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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Posts about Wild game coverage

Postgame: 2 home games, 2 shutouts; Granlund contract update

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: October 23, 2014 - 11:21 PM

The Wild wasn’t overly great tonight, but it still felt like a pretty simple 2-0 win over the Arizona Coyotes.

Darcy Kuemper, who has allowed two goals this season, recorded his league-leading and career-high third shutout of the season in only four starts. He made 26 saves for a Wild team that has allowed a league-low 22.8 shots per game and has registered 36 shots per game (second-most).

Charlie Coyle, one day after signing a five-year extension, scored his fifth career game-winning goal and Jason Pominville, in the first year of a new five-year deal, scored less than three minutes later.

Jared Spurgeon had two assists, was plus-2 and blocked five shots. Named first star after being the Star Tribune centerpiece today.

Evening from the Xcel Energy Center press box.

Before I get started, give my Friday game notebook a read, but I talked to Mikael Granlund’s agent, Todd Diamond, today and he confirmed what I have been writing all week.

The eventual Granlund extension “is not going to be as long as Coyle and Brodin, that’s for sure.”

But this is hardly a contentious negotiation. It’s just going to be a bridge deal because if Granlund piles up the points in a short-term new deal, the bigger deal will come in the third contract. It'll also allow the Wild to monitor his health.

“We feel a shorter term works in favor of both sides in a completely respectful manner,” Diamond told me. “Now we’re just trying to plug in the right numbers that satisfy both sides. Right now we’re both searching for the right answer. Eventually we’ll get there.

“I can’t tell you if it’s going to be Monday or one week or one month or six months, but eventually we will get there.”

Diamond also said fans shouldn’t freak if this does drag on. This will not become a nasty Ryan Johansen situation.

“The only deadline would be next training camp, but Mikael is not the type of person that would want to use that as leverage at all,” Diamond said. “That position would be uncomfortable and painful for him and wouldn’t really serve any purpose, so we obviously intend and hope to have it done well before then.”

As for the game tonight, coach Mike Yeo felt the Wild’s game was just a little off and it’s something he expected after yet another long layoff. He thinks the cure will be getting into a schedule will the Wild starts playing a lot, and tonight was the first game in a stretch of six games in nine nights.

He felt the Wild reacted to the play (in the first period especially) rather than being the team we saw the previous four games that dictated pace. The execution just wasn’t there, but the Wild got the big Coyle goal early in the second.

It’s not in the game notes, so I can’t find the stat, but the Coyotes have a ridiculous record when scoring first in the Dave Tippett era. So Yeo knew the first goal would be cool and Coyle too felt it calmed the team down.

Pominville soon made it 2-0 and the Wild took over until the power play killed momentum, going 0 for 3 in the second to bring its seasonlong drought to 0 for 19 in the first five games.

Yeo said it’s up to him to fix things, that the players are frustrated and it shows after the first or second scoreless power play. The personnel is there. The Wild’s getting chances and leads the NHL in power-play shots. But Yeo said it’s up to him to figure things out and once the team does, it’ll be a dangerous team.

The Nino Niederreiter-Erik Haula-Justin Fontaine line was real good in the second and third periods tonight and the first line created chances. The second line, Coyle did his job with the net-front presence Yeo so wants for that line, but again Mikko Koivu and Thomas Vanek didn’t create much beyond the Vanek to Spurgeon to Coyle goal.

There certainly were a good amount of Vanek turnovers and plays that died on each of their sticks.

But Yeo feels like the team, the line will get better with more games together. This was just their first as a line and again, Yeo doesn’t want to break up the top line or the Niederreiter-Haula duo at the expense of figuring things out on the second.

Matt Dumba was scary at times tonight, but the Wild survived. To be fair, there were turnovers from a lot of guys tonight, including vets like Vanek and Pominville.

Spurgeon, very good tonight. Same with partner Marco Scandella. I liked Matt Cooke’s game and other than one bad, bad, bad turnover by Ryan Carter, he was solid on the penalty kill. Same with Haula and Jason Zucker.

