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.
First things first, on Tuesday, the persistent question I understandably expect to get from all Wild fans is, “Any update on Zach Parise yet?”
The answer will probably be, “No.”
The Wild has the day off Tuesday, so typically when that happens, injury updates aren’t revealed until the next availability, which will occur Wednesday morning. So you may have to hold your breath for 24+ hours or so.
Try not to turn blue.
If there’s an update, we’ll get it out to you ASAP. But right now, Parise was nailed on the instep of his left foot when he blocked Alex Steen’s one-timer on a first-period penalty kill.
Parise struggled to the bench and was late arriving to the game in the second period. He returned and it was clear his first hop of the boards that he wasn’t feeling the greatest. Still, he battled through three shifts, drew a penalty and played almost every second of a power play before leaving the game for good.
Parise emerged in the locker room after the game in just a dress sock. He was limping, but he said he didn’t know how bad it was and that he’ll wait to find out after seeing doctors and getting x-rays, an MRI, etc., on Tuesday.
“When a guy like Zach gets hurt, it’s always concerning because he’s a top-notch player and brings an awful lot more than just scoring goals," coach Mike Yeo said. "But I do think we’re a deep enough team and have enough character that we should be able to battle through it. But certainly it’ll be a challenge.”
Yeo then interrupted himself to say, “who knows with Zach,” and that the Wild must wait for results before it’ll know the prognosis and whether he can even play Wednesday against Phoenix.
If the Wild is without Parise for awhile, look out because the team just began its toughest stretch so far this season Monday with a 3-0 loss to St. Louis. In now eight of the next 10 games, it faces Phoenix, Colorado, San Jose, Chicago and Anaheim.
In order, Chicago, St. Louis, San Jose, Phoenix, Colorado and Anaheim are the top-6 scoring teams in the league. Minnesota ranks 23rd and could be entering this stretch without its leading scorer either out or hurting.
Tonight, not a good game. Read all the coverage in the paper for most the details, but the Cliff’s Notes version: Disputable disallowed goal by the ref on Parise’s tally 30 seconds in (ruled a high-stick, and because of that, when there was no conclusive video evidence, the call stood up), and then 50 seconds later, Vladimir Sobotka scored.
Frustration engulfed the Wild and whether it was that, what St. Louis was doing or both, the Wild was schooled during a first period where virtually every waking moment was spent in the Wild end.
“I thought it’s in,” Mikko Koivu said of the Parise no-goal. “You want to have a good start on the road and I thought we did. And then they get their first right after, so that makes it even more frustrating. It’s a tough way to start the game when you think you score and it’s not a goal and they score right after. That’s an excuse. But the difference is we didn’t create enough.”
That’s for sure. The Wild created nothing in the first and barely anything in the second. The third was all Minnesota (12-1 shot count, the 1 being Steen’s empty-netter), but by then, Jaroslav Halak was there to make all the saves.
Yeo: “We were prepared, engaged right from the start, we come out and do what we’re supposed to do. To me, it’s clear, it’s a good goal.”
On Blues working the puck deep and going to work, Yeo said, “They were very strong on their gameplan. They were just getting everything in deep and forecheck and forecheck and forecheck. That’s how they got the lead and they committed to that.”
Yeo said the Wild wasn’t strong enough with its exits and when it had a chance to be first on pucks, players weren’t and that’s how St. Louis scored its first two goals.
Parise’s quotes on his disallowed goal in the new game notebook on www.startribune.com/wild, so please read that. He had some strong quotes.
Niklas Backstrom forked over a bunch of rebounds in the first, and then when the Wild’s D were routinely beaten to the net by Blues forwards, it turned into disaster.
Backstrom said, “That’s their strength. They’ve had a lot of success with that the last couple years. It’s always a challenge for the goalie against them. I don’t know if you want to call it playoff style hockey, but that’s how it is. In the playoffs, you get the bodies in front of the net and get the puck there.
