This is Michael Russo's 18th year covering the National Hockey League. He's covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005 following 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. Michael 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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When I noted that Pavel Datsyuk looks to be returning today against the Wild, coach Todd Richards said sarcastically, "Datsyuk's playing? Beautiful. Makes it even better."
The Wild's up against it tonight with veteran defensemen Marek Zidlicky and Nick Schultz hurt and veteran forwards John Madden and Martin Havlat back in Minnesota as well. The Red Wings look to be completely healthy, with Mike Modano apparently being taken out for Datsyuk.
Rookie center Carson McMillan will make his NHL debut on a line with Eric Nystrom and Brad Staubitz and Colton Gillies will play the left side of Matt Cullen and Chuck Kobasew. Mikko Koivu lines stays intact, as well as the Pierre-Marc Bouchard-Kyle Brodziak-Cal Clutterbuck line.
Rookies Clayton Stoner and Jared Spurgeon will be a tandem again and rookies Justin Falk and Maxim Noreau will be a tandem.
Richards will be looking for a much, much better game from veteran Brent Burns, who struggled yesterday against Tampa Bay, because today will be a much faster pace for the rookies to handle.
Update: Colton Gillies joins Carson McMillan as a callup for Sunday's game at Detroit.
I'm at the Swarm game!
Remember all that stuff I wrote about how the Wild shouldn't bring up the kids because the Houston Aeros could be on the verge of something special?
Forget all that.
The Wild's got no choice now that its own players are dropping like flies.
For the first time, the Wild had to use four rookie defensemen tonight with Cam Barker still out with a back injury, Nick Schultz done for the season with post-concussion syndrome (see below blog) and Marek Zidlicky out with a groin/hamstring injury.
Maxim Noreau, long wanting to prove he can play in the NHL, will get his shot now. He looked good in a 3-1 loss to Tampa. Justin Falk was also recalled, and the other rookies were Jared Spurgeon and Clayton Stoner.
We'll see how they handle a faster pace in Detroit Sunday against guys like Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Holmstrom, Franzen, Cleary, Bertuzzi, etc.
Then, in the first period, center John Madden sustained a lower-body injury, and now 2007 seventh-round pick Carson McMillan will get to make his NHL debut at the Red Wings. Talk about an NHL initiation.
Then, Martin Havlat didn't make the trip either to Detroit, so they'll have to call up ANOTHER forward. Whichever forward gets the honor of joining the Mighty Minny Wild will be playing in fourth game in four days.
If the Wild's not careful, it'll destroy the Aeros, too.
Not sure what's wrong with Havlat right now, but he was rocked by Mattias Ohlund coming across the blue line in today's game. He did stay in the game and didn't leave for the 15-minute window if the team suspects a head injury.
As for the game, the Wild competed, outshot the more talented Lightning 30-23 but basically got caught on three goals against. Plus, Dwayne Roloson was awesome with 29 saves.
The first goal Brent Burns collided with Roloson after Roli made a great save on Burns' pinch. But the Wild got caught with four deep, Burns couldn't get back and Pierre-Marc Bouchard's coverage on the backcheck was not good.
The second goal, Burns didn't make the play in front of the net, but it came after a weak Chuck Kobasew battle behind the net with Steve Downie.
Then, a 2-1 game, Wild's right there, and Burns loses his marbles for a sec and tries to dive to save the offensive blue line. Not only doesn't he stop the puck, but Mikko Koivu falls over him. 2-on-1, and goal. 3-1. Game over.
As coach Todd Richards said after the game, Burns' negatives tonight outweighed his positives, and frankly, it's been that way most the second half. I just think his future is in his head right now.
As much as a Marco Scandella-Brent Burns tandem for the next several years excites some, it's plays like this that make me think Burns will get shopped and maybe traded this summer.
The Wild's got to figure out a way to make some significant changes this summer, and it's not going to come via free agency and it's not only going to come with a coaching change and it's not going to come by just praying Mikael Granlund and Johan Larsson are ready for the NHL.
They're 19 years old, and considering how much time Granlund's missed this year and how little experience Larsson even has on the big team in Sweden, who knows if they're even here, let alone good enough to make an impact.
