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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Mike Yeo’s Wild vs. Todd Richards’ Blue Jackets on Wednesday night at Nationwide Arena.
The NHL’s most sickly team vs. the NHL’s most injured. The Wild will try to silence that obnoxious cannon of theirs.
Columbus, devastated all season by injury, is riding high right now, going 9-1-1 in its past 11 after losing 15 of its previous 17. Nino Niederreiter’s junior linemate, Ryan Johansen, leads the team with 22 assists and is tied with Nick Foligno with 31 points.
Foligno, expected to play his 500th game Wednesday, is tied for sixth in the NHL with 17 goals and tied for first with nine power-play goals. The Blue Jackets’ power play ranks fourth, by the way, and they have power-play goals in seven of the past nine games.
The Blue Jackets rank 27th in goals against (3.18), rank 26th in shots per game (27.8) and 27th in shots against per game (33.7). Sergei Bobrovsky, AKA, is the stud in goal, is returning from illness and has been good in his previous games against Minnesota. He is 3-1 against the Wild with a 1.68 goals-against average and .939 save percentage.
Wild has lost 16 of 23 visits all-time to Columbus and played one of last season’s worse games there, a 4-0 defeat.
The Wild’s coming off a hard-fought, well-played 3-2 win at Winnipeg.
Darcy Kuemper will get the start. He is 4-6 on the road with a 2.42 goals-against average and .921 save percentage. At home, he is 7-4 with a 2.86 goals-against average and .876 save percentage. #weird.
This will be the Wild’s third attempt to get to .500 on the road after starting 2-6 on the road. The Wild has won six of its past nine road games (8-9).
Same lineup is expected Wednesday, meaning Erik Haula will likely be scratched for the second straight game and third time in four games.
Defenseman Jonas Brodin (head) is feeling better and had a doctor’s appointment today, and GM Chuck Fletcher told me it makes no sense to fly him here and risk his health. So perhaps Friday’s game against the Maple Leafs is a possibility.
Niklas Backstrom (sick) is feeling much better and coach Mike Yeo said the team was even considering flying him to Columbus even if it was just to skate Wednesday morning. Yeo said the quicker the Wild can get him back onto the ice with the team, the quicker he can return. Remember, the Wild has back-to-back games this weekend with a big division game at Dallas on Saturday. So if Backstrom can’t play, Kuemper will either have to play back-to-back or John Curry would have to get his second start.
This weekend may be pushing it to play Backstrom no matter how much better he’s feeling. Remember, he basically started to get sick in that game at Chicago two weeks ago, so he has got to be pretty depleted right now.
Jason Zucker, no change in his sickness, Yeo said. He just has no energy and is doing the same with the stomach bug that’s invaded the Wild.
Yeo liked Kuemper’s game against the Jets and he said again today this is what the Wild needs consistently from Kuemper and Backstrom.
“We need both guys healthy and we need both guys playing well,” Yeo said. “You can point to a lot of different areas where we may not be completely on top of our game, but nobody plays perfectly and you don’t win without really good goaltending in this league. That’s the reality.
“The way Kuemps played last night is very encouraging, but him like our whole team, we can’t be satisfied with one game and have to look to build off it now.”
I talked to Marco Scandella, who’s riding high with confidence right now, and Ryan Suter, who admitted that his confidence is a little shaken lately with a slew of minuses and no goals since opening night.
Remember though, he had no goals in the first 40 games last year and then scored five in four games around this time of year. He said if they come in bunches, he hopes it starts and he gets a little of what Scandella’s got. Everything Scandella shoots seems to be going in these days, and he talked to me about a shorter stick he’s using and a new technique this year. I’ll put all that in the paper.
“I’m just trying to fire it hard every time,” said Scandella, who has nine goals, four in the past six games and a league-leading 0.3 goals per game (for defensemen). “I have a lot more confidence this year in my shot. In junior, I felt I had a lot of confidence in it. I got a lot of good looks and I was taking good windups. Once you get to pro hockey, it’s harder. But now I’m getting back to finding my groove and I try to shoot as hard as I can. I know I have a good shot, I know it’s a hard shot. Now I try to put everything into it every time.”