Jason Pominville said once St. Louis got that early lead, it made life difficult, saying that’s what Ken Hitchcock teams thrive on. Also, the Wild’s just not drawing a lot of power plays lately. Pominville (and Yeo this morning) basically said when you’re backchecking all game, you’re not going to draw penalties.
“We’re not playing enough in the O zone,” Pominville said.
There is rarely a good time to play the powerhouse St. Louis Blues, but the Blues are churning like a buzz saw right now.
The Blues are arguably the deepest team in the NHL and have run through almost every opponent it has faced (three regulation losses in 23 games), blowing out many recently.
Early tonight, the Cup contenders played keep-away with the puck and barely gave up scoring chances to the Wild. In fact, the Wild’s best chance in the first two periods may have come on Zenon Konopka’s goalmouth backhander. When your best chance comes from an enforcer with one goal since Dec. 2011, it typically doesn’t bode well.
The Blues have racked up an 11-game home point streak against Minnesota, not losing in regulation to the Wild in St. Louis since Oct. 20, 2007.
Talk to you Tuesday if there’s Parise news. Otherwise, Wednesday morning.
Rugged veteran forward Mike Rupp will play his first NHL game since May 9’s playoff game against the Chicago Blackhawks tonight when the Wild visits the St. Louis Blues.
Rupp, coming off a five-game conditioning stint with AHL Iowa as the final step in his recoup from offseason knee surgery, draws into the lineup because center Mikael Granlund will miss his second game in a row with an upper-body injury.
Coach Mike Yeo says from what he’s “been told, we don’t have reason to be concerned. We’re just calling him day-to-day and we’ll see what happens here tomorrow.”
Yeo is being hush-hush about what the issue with Granlund is. Like I wrote on yesterday’s blog, he played four games since the Nazem Kadri head shot but was hammered by Marc Methot last Wednesday in Ottawa.
Whatever the injury is, the Wild is clearly thinking there’s a chance Granlund could play Wednesday against Phoenix because if he was already ruled out for that game, the Wild could simply place Granlund on injured reserve retroactive to last Wednesday and call up a forward to replace him. Instead, the Wild is keeping Granlund off IR, which would allow him to play Wednesday if he can.
Torrey Mitchell has been placed on IR (he can come off whenever he’s healthy) and that move allows Darcy Kuemper to back up tonight. Josh Harding was not able to return to St. Louis because of a stiff hamstring that was apparently spasming in Winnipeg.
Apparently, it’s a similar injury to why he had to come out of the Carolina game Oct. 24. Niklas Backstrom played the third period of that game and then consecutive games against Chicago.
Harding’s had some awful luck in this building anyway. He strained his groin here in 2005, which thrust Backstrom onto the NHL stage initially. He tore his ACL and MCL here in his preseason debut in 2010. He also got sick in a tie game here in the preseason. Johan Gustafsson proceeded to come in and the Wild got shellacked in the third.
Same thing as Granlund, the Wild is hoping Harding is a day-to-day thing and can play this weekend. If the Wild was worried, it could put Harding on injured reserve retroactive to the time of injury, but the problem with that is he would have to miss a week.
With the tough stretch of games coming up, the Wild needs Harding back soon.
Backstrom vs. Jaroslav Halak tonight. Ken Hitchcock is going against the grain, starting Halak, who is 1-2-3 against the Wild with a 2.45 goals-against average and .911 save percentage, as opposed to Brian Elliott, who is 4-0 against the Wild with a 2.04 goals-against average.
But both St. Louis goalies are playing great and Halak is 12-3-2 with a 2.34 goals-against average and .906 save percentage (Elliott 4-0-1 with a 1.79 GAA and .932 SV%).
Nate Prosser will skate on the blue line for Minnesota. Matt Dumba is scratched. Kevin Shattenkirk didn’t skate for St. Louis this morning because of the flu, so the Wild may catch a break there.
The Blues have gotten points in 10 straight at home vs. Minnesota since Oct. 20, 2007 (7-0-3, or from the Wild’s standpoint, Minnesota is 3-5-2 in its past 10 at St. Louis). The Blues have won five in a row vs. the Wild and is 5-0-1 in the past six.