That’s it for me. Talk to you after practice Friday.

Despite dominating large chunks of 2 games, Wild goes 0-2 with 2 goals in California

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: October 19, 2014 - 7:12 PM

Thomas Vanek said today’s 2-1 loss at Los Angeles “feels a lot like the other night again.”

Mike Yeo similarly said, “It’s almost the same script as the other night really. A lot of good things, but in the end not finding a way to win the game.”

In Friday’s 2-1 loss at Anaheim, the Wild, in Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau’s words, “dominated” a lot of the game. But it was the Wild’s lack of sharpness around the night that did it in. The Wild fanned on shots, shanked shots and wired shots wide.

In today’s game against the defending Cup champs, the Wild dominated from start to finish by actually putting pucks – lots of them – on net. But superstar goalie Jonathan Quick was there every step of the way. The Wild outshot the Kings 41-16 but lost by a goal to fall to 2-2 on the season and now sit dormant yet again until Thursday when Arizona comes to St. Paul (four games in the NHL season’s first 15 days).

Quick was awesome. He saw everything all game, constantly slithering all over the ice to find pucks. He was just zeroed in. At least the Wild got a goal on him – Matt Cooke at 6:47 into the third. The Blues similarly dominated the shot clock Thursday but Quick stole a 1-0 shootout win.

The super-fast Tanner Pearson-Jeff Carter-Tyler Toffoli line, nicknamed, “That 70s line,” because Pearson wears 70, Carter wears 77 and Toffoli wears 73, now has accounted for 11 of the Kings’ 14 goals.

Today, Niklas Backstrom had no shot on both.

Mike Richards’ pass meant for Carter hit Ryan Suter’s skate and caromed right to Toffoli, who buried the puck. Backstrom said he got a piece of the puck and wishes he could have stopped it. The second goal, a Toffoli to Pearson one-timer in the third to put the Kings up 2-0, came after Marco Scandella fell behind the net, Christian Folin left the front of the net, Jason Zucker didn’t have his head on a swivel (his words) and Matt Cooke lost his guy. Basically, an overall breakdown in coverage after the Wild didn’t react well to Scandella falling.

Again though, Backstrom said Quick played great on the other end, so it’s his job to find a way to stop pucks for the Wild.

Still, not much he can do.

The bigger issue is dominating a game like the Wild has the ability to do yet again being unbelievably unable to finish. Tonight, the Wild went 0 for 5 on the power play despite tons of zone time and 14 shots. Those five power plays? Three came down 1-0, two came in the third down 2-1. It must score in those situations.

The power play is now 0 for 16.

“We’ll figure it out,” Zach Parise said.

I wrote about this in the notebook, but Thomas Vanek is without a goal in four games and has 13 shots. He has one assist. Linemate Mikko Koivu has no points.

“I think we have chemistry,” Koivu said. “I thought we had chances again. I thought there was a lot of stuff around the net. I think we’re doing a lot of things the right way, but in the end, it’s no excuse to say you’re playing good when you can’t capitalize on your chances.”

Vanek admitted he’s frustrated by the lack of offense.

“As a team and for myself, you just need that first one and hopefully it opens up,” said Vanek, who has scored 277 goals and 557 points in 667 games and signed a three-year, $19.5 million contract with the Wild on July 1. “I don’t feel like I’m squeezing my stick quite yet. We had some good looks. They’re just not going in right now.”

He missed the final 13 minutes of the second period today when he was struck on the right thumb by Suter’s wrist shot. It was bandaided (new word) up after the game and he said it was “throbbing.” He said it was tough gripping his stick in the third, but it felt good enough to play.

The message after the game? Bottom line: The Wild’s game is very good right now. But it again frustratingly has trouble scoring.

“I like how we’re playing well,” Parise said. “Our systems, we’re playing very well. We’ll be fine. Played two very good teams. All things considered, of course you love to win the game, but when you look at it as a whole, we played very well in both the games. Again, we just couldn’t find a goal at the time we needed in both the games.”

