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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Honestly, I’ll have to watch this game again to try to figure out how the heck the Wild clawed back for a point. I still didn’t get a chance to watch every goal or much of the third period and overtime in the first place because I was punching frantically at my keyboard trying to rework my file-at-the-gun story.
But needless to say, to get a point out of game where you could play that poorly in the first two periods is quite the coup. Big point, too, because Dallas, which is suddenly struggling, lost in Philly, so the Wild’s now eight up on a playoff spot.
If Phoenix hangs on to beat Florida, the Wild’s lead on the first wildcard spot will be down to four. Big three-game stretch coming up. Home and home with Detroit, which is ravaged with injuries, and then Vancouver, which is in a tumble.
The Wild then hits the road for a tough trip: at St. Louis in the second of a back-to-back, at Phoenix (massive game), at Los Angeles and at Chicago.
OK, where to start?
Just a terrible first two periods. The Wild couldn’t get anything accomplished. Its execution was terrible, it turned pucks over, it was in chip-it-out mode. Other than on the power play, the Wild couldn’t sustain any offensive pressure.
So many players had tough nights. Dany Heatley was minus-2. Nino Niederreiter was minus-1 and showed why the Wild is not yet comfortable putting him on the power play on a consistent basis. His wall play on the power play needs so much work, and he flashed that in the offensive and defensive zone on Mark Fayne’s shortie (although let’s be honest, that was a collective effort because five guys were on one side of the ice).
Jason Pominville’s six-game point streak came to an end and something was bigtime off with him tonight. From start to finish, he was fighting the puck, whiffing on them, shanking them, etc. Mikko Koivu, very tough game on the power play, and on the play that led to the OT winner, Koivu and Pominville teamed up by swinging and missing on pucks in the offensive zone. That led to Jersey’s quick counter and then mayhem before Andy Greene lost Koivu for the winner.
BUT, the Wild somehow rallied for a huge point. Zach Parise scored 21 seconds into the third on a power play (13th, which is tied for second in the NHL). Then, after Jared Spurgeon, who rarely takes penalties (26 PIM in 218 career games), took a minor, Jaromir Jagr made it 3-1.
But the Wild stayed with it and Mikael Granlund and Matt Cooke scored 4:50 apart, Cooke’s tying goal coming with 4:32 left on a deflection of Marco Scandella’s rocket.
On the difference between the first two periods and the third, Parise, who knows a thing or two about the Devils, said, “That’s the style of hockey they play. They keep the puck along their walls. They grind, they grind, they grind, they don’t put the puck in the middle of the ice, so they play low-risk hockey. In the first two periods, we didn’t skate, we didn’t chase down the puck. We kind of played right into their hands into a slow hockey game.”
In the third? Cooke said, “If you’re willing to play a slow game, then you’re feeling right into their hands.” So Cooke said the Wild began skating, getting pucks deep, got pucks to the net and they got fortunate.
“Realization that we need to skate,” Cooke said.
“When you’re faced with a two-goal deficit in the third period and you battle back to get a point on the road, you have to accept that,” coach Mike Yeo said. “I’m not sitting here saying that we’re in love with our game, but it’s positive the way the guys found a way to get that point.”
Still, Yeo was displeased with the Wild’s execution, wall play and puck support in the first 40 minutes. The lack of execution “led to a lot of turnovers, a lot of time spent in our own zone.”
Also, the Wild played with five defensemen for the final 42 minutes because Nate Prosser was assessed a five-minute elbowing penalty and game misconduct for a forearm to Tim Sestito’s face. Sestito charged in, Prosser turned with the puck out of the corner, spotted him and reacted quickly to defend himself.
The center-ice ref called it an elbowing major.
“He was taking a large run at Pross and Pross was trying to play the puck,” said Yeo, who interrupted himself and said, “I don’t like seeing anybody get hurt.”
If you go by previous NHL decisions, it probably shouldn’t result in supplemental discipline for Prosser if the NHL determines Prosser was protecting himself.
