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 practice: Charlie Coyle joins second line

Posted by: Rachel Blount under Wild practice Updated: October 21, 2014 - 1:57 PM

With another substantial break in the schedule--three days this time, between Sunday's 2-1 loss at Los Angeles and Thursday's home game against Arizona--the Wild held a long practice Tuesday. Charlie Coyle was the last player off the ice, two hours and three minutes after the workout started at Xcel Energy Center.

The team worked on a little of everything, including a power play that hasn't scored in 16 opportunities. Coach Mike Yeo also swapped the right wings on his second and third lines, elevating Coyle to the second line with Mikko Koivu and Thomas Vanek and putting Justin Fontaine with Erik Haula and Nino Niederreiter.

Yeo is hoping Coyle's speed--and his familiarity with former linemate Koivu--can jump-start a second line that hasn't produced. Koivu has no points in the first four games, while Vanek has only one assist.

"This was our intention going into the season, to have (Coyle) start there,'' Yeo said. "Whether injuries or other factors came into play, or the play of him on the (Niederreiter-Haula) line, that’s a line we haven’t tried yet.

"Mikko and Charlie have had a lot of chemistry together in the past. They're both big bodies, they're both strong on the puck, and Thomas should fit that as well. One thing that excites us right now is the way Charlie is skating. His speed is very noticeable; it's been a real factor out there. We think adding that element to that line could really help.''

As for the power play, Yeo and several players said its failings lie in the details. Yeo urged the team to have a stronger presence in front of the net to make it harder for goalies to spot the puck. Zach Parise said more practice time should help.

"That's the biggest thing,'' he said. "I thought it was good in LA; we had good chances and good shots, but nothing was squirting free for us. I'm hoping we practice it more and everything will start to come.

"We can make cleaner passes; a couple of times, we were trying to set guys up for one-timers, and the pucks are in the feet or the passes aren’t flat. I thought it was good in LA for the most part. It's just that the finish isn’t there.''

Despite losing back-to-back games on their California road trip after starting the season 2-0, Parise said the Wild feels good about the way it's playing.

"I don’t think anyone is upset with the way we played,'' he said. "I think our game is in a good spot. We're playing a good style of hockey. I think we're playing an exciting style of hockey, I think we're playing in a way that’s entertaining and fun for the fans to see. If we keep playing like that, we're going to win more than we're going to lose.

"We just couldn’t find the back of the net in either one of those games. Are there areas we need to improve? Of course. But all in all, for where we are in the season, I think we're playing pretty good.''

RACHEL BLOUNT

Despite dominating large chunks of 2 games, Wild goes 0-2 with 2 goals in California

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild game coverage Updated: October 19, 2014 - 7:12 PM

Thomas Vanek said today’s 2-1 loss at Los Angeles “feels a lot like the other night again.”

Mike Yeo similarly said, “It’s almost the same script as the other night really. A lot of good things, but in the end not finding a way to win the game.”

In Friday’s 2-1 loss at Anaheim, the Wild, in Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau’s words, “dominated” a lot of the game. But it was the Wild’s lack of sharpness around the night that did it in. The Wild fanned on shots, shanked shots and wired shots wide.

In today’s game against the defending Cup champs, the Wild dominated from start to finish by actually putting pucks – lots of them – on net. But superstar goalie Jonathan Quick was there every step of the way. The Wild outshot the Kings 41-16 but lost by a goal to fall to 2-2 on the season and now sit dormant yet again until Thursday when Arizona comes to St. Paul (four games in the NHL season’s first 15 days).

Quick was awesome. He saw everything all game, constantly slithering all over the ice to find pucks. He was just zeroed in. At least the Wild got a goal on him – Matt Cooke at 6:47 into the third. The Blues similarly dominated the shot clock Thursday but Quick stole a 1-0 shootout win.

The super-fast Tanner Pearson-Jeff Carter-Tyler Toffoli line, nicknamed, “That 70s line,” because Pearson wears 70, Carter wears 77 and Toffoli wears 73, now has accounted for 11 of the Kings’ 14 goals.

Today, Niklas Backstrom had no shot on both.

Mike Richards’ pass meant for Carter hit Ryan Suter’s skate and caromed right to Toffoli, who buried the puck. Backstrom said he got a piece of the puck and wishes he could have stopped it. The second goal, a Toffoli to Pearson one-timer in the third to put the Kings up 2-0, came after Marco Scandella fell behind the net, Christian Folin left the front of the net, Jason Zucker didn’t have his head on a swivel (his words) and Matt Cooke lost his guy. Basically, an overall breakdown in coverage after the Wild didn’t react well to Scandella falling.

