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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Afternoon from across the street of Hofstra University on Lawng Island, my old stomping ground where I don’t mind admitting I’m exhausted from my 3:15 a.m. “wakeup call” in Toronto. I put that in quotes because I’m not entirely sure I actually got any sleep to “wake up” from.
Barring a Wild-Islanders Stanley Cup Final (which would be epic), tonight will be my last game at Nassau Coliseum. I’m not kidding you when I say it actually had me a bit glum walking around the bowels of the arena this morning as I stared at the banners on the rafters, the stained seats, the plaques in front of the Islanders room. I’ll be on Fox Sports North gushing about this great franchise (sorry North Stars fans) tonight during the pregame show and first intermission. Or, if you want, you can read my gushing of the Coliseum and how I became a hockey fan in this old 2011 blog here.
The Wild will be trying to extend its franchise-record 9-game road winning streak tonight against John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, Anders Lee, Brock Nelson and the always-affable Nick Leddy. Leddy, whom I bumped into for a few minutes this morning, and Johnny Boychuk recently signed mega-extensions and this talented Islanders team looks like it’s got something cooking for the next several years IN BROOKLYN!!!!
WHAT THE %&$@#???????????
But I digress.
Jaroslav Halak vs. Devan Dubnyk tonight, and more on Dooby, Dooby, Doo in a minute. If you didn't see my game notebook from last night on Mario Lucia and Thomas Vanek's return to Long Island, here it is.
Kyle Brodziak, a big part of the Wild’s penalty kill and a solid fourth line for awhile, won’t play tonight due to an upper-body injury sustained in last night’s fight with Dion Phaneuf. Coach Mike Yeo said it’s not a concussion and that it’s minor tightness that just won’t loosen up, so probably neck or back. He doesn’t anticipate Brodziak will miss Friday’s game against Calgary.
Brodziak, in six seasons, has played 440 regular-season games for the Wild. This is the fourth game he has missed due to injury or illness, and technically the final regular-season game of last season was to rest him in a meaningless game because he had something nagging. Brodziak’s games played entering this season for the Wild were 82 of 82, 80 of 82, 82 of 82, 48 of 48 and 81 of 82.
Brodziak got hurt standing up for Erik Haula and Jared Spurgeon. Players were still giving him props in the locker room this morning and, Yeo said, “Obviously, we wish he was in the lineup tonight, but those types of things are things that you have to do for your teammates. He sent a pretty good message to our group there.”
Jordan Schroeder, scratched the past eight games, will play for the first time since March 6 at Raleigh. In his past 14 games, he has seven points and is plus-9.
Ryan Carter’s return will wait at least a few more days. If you read between the lines from his quote in today’s paper, he has to be comfortable he can play his brand of physical hockey after separating his shoulder. So a few more days won’t hurt.
Dubnyk will start his 33rd consecutive game tonight and 32nd in a row for the Wild. The 33 is the most since Antti Niemi started 34 in a row in 2010-11. Next up is Dwayne Roloson, who started 36 straight in 2009. Obviously, at this point, Dubnyk in there until the Wild clinch. Pretty much no choice now considering Darcy Kuemper hasn’t started since Jan. 6, Niklas Backstrom since Jan. 13 AND all Dubnyk does is win.
In last night’s 2-1 win at Toronto, a game in which the Leafs drew an announced 18,366 fans (lowest attendance in 16 years at Air Canada Centre), Dubnyk made 35 saves to improve to 32-11-3 this season with a 2.10 goals-against average and a .929 save percentage. Since debuting with the Wild on Jan. 15, Dubnyk has a 23-6-1 record, 1.74 goals-against average, .937 save percentage and five shutouts. He has allowed two goals or less in 23 of those 31 games.
Asked if he’s worried about starting Dubnyk over and over again, Yeo said, “I worry about not starting him.” When all the reporters laughed, Yeo said, “Sorry, that’s as honest as I can be.”
