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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Wild and San Jose Sharks tonight at Xcel Energy Center.
Darcy Kuemper, after giving up cinco in the third period Monday in Nueva York, will get a chance to put that behind him and bounce back tonight vs. Brent Burns, Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton and Company. Since 2007-08, Sharks are 326-157-68, best in the NHL.
I was hoping to see local product Alex Stalock in net tonight, but Adam Wilcox’s cuz will be backing up Antti Niemi for the third consecutive game.
Home team has won 15 of the past 16 games in this series, with the Wild beating San Jose six straight games at home. In those six games though, the Sharks have outshot the Wild by a cool hundred.
The Wild has outshot its opponent in all eight games this season (274-181), averaging the second-most shots per game (34.2) and allowing the fewest (22.6) in the NHL. If you have been living in a hole, the Wild’s power play is 0 for 26. It will try to avoid being 0 for October tonight. If it fails to score, it will be a franchise-record ninth consecutive game without a power-play tally.
Watch the Wild defensemen tonight. They continue to jump up into the attack. In eight games, six goals (on 77 shots), 19 points and PLUS-30. In the first eight games last year, Wild defensemen were plus-0.
Wild, by the way, give up a league-low 22.6 shots per game. The Sharks rank 23rd at 32 shots allowed per game.
I’ll be on Fox Sports North++++++++++++++++++++++++++ tonight at 6:30 p.m. and during the first intermission. The game is also on Fox Sports North+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++, so that’s your answer tonight if you tweet my favorite question: “What channel’s the game on?”
Defenseman Jonas Brodin and center Erik Haula will each miss their second straight games tonight, and left wing Matt Cooke will also be out with a lower-body injury. Coach Mike Yeo said that Cooke, who has one goal, three assists and is plus-4 in the past three games, has been dealing with this for a few games and the team is giving him a chance to rest and get better.
We’ll see if this affects a fourth line that has scored seven goals and nine assists the past six games (plus-8, 19 shots).
Defenseman Christian Folin skated this morning and said his mumps test was negative. The hope is with a good practice Friday that he’ll be able to play Saturday against Dallas. However, defenseman Keith Ballard is still sick and went for more bloodwork yesterday to try to get to the bottom of what’s ailing him.
Haula participating in today’s morning skate. Brodin skated for about 20 minutes alone before the skate, didn’t shoot any pucks and seemed to be testing and struggling at times with his stick-handling. As I mentioned after the Rangers game, a couple fingers on one of his hands were wrapped pretty good.
Still, Yeo is hopeful that Brodin and Haula can return Saturday.
I think the Wild considered playing Bickel at defense tonight because he started off the skate wearing a white dman jersey. Then, when Cooke didn’t come out, he switched to a forward’s green jersey. Then, while Bickel was on the ice, the Wild decided it would prefer the speedy Stephane Veilleux would fit better on the fourth line in place of Cooke. To make that roster move, the Wild had to reassign Bickel.
So, same lineup tonight except for Veilleux’s insertion:
Yeo mixed and matched his D pairs all skate, but the ones in Boston were:
Haula said he’s feeling a little better, although not 100 percent.
Haula said John Moore, the perpetrator of the Monday’s hit to the head, called him Tuesday after getting his number from Justin Falk.
“It caught me off guard, but I thought it was a class act,” Haula said. “I’m the type of person not to be mad at him. It’s hockey. Whether you mean it or not, I’m sure no one really wants to hurt anyone in the league. Thought it was nice.”
Haula said the organization is just trying to be careful with him even though he is anxious to play. He said head injuries can’t be taken lightly and noted that Tony Lucia and Jay Barriball both had their careers cut short because of head issues.
Haula said Barriball texted him.
“He said, “Don’t force it, please,’ basically. That’s just the main message I have gotten from everyone, to be smart no matter how anxious I am to play. Don’t push it. It’s only Game 9. Long ways to go.”
On the hit, Haula said, “Hits happen like that. It’s part of the game. They’re trying to take that away, but it’s going to happen sometimes. I was lucky it wasn’t worse.”
On Kuemper, Yeo said he wants to see him bounce back.
