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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Wild can't draw a power play, but its penalty kill rock solid in eighth straight road win

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild game coverage Updated: March 18, 2015 - 12:16 AM

As Mike Yeo joked after tonight’s come-from-behind 3-2 overtime win over Nashville, “I’m glad we spent most of the practice yesterday working on our power play. I guess hopefully we’ll save them when we really need them.”

For the second time in 13 games, the Wild didn’t draw a power play, so it (technically) continues to be scoreless on the road power play since Feb. 1 (0 for 17 the past 10 road games). The Wild has drawn two or fewer power plays in 12 of the past 17 games.

But one big reason why the Wild has now won a franchise-record eight consecutive road games and is 12-1-2 in 15 games under Devan Dubnyk is its NHL-best penalty kill. The Wild’s penalty kill is 28 for 29 the past 12 road games and 60 for 63 the past 24 games overall.

Obviously, it starts with Dubnyk, but man, tonight guys like Jonas Brodin, Erik Haula, Kyle Brodziak were so good on the penalty kill. The Wild killed four, including a 53-second 5-on-3 late in the second after Roman Josi scored twice in 45 seconds to give Nashville a 2-1 lead going into the third.

If it had been 3-1 going into the third, it could have been lights out for Minnesota.

But the deficit stayed one, and in the third, the Wild got back on its toes, generated a bunch of chances, outshot the Predators 11-6 after having nine shots through two periods and finally tied the score on Charlie Coyle’s second goal of the game with 6:41 left.

Great setup by Nino Niederreiter entering the zone, and then Chris Stewart after some impressive patience to wait for Coyle to come into the zone off the bench.

Then, in overtime (and please read the gamer because it’s there where I wrote mostly about Matt Dumba), the blossoming 20-year-old scored his first career overtime goal only 22 seconds in for the fastest road overtime win in Wild history.

After an incredible individual effort by former Pred Ryan Suter in the D-zone to fight through two guys and spring Dumba on a 3-on-2 with a pass from the ice, Zach Parise crossed the blue line and had to read if Dumba would drive the net or set up for a one-timer.

Parise read it right, dropped a pass and Dumba unleashed his seventh goal, tied for third in the NHL among rookie defensemen. He is plus-16 his past 15 games, had three shots tonight and a career-high five blocked shots in 21:08 of ice time.

Here's the goal:

 

“Nice way to cap off a real solid game,” Yeo said of Dumba, hinting that he loved his defensive game even more than his offensive game.

Parise said, “Everyone’s so happy for him. He’s played so well. He’s got a bomb of a shot. We saw it there. It’s fun to see the way he’s progressed. He’s been awesome for us. It’s been awesome to see the way he has developed and progressed. They’re giving him more and more responsibility and he keeps playing better and better. It’s so good for our team the way he’s playing.”

The comeback win when trailing after two periods was the Wild’s seventh, which is fourth in the NHL.

Yeo said it’s because “there’s a confidence in our game. Even though we get down, we don’t change our game.”

It was a frustrating game, Parise said, especially the way the Preds bottled the Wild up and the way the Wild couldn’t draw a power play. Dumba said of the Wild’s tough second period, “You’re going to have those little plays there, but it’s what you do after that. Our mindset was just keep pressuring them.”

Dubnyk made 25 saves and has allowed two goals or fewer in 23 of 28 consecutive starts. He is 21-5-1 with the Wild with a 1.67 goals-against average and .939 save percentage. Overall, he is second in the NHL with a 2.08 goals-against average, tied for second with a .929 save percentage, tied for fourth with six shutouts and tied for seventh with 30 wins.

All the Wild D were good. I really liked Brodin again and I couldn't believe how Christian Folin didn't miss a beat. Coyle continued his string of solid games.  Suter now has eight assists in 12 games against his former team. Parise has eight points in his past seven games.

That’s it for me. Two-game homestand starts Thursday against Washington. If the Wild doesn’t scrap practice Wednesday, Kent Youngblood will be coming to you from practice.

I’ll be hosting a live podcast at the Liffey in St. Paul with Jim Souhan at 4:30 p.m. It can be found at souhanunfiltered.com.

