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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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.
Great news. Second trip back to Ottawa since the 2009 Wild equipment fire and no equipment has burned … yet.
I was looking back on yesteryear earlier today, and I found this inventory blog on the Wild’s lost equipment Dec. 18, 2009, in Ottawa. Other amazing thing that went on then? Swine flu was going around and Eric Belanger, Gui Latendresse and Robbie Earl ended up not playing in the game. The Wild had to play short skaters that night in a blah 4-1 loss.
The Wild lost 6-2 last night in Montreal and coach Mike Yeo will be looking for a rebound tonight in Ottawa.
“I feel confident because of our leadership, because of the group that we have,” Yeo said two hours before gametime. “That doesn’t mean there’s any guarantees. We’re playing against a team that’s going to be looking to bounce back as well [after a 5-2 loss at Philadelphia last night], so it’s going to be a challenging game.
“But where my confidence lies is in our leadership and our players to come out and put forth a really great effort. I sit up here and I do believe that. I’d be surprised if we saw otherwise.”
Yeo on recalling Jason Zucker: “From what we’ve heard, he’s played well [in Iowa]. It’s been warranted. … Zuck, with his speed and his skill level, he’s shown he’s capable of being a top-6 forward. If we’re going to call him up, we want to give him an opportunity to play with good players.”
Zucker will skate with Mikael Granlund and Jason Pominville on the second line. Remember, he had success last year with Matt Cullen and Devin Setoguchi, and that line seems to have a similar makeup and identity.
Nino Niederreiter moved to the Matt Cooke-Kyle Brodziak line last night and that’s where he’ll skate to start tonight’s game, while Justin Fontaine will skate with former Senators and no longer a fan favorite, Dany Heatley, and former Senators Zenon Konopka.
Josh Harding will start in goal. Matt Dumba will play. Nate Prosser is scratched.
Yeo on Torrey Mitchell’s leg injury: “I don’t think it’s going to be very serious.”
Also, Niklas Backstrom went on the ice today in Minnesota and took shots. Yeo didn’t have an update on how Backstrom (concussion) felt: “We’ll have to see how things went today. When we get back, tomorrow we’ll have a better idea once we get a chance to talk to him personally.”
The Wild will fly back to Minnesota after tonight’s game. The team has Thursday off before flying to Winnipeg on Friday for practice leading into Saturday’s 2 p.m. matinee vs. the Jets. The Wild then will fly to St. Louis and practice there Sunday before completing its four-game trip against the Blues on Monday.
Talk after the game.
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.
Bonjour from Montreal, where the Wild and Les Habitants square off tonight in the front end of back-to-back games for Minnesota.
Wild plays in Ottawa tomorrow. This is the first of four straight away from the friendly confines of the X (league-best 10-1-2) for the Wild, which hopes to improve on its 3-3-2 road record.
If you didn't read my feature in today's paper on Team Finland's brass talking about potentially naming Mikko Koivu captain at the Olympics and the evolution of Mikael Granlund, that article can be read here.
Josh Harding starts tonight and Darcy Kuemper is expected to start tomorrow. Despite several teams in the NHL dealing with goalie issues including the Wild, Jason LaBarbera cleared waivers for Edmonton.
So that pretty much sums up where he is in his career.
Not much news to report other than Clayton Stoner's revolving D partners.
"They're trying to keep me guessing," Stoner said with a wink.
Stoner has played with injured Keith Ballard this season, Jared Spurgeon this season and most recently interchanging Nate Prosser and Matt Dumba.
Tonight, Prosser gets back into the lineup and Dumba will be scratched. My guess is Dumba plays tomorrow in Ottawa, and coach Mike Yeo said that's a possibility.
I figured it had to do with the big Montreal stage and the fact it could intimidate a 19-year-old like Dumba, but Yeo said that wasn't the reason.
"You know what, we've got seven guys right now," Yeo said. "I liked a lot of things I saw in his game [against Winnipeg on Sunday]. We have a large number of games coming up here, so there's a good chance we'll get him back in there. It was the same thing with Pross. It was hard to take Pross out of the lineup [Sunday], but we're just trying to keep everybody involved."
Improving Marco Scandella, as I wrote today here, will play his second game in the rink five or six minutes from where he grew up. He only had to buy 12 tickets and got a home-cooked meal last night, "so in the end, I won."
He also set up 30 postgame passes and he's just excited, saying how cool it is to get text messages from old teachers saying how excited they are to watch him in person.
Different atmosphere around the Wild from the bilingual press when we come here now. It used to be mayhem when Jacques Lemaire coached the Wild. Now, it's much less crowded, although Scandella and Quebec-born Jason Pominville were popular interviews today, as well as Mikko Koivu -- the brother of longtime former Canadiens captain Saku Koivu.
That's it for moi. Talk after tonight's game and on Twitter during the game (www.twitter.com/russostrib).
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