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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Coyle, Cullen, Konopka tidbits as Wild visits Phoenix

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild pregame skate Updated: February 28, 2013 - 2:00 PM
The Wild, 5-2-1 in its past eight, looks to win its second in a row tonight when it visits the Phoenix Coyotes, who have points in 11 of 14.
 
Niklas Backstrom vs. Mike Smith, who is starting for the 16th time in 20 games (missed three with a groin injury).
 
The Wild maybe catches a break. Martin Hanzal (upper body) and Radim Vrbata (lower body) won’t play. Derek Morris is a game-time decision. The Wild can’t chase this team. The Coyotes almost always win when they score first and the Wild has given up the first goal in six straight and nine of 10.
 
The Wild averages 2.06 goals per game. In elementary school, I learned this nugget: If the Wild gives up the first goal, it would need to then score its average TWO goals to just overtake the Coyotes.
 
That could be a chore.
 
I’ll be on Fox Sports North tonight. Wild Live at 7:30, then the first intermission.
 
Check out tomorrow’s game notebook: I have some real funny stuff from Charlie Coyle about his call from NHL discipline czar Brendan Shanahan after his high check on Matt Stajan. Coyle was basically in “awe” to speak to the type of player he actually aspires to be.
 
“I almost wanted to ask for an autograph, though it was probably the wrong time,” Coyle said, laughing.
 
He said when Shanahan said he was going to let the hit slide but to be careful next time, “it was a big sigh of relief. Thank God.”
 
Matt Cullen, playing so, so well for the Wild, is ecstatic Moorhead advanced to the State tournament. His alma mater beat Brainerd last night and is coached by his former high school teammate and cousin, Peter Cullen (Matt’s dad’s brother’s kid).
 
They texted back and forth this morning and Cullen has an off-day Thursday, so he plans to go to the Spuds’ game at the X.
 
Had a good talk with Zenon Konopka today, who was voted to be the Wild’s player rep without volunteering for it (ha), about realignment. He said this thing has a chance to blow up completely because the NHLPA is worried about the imbalance of teams between the East and West. I’ll write about that in Sunday’s paper and talk about it tonight on FSNorth.
 
Dave Tippett, Mike Yeo’s former coach and in a lot of ways mentor, is juggling his lines yet again tonight (wow, all coaches do this?):
 
Mikkel Boedker – Antoine Vermette– Lauri Korpikoski
Raffi Torres – Matt Lombardi – Shane Doan
Steve Sullivan– Boyd Gordon – David Moss
Paul Bissonnette – Kyle Chipchura– Nick Johnson
 
Keith Yandle – Derek Morris
Zbynek Michalek – Oliver Ekman-Larsson
Michael Stone – Rostislav Klesla
 
Mike Smith
Jason LaBarbera
 
Scratches: David Rundblad, Chris Summers.
 
The Wild:
 
Zach Parise-Mikko Koivu-Charlie Coyle
Jason Zucker-Matt Cullen-Devin Setoguchi
Pierre-Marc Bouchard-Mikael Granlund-Dany Heatley
Mike Rupp-Kyle Brodziak-Torrey Mitchell
 
Ryan Suter-Jonas Brodin
Justin Falk-Tom Gilbert
Clayton Stoner-Jared Spurgeon
 
Niklas Backstrom
Darcy Kuemper
 
Scratches: Zenon Konopka and Nate Prosser
 
My guess is Konopka plays tomorrow in Anaheim against the big, high-flying Ducks and maybe Prosser. No goalie decision yet, coach Mike Yeo said, but with so many games and so much travel and a home game Sunday, why risk Backstrom’s health by playing him tired tomorrow? I’d start Kuemper.
 
My big question: Is this my last game I’ll ever be covering in the Arizona desert?
 
Talk to you tonight.
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