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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Spurgeon to make NHL debut; Theodore starts; Backstrom works on game; Reason for Kassian shuttle

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild pregame skate Updated: November 29, 2010 - 5:03 PM

(corrected couple mental mistakes in bold)

Afternoon from chilly Calgary. Late blog, but I actually did my normal Calgary errands just now.

Yes, there's stuff I only do in Calgary.

First the news: Jose Theodore starts.

Jared Spurgeon makes his NHL debut on his 21st birthday, and his old Spokane Chiefs defense partner, Justin Falk, pays the price for that.

Matt Kassian on his way up; Robbie Earl down. I forgot to ask, but for some reason it was done today and not yesterday. That meant Kassian wasn't here by the morning skate. 

But get used to an up and down Matt Kassian for the next little while. The Wild is so convinced that he's put himself in a position to be claimed off waivers, they are going to send him back to Houston A LOT. The way this works: Waivers kick in for Kassian after 10 games played or 30 days on the roster (both cumulative), so even if he's not playing (like the Nashville game), they want him off the roster. By scratching him against Nashville but keeping him on the roster, that's 1 day toward the 30 even though it wasn't 1 game toward the 10). After he hits 10 games or 30 days on the roster, Kassian might be here for good because he's a waiver risk to get to the minors (and then I can finally write that Kassian piece -- Problem now is every time I map it out to get it in the paper, they send him back). 

Hopefully I explained that well enough that you understand why Kassian is up and down. Same goes for Earl, by the way. Remember, that happened with Clayton Stoner last year.

Actually a long morning at the rink today. It went til 1 p.m. -- which is actually a good thing for the Wild and its fans and says everything you need to know about Nik Backstrom.

Few goalies I've ever covered works as hard as he does on and off the ice, and this morning, Backstrom said you have to be honest with yourself and know when your game's fallen off a bit. So Backstrom stayed on the ice long after his teammates to work with goalie coach Bob Mason. Backstrom also took shots from Chuck Kobasew, who continues to get closer to a return from a groin injury.

Tonight is the first game this season where Theodore starts a game that you knew normally would have gone to Backstrom. Every other Theodore start was in the front end or back end of a back-to-back.

Backstrom doesn't think his game has fallen completely off the map despite the 18 goals in his last three starts and 23 in his past four losses. But he feels there's definitely some tweaks he needs to figure out. I actually agree with him. I think you can dissect most these goals and find a reason, either bad bounces (even that bad first goal from Paul Stastny the other night was a bad bounce, where the puck was centered and deflected right back to Stastny, or the sixth goal that hits off Cam Barker's shin pad and goes right to the backdoor) or turnovers or bad defense (the tying goal the other night vs. Colorado or that one goal vs. Philly where Eric Nystrom, Barker and John Madden all teamed up to make mistakes).

You can tell, I'm going off the top of my head. But hopefully you know what I mean. I just think earlier in the season, Backstrom made the big saves to cover up for these bad bounces or bad mistakes, and now when there's a 1-on-0 like Jody Shelley vs. Philly or Brandon Dubinsky vs. the Rangers, he's giving up the goal.

Coach Todd Richards wouldn't commit to how long he'll give Backstrom to work on his game, but obviously a lot of that has to do with how Theodore plays tonight and beyond, and the results. If Theodore plays well tonight and/or they win, we may see Theodore again Wednesday vs. Phoenix and so on. Wild DOES have back-to-backs coming up on the weekend at home vs. Calgary and in Dallas, so guaranteed, Backstrom will be back for one of those.

What else?

Jared Spurgeon, he's a little guy. At 5-9, he's heard that all his life, but he says he makes up for it by being smart and moving the puck. He's from Edmonton and today's his birthday, so it's a memorable day to say the least. He's got a bunch of aunts and uncles on his way down from Edmonton, but his parents are in Austria visiting his brother, Tyler, who plays there.

He said he'll try to turn his nerves into positive energy tonight. When Spurgeon was 15 and 16, he was Falk's defense partner in Spokane, but they weren't paired when they won the Memorial Cup together two years ago. Falk said they were defense partners in Houston during Falk's brief stint there only on the penalty kill. Falk and Spurgeon are very good friends, so it's got to be a little awkward that Spurgeon takes his spot -- at least for tonight.

I didn't bother Kobasew about his mom, but he's back at least for now. Richards said he's getting closer, but he still feels the injury a bit on a late stride.

Mayor Eric Nystrom was back in Calgary. He held court.

I had a great interview with him in Denver, so I may make that my notebook lead tomorrow and hold Backstrom 'til Wednesday's paper (although I've been waiting to write a good Marty Havlat story for a few days now, so wanted to do that tomorrow) or keep Backstrom to a tight note tomorrow. I've got so much sitting in the can, it's ridiculous right now because the games have been so compressed and when the Wild's coming off a game like Colorado, you've got to change your plan for the next day's paper. But I've got a lot waiting to be written, and unfortunately, I've got a bunch of days off coming up. See, I tell you everything on this blog -- well, almost.

Nystrom was really good on the difference between playing in Calgary, where hockey is the only thing for the media, to Minnesota, where, uh, hockey is not the only thing for the media. Lots of good stuff there, although the media here won't like it.

Richards did stick up for Mikko Koivu and Andrew Brunette today: "I think any coach would want the production to be way up, but as far as Mikko and his line, I think Mikko's taken steps and I think Bruno's taken steps in the right direction that we need them to for us to have success. ... Looking at last game, Mikko, to me, Mikko was starting to get back to being Mikko, being that big, bull type player that can outbattle guys, outcompete guys for pucks. When he's doing that, the offense will come."

OK, I better write for the paper now.

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