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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Johnsson out couple weeks; Sykora back; Clutterbuck maybe; Sheppard scratched

Posted by: under Wild news, Wild pregame skate Updated: October 24, 2009 - 7:08 PM

Gamtime update: Clutterbuck in, but so is Andy Hilbert. Benoit Pouliot, after finally working hard and playing somewhat well, is a healthy scratch.

It was supposed to be a quiet, nothing morning down at the X, but lots of news. Petr Sykora's back, Cal Clutterbuck may be back, Kim Johnsson is out, and after an awful start to the season for the previous regime's golden child, James Sheppard is being sent a message. "Coach's decision," aka -- healthy scratch. 

Johnsson will be out the next "couple weeks" after being hit late in the first period last night by St. Louis Blues forward David Backes. Right now, the team will continue to call it an "upper body" injury because GM Chuck Fletcher says it's the type of injury where the info could be used by an opponent against Johnsson.

This is a significant injury in terms of the player loss.

Whether you're a Johnsson fan or not, he is the Wild's leading minute guy, had been very good since a really tough start in Anaheim or Edmonton (one of the two, but I remember him skating to the bench slapping his stick on the ice because he had been on for a string of poor shifts in a row), plays the power-play point (no depth there anymore because of the offseason losses of Marc-Andre Bergeron and Kurtis Foster) and he's a solid penalty killer.

For now, John Scott will play in Johnsson's place, but the Wild also has Jaime Sifers down in Houston if it needs to recall a player. The power-play point will be a critical find for coach Todd Richards. Last night, he had to use Shane Hnidy there, and maybe that is the replacement (Hnidy does have a real heavy shot).

But center Eric Belanger has played the power-play point before, and if you move a forward to the point rather than using Hnidy, you can get Petr Sykora back on the power play or maybe even pop up Antti Miettinen, whom I think is good on the half wall, onto the second unit. Also, Chuck Kobasew would be a good guy to have around the net, so if you move a forward like Belanger to the point, you can maybe add a Miettinen or Kobasew.

Speaking of Sykora, he is returning tonight, and as I mentioned in my game story last night, it makes total sense to get him on a line with Havlat. Havlat and Mikko Koivu have shown zero chemistry this season. The one real good game Havlat had, it was when Sykora was put on his line in the third period in the home opener vs. Anaheim. The Wild's got to get Havlat going, and maybe Sykora can be the guy.

Another big newsbit this morning is Cal Clutterbuck wants to play. Apparently he didn't have a lot of fun being my spotter last night in the press box. He says he's felt great the last three days, and after taking contact in yesterday's morning skate in St. Louis, he feel very confident that his ankle will hold up.

If Clutterbuck isn't given the green light by orthopedist Joel Boyd, Andy Hilbert will play. If Clutterbuck returns, Hilbert is scratched.

James Sheppard is 100 percent out. After playing 82 games last season, this will be his first benching since his rookie year. Sheppard has no points this year, hasn't been physical, has lost 65.3 percent of his draws and is minus-5.

Breakout year. I'd say not. The Wild might regret the day GM Doug Risebrough didn't trade him for Olli Jokinen. I'd say the words out now and it'll be awfully tough for the new regime to move Sheppard.

Richards wouldn't talk about the decision this morning. I'll try to get him pregame or afterward, and hopefully talk to Sheppard in the press box tonight.

Word as of now is that Derek Boogaard is sick. Will miss his second game tonight.

Niklas Backstrom will start. In the second of back-to-backs, he's 6-4 with a 3.42 GAA and .905 SP (pulled 3 times). It says an awful lot that Josh Harding's not getting tonight's game. Harding was supposed to get more games this year, and already, he's not starting a second of back-to-back. I'll write about that tomorrow.

Cam Ward in for Carolina. The Canes have recalled Brandon Sutter because Tuomo Ruutu, Mikko Koivu's close friend, did his best impression of brother Jarkko and was suspended for his hit last night on Darcy Tucker. Canes are winless on road.

 

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