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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Nik Backstrom gets tonight's start at Phoenix; Jon Blum to make Wild debut for struggling Keith Ballard

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild pregame skate Updated: January 9, 2014 - 2:16 PM

Niklas Backstrom will get the start tonight against the Phoenix Coyotes, Marco Scandella, who missed practice Wednesday, will be in the lineup, Keith Ballard will be scratched and Jon Blum will make his Wild debut.

Those are your answers to all the Wild lineup questions that were heading into the pregame skate.

Afternoon from Glendale, where the Wild visits the Coyotes tonight at 8 p.m. CT. I’ll be on Fox Sports North during the pregame show and first intermission.

If you didn't see, I did a story on GM Chuck Fletcher's attempt to get his players to wear foot protection. That story can be read here. In recent games, Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, Jared Spurgeon and Scandella have all suffered injuries from being struck by pucks. Fletcher is bringing in somebody next week to custom make shot blockers for players.

I talked to Scandella this morning, and he will definitely try one out. He used to wear shot blockers, but he found them hitting the ice on crossovers and the second he took them off, he felt quicker and lighter on the ice. That's the issue most players have with them.

Coach Mike Yeo has made the decision to start Backstrom tonight. Despite some abdominal soreness lately, he hasn’t missed any practices, looked good yesterday and Yeo has decided to come back with him despite Darcy Kuemper’s 39-save (plus four in the shootout) performance in Tuesday’s win at Los Angeles.

Bit of a surprise.

Backstrom (4-9-2 with a 3.15 goals-against average and .896 save percentage) has won two in a row for the first time this season but has given up three or more goals in seven of his past eight starts. Yeo said the decision is not unlike Coyotes coach Dave Tippett coming back with Mike Smith despite Thomas Greiss’ shutout Tuesday against Calgary.

Smith (15-10-8 with a 2.89 goals-against average and .911 save percentage), who will represent Canada in the Olympics likely as their third goalie, has three wins in his past 16 appearances, no wins since Dec. 21 and has allowed three or more goals in nine of those 16 appearances.

“We’re very happy with the game Kuemps played,” Yeo said. “It’s very important for us. There’s a very good chance that as this weekend goes on that we’ll see him in the net again (Wild has back-to-backs home vs. Colorado on Saturday and in Nashville on Sunday), but for this game, going with the veteran guy, I think, is important.”

The ninth-place Wild are tied in the standings with the eighth-place Coyotes with 51 points, but Phoenix has three games in hand, so tonight is a very important contest.

The Coyotes are 10-3-3 in 16 games against Minnesota since 2009-10.

There was a point where Backstrom was a Coyotes killer. He’s now 13-10 in 23 appearances against them with a 2.18 goals-against average and .929 save percentage.

Blum, 24, a first-round pick by the Nashville Predators in 2007, will make his Wild debut. He’s excited after playing all season in Iowa. He’s now essentially the Wild’s extra defenseman with Matt Dumba assigned to Portland and Spurgeon hurt.

He has played 91 games for the Predators and at the time of his recall was tied for the Iowa scoring lead with 17 points in 31 games and tied for first on Iowa with four power-play goals (although my guess is we see Jonas Brodin and Justin Fontaine at the points of the second power-play unit tonight).

This will be the 6-foot-1, 188-pound defenseman’s first NHL game since April 27, 2013.

Yeo wants to see a “steady presence, a guy who defends well and makes a good first pass. He does have experience. He’s played in the league. He’s a right-shot, which was important for us. I think having a right-shot on that right side will help some of the execution problems that we’ve had a little bit lately. He’s got some sneaky skill.”

Ballard, a former Coyote, will be scratched for the second in three games. He had a real rough go in L.A. He was turning pucks over and iced the puck four times (although Erik Haula beat out one to wash it out, but that one by Ballard which came a few feet short of the red line happened right in front of Rick Wilson, who sends the D on the ice). His final shift was a chaotic one that is logged as 2:15 by the off-ice officials. He didn’t play the final 32+ minutes.

“I’ll grab him and the message is going to be very simple: ‘just take a game here, take a deep breath,’” Yeo said. “There’s been ups and downs, but by no means are we giving up on him. We still feel he’s a huge asset to our team and we have to work with him and try to get things back to where he’s feeling good and confident.”

Ballard talked to me about his struggles last week. Those comments can be found here.

Since missing nine games with broken ribs (his second injury of the season), he has no goals and two assists in 19 games. He’s a minus-13 in those 19 games with no +1 or better games.

