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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With Darcy Kuemper sidelined with an upper-body injury, the Wild has recalled John Curry from the Iowa Wild to back up Ilya Bryzgalov (4-0-2, 2.15 GAA) Thursday night against the Chicago Blackhawks. If Kuemper is out for awhile, the Wild has one back-to-back left (at Winnipeg on Monday, vs. Boston on Tuesday). Bryzgalov would probably get both games.
The Wild has also recalled center Jake Dowell, a former Blackhawk, with Mikael Granlund likely sidelined for a bit with an upper-body injury.
Coach Mike Yeo could either put Dowell or Cody McCormick as fourth-line center. I'd think Erik Haula moves up to second-line center because the Zach Parise-Mikko Koivu-Charlie Coyle line is going real well, so why fiddle with that and bounce Coyle back to center again?
I saw Granlund after the game in L.A., and he had a red raspberry-looking mark under his left eye. He was walking slowly and definitely had a disappointed look on his face when talking to teammate Mikko Koivu.
Replays show that Granlund's head smacked right into Kings forward Jarret Stoll's left shoulder as Granlund got the worst of a check he tried to make.
Granlund, who has a history of concussions, missed 13 of 14 games with a concussion earlier this season after taking three hard hits in a six-game stretch from Toronto's Nazem Kadri, Ottawa's Marc Methot and Phoenix's Connor Murphy (actually, similarly, Granlund tried to initiate this check and got the worst of it when Murphy protected himself).
The one game Granlund played in that stretch, he lasted 29 seconds, so that was basically a missed game.
The Wild struggled without Granlund. In that 14-game stretch, Minnesota went 6-7-1 with 23 goals. But, remember, this is a Wild team that survived with Koivu, Zach Parise, Jared Spurgeon and Josh Harding out at the same time, so it has proven before that it is, dare I say, resilient (I actually hate that term in sports, so I may as well use it).
No doubt Yeo gives the old day-to-day line with Granlund, but we'll try to find out more after today's 1:30 p.m. practice in Chicago. Obviously, if it's a concussion, there's just no way to accurately give a timetable, so it would be truthfully day-to-day. These head injuries with Granlund are becoming a true concern. Remember, he came to the NHL with a history of them.
I never saw Nino Niederreiter after the L.A. game, but word yesterday was it's not supposed to be serious and he's considered questionable for Thursday's game. I'll let you know on Twitter in three hours if Niederreiter indeed practices. If he doesn't and can't play Thursday, the Wild has Dany Heatley waiting in the wings. The Wild is 2-0 without Heatley, incidentally.
Christian Folin, signed out of UMass-Lowell Monday, will practice for the first time today. He is eligible to play in any of the remaining six regular-season games (not playoff eligible). I cannot imagine Yeo plays him until he gets some practice time under his belt and only if there comes a point where maybe the Wild's locked into that top wildcard spot later next week.
Who knows if the Wild will ever get that breathing room. Dallas took over the second wildcard spot last night, has a game in hand and a cupcake schedule the rest of the season. The Stars are playing outstanding right now and just annihilating teams. Phoenix, which could be in trouble, lost in a shootout last night to Winnipeg, fell to ninth and plays in L.A. tonight.
Both teams are four back of Minnesota, which just further displays how gigantic the Wild's comeback wins at Detroit, Phoenix and Los Angeles were.
Yeo's in a tricky spot with Folin. I'm always fascinated when a team is still in a playoff race and then parachutes a rookie into the locker room. Chicago's done that with Teuvo Teravainen and Matt Carey and has lost three in a row. I think the smartest thing to do is just practice Folin and play him the last game or two if the Wild's locked and the team wants to rest guys like Ryan Suter or Jared Spurgeon.
Speaking of D, it'll be interesting to see if the Wild plays Jon Blum against Chicago. The Wild's won two in a row and got solid play from its blue line. But Keith Ballard could be ready to return. If Ballard returns, one would think it would be for Blum. If that were the case, I'd think Marco Scandella and Jonas Brodin become a pair again and Ballard gets paired with Nate Prosser.
I'll be back later after practice to update the blog, but follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/russostrib for real-time updates later.