Again though, Backstrom said Quick played great on the other end, so it’s his job to find a way to stop pucks for the Wild.

Still, not much he can do.

The bigger issue is dominating a game like the Wild has the ability to do yet again being unbelievably unable to finish. Tonight, the Wild went 0 for 5 on the power play despite tons of zone time and 14 shots. Those five power plays? Three came down 1-0, two came in the third down 2-1. It must score in those situations.

The power play is now 0 for 16.

“We’ll figure it out,” Zach Parise said.

I wrote about this in the notebook, but Thomas Vanek is without a goal in four games and has 13 shots. He has one assist. Linemate Mikko Koivu has no points.

“I think we have chemistry,” Koivu said. “I thought we had chances again. I thought there was a lot of stuff around the net. I think we’re doing a lot of things the right way, but in the end, it’s no excuse to say you’re playing good when you can’t capitalize on your chances.”

Vanek admitted he’s frustrated by the lack of offense.

“As a team and for myself, you just need that first one and hopefully it opens up,” said Vanek, who has scored 277 goals and 557 points in 667 games and signed a three-year, $19.5 million contract with the Wild on July 1. “I don’t feel like I’m squeezing my stick quite yet. We had some good looks. They’re just not going in right now.”

He missed the final 13 minutes of the second period today when he was struck on the right thumb by Suter’s wrist shot. It was bandaided (new word) up after the game and he said it was “throbbing.” He said it was tough gripping his stick in the third, but it felt good enough to play.

The message after the game? Bottom line: The Wild’s game is very good right now. But it again frustratingly has trouble scoring.

“I like how we’re playing well,” Parise said. “Our systems, we’re playing very well. We’ll be fine. Played two very good teams. All things considered, of course you love to win the game, but when you look at it as a whole, we played very well in both the games. Again, we just couldn’t find a goal at the time we needed in both the games.”

Said Zucker, who escaped a scare in the second when he was kicked in the throat accidentally as he tripped Kyle Clifford, said, “We can’t hang our head here, especially if we battle and play like that. We’ll be OK.”

Koivu said, “It’s tough when you can’t score. We had great looks. We’ve got to keep doing that. It’s a matter of time that it’s going to go in. When you get that first power-play goal, you get the feeling and it’s going to get easier after that. In the end, it’s about scoring goals and winning games, and we didn’t do that.”

He also said, like Parise, “Defensively, I think the whole team is right where we want to be. So now just offensively we have to keep creating and doing a better job when we get around that net.”

Yeo said the snakebittness (another invented word by me) “maybe, it’s in our head a little bit.” He noted some missed nets and posts, and “maybe if it’s coming a little easier then we’re not trying to be so precise.”

He also said it’s important to make sure he properly evaluates the game and not overreact to the losses this early in the season, but the bottom line, the Wild needs wins and despite some dominance, the team needs to recognize it didn’t win, “so if we have to be better, let’s make sure we’re better.”

“We’ve got to hit the reset button” for Arizona and Tampa Bay this week, Yeo said.

That’s it for me. Red eye home for moi tonight. The Wild has the day off Monday and Rachel Blount is covering practice Tuesday. Barring news, you’ll hear from me next in Tuesday’s paper and after Wednesday’s practice (and of course on Twitter, where I’m sure I’ll be blabbering about something nonsensical).

Niklas Backstrom to make first start since January + lots of Wild updates

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild practice Updated: October 18, 2014 - 5:20 PM

The Wild and Los Angeles Kings play Sunday at 2 p.m. CT (Fox Sports North and Kool-108) in the first of a Staples Center doubleheader. Lakers and Jazz play in a preseason game later in the day.

I’ll be on FSN in the pregame show and first intermission.

Good afternoon from L.A., where the Wild practiced this afternoon at the famous luxurious arena.

As you can imagine, with the short turnaround between Friday night’s game and Sunday’s noon local time start, today’s practice wasn’t overly strenuous. It was all about execution around the net, not a shock considering the way the Wild lost, 2-1, Friday night 45 minutes south of here in Anaheim.

Say what you want about the dubious officiating – like missing too many men penalties or Eric Furlatt ignoring three guys (Getzlaf, Perry and Beleskey) all without gloves on one skirmish and somehow finding a way to put the Wild shorthanded or allowing Perry to sit on Erik Haula for 10 seconds or watching Zach Parise get cross-checked in front of the net on power plays and so on and so on and so on – and say what you want about a couple costly young mistakes by Wild players, the Wild lost the Ducks game because of a remarkable lack of sharpness around the net by several players on golden opportunities.

