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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Backstrom doubtful to start vs. Vancouver; Scandella suffers gruesome ear injury

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild practice Updated: January 15, 2011 - 4:12 PM

Update: For the reasons I mentioned below, Cory Schneider will reportedly start for Vancouver. He's 2-0 against the Wild with a 0.86 goals against average and .956 save percentage.

Afternoon from Chateau de Russo. Wild practiced this morning at the X, and spirits seemed good despite last night's disappointing loss in a game the Wild deserving something better.

This is pro sports though.

Nobody's going to feel bad for the Wild, especially Sunday's opponent, the oh-so confident Vancouver Canucks, who have sustained ONE regulation loss since Dec. 5.

This is Vancouver's first visit since Oct. 19, the game the Wild smoked the Canuckleheads, 6-2, and the game Rick Rypien reached into the stands to attack a Wild fan. Rypien is no longer with the Canucks due to personal reasons, so there goes that storyline.

That game, the Wild sliced and diced my bud Roberto Luongo, something that often happens at the X.

Lifetime in St. Paul, Luongo is 3-9-2 with a 3.56 goals against average (his second-highest GAA in an opposing bldg) and .873 save percentage (his worst save pct. in an opposing bldg). He's been yanked three or four times at least.

And keep in mind, Luongo's first-ever visit to the X with Florida was in Oct. 2000 when he pitched a 0-0 shutout against Jamie McLennan. I was there, not covering the Wild, but covering America's team, the Florida Panthers.

Luongo's a lot different goalie now than he was in October. If Luongo gets the start Sunday, he takes in a 21-8-4 record with a 2.33 goals against average and .922 save percentage.

And Vancouver's a lot different team than it was in October. In fact, the Canucks smoked the Wild, 5-1, three nights after the 6-2 loss in beautiful Van. That made their record 3-3-2. Today, Alain Vigneault and Mike Gillis' squad is 29-9-6.

I'm no math genius, but I think that Wild win put the Canucks on a 27-6-4 run. The Sedin Twins have been awesome. Daniel's got 57 points to go with 27 goals. Henrik, the defending Hart winner, has 55 points. Ryan Kesler's had a tremendous year with 24 goals, eight on the power play. Every time I watch the Canucks, defenseman Christian Ehrhoff is a horse from the back end, and he was plus-4 I believe in that October rematch vs. the Wild.

The Canucks have a plus-44 goal differential (sick). The Canucks have a 24.4 power-play success rating (sick). The Canucks have the fourth-best penalty kill.

The Canucks have few weaknesses, so even though everybody's waiting to see if they can prove it in the playoffs, I'll stand by my preseason prediction of Vancouver winning the Stanley Cup (that pick seemed to agitate many Wild fans strangely enough).

Anton Khudobin will likely get his second straight start. Niklas Backstrom practiced today, but afterward, he said he'd feel more comfortable with more game-like situations. After all, this was Backstrom's first practice since aggravating his hip injury Jan. 6 and he hasn't started since injuring himself Dec. 31.

But Backstrom said he was feeling better and relieved it's not a major injury. Richards officially said they'd see how Backstrom was doing tomorrow morning to decide if he can start or back up. If he can't backup, Matt Hackett, who's expected to start in Houston tonight, will be recalled to back up Khudobin.

Also, Marco Scandella suffered a horrific ear injury last night in the third period. His right ear was completely split, and it took 25 stitches to sew it back up. Looks hideous this morning. He tried to practice but eventually left the ice looking kinda loopy. Richards said the team would decide today if it calls up another defenseman or just re-inserts Cam Barker in the lineup.

Truthfully, if it was up to Richards, I've got a feeling he'd prefer the former, maybe even Maxim Noreau, whom I wrote about today. Or, maybe they just put Jared Spurgeon on Scandella's spot on the power play and dress Barker but not play him on the power play. We will see.

Richards shuffled the lines a bit today. Essentially, Martin Havlat and Pierre-Marc Bouchard have been split, I think to get Matt Cullen going. Cal Clutterbuck moved up to play with Havlat and Kyle Brodziak, Bouchard moved down to play with snakebit Eric Nystrom and snakebit Matt Cullen. Bouchard has two goals in his return, too. The Snakebit line.

Nystrom was burying em in practice though today and has had a ton of quality chances lately. It's got to be coming for him if he keeps going to the net like this.

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