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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Tonight in Detroit, the Wild looks to sweep a road trip of 3-or-more games for the first time since Jan. 4-8, 2011, at New Jersey, Boston and Pittsburgh.
The Wild did have a five-game trip last year split into 4 and 1 where it won the first four games before returning home for a day and continuing the trip. But that technically still is considered a five-game trip, plus, since the loss Dec. 13, 2011, was in Winnipeg and that loss began the Wild's nose-dive-of-a-century, it shouldn't count just for that alone.
The Wild has won three in a row in regulation (COL, at COL, at VAN). It last won three in a row in regulation in the final five games of a seven-game winning streak Nov. 28-Dec. 10, 2011. Minnesota has won three straight on the road for the first time since a seven-game road winning streak Nov. 13-Dec. 10, 2011.
Niklas Backstrom vs. Jimmy Howard tonight. Mike Rupp and Tom Gilbert again skated this morning but won't play. Coach Mike Yeo says neither is 100 percent, and Rupp did leave the ice early shaking his head negatively to athletic therapist Don Fuller.
Nate Prosser gets a second consecutive game, meaning Brett Clark continues to wait to make his Wild debut.
Patrick Eaves won't play after being hit with a puck in practice. The Red Wings have recalled Gustav Nyquist.
Tonight's game is on NBC Sports Network. Doc, Edzo and Pierre at the mics.
Hopefully you saw today's article here on the trade deadline. Obviously a lot can change in 13 days, especially if there are injuries. April 3 is the deadline. The Wild's in San Jose. I am doing this out of memory, but I'm fairly sure the other time the Wild was in San Jose at the deadline, they didn't make a move (2009, Doug Risebrough's last deadline).
The two facets of today's article are 1) GM Chuck Fletcher says he is not trading Matt Cullen and Niklas Backstrom and indicated that while he's interested in talking to them about extensions, since there's no pressure to get it done now, he'll wait 'til the end of the year to talk to both; 2) He doesn't want to block the development of the Wild's youngsters and part of development is getting a playoff taste. In 2006, that's what Anaheim did with a couple rookies named Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. They won a Cup the next year.
In other words, there's different steps to development and Fletcher feels it would be a shame to make a move that would lessen or eliminate the roles of Jonas Brodin, Charlie Coyle and Jason Zucker and thus "skip" a necessary step of development. So I wouldn't expect a "rental" trade for say a first-line right wing or top defenseman.
I still believe Pierre-Marc Bouchard is still on the block, and knowing Fletcher, he would be interested in making what he likes to dub "hockey trades." (i.e. Nick Schultz for Tom Gilbert).
On Cullen/Backstrom, my gut says the Wild will want to extend Cullen. Before the year, I felt this would guaranteed be his last year because they'd need his spot to open a door for a kid, like Mikael Granlund or Johan Larsson or Brett Bulmer. But, you know what? You can't have all kids, Cullen can still play, skates like a 26-year-old and has been as important of a forward for the Wild as any other the past five weeks.
As for Backstrom, you can't just hand the reins to two rookies next year. You need a quality veteran who can start games and mentor. With Josh Harding's health uncertainty and the fact that they'd have to sign a veteran anyway because of what I initially said, I think you re-sign Backstrom if you can for a quality price on a short-term deal.
I just wouldn't expect big splashes at the deadline or even free agency for awhile. I will write more about this in the paper Thursday, but the big reason is the Wild has to make sure it can afford the future cap hits on second contracts for their kids.
Defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson just got a six-year deal worth $5.5 million a year coming out of his entry-level deal from Phoenix. This could very well wind up being the Jonas Brodin comparable if he continues to evolve offensively. Coyle, Zucker, these guys could get big second deals.
It's imperative the Wild doesn't put itselves in positions where it has a tough time re-signing their kids. This wouldn't preclude them from picking up players or signing players on short-term deals, but it very well could preclude them from signing or trading for huge names. Like I said, I'll write more about that in the Thursday paper.
