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.

Also find Russo on Facebook.

Email Michael to talk about hockey.

Posts about Wild game coverage

Minus-1 on special teams, failed power play yet again costly for the Wild in Tampa Bay

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: November 22, 2014 - 10:34 PM

Part of the maturation of the Wild the past year or so has been coach Mike Yeo putting the young guys out on the ice in more significant roles, like in the final minute in Philly on Thursday when Jason Zucker scored the winning goal or protecting the lead in the final minute Nov. 15 in Dallas when Yeo tossed Zucker, Charlie Coyle and Mikael Granlund on the ice.

In fact, after that game, Yeo admonished the media that they’re no longer “young guys,” that they’re members of the team.

Fair enough, but the one area where Yeo typically defers to the same vets over and over again with the game on the line is on the power play. And over and over again, and not just this season, the same vets haven’t gotten it done.

Now it’s easier said than done for a coach to NOT throw a Mikko Koivu on the ice or a Thomas Vanek or a Ryan Suter or a Jason Pominville in that situation. It’s certainly easier to say, “Do it,” from the press box or from your couch at home than if you’re standing in Mike Yeo’s shoes.

And if Yeo didn’t throw those guys out tonight with the game on the line with 1:17 left and on a 6-on-4 against the Tampa Bay Lightning, if Yeo went with other personnel and they didn’t score, it’d be easy Monday morning quarterbacking, too, to question the decision.

But there may have to come a point (and very soon) where Yeo says, “You know what, we’re 1 for 38 on the power play on the road (2.6 percent!) and 6 for 62 on the power play overall (9.6 percent), so enough is enough.”

Tonight, with 1:17 left and the Wild searching for the tying goal, Yeo put out his usual cast of Zach Parise, Koivu, Vanek, Pominville and Suter, and playmaker Mikael Granlund. The Wild failed to score on a third power play of the game, registering one shot, a couple near misses on goalmouth scrums and a whole lot of passing.

Parise was fourth in the NHL last year with 14 power-play goals, Koivu is the franchise leader with 165 power-play points, Vanek has 114 career power-play goals, Pominville 223 career goals and Suter is the team’s most trusted defenseman.

So that is why they’re out there.

But of the six players Yeo sent on the ice to tie the game, the only one who has even scored a power-play goal this season is Vanek, and as we have seen, he seems to no longer want to shoot. He had no shots again tonight and has one goal and 35 shots in 19 games. We know Granlund loves to pass and Koivu rarely shoots on the power play.

So there was a big passing mentality on the ice that last 77 seconds. In the meantime, left on the bench was the team’s hottest goal scorer and leading goal scorer Nino Niederreiter, who has scored four of his nine goals on the power play, Coyle and defensemen Marco Scandella and Jared Spurgeon, who have both played well lately and have shooting mentalities.

“There’s a lot of guys that are there based on what they’ve done in the past, and every coach is going to operate like that,” Yeo said. “But it comes to the point that what you’ve done also involves this season, too.

“We’ve probably tried nine, 10 different forwards on the power play and different D pairings. We have to find something that clicks here. It’s tough to keep switching every game, but we’ve got to find something here.”

Parise said it “feels like it’s repetitive. At least we were moving it around and getting chances as opposed to the last couple games where we were just standing around and staring at each other. At least we were moving and getting some shots and some good chances. We had some really good looks at the end but couldn’t get it.”

But Parise said the theme of the power play all season has been “a lot of sitting around and waiting for someone else to do something. We don’t support each other very well. When you’re scoring, you do that stuff naturally. When you’re not, we stand around, we look at each other, we don’t support each other, we don’t retrieve pucks. I don’t think that was so much the case tonight, but that’s kind of been a theme for us for a long time.”

The Wild played an even game with the Lightning, which has scored the most goals in the league. It jumped out to a 1-0 lead on Parise’s seventh when Vanek set him up for a layup … after not even considering shooting. Still, great play for Vanek's team-leading 10th assist.

The Wild had an 8-1 shot lead in the period but still was passing up shots. The most blatant was when Coyle picked off a puck and the Wild didn’t even get a shot off because Granlund and Vanek tried to force passes to Coyle.

In the third, there was a 2-on-1 with Zucker and Vanek and Zucker deferred to Vanek and the pass was turned over.

“For a team that hasn’t scored a lot of goals on the road, we seem to be willing to pass up opportunities to shoot a puck on a scoring chance,” Yeo said. “I can count at least four times where we were in a prime scoring area and we deferred and tried to make a prettier play instead of shooting the puck.”

