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 practice

With skid mounting, Wild striving for better goaltending, defensive play

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: December 22, 2014 - 3:31 PM

The Wild, 5-5-3 (13 out of a possible 26 points, .500) in its past 13 overall and 2-2-3 (7 of a possible 14 points, .500) in its past seven at home, looks to enter the NHL’s 3-day holiday break with a win Tuesday (6 p.m.) against the Philadelphia Flyers.

The Flyers, behind surprising NHL leading scorer Jake Voracek who was named the league’s Second Star of the Week today, have won two games in a row on an eight-game road trip. Voracek leads the league with 44 points and is tied with teammate Claude Giroux for first in the NHL with 30 assists (Giroux is third in NHL scoring with 40 points).

Mikael Granlund didn’t practice for a second day in a row and is questionable against the Flyers. Coach Mike Yeo said it’s not the mumps. He said he would have to feel considerably better Tuesday in order to play.

Yeo wouldn’t say which goalie would start. Also, GM Chuck Fletcher told me Keith Ballard won’t need surgery to repair three facial fractures, but he is out indefinitely.

Afternoon from the press room at Xcel Energy Center. I’m back in town and it appears as if nothing has changed.

The Wild, which battles back seemingly nightly in the third period (the continued comebacks are commendable, but they only keep happening because the Wild falls behind almost EVERY game), rallied again in the third before losing in overtime to Nashville. I’ll look up the overall numbers, but the Wild has rallied in four in a row now to tie at some point in the third.

Get five goals on Pekka Rinne, you have to win, so a lot of focus the past few days has understandably been on the below-average goaltending of Darcy Kuemper and Niklas Backstrom.

That is fair. Kuemper has been pulled in four of his past five home starts.

The Wild has allowed a league-low 26.5 shots per game and 820 in 31 games. Yet, the Wild’s save percentage is .898. It’s PDO (save percentage plus shooting percentage) ranks 25th. Kuemper’s .903 save percentage ranks 52nd in the NHL, Backstrom’s .901 ranks 55th (tied with Vancouver’s Ryan Miller).

According to war-on-ice.com, Kuemper has the fourth-worst even-strength save percentage in the NHL at .897 and second-worst adjusted save percentage (measures shot quality) at .887. Backstrom is seventh-worst there at .899.

The Wild has scored 89 goals in 31 games compared to 72 through 31 games last year. That’s 17 more goals and four fewer points in the standings than 31 games last year, so that tells you something right there.

Last year, whichever goalie the Wild put in there was interchangeable. This year, not so much.

So Yeo said, “Clearly our defensive play is not where it needs to be right now.”

In other words, Yeo knows the goalies need to be better, but he says the defense in front of them and the details of the Wild’s game haven’t been up to par either.

“I’ve never been one to single out a player,” Yeo said. “I always believe it’s a team game. I always believe that’s generally not something that helps players feel better. But I’m not going to sit up here and say that we don’t need a higher save percentage and we don’t need to give up less goals a game.

“That goes without saying. But we’re not helping the situation with some of the play in front of our goalies. You look back to last year and how many goalies came in – whether it was Backy, whether it was Bryzgalov, whether it was Kuemps, take your pick -- we were able to throw different goalies in there and they were able to play well, and that was a credit to those guys, but that was also a huge credit to the structure and the system and the players playing in front of them. That’s what we have to get back to.”

Yeo said, “There’s a lot of details in our game that are missing. Our changes lately, they’ve been terrible. We’re so focused on scoring a goal, … we’ve been stretching our shifts, we’ve been taking longer shifts. We’ve been changing at the wrong time, we’ve been hurting the guys that are coming on the ice because of that and we’ve been giving up goals against because of our changes.”

So Yeo wants more discipline to the Wild’s game.

“We need some mental toughness right now,” Yeo said. “We have to fall back on the things that we’ve done effectively before and the things that have made us a tough team to play against. You have to trust that your teammates are going to do all those little things. And you have to trust that if you do all those things that the result that you do badly want will be there for you.”

