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.

Also find Russo on Facebook.

Email Michael to talk about hockey.

Posts about On the road

"Il-ya, Il-ya, Il-ya" leads Wild to the brink of the playoffs

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: April 7, 2014 - 11:18 PM

For some reason the Wild hasn’t been successful in the front end of back-to-backs (3-9 before tonight’s 1-0 win at Winnipeg; eighth shutout by the Wild to tie a team record), so defenseman Ryan Suter said this was kind of a “trap game” tonight with the hard-working Jets out of the playoff hunt, the Wild so close to clinching a playoff spot and the Boston Bruins, the top team in the NHL, waiting for the Wild in Minnesota for Tuesday night’s game.

But the Wild grinded it out. Its execution wasn’t good all night long offensively, but man, the Wild worked hard and defended well. Players sure had to with as much time as they spent in their own zone.

“That was the definition of grinding it out,” coach Mike Yeo said. “We battled hard. Structure-wise, we were good. Penalty kill was huge (4 for 4). The play of our defensemen in particular, really impressed.”

You have to give Yeo and his staff credit (I know, I know, players win games and coaches lose games).

Obviously, the four goalies who have been No. 1 this season for the Wild (Nik Backstrom, Josh Harding, Darcy Kuemper and now Ilya Bryzgalov) deserve credit, but this could have blown up at any time along the way if not for the Wild’s impressive defensive structure and Yeo’s system.

The Wild’s goalies are rarely peppered and when the Wild most needed it, it has gotten back to a defensive structure that has allowed 26 or fewer shots in the past eight games.

“This team right now, we’re going good places,” said defenseman Jon Blum, who had his best game since his callup. “We’re focused on defense first and you can see that. Whenever they get that big chance, Bryz makes that big save for us. We’re feeding off that.”

“Bryz” tonight made 24 saves for his second consecutive shutout. He’ll start against Boston and carry a shutout streak of 142 minutes, 15 seconds into a game against a team that is 13-1-4 in its past 18 on the road and 16-1-2 in the past 19 overall.

The Wild’s magic number is one point. Its magic number for the top wildcard spot is two.

Tuesday’s clinching scenarios:

-- Wild win or overtime/shootout loss

--Phoenix loss of any kind

--Phoenix shootout win

To not make the playoffs, the Wild would have to go 0-3 and the Coyotes would have to go 4-0 (no shootout wins) and then make up what would seem to be an insurmountable goal differential tiebreaker (plus-2 for Minnesota, minus-12 for Phoenix).

Six or seven games ago, it looked like the Wild was on its way to being toast. Now it’s 4-0-1 in its past five and closed its regular-season road schedule with a 17-17-7 record (7-3-2 since the Olympic break). Remember, before the Olympic break, the Wild was one of the worst road teams in the NHL.

“We went into a lot of tough buildings and I give our guys credit for the way they battled on the road,” Yeo said.

“It’ crazy how fast it can turn around,” said Charlie Coyle, who scored the winning goal 65 seconds into the second period on an even-strength goal that was basically a power-play goal. “Things aren’t going your way and you lose a game, it feels like the end of the world and when you win you’re on top of the world. You have to stay even-keeled.”

Coyle has 10 points in the past nine games and five goals. Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu set up his goal, and the line now has eight goals and 21 points in five games and a period since Yeo reunited them in the third period of that loss in St. Louis.

“I tried to find the open ice there and let those guys make plays,” Coyle said.

Bryzgalov is 6-0-3 in 10 appearances and nine starts with a 1.67 goals-against average, .929 save percentage and three shutouts. He’s been great and had some good quotes you can read in the game story. Also, check out the stuff about the Jets fans (see below) taunting him. Funny stuff.

“Very calm in the net, making a lot of very tough saves look easy,” Yeo said of Bryz.

What Yeo liked most about tonight was the battle level and defensive structure. Suter and Jared Spurgeon were solid all night yet again. Jon Blum may have played his best game with the Wild.

“All night our execution wasn’t very good. We know that,” Yeo said. “But you can win games where you’re not completely at your best” when you defend well and you’re structured and work hard.

The Wild’s penalty kill was 4 for 4 and is now 9 for 9 in the past four games after giving up 12 goals on 35 chances in the previous 13 games.

