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Russo's Rants

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

Justin Fontaine returns to Wild, Darcy Kuemper starts vs. Stars

Wild and the Central Division-leading Dallas Stars tonight.

The Stars are the best team in the conference, won six of seven including an OT win over the Wild, have scored the most goals in the conference and have the best power play in the conference.

Wild should try to avoid the penalty box tonight since it owns the NHL’s 29th-ranked penalty kill and 30th-ranked penalty kill at home. It is expected to get penalty-killer Justin Fontaine, who has missed 11 games with a sprained MCL, back tonight though.

Jamie Benn leads the league with 17 goals and Benn and Tyler Seguin rank second and third in scoring. John Klingberg leads all NHL defensemen with 20 assists and 25 points.

Both the Wild and Stars played yesterday, which could make for a muckfest tonight. Of course, the Stars played late into the night (won a shootout at home vs. Vancouver) and had to travel here and arrived in the wee hours of the morning, so we’ll see if the Wild can take advantage tonight.

The Wild has defeated the Stars five consecutive games at home since March 13, 2012, and in seven of their past eight visits.

The Wild is 1-4-1 in its past six and coach Mike Yeo lit ‘em up last season by saying that inconsistent play all year has caught up to the team and the early record was misleading.

Yeo said Fontaine’s return to the lineup will give the Wild a chance to “reassemble our lines the way they were earlier in the year when we were having success, and we’ll see if we can recapture that.”

Remember though, that success was misleading smiley

The early-season lines were as long as everybody is playing tonight (Jordan Schroeder will skate in warmups as insurance in case one of the banged-up forwards who didn’t skate this morning can’t play):


Yeo said with Zach Parise and Fontaine back, it creates more competition internally and gives him more options. He said he hasn’t had the luxury the last number of weeks to cut somebody’s ice time if they’re struggling or give somebody more ice time if they’re going.

Speaking of that, Jason Pominville logged 12 minutes, 11 seconds last night, his lowest ice time in part of four seasons with the Wild excluding that 2013 game against Los Angeles when he was injured by a Dustin Brown elbow to the head. Yeo said he expects Pominville to respond tonight.

Stars coach Lindy Ruff wouldn’t say this morning whether he’ll start Antti Niemi for the first time in a back-to-back situation or if Jack Campbell will make his second NHL start. Remember, Kari Lehtonen is hurt.

Dallas Morning News beat writer Mike Heika suspects it’ll be Niemi. Of course, maybe after watching the Wild do nothing to test to test Connor Hellebuyck last night, Ruff will lean the other way.

Darcy Kuemper gets the nod for the Wild. Kuemper has started since Oct. 25 when he was pulled in Winnipeg. He hasn’t started at home since Jan. 6, the final game of his bigtime winter struggles last season.

“We all hope that he’s able to go out there and get on top of his game quickly,” Yeo said. “I guess what we want more than anything else is that he is ready to start the game, but whatever he faces through the course of the game, let’s just make sure you’re building. I’d like to see him get stronger as the game moves along.”

As you know, the issue with Kuemper has been that he crumbles with adversity in games.

On whether the Wild needs to protect Kuemper tonight with a strong defensive game, Yeo said, “We have to put more of an emphasis on our team game. Our no. 1 identity, one of our No. 1 characteristics has to be our defensive play. I don’t think that should change no matter who’s in the net. I would like to see our group come out with a real strong purpose early in the game to give him a chance to settle into the game. It’s not the type of [opponent] that you want to come out and just open things up and give up some real big scoring chances. We have to play pretty close to the vest early in this game to make sure … we’re giving him a chance to settle into the game.

“But more than anything else, this is a good opportunity for Kuemps, but I’m really anxious to see how we respond here as a group. We haven’t been playing our type of game. We’ve been too easy to play against, and there’s a way that you have to respond and it’s not going out and trying to be a hero. It’s about going out and doing the little things, so that’ll be a good test for us.”

