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 looks to regroup against the Tampa Bay Lightning

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild practice Updated: October 16, 2013 - 4:48 PM

The Wild made it to beautiful Tampa, where it practiced this afternoon at the building formerly known as the Ice Palace.

Good afternoon from the top floor of my hotel, where I have a better view than you do right now!!!

Not much going on with the Wild, which finishes off its four-game road trip by playing at Tampa Bay on Thursday and at … wait for it … FLORIDA on Saturday! Nick Bjugstad may play in that game for the Panthers, as well as former Wild defenseman Tom Gilbert.

In Thursday’s newspaper, I wrote about Matt Dumba, so check that story out. I try to delve into the question I’m asked daily on Twitter: Do you think the Wild keeps Dumba after nine games?

At the Ice Palace today, all Wild players practiced, including defenseman Keith Ballard, who took a puck to the face in Buffalo on Monday. Coach Mike Yeo said he had a good practice today. Off the ice, Ballard looks better than he did yesterday, when he appeared to be Zombie-like. So we’ll see Thursday if the Baudette native can return to the lineup.

If not, Yeo will have some decisions to make on the blue line. Nate Prosser played well yesterday, so do you continue to stick with him? Or, do ya throw Matt Dumba, the lone healthy scratch in Toronto, back in? Marco Scandella also played in Toronto.

Niklas Backstrom practiced again today and looked great. He was pushing off that right knee, so Yeo planned to talk to the training staff to see if Backstrom can back up for Josh Harding against the Lightning. Regardless, I’d think he’d be ready by Saturday, so my guess is that by the latest Friday, Darcy Kuemper flies from Florida to Charlotte to start for the Iowa Wild on Saturday.

I had a great interview today with Matt Cooke about Patrick Kaleta and how the Buffalo Sabres heavy hitter, who has been suspended for 10 games for another fly-by head shot on Columbus’ Jack Johnson, can change if he wants to change. Basically, Cooke changed when he realized his career was in jeopardy, and the stats prove it. The past two years, no major penalties in the regular season, no suspensions, no fines, few penalty minutes. The NHL doesn’t even deem him a repeat offender anymore. This year, he’s not only leading the Wild in scoring, he doesn’t have a single penalty minute.

I’ll write about all this in my Sunday Insider.

Spirits were high around the Wild today, which is a good thing after a 4-1 loss to Toronto where the Wild controlled the game from start to finish. As Yeo said, it’s easy to have your confidence shaken when you outshoot a team 37-14 and lose 4-1.

He made a point to the team that the last time this happened – the season-opening shootout loss to Los Angeles – the Wild didn’t respond the right way and came out flat against Anaheim. The Ducks struck twice and the Wild had to claw back before eventually forcing overtime, where it lost with five seconds left.

So he wants a good response against the Lightning. Tampa Bay’s got Steven Stamkos, but the Wild may catch a break because Martin St. Louis is questionable with a foot injury.

Cooke, echoing Parise, said the Wild needs to pull out some wins here and can’t always be saying after every loss, ‘well, we deserved better.’

“At the end of the day, we still lost,” Cooke said. “I think you draw positives, but without being satisfied. There’s more to be done. We have to find ways to win games. At the end of the day, you don’t make the playoffs because you carried the play all season. You make the playoffs because you have more points than the other teams.”

Today’s practice was all about “finishing,” something the Wild’s lacked often this year.

Yeo was status quo with all his forward lines and D pairs today, but he said that’s not necessarily how he’ll go into the game Thursday.

However, Yeo said he doesn’t want to overreact to a loss where the Wild dominated.

He did talk with Dany Heatley after Tuesday’s game and plans to watch his shifts together with Heatley before Thursday’s game.

Yeo said also a big focus right now is cleaning up the leaky penalty kill. He said they’re making little errors – not huge ones – and when they do, they’re ending up in the back of the net. A couple of the PK goals against have been on 5-on-3’s. There have also been some bad goals. But the Wild’s got to be better on the PK.

“We need some games here where we’re pretty close to flawless,” Yeo said.

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