On his play recently, Suter doesn't seem to be overly concerned, but he says he just needs to work hard to get back to his A game. He admits the good news is things can only get better from the Winnipeg game. But he definitely seemed to be beating himself up today.
In the first 20 games, Suter had 10 assists and was plus-13 in 29:14 a night. In the past 12 games, he has 11 assists and is minus-11 in 30:23 a night.
But he says that’s just the nature of the team losing and when the team loses, with the amount of shifts he plays, he’s bound to be on the ice for goals against.
Yeo did say he may lower Suter’s ice time a little to try to help him out and he did say again today the Wild coaches are considering Scandella for No. 1 power-play duty. However, he said that doesn’t necessarily mean Scandella would replace Suter. He said he has no problem using two lefties at the top to change up the look.
More on this in the paper.
Nate Prosser and Stu Bickel had a few notable turnovers last night, but Yeo liked their game overall. Bickel is an interesting cat. For a bruiser, he looked great jumping up in the play in the Winnipeg game and last night his stretch passes created a few opportunities.
Yeo gave Prosser a mulligan for some of the giveaways last night because he said it’s not easy for a righty playing the left side.
“Those guys, they’re hard to play against. That’s what I like,” Yeo said. “Guys come around the net, they’re going to feel it. It shouldn’t be a comfortable place for people to go. [Bickel] brings that element and Pross too. I think when teams are too comfortable, it makes it too easy to execute.”
Yeo also liked Tyler Graovac’s initial game.
“For a young kid, there’s a lot of things he needs to learn as far as details. These things take not only days but probably more like years to get on top of.” But Yeo loved his size, speed, skating ability and hands. He nearly scored a goal, made a great play to the blue line to set up one play and pickpocketed a guy in the neutral zone to trigger a quick transition in the first periods. Still raw, but he should become a player one day. He only won 2 of 10 faceoffs, so the Wild will have to gauge that and perhaps keep him from key defensive zone draws.
From my pal at the Columbus Dispatch, Aaron Portzline:
Hartnell - Johansen - Morin
Calvert - Dubinsky - Tropp
Foligno - Wennberg - Skille
Cracknell - Chaput - Boll
Johnson - Savard
Tyutin - Prout
Connauton - Wisniewski
Bobrovsky in net
scratches: goloubef, leopold and maybe a forward recall later today.
RW Jack Skille (head) is probable. RW Cam Atkinson (shoulder), C Boone Jenner (back), C Artem Anisimov (triceps), D Ryan Murray (knee), C Mark Letestu (groin), RW Nathan Horton (back) and LW Brian Gibbons (knee) are out.
UPDATE: John Curry was recalled from Iowa and will start tonight. Niklas Backstrom was placed on IR (retroactive) with the stomach plague. He did skate this morning. Darcy Kuemper is sick, too, and will back up Curry.
Wild and Winnipeg Jets tonight at Xcel Energy Center as the Wild opens a critical home-and-home (completed Monday at the PEG). Morning from the arena’s press room. I’ll be on KFAN at 11:30 a.m. and I’m doing a Podcast today with columnist Jim Souhan at 3 p.m. on souhanunfiltered.com.
If you didn't read my state-of-the-team article with GM Chuck Fletcher today, here is the link (also see last blog for full transcript).
Wild’s eight back of Winnipeg for the top wildcard spot with three games in hand. Win both games in regulation somehow, and it’ll be four back with three games in hand. Lose both in regulation, and it’ll be 12 back with three games in hand.
The Jets, who have overcome a devastated top-4 all year long, are 8-1-4 in their past 13 overall, 4-0-3 in their past seven on the road and are 10-4-4 on the road this season. They did lose in overtime at Minnesota on Nov. 16.
The Wild is 5-6-3 in its past 14 overall and 2-3-3 in its past eight at home. The Wild is 11-4-3 all-time vs. the Jets/Atlanta Thrashers and 5-2-1 since Atlanta’s move to Winnipeg. The Wild is 3-0-1 at home against the Jets.