Afternoon from the friendly sky, where I'm on a short flight from Phoenix to L.A., where the ground has been shaken lately.
Wish me luck.
I wrote a follow for Monday's paper on the Wild's player-only team meeting Friday. This is a real neat story. I usually kind of ignore team meetings, but this was not your typical one. The story behind what Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter is real cool and may give you a better appreciation of the behind-the-scenes stuff that goes on with teams and a better respect level for the Wild's leadership group.
So check that out (it'll be on the web later this evening).
Wild practiced in Glendale this afternoon after its big win last night at Phoenix. Heck of a comeback victory over the Coyotes, holding them to no shots in the first 18:04 of the third period, including a shotless carryover from the second that lasted 24 minutes, 28 seconds.
Now, it must continue. Minnesota's not out of the woods yet and face a formidable opponent Monday night at Staples Center. The L.A. Kings, the best defensive team in the West and second-best in the NHL, has won six in a row and 14 of their past 17.
At today's practice, coach Mike Yeo went with the lines that pretty much took over Saturday's game in Phoenix.
Parise-Koivu-Coyle (By the way, I thought Coyle had another terrific game)
Veilleux (whom I also thought brought some great shifts)-Haula-Niederreiter (who's struggling)
Ilya Bryzgalov is expected to get his second consecutive start.
Defenseman Keith Ballard (groin) practiced but looks like he won't yet play.
Dany Heatley looks like he'll be scratched for a second straight game.
I will be on KFAN with LaVelle E. Neal The Third at 10:20 a.m. CT Monday.
Good early evening from the X, where I just completed a feature on defenseman Jon Blum for Wednesday’s paper. Please definitely give this one a read. It’s pretty gripping. Get used to seeing Blum with Clayton Stoner and Keith Ballard injured right now. He certainly played a great game in Detroit this past weekend.
The Wild held an optional practice this morning at the X. Eight of the big-minute guys – five top-6 forwards except Charlie Coyle, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon and Matt Cooke – didn’t practice.
Coach Mike Yeo opted for an optional despite yesterday’s off-day based on the team just completing five games in seven nights and the four games in six nights about to come up.
“We deemed this the one opportunity to try to put a little extra back in the tank and get ready for this final push,” Yeo said.
Yeo loved the Wild’s game in Detroit on Sunday, especially because coaches have been preaching that the way to score goals this time of year is to get pucks and bodies to the net.
Important game coming up against a desperate Vancouver opponent on Wednesday (6:30 p.m.). On Thursday in St. Louis, the Wild begins a four-game trip to the Blues, Phoenix, L.A., and Chicago.
Entering tonight’s action, the Wild is five points up on Phoenix and six up on Dallas. The Coyotes play in Pittsburgh and just lost Mike Smith with a knee injury. The goalie’s listed day-to-day, so that could prove big. The Stars are in Chicago.
Yeo wouldn’t say which goalie is starting against the Canucks. I’d think it’d be Darcy Kuemper, especially when one considers how awesome he was in Vancouver during that 7-round shootout win last month.
That would leave Ilya Bryzgalov to likely start in St. Louis. The Wild has lost eight in a row against the Blues and could probably use new blood in net in St. Louis, where it rarely puts up a fight.
If Kuemper is going to be the Wild’s No. 1 down the stretch and into the playoffs (Yeo said he wants to ride one goalie in the postseason), I’d give him the Coyotes game. That’ll be like a playoff game when you consider how critical that game is in the standings. So what better way to see if Kuemper can handle the pressure than to throw him into such a big game?
And we know Kuemper was tremendous in L.A. back in January, so I’d think you’d want to start him there, too. That Jan. 7 game in L.A. set in motion Kuemper taking over the Wild’s No. 1 reins.
Yeo said today that he’s not going to say these games will serve in determining the Wild’s No. 1 goalie if it makes the playoffs, but he said there’s no question the Wild will use these next 10 “days” to sort things out.
Kuemper’s game hasn’t been as strong as it was before the trade deadline. He has allowed three or more goals in four of his past six starts, but Yeo said he doesn’t think Kuemper is that far off from his “A” game.
