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 Xcel Energy Center.
Late update from practice, I know, but I made the mistake I thought I learned a lesson from years ago: Don't write in the blog platform. Write is MS word, then copy and paste. This time I wrote in here, my Pandora script needed debugging or something and it froze my Firefox. Lots of computer jargon I know nothing about, but long story short, my blog needed to be rewritten three-quarters the way through.
As you can imagine, I handled it well.
Devan Dubnyk vs. Ben Scrivens tonight as the Wild wraps up a two-game homestand with the Edmonton Oilers.
The Wild is 20-2-1 in its past 23 at home vs. the Oil and Dubnyk is 5-0 this season with a 0.79 goals-against average against his old team. He has allowed four goals in those five games.
Dubnyk has allowed 27 goals in 17 starts with the Wild, which is 13-2-2 since his arrival and 11-1-1 since the break.
Jared Spurgeon is getting better according to coach Mike Yeo, but he won’t go on the upcoming road trip to Nashville and (most likely) Denver. He has been off the ice since getting hurt in Calgary last Wednesday.
Spurgeon has been placed on injured reserve. He can be taken off anytime he’s ready to return. He was placed on IR to open up a roster spot in case of a callup or a trade. Nothing is imminent, I’m told. Just a paper move to buy a roster spot if needed.
Nail Yakupov is out tonight with a groin injury. I went to dinner last night with the Oilers scribes by the way, and I got to meet Matt Hendricks’ parents at the team hotel as they traveled in from Blaine to have dinner with their boy. How did I know it was Hendricks’ parents?
Matt’s dad’s face is identical to his son. Very nice folks, just like their son (well, nice off the ice. Don’t mess with him on the ice. He’s the type of player the Wild needs, but I digress).
Jeff Petry, who missed the past few games with a rib issue, is returning tonight, which is a little surprising since the Oilers will likely trade him by Monday’s deadline … and why risk injury?
As Hall of Fame hockey writer Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal tweeted, it’s not like other teams need to scout him. Hey, maybe he’s trying out for the Wild. I kid, I kid.
In all seriously, I’ll be on Fox Sports North during the pregame show and first intermission tonight to talk trade. As GM Chuck Fletcher told me in today’s Star Tribune here, his main objective going into the deadline is to improve the Wild’s depth with all these injuries. And when he says depth, it could very well mean depth.
On defense, the Wild is one Nate Prosser injury away from having to recall Justin Falk as a left-shot D or miscast right-shot rookie D's Matt Dumba or Christian Folin on the left side (the Wild hates doing that because as young D, the team wants them in the best situation to succeed) or put Jonas Brodin on the left side (and my opinion is the left-shot Brodin is never as good strangely at left D as he is as right, especially next to Ryan Suter. Just my opinion though. Not sure the organization agrees with my belief).
So with Spurgeon going to come back at some point and the fact that likely Folin would come out of the lineup when that happens and be the extra if the blue line is healthy (AGAIN, Prosser is needed to stay in the lineup on the left and has played great for a dozen games now), you really only need to acquire one D that can play games but maybe waits in the wings until needed. So, it wouldn’t shock me if the type of D acquired is a third-pair type of defenseman. We shall see. But I’d be very surprised if the Wild doesn’t acquire a defenseman before Monday’s 2 p.m. deadline, and probably a left-shot one.
Right now, the Wild’s not depending on a Keith Ballard return. If he ever does, it’d be a bonus body, but he hasn’t skated with the team since that one day two Sundays ago and he hasn’t decided if he’s going to return to play anyway.
Up front, same thing. Matt Cooke and Ryan Carter are coming back at some point, and with Justin Fontaine, Jordan Schroeder and Nino Niederreiter all stepping up on three different lines at least as of now, maybe Fletcher just looks for a depth kind of winger.
I was told by a GM a couple mornings ago that the prices right now for even the most mediocre of rentals is a bit ridiculous right now. So maybe the prices come down by Monday.
One thing affecting Fletcher’s decision to make a quote-unquote "hockey trade" similar to the Jason Pominville one two deadlines ago is the cap may not be rising next year. And that’s affecting a bunch of team decisions right now.
So even though some Wild fans are asking me about some of the names out there with term (non-rentals) like Tyler Bozak, Joffrey Lupul, James Wisniewski, etc., Fletcher may not want to delve into a player with term left in the $5 or $6 million ranges. That’s pretty expensive with an uncertain cap, not to mention the fact those players cost assets in return.
