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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Darcy Kuemper to get 3rd straight start for Wild; Zach Parise brings in his skating coach

Posted by: Michael Russo under On the road, Wild pregame skate Updated: January 16, 2014 - 3:49 PM

Rookie Darcy Kuemper gets his third consecutive start and fourth in the past six games tonight against newly-acquired goalie Ben Scrivens and the Edmonton Oilers.

Morning from the X’s press room. Blaine’s Matt Hendricks will also make his Oilers debut tonight. Edmonton, the worst defensive team in the NHL, is winless in its past five on the road and has won twice at the X in its past 21. Of course, the Oilers nearly ruined the Wild’s season last year with a 6-1 beating April 26.

Remember that game? Fans booed after 20 minutes, 40 minutes, 60 minutes, a timeout, when the attendance was announced! Fans mocked the Wild anytime a save was made, even by Josh Harding, who was making his first appearance in relief of Niklas Backstrom since Feb. 7, anytime the Wild registered a shot or even when the public address announcer let it be known the first, second and third periods were a minute from ending.

Good times. Luckily for everybody involved, the Wild won its must-win season finale 24 hours later in Denver on a nice response by Backstrom.

Coach Mike Yeo said the first shot went into the net that last game against Edmonton and we “completely unraveled.” Tonight, he wants the Wild to focus on the process, not the result, and play a solid 60 minutes doing the right things that will lead to the result it wants.

Despite Backstrom being 17-1 all-time against the Oilers at home with a 1.49 goals-against average (the one loss being that home finale when he gave up three goals on five shots), the Wild’s coming back with Kuemper, who has played well during this stretch.

He made a career-high 39 saves (another four in the shootout) last week in L.A., had a 23-save shutout Sunday in Nashville and stopped 29 of 32 shots in Tuesday’s 3-0 loss to Ottawa, a game he kept the Wild in striking distance until the third period.

“I thought he played a very good game, so it’s just a matter of showing a little confidence in him and seeing if he can come back with another solid effort,” Yeo said.

Asked if he has talked to Backstrom, Yeo said goalie coach Bob Mason did.

“It’s hard not to figure out that Kuemps has played well.,” Yeo said. “We’ve always been a team and believed in giving guys other opportunities and giving guys a chance, much the same that we gave Backy that chance in Phoenix, we’re giving Kuemps this chance to tonight.”

Backstrom made 39 saves in that win at Phoenix, but he gave up three goals on 17 shots in last Saturday’s loss to Colorado.

Backstrom said all the right things this morning, saying, “You want to play every time, but it’s up to the coaches and the training staff to see what’s going on and make a decision. As a player, you try to be ready whenever you get a chance.”

When I spoke with Backstrom, he said nobody had talked to him yet and he hadn’t asked why he’s not playing.

“I never ask,” Backstrom said. “You try to be ready when you get a chance. You don’t want to think too much. You try to work hard every day and try to be at your best every day and work on your game.”

Asked if he feels his game has returned to a higher level having won three of his past four with Josh Harding sidelined, Backstrom said, “I feel good out there. You always want to be better. Everyday you want to be better, whether you play good or bad. I don’t know if you’re ever satisfied. I don’t think you ever should be. It’s always about trying to improve and being at your best when it counts. That’s what you work for.”

Defenseman Keith Ballard is back in the lineup tonight after being a scratch the past four games. As Yeo promised, the left-shot Ballard will play the left side after playing much this season on the right. In 19 games since missing nine games with broken ribs, Ballard has two assists and is minus-13. Some glaring turnovers and icings led to being benched the last half of Tuesday’s shootout win at Los Angeles.

Jon Blum will be scratched, meaning left-shot defenseman Clayton Stoner moves to the right. Stoner, who played a little on the right in juniors, played a few shifts with Marco Scandella on the right against Ottawa. On two of those shifts, the Senators scored. Yeo said it was more circumstance: the power-play goal by Clarke MacArthur when the Wild still feels he was offside and the broken stick by Scandella that led to Erik Condra’s breakaway goal.

Yeo wants Ballard not to try to do too much tonight, “just play a solid game, just play an efficient game with how he moves the puck, how he defends.”

Ballard said, “I’m a lot more comfortable on the left. Earlier in the season, I think I was playing real well. At that point, it didn’t matter what side I was on. I felt good on the right, good on the left.” Ballard means that right now, with his game out of order, it would be better for him to get back in the swing of things on the left.

Yeo said Jared Spurgeon will get on the ice soon and he wouldn’t divulge the Wild’s plans for Harding, saying they have some thoughts. That made me ask if the team is considering asking Harding to go on a conditioning stint in Iowa. Yeo said, “we’ll consider everything, whatever we think we need for our team … to make sure we get him on top of his game.”

Harding will miss his 12th game in the past 14 tonight and eighth straight. He was on the ice again today with the team.

Parise looked good again today. He brought in his skating coach, Andy Ness, of ProEdge Power, to work with him before the morning skate. Ness is also the Wild’s skating consultant part-time skills coach.

After working hard with Ness, Parise took part in the skate with his teammates.

I grabbed Parise afterward.

“I’ve skated with him and [his mother] Diane for, gosh I don’t know, over 10 years now, so they know my stride and my skating better than anybody in the world,” Parise said. “I wanted Andy to run me through a lot of the drills we do in the summer and for him to physically see how I look.

“He said he thought I would look a lot worse than I did today, so that’s a good sign. Today, I felt better than I did yesterday, so that’s good. Each day you try to do a little more and little more. Rest it, ramp it up tomorrow, rest it, ramp it up. That’ll be the gameplan for the next while.”

Parise said getting into game shape is a must, so “a couple more days of doing what I’m doing, and then we’ll add bumping and game-like situations. Unfortunately it’s tough to get practice time because they don’t practice much, so that’ll be a little bit of a challenge, but we’ll get there.”

“I’m trying to get in a game as soon as I can in a smart and safe way. That's the best timeline I can give you.”

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