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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Posts about Rookies

Jonas Brodin makes All-Rookie Team; More on Cal Clutterbuck's future

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: June 29, 2013 - 12:20 PM

Sunday's 2 p.m. CT NHL draft is fast approaching (NBC Sports Network from 2-7 p.m.; NHL Network after 7 p.m.), and the Wild continues to shop Cal Clutterbuck and Tom Gilbert, especially.

Typically, deals like this come down on the draft floor or just before the draft because the Wild is looking for either a first-round pick in the Clutterbuck deal (teams are hesitant to give up firsts right now because this draft is so deep) or a second so it could potentially use two seconds to try to move into the first round.

And often times when picks are involved, the teams involved want to make certain first the player they want to take is still sitting there. For instance, in 2006 when the Wild acquired Pavol Demitra for a first and Patrick O'Sullivan, the L.A. Kings didn't agree to the deal until they were certain Trevor Lewis would still be there.

As you saw in today's story,  it is looking increasingly likely that Clutterbuck will be traded this weekend. He has value, he is a restricted free agent and the Wild's cap space is limited. The Wild is looking for a second and prospect, but perhaps the price can go up if there's a bidding war for Clutterbuck.

I do hear that GM Chuck Fletcher would prefer to trade Clutterbuck to the East. As I reported the other day, Fletcher had lunch Thursday with Maple Leafs GM Dave Nonis. Boston may make sense, too. In the West, as I reported last week, I hear Edmonton has shown significant interest. But I'd be lying if I said I know all the teams involved.

Again, Gilbert's future is almost certainly elsewhere. If he's not traded, the Wild will likely buy him out and create an extra $4 million of cap space. It'll also be interesting to see if the Wild moves guys like Devin Setoguchi or Kyle Brodziak or Torrey Mitchell. It's listening to offers at least.

As I've reported, with Jake Dowell likely going to be the fourth-line center next season and Mike Rupp also in the fold, Zenon Konopka is also on the block. Fletcher said recently that the Wild have a few guys who play the same role.

I've gotten lots of emails and tweets asking if the Wild's going after this guy and this guy and this guy and, uh, Vinny Lecavalier, in free agency. Again, unless the Wild frees up cap space, the answer to virtually everything right now is, "No." If space is freed, then we'll see then. Remember, if Clutterbuck is traded for a non-roster player and pick, that doesn't add to the Wild's roughly $3.6 million in cap space.

That cap space doesn't include unsigned restricted guys Clutterbuck, Jared Spurgeon and Justin Falk or unrestricted center Matt Cullen.

In other Wild news:

Wild defenseman Jonas Brodin, who finished fourth in the Calder Trophy race, was named to the All-Rookie team Saturday. He became the first Wild player in history to be honored with an All-NHL nomination.

Ryan Suter is a likely contender for First or Second-Team All-Star. That may come out tomorrow.
Last season, Brodin, the youngest defenseman in the NHL at age 20, drafted 10th overall in 2011, led all rookies in total ice time (1,044:35) and average time on ice (23:12 per game), becoming just the eighth rookie skater in league history to average more than 23 minutes a game.
Brodin, who scored 11 points in 45 games, led rookie defensemen with 18 takeaways and was fourth among all rookies with 60 blocked shots.
Other members of the All-Rookie team are St. Louis goalie Jake Allen, Edmonton defenseman Justin Schultz, Montreal forward Brendan Gallagher, Florida forward Jonathan Huberdeau and Chicago forward Brandon Saad.
--Also, the Wild has yet to extend a qualifying offer to potential restricted free agent Justin Falk, his agent confirmed to me. The Wild, which has been shopping Falk, has until Tuesday to decide if it wants to retain the defenseman’s rights.
If Falk isn’t qualified, he would become unrestricted when free agency opens Friday. I did get an email sent to me regarding a comment on one of the stories where a reader thought Falk was unrestricted already. He is indeed restricted.
More later if news breaks.

