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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Koivu line with Parise, Pominville, Granlund line, Cooke shine in Sunday scrimmage

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild training camp Updated: September 15, 2013 - 4:06 PM

Good afternoon from high above an empty, quiet, very dark X. Lights shut off in the press box too (spooky). If you didn't see the previous blog, I tossed up all the story links for the week in case you missed some stories.

The Wild held a Green-White game in front of 3,000 fans and the white team prevailed 3-2 on Mikko Koivu’s third-period winning goal from Matt Dumba and Zach Parise. The Wild will be looking for the defensemen to be a bigger part of the play this season, both in the neutral zone and offensive zone.

Dumba, 19, who will be given a huge look this month, displayed that here. Stepping up into the left circle, Dumba, a 2012 first-round pick, nearly set up Parise at the far post. They couldn’t connect, so Dumba skated to the back of the net, found the loose puck and fed Koivu at the goalmouth.

The Wild captain gave white a 3-1 lead with a water-bottle popper by Darcy Kuemper, who had no shot.

Matt Cooke, who had a strong scrimmage, took Jonathon Blum’s pass, circled to the right circle and sniped a bullet by Johan Gustafsson to cut the green deficit to 3-2, but the green, coached by Andrew Brunette, couldn’t tie white, which was coached by Iowa Wild coach Kurt Kleinendorst.

Cooke looked great again on a line with Kyle Brodziak and Torrey Mitchell. In the second period, Nate Prosser, at his own blue line, flipped a puck high into the other zone past Dumba. Cooke caught up to the puck, spun and sent a perfect feed to a driving Mitchell, who scored by Niklas Backstrom.

I’m planning a big profile on Cooke that should run in Tuesday’s paper. On his goal, he jokingly said he closed his eyes and shot. He has scored double digit goals in 10 of 12 full seasons – really 10 of 11 because last year was a 48-game season. Two years ago, he scored a career-high 19 goals.

He said teammates were shocked at the skill, speed and shot of the longtime agitator. He told them, “Did you guys think we were getting some bum or what?” Cooke said, laughing.

On his line, Cooke said, “We’re going to be a line that goes out and plays a top line and shutdown role, but the best way to play defense against a good line is to play in the offensive zone. We all understand that if we are responsible in our own end and take care of the puck in the neutral zone, we’re going to get chances.”

The white jumped out to a 2-0 lead with two goals past Josh Harding. First, Mikael Granlund skated behind the net, and when Josh Harding and Tyler Graovac thought he’d continue his route, Granlund found a driving Jason Zucker for the pretty score.

Moments later, Parise stole a puck behind the net and connected with Jason Pominville in front for another nice goal by the former Buffalo Sabres captain.

I’m mostly writing about the chemistry between Parise, Koivu and Pominville in Monday’s paper, particularly what Pominville adds to the line. Just a totally underrated player.

The Wild will hold a special teams scrimmage Monday. Coach Mike Yeo was still working out the format, but it may be a series of five-minute majors to work on the power play and penalty kills.

The hope is the new shallower nets will be strung together and used Monday. You’ll get to see it for the first time in Monday’s exhibition game against the Columbus SplitSquaders.

The bottom depth of the frame is moved from 44” to 40” and the side radius is reduced from 20” to 18”; resulting in 4” reduction per side. The total width of the bottom of the frame is changed from 96” to 88”. There is no change to the opening of the goal frame, but this provides more room to create behind the net and could lead to more wraparounds as well.

Yeo said he’s got the lineups mostly figured out for the upcoming exhibition games and Tuesday’s against the Blue Jackets will be a mix of kids vying for jobs and vets. He did say some kids like Granlund, Dumba and Charlie Coyle could end up playing all six exhibition games. More on that in the Yeo-bits below.

One note: Ryan Suter will wear a visor this season. He was one of a handful of Wild players who hasn’t in his NHL career. Starting this year, every NHL player who enters the league must wear a visor. The visorless ones that were here before are grandfathered in.

But Suter was hit on the helmet by a slap shot last season. He said that woke him up.

“An inch over, I could have lost my eye,” Suter said. “Just not worth it anymore. Everyone else can wear it, why can’t I?”