Said Zucker, who escaped a scare in the second when he was kicked in the throat accidentally as he tripped Kyle Clifford, said, “We can’t hang our head here, especially if we battle and play like that. We’ll be OK.”

Koivu said, “It’s tough when you can’t score. We had great looks. We’ve got to keep doing that. It’s a matter of time that it’s going to go in. When you get that first power-play goal, you get the feeling and it’s going to get easier after that. In the end, it’s about scoring goals and winning games, and we didn’t do that.”

He also said, like Parise, “Defensively, I think the whole team is right where we want to be. So now just offensively we have to keep creating and doing a better job when we get around that net.”

Yeo said the snakebittness (another invented word by me) “maybe, it’s in our head a little bit.” He noted some missed nets and posts, and “maybe if it’s coming a little easier then we’re not trying to be so precise.”

He also said it’s important to make sure he properly evaluates the game and not overreact to the losses this early in the season, but the bottom line, the Wild needs wins and despite some dominance, the team needs to recognize it didn’t win, “so if we have to be better, let’s make sure we’re better.”

“We’ve got to hit the reset button” for Arizona and Tampa Bay this week, Yeo said.

That’s it for me. Red eye home for moi tonight. The Wild has the day off Monday and Rachel Blount is covering practice Tuesday. Barring news, you’ll hear from me next in Tuesday’s paper and after Wednesday’s practice (and of course on Twitter, where I’m sure I’ll be blabbering about something nonsensical).

Young mistakes, blown offensive chances doom Wild in Anaheim

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: October 18, 2014 - 9:24 AM

UPDATED: Nothing will come from the league stemming from the Kesler and Parise majors at the buzzer.

A couple young mistakes and a boatload of goals left on the ice doomed the Wild on Friday night in a 2-1 loss to the Anaheim Ducks.

Eight periods, no goals against this season for the Wild until tonight’s third.

Then the Wild, in pretty good control of the game early in the third with a 1-0 lead, made a critical mistake on a power play that turned the game around.

Late in a power play, rookie Matt Dumba took Ryan Suter’s pass and tried to wiggle along the boards through traffic with no support. He lost the puck. Veteran Thomas Vanek covered for him at the point, but his attempt to get the puck deep was blocked.

Andrew Cogliano popped out into the neutral zone, took a bank pass off the dasher and was off to the races for the tying goal 4:02 into the third. That snapped Darcy Kuemper’s franchise-record shutout streak at 163 minutes, 46 seconds to open the season.

Later, another bad mistake. Keith Ballard hit Jason Zucker with an outlet along the wall not far from the blue line.

Instead of chipping the puck out, Zucker tried to cross a pass to the center of the defensive zone for Dumba. The puck hit Dumba’s skate and, gulp, right to Corey Perry. Kuemper robbed Perry, but Nate Thompson got the puck back to Perry, who has 32 points in 33 career games against the Wild. He didn’t miss from the goalmouth.

That would be the eventual winner.

Zach Parise said Zucker had the right idea and it was the right play, but “we just didn’t execute it and it’s in the back of our net and that’s the game.”

Coach Mike Yeo said, “We put ourselves in a situation where a mistake like that ends up being the difference.

“The easy thing to do is just chip it out, chip it out, chip it out, but if we want to become a team that’s better than that, if we want to become a top team, then you have to make plays. You have to be ready to use the middle of the ice. Now you’ve got to execute. It’s got to be on the tape. And I think in that situation we probably could have taken ice, we could have moved our feet before we made that play, but it’s easy to sit here and just point to a couple young kids. There are other plays in the game that led to that moment.”

Like, not burying an absurd amount of chances. Zucker was the only one who did, flying by Clayton Stoner to score early in the second. He also was solid on the penalty kill.

Maybe it was the six-day layoff that made the Wild so rusty offensively, but the amount of blown chances were astronomical.

Nino Niederreiter shanked two shots in the first, including one where he stood all alone in the slot and couldn’t connect with Erik Haula’s setup. Niederreiter fell on the knife after the game and said he needed to execute better and the Wild had a lot of similar blown chances that “cost us the game.”

