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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Posts about Wild pregame skate

Wild pregame: Parise--and likely Scandella--are back

Posted by: Rachel Blount Updated: November 16, 2014 - 3:24 PM

At a pregame media session, Wild coach Mike Yeo confirmed that Zach Parise will play Sunday afternoon against Winnipeg at Xcel. Parise was expected to return after being activated from injured reserve earlier Sunday, but Yeo sprung a bit of a surprise when he said defenseman Marco Scandella could be back, too.

Scandella has missed the past two games with symptoms that appear to be mumps. He will skate in warmups, and if he feels OK, he will play. Parise will play on a line with center Mikko Koivu and right wing Jason Pominville.

Yeo said defenseman Jonas Brodin, another apparent mumps victim who was put on injured reserve Sunday, has been hit harder by the illness than Scandella was. "Marco's been skating,'' Yeo said. "He's been on the ice, and he's ready to go, as long as everything goes well in warmups.''

As for Parise, Yeo sounded relieved to have the Wild's leading scorer back, with no apparent limitations. "I told him we'd probably get him a good, solid eight or nine minutes tonight,'' Yeo said, laughing. "He's been keeping himself in great shape, so I'm not real concerned about that.

"He's obviously a huge part of our team as far as a leader, and just the relentlessness he plays the game with night in and night out.''

Niklas Backstrom will start in goal for the Wild, making his first start at Xcel since Jan. 11. The Jets will start regular goalie Ondrej Pavelec (7-6-2, 1.99 GAA, .928 save percentage), who will be facing a challenging situation. Pavelec played Saturday night in Nashville--taking the loss in a 6 p.m. game--and is making back-to-back starts for the first time in his NHL career. He made 27 saves in Saturday's 2-1 loss.

RACHEL BLOUNT 

Wild defensemen Marco Scandella and Jonas Brodin may have the mumps

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: November 13, 2014 - 4:11 PM

The Wild will get defenseman Jared Spurgeon back in the lineup tonight against the Buffalo Sabres, and it’s a good thing because first-pair defenseman Jonas Brodin and second-pair defenseman Marco Scandella have come up ill and may be out for awhile.

The two have the same symptoms that sidelined defensemen Keith Ballard (eight games) and Christian Folin (five games) earlier this season. As I reported last week, Ballard was diagnosed with the mumps.

“They’re ill and similar symptoms to what we had some other guys out with,” coach Mike Yeo said of Brodin and Scandella. “We don’t know for sure that’s what it is, similar symptoms.”

Those symptoms, according to Ballard, are awful flu-like symptoms – achy, fever, zero energy and swollen glands in the neck area.

Scandella and Brodin both noticeably struggled at times Tuesday in New Jersey – the Wild’s fourth consecutive loss. Yeo said Scandella has been sick since Montreal, where I remember him coughing up a storm while we were talking to him. In New Jersey after the morning skate, I even commented to him about marks on his neck (looked like a jersey burn), which was also swollen.

According to webmd, “Mumps is spread by mucus or droplets from the nose or throat of an infected person, usually when a person coughs or sneezes. Surfaces of items (for example, toys) can also spread the virus if someone who is sick touches them without washing the hands, and someone else then touches the same surface and then rubs the eyes, mouth, nose, etc.

Yeo said linesman Steve Miller missed the Devils game that night with similar symptoms, and from looking at his game logs, Miller did two St. Louis Blues games Oct. 23 and Nov. 4.

According to sources, referee Eric Furlatt was also out this season with the same symptoms. I haven't looked up all of Furlatt's recent game logs yet, but he did do Wild at L.A., Blues at L.A. and Wild at Anaheim earlier this season and also apparently recently worked with Miller. See below for more detail on that.

I bring this up because the Blues have had a string of illnesses this season and many of those players had positive mumps tests, according to sources. Anaheim’s Corey Perry and Francois Beauchemin have also been diagnosed with the mumps. This has even affected some reporters.

“This came from somewhere else, but it’s a possibility that it’s inside our locker room now,” Yeo said. “Whatever we’ve got to do to clean it up and make sure nobody gets this and certainly keep these guys away from anybody. Problem is you start to wonder and start to worry, is this sitting inside anybody else waiting to come out, too?”

Wild athletic therapist Don Fuller has been in contact with the league. I have contacted the league to see if they’re looking into this stuff and I haven’t heard back yet. Folin and Ballard were on antibiotics when they were sick, and the Wild disinfected their equipment and had players use different water bottles and towels. So far, it appears as if only defensemen have been infected, and they do sit next to each other in the locker room and on the bench.

