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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Backstrom starting vs. Jake Gardiner and the Maple Leafs; Pominville on Sabres shakeup

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild pregame skate Updated: November 13, 2013 - 12:07 PM

Niklas Backstrom will make his fifth start of the season for the Wild when it hosts Phil Kessel, Jake Gardiner, Mason Raymond, James van Riemsdyk (did I get all Minnesota ties?) and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

It was obvious something was awry when I walked into the rink and there was only one goalie on the ice for the Wild's optional skate. Goalies rarely don't take the ice for a morning skate because the shooters then only have one net to shoot at.

Turns out Josh Harding, who leads the NHL in goals-against average and save percentage, was "a little under the weather last night," coach Mike Yeo said, so because there would only be one goalie on the ice, the Wild decided to do the optional.

Harding will back up tonight.

Good morning from the X. Russo's back. I had to leave town unexpectedly the past few days due to a family emergency, but I jetted back here this morning to cover the game.

Three key reminders:

--TONIGHT'S GAME IS 6:30 P.M. (to accomodate TSN)!!!

--And for the persistent "what channel is the game on?" questions tonight, it will be on FOX SPORTS NORTH PLUS (FSN+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++). Here is where you can find the channel.

--Also, most importantly, my buddy Erik Stolhanske, the actor/writer extraordinaire from Super Troopers, Beerfest, etc., and Sven, the Norwegian caddy from Curb Your Enthusiasm, will be doing "Let's Play Hockey" tonight. Minnesota native. Give Rabbit some love tonight. If you didn't hear Erik sit in with me on KFAN earlier this summer, it was a blast and check out their site for archives.

Back to tonight:

The Wild has gotten points in nine of the past 10 games (7-1-2), losing in Toronto earlier this season when Darcy Kuemper was pulled in a rare night off for Harding. Wild outshot the Leafs 37-14 that game.

Backstrom was going to start at least one game this three-game homestand anyway. At least, that's what coach Mike Yeo had been indicating since Saturday. The team wants to get Backstrom back into some kind of rhythm, especially since he'll be needed to start at least one game next week at Montreal or Ottawa.

Here is the article I wrote on Backstrom in Monday's newspaper. Please give it a read.

Backstrom made 33 saves in a win at Chicago late last month but didn't play well at home against Chicago a few days later. He is 1-1-2 in six games this season with a 3.42 goals-against average and .871 save percentage.

Jonathan Bernier appears as if he'll get the start vs. the Wild. Of Bernier's seven career shutouts, three are against the Wild -- all coming as the Los Angeles Kings' backup.

Clayton Stoner is expected to return tonight after missing the Carolina game with a leg injury. If so, Matt Dumba will be scratched after a rough game against the Hurricanes. If scratched, it'll be Dumba's ninth scratch and fifth in six games.

Not much else going on. Tonight will be Gardiner's first game at the X not as a Wisconsin Badger ... or most importantly and impressively and notably a Minnetonka Skipper. He'll have about three-dozen family members and friends in attendance.

Kessel's turned himself into a bona fide star. He's got 10 goals and 19 points in 17 games. He played for the U, if you were born under a rock. Van Riemsdyk is playing center tonight. He's building a home out in Zach Pariseland.

Former Sabres captain Jason Pominville was stunned by today's Buffalo news. Huge, sweeping changes in Buffalo the last several months, from Pominville and Thomas Vanek getting traded to longtime coach Lindy Ruff getting fired to now GM Darcy Regier getting axed and former coach Ted Nolan going from blackballed to being brought back as interim coach.

"It's always tough when you see someone you know get let go like that," Pominville said. "[Regier's] always been good to me and pretty honest to me, but at the same time, it's a business move and something had to be done. I think they have a little time here where the new people in place will be able to build a team the way they want to. Obviously the owners weren't happy with the direction it was going, so they had to make a business move.

"They have passionate fans that want a team that competes and wins. Lately they haven't been getting that. You look back at five, six, seven years ago, that city was unbelievable with the support they gave us. Our playoff runs we had, it was awesome, but lately it hasn't been that way. I feel bad for the fans, but I'm sure this will make them feel a little bit better and buy time for the people in place.

"There's been a lot of changes. There's probably going to be more changes. But I've turned the page and am excited to be here."

I'll be on Hockey Night in Canada Radio at 3:30 p.m. CT and Sportsnet Radio/TV in Toronto at 1:15 CT.

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