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 left wing Matt Cooke, who played two third-period shifts totaling 33 seconds Sunday in Vancouver, won’t play tonight against the Chicago Blackhawks and potentially a “longer period of time,” coach Mike Yeo said.
I’m hearing via sources that the veteran will likely need season-ending surgery. If you do the math and connect the dots, Cooke has been playing with a sports hernia.
Yeo called it a lower-body injury today. I’m certain this has nothing to do with the Rob Klinkhammer kneeing in Edmonton last Tuesday that left Cooke with a charleyhorse.
Cooke missed 22 games from Oct. 30-Dec. 17 with a hip flexor. He was injured the second game of the season at Colorado and played with the injury the next six games in agony. As it turns out, Cooke told me in December this was no normal hip flexor injury. He had three torn muscles, including the Psoas Major, which attaches to the femur, and two other supporting hip flexor muscles.
Yeo said Tuesday “this is something different than what has been bothering him. It hasn’t gone away and he’s been battling through it. Quite often with these things, this might be something as a result of compensating for the other injury, too. I’m not sure. But he’s been trying to battle through it.”
Like I said, connect the dots. Compensating for a hip injury often leads to some sort of abdominal issue. It’s been clear by watching Cooke that his skating has been affected and he hasn’t been as physical.
Yeo said Cooke has a doctor’s appointment and he will update at a later time with further details.
Typically, the sports hernia surgeries are conducted at specialists in St. Louis or Philadelphia. Niklas Backstrom had his two core muscle surgeries done at the latter.
In 27 games, Cooke has four goals and four assists with 13 penalty minutes. Last season, Cooke played all 82 games and led the team in hits, scored 10 goals, 18 assists and was plus-8.
Cooke has one more year left on his contract at $2.5 million.
This hurts the Wild from a physicality and penalty-killing standpoint, so we’ll see if General Manager Chuck Fletcher looks for some kind of depth forward or continues to go with what he’s got here and in the minors. The trade deadline is March 2.
For at least the short-term, the Wild placed Justin Fontaine (groin) on injured reserve and recalled Jordan Schroeder to play tonight. Schroeder is scoreless in three games for the Wild but Jan. 8 had seven shots in 9 minutes, 49 seconds of ice time also against Chicago playing on an all-Gophers line with Erik Haula and Thomas Vanek.
He’ll play on a line tonight with Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter and Yeo is intrigued by the line’s possibilities with a pure speed guy playing with two big power-forward types.
“He’s done a good job for us the couple games that he’s played,” Yeo said of Schroeder. “Counting on him to come in right now and provide some minutes for us, provide some energy. I want to see his speed be a factor. I think he’s done a good job of finding open ice and getting some pucks through to the net.”
Yeo said Fontaine is feeling better. The Wild won’t practice Wednesday, but perhaps after two days of practice, he can come off injured reserve and play Saturday against the Avalanche.
With Cooke out, Ryan Carter moves to the Erik Haula-Kyle Brodziak line.
Christian Folin will be a healthy scratch for a third consecutive game.
Devan Dubnyk vs. Corey Crawford tonight. Daniel Carcillo is eligible to return from suspension today, but he didn’t skate in regular line rushes at the skate. The Blackhawks, by the way, went to Vegas for the Super Bowl and on Monday, so we’ll find out tonight if their type of weariness offsets the typical first-game-after-a-long-road-trip weariness that the Wild could have.
Big game for the Wild tonight to keep its 3-0 Western Canadian momentum going at home, where the Wild has stunk the past two months. Also, with no games until Saturday, the Wild could surely use two points to make up for the no points it’ll be getting while sitting idle and others play.
I’ll be filling in for Paul Allen on KFAN from 9-12 both Wednesday and Thursday, so please tune in to that and call in as well.
Get used to the Vancouver Canucks, the Wild's old Northwest Division rival. The Wild, after not seeing Vancouver yet this season, plays the Canucks in three of its next eight games.
The Wild visits for a noon matinee (2 p.m. CT) Sunday and may be without its No. 1 defenseman.
Ryan Suter, who got banged up Tuesday in Edmonton, missed his second practice this week Saturday and coach Mike Yeo indicated that he's questionable to play against the Canucks. Suter, who has been visibly limping ever since the Oilers game and didn't take part in the Wild's off-ice workout at its hotel Friday, may not be the one to decide if he plays.
Yeo said if the Wild feels this is an injury that is going to nag him for three weeks, the team will be careful with him and hold him out against the Canucks. It would be a big loss as he's been one of the team's best defensemen the past three games.
If Suter doesn't play (would be his first non-mumps, non-suspension related Wild absence), Christian Folin will draw back into the lineup and be paired with Jonas Brodin.
Also, Justin Fontaine is sidelined with a groin injury, and with groins, it's unknown right now if it'll be a short-term thing or this may linger for awhile. Erik Haula, scratched the past two, will center Matt Cooke with Kyle Brodziak moving to right wing. The other three lines remain the same.