Yeo said all the sick players have reported the same thing – it feels like you’re coming down with something, and it either goes away or boom, your neck swells up.

It appears as if somebody’s locker room is a petri dish. The Wild’s illnesses began after an Oct. 17 trip to Anaheim and Oct. 19 trip to Los Angeles. The Blues also played in L.A. Oct. 16 and in Anaheim Oct. 19.

The Ducks played in St. Louis on Oct. 30.

Also, the Wild played a preseason game at St. Louis on Oct. 2 and the Blues played in Minnesota on Oct. 4.

So some have suggested it could have even started in St. Louis or Minnesota and maybe those teams brought it with them to California in October.

Ballard told me last week, “I’ve asked my mom and she said I had the vaccine [as a kid], so it makes no sense. So that’s the hard part [team doctors] are trying to wrap their heads around. How would I have gotten it?”

Yeo said the Wild’s lineup is up in the air because with defense pairs tonight of:

Suter-Spurgeon

Prosser-Folin

Ballard-Dumba,

… the Wild may want to have the security of a seventh defenseman and play Stu Bickel up front. This way they can move him back to D if there are issues. But on the other hand, you lose two puck movers in Brodin and Scandella, Yeo may not want to do that.

The lines in the skate were

Zucker-Koivu-Pominville

Niederreiter-Granlund-Coyle

Vanek-Haula-Schroeder

Carter-Brodziak-Fontaine

Zach Parise is getting close, Yeo said, “but we just have to make sure we’re following protocol. Make sure he’s getting proper rest and recovery. We desperately want him back in the lineup, but we have to make sure when he comes back he’s staying in the lineup.”

What does Yeo expect from Schroeder in his Wild debut?

“We’re not scoring goals.”

On Thomas Vanek’s struggles, Yeo said, “Pressure builds. It was well-documented and I don’t think there are any secrets about it that he was brought here to help us [score goals]. Whenever we’ve struggled, we’ve struggled because we’ve had a tough time scoring goals, and that’s why he was brought here.”

The Wild has to help Vanek, said Yeo.

On the all-Gopher line, Yeo said, “We kid about it, but we don’t just roll the dice and see what comes up here. It may appear that way sometimes,” he said, jokingly.

But Yeo said, “Granny needs workers with him. He’s got to get back to his game. He needs to get back to a driving, speed game. I feel like he’s been a lot more east west and the speed of his game hasn’t been a factor because of that. We’re going try to get him guys that can drive the net, guys that’ll open up ice for him and help him score off the rush.

“We’ve got to get Haulzy’s game going. Put him with two guys who can create and generate off the rush and make plays in the offensive zone. Two guys with a lot of speed should help Thomas, too.”

Darcy Kuemper vs. Jhonas Enroth (1-7-1, 3.63 goals-against average and .901 save percentage).

In the past 99 games, the Sabres have won 12 times in regulation. This is a team that hasn’t scored a first-period goal in 13 games. They have been outscored 60-21. The Wild hasn’t led in 240 minutes.

Wild’s PP is 2 for 44 (30th): PP Changes: Zucker-Koivu-Pominville-Spurgeon-Suter; Vanek-Granlund-Nino-Schroeder/Fontaine-Dumba. Sabres PP is 3 for 53.

Sabres helped turn the Wild’s season around last year. Let’s see if they can do it again.

My concerns: The Wild’s blue line, yucky right now without Scandella and Brodin. And with so much anxiety, if the Wild does happen to fall behind early tonight, the tension in the crowd and on that bench will be palpable. Big game, to say the least, for a Nov. 13 game considering the next game is at Dallas, where the Wild has won once in the past NINETEEN (I think) visits.

Parise, Spurgeon out tonight; Dumba, Folin scratched; more on Kleinendorst

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: November 11, 2014 - 3:57 PM

Update: Cory Schneider starts for the Devils, Martin Havlat plays for the first time in 10 games after a lower-body injury and ... former Gophers defenseman Seth Helgeson makes his NHL debut in place of injured Bryce Salvador.

Good afternoon from the Prudential Center, where the Wild tries to snap a three-game losing streak tonight against the New Jersey Devils.

There’s a chance fellow Long Islander Kevin (sorry) Keith Kinkaid may make his first NHL start. The 25-year-old undrafted former Union goalie from Farmingdale, N.Y., is 0-1 in two appearances with a 2.22 goals-against average and .909 save percentage. Devils coach Pete DeBoer plans to divulge later on whether Kinkaid or Cory Schneider starts. He gave up four goals in a loss last night in Boston.