The Wild just don't have a ton of assets to move to make something significant happen. Except for one.
So GM Chuck Fletcher is going to have to get creative this summer, and one way may be dealing Burns. I just can't imagine right now the Wild's going to be willing to throw a long-term deal worth $5 million plus at Burns right now.
That's a pretty big risk for a team that's margin for mistakes right now is at zero.
That's it for me. I've got to go to Detroit because I've lost my marbles, too.
If the Wild could convince the NHL to schedule the Oilers for 41 home dates in Minnesota, all would be good for the Wild.
The Oil hasn't won here since Jan. 16, 2007 -- 16 straight now.
Because when the Oilers and Colorado don't make the playoffs, they make it really count and get the dividends of a 1 or 2 pick. When the Wild misses the playoffs, they pick 9th or 10th or 15th. As of now, they'd pick 11th.
Somebody asked me the other day on Twitter if it really matters if you pick 9th or 11th or whatever when I was noting this fact.
Last year the Wild finished with 84 points. Carolina finished with 80.
Hey, maybe Mikael Granlund turns into a stud for the Wild. Time will tell and he looks like he'll be a good one.
But if the Wild chooses 7th last year, they get a crack at Jeff Skinner, whom I know for a fact they loved.
So, yes, it does matter.
But that's not the players problem. It's not their problem to worry about if the Wild goes from 10th to 14th in the draft. They're competitive people. Suit up and throw on a sweater, they want to win and should want to win, and tonight they played fairly well to at least give the home fans a win -- or at least a game where the Wild wasn't smoked at home -- for a nice change.
Too little, too late unfortunately, which explains why coach Todd Richards is glum these days.
Richards is extremely disappointed the Wild won't be in the playoffs. He's worn it on his face all week. And Richards isn't stupid. I think he's got an inkling that his fate is sealed for all the off-the-ice reasons I noted in last Saturday's column.
I think that's why he's also been so morose, too, after these last two wins.
It's a sad thing because he's a good guy (it's impossible not to like Todd Richards personally) and he had this team churning along very well for 2 1/2 months.
And then a Mikko Koivu injury, as well as other things, derails it all.
That's why the Wild must get deeper to be successful. Your fate can't depend solely on one Finnish captain.
All teams have injuries. Deeper teams find ways to overcome that though.
Pittsburgh's survived without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin!!!
And I'm not buying the Wild's 386 man games lost to injury either.
Guillaume Latendresse hurt obviously. P-M Bouchard out the first 2 months hurt obviously. Koivu being out for 11 hurt obviously. Playing so long without Marek Zidlicky should have hurt, although the Wild survived real well because it defended tremendously and got rookies Jared Spurgeon and Clayton Stoner to step up bigtime.
But 164 man games are Josh Harding and James Sheppard. That's padding the stats, as they say. I mean Sheppard's suspended. If you're not paying a player, you shouldn't get the benefit to tack on his 82 games to your man-game total.
Wow, there's a needless rant if there ever was one. But hopefully my original point is clear.
The Wild can't be a Mikko Koivu injury away from catastrophe and boy it'd be nice to not make the playoffs just one year and get rewarded with a Taylor Hall of Patrick Kane or Jonathan Toews or Sidney Crosby or Matt Duchene or Eric Staal or ... or ... or ...
I'll write more about this in my Sunday column, as well as making the definite point I made the other day that starting with last year's draft class. things still are getting sunnier.
Talk to you after Friday's practice.
As of now, no lineup changes tonight. Cody Almond got bigtime bagged, so I can't imagine he plays unless somebody gets sick. Nik Backstrom returns to the cage.
Reax from Richards on NHL not suspending Staubitz, fining Richards: "It was a 4-0 game, and they started to take some runs. Peckham, Stortini. The game started to get out of hand a little bit. I didn't send him out to [fight]. I just said, 'play the game.' And Jacques takes a run and all [Staubitz] did was stand up for his teammates. I think he did the right thing. It wasn't like he went after a [Taylor] Hall or one of the rookies."
