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.
Wild and Blackhawks tonight at the X, where white towels will be draped over every seat in the barn for fans to wave.
No, they’re not playoff leftovers. One person tweeted me asking humorously if they say Game 6 Western Conference quarterfinals on them.
They actually resemble the road whites that the Wild plans to wear at home tonight. Blackhawks will wear their darks, which is good because we all know Chicago never wins at home!
The Wild did manage to grab two points out of Chicago in Saturday and tonight looks to take the home-and-home sweep.
Coach Mike Yeo anticipates a lively crowd tonight. On the towels, he said, “It’s pretty cool walking out to the rink. It looks neat. It looks almost like the playoff building, so it’s going to be good excitement in the building here tonight. I just want to focus on the game. I don’t want to get too ahead of ourselves and feel too good about last game. This is a new challenge. We just have to make sure that we stay sharp and stay focused and through the course of the game keep our emotions and keep our focus and be ready to play a full 60 minutes.”
Niklas Backstrom will start, while Josh Harding did practice today after missing the last game with a hammy and will back up Bax. Corey Crawford, who stoned the Wild in the playoffs but struggled the other night vs. the Wild, back in the Chicago cage.
The Wild has the same lineup as Chicago:
Zach Parise-Mikko Koivu-Justin Fontaine
Nino Niederreiter-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville
Matt Cooke-Kyle Brodziak-Dany Heatley
Stephane Veilleux-Zenon Konopka-Torrey Mitchell
Ryan Suter-Jared Spurgeon
Marco Scandella-Nate Prosser
Clayton Stoner-Matt Dumba
The Blackhawks lines?
New-look #Blackhawks lines today: Sharp-Toews-Hossa, Saad-Pirri-Kane, Bickell-Shaw-Morin, Bollig-Kruger-Mills/Smith.— Mark Lazerus (@MarkLazerus) October 28, 2013
Jonas Brodin skated on his own again today and his face is apparently still swollen, so it’s uncertain if he’ll practice Wednesday yet (Wild has the day off tomorrow). Charlie Coyle is improving and hopes to play Friday, but he said understandably he will only do so if he’s 100 percent. Keith Ballard and Mike Rupp again practiced today.
What does Yeo expect tonight?
“Just reading the comments [from the Hawks in the press] that they’re going to look at the tape and look at the game and try to figure some things that they have to do better,” Yeo said. “I’d like to think some of the things they weren’t happy with that we forced them into. I’d also like to think that we can be better too. I’m expecting a good game. They’re going to compete, they’re going to get after us and they’re going to try to force into mistakes, so we’ve got to be sharp.”
Tonight is Dumba’s ninth game, which means a decision’s on the horizon as to whether he stays in Minnesota or returns to Red Deer. My opinion is on one of the blog’s yesterday, so if you didn’t see, look at yesterday’s blog.
“I think he’s done a pretty good job of that for the most part,” Yeo said of not worrying about that. “We need him sharp, we need him on top of his game tonight. He’s the kind of guy that can definitely help us against this team. The defending part of it is one thing. He can skate, he can defend, he can match their speed, he can be strong one-on-one against these guys, which you absolutely need. He also has the speed to jump on loose pucks, to win loose pucks. He also has the footwork and skill to execute under pressure and relieve some of that pressure and help us to get to the offensive part of the game, which we need against this team. So I’m hoping that he comes in and does more than just don’t make mistakes. I’m hoping that he comes in and has a real impact in a positive way.”
Dumba said tonight’s just another game.
Pretty quiet day otherwise. A couple of Wisconsin guys were bragging about them Packers and Zenon Konopka said, “Ponder was awesome…after they got down by 27.”
For more on Dumba and potential line combinations once Coyle returns, read today's article here.
I’ll be on Fox Sports North during the first intermission tonight. Maybe I’ll touch on Thomas Vanek. I’ll be live in studio with Paul Allen on KFAN tomorrow morning at 9.
Talk to you after tonight’s game.
Good afternoon from the house that Nick Leddy built, the United Center, where the Wild and Blackhawks meet tonight for the first time since Minnesota's opening-round loss to Chicago in last year's playoffs.
The Blackhawks went on to win a little hardware later that summer much to the chagrin of the what-the-heck-just-happened Boston Bruins.
The Wild has won four in a row at home but is 1-3-1 on the road and has scored seven goals in that stretch. It opens a home-and-home series with its new Central Division rivals. In the past 20 meetings including last year’s playoffs, the Wild has won six against the Hawks and only one in regulation. Including last year’s 0-3 playoffs, the Wild has won two of the past 10 visits to Chicago.