Coach Mike Yeo met with the team prior to this morning’s skate. Nino Niederreiter said the message was simple: “We have to start a new chapter. It’s not the end of the story. That’s the main thing. It was a chapter. We passed it. We just have to look forward. We have 50 games left. We just have to make sure we leave it all out there to make sure we get a playoff spot.”
The norovirus (not kidding) that’s been hammering Wild players the past three weeks. It’s now hit Jason Zucker. “It’s his turn,” Yeo said with defeated sarcasm.
Darcy Kuemper will start in goal. The first game after the break is usually hairy, and as we know, the Wild and Kuemper haven’t played well for awhile. Remember, both teams haven’t been allowed to practice or play the past three games (the Jets flew here this morning).
Last year in the first game after the break, the Jets had a 4-3 lead after one period against the Wild en route to a 6-4 win. Sloppy game, to say the least, particularly by the goalies.
Asked if Kuemper may have taken shots during the break, Yeo said he didn’t ask and hoped not.
“I actually hope that he turned his brain completely off, to be honest with you,” Yeo said. “That’s what our entire group needed. Sometimes mentally, just to step away, that’s the best thing that can happen.”
Kuemper has an .860 save percentage and 4.23 goals-against average in his past seven appearances (23 goals against).
As for the team, “First game back, the biggest challenge is finding your execution level, finding your timing, conditioning. I find that the guys are a little bit heavy, a little bit more winded as the game goes on. But I think more than anything else, it’s the details, the challenges of finding the details in the game.”
On the Wild’s struggles and lack of confidence recently, Yeo said, “We can’t just snap our fingers and make it reappear. I think that’s the main thing that we have to understand. There’s going to be some work involved. Every game is big for us because it’s another opportunity to move closer to the way that our game should look, and once we get our game looking the way it should look, then results will follow that. there’s no better time to start than right now. You look at this game tonight, this is a team that occupies a spot that we want to get. This is a team that we want them to know that we’re coming for them.”
He said the past 14 games are irrelevant as far as he’s concerned.
“What matters is what’s in front of us,” Yeo said. “At the end of the year, there will be a story. The story has not been written yet. There’s been a couple chapters in the story, but we get to decide how it plays out still.”
Yeo is scratching Nate Prosser and Christian Folin tonight for … Justin Falk and Stu Bickel. It’ll be Bickel’s sixth game and second on the blue line (he played there at Arizona when Jared Spurgeon got the norovirus).
Why Falk and Bickel? “That’s what we thought we needed for tonight,” Yeo said. “Big, physical pair against a physical team.”
I asked Yeo if the Wild needs to trade for a defenseman immediately with a string of games where clearly there’s not a lot of confidence in the third pair when they’re playing six, seven, eight minutes a night.
“I’m not going to sit here and say they’re only going to play six, seven minutes tonight. We’ll see what they bring tonight,” Yeo said. “I’m definitely not going to say that we need anything right now. We’re very confident and comfortable with our group. There’s no question that we need to find a little bit more consistency, and some of that will lend itself to having a little bit more of a consistent lineup, but we are very confident with the group that we have.”
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.
The Wild completes its three-game roadie tonight at Chicago (7:30 p.m.) before opening a four-game homestand (separated by the NHL’s annual Christmas hiatus) tomorrow night against the Boston Bruins.
The Wild is 3-5-1 in its past nine regular-season games at Chicago but 0-6 at Chicago in the past two postseasons.
The Wild is 6-0-1 against the Central Division, but it has yet to play the Blackhawks or Nashville, which comes to town Saturday. The Wild is 0-4-1 against powerhouses Anaheim, Los Angeles and St. Louis and as Zach Parise said to me in a Dec. 7 story here, it’s time for the Wild to join the top tier.
“We’ve got to start beating some of these teams,” Parise said.
Afternoon from the United Center, where the Wild just had an optional skate. If you didn't see my feature today, I did a story on the Wild's emergency medical action plan, which you may have witnessed one week ago when Keith Ballard was hit from behind. Here's that link.