The Blues have scored in 12 of the past 13 periods against Minnesota, at least three goals in three straight home games against Minnesota and outshot the Wild by at least 18 shots in each of the last three home games and 117-60 overall.
So, tough task tonight.
The Rupp-Zenon Konopka-Dany Heatley line should be an interesting one. Konopka is suddenly the best skater on the line, but if that line can play in the offensive zone and ask some size and physicality, it could be utilized well by the Wild tonight.
Yeo said he’s “anxious to have [Rupp] back and his teammates are, too.”
Rupp said the games in Iowa were a good thing for him.
“From Game 1 to Game 5, I’m pleased with the progress in that time,” Rupp said, saying he was trying to just get rid of some bad habits by not playing for so long.
What’s good for Rupp is he gets back to the Wild and can immediately play. A week ago when the Wild had Granlund and Mitchell, Rupp extended his conditioning stint because he thought it would be beneficial to him but because he also knew the Wild wasn’t about to fiddle with its winning lineup.
So Rupp would have done the rehab thing and then risked getting rusty again in the press box. Now he gets to continue getting back into the swing of playing again.
“I’m pleased with what progress has been made in the last 10 days,” Rupp said. “It’s been really good in my head. I want to keep building on that. The more I’m getting reps in practice and the more I’m playing, the stronger I’m going to get.”
Rupp said more than nerves tonight, there’s more “anticipation.”
“The NHL season is a big groove, and you want to find that as quick as you can,” Rupp said. “I’m joining a team that’s been playing really well, so you just want to try to be a part of it and build from game to game.”
I talked to David Backes, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter a lot about the U.S. leadership group they're a part of with Dustin Brown and Ryan Callahan for the Olympics. That will be in tomorrow's paper. I'm also working ahead on a pretty fun story that will hopefully run Wednesday.
Good afternoon from chilly St. Louieee, where the Wild faces the big, bad Blues on Monday night at the house formerly called, Kiel Center.
Josh Harding, who was hurt in warmups Saturday in Winnipeg, returned to the Twin Cities this morning on a commercial flight from St. Louis. The MRI on his left leg “checked out,” according to Mike Yeo, meaning it was negative. Harding had one more doctor’s appointment this afternoon.
Apparently, Harding sustained some kind of spasms during warmup. It didn’t happen from stepping on a puck, as some reported.
The team is hoping Harding lets them know later today if he thinks he can return to St. Louis on Monday and back up Niklas Backstrom. The reason why this is important?
The Wild’s at the max 23-man roster – 14 forwards (includes Mike Rupp; activated off IR to make him eligible for conditioning stint to Iowa), 7 defensemen, 2 goalies.
Mikael Granlund, who missed yesterday’s game in Winnipeg with an upper-body injury, didn’t practice for the second consecutive practice today. If he can’t play against the Blues, the only way the Wild can call up a forward is to place Torrey Mitchell (leg) on injured reserve. But if Harding can’t back up, Mitchell will be placed on IR so Darcy Kuemper is officially added to the roster to back up.
If that were the case, the Wild will either have to dress seven defensemen (Nate Prosser and Matt Dumba) again like Winnipeg or Rupp, expected to join the Wild after playing five games for Iowa on a conditioning stint that ended yesterday, would have to make his season debut. Reports are Rupp did get better every game but that he looked slow with his skating (not that Rupp’s ever been a speedster, especially with the recent knee issues).
“Everything seems good,” Yeo said of Harding. “If he feels good enough, we’re hoping he can back up tomorrow. But again, comfort wise, his pain tolerance, he has to be able to go out and perform if needed to.”
Yeo hasn’t ruled out Granlund against the Blues, but he hasn’t been on the ice since the Ottawa game. I asked Granlund to talk today, but he didn’t want to. He’s showing no signs of an obvious injury. I asked Yeo if it’s a concussion – he’s played four games since the Nazem Kadri head shot, but he was crushed into the boards by Marc Methot in Ottawa – and Yeo just said it’s an upper-body injury and wouldn’t say when it happened or how or what.
