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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Power play costs Wild; Zucker hurt; Wild close to signing Brett Clark?

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild game coverage Updated: March 13, 2013 - 1:02 AM

 

 
Missed opportunities and the injury to Jason Zucker/upcoming suspension for Corey Perry were the story of tonight’s 2-1 Wild loss, and as I said on Twitter at the time, you just knew wasting the five-minute major would haunt them.
 
It certainly did when the Wild failed to extend a 1-0 lead and then spent the third period on its heels as the red-hot Anaheim Ducks, who are have been so good (16-2-2 since Feb. 1) they’re four points from catching Chicago, rallied with two goals. The Wild's six-game home point streak ended, as was its 2-day reign on top of the Northwest.
 
Before I get to the game, I am hearing via NHL sources that the Wild is very interested and could be close to signing veteran defenseman Brett Clark for the remainder of the season. The 36-year-old free agent, who you may remember as a longtime Colorado Avalanche, has been nearly a point-a-game player for AHL Oklahoma City since the lockout.
 
He has one goal and 16 assists in 18 games and is plus-7. By all accounts, he has been very good. He played the past two years for Tampa Bay, playing 82 games each year and scoring nine goals in 2010-11. He has 45 goals and 185 points in 681 games over parts of 13 years with four NHL teams.
 
From watching him over the years, he's a good shot blocker and decent puck mover. My guess is if the Wild is signing him, it would be for the purpose of playing in the NHL as a No. 6/7 depth defenseman. If it was for the purpose of playing in Houston, he would have to go through waivers. If the Wild signs him, I'm not sure what that would mean for Justin Falk or Nate Prosser, who are both on one-way deals. Obviously, Prosser has been the odd guy out most nights because Mike Yeo has explained the Wild doesn't have a right-shot D that feel comfortable playing the left side. Jonas Brodin is a left-shot who plays the right with Ryan Suter. After that, there's left-shot D Clayton Stoner and Falk playing the left, and Jared Spurgeon and Tom Gilbert, righties playing the right.
 
Anyway, like I said, this appears to be something in the works. I hear Minnesota and Dallas are the two teams that have shown the most interest in Clark. Chuck Fletcher could not be reached for comment at this late hour.
 
Back to the Ducks' rally and Zucker injury. The first goal was a carom off the back wall to tough-guy minor-league Patrick Maroon 3:06 into the third that Niklas Backstrom was late to react to because of a screen on the initial shot. The second came with 3:04 left after Backstrom stopped Teemu Selanne. The puck worked back to above the circles and Luca Sbisa launched. Backstrom ducked and he said it hit his shoulder, then mask and in.
 
Still, the story of the game was the Wild’s terrible power play. It went 1 for 5, and even the 1 came at the end of an awful one. The Wild failed on a 90-second two-man advantage in the first period, then a five-minute major in the second after Corey Perry nailed unsuspecting rookie Jason Zucker with a reckless, blindside shoulder to the head.
 
The principal point of contact was the head, so he has already got a phone hearing with the league Wednesday. That means a suspension of five or fewer games is likely. He was suspended in 2009 for nailing Philadelphia’s Claude Giroux with a head shot.
 
Here is Perry: “I was committed to the hit. It’s one of those things. I didn’t change my path of direction. I was committed. I tried to let up. It’s hard. It happens so fast. It’s unfortunate.
 
Intention to hit his head? “No. I don’t go out there looking to hurt guys. That’s not the way I am. That’s not me as a person. It is what it is.”
 
Did you watch the replay? “I’ve seen it a couple of times. … Obviously you can slow the tape down, right? The game’s fast. Like I said, I’m not out there to hurt anybody. I’m out there … I didn’t change my path. My feet don’t change direction. I was committed to the hit, and it’s unfortunate.
 
Concerned about suspension? “Obviously you don’t want to miss games and be suspended or whatever. I want to help this team win. That’s my goal.”
 
Zucker, who was concussed in the world junior championships in Buffalo a few years ago and I believe had a concussion at DU, too, looked dazed and was on the ice for several minutes and Dr. Dan Peterson and athletic therapist Don Fuller looked after him. He was finally helped to his feet and helped to the locker room.
 
The Wild is only calling it an upper body injury for now. Coach Mike Yeo said an update will come Wednesday presumably after the team sees how Zucker feels. Brutal hit though. The puck was at the blue line. He was almost in the corner.
 
The Wild does have struggling playmaker Pierre-Marc Bouchard, scratched in three consecutive games, waiting in the wings. Mikael Granlund was reassigned Tuesday, so regardless, the Wild will need to recall a forward if Zucker is sidelined.
 
But on the major, the Wild wasted the first two minutes coughing up pucks in the neutral zone and defensive zone. It finally got into the zone and registered four shots. The two big chances on Jonas Hiller, who got the start after Viktor Fasth was hurt at the morning skate, came on a shot off the mask (Dany Heatley) and a one-timer from the circle of Jared Spurgeon.
 
