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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The Wild completes its three-game roadie tonight at Chicago (7:30 p.m.) before opening a four-game homestand (separated by the NHL’s annual Christmas hiatus) tomorrow night against the Boston Bruins.
The Wild is 3-5-1 in its past nine regular-season games at Chicago but 0-6 at Chicago in the past two postseasons.
The Wild is 6-0-1 against the Central Division, but it has yet to play the Blackhawks or Nashville, which comes to town Saturday. The Wild is 0-4-1 against powerhouses Anaheim, Los Angeles and St. Louis and as Zach Parise said to me in a Dec. 7 story here, it’s time for the Wild to join the top tier.
“We’ve got to start beating some of these teams,” Parise said.
Afternoon from the United Center, where the Wild just had an optional skate. If you didn't see my feature today, I did a story on the Wild's emergency medical action plan, which you may have witnessed one week ago when Keith Ballard was hit from behind. Here's that link.
If the Wild wins tonight, it'll be 8-8 on the road. Remember, this is a team that began the season 2-6 on the road. It's a good sign that the Wild is winning games on the road because one must assume it'll start to improve its home play again. The Wild is 2-2-1 in its past five at home after starting the season 7-1 at home.
Minnesota catches a big break tonight because coach Joel Quenneville says Duncan Keith, who ranks sixth in the NHL in average ice time per game (25:53), will miss the game because he is sick. Keith has 18 points and is plus-10 and scrambles up the Blackhawks’ blue line to potentially Tim Erixon-Brent Seabrook; Johnny Oduya-Niklas Hjalmarsson; David Rundblad-Michal Rozsival.
Coach Q said he “didn’t know” when asked if Keith has mumps-like symptoms. Hey, the Wild is in town, so be careful. Interesting story going around right now about Beau Bennett being out with the mumps and the fact he visited a children’s hospital recently. Here is a link.
The Wild, which has had five defensemen come down with the mumps, actually has player visits scheduled for a children’s hospital in the Twin Cities on Monday and has been talking to the hospital to see if it should go on as scheduled or be postponed.
Better be safe than sorry. The Wild hopes it’s beyond the whole mumps that seems to have begun with the St. Louis Blues (whether they’re willing to admit it or not, more than a dozen players, staff and, uh, media came down with mumps-like symptoms) and Wild. The Wild has taken all sorts of precautions from boosters (them and the Iowa Wild) a month ago to decontaminating its locker-room and equipment to making sure players use separate towels and water bottles.
As of now, the Wild still says Jared Spurgeon will miss his second game tonight due to a stomach ailment, but I’ll ask Mike Yeo again during his 5:30 availability tonight. Again, since the first seven games of the season, the Wild's top-4 of Ryan Suter, Jonas Brodin, Marco Scandella and Spurgeon has played in the same game in three of 22 games.
Antti Raanta vs. Darcy Kuemper tonight. I was shooting the breeze with Kuemper this morning and we were talking about how much water weight goalies lose per NHL game. I knew I should have been a goalie. He told me his record in one game was losing 10 pounds!
You should see how much water Niklas Backstrom drinks between periods.
Speaking of Backstrom, the veteran will likely start tomorrow’s home game vs. Boston. Backstrom is 5-0-1 in six starts vs. the Bruins with a 1.32 goals-against average, .957 save percentage and two shutouts. Makes sense because his favorite colors are yellow and black.
(I’m making that up).
Mikael Granlund told me he is playing tonight after missing Monday’s practice.
Wearing No. 27, Brett Sutter will make his Wild debut for Ryan Carter, who is out with an upper-body injury. Sutter, whose father is Los Angeles Kings coach Darryl Sutter, will play his 55th NHL game over parts of seven seasons.
The former Calgary Flame and Carolina Hurricane will play his second game in Chicago, which is neat because his dad spent his entire NHL playing career for the Blackhawks and coached the Blackhawks. Brett Sutter lived in Chicago as a kid and grew up a big Blackhawks fan.
“My dad’s history playing here and coaching here, it’s exciting,” Sutter, 27, said. “They were kind of my childhood team growing up here, so it’s definitely neat. But at the same time, once you get out there, it’s just another game. You try to put that aside and just play.”
Sutter said he has been playing center in Iowa. He’ll play fourth-line wing likely with Erik Haula and Kyle Brodziak tonight as the Wild comes back with the same lines I assume from its Arizona win. Again, we’ll get Yeo at 5:30 and the Wild had an optional skate this morning.
He said it won’t make a difference what position he plays tonight.
“I’m just going to try to be a real hard-working player,” Sutter, the former Charlotte Checkers captain, said. “I’m going to win every battle I can and keep it real simple tonight and just play a heavy game, be physical and do what I can to help the team.”
Yup, he’s a Sutter Brother’s son.
