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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Wild wins again: Yeo heaps praise on Coyle, "wasn't crazy" about Zucker

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild game coverage, Wild training camp Updated: September 25, 2013 - 11:07 PM

Charlie Coyle continued his fantastic preseason with a breakaway goal – the eventual winning goal – and Torrey Mitchell and Matt Cooke scored goals, as well, Wednesday night as the Wild defeated the St. Louis Blues 3-1 in preseason action.

Other than the Derek Roy-Chris Stewart line and eventually Brenden Morrow, Wednesday’s St. Louis lineup was very emblematic of what should be their regular-season lineup. So was Minnesota, which improved to 4-1 in the preseason.

Niklas Backstrom looked real, real good tonight with 33 saves and Nino Niederreiter got shafted out of a goal – so to speak – when he scored a water-bottle popping power-play goal in the third. But the referees didn’t see the water bottle pop (the crowd did) and neither did the goal judge on the balcony under the corner rafters on that side.

For some bizarre reason, there’s no video review in the preseason even when there were cameras, an overhead and one of the two usual video review judges manning the booth and seeing it was a goal clear as day on replay.

Doesn’t matter though. Coach Mike Yeo and the brass know it was in and Yeo again praised Niederreiter after the game. He also praised Justin Fontaine.

He “wasn’t crazy” about Jason Zucker’s game (says El Nino and Fonzy “took advantage of their opportunities more”), and he saw 13 shifts and 10:23 of ice time, and mostly on the fourth line.

I felt Zucker would be a lock to make this roster before camp. Heck, I felt that way this morning.

I’m not so sure anymore. I can’t figure out if Yeo is trying to prod Zucker and motivate him or if he’s in serious trouble here.

Yeo wasn’t happy with Zucker’s first period in Columbus the other night and didn’t like his game tonight. If Mikael Granlund has a strong game when he returns to the lineup in Friday’s preseason finale, could he take that spot next to Coyle or play the fourth line?

Before getting hurt, Granlund was having a strong camp. Not only does he look faster, he was making plays, blocking shots and being reliable defensively.

Prior to tonight’s game, Yeo warned his players that he’d be juggling lines like a madman, and he certainly did that in the second.

While Zach Parise may have started the game on his normal top line with Mikko Koivu and Jason Pominville, the Wild workhorse also saw shifts with Coyle. Pominville saw shifts with Coyle and Dany Heatley.

Heatley saw shifts with Koivu. Niederreiter saw top-line action, second-line action and fourth-line action. Fontaine played on the second, third and fourth lines. Torrey Mitchell played on the third and fourth lines. Jason Zucker played the first two periods on the fourth line with Zenon Konopka.

“It was to get some familiarity with other players,” said Parise, who has said before that he likes to get used to playing with other linemates. “It was good, guys we hadn’t played with at all during camp, it made some different liens and I thought it went well.”

Yeo said his objective tonight was to see different players on different lines and get the guys who had only played one game – Parise, Koivu, Pominville, Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin – ready for the season.

“I wish we had more time to get some of the young kids more ice time, but the bottom line is we have to focus on certain guys and makings sure they’re ready first,” Yeo said. “That’s why it’s important for a young kid to take advantage of every shift and every practice day.”

He said late in camp, the priority is on the core guys, so above quote, you can read between the lines there and Yeo is referring to Zucker.

Coyle again was real good. His goal was a thing of beauty, a home-run pass from Suter. Coyle skated in, hit the brakes, deked Brian Elliott out of his skates and tucked the puck into an open net.

“I just want to be careful because with a young kid, I don’t want to sit here and heap too much praise on him, but I can’t say anything negative about his camp,” Yeo said of Coyle. “He’s been outstanding. The challenge for him is to keep it going.”

Yeo brought up before camp when the media was asking if he was worried about sophomore slumps for Coyle and Brodin.

“When you know this kid’s personality, you know the way he trains, you know his motivation, I was pretty confident we wouldn’t see that from him,” Yeo said of Coyle. “He’s a consistent two-way player, plays well without the puck. He’s had a great preseason. … There’s no reason to feel anything but real happy with the way that he’s played.”

Niederreiter had a solid game. So did Mitchell, who scored a pretty shortie by racing into the offensive zone, finding Keith Ballard’s dump-in before Elliott could do anything with it and whipping it into an open net. Cooke snapped a goal off a nice Kyle Brodziak feed in the neutral zone.

Like I said, Backstrom looked good. Matt Dumba played well after a tough game in Columbus. Great game for Brodin, too.

Pominville had a bunch of chances. Koivu was robbed on one 5-on-3 goalmouth pass from Pominville.

Koivu’s fiancée, Helena, gave birth to their first child on Tuesday night, Sofie Elizabeth.

He didn’t get much sleep before the game, but a smiling Koivu said, “I better get used to that, right?”

Asked what it’s like being a papa, Koivu said, kiddingly, “Little bit confused, I still don’t know what to do. It’s a great feeling. I can’t really describe it. It’s still new and [I’m] nervous, but that’s natural. But Helena’s been doing a good job. For sure she knows what to do more than I do, but I’ll get there.”

Koivu is starting to get real confident with how the Wild’s playing. The Wild isn’t giving up a lot of chances, their D look good jumping into plays and offensively they’re generating chances.

Remember, tonight was really the first game where the team that could resemble opening night were together.

Yeo said again he wants to be a better adjustment team this year, and with that comes line juggling.

He said that “shouldn’t be a huge adjustment for us. We play a sound team game and everybody should be on the same page.”

Yeo admitted he’s got no clue right now “how we’re going to start the season or make up lines. We have more players, we have more depth, and with that, we’ve got more decisions.”

It’ll be interesting to see if the Wild’s willing to go with a young cast on the fourth line, whether that be a Fontaine, Granlund, Zucker or Niederreiter.

Like I said before, I’d be shocked at this point if Fontaine and Niederreiter don’t make it. The question is if Granlund and/or Zucker make it initially. For it to be both, the Wild would need to trade one of its fourth-liners like Konopka (who has been on the block) or put a one-way guy on waivers (Konopka or Jake Dowell). Usually teams spending $65 million loathe throwing an NHL salary in the minors.

Another story line from tonight is something I’ve alluded to all preseason. If Dumba makes the team, it looks like Clayton Stoner is the odd guy out with Nate Prosser.

Tonight the pairs were

Suter-Brodin

Scandella-Spurgeon

Ballard-Dumba

Scandella, by the way, had his best preseason game of the three he’s played.

That’s it for now. By the way, owner Craig Leipold had some of us ink-stained wretches in his suite for the game tonight. He did tell me he’s currently looking to put a new HD scoreboard in. No timetable yet.

I always get questions about that though.

Rachel Blount is covering practice technically Thursday as I’m getting together with a player after practice for a story next week. She’ll likely blog. I’ll likely tweet. Good night.

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