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 On the road

Wild in Shark Tank tonight

Posted by: Chris Miller Updated: January 25, 2014 - 12:48 PM

The Wild is at San Jose tonight for a 9:30 p.m. (Central) game that kicks off a tough, four-day road trip with games also in Anaheim, Colorado and Calgary.

Mikko Koivu and Jared Spurgeon flew in with the team yesterday, but aren't like to play on the road trip, coach Mike Yeo said.

A reminder, Michael Russo is away for a family emergency.  We have veteran writer John Ryan stringing for us, and you'll get a first report from John at startribune.com when the game ends.  TV tonight is Fox Sports North.

Zach Parise felt fine after his return from a broken foot. John's report from Friday's practice is here.

Sharks, of course, are without rookie sensation Tomas Hertl, who tore up a knee and is out for the season. San Jose made big news yesterday when they extended the contracts of Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau.

Big weekend for the NHL with an outdoor game tonight at Dodger Stadium and another outdoor game tomorrow at Yankee Stadium.

Preview box for tonight's Wild game:

Preview: The Sharks are fourth in the Western Conference, and the Wild is tied for seventh. The teams have split 3-1 games this season, both winning at home.

Players to watch: Wild RW Jason Pominville scored his team-high 20th goal in Thursday’s 2-1 victory over Chicago. … Ryan Suter (31 points) is 10th in the NHL in scoring for defensemen. … G Darcy Kuemper has a 2.22 goals-against average in nine games but has started six in a row. … Sharks C Joe Thornton leads the NHL with 47 assists and is sixth in scoring with 53 points but has only six goals. Thornton and W Patrick Marleau both got three-year contract extensions Friday. … C Joe Pavelski is second in the league with 28 goals. … G Antti Niemi (2.38 goals-against average) has played in 43 of 51 games.

Numbers: Former Minnesota State RW Eriah Hayes has skated in the past nine games for the Sharks and is looking for his first NHL point. Ex-Minnesota Duluth G Alex Stalock has consecutive shutouts as Niemi’s backup. The Sharks’ Justin Braun, a Minneapolis native, is seventh among NHL defensemen in plus/minus (plus-20). … The Wild is 1-8 in its past nine games at the SAP Center.

Injuries: Wild G Josh Harding (illness), D Jared Spurgeon (foot) and C Mikko Koivu (ankle) are out. Sharks forwards Logan Couture (hand), Tomas Hertl (knee), Raffi Torres (knee) and Adam Burish (back) are out, as is D Scott Hannan (concussion).

Darcy Kuemper to get 3rd straight start for Wild; Zach Parise brings in his skating coach

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: January 16, 2014 - 3:49 PM

Rookie Darcy Kuemper gets his third consecutive start and fourth in the past six games tonight against newly-acquired goalie Ben Scrivens and the Edmonton Oilers.

Morning from the X’s press room. Blaine’s Matt Hendricks will also make his Oilers debut tonight. Edmonton, the worst defensive team in the NHL, is winless in its past five on the road and has won twice at the X in its past 21. Of course, the Oilers nearly ruined the Wild’s season last year with a 6-1 beating April 26.

Remember that game? Fans booed after 20 minutes, 40 minutes, 60 minutes, a timeout, when the attendance was announced! Fans mocked the Wild anytime a save was made, even by Josh Harding, who was making his first appearance in relief of Niklas Backstrom since Feb. 7, anytime the Wild registered a shot or even when the public address announcer let it be known the first, second and third periods were a minute from ending.

Good times. Luckily for everybody involved, the Wild won its must-win season finale 24 hours later in Denver on a nice response by Backstrom.

Coach Mike Yeo said the first shot went into the net that last game against Edmonton and we “completely unraveled.” Tonight, he wants the Wild to focus on the process, not the result, and play a solid 60 minutes doing the right things that will lead to the result it wants.

Despite Backstrom being 17-1 all-time against the Oilers at home with a 1.49 goals-against average (the one loss being that home finale when he gave up three goals on five shots), the Wild’s coming back with Kuemper, who has played well during this stretch.