Dubnyk is 13-1-1 in 16 road starts with a 1.48 goals-against average and .951 save percentage (one no-decision in Detroit on Jan. 20, pulled at 4-1, Wild rallied for three in the third to make Kuemper the goalie of record. He stopped 14 of 14 shots in a great effort before a shootout loss).
Dubnyk has won a franchise-record nine straight road games. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, only two other active goaltenders have posted a single-season road winning streak of nine or more consecutive decisions: Jimmy Howard (10-0-0) with the Red Wings in 2010-11 and Carey Price (10-0-0) with the Canadiens earlier this season (Dec. 23-Feb. 26).
This will be the fifth time he starts back-to-backs. Since being pulled Jan. 20 at Detroit, Dubnyk is 2-0-1 in the second of back-to-backs with a 1.30 goals-against average and .965 save percentage.
Yeo was more displeased with the Wild’s game yesterday this morning than last night. Not a shock, since he got to watch it again and he’s trying to ramp up the Wild’s urgency.
“We weren’t good enough in our game in a few areas,” Yeo said. He said the Wild lost the details in its game, did a “a little too much circling, a little too much getting away from the structure we normally play with.” He said the back and forth game suited the Leafs and because of the way the Wild managed the puck, there were too many one-and-done’s in the offensive zone.
“We’ll take the two points, but we’ve also got to understand we’re going to need a lot better tonight,” he said.
Tonight’s start will be big. The Islanders usually come out fast and hard, so the Wild’s got to be ready to try to jump out to a lead in case the legs become mush in the third period. Isles have been off since Saturday.
Before I go, I actually put the news of the day at the end: The Property Brothers were on my flight to JFK this morning. Seemed like good dudes and my hope was they were parachuting into Uniondale to save the Coliseum, but bummer, no. They’re on their way to New Yawk City to film, I believe, and they were cool to the freaking-out flight attendants who were posing for pictures with them as we taxied out to the runway. One of the flight attendants didn’t want me to feel left out, so she humorously posed for a picture with me after taking pictures with Drew and Jonathan Scott.
The real news of the day?
Wild and the Washington Capitals tonight at Xcel Energy Center. Minnesota, winners of eight straight on the road, is trying to get its game going at home, where it has lost three of five with only one regulation win in that stretch. The Wild has 20 road wins compared to 19 home.
The Wild’s the only good team in the NHL that has more road wins than home. The others are Columbus, Dallas and Arizona, who all stink at home. A number of teams coincidentally have the same amount of home-road wins.
“I don’t think we relax necessarily,” coach Mike Yeo said. “I do think we’re maybe a little more simplistic in our approach on the road. I think we shoot pucks a little bit more, we go to the net a little bit more. And a very strong focus on defending. So certainly we can take some of that and use it in our home game as well.”
The Caps are the only team in the NHL that hasn’t won in St. Paul. The Wild is 7-0 at home against Washington (Caps are 0-6-1).
The Wild is 8-1 in its past nine against the Eastern Conference, including five consecutive wins, and 21-5-2 in its past 28 and 19-4-1 since the All-Star break. The Capitals have won three of five since blowing a third-period lead in a 2-1 home loss to Minnesota on March 5. Superstar Alex Ovechkin, the NHL’s leading goal scorer, missed that game. He’s playing tonight.
Ovechkin and C Nicklas Backstrom are tied for second in the NHL with 71 points each with Ovechkin leading with 45 goals, 21 power-play goals and 10 game-winners. He has four goals and seven points in seven games vs. Minnesota. Backstrom leads the NHL with 53 assists and Ovechkin and Backstrom are tied for second with 30 power-play points each.
Big news of the morning: Bubbly, big-shot former Gophers defenseman Nate Schmidt, a native of St. Cloud, may play his first NHL game at Xcel Energy Center. He was supposed to be sent down if Brooks Orpik could play. Orpik looks like he’s playing, but Tim Gleason may be out now with an upper-body injury.
Schmidt was on a regular pair today with Mike Green and was forced into leading the late-skate team stretch in the middle. He took a lot of ribbing. Here's a feature I wrote on him last season.
