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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Again, the news of the day:
-- Judging by today’s potential lines for Friday’s game against Montreal, Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu will be split for the first time under coach Mike Yeo. This is an attempt to get more 5-on-5 scoring throughout the lineup and create three scoring lines. Parise and Koivu have each registered four even-strength points in 13 games.
-- Charlie Coyle will return Friday after missing 11 games from a sprained knee.
-- Keith Ballard will likely return Friday
-- Jonas Brodin practiced today and is questionable Friday. The Wild doesn’t want to put him in a bad spot with his broken cheekbone. He says he felt good today, so we will find out Thursday if he’s back on his regular pair with Ryan Suter. Today he skated with Matt Dumba, who will be a healthy scratch Friday. Brodin is sporting a full face shield as opposed to the cage. He didn’t like the cage. His face is looking better than it was when originally clocked by that puck.
-- No goalie decision for Friday, but if Josh Harding is healthy, it’d be surprising if he doesn’t return to the cage (eight goals in nine games vs. Niklas Backstrom’s 3.42 goals-against average and .871 save percentage in six appearances.
-- Stephane Veilleux is on waivers and will be assigned to Iowa if he clears Thursday.
-- Dany Heatley and Justin Fontaine were rotating in and out of the Parise-Coyle line today and the fourth line. Just the fact that Heatley’s in conversation for the fourth line is glaring.
-- Just an fyi: Rachel Blount will be covering the Wild for us Thursday, Friday vs. Montreal, Saturday and Sunday morning. I'm in a wedding out of town and will return to cover Zach Parise's first game against New Jersey on Sunday.
-- If you didn't get to read, here's my fun profile on Zenon Konopka and his wine label/bunny rabbit. Good pics, too.
Here are the lines and D pairs again. The big thing is the Wild’s not going with the conventional top-3 lines. Koivu is not on the "third line" if I didn’t make that clear on original blog. The Koivu/Coyle lines should be 1/2 or 2/1 in ice time still. The way things have gone all season, Koivu's and Kyle Brodziak's lines always lead in ice time. The "second line" centered by Mikael Granlund is usually third in ice time.
Matt Cooke-Granlund-Jason Pominville
Fontaine/Heatley-Zenon Konopka-Torrey Mitchell
Mike Rupp is being rotated into line rushes every other rotation.
Defense pairs are
Marco Scandella-Nate Prosser
I'll be interested to see how the heck Yeo works the power plays, particularly after they expire. If he goes with the first/second units the way they've been, he's got forwards sprinkled from every line on both units.
Here is Mike Yeo:
New lines: Potential line combinations. Try some stuff out. See how it works.
Parise/Koivu: We’re trying some stuff. We know that those guys are very good together and dangerous together. We want to see if they can click with some other guys and strengthen our whole group. Obviously both guys are great players and both guys are threats any time they’re on the ice no matter who they’re with.
Needed Coyle back to make move?: It’s not like we’ve been sitting here waiting to make that move. We’ve been real happy with both guys. With Charlie here, there’s more guys in play. We’re looking at 5-on-5 production and how can we have at least three lines that are a real threat to score. That was the basis for what you saw today
Heatley/Fontaine, how will you decide who's up with Coyle line, who's down with Konopla line: Who’s playing the best? It’s pretty much that simple and that’s the same for everybody. We’ve got more competition, more guys, another healthy guy that we feel is a threat to contribute on the offensive side of things and that gives us the freedom to shuffle things a little bit more.
Start with dany there?: I don’t know.
Mikko: Part of the idea of switching them too is those guys, we’re playing against Chicago, who are they going to throw on the ice against them? They’re going to get their top matchup, they’re going to get Toews, who’s one of the top defensive guys in the league. With Charlie out the way we’ve had our lines, it’s been a little easy for teams to match up against us. There’s a big difference in this league playing against top defensive pairings, playing against top defensive forwards. Now we’d like to think that we’re spread a little bit more where you might have to pick your poison.