Then, the game turned when the Wild couldn’t clear the zone on a penalty kill and get a line change. The puck actually got out of the zone, but Jason Garrison retrieved it at the red line and quickly countered so Erik Haula, Kyle Brodziak, Suter and Spurgeon couldn’t get off. By the time their 1:15 shift ended, Steven Stamkos scored a power-play goal with eight seconds left in the power play to cap a 2:19 shift.

The Lightning had the Wild on the ropes the rest of the period and after Granlund and Pominville lost a board battle and Parise blew the zone (he took responsibility for the “mistake” afterward), Alex Killorn deflected Anton Stralman’s shot for the go-ahead goal and eventual winner. Stralman was awesome again tonight just like he was in that 7-2 loss in Minnesota.

The Wild pushed hard in the third, but by then, Ben Bishop was dialed in.

“We played with that desperation that you’d love to see all game,” Parise said.

Pominville sustained a pretty gruesome injury tonight. With 30 seconds left in the first period, he got hit on the right ear by the puck. The puck sliced open the cartilage on top completely, so they needed to sew both sides to stitch it back together. He returned to the game about six or seven minutes into the second and said afterward he’s fine.

Four-game win streak snapped. On to Florida to face Nick Bjugstad, who has been a rock star lately, and the Panthers, who are playing quite well.

Zucker's late winner, Kuemper's goaltending leads Wild to fourth straight win

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: November 20, 2014 - 11:17 PM

The Wild won its fourth in a row tonight here in Philly after a tremendous response to Claude Giroux’s tying power-play goal with 3:30 left.

Jason Zucker, who had no goals in the previous 10 games and no points in the previous eight, buried Ryan Suter’s goalmouth pass for the winner with 45.4 seconds left en route to a 3-2 Wild win, the team’s fourth in a row as it starts a three-game road trip that continues to Tampa Bay and Florida.

Evening, and I am going to be very quick. You can please read the gamer and notebook for the details, but I have a wakeup call in less than three hours.

Darcy Kuemper, who was so good tonight, was rewarded with his ninth win after making a season-high 37 saves behind a team that was throwing pucks away left and right in the first 40 minutes and was outshot 14-6 through one period and 27-13 through two.

On the winner, Thomas Vanek slipped a pass through Wayne Simmonds legs to Suter. He inched in and took a shot that deflected wide, but Charlie Coyle won the race to the puck to get it back to Suter, who then made a great pass to Zucker for the big goal.

Mikko Koivu didn’t play the last 18:50 because he’s sick, coach Mike Yeo said. Yeo doesn’t think it’s mumps symptoms and I saw Koivu after, and although he was unavailable to interview, he definitely didn’t have the classic swollen glands the others had. So the Wild hopes it stays that way.

Koivu was definitely noticeably off his game tonight. Just little energy and the final straw was his blue-line turnover at the end of the early third-period power play tonight. He didn’t play again. But at 1:42, Marco Scandella put the Wild up 2-1 one game after scoring the OT winner vs. Winnipeg.

The Wild missed Koivu in the circle late, especially on that late Philly power play that Giroux scored on.

Nino Niederreiter, who also scored a goal (power-play goal to snap the Wild’s 0 for 32 road PP string), did so many good plays on the shift it was ridiculous. The sequence started with him getting the puck into the zone, then he outworked two Flyers on the forecheck to gather Jared Spurgeon’s rebound.

Finally, after Mikael Granlund outworked Scott Laughton in traffic to keep a puck in, Niederreiter found it and whistled it across for Scandella. He had all the time in the world to skate to the top of the circle and unload.

Scandella made amends for a couple mistakes he made before Philly’s tying goal in the second period to make it 1-1. Not normally on the power play, he seemed unaware that Giroux was coming out of the box. Giroux took it right from him. Then in the D zone, Scandella put Matt Dumba in a bad position with a bad pass, and Dumba turned it over before Mark Streit’s goal.

Check out the game for the strange sequence involving Spurgeon that led to Giroux’s tying goal with 3:30 left.

Yeo looked smart after this one. With many folks critiquing his changing of the lines after a three-game winning streak, that newly created Vanek-Coyle-Zucker line created the winner. Coyle, at center, was real good tonight. Yeo loved Coyle’s game at both ends of the ice. He was plus-2, had six hits, had two shots, drew a penalty and assisted on Zucker’s winner.

