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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Posts about Wild pregame skate

Nik Backstrom, Wild have formidable task tonight in shutting down Nick Bjugstad and the Panthers

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: November 24, 2014 - 12:16 PM

Like my brain, this may be a mishmash of unorganized thoughts.

I picked up so many little notes this morning, you may be seeing things scattered in the paper throughout the coming week that was gathered today, including a column on former Wild defenseman and two-time Cup champ Willie Mitchell, who is Florida’s captain and is motivated to help this franchise turn around. He talked a lot today about the team on and off the ice and also a lot about the Panthers’ young talents, like Nick Bjugstad.

Speaking of Bjugstad, if you didn’t read my piece on Bjugstad vs. Erik Haula tonight, here is that feature. He enters tonight on a four-game point streak (five goals, three assists), including the overtime-forcing goal with 30.3 seconds left of an eventual shootout loss two days ago in Nashville.

As you know if you watched him in high school and college, he is a physical force, one that can skate and shoot the puck ridiculously hard, and things seem to be coming together now for him as an NHLer. Mitchell said he has watched Bjugstad grow up before his very eyes just in the past week.

As Haula said in today’s paper, he is such a good kid, too. I still remember his draft year, I was making arrangement via text to sit down with Bjugstad in Dinkytown for a pre-draft feature. I suddenly had a few Wild responsibilities come up on this June afternoon, and had to text Bjugstad two or three times to change locations and then times and he did everything to accommodate me even though I was inconveniencing him.

We were also joking around this morning about this one time I ran into him at this gas station near campus because he was filling up his scooter. He caught me at the very worst moment – incensed because my car got stuck in the car wash with me in it and unable to get anybody from the gas station to pick up the phone and come out to turn the thing off. It was literally straight out of a Curb Your Enthusiasm episode.

I’ll be on Fox Sports North during tonight’s pregame show and first intermission, and I’m sure Bjugstad’s recent play will come up.

Before I continue, I wanted to send my best to the families of Muzz Oliver, Pat Quinn and Viktor Tikhonov. Hockey lost three men in the past 24 hours. If you’d like to read Patrick Reusse’s blog on the loss of Oliver, check that out here. Quinn was one of the greats that my generation of sportswriters got to know well and I just always enjoyed interviewing him as a manager and coach. I believe his daughter lives or lived in Edina, so again best wishes to the family.

Niklas Backstrom vs. Roberto Luongo tonight.

Backstrom is 5-0-1 with a 1.95 goals-against average and .941 save percentage all-time vs. Florida, and he’s 3-0 at Florida, so that’s part of the rationale. Also, because of Backstrom’s poor record at Dallas and the fact Darcy Kuemper won there a few weekends ago, I’d guess Kuemper starts in Dallas on Friday and Backstrom at home against St. Louis on Saturday. I’d think they’d want to get Backstrom a start before that important division matchup.

Last we saw Backstrom, he had a sensational first two periods against Winnipeg before the wheels fell off in the third. A 3-0 lead evaporated in five minutes and he was yanked for Kuemper, who came on and got the win by stopping three of three shots before Marco Scandella’s OT winner.

“He’s part of our team and we’ve got to make sure we’re keeping him going, making sure we’re giving him an opportunity that he can go out and prove that he can win hockey games,” coach Mike Yeo said. “That’s what he’s done in the past and we expect him to do it again.”

Still, this wasn’t an easy decision, I’m told. The coaching staff really deliberated this yesterday just because Kuemper was so good in Philly and played well against Tampa Bay.

“Traditionally, you automatically are going to play both goalies on a father-son trip,” Yeo said. “But that’s not an easy decision. This was something that was on the schedule and we had aimed for, but it wasn’t just an easy decision, not because of Backy, but more because of Kuemps. He’s been on top of his game, but we’re expecting him to get back in the net against L.A. when we get back home [Wednesday].”

By the way (I told you this would be a mishmash of thoughts), just an fyi, I won’t be around the team Tuesday-Thursday, so Rachel Blount is picking up the team the next few days (although the team likely won’t practice either Tuesday or Thursday), so next you’ll hear from me after tonight is when I pick up the team in Dallas on Thanksgiving night Thursday.