Wild looks for franchise-record eighth consecutive road win; Wild likes 3-on-3, goalie interference review

Posted by: Michael Russo under On the road, Wild pregame skate Updated: March 17, 2015 - 3:56 PM

The Wild, an NHL-best 11-1-2 on the road since the Jan. 14 trade of Devan Dubnyk, will be looking for a franchise-record eighth consecutive road win tonight when it faces the Nashville Predators at 7 p.m.

One of the Wild's most impressive road wins during this stretch came late last month in Nashville when it beat the Preds, 4-2. That was the start of a Predators' tailspin. In first in the NHL at that juncture with three regulation home losses all year, the Preds are 2-8 in their past 10 with one regulation win starting with that defeat to Minnesota. This should be a tough game for Nashville. They played back to back in L.A. and Anaheim, landed early yesterday morning, so this is usually a tough game in that scenario for the home team.

Afternoon from Nashville. I'll be on Fox Sports North tonight at 6:30 p.m. during Wild Live and again during the first intermission. We'll be talking a fair amount about what's going on at the GM's Meeting in Boca, my old hometown.

Tomorrow at 4:30 p.m., columnist Jim Souhan and I will be doing another podcast at the Liffey in St. Paul. Stop on by or you can listen live or at a later day on www.souhanunfiltered.com.

Heckuva city, Nashville is. Any Wild fan that hasn’t taken a trip here to watch the Wild knows this.

In fact, coach Mike Yeo noted that I looked like I missed curfew last night.

With left-shot defensemen Marco Scandella and Nate Prosser injured, Yeo was forced to scramble his entire blue line tonight.

The Wild loves left-shot Ryan Suter and left-shot Jonas Brodin as a pair, but with four righties and two lefties in the lineup, Jared Spurgeon will move to the right side of Suter, Brodin will move to the left side with Matt Dumba and Jordan Leopold will play on the left side of Christian Folin, who had been scratched the past four games.

Scandella is close to a return, Yeo said. Yeo said there’s a chance he plays Thursday vs. Washington, although he said that’s only a possibility. He still has not taken contact in practice yet, although he was getting in another good skate today.

Ryan Carter, after tomorrow’s practice, will also be considered day-to-day, like Scandella.

The rest of the lines remain the same, meaning Jordan Schroeder will be scratched for the fifth game in a row and sixth time in eight games.

The coaches showed some clips this morning to the team regarding faceoffs and how the defensemen and wingers need to do a better job helping win these draws and gain possession

Still, some centers, especially Mikael Granlund, must do a better job. He has won 34 percent of his faceoffs the past nine games (43 for 126). When the top line center loses 6.6 out of every 10 faceoffs, that just makes it awfully hard for Zach Parise, Granlund and Jason Pominville to create offense.

Yeo also admitted that it’s a factor as to why Granlund’s not on the No. 1 power play. Draw a power play, the faceoff starts in the offensive zone. So you want to win that draw, not waste 15 to 30 seconds retrieving the puck, breaking out and entering the offensive zone.

Mikko Koivu has the third-most faceoff wins in the NHL.

As my illustrious editor Chris Miller reported today, Matt Dumba will remain on the top power play tonight with Suter, Parise, Koivu and Pominville. Thomas Vanek goes to the second with Chris Stewart and Granlund. Because none of those forwards can play the point, Spurgeon and Brodin are expected to be at the point. That takes a forward off, and so far, it looks like Nino Niederreiter, the team’s second-leading goal scorer. He has five power-play goals but nine since Dec. 13.

Yeo did indicated that he may alternate Stewart and Niederreiter because he wants to keep both guys involved. We will see.

“That is the tough part for sure,” Yeo said of the revamped units. “We have good players not getting an opportunity.”

The GM’s will be recommending to the Competition Committee and Board of Governors for approval 3-on-3 in overtime and extended video review for goalie interference and pucks shot into the crowd.

Here is the story.

As for 3-on-3, they don’t have a model yet, but in the American Hockey League this season, they do three minutes of 4-on-4. Then, after the first whistle after three minutes, they go 3-on-3 until seven minutes.

Last year, 75.9 percent of games were decided in regulation. This year, through March 15, 75.7 percent of games were.

Last year, 8.5 percent of games were decided in 4-on-4 overtime and 15.6 percent were decided in a shootout.

This year, 18.5 percent of games were decided in 4-on-4 and 3-on-3 overtime and 5.7 percent were decided in a shootout.

So 3-on-3 has dramatically decreased the number of shootouts in the AHL.

In overtime last year, there were 97 overtime goals and 178 shootout goals. This year, 171 overtime goals and 53 shootout goals (and again, the season’s not over).

This year, in overtime, there have been 98 4-on-4 goals and 73 3-on-3 goals.

Most interesting, the two extra minutes, of the 73 3-on-3 goals, 51 were scored then – 22 in the 6th minute, 29 in the 7th minute.

Of the 257 NHL games sent to overtime this season, 110 have been decided in OT (42.8 percent, up from 42 percent last year, so the changing of sides for the longer change hasn’t had the desired effect) and 147 in shootouts (57.2 percent).

Parise’s 38 career shootout goals is third-most in the NHL behind Jonathan Toews (40) and Brad Boyes and Mikko Koivu, who have 39 each.

But Parise said, “I believe in anything to end it not in a shootout and not in a tie. If that’ll help end games before a shootout, I’ll be all for it. It’ll be fun to play and probably be fun to watch too. Rush, turnover, rush.

“I just don’t think games should come down to shootouts. Play 65 minutes hard, why turn it into breakaways? To me it doesn’t make sense.”

Jason Pominville, who has 23 career shootouts goals, agreed.

“Rush chances up and down, it’ll be fun. It’ll be interesting to see how coaches deal with it in training camp.”

Tactically, Yeo said that’ll be the biggest thing. Do you go with two forwards and a D? Systematically, can you figure out ways to be effective in this situation that almost never appears in a game?

“It’s new to all of us. We deal so little with it,” Yeo said. “I think it’s going to be exciting for the fans. I think it’s going to be great. You get that kind of skill on the ice, you get that type of openness to the game, you’re going to see some great plays.”

Devan Dubnyk said it’s terrifying for a goalie those rare times you get 3-on-3 in the middle of a game, but he loves the ice.

But he said, “Selfishly from a goalie standpoint, I’d like to see some separate statistics for 3-on-3 just like they have separate shootout statistics. If you have guys in a lot of 3-on-3’s compared to other goalies, it’ll significantly affect goals against and save percentage.

“As a goalie I’m biased toward that.”

In the AHL, all OT stats count in a player’s individual statistics.

In the AHL, any penalties in 3-on-3, you go to regular OT rules, so it would be a 4-on-3, not a 3-on-2. I’d assume it would be that way in the NHL, too.

As for coach’s challenges, a coach would have to have his one timeout in order to challenge.

This would be like the scenario in Denver a few weeks ago when the Avs scored on a dump-in after Cody McLeod pushed Dubnyk into the net.

Yeo said, “I’m all for it. I think it’s good for the game. What you definitely want is the outcome to be true. If a call’s made, you want it to be the right one. I know the refs wants that, I know the league wants that as well.”

Dubnyk loves this, too, and hopes the ref will be able to make the decision himself through a video monitor in the press box like college hockey. That doesn’t appear to be the plan.

“I think it’s good,” Dubnyk said. “It’s a real tough play for the ref to call. They’re only on one side of the net, it depends on the angle they see, they have to be watching for a lot of different things. It’s a lot for them to watch, but I think the ref needs to review it after a challenge because it’s important for them to still be part of the game. Refs are part of the game, plain and simple. They’re the ones making the call.”

Wild works on power play; Scandella, Carter return

Posted by: Chris Miller under Wild coaching, Wild management, Wild news Updated: March 16, 2015 - 12:56 PM

The Wild spent a lot of practice time working on power plays at Xcel this morning.  That unit, going into Tuesday night’s game at Nashville, is an NHL-worst on the road (10.2 percent) and hasn’t scored in the past nine road games (despite going 7-1-1). The Wild’s PP is 28th in the league and 3-for-35 in the past 15 games overall.

Chris Miller reporting today, just recalled from Orlando of the National Vacation League.  Russo is in Nashville early, apparently to try out for backing vocals on the Patsy Cline revue, so I spent some quality time here in St. Paul wondering who was in charge of handing out coffee. Turns out, it’s bring your own.  Who knew?

First, an injury report.  Nate Prosser took a hip check in Saturday’s victory at St. Louis and is week-to-week.  Coach Mike Yeo says it’s typically a four-week injury (lower body).  Christian Folin will replace Prosser on D.

Marco Scandella (oblique) practiced for the first time in a while. He won’t travel to Nashville, but could play by the weekend, he hopes.  Ryan Carter (upper body) practiced as well. He has been out since Feb. 9 and is likely to be out another week or so, reading between the lines.

Yeo on Nashville:  “Another good test for us. You look at what they’ve done all season long as far as the level of play, the consistency in their game.  I know the last game [against the Wild] wasn’t a great outcome for them, but for 40 minutes of that game, they were clearly the better team.”

The Predators have lost eight of 10, a string of futility the Wild started.

Matt Dumba stays on the first power-play unit, adding a strong right-point shot.  Ryan Suter is the other point, with Jason Pominville moving up front with Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu.  Thomas Vanek stays on the second unit with Mikael Granlund and Chris Stewart up front, and Jonas Brodin and Jared Spurgeon on the points.

“[Dumba’s] shot’s the biggest thing, he’s a threat over there,” Yeo said. “We do like Pommer in the middle of the ice as well, but we also feel there’s a lot of strength on our other unit as well.  The ice time will be equal, and both will be able to get out there and show what they can do.”

More on the intricacies of the power play in tomorrow’s paper.

Devan Dubnyk makes his 29th consecutive start in goal, 28th for the Wild. Said he of the Predators: “Possible first round opponent for us, some any time we have an opportunity to go in and feel good about ourselves, it’s a big step. “

Scandella on his time away from action: “Been watching 'Sons of Anarchy,' weather has been nice in Minnesota, so I’ve been going for walks, getting away from the game mentally. But it was great to get back with the boys.”

No “Sons” for Carter, who has two daughters:  “A lot of daddy time, so that’s been the silver lining, hanging out with the girls a little more than usual.”

Unlike Russo, I have no radio appearances or podcasts to promote, just have to get back to the office to pack up for our big move to the Cappella Tower.  Maybe there’ll be  leftover cake from Sid’s 95th birthday, which he celebrated last night by working.

Devan Dubnyk improves to 11-1-2 on the road, slays "unicorn" in St. Louis for 7th straight Wild road win

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild game coverage Updated: March 15, 2015 - 8:49 AM

Good news, Mike Yeo indicated Devan Dubnyk will start Tuesday in Nashville.

Actually, the Wild coach said kiddingly he’d let us know after Dubnyk committed larceny tonight in St. Louis.

With the Wild outshot 42-19, Dubnyk made a season-high 41 saves to lift the Wild to a 3-1 victory.

It was not only the Wild’s franchise-record-tying seventh road win in a row, it was the Wild’s first regulation win in its past 13 visits to St. Louis dating way back to Oct. 20, 2007.

Dubnyk, rock star.

Outshot 11-5 in the first, he held the game scoreless. Outshot 20-5 in the second, the Wild escaped the period tied 1-1 and the only goal like most opposing goals against Dubnyk wasn’t clean – a David Backes redirection.

The Wild felt during the second intermission that it was in a good spot, tied 1-1 going into the third in a tough building. Just win a period. The Wild settled down, outshot the Blues 5-2 in the first 10 minutes and after Dubnyk made a string a big stops, Nino Niederreiter and Kyle Brodziak scored 17 seconds apart to give the Wild a 3-1 lead.

At that point with 6:16 left, the Wild was being outshot 39-15. But big win for the Wild, which is an NHL-best 11-1-2 on the road under Dubnyk since the Jan. 14 trade.

Big win because Winnipeg won, so this keeps the Wild three up in the top wildcard race.

Big win because Los Angeles and Calgary both lost, so the Wild is now four up on 9th-place L.A. and two up on Calgary, although Flames are third in the Pacific. But if the Wild can stay ahead of the Flames and second-in-the-Pacific Canucks (one point up on Vancouver), that gives a cushion because if the Kings catch those teams, they’d fall below the Wild in the wildcard race and confusing playoff format. Hope that makes sense. It’s late.

I didn’t realize this until I got to the rink today, but Dubnyk was 0-7 lifetime against the Blues with a 4.72 goals-against average and .873 save percentage.

“This is kind of my unicorn,” he said afterward. “I got my first start against these guys in Edmonton. It was real ugly. For some reason it didn’t seem to matter how good I felt in a game against these guys, it always ended up 4-1 or 5-1 by the end of the game. It’s nice to get out there with a different team and get one tonight so I can stop thinking about it.”

Coach Mike Yeo felt Friday against Anaheim, the Wild was done in by goalie John Gibson when Minnesota deserved better. Tonight, Dubnyk made things even out.

The second period was the tough period tonight. The Wild was tired from playing the night before, it lost Nate Prosser with a leg injury after being hip-checked by Jori Lehtera (Yeo doesn’t think it’s extremely serious, but he’s questionable for Tuesday’s game at Nashville, so Christian Folin will likely draw back in) and everything was exasperated by the long change.

But Dubnyk was solid.

Thirteen seconds after Backes scored, Zach Parise thought he tied the score. He extended his left foot, but he deflected Jared Spurgeon’s shot with his stick first and then the puck directed in. The NHL has become more lenient with redirects off the skate, but Parise’s goal was disallowed by Toronto for an apparent kicking motion.

Parise, who had a goal dubiously disallowed in this building last year or the year before that for a high-stick, said sarcastically that it was a heckuva play by him to deflect the puck with his stick and still know to kick at that puck.

Regardless, with the Wild fans fuming on Twitter, Thomas Vanek scored his 600th point, 17th goal and fourth in four games 33 seconds after that after nice set-ups by Charlie Coyle and Justin Fontaine. Vanek, by the way, played a season-low 11 minutes, 11 seconds.

The most bizarre situation of the night came 1:41 in when Patrik Berglund deflected Jay Bouwmeester’s shot for a 1-0 lead. The play went to video review, and Toronto ruled it was a good goal because it wasn’t scored with a high-stick.

Dubnyk nearly lost his mind, skating right up to the refs, then looking at the replay again on the scoreboard and seeing the puck actually hit the outside of the net. He began frantically smacking his stick on the ice, and finally the horn sounded just as the ref was about to drop the puck. If he had, the goal would have counted even when discovered after the fact.

“I heard the tip, I never saw the puck and the horn went, so right away I just stood up and thought they scored,” Dubnyk told me. “And then Dums (Matt Dumba) looked at me and said it never went in. They showed the replay and I’m like, ‘OK, it never went in.’ Then I was like, ‘What’s taking so long, what are they looking at? It never went in.’

“I’d love to know what happened behind the scenes. They announced good goal and the ref came over to me because obviously it’s not their call at that point and said, ‘I don’t know what to tell you, it went to video and they said it was good video to say it’s a goal, that’s all I can tell ya.’

“When I saw the replay again, I started banging my stick like crazy because I figured they must have checked for the high stick and not that it went in. Then the horn went.”

When I told Dubnyk, “Can you imagine if they dropped the puck,” he said, “Well, couldn’t they look back at it?” When I said no, he said, “Oh my goodness, let’s not even think about that.”

Yeo, too, was stunned when he watched the replay that they nearly dropped the puck. “It’s plain as day.”

If they dropped that puck, he said in understated tone, “That would have been unfortunate.”

Dumba, plus-2, three blocked shots, very physical, robbed by Elliott -- after his turnover led to the game-winning goal for Anaheim on Friday. “This is a great response game for him,” Yeo said, adding he talked with Dumba after that mistake and told him to put it behind him, that he’s done too much to help this team to let one bad play bring him down.

Yeo, after Niederreiter scored, sent out the fourth line of Brodziak, Erik Haula and Sean Bergenheim and told them, “We need a strong shift.”

Yeo said kiddingly, “Of course I was expecting them to score a goal. That was a huge.”

Niederreiter said how frustrating the game was for his line with Mikko Koivu and Chris Stewart. He said they were chasing all game because of the great play of Alex Pietrangelo, but after missing on some incredible chances against Anaheim, it felt great to cash in on his 22nd goal and fifth winner.

Dubnyk said it was huge coming in here and winning and just getting the confidence they can win here. This is a possible first-round matchup after all.

While the Wild wasn’t dominated physically like many games in St. Louis, the Wild did have a similar feel where the Wild couldn’t generate much of anything because it couldn’t sustain any time in the offensive zone. The Wild just wasn’t very good coming out of d-zone coverage.

The Wild entered the game 2-7-2 in its past 11 at St. Louis with no regulation wins in 12 games since Oct. 20, 2007. In those 11 games, the Wild was outscored 38-19 and outshot 322-255. Tonight was 42-19, and it’s not just the shots that make life difficult on the goalie, it’s the zone time.

Dubnyk said it’s especially grueling for him because the way he has improved, it’s all about finding pucks, which he said is hard work because he keeps low and moves around constantly and works hard to see through legs.

But man, he looked cool and calm all night tonight.

“I think he's got a different team in front of him right now,” Backes said. “They're doing a good job blocking shots, keeping pucks more to the outside, and if he's seeing it, he's stopping it. Their record reflects how well he's playing and how well they're playing in front of him.”

That’s it for me. The Wild is off Sunday and my EDITOR Chris Miller is covering practice for me Monday. I’ll be back with you on the blog Tuesday in Nashville, although I’ll have a story in Monday’s paper.

Wild looks to avoid first losing streak in two months tonight in St. Louis

Posted by: Michael Russo under On the road, Wild pregame skate Updated: March 14, 2015 - 5:26 PM

The Wild visits the St. Louis Blues in about 90 minutes. Lots of Wild fans down here in St. Louis for the game.

No changes to the Wild lineup, meaning Devyn Dubnyk will start his 27th consecutive game for the Wild and 28th straight overall if you include one from Arizona.

Jordan Schroeder and Christian Folin will be scratched. Brian Elliott, 6-0 against the Wild, starts for the Blues.

The Wild is 2-7-2 in its past nine at St. Louis, being outscored 38-19 over that span. It hasn’t won in regulation in St. Louis since Oct. 20, 2007 (a span of 12 games). The Blues took over the top spot in the Central Division on Thursday with a 1-0 shootout win over Philadelphia. The Blues have won three in a row and are 5-1-1 in their past seven.

The Wild is 10-1-2 in its past 13 on the road and has won six straight on the road.

The Wild, which lost last night to Anaheim, 2-1, despite having by far the better of the chances, is looking for a big bounceback.

“We’ve done a pretty good job of bouncing back,” coach Mike Yeo said. “We’re also understanding that they have a pretty good team and are sitting here waiting for us, so it’s going to be a good test tonight. Through this final stretch, I think it does us a lot of good just to make sure we’re focused on our process of getting better, and when we do those things, more often than not the results are in our favor.”

As you know, the Blues like to go after the Wild’s top players physically, especially captain David Backes, Ryan Reaves and Steve Ott.

“Good test tonight,” Yeo said. “I’m looking forward to see how we come in here. This team, in a lot of ways, is like Anaheim. We have played them well, but we haven’t come out on top a lot of times. We’ve got to find a way to be better against them.

“I would like to see us counter [their physicality] by making sure we play physical against some of their key guys as well. If they’re going to do that, then we have to be ready to play that game. Their team is built differently than ours. Colorado has tried to play against us that way, Dallas has tried to play against us that way, and we’ve seen it other times. And we’ve responded well. And we’re going to need to again tonight. Between the whistles, we need to have a better focus and a higher battle level.”

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