Zucker also was good again and his hustle led to a beat-out icing and drawn penalty late in the second. Vanek had glaring turnovers (so did every teammate), but he made play and had the “third assist” on the winner.

The Wild was beyond sloppy the first two periods, but Kuemper kept the Wild in it. Finally Yeo went in between the second and third and told his team to forget the first two periods and go out and win a 1-1 game on the road there for the taking. Make a play or two, he told them, after not moving their feet or trying to make plays in the second, just “throwing it right back to them.”

“We were defending hard, we were blocking shots, guys were willing to pay the price, but I really felt like we were just playing not to lose that hockey game,’ Yeo said. “I liked the way our guys came out in the third period. We really got after it.”

The Wild had 16 shots in that period.

Humorously this morning, Yeo said the Wild needs to start scoring three goals a game on the road.

“And it took all of them and it took almost the whole game to get it,” Yeo said afterward.

Kuemper was awesome and he said he knew he had to be good tonight because the Flyers were going to be hungry.

Yeo said, “He was good and I’m going to make sure he’s ready to be good for the next one, too.”

That's it for me. Josh Harding is backing up for Iowa in Rockford on Friday, by the way.

Talk to you after practice in Tampa on Friday.

In return of Parise and Scandella, Parise scores 2, Scandella the OT winner as Wild survives Jets scare

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: November 17, 2014 - 5:26 AM

I joked on Twitter at the start of the third period that the Wild was “clinging” to a 3-0 … lead, and while I maybe didn’t envision exactly what transpired in the third, that is exactly what I meant by the word, “clinging.”

It wasn’t that I felt the wild was playing poorly. But I have seen it so many times after teams get into penalty trouble:

The Wild, with a 3-0 stranglehold on the game and dominating 5-on-5 play against the Winnipeg Jets (the Jets didn’t even have an even-strength shot on goal this game until 3 ½ minutes in the second period!), killed five penalties in the second.

Guys like Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville played four shifts in the second, Charlie Coyle three. The momentum of the game completely turned because the Wild spent basically the entire period on the PK. The Jets were skating forward so to speak, the Wild backward.

So I didn’t think it would be easy for the Wild to return to its first period play. I expected the Jets to push and the Wild to be on its heels, but of course, I didn’t expect to see a 3-0 lead evaporate in a span of 4 minutes, 52 seconds on goals by Michael Frolik, Evander Kane and Andrew Ladd. It was the second time this season the Wild coughed up a three-goal lead in the third, but this time it didn't lose.

The last goal came at 10:47 of the period. The Wild survived the final 9:13, somehow, someway, got to overtime, got the 5-minute Zamboni dryscape to settle down and came out and scored 61 seconds in when Marco Scandella, fresh off the mumps, whistled his first career overtime winner for a 4-3 win.

Evening from the press box, where I was actually off tonight. Rachel Blount is busy to my right banging on the keyboard working on her game story, so I figured I’d help out and blog.

Shame the way things unfolded tonight for Niklas Backstrom because he was so good in the first two periods. The veteran was a huge part of the Wild’s 8 for 8 penalty kill, being the man in net for seven of them before Darcy Kuemper entered to replace him. He made three saves for his eighth win of the season in his 14th appearance, which means he can no longer be sent to the minors without clearing waivers. So he’s here for the long haul.

Player after player jumped to Backstrom’s defense afterward, saying they were fluky goals.

“Three-nothing in the third period, there’s no reason that game needs to go to overtime,” said defenseman Keith Ballard, who played old-school hockey tonight, laying one of his typical hip checks on Adam Pardy and fighting Andrew Ladd after Ladd asked him to go following Ballard admittedly getting away with a couple cross-checks. “They scored three lucky goals. I mean, every single one of them went off one of our guys before it went in. We spent a little too much time in our end in the third and I think we got away from that constant pressure that we saw in the first of getting pucks deep and battling down there and then we get a line change and the next line’s doing it, too. It was too much one and done in the third.”

But, Scandella, who missed the previous two games with what the team thinks was the mumps, capped a 25-minute night with the winning goal. Scandella said he didn’t get confirmation that he indeed had the mumps, but the team definitely thinks he does and vaccinated players, staff and broadcasters. Jonas Brodin is still out with the illness and was hit harder than Scandella, coach Mike Yeo said before the game.

Scandella said his jaw was very swollen. “It didn’t look very pretty,” he said, laughing, adding that he was depleted of any energy and only started skating for the first time in five days this morning.