I’ll be writing about the goalies mostly in Tuesday’s paper. If you’re expecting a new one to come to the Wild’s rescue, I wouldn’t count on it. Good, capable goalies don’t just become available in the middle of a hockey season, and again, Kuemper cannot be sent to the minors without going through waivers and Backstrom has a no-move clause. So unless the Wild’s willing to carry three goalies – an option, but one that will create little flexibility – it’ll be hard to just add a goalie no matter whom it is.  

Goalie names rumored to be on the trade block include Cam Ward ($6.3 million cap hit this year and next, and he is not the same goalie he once was), Viktor Fasth (his save percentage stats are right around Kuemper and Backstrom, so is it really an upgrade?), maybe Martin Brodeur once Brian Elliott is back (severe downslope of career), Michal Neuvirth, maybe James Reimer.

Also, look at the Miller trade last year. It would take a king’s ransom likely to get a big name, and that sure worked out for St. Louis, didn’t it?

Basically, the Wild needs to figure this out with its current cast of characters (and again, Josh Harding is out of the picture due to sadly effects of multiple sclerosis again).

I talked to Ryan Suter, and he said, “Every team goes through ups and downs. Every team that’s trying to be an elite team year after year, you go through things before you can get to that stage. These are growing pains. I feel we have the right group of guys here. We need to start playing as one from our goaltending out, we have to be better.”

On the goalies, Suter said, “They have to be better. They know that. But we have to help them better. Early in games, we have to be better to limit the chances to get them into games. They want to be better. I know they do. They’re working hard. It’s not like they’re coming to practice and taking it easy. They’re working hard. We just have to be better as a group. The faster we get it figured out, the better off we’ll be.

“I remember last year at this same time we were struggling and things were going downhill, and then we came out of it. Hopefully we can do the same here.”

On the urgency level, Suter said, “Every time you look, other teams are winning and we’re not. You definitely feel that pressure. But there’s nothing you can do about it. You just have to try to get the next one. Once we get one, hopefully we can build off of that. We had a solid game against Boston and we blew it. We played a good game. We should have won that game. And then you score five goals against Pekka, you should win that game too. We’re not playing a complete game and we have to be better.”

I got Kuemper alone and he said, “There’s no question about it that me and Backy as a whole, we need to worry about ourselves and get ourselves ready. Just as a team, we’ve got to get back to playing defensively as a unit. If we’re not all on the same page, some breakdowns start happening. I don’t think we’ve been quite on top of that. It starts with the goaltending, but I think everyone as a whole, we need to tighten up.

“Me and Bax, we’ve got to focus on ourselves and be better and give our team a better chance to win every night. I think if everyone gets back to the way we were playing, we’ll be alright here.”

On him personally and his struggles, Kuemper said, “I’ve been playing good hockey on the road. It seems like lately at home there’s been bad luck. You’ve just got to reach back on some older times. This is a building I’ve had a lot of success in and I just have to look back and reflect on those times and get some confidence back here.”

Jason Pominville concurred that it’s frustrating when the Wild has continually shown an uncanny ability to rally in the third and yet isn’t finding the final ability to win routinely. He said the Wild has to figure out a way to grind out a 2-1 win and stop getting in these run and gun games. He said they’ve been way too loose.

Personally, I think the Wild has lost a lot of the detail in its game because it constantly has to open up to rally in these games because it constantly falls behind. And again, that does also have to do with goaltending and how they must be better early in games.

Nothing can derail a team more than goaltending.

But Pominville said, “We’ve got to clog it up defensively. Look at the start of year, puck possession was great, we didn’t play much in our zone. Now we play more in our end and turning pucks over. We have to get back to being tighter defensively.”

Backstrom said, “It’s about winning. Sometimes you start to think too much about winning instead of doing the work and thinking about the way you have to play to win.” So he said the team has to get back to the level of play it should be at and the wins will take care of themselves.

But he said, “We goalies, we have to be better.”

