As the reeling Minnesota Wild prepares to take on the Buffalo Sabres tonight, the club has made a few transactions and there isn’t much in the way of good news, but we’ll go with that first.
USA Hockey released their final roster for the 2014 Sochi Olympic Winter Games yesterday, and two Minnesota Wild players happened to make the cut. July, 4th 2012 free agent signings Zach Parise and Ryan Suter will both be making the trip to Russia to represent their country on hockey’s largest stage. In the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, Parise would score four goals and four assists for eight points, including the game-tying goal in the dying seconds of the third period of the gold medal game against the Canadians. Of course, Sidney Crosby would score “the goal” in overtime to give his country the win over the Americans. Suter was also on that USA team, scoring four assists in those same six games.
In other Olympic news, Wild right winger Jason Pominville is one of a few notable NHLers snubbed for the 2014 team, joining Ottawa’s Bobby Ryan, Winnipeg’s Dustin Byfuglien, New York’s Kyle Okposo and Colorado’s Erik Johnson.
Not that the last part was good news, but it only gets worse from here.
Josh Harding, Minnesota’s top goaltender, is suddenly not feeling well and the Wild has had to recall No. 3 goalie Darcy Kuemper from Iowa of the American Hockey League. This comes one day after the Wild recalled forward Jason Zucker and reassigned defenseman Jonathon Blum.
With Kuemper in Minnesota, forward Zenon Konopka has been placed on waivers, but this appears to be a Konopka-specific decision as there are a number of other moves the team could have made to call up Kuemper. It’s likely that Konopka’s time in Minnesota is over, and there is speculation that there might be a trade brewing.
Speaking of speculation, tonight’s game against the last place Sabres may be the biggest game of head coach Mike Yeo’s career. Buffalo has yet to win a road game this season under new head coach Ted Nolan, going 0-6-2 since his early season take-over as bench boss. After the team’s first playoff appearance in five years, Minnesota started out the season strong, but is in the middle of a six-game losing streak and has temporarily dropped out of the playoff picture. However, if the team doesn’t turn things around immediately, it is in dire danger of making that permanent. That’s just unacceptable anymore. So, another loss tonight, and it’s very likely Yeo is out of a job, especially with the Olympic break looming.
With top line left wing Parise still out of commission, Yeo has restructured his forward lines to something along the lines of this:
Dany Heatley – Mikko Koivu – Pominville
Nino Niederreiter – Mikael Granlund – Zucker
Matt Cooke – Charlie Coyle – Justin Fontaine
Stephane Veilleux – Kyle Brodziak – Torrey Mitchell
The defense should remain the same as normal, aside from Clayton Stoner taking the place of struggling Keith Ballard on the bottom pairing.
In net, Niklas Backstrom (2-9-2, 3.32 goals against average and .893 save percentage this season) will have to play the best game of his career tonight if Yeo is to stay on the bench. Kuemper will be there to back him up, but he hasn’t exactly played the best when in Minnesota’s lineup this season (0-1-0, 6.10 goals against average and .625 save percentage in two games).
Finally, Nikita Zadorov–the hulking beast of a defenseman taken 16th overall by the Sabres with Minnesota’s 2013 first round pick–lifted Russia to victory over Team USA in the quarterfinals of the 2014 WJHC tournament earlier this morning with two five-on-three howitzers.
You’re welcome, Buffalo.
Oh yeah, Wild rookie defenseman Mathew Dumba (7th overall, 2012) may be injured now too after falling awkwardly into the boards after a trip in today’s 4-1 Team Canada win over Switzerland in the same tournament. When it rains, it pours. We’ll see you back here after tonight’s game.