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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Evening from the X, where Mikko Koivu scored both goals and Josh Harding made 21 saves (8 on Blake Wheeler alone) to lift the Wild to a 2-1 victory over the Winnipeg Jets for its sixth straight home win.
Read the game story for the details on www.startribune.com/wild, but Jets fans came in droves, chanted, taunted Harding, causing Wild fans to boo and give it right back with loud “Let’s Go Wild” cheers.
“So how about our fans tonight? It was awesome. I loved it,” coach Mike Yeo said. “Their fans are great, there’s no question. They travel well. They’re loud. I thought our fans were awesome.”
Read more about that in the gamer, like I mentioned, but one’s got to think Harding should be one of the three Stars of the Week on Monday in the NHL. Four goals in three wins and 12 goals in eight games (7-0-1) this month to help left the Wild, which has points in 12 of its last 13 (10-1-2).
Harding is 9-0-2 since Oct. 17 for the longest point streak in a single season by a goalie in Wild history. He is 10-0 at home with a 1.15 GAA. He is 12-2-2 overall and leads the NHL with a 1.26 GAA and .946 SV%. In his career at the X, he is 31-9-2, including 24-4-1 since Jan. 27, 2010.
Koivu recorded his 13th career multi-goal game and Zach Parise tried to set him up for the empty-net hat trick, but Parise said that he led him too far with the pass. Koivu’s winner came with 3:12 left after he won a draw to Ryan Suter. Suter patiently sent it to Charlie Coyle, who cut down low along the half wall, spun away from Keaton Ellerby and passed to Koivu in the left circle, who one-timed a laser past Ondrej Pavelec.
Koivu has nine points in his past six games.
“Offensively, I sure hope he keeps going the way he is right now because defensively, every single night, he’s just a guy that’s extremely difficult to play against,” Yeo said.
Suter logged 30:08 of ice time and blocked a career-high seven shots. The Wild, the NHL’s third-best faceoff team (.549), won 33 of 52 faceoffs.
The Wild is the best defensive team in the West, giving up 1.95 goals per game (2nd in the NHL). It has allowed the fewest shots in the NHL (24.0) and the fewest 5-on-5 goals (19 in 21 games).
Marco Scandella had another outstanding game, assisting on Koivu’s first goal. Since being scratched in three in a row, Scandella is plus-9 in 15 games with one minus-1 game in that stretch. His MO has been inconsistency, but that’s awfully consistent and I think one big thing is he doesn’t have the minors hanging over his head anymore.
Mikael Granlund had another outstanding effort. Great on both sides of the puck, and Koivu and Granlund did this with Finnish brass Jari Kurri and Erkka Westerlund in the press box scouting. Granlund had four shots, attempted eight shots and won 8 of 11 draws after winning 7 of 10 last game. He's also sneakily good with the stick, constantly taking pucks away from unsuspecting opponents like his countryman and mentor, Koivu.
Matt Dumba looked much more at ease tonight and Jonas Brodin was much better than recent games.
The Wild got off to an outstanding start tonight, dominated the first period and jumped out to a 1-0 lead on Koivu’s first goal. It left some other goals on the ice, so to speak. Kyle Brodziak missed the net on a couple chances, Nino Niederreiter set up a three scoring chances on one shift, including one from his belly, Jason Pominville was stopped from in tight, Jared Spurgeon whistled one wide of the net during a monster shift by the top line.
The momentum turned with a second-period penalty, and Harding had to be great. For the second game in a row, the Wild began to get sloppy in the neutral zone and that made life difficult on itself as the Jets began to pressure.
Dustin Byfuglien scored 54 seconds into the third, but Yeo said, “Once they tied it up, something clicked.”
Koivu then tied it. For the second game in a row, it was that line on the ice for the tying goal only to recover and get the winner.
On the Parise-Koivu-Coyle line, Yeo said, “Those guys were going all night. That line was great all night long, so I’m not surprised to find them in that situation.”
Parise, always honest though, said the Wild had to figure out why it’s getting some complacent in games it’s dominating because it will eventually catch up to them. Remember, the Wild has yet to play teams like San Jose, St. Louis, Coloradoand Phoenix, and he said “there are good teams out there that will make you pay for it.”
