Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.
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Evening from the Verizon Center, where the Wild fell 3-2 in a shootout tonight to the Washington Capitals.
Read the game story for most the details and quotes on www.startribune.com/wild and also give my story on Zach Parise trying to weed out the goal-celebration bench “fly-by” from the Wild at this link. Some funny stuff in there.
Charlie Coyle tonight and didn’t do the fly-by, maybe because Parise is his linemate or maybe because he was high-sticked in the teeth right as he scored!!!
The Wild played a good road game tonight and was strong 5-on-5. Coyle and Mikael Granlund scored the goals and Josh Harding was great again, making 25 saves. Nothing he could do on either of the Alex Ovechkin or Marcus Johansson goals, nor the brilliant Nicklas Backstrom shot in the shootout.
But Braden Holtby was spectacular and stole Washington a win. He made 33 saves and wasn’t beaten in the shootout by Jason Pominville, Mikko Koivu or Coyle. Parise blocked a shot with his right wrist late in overtime, so he was hurt and couldn’t partake. But he said after the game he was OK.
The Wild now is 0-3 in shootouts and its shooters are 0 for 7. Koivu, who has 30 shootout goals, is 0 for 3. Parise, who has 32, is 0 for 2. Pominville, who has 18, is 0 for 1. Coyle is 0 for 1 now after his first career shootout goal. He is great in practice, which is why I think he was chosen.
Granlund is known for the shootout, but he really doesn’t score a lot in shootout drills in practice. And he’s 0 for 4 or 5 at least this season on breakaways.
Controversial game-tying goal for Washington. Just watch the replay. Tom Wilson got away a blatant pick on Jonas Brodin. That’s good to go in basketball. Not in hockey. Should have been called. Wasn’t. And Johansson was able to walk right out of the corner because of it and score like two seconds later. His shot banked in off Nate Prosser as he tried to defend Brooks Laich.
It was the talk of the Wild room after the game, but referee Tim Peel gave the Wild a golden chance by tagging Martin Erat with an interference after a faceoff with 57.6 seconds left. The Wild couldn’t beat the league’s best penalty kill late in the third or on the 63-second 4-on-3 to open overtime.
The Wild had some great chances, but Holtby was solid.
Clayton Stoner was injured on his first shift. He was tripped up by Aaron Volpatti and crashed painfully into the boards. He tried to continue playing on two shifts, but it was evident he wasn’t right and had to leave. Yeo said Stoner was feeling better after the game.
Brodin played 29 minutes and Ryan Suter logged 36:51 – the most ice time in a regular-season NHL game since San Jose’s Dan Boyle’s 37:03 in Feb. 2008.
We’ll see if Stoner can play Saturday in Raleigh. Remember, Keith Ballard is back home hurt, so if Stoner can’t play, not only would Matt Dumba likely get in, it may have to result in breaking up Suter and Brodin. We know from last year that Yeo doesn’t believe Prosser can play left D. And I cannot imagine Dumba, a right-shot D, can play the left side.
Matt Dumba will be a good player. But he’s not Seth Jones, who plays his off wing in Nashville despite being a rookie.
Yeo talked before the game about wanting to get Nik Backstrom a start. The Wild can’t run Harding into the ground. But Harding was great again tonight, so we’ll see what the organization decides.
We may not know Friday. Yeo already said Friday’s practice will be very optional.
Exciting hockey game tonight and the Wild played well. Caps admitted after the game that they escaped tonight with two points.
Wild’s three-game winning streak is history, but it is still 6-1-1 in the past eight.
Granlund was awesome tonight. Five shots, goal, and just outstanding defensively and physically. He’s fun to watch.
OK, I really have to go. I have a 6 a.m. flight through Atlanta, believe it or not. Talk to you Friday, but like I said, there may not be a ton of news with slim pickings at practice.
Great questions on my Sunday Insider blog mailbag. Apologies in advance, but in 22 inches or so, I can only answer 10 or 12 max.