Wild vs. Blackhawks blog: Pominville returns to practice; PHWA voting process

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: May 6, 2013 - 5:25 PM
With the Wild hoping to even its series with the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 4 Tuesday (8:30 p.m.), injured Jason Pominville took part in this morning’s optional practice. He was unavailable to the media and coach Mike Yeo was vague about his availability for Game 4 – partly because it’s the playoffs and probably because he doesn’t know.
After all, Yeo thought Pominville was ready before Game 1. But the winger woke up in Chicago not feeling right following a strenuous practice the day before and hasn’t played in the three games since.
My guess is he’s not ready yet. Stranger things have happened in the playoffs, but besides the fact that you don’t want to rush the vet back in if he’s hurt, today was only his second practice (and an optional one at that) since the April 23 injury, so who knows where he is fitness wise?
“Today was encouraging,” Yeo said. “I’m not saying that he’s a possibility for tomorrow. I’m not saying that he isn’t. For me, I’m just glad he was on the ice today and we’ll just see what the plan is going forward.”
Afternoon from the bowels of the X, where I've got a ton of writing in front of me. But here is a 2,000-word blog for your review. I will also host a live chat on startribune.com Tuesday at 3 p.m. CT. Be there or be square.
Today’s optional included, for the start of the skate, Sunday heroes Matt Cullen and Jason Zucker, and for all of the skate Pominville, Justin Falk, Jake Dowell, Matt Dumba, Nate Prosser, Marco Scandella, Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Carson McMillan, Mikael Granlund, Stephane Veilleux and goalies Niklas Backstrom and Darcy Kuemper.
McMillan was called up today because there is a chance he could play Game 4. Dumba was called up because he basically had nothing to gather in Houston. The rest of the Houston vets returned there to pack up their lives.
On Tuesday, a handful more Houston players will likely be recalled, including everybody’s favorite UMD Bulldog, Justin Fontaine. The Wild, like all playoff teams, will have a lot of young guys around for the remainder of the playoffs. That doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily play, but they’ll be here to practice and get a taste of the NHL life. That includes everybody's favorite UMD Bulldog. Fontaine is a long way off from being put into his first NHL game.
My guess is either McMillan or Dowell play Game in place of Mike Rupp. Zenon Konopka didn’t play Game 3. Rupp played four shifts. Normally, you’d be on the ice for an optional if that were the case. Neither was today, meaning Konopka’s foot is an issue and Rupp’s knee.
“Might need some rest,” Yeo said, lying through his grinning teeth.
When I noted Rupp played four shifts, Yeo quipped, “They were hard shifts.”
Yeo said Rupp and Konopka might play. Or, might not.
Stephane Veilleux should earn a second straight game on the fourth line. Played a little under eight minutes, three hits – two on his first shift on menace (and I say that with respect because he’s been great) Johnny Oduya.
“We knew there would be energy in the building and we knew that he would contribute to that too,” Yeo said humorously of Veilleux. “Against a team like this, his skating ability was a big factor of why we chose him. He’s able to get in on the forecheck and he’s able to arrive and apply the pressure.”
Veilleux joked to me that he didn’t need to drink any Red Bull during the game. Said Yeo, “He’s pretty naturally wired. He does have experience. It’s not like we’re calling up a young kid that’s full of energy. He knows how to bring that energy without going over the line, too.”
The big message of the day from the Wild is it’s accomplished nothing so far.
It played in well in Game 3. It won. It’s still trailing in the series.
The Wild expects the Blackhawks to ramp it up, especially physically, and come with a shoot-from-everywhere mentality in Game. 4. The Wild needs to up its level, too.
“That’s the goal, that’s kind of what we’ve been striving for right from Game 1,” Yeo said. “That’s what we said with the playoffs -- you have to elevate your game. Looking at the video, there’s still some areas that we think we could be a little bit better. But at the very least, we have to be ready to bring a lot of the same things that we did last game. Part of the challenge for us next game will be to brace against their pushback. We know that they’re going to come hard and I’m anxious to see how we respond to that.”

