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: Haula in lineup

Posted by: Rachel Blount under Wild pregame skate Updated: December 5, 2013 - 1:36 PM

At the Wild's morning skate Thursday, former Gophers forward Erik Haula skated on the fourth line with Justin Fontaine and Mike Rupp. Haula will be in the lineup tonight against Chicago, playing his fourth game in a row since being recalled from the Wild's AHL affiliate in Iowa.

Based on the morning skate, it appears Zenon Konopka will be the odd man out at forward, and Nate Prosser and Matt Dumba are the likely scratches on defense. Josh Harding will be in net. No changes to the top three lines.

Wild coach Mike Yeo wanted Haula's speed in the lineup against the Blackhawks. "We're playing a fast team,'' Yeo said. "I expect it to be a high-paced game. I think (Haula) is going to give us a little bit of flexibility with how we work things with our fourth line tonight.

"He's just a young kid. We're still trying to figure out where he's going to fit, how he's going to fit. But through the games he's played, he's shown he can be versatile and can have a positive effect on our lineup.''

Haula said he's feeling comfortable after three games, though he saw limited ice time (6:34) in his last game, against Philadelphia. He knows what to expect in the faceoff circle and is absorbing the many pointers given to him.

"It's awesome,'' he said. "It's everything I expected it to be. I'm learning every day.''

Yeo said it's been nice to see the Wild rediscover its form in the past two games, but he cautioned against the team losing sight of the details as it did during a four-game winless streak. Chicago, which leads the NHL with 44 points and 105 goals, presents a particularly stiff challenge.

"They’ve got a lot of weapons over there offensively,'' Yeo said of the Blackhawks. "We've got to be sharp in all areas of our game. How we defend without the puck is going to be crucial tonight. They're a very dangerous team off the rush. They're very good in the offensive zone. They shoot the puck, they go to the net. There's a lot of challenges there.

"On top of that, we've got to make sure we're executing the right way. They defend well, so to generate anything, you've got to make sure you're doing the right things. But if you're not executing, not getting to the offensive zone, if you spend too much time defending, it doesn’t matter how well you defend. Eventually, it's going to come back to haunt you.''

RACHEL BLOUNT

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