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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Defenseman Keith Ballard did not accompany the Wild to our nation's capital this morning.
He will miss the two-game trip that starts Thursday against the Capitals and continues in Raleigh on Saturday with an upper-body injury. Coach Mike Yeo said it is in no way related to the concussion that kept him out of seven games recently and that the team has gotten Ballard checked out and it doesn't believe he'll be sidelined "long-term."
But he was in a lot of pain, Yeo said, so the team obviously left him back. Ballard was back for three games and had three assists before getting hurt again.
With the Wild in need of a right D against the Capitals, Nate Prosser will get the call. Prosser has two assists in five games and is plus-3.
He played well during a recent four-game stretch before being removed again because of the return of Ballard and Jonas Brodin on the same night against Montreal.
Coach Mike Yeo said Prosser's play warrants him getting back in and this has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that Matt Dumba's next game would be his 10th -- meaning his three-year contract kicks in.
Against an intimidating Caps lineup with a lights-out league best power play, Yeo said the Wild needs Prosser, who is a solid penalty killer.
Carson McMillan was reassigned.
The Wild has won six of seven. It's looking for its fourth consecutive win. It has won three in a row twice previously without winning that fourth straight, so there's one goal for Thursday.
The Wild is 1-5 all-time at Washington, being outscored 14-4 in the five losses. Its lone win was Nov. 21, 2002, by a 4-3 score.
The Caps have the best power play and best penalty kill in the NHL. It has given up one power-play goal in the past 10 games and scored four power-play goals in a 6-2 win over the Islanders on Tuesday.
So big challenge. The Wild has the second-best power play in the NHL.
"Our power play's been very good this year, too, so we should take it as a chanllenge that it’s us against them," Yeo said. "Likewise our penalty kill, it’s a good opportunity to go out there and prove we can continue to go in the right direction. It'll be a challenge. First and foremost, we have to be focused on staying out of the box."
Ryan Suter is coming off his best game in a long time. Two assists in 30-plus minutes and great defensively.
"Some of the plays he made, just watching it, you can't help but marvel," Yeo said.
I talked to Dany Heatley about being on the fourth line. That will be in Thursday's notebook in the paper, as well as a feature on the always fun Nate Schmidt, the former Gophers star D who has played 11 games and is on Washington's top defense pair with Mike Green.
Fun story to write. I also have a few interesting notes that'll be in Friday's game notebook.
Same forward lines against the Caps as Tuesday against Calgary. I didn't ask about the goalie, because we know Josh Harding's in net.
Be prepared, I think this Sunday column will be another blog Q&A mailbag. I will post a blog in the morning asking for questions.
I will be on KFAN at 4:15 p.m. CT and on Fox Sports North's pregame show and first intermission on Thursday. Remember, with the radio conflict with the Vikings, the Wild will be on 107.9 FM Thursday.
The Toronto Maple Leafs, expected to be very active in the free-agent market, got the ball rolling today when they acquired goaltender Jonathan Bernier from the Los Angeles Kings for former University of North Dakota standout Matt Frattin, Ben Scrivens and a conditional second-round pick.
The Wild, as reported here Saturday, were in the mix for Bernier with the Maple Leafs and Flyers. The Kings were looking for a top prospect from the Wild and at least Darcy Kuemper, sources say.
The Wild continues to talk contract with Niklas Backstrom. He can become a free agent July 5, but the Wild has also been investigating trade options. Remember, salary-cap space is limited as of now. The Wild technically has about $6 million available to spend this summer (that's before potentially re-signing Backstrom, Cal Clutterbuck and Jared Spurgeon), so it's clear the Wild will need to make some trades or execute some buyouts in order to free up more flexibility.
For more on that, see this report.
Things should start to heat up as next Sunday's draft in Newark approaches. GM Chuck Fletcher and assistant GM Brent Flahr are available to talk about the draft Monday.
By the way, I will be filling in for Paul Allen on KFAN Monday and Tuesday from 9-noon.
Actor/comedian/Super Trooper Erik Stolhanske will be sitting in with me Tuesday, which will be a hoot.
On these days, I'll have Kevin Falness joining from the Wild Road Tour, likely Charlie Coyle and Jason Zucker, Matt Cullen, St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, Vikings sackster Jared Allen, Star Tribune baseball writer Lavelle E. Neal the Third, Fox Sports North's Jamie Hersch and Ben Clymer and some other surprises as well.
The Wild hosts the Detroit Red Wings late this afternoon at 5 p.m. at the X.
Jason Zucker will make his season debut, Johan Larsson his NHL debut. This puts five players 22-and-under in the Wild lineup tonight -- backup goalie Darcy Kuemper is 22, Zucker is 21, Larsson and Mikael Granlund are 20 and Jonas Brodin is 19.
I will be on Fox Sports North's Wild Live at 4:30 p.m. today and also during the first intermission around 5:40ish.
Here is my Sunday column on how Kevlar socks should be made mandatory in the NHL. Only a handful of Wild players wear em, and Mike Rupp, in reaction to the awful Erik Karlsson injury in Ottawa, decided to try them against Colorado. He liked the feel and plans to continue.
Remember, at 11 a.m. on NBC, there will be a pretty moving piece on the relationship Jack Jablonski has with Vikings star Adrian Peterson.