Nineteen Wild players took the ice for today's morning skate. The only one who took the optional off? Matt Cooke.
"That's why I went on. I wanted to make him feel uncomfortable," joked coach Mike Yeo.
Asked what he expected now tonight from Cooke, Yeo kidded, "I don't know, but the pressure's on."
The Wild will go with the same lines that were changed during and ended Thursday's game vs. Carolina (changes in CAPS):
Zach Parise-Mikko Koivu-Justin Fontaine
NINO NIEDERREITER-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville
Matt Cooke-Kyle Brodziak-DANY HEATLEY
Stephane Veilleux-Zenon Konopka-Torrey Mitchell
Ryan Suter-Jared Spurgeon
Marco Scandella-Nate Prosser
Clayton Stoner-Matt Dumba
That's eight new bodies that didn't play vs. Chicago in the playoffs: Fontaine, Niederreiter, Granlund, Cooke, Prosser, Dumba, Backstrom, Gustafsson. And remember, Stoner got hurt in Game 1, Pominville missed the first three games and Veilleux only played two.
"I haven't seen them a ton this year, but ... they seem like they're moving well, they look like they're checking well as a team, they look like they're attacking well as a group. They look like they're improved," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said.
Brad Mills and Jeremy Morin will make their season debuts for Chicago. Michal Handzus is out with an upper-body injury and Ben Smith is scratched.
Mills has played 31 games previously for the Devils and nearly signed a PTO last year to play for the Wild's Houston Aeros (now defunct).
Charlie Coyle, Jonas Brodin, Josh Harding, Keith Ballard and Mike Rupp aren't here for the Wild. Coyle, Rupp and Ballard should practice in Minnesota tomorrow, while it's uncertain yet if Brodin and Harding will. The Wild will take the next big step in Rupp's hopeful eventual return to the ice from offseason knee surgery next week when he's put through the gauntlet. He'll get more practice reps and be tortured after practice, Yeo quipped. I'll have more on Rupp in Sunday's Star Tribune.
I also chatted with Leddy, who in case you didn't know was once drafted by the Wild in the first round and is the next Bobby Orr in the minds of many Wild fanatics. His mom, Vicki, just went on her first-ever mother-son trip and Leddy had some cool things to say. The Wild had a mother-son trip once and it was definitely a hoot.
Also, real cool story, but 18 kids from the Minnesota Special Hockey Association (the Wildcats) were brought to town by the Denis Savard Foundation. The kids, their parents and volunteers attended today's Wild and Blackhawks skates and now are going to play the Chicago Tomahawks. Savard's Foundation picked up the whole tab for 56 people. Pretty special scene down at the skate as the children watched their favorite Wild players skate. I'll have more on that in Sunday's notebook as well.
Talk to you after the game.
Afternoon from high above the X, where Kirk Muller's Carolina Hurricanes just got done skating.
I will be on Fox Sports North's pregame show tonight at 6:30 p.m. and again during the first intermission.
Also, tickets for tonight's Chalk Talk with Wes Walz and me are still available at www.wild.com/chalktalk. You can watch Walz diagram a neutral-zone trap and me diagram how to write a blog or something. Tix start at $28 and include a game ticket for tonight's game against Justin Faulk and the Canes. We will be doing five of these this season, and those other dates are on that link as well.
By the way, this morning on Wild Minute, I mentioned the Wild's 2010 trip to Helsinki against Carolina. If you want to take a trip down memory lane, my pictures from that trip are still on my Facebook page. Click this link and you can see pics of a young Mikael Granlund and guys like Andrew Brunette, Matt Cullen, Mikko Koivu, Nik Backstrom, Gui Latendresse, Martin Havlat, Nick Schultz, P-M Bouchard, Casey Wellman, Matt Kassian, Greg Zanon, Marek Zidlicky, Brent Burns, Justin Falk, Clayton Stoner, Antti Miettinen, etc.
Good news on the Jonas Brodin front. As of now, coach Mike Yeo says no surgery is planned and Brodin may even skate tomorrow, although maybe not with the team. Brodin will obviously wear a full cage for awhile. So cautious good news right now.
Also, Charlie Coyle is getting closer. He took part in today's morning skate and felt good. He'll have to wear a knee brace for the first time in his career, and he said that didn't feel too bad. He's got no targeted date as for a return and would still need to get into battle drills and line rushes, etc., and some real practices, but this is good news, too. But you also want to be cautious because you don't want any setbacks from his sprained MCL.