He made a career-high 39 saves (another four in the shootout) last week in L.A., had a 23-save shutout Sunday in Nashville and stopped 29 of 32 shots in Tuesday’s 3-0 loss to Ottawa, a game he kept the Wild in striking distance until the third period.

“I thought he played a very good game, so it’s just a matter of showing a little confidence in him and seeing if he can come back with another solid effort,” Yeo said.

Asked if he has talked to Backstrom, Yeo said goalie coach Bob Mason did.

“It’s hard not to figure out that Kuemps has played well.,” Yeo said. “We’ve always been a team and believed in giving guys other opportunities and giving guys a chance, much the same that we gave Backy that chance in Phoenix, we’re giving Kuemps this chance to tonight.”

Backstrom made 39 saves in that win at Phoenix, but he gave up three goals on 17 shots in last Saturday’s loss to Colorado.

Backstrom said all the right things this morning, saying, “You want to play every time, but it’s up to the coaches and the training staff to see what’s going on and make a decision. As a player, you try to be ready whenever you get a chance.”

When I spoke with Backstrom, he said nobody had talked to him yet and he hadn’t asked why he’s not playing.

“I never ask,” Backstrom said. “You try to be ready when you get a chance. You don’t want to think too much. You try to work hard every day and try to be at your best every day and work on your game.”

Asked if he feels his game has returned to a higher level having won three of his past four with Josh Harding sidelined, Backstrom said, “I feel good out there. You always want to be better. Everyday you want to be better, whether you play good or bad. I don’t know if you’re ever satisfied. I don’t think you ever should be. It’s always about trying to improve and being at your best when it counts. That’s what you work for.”

Defenseman Keith Ballard is back in the lineup tonight after being a scratch the past four games. As Yeo promised, the left-shot Ballard will play the left side after playing much this season on the right. In 19 games since missing nine games with broken ribs, Ballard has two assists and is minus-13. Some glaring turnovers and icings led to being benched the last half of Tuesday’s shootout win at Los Angeles.

Jon Blum will be scratched, meaning left-shot defenseman Clayton Stoner moves to the right. Stoner, who played a little on the right in juniors, played a few shifts with Marco Scandella on the right against Ottawa. On two of those shifts, the Senators scored. Yeo said it was more circumstance: the power-play goal by Clarke MacArthur when the Wild still feels he was offside and the broken stick by Scandella that led to Erik Condra’s breakaway goal.

Yeo wants Ballard not to try to do too much tonight, “just play a solid game, just play an efficient game with how he moves the puck, how he defends.”

Ballard said, “I’m a lot more comfortable on the left. Earlier in the season, I think I was playing real well. At that point, it didn’t matter what side I was on. I felt good on the right, good on the left.” Ballard means that right now, with his game out of order, it would be better for him to get back in the swing of things on the left.

Yeo said Jared Spurgeon will get on the ice soon and he wouldn’t divulge the Wild’s plans for Harding, saying they have some thoughts. That made me ask if the team is considering asking Harding to go on a conditioning stint in Iowa. Yeo said, “we’ll consider everything, whatever we think we need for our team … to make sure we get him on top of his game.”

Harding will miss his 12th game in the past 14 tonight and eighth straight. He was on the ice again today with the team.

Parise looked good again today. He brought in his skating coach, Andy Ness, of ProEdge Power, to work with him before the morning skate. Ness is also the Wild’s skating consultant part-time skills coach.

After working hard with Ness, Parise took part in the skate with his teammates.

I grabbed Parise afterward.

“I’ve skated with him and [his mother] Diane for, gosh I don’t know, over 10 years now, so they know my stride and my skating better than anybody in the world,” Parise said. “I wanted Andy to run me through a lot of the drills we do in the summer and for him to physically see how I look.

“He said he thought I would look a lot worse than I did today, so that’s a good sign. Today, I felt better than I did yesterday, so that’s good. Each day you try to do a little more and little more. Rest it, ramp it up tomorrow, rest it, ramp it up. That’ll be the gameplan for the next while.”