Jason Pominville, sharp in the first period, wasn’t as sharp in the second. On back-to-back shifts, he fanned on chances with wide-open nets in front of him. Charlie Coyle couldn’t convert five shots and seven attempts, including a hit post. And right before the shorthanded goal, Jared Spurgeon missed a net from point blank.

“The shorthanded goal livened up the bench and the crowd,” Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said. “It propelled us for the rest of the game. Before that, we weren’t very good. We were getting dominated.”

The Wild killed four power plays and is now 11 for 11 on the PK this season. But its power play, so good in the preseason with seven goals, is now 0 for 11, plus a minus-1 for the shortie tonight.

Yeo said the scoreless power play this season is in his mind the biggest factor as to why they made a mistake before the shortie. He thinks frustration set in because the Wild hasn’t scored, so at the end of the PP, the Wild lost its focus.

“We’ve got to get that in order. We’ve got the personnel. It’s a mindset, an attack mentality that’s missing right now,” Yeo said, reminding how he said after the preseason that the power-play success in the preseason meant squat.

“We’re still playing like it’s preseason right now,” Yeo said. “The best chance we had, we finally shot a puck from the point. We have to address that.”

I actually thought the Wild had some good looks on the power play in the first, but Frederik Andersen stopped Parise twice from in tight and Thomas Vanek once.

Speaking of Parise, at the end of the game, Ryan Kesler, being Ryan Kesler, took a gigantic long run at Mikael Granlund and creamed him along the boards. Parise immediately jumped to Granlund’s defense.

Kesler got a major for charging and Parise a major for cross-checking and a game misconduct. We’ll see if anything comes of that Saturday.

“Game’s over. It’s stupid,” Parise said of the Kesler cheap shot at Granlund.

The Ducks, getting dominated like Boudreau asserted, definitely tried to go after the Wild’s lesser players physically in the second and third periods. Ryan Getzlaf went after Jonas Brodin all game, and once Coyle jumped to Brodin’s defense. Astonishingly, referee Eric Furlatt gave Coyle four minutes and Getzlaf two (nothing for two cross checks on Brodin) and no extras for Anaheim even though both Getzlaf and Matt Beleskey removed their gloves to fight. The ignored calls on Anaheim and the fact the Wild wound up on the PK turned the momentum bigtime for several minutes here. The Wild still escaped though.

This is the makeup of the Wild. The Wild is built on speed. The Ducks and Sunday’s opponent, Los Angeles, and St. Louis are built with size. No way to turn that over at this point, so the Wild will have to find ways to combat that and Yeo said for the most part the Wild did tonight, outplaying Anaheim for vast chunks of the game.

Anaheim especially had trouble with the Wild’s first-period forecheck. The Ducks were turning pucks over left and right. The Wild just couldn’t bury its chances.

One good sign is the Vanek-Mikko Koivu duo had its best game, maybe jolted by the season debut of Justin Fontaine, who created several turnovers, read the game well and set up his linemates all game.

Vanek, who entered the game with four shots in two games, had seven on this night.

That’s it for me. The Wild practices at noon PT Saturday, so you’ll hear from me in the afternoon at some point. Reminder, Sunday’s game is at 2 p.m. CT.

Wild opens season with back-to-back shutouts over Avalanche

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: October 12, 2014 - 12:36 AM

If you read my Darcy Kuemper story in Saturday’s paper here, the young goalie expected a different game in Saturday’s rematch against Colorado and a much tougher challenge than his 16-save shutout Thursday in Minnesota.

Different game, same outcome though.

Tested much more than Thursday, Kuemper, 24, stood big in net during the Wild’s 3-0 win tonight. He became the first goalie since Roberto Luongo in 2005 to open a season with consecutive shutouts. The Wild and Sharks became the first NHL teams to open a season with back-to-back shutouts since Florida in 2005.

