This is Michael Russo's 18th year covering the National Hockey League. He's covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005 following 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. Michael 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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With the Wild's season on the brink and facing a potential must-win tonight at Colorado, the Wild is expected to recall former University of Denver star Jason Zucker and energy bug Stephane Veilleux for tonight's game.
It sounds like Jake Dowell and Carson McMillan will be returned to Houston.
Zucker, 21, has scored four goals and one assist in 19 games for the Wild this year. If Veilleux plays, and at this point, why not, it would be his season debut, 461st NHL game and 383rd for the Wild.
Jason Pominville, I don't believe, traveled to Denver.
Basically, it's simple tonight.
Win and the Wild's in.
Lose in regulation AND Columbus gets one point or two in a home finale against Chris Mason and the emotionally and physically beaten-up Nashville Predators and the Wild will have to deal with the painful aftermath following a remarkable April swoon. The Wild led the Northwest Division after beating Los Angeles in a March 30 shootout.
The Avs, 5-4 shootout winners at Phoenix last night, will be pumped and motivated to eliminate a Wild team that usually beats them on home ice (11-2-2 in the Wild's past 15 in Denver).
The Denver Post's Mike Chambers (@MChambersDP) tweeted last night some quotes from P.A. Parenteau and Matt Duchene:
Parenteau: Parenteau: "We're a proud bunch of guys and we're not going to give (MIN) an inch out there . . . That's what it's all about."
Duchene: "Obviously it's a big one for them. Hopefully the building will be full, and we can knock Minnesota out. That will be real nice. I'd be lying if I said it wouldn't. That's a division rival and team that's had our number for a while."
As I said, massive game. Niklas Backstrom, after being yanked with 1:22 left in the first period (three goals on five shots) of last night's 6-1 home embarrassment at the hands of Edmonton, will be back in net.
He is 10-2-1 in his past 13 at Colorado with a 2.10 goals against average and .935 save percentage. Backstrom is 21-3-4 with a 1.84 goals against average and a .933 save percentage in starts after being pulled (non-injury) in his career, including 17-1-2 with a 1.67 goals against average and a .940 save percentage since March 26, 2008.
The Wild needs Backstrom, who has been arguably overused beyond belief by the Wild, to step up bigtime. Otherwise, soak him in because this could be the last you see of Backstrom in a Wild uniform.
If you didn't read last night's postgame blog, please give it a read below.
Here is the notebook, which does have a Dany Heatley update that could soon be irrelevant.
The Wild is not having a morning skate with a 5:30 p.m. MT start. I have to run out of the Delta Sky Club now because I have a flight to catch, but I will be on Fox Sports North during the first intermission tonight.
The Wild has recalled checker Carson McMillan from AHL Houston.
We will find out in 90 minutes if McMillan is Mike Rupp insurance or if he's playing regardless. The gritty McMillan, a 2007 seventh-rounder, has 2 goals and 5 points in 15 Wild games over two seasons. This would be his season debut if he plays tonight.
The way it looked yesterday, Jason Pominville was unlikely to play tonight vs. Edmonton. The hope was Rupp would take Pominville's place in the lineup, but when Rupp said after practice that he would have to see how his knee responded this morning, I figured the Wild would need to call up a forward just in case Rupp said after this morning's skate that he couldn't play.
If Rupp says he can play, I'd assume McMillan is out. But again, total guessing. We'll see what the lineup looks like at the skate.
Again, this is assuming Pominville is definitely not playing tonight. The other option even if Rupp plays is McMillan also plays, either for Konopka or Dowell.
Konopka is still playing on a broken foot and left the rink in a walking boot yesterday.
Again, playoff scenarios are on the below blog. One win, the Wild's in. If it wants to at least ensure it avoids Chicago, it must win two because if Detroit beats Dallas on Saturday, the Red Wings would have 56 points. Wild's at 53.
It was just a matter of time before the Wild would have to make a roster shakeup after losing five in a row at home.
Rookies Mikael Granlund and Jason Zucker, coming off a couple poor efforts, especially last night against Calgary, have been reassigned. Energy bugs Stephane Veilleux and Jake Dowell have been recalled to play the big, bad defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday.
The Wild has lacked physicality in recent games, focus at proper times, like getting the puck deep and not taking penalties on power plays (see Zucker and Granlund), and also defensive smarts in some key situations.