The big thing the Wild wants better from Haula is board play and puck protection. He has been working on that after practices all week with assistant coach Darby Hendrickson.
If you didn't see, this is my story today on the potential of Devan Dubnyk returning to the Wild next season and how that affects Darcy Kuemper and Niklas Backstrom.
This is the 12th time in franchise history the Wild has played Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver on the same road trip. After winning at Edmonton and Calgary, this will be the Wild’s second chance to sweep. It accomplished that only once – March 13-17, 2007. In fact, this is only the third time in 12 three-game western Canadiens trips that the Wild has won two games on the three-game swing.
The Wild has won two in a row in Vancouver after a stretch in which it went 0-9-2 there. The Canucks have lost two of their past three and are 4-5 in their past nine. Minnesota has allowed one goal total in its past two victories.
The Wild will miss Sunday's Super Bowl. It'll be in the air for most the game. The team tried to get a charter with satellite TV, but Delta doesn't have any available.
That's it for now. Assistant coach Darryl Sydor will get to watch the junior team he partially owns, WHL Kamloops (Devan Dubnyk's old team), play the Vancouver Giants tonight. Kamloops, who is coached by former NHL and Giants coach and North Stars draft pick Don Hay, is owned by Sydor, Jarome Iginla, Shane Doan, Mark Recchi and Stars owner Tom Gaglardi.
Early morning update: According to sources, the Wild is close to signing defenseman Nate Prosser to a two-year contract extension. Prosser's played consistently well all year, and during his four callups, seems to have gotten better each occasion.
The Wild is 14-7-2 with the 25-year-old Elk River native in the lineup this year. He makes subtle little plays to alleviate pressure, is great positionally, make a great first pass out of the zone and plays with an edge.
Mike Yeo last month: "He's a, I don't want to swear, he's a jerk out there and I like that because he's smart about it He's not doing it to [Edmonton enforcer] Darcy Hordichuk. He's doing it to [Edmonton scorers] Taylor Hall and Ryan Smyth. If he can get them off their game a little bit, then more power to us."
The Wild signed Prosser in 2010 out of Colorado College. He would have become a restricted free agent July 1.
Prosser's only bounced back and forth this year because he doesn't require waivers to get to Houston. That's his lot in life. All players go through it. Hey, and he's gotten a ton of frequent flyer miles out of it.
But he'll be in great position to make next year's roster, and if he has a good summer, justifiably so.
One of these days, I swear to you, I will witness a Wild victory in Dallas.
I just have to! Maybe it’ll happen when I’m back here in two or three weeks, but the winless streak here since March 21, 2003, hit 15 games (0-10-5) with tonight’s 2-1 shootout loss.
Of course, the Wild certainly gave it a terrific try.
If you watched the game, you know the Wild played a heck of a game, a heck of a complete game, in every area BUT the power play, which was beyond awful.
Blanked on four chances. The first three? Don’t think they even had a scoring chance. Then, hustle by Dany Heatley and Kyle Brodziak drew a hooking penalty from Sheldon Souray with a 1:07 left, but the Wild couldn’t win it during that 1:07 or the 53-second 4-on-3 to begin overtime.
The Wild outshot the Stars 34-26, but Kari Lehtonen stoned the Wild throughout, particularly Heatley, who had eight shots, and every one I think was a legit scoring chance. He was awesome.
So was that whole line with Brodziak and Nick Johnson. They’ve been so good the last five games, have spent so much time in the offensive zone that it certainly seems like Mike Yeo will keep the line intact once Mikko Koivu returns.
That certainly sounds like it could happen Tuesday in Columbus depending on what the doctors say.
Heatley-Brodziak-Johnson buzzed all game. Late in the second, Johnson poked a puck into the offensive zone for Heatley, who set up Brodziak all alone with all the time in the world. But Brodziak, maybe because he was tired late in the shift, went from having a million options to suddenly having the puck on his backhand at a tight angle.
Lehtonen made the save.
But Brodziak made amends early in the third. Johnson’s suffocating forecheck caused Jake Dowell to turn the puck over. Brodziak skated in alone, made a pump fake with his head, got Lehtonen to commit and created an open net for himself.
Brodziak buried it for his 15th goal (one off his career-high) to extend his point streak to a career-long six games.
The reason I hate shootouts is because if you lose them, it leaves sometimes an unfair bitter taste in your mouth and sometimes if you win them, it leaves sometimes an unfair sense of glee.
The reality is the Wild completely outplayed the Stars tonight, especially at 5-on-5, yet left the building having left a point and not feeling satisfied. That’s why the Wild’s got to start winning these shootouts.
After starting the season 4-1 in shootouts, the Wild has lost five of six. That’s massive when you’re sitting in eighth place – two points behind seventh-place Los Angeles and two ahead of ninth-place Dallas.
