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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Heatley injured as Wild loses sloppily for third time in four games

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild game coverage Updated: April 4, 2013 - 1:18 AM
Coach Mike Yeo, after a very abbreviated 20-second press scrum, indicated that Dany Heatley will out for awhile with what looked on replay to be a left wrist injury after an altercation he had with San Jose Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic after the game.
 
Vlasic, Heatley’s former teammate who had an ongoing battle with the veteran much of the third period, got into it with Heatley in front of the Sharks’ net in the final seconds after Vlasic cross-checked Heatley.
 
Vlasic slashed Heatley across the top of the back. Heatley got up and tried to connect with his stick and missed. Vlasic then two-handed Heatley across the forearm and jumped him. Vlasic got the shirt over top Heatley’s head, lifted him and then violently one-last time drove him down to the ice. That appears to be when Heatley got hurt. He skated to the exit in pain.
 
“He just swung at me and I swung at him,” Vlasic said. “He could have easily hit me. I wasn’t intending to hurt him. I just wanted to slash him because he took a swing at me and missed. He got me the shift before. If he’s going to slash me, I’m going to defend myself and just swing back and unfortunately I got him. I didn’t want to hurt him. If he’s going to slash me I was just defending myself and swung back.
 
“… Unfortunately I got him in the wrist or shoulder. I’m not sure where I got him. That was not my intent. My intent was just to defend myself.”
 
It was an ugly end to an ugly 4-2 loss for the Wild, which will need to call up a forward from Houston with Heatley hurt for Thursday’s game at Los Angeles. My assumption is it would be somebody like Jason Zucker, but we will see.
 
I’d also assume Jason Pominville, who is expected to arrive in L.A. at 11 a.m., will debut. The Wild hasn’t officially said so yet.
 
But not a good game tonight for the Wild, which for the fourth consecutive game gave up the game’s first goal and then fell behind 2-0 in an awful first period that could have easily been 5-0. The Wild was making dubious decisions in its own end, turned pucks over, took careless penalties. Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin had a tough go, and Clayton Stoner had one of the most nightmarish games imaginable with turnovers, penalties, bad decisions, turning pucks over and having the winning goal carom in off of him.
 
In the second, the Wild rallied on goals by Charlie Coyle and Heatley. But then a nightmare shift started with Stoner doing a header into the end boards. Later, Heatley fell, then Kyle Brodziak turned it over, then Heatley didn’t get it out, then Jared Spurgeon turned it over. You can see bad coming and it did when Joe Thornton centered a pass that deflected in off Stoner’s leg.
 
The Wild’s momentum was doused and it came out with a poor third period.
 
“Just another bad start for us,” Zach Parise said. “It’s kind of been the common theme the last while. Not good enough when you’re playing these teams that … are doing everything they can and playing their best to try to get in the playoffs, I think we expect easy games. Our starts are really killing us.
 
“It’s mental for us, I think. Just mental lapses that we weren’t doing. A few weeks ago, we weren’t making those. We were better prepared for games. We make mental errors out there, and that’s what happens.”
 
Parise continued, saying, “We went on a good streak. When you do that, we started to get too loose. Even when we did win our seventh and eighth in a row, they weren’t great games. We were too loose. I think that’s carried over. So we haven’t been ready to play. I don’t know how many games in a row now we’ve given up the first goal and just not played very well in the first period. It’s happed too much later.”
 
Yeo was brief, saying after he was just too fired up at the Heatley incident, “It’s unfortunate. We played really hard. Things didn’t quite go our way, especially early. But our guys kept playing hard. Definitely disappointing, but we’ve got a game [Thursday] and we just have to bounce back.”
 
I don’t mean to sound like a broken record, but the Wild hasn’t had a full practice in 7-10 days. I can’t even remember the last one. That’s what they look like. Disjointed, out of sync, a mess.
 
“It’s been tough lately,” Niklas Backstrom said. “We have a system that works. It’s just for us to get back to the details, shift after shift, do the right things and for all the six guys to get out there, work together and do the right things. We have to just rely on our system no matter what happens. It works. We know it works. If we do it right, we won’t be in our zone and it’ll help our game.”
 
The game was a mess before it even started.
 
Matt Cullen was injured. Johan Larsson was the callup to replace him. The Wild then proceeded to trade Larsson and never brought up a forward as insurance in the morning. Not sure why since rosters have expanded, but the game started with defenseman Nate Prosser playing wing and four brand new lines that certainly looked unaccustomed to playing together.
 
Yeo went back to Coyle on with Parise and Mikko Koivu in the second and things started to look better.
 
Again, Pominville is scheduled to arrive in Los Angeles on Thursday morning at 11 a.m. PT. We should talk to him some time in the afternoon or before the game. The Wild, right now, isn’t saying if he’ll debut because you know they want to leave it up to him.
 
He’s a gamer. I can’t imagine he wouldn’t. Heck, Ryane Clowe, the man the Wild missed on before turning its sights toward Pominville, took a red eye from San Jose to New York and scored two goals and one assist in his debut pounding of Pittsburgh tonight.
 
This morning, Yeo wasn’t able to talk about Pominville specifically because the trade wasn’t official.
 
Before tonight’s game, Yeo said, “It’s a huge, huge vote of confidence by [GM Chuck Fletcher] and the entire staff. It’s a message to this group that, ‘We believe in you.’ So now, let’s go.”
 
Yeo said much like the summer when owner Craig Leipold stepped up and authorized Fletcher to sign Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to 13-year contract totaling $196 million, Wednesday’s trade for Pominville proves “this is an organization … [that is] extremely committed to winning. We’re not satisfied with being good. We want to be great. That’s an important statement.”
 
Yeo said the Wild will explore the possibility of using Pominville on the point on the No. 1 power-play unit, a slot he played in Buffalo. The other option is Pominville replacing Kyle Brodziak in the slot as the net-front presence guy.
 
With Pominville going to the top line, Coyle may move to center, at least until Matt Cullen returns from a lower-body injury. That’s why he started the game there tonight – to get him used to it. Coyle, who has been playing right wing, has played center throughout his life.
 
By the way, the reality of pro sports. Larsson’s parents came from Sweden to Houston this week to see their boy. He was then called up to San Jose. He was then traded to Buffalo – with his parents in Houston.
 
Larsson and Matt Hackett will report to Rochester, by the way.
 
Talk to you from Los Angeles.

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