There will be a heckuva lot more in the paper. One thing I plan to write about is Jonas Brodin not being named a finalist for the Calder.
As you can imagine, Brodin was humble today, seemed to care less and is just ready to keep logging big minutes to help this team win in the playoffs.
Yeo said, “I’m disappointed. And congratulations to the other players (Montreal’s Brendan Gallagher, Florida’s Jonathan Huberdeau and Chicago's Brandon Saad). They’re great players. And I mean this with the greatest respect to them, but I’ve coached this guy all year and we’re here battling in the playoffs and it’s hard to say that we would be if he’s not on our team. This kid is a very, very good hockey player. So it’s disappointing for me.”
Basically, and real quick because I have a ton of writing to do for Tuesday’s paper, but members of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association – I’m chapter chairman of the Twin Cities chapter and Vice President of the Northwest Division – votes on the Hart, Norris, Calder, Lady Byng, Selke and Masterton Trophies, in addition to All-Star (First- and Second-teams) and All-Rookie Teams.
Votes have to be submitted to an accounting firm in New York just prior to the first playoff game.
I talked with Kevin Allen of the USA Today this morning about the voting process this year. He is President of the PHWA (@ThePHWA on Twitter).
First, a little history. Ten years ago when Allen took over, there were three votes per chapter. In order to shrink the margin of error (that one or two bad ballots could ruin everything), Allen worked to vastly increase the number of eligible voters.
 Slowly, but surely, and in order to try to get a level of geographic balance, there wound up being about 68 votes in the West and 68 votes in the East, including what Allen called at-large votes (national writers that see everybody).
Today, the PHWA relies on recommendations from the Chapter Chairperson. To vote, you have to be a member. This year, there were 178 voters – the most in our history (every member doesn’t get a vote).
The breakdown of eligible voters this year, according to Allen, were 46.4 percent from Eastern cities, 32.8 percent from Western cities and 20.8 percent from international chapter members who cover no specific teams.
Allen doesn’t buy into the Eastern bias theory, saying, “Quality voter is a quality voter regardless of where he’s located. If you look at the way things have turned out historically, there’s no evidence ever to suggest there’s been geographic imbalance.
“I have great faith in our ability as an association to vote for what we think are the right people. This isn’t like the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s. This is the day of the Internet and the availability of NHL Network. I just can’t believe things happen in the NHL without our members knowing about it. I think our votes knew who he was and what he was about.”
“This year, Rookie of the Year was a little difficult. In my mind, our group didn’t pick the guys I thought would be finalists. That doesn’t mean we’re wrong. It just means people didn’t think the same way I did.”
Allen provided some examples to show there’s not an Eastern bias. Allen noted that in 2010, Duncan Keith won over Eastern golden boy Mike Green when there weren’t even 60 eligible Western voters. Last year, Shea Weber came within a whisker of winning the Norris. He was on 146 ballots (more than Erik Karlsson). Last year in the Calder, Gabriel Landeskog (Colorado) and Ryan-Nugent Hopkins (Edmonton) went 1-2.
One thing I personally think is flawed about our voting system is the imbalance among chapters. I don’t know how to fix it unless you go back to the same amount of votes per chapter, but for instance, Phoenix chapter has 1 person who votes, Nashville 2, Minnesota 7, Montreal 12.
Obviously, in a case like this year, you’ve got to see Brodin to really appreciate how good he is and how impactful he was to the Wild. And this year, there were significantly less Western voters.
I also think this was a very difficult year for members to vote. West writers only covered games vs. West, East voters only vote for East. There were 48 games in 99 days, so there weren’t a lot of off-days to watch other games between teams we don’t cover on television. Also, the large chunk of our voting members are not traveling beat writers.
So to me, it’s incumbent on writers to take voting seriously and do their homework. I didn’t have a good sense of many of the Eastern players this year because of what I wrote above. So I talked to scouts, a few GM’s and lots of Eastern writers for their thoughts on players.