Interesting game tonight. Usually I have a good feel for what to expect, but not tonight. Florida is coming off a 2-1-1 road trip and we know the first game after a long trip is typically hairy. But I wonder if that's offset by the Wild's day off yesterday (other than a workout at hotel) and the fact the team pretty much unwound by spending time down by the beach with their dads/mentors watching football. Can they just turn the switch back? OF course, THAT may be upset by the fact the Wild wants to win this road trip -- so to speak -- after splitting the first two in Philly and Tampa. Plus, the Wild has a tough stretch coming up with home L.A. Wednesday after a long flight back to Minnesota tonight, road Dallas Friday a day after Turkey Day and home St. Louis Saturday. So it knows it needs to win this one.

What else? I talked to Charlie Coyle and Jonathan Huberdeau a lot about their time together winning a Quebec League championship as linemates with Saint John. Panthers coach Gerard Gallant was their coach, and I’ll try to squeeze that stuff into tomorrow’s paper. If not, I’ll get it in at some point.

Yeo talked to me a lot about Coyle today, and I plan to do a feature in the next few days about his play this season and what the expectations are. He has all the tools, but what will he be? What can he be? Does he need a little more, Rick Tocchet, David Backes SOB in him? How can he bring that more consistently?

Stuff like that. He certainly needs to shoot the puck more and knows it.

He hasn’t been playing either special teams lately. Yeo told him a few weeks ago when his game dipped that until he gets his game back to par, he won’t see penalty kill or power play. Yeo has been happy with his game lately, especially recent ones against Buffalo and Philadelphia. So my guess is we’ll see him on the power play tonight.

Jonas Brodin (mumps) is working out back in Minnesota and a little birdie told me he’s expected to start skating tomorrow.

Same birdie told me Matt Cooke will start skating in Minnesota tomorrow, too. He has been working out heavily this trip and looked like a coach in a warmup suit during the father-son picture the other day in Tampa.

Cooke hasn’t played since Oct. 28. Tonight will be his 12th consecutive game out with a hip flexor.

“This has gone on longer than I think we all would have anticipated,” Yeo said. “We can feel the loss of him in our lineup, just as far as his board work, his controlling pucks in the offensive zone, his penalty killing, his physicality and his speed. We’ve definitely felt his absence.”

I think I mentioned the other day, Cooke leads the league in points per 60 minutes and that fourth line was a factor every night offensively with Cooke on it. Heck, his last game in Boston, it was his line that tied the score after Zach Parise sparked a third-period comeback for a win.

Yeo said that line with Cooke may have had a fourth-line label, but, “I can throw that line out there against any line” because they’re tough to play against, good defensively, physical, play in the offensive zone and create momentum.

I have some real good father-son anecdotes involving Nate Prosser, Matt Dumba, Mikael Granlund and Erik Haula that I’ll try to squeeze in tomorrow’s paper.

Lots of little stuff to get in. See you on the tube tonight and on Twitter during the game.

Mikko Koivu expected to play tonight; anecdotes from father-son trip

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: November 22, 2014 - 1:10 PM

Wild captain Mikko Koivu skated this morning and the anticipation is he’ll be able to play tonight when the Wild visits the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Afternoon from the Bay area of Florida, where the Wild looks to extend its win streak to five games and hand the Lightning a third straight loss for the first time this season. Minnesota beat Tampa Bay 7-2 at home last month, but coach Mike Yeo said the team can’t hang its head on that. Yeo reminded that the Lightning was banged up and tired at the end of a five-game trip. Also, Evgeni Nabokov started and was awful.

Lightning players this morning over and over said they were “embarrassed” by the beat down from the Wild last month and wants to make amends, especially coupled with the fact they’re in their first losing streak of the season and by consecutive 5-2 defeats at the Islanders and Maple Leafs.

So Yeo expects, like Philadelphia on Thursday, a very motivated opponent tonight and a very good one. No team in the league has more goals than the Lightning’s 75, so Tampa Bay is far from a one-trick pony with Steven Stamkos. The Wild does catch the Lightning for a second time without top defenseman Victor Hedman though.

As for Koivu, Yeo is expecting him to play and “we’ll need him. We’ll need him. Good test tonight not only playing a top team in the east, but a top team in the league.”

The Wild silenced Stamkos in Minnesota, but the Lightning has last change tonight.

