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 beautiful Raleigh, where the sun is out and the air is crisp.
I'll be on KFAN at 4:30 p.m. CT.
Wild, an NHL-best 17-3-2 in the Devan Dubnyk era and an NHL-best 15 wins and 31 points in 18 games since the All-Star break (15-2-1), faces the Carolina Hurricanes tonight in the parking lot of North Carolina State's football stadium.
Canes have won three of their past four and have been playing well since New Year's.
The Wild, winners of seven of its past eight overall, is an NHL-best 9-1-2 on the road since Dubnyk came to save the day and has won five straight on the road.
"If we don't respect these guys tonight, then it will be an awfully frustrating game," coach Mike Yeo said of the Canes.
Dubnyk will make his 23rd consecutive start tonight. He is 17-3-1 with the Wild with a 1.63 goals-against average and .939 save percentage, allowing a league-low 35 goals in the past 22 games (1.59 per game). Again, consider this: The Wild allowed 58 goals in the 14 games before he arrived (4.14 goals per game).
FIFTY-EIGHT GOALS IN FOURTEEN GAMES COMPARED TO THIRTY-FIVE GOALS IN TWENTY-TWO!
I thought I would amplify that.
Wild was 45 seconds from having a five-point lead in 9th today until Marian Gaborik forced overtime for the L.A. Kings and they won in a shootout.
Now, Wild still has a three-point lead, is one over Winnipeg and four from Chicago for third in the Central. If the Wild's not careful, it'll play itself right into a first-round series with St. Louis.
(I'm crying purely for selfish, travel-related reasons).
Tonight is the Wild's game in hand on the Jets, so if it can win, it would be three points up. Quite the accomplishment considering Minnesota was 14 back of the Jets on Jan. 27 and seven points behind eighth.
Why not rest Dubnyk and start Darcy Kuemper for the first time since Jan. 6?
"Number of reasons," Yeo said. "We look at this game as an extremely important game for us and we're treating it as such. You can talk about maybe resting or keeping an eye on games maybe two, three weeks from now, but those games don't mean a lot unless we win games right now.
"Part of the other reasoning is no skate this morning, no skate for the guys tomorrow with a mandatory day off and probably no morning skate on Sunday [because of a 5 p.m. game against Colorado]. Given that, I think in a lot of ways, it's important for him to almost have this game to keep sharp. And also, we only gave up 25 shots last night [in Washington]. So I don't think he should be too tired."
Jared Spurgeon (concussion) and Nino Niederreiter (lower body) skated this morning in a very optional skate. I'd guess Spurgeon won't play, but we'll see about Niederreiter. And if Niederreiter plays, we'll see who comes out because Jordan Schroeder was good last night with four shots.
Maybe Sean Bergenheim? Maybe a member of the fourth line, although I thought again last night that Erik Haula-Kyle Brodziak-Justin Fontaine looked good and they're all penalty killers and the Canes' power play ranks sixth in the NHL in 2015.
No. 1 ranked (Carolina) vs. No. 2 ranked (Minnesota) penalty kills tonight. Wild's power play is 1 for 19 the past 10 games. Yeo indicated the power play is the only thing about the Wild's game he doesn't like right now.
Looks like former Wild Anton Khudobin is starting for Carolina. The Wild shellacked him a few weeks ago in a 6-3 win.
Mayhem in Denver as the Wild defeated the Colorado Avalanche 3-1 to gain a three-point cushion on eighth and move a point from Winnipeg.
In a nasty, physical, action-packed, playoff-like affair, the Avalanche tried to run the Wild out of the building.
“I’d probably be frustrated too if we played a team and hadn’t scored on them in four games except on a dump-in,” Zach Parise said, grinning (you’ll understand what he’s referring to in a few paragraphs). “They’re taking their frustration out on us. We played a good game in spite of what they were trying to do.”
Twelve periods and 240 minutes of hockey now this season, and the only goal the Avalanche has scored against the Wild in four losses (outscored 12-1) arguably should have been wiped out by referees Chris Rooney and Dean Morton tonight.