If the Wild wins tonight, it'll be 8-8 on the road. Remember, this is a team that began the season 2-6 on the road. It's a good sign that the Wild is winning games on the road because one must assume it'll start to improve its home play again. The Wild is 2-2-1 in its past five at home after starting the season 7-1 at home.
Minnesota catches a big break tonight because coach Joel Quenneville says Duncan Keith, who ranks sixth in the NHL in average ice time per game (25:53), will miss the game because he is sick. Keith has 18 points and is plus-10 and scrambles up the Blackhawks’ blue line to potentially Tim Erixon-Brent Seabrook; Johnny Oduya-Niklas Hjalmarsson; David Rundblad-Michal Rozsival.
Coach Q said he “didn’t know” when asked if Keith has mumps-like symptoms. Hey, the Wild is in town, so be careful. Interesting story going around right now about Beau Bennett being out with the mumps and the fact he visited a children’s hospital recently. Here is a link.
The Wild, which has had five defensemen come down with the mumps, actually has player visits scheduled for a children’s hospital in the Twin Cities on Monday and has been talking to the hospital to see if it should go on as scheduled or be postponed.
Better be safe than sorry. The Wild hopes it’s beyond the whole mumps that seems to have begun with the St. Louis Blues (whether they’re willing to admit it or not, more than a dozen players, staff and, uh, media came down with mumps-like symptoms) and Wild. The Wild has taken all sorts of precautions from boosters (them and the Iowa Wild) a month ago to decontaminating its locker-room and equipment to making sure players use separate towels and water bottles.
As of now, the Wild still says Jared Spurgeon will miss his second game tonight due to a stomach ailment, but I’ll ask Mike Yeo again during his 5:30 availability tonight. Again, since the first seven games of the season, the Wild's top-4 of Ryan Suter, Jonas Brodin, Marco Scandella and Spurgeon has played in the same game in three of 22 games.
Antti Raanta vs. Darcy Kuemper tonight. I was shooting the breeze with Kuemper this morning and we were talking about how much water weight goalies lose per NHL game. I knew I should have been a goalie. He told me his record in one game was losing 10 pounds!
You should see how much water Niklas Backstrom drinks between periods.
Speaking of Backstrom, the veteran will likely start tomorrow’s home game vs. Boston. Backstrom is 5-0-1 in six starts vs. the Bruins with a 1.32 goals-against average, .957 save percentage and two shutouts. Makes sense because his favorite colors are yellow and black.
(I’m making that up).
Mikael Granlund told me he is playing tonight after missing Monday’s practice.
Wearing No. 27, Brett Sutter will make his Wild debut for Ryan Carter, who is out with an upper-body injury. Sutter, whose father is Los Angeles Kings coach Darryl Sutter, will play his 55th NHL game over parts of seven seasons.
The former Calgary Flame and Carolina Hurricane will play his second game in Chicago, which is neat because his dad spent his entire NHL playing career for the Blackhawks and coached the Blackhawks. Brett Sutter lived in Chicago as a kid and grew up a big Blackhawks fan.
“My dad’s history playing here and coaching here, it’s exciting,” Sutter, 27, said. “They were kind of my childhood team growing up here, so it’s definitely neat. But at the same time, once you get out there, it’s just another game. You try to put that aside and just play.”
Sutter said he has been playing center in Iowa. He’ll play fourth-line wing likely with Erik Haula and Kyle Brodziak tonight as the Wild comes back with the same lines I assume from its Arizona win. Again, we’ll get Yeo at 5:30 and the Wild had an optional skate this morning.
He said it won’t make a difference what position he plays tonight.
“I’m just going to try to be a real hard-working player,” Sutter, the former Charlotte Checkers captain, said. “I’m going to win every battle I can and keep it real simple tonight and just play a heavy game, be physical and do what I can to help the team.”
Yup, he’s a Sutter Brother’s son.
We chatted with Sutter about the Iowa coaching change, too, and you can read about that in tomorrow’s paper.
Scandella returns from his two-game jail sentence tonight. He said he’s not a dirty player, but he has to learn from the two recent head shots.
Also, I talked to Mikko Koivu about his signature shootout move (which he did alter a little the other night) and I’ll have those quotes in tomorrow’s paper.
