In the mind of Head Coach Todd Richards, the word “possible” is more positive than “maybe.” So when Richards smiled after today’s morning skate and said Guillaume Latendresse is “possibly” in the lineup tonight against the Colorado Avalanche, there seems to be little doubt that the Wild’s best goal scorer is ready to return. Latendresse hasn’t played since October 25, which was his eighth game of the season. Even though he will likely be eased into the lineup if his return is tonight, he could provide a monstrous boost for a team looking for goals in a heated playoff chase.
The Wild continued to swim against the injury current by gaining a point in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday. After falling behind 2-0, the Wild rallied to tie the game thanks to Warren Peters’ first goal in a Wild sweater and Marek Zidlicky’s power play goal in his 500th NHL game. Jose Theodore took the shootout loss after making 30 stops. Despite the loss, the Wild gained ground in the West and moved into ninth place, currently two points behind Los Angeles.
The Avalanche continued their second half swoon with a fifth straight loss at the hands of the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday. Ryan O’Reilly scored the only goal for Colorado, which has scored four goals just once in the last 16 games. Brian Elliot took the loss in turning aside 31 shots.
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Tonight will be the last night to see the Wild before Xcel Energy Center is overrun with high school hockey fans and college hockey revelers. The Wild will give out a memento tonight so hockey fans don’t forget about the pros that usually call downtown St. Paul home. The first 3,500 fans will get a puck commemorating the third greatest moment in Wild history – Marian Gaborik’s five-goal game against the New York Rangers.
When Cal Clutterbuck called out the Avalanche after a December 23 win, he boldly claimed the Wild was “coming after them in the standings.” Even Clutterbuck might be surprised that it happened this swiftly and the Avs would plummet like a parachuting elephant whose chute doesn’t open.
Since that night, the Avs have won a grand total of seven games. They’ve won once in the last 16 games. All the while, Colorado went through a failed Peter Forsberg comeback attempt, a blockbuster trade that brought former first overall pick Erik Johnson to the Rockies and overall ugly hockey.
With youngsters like Paul Stastny and Matt Duchene still on the roster, there is hope for the future, but no hope for the postseason.
Last season, Brent Burns and Pierre-Marc Bouchard were the two key players that missed significant time to injury. Bouchard hasn’t missed a game since his return on December 1, and Burns has only missed two games this year because of a suspension.
As huge components to this team deal with injuries, these two are staying healthy, and productive. Bouchard has picked up three goals and six assists over the last nine games, while Burns has piled up two goals and four assists over the last six contests.
With Mikko Koivu and Cal Clutterbuck still out of the lineup, Latendresse’s return is the shot in the arm this team needs. When he came to the Wild in late November of last season, he pumped in 25 goals. Richards noted after yesterday’s practice that had Latendresse been healthy all year, he would have at least 15 to 18 goals “on the low end.” Those goals could account for two or three wins, which will likely be the difference at the end of the season.
Richards doesn’t always tip his hand the day before a game when he’s asked about a starting goaltender. But Richards didn’t hesitate yesterday when he tabbed Niklas Backstrom as the starter. It may have been a calculated move by Richards who may be looking to instill his confidence in the star netminder that hasn’t played since being pulled against the New York Islanders last Wednesday.
It’s unknown where Latendresse fits in if he is in fact playing, but it won’t be for Andrew Brunette, who is good to go after falling ill yesterday:
Clayton Stoner, who is dealing with a lower-body injury, will be a gametime decision. If he can’t go, Cam Barker will be ready to step in:
Backstrom typically comes back from breaks with a big performance, and he’ll get that chance tonight.
If Latendresse makes his return, one to-be-determined player comes out.
Latendresse (abdominal) is possible to play tonight…Clutterbuck (upper body) is day-to-day, but out for tonight…Barker (upper body) is available if needed…Stoner (lower body) is a gametime decision and Brunette (illness) is in…James Sheppard (knee) and Koivu (hand) are out.
"Speaking as a former player, this is one thing that you really miss. I’m talking about getting on the ice and actually being a part of it and wanting to be a difference in the game on a positive side.”
-- Todd Richards on how NHL players revel in these kinds of situations where every game and standings point are huge
The Avs have three players – D Erik Johnson, C Ryan Stoa and injured C Peter Mueller – who hail from Bloomington. All three left Bloomington to join the US National Development program in Ann Arbor for their high school years.
Zidlicky has scored 58 goals in his 500-game career, and 42 of those have come on the power play. Since he came into the League in the 2003-04 season, Zidlicky ranks 10th among NHL defensemen in power play tallies.