The Wild sent Christian Folin to the minors today and recalled Gustav Olofsson. There are a number of reasons: 1) Folin has been up and down lately, especially his play with the puck; 2) With Marco Scandella hurt (Scandella skated today and is a possibility to return Tuesday in Chicago), the Wild needs a left-shot D who can execute coming out of his zone and Olofsson, who debuted in Boston recently, has the ability to get the puck out and up the ice; 3) Fifteen more games, Folin will play his 70th game and will require waivers to get to the minors. The way has before let the waiver clock run out on guys like Kuemper and Erik Haula and regretted it.

Yeo on Folin: “He’s a young player on our team, and our job is to win here, but our job is to also develop players and sometimes those guys can do it here and sometimes they need to spend a little time down in the American League. It’s a good opportunity for him to play some big minutes down there and get back on top of things.”

On his play with the puck lately, Yeo said, “He’s a physical guy. He’s a big body who defends well, but he has the ability to execute. It’s a sign that he needs to go and play and execute and get some confidence.”

On his waiver status, Yeo said, “I didn’t know anything about that. It was the right time for him to go and play some games. He might be gone for one game, he might be gone for a few weeks, I don’t really know. He’ll get back up here.”

So Folin flew to Charlotte to play for Iowa, which has lost 11 games in a row, and Olofsson came here from Charlotte. Again, Mike Reilly is a league-worst minus-24, so the Wild’s trying to protect him by not putting him in this situation and wants him to get his game together down there (Zach Palmquist is somehow a plus-1 down on the farm).

Yeo on Olofsson: “He’s got some execution to his game, he’s got some poise to his game, but he’s not going to come here and fix everything. A lot of our time that we’re not getting out of our zone or getting to the offensive zone, I believe a lot of those problems fall on the shoulders of our forwards. Our forwards are playing a game that is tough for our defensemen right now. We’re either turning pucks in the neutral zone over or we get to the offensive zone and we’re one and done. We get in there for 15 seconds…. We’re a team that usually consistently plays with the puck and we’re a team that’s usually a good puck possession team, and being a good puck possession team is not just about making plays. For sure you need skill to do that, but I would say the decisions you make are easily as important if not more important, and right now we’re making some poor decisions.”

I believe Jonas Brodin will skate with Nate Prosser tonight and Olofsson will skate with Matt Dumba.

Olofsson is looking forward to his home debut. He has played here before in the preseason and also has seen a lot of games here because he watched games here at times after his shoulder surgery last season. He has also watched preseason and postseason games here.

He said he hopes his debut last week helps him release the nerves a little bit tonight.

Olofsson’s brother, Freddy, plays for University of Nebraska Omaha, so his dad, Hakan, and grandfather, Gunnar, were there watching. They’re now driving up to the Twin Cities.

Olofsson grew up in the United States, grew up in Boulder, went to school in Colorado Springs. But his grandpa lives in Sweden and is here for only a few weeks, so “it’s crazy how this worked out. It’ll be so much fun to play in front of him tonight.”

Olofsson said his grandfather gets up at 3 a.m. in Sweden to watch him play hockey games on the Internet.

Talk to you tonight.

Postgame: Yeo sounds the alarm as Wild falls to 1-4-1 in its past six

Coming to you from the very chilly press box in an empty Xcel Energy Center, and it’s about as loud as it was for much of tonight’s snoozefest.

Don’t look now, but the Wild is 1-4-1 in its past six, clinging to the second wildcard spot and trying to discover any semblance of its game like often happens this time of year.

Please read the game story and notebook for all the details on once it’s up, but the Wild lost 3-1 to Winnipeg, which had lost eight of 10, one game after losing to Vancouver, which had won five of its previous 17.

Not good.

First the little tidbits:

-- Zach Parise returned tonight, looked rusty and was eventually put on the line with Jason Zucker, who had his troubles with the puck all game, and Mikko Koivu in the third period. Parise had one shot and said he felt behind in his conditioning, which he expected. But he said it was a tough game to create anything since the Wild was chasing the puck all game frankly because players kept passing them to Jets.

