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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Mike Yeo on tonight's lineup vs. the Islanders; Matt Moulson returns to Long Island

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild pregame skate Updated: March 18, 2014 - 2:31 PM

Good afternoon from Long Island, where hockey embedded itself in my blood in the early-80s.

I spent the first 12 years of my life here and have a lot of incredible memories of this area and Nassau Coliseum, from watching the Isles, to playing indoor soccer, to going to the circus. My mom went to college across the street and I grew up 15 minutes down the road.

There’s something special about being in the press box and at the same level as those championship banners and retired numbers.

There's also nothing like the infamous autograph collectible/memorabilia guys here between the hotel and Coliseum. They just camp in the parking lot, same dudes forever. I probably used to go into their stores as a kid and buy Isles stuff. The best are the guys wearing Jonas Brodin jerseys or something with the tags still on: "I'm your biggest fan."

Today, Zach Parise got bombarded on the walk to and from. I covered a player who used to walk across the lot. He'd ask each autograph seeker, "Who do you want me to make it out to?" If the guy responded back, "No one," the player would hand back the pen.

That's Frank Buonomo in the foreground, the Wild's team services dude. He used to handle Sidney Crosby. One of the autograph guys goes, "Hey, didn't you used to work for the Penguins?" That was pretty funny.

I’ll be on Fox Sports North during the pregame show and first intermission tonight and on KFAN at 9 a.m. tomorrow.

Wild and Islanders tonight and the Wild needs a win. It’s that simple. The Wild is 1-2-3 in six games since the trade deadline. The optimist says playing good hockey in five of the six games and getting points in four of six. The pessimist says one win in the past six games.

It’s somewhere in between, and the reality is Phoenix rallied on LA last night, so the Wild’s margin on eighth place is now three points and the ninth place five. And, the schedule only gets tougher.

My concern? Wins breed a good feeling, as coach Mike Yeo often says, and losing breeds the opposite. And I don’t care how well the Wild may have played at times against St. Louis, Dallas and Boston, the Wild couldn’t muster two points in any of those games. So a couple more losses, especially tonight, and negativity and concern could infiltrate that locker room and often times when that happens, the way the team plays goes south fast.

“I can’t sit here and say that I don’t like the way we’re playing because I do,” Zach Parise said. “I think that we’re playing well. But I understand we can only say that for so long. ‘Playing well, blah, blah, blah.’ We’ve got to win. That’s the most important thing. But we’re doing a lot of good things. But a lot of opportunities that we’re not capitalizing on, and that’s the difference of us going into shootouts or losing in a shootout. Last night we had a lot of good chances early. But we played St. Louis, Boston, those are two of the best teams and we played very well against both of them. But, it is frustrating that we’ve got really nothing to show for either game. We lost them both (0-1-1).”

Ilya Bryzgalov vs. Anders Nilsson tonight. Speaking of “Anders,” I chatted with Edina’s Anders Lee this morning. The 23-year-old has six goals and 10 points in nine games this season and I’ll squeeze some of his thoughts and coach Jack Capuano’s thoughts on Lee in my notebook in Wednesday’s paper.

Tonight is the first game back at the Coliseum for Matt Moulson and Nino Niederreiter. Moulson had a big press gathering this morning and I’ll stick those quotes down below.

Yeo wouldn’t divulge his lines until warmups.

But I did confirm the Zach Parise-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville line remains intact.

Also, and don’t freak out, Erik Haula is clearly a scratch. He was bagged by the assistant coaches with Mike Rupp well after this morning’s optional skate ended. So, my guess is Charlie Coyle is moving back to center.

So, my process of elimination, he would likely be the third-line center. I’d think Matt Moulson and Mikko Koivu stay together, so that means Justin Fontaine or Niederreiter would be on that right wing. My guess is Coyle centers Dany Heatley and Fontaine or Niederreiter. That would leave a fourth line of Matt Cooke, Kyle Brodziak and Cody McCormick.

I’ll update Twitter during warmups with the correct lines. Keith Ballard looked like he will be the defenseman scratched tonight.

