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 had a team meeting this morning prior to its 5 p.m. game against the St. Louis Blues. A few guys took the ice, including backup Niklas Backstrom, healthy scratch Zenon Konopka and injured Clayton Stoner. Zach Parise is still not allowed on the ice with his broken foot.
Jared Spurgeon was also on the ice testing his injury and coach Mike Yeo expects him to play. Jon Blum was called up but will be scratched as long as Spurgeon can play, Yeo said.
Josh Harding vs. Brian Elliott tonight.
I'd expect David Backes will play in his hometown, but I'll check with him after the Blues' skate. He missed the last Dallas game with an upper-body injury. David Backes is indeed out tonight.
The Blues are 4-0-2 in their past six on the road, 7-1-2 in their past 10 overall and 12-0-1 against the Central this year (unbeaten against the Central since an Oct. 18 shootout loss to Winnipeg).
I'll be on Fox Sports North during the pregame show and first intermission.
If you didn't catch today's story here, I talked to GM Chuck Fletcher about the state of the sinking Wild yesterday. He talked about the team, his attempt to make a trade and also Yeo's job security. While he says his inclination is not to overreact and to give this group a chance to fix things, Fletcher declined to give Yeo a vote of confidence.
The entire coaching staff is in the final year of its contract. The rest of this homestand is huge. There is no doubt Yeo is on the hot seat.
Here's some numbers I threw together:
Wild at the midway point
Record: 20-16-5 (10th in the West)
1-Goal Games: 12-3-5
2-goal Games: 5-5
3+-goal Games: 3-8
Scoring First: 14-4-2
Opponent Scoring First: 6-12-3
Leading after 1: 8-1-1
Trailing after 1: 1-11-2
Tied after 1: 11-4-2
Leading after 2: 14-1-3
Trailing after 2: 4-14-2
Tied after 2: 2-1
OT record: 0-1
Shootout record: 5-4
Outshooting opponent: 9-7-5
Vs. East: 9-8-2
Vs. West: 11-8-3
Goals per game overall: 2.22 (29th in the NHL)
Goals per game at home: 2.7 (17th in the NHL)
Goals per game on road: 1.85 (29th in the NHL)
Goals against per game overall: 2.51 (12th in the NHL
Goals against per game at home: 1.95 (7th in the NHL)
Goals against per game on road: 3.05 (24th in the NHL)
Shots per game: 27.7 (27th in the NHL)
Shots against per game: 27.3 (tied for 4th in the NHL)
Power play overall: 19.4% (11th in the NHL)
Power play at home: 20.6% (11th in the NHL)
Power play on road: 18.2% (11th in the NHL)
Shorthanded goals allowed: 3 (tied for 13th in the NHL)
Power play opportunities: 129 (tied for 21st in the NHL)
Penalty kill overall: 78.8% (26th in the NHL)
Penalty kill at home: 82.8% (tied for 14th in the NHL)
Penalty kill on road: 75.7% (27th in the NHL)
Shorthanded goals: 1 (tied for 26th in the NHL)
Times shorthanded: 132 (18th in the NHL)
Penalty minutes: 19.7 a game (tied for 6th in the NHL)
5-on-5 goals for: 61 (tied for 25th in the NHL)
5-on-5 goals against: 62 (tied for 5th in the NHL)
Goals: Jason Pominville 17, Zach Parise 15, Mikko Koivu 8, Dany Heatley 8, Justin Fontaine 8
Assists: Koivu 22, Ryan Suter 22, Parise 12, Nino Niederreiter 12, Mikael Granlund 12
Points: Koivu 30, Pominville 28, Parise 27
Plus-Minus: Niederreiter +6, Matt Cooke +5, Fontaine +5, Marco Scandella +5
Penalty minutes: Zenon Konopka 55, Clayton Stoner 35, Keith Ballard 31
Power-play goals: Parise 8, Pominville 5, Jonas Brodin 3, Heatley 3
Power-play assists: Koivu 10, Suter 9, Pominville 4, Granlund 4