The Wild won for the sixth time in seven games overall tonight when it took a 5-1 victory over the Calgary Flames.
Justin Fontaine, … wait for it … ZENON KONOPKA and Zach Parise helped the Wild turn a 2-1 lead into a 5-1 rout with third-period goals.
Konopka, who’s half fighter, half winemaker, half decanter company owner, half bunny rabbit owner, half class clown (wait, how many halves in a whole?), scored his first goal since Dec. 16, 2011 (81-game drought) and first point in 53 games with the Wild. Torrey Mitchell sent him in alone and his pal Dany Heatley, who had another great game on that line, scooped up the puck for Konopka.
Konopka joked that he hoped the goals “come in bunches now. I’m not going to bet my life on it.”
Konopka, who plays the role of protector on the ice, then volunteered this out of the blue on Heatley: “Dany Heatley gets put on our line. Total professional. Instead of coming with a bad attitude to our line, total opposite. So excited to play with me and Mitchell, raised our game and was excited to play with us. I think it shows the unselfishness of him and being a true professional.”
Classy guy, that Konopka.
The goal of the night was Zach Parise finishing off an incredible tic-tac-toe highlight goal assisted by Mikko Koivu and Ryan Suter. The crowd erupted, and here are the highlights of all the goals.
Wrote a lot about the goal in the gamer, so give it a read. But check out Parise’s goal celebration. His mouth was just wide-open. Classic. You’ll be seeing this goal a lot in Wild folklore and John Buccigross tweeted that he was putting it on SportsCenter tonight.
It reminded me of last year’s 3-on-1 finish by Mikko Koivu off Parise and Suter passes. That was pretty too and Koivu joked afterward that he freaked he was going to miss the gaping net on that one. Parise didn’t miss this one either.
Parise scored two goals and one assist. Koivu scored one goal and two assists. The Wild has been waiting for this breakout game from Parise and Koivu and it sure helps that Charlie Coyle was back tonight. He adds so much to not only the line, but to the whole lineup.
“And Charlie is going to keep getting better,” coach Mike Yeo said. He adds a lot. He allows those guys, they don’t have to do, I don’t want to say all the work, but he allows them to do other things where they go to the middle of the ice, they can go around the net and they can allow him to make plays and control the puck and get themselves in scoring areas.”
Yeo on Coyle’s return: “It bodes well because we feel we have more depth now.”
--The Wild was 0-3-1 when the opponent scores first. Koivu scored less than four minutes after Jiri Hudler scored. It was his second goal. Cue Yeo: “Liked the way we responded, getting a quick reply, especially who got it for us.”
--Keith Ballard missed part of the third period after blocking a shot. Yeo didn’t have an injury update. Jared Spurgeon missed the last 13 minutes of the second after getting smoked by Tim Jackman. He returned in the third, but with banged up D, one would assume Matt Dumba lives another day.
-- Josh Harding made 24 saves and is now 8-2-1. 12 goals allowed in 12 games, one goal or fewer in 10 of those 12. He has an NHL-best 1.09 goals-against average and .951 save percentage. Insane in the membrane.
“It’s impressive,” Yeo said. “Making saves, looking really confident in the net. If we’re going to pretend that every team can be on top of their game every period every game, it’s not reality. What good goaltending allows you to do is sometimes you’re not quite there, but it allows you to find your game. And he’s done that for us.”
Harding, who is never one to talk about himself, said of his run, “I don’t focus on all those [stats] truthfully. I try to build off the last game I just played and learn what I can do better. I’m pretty critical of myself.”
-- Koivu on scoring his second goal and recording his first multi-point game of the year: “Of course you get frustrated when you’re not producing the way you want to. But also being in the league for a couple years, you know when you’re doing the right things and when the team’s winning, that’s a good feeling. Of course it feels good to get that confidence a little higher individually and helping the team to win. That’s our job to create and score goals. We have to stay on top of that.”
-- Read my game notebook in Wednesday’s paper. I talked to a USA Hockey exec about Jason Pominville, who is on the Olympic radar.