-- Darcy Kuemper, who hasn’t started at home since Jan. 6 and hasn’t started this season since Oct. 25, is expected to start Saturday night against the Dallas Stars. We’ll see if the Wild can take advantage of a Dallas team that has to play at home tonight, then fly to Minnesota and arrive in the wee hours of the morning.

Devan Dubnyk, who couldn’t squeeze Dustin Byfuglien’s shot from behind the net (he said it fell off his glove and between his legs), has allowed 35 goals now in the past 13 starts and 50 goals overall in 20 appearances after allowing 68 in 39 starts last season.

-- Justin Fontaine, who sprained his MCL Oct. 30, is expected to return, meaning Kurtis Gabriel should be reassigned and maybe Jordan Schroeder too.

Chris Porter and Ryan Carter were the Wild’s best forwards tonight. No disrespect to them, but that can’t happen and that was absolutely the case tonight.

Wild lacked energy, execution and turned pucks over constantly. Winnipeg kept stacking the blue line with a 1-1-3, and the Wild kept throwing pucks into them rather than chipping and chasing. Just fed right into Winnipeg’s game. Dump and chase takes hard work, and I’m not sure the Wild was willing to exude that work ethic tonight.

The last few weeks, because of the injuries and illnesses, the Wild flooded the team with non NHL-ready minor-leaguers, got some bad efforts by some struggling NHLers and now the team’s lost its game. We’ll see now if the Wild can rediscover it or if it’s about to go into the tank for another December.

But until the Wild gets back to playing tight defensively, playing with speed again and getting that puck out of its zone quickly and seamlessly and up the ice as a unit, convoluted games like this will continue.

The good news is Parise’s back, Fontaine’s about to be back. But man, the Wild missed injured Marco Scandella again tonight. It needed a horse to lug the puck up ice and not just throw it to Jets players over and over again.

Anyhow, I was so unenthused watching this game (not because of the Wild’s performance but just how bad of a game it was to watch), I’m just going to let you read the quotes I transcribed if you don’t mind. Not sure I can write too much more about this one.

-- But Yeo’s quotes were candid, frank and alarming.

He said this was “probably what we need right now to be honest with you. Might sound funny, but I look at the first part of the season, I think our record was a little misleading. I think there were a lot of inconsistencies in our game. I think the early part of the year you get away with that stuff, and you try to show the video and you talk about things and maybe it gets a little bit better, but when you’re winning games, I don’t think those things really sink in. What happens is I think we’re playing the same game probably that we were at the start of the year, but the league gets better and so right now we’re not getting away with those things.”

On the poor puck management: “This has gone on all year. All year. You win a game, have a little success, but you show the clips and you say we’re not going to get away with this, we’re not going to get away with this, … so now it’s not.”

“Disappointed in how we played the game. Your whole season is a series of opportunities to get better as a team and how we face this adversity and how we understand how we’re going to be successful, there’s no better opportunity than right now. The way that we’ve been going is not working. It’s not going to work. The league gets better, and if we get to the playoffs, that will not work in the playoffs. We played two very different games in the playoffs last year. We played the first round the way we’re supposed to, we played the second round the way that we’re playing right now. We just have to decide. If we want to be a good team, there’s a way that we have to play, and it’s not going to be cute. We’re not a cute team.”

“What’s ideal is we have individuals that have to understand that they have to pick their game up, and I’m not talking about goals and assists because that I think is the problem. I think too many guys are just going out there and getting the puck and, ‘Let’s just go get a goal.’ Meanwhile it’s a turnover and meanwhile we keep losing momentum. We need guys to pick their game up in our game. They need to be better in little areas of our game. If it’s time to forecheck, you forecheck. If it’s time to be F3, be F3. If it’s time to execute and make a play, then make the play. We have to get our eyes straight on what those little things are and what our best game looks like and how they can fit into that.”

On how this will change if this has been ongoing for two months: “I don’t expect it to suddenly change. It won’t. This is a good kick in the butt for us right now. Like I’ve said, it’s hard when you’re having some success, and now obviously we’re not. It doesn’t take a real genius to figure out that if you’re not having success, you should probably change and you should probably adjust, and that’s what we need to do.”

