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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Math update after the Wild’s 1-0 win tonight here in Calgary (the first time this season the Flames have been shut out):
8th-place Calgary is on pace for 92 points
9th-place Los Angeles is on pace for 92.25
That means the Wild, which has a .521 points percentage (50 points out of a possible 96), would need to grab 43 out of a possible 68 points in the final 34 games to eclipse that pace. That’s a .632 pace – or 6.3 out of every 10 points needed (although to be safe, it’d behoove the Wild to increase that pace so it doesn’t face must-win games in the final road trip of the season to, gulp, Chicago, Nashville and St. Louis).
How much better moods are coaches and players after victories?
Coach Mike Yeo hilariously answered the first question in his postgame presser, “I’m just here so I don’t get fine,” an ode to the Seahawks’ Marshawn Lynch, who answered every question he faced during Super Bowl Media Day that way.
Zach Parise scored his 20th goal of the season 8:59 into the first period and the mini-breakaway in which he outwaited Jonas Hiller to get him to open up his five-hole came off the terrific work by Thomas Vanek.
First, Vanek outmuscled a Flames player to help win a Mikael Granlund faceoff, then he turned and fired on net. When the puck popped up high, Jonas Brodin did a great job to walk down the wall before backhanding the puck into the corner. Vanek slyly slipped in front of Johnny Gaudreau and picked off Mark Giordano’s outlet pass with one arm to get the puck to Parise all alone with Hiller.
“That’s why we call [Vanek] Selke,” said Parise, a sarcastic nickname about the offensive-minded Vanek referring to the NHL’s defensive forward award. I asked Parise if that’s true, and with a big laugh, Parise said, “Well, that’s what I call him.”
Comically, after Parise left the locker room and took a right turn down a hallway, he walked head-on into Vanek and just gave him a big smile with Vanek having no clue what the smile regarded.
Good work by the Wild tonight, who put together an awesome first period, a good first 12 minutes of the second period and an even third until Calgary predictably pressured late.
Devan Dubnyk was terrific for his second shutout in six starts with Minnesota. The Calgary hometown dude made 30 saves for his 11th career shutout, stopped 10 in a row at one point in the second period and stopped eight of eight shots in the third period against the highest-scoring third-period team in the NHL.
He stopped Paul Byron on a third-period breakaway, Gaudreau from between the circles and Mikael Backlund in the last few seconds from the doorstep.
Just gigantic that the Wild won this game in regulation.
“We recognized the importance of this game and put a lot into it,” Yeo said. “That’s a really good team over there. We needed Duby to come up big in some situations. I thought we weathered some storms.:
Yeo said Hiller was also very good and even though he still wasn’t overly thrilled with the Wild’s puck management or wall play, he liked how the Wild defended and said the players remained composed and protected the areas in the D-zone they needed to protect.
With two days off before Sunday’s 2:30 p.m. CT game at Vancouver, the Wild may scrap practice Friday. If it does, you won’t probably get a blog from me unless there’s news and you’ll next hear from me Saturday. Otherwise, you’ll hear from me Friday.
Wild had a big chance to sweep this road trip Sunday, and remember, the teams in the Pacific like Vancouver or San Jose are the ones who would have a chance to fall out into that second wildcard spot. So technically, the Wild’s chasing the Canucks bigtime, too. Vancouver does have two games in hand on the Wild though.
Afternoon from Calgary.
Matt Dumba and Stu Bickel switched places this morning.
After a 6 a.m. flight from Des Moines to Denver and a connection to Calgary, the Wild's 20-year-old defenseman rushed to the Saddledome and took the ice late.
Ryan Suter will be able to play tonight, so it sounds like Dumba will play for Christian Folin because coach Mike Yeo wants Nate Prosser in the lineup for his penalty-kill role.
Dumba was born in Regina, Sask., but moved to Calgary at age 6 or 7. He played several times at the Saddledome as a youth and played his junior hockey up the road in Red Deer, so this will be a "dream come true" tonight.
He'll have about 20 family members here tonight, including his parents and his brother, who is expected to play next year for the WHL Calgary Hitmen, aunts, uncles, little cousins. He'll have several buddies, too.
"It was kind of weird because earlier in the week my buddies were getting hold of me asking if I was getting called up after the AHL All-Star Game, and I really didn't know," Dumba said. "I basically said, 'No, find other plans (laughing).'
