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.
Also find Russo on Facebook.
Email Michael to talk about hockey.
At the Wild's morning skate Thursday, former Gophers forward Erik Haula skated on the fourth line with Justin Fontaine and Mike Rupp. Haula will be in the lineup tonight against Chicago, playing his fourth game in a row since being recalled from the Wild's AHL affiliate in Iowa.
Based on the morning skate, it appears Zenon Konopka will be the odd man out at forward, and Nate Prosser and Matt Dumba are the likely scratches on defense. Josh Harding will be in net. No changes to the top three lines.
Wild coach Mike Yeo wanted Haula's speed in the lineup against the Blackhawks. "We're playing a fast team,'' Yeo said. "I expect it to be a high-paced game. I think (Haula) is going to give us a little bit of flexibility with how we work things with our fourth line tonight.
"He's just a young kid. We're still trying to figure out where he's going to fit, how he's going to fit. But through the games he's played, he's shown he can be versatile and can have a positive effect on our lineup.''
Haula said he's feeling comfortable after three games, though he saw limited ice time (6:34) in his last game, against Philadelphia. He knows what to expect in the faceoff circle and is absorbing the many pointers given to him.
"It's awesome,'' he said. "It's everything I expected it to be. I'm learning every day.''
Yeo said it's been nice to see the Wild rediscover its form in the past two games, but he cautioned against the team losing sight of the details as it did during a four-game winless streak. Chicago, which leads the NHL with 44 points and 105 goals, presents a particularly stiff challenge.
"They’ve got a lot of weapons over there offensively,'' Yeo said of the Blackhawks. "We've got to be sharp in all areas of our game. How we defend without the puck is going to be crucial tonight. They're a very dangerous team off the rush. They're very good in the offensive zone. They shoot the puck, they go to the net. There's a lot of challenges there.
"On top of that, we've got to make sure we're executing the right way. They defend well, so to generate anything, you've got to make sure you're doing the right things. But if you're not executing, not getting to the offensive zone, if you spend too much time defending, it doesn’t matter how well you defend. Eventually, it's going to come back to haunt you.''
The Wild hosts the Philadelphia Flyers tonight in the first of a two-game homestand. The defending Stanley Cup champ Chicago Blackhawks come to town Thursday.
Josh Harding will start for the Wild. The Flyers, who will start slugger Ray Emery, will be without veteran Vincent Lecavalier, who hurt his back in Nashville on Saturday night.
MIke Rupp is officially back on the roster. He was away from the team for a few days because of a death in his family. Zenon Konopka was also on the ice today wearing a visor after taking a puck to his left eye Friday against Colorado.
Zach Parise-Mikko Koivu-Jason Pominville
Nino Niederreiter-Charlie Coyle-Dany Heatley
Matt Cooke-Kyle Brodziak-Torrey Mitchell
Mike Rupp/Erik Haula/Zenon Konopka/Justin Fontaine
One of the above forwards will be scratched. Coach Mike Yeo said it's a gametime decision, but there's a good chance Haula will play because of the speed he brings, his ability to take faceoffs and because he's been responsible in his own zone.
Defense pairs will go back to normal. Yeo switched his top two defense pairs in Colorado and it didn't go well, so in the third, Ryan Suter was reunited with Jonas Brodin and Marco Scandella was reunited with Jared Spurgeon to get back to some familiarity. That definitely worked for Minnesota during a dominant period.
Clayton Stoner and Keith Ballard are again a pair, but they have been a little erratic and since Yeo said today that he skated up to Matt Dumba and Nate Prosser and told them that he doesn't plan on scratching them a bunch of games in a row and to get ready to play soon, it'll be interesting to watch Stoner and Ballard tonight.
Speaking of Dumba, as I wrote in Sunday's paper, GM Chuck Fletcher was strongly considering loaning Dumba to Team Canada for the world junior championships in Malmo, Sweden. It makes all the sense in the world because Dumba is barely playing here and the world juniors would be such a great developmental experience for Dumba, who has been cut the previous two years.
Barring a crazy amount of injuries in the next week, Fletcher has indeed made the decision to loan Dumba to Canada before its camp starts Dec. 12 in Toronto. The team will then head to Denmark to continue camp before the tournament starts Dec. 26. Again, if the Wild sustains injuries in the next week, Fletcher may change his mind.