Schmidt looked high as a kite this morning, but when is he not? “It’s my personality,” Schmidt said. If he plays, he’s looking to face former teammate Erik Haula again. Feeling’s mutual, Haula joked, after Haula took a shot from Schmidt last year that bruised his leg.
The Caps are staying in Minneapolis, so he played tour guide this morning and “showed everyone a specific campus and explained the beauty of it. It was hard to do it justice from the bus, and [former UMD Bulldog Matt Niskanen] wasn’t having any of it.”
Big Wild news of the day?
Uh, uh, uh, well, lots of Wild fans asked me on Twitter what Zach Parise chirped at Shea Weber after Matt Dumba’s OT winner Tuesday. Said Parise with a big laugh: “Nothing you want to write. We were just going after each other all game. You reach your boiling point. I think he reached his, too.”
Same Wild lineup tonight.
Marco Scandella is starting to rip the puck a little harder and is getting real close, he said. He will miss his ninth game tonight. He said in that Colorado game, the injury actually occurred the first shift when hit from behind by Gabriel Landeskog. He was hurting until finally he couldn’t play anymore.
When Scandella returns, Christian Folin would likely sit if Jonas Brodin goes back to right D with Ryan Suter. If Brodin stays at left D, Jordan Leopold would likely sit and Folin stays in.
Folin didn’t miss a beat the other night after being scratched four straight and Yeo says often it’s the second or third game back where one’s play tails off, so tonight’s a big test for Folin.
“Even though he’s a young player, he’s got a good idea of what he needs to do to be effective as a player,”
Folin Yeo said. “He just plays a solid game. I thought his skating was really good, I thought his gaps were tight and he was moving the puck well [against Nashville].”
When Ryan Carter returns, I’ve got to think Sean Bergenheim sits with Erik Haula and Kyle Brodziak so valuable on the penalty kill. Honestly, how good was Haula, Brodziak and Brodin on that game-turning 3-on-5 the other night against the Preds?
I talked to both a lot today about defending 3-on-5’s and I’ll maybe toss that in tomorrow’s notebook. The Wild’s NHL-best penalty kill is 60 for 63 the past 24 games overall.
The Capitals rank first on the power play (25.7 percent), scoring on nine of 17 advantages the past eight games with the second unit outscoring the first unit, 5-4.
Chris Lee and Graham Skilliter the refs tonight. We’ll see if the Wild, uh, gets a power play.
The Wild hasn’t generating a single power play in two of the past 13 games and has drawn two or fewer power plays in 12 of the past 17 games. Since Jan. 15, the Wild is tied for 23rd in power plays drawn. For a team that is 21-5-2 since Jan. 15, there is little rhyme or reason for that.
“We’ve been playing some pretty good hockey and I always believe the more time you spend in the offensive zone, the more time you spend with the puck, generally you’re going to draw more penalties,” Yeo said. “It’s funny though because our puck possession stats, maybe not so much the last couple games, are very good. That’s when it’s frustrating is you feel you have the puck the majority of the time yet the other team seems to be going on the power play.
“I guess in some situations maybe we can move our feet a little better, in some situations we can maybe drive to the middle or try and take the puck to the net and if you got a bit of an advantage on a guy and force them to hook and hold you.”
The Wild’s power play is 3 for its past 35 in the past 16 games (8.6 percent).
WCHA Final Five is here this weekend and all the teams were at Xcel Energy Center this morning getting ready to practice.
I’ll be on the Bald Spot cam tonight on NHL Network at 5:40 p.m. CT. I’ll be on SiriusXM NHL tomorrow at 8:45 a.m. CT.
The Wild, an NHL-best 11-1-2 on the road since the Jan. 14 trade of Devan Dubnyk, will be looking for a franchise-record eighth consecutive road win tonight when it faces the Nashville Predators at 7 p.m.
One of the Wild's most impressive road wins during this stretch came late last month in Nashville when it beat the Preds, 4-2. That was the start of a Predators' tailspin. In first in the NHL at that juncture with three regulation home losses all year, the Preds are 2-8 in their past 10 with one regulation win starting with that defeat to Minnesota. This should be a tough game for Nashville. They played back to back in L.A. and Anaheim, landed early yesterday morning, so this is usually a tough game in that scenario for the home team.
