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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Random Wild thoughts

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild practice Updated: February 2, 2011 - 12:48 PM

Greetings from the brand-spanking new Delta Sky Club at MSP (worth the wait of renovation), where I'm about to head to Denver. The Wild leaves in an hourish.

Jose Theodore (why won't the italics disengage!!!) will start Thursday night in his old stomping ground to start a two-game road trip that ends at Phoenix on Saturday.

I mentioned last night that my cynical radar was up as to why the Wild would start him with Niklas Backstrom en fuego. I wrote that the Wild needs him playing if it were to perhaps trade him, which is undoubtedly true. But I talked to GM Chuck Fletcher this morning, and he says that has nothing to do with starting Theodore though.

Like Todd Richards said last night, the Wild has a ton of games coming, including back-to-backs where the goalies will split, and the Wild simply needs to get Theodore playing again. In fact, Fletcher said he is not looking to trade Theodore. Obviously everything depends on what offers are if there are offers and where the Wild is in the standings by Feb. 28. But unless an offer for Theodore knocks his socks off, Fletcher indicated he's keeping him.

In fact, Fletcher is very happy with this group and wants to make the playoffs with this group, so unless somehow the Wild falls off the map the next few weeks (not bloody likely), I don't see Fletcher trading his potential unrestricted free agents for picks (unless the offers are too good to pass up). And, the Wild's not mortgaging the future for any pickups (i.e. trade a first-round pick or Mikael Granlund or something like that).

More on that in Thursday's paper.

Couple other random thoughts:

1. How good is Jared Spurgeon? Broken record already, but again, fabulous game last night. Played a career-high 19-plus minutes, at one point saved the day by stick-checking a puck into the netting after Cam Barker got caught and Wayne Simmonds walked around forward Brad Staubitz, again clobbered by Ryan Smyth and Alexei Ponikarovsky and nonchalantly skates away with the puck. Now he's playing the power-play point, which has been his forte his entire young career. You can see he's getting more confident there, making plays, jumping up. Who knows where he'll be in a few weeks with more power-play time. Good find by the Wild.

2. How good is Clayton Stoner becoming? No doubt aided by the calming influence of Greg Zanon as a partner, but Stoner continues to be steady, strong, physical, blocks shots, positioned well. Leads the team with a plus-7.

3. Got a few emails saying that Niklas Backstrom got lucky as pucks often whistled by the net. The only times he got lucky in my opinion were those posts late, but if you don't understand Backstrom's game by now, you simply never will. I've covered dozens of goalies, some great ones, too, from Vanbiesbrouck to Luongo to Vernon to Roloson and Fernandez and Theodore. There was Trevor Kidd and Kirk McLean and ... I've covered the league for years and have seen tons of goalies. There are few I've ever seen that is more aware of where his net is than Backstrom. 

He knows his angles. He knows where his post are. If pucks are whistling by, it's simply because he's on his post. In other words, it wasn't because he didn't see the shots, it's because he knew where the posts were and didn't chase the shot down.

He's quiet and clean in net. He's not Anton Khudobin, in other words, with all due respect to the goalie. Different styles. Just saying, Backstrom didn't get lucky last night because Jack Johnson literally missed the net seven times through overtime and Backstrom looked not to see some of them. Now, he did get lucky on the Johnson skate save in the shootout, which he admitted. There's your rant, or mini-rant, for today

I better run for my flight. Please check out Thursday's article. And if you want Avs info today, check out Adrian Dater's blog at the Denver Post site. He reported Peter Mueller (concussion) skated today.

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