Earlier this season, when the NHL didn’t discipline Dallas Stars captain Jamie Benn for launching an elbow into Cooke’s face, the league called it a “protective maneuver.” There are times, the league says, where “defensive contact to the head” is permissible if a player skating with the puck is trying to protect himself from a check.
We’ll see Friday. Remember, Keith Ballard has a groin injury, so if Prosser is suspended, the Wild would have to call up a defenseman IF Ballard can’t play. By the way, if the NHL doesn't suspend Prosser, it doesn't mean it was the wrong call on the ice.
The league's standards for supplemental discipline are not the same as standards for on ice penalties.
Interesting game for Parise. Booed during warmups, and there were some cruel signs wrapped around the glass. He joked that he only read the “good ones.”
He took a penalty, only his second in the past 17 games, in the first period and was stuffed by Cory Schneider on a shorthanded breakaway.
“The first period, he’s probably thinking, ‘Man, this couldn’t go any worse,’” Yeo said. “To see him get rewarded there in the third period, for us it was great because we know what this game meant to him.”
Parise said, “I was expecting the boos. I don’t have any hard feelings toward them. I understand. I wasn’t expecting any cheers. That’s fine.”
Said Devils coach Pete DeBoer, “I understand the fans disappointment with him leaving. I also know we should all be very thankful for the time he put in. I know I feel privileged to have coached him. I hadn’t watched him in a while. You realize seeing him tonight why he’s so special. He’s always around the net, winning battles, in the crease. He’s a special player.”
The Wild is 7-2-5 in the past 14 games. So, in one sense, that’s big this time of year that the Wild has gotten points in 12 of the past 14 games. But of its past five losses, the Wild has lost four via shootout or overtime.
“Who knows, down the road, it could be important points,” said Parise. “Little bit of silver lining, but we’ve got to turn that corner and start winning some of these games that go into extra time.”
Said Matt Moulson, “Coming down the stretch, we want two points every game. You never want to lose games. You’ve got to find a way to win. These are how playoff games are played. They’re tight all the time. You have to battle for every inch.”
Said Charlie Coyle, “We didn’t start off the first two periods like we wanted to. That wasn’t our best game, or our best start either. But to start like that and come back and get that point, that was huge. But we can’t be satisfied with those late starts like that. We’ve got to come here to play and play a full 60.”
By the way, the Heatley-Coyle-Nino line, not so good tonight.
But, the Wild got the point against a desperate Devils team, went 1-1-1 on the road trip (.500, 3 out of 6 points) and keep inching toward its second consecutive playoff berth.
Early flight. Talk to you after practice Friday.
Afternoon from the X, where the Wild looks to get back on track and snap an 0-1-2 streak tonight against Benoit Pouliot, Dominic Moore and the New York Rangers.
GM Chuck Fletcher is back from the GM's meetings. I talked to him about the meetings and some of the tweaks the managers are recommending be made to the game, like long changes in overtime (teams switch sides like the second period) and instead of kicking cheating centers out of the circle, penalize them by making them move back 18 inches or so. The centers I talk to think this is ludicrous and will create major problems. Imagine losing a game in the last minute because another center was basically given a free faceoff win?
I'll write about the GM's meetings in my Sunday Insider.
Darcy Kuemper vs. Cam Talbot as the Rangers save Henrik Lundqvist for tomorrow’s game at Winnipeg.
Talbot made 24 saves against the Wild in a 4-1 win at MSG on Dec. 22. That game was the final straw for Zach Parise, who had to take the next 14 games off with a broken foot he was playing on.
Talbot is 11-5 in 18 appearances with a 1.75 goals-against average and .938 save percentage. So, not your normal backup goalie.
Kuemper has lost two in a row (one by shootout) and is trying to get back on track from a shaky outing against Edmonton. He and the Wild blew a 3-0 lead. The tying goal was one Kuemper definitely wishes had had back and then he gave up three goals on four shots in the shootout after entering the shootout 11 for 11 this season.