“It feels great,” Scandella said of his winner. “Rough third period. We didn’t get the bounces that we wanted. Sometimes that hockey. They had momentum. They came hard. We bent, but we didn’t break. Everyone was focused. No one was panicking. We played resilient.”

He said the “excitement of the game and adrenaline” got him through. “Little bit down from beating the virus, but once you’re in the game, you don’t think about that. The fans helped a lot. It was a loud building tonight.”

Zach Parise returned from a concussion for the first time in six games and scored two goals – one Jason Pominville pass that ricocheted off Parise’s leg, one Parise-to-Pominville intended flubbed pass that deflected in off Jets winger Blake Wheeler’s skate. Parise three or four times flirted with his third career hat trick and first with the Wild, but he couldn’t get it to go.

Parise said he felt pretty good, but “a couple times I probably had more time than I felt like I did and rushed a couple plays. But hopefully it will get better as I get into some more real practices and play some more games.”

He said he lost his conditioning a bit: “It's always hard to replicate that game speed, even though it wasn’t that long being out. These guys played five games and you lose that pretty quickly. You need to get a couple games to get back to normal speed.”

On the game, Parise said, “Of course we were frustrated with the way we let them back in the game. Unfortunately, we gave them a point we shouldn’t have. It was good for us to come back and win in overtime, but it wasn't the ideal thing to crawl back in there when we had a 3-0 lead.”

Weird game, to say the least.

Why did the game change?

“I think we spent the entire second period killing and they spent the entire second period either on the power play or acting like idiots,” Ballard said.

Defenseman Ryan Suter, the NHL’s time on ice leader the past two seasons and leader again this season at 29 minutes, 13 seconds a game, still logged 28:24 Sunday despite being whistled for a career-high four minor penalties (eight penalty minutes).

The Wild killed all of Suter’s minors and all eight Winnipeg power plays in the game, as I mentioned above.

“It was unbelievable. They called me for them, but our PK did a really good job stepping up,” said Suter, unhappy with a few of the calls by referees Brad Watson and Justin St. Pierre.

The Wisconsin native added with a laugh, “Guys were joking that the Packer game was on in the penalty box. It wasn’t. It was a tough night. I don’t think I’ve had four penalties this year.”

In fact, Suter entered with only four penalty minutes.

The Wild was very frustrated with Watson and St. Pierre all game and got into some barking matches throughout.

There is no doubt the refs’ involvement in the game – whether you agree with the calls or not – affected the way the game evolved.

“You could feel things starting to slip,” Yeo said. “Our PK was outstanding tonight but you never want to put yourself in that position because we’ve got other guys that we’ve basically lost in the game. That was not the recipe for success. We just lost the rhythm of the game through the second period and with that things came out in the third. In the end we found a way to win and that’s all that matters.”

On Scandella and Parise’s returns, Yeo said, “We got two very important pieces back into the lineup tonight and both those guys had a huge impact on the game. From a defensive standpoint, Marco is such a big part of the way we want to play the game, taking away time and space, being in guys’ faces and helping us with the execution. I thought he played a really strong game before he scored the overtime winner. That was the icing on cake. Zach, the way he came out in the first period, and it was tough to get him involved in the second, but whenever we needed a momentum shift or to help get things going the right way, he was the guy getting after it and playing the game the right way as well.”

More on the game, Yeo said, “Listen, things happen, you can blame bounces, you can get frustrated with your play. But in the end the game is sitting right there for you.  And I liked that we regrouped and went after it in overtime. I thought we got back on the attack and that’s the way we have to play the game (Context from Russo, not a quote: Parise set up Mikko Koivu and Jared Spurgeon, but both swung and missed).

“We’re not a back-up team and let them come at us. We’re a team that dictates and initiates, and when we play that way we’re effective, and when we don’t we’re not so much.”

On Backstrom being pulled, Yeo said, “That was just momentum, that was not on him by any means. He was making some good saves. There were a couple tough bounces that were tough for any goalie. But I’d already burned my timeout and I felt they still had the momentum after that, and obviously they scored that goal. So you’re looking for anything to do.”

Kuemper made three saves for the winner one home game after Backstrom replaced him and got the win with 25 saves. Not often you see consecutive home wins where the starting goalie didn’t get credit for either win. If I remember correctly, Backstrom’s first three NHL wins were all in relief of Manny Fernandez – a first in NHL history.

