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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Mike Yeo on scratching Dany Heatley, plus Heatley's reaction

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild pregame skate Updated: March 29, 2014 - 3:12 PM

Two-time 50-goal, 100-point scorer Dany Heatley, who ranks sixth among active NHLers with 143 power-play goals and 12th with 372 goals in 861 games, will be a healthy scratch for the first time in his career tonight when the Wild plays a pivotal game against the Phoenix Coyotes.

The 7th-place Wild, 3-5-4 in its past 12, is facing a Coyotes team that is 7-2-1 in its past 10 and is one point behind Minnesota in the standings. The 9th-place Dallas Stars are four points back and play the NHL-leading St. Louis Blues.

Heatley said coach Mike Yeo told him of the decision during a “pretty quick, 10-second” conversation before today’s pregame skate.

“It’s not a good feeling, but at the same time, I’ll stay ready and be ready if they need me again,” Heatley, 33, said. “I think it’s gone up and down this year. I mean, got a chance there a couple months ago and thought I played pretty well and things are kind of back to where they were at the start of the year and things haven’t gone well. I’ll be ready when I get a call again.”

Heatley has scored 12 goals in 74 games. He is a team-worst minus-18, but since the trade deadline, his role has decreased and so has his ice time. He has four shots in the past 11 games and is minus-7 in the past five.

Yeo said today there was no final straw, but there is no doubt that not getting those two pucks deep on that late first-period power play in St. Louis on Thursday was the catalyst to this decision. If Heatley’s not scoring, Yeo has said he can’t be a defensive liability and he must be strong on pucks. He wasn’t either in that situation, and by not getting the puck deep, Jared Spurgeon was in position to cough up the puck for T.J. Oshie’s back-breaking shortie.

We peppered Yeo on the decision to sit Heatley after today’s pregame skate. He made clear this was the decision for this particular game.

The lines tonight:

Parise-Koivu-Coyle

Nino-Granlund-Pominville

Moulson-Brodziak-Fontaine

Veilleux-Haula-Cooke

“Looking at the lineup and [we’re] still trying to find the right mix,” Yeo said. “We’re trying to find something new here. I think everything that we’ve got makes sense. If you look what we’ve got with Haulzy, we’ve got two speed guys, two guys who can be physical getting in on the forecheck, obviously all those guys are penalty killers for us. You look at Brodzy, he’s a big body, should be able to get to the net and be strong defensively, but he’s got two guys who showed a lot of chemistry together as far as Moulson and Fontaine when they were together in Long Island. Reuniting that line of Granlund, Pommer and Nino, that’s a line that’s had success together and obviously Mikko’s line spent a lot of time together and had a lot of success together.

“I’m not saying there’s a final straw [with Heatley]. We went into this game saying this is what we need. We’re trying to find the right mix. There’s been nights where it’s looked close, there’s been nights where maybe we have one line but we don’t have another. We’re trying to get four lines that make sense, four lines that get going, and for this particular game, this is what we felt we needed.

“It’s never fun scratching a player. They all want to play. … That’s always difficult, and his situation is different in a lot of ways, especially compared to a young kid, because he hasn’t been a healthy scratch, because of the career that he’s had and how difficult that would be for him emotionally. But he handled it very well and I thought he did a good job on the ice today. We’re not done with him. We’re going to need him again. Since the trade deadline, he got reshuffled. He was playing well before the trade deadline and you can see confidence is a big factor right now, so we’ll use these practices to do what we can to get it back.

On sitting Heatley, Yeo said, “Fonzie’s a guy, we have to get him into this game. We’ve got to keep him involved, but he had a real strong game in this building last time we were here (hat trick). Nino’s been lost in a lot of ways because of the reshuffling, too, and we believe there’s more there that we can pull out. That had a lot to do with it. Steph, we thought his speed and energy coming into the lineup would be key,” plus Yeo said he should help the Wild’s 64.6 percent penalty kill the past 12 games.”

If you didn’t see the previous blog, I talked to Phoenix coach Dave Tippett about scratching veterans. Derek Morris will be a scratch for a third straight game tonight, while Tippett is inserting Mike Ribeiro after scratching him the past two.

On tonight’s huge game, Yeo said, “We should be excited about it. To be playing in games like this this time of year, that’s what you want as a competitor, to be playing in meaningful games, games that the intensity’s up, that matters to both teams. We’ll see that tonight.”

On starting Ilya Bryzgalov, Yeo said, “His record has actually been pretty good (2-0-2, but a .900 save percentage), so I think the composure that he has and the big body, this is a team that’s going to look to get as many pucks to the net as possible, so if he can be big in the net, especially how they like to use the points and get pucks to the net from the point, for a big guy to be able to see around the traffic and still make himself big is very important.”

On Darcy Kuemper, who has allowed 3+ goals in six of his past eight starts, Yeo said, “We have to take a plan with him. Where I think it’s been very difficult for him is the fact we’ve had very little practice time, so at the very least, today we have a plan in place. This is just not a pregame skate for him. This is a day where I want him coming off the ice feeling like, ‘ok, I got better.’ And I want a plan in place [Sunday], too. He doesn’t have the games right now to be feeling good about his game, so if he doesn’t have the practices, it’s pretty difficult. Two days to get back on top of things.”

I talked with Kuemper and goalie coach Bob Mason this morning and may write about Kuemper Sunday for Monday’s paper going into the Wild’s game at L.A., where this ride began for Kuemper with a shootout win in place of the injured Niklas Backstrom on Jan. 7.

On Mikael Granlund taking Matt Moulson’s spot on the No. 1 power play, Yeo said, “This is a guy that we’re going to count on in so many ways. He’s shown that he can be effective there and we’re trying to find a way to make sure we’re getting him as involved as possible. We can’t be putting him in a situation where he has to take a backseat. We have to get him to the forefront. He’s got experience playing in the biggest games at the biggest stage and being effective in those. This is an opportunity for him to prove that.”

At the beginning of the skate, Yeo grabbed Jared Spurgeon briefly for a conversation. Spurgeon has turned two pucks over for huge goals against in each of the past two games.

Yeo said, “I don’t think that his game is off. I haven’t seen him make those two plays ever in his career, in the NHL or the American League. It’s not him. But it happens to every player. So I just wanted to basically give him a tap on the shin pads today to say, ‘Listen, forget about that.’ He’s always been a guy in these kind of games where he’s really shone, with his composure, with the way he executes, with the way he defends. I don’t want him coming into this game with any baggage.”

Wild must be disciplined tonight. Phoenix’s power play is real good, and Keith Yandle leads the league in power-play points. And the Wild’s penalty kill? Ain’t too good.

Talk tonight.

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