Just 1:32 into the second period, a Maxime Talbot dump-in ricocheted awkwardly off the glass, into the crease and pinned under Devan Dubnyk’s right pad. Cody McLeod came charging in trying to jam at the puck and pushed Dubnyk over the goal line.
The ref blew the play down signaling no goal. But they went to review, and the NHL Situation Room correctly determined the puck lodged under Dubnyk’s pad when it went over the line. Tying goal.
However, Dubnyk’s pad only went over the line because McLeod pushed him over the line. Before it got to video review, Rooney and Morton probably should have disallowed the goal. That part of this was not reviewable.
“The ruling, I guess, was that McLeod had nothing to do with me going into the net, which is somewhat mindboggling,” Dubnyk said. “It didn’t seem to matter in the end. For us to respond like that after a goal that probably shouldn’t have counted, that’s a sign of a great hockey team.”
Erik Haula set up Justin Fontaine to make it 2-1 later in the second and Jason Pominville snapped a seven-game point drought in the third.
I paint the above picture though because fast forward to three seconds left with the Avs trailing 3-1. Coach Mike Yeo threw his players on the ice and Patrick Roy countered with five skaters, including Cody McLeod, who was running around all game long, getting into skirmishes by the bench, trash-talking constantly.
Basically, he was doing was Cody McLeod does.
The puck’s dropped and McLeod, from the left wing, skates right at center Mikael Granlund and drives him to the ice, then goes right after Charlie Coyle and gets into a fight.
“I should have saw it coming,” Coyle said. “He backed up and went right after Granlund. Just a stupid play on his part.”
This is textbook instigating, and in the last five minutes, warrants a one-game suspension and $10,000 fine for Roy if upheld by the NHL’s hockey ops department IF the refs call it instigating.
So what do you think Rooney and Morton determined after McLeod jumped a skilled player and started a fight and nearly triggered a brawl by the benches, one that including Gabriel Landeskog taking a swipe at Mikko Koivu from bench to bench?
That McLeod would indeed get a 2-5-10, but the two would be unsportsmanlike conduct, not instigating.
“I didn’t know what was called, but it’s got to be [an instigator],” Coyle said. “That guy’s out there with how many seconds left? Have to know that’s coming.”
There are rules in place to prevent what McLeod did, but you need the refs to actually call it.
“That’s garbage is what it is,” Yeo said of McLeod’s antics. “You feel it was going that way all game long. They were obviously very emotional all game long. In an emotional type of game, we did a good job of keeping our focus and I really think that was the difference in the end.”
Asked what he thought of Roy putting out McLeod, Yeo said, “We’ve seen the league respond to things like this. There’s rules in place to try to prevent things like that and I’m quite certain that they’ll take a good long look at that.”
We’ll see if the league does examine this and determines the only thing that kept this from being an instigator with less than five minutes left is that the refs decided not levy one for some unexplained reason.
(Note: I did not get to question Roy after the game because of a tight deadline due to 9 p.m. game and the fact his availability was during the Wild’s availability).
But the tone was set early in the game when the refs let a lot of stuff go, especially on Thomas Vanek and Coule. In the third, Nathan MacKinnon broke his nose on a check from Sean Bergenheim. The Avs accused Bergenheim of a head shot, but a screenshot I tweeted appears to show MacKinnon being nailed by his own stick.
Nate Prosser said, “We weren’t into the [stuff] after the whistles. We just wanted to stay levelheaded and get the win. They’re coming late. But we just wanted to make sure we were focused on getting the win before getting any extracurricular stuff.”
Added Erik Haula, who for the second game in a row scored a goal and assist, said, “We kept it cool and played the game the right way.”
Added Yeo, “We’ve proven, they’ve tried to do that against us in the past too and I think we respond pretty well to that. I think in some ways it gets some guys even a little bit more into the game. We’ve dealt with that before. I’m pretty impressed with the guys and have confidence they’ll have no problem dealing with that again.”
The Avs close the season series in Minnesota next Sunday. Maybe Stu Bickel will be in the lineup that day and we’ll see if McLeod would fight him instead of going after guys like Granlund.