“We’ve put him in kind of an uncomfortable position playing the right side,” Yeo said. “If we can, when we get him back into the lineup, I’d like to get him back on the left side. That’s where he’s played his best hockey for us this year. If you’re fighting it and you’re playing the off side as a defenseman, you feel the pressure a little more, you don’t see your options quite as well and you’re making a lot of plays from your backhand.

“It’s up to us try to get that confidence back in his game and put him in a position where he can be successful.”

This isn’t good. The Wild signed Ballard for a number of reasons, but one big one was because he had experience playing the right side.

Now, the Wild has put him in an uncomfortable position? The other confusing thing is Yeo saying he wants to get him on the left side when he returns. I don’t think he’s playing in front of Ryan Suter, Scandella or Clayton Stoner, so my guess is Ballard either sits for awhile if Blum proves his worth or when he returns, he’ll be back on the right side.

So Ballard and the Wild better figure this out.

No update on the health of Spurgeon, Parise or Josh Harding, Yeo said. Fletcher said no update yet on the severity of Brett Bulmer’s knee injury, but he does have at the minimum a high ankle sprain and will miss a good chunk of time.

Talk later.


Cleveland 11/23/14 12:00 PM
Tennessee 11/23/14 12:00 PM
Detroit 11/23/14 12:00 PM
New England
Green Bay 11/23/14 12:00 PM
Jacksonville 11/23/14 12:00 PM
Cincinnati 11/23/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay 11/23/14 12:00 PM
Arizona 11/23/14 3:05 PM
St. Louis 11/23/14 3:05 PM
San Diego
Miami 11/23/14 3:25 PM
Washington 11/23/14 3:25 PM
San Francisco
Dallas 11/23/14 7:30 PM
NY Giants
NY Jets 11/24/14 6:00 PM
Baltimore 11/24/14 7:30 PM
New Orleans
Chicago 11/27/14 11:30 AM
Philadelphia 11/27/14 3:30 PM
Seattle 11/27/14 7:30 PM
San Francisco
Phoenix 26 2nd Qtr 12:00
Philadelphia 27
Orlando 26 2nd Qtr 11:50
Charlotte 27
Detroit 6:30 PM
Milwaukee 6:30 PM
Boston 7:00 PM
Cleveland 7:00 PM
Brooklyn 7:00 PM
Oklahoma City
San Antonio 7:00 PM
LA Lakers 7:30 PM
New Orleans 8:00 PM
Chicago 9:30 PM
Utah 9:30 PM
Golden State
NY Rangers 0 Postponed
Buffalo 0
NY Islanders 3 1st Prd 2:32
Pittsburgh 2
Boston 0 1st Prd 1:28
Columbus 2
New Jersey 8:30 PM
Texas A&M 59 FINAL
Coll of Charleston 50
Drexel 70
Clemson 70 FINAL
Gardner-Webb 72
Dayton 64 FINAL
Connecticut 75
Akron 51 FINAL
Miami-Florida 79
Seton Hall 68 FINAL
Nevada 60
Valparaiso 59 FINAL
Ark-Pine Bluff 46
UNC Greensboro 79 FINAL
Longwood 81
Syracuse 66 FINAL
Iowa 63
Central Conn St 49 FINAL
Towson 58
Boston College 66 FINAL
West Virginia 70
Ill-Chicago 58 FINAL
Yale 70
Alcorn State 69 2nd Half 0:05
Hampton 82
LSU 30 2nd Half
Old Dominion 33
Prairie View 17 1st Half 6:59
Baylor 26
Montana State 0 Postponed
Buffalo 0
Maine 17 1st Half 3:36
Central Mich 35
Youngstown St 11 1st Half 12:52
Eastern Mich 16
Wofford 20 1st Half 0:21
Fairfield 12
Troy 20 1st Half 3:12
Georgia 34
IUPU-Ft Wayne 15 1st Half 5:03
Georgia Tech 25
Stony Brook 19 1st Half 6:36
Hofstra 19
Boston Univ 16 1st Half 7:09