"It worked out. Last night I had to keep it on the down low, so I told them not to tweet or put anything on Instagram. Hopefully they'll all be here tonight."
He said he told his mom, "I'll see you tomorrow night, and she was so confused. She started freaking out."
He grew up 20 minutes from the arena and loved the Flames growing up: "Jarome [Iginla] was probably my favorite player."
He said he was up pretty early, "but I'm a really good sleeper on planes. I slept before we took off and through the landing."
Yeo said, "It's an interesting one given his personality. He's typically a guy who's not going to have the type of game where he's not going to be noticed. He wants to have an impact and wants to make a difference every time he's on the ice, and part of that is what makes him an effective player and part of that is still how he has to grow and mature as a player.
"I think the conversation that would be had if he's in the lineup tonight will be similar to what we told him last time. We want you to be impactful, we want you to make plays and try to be a differencemaker, but you have to make sure you understand there's certain times where a more simpler play and letting the game come to you a little bit more is what's needed."
Yeo liked his recent stretch of games before being sent back for the All-Star Game.
Also, Matt Cooke (death in family) arrrived back in Calgary and will play tonight. Erik Haula is the likely scratch.
Good afternoon from beautiful Calgary, where the incredible weather the Wild has gotten in Alberta so far this trip is continuing. Mother Nature is having some fun with the team in anticipation of really lowering the boom on the team and us media wretches when we return in three weeks.
The team did have a bit of a rude welcome to Calgary in the wee hours of the morning. It arrived at its Calgary hotel to the sight of 10 fire trucks and 400 hotel guests littered on the street in front of the hotel. I discovered it during a moment of insomnia (too much coffee) about 2 a.m. when I saw all these angry tweets from hotel guests.
Apparently, there was a contained fire that caused the evacuation for a long, long time, so the Wild found a nearby hotel that had 50 rooms. It checked in for the night, then returned to the original hotel for check-in after today’s practice at the Corral – the old Flames’ barn that used to have Cliff Fletcher as manager and a young (I assume punk) Chuck Fletcher running around in the early-80s.
Cliff’s son, who doubles as the Wild GM, and Wild scout and former Flame Jamie Hislop told some cool stories about the old arena today.
Coincidentally (maybe), a fire alarm went off in the middle of the Wild’s practice.
The Wild best be ready to work against the hard-working Flames Friday. This is a team with two terrific blue-liners in Mark Giordano and TJ Brodie, a couple high-flying kids in Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, goalie Jonas Hiller and a team that plays with Brian Burke-like truculence (lead the league in blocked shots) and resilience (lead the league in third-period goals).
Defenseman Ryan Suter, whom I think I mentioned on last night’s blog was limping around after the game, didn’t practice today. Coach Mike Yeo said he had some discomfort and was told not to practice today. But he said he thinks Suter will be OK and that the team is operating under the assumption he’ll be able to play Thursday night against Calgary.
Left wing Matt Cooke left the team and returned home due to a death in the family, Yeo said. I’m not sure if home means Vancouver or back to Minnesota. Cooke did sprint out of the arena after the game presumably to catch a red-eye. However, Yeo said he is expected back in Calgary on Thursday and is expected to play and I have a pretty good hunch Yeo is right on this one.
If for some reason Cooke doesn’t make it back, Erik Haula will draw back into the lineup.
By the way, just a reminder, now that the Wild is carrying three goalies, this will hamstring the team roster-wise until rosters expand after the March 2 trade deadline. The Wild plans to carry one extra forward and one extra defenseman on the 23-man roster, and this is the new reality, Fletcher said.
Where the Wild could run into problems is with illnesses, short-term injuries or personal situations like Cooke is dealing with. If the team has situations where it can’t or doesn’t want to put players on injured reserve (seven days), there will be some inflexibility at times.
For instance, if Suter doesn’t play Friday but it isn’t serious enough to put him on IR, the Wild either must use Stu Bickel or quickly today send Bickel back to Iowa and get up a different D.
And just to be clear if you’re confused, Darcy Kuemper, even though he is on a conditioning stint, is still part of the 23-man roster, is still a cap charge to the team, is still being paid his NHL salary (one-way contract mandates that regardless). If conditioning stints allowed teams to remove a player from its active roster, teams could manufacture conditioning stints anytime it has roster issues. So that’s the reason for that.