In the meantime, as Yeo said, “Once the dust settles, we’ll be able to sit back and realize that was a really big win for us. ... In an emotional game, we did a good job keeping our focus and I really think that was the difference in the end."
The Wild beat Colorado for the eighth time in the past nine games including the playoffs and improved to 15-3-3 in its past 21 regular-season games in Denver.
The Wild killed seven penalties, including two abbreviated 4-on-3’s, a 5-on-3 and a 6-on-4. The Wild’s penalty kill is now 43 for 44 during the Wild’s 13-2-1 streak since the All-Star break.
“The penalty kill was huge,” Yeo said. “I feel bad for Duby. I thought Duby was great right from the start of the game and it’s a shame. I didn’t feel that their goal should have counted. I felt that he was clearly pushed into the net. It would have been nice for him to get the shutout. Overall I thought he played a real strong game, obviously backstopping the penalty kill, but those guys were huge, especially in that second period.”
Dubnyk made 33 saves and is an NHL-best 15-3-1 since Jan. 15 with a 1.64 goals-against average, .937 save percentage and five shutouts.
He has got to be one of the frontrunners for February First Star of the Month. He was 11-2-1 with a 1.64 goals-against average, .939 save percentage and three shutouts.
Wild fans packed the Pepsi Center tonight and “DOOOOOOOOOO”ed after all his saves. He was impressed.
“When we were scoring goals, the place was erupting. It’d pretty cool to have that kind of support,” he said.
In the meantime, two big road wins at Nashville and Colorado, said Parise. “It’s something for us to feel really good about.”
The Wild has won seven of its past nine on the road.
Haula and Justin Fontaine scored goals and Kyle Brodziak had a long empty-netter wiped out. But that line was again terrific and Haula said the confidence with the three keeps growing. Jason Pominville also snapped a seven-game point drought with a big third-period goal.
Marco Scandella did seem to get injured. I thought it was from Matt Dumba’s stick because that was his final shift, but before that, he looked like he may have hurt himself when Matt Duchene cut to the net. Yeo said afterward there was too much discomfort for him to continue, to the Wild, already without Jared Spurgeon, played with five defensemen for half the game.
“We keep coming together as a group,” Prosser said. “Big loss of Scandy, we need him and Spurge, but us five took the bulls by the horns and picked up the slack and it was a big two points for us.”
The trade deadline is Monday at 2 p.m. The Wild already wanted a defenseman. We’ll see, depending on his severity, if this further forces the Wild’s hand and it gets one. Also, Tim Erixon and Dave Schlemko can be nabbed off waivers Sunday if the Wild valued them.
Yeo did say this morning that Spurgeon started to work out today.
Intense game to say the least. There was even a nasty fight in the stands between I believe a female Wild fan and male Avs fan.
That’s it for me. The Wild isn’t practicing Sunday. I’ll hop on here and blog if there’s any news, whether from a player acquisition standpoint or if the league chooses to hand out discipline from this game.
I’ll be on Fox 9 with Dawn Mitchell at 10:35 p.m. Sunday.
For as long as I've covered hockey, in back-to-back situations, when a team is on the road and the next night's opponent is already waiting in your city, the coach always reminds the media of that fact preemptively after the front-end road portion of the schedule.
Tonight, the Wild is that quintessential, "They've been back in Denver waiting for us" team.
Last night, the Colorado Avalanche played in Dallas. The Wild has been sitting in Denver since arriving in the wee hours of Friday morning after its convincing 4-2 win at Nashville.
So the Wild, which didn't practice Friday, should have plenty of energy tonight against the Avalanche, which rallied to beat the Stars in an entertaining game and shootout last night. 9 p.m. CT start time. I'll be on Fox Sports North during the pregame show.
Devan Dubnyk will make his 20th consecutive start tonight for the Wild, tying Niklas Backstrom's 2009 team record. He is 14-3-1 with the Wild with a 1.68 goals-against average, .934 save percentage and five shutouts.
In today's paper, I did a story on what Darcy Kuemper and Niklas Backstrom have been up to. Here's a link.