But, embed this in your brains for awhile whenever you want to ask me, will the Wild go after X and X and X the next few deadlines and free agency periods.
Brodin made his NHL debut in this building in January. Very excited to be back and to be playing so well.
Lastly, there's a report from a web site in Finland that Karpat Oulu is trying to sign Gophers center and Wild draft pick Erik Haula. I'm sure he gets offers like this all the time, but the Wild isn't worried. This is a Finnish kid that came to America to play high school and college. His goal is obviously to play in the National Hockey League.
After the Gophers' year, the Wild will talk to Haula to see what he wants to do. My guess is the Wild signs him (Houston bound), but this is honestly a guess. The Wild doesn't want to answer Haula questions right now out of respect for the Gophers. The Wild doesn't want to cause the Gophers and Haula any distractions.
As Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said after Anaheim's 3-2 win tonight at the Honda Center, the Wild "vastly outplayed" the Ducks in the final two periods "but we just hung on."
Unfortunately for Minnesota, it spotted the Ducks, who are off to their best start in club history (15-3-1), a 3-0 lead. It wasn't like the game here Feb. 1 when the Wild was literally pinned in its zone for pretty much 55 minutes.
Tonight, the Wild paid for not being crisp with the puck in the first period. Turnovers, being caught in between, and Ryan Getzlaf and Teemu Selanne gave Anaheim a 2-0 lead.
But the Wild dominated the second. Jonas Hiller kept the Wild, 6-3-1 in its past 10, at bay despite some bigtime chances. Then a puck deflected off Ryan Suter's skate and into the crease under Darcy Kuemper, and Matt Beleskey shuffleboarded (made-up verb) it home for the eventual winner.
Kyle Brodziak scored 29 seconds into the third and Devin Setoguchi followed, but the Wild could never get the equalizer despite a late power play against a team that's won eight in a row at home.
The Wild controlled the last 10 minutes of the game after assistant coach Rick Wilson shuffled the D pairs, some of which weren't sharp -- like for a rarity, Suter-Jonas Brodin. Jared Spurgeon, who had a strong game and was the only plus Wild player in 27:47 of ice time, played with Suter and Brodin with Nate Prosser, and momentum came.
No momentum came from a late power play. Brodziak was on the No. 1 unit, and that stemmed from the change in Phoenix where they threw him out there and Spurgeon scored the eventual winner. They're doing it for the net-front presence, but I still would like to see more flash on the power play, maybe more of a shooter, like I don't know, AHL power-play stud Jason Zucker!
Judging from the tweets, fans are clamoring, too. I understand that Yeo is limiting his ice time at 5-on-5. All coaches do this with rookies who may not be playing the system to a T. But I think it's time the kid gets some power-play time. Yeo said last week he was hesitant because the veterans deserve first shot. But the power play ranks 25th in the NHL and the Wild doesn't score enough 5-on-5 to continually be wasting must-score power plays.
But other than the first period, I liked the Wild's game tonight. The Wild was all over a terrific Anaheim team. The effort was outstanding. It just paid for some careless plays with the puck in the first.
Couple things: The Wild is spending the night here in Anaheim, flying home Saturday and not practicing. So there may be no blog if no news.
The temperature for Sunday's game against Edmonton may have been dialed down. Taylor Hall, who injured Cal Clutterbuck in Edmonton last week, left tonight's game at St. Louis with a reported hamstring injury.
So there's a chance Hall and Clutterbuck won't play at the X on Sunday, which also may kill the story I've been working on!
Clutterbuck definitely won't play. Yeo doesn't have an update yet as to how he's feeling, but even if Clutterbuck is perfectly healthy, he hasn't practiced or been on the ice with the team in eight days. So, he's not playing Sunday.
Kent Youngblood is covering the game Sunday, by the way, although I'm sure I'll still be there tweeting up a storm.
I'm off to Chicago on Monday, but on Monday before my flight, I will be filling in for Paul Allen on KFAN from 9-noon. I'm sure there will be plenty of hockey guests.
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