“He’s a good athlete and he’s a young goaltender who’s learning there’s a lot more than just strapping on the pads and feeling like you’re ready to play. He’s done a good job at that and this will be another good opportunity for him to improve it,” Yeo said.
Personally, I feel Matt Dumba could be coming when Folin returns. Yeo even subtly alluded to it today. The turnovers have been a little erratic and the Wild has so far overcome them.
We’re putting him in some tough spots.
“I do want to see improvement,” Yeo said. “He’s always been an impactful player. He’s always been a guy who makes great plays, but he has to understand there’s times to make great plays and times to make good plays. What you want to do is make sure that by trying to make a great play when it’s not there that you’re not making a bad play.
“I want him to continue to do some of the things he’s doing, but as he continues to do those things, gets rid of the bad plays. That’s how he’s going to get better, that’s how he’s going to stay with us.”
I didn’t even pick up on Yeo’s last line (“stay with us”) until I transcribed.
Yeo was real happy with Kyle Brodziak’s game in Boston. He said it was proof of how mature Brodziak was with his preparation during the five games in a row scratched. Brodziak’s forecheck helped lead to the Vanek to Niederreiter goal, and he had three hits and four blocked shots.
He also won 8 of 13 draws, which is big for a Wild team that hasn’t been good on the draw this year. Granlund going up against top drawman has been mostly bad. Same with Haula and Carter.
Koivu is the only one above 50 percent, and he’s still way below his norm.
The Wild ranks 29th in the faceoff circle after finishing 12th last year.
Falk is excited to make his home debut two days after his season debut. The Wild traded him to the Rangers at the 2013 draft. He only played 21 games last season and was a routine healthy scratch after playing 128 NHL games for the Wild in parts of four previous years.
He had to be Dumba’s safety net against the Bruins and also made the play that led to the tying goal.
“Last year was an adventure,” Falk said. “Going to a city like that, it’s quite the city to live in let alone play in. Hockey was a roller coaster. … The opportunity wasn’t there that I hoped for. Every year you want to get better, and I wasn’t able to take a step forward last year. So the sooner I can flush that and worry about getting my game back and getting better, that was the whole point of accepting going down to Iowa and working on things. I’ve played some good hockey in this league and can contribute and I just have to work hard to find it and get it back.”
Zach Parise by the way got the “shoelace” taken out of his face yesterday and restitched. The old stitches honestly looked like a Hollywood makeup job. It was the thickest stitches I have ever seen, hence the shoelace joke Parise made.
“I think the [Rangers docs] were just trying to be quick because I wanted to come back and play,” Parise said.
Good evening from TD Garden, where the Wild visits the Bruin at 7 p.m. ET/6 p.m. CT minus two key players. The game can be seen on NBC Sports Network and heard on KFAN. If you get NESN, I'll be on there at 6:45 p.m. ET.
Just got done with coach Mike Yeo's pregame availability, and here are the highlights:
--Defenseman Jonas Brodin is injured. I mentioned to you after last night's game that he sustained an injury to his hand, but Yeo said he's sore in a couple different spots today and it is very clear that Yeo and GM Chuck Fletcher are fearful Brodin could be hurt somewhat seriously. He'll see the Wild's docs tomorrow.
Justin Falk will make his season debut in Brodin's place tonight. Stu Bickel was also recalled and Keith Ballard and Christian Folin were placed on injured reserve to make room. They can come off whenever they're ready.
"You look at that hit [by Chris Kreider], [Brodin] went into the boards and it’s pretty much like being in a car crash, so he’s sore today," Yeo said. "He’s a really tough kid. It’s a pretty amazing that he was able to come back and play last night to be honest with you. We’ve seen him do this over and over again. He’s tough. If he’s sore, we’re a little bit concerned."
--Kreider wasn't suspended by the NHL, but Rangers defenseman John Moore has been invited for an in-person hearing after being assessed a match penalty for launching his elbow into Erik Haula last night. Moore could be suspended six games or more.
Haula won't play tonight. Kyle Brodziak, scratched in five straight after two pretty decent games to start the season, will play and be given a good opportunity, Yeo said.