Once Dumba leaves the team, that opens up a roster spot, which would also give the Wild more roster flexibility. Remember, when you carry eight defensemen, you have to make decisions like Sunday, when the Wild had to reassign Jason Zucker to Iowa once Rupp returned to the team. The Wild will also free up some cap space by Dumba not being on the roster. After the tournament ends Jan. 5, the Wild will decide whether or not to add Dumba back onto its roster or return him to Red Deer of the Western Hockey League.
The next threshold for Dumba to pass is 40 games on the Wild's roster. If he is on the roster for more than 40, his seven-year free agency clock begins to tick. With Dumba off the roster, that actually buys the Wild more time to make a decision. In other words, the games the Wild plays without Dumba won't count toward that 40-game mark.
In 1995-96, when Fletcher was assistant GM in Florida, the Panthers loaned defenseman Rhett Warrener to Canada. Warrener played 13 games before Christmas, being scratched most the time. Warrener came back from world junior, was added back to Florida's roster and was a huge part of Florida's run to the Stanley Cup final.
Coincidentally, Dumba has also played exactly 13 games.
Dumba will be Canada's go-to defenseman -- an absolute shoo-in to make the team -- and will likely get a letter on his chest from his former Red Deer coach, Brent Sutter.
"I think it’s going to be a good experience for me to go there and play my best and play a good role," Dumba said. "I hope that all works out for me. I'll work hard and do whatever it takes to reach our end result, which is getting our country gold again."
Pierre McGuire, a world junior expert, is here in Minnesota to work the NBC Sports Network telecast tonight with Doc Emrick.
"This is smart by Chuck," said McGuire. "It’s great for the kid and his time with Sutter and his connection to Red Deer is mammoth. Dumba's going to be a great player for Canada and for Minnesota in the future."
Konopka has a big shiner around his left eye and stitches on his eyelid, which had to be pleasant. He admitted that the eye doctor told him he was very, very lucky. He said he couldn't see for a few days. In that Colorado game, Konopka came back to the ice for a shift. Spurgeon sent him a pass, he knew the pass was coming, but his eye just couldn't focus, Konopka said. That's why he left the ice in a stick-swinging tantrum down the runway.
He said though he will not wear the visor permanently, that he just doesn't like it or feel comfortable with it.
That's it for now. Talk to you later.
The Wild has recalled center/winger Erik Haula from AHL Iowa. Veteran Mike Rupp has been designated for non-roster status because he is heading home for a few days because of a death in his family, Rupp said today.
Haula was in town for Thanksgiving, so the Wild had his equipment shipped to Minnesota from Des Moines, Iowa. He got a call yesterday that this most likely would happen.
Coach Mike Yeo is keeping tonight's roster mum until warmups, but Haula, the former Gopher, thinks he is making his NHL debut during today's 5 p.m. game against the Colorado Avalanche.
"Every time I've been here, you always think of what it feels like," Haula said. "Now it’s actually happening. It’s pretty crazy."
Haula didn't even have his suit here, saying, "Thankfully it was Black Friday. I got a good deal."
The Wild does need a second-line center and Haula says he is playing center. The original plan was to play Justin Fontaine there, but with Rupp put on non-roster status, the Wild was able to open up a roster spot for Haula. Haula is tied for second on Iowa with 10 points (four goals) in 18 games and I felt was having a great training camp until about three or four days to go.
My guess now is Fontaine only plays if Zach Parise can't because the third line is expected to be Jason Zucker-Kyle Brodziak-Dany Heatley and the fourth line is expected to be Matt Cooke-Zenon Konopka-Torrey Mitchell. I'd think Mitchell plays over Fontaine because of his penalty-kill role.
I think Parise may be playing. Yeo wouldn't say for sure, but he was just on the bench listening to music doing his normal pregame visualization.
Jean-Sebastien Giguere in goal for Colorado. My guess is Josh Harding starts for Minnesota, but we will find out soon.
Maybe Zach Parise was inspired by Parise the horse coming off a year away and winning Woodbine's first race Saturday.
Parise arrived at Xcel Energy Center this morning in a walking boot and was expected to miss two to three weeks with a bruised foot. Now it would be shocking if that window holds up.
Parise got the media all into a tweeting lather this morning when around 10 a.m., the winger went on the ice in a track suit and tested the foot. He looked tentative as he pushed off. He left the ice after five minutes. I thought that was it.
Twenty minutes later, he emerged for the morning skate much to the delight of his teammates. During line rushes, he took his spot on the Parise-Mikko Koivu-Charlie Coyle line. Finally, the last line rush, Jason Zucker took Parise's spot. Coach Mike Yeo jokingly asked reporters if we even watched the skate because every he looked up, we were punching things in our phones.
Parise won't play tonight.