“That’s how it works,” Suter said. “You give up a couple cheesy ones and it turns around. It’s funny how the game works. It’s just like scoring goals. You don’t score goals all year and you get a hat trick. I mean, who would have thought (referring to his hattie back in January against Washington that helped turn the season around). That’s how the game is. Now I can’t buy one.

“Uh, uh, PK, back on point. Hopefully now we’re going up.”

This doesn’t read as funny as Suter sounded. He just went on a little tangent and then, … back to the penalty kill.

“Come playoff time, it’s got to be good,” Matt Cooke said of the PK. “Our whole game has to be good. We know we have right the system, we know we have the right components in this room. We have three games left to build.”

That’s it for me. Early flight home. Doubtful Wild has a skate in the morning, but if it does, I’ll blog afterward. Otherwise, talk to you pregame.

Check out the gamer, John Curry feature and Nino Niederreiter notebook in the paper Tuesday.

Wild looks to improve at home tonight against Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: April 5, 2014 - 12:39 PM

Wild and Pittsburgh Penguins tonight at the X.

Wild's magic number is five points, eight to get top wildcard spot, and avoid St. Louis in the first round (Anaheim or San Jose).

The Wild is coming off a 2-1-1 road trip and must guard against first-game-after-a-long-road-trip flatness. The Wild really can’t afford it because it has been playing much better on the road than at home since the Olympic break.

The Wild is a yucky 1-2-3 in its past six home games.

“We have to be much better at home than we have been,” said Zach Parise.

Battle of the Z’s in net tonight: Ilya Bryzzzzzzgalov vs. Jeff Zzzzzzatkoff.

Bryzgalov is 4-0-3 in seven starts and eight appearances for the Wild with a 2.11 goals-against average. Zatkoff is 12-5-1 with a 2.58 goals-against average for the Pens. He is 12-3-1 in his past 16 appearances and made 24 saves in a 5-2 win at home against the Wild on Dec. 19.

For the Penguins, Jussi Jokinen won’t play with an injury. Former Wild good guy Andrew Ebbett has been called up and will play. For the Wild, Dany Heatley, Jake Dowell and Mike Rupp will be scratched tonight. The Wild didn’t do line rushes in the morning skate, but my guess is:

Parise-Koivu-Coyle

Moulson-Haula-Pominville

Cooke-Brodziak-Fontaine

Veilleux-McCormick-Niederreiter

Same D, so:

Suter-Spurgeon

Brodin-Prosser

Scandella-Blum

Defenseman Keith Ballard will miss his 10th game with a groin injury.

“He’s not there yet,” coach Mike Yeo said. “He’s a little bit frustrated. He’s dying to get back, … but it’s not coming back as quickly as he had hoped.”

-- Niederreiter is back in after missing last game in Chicago for precautionary reasons. He took a high hit from Jake Muzzin on Monday in L.A. He needs to play better than he has since the Olympics.

In 17 games since returning from the Olympics, Niederreiter has two goals, three assists and 19 shots. He just hasn’t been the same with his board battles and strength on picks either and has taken three penalties in the past five games.

-- Word out of the Wild locker room is that Matt Cooke actually scored the goal Erik Haula got credited for in Chicago with 1:54 left. I tweeted a GIF. You be the judge. Either way, I don’t think it’ll get changed at this point, but we’ll see. Regardless, Haula did a great job throwing that puck through a screen and Cooke did a great job driving the net to forced Nik Hjalmarsson to open up his legs.

Cooke was Mr. Popular this morning with his former team, the Penguins, in town.

-- I’d think Yeo will want a shutdown line tonight going up against the Penguins’ prolific lines and likely Hart Trophy winner Sidney Crosby (102 points). That means Brodziak would stay on the third line and the Wild’s top line should see that type of matchup, too, because Yeo doesn’t ever mind that matchup.

I’ll write about Brodziak’s offensive struggles in tomorrow’s paper. He’s been solid most of the year defensively and the utter opposite offensively. Again though, Brodziak’s season is nothing like his year last year when he was minus-18 in 48 games and was getting almost no scoring chances for long stretches. The reason why Brodziak has gotten so many great chances this year is because he’s been so strong defensively, solid on the forecheck and is usually on the right side of the puck positionally. And, sorry, I know he’s the poster child for hate lately, but that’s a fact.

