UPDATED: Wild demote two, recall four

You know that something that I keep saying has to give?

Well, the Wild have sent down Casey Wellman and David McIntyre to the AHL, per Kent Youngblood via Twitter.

So, basically, something’s changing whether it’s someone coming in from the outside or someone coming up from Houston and, while someone coming up from the AHL might not necessarily be as noteworthy as someone coming in from elsewhere, a change is a change and the Wild are certainly a team in desperate need of just that right now.

After storming out of the gates, Wellman has looked lost the last few games and McIntyre, while he’s had good moments, has really looked like an AHLer playing against NHLers.

So, is this a precursor to a bigger move?

I’d like to think so but, truthfully, it’s hard to tell until something has happened. Keep it here and we’ll have updates for you as the situation warrants.

UPDATE: Per Kent Youngblood, Matt Kassian, Jed Ortmeyer, Chad Rau and Nate Prosser are all on their way up from Houston.

Koivu out; Should the Wild consider trading for a forward?

For those naysayers who have been waiting for the rails to come off of the Wild’s seemingly unstoppable train over the last few weeks, you might want to watch this coming stretch of games leading into Christmas – this could well be when it happens.

With the news that Mikko Koivu is now “day-to-day,” the Wild could be facing Saturday’s game against the New York Islanders without four of their top-six forwards, and one other who has been feeling in on the second line (Casey Wellman) severely handicapped with a wrist injury that has made his shot akin to a slow pitch softball pitch. {Ed. Note: That may be a slight exaggeration, but you get the point.}

So, right now, the Wild are left with Matt Cullen and Dany Heatley in their top-six.

Thankfully, Cal Clutterbuck, Kyle Brodziak and Nick Johnson have been putting up pretty decent numbers on their third line, but even so the lack of Koivu, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Guillaume Latendresse and Devin Setoguchi leaves the team with a significant lack of both speed and skill as they’re heading into what could be the most crucial stretch of their season.

To give you an idea of what they’re looking at, here are the lines that Mike Russo posted from their Friday practice:

Clutterbuck/Cullen/Heatley
Powe/Brodziak/Johnson
Wellman/Almond/Staubitz/Gillies
Peters/Staubitz/Gillies

Obviously, they need to call up one more forward if none of their injured list can go (and it’s pretty doubtful that any of them will).

Russo speculated that it could be Jared Palmer that gets the call if the Wild are wanting skill (who has four goals and six assists in 26 games for the Aeros this season) or Jed Ortmeyer if they want some grit (five goals, six assists in 20 games). Either of those are possibilities, though it wouldn’t surprise me to see Jeff Taffe get the nod again, as he showed some pretty good chemistry with Dany Heatley in his two-game stint. Jon DiSalvatore (8 goals, 13 assists, 27 games) or Kris Foucault (6 goals, 6 assists, 25 games with a 20.6% shooting percentage) could be potential candidates as well, if the Wild are looking for skill, but Palmer had a very good camp for the Wild and stuck around quite a while, so he might be the natural choice.

Either way, it’s very clear that the Wild need to do something to help with their injured stable of forwards.

Now, I’m not speculating on anything that I’ve heard, nor do I think this is coming anytime soon, but might a trade be coming soon if these injury problems hold up?

Consider that the Wild currently have eight healthy, NHL defensemen on their roster (along with Nate Prosser and Kris Fredheim in the AHL). That gives the Wild flexibility in their roster decisions, and if they’re looking at the potential of spending a fair amount of time without four of their top-six forwards, doesn’t it lend credence to the idea that a trade might not necessarily be in the works, but might be a good idea?

Last game, Greg Zanon was a healthy scratch for the first time in a Wild sweater. Now, I’d be much more comfortable with the idea of moving Marek Zidlicky, but either of the “Z’s” have trade value – much more than any other of our defensemen (with the exception of Nick Schultz, who I don’t think Fletcher would even consider moving).

Both Zidlicky and Zanon could make for tempting pieces of a trade (especially Zanon, who is in the final year of his contract) and I don’t think that it’s outside of the realm of reason to consider moving either of them – especially with not knowing how long Guillaume Latendresse is going to be on the shelf for.

This is, again, baseless speculation. There’s no indication that the Wild are even calling around.

But if they start to slip with their top forwards out, they very well might need to consider it.

Baby Wild down St. Louis 1-0

Hackett makes a save on Jonathan Cheechoo

Well, I don’t want to say that was unexpected but…Okay…That was unexpected.

The Baby Wild came out last night and took on a St. Louis Blues team that was mostly comprised of their NHL regulars, and looked pretty darn good in the process.

Peters scored the lone goal for Minnesota

Niklas Backstrom and Matthew Hackett combined for the shutout, while Warren Peters got the lone goal, beating Jaroslav Halak witha nifty little backhand. Incidentally, Backstrom got an assist on the play too, making him not only their top goalie, but one of their top offensive players also.

