Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.

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GO JETS GO!!! GO JETS GO!!! GO JETS GO!!!

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild pregame skate Updated: October 10, 2013 - 2:22 PM

Not rooting for the Jets. Just trying to get you ready for tonight with that headline. A horde of Winnipeg fans will surely overtake the X tonight if you go all Minnesota Nice on them, so as Wes Walz tweeted for tonight:

Good afternoon from my second office at Tom Reid's Hockey City Pub, where I've been joined by Brian Engblom (name drop) and a few others in the Jets media. New Central Division foes, the Wild and Jets, play tonight in their first of of five meetings after two Wild exhibition wins over the boys from Winnipeg.

I'll be on NHL Network on the Bald Spot Cam, I mean Arena Cam, at 5:40 p.m. CT, so tune in or, uh, be square.

The Wild is 0-1-2. First goal tonight is huge. I don’t mean to be the master of the obvious, but the pressure has been elevated, fan anxiety is amped, so if the Jets score first, the angst will be palpable.

Trust me.

As you know because Rachel reported it in today’s paper and blog and you read EVERY word daily, the sense of urgency is high (not like it wasn’t the first three games, but you know what I mean) and coach Mike Yeo has changed the lines to balance things up more and get some kind of offensive spark.

Nino Niederreiter gets a spot on the right side of Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu. One big reason is to try to get Dany Heatley going on the second line. As I’ve written, if Heatley’s going to continue in the lineup, the Wild’s got to find a way to best utilize him.

This is an attempt, moving Jason Pominville to the line with Mikael Granlund and Heatley.

“Everybody’s talking for sure about Heater right now and he’s had some ups, he’s had some downs,” Yeo said. “But when you look at the fact that he’s been playing two young kids every game, this gives him the opportunity to go out with a guy (Pominville) that’s first off a very smart player, but … that’s always motivating, to play with a guy like that and hopefully help everybody get to their game.”

Yeo said Heatley could easily have two goals (the disallowed goal in the opener against L.A. because the whistle had blown before the puck crossed the goal line and the third-period power-play snipe with the game tied that has the post still ringing from Game 2).

But, Yeo added, “He’ll be first to say there’s another level.”

Niederreiter, who played on the fourth line two years ago on Long Island as a 19-year-old (makes sense #sarcasm) and didn’t play a game on the Island last season (payback for el Nino not being happy and making it known), is excited about the opportunity tonight.

Who knows how long it lasts because lines are never consistent in the NHL, but playing next to Koivu and Parise will allow all of us to see if Niederreiter really has what it takes to be a top-6 forward in this league. The skill and shot are obvious, but let’s see if he can perform in such a spot.

Yeo says first of all Niederreiter is playing at a high level, so he deserves the shot. But Yeo said when that top line was really going last year, it was with Charlie Coyle there, so while he’s not trying to “replicate” exactly what Coyle brought just by putting Niederreiter there (in other words, no pressure to be Coyle), but Niederreiter’s size and skill offers that type of element.

As of now, Justin Fontaine is on a line with Matt Cooke and Kyle Brodziak. Still a little surprised Yeo doesn’t go with Torrey Mitchell there more consistently, especially since Mitchell was great against the Jets in Winnipeg last month and I’d think you’d need an experienced checking line against Evander Kane tonight.

But as Dennis Miller used to say, that’s just my opinion. I could be wrong.

By the skates, Mitchell will skate with Zenon Konopka and Stephane Veilleux.

Devin Setoguchi returns to the X tonight for the first time since being traded in July. The Jets had an optional today after two hard practices the past two days. Still a little weird with no game last night, but the team is staying in Minneapolis as opposed to St. Paul, so that probably has a lot to do with the optional.

Niklas Backstrom hasn’t been put on injured reserve because that’s a week off, and the Wild hold out hope that the injury is minor enough that he’ll be able to get onto the ice and be on the upcoming four-game trip. The Wild do have back-to-backs in Buffalo and Toronto on Monday and Tuesday, so if Backstrom isn’t ready, Darcy Kuemper would likely get one. He has only gotten the two halves in Wild exhibition games and an Iowa preseason win, so if there’s a chance he may start one of those games, if it were me, I’d send him back to Iowa to start the kid Wild’s season opener Saturday just as a primer.

In the meantime, Kuemper will back up Josh Harding tonight.

Again, a case can be made that the Wild could have won any of those first three games. But, they didn’t, and that’s the bottom line.

Yeo said the Wild can’t get “caught up in the whole big picture that we’re 0-3,” that they’ve got to focus the right way for tonight. He said it’s up to the “leadership to come up and show the direction to the rest of the group as far as how we’re going to play this game.”

That’s it for now. Marco Scandella and Nate Prosser scratched tonight. I’ll write about Prosser in tomorrow’s paper.

Talk later.

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