Update: Tyler Cuma was not able to make his flight out of Houston in time, and will not be in the lineup for the Wild tonight in Phoenix.
When the Minnesota Wild was last in Phoenix, the wins were piling up for the team like pucks in an ice bucket. The team’s confidence was high, and that was evident as Minnesota rolled to a 4-1 win over the Coyotes. Since then, the win total has grown only slightly, due in large part to the Wild roster being decimated by injuries. The injury theme continues tonight, as Jared Spurgeon has fallen ill, requiring a callup of defenseman Tyler Cuma from Houston. Assuming Cuma can make it to Phoenix in time, he’ll be in the lineup. If not, Clayton Stoner may return to action.
The Wild is wrapping up a two-game road trip, which started with a 7-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday. Devin Setoguchi converted on a penalty shot for the Wild’s only goal, but it didn’t come until the third period with the Wild already trailing 5-1. Matt Hackett took the loss in goal for the Wild and was replaced by Josh Harding late in the second period.
The Coyotes are also struggling having lost their last four straight, including on Tuesday night when they fell to the last place Columbus Blue Jackets. Antoine Vermette and Keith Yandle scored in the 3-2 loss, but Columbus was able to put one past Jason LaBarbera, who relieved Mike Smith after two early goals.
Wild at Coyotes will be broadcast locally in high definition on Fox Sports North with a start time at 8:00 PM. The game can be heard on KFAN 100.3 FM or online at Wild.com.
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If you’re in Glendale in March, you can catch not just hockey, but also baseball. The Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers are among several teams that hold spring training right near Jobing.com Arena. If you can get there early enough, you can make today a baseball and hockey doubleheader.
As good as the Wild was during a stretch from mid-November to mid-December, it wasn’t nearly as eye-popping as the Coyotes 11-0-1 run in the month of February. But since the calendar turned to the final month of the regular season, the Yotes have stumbled. It’s started in net.
Mike Smith was nearly unbeatable in February, but in the first four games of March, he’s been very average. He’s given up 11 goals in those starts, and he was pulled early on Tuesday.
Phoenix has emerged as one of the most dangerous teams in the West, but it’s only when its goaltending has been spectacular.
The Wild hasn’t had many goals over the last five games – just five in fact. Dany Heatley has one of them, and Devin Setoguchi has two. Who has the other two? None other than Matt Kassian, who nearly added a third on a breakaway chance in Denver on Tuesday.
The Wild was once the best road team in the NHL, but after that big win in Phoenix, Pierre-Marc Bouchard was checked from behind in a game at Winnipeg, bringing back his concussion symptoms. The Wild has only been able to win three road games since that win in Phoenix. After tonight, the Wild’s schedule becomes very home-heavy, with a five-game homestand looming and only four road contests left on the docket.
While the Wild needs to find a way to score goals, what’s even more important is that its young defensive corps gets more familiar with each other. The group will have to make more adjustments tonight, whether its using Cuma in his NHL debut, or Stoner, who has yet to play with Tom Gilbert, Steve Kampfer and Kurtis Foster.
Mike Yeo didn’t want to divulge his line combinations, but he did say he wants to get back to more defined roles. That means scorers will be with scorers, and checkers will be with checkers, but the lines won't necessarily look like what's listed below:
“That’s one thing I’ll never do, is say we’re not good enough. I still see reasons why we’re losing games. I never expect perfection, but we’ll always push for it. We’ll always try to keep getting better. This time of year, it’s tough to win hockey games and it gets tougher in the playoffs. Why is that? It’s not because guys get faster or stronger. Definitely every night they’re ready and they’re focused and their battle level is real high. But as the year goes on, they start to eliminate their mistakes and they become almost flawless. And we are far from flawless in our game.”
-- Mike Yeo on how difficult it has been with so many injuries in the lineup
Smith spent one season with the Wild’s developmental affiliate in Houston.
If Cuma plays tonight, he will be the 45th player to skate for the Wild this season. The all-time record for most players used in a season is 55 by the Boston Bruins in 1991-92.