More on Parise, Yeo said, “What I like about Zach, you see that end result but there are things leading up to that that are the reason he scores those goals. He doesn’t take shortcuts. You talk about doing something before the game and you draw it up on the board, then you see that first goal go in because he does exacly what we’re talking about. That’s leadership.”

On Nino Niederreiter’s team-leading eighth goal, a highlight-reel goal where he took a Thomas Vanek pass in the high slot, weaved around Jacob Trouba and tucked a backhander from behind the goal line inside the post, Yeo said, “Good to get another one on the power play. “We want to have competition between the two groups. The last three games we’ve gotten power-play goals, they’ve all come on the back half of the power plays. That whole two minutes is important. That was a heck of a play. He’s got to be a guy who just keeps getting to that area. He’s so dangerous around the front of the net. The more times you get there the more times you get rewarded.

Odds and ends:

Pominville was plus-3 and three assists for the sixth time in his career. Jared Spurgeon has eight blocked shots and has blocked 15 in the past two games. On one of Parise’s goals, he turned a 2-on-2 into a 3-on-2. He has at least one point in 7 of 12 games this season.

The Wild is 7-1 at home, outscoring opponents 32-16 here. The Wild is second in the NHL on the PK at 89.3 percent (50 for 56, 5 for 5 on 3-on-5s. The Wild killed three abbreviated two-man disadvantages tonight).

Parise has 35 multi-goal games now. Justin Fontaine has three assists in the past three games. Pominville now has 128 career multi-point games. Mikko Koivu won 18 of 28 draws. Since Oct. 30, he has won 131 of 210 (62.4 percent).

After the game, Justin Falk and Jordan Schroeder were reassigned to Iowa.

That’s it for me. I’ll talk to you after Monday’s practice. The Wild’s off Tuesday (I’m getting revaccinated for the mumps that day!!!) and Rachel is covering Wednesday’s practice as I head to Philly.

Wild is 3-6 on the road and plays four of its next five on the road, including the Flyers-Lightning-Panthers trip coming up. The latter two games will be the team’s father-son trip.

That’s it for me. Tuesday’s paper, I’m doing a big story on the NHL’s Department of Player Safety, which I got to shadow during last Sunday’s NHL slate of games. Should be some great color and anecdotes in that story, which I better get home and write, in fact.

OK, there you go. A 2,100-word blog on my day off!!!

Mike Yeo talks about Darcy Kuemper's response and the former "young guys" after Wild wins in Dallas

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: November 15, 2014 - 6:44 PM

It was very clear Friday night that Mike Yeo was sick to his stomach when he learned that Patrick Schoonover, the 14-year-old from Apple Valley who played in the Eastview Hockey Association, died while playing in a tournament in Brainerd.

Yeo has two teenage children, so this hit home for Yeo, who is all about his family when he’s not at the rink. So it really wasn’t a shock after today’s 2-1 win over the Stars that Yeo emerged from the coach’s office here in Dallas and began his press conference by talking about Patrick and the boy’s family before addressing the Wild’s victory.

“Since we heard about what happened yesterday, Patrick, it’s been him, his family, the Eastview community, they’ve been in our thoughts,” the Wild coach said. “So it’s a tough thing. It’s a game that brings a lot of joy and happiness to a lot of us. So when something like that, something terrible, happens within it, it definitely hits you hard.

“I just hope that we can be there any way that we can.”

And knowing Yeo, he means it from the bottom of his heart. My best as well to Patrick’s friends and family and everyone affected by his tragic loss.

No easy way to transition, of course, but on to the trivial blog about today’s game.

Not a good first half for the Wild, but unlike the last three road games, the Wild didn’t unravel in the second. It stuck with it and finally discovered its game after getting a spark from a huge Ryan Carter to Erik Haula tying goal.

After the goal with 4:19 left in the second period, the Wild put together four or five real good shifts in a row and easily could have carried a lead into the third period. Didn’t matter, because 40 seconds in, Kari Lehtonen hand-delivered a Charlie Coyle rebound right onto a driving Mikael Granlund’s stick, and the centerman, like his Finnish countryman Haula, scored his second goal of the season.

Darcy Kuemper, pulled Thursday against Buffalo after allowing two goals on two shots, responded impressively with 27 saves for his second road win of the season and the team’s third. Kuemper stopped all 11 shots he faced in the third and made a number of big saves early to hold the game scoreless and then the deficit to 1-0. It was only the Wild’s second win at Dallas in its past 21 visits. The Stars have been poor at home this season, going 1-4-4, but the Stars had the better of the play by far in the first half of the game.