By the way, the most despicable run of the period was Peckham taking a 50-foot charge on Andrew Brunette, and no call. Basically, this was a poorly-managed game, one I guarantee the refs heard about from the NHL hierarchy this morning.
Staubitz: "Glad they reviewed it and saw it the way I saw it. If you were looking at the game again, it's almost like their team were coming out with those intentions."
Richards on tonight: "This is our fourth game in six nights. ... But we need to forecheck harder and be more aggressive tonight. There will be a little bit of fatigue. When fatigue sets in, you just have to be smarter."
Richards was still not pleased with last night's game, but he did watch the video and felt it wasn't as bad as he thought.
As Richards pointed out, one-eighth of Wild's schedule has been against Calgary (six out of 48 games). Good thing his dad was a math teacher: "It's the one thing I was good at."
Morning from one of my favorite places, Calgary, inside one of my favorite arenas, the Saddledome.
Heard from coach Todd Richards after I arrived in Calgary a short while ago that the NHL has rescinded the instigator given to Brad Staubitz last night in the final five minutes. That means Staubitz will not be suspended for tonight's game in Calgary and coach Todd Richards will not be fined $10,000.
"Yes, my wife is happy!" Richards said via text.
My assumption as to why is two-fold:
1) The spirit of the rule is to keep coaches from sending goons over the ice to start melees in the last five minutes of out of control games. Well, the Wild was up 4-1, not down. It was clear Richards was not sending Staubitz out to fight J-F Jacques. He just reacted to Jacques' hit on teammate Nick Schultz. The refs should have probably recognized that and not given an instigator, one that cost Anton Khudobin a second straight shutout.
2) The NHL probably recognized how absolutely poorly the whole incident was handled five minutes earlier by the refs. Dean Morton just watches Marty Havlat get cross-checked to the ice three times by Theo Peckham, who frankly could be called for a minor penalty a shift. Then Havlat retaliates by tripping Peckham, a trip that was very close to a slew foot, which could have been dangerous to Peckham. Again, this is all because the refs don't put a stop to it earlier.
And then to compound things, because the refs didn't put a stop to this madness earlier, Zack Stortini grabs a completely unwilling Brent Burns and starts punching away when Burns never even dropped his gloves. What would the NHL's response been if Burns got hurt because of this all because the refs didn't blow the Havlat/Peckham incident down earlier. And then, to make things worse, the linesman and ref Marc Joannette don't even recognize that Burns, a non-fighter, is holding on for dear life against Stortini, a fourth-line fighter, and decide not only not to break it up immediately, Joannette and Morton then somehow decide Burns deserves a fighting major and 10-minute misconduct.
OK, got that off my chest!
Anyways, going to run. The big news here at the Saddledome is that Jarome Iginla has pulled out of the All-Star Game because his grandmother is ill. Daniel Briere will replace him. So I want to get in Calgary's room.
More later after the Wild's optional skate.
Aeros defenseman Maxim Noreau has made the AHL All-Star Game for the second year in a row. He's the second-leading scorer in Houston. The game is Jan. 31 in Hershey.
Also, did my All-Star fantasy draft on 1500 ESPN today: I got Steven Stamkos, Rick Nash, Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Brad Richards, Eric Staal, Dustin Byfuglien, Dan Boyle,Shea Weber, Zdeno Chara Marc-Andrew Fleury and Tim Thomas.
Mackey and Reusse got Evgeni Malkin, Alex Ovechkin, Phil Kessel, Patrick Kane, Jarome Iginla, David Backes, Marc Staal, Nick Lidstrom, Mike Green, Brent Burns, Jonas Hiller, Cam Ward.
We didn't pick Crosby and Toews because I'm assuming they'll be the captains picking the teams Jan. 28. If it's not Toews, I'm gonna be ticked because I essentially allowed them to take Ovechkin with the first pick!!! And of course, I forgot Letang and Keith were voted in as starters, or I would have taken them.
It was great radio.
The Predators have won five in a row, starting with the New Year's Eve win over the Wild. Pekka Rinne gets the cage tonight. He's given up a goal a game the last four starts.
Antti Miettinen, who missed the past four games with a charleyhorse, then stomach bug, is walking fine, skating fine and will return to the lineup tonight. Chuck Kobasew will be drop down and Miettinen will return to his normal right wing spot next to Brunette and Mikko Koivu.
