Decisions, decisions, decisions.
As discussed when the Wild acquired Sean Bergenheim, then six days later Chris Stewart and Jordan Leopold, there would come a point when coach Mike Yeo has to make nightly tough decisions on the lineup.
The first odd guy out up front was Jordan Schroeder. The next odd guy out when defenseman Jared Spurgeon returned from a concussion was Christian Folin. Nate Prosser sprained his MCL last Saturday in St. Louis, so Folin returned for two games and scored Thursday against Washington.
But Folin is again expected to be out at least Saturday afternoon against the Blues now that Marco Scandella’s return has been declared after missing nine games with an oblique(ish) injury.
“He played really well,” Yeo said of Folin. “That’s the look we’re going with [Saturday], but I’m quite certain he’ll get in again here. He’s done a good job and we’ll continue to make sure he stays ready.”
Why Leopold over Folin? Yeo said every game he will have to think short-term and long-term, and for this specific game, Yeo wants to go with the veteran who has experience playing in these type of games, with somebody whom he liked the game of last Saturday in St. Louis, with the guy he feels “execution-wise can skate and move the puck and help them get out of the zone quickly.”
He also likes the Ryan Suter-Jonas Brodin No. 1 pair, so if he wants to move Brodin back to right D, that means Leopold needs to stay in because he doesn’t want rookies Folin or Matt Dumba, both right-shot guys, playing their off wing.
Why Sean Bergenheim over Schroeder, who is expected to be scratched a
sixth seventh consecutive game and seventh time in nine games? Yeo feels again for this specific game against physical St. Louis, he wants a fourth-line identity and a guy who can play a physical game.
Personally, I’d play Schroeder simply for the speed element (Wild’s speed hasn’t been a big threat at all the past three games) and the fact I haven’t seen Bergenheim be overly physical in the first place. He played nine shifts and 5:36 in Thursday’s loss, so why not throw in a skater like Schroeder? In his past 13 games, Schroeder has seven points and is plus-8.
“We’ve got a lot of guys here,” Yeo said. “Obviously you want to be in the lineup, you feel you can help, but it’s what you do to make sure you stay ready. It’s also pretty easy to look around and realize it’s not like you’re being beat out by guys that aren’t quality NHL players, too. Those guys doing good job. They’re staying upbeat, they’re staying ready and when they’ve jumped in, they’ve been very effective.”
Before yesterday’s game, Capitals coach Barry Trotz talked a lot about the Wild’s depth, saying (again before Washington’s win), “Arguably the Wild are not only the hottest team in the National Hockey League, but they might be the deepest, in terms of their four lines, and you even look at some of the people they have out now. They’re playing atop their game. They’re playing very confidently. They’ve got a lot of structure. Mike Yeo is a tremendous coach and his staff has done a really good job. They’re playing a fast game. They’re not giving up much and obviously Devan [Dubnyk] in net has been a real strength for them too. They’ve got everything going right now. They’ll be a team you don’t want to meet in the first round, I’ll tell you that. All the Western teams, there are going to be some tough choices there if you end up with a team like Minnesota or Winnipeg or L.A. Those teams are all going pretty well. But this team, their depth is so good. You’ve got guys like Thomas Vanek on your third line. That’s not a bad person to have. And a guy like Charlie Coyle, maybe people out in the East don’t know, he’s a tremendous player. He’s a big body. You’ve got the other lines with [Mikael] Granlund and [Mikko] Koivu and people like that. They’re pretty solid.”
Heck, hand the Wild the Cup now!
Ryan Carter needs more practice time, Yeo said. With no morning skate Saturday, no practice Sunday, it sounds like the earliest Carter would return is the second of a back-to-back Tuesday at the Islanders.
As for Scandella returning, Yeo said, “We’ve done a pretty good job battling through some tough games without him, but he’s a real important player for our team and makes a big difference when he’s in the lineup for us. He’s jumping right into it. It’ll be a tough test for him [Saturday], but we’ll give him a little bit of time and it won’t take long for him to get his game right back to where it was.”
Zach Parise left practice early today for precautionary reasons. He was “tight,” Yeo said, so the Wild felt he had done enough work and it would be good for him to get off the ice.
Dubnyk stole the Wild a win in St. Louis last weekend. The Wild was outshot 42-19, but at the time Nino Niederreiter and Kyle Brodziak scored 17 seconds apart, the Wild was being outshot 39-17, if I remember correctly.
The Blues have shut out three of its past five opponents and are 12-2-2 in their past 16 road games. The Wild has lost four of its past six at home. The Blues’ 46 points on the road is tied for the most in the NHL.
“They’re a powerhouse,” said Yeo, about to pull a Ken Hitchcock by lauding the Blues the way Hitch always lauds the Wild. “They’re as strong as any team out there and they’re playing for first overall. It’s a good challenge. It’s a team that defends extremely hard. They’re big, they’re physical, they’re fast and they’re also good offensively, so there’s not much more to say. We have to make sure we’re ready to be good in every department.”
The Wild is 1-3-2 in its past six at home against St. Louis, and this would be Minnesota’s first-round matchup if the season ended right this exact second.
At home, the Wild needs to start playing better, plain and simple. Yeo felt the Wild wasn’t very sharp last night and needed better net-front presence, but it was still a one-play type of game, he said, and the Wild didn’t make that one extra play or prevent that one extra goal. That’s been a trend at home.
“We go on the road and we play to win and we come back home and we feel we need to win and get focused on the result a little bit and that creates a little more frustration and pressure,” Yeo said.
The Wild hasn’t lost two games in a row since Jan. 19-20. But the Wild is 3-3 in its past six.
“We’ve been able to forget about the last game and get back on the horse the next one,” Suter said. “That’s what you have to do this time of year. I said it last week, it’s tough to lose two in a row at this time.”
It’s also tough looking at the standings, Suter admitted, under this new playoff format where the Wild “is higher than some teams and yet they’re ahead of us, but it is what it is. … I don’t think we’ve played that good lately. St. Louis, got kind of lucky. Nashville, we didn’t play that good. We have to focus on ourselves and we’ll be fine.”
I’ll be on KFAN at 4:30 p.m.