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 looking for a "fourth-line" identity from its fourth line

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild pregame skate Updated: March 26, 2014 - 12:36 PM

Afternoon from the X, where the Wild and Canucks face off tonight at 6:30 p.m.

If you didn’t see today’s profile on defenseman Jon Blum, please give it a read here. It’s a pretty gripping story.

Darcy Kuemper vs. Eddie Lack.

Alex Burrows dives back into the lineup for Vancouver. No Henrik Sedin though.

For the Wild, Cody McCormick, scratched in the Detroit home-and-home, draws back in for the Wild and Justin Fontaine is scratched (more on that decision below).

The Canucks are six points back of eighth-place Phoenix with nine games left, so they’re likely going to head into tonight’s game like their season’s on the line. You know the Wild would love nothing more than to put the nail in the coffin of their former division rival.

Coach Mike Yeo said the Wild must make sure it’s ready to go.

“We better be ready to match that desperation,” Yeo said.

This is the first of four games in six nights, including the first three games of a road trip to St. Louis (tomorrow, Wild hasn’t won in regulation there since 2007 and has lost eight in a row to the Blues overall), Phoenix, Los Angeles and Chicago.

Huge trip to say the least, so it’s important the Wild gets two points tonight.

Phoenix is now three points back after a big win last night in Pittsburgh. The Wild has played one fewer game. Dallas lost at Chicago, so the Stars are still six points back of Minnesota.

Yeo isn’t happy with the so-called fourth line lately, which the past few games has been Dany Heatley-Erik Haula-Fontaine.

In three of the past four games, he has liked what the third line has brought with Matt Cooke, Kyle Brodziak and Nino Niederreiter.

He said they’ve been “very true to their identity -- strong defensively, playing physical, playing in the offensive zone. Our fourth line, it’s sometimes varied as far who the personnel has been, but we can’t defer or change from what we need those guys to bring -- that’s momentum, being solid defensively, being strong on the forecheck, that’s playing in the offensive zone.”

Yeo said Fontaine’s game isn’t “at the same level as we saw in the Islander game, there’s no question.”

Fontaine really had issues in the first Detroit game, and it started 14 seconds in when he visibly hit the brakes on the forecheck, didn’t check Nik Kronwall and the Red Wings got a free exit. Those are the type of things coaches see, and Yeo has felt that his wall play hasn’t been up to snuff in the New Jersey and two Detroit games.

Yeo called those games a “little bit more in your face” than the Islanders game and “similar to what we’re going to see tonight.”

That’s why he’s putting McCormick back in. To me, McCormick’s got to play better though. For somebody the Wild acquired to add toughness and size, I haven’t seen any big hits or fights and he has gotten bumped off pucks in the offensive zone.

But Yeo is looking for more of a typical fourth-line identity from that fourth line. The question is whether it’s possible to get that identity with Heatley, who’s not exactly a speedster or a physical menace, on that line. But as we’ve seen, Yeo has done everything to avoid pulling the veteran from the lineup. The question is whether Yeo can ever really find that identity he so wants if he’s unwilling to move Heatley somewhere else in the lineup or scratch him.

When you think Heatley-Haula-McCormick, it seems like those are three very different type of players Yeo is trying to force-feed together. Haula, again, is in this role because Yeo has explained he has trust in Brodziak playing the system to a T and he doesn’t feel Haula is yet ready to play 16, 17, 18 minutes a night yet against top lines. Yeo knows his system inside and out – better than fans and media -- so he has got a reason to feel this way whether we agree or not. It’s clear many don’t.

Again, Haula will get his time. Gustav Nyquist, a star in Detroit suddenly, spent four seasons in the minors with Grand Rapids. That’s how the Red Wings do things. The Wild has put Haula on the team half a year into his first year pro, so he’s not being mistreated like many of you believe he is. He’s actually been fast-tracked here, so be patient and he’ll get his time.