We chatted with Sutter about the Iowa coaching change, too, and you can read about that in tomorrow’s paper.
Scandella returns from his two-game jail sentence tonight. He said he’s not a dirty player, but he has to learn from the two recent head shots.
Also, I talked to Mikko Koivu about his signature shootout move (which he did alter a little the other night) and I’ll have those quotes in tomorrow’s paper.
FYI, I’ll be doing another podcast with Star Tribune columnist live from the Local in Minneapolis at 3 p.m. Wednesday. You can listen to it live or after the fact on souhanunfiltered.com. This will be a weekly thing, by the way.
For a change, the Wild power play helped win a road game.
After entering with one power-play goal on 44 chances in 14 previous road games, the Wild went 2 for 3 tonight at Arizona, the last coming off Zach Parise’s slam dunk with 5:53 left in regulation to force overtime en route to a 4-3 shootout win.
Playing against a team that is now winless in nine straight at home, the Wild was forced to play a man short with 17 skaters because Jared Spurgeon left warmups sick. He was actually sick beforehand and tried to take some IV’s, but it didn’t work. It sounds like he has a similar stomach virus that forced Charlie Coyle to miss a practice last week at Ridder.
Spurgeon’s absence coupled with Marco Scandella serving the final game of a two-game suspension really put the Wild in a tough spot tonight. Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin took a lot of the responsibility, logging 33:47 and 31:54, respectively (Brodin’s first time over 30 in his regular-season career).
On the second pair, Christian Folin moved to his off side and was paired with Nate Prosser. Justin Falk was paired with Stu Bickel, who was supposed to play forward for injured Ryan Carter, but Bickel only played 10 shifts. So in a lot of ways, the Wild played with 16 skaters.
But after Coyle, who played a strong game despite lots of struggles lately, kept a power play alive, Jason Pominville set up Parise.
Then, in the shootout, Parise and Mikko Koivu each scored their 38th shootout goals for the win. That’s a tie for first in the NHL in career shootout goals, and Koivu used the same move he has scored on three times this season (including the preseason) and several times in his career.
I’m planning to write on Koivu for Monday’s paper and I’ll have another real cool story in Tuesday’s paper that you’ll want to check out too, I think.
Back to Koivu, he has been real good for two or three weeks. I talked to him about “Angry Mikko,” which you know what I mean if you follow me on Twitter, his early season point struggles and leadership.
Jason Zucker had another fine game. He scored on the same breakaway move he scored on in October against Tampa Bay – basically the Koivu shootout move. He also scored with his dad and big bro, Evan, in the crowd. He said it’s the first time Evan has seen him play live, and coincidentally, I talked to Evan for my hockey in Vegas column that is running in Sunday’s paper. Here’s a link.
Suter two assists tonight, four hits, four blocked shots. Brodin, six blocked shots. Folin four blocked shots. Coyle four shots, (eight attempted) two drawn penalties and three hits.
Brodin has been ridiculously good lately. Plus-8 in seven games since returning from the mumps. His plus-14 was tied for fourth among NHL blue-liners. I wrote about Brodin and Coyle in my game notebook.
Yeo praised all the defensemen for stepping up in the absence of Scandella and Spurgeon. First time in the NHL Yeo said he coached a game short a player. He also praised the leadership for helping leading the way after Friday’s “stern” message Yeo provided.
Again, the hope is the power play is a start tonight. Parise said it all started with good entries, a net-front presence, a shot mentality and retrieving pucks, all stuff the Wild doesn’t do when it doesn’t feel good about itself on the power play. He said when you’re feeling good, it’s instinct.
That’s it for me. Just filed for the paper. Short blog, I know, with not a lot of detail about a fair unimpressive game despite the comeback win, but I wasn’t in the locker room long after the game because of a problem I had to deal with out of the blue. So apologies, but I need to get going.
The Wild flew back to Minnesota after the game and is off Sunday. I’ll blog if there’s news. Like I said, I plan to write about Koivu for Monday and a cool story for Tuesday. Kent Youngblood is covering Monday’s practice in Minnesota. Matt Cooke, who has missed 20 games, is expected to practice. We’ll see if Spurgeon or Carter practice as well.
On the blog, I may not be talking to you next until after the morning skates in Chicago. I'll will be on KFAN at 9:35 a.m. Tuesday when our very own Lavelle E. Neal The Third fills in for P.A.
If the Wild can manage to win at Chicago, it'll be .500 on the road after starting the season 2-6 away from St. Paul.
Good late afternoon from Northern California, where it’s the calm before the storm, I guess.
Some Super Storm is predicted to slam the Bay Area on Thursday. I grew up in South Florida, so I’m accustomed to terrible rainy weather and gusty winds and, frankly, hurricanes, so I’m not too concerned. But I’m not exactly sure how the Silicon Valley handles such events, and people here seem to be in freak-out mode and the weather reports from the National Weather Service do appear daunting.
