The Minnesota Wild held an optional skate today after yesterday’s day off in anticipation of a difficult week ahead that will see the team play four games in six days starting tomorrow night against the floundering Vancouver Canucks.
As much as this team could use all the practice it can get–and that’s not meant to be a cynical statement–Charlie Coyle was the only top-6 skater to take to the ice. In addition, the team’s top defensive pairing of Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon also skipped out. That’s understandable, however, considering how much ice-time Minnesota’s top three defensemen log each game. In total, seven players not including the injured Keith Ballard had today’s practice off. He’s listed as “day-to-day” with a groin injury, but hasn’t played since Minnesota’s 4-3 overtime loss in top line left winger Zach Parise’s return to New Jersey last Thursday.
Team head coach Mike Yeo refused to reveal who might be starting in net tomorrow night, but it’s considered likely that he’ll go with the rookie Darcy Kuemper. After a disastrous start to the regular season, Kuemper managed to play himself into the starting role when illness and injuries to Josh Harding and Niklas Backstrom forced the youngster into the spotlight. On the season, the hulking 6’5″ 205-pound netminder is 12-6-4 with a 2.26 goals against average, a .922 save percentage and two shutouts in 24 games. However, in his past six, Kuemper has gone 1-3-2 with a .918 save percentage while allowing 15 goals against in that span.
Yeo’s other option is veteran Ilya Bryzgalov. Since arriving from the Edmonton Oilers the day before the trade deadline in exchange for a 2014 fourth round pick, Bryz has put together a solid resume in Red, White and Green, notching a 2-0-2 record, a .896 save percentage and a shutout while allowing nine goals against. In 24 games with Edmonton and Minnesota this season, the enigmatic goaltender has gone 7-8-7 with a 2.86 goals against average, a .909 save percentage and two shutouts.
The Wild has a big week coming up. Tomorrow, the team hosts Vancouver. Minnesota then turns around to play the Blues in St. Louis on Thursday night. Then it’s a huge game in terms of the West’s two wild card spots as the Wild takes on the possibly Mike Smith-less Coyotes in Phoenix on Saturday. Minnesota will then play the Kings in Los Angeles on Monday, March 31st, before taking a two-day break prior to concluding the road swing with an important matchup against the Blackhawks in Chicago on Thursday, April 3rd. Minnesota’s final five games will have them playing Winnipeg and Nashville–two teams on the outside looking in–between bouts with three of the league’s best in Pittsburgh, Boston and St. Louis. Yeesh.
The Wild are currently in seventh place in the West, five points up on eighth place Phoenix and six on ninth place Dallas. That said, your teams to root for tonight are Pittsburgh (plays Phoenix), Chicago (plays Dallas) and Nashville (plays Colorado, because–let’s face it–they’re all but eliminated from the postseason as it is and Minnesota has the potential to overtake the Avalanche in the standings). Let’s hope for a good showing from those three.