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 was so soft on pucks last night, particularly in the offensive zone where it barely took any Anaheim might to knock Wild players off pucks, Brett Bulmer has been recalled from AHL Iowa.
Bulmer, 21, the first of the Wild’s three 2010 second-round picks, had three assists in nine games with the Wild in 2011-12 before being returned to Kelowna of the Western Hockey League. His development has been delayed since because of myriad injuries, including a couple knee injuries, but he has been healthy this season and by all accounts playing well for struggling Iowa.
He leads the Baby Wild with nine goals and 62 shots and is third with 12 points. He arrives in San Francisco around 3 p.m. (flying in from Vancouver; Iowa got trounced by Abbotsford last night and plays them again tonight) and is expected to play tonight against the San Jose Sharks.
Coach Mike Yeo wouldn’t divulge the lines just yet, but it’s very doubtful he breaks up the third line and he made it quite clear he is not yet ready to break up the Zach Parise-Mikko Koivu-Jason Pominville line.
So it sounds like Bulmer will play the right side of the new 21-year-old line with Nino Niederreiter and Charlie Coyle. Jason Zucker will be scratched (more on all this below).
Same defense corps, meaning Nate Prosser will be scratched for the ninth straight game. Mike Rupp is also scratched.
Niklas Backstrom in goal. He is 1-8-1 all-time in San Jose with a 3.68 goals-against average, his second-worst goals-against in any arena (American Airlines Center in Dallas). The Wild is 1-7 in their past eight in San Jose and 2-10-1 in their past 13 here.
The Sharks are 0-3-1 in their past four and will start Antti Niemi tonight. Martin Havlat and Dany Heatley, traded for each other July 3, 2011, are expected to be on their team’s respective fourth lines tonight. Havlat has one year left on his contract. Heatley’s in the last year of his Wild career.
On the 6-2, 212-pound Bulmer, Yeo said, “I want to see what he can bring. We all do. One thing that’s been missing a little bit from some of these road games (5-7-3) is a big body along the wall, puck strength, a guy who brings a bit of an edge. These are all elements to his game when he’s on it.”
Why doesn’t Yeo put Pominville on the second line with Coyle and Bulmer and maybe Niederreiter on the first line?
“Of course there’s been talk, thought, but we kind of go through this every time that when things aren’t working out well enough with the second line, we break up the first line,” Yeo said. “We always do that. That’s always the first thing we go to and then next thing you know you’re kind of weakening your first line. Somebody has to step up. Somebody has to grab that opportunity. Not to say that we won’t go that way (Pominville to Line 2), but the message right now is we need somebody to step up. We can’t just fall back on going back to that. Those guys are doing their job, so somebody else has to step up.”
That is clearly aimed at Niederreiter (no goals and two assists in his past nine games) and Coyle (three goals and eight points this season).
Despite Iowa deploying the same system and the fact Zucker has played here for good chunks of two seasons, Zucker struggled in the neutral zone last night. He now has no points in his past 17 regular-season games.
On Zucker being scratched after being called up to play Anaheim, Yeo said, “I don’t know. There were some good moments. He got a couple shots on net. I don’t want to say he played poorly, but he didn’t demand a spot for himself in the lineup tonight, too. I don’t know if we’re always giving him the best chance, bouncing him in and out of the lineup like this, but at the same time I just want to see somebody come up and just really respect this opportunity and show that you’re not willing to let it slip.”
Yeo didn’t want to “beat up on Zuck,” but that “respect this opportunity” comment was an indictment.
Yeo said simply there’s been “too much where we don’t have the full roster, the full complement of players going out and performing shift after shift.”
He said the fact Anaheim was able to come with speed through the neutral zone time and time and time and time and time … and time again last night was because of “where we’re losing pucks, how we’re losing pucks, it’s making it extremely difficult to defend in those situations.”
He said there was too much watching and watching for somebody else, that they’re not a team that waits for somebody else to track and pressure puck carriers.
He said there was thought of scratching either Clayton Stoner or Keith Ballard after a tough game, but he doesn’t think any play they made or something they did cost the Wild in Anaheim.
Recently, in the second of back-to-backs, Yeo hasn’t even brought the team to the rink. Today, the entire team reported to SAP Center for a meeting. He said a lot of things were addressed in that meeting regarding areas the Wild must improve and “I’m anxious to see how we respond.”
Talk after the game.
UPDATE: As surmised below, Jason Zucker will indeed be recalled. I'd think he goes to the second line. Wouldn't shock me if Dany Heatley is downgraded to the fourth line, but we will find out in practice Tuesday. Zucker will meet the team in Iowa.
Erik Haula is on his way to meet the Iowa Wild in Abbotsford, B.C. He has been reassigned by the Wild after recording two assists in six games.
The Wild has the day off today and will head to Anaheim on Tuesday for practice at 2 p.m. PT at the Honda Center. I'll come to you afterward with updates, so it'll be a bit of a later blog than normal.