More on all this in Tuesday’s paper. I also hope to talk with Fletcher Tuesday for a state of the team chat.

I'll be on Fox Sports North ++++++++ during Tuesday's game and in the pregame show and I'm filling in for Barreiro on KFAN on Friday from 3-6 p.m. I'll also be in studio with Paul Allen at 9 a.m. Wednesday.

Wild outdoor practice: No looking back

Posted by: Rachel Blount Updated: December 21, 2014 - 3:26 PM

Mike Yeo didn't want to spoil the mood. After the Wild's outdoor practice Sunday in Roseville, the coach was asked two questions about how the team would move on from its 6-5 overtime loss the previous night. "Are we going to keep talking about last night, guys?'' he said, with some impatience. "I don't want to talk about last night. We can talk about that tomorrow. To me, this (outdoor practice) is what we're dealing with today.''

Several hundred people showed up to see the practice at the John Rose Oval. The morning after a painful loss to Nashville, the Wild entertained them with a slow-speed four-on-four scrimmage in the snow. Players shoveled off the rink, laughed and joked, posed for a team photo and spent some up-close time with fans.

The fun, lighthearted day seemed to lift the mood of a struggling team. Goaltender Darcy Kuemper, who was pulled Saturday after allowing three goals on 14 shots, was all smiles after feeling the love of the overflow crowd. Kuemper had missed his previous scheduled start when he spent two days sick with a stomach ailment, but he said that didn't affect him Saturday.

"You're still trying to gain back your energy level, but that didn’t have anything to do with what happened,'' Kuemper said. "I actually felt pretty good. I thought I was making good saves last game. You just have to keep doing the right things, keep practicing hard and make sure you keep having fun out there.''

Zach Parise, who has noted his team's frustration at its inability to gain ground in the standings, also appreciated the back-to-childhood vibe of the day. Looking ahead to Tuesday's home game against Philadelphia, he's hoping to see the Wild straighten things out before a three-day Christmas break. A pair of games against Winnipeg awaits after that, giving the Wild another shot at knocking off a Central Division rival.

"There are a lot of things we're doing pretty well, and a lot of things we have to improve on,'' Parise said. "But like we were talking about last night, we've got to start closing that gap. We don’t have any other choice than to hit the reset button.''

Mikael Granlund, who became ill just before Saturday's game and sat out, did not practice Sunday. Yeo said "he'll be fine.''

Here are some photos from the outdoor practice.

RACHEL BLOUNT

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wild practice: Returning to health

Posted by: Rachel Blount Updated: December 19, 2014 - 3:46 PM

It was a relatively quiet day at the Wild's Friday practice at Xcel Energy Center. Matt Cooke and Ryan Carter both practiced at full speed, working on the penalty kill as well as even-strength drills, and both said afterward that they felt good. Ditto for goaltender Darcy Kuemper, who also participated fully in the workout.

It's still uncertain whether Cooke (hip flexor) and Carter (shoulder) will play Saturday against Nashville. Both said they need to see how their injuries respond to the work they put in on Friday, and a decision won't be made until after Saturday's morning skate. Kuemper confidently said he is ready to go, after missing Wednesday's scheduled start against Boston because of a stomach ailment. Coach Mike Yeo won't reveal Saturday's starter until tomorrow morning.

Kuemper lost a little weight during his illness, but he felt better Thursday and began regaining strength. Yeo thought he lacked energy early in practice but saw him gain steam as he went along.

"I'll be ready to go,'' Kuemper said of a possible Saturday start. "I was able to get three good meals in me (Thursday) and drink lots of water. So I got most of (the lost weight) back, and I'm feeling pretty good.

"I only missed two days off the ice, so it's not like I was gone for a long time. Hockeywise, I didn’t feel rusty. You're sick, so you know your energy won't be 100 percent, but I felt good. I'll just take care of my body today, and I'll be back to 100 tomorrow.''

