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Russo's Rants

Michael Russo gives you complete coverage of the Minnesota Wild and the NHL

Boudreau shakes up Wild's lines again in Saturday practice

Greetings from beautifully brisk Minneapolis, where the Wild held a practice today at Ridder.

Wild and Blues on Sunday at 5 p.m. It'll be former coach Mike Yeo's first return to Xcel Energy Center. The  Blues associate coach -- and Ken Hitchcock's successor next season -- has faced his former team in St. Louis, going 2-0 (Wild did get a point in a shootout loss six games ago).

I chatted with Yeo before the Blues faced the Devils on Friday for a story on his return, which you can read right here.

During a first-period TV timeout, the Wild plans to acknowledge Yeo and assistant coach Rick Wilson, who remember actually coached with the Wild for six full seasons -- one with Todd Richards, five with Yeo/John Torchetti.

Tweaks to the Eric Staal and Erik Haula lines today at Ridder with Jason Pominville and Charlie Coyle swapping spots.

So, the lines were:





Some factoids: Devan Dubnyk is 5-0-2 in his past seven and leads the NHL with four shutouts, a .946 save percentage and 1.66 goals-against average (Chip Scoggins wrote a column on him for Sunday's paper). Koivu and Niederreiter have eight points each in the past nine games, Zucker has three goals and eight points in the past eight games. Staal is a point away from 800. Parise has no points in the past six games.

Minnesota leads the NHL in team save percentage (.934) and goals-against average (2.01). The Wild has allowed 22 even-strength goals in the past 20 games.

The Wild’s power play is 0 for 14 in the past six games. 

Eighteen of the Wild’s 26 games, including six in a row, have been one-goal outcomes (7-7-4). Blues just got through a stretch of seven straight one-goal games.

Defensemen Christian Folin and Nate Prosser were rotating on and off Marco Scandella's pair, which makes me think Folin's return won't come against the Blues. I only say that because I'd think Folin would return to Jonas Brodin's pair once he returns.

Bruce Boudreau can be heard on this subject later in this here blog.

The Wild’s searching for its first four-game winning streak of the season. It has also won three games in a row at home and has points in eight of its past nine games overall (5-1-3).

Five of those games have gone into overtime, including a shootout loss at St. Louis two Saturdays ago. The Wild's 0-1-1 against the Blues, who are 4-7-1 on the road. They've lost six of their last eight on the road. The Wild’s 5-5-4 in its last 14 against the Blues, 3-1-2 at home.

A couple Blues are red-hot:

Jaden Schwartz has 10 goals and 16 points in the past 16 games. Vladimir Tarasenko, who scored six goals in six playoff games against the Wild in 2015, has nine goals and 22 points in the past 17 games. Robby Fabbri has no goals in the first 12 games and eight in the past in 15.

In his last 10 games, Jake Allen is 9-1 with a 2.16 goals-against average and .922 save percentage.

They have a couple Wild killas, too. Paul Stastny leads the Blues with 37 points in 56 games against the Wild. My guy David Perron has 18 points in 24 games vs. Minnesota.

"They're good," Boudreau said. "They've got six forwards that can burn you at any time. Their third line is pretty good themselves, and I see [Ryan] Reaves scored last night, so the fourth line is chipping in. They're a four-line team, and they keep coming at ya. They have a big defense with an offensive upside. And Jake Allen's been pretty good. So they've got all the ingredients as we read every year about them to win a Cup, so they're going to be a tough challenge. We're looking forward to it ..., I think."

I'm holding the story likely for my game notebook Sunday for Monday, but Tyler Graovac was a big topic after today's practice. If you remember, Boudreau was beyond disappointed with Graovac's training camp and was beyond candid about it today, saying he has been a "100 percent different player" and after being told in the summer by GM Chuck Fletcher how good Graovac was, Graovac showed Boudreau "nothing" in camp. "I didn't see anything in training camp," Boudreau said. He told Graovac that when he was placed on waivers, which he cleared and got assigned to Iowa.

Graovac said today that he hit "rock bottom" and had to work his way back up, and now he is playing well and also knows Zac Dalpe, practicing again after knee surgery, is on his heels.

Like I said, I'll write this for Monday's paper. Graovac was good today talking about this.

The fourth line was a big topic again. Since Gabriel's recall, the line has played three good games in Calgary, Toronto and at home against the Oilers and a so-so game in Edmonton.

"The line in itself is giving me more faith in them," Boudreau said. "I'm pleasantly surprise because I didn't know what to expect. I didn't know what to expect with Stewy playing left wing, I didn't know what to expect from Gabes, quite frankly. They've held their own defensively and potted the odd goal."