Unfortunately, once Brodziak gets that puck on his stick, he’s usually missing the net with it, stick-handling himself into a worse position, hitting the iron or shooting it right into the goalie.

You’ll hear from him in tomorrow’s paper.

-- Speaking of Haula, that line should be better tonight if Yeo plays his matchups well.

Yeo said of Haula, who had the tying goal, led the team with five shots last game and logged a career-high 15:30: “We keep giving him more and he keeps showing that he’s able to take it. Every game is a new test for him right now. There’s going to be a bit of a jolt adrenaline-wise for him right now. He knows he’s getting more opportunity and an increased role. He has to make sure he doesn’t lose what got him here, what we need from him night in and night out. He’s got to be a very strong defensive player for us, he has to find a way to use his speed and be a factor on the forecheck, but at the same time, we’re asking a little bit more from him offensively. We’re anxious to see if he can do that against a team like tonight. He’s going to obviously be faced with some tough competition, so we’re anxious to see how he performs.”

-- Yeo said Darcy Kuemper (upper body) is feeling a little better and was in this morning, but no update beyond day-to-day. He also had no update on Mikael Granlund (head) beyond day-to-day. I saw Niklas Backstrom (abdominal surgery) and he’s already working out.

-- McCormick will play center tonight for the first time really as a Wild. Yeo said it was important to get him a practice so he could get familiar for his center responsibilities as opposed to wing.

-- Parise said, “I feel alright” from the blindside hit he got Thursday from Chicago’s Brandon Bollig. “I felt OK yesterday and today even better, so I think I’m fine. I just didn’t see him coming. I was kind of surprised it wasn’t a penalty, at least interference or something, but they have a lot to watch out there and just didn’t see it.”

I'll be on Fox Sports North tonight during the pregame show and first intermission and will talk during the pregame about the three high hits lately and why the league didn't suspend the perpetrators.

Dany Heatley will be scratched tonight at Phoenix

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: March 29, 2014 - 12:47 PM

UPDATED: More after the skate, but Dany Heatley will indeed be a scratch for the first time in his career, I believe. Ilya Bryzgalov will get the start. 

First 2 lines from earlier this season are also reunited. Lines are:

Parise-Koivu-Coyle

Nino-Granlund-Pominville

Moulson-Brodziak-Fontaine

Veilleux-Haula-Cooke

Granlund takes over Moulson's spot on 1st unit, Fontaine and Moulson go on the 2nd.

Morning from beautiful Phoenix, where the Wild and Coyotes face off tonight at 8 p.m. CT/6 p.m. PT in a colossal game. The Coyotes are one point behind the Wild in the standings and Dallas, which has played one fewer game than Minnesota, pulled within four last night (7-3 drubbing of Nashville, they play St. Louis tonight), so things are getting tense.

Wild is 3-5-4 in its past 12 and needs to get on track. Check out today’s story here and some of the quotes and also some of the numbers in the past 12 games.

The Wild will skate out here around 10 a.m. PT and the Coyotes at their facility in Scottsdale.

I’ll have lineup news later. It’ll be interesting to see whom Mike Yeo comes back with in goal. Remember, Yeo talked before the Blues game about how if Darcy Kuemper is the future and the No. 1 going into the playoffs, it’s overcoming these struggles that are a huge part of development and also part of the stresses a goalie must deal with inside playoff series.

So, since it’s hard to blame Kuemper for really any goal against St. Louis, don’t you have to start him in the proverbial “biggest game of the year?” On the other hand, Ilya Bryzgalov is a vet, a former Coyote and has a great record against Phoenix (9-3-1, 2.20 goals-against average), so maybe do you go with him?

We shall see. Complete shot in the dark, but I’d think Justin Fontaine plays for Cody McCormick, who sustained a nasty gash around his left eye at St. Louis, and Stephane Veilleux plays for … Dany Heatley.