Good morning from Chateau Russeau, where for a rarity, I didn't have to be at a morning skate. Because of the early game, the players didn't go down to the X today, so I can't give you the lines so many of you are curious about. We will talk to coach MIke Yeo at 3 p.m., so I will blog and tweet them soon after.
Niklas Backstrom vs. Petr Mrazek tonight. Mrazek is a 21-year-old Czech who tore up the AHL during the lockout and won his only start of the season vs. St. Louis.
To guess lines, one we know. After combining for two goals in the shootout loss to Colorado on Thursday, you know Zach Parise-Mikko Koivu-Dany Heatley will remain intact.
From there, it's just a guess because Pierre-Marc Bouchard was sick yesterday and likely won't play today and because Yeo will have to choose one other forward to come out.
My guess is Zucker slots right into a line with Matt Cullen and Devin Setoguchi because Torrey Mitchell filled in there yesterday.
The other line in practice was: Mikael Granlund-Kyle Brodziak-Cal Clutterbuck in practice. So if that stays the same, perhaps Yeo just slots Larsson onto the fourth line with Mike Rupp and Zenon Konopka and sits Mitchell? Or perhaps he plays Mitchell and has Larsson center the fourth line with Rupp. I'd think Rupp plays because he scored last game and was the forward Yeo pretty much chose to get more ice time once Clutterbuck left the game. Remember also, Konopka took a bad penalty against the Avs and Yeo made his displeasure known by not giving Konopka another shift.
Still, my guess is that Mitchell sits.
The only caveat to all this is if the club isn't comfortable playing a banged up Clutterbuck, who did feel better yesterday but was having issues with peripheral vision in the second period of the Colorado game. That's why he left the game.
Again, despite Brodziak's rough start to this season and tough shift after the Mikko Koivu go-ahead goal the other night, I can't see the only right-shot center being scratched. He comes in handy on defensive-zone right-circle draws.
Funny tweet, by the way, from Konopka yesterday at @zenonkonopka: "I think that Jonas Brodin should get some serious consideration for the Calder trophy (rookie of the year), side note- I may adopt the kid"
OK, that's it. I'll update blog after we talk to Yeo.
After working past midnight on New Year's Eve and all day New Year's Day, the NHL extended a "comprehensive response" to the NHLPA's comprehensive response to the NHL's latest proposal late Tuesday night.
Basically, the NHL and NHLPA are in a negotiating game of ping-pong, which is very much a good thing.
Guests today include Gophers coach Don Lucia (12:35 p.m.), St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock (1:20 p.m.), Ottawa Sun's Bruce Garrioch (1:35 p.m.), Vikings.com's Mike Wobschall (12:15 p.m.) and WCCO's Mark Rosen from 2-3.
The NHLPA took the NHL's latest response last night in order to digest it and likely respond to it today. There's a very good chance the two sides meet again.
"In our response, there were certain things that the Players' association asked for that we agreed to, there were some things that we moved in their direction and there were other things that we said no," Commissioner Gary Bettman told reporters in New York. "But that's part of the process."
Three proposals have been exchanged in the past five days. A deal must be struck by Jan. 11, or the season likely will be canceled. The plan is for training camp to start by Jan. 12 and a 48-game season to begin Jan. 19 if a collective bargaining agreement can be reached.
Realisticallty, a deal must be reached before Jan. 11 in order to get it fully down on paper, lawyered up and ratified.
The NHLPA has until midnight tonight if it wants to file a disclaimer of interest and dissolve the union, but with both sides creeping closer, that's unlikely. The NHLPA could always vote as a membership again to file a disclaimer of interest at a later date if things go haywire.
But I don't see that happening. I truly believe a deal will be struck in the coming days. There's several part of the pact that has already been agreed upon, and as RDS reported last night, the NHLPA is willing to do a 10-year CBA now under certain conditions and the sides are close to an agreement on revenue sharing.
The main things being tackled now are pensions and what the upper limit of the salary cap will be starting in 2013-14. The NHL's proposal of $60 million was unacceptable to the NHLPA.
"The fact that we're involved in a continuous process is something that I'm glad to see, but we're clearly not done yet," said Bettman.
But players I talk to are confident and more and more players are starting to trickle back from Europe in anticipation of camps starting.
I'm up early because I couldn't fall back to sleep after my 3 a.m. wakeup call to watch the U.S. Czechs. No contest as the Americans won big, 7-0, in the quarterfinals to advance to a 3 a.m. CT Thursday rematch against Canada. The U.S. lost 2-1 to Canada a few days ago. The game can be seen on NHL Network and NHL.com.
Johnny Gaudreau had a hat trick today and has five goals in two games, showing why Don Lucia said after the Gophers' 8-1 win over Boston College on Sunday that the win should have an "asterisk" on it because the Eagles were without Gaudreau and two injured veteran defensemen.
Riley Barker had two goals, JT Miller had a goal and two assists, Jacob Trouba and Seth Jones had four assists apiece and John Gibson had the shutout with 31 saves. Trying to decipher the boxscore, but I think the Americans went 5 for 12 on the power play and there were 18 or 19 power plays in the tightly-called game.
OK, that's it. Give me a listen please on the radio if you want to hear some Vikings, puck talk and a little bit of everything with Rosie. And of course I'll be up at 3 a.m. for the semifinal, although I've been keeping the tweets to a minimum because I don't want to wake up anybody who happens to get my tweets texted to their phones.
Get ready folks. NHL season on the horizon.
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