On Haula, Yeo said, "It was pretty much our call to keep him out. We were told he’s not diagnosed with a concussion, but sometimes those symotoms, a couple days later you end up finding out. So we have to make sure and protect the player in this case. We’re not 100 percent confident that he’s not at a risk of going out and playing tonight and taking another hit.
"We have to look at the big picture and have to be concerned about the player’s health."
-- Yeo will scramble the bottom three lines tonight. I'll update the blog after warmups with the lines, but Yeo would only say that Zach Parise, Mikael Granlund and Jason Pominville won't be broken up.
Lines 2 through 4
Suter is with Spurgeon, Scandella is with Prosser, Falk is with Dumba
But I asked preemptively if he were to split Mikko Koivu and Thomas Vanek, what would be the reason.
"We have to try something different for one," Yeo said. "There’s been signs that it might be coming, but there’s been other times where it’s not coming fast enough. We have to be willing to try different things. It doesn’t mean that they wont play together again."
Vanek has one shot the past three games and no goals this season. Other than a seven-shot game in Anaheim, Vanek has two or fewer in the other six.
Asked if that's a concern, Yeo said, "Yeah. I don’t want to say concern, but we have to make sure that we’re looking at everything we can. He was brought here to add offense and we’ve definitely seen his playmaking ability and some of the plays he has set up, but we definitely want to find a way on our end to try to get him on the scoresheet in the goal column as well."
-- The 0 for 24 power play will be scrambled, too.
"Bottom line, we’re starting to get in our own way here, and that’s what’s bothering me," Yeo said. "I think we have the most power-play shots in the league, and even last night, we probably had 10 power-play shots and we missed the net on four great opportunities, but I didn’t like our power play last night at all.
"Some of the things that make us a dangerous group when we’re on top of our game, we’re starting to lose those things. So we can try any combination we want, but the players have to really figure it out and make sure they have the right focus going out there."
He noted that like the Rangers' PK, the Bruins' PK will read the clips and be ready for a hungry power play. So it's up to the Wild to actually go out there hungry, and he didn't feel the Wild matched the Rangers' PK last night.
-- Parise has a deep, ugly-looking cut on his face from his right nostril to the middle of his upper lip on the right side. Took 10 stitches, and he said he only got real scared when he saw all the blood on his visor and the ice.
But he calmed down once he realized he could see and had his teeth. He returned late in the second, but he said he'll see the docs when he gets back to Minnesota to get them restitched.
"Hopefully it doesn't scar up too bad," Parise said. "I don't like them road stitches. Get them done at home."
On today's team attitude, Parise said, "The way I always approach these things, last night's game -- win or lose, mentally if you're in the right place, has no impact -- it shouldn't -- on tonight's game. It happens. It's going to happen to every team. We'll be on the other side of it some time later in the year. But it doesn't and it shouldn't impact our game tonight. It has no bearing on it whatsoever."
Good morning from beautiful Boston, where the Wild looks to rebound tonight after last night's blown 3-0 lead. It was the first time the Wild blew a three-goal lead and lost on the road since Oct. 24, 2007.
I remember that game like it was yesterday. I mean, honestly every second of it.
Yet, bizarrely and maybe alarmingly, I have little recollection of the last time the Wild blew a three-goal lead to lose at home -- last March in Edmonton in a shootout. I remember the Islanders blown lead in December, but I have no recollection of the Edmonton game. Actually has me quite rattled.
Darcy Kuemper was in that net, too.
Update: John Moore, who nearly took Dale Weise's head off against Montreal in the Eastern Conference Finals for a two-game suspension, faces an in-person disciplinary hearing with Stephane Quintal, Chris Pronger and the rest of the NHL's Department of Player Safety for his unnecessary hit that injured Erik Haula last night. Moore received a match penalty for intent to injure, which always warrants at least a review. The in-person hearing means he can get six games or more. Originally it was believed his hearing would be by phone.
Chris Kreider got off with time served for his boarding major on Jonas Brodin, who sustained a hand injury.
Brodin felt last night he'll be able to play through the injury, and as of now, I haven't heard from GM Chuck Fletcher if the team called up a defenseman. If it did not, that means it expects Brodin to be fine for tonight.