Same 6 D. Jose Theodore in the nets. Richards said he hasn't made the decision which forward comes out for Miettinen. He said he may want Brad Staubitz to play against the Predators, so if that's the case, Patrick O'Sullivan will probably be removed.
Niklas Backstrom is being seen today by Marc Philippon in Vail. The hip specialist will then report back to GM Chuck Fletcher in the next day or so.
One linesman change for tonight because Dan Schachte couldn't make it in due to the snowy weather in the southeast.
Brent Burns was super excited and super nervous about his All-Star Game nod. He doesn't know what to expect because it's new to him, and he's especially nervous about the backyard-like fantasy draft to get chosen for teams.
He joked that he was also nervous because "Hammer (defense partner Nick Schultz)" wouldn't be there to "bail me out all the time."
"I know it's going to be a fun weekend, for not only me, but my family. It's cool," Burns said. "It's going to be fun."
He said he's going to limit his dad to a couple autographs a player: "My parents are super-excited. ... Getting to bring my daughter, she probably won't remember, but it'll be fun to get some cool pictures with her there."
He joked that his wife, Susan, "isn't a real hockey wife. She doesn't really get it. She wanted to go to Mexico."
Burns always jokes that his wife will say, "Good game when I'm minus-3."
Read the rest of the coverage in tomorrow's paper. Here's the full additional All-Stars, so let the debates begin: Ales Hemsky over Martin Havlat (cough, cough)?
36 Additional All-Stars
Corey Perry – Anaheim Ducks
Jarome Iginla – Calgary Flames
Eric Staal – Carolina Hurricanes
Patrick Kane – Chicago Blackhawks
Patrick Sharp – Chicago Blackhawks
Matt Duchene – Colorado Avalanche
Rick Nash – Columbus Blue Jackets
Loui Eriksson – Dallas Stars
Brad Richards – Dallas Stars
Ales Hemsky – Edmonton Oilers
Anze Kopitar – Los Angeles Kings
Patrik Elias – New Jersey Devils
Claude Giroux – Philadelphia Flyers
David Backes – St. Louis Blues
Steven Stamkos – Tampa Bay Lightning
Martin St. Louis – Tampa Bay Lightning
Phil Kessel – Toronto Maple Leafs
Ryan Kesler – Vancouver Canucks
Henrik Sedin – Vancouver Canucks
Daniel Sedin – Vancouver Canucks
Alex Ovechkin – Washington Capitals
Dustin Byfuglien – Atlanta Thrashers
Tobias Enstrom – Atlanta Thrashers
Zdeno Chara – Boston Bruins
Nicklas Lidstrom – Detroit Red Wings
Brent Burns – Minnesota Wild
Shea Weber – Nashville Predators
Marc Staal – New York Rangers
Erik Karlsson – Ottawa Senators
Dan Boyle – San Jose Sharks
Mike Green – Washington Capitals
Jonas Hiller – Anaheim Ducks
Tim Thomas – Boston Bruins
Cam Ward – Carolina Hurricanes
Carey Price – Montreal Canadiens
Henrik Lundqvist – New York Rangers
Cam Fowler – Anaheim Ducks
Tyler Seguin – Boston Bruins
Tyler Ennis – Buffalo Sabres
Jeff Skinner – Carolina Hurricanes
Kevin Shattenkirk – Colorado Avalanche
Jordan Eberle – Edmonton Oilers
Taylor Hall – Edmonton Oilers
Evgeny Dadonov – Florida Panthers
Michael Grabner – New York Islanders
Derek Stepan – New York Rangers
Oliver Ekman-Larsson – Phoenix Coyotes
Logan Couture – San Jose Sharks
I was going to toss some WWE Raw photos on here from last night, but my Internet is real, real slow in my hotel. So, if you want to see some badly enough, go to www.twitter.com/russostrib and backtrack my tweets to last night.
I'll be on 1500 ESPN at 1:35 p.m. today with Reusse and Mackey. "Russo Radio" will be Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. on 1500 ESPN.
Talk to you tonight.
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