Kentucky 26
Loyola-Chicago 12 1st Half 4:24
Michigan State 32
Toledo 29 1st Half 2:50
Oregon 28
Lehigh 22 1st Half 7:00
Rider 25
Charlotte 18 1st Half 6:18
South Carolina 30
UNLV 12 1st Half 8:09
Stanford 36
George Washington 24 1st Half 2:45
Virginia 21
Hiwassee 19 1st Half 3:43
Western Carolina 27
Texas 9 1st Half 17:12
California 4
Florida Memorial 0 1st Half 20:00
Southern Ill 0 1st Half 17:59
Kent State 5
Bethune-Cookman 3 1st Half 17:30
Monmouth 1
New Mexico 6:35 PM
George Mason
Delaware State 7:00 PM
ULM 7:00 PM
Austin Peay 7:00 PM
Morehead State 7:00 PM
Louisiana Tech
Jarvis Christian 7:00 PM
McNeese State
Milwaukee 7:00 PM
Oklahoma State
Stephen F Austin 7:00 PM
Kennesaw St 7:00 PM
North Dakota St
North Dakota 7:00 PM
South Dakota St
Iona 7:30 PM
Wake Forest
Louisiana 8:00 PM
Georgia State 8:00 PM
Colorado State
Penn State 8:00 PM
Marshall 8:00 PM
Oral Roberts 8:00 PM
Oregon State
UC Riverside 8:00 PM
Idaho State 8:00 PM
Washington St
Illinois State 8:00 PM
Weber State
Florida A&M 8:00 PM
Grand Canyon
Sam Houston St 8:00 PM
South Dakota
Temple 8:30 PM
Presbyterian 9:00 PM
American Univ
Delaware 9:00 PM
Cal Poly
Washington 9:00 PM
Kansas State 9:30 PM
Long Beach State
Pittsburgh 10:59 PM
(12) Kansas State 26 FINAL
West Virginia 20
North Carolina 45 FINAL
(25) Duke 20
Arkansas State 27 FINAL
Texas State 45
Kent State 0 Cancelled
Buffalo 0
Texas-El Paso 7:00 PM
Air Force 8:30 PM
San Diego St
San Jose St 8:30 PM
Utah State
Char Southern 11/22/14 11:00 AM
(9) Georgia
South Alabama 11/22/14 11:00 AM
So Carolina
Rutgers 11/22/14 11:00 AM
(10) Michigan State
Minnesota 11/22/14 11:00 AM
(21) Nebraska
Northwestern 11/22/14 11:00 AM
(18) Marshall 11/22/14 11:00 AM
Kansas 11/22/14 11:00 AM
(23) Oklahoma
Indiana 11/22/14 11:00 AM
(7) Ohio State
Penn State 11/22/14 11:00 AM
(14) Eastern Ky 11/22/14 11:00 AM
TX-San Antonio 11/22/14 11:00 AM
Western Ky
SMU 11/22/14 11:00 AM
Virginia Tech 11/22/14 11:30 AM
Wake Forest
Washington St 11/22/14 12:00 PM
(13) Arizona State
Louisiana Tech 11/22/14 12:00 PM
Old Dominion
Western Mich 11/22/14 12:00 PM
Central Mich
New Mexico 11/22/14 12:30 PM
(22) Colorado State
Eastern Mich 11/22/14 1:00 PM
Ball State
Appalachian St 11/22/14 1:00 PM
Tulsa 11/22/14 2:00 PM
(15) Arizona 11/22/14 2:30 PM
(20) Utah
FIU 11/22/14 2:30 PM
North Texas
(8) Ole Miss 11/22/14 2:30 PM
Louisville 11/22/14 2:30 PM
Notre Dame
Maryland 11/22/14 2:30 PM
Texas Tech 11/22/14 2:30 PM
Iowa State
(14) Wisconsin 11/22/14 2:30 PM
Syracuse 11/22/14 2:30 PM
Boston College 11/22/14 2:30 PM
(1) Florida State
Georgia State 11/22/14 2:30 PM
Tulane 11/22/14 2:30 PM
East Carolina
Stanford 11/22/14 3:00 PM
Western Carolina 11/22/14 3:00 PM
(2) Alabama
ULM 11/22/14 3:00 PM
New Mexico St
So Florida 11/22/14 3:00 PM
Colorado 11/22/14 3:30 PM
(3) Oregon
Fla Atlantic 11/22/14 6:00 PM
Middle Tennessee
Samford 11/22/14 6:00 PM
(16) Auburn
Miami-Florida 11/22/14 6:00 PM
Vanderbilt 11/22/14 6:30 PM
(4) Miss State
(19) Missouri 11/22/14 6:30 PM
Oklahoma State 11/22/14 6:30 PM
(6) Baylor
(24) USC 11/22/14 7:00 PM
(11) UCLA
Cincinnati 11/22/14 7:00 PM
Boise State 11/22/14 9:15 PM