We shall see. It’ll be interesting to watch how Fletcher balances the appeal of making a move to maybe put the Wild "over the top" vs. just acquiring extra bodies and allowing this team that has done so much good and been so cohesive this 11-1-1 stretch continue to mature.
Yeo is really guarding against a letdown tonight. “We’ve been harping on it the last few days.”
He doesn’t want the Wild to take its foot off the gas after finally getting into the top-8. A Wild win and Winnipeg regulation loss tonight and the Wild moves into that top wildcard spot.
The Stars are starting Jhonas Enroth though, so bet the over.
Yeo said more than being in the top-8, “What’s more important to me is we continue to perform at the level that we have been, continue to prepare for every game the way that we have. Sixty-nine points does not get you in the playoffs. The fact that we’re in the top-8 today is not really that relevant. There’s an awful lot of work to be done.
“We have to continue to march forward.”
That passage came straight from the Coachspeak 101 handbook.
That’s it for now. Highlights of tomorrow’s game notebook?
I talked to Darcy Kuemper one-on-one about how he’s dealing with this situation. Marco Scandella is now wearing the cut-resistant Kevlar socks after his scare in Edmonton near his Achilles. Mikko Koivu basically saying proof that goals don’t always show how well you played or not came the other night when he was not happy at all with his game vs. Dallas. And a Gustav Olofsson update.
Wild vs. the Dallas Stars tonight. The game is on NBC Sports Network with TSN’s Gord Miller on the call with … … … great Minnesotan Bret Hedican, who won a Cup with Carolina and but is best known as, of course, a former Florida Panther.
“Hedi” was involved in two big Florida trades, coming to the Panthers in the Pavel Bure blockbuster and eventually being traded to the Canes in the Sandis Ozolinsh deal.
Devan Dubnyk vs. Jhonas Enroth tonight. Remember, the Dubnyk era (I wrote a profile on Dubnyk in today’s paper here, and I left a lot of the cutting room floor for later stories) began Jan. 15 in Buffalo with a 7-0 win against Enroth.
The Wild is 12-2-2 since. Ales Hemsky, who typically stinks against the Wild dating to his Edmonton days, may be out tonight. Brendan Ranford had been recalled if Hemsky can’t play. If Hemsky can, Ranford will probably be reassigned.
Wild has won four straight at home against Dallas, is 3-1 against Dallas this year but last got pounded 7-1 there.
For the first time since the Wild’s 10-1-1 post-All-Star break run began, there’s no reason for you or the Wild to scoreboard watch tonight.
If the Wild wins, it’s at least temporarily inside the top-8 for the first time since Nov. 24 without the need of somebody losing.
Coach Mike Yeo said the Wild is aware of the standings, but just “because we’re closer now doesn’t mean we should change our approach.” He said the Wild has done a good job “not being clouded with outside noise” and the standings and he knows the Stars, who are four points behind Minnesota, will be a very desperate hockey team tonight.
They lost 7-6 in overtime last night against Detroit.
The Wild is 5-1-1 since the injuries to Jason Zucker and Ryan Carter (if you include the Vancouver game that they were hurt in during the first period).
No changes to the Wild lineup. The Wild will again be without Jared Spurgeon tonight, who remains day-to-day with what sounds like concussion-like symptoms. So same D tonight: Suter-Brodin; Scandella-Dumba; Prosser-Folin.
Coach Mike Yeo cautioned Dumba after his terrific game in his hometown of Calgary (he had 30 friends and family members there) that often kids take a step back the following game, so Yeo was very pleased with the 20 minutes Dumba played in Edmonton. Same with Folin, who played 16:55 and mostly a necessary regular shift because Marco Scandella missed the second half of the first period to have a wound closed after having his ankle stepped on.
Yeo said of missing Spurgeon, “It’s a difficult player to replace in your lineup. We’re losing a valuable player and a guy that provides a lot to our group in many different roles,” but Yeo said you need guys to step up and the two rooks are certainly doing that.
Yeo said Dumba is a “kid who wants more and he recognized the opportunity with Spurg being out of the lineup and he had himself ready to play the right way.”