Back to Fontaine, Yeo said, “We’ve got to make sure we keep him ready to go. There’s going to be a time very soon where we call upon him and we hope he can step in the same way that he did before (goal, assist on Long Island). I just think that line as a whole, we have to make sure we’re building an identity there.”

On Fontaine’s wall play against the Devils and Red Wings, Yeo said, “That’s part of it. When he’s on, he’s stripping pucks. He doesn’t have to be a guy who’s running guys through the boards, but you have to be effective. For some guys it’s using their speed and their stick creating turnovers. So that’s part of it. Being effective on the forecheck because let’s face of it, he’s got to play a bit of a different game with that line, a little more chip, a little more chase.”

And if you’re going to chip and chase, Yeo said you’ve got to be able to recover the puck.

“I’m confident he’s not that far off,” Yeo said.

Talk to you tonight. I’ll also be on Fox Sports North during the 6 p.m. pregame show and first intermission.


Toronto 1 Bottom 7th Inning
NY Yankees 5
Washington - WP: S. Strasburg 2 FINAL
Miami - LP: N. Eovaldi 1
NY Mets 6 Top 7th Inning
Atlanta 2
Boston 3 Top 7th Inning
Baltimore 2
Milwaukee 0 Bottom 8th Inning
Pittsburgh 1
Chicago WSox 10 Top 7th Inning
Tampa Bay 1
Cleveland 3 Top 5th Inning
Minnesota 1
Detroit 2 Bottom 4th Inning
Kansas City 4
Seattle 3 Bottom 5th Inning
Houston 1
Los Angeles 4 Top 4th Inning
Chicago Cubs 2
Texas 0 Bottom 1st Inning
LA Angels 0
Philadelphia - A. Burnett 3:05 PM
Oakland - S. Kazmir
San Francisco - R. Vogelsong 3:10 PM
San Diego - I. Kennedy
Arizona - W. Miley 3:10 PM
Colorado - C. Bergman
Cincinnati - A. Simon 7:05 PM
St. Louis - L. Lynn
San Diego 20 4th Qtr 6:19
Buffalo 10
Dallas 34 4th Qtr 2:36
St. Louis 30
Washington 27 4th Qtr 11:55
Philadelphia 27
Houston 10 4th Qtr 3:30
NY Giants 30
Minnesota 9 4th Qtr 2:00
New Orleans 20
Tennessee 7 4th Qtr 3:20
Cincinnati 33
Baltimore 20 4th Qtr 4:01
Cleveland 21
Green Bay 7 4th Qtr 2:30
Detroit 19
Indianapolis 37 4th Qtr 7:02
Jacksonville 3
Oakland 9 4th Qtr 1:57
New England 16
San Francisco 3:05 PM
Denver 3:25 PM
Kansas City 3:25 PM
Pittsburgh 7:30 PM
Chicago 9/22/14 7:30 PM
NY Jets
NY Giants 9/25/14 7:25 PM
Columbus 4 3rd Prd 5:36
Carolina 3
Buffalo 4:00 PM
St. Louis 5:30 PM
Calgary 7:00 PM
Edmonton 7:00 PM
Old Dominion 45 FINAL
Rice 42
Troy 0 FINAL
(12) Georgia 66
Georgia Tech 27 FINAL
Virginia Tech 24
Eastern Mich 14 FINAL
(9) Michigan State 73
Iowa 24 FINAL
Pittsburgh 20
Bowling Green 17 FINAL
(19) Wisconsin 68
Maryland 34 FINAL
Syracuse 20
Tulane 13 FINAL
Duke 47
Hawaii 12 FINAL
Colorado 21
Marshall 48 FINAL
Akron 17
North Carolina 41 FINAL
(23) East Carolina 70
Army 21 FINAL
Wake Forest 24
Virginia 33 FINAL
(20) BYU 41
(6) Texas A&M 58 FINAL
Rutgers 31 FINAL
Navy 24
Central Mich 10 FINAL
Kansas 24
Utah 26 FINAL
Michigan 10
Florida 21 FINAL
(3) Alabama 42
Louisville 34 FINAL
Fla Atlantic 19 FINAL
Wyoming 20
Indiana 31 FINAL
Missouri 27
San Jose St 7 FINAL
Minnesota 24
Texas State 35 FINAL
Illinois 42
Massachusetts 7 FINAL
Penn State 48
Georgia State 14 FINAL
Washington 45
Appalachian St 20 FINAL
Southern Miss 21
(14) Miss State 34 FINAL
(17) LSU 29
Northern Ill 14 FINAL
