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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Harding will start again; Clutterbuck cleared of wrongdoing

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild news, Wild practice Updated: November 4, 2011 - 2:09 PM

UPDATED

Josh Harding, after three consecutive victories, gets the nod in goal again for the Wild when it plays St. Louis on Saturday night.

Niklas Backstrom's "backup" beat Detroit twice and was in goal for an inspired 5-1 victory Thursday night against Vancouver. It was the obvious move.

If it were me, I wouldn't fiddle with anything, although coach Mike Yeo said they still have to decide if Clayton Stoner returns from his finger injury. It's a tough call. Wild's won three in a row with the same D pairs and I felt Justin Falk and Nate Prosser were quite good again last night. They were scored on their first shift, but they responded well and frankly showed that they played as a pair for 50+ regular season games last year and the entire playoffs for Houston.

They constantly supported each other, knew where the other was, etc, etc. But tough call because Stoner's earned his spot and was playing well.

As for the goalie decision, Yeo said, "We have to think about Back, we have to think of the team, but we also have to think of Hards. Again, he's earned the opportunity."

On not wanting to fiddle with a winning lineup like many coaches, Yeo said that didn't factor into his decision to start Harding: "For me, it's not really a superstitious thing, and I'm not afraid to change the lineup if we are winning. In fact, I think sometimes it can help you in some ways that you don't get a little bit stale or a little bit complacent."

Frankly, I bet you the plan is to start Backstrom in Calgary. It makes sense. Harding's on fire and has a career 1.77 goals against average and .938 save percentage against St. Louis and in Backstrom's last five games IN Calgary, he's 4-0 with two shutouts, an 0.63 goals against average and .979 save percentage.

Obviously, this is subject to change if Harding has another masterful performance, but I think their plan right now is to start Backstrom in the first of a five-game road trip.

Yeo is trying his best to have players forget last night's game, or at least not be satisfied with it. He felt the players worked hard in practice today, but he felt they were too loose, so he cautioned them to the fact that winners are never satisfied. Let's be honest: The Wild's won three in a row, but player after player said they've accomplished nothing and have to keep their foot on the gas.

I think Vancouver felt that way yesterday. They scored 12 goals the previous two games, get an early goal yesterday, and all of a sudden they started to think it would be easy. The Canucks were awful last night, and the Wild knows that. Yeo wouldn't even tell us the number of scoring chances, saying they hadn't finished em. I think he probably didn't want to say it at the risk of sounding pretentious. I bet you the Wild had 30+, and as Yeo said, "we could have scored a lot of goals. ... I thought some things came easy to us last game."

Lastly, I talked to as good a source as there is: Cal Clutterbuck won't get his hand slapped for last night's accidental two punches that landed on the strong chin/cheek of linesman Darren Gibbs.

Maxim Lapierre tried to body slam Clutterbuck into the Canucks bench and Clutterbuck tried to defend himself. That's the way the on-ice officials saw it and that's the way they reported it to the NHL. I was also told that Clutterbuck was very apologetic to the officials afterward.

"Our linesmen are tough," the source said. "He certainly didn't mean to do it."

Talk to you after the Wild's morning skate.

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