“We’ll do what we can to try to get matchups,” Yeo said. On Stamkos, Yeo said, “You can’t defend that guy with one guy or two guys. It’s going to have to be a five-man unit, always an awareness of when he’s on the ice and always making sure you’re doing the right things with and without the puck, and it’s not enough to do them well, you have to do them really well. But it’s not just [Stamkos on the Lightning].”

Koivu missed the final 18:50 of the third period in Philly.

He said it’s probably some flu or virus. At first, he was worried it was the mumps.

“You think about it when it goes around,” Koivu said. “You know it’s an option, but the symptoms were different. After the game, the next morning, they said it’s something else. So it shouldn’t be that one.”

The pattern though with the previous guys is illness, feeling better and then swollen glands a few days later, so Koivu doesn't sound completely confident he's out of the woods. His plan is to play tonight, but he didn’t want to say for sure until he got some lunch into him this afternoon and a nap.

If Koivu plays, Kyle Brodziak will play wing on the fourth line with Erik Haula and Ryan Carter. Koivu would center leading goal scorer Nino Niederreiter and Justin Fontaine and Mikael Granlund would be reunited with Zach Parise and Jason Pominville.

Stu Bickel would be the lone scratch.

Darcy Kuemper vs. Ben Bishop.

Koivu said the virus in Philly was “building up all day and just the first two [periods], I couldn’t recover.” He said when he came to the bench after that third-period turnover on the power play about  a minute in, it was a decision they all made together to sit out the rest of the game.

On staying on the bench the rest of the game, Koivu said, “Usually you don’t do that. It was an awkward feeling. I probably should have just taken off, but you never know what happens in a game if someone else goes down.”

As you know by now, the Wild is having its father-son trip to Tampa Bay and Florida. There are dads, brothers and other mentors of players, coaches and staff.

The coolest part is trying to figure out which dads belong to which sons. For instance, you don’t need them wearing a jersey to figure out Steve Ballard is Keith Ballard’s dad: “You know how I’m going to turn out,” Keith said. Brent Kuemper has the exact same face as Darcy. Same expressions, same grin. I loved chatting with Scott Zucker, mostly because as you probably know by now I am a Vegasaholic. He is Director of Construction for Station Casinos, so not only is he in charge of 18 hotel/casinos, they have 30 or 40 other things they own. Fascinating job to say the least.

Here’s a picture of Brent chatting with his son’s goalie counterpart’s dad, Dick Backstrom today.

The Finn’s – Erik Haula and Mikael Granlund’s dads -- have been hanging out with … Matt Dumba’s dad, nonstop. No dad is funnier to shoot the breeze with than Tomi Haula.

Jamie Brunette, Andrew’s brother, sounds like and laughs like his bro.

This morning, coach Mike Yeo had all the mentors into the team’s pregame video session with the players.

“We wanted it to be as inclusive as possible so they get a good feel what we go through,” Yeo said, “but at the same time there’s a time today where we have to turn the switch” and concentrate on prepping for game.

Yeo said, laughing, that all the dads and mentors were “pretty quiet. I felt like a school teacher. I asked a couple questions and nobody wanted to talk and a couple guys started to put up their hands and their sons started to grab their arms and push them down.”

Andrew Brunette, who’s in charge of the power play, said jokingly it was a good thing Yeo didn’t bring up the power play during the morning meeting (PK and PP meetings come after the players arrive to the rink before the game) because “there would be lots of opinions, I’m sure.”

I’ll have some funny stories in tomorrow’s paper, like when Chris Prosser – Nate’s dad – took a couple funny shots at his son during an interview and how Dan Hendrickson – Darby’s brother – let me know that in 1993, the player taken right ahead of Andrew Brunette in the seventh round was … Dan Hendrickson.

Yep, the Washington Capitals had back-to-back picks and took Dan Hendrickson 173rd and Andrew Brunette 174th.

“I like to look at it as we had a great career -- we played 1,100 NHL games combined,” Hendrickson, a former Gopher, quipped.

The joke being of course that Brunette played all the games. Hendrickson was the faster skater though. :)

“I’m still Darby’s brother, but I was one pick in front of Bruno,” Dan Hendrickson said.

Talk about karma though that years later, Darby Hendrickson and Andrew Brunette would become longtime teammates, buddies and now coaches on the same staff. Brunette has become very close with the entire Hendrickson family, going camping and fishing with them, helping their dad coach at Benilde-St. Margaret’s during the 2004-05 lockout and even skating on Dan’s roller hockey team at times and his pond hockey team.