Mikko: He can easily have five or six more points right now. He’s been doing a lot of great things. This is not by any means an indication that we’re not happy with him or his game and likewise for anybody through the lineup. This is something that we all said right from the beginning of the year, right, that we wanted to see more line combinations, so let’s not turn it into that just because we’re trying a new line that we’re not happy with the way things are going.
Nino/Cooke?: I think if you look at every line right now the way we’ve got it, we’ve got skill on each line, we’ve got a big body, we’ve got a guy that should get to the net. We’ve got a little bit of everything on every line. If we’re going to make a switch with Mikko – not to say that Cookie is not a skill guy, but Nino is a guy that should be a top offensive threat. He’s a guy with hands, … with a shot, … can skate, handle the puck, is strong on the puck. When we’re looking at Mikko, we’re trying to really identify what he needs to be successful because again, he’s still going to be playing against the best players out there and he needs to have the right pieces around him.
Brodin regular pair tomorrow? We’ll see, we’ll see. We have a lot of healthy defensemen and we want to make sure that when we get him back, we get him back for good. I don’t want to put him in a bad spot. He looked good today and that’s a good first step and we’ll see how it goes tomorrow.
Ballard? He looked good. I’d be surprised if he’s not ready to go by Friday.
Granlund/Brodziak? One thing with Charlie being out is we saw Granny emerge a little bit. We kind of only slotted one position available between him and Charlie at the start of the year, but the way that he’s been going lately, he’s proven that he can be a dangerous guy playing at the center-ice position because of his speed, … the way that he distributes the puck, … the way he’s been able to carry the puck and make plays through the middle of the ice. We want to give a chance to continue to develop that. Again, it’s probably going to be fluid for a little while here. I hope that these lines stay together for the next month, but I’m not sure that that’s going to happen. We’ve got moving pieces. We’ve got a guy like Brodzy who can move back to center, guys like Charlie and Granny who can both move to wing and guys like Zach who can still play with Mikko or Pommer and likewise. To sit here and say these is going to be our lines for the long-term, we’re trying something. We’ll see how it goes.
What’s it say that heatley’s even an option for the fourth line? I don’t even want to turn it into a story. We’ve got a lot of good players and you know what, he’s also an option for a very good line. This is not about individual players right now. We think on every line we’re going to have a good mix of skill and guys who are going to be hard around the net and guys that should be able to complement each other.
Dumba? No decision right now. If he played his best game, we were not going to overreact one way and if he played his worst game, we were going to overreact one way. We were just going to judge this as a whole and we’ll keep going day-by-day and see what happens.
Fair to say Dumba scratched Friday? Yeah.
Practice Schedule? This is good for us. … We haven’t had the quality practice time in the last couple weeks and that’s big for our group, for how we play the game, but also for individuals feeling good going into every game. You saw we had a hard practice today. It was good tempo, guys were skating, guys were making plays, but there was certainly a focus on making sure that guys were leaving the ice tired today.
Goalie decision? No
Charlie Coyle, who has missed 11 games with a sprained MCL, is expected to return Friday against the Montreal Canadiens, Wild GM Chuck Fletcher said this morning. Stephane Veilleux has been placed on waivers and will be assigned to Iowa on Thursday if he clears.
Fletcher said that he has not made a decision on defenseman Matt Dumba yet and that will not come today. The reason is the Wild only has to make a decision prior to Dumba playing his 10th game and there's a chance Dumba won't play Friday.
Defenseman Jonas Brodin, wearing a full face shield -- not a cage -- to protect his broken cheekbone, is practicing today, as well as Keith Ballard. So the Wild may be able to get one, if not both, back against the Habs.
Mike Rupp is also practicing but is not ready to return.
In today's practice, and remember, the Wild doesn't play until Friday, so this is way preliminary:
Zach Parise-Coyle-Dany Heatley/Justin Fontaine
Matt Cooke-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville
Nino Niederreiter-Mikko Koivu-Kyle Brodziak
Justin Fontaine/Dany Heatley-Zenon Konopka-Torrey Mitchell
Rupp is being rotated into line rushes every other rotation.