Parise said getting into game shape is a must, so “a couple more days of doing what I’m doing, and then we’ll add bumping and game-like situations. Unfortunately it’s tough to get practice time because they don’t practice much, so that’ll be a little bit of a challenge, but we’ll get there.”

“I’m trying to get in a game as soon as I can in a smart and safe way. That's the best timeline I can give you.”

A numerical look at the Wild in the first half

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: December 31, 2013 - 11:40 AM

UPDATED

The Wild had a team meeting this morning prior to its 5 p.m. game against the St. Louis Blues. A few guys took the ice, including backup Niklas Backstrom, healthy scratch Zenon Konopka and injured Clayton Stoner. Zach Parise is still not allowed on the ice with his broken foot.

Jared Spurgeon was also on the ice testing his injury and coach Mike Yeo expects him to play. Jon Blum was called up but will be scratched as long as Spurgeon can play, Yeo said.

Josh Harding vs. Brian Elliott tonight. I'd expect David Backes will play in his hometown, but I'll check with him after the Blues' skate. He missed the last Dallas game with an upper-body injury. David Backes is indeed out tonight.

The Blues are 4-0-2 in their past six on the road, 7-1-2 in their past 10 overall and 12-0-1 against the Central this year (unbeaten against the Central since an Oct. 18 shootout loss to Winnipeg).

I'll be on Fox Sports North during the pregame show and first intermission.

If you didn't catch today's story here, I talked to GM Chuck Fletcher about the state of the sinking Wild yesterday. He talked about the team, his attempt to make a trade and also Yeo's job security. While he says his inclination is not to overreact and to give this group a chance to fix things, Fletcher declined to give Yeo a vote of confidence.

The entire coaching staff is in the final year of its contract. The rest of this homestand is huge. There is no doubt Yeo is on the hot seat.

Here's some numbers I threw together:

Wild at the midway point

Record: 20-16-5 (10th in the West)

Home: 14-4-2

Road: 6-12-3

1-Goal Games: 12-3-5

2-goal Games: 5-5

3+-goal Games: 3-8

Scoring First: 14-4-2

Opponent Scoring First: 6-12-3

Leading after 1: 8-1-1

Trailing after 1: 1-11-2

Tied after 1: 11-4-2

Leading after 2: 14-1-3

Trailing after 2: 4-14-2

Tied after 2: 2-1

OT record: 0-1

Shootout record: 5-4

Outshooting opponent: 9-7-5

Outshot: 9-9

Vs. East: 9-8-2

Vs. West: 11-8-3

Goals per game overall: 2.22 (29th in the NHL)

Goals per game at home: 2.7 (17th in the NHL)

Goals per game on road: 1.85 (29th in the NHL)

Goals against per game overall: 2.51 (12th in the NHL

Goals against per game at home: 1.95 (7th in the NHL)

Goals against per game on road: 3.05 (24th in the NHL)

Shots per game: 27.7 (27th in the NHL)

Shots against per game: 27.3 (tied for 4th in the NHL)

Power play overall: 19.4% (11th in the NHL)

Power play at home: 20.6% (11th in the NHL)

Power play on road: 18.2% (11th in the NHL)

Shorthanded goals allowed: 3 (tied for 13th in the NHL)

Power play opportunities: 129 (tied for 21st in the NHL)

Penalty kill overall: 78.8% (26th in the NHL)

Penalty kill at home: 82.8% (tied for 14th in the NHL)

Penalty kill on road: 75.7% (27th in the NHL)

Shorthanded goals: 1 (tied for 26th in the NHL)

Times shorthanded: 132 (18th in the NHL)

Penalty minutes: 19.7 a game (tied for 6th in the NHL)

5-on-5 goals for: 61 (tied for 25th in the NHL)

5-on-5 goals against: 62 (tied for 5th in the NHL)