Oregon State 11/22/14 9:30 PM
Fresno State 11/22/14 9:30 PM
UNLV 11/22/14 10:00 PM
Ohio U 11/25/14 6:00 PM
LSU 11/27/14 6:30 PM
Texas A&M
(5) TCU 11/27/14 6:30 PM
Northern Ill 11/28/14 10:00 AM
Western Mich
(21) Nebraska 11/28/14 11:00 AM
Western Ky 11/28/14 11:00 AM
(18) Marshall
UCF 11/28/14 11:00 AM
So Florida
Houston 11/28/14 11:00 AM
Akron 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Kent State
Ball State 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Bowling Green
Buffalo 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Toledo 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Eastern Mich
Arkansas 11/28/14 1:30 PM
(19) Missouri
Navy 11/28/14 2:00 PM
South Alabama
(13) Arizona State 11/28/14 2:30 PM
(15) Arizona
Stanford 11/28/14 2:30 PM
(11) UCLA
(22) Colorado State 11/28/14 2:30 PM
Air Force
Virginia 11/28/14 7:00 PM
Virginia Tech
East Carolina 11/28/14 7:30 PM
BYU 11/29/14 2:00 AM
(20) Utah 11/29/14 2:00 AM
(3) Oregon 11/29/14 2:00 AM
Oregon State
Kentucky 11/29/14 2:00 AM
Notre Dame 11/29/14 2:00 AM
(24) USC
So Carolina 11/29/14 2:00 AM
Florida 11/29/14 2:00 AM
(1) Florida State
Wake Forest 11/29/14 2:00 AM
(25) Duke
Pittsburgh 11/29/14 2:00 AM
Montreal 11/23/14 12:00 PM
Edmonton 11/23/14 3:30 PM
TBA 11/30/14 5:00 PM
Delaware 60 FINAL
East Carolina 89
Wiley 65 FINAL
Sam Houston St 48
SE Louisiana 78 FINAL
Troy 80
St Francis-NY 63 FINAL
North Dakota 70
Eastern Kentucky 56 FINAL
Central Arkansas 55
Chattanooga 53 FINAL
(3) Notre Dame 88
UT Martin 31 2nd Half 7:34
Dayton 65
William & Mary 51 2nd Half 3:12
NC A&T 50
LSU-Alexandria 0 Cancelled
Nicholls 0
Eastern Illinois 46 2nd Half 6:25
Florida State 74
Marquette 60 2nd Half 7:51
Wake Forest 68
Columbia College 28 2nd Half
SC State 53
Rider 30 2nd Half 16:04
Towson 33
Jackson State 10 1st Half 10:56
Mercer 13
High Point 25 1st Half 4:19
NC State 29
Cleveland State 20 1st Half 6:45
Florida Atlantic 28
Alabama A&M 18 1st Half 2:31
Samford 18
Morehead St 20 1st Half 5:00
Indiana 35
Lehigh 25 1st Half 4:29
Alabama 24 1st Half 6:40
Kansas 20
Canisius 9 1st Half 12:12
Bryant 16
San Diego State 17 1st Half 2:42
Furman 22
East Tenn St 29 1st Half 3:53
St Francis-PA 19
Evansville 28 1st Half 3:10
IUPU-Ft Wayne 36
Winthrop 16 1st Half 4:34
(4) Tennessee 33
Mount St Marys 9 1st Half 3:18
Campbell 31
Elon 23 1st Half 7:10
Charlotte 19
Hofstra 17 1st Half 4:49
Fordham 20
Columbia 19 1st Half 6:27
Stony Brook 20
USC 5 1st Half 17:07
Long Beach St 2
Saint Louis 6 1st Half 15:40
SE Missouri St 6
Massachusetts 7:00 PM
North Texas
Kent State 7:00 PM
Hampton 7:00 PM
Kansas State
Bradley 7:00 PM
Houston 7:00 PM
North Florida 7:00 PM
Arizona 7:00 PM
Texas Tech
ULM 7:00 PM
Stephen F Austin
Tulsa 7:00 PM
Oral Roberts
Graceland 7:00 PM
Nebraska Omaha
Pepperdine 7:30 PM
(19) Iowa
Temple 7:30 PM
Denver 8:00 PM
(24) Gonzaga 8:00 PM
Montana State
Boise State 8:00 PM
Southern Utah
Missouri 8:30 PM
Cal Poly 9:00 PM
Loyola Marymount
Montana 9:00 PM
Portland 9:00 PM
Villanova 9:00 PM
Cal State Fullerton
Seattle 10:30 PM
Washington St
(14) California 10:59 PM
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