Kuemper made 30 saves and his career-best shutout streak stands at 119 minutes, 44 seconds (goalie’s personal shutout streaks are their time on ice, not the team, so he actually played 59:52 Thursday and Saturday because he was on the bench 8 seconds in each for delayed penalties).

That will stand for at least another five days because the Wild don’t have a game until Friday in Anaheim. The team will take Sunday off, practice in Minnesota on Monday and Tuesday and then head to So. Cal for a little team bonding Wednesday and a Thursday practice.

This game had a playoff feel right from the start. The Avs were intense, physical and totally engaged – everything they weren’t in Minnesota two nights earlier.

“They came hard. They came real hard,” coach Mike Yeo said. “That’s a proud team over there, so we expected that. Definitely pleased with what our guys were able to do tonight.”

This game was ugly at times. Erik Johnson, who nearly took Mikael Granlund’s head off in the first period, led with his elbow and got nailed for clobbering Erik Haula (HIS GOPHER COMRADE) in the second. Johnson was assessed a five-minute major and game misconduct, and the league will take a look.

“I'd be very surprised. I’d be very surprised,” Patrick Roy said when asked if he thought Johnson would be suspended. “There was no elbow there. I watched it about 20 times. I have the video to look at it.”

Haula said he thought Johnson got him with his hand.

“I saw it coming,” Haula said. “I just chipped it out and I tried to get out of the way of the hit. He caught me with his hand, I think. That happens sometimes.”

Captain Gabriel Landeskog came off the bench to yell at the ref, but instead he skated at Haula and got into it with him.

“He told me to stay down since I was hurt so bad,” Haula said. “Emotions were running high. I took my time to get up. He hit me in the mouth.”

Landeskog took a couple minors, one where he slammed Nino Niederreiter’s head to the ground, then into the dasher between the glass and boards behind the net.

Charlie Coyle scored 1:51 in. Jason Zucker scored a gigantic second-period goal after the Wild had a questionable Coyle goal waved off. The ref saw Niederreiter on top of Semyon Varlamov, but replays showed Jan Hejda pushed Niederreiter on the goalie. The play apparently isn’t reviewable even though the league allows for a “broader discretion for the video war room in Toronto to assist referees in determining good hockey goals. The revised rule will allow the NHL to correct a broader array of situations where video review clearly establishes that a “goal” or “no goal” call on the ice has been made in error.”

Clear as always, NHL.

The Johnson incident came after a Denver Post column Friday that wondered how on home ice the Avs would respond in Matt Cooke’s first game there since his knee-on-knee hit last postseason injured defenseman Tyson Barrie.

“One day, it might be the opposite,” Roy told the newspaper. “One of our players will hurt one of their guys. And I'm sure everybody is going to be very happy to remind (Minnesota) what happened to Tyson Barrie.”

In the same column, Johnson said the animosity the Avs have for the Wild is “like a volcano. It goes dormant. But it might wake back up again.”

It’ll be interesting how the NHL construes both of their words as it reviews Johnson’s elbow Saturday for a potential suspension.

After Zach Parise scored into an empty net on his career-high-tying 10th shot with 3 seconds left, Roy tried to put his fourth line on the ice for the closing faceoffs. Referee Tim Peel kicked them off, and he got accolades from the Wild players and Yeo afterward for his awareness there.

There were several other big performances. Defense partners Marco Scandella and Jared Spurgeon were terrific, with Spurgeon blocking nine shots and Scandella four. Ryan Suter was a horse in 28-plus minutes and had an assist. He said he felt like he only played 22 minutes and joked he planned to have a talk with the coaches.

Jonas Brodin was awesome again and was plus-2. Fourteen Wild players were plus-1 or better.

That’s it for me. With no practice Sunday, I’m holding a lot of leftovers back for a follow. So anything I’m not tossing on here, you’ll find in Monday’s paper. Talk to you Monday – if not Sunday. Check out my Sunday package as well.

Postgame: Wild expects a very different Avalanche team in Saturday's rematch

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: October 10, 2014 - 12:07 AM

Zach Parise sounded the alarms this morning that the Wild needed to get out of bad habits.