But the Wild, despite being shorthanded from a defensemen point of view with Marco Scandella and Jonas Brodin sick and Zach Parise missing his fifth straight game, gutted out a hard-fought win. Ryan Suter was great, logging 31-plus minutes and being plus-2. Trust me, Jared Spurgeon is still very much hurting, but he played his second straight game, and one game after a career-high eight shots and a goal, he blocked seven shots today and logged almost 28 minutes.

The Wild blocked 28 shots and the Wild was outshot (28-22) for the first time this season.

“I was eager to get back out there,” Kuemper said. “That Buffalo game was weird. Bad break on the first one, bounces off a body, and then beat by a good shot, and all of a sudden your night’s over (laughing), so it was kind of a tough one to get into. But it definitely left me hungry. I was eager to get back out there. I was even eager to get on the ice for practice yesterday.”

On the win today, Kuemper said, “Without a morning skate and traveling, maybe we were a little heavy legged, but we stuck with it and we did a good job defending. Great boxouts allowed me to see it. We didn’t change our game like we were when we were getting ourselves in trouble on the [four-game] losing skid. Got that goal [from Haula] and it gave us life.”

Yeo was real pleased with Kuemper. Niklas Backstrom has a “good chance” of starting Sunday against Winnipeg in a second of a back-to-back. After seeing the way Kuemper responded, I can’t imagine the Wild will mess around with its goaltending now for contractual reasons, but one more game now, and Kuemper requires waivers to play in Iowa. And there’s no chance the Wild would ever, ever, ever risk waivers with Kuemper, it’s $1 million No. 1 goalie.

So, what’s this likely mean? After Josh Harding’s conditioning stint, the Wild will either keep three goalies on its roster initially or place Harding on waivers and try to get him to Iowa for the time being. GM Chuck Fletcher did tell me in New York in late October that was a possibility.

After the game, Yeo kind of let slip a little motivational message he has given Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle, Nino Niederreiter, Erik Haula and Jason Zucker in recent days during the Wild’s struggles. Yeo didn’t know he was letting it slip, but since Coyle basically repeated Yeo’s words verbatim to me prior to us talking to Yeo, it was pretty obvious that Yeo met with the now former “young guys.”

The Wild’s former “young guys” didn’t play well during the four-game skid, from the young goalie on out. As I said when Parise got hurt, Guy Lapointe told me now the Wild will get to find out which of its kids will drive the bus rather than being on the outside pushing.

The problem with youngsters though is they often go with the flow of the rest of the team, and since none of them proverbially stepped up, Yeo basically said enough is enough and clearly sat them down.

Asked about the “young guys” after the game, Yeo said, “I’ll let you guys keep doing it, but I’m going to quit referring to them as young guys because they’re part of our team. They’re just players on your team. They’re no longer young guys. These guys are on second lines, first PPs, whatever. We need these guys not to be young guys and get excited when they play. These guys have a lot of potential and the reason that they’re in high spots in our lineup is because we know what they’re capable of, so we count on them to do it regularly.”

The response has been impressive.

One game after Niederreiter’s hat trick and Coyle’s two assists, Haula scored the tying goal Saturday, Coyle assisted on Granlund’s winner and Yeo tapped on the shoulders of Coyle, Zucker and Granlund to defend the game in the final minute with a Stars extra attacker on.

Now, Coyle was beating himself up bigtime after the game for two failed clears in that final minutes, but Coyle echoed his coach, saying, “We’ve got to know that we’re a big part of this team, so we’ve got to be ready for that. We want that. We want to be the guy to be called on at the end there to help your team win.”

For a second consecutive game, the Niederreiter-Granlund-Coyle line was arguably the Wild’s best, which means there’s a chance Parise will be reunited with Mikko Koivu and Jason Pominville when he returns from a concussion. Yeo said there’s a “possibility” that happens Sunday.

That could drop Zucker, who played another strong game Saturday in all areas (except the power play, down to the third line. Maybe that’ll somehow motivate a struggling Thomas Vanek, who still has one goal and has taken 32 shots in 16 games (14 of those came in two games, meaning he has 18 in the other 14 games).