So, some thoughts on the game:

  • I was impressed with the defensive responsibility of the team on Thursday. The Wild needed to have a performance like this in order to compete with a more experienced, more talented Blues squad and they did just that. For three periods, they did everything they were supposed to do and it showed in the results.
  • The Wild’s AHL veterans (Jed Ortmeyer, Warren Peters) both looked good again. Unless one of the youngsters really blows Mike Yeo away, I think that 13th forward position could go to one of those two.
  • Of the four defensemen that played last night that are vying for a roster spot, Scandella probably looked the best out of everyone. Prosser and Hendry looked good, but Falk was just terrible for most of the game.
  • Zack Phillips was good, but he was trying to do too much for most of the game. It’s a definite learning curve, and he needs to learn that he won’t be able to dance around the ice in the NHL like he does in the Q. He showed signs of what could be in store, though. He could be a dandy.
  • Both Backstrom and Hackett were tremendous against the Blues. Backstrom made a handful of spectacular saves, as did Hackett who withstood a 14-1 barrage in the third.

But what of my questions? Well, let’s take a look.

Nate Prosser checks Alex Steen

How will the Wild’s youth fare tonight against a fairly experienced roster? Well, given that they won and shut out a team full of regulars, I’d say they fared pretty darn good.

Will Niklas Backstrom look like the Backstrom who was a Vezina Trophy finalist, or the Backstrom who has struggled at times the past two seasons? It’s a limited sample size, but he definitely looked good. We’ll see how he fares the rest of the pre-season, but it’s definitely an encouraging sign.

Where will the Wild’s scoring come tonight, with mostly youth and fringe players playing? Well, the answer to this question, obviously, was Warren Peters.

Can Minnesota’s inexperienced defensive unit hold their own against a fairly experienced stable of forwards? Yes, and yes. This defensive unit was great for the duration of the game. They helped prevent any major scoring chances and gave the goaltenders the opportunity to see the puck.

Will Zack Phillips (my dark horse roster pick), Kris Foucault, Brett Bulmer or Jarod Palmer emerge as surprise front runners to make the roster on opening day? No. The youngsters didn’t have bad games, but none of them blew anyone away. All showed that they’ve got the tools to be good down the road, but right now none looked quite ready to be a full-time NHLer.

Will Jordan Hendry rebound from a less than stellar performance last game? Yes. He wasn’t the team’s best defenseman, but he had a very good game save for a mistake here and there.

Check back later today for our gameday thread. Otherwise, enjoy the weather today…It’s only going to get colder!

Photos courtesy of Getty Images

Holy crap, the pre-season starts tomorrow (Line Combos)

Well, we all knew it was coming but this one really snuck up on me after my weekend of family (and wedding) fun. We have line combinations for the Wild’s first pre-season game on Tuesday.

Per Russo:

The roster Tuesday:

Fowards:

Guillaume Latendresse-Matt Cullen-Pierre-Marc Bouchard

Darroll Powe-Kyle Brodziak-Cal Clutterbuck

Brett Bulmer-Warren Peters-Jed Ortmeyer

Matt Kassian-David McIntyre-Jarod Palmer

Defensemen

Jordan Hendry-Mike Lundin

Clayton Stoner-Jared Spurgeon

Justin Falk-Nate Prosser

Extra, it appears: Tyler Cuma

Goalies:

Josh Harding, making his first start since his exhibition debut a year ago, and Matt Hackett will split the cage.

No big surprises here yet, but you do get a good idea of what Coach Mike Yeo is thinking for some line/d-pairing combinations.

Jordan Hendry earned a spot on Tuesday's roster

First of all, as Russo says, it was supposed to be Nick Schultz paired with Mike Lundin (top d-pairing, anyone?), but instead Jordan Hendry impressed so much on Saturday’s and Sunday’s scrimmages that he earned the spot.

Well, that’s definitely some encouraging news.

So, basically, the Wild are going with two of their NHL forward lines followed by two lines of players vying to make the squad and two NHL d-pairings followed by three players trying to make the squad.

That’s right, I said two NHL d-pairings.

I’ve maintained all along that the Wild would probably look to an NHL veteran to fill their seventh d-man spot, and Jordan Hendry will be that guy. Bank on it.

He doesn’t take ice time away from any prospects (unless the prospects just plain stink) and he’s a guy that is established enough in the NHL and plays a safe enough defensive game to push players like Clayton Stoner. The fact that he came out and impressed during this weekend’s scrimmages just proves it.

He might not get the lion’s share of ice time this season, but Hendry will be on the squad in some capacity.

Kassian might be a dark horse to make the squad.

Of the group playing on Tuesday, the two that I think will get a good, long look this camp will be Matt Kassian and Jed Ortmeyer.

While still a prospect, Kassian’s game doesn’t really have much growing to do. He’s a fighter, plain and simple. That’s his role and that’s where he excels. We’ve got a new coach with a similar, yet different philosophy than Richards. Brad Staubitz might not be who he wants to roll with in the enforcer role all the time, which opens the door for Kassian.

