By Michael Russo
After tonight’s game, assistant GM Tom Lynn announced that the Wild will hold out Marian Gaborik Sunday vs. Chicago and Monday vs. Calgary.
“Marian’s going to take the Christmas break off and it looks like we’re not going to play him in the two games back-to-back. We’re doing this, not him,” Lynn said. “When he played back-to-back the other day, he got very sore. We were thinking of playing him in one game and not the other, but [GM] Doug [Risebrough] made the decision that he’s going to make [Gaborik] rest for four days and hold him out. Hopefully he’ll be back full-time after that.”
This does seem awfully suspicious.
First of all, the Wild is clinging to eighth in the West. To sit its best scorer in back-to-back games against two quality teams seems a little strange. As has been reported on here, GM Doug Risebrough is, according to sources, conducting trade talks, and as I mentioned yesterday, somebody knowledgeable told me the Atlanta Thrashers have interest in Gaborik.
The holiday roster freeze ends at midnight Saturday (technically 12:01 am Sunday), so by sitting Gaborik, you could be ensuring he doesn’t get injured, either in the games, or in practice Friday or Saturday.
(Also, if Gaborik isn’t going to be on the ice Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday, you think he’s playing New Year’s Eve (Wednesday) against San Jose?)
I asked Lynn if he’s willing to state on the record that “you’re not holding Gaborik out to trade him,” (you’re, meaning the Wild) and Lynn answered, “I would say 100 percent I’m not holding him out for a trade.”
I didn’t hear the “I’m” until I played back the tape, so I don’t know if Tom was playing a semantics game.
I asked to get Gaborik again after the original post-game scrum. Gaborik and Lynn had a five-minute conversation in the player’s lounge before Gaborik emerged to talk with me. Gaborik told me that he’s been concerned that he’s not playing at 100 percent (which I wrote last Friday) and that Risebrough’s decision was to hold him out both of the next two games.
He said he was OK with the team’s decision. I asked him if he believed there were no other ulterior motives, like trading him, and he said, “I don’t think that’s the issue.”
Again, this just seems awfully suspicious for a team in the position the Wild’s in. Of course, the other way to look at this is, if he is experiencing soreness and there’s a chance he’s close to a setback, that would be disastrous for both sides. The Wild needs Gaborik healthy to 1) win and 2) to be blunt, trade him; and Gaborik needs to be healthy to reestablish his standing as an elite free agent this summer.
As I wrote the other day, there’s no doubt at the very least Gaborik is still in some discomfort, so as Jacques Lemaire loves to say, “Time will tell.”
I wrote this real quick after the game, so I may take a look before my flight out of dodge Wednesday and tweak a bit.
As for the game, yes there was one. The Wild, which won because of a two-pronged penalty kill (scoring and defending), spotted the Canes a 2-0 lead before Lemaire finally put together Mikko Koivu and Gaborik. The spark was tremendous as the Wild rallied for three goals in the second to take a 3-2 lead into the third.
First, Gaborik made Tuomo Ruutu look like he was saying Ole! in the neutral zone. Gaborik fed Koivu, who drove the net on his backhand and put the puck right on Cal Clutterbuck’s stick. Clutterbuck had some funny things to say about the goal.
Then, Gaborik, on a power play, had a pass to Koivu deflect into the air off Tim Gleason’s stick. Koivu settled the bouncing puck and fed Gaborik for the tying goal. Then, Stephane Veilleux scored his second career shorthanded goal with 1:42 left in the second and the Wild’s first since Nov. 20 for the eventual winner.
It was the winner because of an exceptional job of penalty killing in the third. Krys Kolanos clipped Gleason after a check for a double minor, then Antti Miettinen compounded things by hooking Ray Whitney. The fans and Jacques felt Whitney dove, but regardless, hooking him from behind wasn’t the brightest.
Carolina snagged a two-minute 5-on-3, and Niklas Backstrom made six saves. On the first 90 seconds, Koivu, Brent Burns and Nick Schultz were out there and kept every shot to the outshot. There were no cross-slot one-timers or cross-crease, backdoor plays.
When the puck finally cleared after Koivu blocked a Joe Corvo blast, the crowd absolutely roared. It was unbelievable. The players all talked about it after the game. The quotes in the gamer are good.
Schultz actually brought up how the fans did this once before after a two-minute 5-on-3, and I think he’s referring to something I once put on the blog. Against Nashville a few years back, Vancouver’s Darcy Hordichuk, who played for the Preds, was sitting in the Strib seat next to me as a scratch and asked me why the heck I’d move from Florida to Minnesota. At that moment, the Xcel vibrated as the fans applauded a 5-on-3 kill. I remember saying to Darcy, “That’s why I moved here to cover hockey.”
It was pretty cool again tonight.
Anyways, the Wild’s back up to eighth in the West.
Backstrom had 35 saves and is 10-1-1 lifetime against the Southeast. The Wild is 9-1-1 against the East this year.
Gaborik and Bouchard started the game playing as linemates at even-strength. Took them seven years. Jacques pinned them with Carolina’s first goal by Rod Brind’Amour, and said after the game, that’ll be the last time they skate together.
Cal Clutterbuck had six hits. He now has 115, passing Stephane Veilleux’s team record of 113 set last year in just 29 games.
Nick Schultz is on a career-high-tying three-game point streak.
The Wild has given up the first goal in a franchise-record nine straight games.
OK, that’s it for now. The blog will be dormant the next two days as I hit the road for vacation. But trust me, I’ve got the Blackberry on.
Lastly, here’s the Benoit Pouliot notebook lead I had to chop out of tomorrow’s paper for the late Gaborik story:
Benoit Pouliot got the words no player wants to hear from Wild assistant coach Mario Tremblay Tuesday morning: “Don’t leave the ice with everyone else.”
“It’s the worst when they tell you, ‘You’ve got to stay longer’ in the morning skate,’” said Pouliot, 22, who hasn’t scored a goal since Nov. 15. “That means you’re not playing. When they told me that, it’s painful.”
With Eric Belanger healthy after missing two games with pneumonia and minor-leaguer Krys Kolanos still on recall, coach Jacques Lemaire was provided a rare opportunity to send a message to Pouliot, whom Lemaire feels is getting complacent.
Besides the lack of offense, he’s made poor decisions on the power play and is bumped off the puck easily.
“He needs to do the little things better … and the big things better,” Lemaire said. “He’s got the talent to make things happen. That’s what he doesn’t do right now.
“He’s probably as fast as [Marian Gaborik], [but] you wouldn’t know that. He uses it, but not all the time.”
At the very least, Pouliot was motivated by Tremblay’s skate.
“Mario gave a pretty good run there after practice,” Pouliot said. “I haven’t been playing my best hockey the past six, seven games, that’s for sure. I had a bad game against St. Louis and now I’m paying for it by not playing.
“It’s [Lemaire’s] decision, and I can’t change that unless I work hard. That’s what I’m going to try to do.”