Yeo-bits:

On today’s scrimmage: “Lot of good things. We’re certainly not in midseason form right now, but seeing guys incorporate some of the things we’re working on and seeing guys making plays and showing some things out there, I thought it was good.”

On Zucker-Granlund-Justin Fontaine line? You know what, I thought that line in particular really jumped out. I thought that they had a real strong game. They were playing well in the offensive zone, they did a couple things off the rush. I thought all three of those guys had strong days.”

On the Nino Niederreiter-Coyle-Dany Heatley line having trouble defending the Koivu line: “That was by design that Granny was going up against Brodzy and by design Charlie was going up against Mikko. It was a tough test. They had some moments, but chemistry-wise, it didn’t look like they were right with it all the time. They showed some good things. Charlie, especially, he made the mistake on the one goal (Pominville or Koivu, not sure which Yeo is referring), but otherwise I thought he had a strong day.”

On us seeing the good and bad of Niederreiter today (he made some great, great plays and some high-risk players that wound up turnovers): “He’s trying to make an impression right now. That’s normal. He just screams NHL player … when you look at his size, skating ability, his shot. He just has to relax a little bit and just trust his linemates a little more and just play the game a little more. We’ll talk to him about, but even in a game like that, I don’t know if it was by any means his best, but he still showed a lot.”

On the top line buzzing all game: “Puck support, and we keep talking about it, puck possession. Their movement for each other, through the neutral zone into the offensive zone, they had some shifts that were fun to watch, and that was backed up by the defensemen they were playing with. That’s something we’ve been stressing, getting our D more involved, both in the rush and the offensive zone, and it certainly led to some confusion, good chances and some good zone time.”

What D did he like beyond Suter and Jonas Brodin, who were awesome? “Lots for me, but the top two are obvious ones. But I thought [Keith] Ballard had a really good day. I think he’s had a really good camp. I thought Marco [Scandella] had a really good day, a really good camp. And Spurg is Spurg (Jared Spurgeon). He just goes out and does it, and that’s just what we expect from him now. That wasn’t it. Dumba, I think he had a really strong day. He made what I consider a young mistake on the one goal (Mitchell; tried to catch Prosser’s Pavol Demitra-like flip), but that stuff happens, even to veteran players. But aside from that, his puck play was very, very good.”

On Matt Cooke: “There’s a reason why he’s here. He’s more than probably what is advertised or what the perception might be for him. He’s a good player. He’s a guy that defensively, penalty killing, the physical part of the game, those are all part of his identity, but he’s got speed, the ability to make plays, the ability to help other guys get to their game and help provide some secondary offense.”

(Like I said, I’m writing about Cooke for Tuesday. I had lunch with him 10 days ago and it was a terrific interview. I’ve talked to a lot of people about him, so I think it should be a deeper look into what makes Cooke tick beyond some of the incidents he’s become known for).

On Pominville: “You can see just how smart he is. He’s got skill, he makes little plays. You can just see that guys like that, they’re always a step ahead of the play. Before the puck comes to them, they know where their support is and what their options are and on top of that, where the defenders are. He’s just a real, real high-caliber player.”

(Parise and GM Chuck Fletcher were real good on Pominville today, and you can see those quotes in Monday’s Star Tribune).

Can some of the young kids play all six preseason games? “Potentially. Granny and Charlie, the importance of making that decision and seeing how they progress. Dumba, based on the need to make decision on him, we want to see him in a lot of games.”

Does that mean Granlund and Coyle are going up against each other for the No. 2 center spot and nothing else? In short, no, Yeo said. “We’ve got a real open mind. When talking second-line center position right now, if we want to call it that, we just want to take our time making that decision and along the way it could lead to other decisions as well. It’s not that spot or nothing. If they win another position in the lineup, whether wing or center, we’re giving them that opportunity.”

(Yeo talked highly of Carson McMillan today and the camp he is having. Yeo also said afterward he really wants to see a lot more of Erik Haula in the exhibition games).

That’s it…4 p.m., I’m still in the arena and haven’t written for the paper yet.

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