As for Bryzgalov, who is 2-0-2, Yeo said, “He’s got experience being deep in the playoffs, which can be a real positive. Kuemps and his personality and his situation as far as being part of our future is going to play into it. He shows signs of being a guy that could be not only a good goalie, but a really good goalie in the playoffs because of his mental makeup, because of how he’s handled pressure, because how he’s been able to stay focused and stay in the short term and not get too wrapped up in what’s happened.”
Talk to you Wednesday. I’ll be on KFAN starting at 9:55 a.m. and I’ll be on Fox Sports North during the pregame show Wednesday and first intermission.
Following five games in seven days and with four games in six nights with travel beginning Wednesday at home against the Vancouver Canucks, the Wild had an optional practice today.
Actually, as Mike Yeo called one a week ago, it's more of a directive day off for a few. The only top-6 forward who practiced today was Charlie Coyle, and the top-2 D, Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon, didn't practice either. Also, Matt Cooke didn't skate
So, eight big-minute guys didn't practice. Also, injured Clayton Stoner, who's week-to-week, and Keith Ballard, who's day-to-day, didn't practice.
I'll be on KFAN at 9:55 a.m. Wednesday.
Need your help: Friday, the day I typically write my Sunday Insiders, I have a crazy travel day and a little advance to write on a very important game at Phoenix the next day.
Soooooo, I'm going to try to get my Sunday Insider written Wednesday.
Soooooo, I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to do another Blog Q and A. That's where you ask questions in the comment field of this blog, I pick some good ones and answer them in print Sunday.
Here's the rule though: Please keep the questions short and snappy (remember, space is at a minimum in the paper, so I need brief questions I can quickly answer so the more, the merrier get in the paper). Please also look at some of the other questions so we try to keep duplicates at a minimum. Also, as much as I love to read your opinions, please don't use this particular blog to comment on the Wild or other questions. This way, it's easier for me to pick out questions.
Lastly, because of space issues, I reserve the right to edit your questions to potentially shorten them up. So, get to work and thanks for the help.
On a personal note, longtime Chicago Blackhawks beat writer Tim Sassone has passed away. He was Chicago. He looked like Chicago, he talked like Chicago. He has been a colleague of mine from the moment I began covering the NHL in 1995 and was always a good friend. Just a great man, and my thoughts are with his friends and family, his Blackhawks beat-writing crew members, the team that so loved him and all of us in the Professional Hockey Writers' Association who feel an emptiness in our hearts today.
All Wild players present and accounted for at today’s practice, except defenseman Keith Ballard, who will miss his third game in a row with a groin injury.
The Wild plays a home-and-home with the Detroit Red Wings this weekend starting with a 1 p.m. game at the X on Saturday. The Red Wings, absolutely destroyed by injuries, are fighting for their playoff lives and coming off an overtime win against Pittsburgh. The great Daniel Alfredsson literally scored a buzzer beater in OT.
The Red Wings have a lot of young talent, they work their butt off and, as I mentioned, they’re motivated to keep the organEYEzation’s 22-year playoff streak alive. In 9th-place, they’re a point behind the Blue Jackets and Rangers, who play tonight, so the Wild should expect a desperate opponent this weekend.
Darcy Kuemper will get back in the net for Minnesota. It’s his first start since Monday’s game in Boston. He allowed three goals in that one.
Rookie forward Erik Haula, scratched in the previous two games, will draw back into the Wild’s lineup against the Red Wings. Cody McCormick appears to be the scratch. Haula will play on a line with Charlie Coyle and Dany Heatley, and coach Mike Yeo said Haula will see some shifts at center. But he skated mostly as a wing this morning.
Nino Niederreiter moved to a line with Matt Cooke and Kyle Brodziak.
Coyle and Niederreiter have been very up and down lately. Their line with Heatley had a real tough game last night in New Jersey, so Yeo’s mindset is put Haula there and maybe rekindle some of that Jason Zucker-Coyle-Heatley chemistry from earlier this season. The common denominator between Haula and the injured Zucker is speed.