Similarly, I received emails and a few calls from Eastern writers about what’s going on this West.
Personally, I’m not convinced every writer does the same thing.
As for Brodin not being a finalist, I look forward to seeing the final tabulations. I still believe a lot of members are very point-centric when it comes to voting. In other words, they scan the stat sheets and vote. If you do that, Brodin’s not going to jump at you. To disprove that, folks have noted Nail Yakupov to me. He wasn’t a finalist despite leading rookies in points. Of course, he went on a tear the last few days of the season and by then a lot of voters cast their ballots. That’s why I never vote until after the regular season is over. I want to see who makes the playoffs, how players performed through an entire 82-game season (or 48-game season this year).
So I’d be very interested to see how many ballots Brodin didn’t even appear on. And if that’s the case, then that’s disappointing.
I can tell you, the Wild’s real disappointed in Brodin not being a finalist, and frankly, this could have cost the team bonus money for him. Now, they are worried Ryan Suter will even be a finalist. We’ll find that out Tuesday.
Allen did plan to reach out to GM Chuck Fletcher today to discuss the PHWA’s voting process.
As for Blackhawks news, no Dave Bolland or Ray Emery for Game 4. Agitating, hard-hitting forward Dan Carcillo has been scratched for three straight games. It wouldn't shock me if he played as a response to the Wild outhitting Chicago last game.
Coach Joel Quenneville said he might play. And, he might not.
Quenneville and Yeo are speaking from the same coach’s handbook.
From Rachel Blount:
Here is Coach Q on Calder Finalist Saad: "He’s had a real nice year for us. He’s come into the NHL maybe under the radar when he started the season,  but the appreciation for what he contributed to our team game from start to finish was very strong. I think that line, his consistency, absorbing more responsibility as the season went on, being on special teams, getting quite a few minutes, the confidence that we used him was based on how well he played and how consistent he played. His strength and his size and his anticipation on both sides of the puck are going to make him a nice player going forward. But a real good start to his career."
The Blackhawks were careful to say Monday that they do not need to respond to the Wild's effort in Game 3 as much as they simply need to take care of their own business. While they stressed the need to be more physical, they also said that has to happen within the context of their style.
Chicago winger Patrick Kane warned that too much emphasis on hits could knock the Blackhawks off their usual game. If they stick with the speedy, skilled style that won them the President's Trophy and augment it with enough muscle to fight back, he said, they will be right where they need to be.
"You want to be physical, you want to ramp up the intensity and bring a little bit more to playoff hockey,'' said Kane, whose five assists put him in a three-way tie for fourth place in the NHL's postseason scoring race. "But sometimes if you're worried about bringing too much intensity and physicality, you're not worried about doing the things we did to score a lot of goals this year--which we did. We need to just try to get back to the way the Blackhawks play hockey.
"We want to play fast. Teams can try to be physical against us, but when we're playing fast and moving, it's tough to catch us. ... When we're playing well, we have a lot of players rolling. It's a shift after shift continuance where teams are struggling to contain us. Usually, when you bring that heat for a full 60 minutes, teams are going to struggle with that.''
Coach Joel Quenneville reminded his team that it showed flashes of that Sunday. It just didn't sustain it, so that will be the goal Tuesday. He does want to see a little more edge to his players as well. He used words such as passion, emotion, urgency and directness to describe what he wants from them Tuesday and said he does not think Chicago has "given (the Wild) our best.''
"I think we'll see a very intense team,'' he said of what he expects from the Blackhawks in Game 4. "I think when you watch other playoff series, you can see the animosity, the hatred, the battles. That's playoff hockey. That's the level we've got to get to, and we'll go from there.''