Cooke skated with Nino Niederreiter and Charlie Coyle in Friday's practice. The hardest part about his protracted rehab, he said, was not having a clear timeline. Cooke injured his hip in the second game of the season, continued to play until the pain became too great, then dealt with uncertainty as doctors determined the severity of the injury and laid out a course of treatment.

"When I broke my jaw, we knew it was going to be six weeks, and that’s the timeline,'' said Cooke, who called his current injury the most complicated recovery of his career. "This has been such a hit-or-miss thing. We didn’t get a real understanding of the magnitude of it until four weeks, when the MRI was clear without the swelling. That’s when we got a better understanding of what I was dealing with.''

The Wild will need all the help it can get Saturday, against a powerful and well-rounded Nashville team. The Predators are in third place in the Central Division and have the sixth-best record in the NHL. They roll four lines and feature one of the top defenses in the league, backstopped by goalie Pekka Rinne, whose 1.76 goals-against average is the lowest among regular goalies. Center Filip Forsberg is the highest-scoring rookie in the NHL (12 goals, 18 assists) and is an astonishing plus-23.

Yeo said that while his team needs to rid itself of the frustration it has been feeling, he has seen lots of good signs lately. He noted that the Wild is spending more time in the offensive zone, putting more pressure on the forecheck and creating more turnovers, and executing better as it comes out of its zone.

"If we keep playing the same way,'' he said, "we're going to get a lot of wins.''

RACHEL BLOUNT

  

Angry Mike Yeo: "We're tired of being on the cusp;" Zach Parise concurs

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: December 12, 2014 - 6:31 PM

It happened much later in the year, but last season when the Wild arrived in Arizona after getting waxed in St. Louis for a ninth loss in 12 games (3-5-4), the leaders took charge.

The Wild had a CBA-mandated day off in Glendale. Captain Mikko Koivu and assistants Zach Parise and Ryan Suter wanted to practice and met with the coaches at planeside. They were told the team wasn’t allowed to do that.

So instead of wasting the fun day playing golf or lounging by the pool, Koivu, Parise and Suter met for breakfast (Ilya Bryzgalov actually joined), talked about the state of the team, each grabbed different individuals for one-on-one’s and then held a players-only meeting the night before playing the Coyotes at the team hotel.

The Wild rallied in the third the next night to beat the Coyotes en route to a 6-0-1 mark in seven games to clinch a playoff spot. That meeting was credited with largely saving the season and rallying the team together.

To refresh your memory of the meeting, see here.

The Wild’s back in Glendale for the first time since. It’s 2-2-1 in its past five after last night’s 2-1 loss at San Jose and 4-4-1 in its past nine. It is stuck in 10th place in the West, five points behind sixth, seventh and eighth-place Calgary, Winnipeg and San Jose. The Wild has played three fewer games than Calgary and Winnipeg, four fewer than San Jose, BUT this was a team that was supposed to take the next step this season and join the top tier in the West.

At least, that was the expectation.

Today, prior to practice starting, an angry Mike Yeo gathered his team around him in a semicircle by the penalty boxes at the former Glendale Arena. And he ripped into his team during a passionate two- or three-minute diatribe sprinkled with colorful language.

Yeo was fired up. The message? It’s time for the Wild to get its act together, to wake up, to help each other, push and prod each other, challenge each other if that’s what it takes. It’s time for the Wild to stop underachieving and become the team everybody thinks it’s capable of being.

Yeo started practice early because he didn’t want the media to be in the rink when he did this. I just happened to walk to the arena early because after my 3:45 a.m. wakeup call, if I had hung out in my hotel room, I would have passed out.

So myself and few others heard everything, which Yeo didn’t intend and wasn’t exactly thrilled about. He sarcastically called it a “pep talk” afterward.

The gist of what Yeo was trying to convey to his team? Basically what I wrote last weekend here:

“We’re tired of being on the cusp, we’re tired of being close. And we need to demand better than what we’ve been bringing,” Yeo said. “We’re better than what we’ve been showing consistently. We can look at last game and we can say we were close and we could have won the game, but we can’t accept saying that.