Guys are getting what they deserve,” Yeo said. “You look at Zuck’s season so far and he’s got a long way to go still, there’s no question. We’re going to keep pushing him, but he’s gone from the fourth line to getting a regular spot on the penalty kill, getting an opportunity on the power play, playing on the first line and that’s what happens when you go and you do the right things and you play the right way. Like I said, we’re going to have to make sure that we continue to keep pushing him because we’re not completely satisfied with where he’s at. He’s playing really well but we want to keep pushing him to get better and we’re going to do the same for the rest of the group.”

Haula, whom Yeo has not been happy with really since training camp, had a good game and scored a huge goal to spark the Wild today. Carter set him up with an impressive play all around. They spent 59 seconds on the ice that shift and mostly defending, so they had to be tired. But Carter read a weak pass by Brenden Dillon perfectly, picked it off and set up Haula’s first goal since Oct. 25.

On Haula, Yeo said, “I saw him pick it up through the course of the game. I think that we’re trying to work with him to bring the consistency into his game and understanding I look back to a couple games ago here in Buffalo and I thought he did some good things and there was some progress made, but there were some other areas that didn’t fit with his identity. He’s got to be a really good defensive player. He’s got to be hard in his battles and I thought that he took an understanding that he needed to pick that part up into tonight and so the fact that he got rewarded with the goal was a plus.”

Carter by the way has nine points, tied for second on the team. Pretty impressive for a guy who logs 9:30 a game.

Carter said, “With some personnel out and playing on the road, it’s a difficult situation. But in this league, there’s no time for excuses, so it’s nice that we came in on the road, which I think we needed. To get a road win, third-period win, it’s huge for us.”

Haula said, “We stayed patient and we had great life on the bench tonight. That’s really carried us to victory. It’s a great road win. We needed that. It’s good for whole the team after the emotions we have gone through for the last stretch here.”

Yeo, by the way, still has not officially said Marco Scandella and Jonas Brodin tested positively for the mumps. One would think they did because the team, staff and broadcasters have the ability to get re-vaccinated, but regardless, Yeo didn’t rule out Scandella or Brodin from playing Sunday. That would seem like a longshot, but we shall see.

That’s it for me. I’ll be going to the game to tweet and maybe blog, but Rachel Blount is covering the game itself. Check out Sunday’s paper. Lots of stuff in there, from the gamer and notebook to my Sunday package on NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly talking candidly about the cap recapture punishment the Wild faces if Parise and/or Suter retire prior to 2025. If you’re not familiar with it, give it a read. He also talks to me about the Olympics, etc.

It may have been Buffalo, but Wild gets much-needed victory

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: November 13, 2014 - 11:24 PM

Hey, it’s easy to discount tonight’s 6-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres as meaningless because it came against Buffalo.

Even Sabres coach Ted Nolan is exasperated with his bad team, which in all-out lottery pick mode. For a third consecutive game, the Sabres gave up a half-dozen, so this isn’t a good team and Nolan ripped into some of the cluelessness defensively after the game.

But imagine if the Wild lost.

So that’s why I rolled my eyes at some of the “who cares?” tweets after the game, that the Wild only beat a junior team (no disrespect to junior teams, of course). The Wild did its job – it won a game it so desperately needed to win just to dial down the temperature for one night by snapping a four-game losing streak.

The Wild maybe even overcame a couple mental hurdles by not completely freaking out when it gave up a goal 63 seconds in and another one when Darcy Kuemper gave up a second goal on a second shot 10 seconds after the Wild took a 2-1 lead. That would be all she wrote for Kuemper, but Kyle Brodziak and Nino Niederreiter (first career hat trick, 18th in Wild history, 10th player) responded and Niklas Backstrom was solid in net by stopping 25 of 26 shots for his first home win since Jan. 4 in his first home appearance since Jan. 11.

“It’s huge for us,” said Ryan Carter, who had a goal and assist and was part of great fourth line with Brodziak and Justin Fontaine. “I don’t care what the opponent says or what their record is on any given night. It’s difficult to win in this league. It was nice to get that. I think we did it in good fashion, too. They got ahead early and we fought back and got the lead. They came back again, we stuck with it. That’s the kind of game I think we needed.”

The win came after coach Yeo scrambled all four lines in large part to spark low-scoring centermen Mikael Granlund, Mikko Koivu and Erik Haula.

Koivu centered Jason Zucker and Jason Pominville. Granlund centered Niederreiter and Charlie Coyle (two assists) and Haula centered Thomas Vanek, and in his Wild debut, Jordan Schroeder for an all-Gopher line.