Team leaders

Goals: Jason Pominville 17, Zach Parise 15, Mikko Koivu 8, Dany Heatley 8, Justin Fontaine 8

Assists: Koivu 22, Ryan Suter 22, Parise 12, Nino Niederreiter 12, Mikael Granlund 12

Points: Koivu 30, Pominville 28, Parise 27

Plus-Minus: Niederreiter +6, Matt Cooke +5, Fontaine +5, Marco Scandella +5

Penalty minutes: Zenon Konopka 55, Clayton Stoner 35, Keith Ballard 31

Power-play goals: Parise 8, Pominville 5, Jonas Brodin 3, Heatley 3

Power-play assists: Koivu 10, Suter 9, Pominville 4, Granlund 4

Power-play points: Koivu 11, Parise 11, Pominville 9, Suter 9

Shorthanded goals: Parise 1

Even-strength points: Pominville 19, Koivu 18, Parise 15, Niederreiter 15

Game-winning goals: Pominville 4, Koivu 3

Shots: Parise 144, Pominville 111, Koivu 96

Faceoff winning pct.: Konopka .657, Koivu .555, Kyle Brodziak .513

Shooting pct.: Brodin .206, Fontaine .190, Pominville .153

Time on ice per game: Suter 29:40, Brodin 24:42, Koivu 21:35

  

Goaltending stats

Games: Josh Harding 28, Niklas Backstrom 16, Darcy Kuemper 2

Wins: Harding 18, Backstrom 2

Shots against: Harding 667, Backstrom 430, Kuemper 16

Goals allowed: Backstrom 46, Harding 44, Kuemper 6

Goals against average: Harding 1.64, Backstrom 3.32, Kuemper 6.10

Save percentage: Harding .934, Backstrom .893, Kuemper .625

Shutouts: Harding 3

Unique stat team leaders

Hits: Cooke 96, Niederreiter 95, Jared Spurgeon 50

Missed net w/ shot: Koivu 52, Pominville 45, Spurgeon 39

Blocked shots: Spurgeon 66, Suter 57, Scandella 55

Points at home: Parise 18, Koivu 17, Pominville 13

Points on road: Pominville 15, Koivu 13, Suter 13 

Shootout goals: Koivu 3, Parise 3, Pominville 3

Shifts per game: Suter 32.2, Brodin 30.2, Spurgeon 28.3

Fights: Konopka 7, Stoner 3, Ballard 3

Minor penalties: Niederreiter 12, Brodziak 10, Cooke 10, Stoner 10

Goals to tie games: Parise 4, Koivu 4, Fontaine 3, Pominville 2, Brodin 2

Goals to put Wild up by one: Pominville 6, Parise 5, Fontaine 3, Brodin 3, Heatley 2

Goals to put Wild up by two: Parise 3, Pominville 3, Koivu 3

Goals to cut deficit to one: Pominville 3, Heatley 2

Zach Parise to miss tonight's game against Philadelphia

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: December 23, 2013 - 6:33 PM

The going is only getting tougher for the Wild, which is 1-6-1 in its past eight on the road and faces a Flyers team tonight that has won eight in a row at home.

There were rumors the past hour that Zach Parise would miss tonight's game against the Flyers. The Wild has just confirmed he has a lower-body injury. I didn't see Parise this morning but he was at the team hotel earlier today.

This will be Parise's second game missed this season, the last with a foot injury that hasn't healed yet. I believe this is related.

We'll have more from coach Mike Yeo after the game hopefully.

Parise has one assist and is minus-7 on the 1-6-1 road slide that started with his foot injury in St. Louis.

Justin Fontaine will draw into the lineup.

Matt Cooke slides into Parise's spot next to Mikko Koivu and Charlie Coyle

The Nino Niederreiter-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville remains intact, while Dany Heatley will skate with Kyle Brodziak and Fontaine and Stephane Veilleux skates on the left side of Zenon Konopka and Torrey Mitchell.