The Minnesota Wild of the National Hockey League (NHL) announced plans for a pre-game party from 6-8 p.m. Tuesday, prior to the team’s 8:30 p.m. faceoff against Chicago in Game 4 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals. The party will take place along the sidewalk between Gates 1 and 3 of Xcel Energy Center.

“Minnesota is the State of Hockey, and Saint Paul proudly serves as its capitol as we celebrate the return of Stanley Cup Playoff hockey and an invigorating Wild win on Sunday,” Saint Paul Mayor Chris Coleman said. “With the later start of Tuesday 's game, we encourage fans to come and be a part of the playoff atmosphere. Festivities will include the Wild pre-game events at Xcel Energy Center as well as all the activity at the other downtown establishments.”

The party will include live music by Five Man Advantage, food and drink, including a beer garden, a Hockey Lodge tent with new playoff merchandise, along with a Beard-A-Thon tent. Fans can register to win one of two pair of tickets to Game 4 at the Beard-A-Thon tent. In addition, KFAN 100.3 FM will broadcast live from 3-8 p.m.

The Wild encourages all fans to get downtown early and visit the pre-game party and other downtown St. Paul establishments. Xcel Energy Center gates will open at 7 p.m. Tuesday. Game 4 will be broadcast on FOX Sports North locally, and NBC Sports Network nationally, in addition to CBC throughout Canada.

Desperate times call for desperate measures: Veilleux, Dowell up; Granlund, Zucker down

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: April 22, 2013 - 12:09 PM

It was just a matter of time before the Wild would have to make a roster shakeup after losing five in a row at home.

Rookies Mikael Granlund and Jason Zucker, coming off a couple poor efforts, especially last night against Calgary, have been reassigned. Energy bugs Stephane Veilleux and Jake Dowell have been recalled to play the big, bad defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday.

The Wild has lacked physicality in recent games, focus at proper times, like getting the puck deep and not taking penalties on power plays (see Zucker and Granlund), and also defensive smarts in some key situations.

So Zucker, who was coming off a string of bad games, and Granlund take the hit. Zucker's turnovers have hurt the team since his last recall, and he probably destined himself for this when he bailed out of beating an icing last night. Granlund is just not ready -- plain, simple -- in my opinion.

Veilleux and Dowell are veterans, so they should do their jobs, keep it simple (hit people, get pucks deep and forecheck) and bring some of the elements missing from this team during absences to Mike Rupp and Zenon Konopka.

Desperate move for a desperate team. No matter the way the Wild decides to spin it today, this is a Code Blue move.

Josh Harding and Darcy Kuemper have been flipped, too, as expected, and Harding has been activated off IR.

Here are the numbers on the players involved in the switches.

Dowell, the former Wisconsin Badger who has played in 154 NHL games, had four goals in 37 games with Houston. He's 28.  Veilleux, 31, had three goals in 33 games with the Aeros. He has 460 NHL games under his belt.

Harding was 1-1 on his rehab assignment in Houston, stopping 56 of 61 shots. He played in four games for the Wild this season before symptoms related to multiple sclerosis sidelined him.

Kuemper was 1-2 for the Wild this season after posting a 1.88 goals-against average in 21 games with the Aeros.

Zucker has four goals in 19 games for the Wild, and had 24 in 55 games for the Aeros. Granlund had two goals in 27 games with the Wild and 10 in 29 games with the Aeros.

The Wild's in a crisis. This is a reaction to that. We will see if it works now.

Like I said last night, Wild goes 2-1 in its final three games, there should be a postseason.

More after availability at 11.