Dumba has a lot of confidence in his overall game, not just offensively. He said, “That’s when I play my best hockey when I can be trusted and relied on and can make plays out there. It’s easy playing on a team that’s playing with so much confidence and trust in each other. We have something really good going on right now, and hopefully we keep building on that.”
Folin said he feels in great shape right now and he said that’s a testament to the work assistants Darryl Sydor, Andrew Brunette and Darby Hendrickson put him through while he was a healthy scratch six straight games. He felt in Edmonton he carried the momentum from playing four games in Iowa into that game.
Yeo loves Folin’s ability to defend, execute through the neutral zone and get shots through from the blue line like he did on Justin Fontaine’s first goal in Edmonton.
Yeo said right now they’re going day-to-day with the goaltending.
GM Chuck Fletcher told me the Wild won’t be allowed to get Darcy Kuemper to Iowa on another conditioning stint to get some action before he starts next, so he’ll just have to play.
Yeo talked to him today and told him that especially with not a lot of practice days, “it’s increasingly important for him how he handles these pregame skates, how he handles the extra work when he goes on earlier or after practice. Bob Mason is doing a good job with both those guys (Niklas Backstrom). We have to make sure we’re keeping them sharp. It’s not just the repetition. It’s the habits. Quite often in the pregame spot, you don’t have the urgency you would in a practice.
“He’s mindful of it right now, and we’re just trying to stay on him about it.”
Yeo said there is no plan as to when Kuemper will make his first NHL start since Jan. 6. “We’re going day by day,” Yeo said. The Wild has four sets of back-to-backs next month, so Kuemper will be needed at some point. But as of now, Dubnyk will make his 17th consecutive start tonight.
Wild at Edmonton Oilers tonight at the Rex, which isn’t as cool as the X, but they do sell Starbucks in the concessions area here and have the best press box sightlines in the NHL.
Good day from Edmonton, where I’m a little sore from my curling match last night. I was on captain Anthony Lapanta’s team, and we lost by one to captain Mike Greenlay’s team after Greenhorn himself hit an amazing final shot to knock us out of the house.
This may shock you, but I was the worst curler, and the most embarrassing-looking one. And probably the sorest one today. I have a new appreciation of the curling, that’s for sure. It’s not just shuffleboard on ice.
I’ll be on KFAN with Dan the Man Barreiro at 3:55 p.m. CT.
Tonight’s Wild game is on FSN++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++, so don’t ask again.
Devan Dubnyk vs. Ben Scrivens tonight, so don’t ask again.
With defenseman Jared Spurgeon day-to-day with what I believe are concussion-like symptoms (Yeo confirmed to me there was no broken jaw as some feared), rookie defenseman Christian Folin was recalled from AHL Iowa. He’ll play on the right of Nate Prosser (see feature I wrote on Prosser and his propensity to get demolished in games here) tonight and rookie Matt Dumba, who had elevated responsibilities when Spurgeon went down and responded by having what coach Mike Yeo called his best game as a pro in Calgary) will move up and play with Marco Scandella.
Folin was sent to Iowa on Feb. 12 because he was going to be scratched for a seventh consecutive game. With few practices because of the suddenly condensed schedule, the Wild felt it was important for him to go down and play after playing once in three weeks (including the All-Star break).
Folin was admittedly rusty in Iowa and was minus-8 in four games for lousy Iowa. His last NHL game was at Edmonton on Jan. 27, a game that precipitated his healthy scratch two days later in Calgary and the subsequent string of scratches because the Wild got on a tear.
“It was a long break for me, especially with the All-Star break, too,” Folin said. “Not playing for six games is tough. In the back of my head, I wanted to play games and it was good I could go down there and play some games. It was helpful. The first game wasn’t great, but I think I kept building my game up to where it was before I got scratched a few times.”
Stu Bickel was reassigned to make room for Folin.
On Dumba’s elevation, Yeo said, “For young players coming off a real good game, I think sometimes that’s the challenge for these guys. How do you respond to that? Are you able to come back and remember the things that you did to make you play well or do you just come back into the game with an assumption that it’s going to go the same way? So that’ll be a good test for him. I think he should be excited for the opportunity, a little bit more ice time, a little bit more role and responsibility. If he handles it the right way in terms of managing the game and looking for those opportunities to make those great games that like he scored that goal [in Calgary] but also an understanding that every play doesn’t have to be a home run, then he should be fine.”