Wild hits the road for four after practice Monday, heading to Montreal (Scandella’s second return to his hometown), Ottawa (Matt Kassian), Winnipeg and St. Louis (Team Minnesota!)
I’ve got a couple good stories in the works, a couple that may be in Tuesday’s paper. I’ll talk to you after Monday’s practice, although I’ll have to hustle to make my flight, so who knows when. That’s it for me.
Wild survived a ginormous scare tonight when the Florida Panthers rallied from a 2-0 deficit with a pair of goals 5 ½ minutes apart by the 8 ½ minute-mark of the third period.
But one shift after Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Charlie Coyle, Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin were on the ice for the Jonathan Huberdeau equalizer, the same exact fivesome was on the ice to set up the winner by Coyle, who one-upped his former Saint John teammate (Huberdeau).
Koivu redeemed himself for a giveaway on the tying goal by setting up Coyle’s third career winner with 8:22 left.
The Wild improved to 9-1-2 in its past 12 overall and 6-0-1 in November. It has won five in a row at home and nine of its last 10 at the X.
Good evening from high above the being-boarded-up rink.
Read the gamer for all the details and quotes and also give my game notebook a read here. With Niklas Backstrom sidelined with a concussion, if it looks like he will be out long-term, GM Chuck Fletcher told me he will look at adding a goaltender to provide depth and help Josh Harding.
The Wild is two games into a stretch of 17 games in 30 nights. In each of the next four weeks, the Wild has a back-to-back set and in five of the next six.
Harding is 11-2-2, has given up 19 goals in 16 games, hasn’t lost in regulation since Oct. 17 (8-0-2 since) and is 9-0 at home. He’s been outstanding. But he will need to be spelled during this stretch, so the Wild may need to get a goalie.
Read the story, but one option could be free agent … Jose Theodore. It may never get to that point though because Backstrom told goalie coach Bob Mason he is feeling better. So we will see.
Tonight, the Wild got off to a great start, dictated play, was on its toes, jumped out to a 2-0 lead on goals by Parise and Jason Pominville before the tide turned in the second. You could sense it coming. The Panthers tightened up and Yeo had no problem for the Wild “going for the throat,” but he didn’t like the way the Wild was playing with the puck and the team just made life more difficult on itself.
Finally the momentum shifted and Tomas Kopecky and Huberdeau scored.
Call it a lesson learned to a feisty Panthers team that has played quite well since the coaching change last week. It’s the first time all season the Wild has blown a two-goal lead. Yeo felt the Wild fell into the trap after a well-executed first that the rest of the night would be easy.
Like I said, please read the gamer for the details, but a couple things I didn’t get into:
-- The first line of Koivu, Parise and Coyle were solid all night. The Panthers were in the Wild’s face in the neutral zone and at the offensive blue line the last two periods. That was the one line that continually popped pucks behind Florida’s defense and went to work
-- Mikael Granlund continues to play well. He’s now getting more and more penalty kill time. Tonight the PK went 3 for 3.
“He’s earned it with the way he’s played 5-on-5,” Yeo said, adding that Granlund’s smart, detailed and obviously has speed and a good stick.”
-- Jared Spurgeon continues to play terrifically. Solid defensively, tonight had an assist, three hits, two blocks.
-- Brodin had a very tough night with the puck and it’s been a lot since he has been back. He told me in Washington he’d have to wear the bubble for another two or three weeks to protect his broken cheekbone. I asked Yeo after the game how long it would be until the bubble comes off (it’s clear it’s affecting his puck play), and Yeo said with a big smile, “I don’t know, but I plan to ask tomorrow.”
I’d say Yeo agrees with my assessment.
-- Pominville leads the team with 12 goals and now has 9 goals and 13 points in the last 11 games. He had his 118th multi-point game.
-- Koivu had two assists for his 94th multi-point game.
-- Parise has 10 goals and has 6 goals and 12 points in his last 11.
The Wild is having a very giant optional practice tomorrow, so optional in fact that I’ve been pretty much told there’s no reason to attend. So unless there’s news, no blog.
Enjoy your Saturday and talk to you Sunday.
Update: Kadri has a noon CT hearing today for steamrolling Niklas Backstrom. This has two games written all over it. The league is not further disciplining him on Granlund hit.
