ST. PAUL --
Talk about two teams headed in opposite directions: Tonight's contest in the State of Hockey features perhaps the league's hottest team (Anaheim) and its coldest (Minnesota).
The Wild, in the midst of a four-game homestand, have slid from the top spot in the NHL all the way to 12th in the Western Conference, five points behind eighth-place Phoenix. After losing twice to League-worst Columbus in a five-day span, including a 3-1 loss here Saturday night, the Wild have juggled their lines and called up two more players -- one familiar and one who will make his NHL debut this evening.
First, defenseman Marco Scandella
will make his return to the big club after a stint with AHL Houston. When the Wild were going well earlier in the season, Scandella was a major reason why. He was sent down to Houston a month ago after a rough stretch, to work on his game and regain his confidence.
"It feels good to be back," Scandella said. "I went down there with a positive attitude. If you think about [getting called back up] too much, it'll make you crazy. I just played hockey and had fun."
Scandella said he worked on "being sharp" and "having confidence on the ice in making plays." He'll have that opportunity tonight paired with Jared Spurgeon
, perhaps the Wild's most willing shooter from the blue line.
"It's always fun to play with him because you always know what he's going to do on the ice," Scandella said. "He's predicable for a d-partner and that's what you need."
Making his NHL debut tonight will be Calgary-native Kris Foucault. A fourth-round pick of the Wild in 2009, Foucault has 10 goals and 13 assists in 47 games in Houston, his first in the American Hockey League. He scored 47 goals in two seasons in the Western Hockey League from 2009-11, and was called up to Minnesota for one reason.
"We need goals, and he is a guy that has a chance to make a play," Wild coach Mike Yeo
Yeo has also shifted center Matt Cullen
to the wing with Kyle Brodziak
and Nick Johnson
. Brodziak and Johnson did wonders to jump-start Dany Heatley
's game a couple of weeks back, and Yeo said he's hoping the duo can do the same for Cullen.
"Culley's been playing well, the numbers haven't been there for him," Yeo said. "But he's doing a lot of good things. It's about surrounding him with guys who are capable of helping him to take advantage of his skill and what he can do out there.
"We saw what Heater was able to do with Brodzy and Johnny, so I think it gives Brodzy and Johnny someone who is a real threat on that line. On top of that, it gives Culley someone who's done a lot of good things for us, some really quality players that give him something more to work with."
In goal, Yeo said he is turning to Josh Harding
tonight. The start will be Harding's first since a disastrous third period Jan. 31 against Nashville where the Wild blew a 4-1 lead over the game's final 10 minutes. The Predators scored three goals over the game's final three minutes, including the game-winner with 20 seconds remaining in regulation.
"We haven't won, so we have to switch it up," Yeo said.
The challenge tonight for Harding will be if has put the Nashville collapse in the rear-view mirror.
"He has to," Yeo said. "It's been a little while now. I know Hards has the ability to be a starting goalie in the NHL. He's proven it this year. But in order for that to happen, these are the kind of things you have to deal with."