Power-play points: Koivu 11, Parise 11, Pominville 9, Suter 9
Shorthanded goals: Parise 1
Even-strength points: Pominville 19, Koivu 18, Parise 15, Niederreiter 15
Game-winning goals: Pominville 4, Koivu 3
Shots: Parise 144, Pominville 111, Koivu 96
Faceoff winning pct.: Konopka .657, Koivu .555, Kyle Brodziak .513
Shooting pct.: Brodin .206, Fontaine .190, Pominville .153
Time on ice per game: Suter 29:40, Brodin 24:42, Koivu 21:35
Games: Josh Harding 28, Niklas Backstrom 16, Darcy Kuemper 2
Wins: Harding 18, Backstrom 2
Shots against: Harding 667, Backstrom 430, Kuemper 16
Goals allowed: Backstrom 46, Harding 44, Kuemper 6
Goals against average: Harding 1.64, Backstrom 3.32, Kuemper 6.10
Save percentage: Harding .934, Backstrom .893, Kuemper .625
Shutouts: Harding 3
Unique stat team leaders
Hits: Cooke 96, Niederreiter 95, Jared Spurgeon 50
Missed net w/ shot: Koivu 52, Pominville 45, Spurgeon 39
Blocked shots: Spurgeon 66, Suter 57, Scandella 55
Points at home: Parise 18, Koivu 17, Pominville 13
Points on road: Pominville 15, Koivu 13, Suter 13
Shootout goals: Koivu 3, Parise 3, Pominville 3
Shifts per game: Suter 32.2, Brodin 30.2, Spurgeon 28.3
Fights: Konopka 7, Stoner 3, Ballard 3
Minor penalties: Niederreiter 12, Brodziak 10, Cooke 10, Stoner 10
Goals to tie games: Parise 4, Koivu 4, Fontaine 3, Pominville 2, Brodin 2
Goals to put Wild up by one: Pominville 6, Parise 5, Fontaine 3, Brodin 3, Heatley 2
Goals to put Wild up by two: Parise 3, Pominville 3, Koivu 3
Goals to cut deficit to one: Pominville 3, Heatley 2
The going is only getting tougher for the Wild, which is 1-6-1 in its past eight on the road and faces a Flyers team tonight that has won eight in a row at home.
There were rumors the past hour that Zach Parise would miss tonight's game against the Flyers. The Wild has just confirmed he has a lower-body injury. I didn't see Parise this morning but he was at the team hotel earlier today.
This will be Parise's second game missed this season, the last with a foot injury that hasn't healed yet. I believe this is related.
We'll have more from coach Mike Yeo after the game hopefully.
Parise has one assist and is minus-7 on the 1-6-1 road slide that started with his foot injury in St. Louis.
Justin Fontaine will draw into the lineup.
Matt Cooke slides into Parise's spot next to Mikko Koivu and Charlie Coyle
The Nino Niederreiter-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville remains intact, while Dany Heatley will skate with Kyle Brodziak and Fontaine and Stephane Veilleux skates on the left side of Zenon Konopka and Torrey Mitchell.
Wild and Flyers tonight at Wells Fargo Center on NBC Sports Network as both teams look to head into the NHL's holiday hiatus on a high. Dave Strader upstairs, Pierre McGuire between the benches.
The Flyers will be looking for their first nine-game home winning streak since 2005. During their eight-game home winning streak, they have outscored their opponents 32-15. Guys like Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek are running hot.
The Wild has lost seven of its last eight road games (1-6-1) with eight goals in that span and have no regulation road wins since Nov. 20. They did manage to score first for the first time in 11 road games last night at the Garden, so they’ve got that going for them.
Niklas Backstrom vs. Steve Mason tonight.
The Wild reassigned Erik Haula this morning and recalled the red-headed wonder, Stephane Veilleux.
Why would the lowest-scoring team in the Western Conference do that?