The Wild improved to 5-0-1 in its past six and 8-1-2 in its past 11 by rallying for a 2-1 shootout win over the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight.
As always, please read the game story for all the good, but Zach Parise tied the game with 4:17 left before Parise and Jason Pominville scored in the shootout to lift Minnesota to a game it pretty unarguably deserved to win.
Other than its power play continually failing them, the Wild severely outchanced Toronto. Jonathan Bernier was great as usual against the Wild (eight goals allowed in 434 minutes against Minnesota) and the Maple Leafs’ defenders continually got sticks in the Wild’s way to knock chances out of harm’s way.
The big story of the way was menace Nazem Kadri, the 2009 seventh overall pick. He knocked Niklas Backstrom out of the game 10 ½ minutes in by not only barreling him over, but giving him a forearm shiver to the head.
Backstrom sustained an “upper-body” injury, which means he’ll need to see an “upper-body” specialist for an “upper-body” baseline test. Later, Kadri, who was running around all game with no Wild players challenging him (he once hog-tied Nino Niederreiter and sent him to the ice, creamed Mikael Granlund for a match penalty hit to the head.
The one on Backstrom I think will be really scrutinized by the league (as all the Wild players said, it's the type of blow to the head the league wants to rid), especially if the NHL sees the hit on Granlund the way Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle saw it: “It’s beyond me the five-minute major. I just looked at it. He made initial contact with the shoulder and the kid had the head down. (Kadri) didn’t have his arms up and he ran into the player and Granlund snapped his head back. Obviously the referee’s saw it differently and obviously when it’s a five-minute match penalty it’ll be reviewed.”
Kadri wasn’t made available. Josh Harding came in and made 19 saves to improve to 10-2-2.
The big story of the game though was Toronto creating havoc, taking runs at guys (Marco Scandella, Granlund, Jared Spurgeon, Niederreiter obviously Backstrom) and the Wild not doing the same. Now, the Wild could have made Toronto pay if its power play wasn’t, as Yeo admitted, “out of sorts.” Also, because the Wild was trying to rally, Zenon Konopka only played seven shifts. Also, Mike Rupp’s in Iowa on a rehab stint.
But maybe the lack of response did show that the Wild may need to spot Rupp in against some of the more aggressive teams in the NHL. As of now, if the Wild’s healthy up front, it’ll be hard for Rupp to get games. But there may be times where Yeo may need to consider him.
Yeo said, “Do we match up against that team's toughness? No, we don’t. If we want to start trading off, we go after Kadri, next thing you know, what are they going to go after? They’re going to go after our guys too and again we don’t match up in that toughness department against them. Now we do have a team that cares about each other very much, and we stick up for each other, trust me. You saw Brodzy (Kyle Brodziak) getting in there for Nino and you saw guys competing and battling and trying to have that team toughness. Between the whistles and the way we fought through this game and found a way to win, that’s a message too to your teammates.”
The Wild just aren’t built like Toronto, so while there may be times where the Wild may be exposed for what even Yeo admits is a lack of toughness, I’m not overly concerned this is a huge problem yet. Some fans were tweeting me incessantly that the Wild are “soft.” The reality is, this is the first time all season a team came in intent on trying to push the Wild around, and the end result?
The Wild completely outplayed that team and ended up taking two points. At the end of the day, this alleged soft team has gotten points in 10 of the last 11 games and the last six. So this is not as big a deal yet as I think these fans are making it out to be.
The power play was an issue tonight. I’m not a big fan of Jason Pominville in the slot, although on the major, he nearly scored from that area. I just like his booming shot from the point. I think he’s more effective there. I also love the chemistry with Coyle on the top line with Parise and Mikko Koivu, so to me, keep that going and if you want a right-shot on the second unit, toss Justin Fontaine in the middle or use Jared Spurgeon there. I also don’t like the No. 2 unit without Niederreiter. But the past few power plays tonight, Yeo went with a second unit of Granlund, Coyle, Heatley, Brodin and Scandella.
Yeo said the Wild obviously has to look at the power play.
I thought the Wild’s D played real well again tonight. Under the radar has been Spurgeon. He has kind of been overshadowed by Ryan Suter’s 108 minutes the past three games (most ice time in a three-game stretch since ice time started to be tracked in 2000 (according to Elias) and Marco Scandella’s rising game. But Spurgeon’s been good in every zone.