Coach Mike Yeo said that Kuemper has shown the ability the past 2 ½ months, whether it’s a win or lose, to put the previous game aside and show “renewed focus for the next match. So we’re anxious to see if he can do that again.”
Agitator Dan Carcillo will enter the Rangers’ lineup for pest Derek Dorsett. Justin Falk will be scratched. The former Wild D hasn't played since Dec. 29. Martin St. Louis is looking for his first goal as a Ranger. He has one assist in four games since asking out of Tampa.
Yeo will continue his third defense pair rotation and for the fourth straight game change it up. Nate Prosser comes out as Clayton Stoner and Keith Ballard will be a pair.
“We said we were going through this rotation a couple times here and reevaluate it after that, so let’s go that way tonight,” Yeo said.
Asked the rationale as to why he doesn’t just pick six D and end it (I write it that way because it reminds me of one of my favorite Seinfeld lines when George Costanza was double-dipping the chip, From now on, when you take a chip, just take one dip and end it), Yeo said, “I don’t think that anybody deserves to just come out of the lineup and stay out of the lineup. We have to go by more than just a one game sample size. That’s the way we always do it here. Those guys played really good hockey for us for a long time. You look at how we counted on them when [Jared] Spurgeon was out of the lineup, how we counted on them when Marco [Scandella] was out of the lineup. Those guys not only got us through those [injuries] but really helped us take our game to another level, so they deserve the opportunity to not just be taken out of the lineup and not have a chance to get in there.”
I talked to Ryan Suter today about his ice time. He logged 34:12 against Edmonton, which surprised me in a game where the Wild was up 3-0 at one point. Obviously, the ice time was elevated by overtime and a 5-on-3 and 4-on-3. Also, Scandella had a real tough night, so perhaps the Wild was trying to limit his ice time in that game. Still, that was the sixth time he has topped 34 minutes this year and the 33rd time in 65 games he hit the 30-minute mark. He averages 2 minutes, 35 seconds per game more than any other NHL player. It just seems too much as the Wild are in a stretch where it plays 20 times in 37 nights.
Suter, of course, said it’s not and he means it. He wants to play that much and admits he tells assistant coach Rick Wilson that often. I’ll have his quotes in tomorrow’s paper.
Yeo did indicate today that 34:12 last game was too much and Jared Spurgeon playing a career-high 30:40 was too much, too.
“That’s a lot, and obviously we’ve got a lot of games coming up here,” Yeo said. “We have to make sure we’re monitoring that. Suts is accustomed to playing big minutes. I think last game was still a lot for him. Spurg generally is not going to play 30 minutes a night.”
Yeo indicated power-play personnel tweaks. My guess is the 5-on-4 units remain the same, but if it gets to a 5-on-3 or 4-on-3, Mikael Granlund will take the place of someone, maybe Mikko Koivu. The 5-on-4's, Granlund and Koivu have been separated.
Yeo expects a tough game tonight. Alain Vigneault coaches the Rangers, so expect to see the Canucks’ old system. That means lots of pressure, players in your face, defensemen jumping up in the play. Yeo said the Wild must be prepared to move the puck quickly and to make quick decisions.
Wild better get its act together now. Of the teams vying for a playoff spot, it has the toughest schedule in my opinion. After games against the Rangers and Columbus, Wild hits the road for eight of 10. Remember, the Wild has won 12 games all year on the road.
The Wild still has Boston, arguably the best team in the Eastern Conference, twice, Pittsburgh once (pummeled Minnesota in Pittsburgh before Christmas), St. Louis, who has beaten them eight in a row, twice, road games at Chicago and L.A.
Time get back to its winning ways.
Josh Harding, two days after he begun skating, put on the pads this morning and took shots and did puck-handling drills with goalie coach Bob Mason.