I only say this because even before recent games at St. Louis and Detroit, Yeo almost hinted that pulling Heatley from the lineup was close. But he was playing him because he’s still a power-play guy, etc. But after seeing those two costly turnovers in the final minute of the first period that led to T.J. Oshie’s momentum-turning, back-breaking shorthanded goal (remember, even though it was a 5-1 defeat, everything was fine there even if the Wild just get out of that period down 1-0), there comes a point for accountability if a player isn’t helping. He’s minus-18 and minus-7 in his past five games, with four shots and one assist in the past 11.

So, we will see.

Because the Coyotes were off yesterday and skate in Scottsdale this morning at the same time the Wild skates in Glendale, I gave Coyotes coach Dave Tippett a shout yesterday.

I wanted to ask the veteran bench boss about his team, which is 7-2-1 in the past 10 (two regulation losses against East powerhouse Boston). But I also wanted to ask Tippett, who happens to be one of Yeo’s mentors (Yeo was Tippett’s captain with the now-defunct IHL Houston Aeros), about what it takes to scratch a respected veteran.

Coincidentally, as Yeo is wrestling with the Heatley decision, Tippett just got done scratching Mike Ribeiro, whom Tippett endorsed management to sign last summer, and Derek Morris the past two games – both victories after a disappointing overtime loss at the Rangers.

First, on the road trip which saw Phoenix pick up five of six points, Tippett said, “It ended up being a pretty good trip after a tough start (blowing lead at the Garden, losing Mike Smith to what’s believed to be a knee injury; update coming today on the seriousness). But we’ve got to keep at it. There’s no resting on your laurels this time of year. Get back to work.”

On tonight’s game: “I think both teams are probably very similar. It was a similar situation [Thursday] night in New Jersey, where New Jersey, every game is like do or die. That’s the way we have been talking about it since the Olympic break. For us to be a playoff team, we have to earn our way in and every game just magnifies the importance of it. And then once you start playing teams right there in the standings with you like Minnesota, that puts another sense of urgency into it.”

Why so hot lately (9-4-1 this month): “It’s hard to say. We’ve probably played a little more to our past identity here the last few weeks, with just everybody chipping in, everybody doing the job and getting solid goaltending. Nothing really fancy. Just a lot of work and finding ways to win.”

The last two games you scratched Ribeiro and Morris. How tough was that? “Veteran players, young players, whoever, there are some players you put in the lineup and some you don’t. And different times you’re looking for a different look. Young enthusiasm , checker vs. a skilled guy, there’s all different scenarios. Every game you look at, you try to figure out how you’re going to win and what it’s going to take to win. Sometimes you have to take veteran players out. It’s not derogatory to the veteran. For us, it’s all about the team and how we’re going to win. That’s always been my philosophy and will continue to be my philosophy.”

Is that a tough thing initially for a coach because Yeo’s going through maybe making a tough decision on Heatley down the stretch? “I shouldn’t comment on that, but in our situation with Ribeiro and Morris, we wanted high-energy, young players against Pittsburgh. We won, so we went back with that mentality against New Jersey. Whether that changes against the Wild, I don’t know. In the morning, I’ll meet with the coaches, and figure out what our best chance of beating Minnesota is.”

By the way, Tippett is one of Wild veteran assistant coach Rick Wilson’s best friends (they live near each other in Minnesota during the offseason, coached together in Dallas), coached Wild assistant Darryl Sydor and obviously coached Yeo.

He decided not to get in touch with them yesterday because “things are too competitive right now. Coaches know how hectic everything is, so I figured they wanted to catch their breath [yesterday] and me too. If I see them before the game, we’ll touch base.

“So we won’t be comparing notes (laughs). They’ll prepare and we’ll prepare and see how it goes.”

In other Wild news, Defensemen Gustav Olofsson, the Wild’s 2013 second-round pick, and Dylan Labbe, a 2013 fourth-round pick, have signed amateur tryouts with the Iowa Wild. They will make their AHL debuts this weekend. Olofsson is expected to start next season with Iowa, while Labbe is expected to return to Shawinigan of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

That’s it for now. I’ll be back after the skate with a lineup update. Follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/russostrib to see it in real time. I’ll be on KFAN at 11:15 a.m. CT.

