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.
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.
Evening from Glendale, Arizona, where the Wild was shut out 1-0 by the Coyotes. Ilya Bryzgalov made 25 saves for a relatively simple shutout and 2:20 into the third, Taylor Pyatt scored the first goal on Niklas Backstrom since 9:24 into the first period at Chicago on Jan. 25.
As Keith Yandle said, Backstrom "was kicking tonight. When he's playing at his best, it's really tough to get one by him. We've seen him do that before and we knew it might be a 1-0 game. He's such a good goalie, if we get one by him we had to make it stand up."
Backstrom was extraordinary behind a flat, flat team. He stopped 40 of 41 shots, including several, as Shane Doan said, "incredible ones."
But the Wild couldn't sustain any real pressure. They were beaten to pucks, couldn't chase down dumps and the D had a difficult time getting the puck up to the forwards. The Coyotes looked to be the quicker and more desperate team.
Look, every team's going to be tired or flat once in a blue moon. That's understandable. But it's not affordable, not in this conference.
The Wild slipped from 7th to 9th and will drop more, you can guarantee, because it's idle until Wednesday's home game (it'll honor Andrew Brunette for his 1,000th game that night) vs. Colorado.
Matt Cullen's injury and Jared Spurgeon's illness hurt because three forward lines were fouled up and the Wild lacked two of its usual power-play pointmen. The good news is both should be back by Wednesday, and others, like John Madden, who is clearly hurt, will have time to rest up.
Flat game all around, but as Backstrom said, "One bounce there, one bounce here, we could have tied it."
But that didn't come. Lot of guys played poorly, a lot of passengers, as Jacques Lemaire likes to say.
And suddenly the Wild, which scored 21 goals in five games before the break (4-1), has been shut out through regulation in two of three games since the break. The first time, Backstrom saved the day with a shutout, 3 for 3 shootout and 1-0 win over LA.
In other news:
Talked to GM Chuck Fletcher tonight, and Marek Zidlicky, who hasn't played since Dec. 29, is expected to practice Tuesday. Guillaume Latendresse is 10 to 14 days away from practice. He is expected to see his doctor this week. Fletcher hopes he can be back in the lineup by March 1.
Also, Cody Almond and Justin Falk, who both played tonight, were reassigned after the game.
As for the Wild, it's changed up it's schedule a little bit the next few days. It was originally supposed to take Sunday off, but the other day it changed that up. It'll now practice Sunday and take Monday off. Then, full practice again Tuesday.
Kent is covering Sunday's practice, so he'll write and blog. With no practice Monday, the next blog from me probably will be after Tuesday's practice. Of course, I'm sure I'll be active on Twitter (russostrib).
Enjoy the Super Bowl.
By Brian Stensaas
First - a word of warning to anyone traveling out there: BE CAREFUL!
This blog is coming to you a little late and will be brief because I'm just now returning home from covering practice today down at the X. Getting there and back to my south suburban home was just a complete mess. I thought my way there was bad when it took nearly 45 minutes to go 20 or so miles. Then I tried getting home. 35E southbound was closed because of an accident, an overhead freeway sign told me. So I hopped on Highway 13 and got completely lost somewhere between Mendota and Mendota Heights (I've lived here 10 years - didn't know there was a difference ..). Once I found Highway 77, I nearly spun out on the ramp but a little careful driving (coupled with a cuss word, I admit) saved the day.
Speaking of cussing, I won't rat anybody out but boy was today's Wild practice intense. It started right away when coach Todd Richards made it very clear to the team that they could do things his way and be out of there in 45 minutes, or continue to lag and be out there in an hour and a half. They must have found some sort of happy medium, because the practice lasted just a little over an hour. It was a good, tough practice, though. Lots of conditioning in this one, especially at the end.
A couple of good battles in the corners today. I saw one player whack his stick on the boards in frustration. And, like I said, some of the language was fierce.
Just about everyone who should be out on the ice was today. The lone exception was Andrew Brunette. Richards said Brunette tweaked his knee or ankle against Edmonton, played on it against the Flyers and came in today saying it was sore. So he just hit the weights. Richards said if the team had a game today, Brunette would have been out there for the morning skate. So I wouldn't worry too much about this.
What else ....
Antti Miettinen has a nasty-looking upper lip after taking an uncalled high stick to the face against the Flyers. Miettinen received a pretty deep cut and required stitches both inside and outside of his lip. I joked that he'll have to be careful shaving, and he deadpanned that he will keep the razor away, and probably will have a mustache for the Olympics. We'll see about that one
Niklas Backstrom was on the ice for about two hours today. He said he feels great and is ready to go. He did not, however, bite when asked if he's going to play Wednesday against Phoenix. He gave tus a grin and then the 'ole "You'll have to ask the coaches."
Chuck Kobasew again skated on his own after practice. He has been out since spraining his left ACL and PCL on Dec. 26. He must be getting close, though, because Richards said Kobasew will take part in Wednesday's morning skate.
OK - I have to get writing. Remember to follow me on Twitter ("stensation") this week for all your Wild updates while Russo gets ready for ice dancing coverage in Vancouver.
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