After a day off the ice to recuperate, the Minnesota Wild will close out a three-game road trip against the Florida Panthers. The team had a meeting yesterday and an off-ice workout in order to recharge the batteries as it looks to close out the roadie on a high note.
Goaltender Niklas Backstrom gets the nod in net tonight against the Panthers. The netminder looks to rebound after his last outing when he was pulled after three third-period goals against the Winnipeg on Nov. 16. The 35-year-old played well in the first two periods, but hit a bit of bad luck as one of the tallies came on a redirection and the other bounced in off the back of his leg.
“We’ve got to make sure that we’re keeping him involved and giving him the opportunity to show he can come in and win hockey games,” Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said.
Fellow Wild netminder Darcy Kuemper has played well of late, so he’s expected to be back in goal on Wednesday when the team returns home to host the Los Angles Kings. With the team amidst the Fathers’ Trip, traditionally the netminders split games. But Kuemper’s recent performance made it a challenging decision.
“This was something that was on the schedule and we had aimed for, but it wasn’t just an easy decision, not because of Backy, but because of Kuemper,” Yeo said.
Boding well for Backstrom is his performance against the Panthers. In six starts, he’s 5-0-1 with a 1.95 goals-against average and a .941 save percentage.
The Wild wants to give the netminder more goal support tonight. The team has scored only six goals in its last three games on the road. However, Minnesota earned victories in two of those contests. Yeo has talked about having more of a shooters mentality, something that defenseman Ryan Suter acknowledged.
“When you’re not scoring goals, you obviously need to shoot the puck more,” Suter said. “Good things happen when you shoot the puck, you can create off that.
“It’s a good message. Tonight, hopefully we get a lot of shots and get rewarded for it.”
Defenseman Jonas Brodin has started to work out, but Yeo didn’t have an update on when he might return to the ice. The blueliner is currently on Injured Reserve and has missed five games with an illness.
Forward Matt Cooke is still sidelined with a lower-body injury and still doesn’t have a timetable on a return to the ice. He’s on the trip and was hopeful to join the team in practice, but has been held to off-ice workouts.
“He’s a guy we can feel the loss of him in our lineup,” Yeo said. “His board work, his controlling pucks in the offensive zone, his penalty killing, his physicality and his speed. We’ve definitely felt his absence.”