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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The Wild had a fun, quick practice at St. Thomas Academy this morning and is about to hit the friendly sky for a southbound flight to the Lone Star State.
Most the Wild's practice today was a small area 3-on-2 game where both nets are on the same goal line. Gloves are lined up vertically in the middle of the zone, and when the puck crosses to that side, a new 3-on-2 begins aimed at one of the nets. It's fun to watch.
Causes quick plays in tight spaces, communication, players are basically unaware as to how hard they're actually working because they're having so much fun and it triggers lots of hooting and hollering -- mostly from assistant coach Darryl Sydor, who seems to love whatever team Mikko Koivu is on.
Left wing Mike Rupp, who missed the past three games with a lower body injury, practiced today and will be on that plane for the quick trip to Dallas. He was oddly the only player to wear a white helmet today. I figured it must be his version of the yellow "Do Not Touch Me, I'm Hurt" jersey, but he simply made a faux pas and packed the wrong helmet for the dress and drive.
I am not sure if Rupp is going to play yet though. I hear the Wild is going to reassign Jason Zucker this afternoon, presumably because Pierre-Marc Bouchard has taken his spot on the second line and Zucker isn't suited for the fourth line. But it sounds to me like the Wild will recall a player as it reassigns Zucker. I'll update when I know.
I also think the Wild will flip goalies at some point. They'll need a backup to play next weekend, and Matt Hackett will have gone three weeks without a game by then.
Update: Zucker was indeed sent down and former Badger Jake Dowell recalled. Dowell is a former Star with a physical edge. I'd think Zucker will be back if there's an injury in a top-line role or a spot opened up. Could be very short-term. He'll be back. Blame Corey Perry.
The Wild also flipped goalies, recalling Darcy Kuemper. It's unclear whether this is temporary though. Hackett could start one game with Houston and then maybe be recalled to play Friday in Dallas or in Minnesota against Los Angeles next Saturday.
I can't see Niklas Backstrom starting both road-home back-to-backs next weekend. If it were me, I'd go with a Hackett-Kuemper duo Friday in Dallas and don't even travel Backstrom. We'll talk to Yeo in the morning to get his comments on the moves.
The big Stars news is they traded captain Brenden Morrow to Pittsburgh. I've got to think now Boston pounces on Jarome Iginla.
Niklas Backstrom vs. Kari Lehtonen -- almost definitely -- Monday.
The Wild will be searching for its first win in Dallas since March 21, 2003. I'm no math major, but I think that's a little more than 10 calendar years!. Sixteen losses in a row (0-11-5), which is tied for the longest current losing streak by one team in one opposing building in the NHL (Calgary at Anaheim). The Wild's been outscored 62-30 in this stretch.
I have to dig up last year's file I put together of tweets I got when I asked for entries to: "The last time the Wild won in Dallas, ..."
For instance: The last time won in Dallas, Sid Hartman was still a young, up-and-coming columnist.
I'll find this file and blog em Monday morning.
The good news is the Wild snapped an 11-game winless streak in Vancouver last Monday, beat Detroit in regulation for the first time on the road since 2006 on Wednesday and half the Wild players have no clue such a streak even exists.
The Wild has said over and over lately that it feels it can beat any team in any building right now. Well, we will see. Bizarrely, the Wild plays in Dallas Monday and Friday with a home game in between vs. Phoenix.
I'll be on KFAN at 10 a.m. on Monday and on Fox Sports North during Wild Live at 7 p.m. Monday and again during the first intermission.
In some NHL news, Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman fired Guy Boucher very early this morning -- strangely before the Lightning plays in Winnipeg tonight. Not often are coaches fired in the middle of a road trip, let alone after taking a plane ride with the team following a loss at Ottawa yesterday. Must have been quite the flight.
Former Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff seems destined to replace Boucher and Yzerman indicated he's got somebody lined up. The other name circulating is minor-league coach Jon Cooper.
Also, TSN's Darren Dreger reports Calgary captain Jarome Iginla has four teams he is willing to be traded to -- Pittsburgh, Boston, Los Angeles and Chicago.
Lastly, one reason why it was time for the Wild to send Mikael Granlund to Houston is he can play roles there he just wasn't able to in Minnesota. First line, first power play and even shootouts.
In Minnesota, it got to the point Granlund was either relegated to the fourth line or press box. He didn't get a shootout try because Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise and Matt Cullen are three of the best in the NHL (none of the Wild's four shootouts went past Round 3, Wild's 3-1 in shootouts).
In five games back with the Aeros, Granlund has one goal and five assists, and last night against Rochester scored this shootout beauty.
Wild coach Mike Yeo isn’t about to admit to any potential roster moves. But defenseman Tom Gilbert, who missed victories in Vancouver and Detroit with a lower body injury incurred in the team’s victory in Colorado March 16, was on the ice for today’s practice and is ready to go.