“Penalty killer, energy, emotion, physical,” coach Mike Yeo said. “We always like when Steph’s in our lineup because we know what we’re going to get with him. I think it’s important to have a fourth line that’s bringing that speed, that identity.”
Haula is not a fourth-liner and shouldn’t be. Yeo talked about after New York’s second goal last night, he put his fourth line out to get a momentum shift. Instead, there was a turnover and they were pinned in their zone.
“It would be useful,” Yeo said, to have a fourth line that can get the puck deep, get the momentum back and “help us get back to our game.” Veilleux can provide that, Yeo said.
My guess is Zenon Konopka comes back into the lineup and centers Veilleux and Torrey Mitchell.
The other three lines, Yeo said, he’s keeping a surprise.
He did say there will be some changes. I didn’t get the impression Yeo will split Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu today.
Parise’s a minus-5 on the trip, Koivu a minus-4. They have no points. I think with Mikael Granlund back in the lineup, it’s worth trying. I think it’s just too easy to load up on Koivu and Parise together on the road, but Yeo said the Granlund-Jason Pominville tandem is a “pretty difficult tandem to deal with as well. We do believe ti have those guys situated like that we do have more than one line to concentrate on.”
But why doesn’t he ever split Parise and Koivu?
“Mikko is a skilled player and needs skilled players with him,” Yeo said. “He needs guys, you look around the league, we’re not the only team to do that. I don’t want to start naming off centermen, but first-line centermen generally are going to play with first-line wingers. Skilled players need to play with skilled players. That’s what it comes down to.”
Again though, if you consider Nino Niederreiter and Charlie Coyle skilled, I don’t see why Koivu in the middle can’t be experimented with. The Wild is too one and done offensively. Get the puck in, try to win the battle and leave the zone when it doesn’t. If they do with the cycle battle, it usually results in one shot and out of the zone.
I like the size of a Niederreiter-Koivu-Coyle line on the cycle and the speed and plays a Parise-Granlund-Pominville line could bring. We’ll see.
Clayton Stoner will miss tonight’s game with a lower-body injury. Nate Prosser will play for the first time in 14 games (Nov. 25).
Yeo said, “He’s such a great pro. He’s done this. It’s not an easy job, a lot of guys can’t do it,” but he just wants Prosser to come in and “be effective in his game, provide a spark,” compete hard and defend hard.”
Prosser said just that, that he plans to flip the switch at the opening faceoff and be tough to play against.
Team meeting this morning and the big topic was being mentally tougher than folding up its tents with one goal against or bad portions of game. Yeo watched last night’s game again and felt the Wild actually had a better first half of the game than it has in some time.
Talk to you tonight. The good folks at TSN report defenseman Matt Dumba won’t face a suspension for his kneeing major in yesterday’s world junior championships tune-up game.
Speaking of which:
NEW YORK (December 18, 2013) – NHL Network-U.S. and NHL.com will
offer fans in the United States the opportunity to watch live competition
from the 2014 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship
, Dec. 26-Jan. 5 from Malmo, Sweden. The IIHF World Junior Championship
features the top men's hockey players in the world under the age of 20 and
is one of the featured events on the world hockey calendar each year.
NHL Network-U.S. will broadcast 18 live contests from the 2014 IIHF
World Junior Championship, including every game from Team USA's group –
which features games against Canada, Czech Republic, Germany and Slovakia –
as well as the quarterfinals, semifinals, and bronze- and gold-medal games.
A complete schedule is below and available on www.nhlnetwork.com.
Steve Mears, co-host of NHL Network’s NHL Live, will provide the
play-by-play along with NCAA/junior hockey analyst Dave Starman. TV/radio
host Jill Savage will serve as the rink-side reporter.
NHL.com will provide a live stream of all Team USA tournament games
(available only in the U.S.) as well as the latest information from the
tournament, including news, recaps and select game highlights.
In 2013, the United States took home gold by defeating defending
champion Sweden, 3-1, in the final. That earned Team USA its third medal
from the last four IIHF World Junior Championships, to go with gold in 2010
and bronze in 2011.