-- That’s it for me. I have a 7:35 a.m. flight to Washington, D.C., and I haven’t even packed yet. Just an fyi, the Wild practices in Washington at 2 p.m. ET, so the blog will be a little later than usual. Nate Schmidt and the Caps won 6-2 tonight. Alex Ovechkin returned. He scored twice.
Nice win for the Wild tonight after a slow start. Minnesota finally found its legs and took two points from a sub-par Devils team who was shorthanded by injuries, hasn’t scored now in seven periods and who played the night before.
Wild has won five of six with tonight’s 4-zip win over the Devils. Josh Harding made 19 stops for his ninth career shutout and second of the season. He’s now 7-2-1 with a 1.10 goals against average and .950 save percentage and is 6-0 at home with a 1.06 goals against average and .950 save percentage.
The Wild’s not practicing Monday, but it’s safe to say he’ll be starting Tuesday against Calgary.
Mikael Granlund scored his first goal of the season, which was his first career winning goal, extended his point streak to five games, won 6 of 10 faceoffs, had three hits and a big blocked shot on the PK.
Torrey Mitchell scored his first goal when a Zach Parise rebound ricocheted off of him. He has not clue where, but he said he’d take it. Dany Heatley, who seems to be handling fourth-line duty with a good attitude, scored on the power play and Jason Pominville scored an empty-netter for his 10th goal, which is third in the NHL.
Nino Niederreiter assisted on three goals. Wild’s won five of six and is now 2-1 on the homestand.
Good evening from the X. It’s Russo. I’m back from my friend’s wedding. It felt like I was away from the team for a month, but it’s nice to be back. I'll be live in studio at KFAN at 9 a.m. Tuesday.
Before I continue, if you missed my Thomas Vanek column from Sunday, please give it a read here. Fitting after yet another big game from Granlund and Niederreiter.
Some random thoughts:
--Wild’s PK was solid tonight, going 3 for 3 and generating momentum for a change. Then the Wild learned its lesson and didn’t take another penalty after four first-period minors. But this is a good sign for a PK that has had some big kills lately but was still 28th in the NHL and had given up at least one PPG in 12 of the previous 14 games.
--The Wild also won 39 of 54 faceoffs (72 percent), with Mikko Koivu winning 14 of 20 and Kyle Brodziak winning 11 of 13. That obviously led to more and more puck possession as the night moved on. The Wild’s second in the NHL in faceoff win percentage.
-- Torrey Mitchell had a strong game and got the goal. He was elevated to top line duty with Zach Parise (assist) and Mikko Koivu.
“He’s played with energy, he’s worked his butt off all year,” coach Mike Yeo said. “I just felt Mikko and Zach needed a straight-line, hard-working [guy]. He is a team first guy. He never ever is going to turn around and say ‘what’s in it for me?’ He just wants to help the team. It’s hard to put into words how valuable that is.”
Between Mitchell and Justin Fontaine and Niederreiter, Yeo has been able to slot players up and down the lineup this year, although as far as finding a first-line right wing for Koivu and Parise, Yeo said, “I kind of would like somebody to jump up and just take it for good, but that said, when guys have gone up, they’ve responded and done the job.”
-- Heatley was good tonight, and I wrote that on Twitter before the goal. You could see it in the first when he was making some tape-to-tape passes, generating chances, not turning pucks over, winning battles.
He’s not dumb. He’s on the fourth line. He knows next stop is the press box or worse. Theoretically, if it ever got to the point where the Wild felt like it exhausted every avenue to get him playing, it could place him on waivers and send him to Iowa. Contrary to some belief out there, Heatley does not have a no-move clause. He has a limited, 10-team no-trade clause. Still, that’d be a heck of a step and I don’t think we’re anywhere near that.
So Heatley looks like he’s responded well.
“He handled it the right way,” Yeo said. “If he didn’t score that goal, I could still sit here and say that was probably his best game. He came to the rink, he had a good attitude, he never pouted. What he did was focused on his own game.”