It’s supposed to be an absolute mess here Thursday, so wish everybody luck and let’s hope everyone’s safe. As of now, most everybody says it’s very unlikely that the game would be cancelled, but as the San Jose Mercury News’ David Pollak reminded me today, San Jose has scrapped a game because of rain (actually flooding) before in 1995.
Thoughts here again are with Keith Ballard, who is such a good guy and just continues to have horrible luck with injuries. The latest is serious and could be season-altering at a minimum and career-threatening at a maximum.
He has three facial fractures and a concussion. Once the swelling goes down, doctors will decide whether or not Ballard needs surgery. He has been released from the hospital and is resting at home.
Even Chuck Fletcher admitted his concern. When I asked whether Ballard may not play again this season (which would likely mean at a minimum his Wild career is in danger because he’s in the final year of his contract), the Wild GM said, “This is serious. He’s had concussions before. I don’t know how many. We’re worried about that. Bones will heal. I don’t mean to make light of it, but his face will heal. But his hand was sticking right up. He was convulsing. This was scary. You could even see the reaction of the Islanders’ bench. They weren’t standing over him mocking him. They were scared.”
Thomas Vanek, Ballard’s close friend and former Gophers teammate, visited Ballard at the hospital last night.
“He was in good spirits,” Vanek said. “It’s tough for him because I’m sure you know his history with injuries. I thought he was an important player for us vocally and on the ice he was doing well, so it’s another setback for him. That’s why you feel bad for him. But I was encouraged how well he was actually doing.”
As you know by now, Matt Martin won’t be suspended. The league felt that when Ballard turned to avoid the hit, he put himself in a vulnerable position and that directly contributed to the incident and subsequent injury.
Fletcher didn’t want to comment, probably because he could be fined more than he’s worth.
Yeo said, “I’m not going to argue with the league on this one and I’m sure people on the Islanders’ side of the coin would be looking at things differently, but for me, it’s our player, it’s our teammate. When I looked at it, I know that Bally was in a bit of a vulnerable position. He may have turned into it a little bit, but at the same time, I see a player launching himself at him at an area close to the boards. The more I watch it, and again it’s hard to watch, when it’s your teammate, you don’t like those.”
A few players said they felt Martin is a left winger and hit Ballard along the right-wing boards, meaning he traveled 70 feet to deliver the hit. I do think he was on a line change though, and as I said last night and this morning, I just think it’s a reckless, needless hit. I know this is a game of finishing your check. I know as (coincidentally) former Sharks serial illegal hitter Bryan Marchment once said, if you don’t want to get hit, play tennis (or something like that).
But Ballard dumps the puck in the corner 100 feet away. He’s next to the boards. I don’t get why he needs to be hit late. Like I said this morning, the league considers seven-tenths of a second after a player releases the puck late. This, the league says, was half-a-second.
“I thought it was maybe even a little late, but it’s tough to tell because you really slow it down to watch it,” Yeo said. But he added, “He’s seeking him out. He’s on a mission there.”
Obviously, all fans are going to see this in their prism. Just look at my Twitter mentions today and I’m sure the blog and article comments. If you’re an Islander fan, Martin’s a saint. Scandella’s a devil. Wild fans say the opposite.
Of course, Martin has two suspensions to Scandella’s zero (well, for another few hours at least; more on that later).
Obviously an emotional topic. Look, even former congressman Anthony Weiner, an Islander fan, joined the fray and expressed his opinion.
Let's hope Ballard is back on the ice soon. But to blame Matt Martin for the crazy way that contact went down is just wrong.— Anthony Weiner (@anthonyweiner) December 10, 2014
My opinion? Who cares? It doesn’t matter. If the NHL suspends Matt Martin, what’s that do for the Wild? It’s a waste of your time to even get all angered. Just hope for Ballard’s recovery.
Wild plays the Sharks Thursday.
Scandella won't be playing because he was suspended two games for an illegal check to Brock Nelson’s head.
After practice and before his hearing, Scandella didn’t want to comment until Thursday. He pleaded the fifth, so to speak.
“Obviously we’re hoping he’s not suspended. He’s a huge part of our team,” Yeo said after practice.
But two head shots in 10 days, the league won’t be letting him off the hook. The Wild’s clearly guessing two games.
In the NHL video which can be seen here, the league says the main point of contact was Nelson's head, that his jaw absorbed the brunt of it, that head contact was avoidable and it noted how Scandella was just fined for a similar hit on T.J. Oshie 10 days ago.
Scandella loses $11,021.50 in salary (two days pay out of 186 days this season). Luckily for him, his recent extension doesn't kick in til next October.
If he's suspended again in the next 18 months, he'll lose game checks.
So, Christian Folin will draw into the game Thursday and if Scandella is suspended, so will Justin Falk. Asked why Falk over Matt Dumba or Jon Blum, Yeo said with Ballard and Scandella out, the Wild loses two left-shot D and with San Jose and Arizona (Saturday’s opponent) heavy teams, having a big body that can skate and shoot was the deciding factor.
Sounds like Darcy Kuemper will return to the net Thursday even though Niklas Backstrom was in the cage for the Islanders win.
“Still discussing that a little bit. We’ll wait ‘til [Thursday] to announce our decision,” Yeo said. “Looking at a couple different decisions – the opponent that we’re playing, Backy coming off a game that he should feel rea; good about, he should feel real good about and we’ll evaluate everything.
“We’ve got a pretty good idea which way we’re going.”
Yeo made crystal clear if Kuemper plays, this isn’t so much allowing him to bounce back from the Anaheim loss but more so Backstrom’s 1-9-1 record with a 3.63 goals-against average lifetime at San Jose.
The Wild, by the way, has won four of its past five on the road BUT is 2-11-2 in its past 15 in this glorious city.
Yeo talked a lot again how Wild players stepped up after the Ballard incident – Mikael Granlund challenging Kyle Okposo, a fiery Mikko Koivu with everyone from referee Brad Meier to every Islander and Kyle Brodziak fighting Martin.
“The way that we came out after that, it said a lot to me and I hope we can continue to with that same kind of passion that we played with the rest of the game,” Yeo said. “I could feel it on the bench. That stuff’s contagious when guys take themselves out of their comfort zone and they’re making a statement to the rest of the group, ‘if you mess with one of us, then you’re going to have to deal with the entire group.’”
Vanek said, “It just shows obviously guys care and respect Bally. Everyone stepped up in that way. Only time will tell how significant that game is, but not just getting wins, but showing those battles out of those guys, that can go a long way.”
Brodziak said he has never seen a scene like Ballard on the ice.
“It was scary,” he said.
On fighting Martin, Brodziak said, “Someone had to do something. You definitely don’t want to be a team that just lets things like that happen. We all care for each other and I know if I didn’t do something, someone else probably would have. I think that’s how you build a camaraderie you need in this league.”
Lots of Wild players mentioned how all they could think about while Ballard was on the ice was his wife, kids and parents.
Talk to you after the Scandella ruling.
Ryan Suter has the mumps – the fifth defenseman on the Wild to be stricken with the beast, a nasty virus that won’t disappear despite boosters and disinfected locker room and cleansed equipment and time between symptoms arising with players.
Every time the Wild thinks it’s in the rearview mirror, it reappears.
The hope though is Suter, the NHL's ice time leader the past two seasons and again this season, got the Marco Scandella strain and not the Jonas Brodin one.
I say that obviously as a joke.
However, coach Mike Yeo did say Suter is feeling better and “I’m not even ready to rule him out for [Friday’s game against Anaheim]. Marco missed two games with this and Bally (Keith Ballard) missed eight games with it, so it affects people differently, so we’ll see where he’s at [Friday].”
Asked if he’s worried about bring a contagious player back into the locker room, Yeo said, “Well he’s a pretty important player to us and obviously we’ve tried to take precautions with that. Whether he’s around, it’s obviously around us, so I don’t know that’s going to make a huge difference. We’ve been trying to do everything we can to prevent this.”
Yeo’s point is that mumps symptoms usually appear 16-18 days after infection and people are mostly contagious three days prior to salivary-gland swelling and up to nine days after the onset of symptoms.
Suter hasn’t gotten the swollen glands but has other symptoms unique to the mumps. The virus is spread by mucus and saliva from the nose or throat, usually when an infected person coughs, sneezes or touches surfaces.
The virus has affected Scandella (two games), Brodin (seven games, 17 days), Ballard (eight games) and Christian Folin (five games). It has also affected the Anaheim Ducks this season (players like Corey Perry, Francois Beauchemin and former Wild defenseman Clayton Stoner), several St. Louis Blues and reportedly the Rangers’ Tanner Glass.
“It’s bizarre,” Yeo said. “Luckily this hasn’t become a bigger story to be honest with you. And I really mean that. It’s probably something we should be talking about a little bit more. The fact that we’ve overcome this adversity, we’ve talked about the start of the year just how important our D were to the type of game we want to play and when we’re successful how involved we are at both sides of the puck and we just really haven’t had our group together. But our guys have done a good job battling through that.”
Earlier this season, Blues coach Ken Hitchcock joked that the CDC was in St. Louis. That wasn’t really true, but I asked Yeo what the Wild has been doing to try to rid this team of the illness.