2014 IIHF World Junior Championship NHL Network-U.S. Schedule
Dec. 26, 2013-Jan. 5, 2014 • Malmo, Sweden
|Date |Matchup |Time (Local/ET) |Live |
| | | |Streaming |
|Thurs., Dec. |Canada vs. Germany|1:30 p.m./7:30 | |
|26 |USA vs. Czech |a.m. |NHL.com |
| |Republic |5:30 p.m./11:30 | |
| | |a.m. | |
|Fri., Dec. 27|Slovakia vs. |3:00 p.m./9:00 | |
| |Germany |a.m. | |
|Sat., Dec. 28|USA vs. Slovakia |1:30 p.m./7:30 |NHL.com |
| |Canada vs. Czech |a.m. | |
| |Republic |5:30 p.m./11:30 | |
| | |a.m. | |
|Sun., Dec. 29|USA vs. Germany |3:00 p.m./9:00 |NHL.com |
| | |a.m. | |
|Mon., Dec. 30|Germany vs. Czech |1:30 p.m./7:30 |None |
| |Republic |a.m. | |
| |Canada vs. |5:30 p.m./11:30 | |
| |Slovakia |a.m. | |
|Tues., Dec. |Czech Republic vs.|1:30 p.m./7:30 | |
|31 |Slovakia |a.m. |NHL.com |
| |USA vs. Canada |5:30 p.m./11:30 | |
| | |a.m. | |
|Thurs., Jan. |Quarterfinal #1 |noon/6:00 a.m. |TBA |
|2 |Quarterfinal #2 |2:30 p.m./8:30 | |
| |Quarterfinal #3 |a.m. | |
| |Quarterfinal #4 |5:00 p.m./11:00 | |
| | |a.m. | |
| | |7:30 p.m./1:30 | |
| | |p.m. | |
|Fri., Jan. 3 |Semifinal #1 |3:00 p.m./9:00 |TBA |
| |Semifinal #2 |a.m. | |
| | |7:00 p.m./1:00 | |
| | |p.m. | |
|Sun., Jan. 5 |Bronze Medal Game |3:00 p.m./9:00 |TBA |
| |Gold Medal Game |a.m. | |
| | |7:00 p.m./1:00 | |
| | |p.m. | |
Afternoon from Pittsburgh, where the Wild and Penguins face off tonight at 6 p.m. CT.
If you get NHL Network, I’ll be on NHL Live at 5 p.m. CT, 6 p.m. ET, from the penalty box on the bald-spot cam at CONSOL Energy Center.
Penguins, despite being minus 10 guys that are hurt or suspended, just keep on winning. Just on their back end, they are missing Kris Letang, Brooks Orpik, Rob Scuderi and always-friendly Paul Martin, who walked by me on crutches wearing a full beard. Yet, the Pens have won five in a row and 10 of their past 11.
James Neal is expected to return from his five-game suspension tonight for kneeing Brad Marchand in the head. He’s not the first player who wanted to knee Marchand in the head, but he’s the first player to actually do it.
Sidney Crosby, who once upon a time starred at Shattuck-St. Mary’s, will play the Wild for the first time since the 2009-10 season. In five games vs. Minnesota, Sid the Not a Kid Anymore has three goals and four assists. He is riding an eight-game point streak and of course leads the NHL in scoring.
Crosby and Wild coach Mike Yeo had a great relationship when Yeo was Pittsburgh’s assistant for four years. Yeo called the prospect of coaching against Crosby “scary” tonight.
“I can’t say that I’m really looking forward to it,” Yeo said. “He’s a player, every time he steps on the ice he’s a threat and dangerous. It’s a great challenge, too. We pride ourselves on our defensive game. It’s a good opportunity to go out and prove we can do it against the elite.”