Jared Spurgeon didn’t practice today, but Yeo says he expects him to be in the lineup Monday night.
Yeo said in his mind, Keith Ballard isn’t ready, plus for Ballard to play, two players would have to go on IR.
Yeo said all lineup decisions will be made Monday, and again, a lot has to do with how Harding feels and if he returns to St. Louis.
Beginning Monday in St. Louis, nine of the Wild’s next 11 games come against the top five teams in the Western Conference and the current eighth-place team – in order, Anaheim, Chicago, St. Louis, San Jose, Colorado and Phoenix. Those six teams are a combined 95-26-14 (.756).
Of those teams, the Wild has only played Anaheim and Chicago this season, going a combined 1-1-1.
So by mid-December, we’ll all get a really good sense of the Wild.
Well, that was certainly interesting, as we like to say in Minnesota. The Wild's 3-2 shootout win over Winnipeg had a little bit of everything. Mystery goalie injuries! Quick escapes from the Winnipeg airport! Leaden performances turned into gold!
The one thing it didn't have: Mike Russo. He'll be back tomorrow to pick up the team in St. Louis, where it finishes the four-game road trip Monday.
The -10 temperatures notwithstanding, this was quite an entertaining game to drop in on. When Josh Harding skated to the bench during warmups, it looked like he might have an equipment issue. Then Niklas Backstrom leads the Wild onto the ice at MTS Centre, and it's evident it is something more serious. Coach Mike Yeo said after the game that Harding has a lower-body injury, presumably a leg. Yeo anticipates it is a day-to-day type of injury, though he isn't certain.
So Backstrom gets the no-notice start after being cleared for full practice only one day before. He said afterward--in his usual deadpan manner--that it was "fun'' to get hit by 14 pucks in the first period as his teammates flailed away. Getting pushed out on stage without warning actually was an advantage, he figured, after missing four games because of a concussion (and being prevented from even skating until last Monday or Tuesday). "You don't really have much time to think,'' he said. "You just go out and play and get into the game. It's good to get shots and feel the puck right away.''
Backstrom stopped 37 of 39 shots, and the two goals he gave up were on rebounds. (The first came after a Matt Halischuk shot hit him and went airborne, then fell into the crease, where Michael Frolik knocked it in as the Wild failed to clear the rebound; the second came when Halischuk banged a shot off Backstrom and the puck came right back to him.) He had cautioned Friday that even though he felt good, he knew that meant nothing in the realm of head injuries, when good days can turn into bad ones for no forseeable reason. He certainly didn't show any lingering effects Saturday.
Darcy Kuemper looked so odd sitting on a bar stool behind the glass by the Wild tunnel, in his ball cap and pads. He said he got heckled a little by the fans immediately behind and beside him. He was amazed at how quickly the Wild team bus got to the airport to retrieve him before he could get on the plane to the Twin Cities (and to his car, which he then planned to drive to Iowa) and how efficiently the airport and Delta staff got him and his gear back through customs.
Hockey players are such creatures of habit that you figure this wacky sequence of events would have thrown the Wild completely off its game. Backstrom gave them time to pull it together after that awful first period. Lots of giveaways, missed shots, off-target passes ... the Jets just totally outplayed them. As Zach Parise said, "we could have been down three, four, five-nothing after the first period. We were lucky to get out of there 0-0.''
Interesting choice by Yeo to yank Nino Niederreiter out of the doghouse and promote him to the penthouse in the third period. Through two periods, Niederreiter played seven shifts (6:29 of ice time) and had one shot, two giveaways and no hits. Yeo, who moved players around throughout the game because Mikael Granlund was a late scratch with an upper-body injury, decided to give him a shot in the third period with Parise and Mikko Koivu. Niederreiter went to the net and plucked the rebound of Marco Scandella's shot off the pads of Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec, then tucked it in to tie the score 1-1.
"I wanted to give (Niederreiter) a chance,'' Yeo said. "We didn’t put him out there much to try to get his attention. I give him a lot of credit. Everyone has bad shifts or bad stretches or whatever; it's always how you bounce back. We wanted to give him a chance to see how he responded with those guys. We thought having a big body who could get to the net, the way he did for the goal, could help, could benefit those guys.