Yeo said that if he went back and looked at Heatley’s shifts, he’d see a good forechecking game, puck strength, making plays on entries and good decisions.
“That was kind of the message, you do the right things, and eventually you’ll get rewarded,” Yeo said.
Heatley declined to come out and talk to the press tonight.
-- Granlund continues to play well. One reason why Yeo can’t find a consistent right wing for the top line is because how can he break up the Niederreiter-Granlund-Pominville line right now.
Keith Ballard got the Granlund goal started with a headman pass that was deflected at center-ice by Granlund (may have been intentionally) to send Pominville into the zone. Cory Schneider stopped Pominville, but after Niederreiter tried to bank the rebound off Schneider, Niederreiter nudged the loose puck to Granlund, who slammed it into an open net.
“I point to where he scored the goal from and I look back to where he was a year ago, and I don’t think he would have been in that position,” Yeo said of Granlund. “He’s in the middle of the ice a lot more. He’s taken everything to heart that we’ve asked from him and he just continues to grow.”
-- Hopefully Charlie Coyle is indeed day-to-day, but if he did aggravate that knee injury, one would think he’d miss some time. I’d say doubtful for Tuesday with no practice Monday.
--On the Mitchell goal, Ryan Suter fed Parise to the left of Schneider, and the Wild vet put a soft slot at the net with bodies crashing. The puck ricocheted off Schneider, off Mitchell and then former Wild defenseman Marek Zidlicky and in.
There was a certain irony. Zidlicky, who demanded to be traded in 2012 because he felt handcuffed by Yeo, didn’t score a goal in 41 games during Yeo’s rookie season before being dealt to the Devils. In a way, it was Zidlicky’s first goal for Yeo.
No blog Monday unless there’s news. Talk to you Tuesday.
Jason Pominville is a pretty quiet guy in the locker room, but he made some real noise Friday at Xcel. His two goals and one assist highlighted a generally strong effort from the Wild in a 4-3 victory over a good Montreal team. Here's a link to the game story: http://www.startribune.com/sports/wild/230298051.html
The story is loaded with stats, so I won't repeat too many of those here. Pominville is on a nice roll, with eight goals in his past nine games (and five in the past three). He's the kind of player who just diligently goes about his work, and his general demeanor--calm and focused--was just what the Wild needed to avoid coughing up a game they led 3-1 with 16 minutes to go.
Pominville, a Quebec native, deflected the praise Friday (in two languages, no less, giving postgame interviews in English and French). Coach Mike Yeo noted that some players in scoring slumps can lose their heads, forcing things as they become desperate. Not Pominville. When he managed only one goal in the first five games of the season, he continued to carry out his role: playing good positional hockey, finding ways to get open, maintaining his energy and drive. Now, as he said, "we're getting a few bounces lately.''
Pominville sent plenty of kudos to linemate Mikael Granlund, whom Yeo said is "a different player right now.'' Last season, Granlund played 27 games and finished with two goals and six assists. He has surpassed that point total in 14 games this year, with a team-high 10 assists. His coaches and teammates also point out how well Granlund is playing without the puck, though it's hard not to get caught up in his superb passing.
His vision, timing and pinpoint delivery gave perfect setups to Pominville on the first goal and Nino Niederreiter on the goal that put the Wild up 3-1. "He sees the ice really well,'' Pominville said of Granlund. "We're both guys that like to make plays. We're not the biggest guys, but we try to stay moving, and it seems like we find each other in a lot of situations. His overall game fits my overall game pretty well. And the way he plays away from the puck benefits this team in a big way. He's proven he's an elite centerman.''
Yeo praised the Wild for hanging tough after Montreal tied the game, resulting in the kind of victory that is especially good for the psyche. "That was a hard game,'' he said. "Montreal is a very good team, fast and skilled and well-coached. It was a hard game for us, to be able to battle through that adversity. You've got a 3-1 lead in the third period, and all of a sudden, it's gone, I thought the guys, after the time out, did a great job of regrouping and getting refocused and going out there and getting it done.''
