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 returning to lineup tonight

Posted by: Kent Youngblood under Wild pregame skate Updated: December 26, 2011 - 11:57 AM

After three days of for holiday celebration, the Wild returned to the ice this morning to loosen their legs for tonight's 5 p.m. game with Colorado.

Greetings. Youngblood here with Russo taking a few well-deserved days off.

There is cause for optimism for Wild fans: Mikko Koivu, the Wild's top center, captain and leader, will return to the lineup after missing five games with a leg injury.

Surrounded by reporters after the skate, Koivu was his usual gregarious self. He said he was feeling good, but wouldn't say if he was playing; we had to wait a few minutes to get the official word from coach Mike Yeo.

"It's good to be back with the guys in a normal practice," Koivu said.

Koivu's game was on the rise when he got hurt against Chicago Dec. 14. He had points in 13 of 14 games when he was hurt and had totaled 17 points in that span. It's not a coincidence that the Wild hasn't won since he was hurt.

"No matter how we were playing, it would be huge for us," Yeo said of Koivu's return. "The guy is (important) in every aspect of our game, how we want to play it. He's the leader. More importantly, just in the attitude we want to bring to the rink, and the fighting sprit that makes us so successful, he's the leader in that regard as well."

With Koivu back, here are the lines Yeo had together for the morning skate: 

Heatley, Koivu, Clutterbuck;

Bouchard, Cullen, Palmer;

Powe, Brodziak, Johnson;

Gillies, Peters, Staubitz.

Colton Gillies, meanwhile, makes his return after sitting through three games and then the break. Gillies was struggling, and Yeo wanted the young player to step back, clear his head and get back to what makes him an effective player. I expect Gillies to come out strong tonight.

"I want him to come play his game," Yeo said. "And play his game really well, do the things he did earlier in the year. ... When he's in the lineup, he has to find ways to contribute to the physicality part of our game. He might not have an impact on the scoring sheet. But he'd have five hits in the game and the next thing you know, their defenseman doesn't go back and execute the right way and they're turning the puck over to Mikko Koivu."

Yeo was asked more than a few times this morning about the six-game winless streak the Wild is currently carrying. To Yeo, that's all in the past.

"It's about moving forward," he said. "What happened before Christmas, it stinks for sure. But we had that break and the break came at the perfect time. So let's go into this game with a clean slate and see how we do. And I think our guys should be real pumped up and charged up for this game.''

 

Other notes:

--Check out Yeo when you see him on TV tonight. You might see a rather good-sized cut on his head. He and his son were playing some pickup hockey at an outdoor rink and Yeo caught a stick to the head.

--Defenseman Clayton Stoner was banged up in the Wild's loss in Edmonton before the break and he was not on the ice this morning.

--Devin Setoguchi (leg), Guillaume Latendresse (concussion) and Casey Wellman (wrist) all skated prior to the team's morning skate.

 

 

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