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.
Also find Russo on Facebook.
Email Michael to talk about hockey.
Evening from Glendale, Arizona, where the Wild was shut out 1-0 by the Coyotes. Ilya Bryzgalov made 25 saves for a relatively simple shutout and 2:20 into the third, Taylor Pyatt scored the first goal on Niklas Backstrom since 9:24 into the first period at Chicago on Jan. 25.
As Keith Yandle said, Backstrom "was kicking tonight. When he's playing at his best, it's really tough to get one by him. We've seen him do that before and we knew it might be a 1-0 game. He's such a good goalie, if we get one by him we had to make it stand up."
Backstrom was extraordinary behind a flat, flat team. He stopped 40 of 41 shots, including several, as Shane Doan said, "incredible ones."
But the Wild couldn't sustain any real pressure. They were beaten to pucks, couldn't chase down dumps and the D had a difficult time getting the puck up to the forwards. The Coyotes looked to be the quicker and more desperate team.
Look, every team's going to be tired or flat once in a blue moon. That's understandable. But it's not affordable, not in this conference.
The Wild slipped from 7th to 9th and will drop more, you can guarantee, because it's idle until Wednesday's home game (it'll honor Andrew Brunette for his 1,000th game that night) vs. Colorado.
Matt Cullen's injury and Jared Spurgeon's illness hurt because three forward lines were fouled up and the Wild lacked two of its usual power-play pointmen. The good news is both should be back by Wednesday, and others, like John Madden, who is clearly hurt, will have time to rest up.
Flat game all around, but as Backstrom said, "One bounce there, one bounce here, we could have tied it."
But that didn't come. Lot of guys played poorly, a lot of passengers, as Jacques Lemaire likes to say.
And suddenly the Wild, which scored 21 goals in five games before the break (4-1), has been shut out through regulation in two of three games since the break. The first time, Backstrom saved the day with a shutout, 3 for 3 shootout and 1-0 win over LA.
In other news:
Talked to GM Chuck Fletcher tonight, and Marek Zidlicky, who hasn't played since Dec. 29, is expected to practice Tuesday. Guillaume Latendresse is 10 to 14 days away from practice. He is expected to see his doctor this week. Fletcher hopes he can be back in the lineup by March 1.
Also, Cody Almond and Justin Falk, who both played tonight, were reassigned after the game.
As for the Wild, it's changed up it's schedule a little bit the next few days. It was originally supposed to take Sunday off, but the other day it changed that up. It'll now practice Sunday and take Monday off. Then, full practice again Tuesday.
Kent is covering Sunday's practice, so he'll write and blog. With no practice Monday, the next blog from me probably will be after Tuesday's practice. Of course, I'm sure I'll be active on Twitter (russostrib).
Enjoy the Super Bowl.
By Brian Stensaas
First - a word of warning to anyone traveling out there: BE CAREFUL!
This blog is coming to you a little late and will be brief because I'm just now returning home from covering practice today down at the X. Getting there and back to my south suburban home was just a complete mess. I thought my way there was bad when it took nearly 45 minutes to go 20 or so miles. Then I tried getting home. 35E southbound was closed because of an accident, an overhead freeway sign told me. So I hopped on Highway 13 and got completely lost somewhere between Mendota and Mendota Heights (I've lived here 10 years - didn't know there was a difference ..). Once I found Highway 77, I nearly spun out on the ramp but a little careful driving (coupled with a cuss word, I admit) saved the day.
Speaking of cussing, I won't rat anybody out but boy was today's Wild practice intense. It started right away when coach Todd Richards made it very clear to the team that they could do things his way and be out of there in 45 minutes, or continue to lag and be out there in an hour and a half. They must have found some sort of happy medium, because the practice lasted just a little over an hour. It was a good, tough practice, though. Lots of conditioning in this one, especially at the end.
A couple of good battles in the corners today. I saw one player whack his stick on the boards in frustration. And, like I said, some of the language was fierce.
Just about everyone who should be out on the ice was today. The lone exception was Andrew Brunette. Richards said Brunette tweaked his knee or ankle against Edmonton, played on it against the Flyers and came in today saying it was sore. So he just hit the weights. Richards said if the team had a game today, Brunette would have been out there for the morning skate. So I wouldn't worry too much about this.