“It’s a great sign that he’s feeling much better and he’s focused and motivated to try to get back with us,” Yeo said. “So, it’s a great sign. With that said, we’re still a few steps away. It’s not like he’s a week away from rejoining us here, but it’s a good first step.”
Ilya Bryzgalov has a new vinyl wrap around his mask to bide time while his new one gets painted. Bryzgalov didn’t care, but team trainers didn’t like that the old vinyl looked pink rather than red.
Also, to answer a lot of questions, those custom shot blockers have been tried by every player. The only ones who are using them are Spurgeon, Prosser and Erik Haula.
With season-long scuttlebutt that the Wild may look to sign free-agent-to-be Thomas Vanek this summer, the Wild beat Wednesday’s trade deadline by acquiring the player traded for Vanek earlier this season.
The Wild traded two draft picks -- Winnipeg's second rounder in 2014 acquired in the Devin Setoguchi trade and the Wild's second rounder in 2016 -- and fourth-line winger Torrey Mitchell to the Sabres for power winger Matt Moulson, a three-time 30-goal scorer, and hard-nosed forward Cody McCormick.
Moulson, 30, has scored 17 goals and 38 points in 55 games this season between the Islanders and Sabres. He was acquired in October for Vanek, a conditional first-round pick and a second-round pick. He is the last year of his deal with a $3.133 million cap hit.
McCormick, 30, has scored 59 points and 503 penalty minutes in 358 games. He’s in the last year of his deal at $1.2 million.
Moulson has scored 135 goals and 262 points in 377 games, developing terrific chemistry with superstar John Tavares on Long Island, where he was one of the most popular players.
He has perennially been one of the NHL’s most durable players. He played all 82 games in three consecutive seasons from 2009-12, topping 30 goals in each, including a career-high 36 goals and 69 points in 2011-12.
Moulson has scored 47 career power-play goals, including 14 in 2011-12, the third-most in the NHL. He is also known as a player who thrives on the road. In 2011-12, Moulson scored 23 goals on the road, the second-most in the NHL behind Steven Stamkos.
From March 17-April 3, the Wild plays eight of 10 games on the road.
Moulson is a skilled power winger who protects the puck terrifically on the cycle and is known for possessing a hard wrist shot.
Mitchell, 29, scored five goals and 12 assists in 103 games, including only one goal in 58 games this year.
According to sources, Mitchell asked to be traded, although he denied that Tuesday.
Mitchell, a hard-working, fast forward, signed a three-year, $5.7 million deal with the Wild two summers ago. That happened on July 1. On July 4, the Wild signed Zach Parise. The Wild also didn’t know for sure if Pierre-Marc Bouchard would be healthy to start that season. He wound up being ready.
So Mitchell came to Minnesota thinking he’d have a chance to be third-line right wing. After Parise and Bouchard were inserted, Mitchell fell down the depth chart. Since, the Wild has added youngsters like Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter. So Mitchell has been saddled on the fourth line pretty much since he got to Minnesota.
But I mentioned on the blog this exact scenario. My gut said the trade request would wind up burning Mitchell because at $1.9 million next year, he'd be such an easy throw-in for a rental to Buffalo if the Wild couldn't get Drew Stafford done. Now Mitchell misses the playoffs this year and the Wild gets out of his $1.9 million cap hit and $2.5 million salary next year.
The Wild was in on Stafford. I was told this afternoon, and I need to report it out more, that any Stafford deal would be contingent on another complicated trade the Wild would have to make elsewhere to basically move a player.
I'll be hosting a live online chat on startribune.com Thursday at 3 p.m. Bad news: Chat's been postponed. The Wild's now having an afternoon practice Thursday so the three new additions, Moulson, McCormick and Ilya Bryzgalov will be able to join.
The Wild is at San Jose tonight for a 9:30 p.m. (Central) game that kicks off a tough, four-day road trip with games also in Anaheim, Colorado and Calgary.
Mikko Koivu and Jared Spurgeon flew in with the team yesterday, but aren't like to play on the road trip, coach Mike Yeo said.
A reminder, Michael Russo is away for a family emergency. We have veteran writer John Ryan stringing for us, and you'll get a first report from John at startribune.com when the game ends. TV tonight is Fox Sports North.
Zach Parise felt fine after his return from a broken foot. John's report from Friday's practice is here.
Sharks, of course, are without rookie sensation Tomas Hertl, who tore up a knee and is out for the season. San Jose made big news yesterday when they extended the contracts of Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau.
Preview box for tonight's Wild game:
Preview: The Sharks are fourth in the Western Conference, and the Wild is tied for seventh. The teams have split 3-1 games this season, both winning at home.
Players to watch: Wild RW Jason Pominville scored his team-high 20th goal in Thursday’s 2-1 victory over Chicago. … Ryan Suter (31 points) is 10th in the NHL in scoring for defensemen. … G Darcy Kuemper has a 2.22 goals-against average in nine games but has started six in a row. … Sharks C Joe Thornton leads the NHL with 47 assists and is sixth in scoring with 53 points but has only six goals. Thornton and W Patrick Marleau both got three-year contract extensions Friday. … C Joe Pavelski is second in the league with 28 goals. … G Antti Niemi (2.38 goals-against average) has played in 43 of 51 games.
Numbers: Former Minnesota State RW Eriah Hayes has skated in the past nine games for the Sharks and is looking for his first NHL point. Ex-Minnesota Duluth G Alex Stalock has consecutive shutouts as Niemi’s backup. The Sharks’ Justin Braun, a Minneapolis native, is seventh among NHL defensemen in plus/minus (plus-20). … The Wild is 1-8 in its past nine games at the SAP Center.
Injuries: Wild G Josh Harding (illness), D Jared Spurgeon (foot) and C Mikko Koivu (ankle) are out. Sharks forwards Logan Couture (hand), Tomas Hertl (knee), Raffi Torres (knee) and Adam Burish (back) are out, as is D Scott Hannan (concussion).
Rookie Darcy Kuemper gets his third consecutive start and fourth in the past six games tonight against newly-acquired goalie Ben Scrivens and the Edmonton Oilers.
Morning from the X’s press room. Blaine’s Matt Hendricks will also make his Oilers debut tonight. Edmonton, the worst defensive team in the NHL, is winless in its past five on the road and has won twice at the X in its past 21. Of course, the Oilers nearly ruined the Wild’s season last year with a 6-1 beating April 26.
Remember that game? Fans booed after 20 minutes, 40 minutes, 60 minutes, a timeout, when the attendance was announced! Fans mocked the Wild anytime a save was made, even by Josh Harding, who was making his first appearance in relief of Niklas Backstrom since Feb. 7, anytime the Wild registered a shot or even when the public address announcer let it be known the first, second and third periods were a minute from ending.
Good times. Luckily for everybody involved, the Wild won its must-win season finale 24 hours later in Denver on a nice response by Backstrom.
Coach Mike Yeo said the first shot went into the net that last game against Edmonton and we “completely unraveled.” Tonight, he wants the Wild to focus on the process, not the result, and play a solid 60 minutes doing the right things that will lead to the result it wants.
Despite Backstrom being 17-1 all-time against the Oilers at home with a 1.49 goals-against average (the one loss being that home finale when he gave up three goals on five shots), the Wild’s coming back with Kuemper, who has played well during this stretch.
He made a career-high 39 saves (another four in the shootout) last week in L.A., had a 23-save shutout Sunday in Nashville and stopped 29 of 32 shots in Tuesday’s 3-0 loss to Ottawa, a game he kept the Wild in striking distance until the third period.
“I thought he played a very good game, so it’s just a matter of showing a little confidence in him and seeing if he can come back with another solid effort,” Yeo said.
Asked if he has talked to Backstrom, Yeo said goalie coach Bob Mason did.