As coach Mike Yeo said after Monday’s practice in Minneapolis, Zach Parise and Jared Spurgeon won’t play tonight. They are both on the trip just so they could skate with the team this morning with the hope of accelerating their return. Also, they spent a lot of time on the ice well after their teammates left the rink shooting pucks at Josh Harding, who got a good workload in. The Wild will have a better sense in the next few days how close Harding is to coming off suspension and a return. He’ll almost 100 percent require a conditioning stint with Iowa after not playing a game since Dec. 31.

Yeo said there’s a chance Parise and Spurgeon return Thursday at home against Matt Moulson, Cody McCormick, Torrey Mitchell and the Buffalo Sabres, but that will largely depend on how they feel after today’s hard skate and a practice Wednesday.

Rookie defensemen Matt Dumba and Christian Folin, who each made mistakes that led to the first and second goals by Montreal on Saturday night, won’t play tonight. Nate Prosser will go back to the second pair with Marco Scandella and Jon Blum will make his season debut on the third pair with Keith Ballard. Blum hasn’t played in a few weeks, so he’ll have to carve off some rust. He had been scratched in four straight since his Oct. 31 callup from Iowa.

On scratching Dumba and Folin, Yeo said cryptically: “I’m not going to say it’s only one game, but I definitely wanted to give them this game to kind of sit back. Different messages to each individual. I don’t think I need to get into it right now, but just as far as in terms of getting their game back to the level that we need it.”

My gut?

Dumba’s days at least are numbered barring an injury maybe tonight. As I wrote on the blog after the Canadiens game, most 20-year-old defensemen should be in the minors developing, not developing on the fly in the NHL and costing the team goals in a league where you can’t afford thrown away points in the standings.

My gut, again? The Wild knows this, but it also didn’t want him developing in a losing environment in Iowa and also didn’t want to send him down the past couple days knowing it was about to make a coaching change. Back coaching its minor-league team is John Torchetti, whom the Wild trusts wholeheartedly, a person the Wild considers a teacher. My guess is now that “Torch” is back, we’re going to see Dumba down in Iowa sooner rather than later (maybe fairly imminently) getting some games so he can regain some confidence, play a big role with No. 1 PP time, etc.

I asked Yeo if that could be on the horizon: “I would probably not talk about those decisions right now. Our focus remains the same as it was at the start of the year, and that’s No. 1 we’ve got to try to put the best product on the ice and no. 2 not only do we want to be good right now, we want to be good down the road, so we want to make sure that these guys are developing.”

Obviously, you know by now Kurt Kleinendorst has been let go by the Wild. General Manager Chuck Fletcher is not on the road with the team and has not made himself available yet on the decision, so he has not commented.

My biggest question for Fletcher will be on these kids down there. If you read Kleinendorst’s comments, it speaks volumes when most the guys he felt bought in and played their butts off for him were depth players and veterans like Stephane Veilleux, Justin Falk and Brett Sutter.

Good for them. It says everything about their character, but in a way, it says a whole lot about the other guys, too, and guys the Wild and Wild fans should care about. It certainly sounds like Torchetti will have quite the chore on his hands.

The reason Iowa exists is to develop the Brett Bulmers and Zack Phillips of the world, and guys like Tyler Graovac, Kurtis Gabriel, Raphael Bussieres, Johan Gustafsson. Bulmer and Phillips have been colossal disappointments since they turned pro, and the others haven’t been good this year.

So that has to be a concern for Fletcher.

I talked with Iowa GM Jim Mill, the Wild’s director of minor-league operations, and he said the Wild “absolutely” still believes in these prospects. “We have good prospects, we have really good leadership and depth there and we should be a much better team, but you can only say that so many times. Now we’re going to find out. We’re going to find out a lot about a lot of people.”

Like Kleinendorst said to me last night, Mill said when he met with KK after Sunday’s game to make the change, “Believe me, we agreed it was time for a change and it wasn’t working for whatever reason that I don’t have the answers to and he obviously didn’t have the answers to. It was time to get a different voice. This was not working.”

On Torchetti’s return, Mill said, “He was our coach for two years and he was going to be our coach going forward in Des Moines, but he was offered an opportunity financially that he couldn’t turn down [in Russia] and we were completely understanding what he had to try.

“He’s got a great track record of developing and winning. We believed in it at the time we hired him originally and still do and he’s done this transition thing before, which is a difficult thing.”

I typically take player quotes when a coach is fired with a grain of salt. You don’t often get the truth, but Iowa Wild captain Stephane Veilleux, up with the Big Wild right now, felt genuinely upset for Kleinendorst about the firing.