The Wild hasn’t lost in Pittsburgh since its first visit many, many years ago. It has won six in a row since and, in fact, the Wild is the only team Marc-Andre Fleury hasn’t beaten. He is 0-5 against the Wild with a 3.76 goals-against average and .853 save percentage.
The Pens didn’t have a morning skate, but Fleury played in Pittsburgh’s 8 p.m. game against the Rangers in New Yawk last night, so the guess is backup Jeff Zatkoff, 26, will make his seventh career start. He is 5-2 in seven appearances with a 2.53 goals-against average and .911 save percentage. He’s a product of the L.A. Kings system and signed a free agent in 2012.
We should find out for sure during Dan Bylsma’s 5 p.m. availability.
Good opportunity to play the backup because the Wild hasn’t exactly lit up anybody. Twenty goals scored in the past 13 games and the team is 6-8-3 on the road with three regulation wins – and none since Nov. 20 at Ottawa.
Mikael Granlund won’t play tonight. He was clearly disappointed on the ice when Yeo talked to him this morning. But with no practice yesterday, the Wild wants to put Granlund is a good spot and not rush him back, so he’ll get two battling practices Friday in Pittsburgh and Saturday at Chelsea Pier in Manhattan and maybe play Sunday against the Rangers.
“It’s a long season,” Yeo said.
Matt Cooke was Mr. Popular this morning. He spoke for 10 minutes with about 20 reporters around him in front of his stall as he preps to return to Pittsburgh for the first time since signing a three-year deal with the Wild.
He joked that he hopes he’s not booed, but if he is, “it wouldn’t be the first time and probably won’t be the last.”
He won’t be booed. As far as I can tell, he was loved here by Pens fans. He joked that he’s changed his ways, so he won’t try to push any buttons in the smack-talking department tonight with his old mates. Asked if he’d also avoid any practical jokes before the game for his old mates, the renowned jokester said, “I didn’t say that.”
“I’ll forever be thankful for the support I had here, from ownership, management, the coaching staff, players, media, fans, everybody,” Cooke said. “That’ll never change. But that doesn’t mean I don’t go out and not try tonight to hand over a loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins.”
As for Josh Harding missing at least a week to make some “minor adjustments” to his treatment protocol for multiple sclerosis, Yeo said he knew about this for a few days, but they didn’t feel the need to talk about it and create any kind of distraction going into the Vancouver game Tuesday.
“He feels great. He wants to make sure everybody understands that, that this is just a minor thing and he’ll be able to rejoin us after Christmas,” Yeo said.
This is now a big opportunity for Niklas Backstrom to get into a rhythm for the first time this season. The way Harding has played all year has meant Backstrom only gets one game every blue moon. This is a veteran used to playing every day, so it clearly has been a difficult adjustment.
“We’re really confident in him,” Yeo said. “He’s played some great hockey for us. This might end up being a great positive for us where we get him right on top of his game again.”
Yeo did say that the Wild potentially flips Johan Gustafsson and Darcy Kuemper this weekend. Kuemper is considered the Wild’s No. 3 and is apparently playing better in Iowa after a slow start to his year and two very rough outings in the NHL this year.
Even if Kuemper is called up to back up Backstrom Sunday in New York, that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s starting Monday in Philly. That will have to do with how Backstrom is playing, how much work he faces in New York, what time the team arrives in Philadelphia (the Wild is taking a chartered train after the Rangers game).
But if there’s a chance Kuemper’s going to start Monday, my guess is he has to come up prior to Sunday so he’s got some time to get comfortable. Remember, his lone start in Toronto when he gave up three goals on seven shots, the team flew him in on the day of the Buffalo game to back up and then start the next night. I can’t imagine the Wild would be foolish enough to do that again. So if this switch happens, I think Kuemper comes to New York on Saturday.
The Wild’s not giving up on Kuemper based on two nervous outings – one replacing Harding in the middle of arguably the Wild’s worst road performance of the season (6-2 in Montreal). So it wouldn’t shock me if he gets the call.