"I was stunned to be honest with you," Yeo said when he saw Parise come out for the skate. "I shouldn’t say that because that’s the way he is talking to him even yesterday. It’s very encouraging. It’s a great example to everybody just how bad he wants to compete and help the team."
Parise said when he limped into the arena in a walking boot this morning, he had no clue he would skate. But "I tried putting my skate on. I just wanted to see what it felt like."
He then decided to do the preskate twirl and "thought it felt good enough to at least try for a pregame skate."
At the start of the skate, Parise thought he was playing as he took regular line rushes: "I was hoping I could give it a shot, but as it went on and as I tried to do different things that are more game-like and reactionary, it hurt too much to try to be ale to play. I know that I wouldn’t be effective or comfortable out there."
In Parise's mind, that two-to-three week window means nothing: "I’m more so taking it day by day and seeing how I feel and getting some treatment. Hopefully I’ll be more comfortable [Thursday] and see what happens. I understand you have to, but I don’t like to put a timeframe on things. I’ll try to play when I can."
Parise said his foot feels better in a skate than barefoot or in sandals, which is why he decided to try to skate today.
He said when he stops and starts and quick starts at the beginning of drills, he just didn't have the power. Same with cross-overs to the one side. So he just knows he wouldn't have stability battling on the wall and protecting the puck.
Parise said of the important stretch of games coming up, "It wouldn’t matter to me who we were playing. I don’t like to miss games. I don’t want to sit out, so it doesn’t matter what the schedule looks like."
Keith Ballard will return tonight from two broken ribs and be paired with Clayton Stoner. Matt Dumba and Nate Prosser are scratched. Josh Harding will back up Niklas Backstrom and Darcy Kuemper will be reassigned.
The forwards are up in the air. In the skate, the second line was the reunited Nino Niederreiter-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville line. The third line was Matt Cooke-Kyle Brodziak-Dany Heatley, while the fourth line was Justin Fontaine-Zenon Konopka-Torrey Mitchell.
I think Granlund returns
and Mitchell doesn't play. Mitchell is on injured reserve, so if he stays there, Zucker would be able to slot into the Koivu-Coyle line.
Mitchell has been taken off IR and Zucker has been reassigned.
Coyotes backup Thomas Greiss, who is 2-1 in five games with a 2.37 goals-against average and .928 save percentage, will start.
That's it for now. Wild actually didn't return to town until 2 p.m. yesterday as opposed to after the St. Louis game.
There was a sensor on their charter that a smoke detector wasn't working. But it wouldn't pinpoint which smoke detector, so they had to replace all nine. After staying on the plane for an hour after the game, the team filed off and returned to their downtown hotel before flying home Tuesday afternoon. That's why the Parise update came so late.
By the way, if you want to watch video of Parise winning the Woodbine race, here it is. Give the article a read above. It was a fun one.
Rugged veteran forward Mike Rupp will play his first NHL game since May 9’s playoff game against the Chicago Blackhawks tonight when the Wild visits the St. Louis Blues.
Rupp, coming off a five-game conditioning stint with AHL Iowa as the final step in his recoup from offseason knee surgery, draws into the lineup because center Mikael Granlund will miss his second game in a row with an upper-body injury.
Coach Mike Yeo says from what he’s “been told, we don’t have reason to be concerned. We’re just calling him day-to-day and we’ll see what happens here tomorrow.”
Yeo is being hush-hush about what the issue with Granlund is. Like I wrote on yesterday’s blog, he played four games since the Nazem Kadri head shot but was hammered by Marc Methot last Wednesday in Ottawa.
Whatever the injury is, the Wild is clearly thinking there’s a chance Granlund could play Wednesday against Phoenix because if he was already ruled out for that game, the Wild could simply place Granlund on injured reserve retroactive to last Wednesday and call up a forward to replace him. Instead, the Wild is keeping Granlund off IR, which would allow him to play Wednesday if he can.
Torrey Mitchell has been placed on IR (he can come off whenever he’s healthy) and that move allows Darcy Kuemper to back up tonight. Josh Harding was not able to return to St. Louis because of a stiff hamstring that was apparently spasming in Winnipeg.
Apparently, it’s a similar injury to why he had to come out of the Carolina game Oct. 24. Niklas Backstrom played the third period of that game and then consecutive games against Chicago.
Harding’s had some awful luck in this building anyway. He strained his groin here in 2005, which thrust Backstrom onto the NHL stage initially. He tore his ACL and MCL here in his preseason debut in 2010. He also got sick in a tie game here in the preseason. Johan Gustafsson proceeded to come in and the Wild got shellacked in the third.
