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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Mike Yeo was ticked off tonight, although he used a different word than ticked.
The Wild coach was upset with the officiating and accused the Sharks of embellishing all night during a 3-1 victory over the Wild. The Wild, outscored 14-4 during a five-game road skid (0-4-1), fell to 5-8-3 on the road and dropped to ninth in the West. It is now 1-8 in its past nine in San Jose.
The Sharks got four power plays in the first 12:47 of the game to build a 2-0 lead on goals by Joe Pavelski and Tomas Hertl.
Yeo called Brad Stuart’s “embellishment” on a Justin Fontaine high-sticking penalty “embarrassing.” Yeo felt replays showed it wasn’t a high-stick. Nevertheless, the Sharks scored.
In the second, Zenon Konopka was called for a four-minute high-sticking penalty when replays clearly showed he didn’t high-stick Jason Demers. Konopka went to check Freddie Hamilton and Hamilton high-sticked Demers. Regardless, referee Marc Joannette saw it differently and the Sharks made it 3-0.
Read the game story at www.startribune.com/wild for Yeo’s quotes. He had some good ones.
The Wild felt it outplayed the Sharks at even-strength, and it did have a 26-20 shot advantage in that department, but as has been a broken record all season on the road especially, the Wild can’t score. Four goals in five road games is not going to get it done, and the Wild all night whistled shots wide, passed pucks in skates, tried to make an extra play before taking a shot or couldn’t get shots through.
There was one sequence late in the second that completely embodied the game. The Wild pinned the Sharks in their zone for what seemed like an eternity.
But despite the Sharks breaking two sticks, despite the Sharks constantly failing to clear the zone, the Wild barely made Antti Niemi make a save. It basically tired themselves out.
By the time the Wild players got to the bench after not scoring, Ryan Suter logged a 3:07 shift and Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Jason Pominville and Jared Spurgeon all logged 2 ½-minute shifts.
So, yes, while the officiating was suspect to say the least tonight and while the Sharks may have been diving all over the ice, it’s up to the Wild to actually score some goals. For a team that talks so much about its improved depth, one Mikael Granlund injury has seemed to mess up all the lines.
Yeo indicated before the game he’s tired of breaking up the first line anytime the other lines can’t score, but the second line continues to be dry, the third line may be in the offensive zone for the most part, but the players on that line haven’t been scoring either. Kyle Brodziak’s drought has reached 22 games.
Fontaine hasn’t scored since Nov. 9. Niederreiter has no goals in the last 10. Coyle has three goals this year (Coyle just hasn’t been hard on pucks lately and as you can read in my notebook on www.startribune.com/wild, he is really pressing right now). Torrey Mitchell has one goal this year.
So “doing a lot of good things” isn’t good enough. Scoring goals is essential and this slip in the standings won’t stop unless a Wild team that always has to work super-hard to score finally figures out a way.
Yeo liked Brett Bulmer’s first NHL game in two-plus seasons tonight. He felt he played with an edge, was solid on the wall and was hard to play against. The second line continues to be an issue, although Jonas Brodin’s goal with 7:24 left in the game came with Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle and Fontaine on the ice.
Anyway, very big game in Denver on Saturday as the Wild needs to stop the bleeding. Right now, I’m not sure what the Wild’s schedule will be Friday in Denver. My guess is a very optional practice at Denver University. Anyway, that’s it for me. Very early flight in the morning.
The Wild was so soft on pucks last night, particularly in the offensive zone where it barely took any Anaheim might to knock Wild players off pucks, Brett Bulmer has been recalled from AHL Iowa.
Bulmer, 21, the first of the Wild’s three 2010 second-round picks, had three assists in nine games with the Wild in 2011-12 before being returned to Kelowna of the Western Hockey League. His development has been delayed since because of myriad injuries, including a couple knee injuries, but he has been healthy this season and by all accounts playing well for struggling Iowa.
He leads the Baby Wild with nine goals and 62 shots and is third with 12 points. He arrives in San Francisco around 3 p.m. (flying in from Vancouver; Iowa got trounced by Abbotsford last night and plays them again tonight) and is expected to play tonight against the San Jose Sharks.
Coach Mike Yeo wouldn’t divulge the lines just yet, but it’s very doubtful he breaks up the third line and he made it quite clear he is not yet ready to break up the Zach Parise-Mikko Koivu-Jason Pominville line.
So it sounds like Bulmer will play the right side of the new 21-year-old line with Nino Niederreiter and Charlie Coyle. Jason Zucker will be scratched (more on all this below).
Same defense corps, meaning Nate Prosser will be scratched for the ninth straight game. Mike Rupp is also scratched.
Niklas Backstrom in goal. He is 1-8-1 all-time in San Jose with a 3.68 goals-against average, his second-worst goals-against in any arena (American Airlines Center in Dallas). The Wild is 1-7 in their past eight in San Jose and 2-10-1 in their past 13 here.
The Sharks are 0-3-1 in their past four and will start Antti Niemi tonight. Martin Havlat and Dany Heatley, traded for each other July 3, 2011, are expected to be on their team’s respective fourth lines tonight. Havlat has one year left on his contract. Heatley’s in the last year of his Wild career.
On the 6-2, 212-pound Bulmer, Yeo said, “I want to see what he can bring. We all do. One thing that’s been missing a little bit from some of these road games (5-7-3) is a big body along the wall, puck strength, a guy who brings a bit of an edge. These are all elements to his game when he’s on it.”
Why doesn’t Yeo put Pominville on the second line with Coyle and Bulmer and maybe Niederreiter on the first line?
“Of course there’s been talk, thought, but we kind of go through this every time that when things aren’t working out well enough with the second line, we break up the first line,” Yeo said. “We always do that. That’s always the first thing we go to and then next thing you know you’re kind of weakening your first line. Somebody has to step up. Somebody has to grab that opportunity. Not to say that we won’t go that way (Pominville to Line 2), but the message right now is we need somebody to step up. We can’t just fall back on going back to that. Those guys are doing their job, so somebody else has to step up.”
That is clearly aimed at Niederreiter (no goals and two assists in his past nine games) and Coyle (three goals and eight points this season).
Despite Iowa deploying the same system and the fact Zucker has played here for good chunks of two seasons, Zucker struggled in the neutral zone last night. He now has no points in his past 17 regular-season games.
On Zucker being scratched after being called up to play Anaheim, Yeo said, “I don’t know. There were some good moments. He got a couple shots on net. I don’t want to say he played poorly, but he didn’t demand a spot for himself in the lineup tonight, too. I don’t know if we’re always giving him the best chance, bouncing him in and out of the lineup like this, but at the same time I just want to see somebody come up and just really respect this opportunity and show that you’re not willing to let it slip.”
Yeo didn’t want to “beat up on Zuck,” but that “respect this opportunity” comment was an indictment.
Yeo said simply there’s been “too much where we don’t have the full roster, the full complement of players going out and performing shift after shift.”
He said the fact Anaheim was able to come with speed through the neutral zone time and time and time and time and time … and time again last night was because of “where we’re losing pucks, how we’re losing pucks, it’s making it extremely difficult to defend in those situations.”
He said there was too much watching and watching for somebody else, that they’re not a team that waits for somebody else to track and pressure puck carriers.
He said there was thought of scratching either Clayton Stoner or Keith Ballard after a tough game, but he doesn’t think any play they made or something they did cost the Wild in Anaheim.
Recently, in the second of back-to-backs, Yeo hasn’t even brought the team to the rink. Today, the entire team reported to SAP Center for a meeting. He said a lot of things were addressed in that meeting regarding areas the Wild must improve and “I’m anxious to see how we respond.”
Talk after the game.
The Wild’s road winless streak reached four games Wednesday night when the Anaheim Ducks, the only team in the NHL without a regulation home loss, improved to 12-0-2 at the Honda Center with a 2-1 win.
Jason Pominville’s power-play goal early in the third made it a game again, but in reality, the Wild didn’t play nearly well enough in the first 40 minutes to pull this one out.
I know it’s the Ducks. I know they’re bigger and faster and more skilled with a sniper-and-a-half with the great Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf running hot right now, but this was a disconcerting display.
The Ducks skated through the neutral zone for the first 40 minutes like the Wild was a bunch of pylons. Defensemen had poor gaps all night. And during the Wild’s rare forechecks, it took a gust of wind to knock forwards off pucks.
That is just unacceptable. This wasn’t just a size differential thing. It honestly took no effort at times by Anaheim for Minnesota to just lose pucks in the offensive zone.
The Wild was soft on pucks all night. Coach Mike Yeo agreed.
“Collectively, we’re not strong enough in those situations,” Yeo said. “We’re getting pucks back and then we’re losing it right away. We need some more puck strength, we need a little more urgency, a little bit harder on that puck. It’s always we’re doing one thing right and we’re not following up with another thing right now.”
Early in the third, the Wild finally exited its zone cleanly, got into the offensive zone, made a good play on the wall and drew a power play because of it. Then Pominville, who has been lost at times without injured Mikael Granlund, scored his team-leading 15th goal.
But for the 13th time in 14 games, the Wild drew three or fewer power plays. That one was Minnesota’s only power play of the game.
There have been instances where the refs don’t seem to give the Wild the benefit of the doubt, but this is more an indictment of how the Wild plays. It’s just no aggressive enough. It doesn’t have the puck enough. It’s not in the offensive zone enough.
“Again, we draw one power play,” Yeo said. “Other teams are [either] extremely disciplined against us or we’re not doing enough to draw penalties. We’ve got to force them into situations where we’re drawing more. It’s tough right now when you’re getting one power play, two power plays every game. This has been an unbelievable streak of this. We have to do more to draw more.”
The second line is giving the Wild no offense since Granlund’s concussion (he is skating on his own and working out, GM Chuck Fletcher says, but he’s not close to returning). Tonight, Nino Niederreiter got to the net but couldn’t score. He also wasn’t hard enough on pucks on the wall. Jason Zucker was largely responsible for the game’s opening goal by defenseman Alex Grant, although it was a bad goal surrendered by Josh Harding, who did play great and did everything he could to give the Wild the cushion to find its game. Zucker just seems lost at times with how the Wild plays in all three zones. And Charlie Coyle finally looked like the old Coyle in the third period. Yeo wants him to take charge and in the third, he resembled the player he hasn’t been for much of his time since returning from a sprained knee. Jonas Hiller made a nice save on him on a breakaway in the third with the Wild down 2-1.
Coyle said he got in too tight and wishes he had it back, although Hiller made a nice save on a nice move after Coyle made a great play to create the breakaway for himself. But Coyle knows he needs to do more offensively and I’ll write about that in Thursday’s paper.
The third line was again good tonight. They can’t score for the life of them, but many shifts in the offensive zone and Matt Cooke was physical, surly and played with attitude all game. The Keith Ballard-Clayton Stoner pair had a tough night. It’ll be interested to see if the super-fresh Nate Prosser draws in at San Jose.
Just not good enough tonight against a great Anaheim team. Perry scored the winner for his 21st goal to extend his goal streak to seven games. He had seven shots.
That’s it for me. I’ll come to you from San Jose, although it’s doubtful they’ll have a morning skate. Niklas Backstrom likely the Thursday starter against a Sharks team that has dropped four in a row and will be looking for payback after losing in Minnesota on Sunday.
Afternoon from beautiful Southern California, where it’s sunny with a slight chill in the air.
I’m thinking of putting on a wind breaker.
Wild vs. the red-hot Ducks tonight. Anaheim is 11-0-2 at home.
The Wild had a good, crisp skate this morning, but who knows what that means.
“We recognize the importance of this game and getting this road trip started off the right way,” coach Mike Yeo said. “I feel good that our guys are going to be ready to battle hard tonight.”
The Wild has lost three in a row on the road, having been shut out in two. The Wild has allowed the first goal in six consecutive road games.
“Start the game on time,” Yeo said of what he wants tonight. “And that means your battle level, being ready to skate, being ready to work, having the mindset that we want to get to our game and how you do that. That’s executing the right way, playing a certain way with the puck that helps us get to our game and hurts them getting to theirs.”
Josh Harding vs. Jonas Hiller tonight.
The Wild lines are what I indicated in today’s newspaper, meaning Jason Zucker to the second line with Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter and Dany Heatley to the fourth line with Zenon Konopka and Justin Fontaine. Mike Rupp and Nate Prosser are the lone healthy scratches as Matt Dumba, who had been away from the team for family reasons, was officially assigned to Team Canada today.
That means the Wild’s roster now stands at 22 players and the Wild loses Dumba’s cap hit for at least until it makes the decision to bring him back or not.
I talked with Saku Koivu today about his little bro. Last month I wrote a story about how Team Finland says either Mikko Koivu or Saku Koivu will be Finland’s captain in February’s Winter Olympics. Mikko endorses Saku. Today, basically, Saku endorsed Mikko.
It’s just your good old-fashioned brotherly fight. It’s amazing talking to Saku because despite being way, way older than Mikko (39 vs. 30), the mannerisms and facial expressions between the two are almost identical.
Teemu Selanne also says it’s Mikko’s time and Mikko’s team.
I’ll write more about the Koivus in Thursday’s paper.
Speaking of the ageless wonder and future Hall of Famer who still swears this year’s his swan song, Selanne says the Ducks, “There’s no weaknesses. Right now we’re just playing with a lot of confidence, and even with a lot of injuries. Even last year, all the success we had was using our depth. We have a lot of depth on our team. Everybody’s doing their job. That’s what it takes. You always reminded that you’re only as good as your weakest link and we don’t really have weak links right now. That’s a good sign, but there’s still levels we can reach. We want to keep pushing ourselves.”
I’ll also have some Selanne gold on teammate Corey Perry either Thursday or Sunday. Remember, Wild GM Chuck Fletcher was in Anaheim’s front office when the Ducks traded two seconds to Dallas to get an extra first to take Perry in 2003 at 28th overall. Same draft the Ducks drafted Ryan Getzlaf. Completely transformed this franchise.
I’ll also have some stuff on Kyle Brodziak in Thursday. He plays his 500th game tonight and coach Mike Yeo is very happy with Brodziak’s season after a down year last year. Obviously, Brodziak’s not scoring goals (20 games without one; and if you expect him to score goals, you're always going to be disappointed), but he’s been on a third line that has been solid all year defensively. Remember, there was a stretch where Brodziak and Cooke were on the ice for two goals against at even-strength in a 12-game stretch.
I’ll be on KFAN at 4:15 p.m. CT.
Good afternoon from the O.C., where the Wild practiced this afternoon and where I just shot Wednesday's Wild Minute poolside, you know, just to rub it in.
The Wild plays the front end of a back-to-back at 9:30 p.m. CT against the too-legit-to-quit Anaheim Ducks.
Anaheim is 11-0-2 at home, the only team in the NHL without a regulation home loss. Corey Perry, who is tied for second in the league with 20 goals, has goals in a career-long six straight games. Ryan Getzlaf has points in 14 straight, although it's technically a 12-game streak because he missed time in there with an injury.
Coach Mike Yeo doesn't get last change on the road, so he said the Wild need a team effort to stop that high-flying line and the high-flying Ducks. He wants heavy minutes from "big centers" Mikko Koivu, Charlie Coyle, Kyle Brodziak and Zenon Konopka.
Yeo usually doesn't mind going top line vs. top line, especially because his top-line guys -- Koivu, Zach Parise and Jason Pominvillle -- can all defend and spend time working the puck deep in the offensive zone. Typically though, he likes to match up Brodziak, Matt Cooke and Torrey Mitchell against top lines and obviously defensemen Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin.
As expected, the Wild has recalled Jason Zucker and as I guessed in Monday's blog and Tuesday's paper, the Newport Beach, Calif., native is indeed on the second line with fellow 21-year-olds Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter. Dany Heatley, who has committed some glaring turnovers especially the past two games, has been downgraded to the fourth line with Zenon Konopka and Justin Fontaine.
Heatley is a team-worst minus-8 on the road. Yeo said he hasn't talked to Heatley about the demotion, but he did talk to Heatley about the turnovers prior to the recent San Jose game and he said this is just not a Heatley thing, it's a team thing.
"I think our entire group, this was a focal point for our [video] meeting before [practice]," Yeo said. "We just can't continue to turn pucks over in the neutral zone, we can't continue to turn pucks over on the wall and expect to No. 1 win games, but to create offense, to get to the offensive zone, to draw penalties. All these areas where we’re lacking – the shots on goal, the chances, the drawing penalties -- it’s all a direct result of the neutral-zone turnovers we’ve had lately. It's a focus for everybody."
Yeo said Heatley will be worked into other lines at times, and reminded that when Heatley found his game last month, it came because he helped elevate the fourth line. Heatley declined to talk to the media today.
The new power-play units: No. 1 -- Zach Parise-Mikko Koivu-Jason Pominville (down low) with Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon up top. No. 2 -- Dany Heatley-Charlie Coyle-Justin Fontaine with Keith Ballard and Jonas Brodin up top.
Yeo said the No. 2 unit may have Niederreiter and Zucker worked into it at times, but it needs to have Fontaine there because Heatley, Niederreiter and Zucker aren't prototypical half-wall guys and Fontaine can work the puck and distribute. The Wild also wants to have two righties on each unit. It needs Coyle on the second unit for faceoffs.
The one interesting bit of news is Matt Dumba's Western Hockey League rights have been traded from Red Deer to Portland. I don't buy that Winterhawks head honcho and coach Mike Johnston did this without a little intel from the Wild, although assistant GM Brent Flahr today and GM Chuck Fletcher the other day both said that absolutely no decision has been made as to whether to return Dumba to juniors after the world junior championships.
But as I reported a few weeks ago, it's up in the air if Dumba returns to Minnesota afterward. If the Wild is completely healthy and he's going to continue to be an extra defenseman, it makes little sense to have him eat popcorn in the press box. He has been scratched 19 times and in eight in a row (he is expected to join Team Canada in Toronto on Wednesday for camp, although Dumba does have a family situation he's tending to right now, so that may be on hold).
Portland is the best team in the Western Hockey League and a league and Memorial Cup contender.
It would be huge for Dumba's development to play there in the second half and potentially go on a long playoff run to prep him for Iowa next season (or maybe Minnesota). I believe the trade is an indication that the 19-year-old won't be coming back, although he could technically still come back if there's a Wild need and later be assigned to Portland, too.
OK, talk to you Wednesday. I should be on XM Home ice at 2:45 p.m. CT Wednesday.
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