“We’ve had the room cleaned and decontaminated or whatever you want to call it,” Yeo said. “But I might have it in me, you might have it in you. Who knows? … Sorry to say that (laughing). Even though we decontaminated and cleaned the room, even though I don’t have it, I might still be bringing it back into the room. I don’t know. I’m not a doctor. I don’t really know. I’m trying to learn and probably learning too much about this, to be honest with you. But we’re doing everything we can. But at the same time, we can’t be sitting around thinking about the mumps. We play a pretty darn good hockey team [Friday].”
In the meantime, Jared Spurgeon and Nate Prosser, as the only two defensemen to avoid the beast, were walking around in body suits today. Joking.
If Suter can’t play, the Wild will have to get good minutes from those two, as well as Brodin, Folin, Scandella and Ballard, who all played well in Wednesday’s win over Les Habitants.
“We talked about needing guys to step up and I thought that group did a great job for us,” Yeo said. “Certainly we’re going to need a similar performance [Friday] from them. Those guys in particular (Brodin, Scandella and Folin) jumped out from last game, but I thought that was a real strong team effort. Certainly there’s going to be games where certain guys jump out at you and have real strong performances, but the simple fact is it’s a team game that allows those guys to have that center stage and we need to continue to have that same kind of performance.”
THE 7 FOR 78 POWER PLAY, which interestingly has scored five goals during the Wild’s 7-2-1 stretch compared to two power-play goals for the opponent.
I talked with Zach Parise again today. Obviously he made a postgame comment minutes after a game before he had time to cool off that ticked some fans off, but frankly, I’m the one who asked the question, so I wanted to (partly out of guilt) talk to him again today where I wasn’t on deadline and where I could actually have a conversation rather than a quick postgame scrum.
My point to him last night was, we all know the power play stinks. It has been a seasonlong topic. It has been talked about ad nauseum, written about nonstop. My point in my question though was how much does it make things worse when 18,000 fans are booing on a five-minute major. How do you make a play? Because there’s little doubt the Wild looked paralyzed during the major. In fact, fans in the corners were trying to drown out the boobirds with “Let’s Go Wild!” to spur the team along.
The Wild’s hoping for a little home-ice advantage Friday similar to the jolt it felt in the playoffs. Several told me that off-the-record today. Parise basically said so on-the-record today.
Parise said of the booing, “It doesn’t help. They’re frustrated, and I understand that. And they have a right to be frustrated. We’re frustrated, and then when we get booed, we get more frustrated, and then it snowballs. But sometimes we feel like booing ourselves, too, it’s that bad, so I can’t disagree with them.”
In depth on the power play, Parise said, “We’re frustrated, too. We probably deserved to get booed. It’s been a sore spot for us and we need to work on it. It’s the only way you get out of it. It’s not just going to change.”
The Wild did work on it today and actually had a second unit without a center that I’m sure will have a center inserted whenever there actually needs to be a faceoff. But they may be more of an on the fly unit. The No. 1 unit today had Parise-Mikko Koivu (to win that draw since the other centers on the team have been subpar)-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville-Jonas Brodin (Suter if he plays) and the No. 1 unit had Jason Zucker-Thomas Vanek-Nino Niederreiter-Marco Scandella-Jared Spurgeon.
What did they work on today? Parise: “More repetition, a little more movement. More shots. We don’t shoot. We’ve got to take some shots and we need a guy in front of the net. It feels like when we do finally get a shot, there’s no one in front of the net. It’s an easy save. It’s not just one thing. It’s a lot of things that are happening. It’s hard to just pinpoint this is what we’re doing wrong because there’s a lot of things that we do wrong that just accumulate and doesn’t work.”
The Wild got off to such a great start this season on the power play. It just didn’t score and then things have gone downhill since. It happens to everybody. I mean, Anaheim, which has a ton of weapons, just snapped an 0 for 19 power-play drought last night. But normally you break out of it. The Wild hasn’t (interestingly, as bad as the Wild’s power play has been on the road (1 for 42), Nashville is actually 1 for 41 at home yet somehow is second in the West and 10-1-1 at home. Weird, eh?
I’m rambling. Back on topic.
Parise: “I don’t think anyone would have expected this. It’s a lot of different things. Just when it doesn’t go well, you get frustrated and then all of a sudden, you know everyone wants to make that play to create the goal and everyone wants to make that pass. It’s a great mentality to have, but sometimes that’s what’s causing us a lot of the plays that are getting broken up or one and done’s. We’re not moving it around crisp, we’re not setting each other up, so a lot of times when we do have an opening, we don’t put it in a guy’s wheelhouse. We throw it in the skates, we throw it behind them. Other times we’re not attacking when we’ve got them coming out of a corner. Like I said, it’s a lot of things. And then the frustration creeps in and then you end up where you are right now.”