Keith Ballard was kept off the ice again and will miss his fifth game in a row. Same lines that ended the Nashville game, meaning Justin Fontaine plays on the top line to start tonight and Nino Niederreiter the third.
Niklas Backstrom is starting to feel better. He's still not feeling completely 100 percent, but he feels good enough to back up and is real happy for Josh Harding, who has taken the No. 1 reins for now and run with it. It's been roughly a calendar year since Harding was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and he continues to persevere. What a start to his season with a 0.96 goals against average and .953 save percentage.
Tonight is Harding's Hope Night at the X and all fans get a Josh Harding Masterton Trophy poster.
The Canes have won two in a row and are 3-1 on the road. Muller, whose staff includes thousands of games of experience and several Cups with Dave Lewis, John MacLean, Greg Stefan, Rod Brind'Amour, Ron Francis and Glen Wesley, is very impressed with what he's seeing from the Wild.
"Just watching them, they play a high-tempo game and play the game the right way," Muller said. "They do a good job playing on the right side of the puck, they track back hard, they don't give you time and a lot of these teams in the West, they're comfortable playing a 0-0-type game. We've got to understand these guys don't give up many shots and opportunities, so we've got to be ready for it, just no frustration, just grind it out and play the same type of game."
I interviewed Carolina's Justin Faulk today. The former UMD star defenseman is a great quote and player and way on the radar to make the U.S. Olympic team. Kirk Muller went on and on about him today and I'll likely do a Faulk feature when we're in Raleigh in a few weeks. He's got a great relationship with a few of the Wild players, particularly Fontaine, his former UMD teammate. They'll go head-to-head tonight and I'll talk about that in tomorrow's notebook.
Always great seeing Radek Dvorak, too. Few better guys in the NHL. Nine teams now. Dvorak's rookie year in the NHL and Florida (1995) was mine as well.
That's it for now. Long day in the press box ahead of me, so I better get some work done.
With Keith Ballard still recovering from taking a puck in the face a week ago, Wild coach Mike Yeo said his absence would open up opportunities for other defensemen. Nate Prosser will be the beneficiary tonight against Nashville, when he will be in the lineup for only the second time this season.
Prosser was paired with Clayton Stoner at the Wild's morning skate Tuesday and is excited to get back in. Yeo said the Wild's difficulties on the penalty kill--which has allowed at least one goal in eight of nine games this season--played into the switch. He also appreciates Prosser's professional approach to his situation.
"He's worked his tail off, and he's come to the rink with a good attitude,'' Yeo said. "We told him he needed to have some patience in the early part of this year, and he's done everything we've asked. But the reason for getting him in is more than that. We need help with our penalty kill. We're playing a team that the way they attack the net, we're going to have to have some guys who are ready to compete and battle around that area, and he provides that.''
Prosser's only appearance this season was on Oct.15 at Toronto, when he played 13 minutes, 41 seconds. He said he has concentrated on controlling the things he can control and not worrying about the rest.
"I'm ready to go, and I'm pretty pumped up,'' he said. "I've been working hard in practice and in the weight room to prepare for this moment. I've kind of had to wait for my number to be called. Now it is tonight, so I want to be ready to do what I can to help the team win, whether that's blocking shots or being good on the penalty kill or making a good first pass. I've just got to make sure I'm sharp and make the simple plays.''
With Prosser in, Matt Dumba will watch from the press box. Yeo has given him a to-do list while he's there. Dumba will be expected to view the game with an analyst's eye, taking mental notes on what the defensemen are doing and looking for things he might incorporate into his own game.
Yeo lauded Dumba for maintaining a consistent level of play, even as the pace of the league has picked up through the early weeks of the season. Dumba said he's comfortable on the ice, but not content.
"I never want to be comfortable here,'' he said. "Right now, I know I'm in a different situation than most guys. I've got to come to the rink every day and be at my best. I have to challenge myself every day to get better, to do whatever it takes to stay in the lineup.''
Josh Harding will be in goal for the Wild tonight, and the lines will be the same as they were before they were mixed up for the loss in Florida: Parise-Koivu-Niederreiter, Heatley-Granlund-Pominville, Cooke-Brodziak-Fontaine, Veilleux-Konopka-Mitchell.
Injured center Charlie Coyle, recovering from a strained knee, skated by himself before the morning skate.