Yeo expects Jason Pominville to be “geared up” tonight. Remember, he wants to represent the U.S. at the Olympics and the U.S. coach is Bylsma. The associate GM is Pens GM Ray Shero.
Pominville says he won’t be focused on that, but he did say he still really wants to force them into making a tough decision. He is on the long list, meaning he is in the anti-doping program and has been drug tested throughout the season in case the U.S. chooses him.
Lastly, before I return after tonight's game, here's a pic of Team Canada assistant captain Matt Dumba.
Congrats to NJT leadership group. Captain Scott Laughton and assistants Matt Dumba, Jonathan Drouin. pic.twitter.com/dG9wFM7QoH— Scott Salmond (@SAMMYSAYS2010) December 19, 2013
Afternoon from beautiful Southern California, where it’s sunny with a slight chill in the air.
I’m thinking of putting on a wind breaker.
Wild vs. the red-hot Ducks tonight. Anaheim is 11-0-2 at home.
The Wild had a good, crisp skate this morning, but who knows what that means.
“We recognize the importance of this game and getting this road trip started off the right way,” coach Mike Yeo said. “I feel good that our guys are going to be ready to battle hard tonight.”
The Wild has lost three in a row on the road, having been shut out in two. The Wild has allowed the first goal in six consecutive road games.
“Start the game on time,” Yeo said of what he wants tonight. “And that means your battle level, being ready to skate, being ready to work, having the mindset that we want to get to our game and how you do that. That’s executing the right way, playing a certain way with the puck that helps us get to our game and hurts them getting to theirs.”
Josh Harding vs. Jonas Hiller tonight.
The Wild lines are what I indicated in today’s newspaper, meaning Jason Zucker to the second line with Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter and Dany Heatley to the fourth line with Zenon Konopka and Justin Fontaine. Mike Rupp and Nate Prosser are the lone healthy scratches as Matt Dumba, who had been away from the team for family reasons, was officially assigned to Team Canada today.
That means the Wild’s roster now stands at 22 players and the Wild loses Dumba’s cap hit for at least until it makes the decision to bring him back or not.
I talked with Saku Koivu today about his little bro. Last month I wrote a story about how Team Finland says either Mikko Koivu or Saku Koivu will be Finland’s captain in February’s Winter Olympics. Mikko endorses Saku. Today, basically, Saku endorsed Mikko.
It’s just your good old-fashioned brotherly fight. It’s amazing talking to Saku because despite being way, way older than Mikko (39 vs. 30), the mannerisms and facial expressions between the two are almost identical.
Teemu Selanne also says it’s Mikko’s time and Mikko’s team.
I’ll write more about the Koivus in Thursday’s paper.
Speaking of the ageless wonder and future Hall of Famer who still swears this year’s his swan song, Selanne says the Ducks, “There’s no weaknesses. Right now we’re just playing with a lot of confidence, and even with a lot of injuries. Even last year, all the success we had was using our depth. We have a lot of depth on our team. Everybody’s doing their job. That’s what it takes. You always reminded that you’re only as good as your weakest link and we don’t really have weak links right now. That’s a good sign, but there’s still levels we can reach. We want to keep pushing ourselves.”
I’ll also have some Selanne gold on teammate Corey Perry either Thursday or Sunday. Remember, Wild GM Chuck Fletcher was in Anaheim’s front office when the Ducks traded two seconds to Dallas to get an extra first to take Perry in 2003 at 28th overall. Same draft the Ducks drafted Ryan Getzlaf. Completely transformed this franchise.
I’ll also have some stuff on Kyle Brodziak in Thursday. He plays his 500th game tonight and coach Mike Yeo is very happy with Brodziak’s season after a down year last year. Obviously, Brodziak’s not scoring goals (20 games without one; and if you expect him to score goals, you're always going to be disappointed), but he’s been on a third line that has been solid all year defensively. Remember, there was a stretch where Brodziak and Cooke were on the ice for two goals against at even-strength in a 12-game stretch.
I’ll be on KFAN at 4:15 p.m. CT.
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