But Parise said, “If we were playing terrible hockey and losing games but we had a good power play, what’s the good in that? But right now our 5-on-5 game is great. We’re playing really well. We could definitely use some power-play goals, but we’re winning games. Once we get the power play going, which we will, then we’re going to be really dangerous. But right now it’s not working. It hasn’t worked. But it’s fixable. That’s the good thing. It’s very fixable.”
And luckily, the Wild’s penalty kill is second-best in the NHL and as I mentioned has given up two goals during the 7-2-1 string.
“That’s been a big part,” Parise said. “When you’re not scoring on the power play, if you can kind of nullify their power play, too, and not lose the special teams game, that goes a long way because I think we’re confident we can play with any team 5-on-5. And if we’re not losing the special teams game, then we have a chance to win.”
Yeo said, “We’ve tried a lot of different scenarios. We’re trying to put the right pieces in place. That’s part of it, but more than anything else, I just wanted to make sure we’ve got the right mentality. Whenever your power play’s struggling – and that’s what’s going on right now, we know that – there’s a lot of things you have to overcome, there’s a lot of difficulties that are faced that don’t involve x’s and o’s, that don’t involve things that you can just draw up on a board. You’re talking about confidence, you’re talking about even anxiety, things that can get in your way and inhibit the things that make you successful, so we have to get back to the right approach here and we have little things that we have to do that will make us successful if we do them and we have to stay focused on that. If we go out and have a great power play the first power play and we don’t score, we can’t get too rattled by that. Obviously we want to, obviously that’s the goal, but we have to try to generate as many shots and as much momentum as possible from it.”
I asked more about that anxiety because again, even though these guys are professionals, the nervousness on the power play, the lack of confidence, was visible to the naked eye Wednesday, especially when the fans let the player have it.
“I don’t know that I’m qualified to give you the answer to that one,” Yeo said when asked how to tune that stuff out and overcome the jitters. “We work it repeatedly in practice and hopefully you can build some of that good feeling. Until you start to see the results in a game, it’s not something you can magically make it appear. We have to work for our confidence, there’s no question. And it’s the same way we’ve had to do it with our game, but we’ve got character guys and we’re going to keep fighting through it. we saw this last year. There was a part of the season where there was some difficult stuff going on, and at the time, I said that’s the kind of stuff that can make you better. Well this is the kind of stuff that can make you better, too. We’re finding a way to win despite the frustration that’s been involved with our power play, and that’s something that our guys should be proud of, that’s something we should really be focusing on. As we continue to fight through this adversity, it’ll continue to make us better.”
Yeo said, “I guess what’s tough about the power play is here we are again today and we’ve spent five minutes talking about the power play and yet we haven’t talked about tomorrow’s opponent, we haven’t talked about the game that we’ve won or any success that we’ve had recently. The power play is part of the game – it’s a very big part, there’s no question. But you know what? So is our forecheck, so is our D-zone coverage, so are our faceoffs, so are so many other elements of the game. If we have a great power play and the rest of our areas are not good and we lose the game, I don’t think we should feel good about that. obviously our goal is to become a better team and we do that by continuing to be strong and sharp in the areas that we are and we do that by trying to improve the areas that we’re not. Certainly there’s some parts of our game that we have to make sure that we continue to stay strong with, and there’s other parts like our pp that we have to work to try to get better at.”
Mikko Koivu on the power play: “Every single year I’ve been around, you go through tough times on either penalty kill or power play or 5 on 5 or whatever it is. You’ve just got to come out the next day and work on it and get better at it. Simplify. I think that’s the most important thing.”
On the fans booing: “I think as players, you know if we played a good game. Five minutes on a power play we didn’t capitalize on the way we wanted, we didn’t get the momentum, but at the end we got two points and beat a very good hockey team from out east. We’re not happy with it, the way we had that pp. but at the same time, we worked on it today and we want to get better at it and we will.
Change anything: “You can’t change who you are. If you look at the power plays across the league, everyone plays pretty much the same way. It’s a matter of all the little things that get you that goal. Sometimes when you’re not scoring, you’re starting to think about it and you’re making it more complicated than it should be. I think that’s why it’s good to have a practice and work on a couple things.
Should you just get more pucks on net? “You can’t think that. If you’re thinking that, odds are not good that you’re going to score a goal. It’s the plays before you score that will make that happen. It’s not that we’re not trying to score a goal, but sometimes it’s just not going the way you want it. And you’ve got to give them credit too. They’re a good pk team with a good goaltender. I think it’s a process. You’ve got to do things the right way to score a goal rather than thinking about the goal right away.
On the good PK: “I think it’s work ethic, winning battles and winning loose pucks. It’s a lot of little things that make that happen.”
I joked on Twitter at the start of the third period that the Wild was “clinging” to a 3-0 … lead, and while I maybe didn’t envision exactly what transpired in the third, that is exactly what I meant by the word, “clinging.”
