The armchair coaches will have plenty of opportunity the final 11 games to second-guess every decision the real Wild coach makes.
With the Wild fighting hard for a playoff spot, Mike Yeo suddenly has a logjam of players to choose from. That will force the fourth-year coach to make nightly lineup decisions that will keep arguably undeserving players in business suits rather than in uniforms.
Defenseman Marco Scandella, sidelined nine games because of an oblique injury, is expected to return Saturday against the St. Louis Blues. Defenseman Christian Folin was one of two goal scorers in Thursday’s loss to Washington, but the rookie will come out and veteran Jordan Leopold will stay in.
The Wild has seemed to lack speed and energy the past three games, despite winning two of them.
Yeo will, at least against St. Louis, sit speedster Jordan Schroeder for a sixth consecutive game.
Checking forward Ryan Carter is also nearing a return. That means it’ll only get harder for Schroeder, who has seven points and is plus-8 in his past 13 games, to re-crack the lineup.
“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.
“[Schroeder and Folin] are staying upbeat, they’re staying ready and when they’ve jumped in, they’ve been very effective.”
Yeo said there are several factors in every decision he makes. He looks at role, chemistry and how the team’s playing.
Yeo likes how Folin is playing, but Scandella, a left-shot defenseman, gives him the opportunity to move defenseman Jonas Brodin back to the top pair on the right of Ryan Suter. Brodin played the left side in two games because Nate Prosser is injured.
Leopold, a left-shot defenseman, plays because Yeo doesn’t want to make right-shot rookies Folin or Matt Dumba play uncomfortably on the left side.
Yeo said Leopold, who played well last Saturday in St. Louis, is a veteran “who has experience playing in these type of games” and has the mobility to help the Wild’s transition game.
There is little doubt that winger Shawn Bergenheim’s time in the Wild lineup is in peril with Carter’s return close. Bergenheim played nine shifts and 5½ minutes Thursday, has one goal and is minus-4 in 11 games. But Yeo said that against the physical Blues, Bergenheim’s identity fits the fourth line better than Schroeder.
The Wild has lost four of its past six at home, while the Blues are 12-2-2 in their past 16 on the road. They’ll be trying to avenge a 3-1 home loss to the Wild last weekend that goalie Devan Dubnyk pretty much stole. The Wild got third-period goals 17 seconds apart by Nino Niederreiter and Kyle Brodziak, but Dubnyk made a season-high 41 saves.
“They’re a powerhouse,” Yeo said of the Blues. “They’re as strong as any team out there, and they’re playing for first overall. 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.”
The Wild hasn’t lost consecutive games since Jan. 19.
“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.
“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.”
No matter what lineup Yeo chooses, he says this is when the games are fun and true competitors emerge.
“Win one game, you feel like you’re on top of the world and you lose one game and you feel like … needless to say, it doesn’t feel very good,” Yeo said, smiling.