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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Spurgeon's second goal lifts Wild to exhibition-opening win

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild game coverage, Wild training camp Updated: September 20, 2011 - 11:49 PM

Let me just say it's good to be covering hockey games again.

Now that I got that out of the way, the Wild beat the Oilers 4-3 tonight  here at the Rex behind two goals from Edmonton native Jared Spurgeon, one goal from Fridley native Jarod Palmer and one from Pierre-Marc Bouchard.

Matt Cullen had two assists and Guillaume Latendresse, Brett Bulmer and Kyle Brodziak one apiece.

The overshadowed story in this game was the tremendous return by Josh Harding, who has been outstanding in practice and scrimmages. But tonight, in 30:51 of work, Harding stopped 14 of 15 shots and made a couple huge saves on Taylor Hall.

Coach Mike Yeo, who won in his debut as an NHL head coach (OK, it doesn't count, but kinda sorta when you consider the Wild went winless last preseason), just said, "Unbelievable. Unbelievable," about Harding's return from a torn ACL and MCL last Sept. 24.

The Wild played an awesome first period to build a 3-0 lead, but the Oilers roared back in a second period in which the Wild defended for 20 minutes. But Spurgeon scored the winner with 1:46 left when he wristed a shot through traffic.

Good sign for Spurgeon, whom the Wild hopes picks up some of the offensive slack lost by trading Brent Burns. Good sign is he's getting shots on net, which Yeo loves. But he was also by far the Wild's best defenseman on the defensive side of the puck.

This was a tough game for the Wild from a blue-line standpoint. Just not a lot of experience. Jordan Hendry, who had a great first period, rocky second and good third, had the most NHL experience at 129 games. Next was Clayton Stoner at 65. Then Spurgeon at 53.

On the game, and particularly the poor second period, Yeo said, "It was a tale of two games, that's for sure. I can honestly say that I fully, 100 percent, completely expected that to happen."

Yeo said of his system, which I wrote about in Wednesday's paper (take a gander), "It's a demanding way to play. We ask a lot of the guys, and they were doing it to a T in the first period. But as soon as you kind of relax a little bit and you don't pay attention to details the same way, you don't manage the puck the same way and you don't match their desperation, things can turn quickly. And that second period was a perfect example of it."

But Yeo was really happy with the way the guys responded in the third period, and that was a period in which the Wild had to kill of three minutes of a five-minute major to Darroll Powe for boarding Taylor Fedun.

Fedun played on the power play, but he later left the game. I'd be surprised if Powe gets further discipline though.

What else?

--Palmer was good, showing signs of speed and skill (read the notebook for his quotes).

--The Latendresse-Cullen-Bouchard line was fantastic.

--Brett Bulmer, I finally saw what the Wild loves about him. Pure guts, gets under everybody's skin, stations himself at the net, can skate. Once he puts on weight and gets more experience, he could be a bigtime power forward for this franchise.

--Liked Clayton Stoner's game.

--Matt Kassian clobbered Darcy Hordichuk on their first shift on the ice together. Kassian was jumping to the defense of Nate Prosser, whom Hordichuk took a run at. Three big punches by Kassian knocked down Hordichuk.

That's it for me as I head back to Minnesota. Brian Stensaas is covering Wednesday's practice, although I'll head down to the X after I land from Edmonton. So either Brian or myself will blog. If it's Brian, I'll be back with you Thursday before my flight to St. Louis.

Here's a Tyler Cuma note that I trimmed most out of the final edition because of Spurgeon's game. Cuma definitely had some tough moments, but note a shock for a guy that was coming back from yet another major injury:

By MICHAEL RUSSO
mrusso@startribune.com
 
EDMONTON, ALBERTA – With Mike Lundin experiencing back spasms, Tyler Cuma took another step in his recovery from a knee injury Tuesday night by getting the surprise nod in the Wild’s exhibition opener against the Oilers.
Now the young defenseman hopes it foreshadows a year of being healthy.
Cuma’s injury Feb. 13 in a Houston Aeros’ game at Xcel Energy Center was the latest in a laundry list of injuries that have stalled the 2008 first-round pick’s development.
Prospects are flying by him, including 2008 second-round pick Marco Scandella.
“It’s tough to stay positive, but I am still only 21,” Cuma said. “I’m not looking to make the jump right away. I need to get experience under my belt and play some games. I know I’m behind the eight-ball and I need some games in the AHL. I haven’t had a full season now in quite a while, but hopefully I’ve gotten all the injuries out of the way early.”
Cuma’s injury to the left knee was a torn anterior cruciate ligament and lateral cruciate ligament two years after a torn meniscus and torn medial collateral ligament in the same knee.
“It clicks now,” Cuma said, laughing. “There’s a lot of scar tissue and clicking. But strength wise and mobility, it feels like it was before.”

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