Harding, sick last night, came in cold and again was solid, especially late in overtime. Just a good two points, and the Wild needed a puck off two skates to beat Jonathan Bernier (33 saves).
Yeo gave some good kudos tonight to Brodziak, Matt Cooke and Justin Fontaine, who went up a lot against Phil Kessel’s line and also helped create momentum after the failed five-minute major before Parise’s equalizer. Wild could have won in regulation if not for Bernier. After Parise’s goal, it was all Wild.
“Bernier was lights out. It was one of the better goaltending performances I’ve seen this year,” Harding said.
Talk to you Thursday after practice. Check out my Charlie Coyle notebook and my Wild Minute with actor Erik Stolhanske.
The Wild enjoyed its first trip to Raleigh in almost four years exactly. A little hoops, a nice dinner and two points.
It wasn’t the prettiest game of the Wild’s season, but the Wild played plenty of pretty games early in the season against L.A., Anaheim, Nashville and Toronto and didn’t grab the full two-point allotment.
So, as they say in the biz, they’ll take it.
3-2 shootout winners against Carolina. The Wild entered 0-3 in shootouts and 0 for 7 in shootout shooters this season. That blemish disappeared tonight when Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Jason Pominville scored career shootout goals No. 33, 31 and 19, respectively, to ruin Justin Peters’ night. The kid has given up eight shootout goals in 11 attempts in his career.
Parise said somebody (probably goalie coach Bob Mason) radioed from atop prior to the shootout that Peters bites on the fake. Parise deked and deked until Peters was faked out of his breezers.
The goals came after the Wild killed off a 67-second 4-on-3 disadvantage to end overtime. Boneheaded play by the Hurricanes as they much to the chagrin of their moaning fans working the puck astonishingly for 30 or 35 seconds on the delayed penalty.
“If it were me, I would have thrown it right on net and tried to get a whistle and get a 1:40 4-on-3,” Parise said. “We were all on the bench confused why they would do that.”
In regulation, Pominville scored a breakaway goal after he shrewdly read a blocked shot and took off in the neutral zone. Ryan Suter indeed blocked the shot and sprung Pominville for a breakaway goal, the 200th goal of his career. He now leads the team with 11 and has 7 in his last 7 games. He has 14 goals in his career vs. the Canes.
Josh Harding stopped 27 of 29 shots and was only beaten once in the shootout. He leads the NHL now with a 1.22 goals-against average and .947 save percentage.
Suter only (kidding) logged 35 minutes, 28 seconds. He was a horse. Yeo joked the Wild cut him a break tonight because he played 36:51 in Washington.
Yeo said playing Suter this much is not ideal, that he doesn’t want to play him 35 minutes every game, but if the game is on the ice, “who do you want on the ice? And if he’s not showing he’s tired and still can perform at a high level, when there’s two points hanging there for you, you want him on the ice.”
Marco Scandella was outstanding, assisting on Justin Fontaine’s tying goal in the second. Fontaine now has six goal, tied for third among rookies, and five in his past nine games. He also had a nasty gash around his right ear after the game from being clocked by a Suter clear.
Scandella was just solid as I said and Yeo said he hasn’t seen him play at this level.
In 12 games since he was scratched for three, Scandella is a plus-7 with only one minus-1 game included.
Sloppy game overall. Ice was awful. Carolina pressures well. Matt Dumba had a bunch of turnovers and only played 10 minutes. If Clayton Stoner can play Wednesday, he will likely sit again. But a lot of guys just seemed off tonight. Even Charlie Coyle played one of the poorest games I’ve seen him play.
Kyle Brodziak had a real good game with Fontaine and Matt Cooke. Brodziak had five shots and they were out there a lot against the Staaaaaaaals.
The Wild (10-4-4) has 24 points, tied for the most points in franchise history after 18 games (2006-07, a team I actually thought was better than the 2008 division winner).
Parise’s 33 shootout goals are tied for first in NHL history (9 years) and Koivu’s 31 are tied for fifth (but second-most).
The Nino Niederreiter-Mikael Granlund-Pominville line has been the Wild’s offensive engine during its hot streak. The trio has 10 goals and 22 points in the past seven games.