The more I thought about it last night, the more I thought maybe Yeo should break up the top line. My reasoning was “spread the wealth” because at this point, it is what it is, it’s clear as day the Wild’s best offensive players are all on that top line and maybe if you reunite Parise-Koivu-Coyle and put paint crasher Moulson with a playmaker like Granlund and a shooter like Pominville, perhaps there would be some chemistry.

Yeo said, “I’m not going to say we are or we are not breaking those guys up, but those guys are going [well]. So I think our first priority is to see if we can keep those guys going but find another mix. Now, we’re going to be willing to do whatever it takes. There’s no question, if that’s what it takes. But like I said, our first priority has to be to try maintain what they’ve got going, but fix the areas around it.”

Now, on everybody’s favorite player, Kyle Brodziak, Yeo said, “When I watched his game again, the goal against is obviously the first thing you look at (turnover on Boston’s winner). But aside from that, his game was actually very good. He led our team in (six) shots last night, he was moving his feet. I don’t think his line was particularly good. He was the best player on that line last night. This is where we’re at with our team, too. This is the challenge that’s on us as coaches and players is figuring out roles. Making sure that guys are in roles, making sure that guys have an understanding of what their role is and what we need them to do and that they’re ready to bring it.”

I think that last part is probably why Haula is scratched. Debate it, fine. Disagree, fine. I’m just saying, my conjecture is in Yeo’s head, he’s coming up with “roles” and he wants that fourth line to be a shutdown, physical line tonight).

I don’t know for sure because when Yeo was available, it was not yet known that Haula was the odd forward out tonight. So I didn’t have a chance to ask.

Mikko Koivu played his best game since he returned from an ankle injury last night. Yet, he still had no points and was minus-2. In seven games, Koivu has no goals, two assists and 10 shots.

I asked Yeo how much pressure is on Koivu to start producing. Yeo said, “None from me. We need to win, whether we win 1-0, whether we win 5-4, whatever. The thing we have to understand is that it’s a team. Are we goig to need him to score along the way? Yes. But that’s an unfair burden to put on any player and say, ‘we need you to come into this game and score two goals tonight.’ If he does, that’s great. If he doesn’t and he does a lot of the things that he’s doing right now and somebody else does, then great. There’s no question that over the larger sample size over the rest of the season, for sure we’re going to need some points, we’re going to need production from them as a line. We just have to make sure we have the attitude that this is a team game and we’re here to help each other out.”

By the way, Darcy Kuemper has been up and down lately. Great game against the Rangers after giving up a few bad goals to Edmonton. Great game against Columbus, but then he can’t hang onto a 2-0 shootout lead. Last night, that first goal really hurt. This is the 23-year-old coming out of Kuemper. He’s a rookie and this is what you get sometimes.

On that first goal last night by Jarome Iginla, Kuemper said when the puck hit Jonas Brodin’s stick, then hip, he thinks he looks lost the puck in Boston’s black jerseys. By the time he saw it, it was too late. It started to dip, he reacted by dropping in his butterfly and boom.

Moulson is playing his first game back since the October trade to Buffalo for Thomas Vanek.

He called it a “little weird. I don’t think I’ve ever been in the  visiting changing room here. It’s exciting, but important game for us. We need two points and to get some wins here.”

On the trade from the Islanders, Moulson said, “It caught me off guard. At the time, I always believed I would be here for the rest of my career. To not have any discussions about any future plans or anything, that kind of caught me off guard. I always figured something would work out. Obviously they didn’t have the same plans.”

Would he sign with the Islanders as a free agent? “It’s been said that I wasn’t in their future plans, so I don’t think that’ll quickly change. I’ll just concentrate on helping Minnesota win.”

Moulson has a goal and assist in six games with the Wild. On how the transition has been, he said, “Definitely like to mix in some more wins and goals to help this team, but it’s a great bunch of players. It’s easy to see that. Myself, it’s been an easy transition. Just little things now, not thinking so much and just playing. I think that comes after a couple games. Hopefully we can get that.”

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