I also talked to Paul Yeo, Mike Yeo’s brother, who is four years older and has a lot more hair. Here's Paul Yeo, Jamie Brunette and Dan Hendrickson shooting the breeze.

As you can imagine, big bro is very proud of little bro.

I remember talking to Paul on the phone after Mike was hired in 2011. Mike Yeo may still be the youngest coach in the league, but he’s in his fourth season behind the Wild bench.

“Like anything, the more experience you get, the better you are, the more confident you get,” Paul Yeo said. “He’s always learning.”

I talked to Paul about the turmoil his brother fought through last winter and you can read that in tomorrow’s paper.

Josh Harding is expected to start next weekend for Iowa. He backed up last night, but with three games in three nights, Johan Gustafsson is expected to start tonight and John Curry will be recalled to start tomorrow for Iowa. Just too soon to throw Harding in as a starter.

That’s it for me. Talk tonight.

Yeo explains line-juggling during 3-game winning streak; Matt Cooke update

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: November 20, 2014 - 12:57 PM

As I tweeted this morning, I suspect the Wild will be facing a very surly Philadelphia Flyers team when Minnesota opens up a three-game roadie.

After watching his team’s uninspired 2-0 loss at Madison Square Garden (a third straight defeat), Flyers GM Ron Hextall, the former goalie who didn’t mind dropping the gloves every once in a while either, could be heard by reporters screaming at his team in the changing room. He dropped profanities, made clear the effort was “embarrassing,” and apparently slammed doors and kicked over a garbage can.

Wild coach Mike Yeo expects a motivated Flyers team tonight, and even though the Flyers don’t have the tough makeup they had in the '80s, '90s and even in recent years, Yeo will toss Stu Bickel, the Wild’s toughest customer, in the lineup tonight. Kyle Brodziak will be scratched.

Bickel will see shifts on the fourth line, and, most likely, Yeo will alternate double-shifting other forwards at times in the game to skate with Erik Haula and Ryan Carter.

“I liked what [Bickel] brought last time we were on the road [in Dallas] and coming in to play against a team that I think is going to be very motivated, I want to make sure our guys are ready to play a physical type game.”

The Wild is 3-6 on the road and Yeo felt that the tough element Bickel brought in Dallas may have helped in that 2-1 win and “maybe that’s something we’ll look at going forward. He did a good job and we’ll get him back in today and we’ll take it from there.”

--Tonight’s game is scheduled to start at 7:59 p.m. and 30 seconds ET. (Returning to the hotel around 1 a.m. should do wonders for my productivity tomorrow after a 3:30 a.m. wakeup call to get to my flight to Tampa via Atlanta!!!)

The reason is Eric Lindros and John LeClair, two members of the Flyers’ old Legion of Doom line, will be inducted into the Flyers Hall of Fame at 7 p.m. ET. Warmups start at 7:22 p.m. The Wild will be in the locker room during the ceremony, so this will be treated by the team like a typical 8 p.m. (7 p.m. CT) game.

--Yeo is juggling his lines tonight for really three reasons: 1) He says the Wild keeps getting stale during win streaks (three in a row now); 2) He wants to create three scoring lines on the road (32 home goals vs. 17 road goals in 9 games); 3) To get Thomas Vanek going.

And, frankly, that’s the real catalyst to all this. Vanek has one goal. He has 33 shots (14 in two games meaning 19 in 15 others). If Vanek was doing playing well 5-on-5, there wouldn’t be such a need. So tonight, Charlie Coyle will slide in to center the Vanek-Jason Zucker line, Justin Fontaine will move to the Nino Niederreiter-Mikael Granlund line and the top line of Zach Parise-Mikko Koivu-Jason Pominville will stay intact.

Coyle will be Vanek’s fifth center this year. Zucker has no goals in 10 games, no points in eight. And Coyle, a minus-2 last game, had three assists in the two previous games but no goals since Oct. 23 (12 games).

Let’s go point by point as to why Yeo is juggling his second, third and fourth lines despite a three-game winning streak:

1. Yeo: “There’ve been times we’ve won games consecutively and then we almost get a little bit stale. Our staff feels there are times where you should leave it alone and there’s other times that just because you got the result that you wanted, I think you have to look at the game as a whole. We have to male sure we’re keeping the guys on edge as well.”

Basically, Yeo also said despite the winning streak, you look at each game and the Wild did have rough times, especially the past two. The first half of the game in Dallas wasn’t good. The Wild coughed up a 3-0 lead in the third Sunday against Winnipeg before winning in overtime.

2. Yeo believes Coyle’s speed and skill through the middle of the ice will help. Yeo: “We’ve got to score more goals on the road. Even the game in Dallas, we won 2-1, which is great, but you can’t keep doing that all the time. We have to win some games like that, but we have to find a way to score at least three goals on the road, so we can’t just rely on one line, maybe even two lines to do that. We have to get some more scoring throughout our lineup and if that means we have to split up some lines and try some things, again, we’re not satisfied that we’ve won three games in a row. We have to try to continue to get better here. Hopefully this works and if it doesn’t work, then we’ll find something else.”

3. Which brings us to Vanek because point 2 wouldn’t be a problem if the Wild wasn’t having such a hard time finding him linemates that could help him score. He has made plays obviously, proven by his team-high nine assists, but he was brought here to score goals and he’s barely even attempting shots, which is unbelievably concerning to the coaching staff right now. That has been abundantly clear lately.

Yeo: “We have to get him going, and skill guys have to play with skill players. We’ve talked a lot this year about how Charlie we think there’s another level to his game, but what a great compliment to him that every time we have moved him off a line this year it’s because we’re trying to get somebody else going. We put him with Mikko because we think he could help Mikko. We put him with Granny because we think he can help Granny. And now we put him with Thomas because we think he can help Thomas. And that’s a real compliment to the player.”

So could this be permanent with Coyle?

“It could be,” Yeo said. “We don’t seem to be right now anyways a team that has two lines that are going to go out and just score basically every night. So we’ve got to make sure that we have another line that gives us that threat, gives us that possibility. When we’ve struggled, it’s because we don’t score. We’ll do the right things defensively and play the right game without the puck,” but they’re not scoring when they do the other stuff, so “it’s worth a try.”

And one big reason why the Wild has to try this is because Erik Haula hasn’t produced the way the Wild expected after his solid postseason. He has two goals and no assists.

-- Yeo coached LeClair briefly in Pittsburgh and says he was a class act and pro and he said he had the “misfortune” of having to play against Lindros when he played for Oshawa and Yeo Sudbury.

“He was just a man amongst boys,” Yeo said.

He was a foot taller and Yeo said, “40 pounds heavier and faster and more skilled. For somebody to be able to dominate the game the way he did both physically and skill wise, it was hard to watch playing against him, but it really was impressive. He could really take over a game in any way,” meaning he was great if you wanted to play a skating game, a skill game or a physical game, he’s just “power right through ya.”

-- The Wild will fly to Tampa right after tonight’s game to begin the father-son trip. Many of the fathers or other mentors will already be waiting for the team in Tampa, others are arriving in time for practice Friday.

I have to look it up, but the Wild has been pretty atrocious during its, I think, three prior father-son trips and one mother-son trip. You’d think it would serve as motivation. But last time the Wild did this in January 2012, the Wild got absolutely annihilated in Philadelphia and Toronto.

The Wild has previously done father-son/mother-son trips in Southern California and I think once to Chicago. Two of those came in the Doug Risebrough-Jacques Lemaire era, and I don’t think the Wild has a single point in the two done in the Chuck Fletcher era.

“What I hope and what I told our guys, that trip hasn’t started yet,” Yeo said. “We have an opportunity to make it a special trip, but it’s not fun and it’s not special unless you win. Ideally, you go in there tomorrow and we have an opportunity to see everybody and we’re feeling good about a game tonight. All-in for this game and nothing else matters.”

I’ll have a lot more on the father-son trip in Saturday’s paper. Also, if you didn’t see my story on Zach Parise and Ryan Suter’s sorrow that their fathers can’t be on the trip, here’s that link.

-- Lastly, Matt Cooke is on the trip and will have his father-in-law tagging along with him in Florida.

The Wild misses Cooke's hard-nosed game and frankly that fourth line was scoring every game with Cooke on it. Cooke leads the NHL in points per 60 mins (4.42). Ryan Carter's 4.02 is third, by the way.