Afternoon from Nashville. I'll be on Fox Sports North tonight at 6:30 p.m. during Wild Live and again during the first intermission. We'll be talking a fair amount about what's going on at the GM's Meeting in Boca, my old hometown.
Tomorrow at 4:30 p.m., columnist Jim Souhan and I will be doing another podcast at the Liffey in St. Paul. Stop on by or you can listen live or at a later day on www.souhanunfiltered.com.
Heckuva city, Nashville is. Any Wild fan that hasn’t taken a trip here to watch the Wild knows this.
In fact, coach Mike Yeo noted that I looked like I missed curfew last night.
With left-shot defensemen Marco Scandella and Nate Prosser injured, Yeo was forced to scramble his entire blue line tonight.
The Wild loves left-shot Ryan Suter and left-shot Jonas Brodin as a pair, but with four righties and two lefties in the lineup, Jared Spurgeon will move to the right side of Suter, Brodin will move to the left side with Matt Dumba and Jordan Leopold will play on the left side of Christian Folin, who had been scratched the past four games.
Scandella is close to a return, Yeo said. Yeo said there’s a chance he plays Thursday vs. Washington, although he said that’s only a possibility. He still has not taken contact in practice yet, although he was getting in another good skate today.
Ryan Carter, after tomorrow’s practice, will also be considered day-to-day, like Scandella.
The rest of the lines remain the same, meaning Jordan Schroeder will be scratched for the fifth game in a row and sixth time in eight games.
The coaches showed some clips this morning to the team regarding faceoffs and how the defensemen and wingers need to do a better job helping win these draws and gain possession
Still, some centers, especially Mikael Granlund, must do a better job. He has won 34 percent of his faceoffs the past nine games (43 for 126). When the top line center loses 6.6 out of every 10 faceoffs, that just makes it awfully hard for Zach Parise, Granlund and Jason Pominville to create offense.
Yeo also admitted that it’s a factor as to why Granlund’s not on the No. 1 power play. Draw a power play, the faceoff starts in the offensive zone. So you want to win that draw, not waste 15 to 30 seconds retrieving the puck, breaking out and entering the offensive zone.
Mikko Koivu has the third-most faceoff wins in the NHL.
As my illustrious editor Chris Miller reported today, Matt Dumba will remain on the top power play tonight with Suter, Parise, Koivu and Pominville. Thomas Vanek goes to the second with Chris Stewart and Granlund. Because none of those forwards can play the point, Spurgeon and Brodin are expected to be at the point. That takes a forward off, and so far, it looks like Nino Niederreiter, the team’s second-leading goal scorer. He has five power-play goals but nine since Dec. 13.
Yeo did indicated that he may alternate Stewart and Niederreiter because he wants to keep both guys involved. We will see.
“That is the tough part for sure,” Yeo said of the revamped units. “We have good players not getting an opportunity.”
The GM’s will be recommending to the Competition Committee and Board of Governors for approval 3-on-3 in overtime and extended video review for goalie interference and pucks shot into the crowd.
As for 3-on-3, they don’t have a model yet, but in the American Hockey League this season, they do three minutes of 4-on-4. Then, after the first whistle after three minutes, they go 3-on-3 until seven minutes.
Last year, 75.9 percent of games were decided in regulation. This year, through March 15, 75.7 percent of games were.
Last year, 8.5 percent of games were decided in 4-on-4 overtime and 15.6 percent were decided in a shootout.
This year, 18.5 percent of games were decided in 4-on-4 and 3-on-3 overtime and 5.7 percent were decided in a shootout.
So 3-on-3 has dramatically decreased the number of shootouts in the AHL.
In overtime last year, there were 97 overtime goals and 178 shootout goals. This year, 171 overtime goals and 53 shootout goals (and again, the season’s not over).
This year, in overtime, there have been 98 4-on-4 goals and 73 3-on-3 goals.