“I’m ready to go, ready to play,” Gilbert said. “I have full confidence going into tomorrow.”
Yeo, meanwhile, also said he expected Gilbert to be ready. But, when asked if that meant Gilbert would definitely be in the lineup against San Jose in Saturday’s matinee, Yeo smiled. “One o’clock puck drop,” he said. “Don’t miss it.”
While Gilbert is back, Mike Rupp (lower body) isn’t. Rupp missed practice again Friday.
There was one more encouraging note. Goaltender Josh Harding was at Xcel Energy Center Friday, and he looked good. “I had a brief conversation with him,” Yeo said. “And he was feeling very good. His word, actually, was great. And even just looking at him, I think he looks great. So we’ll talk some more about what the plan is going forward.”
Harding has not played since Feb. 7 while trying to get a handle on treatment for multiple sclerosis.
Meanwhile, Rupp was the only skater to miss practice today, and Yeo had the same lines going that has produced this recent hot streak.
That’s about it for now. Mike will be at tomorrow’s game.
After a 6-0 loss last night in Detroit, I am hearing the Wild will make two roster additions for Sunday's game against Colorado.
Forwards Cal Clutterbuck and Nick Palmieri sustained upper-body injuries last night. There's no word today on if either will be able to play the Avs, but the Wild will recall forward Chad Rau, meaning both could be out because the Wild also has Erik Christensen waiting in the wings. Rau, an Eden Prairie native, has two goals in seven games for the Wild -- winning goals on Hockey Day Minnesota against Dallas and Hockey Day in America against Boston.
We also may get to see the Wild debut of Steven Kampfer, the 23-year-old puck-moving defenseman acquired in the Greg Zanon deal last week. I hear he's on his way, too. Kampfer is a former Michigan Wolverine and Ann Arbor native. He has 12 points (five goals) in 48 NHL games.
That means one of the defenseman will likely be scratched because as far as I know, everybody survived last night's game healthy.
Kurtis Foster played two shifts in the third period. Justin Falk and Foster were minus-3. So those are the likely two candidates. It may be Foster, because Kampfer could just take his slot on the right side and his power-play slot.
Forwards Matt Kassian, Jed Ortmeyer, Chad Rau and defenseman Nate Prosser are coming up from Houston for the Wild, and forwards Casey Wellman and David McIntyre are headed back to the Aeros today.
That's a quick update from today's practice, which is in progress. Youngblood here, and I'll have more when things wrap up from the X.
Youngblood here, with an update from today's practice.
Let's start with the roster moves. Here's what coach Mike Yeo had to say: "Well, we need to make some changes right now," he said. "We're not just going to stand around and hope things get better. Whatever it takes, whatever we can do to try to energize our group, gain some confidence to get a good feeling coming to the rink -- whether it's personnel decisions or the things we do in practice or meetings -- we have to do."
Friday's practice was an interesting one. Yeo wanted to focus on skill work and goal scoring. So he divided up his team into two groups and ran them through scrimmages, tip drills and shootout work, keeping score all the way.
Officially, the green group (Cullen, Setoguchi, Clutterbuck, Johnson, McMillan, Zanon, Spurgeon and Lundin) beat the white group (everyone else) in the final tally, though Yeo wouldn't reveal what the losers had to do.
It was all designed to give a team that has struggled to score goals confidence in that area. "If you don't score in practice, you won't score in a game," noted Setoguchi.
--Yeo said he's excited about being the finale Hockey Day Minnesota. "This is a really big thing for us," he said. "A deal like tomorrow, a game like tomorrow night could help pus get going in the right direction, and give us a great feeling. That's what we need right now."
--Matt Cullen will officially get his silver stick for playing 1,000 NHL games in a pre-game ceremony Saturday. He said he hasn't decided where in the house it will go. "I'm afraid my three-year-old will have it out whacking around the walls and stuff," he said. "I'll find a place for it. It won't be stuck in the corner of the garage or anything like that."
That said, Cullen said he didn't want anything to take away from the focus the team needed trying to get on the right track.
--Mikko Koivu was doing some shooting in the cage under the stands this morning during practice.
--Spurgeon looked very good while scoring on a couple shootout attempts today. Yeo said he took note of that. So maybe we'll see Spurgeon out there in that situation at some point soon.
That's about it. Have a good day.
Update: As I alluded below, I hear through the grapevine two forwards will be recalled later this afternoon. The guys I am hearing are Eden Prairie's Chad Rau and Jed Ortmeyer. If Rau plays, it'll be his NHL debut and he'd be the team-record 11th rookie to play this season. If both play, the Wild will have used 35 players this season in 34 games. Absurd.
Kent Youngblood will cover practice, so he'll have injury updates. Roster moves like won't happen until 4 p.m.
