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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Wild looks to help Backstrom in shootouts; Clutterbuck on glass facers; Could Sid return in Minnesota?

Posted by: Michael Russo under On the road, Wild pregame skate Updated: October 13, 2011 - 12:19 PM

Good afternoon from the X, where the Oilers are currently holding their morning skate.

Remember, 2 p.m. today, I'll be hosting a live chat on startribune.com.

Nick Johnson and Matt Kassian will be the scratches up front with Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Brad Staubitz returning to the lineup and Justin Falk will be out on the back end.

Brett Bulmer drops from the second line to the fourth and will skate with Darroll Powe and Staubitz, while Colton Gillies remains on the third with Kyle Brodziak and Cal Clutterbuck.

The Wild's beaten Edmonton in seven straight overall and 16 in a row at home. The Oilers haven't won in St. Paul since Jan. 16, 2007, getting outscored 58-21.

Niklas Backstrom is 14-0-0 against Edmonton. The only other active goaltender with at least 10 decisions vs. one team, all of them wins, is Tomas Vokoun against the Islanders (10-0-0) (courtesy of Elias Sports Bureau). Elias also said that Edmonton's had three coaches and 71 players since its last win in Minnesota.

Speaking of Backstrom, his failures in shootouts have become as much in his head as Wild fans. Why can he stop a breakaway during games but could look so lousy in shootouts? He was beaten by all three shooters in Tuesday's loss at Ottawa after a scintillating performance through 65 minutes.

He's 12-25 with a .568 "save" percentage, and let's be honest, how many of the saves were actually saved and not simply missed nets?

I asked Mike Yeo if he'd ever consider pulling Backstrom before a shootout: "We'll do whatever we have to do to win a hockey game, but having said that, I think our first priority has to be to help Back. This guy, he is a tremendous goalie. He is an elite goalie. ... It's our responsibility to try to help him feel confident the next time he gets into a shootout. ... We believe he has the ability."

Yeo said it's important to show him the confidence and work with him in practice so he's confident going into shootouts. Look for goalie coach Bob Mason to work overtime in this department. Backstrom is very testy on this subject and frankly pretended he misunderstood my question on it during the postgame in Ottawa.

Speaking of Josh Harding, he hasn't started yet. The Wild's next back-to-back isn't until Nov. 12-13 in So. Cal. Yeo said he doesn't want Harding sitting for three weeks without a start, so in the "very near future," he'll get a start. Depending on how tonight goes for Backstrom, but maybe Harding starts Saturday vs. Detroit? We will see. But Harding's beaten Detroit twice, while Backstrom only once.

Got a lot of questions about Cal Clutterbuck and why he hasn't been so physical. He does have nine hits in three games, but he doesn't seem as engaged. I asked him about that this morning and he said he's noticing a tendancy with the boarding crackdowns that multiple players are turning at the last second and facing the glass intentionally to draw penalties. He said it's causing him to pull up and his timing is off. He's ticked about this, one because it's stupid, two because it's dangerous, and he hopes the league starts looking at these players who are putting themselves in vulnerable positions.

It was Mark Messier who used to say, a player who turns and faces the glass deserves everything he gets. Anyway, Clutterbuck said he's confident he'll get his licks and be effective in the physicality department.

Next week, by the way, Pittsburgh comes to town Tuesday.

Could Sidney Crosby return that night against his old assistant, Mike Yeo? Well, he was cleared today for full contact in practice. The Pens aren't giving a timetable on his return though. Tuesday's game is conveniently on Versus nationally, so it would be a heck of an opportunity for the league and Versus to hit a ratings record if Sid returns, by the way.

I'd think Dan Bylsma would want to start Sid the Kid at home and not on the road. You can control matchups at home, and in Minnesota, it would be hard for Bylsma to avoid Crosby going head-to-head with renowned headhunter Pierre-Marc Bouchard.

Just a joke. Man, it would be cool if Sid returns here.

Talk to you after tonight's game.

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