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The Search For Answers Continues

by Kelly Erickson / Minnesota Wild

Ryan Suter found out he was on the Olympic roster the same way millions of fans did: watching a young kid skate towards the TV camera, turn around and almost lose his balance, revealing Suter’s name and number on his sweater after yesterday’s Winter Classic in Ann Arbor.

“Almost, but at least he had the right number on,” Suter said of his kid nearly wiping out.

It was no surprise he and Zach Parise were named — even Head Coach Mike Yeo cracked a joke about the “shock” in the locker room this morning about the Wild’s Team USA members — but Suter said he’s honored to get the chance to go after another Gold Medal.

The pair aren’t the only Olympic hopefuls on the Wild roster. Mikko Koivu (Finland), Mikael Granlund (Finland), Jonas Brodin (Sweden) and Nino Niederreter (Switzerland) are all expected to play for their home countries. But Mike Yeo said it was a shame Jason Pominville didn’t get the call yesterday.

“I certainly wish Pommer would have been there, but there were a lot of good players to choose from,” Yeo said.

“I get a chance to work with him everyday and I get a chance to see what he can bring, and I know what a person he is and what a player he is. I’m disappointed for, but I talked to him this morning and, as always, he handled it with class.”

Pominville admitted he wasn’t anticipating to see his name.

“I didn’t really set any expectations on that,” Pominville said. “I figured by not being invited to their summer camp and not being part of the program for that long, they were probably going to go with guys that had been there a long time. I didn’t really expect anything out of it, but I’m really excited for Ryan Miller and the guys on our team as well.”

As we’re only around 36 hours into 2014, the hockey tournament in the Olympics remains about five and half weeks away. Though it’s just around the corner, Suter said he never really started thinking about how close the Games were until yesterday with the roster announcement.

“When things are going bad here, you’ve got to stay focused on that,” Suter said. “[The announcement] was kind of a nice break from this.”

And this, if you need to be reminded, refers to the Wild’s recent issues, resulting in a six-game skid. The Wild looks to break that tonight as it hosts Pominville’s former team, the Buffalo Sabres.

Buffalo, who has a league-worst 11-25-4 record, carries a 3-13-2 road record to Saint Paul. The Sabres last road victory was Nov. 5 in a 5-4 shootout win against the San Jose Sharks. Undoubtedly, both teams are hoping a turn of the calendar will provide some new, good tidings.

The Wild and Sabres have met once previously this season — a 2-1 contest in Buffalo in which Pominville tallied the game winner. It marked the winger’s first game against his old team and in just his second time tonight, the matchup still means something.

“It’s always fun,” Pominville said. “I was able to see the guys yesterday and talk to them. Obviously I had a lot of good years there and great memories. It’s a team that I definitely look at the calendar and see when we play them.”

Tonight the Wild will debut a new look up front as Pominville will skate with Dany Heatley and Koivu on the top line. Charlie Coyle, who had been skating on the wing recently, will center the third line with Matt Cooke and Justin Fontaine. (For the full lineup, check out today’s preview.) Jason Zucker also returns to the lineup after he was recalled from Iowa yesterday.

As an odd-man out up the middle, Zenon Konopka was placed on waivers today in an effort to clear a roster spot for Darcy Kuemper, who was recalled in an emergency situation. Josh Harding is feeling ill and will not dress tonight, therefore Kuemper will backup Niklas Backstrom.

“This wasn’t just an impulse thing,” Yeo said of Konopka. “We want to give it a chance to work and we think it can work with the four centermen that we have.”

In addition to new lines, the blue line will be bolstered with the return of Clayton Stoner. The defenseman missed four games with a lower-body injury as was activated off Injured Reserve this morning. He will skate tonight alongside Nate Prosser with Keith Ballard as a healthy scratch.

The bench boss noted that Stoner will bring back some consistency to the blue line, which, for a team that’s struggling defensively at the moment, is an important factor to have back there.

“Consistency with making a good first play, nothing fancy with the puck but making a strong play,” Yeo said. “Obviously we need him to bring a physical presence, but defensively structure-wise, just playing in control. That’s a lot of what we need right now.”

Most of these changes are in an effort to find answers. The Wild is certainly battling some key injuries with Parise out of the lineup and Harding felling unwell, but the fact remains that it needs to figure out a way to turn things around.

“Like we’ve seen with guys bouncing to the fourth line, when you’re looking for answers, you’ve got to try some different things,” Yeo said.

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