“We’ve got a lineup [Saturday] that’s capable of coming in here and winning a hockey game and that’s got to be our focus.”

He continued later, “It would be a mistake to not think that our backs aren’t against the wall a little bit here. We’re behind. We’re not at the level and we’re not where we want to be right now. If that’s the motivation we need, that’s fine. Let’s use it. We should not be accepting of where we’re at right now and we need to demand more.”

Parise, who met with Yeo in the hotel courtyard for awhile before practice, said Yeo’s lambasting to the struggling team was “probably long overdue.”

“We can’t keep going on playing the way we have been lately,” Parise continued. “We’re going to find ourselves on the outside looking in for the rest of the year if we keep it up, so at some point we have to collectively find ways to play better, to be a better team. We’ve been very mediocre for a long time.”

It does seem like this team’s MO is to not play better until its back is against that proverbial wall, which is frustrating for every one of you fans watching and everybody internally on the team.

Parise said, “You don’t want to put yourself in that situation where you’re forced to string together eight wins just to have a sniff. Regardless of the games in hand, we’re still five points back from Winnipeg. That’s not good enough. We should be better. We’re underachieving. It had to be addressed. Like I said, it was long overdue.”

I asked him what’s wrong with this team.

“I don’t know if I could sit here and pinpoint one or two things,” Parise said. “I don’t know if it would be healthy for anyone to sit here and try to analyze and pinpoint and tell you guys what we think is wrong. I don’t think that’s healthy for anyone. But as individuals, we all have to be better. We’re not playing with any excitement right now. That’s really been hurting us. There’ just no excitement to our game. It’s been flat, you know? It’s just been flat. So we’ve got to find a way to address that and start feeling good about how we’re playing.

“We win one, we lose one. We haven’t really had a chance to string anything together and feel good about the way we’re playing.”

Reminded of last year’s players’ meeting and how it seemed to jumpstart the languishing team, Parise said he hoped Yeo’s urging today will do the same.

“I don’t think anyone can argue with the fact of how we’ve been playing and how it just hasn’t been acceptable,” Parise said. “We expect a lot more out of ourselves. But as individuals we all have to be better. You can’t sit around and hope someone else will do it and each guy has to do his job better and help out the next guy. That’s how you get through this.”

The top two lines of Parise-Mikael Granlund-Thomas Vanek and Jason Zucker-Koivu-Jason Pominville were the same today. The third and fourth lines were tinkered with Nino Niederreiter-Charlie Coyle-Justin Fontaine and Ryan Carter-Erik Haula-Kyle Brodziak.

The No. 1 power-play unit was tinkered with Coyle on the top unit as the net-front guy and Granlund, who was not good at all on the power play last night, on the second. Zucker was off of it.

I had a long talk with Coyle today and will probably hold all that for my game notebook Saturday for Sunday. When Parise mentioned no excitement in the game, I thought of Coyle. He has no goals since Oct. 23, is playing with little confidence and it’s showing. He’s just moseying around right now and is bigtime down on himself.

Yeo said part of putting him on that one unit is to simplify things and create a get the puck to the net mentality, which is how the Wild scored most its goals against the Islanders. Crashing the net, etc.

Frankly, I think it’s well beyond time for Niederreiter on the No. 1 unit. But Yeo clearly is trying to jolt Coyle into some sort of life here.

“We need Charlie right now,” Yeo said. “He’s not unlike a lot of players and our entire group. If things haven’t gone well, that’s fine. Well what are we going to do? Are we going to push through it and find a way and demand that things turn around or are we just going to keep on looking in the rearview mirror?”

Yeo said Coyle’s lack of points for six weeks is a function of everything and a “contributing factor as to why other parts of his game are suffering.”

Yeo believes Coyle is putting pressure on himself because of the contract extension in October, which Coyle doesn’t buy and says isn’t a factor. But he agrees he’s in a bigtime funk and needs to be better.