“It’s hard not to figure out that Kuemps has played well.,” Yeo said. “We’ve always been a team and believed in giving guys other opportunities and giving guys a chance, much the same that we gave Backy that chance in Phoenix, we’re giving Kuemps this chance to tonight.”
Backstrom made 39 saves in that win at Phoenix, but he gave up three goals on 17 shots in last Saturday’s loss to Colorado.
Backstrom said all the right things this morning, saying, “You want to play every time, but it’s up to the coaches and the training staff to see what’s going on and make a decision. As a player, you try to be ready whenever you get a chance.”
When I spoke with Backstrom, he said nobody had talked to him yet and he hadn’t asked why he’s not playing.
“I never ask,” Backstrom said. “You try to be ready when you get a chance. You don’t want to think too much. You try to work hard every day and try to be at your best every day and work on your game.”
Asked if he feels his game has returned to a higher level having won three of his past four with Josh Harding sidelined, Backstrom said, “I feel good out there. You always want to be better. Everyday you want to be better, whether you play good or bad. I don’t know if you’re ever satisfied. I don’t think you ever should be. It’s always about trying to improve and being at your best when it counts. That’s what you work for.”
Defenseman Keith Ballard is back in the lineup tonight after being a scratch the past four games. As Yeo promised, the left-shot Ballard will play the left side after playing much this season on the right. In 19 games since missing nine games with broken ribs, Ballard has two assists and is minus-13. Some glaring turnovers and icings led to being benched the last half of Tuesday’s shootout win at Los Angeles.
Jon Blum will be scratched, meaning left-shot defenseman Clayton Stoner moves to the right. Stoner, who played a little on the right in juniors, played a few shifts with Marco Scandella on the right against Ottawa. On two of those shifts, the Senators scored. Yeo said it was more circumstance: the power-play goal by Clarke MacArthur when the Wild still feels he was offside and the broken stick by Scandella that led to Erik Condra’s breakaway goal.
Yeo wants Ballard not to try to do too much tonight, “just play a solid game, just play an efficient game with how he moves the puck, how he defends.”
Ballard said, “I’m a lot more comfortable on the left. Earlier in the season, I think I was playing real well. At that point, it didn’t matter what side I was on. I felt good on the right, good on the left.” Ballard means that right now, with his game out of order, it would be better for him to get back in the swing of things on the left.
Yeo said Jared Spurgeon will get on the ice soon and he wouldn’t divulge the Wild’s plans for Harding, saying they have some thoughts. That made me ask if the team is considering asking Harding to go on a conditioning stint in Iowa. Yeo said, “we’ll consider everything, whatever we think we need for our team … to make sure we get him on top of his game.”
Harding will miss his 12th game in the past 14 tonight and eighth straight. He was on the ice again today with the team.
Parise looked good again today. He brought in his skating coach, Andy Ness, of ProEdge Power, to work with him before the morning skate. Ness is also the Wild’s
skating consultant part-time skills coach.
After working hard with Ness, Parise took part in the skate with his teammates.
I grabbed Parise afterward.
“I’ve skated with him and [his mother] Diane for, gosh I don’t know, over 10 years now, so they know my stride and my skating better than anybody in the world,” Parise said. “I wanted Andy to run me through a lot of the drills we do in the summer and for him to physically see how I look.
“He said he thought I would look a lot worse than I did today, so that’s a good sign. Today, I felt better than I did yesterday, so that’s good. Each day you try to do a little more and little more. Rest it, ramp it up tomorrow, rest it, ramp it up. That’ll be the gameplan for the next while.”
Parise said getting into game shape is a must, so “a couple more days of doing what I’m doing, and then we’ll add bumping and game-like situations. Unfortunately it’s tough to get practice time because they don’t practice much, so that’ll be a little bit of a challenge, but we’ll get there.”
“I’m trying to get in a game as soon as I can in a smart and safe way. That's the best timeline I can give you.”
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