What else ....
Antti Miettinen has a nasty-looking upper lip after taking an uncalled high stick to the face against the Flyers. Miettinen received a pretty deep cut and required stitches both inside and outside of his lip. I joked that he'll have to be careful shaving, and he deadpanned that he will keep the razor away, and probably will have a mustache for the Olympics. We'll see about that one
Niklas Backstrom was on the ice for about two hours today. He said he feels great and is ready to go. He did not, however, bite when asked if he's going to play Wednesday against Phoenix. He gave tus a grin and then the 'ole "You'll have to ask the coaches."
Chuck Kobasew again skated on his own after practice. He has been out since spraining his left ACL and PCL on Dec. 26. He must be getting close, though, because Richards said Kobasew will take part in Wednesday's morning skate.
OK - I have to get writing. Remember to follow me on Twitter ("stensation") this week for all your Wild updates while Russo gets ready for ice dancing coverage in Vancouver.
(Updated Sunday morning): Poor Flyers writers. Flight cancelled. Will miss Super Bowl, it appears. In Wild news, Wade Dubielewicz has been reassigned to Houston.
-- One other thing: That Minnesotan Olympic story I mentioned is a newspaper exclusive, so buy the paper pretty please.
I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that for the first time in Star Tribune history, the words, "Magnitogorsk" and "Ust-Kamenogorsk" are on the front page of the sports section.
Any place to get some Borscht at this late hour?
One game after Anton Khudobin played the shortest amount of time in NHL history (9:33) to win a game in his NHL debut (kudos to TV director/producer/wise guy/terrible poker player Pat O'Connor for calling Elias Sports Bureau to have this figured out), Khudobin tied Josh Harding for the most saves by a Wild goalie this season (38) in his first NHL start.
Khudobin, the kid assistant GM Tommy Thompson jokingly calls, "the Mad Russian," battled all night, especially in the first and third periods when the Wild needed him most. The Wild dominated the second period and wound up snapping a 1-1 tie on Owen Nolan's 53rd career winner.
Nolan was warrior all night -- again -- helping create Cal Clutterbuck's first-period goal and then "roughing" Scott Hartnell even though the two exchanged punches during a unanimous Nolan decision.
"I’m just trying to contribute. These are desperate times right now. We need all the points we can get," Nolan said.
Great stuff from Khudobin the paper, so check out the gamer and the notebook for all the pertinent information. Antti Miettinen did take an uncalled high-stick from Braydon Coburn to the face early in the third period. He never returned and received stitches. Hopefully he'll be OK.
Check out my Sunday column on Toronto GM Brian Burke, who tragically lost his youngest son this week. I also have an Olympic feature in Sunday's paper on the male Minnesotans in the tournament -- Erik Johnson, David Backes, Zach Parise and Jamie Langenbrunner.
In Monday's paper, I'll have a Pierre-Marc Bouchard story. And then, guess what? Brian Stensaas will be on the team for the rest of the homestand as I head to Vancouver on Tuesday with Rachel Blount and Jim Souhan to cover the Olympics. Wednesday I'll have an Olympic hockey advance in our special section, before I hit the luge beat for the weekend
Don't worry, I'll do my best to work sources to find out about trade deadline stuff, but remember, there's a roster freeze from Friday-Feb. 28. Otherwise, StensAAs will have to covered, and you can find him on Twitter at @stensation.
Odds and ends:
--Wild's now 8-0-1 in its past nine home games.
--Cal Clutterbuck's 11th goal tied his career-high.
--Owen Nolan scored No. 14
--Kim Johnsson posted an assist in his third straight game, a season-high, and it was huge because Nolan said if he didn't make that pass in the neutral zone and instead dumped the puck, Nolan and Eric Belanger would have likely gone off for a change.
--Belanger had an assist, giving him 34 points -- three off his career-high. He has 11 points in his last 14 games.
--The Wild's got 19 one-goal wins, the amount it had all of last season.
-- Minnesota defeated Philly for the first time in five meetings (Feb. 12, 2003).
-- The Wild's 8-3-3 against the East.
--The Wild's four points back of a playoff spot again.
OK, no practice Sunday and Brian will be with you from Monday on.
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