The Minnesota Wild embarks on its third West Coast road trip of the season, arriving in San Jose today. The Wild’s four-game roadie will be challenging, kicking things off against the Sharks (33-12-6: 72 pts., fourth in the West) tomorrow.
After flying out from Minnesota this morning, the team headed straight to HP Pavilion for practice—not the Lighthouse’s dream scenario since the local temp is around 66 degrees and we’ve been suffering from a severe vitamin D deficiency thanks to the polar vortex holding the State of Hockey hostage.
Fresh off a 2-1 win over Central Division rival Chicago Blackhawks yesterday, the team’s mood was light, but became all business at the first whistle of practice. Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo took the team on an extended warmup skate, rushing between the blue lines. After a three and a half hour plane ride, the bench boss wanted the players to get their legs going right away. In fact, the team went on several “hot laps” between drills at the start of practice to get the legs moving and shake off the jet lag.
The club also concentrated a major chunk of practice time to its power play. It would do the team well to get the power play on track, but it will be difficult against the Sharks. San Jose has been stingy while shorthanded at home, killing 25-of-26 of opponents’ power play opportunities in the last 11 games.
As for the lines and defensive pairs, they remained the same as last night. Yeo did say he liked the way the atypical fourth line of Jason Zucker, Erik Haula and Torrey Mitchell played, but added that it was only one game and it was at home, so we’ll keep an eye on that trio moving forward.
The Wild ended things on a fun note, playing a 3-on-2 game with the two nets adjacently placed on the goal line and the offense/defensive zones split down the middle of the ice. It’s interesting to see how competitive the guys are, even when playing in a small-game scrimmage. Nino Niederreiter fired the puck into the net moments after a whistle and both sides erupted, stating their cases for and against the goal with the coaching staff.
Koivu and Spurgeon Skate
After the team’s practice, injured players Mikko Koivu and Jared Spurgeon both skated. Koivu wore a tracksuit while Spurgeon was in full gear. Yeo said that Koivu won’t play during the current road trip and said he doesn’t expect Spurgeon to either, but did not completely rule it out either…
Yesterday, goaltender Darcy Kuemper’s mask was dented in the middle of the game. For a spell, he had to use Niklas Backstrom’s mask, which fit about as well as a Packer fan in a Vikings’ bar. Kuemper told WildTV it was the first time that he’s ever had to change helmets mid-game. See the video below.
His backup cage was in Iowa, and the minor league affiliate shipped it out to San Jose today, so in the unlikely case he has another helmet malfunction, he’ll have his own backup to use.
Sharks Extend Two
In the home team’s locker room earlier today, the Sharks signed both Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau to 3-year extensions. The second-overall pick in 1997, Marleau has played his entire career in San Jose, racking up 908 points (425-483=908). The Sharks acquired Thornton in 2005-06 from Boston and he leads the NHL with 47 assists this year and is seventh in the league with 53 points this season.
North Star College Cup
As I’m writing this, back home the North Star College Cup is underway. The early game between the Minnesota State University, Mankato and the University of Minnesota Duluth is on-going. Wild draft-pick Carson Soucy skates for Duluth. In the late game, my St. Cloud State Huskies skate against the University of Minnesota. The winners of each game will faceoff in the final tomorrow. I'm calling for an all NCHC final between SCSU and UMD.