Wild Shake Things Up For Playoff Push
St. Paul, MN - With the playoffs just around the corner, the Minnesota Wild have been reeling as of late, trying to make a late push to lock up their playoff positioning. A 4-1 home loss to the hapless Calgary Flames on Sunday did not help their efforts, but the task does not get any easier tonight as the defending Stanley Cup champions, the Los Angeles Kings, head into town.
Winners of four of their last five games, the Kings enter frigid Minnesota on a hot streak that very closely resembles the eighth seed team that slipped into the playoffs last season and made a run for the cup. The only difference, they're not going to sneak up on anybody this year.
Along with the Chicago Blackhawks, the Kings appear to be playing on a different level than every other team in the Western Conference right now. LA has scored power play goals in their last eight straight games. Their penalty kill has shut out opponents over their last six games. Forward Anze Kopitar has tallied 32 points in his last 31 games. Dustin Brown has 18 goals on the shortened season, and oh, did we mention that Jeff Carter leads the Western Conference with 25 goals?
Still the Wild remain confident. Head coach Mike Yeo joined Paul Allen today live from Xcel Energy Center and did his best to assess the current situation of the team.
"There's no question that the effort was there against Calgary," Yeo told KFAN. "Our guys are battling as hard as we've ever battled right now. What's really important and what's most difficult right now is being able to focus and going out and executing a certain way."
One of those ways that Yeo thinks the Wild can break out of their funk is causing a little chaos in front of the net.
"One thing," Yeo said. "Getting a little more traffic in front of the net and around the net would, that's how goals are scored this year and that's got to be our mindset."
Along with the refocused game plan, Yeo and the Wild made some personnel changes yesterday hoping to mix things up a little bit as well.
Yesterday, the team recalled Jake Dowell and Stephane Veilleux to the team sending Mikael Granlund and Jason Zucker down to Houston.
"We have high hopes, and obviously a lot of confidence in Zuck & Granny," Yeo said. "But this is a tough time of year to be a young kid. We've got to make sure that we've got everybody in the lineup that's going out and contributing."
Along with the personnel moves, Yeo also told Paul Allen that they plan to move Cal Clutterbuck up to the second line to replace Jason Zucker tonight against the Kings. Clutterbuck will join Devin Setoguchi and Matt Cullen on a line that will look to jump start the Wild offense.
"We need more of an edge to that line," Yeo said of the Wild's second line. "I think that line's been more perimeter in the last five, six games. It's going to be pretty much spelled out to him that his job is to recover pucks, his job is to get pucks to those guys and his job is to get to the net."
With only three games remaining (vs Los Angeles, vs, Edmonton, and at Colorado) the Wild are clinging to the seventh seed in the NHL playoffs. Currently tied (Wild hold tie breaker) with Columbus at 51 points, the Wild are one point ahead of Detroit and three points ahead of Dallas. If Minnesota hopes to grab one of the final spots in this year's race for the cup, they will need to win at least two of their last three games. Anything less and it begins to get dicey...