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.

Also find Russo on Facebook.

Email Michael to talk about hockey.

Wild lineup changes tonight vs. Jonathan Bernier and the defending Cup champs

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild pregame skate Updated: April 23, 2013 - 12:22 PM

Biggest game of the season thus far when the Wild hosts the red-hot Los Angeles Kings tonight at Xcel Energy Center.

Why was the Calgary loss so big? Because if the Wild loses tonight, it could very likely face two must-wins Friday and Saturday vs. Edmonton and at Colorado.

Now the Wild, winless in five at home, faces a very important game against the defending Cup champs, a team that is 9-2-3 in its past 14 and 4-0-1 in its past five. Its best players are on fire -- Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, its power play has connected in eight straight games, its penalty kill is 16 for its last 16 and in a 48 for 53 stretch.

Jonathan Bernier, who in 13 games has the second-lowest goals against average in the NHL (1.86), gets the start for No. 1 Jonathan Quick. Bernier is 9-2-1 with a .922 save percentage.

Against Minnesota, Bernier is 3-0-2 with an 0.97 goals against average and .960 save percentage. Oh, and three of his six career shutouts are against the Wild.

Tough game for the Wild, to say the least. Win tonight, and the tension lightens during the next two off-days before the Oilers come to town.

First the Wild lineup, and then below Mike Yeo's rationale for them: Cal Clutterbuck will move up to the second line, Jake Dowell will play left wing on the fourth line, Zenon Konopka is ready to return and will center that fourth line, Stephane Veilleux is scratched, Justin Falk gets in and plays for Brett Clark.

That means:

Zach Parise-Mikko Koivu-Charlie Coyle

Clutterbuck-Matt Cullen-Devin Setoguchi

Pierre-Marc Bouchard-Kyle Brodziak-Jason Pominville

Dowell-Konopka-Torrey Mitchell

Ryan Suter-Jonas Brodin

Clayton Stoner-Jared Spurgeon

Justin Falk-Tom Gilbert

Niklas Backstrom

1. Coach Mike Yeo wants the Wild to be harder to play against. When the Wild was flying high for the month of March, one overshadowed reason was because the Mike Rupp-Konopka-Mitchell line had a a clear identity most nights -- could take defensive zone faceoffs because Konopka is so good at em, created momentum by playing in the offensive zone, played physical.

Without Rupp and Konopka, the Wild's lost that. So even with one practice, Yeo wants to get Konopka back in. Dowell, who can play wing or center, will play left wing.

On Dowell, Yeo said, "A veteran guy, he knows what his role is, he's going to go in straight lines, he's going to finish checks and he's going to be responsible defensively. ... He's a guy that's very well respected within our locker room (meaning buddies with some of the Houston guys, and of course former Badgers Tom Gilbert and Ryan Suter). Obviously, Jake Dowell's not Mike Rupp. But he's going to go up and down his wing and chip pucks ahead and be tough to play against by finishing checks and managing the puck the right way. Let's get back to an identity with that line -- a line that is tough to play against."

On his game, Dowell said, "I'm not out here to do anything crazy. I'm not a guy that has a lot of sexy numbers. I have a handful of points. I play hard and I do a lot of things that maybe go unnoticed to the untrained eye. It's something that teammates and coaches and management respect, and that's what I hope to bring."

On getting the goal during such an important stretch: "Who wouldn't want to be in this game? This is a huge game for the team. I'm excited and just hope to bring everything I can."

Dowell's got his playoff beard going already due to Houston opening a five-game series with Grand Rapids on Friday. Maybe that's a good omen for the Wild? "I hope so. ... If it works, I'll keep it. If not, I guess I'll have to shave it."

I've gotten a lot of tweets about why not Justin Fontaine, who is having a heck of a season for Houston. Basically, it comes down to role, as Yeo said above. Fontaine is a scorer. The Wild wants to have veteran experience (Dowell's played 154 NHL games and is 28 years old) and a hard-nosed guy that can bring that element to the fourth line. That's not Fontaine's game. Also, and nobody's said that to me, but I'm also guessing that having Fontaine make his NHL debut in this tense situation wouldn't be the fairest position to the kid.

2. Veilleux is obviously disappointed. He was so wound up, he probably would have gone through the end boards his first shift. I think Veilleux will have to be reassigned now with Konopka back. Both Mikael Granlund and Jason Zucker were up on emergency recall status. That means Dowell and Veilleux took that status. With Konopka back, I think Veilleux has to go. By the way, Veilleux's wife and infant son had been living in St. Paul, not Houston, so he just saw his son in person and not on Skype for the first time in 2 1/2 months.

3. Yeo's decision to move Clutterbuck to the line with Cullen or Setoguchi rather than Bouchard or Pominville: Cue Yeo, "It's a guy, when he's playing well, is hard on the forecheck, he's separating guys from pucks, creating turnovers, which benefits Cully and Seto and their counterattack speed. But more than anything else, what we should be looking for is somebody who's going to get to the middle of the ice, somebody who's going to get to the net. That line, it's been too perimeter."