-- Connor Hellebuyck, Christian Folin’s former University of Massachusetts-Lowell teammate who backstopped the United States to a bronze medal at the world championships last spring, made 14 saves in his NHL debut as Winnipeg’s goalie Friday.

Folin, the Wild defenseman, called Hellebuyck one of his best friends.

“We had a life skills class my first year,” Folin said. “They said, ‘What’s your goal,’ and he said, ‘I’m going to be in the NHL in two years.’ No one else said anything like that, some guys were thinking about it, but no one really said it out loud.

“That was my first big impression I got of him: ‘This guy hasn’t even played a game yet, and he said he’s going to be in the NHL in two years?’ It took him three years, but he’s here. He’s a great goalie. He led our team. It was awesome to see him out there.”

--Ryan Carter: “We’ve got to find ourselves real fast. We’re not playing our game, we’re not playing with confidence.”

-- Zach Parise: “Felt like you’re chasing the puck all game. It’s tough to make plays, it’s tough to get shots when you never have the puck.

“It was a frustrating game to play, and I’m sure it was a frustrating game to watch as well.

“It feels we’re throwing the puck away a lot, in the neutral zone especially. We’re not making good plays through the neutral zone. It’s making us look slow. It’s getting a lot of plays broken up. For a lot of the game tonight, it felt like we played on two-thirds of the rink. We weren’t really getting it below the top of the circles.

On how he felt: “Physically I felt fine. I felt a little behind in the conditioning, but I was kind of expecting that. It felt like we didn’t really have the puck much. It was tough to really create anything.”

Talk to you after Saturday’s morning skate. Wild will try to salvage the homestand Saturday, so we’ll see if a rusty Kuemper can dust himself off and come to the rescue.

TV Listings

Local Schedule

< >
  • Gophers women's hockey at MSU Mankato

    2:07 pm

  • Wisconsin at Gophers football

    2:30 pm on BTN, 100.3-FM

  • Gophers women's basketball vs. Auburn

    6 pm on 1500-AM

  • Dallas at Wild

    7 pm on FSN, 100.3-FM

  • Vikings at Atlanta

    12 pm on Ch. 9, 100.3/1130

  • Timberwolves at L.A. Clippers

    2:30 pm on FSN, 830-AM

  • St. Cloud State at Gophers men's hockey

    6:35 pm on FSN, 1500-AM

  • Clemson at Gophers men's basketball

    8 pm on ESPN2, 1500-AM

  • Wild at Chicago

    7 pm on NBCSN, 100.3-FM

  • Orlando at Timberwolves

    7 pm on FSN, 830-AM

  • Toronto at Wild

    7 pm on FSN, 100.3-FM

  • Ohio State at Gophers men's hockey

    7 pm on FSN, 1500-AM

  • Colorado at Wild

    7 pm on FSN, 100.3-FM

  • Ohio State at Gophers men's hockey

    7 pm on ESPNEWS, 1500-AM

  • Portland at Timberwolves

    7:05 pm on FSN PLUS, 830-AM

Today's Scoreboard

No games for NFL

  • Philadelphia

    NY Rangers


    - F



  • New Jersey



    - F



  • Edmonton



    - 4th, 1:32



  • NY Islanders

    Tampa Bay


    - F



  • Washington



    - F



  • Dallas



    - End 2nd



  • Buffalo



    - End 2nd



  • Columbus

    St. Louis


    - End 2nd



  • Calgary

    San Jose

    9:00 PM

  • Ottawa


    9:00 PM

  • Winnipeg


    9:00 PM

  • Chicago

    Los Angeles

    9:30 PM


  • Toronto



    - F



  • Brooklyn



    - 4th, 0:15



  • Atlanta

    San Antonio


    - 3rd, 10:58



  • Denver



    - 3rd, 10:11



  • New Orleans



    - 2nd, 7:14



  • LA Lakers


    9:00 PM

  • Sacramento

    Golden State

    9:30 PM

No games for MLS