Most interesting, the two extra minutes, of the 73 3-on-3 goals, 51 were scored then – 22 in the 6th minute, 29 in the 7th minute.
Of the 257 NHL games sent to overtime this season, 110 have been decided in OT (42.8 percent, up from 42 percent last year, so the changing of sides for the longer change hasn’t had the desired effect) and 147 in shootouts (57.2 percent).
Parise’s 38 career shootout goals is third-most in the NHL behind Jonathan Toews (40) and Brad Boyes and Mikko Koivu, who have 39 each.
But Parise said, “I believe in anything to end it not in a shootout and not in a tie. If that’ll help end games before a shootout, I’ll be all for it. It’ll be fun to play and probably be fun to watch too. Rush, turnover, rush.
“I just don’t think games should come down to shootouts. Play 65 minutes hard, why turn it into breakaways? To me it doesn’t make sense.”
Jason Pominville, who has 23 career shootouts goals, agreed.
“Rush chances up and down, it’ll be fun. It’ll be interesting to see how coaches deal with it in training camp.”
Tactically, Yeo said that’ll be the biggest thing. Do you go with two forwards and a D? Systematically, can you figure out ways to be effective in this situation that almost never appears in a game?
“It’s new to all of us. We deal so little with it,” Yeo said. “I think it’s going to be exciting for the fans. I think it’s going to be great. You get that kind of skill on the ice, you get that type of openness to the game, you’re going to see some great plays.”
Devan Dubnyk said it’s terrifying for a goalie those rare times you get 3-on-3 in the middle of a game, but he loves the ice.
But he said, “Selfishly from a goalie standpoint, I’d like to see some separate statistics for 3-on-3 just like they have separate shootout statistics. If you have guys in a lot of 3-on-3’s compared to other goalies, it’ll significantly affect goals against and save percentage.
“As a goalie I’m biased toward that.”
In the AHL, all OT stats count in a player’s individual statistics.
In the AHL, any penalties in 3-on-3, you go to regular OT rules, so it would be a 4-on-3, not a 3-on-2. I’d assume it would be that way in the NHL, too.
As for coach’s challenges, a coach would have to have his one timeout in order to challenge.
This would be like the scenario in Denver a few weeks ago when the Avs scored on a dump-in after Cody McLeod pushed Dubnyk into the net.
Yeo said, “I’m all for it. I think it’s good for the game. What you definitely want is the outcome to be true. If a call’s made, you want it to be the right one. I know the refs wants that, I know the league wants that as well.”
Dubnyk loves this, too, and hopes the ref will be able to make the decision himself through a video monitor in the press box like college hockey. That doesn’t appear to be the plan.
“I think it’s good,” Dubnyk said. “It’s a real tough play for the ref to call. They’re only on one side of the net, it depends on the angle they see, they have to be watching for a lot of different things. It’s a lot for them to watch, but I think the ref needs to review it after a challenge because it’s important for them to still be part of the game. Refs are part of the game, plain and simple. They’re the ones making the call.”
The Wild visits the St. Louis Blues in about 90 minutes. Lots of Wild fans down here in St. Louis for the game.
No changes to the Wild lineup, meaning Devyn Dubnyk will start his 27th consecutive game for the Wild and 28th straight overall if you include one from Arizona.
Jordan Schroeder and Christian Folin will be scratched. Brian Elliott, 6-0 against the Wild, starts for the Blues.
The Wild is 2-7-2 in its past nine at St. Louis, being outscored 38-19 over that span. It hasn’t won in regulation in St. Louis since Oct. 20, 2007 (a span of 12 games). The Blues took over the top spot in the Central Division on Thursday with a 1-0 shootout win over Philadelphia. The Blues have won three in a row and are 5-1-1 in their past seven.
The Wild is 10-1-2 in its past 13 on the road and has won six straight on the road.
The Wild, which lost last night to Anaheim, 2-1, despite having by far the better of the chances, is looking for a big bounceback.
