Wild at breaking point; Rangers rematch with Kings; more news, notes
Off The Draw
Compared to the legendary work of hockey’s great gasket-blowers—leather-lunged tyrants like Mike Keenan or John Tortorella—the “meltdown” of Mike Yeo yesterday was fairly tame, more like a gentle reproach of his struggling charges.
But it was wildly out of character for the normally stoic coach of the Wild to smash his stick and deliver a high-volume string of epithets before storming off the ice at mid-practice. The message of Yeo’s outburst was clear: Things have reached the breaking point in Minnesota. The Wild have won just two of their last 10 games, and while they’ve been competitive—four of the losses have come in OT—they’re quickly falling off the playoff pace in the West. If they don’t correct course soon, Yeo could join recently fired coaches Randy Carlyle, Pete DeBoer and Paul MacLean in the unemployment line.
There’s plenty amiss in Minny. Zach Parise hasn’t been himself while dealing with his father’s failing health (former NHL winger J.P. Parise finally succumbed to cancer this morning). Free-agen signee Thomas Vanek has been a bad fit on offense. The power play ranks among the league’s worst. The goaltending, long a strength of the franchise, has been abysmal, leading to speculation that a trade is imminent.
And then there’s the faltering play of Ryan Suter. The smooth defenseman is more than just a minutes-munching All-Star. He’s also the soul of the team. And when his game is off the rails, so is the Wild’s.
Normally one of the league’s most reliable blueliners, Suter is spending more time this season chasing the play than dictating it—as evidenced by his uncharacteristic –14 rating in his last 16 games. Whether his plus-minus rating is the result of overwork or of trying to fix the team’s problems by himself, he’s clearly not playing Suter hockey. That’s understandable as he has had to deal with death of his father, former Team USA Miracle On Ice defenseman Bob Suter, who passed away last September.
Some of those issues are beyond Yeo’s control. But he’s the one who has been sending Suter over the boards every other shift and rarely uses his third pair. He’s the one who continues to scramble his second and third lines. And he’s the one who called out goalie Darcy Kuemper after another soft goal led to an OT loss to the Sharks on Tuesday.
Clearly Yeo is feeling the pressure, and if the Wild didn’t understand that before, they sure do now.
Let’s see how they back him up tonight with the Blackhawks in town (8 p.m. EST; NHLN-US, CSN-CH, FS-N, FS-WI).
What to watch tonight
It’s certainly the best storyline of the night: New York is making its first visit to Staples Center since Los Angeles defenseman Alec Martinez delivered the double-OT dagger that ended the Rangers’ Stanley Cup dreams. But the way things are going for both teams, this rematch might be a little more lopsided even if the Kings are 6-1-2 against New York in their last nine meetings in L.A.
The Rangers come into the contest as the NHL’s hottest team, with 11 wins in their last 12 games—their best streak since their Cup-winning season of 1993–94—including a decisive 4–1 victory over the league-leading Ducks last night (highlights). The Blueshirts will sit goalie Henrik Lundqvist (10-1-0, 1.62 goals-against average in his last 11 appearances) in favor of Cam Talbot for this one, but that’s hardly a break for the Kings. New York’s backup has shut out his opponents in three of his last four starts. The Rangers also have red-hot Rick Nash. A non-factor in last year’s Cup finals, Nash has rediscovered his scoring touch. He scored his 25th of the season in the win over Anaheim.
L.A., meanwhile, has dropped three of its last four, including a 7–6 decision at the hands of the Predators last Saturday. Jonathan Quick, who allowed three goals on 11 shots before being pulled in that game, will get the start for the Kings.
Rest of the schedule: Devils at Bruins (7 p.m. EST; MSG+, NESN); Capitals at Flyers (7 p.m. EST; TVA, SN360, CSN-DC; CSN-PH); Sabres at Hurricanes (7 p.m. EST; MSG-B, BELL TV, FS-CR); Sharks at Blues (8 p.m. EST; CSN-CA, FS-MW; Stars at Predators (8 p.m. EST; FS-SW, FS-TN); Blackhawks at Wild (8 p.m. EST; NHLN-US, CSN-CH, FS-N, FS-WI); Senators at Avalanche (9 p.m. EST; RDS, TSN5, ALT); Jets at Coyotes (9 p.m. EST; TSN3; FS-A); Panthers at Canucks (10 p.m. EST; FS-F, SNP)
What You Missed Last Night
• Washington handed Peter Horachek his first loss as coach of the Maple Leafs, and Braden Holtby tied a franchise record in the process. Not to be outdone, Alex Ovechkin helped one young fan have a very happy birthday.
• One unlucky Philadelphia fan got a Sidney Crosby jersey for Christmas—yuck. Claude Giroux caught wind of his plight and helped make things all better, even if his signature looks like a bunch of scribbles.
• One NAHL team is putting a twist on the Teddy Bear Toss with Undie Sunday, asking fans to throw new underwear onto the ice for charity. All indications are that the event will be ... brief.
The numbers game
• Boston has been taken beyond regulation in four consecutive games for the first time since January 2009.
• The Capitals have scored first in 20 of their 21 wins this season. The 20 wins are an NHL best in that category, and Washington’s winning percentage when grabbing the lead first (.870) ranks behind only the Canadiens’ (16-1-0, .941).
• Through 598 games, road teams are a combined 266-252-80, with a .512 points percentage.
There’ll be plenty of tributes written to the late J.P. Parise later today. In the meantime, enjoy this 2012 piece in which the former North Stars legend looks back on his own career and swells with pride over his son returning to Minnesota.
Dejan Kovacevic says a blown call by the NHL war room isn’t as big a problem as the fact that officials are more frequently refusing to make a call on the ice.