So Zucker, who was coming off a string of bad games, and Granlund take the hit. Zucker's turnovers have hurt the team since his last recall, and he probably destined himself for this when he bailed out of beating an icing last night. Granlund is just not ready -- plain, simple -- in my opinion.
Veilleux and Dowell are veterans, so they should do their jobs, keep it simple (hit people, get pucks deep and forecheck) and bring some of the elements missing from this team during absences to Mike Rupp and Zenon Konopka.
Desperate move for a desperate team. No matter the way the Wild decides to spin it today, this is a Code Blue move.
Josh Harding and Darcy Kuemper have been flipped, too, as expected, and Harding has been activated off IR.
Here are the numbers on the players involved in the switches.
Dowell, the former Wisconsin Badger who has played in 154 NHL games, had four goals in 37 games with Houston. He's 28. Veilleux, 31, had three goals in 33 games with the Aeros. He has 460 NHL games under his belt.
Harding was 1-1 on his rehab assignment in Houston, stopping 56 of 61 shots. He played in four games for the Wild this season before symptoms related to multiple sclerosis sidelined him.
Kuemper was 1-2 for the Wild this season after posting a 1.88 goals-against average in 21 games with the Aeros.
Zucker has four goals in 19 games for the Wild, and had 24 in 55 games for the Aeros. Granlund had two goals in 27 games with the Wild and 10 in 29 games with the Aeros.
The Wild's in a crisis. This is a reaction to that. We will see if it works now.
Like I said last night, Wild goes 2-1 in its final three games, there should be a postseason.
More after availability at 11.
The Wild has recalled forward Mikael Granlund from AHL Houston with right wing Dany Heatley sidelined with what's believed to be a wrist injury. GM Chuck Fletcher said Heatley is "out," saying there is no timeframe as to when he will return at the moment.
Coach Mike Yeo indicated last night it would be awhile. Heatley was injured during a post-buzzer altercation with San Jose defenseman and former teammate Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Vlasic cross-checked Heatley to the ice, then slashed him over the back. When Heatley got up, he swung his stick and missed. Vlasic proceeded to two-hand Heatley over the arm and basically jump him, finally lifted him from his knees and driving him hard back to the ice.
That's where I think Heatley was injured -- not on the slash, which resulted in a five-minute major and game misconduct.
Heatley was in a lot of pain and skated fast to the exit as tempers flared and linesmen had to get in between the two teams. Vlasic said he was just defending himself, and the two were battling all period.
Vlasic has a hearing today at 2 p.m. ET. My guess is he gets at most a fine. Heatley, my guess, may get a call with a warning from the league for his swing and miss.
As for Granlund, with Matt Cullen hurt and Johan Larsson traded, my guess is the organization is looking for Granlund to center the second line so Coyle can essentially stay at wing and essentially replace Heatley's spot. I only say that because if Coyle was going to play center, I'd assume the natural callup would have been winger Jason Zucker.
Jason Pominville is scheduled to land in Los Angeles within the hour. Since the Wild didn't call up another forward with Granlund, I'd assume Pominville will make his Wild debut tonight. Otherwise, why make the guy fly to L.A. when he could have simply met the club in Columbus tomorrow?
The plan was for Pominville to slide into the right wing spot on the Zach Parise-Mikko Koivu line tonight against the Kings.
If it were me, I'd go with
Setoguchi-Granlund-Coyle (Granlund and Coyle were productive linemates together in Houston)
Also, and I'm not confident it'll happen, but time to sit Clayton Stoner. You just can't have this many bad games in a row and not finally sit. It's costing them points, and I think anybody that reads me knows I like Stoner as a player and person.
Last night, the entire blue line was bad. But Stoner really stood out in a nightmarish game.
No morning skate today because of the second of back-to-back. So I may not know the lineup until a couple hours before game time when I meet with Yeo.
From the release:
Granlund, 21 (2/26/92), collected six points (1-5=6) in 19 games with Minnesota this season and registered a goal in his NHL debut vs. Colorado on Jan. 19. The 5-foot-10, 186-pound native of Oulu, Finland has recorded 28 points (10-18=28) in 29 games with the Aeros this season. Granlund tallied seven points (2-5=7) in nine games with Houston after being reassigned from Minnesota on March 12. He was named the AHL Rookie of the Month for October scoring 10 points (3-7=10) and a +5 rating in seven games.
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