Welcome to the Friday everyone; that wonderful day of the week where we can all breathe a sigh of relief that the weekend has finally arrived.
There wasn’t a deluge of news from morning skate. The Wild will roll the same lineup as Wednesday, except Josh Harding will mind net. Johan Gustafsson was recalled from Iowa this morning and will backup tonight as Niklas Backstrom is listed day-to-day.
The main reason Gustafsson got the call and not Darcy Kuemper is because the Wild would like to see Kuemper get in more games with the Iowa Wild and get in a rhythm, especially if the Wild need him next week with the uncertainty around Backstrom.
In other news related to Backstrom’s injury, Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri, who ran over Backstrom in the first period Wednesday night, was suspended by the NHL yesterday for three games without pay for goaltender interference. Check out a full explanation of the decision here. Kadri spoke this morning with the Toronto media about the suspension and said the incident was “100 percent not intentional” and he thought he’d maybe get a fine or a max two-game suspension.
Focusing on tonight, the Wild faces off with the Panthers in its second game of a three-game homestand. The Wild has made a living at Xcel Energy Center so far this year with an 8-1-2 record and four straight wins in St. Paul. Meanwhile, the Panthers are waffling at a 1-7-1 road record with three straight road losses.
Head Coach Mike Yeo acknowledged the home record and how well his team has played on home ice, but he also wants to make sure the Wild don’t get caught up in what it’s done. Minnesota is happy where it’s at and the direction it’s gone but it has to keep looking forward to keep it going, according to Yeo.
While protecting the home barn is important, Yeo also noted that the Wild want to play a fast game, because when it’s fast it usually means it’s executing. Now, Yeo did admit, with a laugh, that this morning the guys didn’t look their sharpest, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a not-so-sharp morning will translate to a sloppy game.
The Wild are coming off three straight shootout decisions against the East, with a loss and two-straight wins. The last time the Wild faced the Panthers, in Florida as it capped a four-game road trip in which the Wild walked away snake-bitten, Florida walked away with the shootout win. While the Wild will look to continue it’s success at home and against the East, finishing off a season series against Florida with a win will certainly be extra sweet.
Mikko Koivu also noted this morning that these games against the East take on a new level of importance considering how close things are in the Western standings. The Wild currently sit in fourth place in the Central Division, but only four points separate the Wild from the division-leading Blackhawks, who has 30 points. In conference play, the Wild sit in seventh, but again, only five points separate it from current No. 1 Anaheim (31 points). Though Minnesota will be able to make up more ground when it goes head-to-head with other teams in the West (later this month it has five straight games against Western Conference foes), the Wild can’t get comfortable or sit back against the East, according to Koivu.
“You see the standings, how tight it is especially in the West,” Koivu said. “You can’t take any days off or get too loose. You have to prepare for the next one, be ready, and try to get as many wins as you can.”
Finally, if you haven’t checked it out yet, catch up on the latest Becoming Wild Webisode, which follows Nate Prosser at the Defending the Blue Line Hockey Clinic earlier this week. Also, if you’re watching the game from home tonight, be sure to stay tuned after the game as forward Charlie Coyle shows off his hometown in the newest Becoming Wild episode.