I reminded him after tonight’s 5-0 pounding of the Colorado Avalanche that could have been a heck of a lot worse than the final score.

“We responded well,” Parise said, laughing, admitting he was nervous.

Turns out Parise also had his game face on during an all-business post-morning skate scrum with reporters.

Parise was outstanding tonight, as was the rest of the Wild, which registered a franchise-record 48 shots, out-attempted Colorado 78-29! in shots and had the puck virtually all game.

Somehow in a game where the Wild spent virtually the entire night in the offensive zone, the Wild out a 4-2 power play deficit. Pretty remarkable, eh? But the Avs were no better there either, managing no shots on those four power plays against last year’s 27th-ranked PK.

But, as all-business coach Mike Yeo pointed out in the postgame, the pivotal kills came in the first period in a scoreless game. Wild was much more assertive against Colorado’s talented cast.

Parise had a goal, two assists and had nine shots, and he was a career-best plus-4. 29th 3-point game and 117th multi-point game for Parise. He’s turning into a pretty decent Avs killer since his arrival in Minnesota.

Mikael Granlund was just awesome. He had two assists, won battles, shot pucks and defended well. He was also a career-best plus-4.

Jason Pominville, the third cast member on the line who led Minnesota in goals last season and was second in the NHL in scoring in the preseason, had a goal and assist for his 126th multi-point game and honestly asked how many goals the Wild would have scored if he didn’t miss the net on five of his nine stabs at the Colorado goal.

Nino Niederreiter, relentless all game, had seven shots and a goal. Jared Spurgeon scored a pretty awesome goal on a pretty awesome setup from Parise after a tremendous shift by Granlund, Ryan Suter scored a goal and assist and was plus-3 and Darcy Kuemper got to be a spectator with 16 saves for his third career shutout.

I got Kuemper to the side after the game and I’ll probably write about this in Saturday’s paper, but he talked a lot after the game about how much he has learned the last year about how to play and function in a game he doesn’t see a lot of shots in. Frankly, in the Wild’s stingy defensive system, you better have a goalie who can stay in the game not seeing a lot of shots.

Remember, in his season debut last year in Toronto, the Wild played a very similar game to tonight where it dominated at least on the shot clock. And Kuemper, I believe, gave up three goals on seven shots in like 32 minutes to get chased.

Read the gamer for some good quotes. Patrick Roy wasn’t happy with his team, saying they didn’t compete and weren’t engaged and were easy to play against.

"Our top two lines need to be our best players and tonight they got outplayed and outworked,” he said. “If we want to have some success, they're going to have to be our best players.”

Added captain Gabriel Landeskog, “That's what happens. A team that wins battles looks that good against a team that doesn't.”

Yeo was all business postgame. There was no celebration by any means.

As Suter said, the Avs were “stale.”

As Granlund said, “It’s cliché. But it’s all about the next game.”

And Yeo’s message to his team that his players repeated was, “Let’s not kid ourselves, Colorado was not at their best tonight.”

Saturday’s rematch will be quite different as they grasp the energy their crowd provides in their home opener.

“To sit here and expect us to go and play 82 games like that, it’s not going to happen,” Yeo said.

But Yeo felt good going into this game and said there was never a moment of stress, never a moment where he felt the game was slipping away.

He said he could go down the list and name every player that played well. He tried hard to not single out anybody even when reporters asked about Parise or the top line.

He did acknowledge that he loved the grit and energy that Ryan Carter provided. Carter joked that it probably wasn’t the best start to his Wild career when he took a minor – one of three for him on the night – on his shift.

Overall, very good start to the season for the Wild. But it’s one game. And, Saturday will be a much great challenge.

That’s it for me. I have got to rise early to write my Sunday package (the first of the season!) before practice. Please read the gamer, notebook and Jim Souhan’s column in Friday’s paper.

I have an afternoon flight to Denver after practice that I’ll need to hustle for, so the post-practice blog may have to wait until I get up in the air.

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