The Wild has shut out the Avs in three consecutive meetings this season by a combined 9-0 score (outshot them 111-64). According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Minnesota is trying to become the first NHL team to post four straight shutouts vs. one opponent in the same season since 1928, when the Pittsburgh Pirates earned four straight shutouts vs. Boston (12/1/27-1/28/28).
The Wild, 12-2-1 since the All-Star break and NHL-best 14-3-2 in its past 19 games, has won six of eight on the road to climb over .500 on the road (15-14-2) for the first time since being 1-0 with a 3-0 win at Colorado on Oct. 11.
It is 14-3-3 in its past 19 regular-season games in Denver.
In the past eight overall regular-season games between the Wild and Avs, the Wild is 7-1, outscored them 25-11 and have a shot differential of plus-101.
Coach Mike Yeo though is expected the Avs' best after being shut out three times by the Wild. Also, Nathan MacKinnon was benched for parts of last night's game in Dallas, so expected a jacked-up No. 1 overall pick.
The season series ends in Minnesota on March 8 with a 5 p.m. game.
Other tidbits: The Wild has outscored opponents 24-8 in the 19 first periods since Dubnyk’s arrival. The Wild is 26-6-3 when it scores first and has scored first in 12 of 15 games since the All-Star break. … The Wild has killed 36 of 37 opposing power plays since the All-Star break. That's an NHL best 97.3 percent. To put that in perspective, in the 13 games before this stretch, the Wild's PK was 72.2 percent (27th in the NHL over that span).
Stephane Veilleux cleared waivers this morning. He's staying on the roster at least as of right now. If the Wild needs his roster spot because of a trade, it can assign him to Iowa now.
A flood of players were placed on waivers today and will be tomorrow (last day before Monday's 2 p.m. deadline) as teams try to create similar flexibility as the Wild.
The Wild's looking for a left-shot D. As I reported today, Jordan Leopold is one name it's looking at. Not sure how the Wild brass values him, but Tim Erixon was placed on waivers by the Hawks today as they prepare to make a trade. Left-shot D drafted in the first round by Calgary that has bounced around to the Rangers, Columbus and Chicago, so his stock has dropped. But he has NHL experience and wouldn't cost an asset other than the waiver claim money.
By the way, Wild GM Chuck Fletcher and assistant GM Brent Flahr attended Friday’s University of Denver-Miami University game to watch the RedHawks’ Louis Belpedio, a freshman drafted by Minnesota in the third round last June.
Wild left wing Stephane Veilleux was placed on waivers today. With one roster spot open already, Veilleux would create a potential second roster spot if needed. Basically, the move gives the Wild the flexibility if it wants to make a trade in the next day or so (see below for one name the Wild has inquired about).
The trade deadline is Monday at 2 p.m. CT.
If Veilleux clears waivers, he won't necessarily be assigned to AHL Iowa. In fact, with no extra forwards or defensemen, he'll probably stay on the roster unless the Wild needs that spot prior to Saturday's game against the Colorado Avalanche.
By having Veilleux clear waivers, this again just allows the Wild that ability to send him to the minors IF it needs his roster spot because of a trade.
As I reported last week in this article (and frankly several articles recently), General Manager Chuck Fletcher is in the market for a depth defenseman.
In recent games, the Wild has had injury scares with defensemen Jonas Brodin and Marco Scandella. Jared Spurgeon is already on injured reserve with a concussion, although coach Mike Yeo has said he is doing better. But all this was a reminder to Fletcher that even with Matt Dumba, fellow rookie Christian Folin and Nate Prosser playing well, it may behoove him to acquire a depth defenseman who can jump into the lineup if needed. There is little doubt the Wild needs another NHL body or two on the blue line, not just in case of injury, but performance. For instance, Dumba had a couple bigtime rookie moments the Wild did survive last night.
In Iowa, the only defensemen considered callup options remaining are Justin Falk and Jon Blum. Falk is the Wild’s only left-shot defenseman beyond Ryan Suter, Brodin and Scandella, meaning the Wild's one left-side injury away from having to recall Falk.
The Wild has inquired with the Columbus Blue Jackets about former University of Minnesota defenseman Jordan Leopold, sources say. The price is believed to be a mid-range draft pick. He was acquired from St. Louis for a 2016 fifth-round pick in November.