It wasn’t that I felt the wild was playing poorly. But I have seen it so many times after teams get into penalty trouble:
The Wild, with a 3-0 stranglehold on the game and dominating 5-on-5 play against the Winnipeg Jets (the Jets didn’t even have an even-strength shot on goal this game until 3 ½ minutes in the second period!), killed five penalties in the second.
Guys like Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville played four shifts in the second, Charlie Coyle three. The momentum of the game completely turned because the Wild spent basically the entire period on the PK. The Jets were skating forward so to speak, the Wild backward.
So I didn’t think it would be easy for the Wild to return to its first period play. I expected the Jets to push and the Wild to be on its heels, but of course, I didn’t expect to see a 3-0 lead evaporate in a span of 4 minutes, 52 seconds on goals by Michael Frolik, Evander Kane and Andrew Ladd. It was the second time this season the Wild coughed up a three-goal lead in the third, but this time it didn't lose.
The last goal came at 10:47 of the period. The Wild survived the final 9:13, somehow, someway, got to overtime, got the 5-minute Zamboni dryscape to settle down and came out and scored 61 seconds in when Marco Scandella, fresh off the mumps, whistled his first career overtime winner for a 4-3 win.
Evening from the press box, where I was actually off tonight. Rachel Blount is busy to my right banging on the keyboard working on her game story, so I figured I’d help out and blog.
Shame the way things unfolded tonight for Niklas Backstrom because he was so good in the first two periods. The veteran was a huge part of the Wild’s 8 for 8 penalty kill, being the man in net for seven of them before Darcy Kuemper entered to replace him. He made three saves for his eighth win of the season in his 14th appearance, which means he can no longer be sent to the minors without clearing waivers. So he’s here for the long haul.
Player after player jumped to Backstrom’s defense afterward, saying they were fluky goals.
“Three-nothing in the third period, there’s no reason that game needs to go to overtime,” said defenseman Keith Ballard, who played old-school hockey tonight, laying one of his typical hip checks on Adam Pardy and fighting Andrew Ladd after Ladd asked him to go following Ballard admittedly getting away with a couple cross-checks. “They scored three lucky goals. I mean, every single one of them went off one of our guys before it went in. We spent a little too much time in our end in the third and I think we got away from that constant pressure that we saw in the first of getting pucks deep and battling down there and then we get a line change and the next line’s doing it, too. It was too much one and done in the third.”
But, Scandella, who missed the previous two games with what the team thinks was the mumps, capped a 25-minute night with the winning goal. Scandella said he didn’t get confirmation that he indeed had the mumps, but the team definitely thinks he does and vaccinated players, staff and broadcasters. Jonas Brodin is still out with the illness and was hit harder than Scandella, coach Mike Yeo said before the game.
Scandella said his jaw was very swollen. “It didn’t look very pretty,” he said, laughing, adding that he was depleted of any energy and only started skating for the first time in five days this morning.
“It feels great,” Scandella said of his winner. “Rough third period. We didn’t get the bounces that we wanted. Sometimes that hockey. They had momentum. They came hard. We bent, but we didn’t break. Everyone was focused. No one was panicking. We played resilient.”
He said the “excitement of the game and adrenaline” got him through. “Little bit down from beating the virus, but once you’re in the game, you don’t think about that. The fans helped a lot. It was a loud building tonight.”
Zach Parise returned from a concussion for the first time in six games and scored two goals – one Jason Pominville pass that ricocheted off Parise’s leg, one Parise-to-Pominville intended flubbed pass that deflected in off Jets winger Blake Wheeler’s skate. Parise three or four times flirted with his third career hat trick and first with the Wild, but he couldn’t get it to go.
Parise said he felt pretty good, but “a couple times I probably had more time than I felt like I did and rushed a couple plays. But hopefully it will get better as I get into some more real practices and play some more games.”
He said he lost his conditioning a bit: “It's always hard to replicate that game speed, even though it wasn’t that long being out. These guys played five games and you lose that pretty quickly. You need to get a couple games to get back to normal speed.”
On the game, Parise said, “Of course we were frustrated with the way we let them back in the game. Unfortunately, we gave them a point we shouldn’t have. It was good for us to come back and win in overtime, but it wasn't the ideal thing to crawl back in there when we had a 3-0 lead.”
Weird game, to say the least.
Why did the game change?
“I think we spent the entire second period killing and they spent the entire second period either on the power play or acting like idiots,” Ballard said.
Defenseman Ryan Suter, the NHL’s time on ice leader the past two seasons and leader again this season at 29 minutes, 13 seconds a game, still logged 28:24 Sunday despite being whistled for a career-high four minor penalties (eight penalty minutes).
The Wild killed all of Suter’s minors and all eight Winnipeg power plays in the game, as I mentioned above.