Yeo met with Coyle and Niederreiter before the Islanders game. Both aren’t scoring consistently and because they’re young, that’s eating them up. It’s clearly affecting the rest of their game. Yeo wants them to get it out of their mind and start doing the stuff that makes them successful, like using their size, being strong on pucks, reliable in other areas. That was a major issue last night.
The Wild badly, badly need Coyle and Niederreiter on top of their game consistently. One reason – and I stress just ONE reason (I realize there are other issues, like Heatley fitting in on that line, Mikko Koivu getting back up to speed, etc.) -- why the Wild’s having trouble finding consistent lines right now is their up and down play.
“That’s part of it, there’s no question. When those guys get on top of their game, they’re going to make their lines better. They can’t wait for who they’re playing with. They need to get on top of their game and I will say in fairness we have juggled them around, they have been in different spots, but at the same time these guys have a pretty firm idea of what their identity should be and how they have to play the game and we need to see that consistently. That’ll strengthen the line of whichever line they’re on.”
Yeo continued, “We want these guys to create, we want these guys to be a factor offensively, but that’s only going to happen when the game is consistently there. That’s the big thing they have to learn. As young kids, that’s usually the challenge. When a young kid is pressing or he’s thinking he has to score a goal, there’s other parts of their game that falter. My focus for them is to concentrate on having a good game and the results will come.”
I talked to Niederreiter and Coyle and you’ll hear from them in tomorrow’s paper.
On the Koivu-Moulson line, Yeo said, “We’re still hoping that Fonzy (Justin Fontaine), I didn’t think that that line had as much going on obviously as the game before, but that was kind of our whole team. We’d like to see if Fonzy, we’re going to give him another chance there and see if he can kind of recapture some of what they had in that Islander game. Maybe he’s the guy, I don’t know. Maybe this is an ongoing thing where it’s kind of whoever’s going, whoever’s on top of their game finds a way to get up there. For us to be a good team, we have guys who can be interchangeable in different positions. But in order to be a good team, they need to be on top of their game.”
Yeo on Zucker missing the rest of the season (click link), “It’s a tough one for sure. We all thought that he was going to be back after the Olympic break so it’s a tough setback that’s for sure. “It’s disappointing because like I said I thought that his game was going. I thought we were finding kind of the right mix with him and here we are. It’s difficult but he’ll have to bounce back from it for sure.”
Defenseman Nate Prosser is off the hook for his elbowing major and game misconduct on the Devils’ Tim Sestito from Thursday night. Prosser was playing the puck in the corner and Sestito came flying in to check him. Prosser instinctively raised his arm to protect himself. I think he got Sestito with the forearm.
The league says that just because this didn’t rise to the level of supplemental discipline, the correct call was made.
My only issue: If Prosser doesn’t protect himself, he could have been plastered against the wall or glass. Conceivably Sestito could have been penalized for a no-doubt charge, so I’m not sure what Prosser’s supposed to do there other than absorb a potentially-dangerous check or pretend he’s a bullfighter and somehow “Ole.”
Prosser said today, “I was trying to ask the ref on the skate out, ‘Can you talk to me a little bit to tell me what you saw just to give me some kind of perspective?’ In all honesty, I didn’t know what really happened until I saw the replay. I was pretty sure I didn’t get him with my elbow and it obviously wasn’t intentional. I’m just hoping he’s alright.”
On the major, Prosser said, “I was surprised they were bringing me to the box. I thought, ‘OK maybe two,’ but kicking me out of the game, I was shocked.”
Did he know Sestito was coming? “As soon as the puck got dumped in, I knew the line we were out against and I saw some guys barreling down. He probably took 10 strides before he got to me, so he’s at full speed. So I knew he was coming and that was a natural reaction to somewhat protect myself.”
Lastly, Zach Parise’s goal from last night has been changed to Ryan Suter. The puck deflected in off Devils defenseman Bryce Salvador. Jared Spurgeon and Jason Pominville got the helpers, meaning Pominville’s point streak is now at seven games.
OK, I need to begin writing from the paper and get out of this coffee shop. I can barely keep my eyes open right now. Back in the old days covering this league, I would routinely get up for an early flight after getting back to the hotel at 1 a.m., fly home, cover practice and then go party afterward.
I miss being young.
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