Yeo said Granlund needed to play with two workers (Granlund had a good game and Coyle had a great game) and Haula needed to play with two creative, offensive guys. Yeo also hoped their speed would help Vanek.

“We kid about it, but we don’t just roll the dice and see what comes up here. It may appear that way sometimes,” Yeo said, jokingly this morning.

For one night it worked. Niederreiter, who now leads the team with seven goals, scored his first-period goals from the blue paint. Yeo indicated he has been trying to convince Niederreiter that he has got a good enough shot to score off the rush (he proved that in Game 7 last year), but where he’s going to make his mark in this league is by driving the net and being hard to contain by the blue.

For one night, Niederreiter listed to his coach.

The Wild got two power-play goals (wow) for a second time this season and now the Wild hopes to build on it in Dallas, where the Wild is 1-14-5 since March 2003. The Wild is 2-6 on the road and is 0 for 29 on the road on the power play.

Carter tied the score after a goal by Buffalo 1:03 in. He bunted the Brodziak rebound past Jhonas Enroth. Originally veteran ref Paul Devorski (sadly retiring after this year) called it off thinking the bunter batted it in with his glove, but he replays showed Carter sacrificed the runner to second – so to speak – perfectly.

“I was confident that it hit my stick,” Carter said. “And he told me on the ice, too, he was going to go look at it upstairs. I knew if they looked at it, it was going to be a good goal.

“That was a quick play. I don’t know how I thought of it or why I did it. It worked out. There’s a million things I could do now thinking about it. Just stand there and let it hit the ground and knock it in or something. I’m glad it worked out.”

It was Carter’s second goal in two games and Yeo loved the play of his fourth line tonight.

“It’s a good reminder for everybody how they did it,” Yeo said of their six-point game. “When you meet with the lines and you’re talking about what their role is, what their identity is, that line’s gotten a lot of offense for us and there’s been different people on it at different times this year, but it’s a good reminder that it doesn’t always have to be pretty, it doesn’t always have to be fancy. It still feels the same. If you score a pretty tic-tac-toe, off-the-rush goal or if you score one off the forecheck in the offensive zone and go to the net and getting a rebound and cross-checking the thing into the net – that’s the first time I’ve ever seen that (laughing) – but those guys did a great job.”

Carter said of the fourth line that has dried up since Matt Cooke’s injury: “If you can chip in, it’s nice. It’s good to get scoring throughout. At the end of the night, we needed that. It was important.”

Jared Spurgeon felt he was rusty at times, but he adds a whole different element to this team and scored a power-play goal. He constantly was a threat deep in the offensive zone.

For a guy who missed five games with a shoulder injury, he logged 29:27 because Yeo couldn’t ease him in because of illnesses to Jonas Brodin and Marco Scandella. Just impressive.

“To get out there was good. Now we have to look forward to Dallas,” Spurgeon said. “I just tried to get back into it as fast as possible. Playing with Suts (Ryan Suter) is pretty easy to do that. I just tried to keep it simple.

“I was able to get back on the ice about three days after I got hurt. They did a great job keeping me in shape. Obviously that’s a lot more fun than what I was doing before.”

Kuemper has given up goals in his past seven starts. His save percentage is down to .908.

On pulling Kuemper today, Yeo said, “I just felt that was a change that was needed. This is not by any means … I wouldn’t have started him if I felt that we’ve been losing games because of him. In fact I told him that yesterday. But that was just something that I felt that we needed to do at that time.”

Turned out to be the right call because Backstrom was great. It’ll be interesting to see how the Wild handles the goaltending now.

Josh Harding may be looking at a conditioning stint soon. The Iowa Wild play three in three next weekend, so perhaps Harding can get two games.

If the Wild keeps three goalies on the roster, that means one less position player. The Wild obviously can’t risk waivers on Kuemper and if he plays in two more games, he would require waivers to get to the minors.

So like I said, it’ll be interesting to see how the Wild handles this now. Do they ride Backstrom for a few games to see how Harding respond or does it not mess with its goaltending and just treat Kuemper’s contract situation like business as usual?

OK, that’s it for me. Big win from the proverbial sense. It was needed. Now onto Dallas.

I have to write my Sunday stuff in the morning, then fly to Dallas. Follow Rachel Blount of Twitter at @blountstrib for news from practice. I’ll be on KFAN at 4:30 p.m. (barring flight delay) and on Fox Sports North during the pregame show at 12:30 p.m. Saturday and first intermission.

ADVERTISEMENT

Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT