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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Erik Haula is on his way to meet the Iowa Wild in Abbotsford, B.C. He has been reassigned by the Wild after recording two assists in six games.
The Wild has the day off today and will head to Anaheim on Tuesday for practice at 2 p.m. PT at the Honda Center. I'll come to you afterward with updates, so it'll be a bit of a later blog than normal.
As of now, the Wild says it plans to head west with its 12 forwards and what I'm guessing is its soon-to-be-officially seven defensemen because Matt Dumba is about to be loaned to Team Canada.
I still suspect the Wild will call up a forward at some point during the road trip though with no extras -- and it wouldn't shock me if it's before.
After hearing Mike Yeo's honest appraisal of the second line last night, I figured maybe Haula would move up to the second line and center Nino Niederreiter and Charlie Coyle or Jason Pominville in Anaheim.
But maybe this Haula move signifies that Jason Zucker is about to return. It wouldn't be surprising if the Wild waited until Tuesday to make that move because in the NHL, cap space is tabulated on a daily basis and since Zucker is in B.C. right now, there's no use bringing him to Minnesota when he could just fly south to Cali.
As of now, unless there's a recall of Zucker or another forward before Wednesday in Anaheim, Mike Rupp will return to the lineup.
If Zucker is recalled, I'd suspect Dany Heatley drops to the fourth line. We shall see. Again, much of this is conjecture mostly because Haula's demotion without a corresponding move makes little sense to me.
No, to answer a few Twitter questions, the Wild did not send down Haula to claim Pierre-Marc Bouchard on waivers from the Islanders. I can all but promise you that. And since Mikael Granlund hasn't been skating let alone practicing, the Haula demotion doesn't mean he is returning in Anaheim.
Talk to you from Anaheim. If there's any more updates today or the Haula demotion becomes clearer, I'll update blog.
As somebody said to me on Twitter a little bit ago, “this is the opposite of former Wild clubs. Used to outshoot teams and lose 4-1.”
I just found it humorous because it’s pretty true.
Tonight, the Wild somehow managed to be outshot 38 (most at home this year)-13 (fewest home or away this year) and take a 3-1 victory from the San Jose Sharks. Wild's actually 6-0 in its past six at home against San Jose.
Good evening from the X, where the Wild bounced back kinda sorta from Friday’s 4-0 loss at Columbus. I say kinda sorta because I’m not sure we can say the Wild’s game returned to form, but a win’s a win in this conference and against a great Sharks team.
I wouldn’t say the Wild got dominated tonight, but the team certainly spent the night mostly defending. Josh Harding made 37 saves, including all 21 in the second period.
Yet, after that period, Harding was outsaving (ripped that off from a Twitter follower too) counterpart Antti Niemi 32-9.
Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu gave the Wild a 2-0 lead, and after Patrick Marleau scored with an extra attacker with 1:41 left, Parise scored an empty-netter for his 14th goal, tying Jason Pominville.
The big story of the night is just how difficult a time the Wild had getting to the offensive zone. The top line spent a good portion of the night there, but Parise said it was hard generating any chances because of the unique Larry Robinson defensive-zone coverage overload the Sharks use.
Robinson coached this in New Jersey when Parise was there and now the Hall of Fame defenseman is associate coach in San Jose. I’d diagram the overload to you, but you should have come to the Star Tribune Chalk Talk before the game to watch Wes Walz actually diagram it.
“It felt like we were defending an awful lot,” coach Mike Yeo said. “Our execution wasn’t good enough. Too many broken plays in the neutral zone, too many turnovers in the neutral zone allowing them just to counter right back.”
Still, everybody from Harding on out to Yeo felt the Wild defended real well and were sharp in its zone, making proper reads on rushes and keeping pucks to the outside. The D also did a great job keeping San Jose’s talented, big forwards at bay when Harding did leave rebounds.
Harding improved to 16-4-3 and was 1:41 away from his second shutout in three starts. His goals-against average is now a league-best 1.50 and his save percentage of .938 is tied for second. His 16 wins are tied for second. Apparently the top guy, Corey Crawford with 17, got hurt tonight for Chicago. That’s huge because Nikolai Khabibulin is also hurt.
Harding is now 13-1 with a 1.25 goals-against average and .945 save percentage at home.
“He made all the saves, played great,” Joe Pavelski said. “But we didn’t do a good enough job getting to him. Shots just hit him. But he was in all the right places.”
Harding really got into a groove though in the second and made some beauties, including two gloves on Pavelski and Tomas Hertl. He was seeing deflections. He was so confident, he twice himself cleared the zone up the gut, one a PK clear actually, one a pass on the Wild’s yucky power play.
But the penalty kill tonight was great and built momentum. Matt Cooke was a stud on it, at one point eating 15 seconds in the offensive-zone corner by outworking three Sharks the way Charlie Coyle did against Philadelphia last week.
The next shift, Parise scored after Marco Scandella, who played well alongside Jared Spurgeon (also was great), saved the zone and shot a puck that deflected off Pominville. Parise, who earlier in the shift slashed the stick out of Justin Braun’s hands, scored on the rebound.
The four refs did huddle to discuss if Pominville inhibited Niemi’s ability to make the save. They decided he didn’t.
“Yeah I think I was bumped. I’m not sure where it happened or if they did it on purpose or not, but it affected the play, for sure,” said Niemi, who said the ref told him he was outside the crease at the time.
A few minutes later, Dany Heatley forced a turnover and Spurgeon set up Koivu.
Heatley was in the middle of a lot of good and bad and Yeo is clearly getting frustrated with the turnovers. He had one turnover that resulted in a near Logan Couture goal then Coyle turnover. He had another turnover that led to an icing. After winning that draw, he put the puck in the Sharks bench. A second after that draw, Clayton Stoner high-sticked Couture.
Yeo met with the entire second line and especially Heatley on Saturday to talk to them about getting pucks deep and not creating momentum for the other team. Heatley needs to start simplifying the game and just dump pucks at this point.
That line actually had some good offensive-zone shifts tonight and Heatley some chances. He also drew a power play after Nino Niederreiter drove the net and Niemi turned him away.
That’s it for now. Matt Dumba, who is away from the team today because of family reasons, will be loaned to Team Canada for the world juniors.
The Wild has the day off Monday before heading to Anaheim on Tuesday for practice. I will be in studio at KFAN on Monday from 10:20-11 a.m.
I’ll next talk to you on here after practice in Anaheim on Tuesday – barring news. Big road trip coming up to Anaheim, San Jose and Denver.
Afternoon on this beautiful Saturday here in the Twin Cities. Not a cloud in the minus-8 degree sky.
The Wild practiced down at St. Thomas Academy today since it took the day off Friday in Columbus. The goal today was to reset after its 4-0 beating against the Blue Jackets.
“It looked like we were ready to put it past us,” coach Mike Yeo said. “We had a good, crisp practice out there. Guys were sharp executing. There’s no point dwelling on it, but you certainly do want to use it too at the same time.”
The Sharks took the day off after back-to-back road losses at Pittsburgh and Carolina, and both the Wild and Sharks should expect motivated opponents during Sunday’s 5 p.m. game. I just watched coach Todd McLellan’s postgame news conference here from Raleigh.
He was not a happy camper, saying the team is lacking energy, jump, has been sloppy, not making defensive reads that it should be doing in its sleep. He says it’s either laziness or fatigue and they have to figure out which.
Tough talk from one of the best teams in the NHL, so the Wild may want to buckle up and do the engaging Sunday rather than the reacting because the Sharks will likely come out hard. The Wild plays the Sharks in two of the next three games as it opens a three-game road trip Wednesday in Anaheim. It then plays in San Jose on Thursday.
Josh Harding vs. Antti Niemi Sunday. Zenon Konopka, scratched in the past two games, will center the Wild’s fourth line. In practice Saturday, Yeo rotated in and out Mike Rupp, Erik Haula and Justin Fontaine, so one of them will be scratched because Yeo’s plan is to go with the same top three lines of recent games.
That means despite a poor game by the Nino Niederreiter-Charlie Coyle-Dany Heatley line last night, the three won’t be broken up to start Sunday’s game.
“If we’re going to ask our players to throw that game in the garbage and get refocused and reset, we have to be willing to, too,” Yeo said. He noted the Wild scored four times Thursday against Chicago, so he doesn’t think it’s time to start scrambling his lines based on one clunker.
He said he met with the three forwards today and say they must recognize how they’ve been successful and that’s playing deep in the offensive zone.
“They got away from that bigtime in that game last night,” Yeo said.
Heatley especially was turning pucks over and Yeo said he met with him specifically about that.
“He’s a goal scorer at heart and that’s part of what’s made him successful, but at the same time, when you’re focused on that, you can lose sight on some of the things you need to do to be effective. Even talking to him this morning, I told him the strength of his game lately was playing in the offensive zone, below the top of the circles and around the net and ‘you’re just hurting yourself. The more turnovers, the more time you’re in the defensive zone.’”
Yeo said Coyle, who has three goals in 19 games, is just not playing with the same “confidence level” as last year, but “this was the best he’s looked in practice in a lot time. I talked to him this morning and I think he’s just playing with his head right now too much. He’s got to go out there and remember what makes him successful, and that’s winning battles, being strong on the puck, aggressive on the forecheck and being hard around the net. He’s got to focus on those things.”
Coyle has won 34 percent of his faceoffs this season. In the past seven games, he has won 23 percent and lost eight of nine last night. After practice today, Konopka and assistant coach Darby Hendrickson, a former center, worked with Coyle on faceoffs. Konopka has the NHL’s top faceoff winning percentage since he has been in the NHL (65 percent).
“I just told him he has the resources to take a lot of draws in practice against me and Brodzy (Kyle Brodziak). Repetition is, I think, the best thing for him. The more he can take against us, the better he’s going to get. You see it all the time with young players in this league, it takes awhile to adapt to the faceoff circle. You see it throughout the league.”
The best example is Sidney Crosby. His first two years in the NHL, he was at around 45 percent and 49 percent. He has worked hard on draws since, has been above 50 percent every year since and routinely takes the most draws in the NHL.
“I told Charlie if things don’t go well in the circle, don’t reinvent the wheel,” Konopka said. “Just understand what works and what’s your highest percentage to winning that draw.”
Konopka said he talks with Brodziak and Mikko Koivu all the time about faceoffs and “we have to get Charlie more involved with those discussions He’ll be fine.”
And, you know he will.
Coyle said, “Faceoffs are a big part of the game and if I’m not winning them and the team’s not winning, it’s less possession for us, so it’s a huge thing. Definitely something I have work on. I haven’t been the best at it. I just have to get back to being confident in the circle.”
Coyle also said of his line that they’re a bunch of big bodies and they just have to get back to getting down on the forecheck, working the puck down low and on cycles and play in the offensive zone.
“We didn’t do a lot of that last night,” Coyle said.
That’s it for me. No morning skate with the 5 p.m. puck drop Sunday. Remember, if you want to come to the Chalk Talk with Wes Walz and I and attend the Sharks game, go to www.wild.com/chalktalk.
Michelangelo wouldn’t have been able to sculpt or paint the Wild’s display into anything slightly tonight.
One night after rallying to beat the defending Stanley Cup champ Chicago Blackhawks at home, the Wild walked into Columbus and had the letdown of all letdowns during a 4-0 loss.
The Blue Jackets dominated, setting an early tone by testing the Wild physically, and honestly it was real obvious early that the Wild 1) had trouble finding its legs after playing the night before, wasn’t clean coming out of its own end, had trouble generating anything through the neutral zone and other than the top line, there was just no decent pressure all night.
Read the game story on www.startribune.com/wild for most of Mike Yeo’s quotes (he said it was the worst game of the year and one for the garbage) and some good ones from Keith Ballard and Zach Parise, but here’s a good one that describes the night from Clayton Stoner: “Coming out of our end, it was always chip-chip with them finishing the body. In the neutral zone, we weren’t even that clean there. We had trouble getting any momentum.”
The Wild looked like it may have found its legs late in the first on a couple chances by Jason Pominville and Nino Niederreiter, but nope. Niklas Backstrom gave up a knuckling goal 1:17 into the second and it was all Columbus from there.
The Wild gave up a season-high 41 shots one night after Chicago registered a season-low 19. It was also a season-high shots for Columbus, which has two straight shutouts. But Curtis McElhinney barely had to exert himself tonight in place of injured Sergei Bobrovsky.
The second line of the Wild was lousy tonight. Dany Heatley was minus-3 and is now minus-10 on a mostly plus team. Niederreiter was minus-3 and Charlie Coyle was minus-2. Jared Spurgeon, who turned the puck over for the first goal, and Marco Scandella were each minus-2.
The Wild just lost battle after battle tonight and was so sloppy coming out of its end.
Prior to the game, Yeo talked about how anxious he was to get Backstrom back in the net for his seventh start since Oct. 8.
“The biggest thing for us now is to try to get him into a rhythm, to hopefully get him to play more than one out of every three weeks,” Yeo kidded beforehand.
Backstrom’s performance won’t lessen Josh Harding’s workload. He just isn’t as clean as the Backstrom of yesteryear. He served up rebounds and allowed four goals – two long ones. Yeo said the way the Wild played in front of him, “we didn’t give him a chance.”
Backstrom said, “I feel OK out there. You have to find a way when you get a chance to play to be at your best. I approach it the same way, whether I play every night or every second week.”
On the fact he just doesn’t look like the Backstrom of old (rebounds, not swallowing pucks), he said, “I feel good. Some games it’s tougher to swallow the puck when you don’t see it or they’re tipped. Other nights it’s easier when you see it. It’s always what happens in the game that affects you.”
But Backstrom was hardly the lone culprit on this evening.
The Wild fed right into Columbus’ aggressive gameplan by turning pucks over, which allowed the Jackets to continually get pucks behind the Wild and wear down the defensemen. It just got harder and harder to execute, and it started with retrievals and exits.
Finally with the game out of reach, Ryan Suter was kept on the bench to give him a rare rest. He logged 23:37, his second-lowest ice time of the season by 10 seconds.
“The easiest thing to do is sit here and make that excuse,” Yeo said of a big, emotional win the night before against the Blackhawks. “We’ve all seen games where there are letdowns after emotional wins, we can sit here and point to the fact that we played last night, but I don’t think we should allow that to be an excuse at all for us. We’ve proven in back-to-back games that we have the conditioning and the game where we can be effective.”
Yeo said with and without the puck, “this is the worst game we played this year.”
Yeo praised the top line but said, “We needed a lot more from the whole group tonight.”
Wild has now been down by a 2-0 score in five of the past seven games and six straight losses. The Wild is now 0 for 5 this year on 5-on-3’s. The Wild had a 72-second one tonight with the chance to rally from 2-0 down and didn’t even get a shot on goal.
This was the first of eight of 10 away from the X for Minnesota. It is now 5-6-3 on the road. One of the rare home games coming up is Sunday’s 5 p.m. date with the high-powered, fast San Jose Sharks. Wild has some regrouping to do during Saturday’s important practice.
I’ll talk to you after that one.
Good morning to ya from chilly, snowy Columbus, although I know it's nothing like Minnesota right now. Wild visits the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight. Due to playing last night and the team's early-morning arrival into the Buckeye State, there is no morning skate. Mike Yeo's pregame availability is later at 4:45 p.m. ET., so I'll tweet out any lineup changes then.
Guess what! My planned Sunday Insider suddenly fell through, so I need your help.
I thought this would be a good opportunity for another Russo's Rants Blog Q and A.
Here's the rules as always: Ask away.
But remember, space is a premium in Sunday's paper -- this Sunday especially -- so make the questions short, snappy and easy to answer. Please also scour the questions so there aren't repeats. Also, please don't use this blog to comment (this way, I can easily pick out questions). If you want to chat about the team or last night's game, check out Rachel's postgame blog last night below this one.
As always, I reserve the right to edit your question (shorten for space).
Thanks so much and ASK AWAY because this will be an expedited one since I need to get my Sunday Insider in this afternoon.
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