Cooke will miss his 10th game tonight with a hip flexor injury and just hasn’t been able to get it right. The Wild wants to get him 100 percent so he doesn't have to deal with this all year. Cooke played on it for awhile after hurting it Game 2 in Denver. He’s obviously frustrated by the length of time out because he typically doesn’t miss games for injury, but the hope is he can begin skating after the road trip that ends at Florida on Tuesday.

Cooke feels awful for old Pittsburgh teammate and former Wild Pascal Dupuis, who will miss the next six months to treat a blood clot in one of his lungs. Cooke said he texted with Dupuis.

“Missing games are never easy,” Cooke said. “He went through a tough situation last year with his knee, and now, this, just terrible. He’s a guy that has his priorities in the right spot. As much as none of us want to step aside from our livelihood, he knows he has got to make sure he’s healthy for his wife and kids.”

Wild pregame: Parise--and likely Scandella--are back

Posted by: Rachel Blount Updated: November 16, 2014 - 3:24 PM

At a pregame media session, Wild coach Mike Yeo confirmed that Zach Parise will play Sunday afternoon against Winnipeg at Xcel. Parise was expected to return after being activated from injured reserve earlier Sunday, but Yeo sprung a bit of a surprise when he said defenseman Marco Scandella could be back, too.

Scandella has missed the past two games with symptoms that appear to be mumps. He will skate in warmups, and if he feels OK, he will play. Parise will play on a line with center Mikko Koivu and right wing Jason Pominville.

Yeo said defenseman Jonas Brodin, another apparent mumps victim who was put on injured reserve Sunday, has been hit harder by the illness than Scandella was. "Marco's been skating,'' Yeo said. "He's been on the ice, and he's ready to go, as long as everything goes well in warmups.''

As for Parise, Yeo sounded relieved to have the Wild's leading scorer back, with no apparent limitations. "I told him we'd probably get him a good, solid eight or nine minutes tonight,'' Yeo said, laughing. "He's been keeping himself in great shape, so I'm not real concerned about that.

"He's obviously a huge part of our team as far as a leader, and just the relentlessness he plays the game with night in and night out.''

Niklas Backstrom will start in goal for the Wild, making his first start at Xcel since Jan. 11. The Jets will start regular goalie Ondrej Pavelec (7-6-2, 1.99 GAA, .928 save percentage), who will be facing a challenging situation. Pavelec played Saturday night in Nashville--taking the loss in a 6 p.m. game--and is making back-to-back starts for the first time in his NHL career. He made 27 saves in Saturday's 2-1 loss.


Wild defensemen Marco Scandella and Jonas Brodin may have the mumps

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: November 13, 2014 - 4:11 PM

The Wild will get defenseman Jared Spurgeon back in the lineup tonight against the Buffalo Sabres, and it’s a good thing because first-pair defenseman Jonas Brodin and second-pair defenseman Marco Scandella have come up ill and may be out for awhile.

The two have the same symptoms that sidelined defensemen Keith Ballard (eight games) and Christian Folin (five games) earlier this season. As I reported last week, Ballard was diagnosed with the mumps.

“They’re ill and similar symptoms to what we had some other guys out with,” coach Mike Yeo said of Brodin and Scandella. “We don’t know for sure that’s what it is, similar symptoms.”

Those symptoms, according to Ballard, are awful flu-like symptoms – achy, fever, zero energy and swollen glands in the neck area.

Scandella and Brodin both noticeably struggled at times Tuesday in New Jersey – the Wild’s fourth consecutive loss. Yeo said Scandella has been sick since Montreal, where I remember him coughing up a storm while we were talking to him. In New Jersey after the morning skate, I even commented to him about marks on his neck (looked like a jersey burn), which was also swollen.

According to webmd, “Mumps is spread by mucus or droplets from the nose or throat of an infected person, usually when a person coughs or sneezes. Surfaces of items (for example, toys) can also spread the virus if someone who is sick touches them without washing the hands, and someone else then touches the same surface and then rubs the eyes, mouth, nose, etc.

Yeo said linesman Steve Miller missed the Devils game that night with similar symptoms, and from looking at his game logs, Miller did two St. Louis Blues games Oct. 23 and Nov. 4.

According to sources, referee Eric Furlatt was also out this season with the same symptoms. I haven't looked up all of Furlatt's recent game logs yet, but he did do Wild at L.A., Blues at L.A. and Wild at Anaheim earlier this season and also apparently recently worked with Miller. See below for more detail on that.

