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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Marco Scandella the latest shot-blocking Wild casualty; Yeo has fun with the media

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild practice Updated: January 8, 2014 - 6:29 PM

Mike Yeo tried to pull a fast one on the assembling media inside the old Glendale Arena this afternoon.

As we quickly huddled once media relations big cheese Aaron Sickman gave us the heads up with the old “Coach is on his way” warning, “Coach” emerged and took a spot in front of the Wild backdrop.

Something was strange though. “Coach” was wearing Yeo’s stylish Armani Exchange glasses, but this guy was shorter with a lot more hair. Turned out to be a stand-in -- video coordinator Jonas Plumb.

We in the media might be dumb, but we quickly figured out this wasn’t Yeo.

Moments later, Yeo emerged with a grin on his face.

“Hoping we’d be on to something there,” Yeo quipped.

Good afternoon from Arizona, where there’s a chill in the air. It’s in the 60s, so I plan to run across the street to the outlets and buy a windbreaker or something.

The Wild had a good practice this afternoon as the team looks to win its fourth in a row Thursday night. The Coyotes will have Mike Smith, who has three wins in his past 16 appearances, in goal and Oliver Ekman-Larsson back in their lineup.

The Wild will likely have Darcy Kuemper back in the cage, although Yeo – the real Yeo – wouldn’t divulge his starter. But Niklas Backstrom, who did practice again today, may not be fully 100 percent, so since Kuemper proved to us all last night in a 39-save victory over the Kings that he can play in this level, my guess is Yeo comes back with Kuemper.

Backstrom said today he thinks this abdominal soreness and tightness is related to last year’s sports hernia. He also confessed to me today that he played a month last season with a tear in his core muscle. That’s only notable because previously, Backstrom had always maintained that he sustained the sports hernia during that warmup injury at Chicago before Game 1. I always found that hard to believe though and figured it had more to do with him playing 42 of 48 games with Josh Harding sidelined.

Defenseman Marco Scandella missed practice today with a lower-body injury. Yeo wouldn’t say what part of the body or from what, but he was nailed by Justin Williams’ shot in the second period Tuesday and I saw him limping out of the arena today with massage therapist Travis Green. Scandella will get treatment and Yeo hopes he can play against Phoenix.

Almost like it’s contagious, this is the fourth Wild injury from a puck lately – Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Jared Spurgeon are all injured.

I’ll have a lot more on this shot-blocking injury epidemic in Thursday’s Star Tribune.

If Scandella can’t play, former Nashville Predators defenseman Jon Blum will make his Wild debut as Keith Ballard’s partner. If Scandella plays, it wouldn’t surprise me if Blum plays instead of Ballard, who was benched (my term, not Yeo’s; see previous blog for what I mean) the final half of Tuesday’s game.

Just prior to the tying goal Tuesday, Yeo reunited the Nino Niederreiter-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville line. They were intact in Wednesday’s practice.

The second line was Dany Heatley-Charlie Coyle-Jason Zucker. The third line was Matt Cooke-Kyle Brodziak-Justin Fontaine. The fourth line was Stephane Veilleux-Erik Haula-Torrey Mitchell.

Yeo raved about Niederreiter again today and those quotes will be in Thursday’s Strib.

One thing Yeo loves is Niederreiter’s guts and how he drives the net and stands there. This is one thing many veteran NHLers and youngsters don’t even do. It’s hard to get out of the habit of the flyby. For instance, Jason Zucker played well against the Kings, but if he hit the brakes on the one Scandella set up in the first and didn’t glide past the net, he could have had a goal.

“It’s something we have to try to teach,” Yeo said. “I’m not going to try to pretend that we’ve taught Nino to do that. He came in with a real sense for how he goes to the net, how he stops in front. So we’ll keep encouraging them to utilize that skill. All these young players, we’re trying to develop them all.

“This is our challenge. When you have young kids, we’re trying to win right now, but at the same time, we’re trying to develop these guys, too.”

On Brodziak moving up to the third line, Yeo reminded that even though he’s been on technically the fourth, he’s not using him like a fourth-line guy. He’s still playing 15-16 minutes a night and against top lines.

Brodziak has 11 points this year, Mitchell eight. Prior to Jarret Stoll’s goal in the third period Tuesday, Mitchell tried a blind backhander in front to Brodziak, who couldn’t get a shot off. Turnover, goal.

Yeo said he was more upset that after a 30-second shift to start the period, Brodziak and Mitchell didn’t come for a line change after getting the puck deep.

“We talked this morning, through the course of the entire game, as a team, our changes weren’t even close to good enough,” said Yeo. “We allowed L.A. to attack with speed too many times.”

But Yeo also said that Brodziak and Mitchell need to make sure they’re managing the game and keep the puck in front of them. Obviously, Yeo wants them to score, “but at the same time you have to manage the puck in a way where you can defend if you give it up.”

Lastly, defenseman Ryan Suter took the ceremonial pregame puck drop with Kings captain Dustin Brown Tuesday night from KISS’ Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley.

Afterward, Simmons had some words of wisdom for Suter.

“He said, ‘Just make sure you keep all your teeth and have fun out there,’” Suter said, laughing. “I said, ‘Oh, I’ll try.’ He seemed like a good guy.”

That’s it for me. I’ll be on Fox Sports North during the pregame show Thursday night and first intermission.

Also, the next Star Tribune Chalk Talk with Wes Walz and I is before Tuesday’s game against Ottawa. If you want tickets to that and the Wild game, go to www.wild.com/chalktalk.

Talk to you after Thursday’s morning skates.

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