Haula, I would assume, is a no-go. We'll get coach Mike Yeo at 5 p.m., but Kyle Brodziak is expected to play in his place. Niklas Backstrom is expected in goal.
I have watched the game over.
Keys to the loss:
1. Bad goaltending. There's just no way around it. Darcy Kuemper has been great this year, but he has got to hold onto a 3-0 lead last night. This is where Kuemper needs to improve the most. Examples of this occurred last year, too, where Kuemper just seems rattled and gives up bad goals when games turn.
2. Sleep defense.
3. Beaten to loose pucks
4. Lots of pucks just thrown away. Thomas Vanek was a big culprit, especially on those 0 for 4 power plays. Vanek, goalless on the season, has one shot in three games, too. Vanek's MO is scoring in bunches. He has long been one of the NHL's streakiest scorers. But to score, you have to shoot, and he has 2 or fewer shots in 6 of 7 games. In those 6 games, he only attempted 9 shots that didn't register (blocks or misses).
So plainly, Vanek is not getting chances.
5. That atrocious power play. Two majors last night and no goals. If you consider that the Wild could have put the Rangers away with a power-play goal or two, then the 0 for 24 power play has arguably cost the Wild three games this season.
Matt Dumba and Vanek combining for the turnover that led to a tying shorthanded goal in Anaheim; Five times failing to tie a game in LA that the Wild dominated; Last night at New York.
Remember, Andrew Brunette is on the bench this year to aid last year's middle of the road power play. So far, it's shooting blanks.
I have got to think we'll see revamped units tonight. The all-vet, all-kid thing isn't working, particularly when a few of the kids are playing than at least two of the veterans on the top unit -- Vanek and Mikko Koivu, who has one goal this season and alarmingly no assists.
It'll be interesting to see how Yeo will react tonight with the lines. Remember, last night was the third consecutive game the Wild used the same lines. For two periods last night, the Wild was by far the better team on the ice. So perhaps Yeo doesn't react by scrambling everything up in a blender and chalks up last night to bad goaltending and just a team that was unable to stop a furious momentum switch.
Big game tonight. As well as the Wild has played this year, it wasted good efforts in Anaheim, L.A. and New York. It'd be a bigtime disappointment to return home to Minnesota with a 4-4 record.
That's it for me. I'll update the blog after we meet with Yeo. I'll be on NESN at 5:45 p.m. CT, 6:45 p.m. ET.
Good afternoon from the world's most famous arena, Madison Square Garden, which many of you know is my favorite place to watch a game.
I'll be on the NHL Network's Bald Spot Cam at 6 p.m. ET, 5 p.m. CT talking about the Wild.
Funny scene inside the MSG visitors' dressing room this morning. The stalls were clearly built for NBA players, so the top of the stall is about 9 feet tall.
As part of protocol pretty much, every team equipment staff has their players place their equipment in their stalls the same way. The Wild has its players put their helmets on top in the middle with each glove on the left and right side of the helmet.
Well, you should have seen some of the Wild's shorter players trying to get their helmets and gloves up there.
Jared Spurgeon had to stand on the seat and could still barely reach. Matt Dumba had to jump. Justin Fontaine just gave up and asked Erik Haula to stand on his tippy toes and put his stuff on top of the stall. And it's not like Haula is overly tall.
The players were all howling.
Not much is going on with the Wild.
Same lineup and lines for a third consecutive game, meaning Kyle Brodziak will sit for a fifth straight game as the only healthy scratch. Keith Ballard and Christian Folin are back in the Twin Cities. No update on what plagued them, but coach Mike Yeo expects them to skate today.
Darcy Kuemper in net. Subject to change, but Niklas Backstrom is expected to start Tuesday in Boston.
Really nothing going on.
Here's former Gopher Joe Micheletti chatting with Yeo this morning. He was no doubt sharing some of brother Pat Micheletti's wisdom
Like I said, quiet day. I'll be doing my notebook on the Wild's D and its continued success joining the offensive attack.