Same thing as Granlund, the Wild is hoping Harding is a day-to-day thing and can play this weekend. If the Wild was worried, it could put Harding on injured reserve retroactive to the time of injury, but the problem with that is he would have to miss a week.
With the tough stretch of games coming up, the Wild needs Harding back soon.
Backstrom vs. Jaroslav Halak tonight. Ken Hitchcock is going against the grain, starting Halak, who is 1-2-3 against the Wild with a 2.45 goals-against average and .911 save percentage, as opposed to Brian Elliott, who is 4-0 against the Wild with a 2.04 goals-against average.
But both St. Louis goalies are playing great and Halak is 12-3-2 with a 2.34 goals-against average and .906 save percentage (Elliott 4-0-1 with a 1.79 GAA and .932 SV%).
Nate Prosser will skate on the blue line for Minnesota. Matt Dumba is scratched. Kevin Shattenkirk didn’t skate for St. Louis this morning because of the flu, so the Wild may catch a break there.
The Blues have gotten points in 10 straight at home vs. Minnesota since Oct. 20, 2007 (7-0-3, or from the Wild’s standpoint, Minnesota is 3-5-2 in its past 10 at St. Louis). The Blues have won five in a row vs. the Wild and is 5-0-1 in the past six.
The Blues have scored in 12 of the past 13 periods against Minnesota, at least three goals in three straight home games against Minnesota and outshot the Wild by at least 18 shots in each of the last three home games and 117-60 overall.
So, tough task tonight.
The Rupp-Zenon Konopka-Dany Heatley line should be an interesting one. Konopka is suddenly the best skater on the line, but if that line can play in the offensive zone and ask some size and physicality, it could be utilized well by the Wild tonight.
Yeo said he’s “anxious to have [Rupp] back and his teammates are, too.”
Rupp said the games in Iowa were a good thing for him.
“From Game 1 to Game 5, I’m pleased with the progress in that time,” Rupp said, saying he was trying to just get rid of some bad habits by not playing for so long.
What’s good for Rupp is he gets back to the Wild and can immediately play. A week ago when the Wild had Granlund and Mitchell, Rupp extended his conditioning stint because he thought it would be beneficial to him but because he also knew the Wild wasn’t about to fiddle with its winning lineup.
So Rupp would have done the rehab thing and then risked getting rusty again in the press box. Now he gets to continue getting back into the swing of playing again.
“I’m pleased with what progress has been made in the last 10 days,” Rupp said. “It’s been really good in my head. I want to keep building on that. The more I’m getting reps in practice and the more I’m playing, the stronger I’m going to get.”
Rupp said more than nerves tonight, there’s more “anticipation.”
“The NHL season is a big groove, and you want to find that as quick as you can,” Rupp said. “I’m joining a team that’s been playing really well, so you just want to try to be a part of it and build from game to game.”
I talked to David Backes, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter a lot about the U.S. leadership group they're a part of with Dustin Brown and Ryan Callahan for the Olympics. That will be in tomorrow's paper. I'm also working ahead on a pretty fun story that will hopefully run Wednesday.
|Vikings (32)||Gophers injuries (2)|
|Gophers on TV (1)||Gophers coaches (2)|
|Gophers players (7)||Gophers game day (6)|
|Gophers postgame (12)||Gophers awards and honors (1)|
|Gophers post season (1)||St. Cloud State (1)|
|Wild news (431)||Bears (5)|
|Lions (1)||Packers (2)|
|Super Bowl (6)||Vikings fans (3)|
|Ex-players (1)||Injury report (1)|
|On the road (156)||Rookies (34)|
|Roster moves (13)||Vikings draft (91)|
|Vikings trade talk (3)||Fighting (3)|
|Stanley Cup (28)||Wild coaching (32)|
|Wild game coverage (355)||Wild management (15)|
|Wild off-season news (421)||Wild player moves (121)|
|Wild practice (298)||Wild pregame skate (319)|
|Wild trade news (31)||Wild training camp (121)|
|Adrian Peterson (4)||Ben Leber (1)|
|Bernard Berrian (1)||Brad Childress (3)|
|Brett Favre (5)||Jared Allen (2)|
|Brad Childress (3)||NHL news (1)|
|2010 Winter Games (5)||Olympic hockey (24)|
|Olympic luge (3)||Olympic ski jumping (2)|
|Olympic skiing (2)||NHL draft (7)|
|Gophers sports (3)||Gophers (38)|