Clutterbuck has not had a good season offensively. Three goals and eight points in 39 games, none in the last 18 games and one since Feb. 9. He's been firing hide and wide often or more disconcertingly not finishing in real big situations, like the half open net last game and that one on the last homestand where he just couldn't get his stick on the puck sitting along the goal line.

"It's been a tough year in the sense that I've had some opportunities to score and I'm just going through one of those stretches," Clutterbuck said. "You go through a period of time where the team's winning and you're in the playoffs, and you've got your mind on other things. You start to think about it maybe a little more when the team loses a couple games. Obviously you want to help out. But I can't let that get me off or away from what I do well."

On the mindset of the team after yesterday's meeting: "We've got a great opportunity. This time of year we just don't have these conversations normally (meaning, the Wild's usually out of it by now in past seasons). I think we've got to remove ourselves from the negativity surrounding it all and realize we have a great chance. We're still in control."

4. Clark didn't see a shift after Calgary's second goal the other night, so Falk playing was expected. Yeo said right-shot D Tom Gilbert, aside from last game, has improved his game recently, so that's why right-shot D Nate Prosser won't play.

5. I talked to Rupp and he has been skating on a bad left knee since his fight in Colorado last month. He's been managing it, but it got worse and worse "until I couldn't do anything on it." He said he is on a time window now where he is going on the ice more and more each day. Yesterday it was 20 minutes, today it was 30, although he's not going hard.

"Each day I'm going a little longer," said Rupp. "But it's frustrating right now, that's for sure."

They really need Rupp back. He was acquired Feb. 5. The Wild's turnaround began Feb. 9 (17-6-1 from Feb. 9 vs. Nashville to March 30 vs. Los Angeles). No coincidence, in my opinion. Rupp was a huge addition and now a big loss.