That’s why the Wild lost. Shanked shots, missed nets, whiffed pucks, one clanked post and Frederik Andersen stoning guys like Thomas Vanek, Parise and Jonas Brodin on terrific scoring chances.

So, that’s what the Wild worked on today heading into Sunday’s game against the defending Cup champs, who will be without Marian Gaborik, Jake Muzzin and Trevor Lewis.

As coach Mike Yeo intimated all week, despite Darcy Kuemper’s stellar start to this season, he feels he has to get Niklas Backstrom in a game because the Wild will need him. It plays next Monday and Tuesday at the Rangers and Bruins, so if you don’t play Backstrom now, he’ll be going on four weeks without a start if he gets the nod in Boston.

Sooooo, Backstrom, coming off season-ending abdominal and hip surgeries, will make his season debut Sunday against the Kings. It’ll be his first start since Jan. 11 and first appearance since Jan. 30. Remember, it was at L.A. last Jan. 7 that Backstrom was scratched from his start because he received a cortisone shot in his achy abdomen. Kuemper, who didn’t start since allowing four goals on seven shots in Toronto on Oct. 15, got the surprise nod at L.A. and made 39 saves in a shootout win during a game the Wild was outshot 40-17.

“I’m real happy with Kuemps’ game right now, but Backy had a great training camp, too, and we’re a team and I want to make sure everybody feels part of that team,” Yeo said.

Same forward lines are expected to play against the Kings, meaning Kyle Brodziak is expected to be scratched again. As expected, defensemen Nate Prosser and Christian Folin will play and Keith Ballard and Matt Dumba won’t. Again, this was the plan all week because Yeo doesn’t want defensemen sitting around and he believes Prosser and Folin should be able to play a heavy game against a heavy opponent.

The Wild’s power play is 0 for 11 with one shorthanded goal against. Yeo said after last night’s game it needs to be addressed, and today it was with two brand new units (in fact, other than arguably a flip in centers, the units I think the Wild should have started the season with).

The first unit today was Zach Parise-Mikko Koivu-Thomas Vanek with Jason Pominville and Ryan Suter at the points. The second unit was Nino Niederreiter-Mikael Granlund-Charlie Coyle with Jared Spurgeon and Jonas Brodin at the points.

Vets and youths.

“I think that young group can really challenge the first group,” Yeo said. “They’re really comfortable with each other. Sometimes the young kids go out there with an older guy and they defer.

“And you look at the personnel we have on the top group, there’s no question that that should be a dangerous unit too.”

Maybe it’ll get Koivu and Vanek going. Koivu, the all-time leading scorer for the Wild, has no points in three games. Vanek is searching for his first goal, although he had seven shots last night and some Grade A chances, so it should be coming.

Yeo said he’s really, really happy with Niederreiter and Coyle, especially Coyle.

“I’m looking at the scoresheet after the game last night and the way Charlie played, I’m just saying I didn’t play him enough,” Yeo said of Coyle’s 12:33 ice time (of course, part of the reason for the low ice time is he spent six minutes in the box).

Coyle had five shots last night, and that doesn’t count the pipe with the score tied, 1-1.

“He deserves more and he deserves more of an opportunity and he’s going to get that.”

Yeo reminded that the power-play goal the Wild actually should have scored in Denver was because of Niederreiter crashing the net and Coyle scoring (bad call, but the referee waved it off because Niederreiter was on Semyon Varlamov; he was pushed onto him by Jan Hejda).

So Yeo feels Niederreiter and Coyle will be two big bodies that’s going to cause some net-front presence and traffic on the power play (which is why, like the preseason, they should have been on there all along in my opinion)!

But Yeo said he wants the Wild to become a team where the players know that when they’re playing well, they should get rewarded, and Niederreiter and Coyle warrant more ice time.

On Coyle, Yeo said, “He’s creating things when he’s out there, playing with a physical presence, playing a big game and he’s been frustrating for a lot of these guys to play against, and I can understand why.”

One thing that bothered me about last night is Ryan Kesler’s run at Granlund, which he seems to have survived because he practiced today.

Kesler got a major charging penalty at the buzzer. What he did though didn’t cross the line into supplemental discipline, so basically there’s no repercussion at all for a very dirty play. Look at the replay and it’s clear that Kesler knew exactly what he was doing. It’s interesting, but Colie Campbell used to bring this up at GM’s meetings about how if a player is running around dangerously late in a game and gets a major like this, maybe there’s a traveling penalty and he has to serve it to start the next game. Maybe, the team isn’t shorthanded to start the next game, but the player has to sit.

There was never any appetite from the GM’s to do something like that, but what’s going to stop Kesler from doing this again and getting a free lick on an unsuspecting player when another team’s got their skilled players on the ice late in a one-goal deficit?

I brought it up to Parise today and he found it interesting until he remembered he got a cross-checking major on Kesler at the buzzer.

“Then I’d have to sit, too, so I don’t like it,” Parise said, laughing.

There are heavier teams than the Wild in the West – Anaheim, St. Louis, L.A. I asked Yeo again today how he counteracts that when the Wild’s not made up the same way.

“We’re a team that’s built on speed and I think that style of hockey, that brand of hockey is very exciting for the fans,” Yeo said. “I just felt in the game there were times where our speed was very frustrating for them and creating a lot of momentum for us, and there were times where they started to do things that should have warranted power plays for us.

“This is not to get into the debate of having tough guys. I love toughness too, but there’s no question it’s hard to build your team only around speed if that stuff isn’t taken care of by giving us a chance to go on the power play when that happens. Again I want to be careful what I say here, but I felt there were times in the game last game where we should have ended up on the power play and that’s a deterrent for that kind of behavior.”

But Yeo made clear he’s ready to move on and officiating was hardly the reason the Wild lost last night.

The Wild lost because a few players seemed to have holes in their sticks.

Yeo, by the way, gave Jason Zucker a pep talk on the ice. It was his pass into Matt Dumba’s skate that led to Corey Perry’s winning goal.

“With his speed, it’s just kind of a minor thing and these are learning moments,” Yeo said. “If he can have a bit of a shoulder check, he can realize that he has a little bit more time and space, that he’s part of the attack as opposed to just moving it to somebody. It’s just trying to get his feet going and with his speed, that could be such a factor for us. We saw it on his goal. As much as anything else, I wanted to make sure he knows that one mistake, that’s part of the game, that’s part of the process for a young player and he’s still developing and you’ve got to move on from that and learn from it.”

Basically, Yeo said the right play for Zucker was to look and see where the defenseman is. He said a pass is a fine play if it’s on Dumba’s tape, but the better play would have been to take the ice because then Zucker’s part of the attack and part of the rush as opposed to making a stationary play and then being behind the play.

OK, that’s it for me. See you on FSN on Sunday, on Twitter during the game and on here after the game.

Young mistakes, blown offensive chances doom Wild in Anaheim

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild game coverage Updated: October 18, 2014 - 9:24 AM

UPDATED: Nothing will come from the league stemming from the Kesler and Parise majors at the buzzer.

A couple young mistakes and a boatload of goals left on the ice doomed the Wild on Friday night in a 2-1 loss to the Anaheim Ducks.

Eight periods, no goals against this season for the Wild until tonight’s third.

Then the Wild, in pretty good control of the game early in the third with a 1-0 lead, made a critical mistake on a power play that turned the game around.

Late in a power play, rookie Matt Dumba took Ryan Suter’s pass and tried to wiggle along the boards through traffic with no support. He lost the puck. Veteran Thomas Vanek covered for him at the point, but his attempt to get the puck deep was blocked.

Andrew Cogliano popped out into the neutral zone, took a bank pass off the dasher and was off to the races for the tying goal 4:02 into the third. That snapped Darcy Kuemper’s franchise-record shutout streak at 163 minutes, 46 seconds to open the season.

Later, another bad mistake. Keith Ballard hit Jason Zucker with an outlet along the wall not far from the blue line.

Instead of chipping the puck out, Zucker tried to cross a pass to the center of the defensive zone for Dumba. The puck hit Dumba’s skate and, gulp, right to Corey Perry. Kuemper robbed Perry, but Nate Thompson got the puck back to Perry, who has 32 points in 33 career games against the Wild. He didn’t miss from the goalmouth.

That would be the eventual winner.

Zach Parise said Zucker had the right idea and it was the right play, but “we just didn’t execute it and it’s in the back of our net and that’s the game.”

Coach Mike Yeo said, “We put ourselves in a situation where a mistake like that ends up being the difference.

