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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Clutterbuck out tonight vs. Devils

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild pregame skate Updated: December 2, 2011 - 12:42 PM

Good early afternoon from the X, where tonight for the first time in history, there will be a Wild-Devils game without Jacques Lemaire on one of the two benches

Mike Yeo vs. Pete DeBoer tonight

Just an fyi, I'll be on Hockey Night in Canada radio with Elliotte Friedman and Tim Wharnsby -- two giants in the industry -- at 4 p.m. CT/5 p.m. ET on Sirius 157.

Cal Clutterbuck, one of the Wild's most consistent forwards during its hot stretch, will miss tonight's game against the Devils with a muscle injury on his left leg after Wednesday's blatant extension of his knee by Edmonton's Ryan Whitney (no penalty, no hearing).

Luckily, Whitney hit Clutterbuck's thigh and not his knee.

Clutterbuck skated on his own this morning and it wasn't good enough. He is expected to travel but is worried what the plane ride will do to the injury in terms of swelling, etc.

Lot of questions by readers/tweeters if Whitney faced a disciplinary hearing. He did not, I guess, because it wasn't catastrophic for Clutterbuck. Same reason why Erik Johnson didn't face a hearing for his beyond-obvious attempt to decapitate Matt Cullen last month.

Maybe if you want to curb behavior, intent and not just result should matter.

"It's not a clean play. First of all, I didn't have the puck. Secondly, it was a clearly a motion toward sticking a knee out," Clutterbuck said. "It's frustrating, but there's nothing I can do about it. I'm more focused on getting back, but it's frustrating."

I'm not saying Clutterbuck's an angel, but he typically hits fair and clean. Is he late sometimes? Yes. Does he hit hard? Yes. Maybe it's because he's a heavy hitter, maybe it's because he has a reputation for embellishing, but it certainly seems he doesn't get a fair shake at times from officials. This is the same league where a few years ago, former disciplinarian Colie Campbell basically said he didn't suspend Sergei Gonchar for his obvious head shot on Clutterbuck because Clutterbuck leads the league in hits.

"There's got to be a little bit of passion in the game," Campbell said on NHL Live a few years back. "Cal Clutterbuck leads the league, or is close to leading the league, in hits. He hit Gonchar very hard into the boards prior to that -- real hard. It could have been boarding. It could have been charging. It wasn't. So Gonchar, who's been hurt before, knocked out before and suffered a concussion -- he's on the receiving end more than he's on the giving end ... -- he went in and it was a five-minute interference penalty and he hit him with his shoulder."

Now, I am aware James Wisniewski was nailed for an eight-game suspension for his elbow at Clutterbuck in the preseason. But lately, how many times has Clutterbuck gotten hit from behind this season and wasn't given the benefit of the doubt? Six, seven. The other night he's clearly kneed and nothing happens from the refs. The other night he's clearly kneed and there's no uproar from any out-of-town media. Just completely ignored.

"I don't know really what to say about that," Clutterbuck said. "It would be nice to kind of have guys be held accountable for those things, but obviously somebody felt it wasn't necessary. I just [wonder] if that happens to Sidney Crosby, what kind of uproar is there? That's my issue in the whole thing. It depends who it happens to."

In other words, Clutterbuck's saying, if Whitney sticks his knee out in the most blatant, obvious way like he did the other night to Crosby, you know it would be splashed across TSN/Sportsnet/Versus, be talked about by the national outlets, etc.  But it happens to Clutterbuck and, as is often the case, the Wild, and there's no attention given.

Onward. Devin Setoguchi will return to the No. 1 line in Clutterbuck's spot, and Casey Wellman will skate with Cullen and Pierre-Marc Bouchard tonight. This is Wellman's big chance that so many fans have been clamoring for.

Wellman's been scoring a lot in the minors, but every time he's up with the Wild the past few years, he gets fourth-line duty. Now he'll get significant minutes and be back on the No. 1 power play.

Darroll Powe will play tonight after being checked awkwardly into the door in Edmonton.

That means Cody Almond, Colton Gillies or David McIntyre will be scratched.

The coaching staff had "about four different opinions," Yeo said, about who comes out. Yeo indicated he wants to see Cody Almond play.

Yeo was a minor-league fighter. Yeo is the head coach, the decision-maker. I'll bet anything he wins that arm-wrestling match.

You know Brad Staubitz is playing with Cam Janssen playing, so who comes out?

Gillies did not play well in Edmonton one game after being scratched. But I still think Yeo wants to give him one more game to play like the Gillies in Houston -- fast, go to the net, aggressive, physical. He had one scoring chance but did not play like that in Edmonton.

McIntyre's been good and fast. He played in the final minute the other night, showing he's trusted by the coaching staff, although that was mostly because they were down to nine forwards and the first line was gassed.

My guess is, only because I think the coaching staff would like to give Gillies another chance, McIntyre comes out and Almond plays alongside Gillies and Staubitz. But Gillies needs to rediscover his game. It's been a tough transition for the kid after playing 18-20 minutes a night in Houston and having to play 9 in Minnesota. But that's his lot in life now if he wants to be an NHLer.

Like he said at the beginning of the year, if he's got to be a fourth-liner, he's got to be the best fourth-liner imaginable.

As for Almond, the center is a lot lighter than last year, losing 25 pounds of mostly muscle. This was an offseason instruction by Yeo, who told him he had to gain a step to play at the NHL level. And ironically, that's how he got hurt. A lot of running knocked his hips out of alignment, he said, so he had back pain all of training camp.

Niklas Backstrom will start. Yeo expects Justin Falk and Clutterbuck to travel tomorrow for the four-game trip (Wild comes home for a day between Phoenix and Winnipeg), but not Marek Zidlicky or Guillaume Latendresse. They've been skating a little on their own but not cleared for full workouts. It's coming slow.

I asked about the power play this morning, and Yeo was obviously not happy with the 5-on-3 the other night. He said they need to be more aggressive, a different approach and mindset.

"We're just slow to move the puck and slow around the perimeter and not aggressive to the net," Yeo said.

So he said there will be a different look on the next 5-on-3, but it sounds like the power-play units will be the same tonight -- except for Clutterbuck being out. Nick Johnson should see power-play time tonight, as well as Wellman.

I think he needs to mess with the point guys, moving Matt Cullen and/or Marco Scandella to the No. 1 unit and taking Bouchard and Jared Spurgeon on the No. 2 (or moving Bouchard to the half wall). Spurgeon is having a lot of trouble keeps pucks in and both seem hesitant to shoot. Cullen and Scandella are not.

But the No. 2 unit has been playing well and generating chances and Yeo said the first unit "should take a page out of their book as far as how they've been attacking the net." So right now, the personnel on the first unit stays the same.

As for the Devils, Yeo expects a "grumpy" group tonight after they were smoked in Colorado. Martin Brodeur will start and banged-up Dainius Zubrus and Andy Greene will play.

This is one of those trap games, in my opinion. The Wild goes to an up and back in Edmonton. It spends the night, which is not normally the routine. It has a 3 p.m. practice yesterday, which is not normally the routine. It's playing an angry opponent vowing to redeem itself. It has a long road trip on the horizon.

Often, the home team lacks legs in a game like this. Yeo knows it and was trying to caution his team against it this morning by telling them they must be ready.

We will see. Talk to you tonight.

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