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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Justin Fontaine returns against the Bruins; Mike Yeo chats with Dany Heatley about 4th-line role

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild pregame skate Updated: March 17, 2014 - 12:24 PM

Happy St. Patty's Day from Boston, which after experiencing it last night, I think this city needs to stand up and admit once and for all that it has a drinking problem. smiley

Wild and Bruins tonight at 6:30 p.m. CT on NBC Sports Network. Kenny Albert and Pierre McGuire at the mics.

Former Calgary Flames captain Jarome Iginla will play his 1,300th game tonight. The all-time leader against the Wild with 35 goals, 65 points, 10 game-winners and 231 shots in 70 meetings has had plenty of milestones against Minnesota. Off the top of my head, he has scored his 300th goal, 600th point and 500th goal against the Wild.

I had a good one-on-one this morning with Iginla and will likely write my Sunday column on him this week. Remember, many felt he was all but done last year, but he's the leading goal scorer (23) and second-leading scorer (53 points) for the deepest team in the East playing on a line with David Krejci and Milan Lucic.

The Bruins have won eight in a row, are 16-2-3 in their past 21 overall and 11-2 in their past 13 at home. They're a league-best 27-7-2 at home. The Bruins, who have outscored opponents 32-12 during their winning streak, average an East-best 3.18 goals per game and allow an East-best 2.13. They average 32.2 shots per game -- fifth-best in the NHL -- and have the league’s seventh-best power play (20.5 percent).

The Wild hasn't been here since 2011. I think if I remember correctly that was that three-game road trip Jose Theodore swept. It ended with a shutout at Pittsburgh. The Wild is 6-0 all-time in Boston and 10-1-1 against Boston overall. The Bruins are 0 for 36 all-time vs. the Wild on the power play, the Wild is 16 for 56 on the power play against them.

Darcy Kuemper vs. Tuukka Rask tonight. Rask is 30-14-4 with a 2.10 goals-against average, .928 save percentage, .928 save percentage and six shutouts. Coach Mike Yeo said Ilya Bryzgalov will likely start tomorrow at the Islanders.

Justin Fontaine, scratched the past five games, gets back into the Wild lineup tonight. Cody McCormick will be scratched. Nate Prosser will be the defenseman scratched. Yeo is messing with his third pair rotation because Clayton Stoner played well Saturday against Columbus and because the Bruins are physical. Wants some edge, especially with McCormick sitting to get Fontaine back in.

Nino Niederreiter returns to Long Island tomorrow for the first time since last summer's trade to Minnesota. Yeo said he would have the same conversation with Niederreiter that he had this morning with Charlie Coyle, who is playing his first game in his hometown tonight in front of more than 1,000 family and friends.

Here is the feature I wrote on him today.

He wants Coyle and Niederreiter to just focus on having good games and not all the outside noise surrounding their returns. Speaking of outside noise, I had a good chat with Zach Parise about Thursday's return to New Jersey and that will be in Thursday's paper.

Speaking of good chats, Yeo and Dany Heatley had a very visible and very long one-on-one on the ice this morning. It actually looked somewhat heated at times, but Yeo said the proper word is honest. Yeo said he has a good relationship with Heatley, so good that they can each speak bluntly to each other.

Not difficult to ascertain the subject of the conversation.

Heatley was playing well. The acquisitions and the health of the Wild has resulted in Heatley dropping to the fourth line the past five games.

"It’s an adjustment. You look at how valuable he was when we had all these guys out, and then we get a lot of guys back and next thing you know he finds himself on the fourth line playing 8-10 minutes a night," Yeo said. "I just talked to him about that, talked to him about his game, what we need from him, but at the same time, we have to be trying to find a way to get him more involved through the course of the game so he’s not sitting on the bench five minutes. It's tougher for a big body like that."

Has he accepted being on the fourth line?

"He’s accepted it," Yeo said. "I don’t want him to be happy and satisfied being on the fourth line. We had a talk when it first happened and he’s been handling it really well. Like I said, I don’t want him to be, ‘Everything’s great.’ I want him demanding more ice time. The No. 1 way to do that is through your play."

Heatley joked that they were just talking about dinner last night.

Heatley played a fourth-line role earlier this season on a line with Zenon Konopka and Torrey Mitchell. Then, he moved up.

"When we had some injuries, I got a chance to play and things went pretty good," Heatley said. "Obviously we don’t have injuries. But as we go toward the end of the year and the playoffs, teams usually move around some things. So we’ll see what happens. Just try to play my game and keep getting better."

The Wild needs more from Mikko Koivu. His line with Matt Moulson and either Coyle or Niederreiter has had one productive game against St. Louis. Coyle will be back on the line tonight with Niederreiter going back to the Matt Cooke-Kyle Brodziak line. Niederreiter didn't do well there the other night.

Koivu has two assists and six shots in six games since returning from an ankle injury.

It'll come, and for the Wild's sake, hopefully sooner rather than later for Koivu.

By the way, if this doesn't light a fire under Koivu, nothing will. A Wild fan I met had me deface his Koivu St. Patrick's jersey last night with my signature! Don't worry. Anthony LaPanta raised the value of the jersey again by autographing it as well.

 

 

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