--Yeo loved Keith Ballard's game in his return after missing seven games because of a concussion. He was raving the other day about what a nice job Ballard does on the power play, skating along the blue line and finding shooting lanes. Pominville's winning goal started with a Ballard shot that was deflected by Zach Parise. With two assists, Ballard had his first multi-point game since March 21, 2010.
--Dany Heatley wasn't any more effective in the new line configurations. He started out on the top line with center Charlie Coyle and Parise; after a couple of shifts, Yeo began switching him out with Justin Fontaine, who started the game on the fourth line with Zenon Konopka and Torrey Mitchell. Fontaine scored the Wild's first goal on a redirection of a Ballard shot and finished with five shots. Heatley was penalized for holding the stick in the third period, a penalty that led to a Canadiens power-play goal (and started the rally).
Yeo had said their performances would dictate which line they ended up on, and that both would have the opportunity to prove themselves. After the game, he indicated that alternating them between lines may not have been the best strategy. "It was a tough game for both guys,'' Yeo said. "They both didn’t have the best game. It was a tough situation for them, bouncing around from one shift to the next. We'll have to figure that out in the next couple of days. It's not ideal. We'd like to have some consistency.''
--Those new lines were blown up anyway in the third period. Coyle was shifted from center to wing on a line with Parise and Mikko Koivu; Yeo said his conditioning was becoming a factor at that point, as he played his first game since injuring his knee on Oct. 5. Yeo added that he also changed the lines to try and find consistency.
--Coyle looked pretty good in his return, getting a couple of nice chances early in the game and playing sound defense before he wore down. He played 18:23, fifth-most on the team. Jonas Brodin was not quite his usual self but was OK in his first game back after breaking his cheekbone; he got a game-high 26:54 of ice time, even more than ironman partner Ryan Suter (26:35).
That's all for now. I've got Saturday's practice and Sunday's morning skate; Russo returns for Sunday's game against New Jersey.
Disappointing loss for the Wild tonight. The team's been playing good hockey, so this is far from the end of the world. It was sort of its first clunker of the season, losing 5-1 to the Chicago Blackhawks.
But the Wild’s execution was off all night and it started on the first shift of the game when there were two turnovers the first shift and that trickled into the second and third shifts.
But the Wild rebounded, and even when the Wild was down 1-0, coach Mike Yeo felt his team was “largely in control.” He felt the Wild had good energy, created good chances, defended hard and defended well even though the execution “wasn’t exactly sharp.”
Finally, Mikael Granlund set up Jason Pominville for a howitzer and the forward’s third goal in two goals, sixth goal in eight games and team-leading seventh. The next shift, Matt Cooke nearly scored twice and it looked like the Wild was now well on its way to really taking control.
And then, just careless mistakes. First a Clayton Stoner icing led to a mismatch in lines. After the ensuing faceoff, Mikko Koivu tried to pass to Torrey Mitchell. Mitchell couldn’t clear and fell, and then the Wild was in scramble mode. Matt Dumba collided with Niklas Backstrom, and the Wild goalie just got stuck in mud, was slow to recover and Sheldon Brookbank easily made it 2-1.
Ninety-nine seconds later, Marco Scandella was handed a dubious holding penalty. Regardless of what you think of the call, the Wild’s penalty kill, like it has over and over and over again this season, gave up a costly one. Koivu coughed up the puck and this came right as Brandon Saad knocked down Backstrom.
Brent Seabrook wheeled the puck over to Nick Leddy and Leddy recognized that Backstrom wasn’t set. He unloaded and scored his first goal in 12 games vs. the team that drafted him in the first round in 2009.
Dumba played a starring role in Patrick Kane scoring 2:47 into the third and the game was pretty much over at that point as Chicago skated to a 5-1 win to snap Minnesota’s four-game home winning streak.
Coach Mike Yeo wasn’t pleased with most players, other than the Nino Niederreiter-Granlund-Pominville line, which makes you think Charlie Coyle may start on the top-line right wing with Zach Parise and Koivu if he’s able to return Friday. The Wild needs more from Koivu. He has one goal on 30 shots in 13 games and tonight was on the ice for three goals. The Wild needs more from Dany Heatley, who has no goals with a goalie in net and has 22 shots this season. The Wild’s got to figure this out. It’s not a coincidence that the second line finally started scoring when he was taken off. I’m not convinced they’re ready to scratch him because they don’t want a six-month soap opera ahead, but if he’s not scoring goals, he is not productive. Some players can get away with not contributing offensively because they make impacts in other areas. That has not been the case this year for Heatley. And after tonight, one’s got to think Josh Harding will be back in the cage if he’s healthy enough to be by Friday. Backstrom didn’t control his rebounds well tonight and was slow to recover on the second and third goals – the back-breaking goals.
Read the gamer for the quotes. Yeo wouldn’t single out any players, but he wasn’t happy with some of the efforts, saying some of the “plays out there were odd.”
The Wild went 6-4-3 in its first month of the season. Of those seven losses, four or five at least could have been wins. Defensively, it’s been good. Offensively, it’s still a work in progress. PK stinks.
“It was kind of a weird month,” Pominville said. “We probably lost some games that we should’ve won and won some games that we maybe didn’t deserve to win.
“We’ve kind of turned a corner as of late but tonight was one that kind of slipped by us. If you look at the overall picture, we know we can be better and just keep pushing toward improving. We’ve got a good a group of guys and a lot of good things are ahead of us, but we’ve got to keep working toward everything we get.
“I don’t think we were that off early on. We did a lot of good things and capitalized on a few opportunities. Obviously the third period wasn’t what we wanted it to be. We sat back and kind of stopped playing. But for a good chunk of the time we did some good things. They’re a good team and they make plays, but it’s on us to be better and play a complete game.”
Dumba obviously had a very tough night. On for three of the last four goals for Chicago, although Yeo let him off the hook for the difficult third, saying, if the Wild was going to get back in the game, “We’ve got to try some things. If it doesn’t work, it could end up badly.”
The big question now is whether the Wild is going to let one game where Dumba looked miscast against the Blackhawks override the decision as a whole and return him to Red Deer.
I still don’t think it will, but we will see. The big question the Wild has to answer is if Dumba is going to play more often than he sits and when he plays, will he have a significant role?
I have evolved. I used to think it made little sense to have teenage defensemen in the NHL, unless they’re as special as a guy like Jonas Brodin. But would it really hurt Dumba’s development being in the NHL for a year working with Rick Wilson and Darryl Sydor as opposed to returning to junior?
And as I mentioned on one of yesterday’s blogs, I still think it could be a risk to send Dumba back because he adds depth to the team. As we saw these past two weeks with Brodin and Keith Ballard hurt, you can find yourself short defensemen quick in this game. If Dumba wasn’t here, the Wild would have had to turn to Iowa.
Also, if it’s true Chuck Fletcher doesn’t care about burning a year of Dumba’s contract, then maybe the Wild keep him for now, take a longer look at home, work with him longer and send him back at a later date if that’s the decision. In other words, there’s no rush if Fletcher really doesn’t care making his three-year contract kick in.
Remember, he can be sent back to junior at any time. The reason why now is a threshold is because his contract doesn’t slide a year if he plays in his 10th game.
Yeo said the Wild will make a decision based on what his role would be, how often he plays and how it’ll affect his development. Obviously, if Dumba stays, he’s got to play. So the Wild has to make the decision whether it’s willing to live and die with Dumba, who is still quite raw, and while he makes some awesome plays nightly, he has shown at times a player that gets rattled and makes some costly mistakes.
We will see. The Wild has Tuesday off, so there may be no news on this front. The Wild next practices Wednesday.
That’s it for me. I will be on KFAN on Tuesday morning at 9 a.m.
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