“It was unbelievable. They called me for them, but our PK did a really good job stepping up,” said Suter, unhappy with a few of the calls by referees Brad Watson and Justin St. Pierre.
The Wisconsin native added with a laugh, “Guys were joking that the Packer game was on in the penalty box. It wasn’t. It was a tough night. I don’t think I’ve had four penalties this year.”
In fact, Suter entered with only four penalty minutes.
The Wild was very frustrated with Watson and St. Pierre all game and got into some barking matches throughout.
There is no doubt the refs’ involvement in the game – whether you agree with the calls or not – affected the way the game evolved.
“You could feel things starting to slip,” Yeo said. “Our PK was outstanding tonight but you never want to put yourself in that position because we’ve got other guys that we’ve basically lost in the game. That was not the recipe for success. We just lost the rhythm of the game through the second period and with that things came out in the third. In the end we found a way to win and that’s all that matters.”
On Scandella and Parise’s returns, Yeo said, “We got two very important pieces back into the lineup tonight and both those guys had a huge impact on the game. From a defensive standpoint, Marco is such a big part of the way we want to play the game, taking away time and space, being in guys’ faces and helping us with the execution. I thought he played a really strong game before he scored the overtime winner. That was the icing on cake. Zach, the way he came out in the first period, and it was tough to get him involved in the second, but whenever we needed a momentum shift or to help get things going the right way, he was the guy getting after it and playing the game the right way as well.”
More on the game, Yeo said, “Listen, things happen, you can blame bounces, you can get frustrated with your play. But in the end the game is sitting right there for you. And I liked that we regrouped and went after it in overtime. I thought we got back on the attack and that’s the way we have to play the game (Context from Russo, not a quote: Parise set up Mikko Koivu and Jared Spurgeon, but both swung and missed).
“We’re not a back-up team and let them come at us. We’re a team that dictates and initiates, and when we play that way we’re effective, and when we don’t we’re not so much.”
On Backstrom being pulled, Yeo said, “That was just momentum, that was not on him by any means. He was making some good saves. There were a couple tough bounces that were tough for any goalie. But I’d already burned my timeout and I felt they still had the momentum after that, and obviously they scored that goal. So you’re looking for anything to do.”
Kuemper made three saves for the winner one home game after Backstrom replaced him and got the win with 25 saves. Not often you see consecutive home wins where the starting goalie didn’t get credit for either win. If I remember correctly, Backstrom’s first three NHL wins were all in relief of Manny Fernandez – a first in NHL history.
More on Parise, Yeo said, “What I like about Zach, you see that end result but there are things leading up to that that are the reason he scores those goals. He doesn’t take shortcuts. You talk about doing something before the game and you draw it up on the board, then you see that first goal go in because he does exacly what we’re talking about. That’s leadership.”
On Nino Niederreiter’s team-leading eighth goal, a highlight-reel goal where he took a Thomas Vanek pass in the high slot, weaved around Jacob Trouba and tucked a backhander from behind the goal line inside the post, Yeo said, “Good to get another one on the power play. “We want to have competition between the two groups. The last three games we’ve gotten power-play goals, they’ve all come on the back half of the power plays. That whole two minutes is important. That was a heck of a play. He’s got to be a guy who just keeps getting to that area. He’s so dangerous around the front of the net. The more times you get there the more times you get rewarded.
Odds and ends:
Pominville was plus-3 and three assists for the sixth time in his career. Jared Spurgeon has eight blocked shots and has blocked 15 in the past two games. On one of Parise’s goals, he turned a 2-on-2 into a 3-on-2. He has at least one point in 7 of 12 games this season.
The Wild is 7-1 at home, outscoring opponents 32-16 here. The Wild is second in the NHL on the PK at 89.3 percent (50 for 56, 5 for 5 on 3-on-5s. The Wild killed three abbreviated two-man disadvantages tonight).
Parise has 35 multi-goal games now. Justin Fontaine has three assists in the past three games. Pominville now has 128 career multi-point games. Mikko Koivu won 18 of 28 draws. Since Oct. 30, he has won 131 of 210 (62.4 percent).
After the game, Justin Falk and Jordan Schroeder were reassigned to Iowa.
That’s it for me. I’ll talk to you after Monday’s practice. The Wild’s off Tuesday (I’m getting revaccinated for the mumps that day!!!) and Rachel is covering Wednesday’s practice as I head to Philly.
Wild is 3-6 on the road and plays four of its next five on the road, including the Flyers-Lightning-Panthers trip coming up. The latter two games will be the team’s father-son trip.
That’s it for me. Tuesday’s paper, I’m doing a big story on the NHL’s Department of Player Safety, which I got to shadow during last Sunday’s NHL slate of games. Should be some great color and anecdotes in that story, which I better get home and write, in fact.
OK, there you go. A 2,100-word blog on my day off!!!
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