As of now, the Wild says it plans to head west with its 12 forwards and what I'm guessing is its soon-to-be-officially seven defensemen because Matt Dumba is about to be loaned to Team Canada.
I still suspect the Wild will call up a forward at some point during the road trip though with no extras -- and it wouldn't shock me if it's before.
After hearing Mike Yeo's honest appraisal of the second line last night, I figured maybe Haula would move up to the second line and center Nino Niederreiter and Charlie Coyle or Jason Pominville in Anaheim.
But maybe this Haula move signifies that Jason Zucker is about to return. It wouldn't be surprising if the Wild waited until Tuesday to make that move because in the NHL, cap space is tabulated on a daily basis and since Zucker is in B.C. right now, there's no use bringing him to Minnesota when he could just fly south to Cali.
If Zucker is recalled, I'd suspect Dany Heatley drops to the fourth line. We shall see. Again, much of this is conjecture mostly because Haula's demotion without a corresponding move makes little sense to me.
No, to answer a few Twitter questions, the Wild did not send down Haula to claim Pierre-Marc Bouchard on waivers from the Islanders. I can all but promise you that. And since Mikael Granlund hasn't been skating let alone practicing, the Haula demotion doesn't mean he is returning in Anaheim.
Talk to you from Anaheim.
Happy Thanksgiving from the X, where the Wild practiced, including Zach Parise. He lasted the whole thing, every now and then skating up to assistant athletic therapist John Worley to talk about his bum foot.
Parise is officially listed as questionable for Friday's 5 p.m. game against Colorado -- the front of a home and home. It'll be a tough challenge despite the fact the Wild has had Colorado's number for seven years or so -- 31-11-5 in its past 47 and 12-2-2 in its past 16 in Denver.
Coach Mike Yeo wouldn't reveal which goalie would start in goal. Josh Harding practiced and if he's healthy, I'd think he starts if for no other reason than his stellar home record. I'd think Niklas Backstrom starts in Denver.
Center Mikael Granlund has been placed on injured reserve with a head injury (officially upper-body, but I'm not blind), meaning he will miss at least a week or at a minimum three games -- probably more -- after three hard hits in the past eight games.
Granlund took a head shot from Toronto's Nazem Kadri, then took a hard hit four games later from Ottawa's Marc Methot where he crashed into the boards. He missed two games, returned to the lineup last night against Phoenix and was lost 29 seconds into his first shift when he was hit high by rookie defenseman Connor Murphy as Granlund tried to deliver a check.
Yeo said the Wild didn't rush Granlund back.
"To sit here and say in hindsight that I wish he didn’t play, of course," Yeo said. "But when a guy’s cleared to play, what are you going to do? You going to say no? He was cleared to play and obviously cleared to play with the idea that we wanted to be careful and think about the big picture. Sometimes things happen."
Left wing Jason Zucker, who played three games in Ottawa, Winnipeg and St. Louis before being reassigned yesterday to make room for Keith Ballard and Torrey Mitchell, has been recalled and should stay awhile now. Zucker scored twice in Iowa's win last night at Chicago.
He was sent down Wednesday with Darcy Kuemper. They had 3 p.m. flights that were delayed, they arrived for the game vs. the Wolves at 5:30 p.m. with only airport pizza in their stomachs and beat the Wolves. Zucker was pulled off the bus headed to Iowa after the game to go to an airport hotel for sleep, then a 4:30 a.m. wakeup call to fly back to Minnesota because of the Granlund injury.
Zucker's recall doesn't fill the center need though. Charlie Coyle has played better at wing than center, although we all saw in training camp that he has the ability to play the position. He won the second-line center spot outright until spraining his knee. Granlund filled in admirably.
Besides being more of an offensive-threat at wing, Coyle hasn't done well in the faceoff circle. He has won 38 percent of his draws this season. In his last four games predominately at center, Coyle has lost 30 of 43 faceoffs and 15 of 17 the past two games.
So in practice today, Yeo experimented with Justin Fontaine, who has rarely played center in his college or pro career, as second-line center, putting Zucker on the third line and Matt Cooke, goalless since Oct. 12, on the fourth line.
Lines: Parise-Koivu-Coyle; Nino-Fontaine-Pominville; Zucker-Brodziak-Heatley; Cooke-Konopka-Mitchell.
Why Coyle back to the top line as a winger rather than second line as a center?
"The games we've been winning lately, that line has been producing," Yeo said of Parise-Koivu-Coyle. "We were forced into a situation where we had to break it up, but I think what we have to try to do is look at it in a different way and keep that line together and fill some holes elsewhere."
Yeo made clear, "I’ve got no problem putting [Coyle] at center, but I think we have to try to give that line a chance to get back to the type of dominance they were having and the success they were having. Instead of breaking them up, let’s arm those guys with what they need to lead our group. We need people to step up, whether it’s a guy coming into the lineup like Zuck or whether it’s a guy biting off a little more ice time."
On Fontaine moving to center, Yeo said, "Just trying things. Thought we'd give it a shot."
Fontaine is looking forward to the opportunity. He is 2 for 2 on faceoffs this season and doesn't practice them much.