Wild steals point out of New Jersey; Parise on his return; Prosser booted from game

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: March 21, 2014 - 5:40 AM

Honestly, I’ll have to watch this game again to try to figure out how the heck the Wild clawed back for a point. I still didn’t get a chance to watch every goal or much of the third period and overtime in the first place because I was punching frantically at my keyboard trying to rework my file-at-the-gun story.

But needless to say, to get a point out of game where you could play that poorly in the first two periods is quite the coup. Big point, too, because Dallas, which is suddenly struggling, lost in Philly, so the Wild’s now eight up on a playoff spot.

If Phoenix hangs on to beat Florida, the Wild’s lead on the first wildcard spot will be down to four. Big three-game stretch coming up. Home and home with Detroit, which is ravaged with injuries, and then Vancouver, which is in a tumble.

The Wild then hits the road for a tough trip: at St. Louis in the second of a back-to-back, at Phoenix (massive game), at Los Angeles and at Chicago.

OK, where to start?

Just a terrible first two periods. The Wild couldn’t get anything accomplished. Its execution was terrible, it turned pucks over, it was in chip-it-out mode. Other than on the power play, the Wild couldn’t sustain any offensive pressure.

So many players had tough nights. Dany Heatley was minus-2. Nino Niederreiter was minus-1 and showed why the Wild is not yet comfortable putting him on the power play on a consistent basis. His wall play on the power play needs so much work, and he flashed that in the offensive and defensive zone on Mark Fayne’s shortie (although let’s be honest, that was a collective effort because five guys were on one side of the ice).

Jason Pominville’s six-game point streak came to an end and something was bigtime off with him tonight. From start to finish, he was fighting the puck, whiffing on them, shanking them, etc. Mikko Koivu, very tough game on the power play, and on the play that led to the OT winner, Koivu and Pominville teamed up by swinging and missing on pucks in the offensive zone. That led to Jersey’s quick counter and then mayhem before Andy Greene lost Koivu for the winner.

BUT, the Wild somehow rallied for a huge point. Zach Parise scored 21 seconds into the third on a power play (13th, which is tied for second in the NHL). Then, after Jared Spurgeon, who rarely takes penalties (26 PIM in 218 career games), took a minor, Jaromir Jagr made it 3-1.

But the Wild stayed with it and Mikael Granlund and Matt Cooke scored 4:50 apart, Cooke’s tying goal coming with 4:32 left on a deflection of Marco Scandella’s rocket.

On the difference between the first two periods and the third, Parise, who knows a thing or two about the Devils, said, “That’s the style of hockey they play. They keep the puck along their walls. They grind, they grind, they grind, they don’t put the puck in the middle of the ice, so they play low-risk hockey. In the first two periods, we didn’t skate, we didn’t chase down the puck. We kind of played right into their hands into a slow hockey game.”

In the third? Cooke said, “If you’re willing to play a slow game, then you’re feeling right into their hands.” So Cooke said the Wild began skating, getting pucks deep, got pucks to the net and they got fortunate.

“Realization that we need to skate,” Cooke said.

“When you’re faced with a two-goal deficit in the third period and you battle back to get a point on the road, you have to accept that,” coach Mike Yeo said. “I’m not sitting here saying that we’re in love with our game, but it’s positive the way the guys found a way to get that point.”

Still, Yeo was displeased with the Wild’s execution, wall play and puck support in the first 40 minutes. The lack of execution “led to a lot of turnovers, a lot of time spent in our own zone.”

Also, the Wild played with five defensemen for the final 42 minutes because Nate Prosser was assessed a five-minute elbowing penalty and game misconduct for a forearm to Tim Sestito’s face. Sestito charged in, Prosser turned with the puck out of the corner, spotted him and reacted quickly to defend himself.

The center-ice ref called it an elbowing major.

“He was taking a large run at Pross and Pross was trying to play the puck,” said Yeo, who interrupted himself and said, “I don’t like seeing anybody get hurt.”

If you go by previous NHL decisions, it probably shouldn’t result in supplemental discipline for Prosser if the NHL determines Prosser was protecting himself.