Yeo wouldn’t divulge if he’s coming back with Darcy Kuemper on Saturday or if Niklas Backstrom, who is usually outstanding at Arizona (8-5-0 with a 2.09 GAA, .939 SV% and one shutout in 13 career starts), will start.

The Coyotes have lost eight in a row at home and seven of eight overall.

Yeo said it would be a huge mistake for the Wild to look at Arizona as a reeling team and said the Wild should expect the Coyotes’ best, especially after getting smoked to Nashville on Thursday.

I'll be on KFAN in seconds. Bye.

Wild worried about Keith Ballard's future; Matt Martin debate; Marco Scandella suspended 2 games

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: December 10, 2014 - 7:22 PM

UPDATED

Good late afternoon from Northern California, where it’s the calm before the storm, I guess.

Some Super Storm is predicted to slam the Bay Area on Thursday. I grew up in South Florida, so I’m accustomed to terrible rainy weather and gusty winds and, frankly, hurricanes, so I’m not too concerned. But I’m not exactly sure how the Silicon Valley handles such events, and people here seem to be in freak-out mode and the weather reports from the National Weather Service do appear daunting.

It’s supposed to be an absolute mess here Thursday, so wish everybody luck and let’s hope everyone’s safe. As of now, most everybody says it’s very unlikely that the game would be cancelled, but as the San Jose Mercury News’ David Pollak reminded me today, San Jose has scrapped a game because of rain (actually flooding) before in 1995.

Onward.

Thoughts here again are with Keith Ballard, who is such a good guy and just continues to have horrible luck with injuries. The latest is serious and could be season-altering at a minimum and career-threatening at a maximum.

He has three facial fractures and a concussion. Once the swelling goes down, doctors will decide whether or not Ballard needs surgery. He has been released from the hospital and is resting at home.

Even Chuck Fletcher admitted his concern. When I asked whether Ballard may not play again this season (which would likely mean at a minimum his Wild career is in danger because he’s in the final year of his contract), the Wild GM said, “This is serious. He’s had concussions before. I don’t know how many. We’re worried about that. Bones will heal. I don’t mean to make light of it, but his face will heal. But his hand was sticking right up. He was convulsing. This was scary. You could even see the reaction of the Islanders’ bench.  They weren’t standing over him mocking him. They were scared.”

Thomas Vanek, Ballard’s close friend and former Gophers teammate, visited Ballard at the hospital last night.

“He was in good spirits,” Vanek said. “It’s tough for him because I’m sure you know his history with injuries. I thought he was an important player for us vocally and on the ice he was doing well, so it’s another setback for him. That’s why you feel bad for him. But I was encouraged how well he was actually doing.”

As you know by now, Matt Martin won’t be suspended. The league felt that when Ballard turned to avoid the hit, he put himself in a vulnerable position and that directly contributed to the incident and subsequent injury.

Fletcher didn’t want to comment, probably because he could be fined more than he’s worth.

Yeo said, “I’m not going to argue with the league on this one and I’m sure people on the Islanders’ side of the coin would be looking at things differently, but for me, it’s our player, it’s our teammate. When I looked at it, I know that Bally was in a bit of a vulnerable position. He may have turned into it a little bit, but at the same time, I see a player launching himself at him at an area close to the boards. The more I watch it, and again it’s hard to watch, when it’s your teammate, you don’t like those.”

A few players said they felt Martin is a left winger and hit Ballard along the right-wing boards, meaning he traveled 70 feet to deliver the hit. I do think he was on a line change though, and as I said last night and this morning, I just think it’s a reckless, needless hit. I know this is a game of finishing your check. I know as (coincidentally) former Sharks serial illegal hitter Bryan Marchment once said, if you don’t want to get hit, play tennis (or something like that).

But Ballard dumps the puck in the corner 100 feet away. He’s next to the boards. I don’t get why he needs to be hit late. Like I said this morning, the league considers seven-tenths of a second after a player releases the puck late. This, the league says, was half-a-second.

