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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Lemaire, Devils in uncharted territory; Backstrom, Miettinen updates

Posted by: Michael Russo under On the road, Wild practice Updated: January 3, 2011 - 1:58 PM

Afternoon from beautiful Newark, where I came early to chat with Jacques Lemaire and Brian Rolston.

I hope you soaked in the Wild's exhilarating OT win last night because the team's on the road for what seems the rest of eternity. Or maybe that's just me. I'm out of town 'til Jan. 12 because I'm going right from Pittsburgh to Nashville. Instead of coming back to Minnesota for 12 hours with that early Dallas home game Sunday and then having to turn around the next day and go to Nashville, it makes sense to just pick up the team in the country music capital of the world.

The Wild has three home games left this month, is on the road for 16 of the next 23 days and plays 10 of its next 14 on the road.

As for Lemaire, pulled out of retirement right before Christmas, the former Wild coach looks exactly the same: "I ... don't ... feel ... the ... same," Lemaire said before hysterically laughing with that Lemaire guffaw.

Lemaire said he's never experienced anything close to what he's experiencing now. The Devils haven't since the '80s. They've made the playoffs for 13 years in a row.

The Devils are 23 points from a playoff spot, and Lemaire's got his work cut out for him to get this team headed the right direction. They're back to Square One, which was evident by today's practice. It was long, it was loud, it was Lemaire teaching Hockey 101, giving 1-on-1 instruction to several Devils players. Lemaire was ticked off with today's practice, so much so that he gathered the team at the end for a 10-minute talk along the glass.

At least 10 minutes. Maybe even longer. It's the longest I've ever seen Lemaire talk to his team on the ice, and I've covered a ton of Lemaire practices. He was so displeased with practice, the Devils will have a morning skate Tuesday -- something he didn't plan to have.

I talked to Lemaire about a variety of subjects, some that will be in Tuesday's paper, some in the future.

The two biggest pieces of news today: Johan Hedberg will make a second straight start over struggling Martin Brodeur, who talked to the media like a man today and said it's all about the team and how he doesn't deserve to play the way he's playing.

"You guys wanted me to play less all these years, so what's the big deal?" Brodeur quipped.

Lemaire said earlier this week that he's not to the point where there will be a goalie rotation.

"Looks like I was wrong. I change quick," Lemaire said, laughing.

Like everything with Lemaire, subject to change: "STC. I've got that on every page. As soon as I wrote something, STC."

Hedberg lifetime against the Wild is 4-1-3 with a 2.00 goals against average and .924 save percentage; 4-0 in his past four with a .942 save percentage.

And Brian Rolston, who's cleared waivers and re-entry waivers, will "probably" return to the Devils' lineup vs. his old Wild team. He hasn't played since Dec. 26. I had a long talk with Rolston today and will write about this humbling experience at some point soon. At least in practice today, Rolston skated on a line with Jamie Langenbrunner and Travis Zajac.

Also, Patrik Elias may play center vs. the Wild.

AS for the Wild news, Kent Youngblood covered the very optional practice today. Youngblood reports:

--Niklas Backstrom said his knee is fine, that the reason he sat was because of a minor injury he got in the Nashville game. Lower body. Said he should be OK for Tuesday, but will re-evaluate Tuesday. He also said nice things about Marco Scandella in regards to the collision in practice the other day.

--Antti Miettinen didn't talk to the media, but it was relayed through the team that he should be OK to play.

 

--Josh Harding skated for the first time since his torn ACL and MCL, said it was great and at least two-plus weeks ahead of schedule. Joked that he and James Sheppard are competing to see who gets back healthy first.

 

--Optional skate, six skated: Scandella, Spurgeon, Stoner, Clutterbuck, Staubitz, O’Sullivan.

Back to Russo live: Nice to see O'Sullivan skating in the last two optionals. In Denver Dec. 23, he was one of two players who didn't skate during an optional before that game. The other was Marty Havlat. I'll just say, O'Sullivan's not in a position to be taking optionals off.

Trust me, coaches notice that stuff. OK, have to write.

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