Earlier this season, when the NHL didn’t discipline Dallas Stars captain Jamie Benn for launching an elbow into Cooke’s face, the league called it a “protective maneuver.”  There are times, the league says, where “defensive contact to the head” is permissible if a player skating with the puck is trying to protect himself from a check.

We’ll see Friday. Remember, Keith Ballard has a groin injury, so if Prosser is suspended, the Wild would have to call up a defenseman IF Ballard can’t play. By the way, if the NHL doesn't suspend Prosser, it doesn't mean it was the wrong call on the ice. 

The league's standards for supplemental discipline are not the same as standards for on ice penalties. 

Interesting game for Parise. Booed during warmups, and there were some cruel signs wrapped around the glass. He joked that he only read the “good ones.”

He took a penalty, only his second in the past 17 games, in the first period and was stuffed by Cory Schneider on a shorthanded breakaway.

“The first period, he’s probably thinking, ‘Man, this couldn’t go any worse,’” Yeo said. “To see him get rewarded there in the third period, for us it was great because we know what this game meant to him.”

Parise said, “I was expecting the boos. I don’t have any hard feelings toward them. I understand. I wasn’t expecting any cheers. That’s fine.”

Said Devils coach Pete DeBoer, “I understand the fans disappointment with him leaving. I also know we should all be very thankful for the time he put in. I know I feel privileged to have coached him. I hadn’t watched him in a while. You realize seeing him tonight why he’s so special. He’s always around the net, winning battles, in the crease. He’s a special player.”

The Wild is 7-2-5 in the past 14 games. So, in one sense, that’s big this time of year that the Wild has gotten points in 12 of the past 14 games. But of its past five losses, the Wild has lost four via shootout or overtime.

“Who knows, down the road, it could be important points,” said Parise. “Little bit of silver lining, but we’ve got to turn that corner and start winning some of these games that go into extra time.”

Said Matt Moulson, “Coming down the stretch, we want two points every game. You never want to lose games. You’ve got to find a way to win. These are how playoff games are played. They’re tight all the time. You have to battle for every inch.”

Said Charlie Coyle, “We didn’t start off the first two periods like we wanted to. That wasn’t our best game, or our best start either. But to start like that and come back and get that point, that was huge. But we can’t be satisfied with those late starts like that. We’ve got to come here to play and play a full 60.”

By the way, the Heatley-Coyle-Nino line, not so good tonight.

But, the Wild got the point against a desperate Devils team, went 1-1-1 on the road trip (.500, 3 out of 6 points) and keep inching toward its second consecutive playoff berth.

Early flight. Talk to you after practice Friday.

Wild's lineup news heading into tonight's game against the Rangers

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: March 13, 2014 - 1:17 PM

Afternoon from the X, where the Wild looks to get back on track and snap an 0-1-2 streak tonight against Benoit Pouliot, Dominic Moore and the New York Rangers.

GM Chuck Fletcher is back from the GM's meetings. I talked to him about the meetings and some of the tweaks the managers are recommending be made to the game, like long changes in overtime (teams switch sides like the second period) and instead of kicking cheating centers out of the circle, penalize them by making them move back 18 inches or so. The centers I talk to think this is ludicrous and will create major problems. Imagine losing a game in the last minute because another center was basically given a free faceoff win?

I'll write about the GM's meetings in my Sunday Insider.

Darcy Kuemper vs. Cam Talbot as the Rangers save Henrik Lundqvist for tomorrow’s game at Winnipeg.

Talbot made 24 saves against the Wild in a 4-1 win at MSG on Dec. 22. That game was the final straw for Zach Parise, who had to take the next 14 games off with a broken foot he was playing on.

Talbot is 11-5 in 18 appearances with a 1.75 goals-against average and .938 save percentage. So, not your normal backup goalie.

Kuemper has lost two in a row (one by shootout) and is trying to get back on track from a shaky outing against Edmonton. He and the Wild blew a 3-0 lead. The tying goal was one Kuemper definitely wishes had had back and then he gave up three goals on four shots in the shootout after entering the shootout 11 for 11 this season.

Coach Mike Yeo said that Kuemper has shown the ability the past 2 ½ months, whether it’s a win or lose, to put the previous game aside and show “renewed focus for the next match. So we’re anxious to see if he can do that again.”