In Ortmeyer, you’ve got a proven NHL veteran. He’s a consummate pro and can fill that 13th or 14th forward spot with ease, slotting in whenever and wherever he’s needed. In essence, he’s like the utility man on a baseball team. Unsung, but always there when you need someone.

We’ll have a brief preview of the game up tonight or tomorrow, as well as our player profile of Darroll Powe.

Wild Loses Almond, Recalls Peters

Looks like the Wild have lost another centerman, as the team has recalled Warren Peters after Cody Almond was the recipient of the ever elusive “lower body injury” last night.

Bad news for the Wild, who are already paper thin at the position, with John Madden playing injured as well.

Peters will play tonight, for sure, and likely will center Brad Staubitz and Jed Ortmeyer or, in other words, will help them open the bench gate for players as Todd Richards will likely cut it down to three lines very quickly.

Peters has a grand total of 29 NHL games to his name, including two with the Wild, and two goals in his career.

The good news is that Brodziak should be available for the Wild in Monday’s game against the Blackhawks, but this has definitely been an eyeopener for how thin this squad is at center. At this point, even James Sheppard would be a welcome addition to the squad.

But, who do you go after? Like I said before, a lot of the teams in the playoff race are pretty unwilling to part with players. The Wild could maybe go after Tim Connolly, but I don’t see the Wild going after a fragile forward having a down year. Stephen Weiss would be a very good option — he’s young and under contract for two more seasons — but the Wild will likely have to give up a lot to get him. Likely a roster player and probably a prospect and draft pick (especially since Cory Stillman was had for a player and a pick), but you never know what ace Fletcher might have up his sleeve.

Otherwise, there are always players like Dustin Penner available but that doesn’t necessarily fill an immediate need, though it would be a helpful addition.

In any event, this isn’t a primer for the trade deadline, so we’ll save that one for later. Enjoy the game tonight and I’ll be back tomorrow unless any breaking news happens!

Gameday Thread – Game 61 – Wild @ Kings

I think we’ve finally established that this team is for real. You don’t get to fifth in the playoff race, regardless of how tight that race is, without being for real.

So here’s the catch, though. The Wild now have three games coming up, including back-to-back games tonight and tomorrow, all against teams within two points of them in the standings.

Oh yeah, and they won’t have Mikko Koivu or Kyle Brodziak for at least tonight’s game.

Tonight, the Wild take on the Los Angeles Kings, tomorrow they take on the Anaheim Ducks, then Monday they’re back home for the Chicago Blackhawks.

All within two points of them in the standings.

Suffice it to say that these next three games are big. Like, King Kong big.

* * * * *

NHL.com’s Game Preview

Russo’s Brodziak Update

Wild.com Gameday

LA Kings Insider Update

* * * * *

Persevere
The key to tonight’s game for the Wild is going to be perseverance. They’re down two centers, missing Kyle Brodziak and Mikko Koivu for tonight’s game. That’s two of their key penalty killers, two of their key offensive cogs and two of their key face off men.

John Madden and Matt Cullen? Prepare to get a lot of work in tonight.

Cody Almond and Jed Ortmeyer? Prepare to get a lot more work than you thought.

Basically, the Wild just have to make it through. They have to just keep on keeping on right now, because their little mini-road swing just got a heck of a lot harder.

This is a Wild team whose confidence is sky high right now and why shouldn’t it be? They’re 5-2-1 over their last eight games. They have a goaltender who is on top of his game and they’re playing some of the best hockey we’ve seen them play in quite a while.

But this latest problem is proof that something needs to give.

Lack of Depth
Brodziak’s absence has highlighted just how paper thin this roster is right now, especially up the middle.

While some teams are able to cope without their two of their top centermen, the Wild simply don’t have the organizational depth right now to do so. For all intents and purposes right now, Ortmeyer is a body. He’s a body with NHL experience, yes, but there’s no one in their right mind who thinks that he’s going to be able to replace what Brodziak brought to the table – especially over the last handful of games.

Tighten Up
So the Wild are going to need to tighten up.

It’s a tired adage of how you play a road game, but it’s effective nonetheless.

Minnesota cannot get into a track meet today. They can’t hope to have their offense beat the Kings – at least not in a wide-open, high scoring game.

Instead, they need to dig in, lock up that neutral zone and wait for their opportunity to strike. In other words, they need to ask themselves “What Would Jacques Do?”

That’s going to be the key to their success tonight. The Kings have too many offensive weapons for the Wild to go blow-for-blow with them and come out smelling like roses. The Wild, instead, needs to get down and dirty. They need to grind and grind and grind some more until the cracks in the Kings’ armor begins to show.

Then they counter-attack and capitalize on the Kings’ mistakes.

This is a difficult game, yes. But it’s also winnable if the Wild play a smart road game.

The puck drops tonight at 9:30 p.m. and is televised on Fox Sports North.