Wild vs. Flyers: Veilleux recalled; Stoner out, Prosser in; World junior TV info

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: December 23, 2013 - 12:04 PM

Wild and Flyers tonight at Wells Fargo Center on NBC Sports Network as both teams look to head into the NHL's holiday hiatus on a high. Dave Strader upstairs, Pierre McGuire between the benches.

The Flyers will be looking for their first nine-game home winning streak since 2005. During their eight-game home winning streak, they have outscored their opponents 32-15. Guys like Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek are running hot.

The Wild has lost seven of its last eight road games (1-6-1) with eight goals in that span and have no regulation road wins since Nov. 20. They did manage to score first for the first time in 11 road games last night at the Garden, so they’ve got that going for them.

Niklas Backstrom vs. Steve Mason tonight.

The Wild reassigned Erik Haula this morning and recalled the red-headed wonder, Stephane Veilleux.

Why would the lowest-scoring team in the Western Conference do that?

“Penalty killer, energy, emotion, physical,” coach Mike Yeo said. “We always like when Steph’s in our lineup because we know what we’re going to get with him. I think it’s important to have a fourth line that’s bringing that speed, that identity.”

Haula is not a fourth-liner and shouldn’t be. Yeo talked about after New York’s second goal last night, he put his fourth line out to get a momentum shift. Instead, there was a turnover and they were pinned in their zone.

“It would be useful,” Yeo said, to have a fourth line that can get the puck deep, get the momentum back and “help us get back to our game.” Veilleux can provide that, Yeo said.

My guess is Zenon Konopka comes back into the lineup and centers Veilleux and Torrey Mitchell.

The other three lines, Yeo said, he’s keeping a surprise.

He did say there will be some changes. I didn’t get the impression Yeo will split Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu today.

Parise’s a minus-5 on the trip, Koivu a minus-4. They have no points. I think with Mikael Granlund back in the lineup, it’s worth trying. I think it’s just too easy to load up on Koivu and Parise together on the road, but Yeo said the Granlund-Jason Pominville tandem is a “pretty difficult tandem to deal with as well. We do believe ti have those guys situated like that we do have more than one line to concentrate on.”

But why doesn’t he ever split Parise and Koivu?

“Mikko is a skilled player and needs skilled players with him,” Yeo said. “He needs guys, you look around the league, we’re not the only team to do that. I don’t want to start naming off centermen, but first-line centermen generally are going to play with first-line wingers. Skilled players need to play with skilled players. That’s what it comes down to.”

Again though, if you consider Nino Niederreiter and Charlie Coyle skilled, I don’t see why Koivu in the middle can’t be experimented with. The Wild is too one and done offensively. Get the puck in, try to win the battle and leave the zone when it doesn’t. If they do with the cycle battle, it usually results in one shot and out of the zone.

I like the size of a Niederreiter-Koivu-Coyle line on the cycle and the speed and plays a Parise-Granlund-Pominville line could bring. We’ll see.

Clayton Stoner will miss tonight’s game with a lower-body injury. Nate Prosser will play for the first time in 14 games (Nov. 25).

Yeo said, “He’s such a great pro. He’s done this. It’s not an easy job, a lot of guys can’t do it,” but he just wants Prosser to come in and “be effective in his game, provide a spark,” compete hard and defend hard.”

Prosser said just that, that he plans to flip the switch at the opening faceoff and be tough to play against.

Team meeting this morning and the big topic was being mentally tougher than folding up its tents with one goal against or bad portions of game. Yeo watched last night’s game again and felt the Wild actually had a better first half of the game than it has in some time.

Talk to you tonight. The good folks at TSN report defenseman Matt Dumba won’t face a suspension for his kneeing major in yesterday’s world junior championships tune-up game.

Speaking of which:

NEW YORK (December 18, 2013) – NHL Network-U.S. and NHL.com will
offer fans in the United States the opportunity to watch live competition
from the 2014 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship
, Dec. 26-Jan. 5 from Malmo, Sweden. The IIHF World Junior Championship
features the top men's hockey players in the world under the age of 20 and
is one of the featured events on the world hockey calendar each year.