Agitator Dan Carcillo will enter the Rangers’ lineup for pest Derek Dorsett. Justin Falk will be scratched. The former Wild D hasn't played since Dec. 29. Martin St. Louis is looking for his first goal as a Ranger. He has one assist in four games since asking out of Tampa.

Yeo will continue his third defense pair rotation and for the fourth straight game change it up. Nate Prosser comes out as Clayton Stoner and Keith Ballard will be a pair.

“We said we were going through this rotation a couple times here and reevaluate it after that, so let’s go that way tonight,” Yeo said.

Asked the rationale as to why he doesn’t just pick six D and end it (I write it that way because it reminds me of one of my favorite Seinfeld lines when George Costanza was double-dipping the chip, From now on, when you take a chip, just take one dip and end it), Yeo said, “I don’t think that anybody deserves to just come out of the lineup and stay out of the lineup. We have to go by more than just a one game sample size. That’s the way we always do it here. Those guys played really good hockey for us for a long time. You look at how we counted on them when [Jared] Spurgeon was out of the lineup, how we counted on them when Marco [Scandella] was out of the lineup. Those guys not only got us through those [injuries] but really helped us take our game to another level, so they deserve the opportunity to not just be taken out of the lineup and not have a chance to get in there.”

I talked to Ryan Suter today about his ice time. He logged 34:12 against Edmonton, which surprised me in a game where the Wild was up 3-0 at one point. Obviously, the ice time was elevated by overtime and a 5-on-3 and 4-on-3. Also, Scandella had a real tough night, so perhaps the Wild was trying to limit his ice time in that game. Still, that was the sixth time he has topped 34 minutes this year and the 33rd time in 65 games he hit the 30-minute mark. He averages 2 minutes, 35 seconds per game more than any other NHL player. It just seems too much as the Wild are in a stretch where it plays 20 times in 37 nights.

Suter, of course, said it’s not and he means it. He wants to play that much and admits he tells assistant coach Rick Wilson that often. I’ll have his quotes in tomorrow’s paper.

Yeo did indicate today that 34:12 last game was too much and Jared Spurgeon playing a career-high 30:40 was too much, too.

“That’s a lot, and obviously we’ve got a lot of games coming up here,” Yeo said. “We have to make sure we’re monitoring that. Suts is accustomed to playing big minutes. I think last game was still a lot for him. Spurg generally is not going to play 30 minutes a night.”

Yeo indicated power-play personnel tweaks. My guess is the 5-on-4 units remain the same, but if it gets to a 5-on-3 or 4-on-3, Mikael Granlund will take the place of someone, maybe Mikko Koivu. The 5-on-4's, Granlund and Koivu have been separated.

Yeo expects a tough game tonight. Alain Vigneault coaches the Rangers, so expect to see the Canucks’ old system. That means lots of pressure, players in your face, defensemen jumping up in the play. Yeo said the Wild must be prepared to move the puck quickly and to make quick decisions.

Wild better get its act together now. Of the teams vying for a playoff spot, it has the toughest schedule in my opinion. After games against the Rangers and Columbus, Wild hits the road for eight of 10. Remember, the Wild has won 12 games all year on the road.

The Wild still has Boston, arguably the best team in the Eastern Conference, twice, Pittsburgh once (pummeled Minnesota in Pittsburgh before Christmas), St. Louis, who has beaten them eight in a row, twice, road games at Chicago and L.A.

Time get back to its winning ways.

Josh Harding, two days after he begun skating, put on the pads this morning and took shots and did puck-handling drills with goalie coach Bob Mason.

“It’s a great sign that he’s feeling much better and he’s focused and motivated to try to get back with us,” Yeo said. “So, it’s a great sign. With that said, we’re still a few steps away. It’s not like he’s a week away from rejoining us here, but it’s a good first step.”

Ilya Bryzgalov has a new vinyl wrap around his mask to bide time while his new one gets painted. Bryzgalov didn’t care, but team trainers didn’t like that the old vinyl looked pink rather than red.

Also, to answer a lot of questions, those custom shot blockers have been tried by every player. The only ones who are using them are Spurgeon, Prosser and Erik Haula.

ADVERTISEMENT

Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT