This is Michael Russo's 18th year covering the National Hockey League. He's covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005 following 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. Michael 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 fun, quick practice at St. Thomas Academy this morning and is about to hit the friendly sky for a southbound flight to the Lone Star State.
Most the Wild's practice today was a small area 3-on-2 game where both nets are on the same goal line. Gloves are lined up vertically in the middle of the zone, and when the puck crosses to that side, a new 3-on-2 begins aimed at one of the nets. It's fun to watch.
Causes quick plays in tight spaces, communication, players are basically unaware as to how hard they're actually working because they're having so much fun and it triggers lots of hooting and hollering -- mostly from assistant coach Darryl Sydor, who seems to love whatever team Mikko Koivu is on.
Left wing Mike Rupp, who missed the past three games with a lower body injury, practiced today and will be on that plane for the quick trip to Dallas. He was oddly the only player to wear a white helmet today. I figured it must be his version of the yellow "Do Not Touch Me, I'm Hurt" jersey, but he simply made a faux pas and packed the wrong helmet for the dress and drive.
I am not sure if Rupp is going to play yet though. I hear the Wild is going to reassign Jason Zucker this afternoon, presumably because Pierre-Marc Bouchard has taken his spot on the second line and Zucker isn't suited for the fourth line. But it sounds to me like the Wild will recall a player as it reassigns Zucker. I'll update when I know.
I also think the Wild will flip goalies at some point. They'll need a backup to play next weekend, and Matt Hackett will have gone three weeks without a game by then.
Update: Zucker was indeed sent down and former Badger Jake Dowell recalled. Dowell is a former Star with a physical edge. I'd think Zucker will be back if there's an injury in a top-line role or a spot opened up. Could be very short-term. He'll be back. Blame Corey Perry.
The Wild also flipped goalies, recalling Darcy Kuemper. It's unclear whether this is temporary though. Hackett could start one game with Houston and then maybe be recalled to play Friday in Dallas or in Minnesota against Los Angeles next Saturday.
I can't see Niklas Backstrom starting both road-home back-to-backs next weekend. If it were me, I'd go with a Hackett-Kuemper duo Friday in Dallas and don't even travel Backstrom. We'll talk to Yeo in the morning to get his comments on the moves.
The big Stars news is they traded captain Brenden Morrow to Pittsburgh. I've got to think now Boston pounces on Jarome Iginla.
Niklas Backstrom vs. Kari Lehtonen -- almost definitely -- Monday.
The Wild will be searching for its first win in Dallas since March 21, 2003. I'm no math major, but I think that's a little more than 10 calendar years!. Sixteen losses in a row (0-11-5), which is tied for the longest current losing streak by one team in one opposing building in the NHL (Calgary at Anaheim). The Wild's been outscored 62-30 in this stretch.
I have to dig up last year's file I put together of tweets I got when I asked for entries to: "The last time the Wild won in Dallas, ..."
For instance: The last time won in Dallas, Sid Hartman was still a young, up-and-coming columnist.
I'll find this file and blog em Monday morning.
The good news is the Wild snapped an 11-game winless streak in Vancouver last Monday, beat Detroit in regulation for the first time on the road since 2006 on Wednesday and half the Wild players have no clue such a streak even exists.
The Wild has said over and over lately that it feels it can beat any team in any building right now. Well, we will see. Bizarrely, the Wild plays in Dallas Monday and Friday with a home game in between vs. Phoenix.
I'll be on KFAN at 10 a.m. on Monday and on Fox Sports North during Wild Live at 7 p.m. Monday and again during the first intermission.
In some NHL news, Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman fired Guy Boucher very early this morning -- strangely before the Lightning plays in Winnipeg tonight. Not often are coaches fired in the middle of a road trip, let alone after taking a plane ride with the team following a loss at Ottawa yesterday. Must have been quite the flight.
Former Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff seems destined to replace Boucher and Yzerman indicated he's got somebody lined up. The other name circulating is minor-league coach Jon Cooper.
Also, TSN's Darren Dreger reports Calgary captain Jarome Iginla has four teams he is willing to be traded to -- Pittsburgh, Boston, Los Angeles and Chicago.
Lastly, one reason why it was time for the Wild to send Mikael Granlund to Houston is he can play roles there he just wasn't able to in Minnesota. First line, first power play and even shootouts.
In Minnesota, it got to the point Granlund was either relegated to the fourth line or press box. He didn't get a shootout try because Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise and Matt Cullen are three of the best in the NHL (none of the Wild's four shootouts went past Round 3, Wild's 3-1 in shootouts).
In five games back with the Aeros, Granlund has one goal and five assists, and last night against Rochester scored this shootout beauty.
Wild coach Mike Yeo isn’t about to admit to any potential roster moves. But defenseman Tom Gilbert, who missed victories in Vancouver and Detroit with a lower body injury incurred in the team’s victory in Colorado March 16, was on the ice for today’s practice and is ready to go.
“I’m ready to go, ready to play,” Gilbert said. “I have full confidence going into tomorrow.”
Yeo, meanwhile, also said he expected Gilbert to be ready. But, when asked if that meant Gilbert would definitely be in the lineup against San Jose in Saturday’s matinee, Yeo smiled. “One o’clock puck drop,” he said. “Don’t miss it.”
While Gilbert is back, Mike Rupp (lower body) isn’t. Rupp missed practice again Friday.
There was one more encouraging note. Goaltender Josh Harding was at Xcel Energy Center Friday, and he looked good. “I had a brief conversation with him,” Yeo said. “And he was feeling very good. His word, actually, was great. And even just looking at him, I think he looks great. So we’ll talk some more about what the plan is going forward.”
Harding has not played since Feb. 7 while trying to get a handle on treatment for multiple sclerosis.
Meanwhile, Rupp was the only skater to miss practice today, and Yeo had the same lines going that has produced this recent hot streak.
That’s about it for now. Mike will be at tomorrow’s game.
For the first time since sustaining a thigh contusion after taking a hit from Taylor Hall in Edmonton Feb. 21, Cal Clutterbuck practiced with the Wild Wednesday.
After taking part in a very focused, up-tempo practice, Clutterbuck -- who practiced on a line with Kyle Brodziak and Dany Heatley -- said he felt good and could play Saturday in Nashville.
"I'm making progress,'' said Clutterbuck, who began skating on his own last Saturday. "I'm feeling pretty good right now. So I can definitely see (playing Saturday) as a possibility for sure. We still have three days. We'll take it day by day, see how I feel. But I'm pretty confident right now."
Clutterbuck said his conditioning is good, and that there are no problems with his thigh. But there is still some stiffness. "I had some other stuff going on in my leg, too, not just the quad," he said.
Wild coach Mike Yeo said Clutterbuck looked good in practice and that there was a "good chance'' Clutterbuck would be in the lineup Saturday.
Meanwhile, after just about everybody on the team criticized the Wild's effort Tuesday in Chicago, Yeo said he saw what he needed to see in Wednesday's practice, which featured extensive battle and game-situation drills.
"We saw it," Yeo said of the intensity he expected. "The guys battled, and the guys worked today. And that's what this group does. We came and found a way to come to the rink and try to get better today. That's the attitude you have to have."
Goaltender Darcy Kuemper and forward Mike Rupp were the only players on the ice. Yeo said Rupp -- who was acquired from the New York Rangers in a trade in early February -- was given time to visit his family. Kuemper, meanwhile, had a sore groin even before relieving Niklas Backstrom Tuesday, and that it felt worse after the game.
Wild GM Chuck Fletcher had told Mike Russo the team was considering a change with the backup goaltender, one that would give Matt Hackett some time here. But Yeo said Kuemper played well Tuesday and said he had not talked with Fletcher about a possible change.
The Wild will have Thursday off, then practice Friday morning before heading to Nashville.
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