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 morning skate: Speed critical tonight against Blues

Posted by: Rachel Blount under Wild pregame skate Updated: April 11, 2013 - 1:49 PM

Great timing by Russo to send in a substitute for Thursday's morning skate! This is Rachel Blount, who braved the slop to check in with the Wild before tonight's game against St. Louis at Xcel Energy Center.

Everyone talks about the need to quickly get past disappointments in this compressed season, but the Wild played so poorly against the Blues in a 4-1 loss on April 1 that it's hard to forget. That stinker put the brakes on the team's momentum, ending a four-game home winning streak and beginning a run of four losses in five games. Coach Mike Yeo said the Wild must playat  a faster pace tonight against the big, rugged Blues, and it must do a better job of getting to the net--a key to its success that has been missing lately.

"We have to be a little bit better with the puck,'' Yeo said. "A lot of it is understanding it's going to be that kind of game, with not a lot of free space. We've got to be going north quickly when we have a chance; the longer we hang on to the puck, the more opportunity you give them to work their way back on top of it. And the next thing you know, you're trying to go through those big bodies again.

"They don't give you anything for free. You've got to be committed to breaking them down, forcing them into mistakes. I think one thing we have to do a much better job of, that we haven't done as much of lately, is funneling pucks and bodies to the net. When we were scoring goals, that was sort of our mentality. Quite often, when you haven't scored as many goals, for whatever reason, you drift further and further away from the area where you do score those goals. That's going to be something that's very important tonight.''

One lineup change for tonight: defenseman Tom Gilbert will return to the lineup, with Nate Prosser scratched. Gilbert has sat out the past two games.

Other notes from the morning skate:

--No news on Matt Cullen's return, though the injured center skated again today.

--Yeo said no timetable has been set yet for goaltender Josh Harding's return to competition. Harding practiced for the second consecutive day Thursday after being sidelined for two months because of issues related to his treatment for multiple sclerosis. Yeo and Harding both said he is being assessed on a day-to-day basis, and Harding said he feels great and is eager to get back.

"It's coming back a lot quicker than I thought,'' said Harding, who said he is focusing on "getting the feel of the puck'' and practicing situations he will face in games. "I'm feeling good out there. I'm definitely excited. I know there's a lot of work to do to get back to the game. But I'm feeling good, and I hope it keeps going like this.''

--Winger Devin Setoguchi said he is continuing to work on developing chemistry with center Mikael Granlund. Setoguchi has cooled considerably since Cullen--who had been centering his line--was injured. He has only one assist in the four games Cullen has missed and has one goal and three assists in his past 10 games.

With Cullen, Setoguchi said, the rapport they had meant he knew where Cullen was going to be, which made it easy to anticipate the play. That made for good positioning without wasting energy. Without him, he said, he must do more.

"I think when you don't have (chemistry), sometimes you try to take a shortcut,'' Setoguchi said. "You need to work harder. And when you do that, you tend to build the chemistry. That's what our plan is, to work really hard and hope it pays off.''

Setoguchi said that without Cullen or injured winger Dany Heatley in the lineup, it creates opportunity for others to step into larger roles. Yeo said he would like to see Setoguchi do that, because he believes Setoguchi has the skill to do so even without the aid of a highly complementary linemate.

"I'll be perfectly honest,'' Yeo said. "I don't know that (Setoguchi) has been completely on top of his game. Certainly going into a game, he can maybe be a little more sharp, a little more alert if you think you're going to get a few more pucks. He's got the opportunity to help be a leader of this team, and of that line as well. Obviously, Cully is a huge complement to him. But Seto has the ability to have an impact in every game.''

 

 

 

 

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