Coach Mike Yeo is rotating Heatley and Fontaine between first and fourth lines. Parise and Koivu are separated in practice for the first time since Parise joined the team. Remember, we always label first, second and third lines, so while you may jump to the conclusion that Koivu has been downgraded to the third line, that Koivu line will see more ice time than the Granlund line.
That's the way it has worked all season with the Wild. The "third line" or "checking line" always sees more ice time than the second line because that lines typically goes up against the opposing top lines.
Defense pairs are
Ryan Suter-Jared Spurgeon
Marco Scandella-Nate Prosser
Clayton Stoner-Keith Ballard
The Wild held an optional practice here at the X today in preparation for Monday's home game against the Central Division rival Chicago Blackhawks. The Wild will wear its road whites and currently towels resembling those uni's are being draped over every seat.
I will be on Fox Sports North's pregame show and first intermission Monday, so please tune in for some astute insight. I'll also be on Siriusxm NHL Network Radio on Monday at 8:45 a.m. CT.
Johan Gustafsson was reassigned to the Iowa Wild on Sunday because Josh Harding, who sustained a strained left hamstring Thursday, is expected to skate Monday morning and back up Niklas Backstrom later that night.
Charlie Coyle, Keith Ballard and Mike Rupp practiced today, with Coyle and Rupp staying on a long, long time after practice working with the assistants. Jonas Brodin skated before practice. All four won't play against the Blackhawks, but Friday against Montreal may be a possibility for Coyle, Ballard and Brodin to return.
Coach Mike Yeo admitted today that he and his staff spent part of the short plane ride back from Chicago last night discussing potential line combinations and defense pairs once guys like Coyle return.
It'll be interesting because Mikael Granlund has assumed Coyle's No. 2 center role and is playing very well alongside Jason Pominville.
Do you maybe put Coyle at second-line center again and move Granlund to left wing, and then if that happens, where do you put Nino Niederreiter? Or, do you maybe have Coyle return to last year's role to start out and put him back at top-line right wing with Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu, and then if that happens, where do you put Justin Fontaine, who has played well up top?
All good problems to have.
It's impressive this season that the Wild has been able to keep its head above water without Backstrom (thanks to Harding) and without Coyle (thanks to Granlund and others) and the past two games, Brodin (thanks to quality play from the defense, particularly Marco Scandella and Nate Prosser).
Monday will be Matt Dumba's ninth game and then the Wild has to decide whether or not to return him to Red Deer. Again, he can stay and it would burn the first year of his contract. GM Chuck Fletcher has said over and over again that he's not worried about that.
I think he stays, for no other reason than what this last week proved. It is so simple to lose two defensemen, and we just saw that with Brodin and Ballard going down. If Dumba wasn't here, the Wild would have had to turn to Iowa.
Not only do I feel it would help Dumba's development to continue to work with Rick Wilson and Darryl Sydor, he adds much-needed depth. I just think it's risky to return him now, and if it's true Fletcher could care less if Dumba's three-year contract kicks in, why send him back? It's not like his development has been hurt by spending this past month in the NHL. He's learning on and off the ice, and witnessing what it takes to be a pro.
This is just my opinion. We'll find out what the Wild feels soon.
The Blackhawks should be pumped to avenge Saturday's 5-3 loss as the Wild looks to win its fourth in a row overall and fifth in a row at home.
"Games like tonight, we’re not happy with the result or the way things went tonight," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said after Saturday's game. "I think we should all be disappointed with the way things evolved tonight and be excited that we get them on Monday.”
The Hawks didn't practice Sunday.
Yeo said he expects to see different looks from Chicago and they should expect to see different looks from the Wild.
"It should be an entertaining, intense game," Yeo said.
Yeo was happy with the Wild's penalty kill in Chicago. When the Wild needed big kills, it got big kills and he wants the Wild to keep its urgency level high on the PK, which shouldn't be too hard against a team with as many weapons as the Hawks, Yeo said.
BUT, Yeo added, "We have to quit taking seven penalties in a game. We just put our penalty killers under so much pressure," not to mention rust up non-penalty killers and give opponents momentum.
Stay out of the box was Yeo's message. The Wild has been on the PK 26 times in the past five games.
That's it for me. Talk to you after Monday's morning skate. I'll be in studio with Paul Allen on KFAN on Tuesday at 9 a.m.
Coach Mike Yeo says Josh Harding is feeling better today, but the Wild won't bring him to Chicago as not to risk his "lower-body strain" that flared up during Thursday's 3-1 win over Carolina.
The Wild has recalled Johan Gustafsson to make the trip and back up Niklas Backstrom Saturday. Remember, Backstrom was injured moments before Game 1 of the playoffs last year when he sustained a sports hernia that knocked him out of the first round and required surgery.
Backstrom isn't 100 percent yet, but he says he has to "find a way" Saturday night.
The Gustafsson recall is nothing against Darcy Kuemper, who gave up three goals on seven shots in Toronto last week. Kuemper's been on a yo-yo and it's his turn to start Sunday for Iowa against Grand Rapids. So since the callup is for a backup role here, Kuemper stays in Iowa to play and Gustafsson is called up.
It's as simple as that. He also apparently isn't quite 100 percent from something that happened in last night's game.
Gustafsson was pulled in last night's game for Iowa but gave up only one goal in roughly his first 120 minutes of the season there. He is 2-0 with a 1.99 GAA and .935 SP and one shutout for Iowa
Keith Ballard, who has missed five games with a head injury, practiced today and is "feeling better than yesterday." He will not fly to Chicago and acknowledged that he had concussion-like symptoms and whiplash.
Charlie Coyle practiced today and looked good. He is not on the trip and is doubtful for Monday, too, against Chicago. With practices scheduled Thursday and Friday, perhaps Friday's game against Montreal is a target.
Jonas Brodin wound up not skating today because Yeo said why push it since it's not like he'll be back in a few days. Right now it's just a matter of the swelling going down so he can look down and see the puck. Maybe Friday is a target, too. Monday is unlikely.
Mike Rupp also practiced today again. I'll toss Rupp quotes on his comeback in Sunday's paper. I talked to him yesterday.
Big test for the Wild Saturday as its faces Chicago for the first time since the playoffs. The Wild felt like it was chasing the puck for much of that series. This year the Wild's been a team its opponent is typically chasing. So we'll see how it goes against Chicago.
Same lines in Chicago as the Wild finished vs. Carolina. Dany Heatley on Kyle Brodziak's line, Nino Niederreiter on Mikael Granlund's line.
By the way, Wild will wear its road whites Monday in the second end of the home-and-home against the Hawks.
Talk to you Saturday after the morning skates in Chicago.
Defenseman Jonas Brodin sustained a broken cheekbone when hit by a dump-in on his second shift of last night's 2-0 win over Nashville.
He is out indefinitely and the Wild will have a better idea of a timetable Thursday. The fact the team knows that definitively tells me that it'll be determined Thursday if Brodin needs to surgery. His face is a mess and at the very least needs some major dentalwork. GM Chuck Fletcher said today surgery hasn't been ruled out.
As of now, the Wild says this is all relatively good news because there was originally a concern he had a broken jaw or orbital bone. Typically, players can play through a broken cheekbone with a cage, but that can't be determined until once the swelling goes down and it's determined if an operation is needed.
Regardless, it's clear Brodin will miss some time and now it's up to the Wild's cast of defensemen -- Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Clayton Stoner, Marco Scandella and Nate Prosser to pick up where it left off during a soundly-played game last night. Keith Ballard is still working his way back from a head injury, so Matt Dumba should get his opportunity to play multiple games in a row.
The way the Wild has played defensively and by having the puck the majority of games should allow the Wild to overcome Brodin's injury as long as that continues.
"Let’s put it this way, I’m not sitting here thinking, ‘Oh no, we lost Jonas and now we’re in trouble,'" coach Mike Yeo said. "I still have a lot of confidence going into every game that we have a team capable of winning every night against any team. Obviously he’s a big loss for us, an important part of the team. Without question, we have the guys capable in there of keeping us at or even raising us to another level."
The injury occurred less than three minutes into Tuesday's win over Nashville on Gabriel Bourque's dump-in. I tweeted a GIF and that can be found in my www.twitter.com/russostrib timeline last night (can't get the link to work on here for some reason).
Yeo confirmed Brodin wasn't wearing a mouthguard, not that it would have protected him from a broken cheekbone. But Yeo said, "We can’t tell them to do it. you wish that everybody did, you wish that everybody wore a face shield. But bottom line is it’s still up to the players. Sometimes something like this changes the mind of not just the guy that it happened to, but some others as well."
Just a freak accident, although a number of Wild players said a six-foot dump-in by Bourque not up the wall was a pretty careless play.
Scandella had a great game yesterday, as did Jared Spurgeon, who will take Brodin's spot next to Suter. Clayton Stoner had another solid game (although the coaches would prefer to see less -- or no -- toe-dragging from him in games). Prosser's time is now after waiting patiently. He played well in more than 20 minutes yesterday, although next time the Wild's down to 5 D and controlling a game up 1-0 and he opts to fight, he may see Yeo's wrath. Yeo understood Prosser was trying to prove his worth when he fought Eric Nystrom in the third last night, but Yeo said that wasn't the time and he's lucky the Preds didn't turn the momentum.
Prosser says this is a great opportunity for himself.
Dumba has taken Brodin's spot on the No. 2 power-play unit and a lot will be riding on Dumba to play more consistently now. In Tampa and Florida, mistakes by Dumba led to a 2-on-0 and breakaway in consecutive games. It's a big adjustment going from junior to the NHL and Yeo said he's got to learn that he can't make that one extra play when he gets the puck at the blue line. Make a decision to pass, shoot or dump it, but don't make that extra move.
Yeo said it's clear the nine-game rule (if he plays 10, a year of his contract burns off, which means the Wild's got a decision to make soon; he's played six so far) is in Dumba's head. But Yeo and GM Chuck Fletcher said the team is not thinking about the rule right now and Dumba's just got to play. The only rule Fletcher cares about is the 41-game rule that burns a year of his seven-year free agency. And even that isn't pressing because the Wild needs to win now, not worry now whether Dumba's UFA year is agen 26 or 27 (hope that all makes sense).
Ballard did work out today but was kept off the ice. He has a history of concussions, so the Wild's being careful. Also, Charlie Coyle skated on his own today and looked good apparently, so he'll take part in Thursday's morning skate. He won't play, but he's ready to take the next step in his recovery from a sprained knee.
Same lines in the practice as what finished last night. Justin Fontaine skated with Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu and Nino Niederreiter skated with Kyle Brodziak and Matt Cooke. Fontaine will get to go head-to-head against his former UMD teammate and summer roommate Justin Faulk on Thursday against the Canes. Faulk, from South St. Paul, is expected to have 30 friends and family members in the crowd. I'll write more about that in Friday's paper and Thursday's blog.
That's it for now. I have to get autographing cards for Thursday's ChalkTalk!!!! Could you imagine the kid that comes to Thursday's game with hopes of getting a Zach Parise and Ryan Suter autograph and he ends up leaving with ... mine? Scarred for life.
Photo credit: Mike Greenlay (Me, and me embarrassed)
I'll have a lot more in Thursday's paper, including quotes from Chuck Fletcher on the Brodin injury and Nate Prosser.
Helmet/cage ready for whenever Jonas Brodin hits the ice next. Hopefully real soon. pic.twitter.com/ifXaSR6fN6— Matt Benz (@benznasty) October 23, 2013
By the way, thanks to you, Russo's Rants is up for an Editor & Publisher Award
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