So, Zach Parise’s wife, Alisha, apparently isn’t freaking out about his face taking a beating. She was able to fall asleep before speaking to her husband last night. But Parise did have to calm the nerves of his mom and aunt, he said, laughing.
“They were a little more concerned,” Parise said.
Parise also told me he had a root canal between the first and second periods and it hurt like a you know what.
He did just sent me a text though with a “CORRECTION: They started the root canal last night, didn’t complete it. Just took the nerve out.”
Full root canal. Partial root canal. Whatever. Reason 1,000 why I write and don’t play.
He said the dentist said he had to take the nerve out because his tooth was completely knocked out with the nerve exposed and if he took a drink of water, it would have (figuratively) destroyed him.
Parise, who by the way was almost nailed by another puck in today’s practice (luckily Jason Zucker unknowingly saved him), survived the scare pretty good. He’s having trouble eating though. I’m doing my Sunday Insider on Martin Brodeur, and when I was interviewing Parise, he was eating a sandwich by ripping off pieces and sticking them in the left part of his mouth.
It was a salami and cheese sandwich, for those wondering.
How detailed is this blog????
ChAHlie Coyle said he got about 50 texts and what the kid’s call Snapchats from family members and buddies that I assume all Snapchat sounding like the characters from Good Will Hunting about his highlight-reel goal last night.
I’ll admit, when Coyle didn’t center himself and it started to become clear to me that he was going to bypass the net, I may have blurted out in the press box to my colleague from across the river, “What is he doing???”
Then I was like, “Good play, good play,” and trust me, I’m not the only one. A couple teammates jokingly said the same thing today.
Coyle did have two guys on his tail and astutely knew that Justin Schultz was making a beeline to the center from the bench because Edmonton was on a change.
“It was pretty amazing where he was able to put that puck in from in relation to where his body was,” Yeo said.
It really is. The overhead makes it look like he’s five or six feet beyond the net, yet he deftly and casually reaching back and tucks the puck inside the post. Then, as amazingly, he didn’t crash to the ice.
I asked Yeo today about the way he’s treating and coaching Coyle and Nino Niederreiter right now. They’ve been on the fourth line the last half-dozen games or so.
He’s basically giving them the Jason Zucker treatment right now, only without the ability to send them to the minors because that ship has sailed.
So he’s putting them on the fourth line and trying to teach them to play a complete game. Zucker has developed into a pretty complete player this season and Yeo wants Niederreiter and Coyle to follow suit.
He said he did this to give them a “chance to reset their game,” take pressure off and give them the mindset to get in on the forecheck, play in the offensive zone and simplify things in order to start feeling confident in their games again.
Prior to Coyle’s big goal, I was getting a lot of tweets asking if he was even in the lineup because Yeo was playing him so sparingly in the third period.
“That’s the way it goes when you find yourself on the third and fourth line,” Yeo said. “A lot of times the priority of ice time goes to other people. Ice time to me is irrelevant right now. I know people want to look at that and everything, but to me, if they play eight minutes, if they play 12 minutes, make the most of it and that’s the idea here. I want them feeling excited for their next shift and not assuming that it’s going to come. As we keep doing that, you’ll see that their game will keep coming.”
I have covered, let me do the math now, I think 12 coaches between Florida and Minnesota now and this is the coaching philosophy of most with young kids.
Take for instance the Justin Schultz breakaway last night. He blew by Ryan Carter, but there were mistakes by Coyle and Niederreiter before. Suter had pinched in before falling to the ice deep in the offensive zone to the left of Coyle in the corner. Instead of eating the puck or putting the puck behind the net, he tried to go high with it and that’s when the Oilers flew out of the zone.
Poor puck management.
But Yeo said, “Nino’s got to recognize that he needs to be a better F3,” too, Yeo said. “These are little things, a couple turnovers, these are things that we’re trying to drill in their head.” He said it’s not good enough to make one good play followed by two poor plays. “Eliminate these bad plays,” Yeo said.
Heck, just look at how the Wild scored both its goals last night. Nail Yakupov coughs it up to Justin Fontaine before Niederreiter’s goal. Jordan Eberle coughs it up to Coyle before his big goal.
Nothing changes in Edmonton. It’s the same mistakes over and over and over again by the Oilers’ young kids. Edmonton’s spinning its wheels because they never improve defensively. So Yeo is trying to get his young kids playing a mature, all-around, responsible, two-way game so he can trust putting them on the ice at any time.
Will Yeo’s methods be right? I’ll tell you in two or three years when we see Coyle and Niederreiter as more complete players.
Coyle, by the way, also said too many people make too big a deal about the ice time. He said there never was a point where he was “benched” yesterday, but the nature of the beast when you’re on the fourth line, “Sometimes it works out where your line is ready to go out and there’s a penalty and they go through the rotation again, so that kind of plays into it. I guess it’s tough not getting a regular shift all the time, but you can’t think of it like that. You get two shifts, you get 30 shifts, you have to take advantage of it. that’s how you get better. That’s what I’m trying to do. That’s how it is. You’ve got to work with what you’ve got. I’ve got to earn more ice time. That’s up to me.”
I better write for the paper before my editors kill me.
Zach Parise called it a “boring game.” He said there “was just not much going either way, a lot of chipping pucks, throwing them off glass, not much sustained pressure either way.” He called it kind of a “blah game.”
Yet, there were two major highlights that came from Tuesday’s 2-1 Wild win at Edmonton.
There was this:
The first was Charlie Coyle scoring a tremendous winning goal with 4:23 left that ESPN anchor and birthday boy John Buccigross just DM'ed me was the top play on tonight's SportsCenter. Jordan Eberle, in a tie game, passed the puck into Matt Fraser’s skate and Coyle was right there to turn and counter. His eyes opened when he saw nothing but open ice, but he said he was surprised when goalie Viktor Fasth challenged so aggressively.
Coyle ran out of real estate, but despite being five or six feet behind the net, he used his long reach to tuck the puck inside the post for his seventh career winning goal.
The second was Zach Parise taking a puck to the face in the first period. Spitting up blood, Parise almost humorously reached down with his left arm, picked up one of his bottom-right teeth (may have been a premolar or canine, I’m no dentist) and handed it to athletic therapist Don Fuller.
Parise, whose face has been a magnet starting with that ugly incident at the Garden in October when he took a stick to the face and needed major plastic surgery below his nose and on the right side of the upper lip, had several stitches on his lower lip after the game, the missing tooth. But no lisp.
Sadly, they won’t be able to save Parise’s tooth. He’ll need another fake.
“I thought maybe there was a chance, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to go back in,” Parise, who was back by the start of the second period, said.
Much-needed win by the Wild, which defended real well but didn’t manage the puck well and wasn’t sharp offensively.
Originally, I was writing a big story for Thursday on Nino Niederreiter’s 18-game goal drought. Well, I assumed it would get to 18. It didn’t. He ended a 17-game drought tonight in the first period when Justin Fontaine stole a puck and set Niederreiter up for his first goal since Dec. 16 at the goalmouth.
I had a long chat with him this morning for the interview and he joked that he’d use it as motivation tonight to ruin my story. I said, “Take it as a pep talk.”
After the game, he came out of the locker room with a big smile and said, “That’s exactly what I needed. Our chat sure worked out.”
Now, I guess I’ll write for Thursday on Niederreiter and Coyle, who always seemed to be connected at the hip when it comes to Yeo trying to spur them along, scoring big goals.
Niederreiter said it was a “big relief,” gave Fontaine full props and Yeo also said he was happy with each forward’s overall game for most of the night despite limited ice time. Neither hit 12 minutes.
Devan Dubnyk made 23 saves and is now 4-0 against his old team (three 2-1 wins) and has stopped 113 of 117 shots against the Oilers. He was big in the second period and the only goal of the game that beat him was a cheesy, off-the-mark wraparound that, par for the course, deflected in off a Wild player’s toe – Kyle Brodziak.
Needed win by Minnesota because Calgary won, so the Wild’s still seven back. But Vancouver, Winnipeg and Dallas – three teams the Wild’s chasing – all lost.
Yeo loved the way the Wild competed, from Parise losing a tooth to Mikko Koivu blocking a big shot and having a couple big hits to Mikael Granlund still courageously going to the dirty areas despite coming off injuries (although judge for yourself if you want him to get clobbered the way he does). Nate Prosser, at least for now, seemed to survive a head scare in the third period because he returned to the game. Ryan Suter was limping after the game, but Yeo had no reports of an injury as of his presser.
Onto Calgary. Talk to ya Wednesday.
First off, to answer a question I have received a lot, I asked Bob Waterman from Elias Sports Bureau, historically, is the Wild's seven-point playoff deficit this late in the season a surmountable one?
The biggest comeback came in '93-94 by the Islanders when they were 12 back after 47 games. Last year, Dallas was seven back through 53 games and made the playoffs. The Wild's seven back after 46 games.
As I wrote in today's article here, the Flames, whom the Wild play Thursday, are on pace for 92.4 points, meaning the .500 Wild (46 out of a possible 92 points amassed) would need to grab 47 of a possible 72 points (.653) to eclipse that.
Devan Dubnyk, a 2004 Oilers first-round pick, vs. Viktor Fasth tonight when the Wild and Oilers play their first games after the All-Star break.
Dubnyk is 2-1 in four games with the Wild with a 2.34 goals-against average and .896 save percentage. He got a no-decision in his last start at Detroit, getting pulled after allowing four goals on 10 shots before Darcy Kuemper came in and technically got nailed with the shootout loss because of the Wild’s third-period comeback.
Dubnyk is 11-6-2 this year with a 2.66 GAA and .914 SV%. He is 3-0 this year against Edmonton (all with Arizona) and stopped 90 of 93 shots for a .968 SV% and has a 0.97 GAA.
Fasth is 4-10-2 with a 3.37 GAA and .888 SV%.
Taylor Hall blocked a shot in Monday’s practice and won’t play tonight. The Wild gets Mikael Granlund back tonight. Wild’s completely healthy tonight for the first time in a long time except for Keith Ballard, who remains out indefinitely.
The Wild has won eight of its past nine games in Edmonton.
I’ll be on Fox Sports North during Wild live at 8 p.m. CT and the first intermission. I’ll be the guy with a scratch on his face … from a toothbrush injury. I was brushing too hard because my Uber was waiting yesterday morning and it snapped in half. Luckily it missed my eye and more importantly my typing fingers and nailed my cheek. But I’m going to tough it out tonight because I'm a hockey writer.
Same lines and D pairs as yesterday’s blog.
First game for the Wild in seven days, so coach Mike Yeo said the big emphasis in yesterday’s practice and today’s skate was battle and attention to details and system work.
“You’d expect probably both teams execution wise to not be completely sharp right off the hop,” Yeo said. “Where you’re going to see which team is most successful is how quickly they get to their game.”
This game is always a weird one. I’d presume it’s awfully hard for the goalies, who have seen no pucks for a week besides yesterday and this morning. And you can always tell pretty quickly in a game which players enjoyed the buffet and didn’t hit the workout room during the break, too.
The Wild’s power play has been connecting more and more lately. I’ll update the blog later with the numbers, but it’s pretty much only the No. 1 unit of Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, Thomas Vanek, Ryan Suter and Jason Pominville scoring.
Yeo has not been happy with the second unit, but as long as the first unit is scoring, he’s not looking to break them up for now. So his hope is Granlund’s return will help.
I’ve got to think it’s tough for the second unit to get into rhythms when they’re only getting 35-45 seconds a shift it seems, and that always starts with a regroup obviously.
But besides the lack of production, the failure to protect pucks or just throw them away has been troublesome.
That also is an area where Granlund may help because he has the ability to get the puck up ice on breakouts with speed and control pucks on the half wall.
“If we could get a little more production from that second group, I always like the competition,” Yeo said. “If you have a minute, make sure you get the most of it. With that said, if you’ve got 30 seconds, that’s 30 seconds that somebody else on the team would like to have, so make sure you take advantage of it.
“Getting set up has been tough enough for that group, that’s where I think Granny will make a big difference.”
Granlund was on the No. 2 unit today with Charlie Coyle, Nino Niederreiter and Jason Zucker rotating in and out at the morning skate, so we’ll see which two forwards gets the majority of the ice time tonight. The pointmen are Jared Spurgeon and Jonas Brodin.
Spurgeon is on the left for the one-timers. Why Brodin instead of Marco Scandella, who leads the team with nine goals?
I asked Yeo, and he said, “There will be times where Marco is out there as well, but … if we were setting up on the other side, then it would probably be Marco. But as far as that strongside, it’s a little bit easier for [Brodin] to walk the line and get to the middle of the ice. When we can do that, we’re much more dangerous. Marco is a left shot as well, but he’s a little bit more of an offside shooting guy.”
I'll update those power-play tallies later this afternoon. Talk later tonight.
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