Shootout specialist Erik Christensen could have made for a really good story. In his debut though, he was stopped by Lehtonen after a nice move. Matt Cullen scored, then Jared Spurgeon missed.
I’m shocked how on Twitter so many people were going nuts that Spurgeon got the nod. Kent Youngblood wrote on the blog and in the paper two weeks ago that after a terrific move by Spurgeon in the practice after the Wild’s last shootout loss in St. Louis that Yeo hinted he would remember that for the next shootout.
The Wild practices shootouts all the time in practice, and that’s how it works.
And after losing four of the five before tonight, something had to change. Heatley has missed three in a row, and the last in ugly fashion, and he’s 5 for 30 in his career. Devin Setoguchi has missed two in a row, is 3 for 10 in his career and frankly, he doesn’t even get too many scoring chances in games anymore.
He has two goals in 11 games since returning from a knee injury Jan. 4.
I would have tried Brodziak over those two anyway. First of all, he’s playing with confidence. Second of all, he scored on a breakaway in this same game. And third of all, he scored the winning goal in Edmonton during his only shootout attempt this season.
The bigger issue is Niklas Backstrom.
Look, I get Jamie Benn can make any goalie look silly, and he was awesome in the skills competition last weekend. I get Loui Eriksson is sickly skilled too.
But Backstrom struggles in shootouts. He has for six years. Actually he did have one bounceback year, but then he’s reverted. He’s 15-28 all-time with the NHL’s worst all-time save percentage (.563). This year he is 3-4 in shootouts with a .450 save percentage.
I am not a proponent at all of pulling Backstrom for an ice-cold Josh Harding. I’ve said that for years. I think it puts Harding at injury-risk and even more importantly, it puts Backstrom’s head at risk.
He’s played great the last two games. Goalies have fragile psyches. I don’t think you get inside a goalie’s head and do something like that. It’s humiliating.
Nevertheless, I asked the question many of you always want me asking: Would you, Mike Yeo, pull Backstrom for Harding in the shootout (by the way, Harding us 7-6 all time with a .690 save percentage)?
“The one thing with that, Backy is playing so well right now,” Yeo said. “I don’t want to do anything to jeopardize that. But we’re going to consider anything at this point.”
It would be an amusing sight by the way if Harding was like a placekicker in football and when a game goes to overtime, he goes to the back runway and starts practicing quick glove saves and sprawls across the crease.
The power play. Just awful.
It was maddening how bad the Wild’s passing was, particularly the fellows at the point. Passes were either off the mark to each other or not fast enough to blast one-timers. Marek Zidlicky and Spurgeon were the chief culprits.
Yeo sometimes defends the power play. Not tonight. It could have won the game many times.
“That was not good,” the coach said. “I mean, we’re not even generating anything out there. We’re not willing to shoot the puck. It took a step backwards.”
Zidlicky actually didn’t play a bad game, but man, the guy won’t shoot.
Overall though, good game. And overall, the Wild’s 3-1-1 in its past five. It’s a shame they blew the Nashville game. They could play that same game 100 more times and it wouldn’t cave like that again. The reason I say it’s a shame is because the Wild played well, meaning overall, that’s five good games in a row.
Slowly, they’re getting their game back with Koivu knocking on the door to come back.
So that’s good.
Here’s the deal. I’m flying from here to Colorado. Yeo said it was 50-50 if he practices the team on Super Bowl Sunday.
If he practices the team, Youngblood will blog. If he doesn’t, Youngblood will blog after Monday’s practice. Barring news, you’ll next hear from me Tuesday from Columbus (other than a story in Monday’s paper, most likely, on the Brodziak line). And of course, you can always find my absolutely hysterical quips and insights and observations on twitter at www.twitter.com/russostrib.
Enjoy the Super Bowl. Go Giants!
Greetings. Youngblood here, with Russo getting the day off.
The Wild got back from Phoenix in the wee hours, then had to be at St. Thomas Academy for an 11 a.m. practice. During the 45-minute session coach Todd Richards skated the team rather hard. The team was originally going to take Sunday off and practice Monday, but Richards changed things up. This way the guys get, essentially, a day and a half off.
Center Matt Cullen, who missed the Phoenix game with an upper body injury, was on the ice practicing. He said he wanted to play in Phoenix, but Richards came down on the side of caution. His reasoning? It was better to lose Cullen for a game, then get him back healthy, than it was to play him and risk losing him for a longer stretch. Richards said Cullen should play Wednesday.
John Madden, also fighting through an injury, also practiced.
Missing were defensemen Jared Spurgeon and Brent Burns and winger Martin Havlat. Spurgeon, who was sick and missed the Phoenix game, still wasn't 100 percent. Richards expects him over at Xcel Energy Center for a workout Monday and expects Spurgeon to be back at practice Tuesday. Burns and Havlat, tired after participating in All Star weekend, were given the day off.
That's about it. Have a good time watching the Super Bowl.
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