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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Koivu to miss fourth straight game; USA Hockey world junior exhibition experience

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild pregame skate Updated: December 22, 2011 - 1:57 PM

Afternoon from the Rexall Place press room.

Captain Mikko Koivu skated hard during the morning skate and a long time after, but the 7th-year center will miss his fourth game in a row with a leg injury. Coach Mike Yeo is "very hopeful" he can play Monday vs. Colorado.

We'll see. The Wild has Friday off, as well as Saturday and Sunday off as per NHL/NHLPA rules, so we'll see if Koivu can play Monday without practice.  

The Wild's 3-1 against Edmonton this year, winning three shootouts. I say play Koivu tonight just for the inevitable shootout.

Veteran D Greg Zanon and Mike Lundin will be scratched tonight. Yeo says both have had great attitudes during this stretch, but we'll see how long the Wild's willing to go with eight defensemen. As I've written, there's zero doubt in my mind that Zanon is on the trading block.

Justin Falk will stay in the lineup tonight and be paired with Clayton Stoner.

The lines: Bouchard-Cullen-Heatley; Clutterbuck-Brodziak-Johnson; Taffe-Peters-Palmer; Ortmeyer-Powe-Staubitz.

Niklas Backstrom starts.

The Wild had a long skate this morning after yesterday's off day. This has been a tough stretch for the Wild. Lots of games, lots of travel and not a lot of ability to practice. And man, the Wild needs to practice. But yesterday, Yeo had to weigh that against fatigue, and you're not winning games with tired legs. So we'll see if the surprise off day rejuvenates them tonight.

Yeo worked a lot with the power plays, and the second is certainly a bit of a Motley Crue: Scandella and Zidlicky at the points with Clutterbuck, Taffe and Palmer.

Of course, if the Wild doesn't start skating and attacking, the Wild won't need em. It's drawn seven power plays the last four games, and one was for 1:13 in Vancouver, and one was 12.5 seconds at the end of the Calgary game.

You know a team's playing well when they're forcing other teams to defend and take penalties. The Wild's not skating as well the past few games, and the low power-play number is an indication.

The Wild also used to be a great one-goal game team, winning the majority. Now it's not with Koivu, Guillaume Latendresse, Devin Setoguchi and Casey Wellman out. As Yeo said, they're the equivalent of "one goal" in those one-goal games. The Wild has to get back to battling and skating and not straying from the system.

If it plays tonight like it did in the second period against Calgary, the Wild will get lit up.

It's not often I'm in the same vicinity as the United States' world junior team, so last night, I took a drive over to Camrose, Alberta, which is the home base of USA Hockey during training camp.

The Americans played an exhibition game against Switzerland, and it was no contest as the U.S. pounded the Swiss, 7-3.

Wild prospects Charlie Coyle (one goal, one assist) and Jason Zucker (two assists) played on a line with Blackhawks prospect Brandon Saad (two goals, three assists). I'll assume Dean Blais will go with this line during the tournament because it's a potential juggernaut.

Saad is pretty special, Zucker works relentlessly hard (even in an exhibition) and Coyle is big, strong and prolific. He can play center or wing, but last night, he played center, won draws and was terrific defensively.

Zucker is a player, man. You never have to worry about him not working. As somebody joked to me on Twitter last night, he hopes he's on a future line with Cal Clutterbuck so the Wild can have "Zuck and Buck."

I'd give credit to the person that tweeted me that, but I can't find the tweet suddenly.

Got to see Kyle Rau. Fast, works ridiculously hard down low, strong for a guy his size. Also paid close attention to St. Cloud State defenseman Kevin Gravel, who made the team. He should provide good depth for a team that's only real weakness may be that back end. Seth Jones' injury is huge.

I'm assuming Rau will play on a line with Nick Bjugstad and probably J.T. Miller. That should be an awesome line, too.

Bjugstad didn't play last night because he's dealing with a little injury. I talked to him for awhile between periods, and he was mostly excited Kyle Rau's brother, Chad, got a callup with the Wild -- as brief as it was. Bjugstad talked very highly of Zucker and his work ethic. Zucker got dinged two games ago, got dinged again last night early, then crashed into the end boards violently.

"And then he just comes right back out next shift," Bjugstad said.

Overall, on a very tough night after a sad text I got in the middle of the drive from an 11-year-old boy (read last blog), it was a good experience to drive into a neat little town to watch some international hockey.

I felt like a scout driving 90 or so minutes on a dark, icy, lonely western Canadian road -- only on a much smaller scale, because scouts drive for hours and hours to get to rinks in these parts. 

I even had dinner at East Side Mario's -- a Candian staple for scouts, as I understand it.

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