"He's a young kid. His first two periods weren't great. With young kids, they go with the wave of the rest of the group. As the rest of the group picked it up, he was able to pick it up, too.''
Ryan Suter was strong as usual, starting the play that led to Parise's shorthanded goal that tied the score 2-2. Parise had a goal and an assist, five shots, was plus-2 and demonstrated the kind of leadership the Wild needed to drag itself out of the dumpster in the first period. Koivu netted a slick backhander in the shootout, followed by Charlie Coyle's beauty.
Yeo was clearly proud that his team didn't cave under the weight of all the weird circumstances. "I spent a lot of time before the game trying to figure out lineup combinations and how to get people back from the airport,'' he said. "But you've got to deal with that type of adversity, and our guys did.
"You play 82 games, and they can't all be a work of art. There are going to be some times where you draw it up the way you want it to happen, and you go out and do it. There are going to be other times where things are going to happen, and you're going to have to deal with it. You're going to have to find a different way to get a win. I give our guys credit for staying in the game and (Backstrom) a lot of credit for keeping us in the game.''
As for the opposition, this is not going to fly well with Jets fans. This streaky bunch is now winless in its past four--after winning the previous four in a row--and finished a three-game homestand 0-1-2. Friday, some players expressed frustration, saying everyone was not giving his all. The effort was not lacking Saturday, but one point isn't going to make them feel any better--particularly after falling to 0-2-1 this season against their division rival.
That's it from the 'Peg. Stay warm!
The Wild flew to Winnipeg on Friday morning and practiced in the afternoon at MTS Centre. Making a bit of a surprise appearance: goalie Niklas Backstrom and defenseman Keith Ballard, both of whom had been out with injuries.
Backstrom had missed the past four games because of a concussion. He took lots of pucks in practice, as he and Josh Harding got most of the work while Darcy Kuemper watched along the boards. Harding will start Saturday against Winnipeg, coach Mike Yeo said, but he liked what he saw from Backstrom.
"I would say I'm pleased and also happy to see the way he looked out there,'' Yeo said. "He looked quick, he looked slick, but it’s one day, obviously, so we’ll keep an eye going forward.''
Backstrom said he has been skating for a few days and felt "pretty good'' after his first full practice in more than a week. "We'll see how everything feels after this,'' he added.
Ballard had missed seven games because of an upper-body injury. Yeo said he doesn't anticipate Ballard playing Saturday, but he said Ballard has "come a long way'' in the past couple of days and that his status is now upgraded to day-to-day. Ballard has been skating on his own and said he just needs to get used to contact again.
Torrey Mitchell (lower body) is still not with the team but could rejoin it in St. Louis, where the Wild plays Monday.
Other notes from practice:
--Matt Dumba will stay in the lineup. He was paired with Clayton Stoner in practice, and Yeo wants to give him a chance to play two in a row and establish some rhythm. "I liked his game in Ottawa,'' Yeo said. "Certainly when we’re playing in high-pace games he helps us with his skating ability, he helps us with his execution and his puck movement. He’s playing against a team that he’s played a number of times already, including preseason, so hopefully that gives him a little bit of comfort there.''
--Mikael Granlund did not practice but was simply taking a day of rest.
--Ryan Suter came off the ice with a towel to his face, surprising Yeo, who was in the hallway talking to the media when his workhorse defenseman walked past. Suter was smiling and had just a small cut to his lip.
|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 (432)||Bears (5)|
|Lions (1)||Packers (2)|
|Super Bowl (6)||Vikings fans (3)|
|Ex-players (1)||Injury report (1)|
|On the road (158)||Rookies (34)|
|Roster moves (13)||Vikings draft (91)|
|Vikings trade talk (3)||Fighting (3)|
|Stanley Cup (28)||Wild coaching (32)|
|Wild game coverage (357)||Wild management (15)|
|Wild off-season news (421)||Wild player moves (122)|
|Wild practice (300)||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)|