That’s it for me. Wild is off Sunday, which means no blog unless there’s news. I didn’t see it, but Jason Zucker got a five and game for his second checking to the head penalty of the season. So he could see his second suspension on the horizon.
Rachel is covering for me Monday. I’ll be back with you Tuesday, although I plan a story on Niklas Backstrom in Monday’s paper.
Evening from the Verizon Center, where the Wild fell 3-2 in a shootout tonight to the Washington Capitals.
Read the game story for most the details and quotes on www.startribune.com/wild and also give my story on Zach Parise trying to weed out the goal-celebration bench “fly-by” from the Wild at this link. Some funny stuff in there.
Charlie Coyle tonight and didn’t do the fly-by, maybe because Parise is his linemate or maybe because he was high-sticked in the teeth right as he scored!!!
The Wild played a good road game tonight and was strong 5-on-5. Coyle and Mikael Granlund scored the goals and Josh Harding was great again, making 25 saves. Nothing he could do on either of the Alex Ovechkin or Marcus Johansson goals, nor the brilliant Nicklas Backstrom shot in the shootout.
But Braden Holtby was spectacular and stole Washington a win. He made 33 saves and wasn’t beaten in the shootout by Jason Pominville, Mikko Koivu or Coyle. Parise blocked a shot with his right wrist late in overtime, so he was hurt and couldn’t partake. But he said after the game he was OK.
The Wild now is 0-3 in shootouts and its shooters are 0 for 7. Koivu, who has 30 shootout goals, is 0 for 3. Parise, who has 32, is 0 for 2. Pominville, who has 18, is 0 for 1. Coyle is 0 for 1 now after his first career shootout goal. He is great in practice, which is why I think he was chosen.
Granlund is known for the shootout, but he really doesn’t score a lot in shootout drills in practice. And he’s 0 for 4 or 5 at least this season on breakaways.
Controversial game-tying goal for Washington. Just watch the replay. Tom Wilson got away a blatant pick on Jonas Brodin. That’s good to go in basketball. Not in hockey. Should have been called. Wasn’t. And Johansson was able to walk right out of the corner because of it and score like two seconds later. His shot banked in off Nate Prosser as he tried to defend Brooks Laich.
It was the talk of the Wild room after the game, but referee Tim Peel gave the Wild a golden chance by tagging Martin Erat with an interference after a faceoff with 57.6 seconds left. The Wild couldn’t beat the league’s best penalty kill late in the third or on the 63-second 4-on-3 to open overtime.
The Wild had some great chances, but Holtby was solid.
Clayton Stoner was injured on his first shift. He was tripped up by Aaron Volpatti and crashed painfully into the boards. He tried to continue playing on two shifts, but it was evident he wasn’t right and had to leave. Yeo said Stoner was feeling better after the game.
Brodin played 29 minutes and Ryan Suter logged 36:51 – the most ice time in a regular-season NHL game since San Jose’s Dan Boyle’s 37:03 in Feb. 2008.
We’ll see if Stoner can play Saturday in Raleigh. Remember, Keith Ballard is back home hurt, so if Stoner can’t play, not only would Matt Dumba likely get in, it may have to result in breaking up Suter and Brodin. We know from last year that Yeo doesn’t believe Prosser can play left D. And I cannot imagine Dumba, a right-shot D, can play the left side.
Matt Dumba will be a good player. But he’s not Seth Jones, who plays his off wing in Nashville despite being a rookie.
Yeo talked before the game about wanting to get Nik Backstrom a start. The Wild can’t run Harding into the ground. But Harding was great again tonight, so we’ll see what the organization decides.
We may not know Friday. Yeo already said Friday’s practice will be very optional.
Exciting hockey game tonight and the Wild played well. Caps admitted after the game that they escaped tonight with two points.
Wild’s three-game winning streak is history, but it is still 6-1-1 in the past eight.
Granlund was awesome tonight. Five shots, goal, and just outstanding defensively and physically. He’s fun to watch.
OK, I really have to go. I have a 6 a.m. flight through Atlanta, believe it or not. Talk to you Friday, but like I said, there may not be a ton of news with slim pickings at practice.
Great questions on my Sunday Insider blog mailbag. Apologies in advance, but in 22 inches or so, I can only answer 10 or 12 max.
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