"When you play against teams whose D are mobile, you can't really take a backcheck off because you'll get beat up ice," Zach Parise said. "4-on-3 is like the new 3-on-2. You don't get caught three guys low very often anymore. It just doesn't happen, so you've got to activate the fourth guy, otherwise you're going to be playing 2-on-3 or 3-on-3 the whole night.
"With our guys, the way they skate, the way they jump in at the right time, it just gives you a whole other option."
Marco Scandella and Spurgeon say the Wild talk about this all the time and did last year, too, but they think it's just more confidence playing in the league and continuity with the forwards that they read off of each other. Just look at the replay of Scandella's goal against Tampa Bay. First, it started in the D zone where Scandella jumped up with Jason Pominville taking a quick look to see it. All five guys touched the puck if I remember correctly. Pominville waited for Scandella and knew to give him the exchange coming over the blue line. Scandella knew to be expecting the exchange, and then of course, the big, mobile dman made a great play to just wheel around Matt Carle and drive the net.
Spurgeon has been the most noticeable jumping up. He does it often, and says, "I didn't have to do much," on his goal last game and his assist on the Pominville goal the game before. But it was his ability to jump up that caused an outnumbered attack to catch the opponents off guard.
Parise said it has to continue. He noted how last year at the beginning the D was piling up points and then it suddenly stopped. As usual, Parise was dead on. In the first six games last year, the D combined for four goals and 15 points. In the first six games this year, the D have combined for four goals and 14 points.
The big difference. Plus-6 last year for the D in the first six games and plus-28 this year. (All these numbers are courtesy of stats whiz, ... Fox Sports North's Anthony LaPanta).
"It's always the same, when you start to lose games, the natural thing is, 'We've got to defend,'" Parise said. "So then all of a sudden you stop jumping, you just try to not give up goals rather than scoring. If I remember, that was the case. We were losing, so we just focused on staying back."
Parise said, laughing, "That didn't work."
Henrik Lundqvist will start for the Rangers, who have been up and down and apparently getting real erratic play from defensemen Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal and Dan Girardi. They won three in a row though before losing in Montreal last game. The defending Eastern Conference champs are trying to avoid falling below .500 tonight.
The big storyline from the Rangers press today was Alain Vigneault replacing Chris Kreider with Ryan Malone on New York's lousy power play, you know, one ranked 25th in the NHL (2 for 22).
THE 0 for 20 WILD WOULD KILL TO BE RANKED 25TH!!!!!
UPDATE: Ballard and Folin were sent to Regions Hospital this afternoon for blood tests to rule out maladies like mumps. They also may not accompany the team on the upcoming road trip to New York and Boston. The Wild's trainers touched base today with the Blues' trainers.
Afternoon from Xcel Energy Center, where I'll spend the day heading into tonight's Wild clash with Steven Stamkos, Jonathan Drouin and the Tampa Bay Lightning.
If you didn't get to see it, check out my story here in today's Star Tribune about a fire that could have turned tragic had Chuck Fletcher not woken up at the Wild's hockey ops and business team retreat in August. The lake house where Fletcher, assistant GM Brent Flahr and Iowa GM Jim Mill slept burned to the ground and was fully engulfed within minutes of Fletcher thankfully awaking.
Tonight, owner Craig Leipold is having the all-volunteer Drummond and Cable Fire Departments at the game as a thank you.
I got some questions as to why this is the first I'm writing about it. Basically, I found out about the incident roughly a week later. At the time, Leipold and the others were too shaken up to talk to me about what happened. They were all still pretty much rattled, and since I didn't have all the information of what happened, I didn't write anything.
However, the past few months, I pursued the interviews. Finally about two weeks ago, I found out the Wild was having the departments at this game to thank them. I reached out to Leipold again to see if he would talk to me and if I could interview some of the people there. Last weekend, he got back to me and said it would be OK.
So, basically, since I didn't have all the accurate information at the time and what would make the story would be interviews and pictures, I waited until I could feature it accurately and fully.
Darcy Kuemper vs. Evgeni Nabokov tonight.
--Defensemen Keith Ballard and Christian Folin, who were supposed to be the third pair against Arizona until they both mysteriously arrived ill the same day, won't play, and it turns out, this was not your ordinary flu.
