Hello State of Hockey. The Lighthouse is coming at you today from the beautiful Xcel Energy Center and the inaugural Big Ten Hockey Tournament.
After taking in Wild practice at Braemar Ice Arena in Edina, I scurried over to Saint Paul for some college hockey action. Let’s just say Dany Heatley and Ryan Suter aren’t the only former Badgers working for the Wild.
But for your State of Hockey connection, Minnesotan natives are littered throughout the Big Ten rosters. In fact, in the Friday afternoon semifinal there are six Minnesotans on the Badgers roster — including 2013 Mr. Hockey Grant Besse — while Penn State has three. The Minnesota Golden Gophers and Ohio State Buckeyes will face off later this evening in the second semifinal.
Anyways, back to Wild hockey.
Exactly a week ago, the Lighthouse talked about the need to stay flexible within the lineup.
Well since then we’ve seen Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo shake up the lines, leaving only the PPG Line completely in tact. Well, get ready for another (slight) change tomorrow.
Erik Haula is expected to step back into the lineup after being a healthy scratch for the last two games, but instead of playing center where we normally see him slotted, he’ll be on the wing alongside Charlie Coyle and Dany Heatley. Nino Niederreiter will be reunited with Matt Cooke and Kyle Brodziak. It looks like Cody McCormick and Mike Rupp will be the odd men out tomorrow afternoon.
On moving Haula to the wing, Yeo said it was a move they wanted to try after seeing the success Coyle and Heatley had with Jason Zucker earlier this season. With Zucker out (we’ll get to that), Yeo hopes that putting another speedy forward alongside the two will help replicate that success.
“Obviously he and Zuck are different players but Zuck, Charlie and Heater had a lot of chemistry as a line together,” Yeo said. “We want to see if he can bring some of that same element of speed to that line that Zuck brought.”
Yeo also anticipates that Haula and Coyle will trade off on draws given their strengths at the dot.
“I’ll probably take some draws so that we both take draws from our strong side,” Haula said. “I’m just excited to be back.”
“It gives us the flexibility to try a few different things,” Yeo added.
Yeo chatted with Haula briefly at the end of practice, wanting to make sure he doesn’t lose sight of what’s made him successful this season.
“He’s playing with some skilled guys, with guys who have the mentality of getting the puck and trying to create something,” Yeo said. “He needs to create, in a lot of the ways that he’s been doing, but at the same time he needs to be responsible defensively. He needs to be strong in his game.”
After sitting for two games, Haula is confident he needs to step back in and keep up his game.
“I don’t need to change much,” Haula said. “Just keep trying to use my speed, be responsible and try to make plays. Just try not to put any pressure on myself and focus on the right thing.”
Kuemper vs. Detroit
Darcy Kuemper will get the nod in net for tomorrow’s matinee meeting with the Red Wings. The netminder has one appearance against the Wings, which was actually his first NHL win on Feb. 17, 2013. He posted a 2.00 goals-against average and a .935 save percentage in the win.
Keith Ballard is still nursing a lower-body injury so the Wild will use the same D-pairings used against the Devils.
The Wild goes back-to-back with the Red Wings this weekend, playing in Saint Paul Saturday at 1 p.m. then in Detroit Sunday at 6:30 p.m. State of Hockey time. The bench boss expects a tough weekend from a hungry Wings team.
“They’re playing well, they’re playing hard,” Yeo said. “We know they have injuries but they’re not slowing down, they’re not using that as an excuse. Obviously they’re playing a very strong team game. They’re a desperate team and we’re going to see a lot of these desperate teams. We know we’re going to be in for a good challenge this weekend.”
Unfortunately Zach Parise’s return to New Jersey wasn’t so sweet. Though maybe slightly making up for the 4-3 overtime loss was the fact that he scored a goal.
Well, that can no longer bring him what little solace it did. The goal was changed and has since been credited to Ryan Suter with assists from Jared Spurgeon and Jason Pominville. The goal is Suter’s sixth of the season and with the secondary assist, Pominville’s point streak is extended to seven games — his longest since an eight-game streak from March 17 to April 3, 2009. The right-winger has eight points over his current streak with four goals.
Zucker To Undergo Another Procedure
The speedy Wild winger, who underwent a minor procedure over the Olympic break a few weeks ago, will have another one done soon. Yeo said he’s not sure if it rules Zucker out for the season, but he’ll be out the remainder of the regular season. He did note that things are “looking pretty bleak” for anything beyond that.
“It’s a tough on for sure,” Yeo said. “We all thought that he was going to be back shortly after the Olympic break so it’s a tough set back.
“I thought that his game was going and that we were finding the right mix with him. Here we are. It’s difficult but he’ll have to bounce back from it.”