“We’ve done a pretty good job of bouncing back,” coach Mike Yeo said. “We’re also understanding that they have a pretty good team and are sitting here waiting for us, so it’s going to be a good test tonight. Through this final stretch, I think it does us a lot of good just to make sure we’re focused on our process of getting better, and when we do those things, more often than not the results are in our favor.”
As you know, the Blues like to go after the Wild’s top players physically, especially captain David Backes, Ryan Reaves and Steve Ott.
“Good test tonight,” Yeo said. “I’m looking forward to see how we come in here. This team, in a lot of ways, is like Anaheim. We have played them well, but we haven’t come out on top a lot of times. We’ve got to find a way to be better against them.
“I would like to see us counter [their physicality] by making sure we play physical against some of their key guys as well. If they’re going to do that, then we have to be ready to play that game. Their team is built differently than ours. Colorado has tried to play against us that way, Dallas has tried to play against us that way, and we’ve seen it other times. And we’ve responded well. And we’re going to need to again tonight. Between the whistles, we need to have a better focus and a higher battle level.”
The Wild keeps winning on the road even when not close to its ‘A’ game.
Devan Dubnyk did everything he possibly could do tonight to backstop the Wild to a 3-1 victory, the team’s eighth win in the past nine games to improve to an NHL-best 10-1-2 in its past 13 on the road, NHL-best 18-3-2 in its past 23 and 16-2-1 since the All-Star break.
Tonight was its final game in hand on Winnipeg, and the Wild capitalized by moving three up on the Jets. Remember, the Wild was 14 back on Jan. 17.
Mikael Granlund and Zach Parise scored third-period goals and each had two points, Jason Pominville had two assists one game after having two third-period goals and Dubnyk made 37 saves, his most with the Wild.
The Wild was outshot 38-19, including 16-4 in the second. But Dubnyk was outstanding to improve to 18-3-1 with a 1.60 goals-against average and .940 save percentage. MVP! MVP! MVP!
The Dubnyk story just gets more remarkable by the game and even players, while lauding him, are saying it’s become a broken record after every game talking about just what he means to this group.
Dubnyk called tonight a classic road game and said he just tried to keep things simple and not get lazy as far as finding pucks.
He said with the game 1-1, “that’s a real comfortable spot for us.”
On how the Wild didn’t have its legs or its general sharpness, Dubnyk said, “You’re going to see that sometimes in back-to-backs. When they started to push, the most important thing is just to keep that game where it is and let us have the opportunity to do exactly what we did – capitalize on a couple opportunities in the third period and then kind of grind it out from there.
“We found a way to make big plays when it counted.”
Mike Yeo said the shoddy play at times was a combination of heavy legs from playing the night before against a team that had a four-day break and just not playing well.
“If you played the night before and you’re taking 1:15 shifts, it’s not going to be very productive,” he said. “A lot of that turned into frustration and turned into lack of focus.”
But he gave the guys credit for not letting that frustration ruin the game. The team did a regroup in the third period and came out with the big two points.
Granlund had his fifth multi-point game since the All-Star break and was plus-3. He scored the winner. Parise scored his 26th.
You have to feel for Mikko Koivu. He was on fire before the trades and has dried up since as the Wild continue to look for chemistry on his line. He has no points in the past six games but is still playing well.
Thomas Vanek missed tonight’s game with illness, but Nino Niederreiter returned and set up Charlie Coyle’s game-opening goal.
Again, good win for the Wild as it continues to soar.
Big game Sunday, a game that could be pretty fiery with the Colorado Avalanche coming to town to close the season series. The Avs are 0-4 against the Wild and have scored once. The game in Denver last Saturday ended with Cody McLeod jumping Granlund and fighting Coyle. That triggered a bunch of trash-talking after the game and in the days since.
I will have an advance on all of that in Sunday’s paper. All check out my Sunday column. I talked to Chuck Fletcher about all the draft picks he has traded away the past three years.
I will unfortunately not be in town for Sunday’s game, but Kent Youngblood will be at the controls (@bloodstrib on Twitter). No practice Saturday.
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