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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Wild update: Pierre-Marc Bouchard will sit tonight against the Nashville Predators

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild pregame skate Updated: March 9, 2013 - 5:06 PM
After three days off, the Wild gets back into action tonight in Nashville. It’s the front end of back-to-backs before a very big game against Vancouver tomorrow night at home.
 
Niklas Backstrom, pulled Tuesday in Chicago after giving up four first-period goals (in a 5:43 span), gets the nod vs. most likely Pekka Rinne, his old teammate in Finland who had a relatively-simple 24-save shutout last night in a 6-0 pounding of Edmonton. Preds coach Barry Trotz didn’t say which goalie is starting (Chris Mason started both Nashville’s games against Minnesota this season), but Rinne was on the ice early.
 
I talked to Matt Hackett this morning, and he admitted Darcy Kuemper being called up instead of him was a “wakeup call.” He has responded with great play since.
 
There are lots of games this week, and with Kuemper out with a groin injury and Josh Harding still sidelined, I think the Wild would be hesitant overextending Backstrom. My guess is Hackett gets the start against the Canucks.
 
Plus, the Wild won’t land until after 1 a.m. tonight, which is really 2 a.m. with “spring forward.” Yeo said he would decide after tonight’s game.
 
(Don’t forget to put your clocks ahead, folks, and show me some sympathy. I have a 6 a.m. flight home tomorrow, which is really a 5 a.m. flight, which means a 3 a.m. wakeup. OK, now I’m confused. What time am I getting up?).
 
I’ll be on Fox Sports North’s Wild Live tonight and the first intermission.
 
As was very much expected by me after watching Tuesday’s game in Chicago, Pierre-Marc Bouchard (no goals since Jan. 29, three assists this season) is scratched tonight. Bouchard, Mikael Granlund and Dany Heatley were all minus-3 vs. the Blackhawks, and while all were not good, Bouchard was particularly visible by passing up shots and not being hard on the puck in the defensive zone, etc.
 
Granlund is also scratched tonight as Zenon Konopka gets back in. Nate Prosser is again scratched on the blue line (I figured Justin Falk would be out).
 
This is the second time this year Bouchard is being scratched, something he says hasn’t happened since he was 18 of 19 when it was the plan going in to those seasons. He was pretty short in his exchange with the beat writers this morning.
 
“As a player, you want to be out there, you want to play, you want to help the team win,” said Bouchard. “It’s not a fun situation, that’s for sure.”
 
Bouchard said his confidence was starting to come back and he feels completely comfortable going to the dirty areas of the ice. He took issue with my assertion that he may be avoiding harm’s way because of his history of concussions.
 
“Not at all. Not at all. I feel very comfortable. I feel good out there, I feel good along the boards, I feel good in front of the net,” he said.
 
Coach Mike Yeo said if this was Game 20 of an 82-game season, he could afford to let Bouchard continue to play himself into top play. But with the Wild’s season two games from the halfway point, “we’re in a different spot here.”
 
Yeo said that Bouchard has missed a lot of hockey the past several years and didn’t have the luxury of a training camp and exhibition games, so timing and other things are still an issue.
 
Asked if he feels Bouchard is avoiding the hard areas, Yeo said, “I don’t know if it’s avoiding the areas. He’s certainly not getting there and arriving with the authority and the confidence [as] when he’s on top of his game.”
 
Yeo said he’s talked to Bouchard and “he definitely feels like his game is coming along and there’s been signs of it. … It’s a matter of getting it there consistently. It’s fair to say that it’s not there.”
 
This is a delicate situation. Bouchard is the third leading scorer in Wild history. He is a great dude, somebody who is coming off a series of very serious injuries with his brain. So it’s understandable why Bouchard, whether he thinks so or not, is hesitant to go into high-traffic areas.
 
He is in the last year of his contract and is undoubtedly somebody the Wild would trade before the April 3 trade deadline.
 
So this is almost something the Wild has to treat with kid gloves. You’ve probably have to play him to trade him, but he is just not performing right now to the levels we’ve seen Bouchard perform pre-concussions.
 
First two lines stay intact tonight. Cal Clutterbuck will return for the first time in seven games and will play with Heatley and Kyle Brodziak. Konopka is back on his normal line with Mike Rupp and Torrey Mitchell.
 
-- What else? I talked to lots of players about visors this morning after the Marc Staal injury and will write about that in the next few days. Rupp, Brodziak, Konopka, Clayton Stoner and Ryan Suter don’t wear em, and Stoner actually took a puck to the eye in yesterday’s practice. You’ll see his shiner on the tube tonight.
 
-- Uncomfortable return to Nashville tonight for Suter, who expects to be booed UNmercifully.
 
“We’ve got a group that cares for each other and wants to help each other out,” Yeo said. “It’s important that as a team we come out and give him a great effort. … I know this is not going to be an easy one for him. A lot of emotions involved. … This guy is just loaded with character.”
 
-- Some funny stuff in the locker room this morning because Kuemper and Jason Zucker were given the blue check mark and “verified” on Twitter. This is to show they’re not fake accounts and is a feeling of pride for some. Yet for some reason, guys like Charlie Coyle, Hackett, Konopka, Falk, … didn’t receive the Kuemper/Zucker treatment. I’ll try to squeeze some quips in the notebook.
 
Talk after the game.

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