        NHL Network-U.S. will broadcast 18 live contests from the 2014 IIHF
World Junior Championship, including every game from Team USA's group –
which features games against Canada, Czech Republic, Germany and Slovakia –
as well as the quarterfinals, semifinals, and bronze- and gold-medal games.
A complete schedule is below and available on www.nhlnetwork.com.

        Steve Mears, co-host of NHL Network’s NHL Live, will provide the
play-by-play along with NCAA/junior hockey analyst Dave Starman. TV/radio
host Jill Savage will serve as the rink-side reporter.

        NHL.com will provide a live stream of all Team USA tournament games
(available only in the U.S.) as well as the latest information from the
tournament, including news, recaps and select game highlights.

      In 2013, the United States took home gold by defeating defending
champion Sweden, 3-1, in the final. That earned Team USA its third medal
from the last four IIHF World Junior Championships, to go with gold in 2010
and bronze in 2011.

       2014 IIHF World Junior Championship NHL Network-U.S. Schedule
                Dec. 26, 2013-Jan. 5, 2014 • Malmo, Sweden
|-------------+------------------+-----------------+------------|
|Date         |Matchup           |Time (Local/ET)  |Live        |
|             |                  |                 |Streaming   |
|-------------+------------------+-----------------+------------|
|Thurs., Dec. |Canada vs. Germany|1:30 p.m./7:30   |            |
|26           |USA vs. Czech     |a.m.             |NHL.com     |
|             |Republic          |5:30 p.m./11:30  |            |
|             |                  |a.m.             |            |
|-------------+------------------+-----------------+------------|
|Fri., Dec. 27|Slovakia vs.      |3:00 p.m./9:00   |            |
|             |Germany           |a.m.             |            |
|-------------+------------------+-----------------+------------|
|Sat., Dec. 28|USA vs. Slovakia  |1:30 p.m./7:30   |NHL.com     |
|             |Canada vs. Czech  |a.m.             |            |
|             |Republic          |5:30 p.m./11:30  |            |
|             |                  |a.m.             |            |
|-------------+------------------+-----------------+------------|
|Sun., Dec. 29|USA vs. Germany   |3:00 p.m./9:00   |NHL.com     |
|             |                  |a.m.             |            |
|-------------+------------------+-----------------+------------|
|Mon., Dec. 30|Germany vs. Czech |1:30 p.m./7:30   |None        |
|             |Republic          |a.m.             |            |
|             |Canada vs.        |5:30 p.m./11:30  |            |
|             |Slovakia          |a.m.             |            |
|-------------+------------------+-----------------+------------|
|Tues., Dec.  |Czech Republic vs.|1:30 p.m./7:30   |            |
|31           |Slovakia          |a.m.             |NHL.com     |
|             |USA vs. Canada    |5:30 p.m./11:30  |            |
|             |                  |a.m.             |            |
|-------------+------------------+-----------------+------------|
|Thurs., Jan. |Quarterfinal #1   |noon/6:00 a.m.   |TBA         |
|2            |Quarterfinal #2   |2:30 p.m./8:30   |            |
|             |Quarterfinal #3   |a.m.             |            |
|             |Quarterfinal #4   |5:00 p.m./11:00  |            |
|             |                  |a.m.             |            |
|             |                  |7:30 p.m./1:30   |            |
|             |                  |p.m.             |            |
|-------------+------------------+-----------------+------------|
|Fri., Jan. 3 |Semifinal #1      |3:00 p.m./9:00   |TBA         |
|             |Semifinal #2      |a.m.             |            |
|             |                  |7:00 p.m./1:00   |            |
|             |                  |p.m.             |            |
|-------------+------------------+-----------------+------------|
|Sun., Jan. 5 |Bronze Medal Game |3:00 p.m./9:00   |TBA         |
|             |Gold Medal Game   |a.m.             |            |
|             |                  |7:00 p.m./1:00   |            |
|             |                  |p.m.             |            |
|-------------+------------------+-----------------+------------|\

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