Leopold, 34, is most importantly a left-shot that could bring depth in case of injury. Good vision, moves the puck well, suspect at times defensively, good locker-room guy and again would be a depth player to have around for a playoff run.
He has scored 67 goals and 213 points in 677 games for seven teams (Calgary, Colorado, Florida, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, St. Louis and Columbus).
The former Hobey Baker winner won a national title with the Gophers in 2002, scoring 20 goals and 48 points in 44 games.
The top two defensemen on the open market are considered Edmonton's Jeff Petry and former Wild Zbynek Michalek, but Michalek has a concussion and Petry is a right-shot.
Other defensemen potentially available include Philadelphia's Kimmo Timonen (coming back from blood clot and hasn't played all years), Carolina's Tim Gleason, Buffalo's Andrej Meszaros and Colorado's Jan Hejda. Others, too, but those are the most well-known names and Leopold is the only one I know the Wild has inquired about.
Again, for the Wild to give itself the flexibility to technially acquire two bodies, perhaps some other stuff is cooking, too. Remember, after Monday's deadline, rosters expand so injured players will be able to come back at any time without the need to create roster spots.
The Wild plays the Avs tomorrow night. The Avs are in Dallas tonight.
The Wild has shut out the Avalanche in three consecutive meetings (combined 9-0), the first NHL team to accomplish that feat since 2007-08. The Wild, 12-2-1 since the All-Star break and 14-3-2 in its past 19 games, has won six of eight on the road to climb over .500 on the road (15-14-2) for the first time since being 1-0 with a 3-0 win at Colorado on Oct. 11.
It is 14-3-3 in its past 19 games in Denver.
Devan Dubnyk is expected to start his 20th consecutive game, tying Niklas Backstrom's team record set in 2009. If all goes well, he has to be a candidate for February's First Star of the Month. The Wild has never had a Player of the Month.
By the way, Nino Niederreiter is the first Swiss-born player in NHL history to hit the 20-goal plateau.
That's it for now, although whether it's today, Saturday, Sunday or Monday, I'd expect the Wild to make a move for at least a defenseman.
I'll be on KFAN today at 4:30 p.m. CT, Saturday at 11:35 a.m. CT and Saturday night on Fox Sports North during the pregame show.
Morning from beautiful, sunny Vancouver. The Wild, 10-1-2 in its past 13, has beaten the Canucks twice in the past eight days and is 6-1 against Vancouver in seven meetings since March 10, 2013, including three straight wins in Vancouver.
Alex Edler is out for Vancouver. Banged-up Chris Tanev is playing and will be on top pair with Dan Hamhuis. Luca Sbisa moves to the left side and Yannick Weber comes back in for an all-Swiss pair.
Eddie Lack starting because Ryan Miller stinks vs. the Wild.
Same Wild lineup tonight. Coach Mike Yeo thoughts about playing Stu Bickel up front, although it doesn't like for long. That may sound outlandish to some, but after the Canucks ran around in St. Paul last week and injured Jason Zucker, Ryan Carter and took a run at Zach Parise, it was something Yeo is at least considered.
In the end, he decided why change a lineup that is 8-0-1 since the All-Star break and is a point from establishing a new franchise-record point streak of 11 games (8-0-2 right now)? Defenseman Matt Dumba has struggled the past two games, but the Wild is 22-8-1 with him in the lineup and Yeo typically likes Bickel up front more than on the back end. And up front, Stephane Veilleux was good the other night on the Wild's penalty kill, which is 25 for 25 since the All-Star break, so why take him out when Veilleux is needed in a PK role with Zucker, Carter and Matt Cooke hurt?
Yeo said he felt the Wild needed four lines that could play regular shifts tonight, and the three guys that have been playing on the fourth line -- Veilleux, Erik Haula and Kyle Brodziak -- have been a huge part of Minnesota's penalty kill "and quite frankly, nobody deserves to come out."
