After a hard-hitting tilt last night, the Wild held a very optional skate this morning.
Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Mikael Granlund, Ryan Suter, Jason Pominville, Josh Harding and Niklas Backstrom were absent from the ice. Harding was simply given the day off to rest his legs, but Head Coach Mike Yeo said Backstrom will not be in the lineup Friday after getting run over by Nazem Kadri in the first period. Yeo indicated the Wild will call up a backup goalie soon, but there was no rush to get anyone up here today as the Iowa Wild also had a game last night.
Kadri’s second controversial hit Wednesday night was aimed at Granlund. Yeo said the young centerman is feeling fine, but was also given the morning off to rest.
Play last night was certainly rough and tough, as Zenon Konopka described this morning. He added that, that style is simply how the Maple Leafs play and generally go about it the right way — with the exception of Kadri last night.
After Kadri ran over Backstrom the Wild didn’t respond with a big fight. Suter jumped on him (literally sat on him), but it didn’t lead to anything. That’s not to say the Wild didn’t want to, but it had to stay smart if it wanted to win. Those big hits, where you maybe like to see some retaliation, led to power plays — major retaliation only leads to 4-on-4 play providing no advantage.
Yeo noted this morning that part of it was also due to how Toronto is built. The Wild just don’t have those big, tough guys up and down the lineup to go up against the number of heavyweights on the Maple Leafs. If Suter had thrown down with Kadri, the Leafs would have gone after the Wild’s top guys, not those few fighters — Clayton Stoner or Konopka — the Wild currently have.
“Where we have to be better is on the power play,” Yeo said. “Teams have to be afraid to try and pull that crap on us, so they’re fearful of our power play. At the same time what I like is that our guys continued to play the game. I’ll take exception with anyone that tries and call us soft, because that’s not true. Where we’d be soft is if they tried to have a physical impact on us. As far as I’m concerned, we raised our game. That to me is tough.”
Unfortunately, last night, the Wild didn’t manage a power play goal, and wasn’t able to set much up on Kadri’s five-minute major — the power play has seen a dip in production recently. Though play on the major was disappointing, the Wild’s response afterwards was encouraging. Instead of getting frustrated, the Minnesota kept grinding and eventually Phil Kessel coughed up a bad turnover, which led to the game-tying goal and the shootout win.
While tensions were running high, Yeo told them to keep emotions in check. Though Konopka said he still reminded Toronto he was out there.
“It’s not like I didn’t talk to a couple of their guys after it happened,” Konopka said.
Konopka, who has wracked up the most penalty minutes of any Wild player this season at 32 PIM (a good chunk of which is for fighting), said it’s hard to keep a cool head in the flow of the game, but he had a talk with Yeo between periods. As he put it, “coach is coach.”
Obviously, this season, the Wild’s biggest goal is to improve on what they did last season, to make a deeper run through the playoffs and raise the cup. In order to do that, they can’t drop games, particularly against the East when the West is so tough. Right now wins are barely making up ground in the conference, let alone division.
Let’s just paint a quick picture here. While the Wild have yet to face a string of Western Conference foes, after last night’s two points, it moved from fourth to third in the Central Division, and from tied for seventh to sole possession of sixth in the Conference. The Leafs one point moved them from fourth in the Atlantic Division and tied for fourth in the Eastern Conference to tied for second in both. The Leafs have 23 points on the season compared to the Wild’s 26.
As Konopka said, they can’t just throw away games by responding to situations, like last night’s hits, the wrong way.
In response to the criticism that the Wild lack some toughness, Yeo pointed to last year’s playoffs. He felt the Wild played a more physical game than Chicago, yet it only walked away with one playoff win to its name.
“There’s other parts of our game where we have to make sure we’re dictating the game the way we want to play it,” Yeo said.
On a lighter note, last night the Wild participated in the 7th Annual Second Harvest Heartland Food and Fund Drive, Presented by Toyota. Fans were encouraged to bring food donations to the game. Today, some players helped deliever that food, but on their way Konopka felt there wasn't enough. They took a slight detour to Cub, where they stocked up on more food. Stick tap to Knopper — who also broke his nose for the 14th time last night.