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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Barker becoming more comfortable

Posted by: Michael Russo under On the road, Wild news, Wild practice Updated: February 26, 2010 - 2:34 PM

By Chip Scoggins

The thought of seven straight days of practice coming off the Olympic break probably didn't sound all that appealing to many of the Wild players, but defenseman Cam Barker said he's enjoying it.

That's because Barker had little time to get to know his new teammates and new system before the break. He was acquired from Chicago two days before the final game before the break. He participated in an optional skate and then played one game before players scattered all over the place for the Olympic break.

"It was a little crazy a couple of days there before the first game," he said. "But I don’t think the timing [of the break] could have been any better. It gives you time to kind of get situated and get used to new surroundings and things so it’s been good. These practices have been good. Just being around the guys at the rink helps a lot."

Barker said he already feels more comfortable with his new surroundings and teammates. Coach Todd Richards said the biggest adjustment for Barker will be learning his role on special teams.

"I think that’s where the teams have a wide-range of philosophies and how you want to run your power play or run your penalty kill," he said. "He’s going to be a guy that we’re going to look to in both of those situations. As far as systems-wise, there might be a few different things in defensive zone coverage, maybe a couple of different ideas with what you do in the offensive zone. But forechecks are usually the same. All of that stuff is pretty much the same."

Ready for stretch run

Richards won't have his entire team together for a few more days but he said he knows the message he will deliver before the team begins its final 21-game stretch run.

The Wild is in 13th place in the Western Conference standings -- five points behind eighth-place Calgary, with a game in hand.

"I think the message is that it can be done," Richards said. "We’re five points out. There are still other teams that are in between. But we have to worry about ourselves and our own backyard. And it starts with the Calgary game. That’s a huge game and then we go to Edmonton. That game is going to be just as big even though they’re below us in the standings. We have to win our games. We can’t worry about these other teams that we're chasing or that we’re battling with or competing with. If we take care of our own business and we win our games we’ll put ourselves in a position to get in the playoffs."

The Wild will tie a team record with 16 games in March -- eight at home and eight on the road. The Wild is 21-8-2 at home – the sixth-best points percentage of any NHL team at home.

However, the team also has three sets of road back-to-backs next month.

"We can’t go back in time and re-do October," GM Chuck Fletcher said. "We’re a team that has to find a way to win more games on the road. We’ve obviously been one of the top home teams this year. I like the way we compete. But for whatever reason and it seems to be different reasons from game to game, but we’ve lacked some consistency on the road this year."

Said Andrew Brunette: "Obviously we would like to be in a playoff spot but we're still in the hunt. Five points out. These last 21 games we have to make sure from the get-go that we're ready to go because it's a sprint."
 

Stoner making progress

Richards said defenseman Clayton Stoner will start practicing with the team on Sunday. Stoner has been skating in the mornings while he recovers from sports hernia surgery.

I mentioned earlier this week that I would try and get more information about Stoner's surgery, which he underwent in Munich, Germany. Apparently he had the surgery performed by Dr. Ulrike Muschaweck, who specializes in hernia surgery and guarantees a faster recovery for performance sports hernias.

"I guess it’s a revolutionary procedure," Fletcher said. "Some hockey players have done it and a lot of top soccer players in Europe have done it. Typically it’s a five, six-week recovery period. After consulting with Clayton and his agent and our medical staff, we felt, why not?"

Stoner had his surgery Feb. 12. I asked Fletcher he believes Stoner's recovery appears to be on a faster timetable.

"It certainly looks like it could be sooner than five to six weeks," he said. "We’ll see. Right now I think he feels good about it."
 
Said Richards: "It’s the first I had heard of [Muschawek's procedure]. Where he’s at right now and how far he’s progressed, it’s pretty amazing what they can do medically now."
 
Extra points
 
-- Richards won't skate his team today but instead the players will workout and watch film. Richards said the team has practiced hard the past few days and needs to recover.
 
"It’s a little bit of rest for these guys," he said. "You take eight, nine days off and you don’t do anything, it’s much like training camp. They’re going to need at least one day of recovery and then we’ll hit it hard again on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday."
 
-- Richards and his staff have tried to break up the monotony of practice by having mini-scrimmages and different competitions.

"Guys have worked hard," he said. "They're just like young kids. It doesn’t matter how old they are. We have a wide-range of ages with these guys. The minute you make a game out of something, the kid in them comes out. The competitiveness comes out."

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