Yeo reminds me of a school teacher these days that has to teach the same lesson from period to period. He has gotten real good at answering questions about Devan Dubnyk and the talking points are the same yet evolve. We’re on kind of the Devan Dubnyk tour for the second time in three weeks. He played junior hockey in BC, he’s a Calgary native and he played in Edmonton, so he has been front-page material in every city and in the national papers in Canada.
He’ll be front-page material in Sunday’s Star Tribune as I profile him again.
Kyle Brodziak will play his 600th game tonight against the franchise that it all started for him. Quite an accomplishment if you do the math because this is really his eighth full season. In six years with the Wild, he has missed three games due to injury (one) or illness (two).
Brodziak is in the final year of his contract. He knows he could be trade bait by the March 2 deadline, although with the Wild fighting for a playoff spot, GM Chuck Fletcher may not want to trade a penalty killer and centerman (he has been mostly playing wing though the past few weeks).
“Every day you think about it,” Brodziak said. “I don’t know really what’s going to happen. I’ve had a long time to think about it. Whatever happens, I just have to be ready for it. If nothing happens, then I’ll be ready to stay here and help out as much as I can.”
Last year, the Wild came to Edmonton and not long after acquired Ilya Bryzgalov. The Wild needs a defenseman and rental Jeff Petry is on the block. He’s out tonight with a rib problem, but he’s having a decent season. Fletcher was seen chatting with Oilers GM Craig MacTavish this morning.
Problem with Petry is he’s a right-shot D and the Wild’s biggest need is left-shot, although Prosser has been doing a solid job at left D the past 11 games (9-1-1, even or plus in all 11 games).
Talk to ya later.
Wild and Calgary Flames tonight. Kind of a big game as the Wild, which is strangely the favorite tonight (Vegas knows all?), looks to rebound from Monday’s one-goal loss in Vancouver.
The Flames are 10-16-1 when trailing after two periods. The 10 wins are a team record and two off the NHL record. As impressive as those comebacks are, the 27 times they have been trailing after two periods are only one fewer than Edmonton and Buffalo.
So, the Wild, which held onto a 1-0 lead in Calgary on Jan. 29 thanks largely to Calgary native Devan Dubnyk’s third-period brilliance, would love to build itself an early lead again tonight to force the Flames to chase.
Even coach Mike Yeo joked when asked about the comebacks, “I’d like to see if they can try to come back again.”
The Wild has outscored its opponents 18-5 in Dubnyk’s 14 first periods as the Wild goalie. He’ll make his 15th consecutive start tonight. The Wild is 10-2-2 since his Jan. 14 acquisition. I’m planning to do a big profile on him for Sunday’s paper, by the way. I’ve been gathering yarn for awhile.
Tonight: I don’t know line combinations, I don’t even know the full lineup, and we won’t until prior to the game, so follow me on Twitter by clicking this link.
Michael Keranen was recalled for the first time this season (see previous blog), but Yeo was noncommittal if he’ll alter the lineup and give Keranen his NHL debut if winger Thomas Vanek can play.
Vanek, who has been dealing with a lower-body injury for some time, aggravated the injury Monday in Vancouver. But he took part in this morning’s skate, lasted the entire skate and said the injury felt better and better through the skate.
“”Hopefully it’ll stay that way this afternoon. I’m sure I’ll have a chat with [Yeo] and see what to do for tonight,” said Vanek, the Wild’s third-leading scorer.
Vanek said, “The way I look at it, if I can deal with the pain and still contribute, then I’ll play. But if I feel I can’t help the team, I think it’s better if a different guy plays.”
One thing that could affect Yeo’s decision to play Keranen is the Wild shuttled him in from Charlotte (Iowa played there tonight) this morning instead of late yesterday for some reason, and Keranen had not arrived as of the end of the morning skate.
So if Keranen debuts, he would have to do so without a morning skate to get acclimated and after traveling from the wee hours of this morning for much of the day.
Still, Yeo said he didn’t want to say for sure yet if Keranen wouldn’t play if Vanek does play. “We have to make sure Thomas is 100 percent before we put him in the lineup tonight. If he were not to play, then that leaves a lot of things up in the air,” Yeo said.
Yeo said most of the things Jim Mill said on the previous blog, that Keranen is smart and “very crafty when he does get the puck,” but he needed to learn the North American game, how to play in more confined quarters and how to play well without the puck.