“The easy thing to do is just chip it out, chip it out, chip it out, but if we want to become a team that’s better than that, if we want to become a top team, then you have to make plays. You have to be ready to use the middle of the ice. Now you’ve got to execute. It’s got to be on the tape. And I think in that situation we probably could have taken ice, we could have moved our feet before we made that play, but it’s easy to sit here and just point to a couple young kids. There are other plays in the game that led to that moment.”

Like, not burying an absurd amount of chances. Zucker was the only one who did, flying by Clayton Stoner to score early in the second. He also was solid on the penalty kill.

Maybe it was the six-day layoff that made the Wild so rusty offensively, but the amount of blown chances were astronomical.

Nino Niederreiter shanked two shots in the first, including one where he stood all alone in the slot and couldn’t connect with Erik Haula’s setup. Niederreiter fell on the knife after the game and said he needed to execute better and the Wild had a lot of similar blown chances that “cost us the game.”

Jason Pominville, sharp in the first period, wasn’t as sharp in the second. On back-to-back shifts, he fanned on chances with wide-open nets in front of him. Charlie Coyle couldn’t convert five shots and seven attempts, including a hit post. And right before the shorthanded goal, Jared Spurgeon missed a net from point blank.

“The shorthanded goal livened up the bench and the crowd,” Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said. “It propelled us for the rest of the game. Before that, we weren’t very good. We were getting dominated.”

The Wild killed four power plays and is now 11 for 11 on the PK this season. But its power play, so good in the preseason with seven goals, is now 0 for 11, plus a minus-1 for the shortie tonight.

Yeo said the scoreless power play this season is in his mind the biggest factor as to why they made a mistake before the shortie. He thinks frustration set in because the Wild hasn’t scored, so at the end of the PP, the Wild lost its focus.

“We’ve got to get that in order. We’ve got the personnel. It’s a mindset, an attack mentality that’s missing right now,” Yeo said, reminding how he said after the preseason that the power-play success in the preseason meant squat.

“We’re still playing like it’s preseason right now,” Yeo said. “The best chance we had, we finally shot a puck from the point. We have to address that.”

I actually thought the Wild had some good looks on the power play in the first, but Frederik Andersen stopped Parise twice from in tight and Thomas Vanek once.

Speaking of Parise, at the end of the game, Ryan Kesler, being Ryan Kesler, took a gigantic long run at Mikael Granlund and creamed him along the boards. Parise immediately jumped to Granlund’s defense.

Kesler got a major for charging and Parise a major for cross-checking and a game misconduct. We’ll see if anything comes of that Saturday.

“Game’s over. It’s stupid,” Parise said of the Kesler cheap shot at Granlund.

The Ducks, getting dominated like Boudreau asserted, definitely tried to go after the Wild’s lesser players physically in the second and third periods. Ryan Getzlaf went after Jonas Brodin all game, and once Coyle jumped to Brodin’s defense. Astonishingly, referee Eric Furlatt gave Coyle four minutes and Getzlaf two (nothing for two cross checks on Brodin) and no extras for Anaheim even though both Getzlaf and Matt Beleskey removed their gloves to fight. The ignored calls on Anaheim and the fact the Wild wound up on the PK turned the momentum bigtime for several minutes here. The Wild still escaped though.

This is the makeup of the Wild. The Wild is built on speed. The Ducks and Sunday’s opponent, Los Angeles, and St. Louis are built with size. No way to turn that over at this point, so the Wild will have to find ways to combat that and Yeo said for the most part the Wild did tonight, outplaying Anaheim for vast chunks of the game.

Anaheim especially had trouble with the Wild’s first-period forecheck. The Ducks were turning pucks over left and right. The Wild just couldn’t bury its chances.

One good sign is the Vanek-Mikko Koivu duo had its best game, maybe jolted by the season debut of Justin Fontaine, who created several turnovers, read the game well and set up his linemates all game.

Vanek, who entered the game with four shots in two games, had seven on this night.

That’s it for me. The Wild practices at noon PT Saturday, so you’ll hear from me in the afternoon at some point. Reminder, Sunday’s game is at 2 p.m. CT.

Wild will try to spoil Anaheim's home opener; Lineup updates

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild pregame skate Updated: October 17, 2014 - 4:31 PM

UPDATED

Good morning (it’s morning in California!) from Anaheim, where the Wild finally dusts off its road whites and plays a game again at 9 p.m. CT (FSN, KFAN). I’ll be on KFAN at 4:30 p.m. CT.

If you want to read a little about what the Wild has been up to since beating Colorado, 3-zip, Saturday, check out this story.