I bring this up because the Blues have had a string of illnesses this season and many of those players had positive mumps tests, according to sources. Anaheim’s Corey Perry and Francois Beauchemin have also been diagnosed with the mumps. This has even affected some reporters.

“This came from somewhere else, but it’s a possibility that it’s inside our locker room now,” Yeo said. “Whatever we’ve got to do to clean it up and make sure nobody gets this and certainly keep these guys away from anybody. Problem is you start to wonder and start to worry, is this sitting inside anybody else waiting to come out, too?”

Wild athletic therapist Don Fuller has been in contact with the league. I have contacted the league to see if they’re looking into this stuff and I haven’t heard back yet. Folin and Ballard were on antibiotics when they were sick, and the Wild disinfected their equipment and had players use different water bottles and towels. So far, it appears as if only defensemen have been infected, and they do sit next to each other in the locker room and on the bench.

Yeo said all the sick players have reported the same thing – it feels like you’re coming down with something, and it either goes away or boom, your neck swells up.

It appears as if somebody’s locker room is a petri dish. The Wild’s illnesses began after an Oct. 17 trip to Anaheim and Oct. 19 trip to Los Angeles. The Blues also played in L.A. Oct. 16 and in Anaheim Oct. 19.

The Ducks played in St. Louis on Oct. 30.

Also, the Wild played a preseason game at St. Louis on Oct. 2 and the Blues played in Minnesota on Oct. 4.

So some have suggested it could have even started in St. Louis or Minnesota and maybe those teams brought it with them to California in October.

Ballard told me last week, “I’ve asked my mom and she said I had the vaccine [as a kid], so it makes no sense. So that’s the hard part [team doctors] are trying to wrap their heads around. How would I have gotten it?”

Yeo said the Wild’s lineup is up in the air because with defense pairs tonight of:




… the Wild may want to have the security of a seventh defenseman and play Stu Bickel up front. This way they can move him back to D if there are issues. But on the other hand, you lose two puck movers in Brodin and Scandella, Yeo may not want to do that.

The lines in the skate were





Zach Parise is getting close, Yeo said, “but we just have to make sure we’re following protocol. Make sure he’s getting proper rest and recovery. We desperately want him back in the lineup, but we have to make sure when he comes back he’s staying in the lineup.”

What does Yeo expect from Schroeder in his Wild debut?

“We’re not scoring goals.”

On Thomas Vanek’s struggles, Yeo said, “Pressure builds. It was well-documented and I don’t think there are any secrets about it that he was brought here to help us [score goals]. Whenever we’ve struggled, we’ve struggled because we’ve had a tough time scoring goals, and that’s why he was brought here.”

The Wild has to help Vanek, said Yeo.

On the all-Gopher line, Yeo said, “We kid about it, but we don’t just roll the dice and see what comes up here. It may appear that way sometimes,” he said, jokingly.

But Yeo said, “Granny needs workers with him. He’s got to get back to his game. He needs to get back to a driving, speed game. I feel like he’s been a lot more east west and the speed of his game hasn’t been a factor because of that. We’re going try to get him guys that can drive the net, guys that’ll open up ice for him and help him score off the rush.

“We’ve got to get Haulzy’s game going. Put him with two guys who can create and generate off the rush and make plays in the offensive zone. Two guys with a lot of speed should help Thomas, too.”

Darcy Kuemper vs. Jhonas Enroth (1-7-1, 3.63 goals-against average and .901 save percentage).

In the past 99 games, the Sabres have won 12 times in regulation. This is a team that hasn’t scored a first-period goal in 13 games. They have been outscored 60-21. The Wild hasn’t led in 240 minutes.

Wild’s PP is 2 for 44 (30th): PP Changes: Zucker-Koivu-Pominville-Spurgeon-Suter; Vanek-Granlund-Nino-Schroeder/Fontaine-Dumba. Sabres PP is 3 for 53.

Sabres helped turn the Wild’s season around last year. Let’s see if they can do it again.

My concerns: The Wild’s blue line, yucky right now without Scandella and Brodin. And with so much anxiety, if the Wild does happen to fall behind early tonight, the tension in the crowd and on that bench will be palpable. Big game, to say the least, for a Nov. 13 game considering the next game is at Dallas, where the Wild has won once in the past NINETEEN (I think) visits.


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