ADVERTISEMENT

Minnesota 35 FINAL
Miami 37
Baltimore 13 FINAL
Houston 25
Detroit 20 FINAL
Chicago 14
Cleveland 13 FINAL
Carolina 17
Atlanta 30 FINAL
New Orleans 14
Green Bay 20 FINAL
Tampa Bay 3
Kansas City 12 FINAL
Pittsburgh 20
New England 17 FINAL
NY Jets 16
NY Giants 37 FINAL
St. Louis 27
Buffalo 24 FINAL
Oakland 26
Indianapolis 7 FINAL
Dallas 42
Seattle 35 FINAL
Arizona 6
Denver 7:30 PM
Cincinnati
Denver 6:00 PM
Charlotte
Portland 7:00 PM
Houston
Utah 7:00 PM
Memphis
Toronto 7:00 PM
Chicago
Atlanta 7:30 PM
Dallas
LA Clippers 7:30 PM
San Antonio
Sacramento 9:30 PM
Golden State
Ottawa 6:00 PM
Washington
Nashville 6:00 PM
Columbus
Pittsburgh 6:30 PM
Florida
Arizona 9:00 PM
Vancouver
San Jose 9:00 PM
Anaheim
Calgary 9:30 PM
Los Angeles
Ark-Little Rock 1:00 PM
Bradley
Brown 1:00 PM
Central Conn St
Stetson 1:00 PM
Florida State
Ill-Chicago 1:00 PM
Northwestern
Ohio 1:30 PM
George Washington
Southern Utah 2:00 PM
Ark-Pine Bluff
Elon 2:00 PM
Kennesaw St
Dartmouth 3:00 PM
Penn State
Green Bay 3:30 PM
UC Irvine
DePaul 3:30 PM
Colorado
Lewis & Clark 4:00 PM
Portland
SC State 4:30 PM
Abilene Christian
Manhattan 5:00 PM
Fordham
Truett-McConnell 5:00 PM
Ga Southern
Citadel 5:00 PM
Michigan State
Miami-Ohio 5:00 PM
Ohio State
Gardner-Webb 5:00 PM
Purdue
Idaho 5:00 PM
Northern Ky
Fairfield 6:00 PM
Albany
North Dakota St 6:00 PM
Alcorn State
UT Martin 6:00 PM
Butler
SE Louisiana 6:00 PM
UCF
Oakland 6:00 PM
Clemson
Florida A&M 6:00 PM
East Carolina
Eastern Ky 6:00 PM
Fla Atlantic
IUPU-Ft Wayne 6:00 PM
Illinois State
Norfolk State 6:00 PM
James Madison
Binghamton 6:00 PM
Mount St Marys
Towson 6:00 PM
Navy
Long Island 6:00 PM
New Hampshire
Northern Ill 6:00 PM
Notre Dame
William & Mary 6:00 PM
Old Dominion
Liberty 6:00 PM
Princeton
Delaware 6:00 PM
Robert Morris
MD-Eastern Shore 6:00 PM
St Bonaventure
Colgate 6:00 PM
Syracuse
Kansas 6:00 PM
Temple
Mercer 6:00 PM
Tennessee
East Tenn St 6:00 PM
VA Commonwealth
Va Military 6:00 PM
Virginia Tech
Bucknell 6:00 PM
Wake Forest
Alabama A&M 6:00 PM
Western Mich
New Orleans 6:05 PM
Indiana
Columbia 6:30 PM
Connecticut
Long Beach State 6:30 PM
St Johns
Wofford 6:30 PM
West Virginia
Southern U 7:00 PM
Baylor
UAB 7:00 PM
Chattanooga
Char Southern 7:00 PM
Colorado State
North Florida 7:00 PM
Iowa
NC Central 7:00 PM
Jackson State
Rice 7:00 PM
Lamar
Central Mich 7:00 PM
McNeese State
Coppin State 7:00 PM
Michigan
Furman 7:00 PM
Minnesota
SE Missouri St 7:00 PM
Ole Miss
Weber State 7:00 PM
Oklahoma
Grambling St 7:00 PM
TCU
Loyola-Chicago 7:00 PM
Texas Tech
Incarnate Word 7:00 PM
Tulsa
Penn 7:00 PM
Vanderbilt
Chicago State 7:00 PM
SIU Edwardsville
Simpson 7:05 PM
Drake
Tenn Tech 7:05 PM
UMKC
Murray State 7:05 PM
Southern Ill
Oral Roberts 7:05 PM
Missouri State
Jacksonville St 8:00 PM
Air Force
Milwaukee 8:00 PM
Arkansas
Wisconsin 8:00 PM
California
Coll of Charleston 8:00 PM
LSU
North Dakota 8:00 PM
Marquette
Northern New Mexico 8:00 PM
New Mexico St
UC Santa Barbara 8:00 PM
Oregon
Miami-Florida 8:00 PM
Providence
Northeastern 8:00 PM
St Marys-CA
Kent State 8:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
UC Davis 8:00 PM
Northern Colorado
Lewis-Clark State 8:05 PM
Eastern Wash
Walla Walla 8:05 PM
Portland State
TX A&M-CC 9:00 PM
Cal State Fullerton
Marshall 9:00 PM
Nevada
Boise State 9:30 PM
Houston
UC Riverside 10:00 PM
San Diego St
Tulane 10:00 PM
Washington
Loyola Marymount 10:00 PM
Wichita State
Nebraska 12/23/14 12:00 AM
Hawaii
Nevada 3 FINAL
Louisiana 16
Utah State 21 FINAL
Texas-El Paso 6
(23) Utah 45 FINAL
Colorado State 10
Western Mich 24 FINAL
Air Force 38
South Alabama 28 FINAL
Bowling Green 33
BYU 1:00 PM
Memphis
Marshall 12/23/14 5:00 PM
Northern Ill
Navy 12/23/14 8:30 PM
San Diego St
Central Mich 12/24/14 11:00 AM
Western Ky
Fresno State 12/24/14 7:00 PM
Rice
Illinois 12/26/14 12:00 PM
Louisiana Tech
Rutgers 12/26/14 3:30 PM
North Carolina
NC State 12/26/14 7:00 PM
UCF
Cincinnati 12/27/14 12:00 PM
Virginia Tech
Duke 12/27/14 1:10 PM
(15) Arizona State
Miami-Florida 12/27/14 3:00 PM
So Carolina
Boston College 12/27/14 3:30 PM
Penn State
(25) Nebraska 12/27/14 7:00 PM
(24) USC
UMass Lowell 3 1st Half 16:27
Holy Cross 7
Temple 10:30 AM
Villanova
Georgia Southern 11:00 AM
Southern U
Xavier 11:00 AM
Kennesaw St
Eastern Michigan 11:00 AM
Michigan
Brescia 12:00 PM
Marshall
(22) West Virginia 1:00 PM
Ohio State
UMBC 1:00 PM
MD-Eastern Shore
Cornell 1:00 PM
Loyola-Maryland
St Bonaventure 1:00 PM
Georgetown
New Hampshire 1:00 PM
Northeastern
Eastern Washington 1:30 PM
Florida
Rice 2:00 PM
Texas Southern
Butler 3:05 PM
Illinois State
UC Davis 4:00 PM
(7) Stanford
Washington St 4:00 PM
Loyola Marymount
Sacramento St 4:00 PM
San Jose St
SIU-Edwardsville 4:30 PM
UMKC
Oakland 6:00 PM
IUPU-Ft Wayne
Belmont 6:00 PM
(15) Georgia
George Mason 6:00 PM
Longwood
Kansas 6:05 PM
Creighton
Abilene Christian 7:00 PM
Kansas State
UT Martin 7:00 PM
Missouri
Hampton 7:00 PM
(25) DePaul
Florida State 7:00 PM
Tulane
Murray State 7:00 PM
Illinois
Fla Gulf Coast 7:05 PM
Arkansas State
BYU 8:00 PM
Utah State
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Who is your favorite pro sports coach in the Twin Cities?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT