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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Zidlicky scratched for first time as a Wild; Chad Rau to make NHL debut

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild pregame skate Updated: January 21, 2012 - 12:42 PM

Yes, I know I said I'd be off today. I'm now on, and Kent will cover tomorrow's outdoor practice at noon at the Oval in Roseville.

Happy Hockey Day Minnesota! I'll be heading out to Minnetonka in a few minutes to watch the Duluth-East vs. Skippers game.

Marek Zidlicky won't play tonight against the Dallas Stars. Right when they brought up Nate Prosser yesterday with no injuries to defensemen, I figured Zidlicky was on his way out fo the lineup if we woke up this morning and found nobody traded.

The way Zidlicky played the past two games, something had to be done. It's one thing not to score, and we've written on and on about his offensive woes. But it's another to continue to play a guy that's a defensive liability constantly.

Like I said about Marco Scandella when he was reassigned to rediscover his game, the Wild doesn't score enough to be able to afford a defenseman who's giving up scoring chances every other shift. Zidlicky is a minus-5 the past two games.

"It’s not an easy [decision], but we’re forced into hard decisions," coach Mike Yeo said. "We’ve been stumbling for a long time here. Our team can’t be as good as we can be until everybody starts playing as good as we can play and all of us starts being as good as we can be. Marek has the potential to be really good."

Zidlicky wasn't pleased and wasn't commenting. It's a blow to his ego, but the Wild needs a better Marek Zidlicky. It'll be interesting to see what happens here. I'm sure Zidlicky will be back in the lineup soon, but with the Feb. 27 trade deadline coming up, you know the Wild would be willing to part with him and I'm thinking getting him to waive his no-trade clause after a year like this won't be difficult.

Problem: Is he coveted? He turns 35 on Feb. 3. He makes $4 million next season. He has zero goals, and this is a defenseman with an elite shot and elite play-making skills. But he doesn't use his shot as much, he's not making plays and he's been defensively all over the place.

The Wild is 2-10-4 since he returned to the lineup and 10-3 before he returned (not that by any stretch this nosedive is all because of him; it coincided with big injuries and big problems, and Yeo made that clear today).

Chad Rau, the Eden Prairie native, was all smiles this morning. He will become the sixth player this season to make his NHL debut tonight and 37th Wild player this season. He says he'll play with Jed Ortmeyer and Matt Kassian, although Yeo didn't reveal the lines.

His parents, Lynn and Mike, will get to watch both their boys play tonight. Kyle, a Gophers freshman, plays at 5 at Mariucci against Chad Rau's alma mater, Colorado College, while Chad makes his NHL debut at 8. Quite a dreamy day for the Rau family.

Chad, by the way, has called Kyle, "punching bag," since UND's Ben Blood went after him in last weekend's handshake line.

Josh Harding gets the start tonight, and Yeo made clear to say it's unfair to pin any of the Wild's struggles on the goaltending.

He also had no updates on the injured guys, though saying he thinks Latendresse and Bouchard are "progressing."

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