Ballard and Folin both had flu-like symptoms like shivering, sweating, headache and incredible fatigue, but it started with swollen jaws. Honestly, they both look like they have been punched in the face and teammates say it was unbelievably worse a few days ago. Kyle Brodziak said their jaws jutted out several inches.
As it turns out, the St. Louis Blues are going through the exact same symptoms right now and have diagnosed it as some kind of bacterial infection.
The common denominator: The Blues and Wild were in the same visitors' locker rooms at Anaheim and at Los Angeles last week and weekend, and Blues coach Ken Hitchcock told St. Louis reporters, "It starts with one person, and then it’s passed very quickly through water bottles, or a towel, or whatever, the shower floor. It just goes, like ‘right now,’ goes zipping through your team."
Several Blues have missed time with it. The trainers for St. Louis and Minnesota were expected to talk this afternoon. The Wild obviously want to nip this in the bud because as of now, only two Wild players have been infected (not several like St. Louis).
Like the Blues, the Wild has sterilized everything since, and the Wild trainers completely disinfected the equipment for Folin and Ballard. The two have been on antibiotics and Ballard said he's feeling a little better.
He still looks pretty run down though.
-- I chatted with Mikko Koivu, who seemed to have a running feud with linesman Brad Lazarowich the other night. Lazarowich, one of the two linesmen tonight, booted Koivu from the circle at least a half-dozen times. I didn't count, but linemate Charlie Coyle did take eight faceoffs.
Some times it seemed Lazarowich kicked Koivu out before he even got set, including a few times in the defensive zone late in the game, which is a bit of an issue in a tight game. Let's be honest: Koivu is the ONLY Wild center winning draws consistently this season and is always near the top of the NHL in draws.
Koivu didn't want to get into the battle with the linesman, but a few teammates even told me Coyotes goalie Mike Smith asked a few why the linesman didn't want Koivu taking draws on this night.
Koivu said, "You just get nights when your timing is off. You don’t always agree with it, but they do it the right way. Sometimes on the power play, they don’t let you cheat, which is the way it should be. Also, we hadn't played in a couple days, so maybe my timing was off."
Coach Mike Yeo said he'll keep an eye on it, but he also said it's an insurance policy having Charlie Coyle on the same line. Coyle has improved in the circle.
-- Expect to see a lot of Erik Haula against the Drouin-Valtteri Filppula-Stamkos line. Haula says it's a pride thing, and Yeo said Haula is a good matchup because of his speed. Obviously, the best defense is playing in the offensive zone, so Yeo hopes Nino Niederreiter and Justin Fontaine, two smart offensive guys who are good on the wall, can help complement Haula.
-- Kyle Brodziak will be scratched for a fourth consecutive game. This is a guy who in five prior seasons with the Wild missed three games -- all for injury or illness (no scratches until one game last playoffs).
If you know Brodziak, not a shock that at least outwardly he's trying to remain positive and be a good teammate.
Brodziak will have his time to get in. The Wild has four man games lost to injury/illness total this season, two by Fontaine in Games 1 and 2. So there just hasn't been an injury yet to get Brodziak in, but there's a lot of games coming up. And so far, Yeo likes Ryan Carter's game.
"If you do get an opportunity, you’ve got to be ready for it," Brodziak said. "It’s not easy all the time coming to the rink when you know you're not going to be in, but you just try your best to keep a positive attitude and to work as hard as you can. If I do get a chance, hopefully it'll be an opportunity to keep myself in the lineup and not have to do this again."
As I have reported multiple times and again in training camp, the Wild has shopped the $3 million Brodziak, but my guess is the Wild is not champing at the bit to move him. He's still a player Yeo trusts to play in every situation, and if you trade Brodziak and sustain injuries, you're then relying on minor-league depth centers to fill the void.
-- Speaking of Iowa, very bad news, but defenseman Gustav Olofsson, the 2013 second-round pick, underwent shoulder surgery. He will miss up to four months.
"He had a lingering injury that he was going to try to play through with constant rehab," Flahr said in an email. "He was going to need surgery at years end regardless, but he kept having issues, so everyone felt it was best to have surgery now and take care of it once and for all. It's too bad."
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