Yeo said all of the Wild’s youngsters in Iowa must realize that while they might have skill to be plugged into a top-6 role in Minnesota if ever needed, where they help their likelihood of contributing and getting recalled is if the team has trust they can play in any role.
Mikael Granlund is excited for his buddy. Keranen and Granlund were in the Finnish Army together, played against each other in the SM-Liiga and trained together last summer.
“I’m happy for him that he finally got up here,” said Granlund.
Keranen was recalled over Tyler Graovac because the Wild needs a winger, not a center, but Mill said, “Tyler is a real young kid in the middle of his second year and having success. We’ve got to be careful with this kid’s development. We can’t have him up and down on a yo yo right now. In fact, I had a conversation with him the other day. Not that he needed an explanation because he’s that good of a kid, but I wanted him to understand why he may see guys like Stephane Veilleux and Brett Sutter and Keranen going up over him.”
Besides the fact it often has to do with the role the Wild needs (scorer vs. checker or penalty killer) and position (center vs. wing and D), Mill told him that “his development has gone very, very well the last few years. Obviously we weren’t good, but there were times at the end of last year where he was the best player on the ice. As a first-year player, that was a good sign and this year that has continued and we want him playing big minutes and having a lot of responsibilities to generate offense and things like that.”
That’s it for me. Yeo praised the job Calgary native Matt Dumba has been doing lately.
I also had a real good conversation today with Nate Prosser about how often he gets annihilated on checks. It was real interesting, colorful stuff, and (subject to change) I’ll be writing about that for Friday’s paper. I’ve also got a bunch of other interesting stuff in the can you’ll be reading about in the coming days.
Big game tonight. Talk later. I've got a lot of work to do this afternoon, like writing and practicing for tomorrow night's, uh, media curling event in Edmonton.
I'm about to google the rules. Can I curl in slacks and loafers?
Maybe I'll live tweet!!!!
The Wild is giving 25-year-old skilled winger Michael Keranen, one of the Finnish Elite League's top scorers a season ago, a shot.
With Thomas Vanek questionable to play tonight against the Calgary Flames, Iowa's second-leading scorer was recalled by the Wild this morning to likely make his NHL debut. He would be the second Wild player to make his NHL debut this season (Tyler Graovac). Keranen's a winger, Graovac a center, and the Wild needs a winger if Vanek is hurt.
"[Keranen's] earned this opportunity," director of minor-league operations Jim Mill said by phone from Charlotte, where the Iowa Wild faces the Checkers tonight.
Keranen is second behind Graovac in Iowa scoring with 32 points (9 goals) in 52 games and a team-leading 23 assists. He is minus-7 and second on the team with 113 shots.
Keranen had 17 goals and 35 assists for Ilves Tampere in Finland's Elite League last season. The 6-1, 175-pounder tied for the Elite League lead in scoring with 52 points and won the Golden Helmet Award as the league's best player. Keranen had 13 goals in 2012-13 for Ilves, a team he has played for during the past four seasons. He's a left-handed shooter and was signed as a European free agent last June.
He flashed skill in training camp, assisting on two goals in an exhibition win against Winnipeg, but the Wild sent him to the minors to adjust to the North American pro game. In camp, he was getting used to the Wild's system defensively, had a tendency to overpass and needed to improve in the dirty areas and with his strength on the puck. That has by all accounts also been a work in progress during his first year pro in Iowa.
But there's no denying Keranen's skill and speed, and after Monday's loss in Vancouver, the Wild's clearly looking for an influx of skill.
"He’s a smart hockey player," Mill said. "He thinks the game real well and he’s had to adjust to the smaller ice surface, which he’s done and done well.
"I think the pace of game, because he doesn’t have as much room, that’s where he’s had to adapt and he has. He’s been very, very good for us down here for, geez, a month or two. He was always fine, but his game has gotten better specifically over the last month."
Keranen was born in Stockholm, Sweden, but grew up in Finland and has represented Finland in international events.
The Wild's morning skate is at 11:30 a.m. Mountain Time. We'll see then if the lineup tonight includes Vanek and Keranen is replacing somebody else or if Keranen plays for Vanek. Coach Mike Yeo wasn't very convincing yesterday when he said he expected Vanek to play. And Vanek has been walking with a visible limp the last little while and has been clearly playing through a lower-body injury lately.
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