Everybody after the game obviously felt the failed power plays (the 5-on-3 was ridiculous; fanned shots galore, missed nets, Zach Parise never touching the puck, I think) were the story of the game.
 
“We looked like a power play that hasn’t had any practice time, and that’s because we haven’t had any practice time,” Yeo said, referring to the lack of practice time because of the back-to-back road/home games and three in four that caused a day off Monday. “So we’ve got to address that, but we will.”
 
“We just weren’t aggressive enough getting pucks through to the net,” Yeo said later. “We got 12 shots on the power play, and most of those came off the same play – bang-bang, rebound plays. … I just think we were looking too much for a specific play instead of moving it around and looking for a shot. That’s what we had success with lately (goals in seven of the past eight games on the power play).”
 
There was also the story of the disallowed goal tonight 2:27 into the game by Torrey Mitchell. He took a backhand under the bar. Everybody seemed to stop, so Mitchell thought he scored. The goal horn went off. Mike Rupp, who missed twice at swatting at the puck on the goal line, stopped because he thought it was in.
 
But referee Jean Hebert was not in good position and never signaled a goal. It went to video review, and although the wobbling puck appeared to hover over the line and show white (meaning over the goal line), the goal was disallowed by the war room in Toronto.
 
Mitchell thought it was in. So did Yeo.
 
“That’s what Toronto saw. That was the explanation. I don’t know the exact mathematics of it. My feeling is the goal line is below the crossbar, and the puck is inside the crossbar, that would explain to me that the puck is over the goal line. But I don’t know the exact mathematics of it. That wasn’t something I majored in.
 
“That’s the story of the game. It’s missed opportunities. I think it’s just extremely important for us to regroup from this. You have to regroup and come back to the rink with the right mindset after emotional wins and you’ve got to do the same thing after an emotional loss. This one stings right now. But nobody else is going to feel sorry for is. Not Colorado (whom the Wild has a home-and-home with Thursday and Saturday starting in St. Paul).”
 
Some more quotes:
 
Kyle Brodziak: “The first two periods, we felt great about our game. We didn’t feel like we got rewarded like we had earned. We left it to chance. They came in the third and … stole one.”
 
Brodziak on Zucker: “We hope he’s OK. That’s the main thing. You see a guy lying on the ice, it’s not good. We just hope he’s alright.”
 
Torrey Mitchell: “The disallowed the goal, the major, and we take a penalty or two three, you feel the life being taken out of you a little bit on the bench with the momentum.”
 
Devin Setoguchi:
 
“Our power play’s got to be better, and it starts with the 10 guys who play it. We had the five minutes on the power play there, and we couldn’t even get out of our end. Mentally, we tried to put it behind. They got one off the boards (Maroon goal) and we were on our heels.”
 
Setoguchi on Zucker: “Anytime you see a guy go down, it’s obviously never something you want to see. We’ve got to score on that. We’ve got to put a lot of pressure on ourselves and take advantage of five minutes. The power play’s got to be better. That’s the story of the game.”
 
What needs to change on the PP: “Little more efficiency. Tape to tape plays, move the puck quicker. Shoot the puck. We need to score.”
 
Some more Yeo quotes:
 
“We did a lot of really good things through two periods and we weren’t able to put a stranglehold on the game.
 
On Perry’s hit on Zucker: “I didn’t watch it enough times. I mean, you can slow these things down. I’m emotional right now. We just lost a tough a game, and we lost a player in that game. So I don’t know. I have to watch it a couple more times, but you never like seeing one of your players get hit like that.”
 
Couple notes:
 
--Setoguchi’s goal meant the Wild scored first in five straight games.
 
--Since Feb. 9, Setoguchi has scored six goals and 10 points in 15 games. Matt Cullen has 14 points in the past 19 games.
 
I talked to Josh Harding tonight, and he will be doing Hockey Unplugged with Kevin Falness on Wednesday night. Go to wild.com for details.
 
Harding is starting to feel much better and says he’s on his way and will be back. He also is a proud papa. His first child – a girl – was born March 2.
 
Also take a look at Patrick Reusse’s column here on Zach Sikich.

Jonas Hiller got the start for the Ducks. Viktor Fasth was slated to start, but he sustained an upper body injury in the morning skate. The Ducks summoned in Jeff Deslauriers from ECHL Fort Wayne, but because he wasn't landing until close to gametime, the Ducks signed local goalie coach Zach Sikich, who played for Evelyth in the late 90s, to a one-day contract.

As you can see here, Sikich has lots of pro experience. That was a no-no last year. That's why the Wild needed to sign beer-league goalie Paul Deutsch, who was in his 50s, to a PTO last year and why the team held a lockout emergency goalie contest.

But in the new collective bargaining agreement, that ridiculous rule changed and now teams can sign emergency goalies with pro experience if in a bind.

 

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