FYI, I’ll be doing another podcast with Star Tribune columnist live from the Local in Minneapolis at 3 p.m. Wednesday. You can listen to it live or after the fact on souhanunfiltered.com. This will be a weekly thing, by the way.
For a change, the Wild power play helped win a road game.
After entering with one power-play goal on 44 chances in 14 previous road games, the Wild went 2 for 3 tonight at Arizona, the last coming off Zach Parise’s slam dunk with 5:53 left in regulation to force overtime en route to a 4-3 shootout win.
Playing against a team that is now winless in nine straight at home, the Wild was forced to play a man short with 17 skaters because Jared Spurgeon left warmups sick. He was actually sick beforehand and tried to take some IV’s, but it didn’t work. It sounds like he has a similar stomach virus that forced Charlie Coyle to miss a practice last week at Ridder.
Spurgeon’s absence coupled with Marco Scandella serving the final game of a two-game suspension really put the Wild in a tough spot tonight. Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin took a lot of the responsibility, logging 33:47 and 31:54, respectively (Brodin’s first time over 30 in his regular-season career).
On the second pair, Christian Folin moved to his off side and was paired with Nate Prosser. Justin Falk was paired with Stu Bickel, who was supposed to play forward for injured Ryan Carter, but Bickel only played 10 shifts. So in a lot of ways, the Wild played with 16 skaters.
But after Coyle, who played a strong game despite lots of struggles lately, kept a power play alive, Jason Pominville set up Parise.
Then, in the shootout, Parise and Mikko Koivu each scored their 38th shootout goals for the win. That’s a tie for first in the NHL in career shootout goals, and Koivu used the same move he has scored on three times this season (including the preseason) and several times in his career.
I’m planning to write on Koivu for Monday’s paper and I’ll have another real cool story in Tuesday’s paper that you’ll want to check out too, I think.
Back to Koivu, he has been real good for two or three weeks. I talked to him about “Angry Mikko,” which you know what I mean if you follow me on Twitter, his early season point struggles and leadership.
Jason Zucker had another fine game. He scored on the same breakaway move he scored on in October against Tampa Bay – basically the Koivu shootout move. He also scored with his dad and big bro, Evan, in the crowd. He said it’s the first time Evan has seen him play live, and coincidentally, I talked to Evan for my hockey in Vegas column that is running in Sunday’s paper. Here’s a link.
Suter two assists tonight, four hits, four blocked shots. Brodin, six blocked shots. Folin four blocked shots. Coyle four shots, (eight attempted) two drawn penalties and three hits.
Brodin has been ridiculously good lately. Plus-8 in seven games since returning from the mumps. His plus-14 was tied for fourth among NHL blue-liners. I wrote about Brodin and Coyle in my game notebook.
Yeo praised all the defensemen for stepping up in the absence of Scandella and Spurgeon. First time in the NHL Yeo said he coached a game short a player. He also praised the leadership for helping leading the way after Friday’s “stern” message Yeo provided.
Again, the hope is the power play is a start tonight. Parise said it all started with good entries, a net-front presence, a shot mentality and retrieving pucks, all stuff the Wild doesn’t do when it doesn’t feel good about itself on the power play. He said when you’re feeling good, it’s instinct.
That’s it for me. Just filed for the paper. Short blog, I know, with not a lot of detail about a fair unimpressive game despite the comeback win, but I wasn’t in the locker room long after the game because of a problem I had to deal with out of the blue. So apologies, but I need to get going.
The Wild flew back to Minnesota after the game and is off Sunday. I’ll blog if there’s news. Like I said, I plan to write about Koivu for Monday and a cool story for Tuesday. Kent Youngblood is covering Monday’s practice in Minnesota. Matt Cooke, who has missed 20 games, is expected to practice. We’ll see if Spurgeon or Carter practice as well.
On the blog, I may not be talking to you next until after the morning skates in Chicago. I'll will be on KFAN at 9:35 a.m. Tuesday when our very own Lavelle E. Neal The Third fills in for P.A.
If the Wild can manage to win at Chicago, it'll be .500 on the road after starting the season 2-6 away from St. Paul.
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