devan Dubnyk, but the Wild’s blue line has been stepping up as well. The club leads the NHL in penalty kill percentage since Jan. 27, killing 36-of-37 (97.3 percent) of opponent power play chances in its last 15 games.
“Losing (Jared Spurgeon), we knew that would not be an easy thing to overcome,” Yeo said. “I think all three of those guys have really stepped up.”
Prosser’s game is the least flashy of the three, but has been a rock on the back end. Since Jan. 15, the defenseman has only had on minus rating in one game and is a plus-10 during the stretch.
“Pross’s game has been very steady for a good two months now,” Yeo said. He likes the way he’s been skating alongside Folin. Yeo said that the club hasn’t had to shelter their minutes or fear playing them against opponents’ top lines.
For Dumba, he’s taken on more offensive responsibility with Spurgeon out, but that’s not been the most impressive part of his game according to the bench boss.
“I’m actually very pleased with how he’s playing without the puck,” Yeo said. “His gap control, the way he’s defending in his own zone.
“These are the things we’re going to need him to maintain.”
The Wild wants to build on its lead in the eighth spot in the Western Conference. Coming into tonight’s game, the Wild is up one point on the Calgary Flames and six up on the Avs.
Defenseman Jared Spurgeon worked out today back in the State of Hockey. The blueliner was placed on Injured Reserve on Feb. 18 after taking a puck to the face against the Calgary Flames. He has missed four games with an upper-body injury.
Only a hoot and holler away from one of the most legendary stages in all of music, the Ryman Auditorium, the Minnesota Wild will audition its newest member, Sean Bergenheim, in Nashville. The forward will make his Wild debut alongside captain Mikko Koivu and Thomas Vanek tonight against the Predators.
With the way that Vanek and Koivu have been playing recently, Yeo believes the combination will be able create offensive chances and wanted to link them to a tenacious wing.
When the Minnesota Wild was submerged amidst a 2-8-4 stretch in late January and early February, Head Coach Mike Yeo’s message remained constant: stick with the process. So, as the Wild rides a post-All-Star Game crest (11-1-1 in its last 12), it’s no surprise that the mantra has buoyed across the waves. Thanks to the turnaround, Minnesota has paddled to the eighth spot in the Western Conference standings.
“I’d be lying if I said it didn’t mean anything, but I’m not too excited,” Yeo said. “Like I’ve said many times, 69 points does not get you into the playoffs. So the fact that we’re in the top-eight today is not really that relevant.
“We’re in a better position today than we were a week ago, but we’ve got to continue to march forward here.”
Wild forward Kyle Brodziak will hit a career milestone tonight, National Hockey League game No. 600, in the place where it all started. The St. Paul, Alberta native, who grew up in Vegreville just outside of Edmonton, was selected by the Oilers in the seventh round (214th overall) in the 2003.
“It doesn’t get old,” Brodziak said. “Comeback and play in front of friends and family—it’s pretty special.”
The Minnesota Wild will be without Edmonton-native, Jared Spurgeon, tomorrow as the club wraps its three-game Western Canadian road trip against the Oilers at Rexall Place. The blueliner is out with an upper-body injury after taking a puck up high yesterday against the Calgary Flames.
Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said he doesn’t know how long Spurgeon will be sidelined.
“I don’t have an answer on that,” Yeo said. “The only thing I’ve got word on is that he’s out for tomorrow.”
The bench boss said that he and the staff would discuss the potential of recalling a defenseman from its American Hockey League affiliate, the Iowa Wild, or suiting up Stu Bickel on the blue line. If Minnesota recalls a defenseman, the team will have to place a player on Injured Reserve or return one to Iowa.
Meet Michael Keranen
Yesterday, Minnesota recalled forward Michael Keranen from Iowa. The 25-year-old joined the team after morning skate and participated in warmups, but didn’t make his National Hockey League debut. Today, Keranen was one of a handful of players in Edmonton participating in an optional skate.
Last season skating for Ilves Tampere of the Finnish Elite League (SM-Liiga), he earned the Lasse Oksanen Award, given to the best player during the regular season. He tied for the SM-Liiga lead in points (17-35=52) and was tied for second in assists. Over the summer, Keranen signed as a free agent with Minnesota on June 5.
“They have a good young team and they liked me as a player,” Keranen said. “So it was pretty easy to sign here.”
The forward said it’s been a difficult season in Iowa, with the team battling for wins. He was thrilled to get his first National Hockey League call-up.
“It was nice,” Keranen said. “We just landed in Charlotte and I got the call to come to Calgary and join the team.”
He’s had to adjust to the North American game, but despite the learning curve, he’s maintained his production offensively. The forward leads Iowa in assists (23) and is second in points (32).
“The ice is smaller,” Keranen said. “You’re a little bit closer to the net to shoot the puck, that’s the biggest difference.”
His roster card might list his birthplace as Stockholm, Sweden, but Keranen said his parents are Finnish and he’s a Finn through and through. In school growing up in Finland, he learned English, but being in North America has given him the opportunity to practice and experience the language first-hand.
“Language is a big part,” Keranen said. “Talking to teammates. We didn’t have Finnish guys down there, so I had to [speak] English every day and that’s how I’ve learned it.”
Of course, learning from teammates makes things easier, but here with Minnesota there’s a certain amount of comfort knowing he’s joining other Finns on the Wild roster.
“There’s lots of Finnish guys, it’s easy to come here,” Keranen.
After missing yesterday’s practice, Minnesota Wild forward Thomas Vanek joined the team for morning skate before the club tries to pick up ground in the Western Conference tonight against the Calgary Flames. The forward has been dealing with general soreness and will be a game-time decision.
“It got better as the skate went on,” Vanek said. “The way I look at it: if I can deal with the pain and still contribute I’ll play, but if I feel like I can’t help the team then I think it’s better if a different guy plays.”
The 31-year-old is hopeful that he’ll feel good throughout the afternoon and up until puck drop.
For the second time in less than a month, defenseman Matt Dumba returns to his hometown of Calgary as the Minnesota Wild skates against the Flames. Last time the young blueliner arrived in the Stampede City, it was under much different circumstances. He was recalled the morning of Jan. 29, flew in the day of the game and arrived on the flight while the team was at morning skate.
Since being recalled the former first-round pick has skated in all nine of the team’s games, and was much at ease after practice today compared to his last visit. He’s excited to be back and, this time, have an evening to relax.
“It’s nice that I get to be home for just a bit and see the friends and family and the people that supported me through every step to get to this point,” Dumba said. “I get to go home for a nice home-cooked meal tonight, so that’s going to be fun.”
Dumba said he doesn’t have a number for the people who will attend the game, but will send out some texts today to inquire. However, he has a buffer in the city for ticket requests.
“My mom, she’s the coordinator,” Dumba laughed. “I think all my friends and all my family definitely know to go through her.
“She’s made it known that Matt’s got other things to think about than arranging tickets for everyone.”
On the ice, Dumba has been part of the team’s third pair along with Nate Prosser. The more stay-at-home veteran has started to see improvement from the more offensive-minded youngster.
“He’s developing; you can really see it,” Prosser said. “I think he’s really focusing on the D-side of it, that’s the biggest thing that [the coaches] wanted him to do.
“He skates well, he shoots the puck well, so he has a lot of the elements that you need.”
Like any partnership, they have one another’s backs out on the ice.
“We both do a pretty good job of picking each other up,” Prosser said. “We’ve been doing pretty well of communication on and off the ice and making sure we’re ready on the bench going out for our next shift.”
Minnesota closes out the season series against Calgary tomorrow night. Though it’s the 20-year-olds second time skating in the arena with the Wild, it remains a special place.
“It’s kind of a special event when a minor hockey team gets to play at the Saddledome,” Dumba said. “Playing junior in Red Deer, we played Calgary eight or nine times a year, so we played lots here in the Dome.”
Maintenance Day For Vanek; Line Juggling?
Wild forward Thomas Vanek skipped practice for a maintenance day. Head Coach Mike Yeo expects the forward to be in the lineup tomorrow.
Who Vanek will skate with, along with the rest of the forwards, is yet to be determined. Yeo said that there’s a possibility of some line movement. The team’s bench boss said that dispersing the top line of Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Jason Pominville was “something we’re tinkering with.”
“Last game was a bit of a different situation, matchup-wise; and tomorrow will be a different one as well,” Yeo said. “So, it’s something we’re thinking about, but nothing concrete yet.”
Here’s what the combinations looked like today sans Vanek:
Heat Is On
The hits just keep on coming for the Wild, as it tries to ascend the top-8 in the Western Conference against another team that is ahead in the standings. Despite going 8-1-2 in its last 11 games, Minnesota found itself in 10th place in the West thanks to last night’s loss in Vancouver, and coupled with wins by the Flames, Los Angeles Kings and Winnipeg Jets. So, the Wild is trying to concentrate on things it can control, like on-ice performance in practice and games.
“It’s tough because you lose one game in two weeks or three weeks or whatever it was in regulation and it feels like you’ve probably lost four or five in a row,” Yeo said. “But that’s part of the challenge and part of the journey of getting there.”
With the standings looming over the team like a storm cloud, the club looks to use the precipitous situation to its advantage.
“Hopefully you use it to improve your game day-in and day-out,” Yeo said. “If you lost a game like we did last night, then we have to come back today and figure out what we need to do better.”
The Wild looks to rain on the Flames’ margin in the standing at 8:30 p.m. State of Hockey Time tomorrow at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
Jordan Schroeder scored twice last week, his first two goals as a member of the Minnesota Wild. The celebration after his second tally, in the club’s last outing against the Carolina Hurricanes, was much subdued when compared to the first. The emphatic fist pump of his first in a Wild sweater was, at least in part, because in accordance with being his inaugural mark, it came against his former team, the Vancouver Canucks.
Tonight, the 24-year-old returns to the Vancouver for the first time since signing with Minnesota in the offseason. The Lakeville native was selected in the first round (22nd overall) in the 2009 National Hockey League Entry Draft.