“It’s everybody together,” Veilleux said. “It’s not one individual, it’s not one coach. Sometimes it’s a team thing. You don’t want to put the blame necessarily on one aspect of the game. It’s the whole game in general. There’s some missing answers down there and sometimes there needs to be a change. He’s a great man. He won in the past. He got a Calder Cup. He did something right, you know? Sometimes for whatever reasons things don’t work out. You always feel bad for a guy like that. He’s the type of coach who was in his office from 6 in the morning ‘til 5 p.m. You hate to see a guy like him go.”

Lastly, from today’s skate:

Yeo on Parise not playing his old Devils: “I know for a fact that he would have loved to have been in the lineup to no. 1 to help us get things going in the right direction and no. 2  he’s had so many great memories here and this was such a big part of his career. It was difficult for him not to be in the lineup, but we just have to follow due process here with him and make sure when we get him back, we keep him in the lineup for good.”

On what he wants to see from Blum: “Composure. That’s what I’m expecting to see and that’s what we’re counting on him to bring. Execution coming out of our own zone hasn’t been good enough. It’s a big factor why we’re not scoring goals.”

Yeo said Matt Cooke’s injury is not coming along as quickly as everybody hoped and he’s not close to a return.

Ryan Carter’s excited for his return to New Jersey tonight.

Talk tonight.

Keith Ballard expected to return tonight; Mike Yeo explains scratching Nate Prosser

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: November 8, 2014 - 12:19 PM

Mike Yeo planned to talk with veteran defenseman Keith Ballard after the morning skate to make sure he was still feeling good, but the Wild coach’s expectation was that Ballard would play his second game of the season and first since Oct. 17 tonight when the Wild visits the Montreal Canadiens.

Good afternoon from the Bell Centre press room.

The Wild looks to avoid its first three-game losing streak of the season against a struggling Canadiens team that has only two shootout wins in its past six games and hasn’t won in regulation since Oct. 25.

Darcy Kuemper will make his first road start since the five-goal third period against the Rangers six games ago and he’ll go against Olympic gold medalist Carey Price.

The Canadiens rank 27th offensively in the NHL with 2.07 goals per game. They have scored six goals in the past six games, which is stunning since they’re a fast team with a lineup that boasts Max Pacioretty and PK Subban, two guys who have registered hat tricks in the past against the Wild.

This will be a battle of the 28th-ranked and 29th-ranked power plays tonight. I’ll let you guess which team is ranked 29th.

Wild chief amateur scout Guy Lapointe will have his No. 5 retired by the Canadiens tonight. In a long overdue ceremony, Lapointe’s jersey will reunite with the fellow “Big Three” defensemen Larry Robinson and Serge Savard.

Reminder: the game starts at 6:30 p.m. CT even though it’s listed at 6 p.m. The ceremony starts at 5:30. Fox Sports North ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++’s coverage begins at 6 p.m. with Wild Live. KFAN’s pregame show starts at 6:15.

The Wild will be on the bench during the ceremony. Coach Mike Yeo conferred with the team’s leaders and the team decided it would only be right if the Wild players were on the bench. First of all, Yeo said, no team puts on a better show during pregame ceremonies than the Canadiens and it would be good of the Wild to witness part of the great history that is the Montreal franchise. Second of all, Yeo noted how good of a man Lapointe is and how he had a big influence in drafting many of the Wild’s players.

"We should all understand how lucky we are to be part of something so special like tonight,” Yeo said.

Yeo talked to the Wild about the ceremony. Warmups will be afterward, so Yeo said that will allow players to get their legs under them and their minds on the task at hand.

“We have to find a way,” Yeo said.

As I said, Ballard is expected to return. Nate Prosser will be scratched. Prosser had played nine games in a row.

Yeo is not happy with Prosser’s game lately. He was on for the power-play goal against in Ottawa, made the mistakes that led to the Brandon Sutter and Joe Thornton goals against Pittsburgh and San Jose and on for all three goals in Boston.

“He’s not quite there right now,” Yeo said when I asked why Prosser sits over rookie Matt Dumba. “What we’re looking for from Pross is reliability and making sure goals aren’t going in the net when he’s on the ice. I’m not pinning that on him right now, but at the same time, his game is not quite there.”

As for Dumba, Yeo said, “[Jared] Spurgeon’s absence creates a void on the power play. For a team that hasn’t had a whole lot of success on the power play to make an understatement, it’s tough to take guys out that give us a chance to get one.”

Dumba has 17 shots the past five games and second among Wild defensemen with 23 (one behind Marco Scandella and one ahead of Ryan Suter).

Also, Yeo said, “I know what Pross is going to be,” and indicated that part of Dumba’s development if the Wild’s going to have him on the team right now is to play in environments like Montreal. In addition, Yeo said, “Part of when you’re making up a lineup, you have to make sure your lineup is prepared for the type of game it’s going to be and this is going to be a skating game tonight,” which is why Yeo wants Ballard and Dumba playing over Prosser.

My guess is the Wild will really watch Ballard’s play and his ice time. He missed eight games with an illness and is just getting his energy back, so if he struggles or looks sluggish, I’d think we’d see Suter and Scandella double-shifted at times with Folin and Dumba maybe interchanging.

Lines for the Wild expected to be:

Vanek-Granlund-Pominville

Zucker-Koivu-Coyle

Niederreiter-Brodziak-Fontaine

Veilleux-Haula-Carter

Suter-Brodin

Scandella-Folin

Ballard-Dumba

Kuemper

Backstrom

See yesterday afternoon’s blog for more on tonight’s game and of course the articles in today’s paper on players needing to step up with Spurgeon, Zach Parise and Matt Cooke out and the Guy Lapointe piece. I’ll also have a column on Lapointe in tomorrow’s paper.

Zach Parise diagnosed with concussion; Niklas Backstrom starts tonight

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: November 6, 2014 - 11:40 AM

Niklas Backstrom will make his third start of the season tonight when the Wild visits the Ottawa Senators (6:30 p.m. CT, FSN, KFAN). I'll be on FSN's pregame show at 6 p.m. and during the first intermission.

Wild leading scorer Zach Parise has been diagnosed with a concussion, coach Mike Yeo confirmed this morning.

Not a surprise since Parise looked off his last few shifts against the Pittsburgh Penguins and suddenly didn't come out for the third period even though there was no clear incident to draw from.

According to a few people in the know, Parise did have lingering effects from the stick to the face he got in New York five games ago Oct. 27. He played through it though (quite well, too, against Boston and Dallas especially) because he wasn't sure he had a concussion. Finally, trainers got involved Tuesday night.

Whatever symptoms Parise had were exasperated bigtime with three checks he took against Pittsburgh, folks say. On his first shift, he was bowled over from behind by Roberto Bortuzzo. That definitely seemed to jar him and catch him off guard. In the second period, he got bumped off his skates in the d-zone by Blake Comeau on that shift that ended up 5:44 in with a Comeau penalty and then late in the period Parise got checked into the boards/glass by Kris Letang.

His last shift of the second, you can almost tell something was up when you watch it over on video. He sprinted in the corner to hound the puck and just didn't seem right when he skated back to the net.

There's no timetable for his return. I'm told Parise doesn't think this will be long-term. Coach Mike Yeo didn't want to guess if there's a chance he could play Tuesday in New Jersey, a game you know Parise would badly want to play. Yeo said when the Wild returns to the Twin Cities for a day-and-a-half after the Montreal game, the Wild will talk to the doctors and see from there.

"I just know something came on during the course of the game and luckily he was talking to our trainers and the trainers took the appropriate steps to make sure he met with the doctors. It's a tough blow," Yeo said.

Thomas Vanek, who has four shots in the past seven games and only one goal this season, will get a line with the team's best playmaker Mikael Granlund and his former Buffalo Sabres linemate Jason Pominville.

"It's important for guys like myself to step up in his absence and score some goals and get some wins for our team," Vanek said.

On playing with Pominville, Vanek said, "I feel like I know his game almost better than my own. It will be fun to be on the same line again with him, maybe a little strange at first, but I'm excited with it."

On his play: "Anytime you join a new team, you want to prove yourself because what you've done in the past doesn't matter. I'm still trying to find my niche here. I feel like I'm creating good chances for my teammates, but for myself, I don't think I've shot the puck enough or created enough on my own. I have to get going on that category."

Backstrom is 1-1 with a 2.52 goals-against average and .885 save percentage, winning his first game since Jan. 9 on Oct. 28 in Boston. The Senators are the only team in the NHL (other than the Wild, of course) Backstrom has not beaten. He is 0-1-1 in three starts vs. the Senators with a 3.64 goals-against average and .886 save percentage.

Craig Anderson will start for Ottawa. Chris Phillips is out.

Kyle Brodziak's wife had their second child yesterday, Leo Dino Brodziak. Brodziak is currently on a plane flying to Ottawa and is expected to play tonight.

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