The Minnesota Wild would like nothing more than to start its Olympic break on a high note. To do that, the team will have to close things out tonight against the surging Nashville Predators. Although the Preds are in last place in the Central Division, it has a winning record (25-23-9: 59 points) and has earned at least a point in six of its last seven games.
Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo has been adamant to his team about closing things out tonight and not lapse into the Olympic hiatus early.
“The way I see it: they’re probably approaching this game like it’s their season,” Yeo said. “We can’t expect anything less than a playoff mentality from them. That’s the challenge I presented to our players. They have another game after this and we don’t.”
It’s been impossible for players not to think about the upcoming Olympic Break (the media has been sure to remind them of that), but even with the distraction, the team is trying not to think ahead.
“We’ve got guys going to the Olympics, we’ve got guys going on vacation,” Yeo said. “Can we be mentally tough enough to push those distractions aside and make sure we bring the right focus and the right attitude into this game tonight.”
Forward Zach Parise is one of the many National Hockey League players heading to Sochi and will captain Team USA. He’s been able to concentrate on things with the Wild, but, inevitably, life happens and things like packing and figuring out travel arrangements creep into the psyche. However, when asked when he departs, Parise was hesitant, which the Lighthouse believes is a good sign for tonight.
Along with ending things on a positive note, a look in the standings plays a large role in the matchup. Although the Predators are in last place in the Central, the club doesn’t have a pedigree of rolling over. Nashville would like nothing more than to take some momentum into the break, something its been rolling towards, going 6-2-2 in its last 10 games.
“When you’re ahead of these guys, you want to put them down even more,” Parise said.
Attempting to help put the Preds down will be goaltender Darcy Kuemper. The rookie will get the nod in net tonight for his 11th start in a row. Kuemper will be backed up by Johan Gustafsson, who was recalled from Iowa, the club’s American Hockey League affiliate today.
Gustafsson was called up because Niklas Backstrom is dealing with lower-body soreness. Yeo hopes that the two-week break will be sufficient time for the 35-year-old goaltender to get healthy.
“Even though he hasn’t been the starting goalie—for that backup goalie there’s a heavy work load,” Yeo said. “He’s got to make sure his game is staying sharp. He’s got to make sure he’s doing the extra practice so he’s ready to go.”
After clearing waivers, Stephane Veilleux was reassigned to Iowa. Yesterday, Yeo said that he’d like the forward to get reps during the break with the AHL club.
It’s white outside, so the Wild is making it white inside Xcel Energy Center (no, we’re not brining in snow machines). Tonight, the team is promoting a Polar Vortex and fans should wear white to create a blank canvas in the stands. If you don’t own anything white (which the Lighthouse finds hard to believe), the Wild has you covered. All fans in attendance will be given a white T-shirt, so wear it with pride tonight.
Wild’s Favorite Things
Tonight is another chance for fans to bid on the Wild players’ favorite things. There will be a silent auction of gift baskets arrange by the players and their wives and girlfriends (let’s be honest, their wives and girlfriends) in section 104. The auction ends in the third period.
Tonight marks the second installment of the popular Wild Ladies’ Night, presented by the Saint Paul Hotel and FOX Sports North. Unfortunately for ladies late to the party, the event is sold out. However, I’m sure there will be another opportunity to partake in a future event.