For the second straight game, the Wild walks into an arena with a division championship banner already hanging. Saturday in Denver, the Wild spoiled that Central Division title party for the Avs in their home opener. The Ducks have their Pacific Division title banner up in the air already as they finally play a home game after a 3-1 road swing to open the year.

“In the end, no matter how great it feels to win the division against the teams that are in our division, if you don’t go further than that, nobody cares," said Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau. "It is saying something you won it, but we want no fanfare with that. Hopefully there will be a bigger banner there some time in the next year.”

As expected, Darcy Kuemper in goal, Keith Ballard and Matt Dumba will be the third pair and the fourth line will be Matt Cooke-Ryan Carter-Jason Zucker with Justin Fontaine making his season debut on the second line. Nate Prosser and Christian Folin are expected to play Sunday in L.A., perhaps with Niklas Backstrom in goal. That's all subject to change.

On Fontaine playing with Vanek and Koivu, coach Mike Yeo said, "We’re hoping to see that line click. We’re hoping to see that line create a lot of 5-on-5. They got the one big goal when we spotted Zuck up there, but then after that, the rest of the game they were pretty quiet. I want to see those guys be a threat every time that they’re on the ice and when they’re not on the attack that they’re defending the right way."

In Game 3 of the first round against Colorado, Kyle Brodziak was scratched for the first time in his Wild career. Despite two quality games on the fourth line to start this year, Brodziak’s first scratch of this season will come in Game 3.

"We’re a deeper team," Yeo said. "We’ve had some healthy guys out of the lineup already and this is the lineup we’re going with tonight. The one thing we want to create is we want the idea that guys are pushing each other, and so obviously we have that right now.

"Actually I haven’t been disappointed with his games at all. It’s just a matter of where other guys fit right now and we’re happy with a lot of other people’s games, so the message is pretty simple: Work hard today and get ready for the next one."

Said Brodziak, "I understand it’s part of it. It’s a long year and you’ve just got to stay positive and keep trying to build your game up as much as you can. When you get a chance to get back in, you’ve got to make the most of it.

"When you have a team that’s as deep as we are up front, it is going to create higher competition amongst the team and that’s never a bad thing when you have guys that all want to accomplish the same thing and contribute and be a part of it. As much as everybody else there’s a competition that comes along with it and that should be a good thing for the group."


Carter, who won a Stanley Cup in 2007 with the Ducks (see that story here), will center the fourth line.

As I wrote in this story here, Clayton Stoner is excited to face the Wild tonight. Dany Heatley won’t play because of a groin strain.

“It’s frustrating to be hurt. I felt real good in training camp and preseason and I’m just trying to get healthy again,” Heatley said.

Heatley said it was a freak, innocent thing and disappointed because he showed immediate chemistry on the Ducks’ first line with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry in the preseason.

“Perry is one of the best goal scorers in the league, and Getz is the best center or definitely right up there. He looks to pass a lot and that’s good for a shooter.”

On his three-year Wild career, Heatley said, “Ups and downs. The first year there I thought was a decent year. The lockout year was a weird year, kind of struggled with some injuries and the same thing in the third year.”

In the playoffs, Heatley was scratched the first two games. He drew in Game 3 of the first round and finished with a goal, five assists and a team-best plus-6 in 11 games. His saucer helped set up Nino Niederreiter’s Game 7 OT winner in Denver.

“It was fun,” he said. “It was obviously a tough start to the playoffs, but once I got into the lineup, it was fun playing with those guys. I think I left on a pretty good note.”

Yeo on Heatley: "I really enjoyed coaching Heater. You always know a little bit about the player coming there, and when you have the chance to coach them, especially players like that, you end up appreciating them so much more. First off, you get to know the human being and what kind of person they are and what kind of teammate they are. … It was a real pleasure for me."

Boudreau again raved about the Wild, its players, what Thomas Vanek adds to the team and all of the Wild’s young kids, especially Charlie Coyle and Erik Haula.

Oh, also Kuemper.

“I don’t think they’ll go 82 games without giving up a goal,” Boudreau said. “I don’t think we’re licking our chops to be the first team that scores on him. We just want to come out and play hard and hopefully it’s good enough to win. We love to play in front of our home crowd, so hopefully the guys aren’t too preoccupied with it and play a little bit like they were on the road.”

Rikard Rakell is the Ducks’ scratch tonight. Emerson Etem takes Patrick Maroon’s slot on the first line. Frederik Andersen starts. And Chris Wagner, the Player of the Week in the AHL, will make his NHL debut.

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