Stewart's an interesting case study now. Is it only because Gabriel's up that he has suddenly played better since Calgary (Boudreau says it may be because he has "back up" in Gabriel, like last season when he played on a big line with Patrick Maroon in Anaheim) or could it possibly be because Boudreau gave him a talk at some point recently about his sub-par play and work ethic, on and off the ice?

Maybe a little bit of both.

"He's gotten better," Boudreau said of Stewart's work ethic and skating. "Sometimes you have to talk to them on a lengthy basis, sometimes it's one word, sometimes it's a glare. ... We've got pretty good lines of communication open. He's working harder now off the ice than I've seen him work last year, so that's all good."

On the Folin-Prosser decision, Folin did extra skating after practice and Boudreau said, "I don't know what the plan is for [Sunday] or whether it's Tuesday. ... It would be tough [to take Prosser out]. The one thing about Pross is he understands his role. He knows he's playing well and he knows we're counting on him. But Fols was playing really good before he got hurt, and he was a top-four defenseman. So we'll talk about it as coaches, and I'll talk to [GM Chuck Fletcher] today and we'll see where it leads [Sunday]."

That's it for now. Talk to you Sunday. I'll be on Fox Sports North ++++++ during the pregame and first intermission.

Postgame: Boudreau lauds fourth line after Wild wins its first shootout this season

The Wild keeps getting points in the standings. Playing for the fifth time in overtime in nine games, the Wild took a 3-2 shootout win over the Edmonton Oilers on Friday night.

That’s points in eight of nine games for the Wild, which nearly made it 9 for 9 by rallying from two goals down in the third in Vancouver only to give up a late winning goal in regulation to the Canucks.

For the second time in five nights, the Wild caught the Oilers on the tail end of back-to-back games. The Wild outshot the Oilers 20-7 in the third period and overtime, including nine in overtime and a couple pipes by Charlie Coyle and Eric Staal.

But in the shootout, after Jason Pominville gave Minnesota 1-0 lead in Round 1, Leon Draisaitl kept the Wild from winning it in the third round. After Charlie Coyle missed, Devan Dubnyk denied Connor McDavid, scoreless in two meetings with Minnesota. In Round 5, Chris Stewart, after saying he locked eyes with Bruce Boudreau, scored, but so did Jordan Eberle to keep the Wild from winning right there.

Eric Staal buried his Round 6 chance, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins missed the net as the Wild won its 49th game and accumulated points 107 and 108 all-time against the Oilers.

The Wild improved to 12-3-1 in its past 16 against the Oilers and 22-4-1 in its last 27 home games against the Oilers since Feb. 25, 2007

That’s 18 one-goal games now out of 26 (7-7-4). Twenty-two blocked shots tonight for the Wild. Per @stateofstats, Jason Pominville and Nino Niederreiter were only on for nine shot attempts each.

Solid, effective game from the fourth line of Chris Stewart, Tyler Graovac and Kurtis Gabriel. They’ve been a trio since Calgary four games ago, and coach Bruce Boudreau is growing more faith in them. Tonight, he said other than McDavid, he quit caring which Edmonton lines he threw the trio out against.

That’s because they spent much of the game in the offensive zone and had seven attempted shots.

“It’s great. I mean, they bring energy -- all three of those guys,” Boudreau said. “And Grao had a couple really good chances. And they play big; they give the rest of the team some protection. And it didn’t matter where I played them, if it was their fourth line. After the first period, I quit caring who they were playing against, because they were doing a good job -- other than playing against McDavid. I wanted Mikko against McDavid all night.”

On Gabriel, Boudreau said, “He’s a physical presence out there, and he’s support for Stewie if Stewie wants to get a little bit mean in there, you know? We didn’t have that secondary toughness, and I thought that was very important, and Gabes has given it to us. I didn’t know how well Stewie would play on left wing, but he’s played very well there.”

On the line, Stewart said, “We have just been working. The communication is there. As an older guy, I take pride in having us ready to play every night. And tip the hat to those guys because they've been soaking it in like sponges and asking questions and trying to get better. When we've got two guys that are willing to learn and me being a veteran guy we are on the same page. We are holding onto pucks down there. We are getting chances to score every night and things are going well.

On Gabriel, Stewart said, “He's a big guy, a big body. He's willing to drop the gloves and teams don't want to play against guys like that. When he's on the ice I know guys are looking over their shoulder and that only makes us more dangerous.”

Before Gabriel was here, the fourth line was ineffective and Boudreau was showing no trust in them. Now, they’re all elevating their games. Graovac’s playing well, no dummy seeing Zac Dalpe on the ice this morning, surely. And Gabriel continues to fill the fourth-line role of size, physicality, being reliable defensively, something Teemu Pulkkinen couldn’t do earlier in the season. We’ll see how long he can run with it, but the good news is something has gotten into Stewart because he was MIA on too many nights before Calgary and now he’s churning well.

Of Dubnyk’s 25 saves, six were on McDavid.

Dubnyk called him a “fun challenge” who doesn’t make it comfortable out there. He joked he wouldn’t want to play him every night because you know you’re not going to shut down a talent like him every night.

Dubnyk is 5-0-2 in his past seven with a 1.79 goals-against average and .939 save percentage. He still leads in GAA and SV% this season, and he improved to 8-1 all-time against the team that drafted him in the first round in 2004.

On that great, tricky save he made on McDavid early in the game, Dubnyk said, “You just have to try to be patient. It’s hard. When he’s moving as fast as he is, the tendency is you want to speed up and try to keep up with him. And that’s when he’s going to make you pay. It’s a constant challenge for the whole game.”

On piling up points, he said, “It’s important to just build and build and build and build. It’s a long season. There’s always going to be dips during the year. You need to give yourself a little bit of buffer with some injuries or whatever it might be, the bigger buffer you give yourself, the better off you’ll be.”

Staal, who missed on his 800th career point in overtime by hitting the post late, scored in the shootout. He said, “I was disappointed not being able to finish it off in overtime. When I had the opportunity and had a chance to go down there I wanted to make sure I buried it for the group. Because I felt like I should've had that one (in overtime).”

Stewart and Boudreau exchanged some funny looks in the shootout after Coyle missed, and that’s why he got chosen. Staal improved to 6 for 24 all-time, Stewart 8 for 23.

“When Chuckie was up and missed I kind of locked eyes with Bruce there and kind of gave him the look there letting him know I was ready to go,” Stewart said, laughing. “I haven't had great success. I've definitely had decent success in the shootout. I had the breakaway goal in Toronto and I'm definitely feeling it. I want to be in games. I want to be in spots like that. I want to win the game for my team. So I don't mind putting the pressure on.”

Matt Dumba, who scored the tying goal in the second period, also talked about the importance of winning these tight ones.

“We were kind of on the opposite end of that last year where we weren’t winning these games and then you get down into March and February and you’re wishing you would have,” he said  “It’s awesome seeing us bear down in these situations.”

Boudreau, on the same subject, said, “Well, all the games are like this. How many times have we had more than a one-goal game? I don’t remember. But if anything, it teaches you how to be calm in a one-goal game, whether you’re up a goal or down a goal, whether you’re pushing or protecting. So, I mean, I think it’s good experience and good help for everyone.

“It sounds great during the season to say, ‘Well, at least we got a point.’ But in the end, those two points seem so much bigger that just one.”

The Wild had a ton of good looks on an overtime 4-on-3. Five shots, two posts. The Wild’s 0 for 14 the past six games on the power play.

Boudreau said, “I mean, we had some great opportunities, some great looks. I felt bad for the guys because they work at the power play all the time, and they deserved something tonight, but they didn’t get it. They still played well.”

Jason Zucker now has seven points in his past seven games with his goal, Nino Niederreiter now has eight points in his past nine games after his assist on Dumba’s goal.

Five overtimes in the last nine, six straight one-goal games. I’m kaput and heading home. Talk to you after Saturday’s practice.

TV Listings

Local Schedule

  • Vikings at Jacksonville

    12 pm on Ch. 9, 100.3/1130

  • Gophers women's basketball at South Carolina

    2 pm on SECN, 88.5-FM

  • Northern Illinois at Gophers men's basketball

    4 pm on 1500-AM

  • St. Louis at Wild

    5 pm on FSN PLUS, 100.3-FM

  • Golden State at Timberwolves

    6 pm on FSN, 830-AM

  • Florida at Wild

    7 pm on FSN, 100.3-FM

  • Timberwolves at Chicago

    7 pm on ESPN, 830-AM

  • Belmont at Gophers women's basketball

    12 pm on 88.5-FM

  • LIU Brooklyn at Gophers men's basketball

    7 pm on 1500-AM

  • Wild at Nashville

    7 pm on FSN, 100.3-FM

  • Arizona at Wild

    1 pm on FSN, 100.3-FM

  • Houston at Timberwolves

    7 pm on FSN, 830-AM

Today's Scoreboard

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