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Harding gets the nod; Scandella skates; St. Cloud Experience

  • Blog Post by: Michael Russo
  • November 19, 2011 - 2:32 PM

Afternoon from snowy Minnesota, where the Wild returns to action tonight against the new-look St. Louis Blues.

Had an awesome night last night when I drove up to St. Cloud to watch the Huskies upset the Gophers. Big St. Cloud win (Matt Cullen enjoyed watching on the tube) behind a tremendous goaltending performance and pretty power play that quite frankly the Wild should rip off.

Bob Motzko's got that backdoor play working pretty well, something the Gophers better figure out a way to defend before tonight's rematch.

Awesome experience being in that loud barn with the tin roof. Noise just reverberates, which makes for a fun atmosphere when the student section is as lively as it was last night.

Free parking! $6 carved turkey. You don't get that in a pro arena.

Fourteen nights ago when the Blues were in town, Davis Payne was at the helm. Tonight, it'll be veteran bench boss Ken Hitchcock, who has guided St. Louis to a 4-0-1 mark since Payne's sudden firing the night after a loss to Minnesota.

Hitch's Blues haven't given up a goal yet in the second and third periods, and it's because of responses to being pushed hard against Toronto, Florida and Detroit, Hitch said. He's conveyed to them that you can get beaten in a period and still respond properly.

From a beat writer's point of view, nice to have Hitchcock back in the league. Few coaches fill up your notebook's like Hitch. Sit down with him for 20 minutes, and you spend the 20 minutes after trying to figure out how, when and where you'll get all the stuff he told you into the paper.

So you should be seeing Hitchcock quotes pop up in the Strib for the next little bit every now and again. Remember, he was a finalist for the Wild job with Mike Yeo and Craig MacTavish, and he was real complimentary of Yeo's hire and the way the Wild's playing under Yeo. He said on film, if you turn down the sound, you can't tell which players are on the ice because everybody's bought into Yeo's system and is playing the same way. He also said the Wild is hard to match up the middle of the ice because of the play of centermen Mikko Koivu, Matt Cullen and Kyle Brodziak, saying how impressive it was see a 1-0 win where at the end of the night, the third-line center -- Brodziak -- led the team in ice time.

"Sum of the parts," Hitchcock said of the Wild.

Speaking of Yeo, he's making an interesting move tonight by starting Josh Harding in goal. I didn't even ask yesterday because I figured it was a given to return with the red-hot Niklas Backstrom, especially with no game until Wednesday.

But Yeo says Backstrom could use some rest and Harding deserves another shot. Remember, he won four in a row until giving up four goals in a 5-2 loss at L.A. a week ago tonight. Yeo said that was of no fault of Harding, that it was a "team effort."

I'm still surprised with Backstrom 4-0-1 in his past six with a .960 save percentage. But Harding is 5-2 against the Blues with a 1.68 goals against average and .942 save percentage.

Same Wild lineup tonight.

Marco Scandella is getting closer to a return. He skated today and felt great, Yeo said, and with no games until Wednesday and practices Monday and Tuesday, I'm betting he returns against whomever the Wild plays Wednesday (I go one game at a time).

No changes with the health of Guillaume Latendresse and Marek Zidlicky. They're just complete shut down with concussions.

Great chat with Justin Falk today, who's got a nasty visor bruise under his left eye thanks to David Jones' leaping shoulder to his face the other day. Most amazing? Falk put on a visor for the first time before that game. Why? Because he took a high stick in Columbus over the right eye and saw Devin Setoguchi take a slap shot to the face in Anaheim.

Falk said enough is enough and I better be smart here, so he put on a visor. If he doesn't, Jones nails him with a shoulder right to the cheek. Smart move by the 6-foot-4 defenseman who says he's now sticking with the visor fulltime.

He also criticized Jones and Erik Johnson (who tried to elbow Matt Cullen's face as the game wound down) for their lack of respect for opponents. You can see Falk's quotes in tomorrow's Strib.

That's it for now. Talk to you tonight.

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