On Zucker on the third line, Yeo said it should elevate that line with Brodziak and Heatley and give it some speed. "Heater had one of his strongest games in a long time last night," Yeo said. "He was strong on a lot of puck battles and had three really good scoring chances and one goal. We'll use this as an opportunity to continue to help him grow his game, get it back to his top level."
By the way, I questioned yesterday why the Wild wouldn't just keep Zucker here and keep Mitchell on IR. Yeo said it was because the Wild needed Mitchell because of his role as a penalty killer.
On Cooke being demoted to the fourth line, Yeo said, "Many times when players haven’t scored in awhile, they start to do things that hurt themselves. We all remember how he scored his goals." He needs to get back to "doing the right things," Yeo said.
Today was a long, long practice with a ton of teaching moments. Yeo interrupted practice a lot with whistles, saying afterward, "there's a couple parts of our game that have slipped and we have to try to get it back."
There is no morning skate Friday because of the early game. I'll be back with you after Yeo's 2:45 p.m. availability. I will also be on Fox Sports North during Friday's Wild Live pregame show and first intermission.
Wild fans #freezucker campaign (which I believe is ripped off from Allan Walsh's former #freesykora campaign) came to fruition this morning when the Wild recalled Jason Zucker from AHL Iowa to presumably play tonight against the Ottawa Senators.
Torrey Mitchell appeared to injure his left leg last night in Montreal.
Zucker has been Wild fans' BFF for some time, and he's not even from Minnesota. But Wild fans fell for Zucker because of speed, finish and goals like this:
Zucker seemed to be a shoo-in to make the roster before training camp began, but the emergence of Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter cost Zucker his opening night gig because Zucker would be a waste on the fourth line. Zucker also strained his groin at an inopportune part of training camp. He so wanted to make the team that he probably pushed himself back onto the ice when he was still sore. The rest of camp he lacked that burst we've grown accustomed to seeing.
Zucker burst onto the scene last year with some big goals for Minnesota (four goals, one assist in 20 games) but went the final 10 regular-season games without a point before scoring the overtime winner in Game 3 against Chicago. He also hit the post in overtime in Game 1. Zucker has driven the Wild a bit nuts with his defensive-zone play, ability to read defensively and lack of puck support in the offensive zone.
That's what he was sent to Iowa to work on and he has played well lately. I watched a lot of Saturday's 1-0 loss by Iowa and I thought Zucker was great.
Zucker, 21, has tallied four goals and eight points, including three power-play goals, in 12 games with Iowa this season. Zucker played one scoreless game for the Wild earlier this season. He has recorded seven points (4-3=7) in 27 career games with Minnesota.
The Wild didn't have a morning skate today, so the lines are unknown. I'd think you'd want Zucker in a scoring role, so if that were the case, maybe he goes to the second line and Niederreiter moves to the third and Justin Fontaine the fourth. Of course, if you do that, you're fiddling with a second and third line that's been going pretty well in recent games.
We'll find out later. No confirmation yet, but the hope is for Josh Harding to return to the nets. Talk later.
Wild defenseman Clayton Stoner, coming back from a leg injury, was just supposed to skate on his own today before the team practiced. But he felt so good after doing so that he joined the Wild and took part in practice.
And that means there is a chance Stoner could return to action Tuesday against Toronto. “We’ll see how it goes as far as tomorrow,” coach Mike Yeo said.
His return would be big. Because Keith Ballard, who has missed two games with an upper body injury, was put on injured reserve Tuesday.
Here are other items from today’s practice:
--A Toronto writer at practice today, doing a story on Josh Harding, asked Yeo if he felt goalie Josh Harding should be considered for the Canadian Olympic team.
“I do,” Yeo said. “Absolutely, I do. You look at numbers, you look at stats, you look at wins, he’s certainly made a case for himself. You want players to put themselves in a position where they’re opening eyes and getting attention from other people. I think he deserves that.”
Harding is first in the league in goals-against (1.22) and tied for first with two shutouts. He is second with a .947 save percentage and seventh in wins.
Harding, who is battling multiple sclerosis, is not talking about that condition this year. Indeed, his play has pushed that issue to the back burner, something Yeo emphasized today.
“The thing about him is, if it wasn’t for all the questions I get on a day-to-day basis, I’d probably forget about it, to be honest with you,” Yeo said. “What impressed me about him? Last year it was always there, because we had to learn so much about it with the doctors. We had to have so much communication with him and with the trainers, just how to deal with it. This year it’s almost been a non-issue. He just comes to the rink and he’s just another player. He’s gone out and played at such a high level you almost forget it’s there. We’ll never forget what he has to deal with. But, at the same time, it’s impressive the way he comes to the rink. We don’t talk about it, and he doesn’t want us talking about it.”
--As expected, Mike Rupp, who has yet to play this season after having off-season knee surgery, will put in a conditioning stint with Iowa Wild. “He’ll play there Wednesday and Friday,” Yeo said. “And we’ll get him back here.”
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