“I thought it was maybe even a little late, but it’s tough to tell because you really slow it down to watch it,” Yeo said. But he added, “He’s seeking him out. He’s on a mission there.”

Obviously, all fans are going to see this in their prism. Just look at my Twitter mentions today and I’m sure the blog and article comments. If you’re an Islander fan, Martin’s a saint. Scandella’s a devil. Wild fans say the opposite.

Of course, Martin has two suspensions to Scandella’s zero (well, for another few hours at least; more on that later).

Obviously an emotional topic. Look, even former congressman Anthony Weiner, an Islander fan, joined the fray and expressed his opinion.

My opinion? Who cares? It doesn’t matter. If the NHL suspends Matt Martin, what’s that do for the Wild? It’s a waste of your time to even get all angered. Just hope for Ballard’s recovery.

Wild plays the Sharks Thursday.

Scandella won't be playing because he was suspended two games for an illegal check to Brock Nelson’s head. 

After practice and before his hearing, Scandella didn’t want to comment until Thursday. He pleaded the fifth, so to speak.

“Obviously we’re hoping he’s not suspended. He’s a huge part of our team,” Yeo said after practice.

But two head shots in 10 days, the league won’t be letting him off the hook. The Wild’s clearly guessing two games.

In the NHL video which can be seen here, the league says the main point of contact was Nelson's head, that his jaw absorbed the brunt of it, that head contact was avoidable and it noted how Scandella was just fined for a similar hit on T.J. Oshie 10 days ago.

Scandella loses $11,021.50 in salary (two days pay out of 186 days this season). Luckily for him, his recent extension doesn't kick in til next October.

If he's suspended again in the next 18 months, he'll lose game checks.

So, Christian Folin will draw into the game Thursday and if Scandella is suspended, so will Justin Falk. Asked why Falk over Matt Dumba or Jon Blum, Yeo said with Ballard and Scandella out, the Wild loses two left-shot D and with San Jose and Arizona (Saturday’s opponent) heavy teams, having a big body that can skate and shoot was the deciding factor.

Sounds like Darcy Kuemper will return to the net Thursday even though Niklas Backstrom was in the cage for the Islanders win.

“Still discussing that a little bit. We’ll wait ‘til [Thursday] to announce our decision,” Yeo said. “Looking at a couple different decisions – the opponent that we’re playing, Backy coming off a game that he should feel rea; good about, he should feel real good about and we’ll evaluate everything.

“We’ve got a pretty good idea which way we’re going.”

Yeo made crystal clear if Kuemper plays, this isn’t so much allowing him to bounce back from the Anaheim loss but more so Backstrom’s 1-9-1 record with a 3.63 goals-against average lifetime at San Jose.

The Wild, by the way, has won four of its past five on the road BUT is 2-11-2 in its past 15 in this glorious city.

Yeo talked a lot again how Wild players stepped up after the Ballard incident – Mikael Granlund challenging Kyle Okposo, a fiery Mikko Koivu with everyone from referee Brad Meier to every Islander and Kyle Brodziak fighting Martin.

“The way  that we came out after that, it said a lot to me and I hope we can continue to with that same kind of passion that we played with the rest of the game,” Yeo said. “I could feel it on the bench. That stuff’s contagious when guys take themselves out of their comfort zone and they’re making a statement to the rest of the group, ‘if you mess with one of us, then you’re going to have to deal with the entire group.’”

Vanek said, “It just shows obviously guys care and respect Bally. Everyone stepped up in that way. Only time will tell how significant that game is, but not just getting wins, but showing those battles out of those guys, that can go a long way.”

Brodziak said he has never seen a scene like Ballard on the ice.

“It was scary,” he said.

On fighting Martin, Brodziak said, “Someone had to do something. You definitely don’t want to be a team that just lets things like that happen. We all care for each other and I know if I didn’t do something, someone else probably would have. I think that’s how you build a camaraderie you need in this league.”

Lots of Wild players mentioned how all they could think about while Ballard was on the ice was his wife, kids and parents.

Talk to you after the Scandella ruling.

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