"Listen, we've got to be ready for them to play a physical game again," Yeo said. "What I'd really like to see is us to combat that with our power play the way we did [with two power-play goals last Monday]. I thought that was instrumental in us getting that win. If they want to run around, then hopefully we can combat that with other ways as far as execution and creating. But we've got to be ready to compete in our own way. We have to be ready to finish checks, to take hits to make plays and we have to make sure that we're strong in our one-on-one battles and if we do that, then we like our squad."
Jordan Schroeder, a Canucks first-round pick who scored his first goal with the Wild at home against Vancouver, makes his first trip back.
"It's exciting. This is where my pro career started. It's fun to be back here, but it's just another game that we have to win," Schroeder said.
I will be on Fox Sports North tonight during the pregame show and first intermission.
Yesterday on my plane ride out here, I put together a strength of schedule chart for the Wild and all the teams it's contending for a playoff spot with. The category, "Games vs. current playoff teams," is exactly that. If the top-8 in the West or East change in the coming days, that number listed for each team will be inaccurate afterward.
San Jose is in danger of falling out of the top 3 in the Pacific (top 3 in each division is essentially 1 through 6 and playoff locks), so suddenly the Sharks, Canucks, Flames and Kings are all jockeying with each other.
Just root for no 3-point games the rest of the way when these teams play. As I said to somebody the other night, just because the Wild didn't move into the top-8 didn't make Calgary beating Vancouver a bad thing at all. What it did was kept Vancouver closer to the pack that the Wild is contending against.
Tonight, the Wild will move into the top-8 tonight if it beats Vancouver in regulation AND Calgary loses to Boston in regulation. If that happens, the Wild would be tied in points (65) with Vancouver and Calgary but get into the top-8 because the Flames have played one more game.
The Jets are five up on the Wild for the first wildcard spot. They have still played three more games than Minnesota, so the Wild's still in a good spot if it keeps winning. But Winnipeg gets lowly Edmonton at home tonight.
I included regulation/overtime wins in the chart because that is the first tiebreaker after 82 games.
San Jose (66 points, 2nd in Pacific)
Games left: 24
Games vs. current playoff team: 13
Regulation/overtime wins: 27
Note: Floundering of late. 5 of final 6 games vs. Colorado, Arizona, Dallas and Edmonton
Vancouver (65 points, 3rd in Pacific)
Games left: 27
Games vs. current playoff team: 12
Regulation/overtime wins: 29
Note: Pretty much a .500 team lately and their defense is starting to get beat up. Last 2 games vs. Arizona and Edmonton at home.
Winnipeg (68 points, 1st wildcard spot)
Games left: 24
Games vs. current playoff team: 15
Regulation/overtime wins: 24
Note: Arguably the easiest schedule the rest of the way, but they still have four games against St. Louis.
Calgary (65 points, 2nd wildcard spot)
Games left: 26
Games vs. current playoff team: 11
Regulation/overtime wins: 28
Note: Pretty easy schedule and have a five-game homestand in the middle of the next month, including four current non-playoff teams.
Wild (63 points, 9th)
Games left: 27
Games vs. current playoff team: 17
Regulation/overtime wins: 26
Note: The Wild’s final 6 games and 8 of last 9 are against playoff teams, including a road trip to Chicago, Nashville and St. Louis. The Wild has lacked success in each of those cities, however, if those teams are locks with position just prior to the playoffs, could the Wild be facing teams in do-not-get-hurt-mode? Look for the Wild to try to add a scoring forward and defenseman before the March 2 trade deadline
Los Angeles (62 points, 10th)
Games left: 27
Games vs. current playoff team: 17
Regulation/overtime wins: 24
Note: Actively looking for a defenseman to replace suspended Slava Voynov. Lots of road games left. Despite the fact the Kings were so good on the road in last year’s playoffs, they’ve been fairly awful this year.
Dallas (60 points, 11th)
Games left: 26
Games vs. current playoff team: 19
Regulation/overtime wins: 24
Note: Tyler Seguin is out with a knee injury.
Colorado (57 points, 12th)
Games left: 26
Games vs. current playoff team: 15
Regulation/overtime wins: 16
Note: Avs are tied for the fourth-fewest ROW’s in the NHL. Only 32 of its 57 points have come via regulation/overtime wins.
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