As I often say, I've covered few coaches as honest as Mike Yeo, so give the guy credit for not painting a pretty picture on the ugliness that took place on the ice tonight. It would have been to easy to use the injuries as an excuse or let Cal Clutterbuck's tying goal hide the fact that the Wild just didn't bring it tonight, but an edgy, ticked-off Yeo didn't let the current cast of Wild players -- as depleted as this team is -- off the hook for a 2-1 shootout loss to the lowliest of NHL teams -- the New York Islanders.
This was an opponent dead last in the East, on a four-game losing streak -- a team that was 0-6 in overtimes and shootouts and hadn't even scored a shootout goal in two previous shootouts this season.
But the Wild didn't show up in the first two periods. I mean, in the first two periods, Jarod Palmer and Jared Spurgeon had SEVEN of the Wild's NINE shots!!! In the first period, the Wild had five shots, and Palmer's one was the only one by a FORWARD!!!
The Colton Gillies-Warren Peters-Palmer did try hard, setting a tone physically, trying to bring momentum. And they for the most part accomplished that. But most of the rest? Blah.
Well, blah, except for Nik Backstrom, who made 35 saves and got the Wild this point. Depleted lineup or not, the Wild didn't lose this game because of the minor leaguers. Most the vets didn't show, which to me is what disappointed the hierarchy.
I can see a couple bodies shuffling between here and Houston on Sunday though. You can't have a performance like tonight and not react in some way. Cody Almond's done little the last few, so maybe he heads back and they bring up some forwards.
At one point tonigh on an icing in the second period, Yeo called time to let his gassed players rest. But during that time, Yeo took the opportunity to animatedly let his players know what he thought of their effort and execution.
"The direction we were going, it needed to change," Yeo said. "After the second period, it turned around, but it’s tough to flip a switch."
The Wild did look like a different team to start the third. It began getting pucks deep, generating chances off cycles and speed through the neutral zone. Finally, the team that hasn’t been shut out this year struck with the tying goal.
It began with a Matt Cullen forecheck that created an Al Montoya quick pass to Mark Streit and turnover. Dany Heatley picked off the puck, fired it on net and Clutterbuck found the rebound and scored his ninth goal.
But minus Mikko Koivu, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Devin Setoguchi, Guillaume Latendresse and Casey Wellman, the Wild just didn't have it tonight, and of course, a few of those guys would have been useful in the shootout. Frankly, after Kyle Brodziak's shootout-winning move last month in Edmonton, I'd start using him in these extra sessions.
Anyway, the Wild is 0-1-2 in its past 3 -- its first three-game winless streak of the season. But it's still clinging to the top spot in the NHL and the West by a point and has points in 19 of its past 24 (17-5-2).
This would be my concern heading into a three-game road trip to all divisional opponents. Often times when you lose this many guys, the guys that remain in the lineup start freelancing, abandon the system, try to make fancy, individual players and suddenly forget what the team did that made its successful in the first place.
That's what I saw on the ice tonight. The Wild must be wary that even after it gets some of these guys back, the guys that remained in the lineup during the interim don't suddenly forget the system and how this team must play to win.
That's getting pucks behind D, grinding it out on forechecks, being responsible with the puck, being hard on the puck and being tight in the neutral zone and D-zone. We saw zero of that tonight.
Koivu and Setoguchi will be on the road trip. I can't imagine Setoguchi plays. He hasn't practiced at all since getting hurt in San Jose. Koivu, he tested his injury today and my guess, and this is a pure guess, is that he plays in Calgary (Tuesday, or day after Vancouver) only because I don't see him playing back-to-back games.
Again, total guess. Kent Youngblood is covering practice Sunday and he'll let you know if Koivu practices while I'm in the air to Vancouver.
Bouchard was very close to playing tonight, Yeo said, but he went from a gametime decision to not even skating in warmups. Yeo said the Wild must make sure Bouchard is completely comfortable that he is OK and can do the things he needs to do on the ice before it allows him to play.
Wellman's practicing and perhaps the extra game off and few days will help improve his injury so he can shoot the puck and be put into the lineup in Vancouver. The Wild could certainly use his speed and shot.
Palmer tried to bring that type of game tonight and he had six of the Wild's 21 shots. His line had a combined 10. He nearly scored the overtime winner, too. Yeo called him arguably the team's best forward.
No offense to the lad because he was good, but that's an indictment of the players who have been on the team more than anything.
The team is depleted. This is the time these guys need to step up. Didn't happen tonight.
--Clutterbuck has seven goals and 13 points in his past 15 games.
--131-104-27 Wild's record with Mikko Koivu; 6-8-3 without him (since 2008-09)
Youngblood Sunday, I'll be back with ya after the morning skates Monday in Vancouver. I'll be XM Home Ice at 9:45 a.m. CT Monday and the Team 1040 in Vancouver at 7:30 p.m. CT Monday.
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