Arkansas 52
Middle Tennessee 17 FINAL
Memphis 36
Utah State 14 FINAL
Arkansas State 21
Miami-Ohio 24 FINAL
Cincinnati 31
Idaho 24 FINAL
Ohio U 36
Ball State 23 FINAL
Toledo 34
(13) So Carolina 48 FINAL
Vanderbilt 34
(4) Oklahoma 45 FINAL
West Virginia 33
Ga Southern 28 FINAL
South Alabama 6
Houston 47
Miami-Florida 31 FINAL
(21) Nebraska 41
New Mexico 38 FINAL
New Mexico St 35
Clemson 17 FINAL
(1) Florida State 23
California 45 FINAL
Arizona 49
San Diego St 7 FINAL
Oregon State 28
(2) Oregon 38 FINAL
Washington St 31
Louisiana 9 FINAL
Boise State 34
Texas Tech 9/25/14 6:30 PM
(24) Oklahoma State
Appalachian St 9/25/14 6:30 PM
Ga Southern
(11) UCLA 9/25/14 9:00 PM
(15) Arizona State
Middle Tennessee 9/26/14 7:00 PM
Old Dominion
Fresno State 9/26/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico
Texas-El Paso 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(25) Kansas State
Tennessee 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(12) Georgia
Vanderbilt 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Wyoming 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(9) Michigan State
Northwestern 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Penn State
TCU 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Iowa 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Tulane 9/27/14 11:00 AM
So Florida 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(19) Wisconsin
Colorado State 9/27/14 11:30 AM
Boston College
Western Mich 9/27/14 11:30 AM
Virginia Tech
Maryland 9/27/14 12:30 PM
Akron 9/27/14 12:30 PM
Bowling Green 9/27/14 2:00 PM
Arkansas 9/27/14 2:30 PM
(6) Texas A&M
Kent State 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Western Ky 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Minnesota 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Wake Forest 9/27/14 2:30 PM
FIU 9/27/14 2:30 PM
(1) Florida State 9/27/14 2:30 PM
NC State
Miami-Ohio 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Colorado 9/27/14 3:00 PM
Louisiana Tech 9/27/14 3:00 PM
(5) Auburn
Texas 9/27/14 3:00 PM
Temple 9/27/14 3:00 PM
(16) Stanford 9/27/14 3:15 PM
TX-San Antonio 9/27/14 4:00 PM
Fla Atlantic
South Alabama 9/27/14 4:00 PM
Cincinnati 9/27/14 5:00 PM
(22) Ohio State
Rice 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Southern Miss
Missouri 9/27/14 6:00 PM
(13) So Carolina
Boise State 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Air Force
North Carolina 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Central Mich 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Troy 9/27/14 6:00 PM
New Mexico St 9/27/14 6:30 PM
(17) LSU
Memphis 9/27/14 6:30 PM
(10) Ole Miss
Duke 9/27/14 6:30 PM
Texas State 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Washington St 9/27/14 7:00 PM
(8) Notre Dame 9/27/14 7:00 PM
(7) Baylor 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Iowa State
UNLV 9/27/14 7:00 PM
San Diego St
Illinois 9/27/14 8:00 PM
(21) Nebraska
Oregon State 9/27/14 9:30 PM
(18) USC
Nevada 9/27/14 9:30 PM
San Jose St
Chivas USA 0 1st Half 10:00
Toronto FC 1
Toronto 40 FINAL
Brt Columbia 23
Edmonton 23 FINAL
Hamilton 25
Calgary 15 5:31
Montreal 28
Ottawa 3:00 PM
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