Former Wild center and Virginia native Matt Cullen, who signed last summer with Nashville, said it felt strange to walk past the home locker room when the team arrived Monday at Xcel. His place in the Predators' lineup, though, feels great. Cullen is playing between Gabriel Bourque and Craig Smith, a pair of third-year players who have developed some nice chemistry with the veteran on the second line.
As he did with the Wild, Cullen is mentoring his young linemates, much to the delight of coach Barry Trotz. "He's a veteran player who prepares well, a real good pro on and off the ice,'' Trotz said. "Young guys feed off of that. They learn from those guys. He's good at communicating with them. That line for us has been a good line.
"(Cullen) has been playing in every situation. On the power play, he's had a regular shift, and he's killing some penalties. I think he was a little snakebit the first four or five games; he was getting glorious chances, and nothing was going in. They've started to go in for him. He's been a real good fit for us.''
Cullen visited with some friends yesterday and will have some friends and family coming to Tuesday's game--though not everyone. "I think a lot of people are sick of watching me play,'' he said, laughing. "They’ve seen me enough. They'll stay home and watch on TV.
"To be on the ice here in this building, on the other bench, will be a strange feeling. It'll be fun. I was looking forward to getting back here. I just love playing here. I have great memories here.''
With the 3-3-2 Wild looking to finish the road trip on a high tonight against the Florida Panthers, coach Mike Yeo has mixed up his first three lines in today's morning skate.
That's what scoring four goals in three games will do -- and more than two goals twice in eight games this season.
"We need to try to find some offense here. We’ve got to try to get some more balance to our lineup," Yeo said. "It’s a good opportunity for us to face a little adversity early and have to battle through it."
Good day from Florida, where it's hot, humid and beautiful. I'll be on Fox Sports North tonight during the pregame show at 5:30 p.m. and first intermission.
Jason Pominville has been reunited on the top line with Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu. Yeo said he complements that duo and when they made the switch earlier, it was to provide offense to the second line "and that didn't really help."
There is a brand new second line. Matt Cooke has been moved up and will be centered by Mikael Granlund. Nino Niederreiter will play the right wing. The second line hasn't scored a goal all season for the Wild.
Cooke says he can't change the way he plays the game. Yeo wants two guys that will be hard on the puck and get to the net for Granlund. Yeo wants Granlund also to be more assertive shooting the puck. Yeo is happy with the way Niederreiter's playing, but "I want to see some numbers."
Dany Heatley, off to the worst start in his career with one assist in eight games and the lone mainstay all season on the second line, moves to the third line with Kyle Brodziak and Justin Fontaine. Yeo said Heatley had good chemistry with Fontaine in training camp and Brodziak during parts of the past two seasons.
Heatley's obviously not happy with his start to the season but says he'll continue to work his way out of this. He used to light up the Panthers with Atlanta and was 2003 All-Star Game MVP in this building, so maybe that'll be a good omen for tonight.
Josh Harding, who leads the league with a 1.15 goals-against average, starts. Keith Ballard skated but left again not feeling well. Yeo says the Wild hasn't classified this as a concussion.
Nate Prosser is scratched.
I talked with Tom Gilbert this morning. He now plays for the Panthers and he was professional in talking about how and why the Wild bought him out.
|Vikings (32)||Gophers injuries (2)|
|Gophers on TV (1)||Gophers coaches (2)|
|Gophers players (7)||Gophers game day (6)|
|Gophers postgame (12)||Gophers awards and honors (1)|
|Gophers post season (1)||St. Cloud State (1)|
|Wild news (431)||Bears (5)|
|Lions (1)||Packers (2)|
|Super Bowl (6)||Vikings fans (3)|
|Ex-players (1)||Injury report (1)|
|On the road (156)||Rookies (34)|
|Roster moves (13)||Vikings draft (91)|
|Vikings trade talk (3)||Fighting (3)|
|Stanley Cup (28)||Wild coaching (32)|
|Wild game coverage (355)||Wild management (15)|
|Wild off-season news (421)||Wild player moves (121)|
|Wild practice (298)||Wild pregame skate (319)|
|Wild trade news (31)||Wild training camp (121)|
|Adrian Peterson (4)||Ben Leber (1)|
|Bernard Berrian (1)||Brad Childress (3)|
|Brett Favre (5)||Jared Allen (2)|
|Brad Childress (3)||NHL news (1)|
|2010 Winter Games (5)||Olympic hockey (24)|
|Olympic luge (3)||Olympic ski jumping (2)|
|Olympic skiing (2)||NHL draft (7)|
|Gophers sports (3)||Gophers (38)|