Wild ends Dallas skid and extends win streak to 6 games to retake division lead

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: March 26, 2013 - 3:12 PM
For the first time in my eight seasons as the Wild beat writer, I witnessed the Wild win in Dallas.
I’m hanging up my laptop now.
Ginormous victory in the Big D tonight as the Wild three times rallied from one-goal deficits and one time surrendered its first lead in 10 games in this rink of doom only to recover. The Wild scored a season-high seven goals on a season-high 42 shots to win 7-4 and take a W out of American Airlines Center for the first time since March 21, 2003 (16 losses ago).
“Thank God it’s over,” said Kyle Brodziak, whose fourth career shorthanded goal was the Wild’s first of the season to break a 4-4 tie with 7:22 left – 20 seconds after Mike Rupp tried to lift Ray Whitney’s stick and instead clipped him for a 4-minute power play.
Then, after Brodziak gave Minnesota a 5-4 lead, the penalty kill – like it has done so much this season – went to work and extinguished both minors en route to the Wild’s sixth consecutive regulation victory – the first time in team history the Wild’s done that. The Wild has now won 11 of 14 and is 15-5-1 in its past 21 to retake the top spot in the Northwest.
Big win because the Wild figured out a way to win in a game Niklas Backstrom clearly wasn’t at his best. He gave up some cheesy ones, but hours after getting NHL Second Star of the Week honors, Backstrom found a way to leave a winner thanks to some big saves on that third-period PK.
“It was a funny game for him too I think,” said coach Mike Yeo. “At the end of the day, he won. That’s what it’s all about.”
Backstrom is 14-3-1 in his past 18 (You can read Backstrom’s quotes in the gamer, and there are some other real good ones in there as well on www.startribune.com/wild).
Frankly though, Backstrom doesn’t play well in this building. I’d start him at home Wednesday vs. Phoenix and leave him home Friday to rest up for Saturday’s home game vs. Los Angeles. Why travel him? You can start rookies Matt Hackett or Darcy Kuemper in Dallas on Friday. Backstrom deserves the rest. He’s been that good in starting 15 of 16. He is tied for the NHL lead with 17 wins. You have backups for a reason.
By the way, as an aside because that’s the way my mind works, the Wild left its road whites and a ton of equipment here in Dallas instead of bringing it back to Minnesota. (As a friend of mine would sarcastically say, good story, tell it again).
Zach Parise scored two goals and an assist and had five shots. Mikko Koivu had a goal and assist on six shots and won 10 of 16 draws. Parise, who has a team-best 14 goals, was great on their chemistry, and I’ll put that in the follow for Wednesday’s paper because the Wild isn’t practicing Tuesday. Koivu and Parise have combined for 31 points the past 14 games.
Matt Cullen became the 37th American and ninth Minnesotan to score 200 goals. The 36-year-old also had an assist. Brodziak and Pierre-Marc Bouchard also had a goal and assist, Cal Clutterbuck brushed off a broken leg (kinda, sorta, OK not really) for two assists (created the Brodziak winner) and defense partners Clayton Stoner and Jared Spurgeon each had two assists and were plus-5’s – tying Todd White’s team record and setting a team record for defensemen.
Dany Heatley iced it with a goal the way the Wild scored all night – attacking the net.
“I love the way that we’re scoring goals,” Yeo said. “Obviously there’s skill involved. But it’s matching our identity that we’re a hard team. We’re physical. We defend hard. Offensively we’re going to be hard the way we get to the net and wear on teams.”
What else?
Cue Yeo: “Just real impressed with our guys to stick with it. It was one of those feelings at least behind the bench that you were like, ‘oh man, is this not our night.’ It felt like things weren’t bouncing our way even just giving the history in here. But they found a way to win.”
Yeo ain’t kidding. Parise had one sure-looking goal bounce off Derek Roy’s stick. Before Parise’s second-period goal, it looked like Brenden Dillon put one into his own net, but video review couldn’t find evidence it went in.
“I give them credit all game long continuing to push forward and stay with it and finding way,” Yeo said.
Yeo on not having to answer questions on The Streak before Friday’s game here: “Really glad. Are we done with this?”
Koivu on the game: “Usually when it’s fun to watch, it’s not the type of game you want, especially on the road.”
But as Koivu and then Parise said, “Every time they scored, we responded.”
Love this quote on Antoine Roussel from Mike Rupp (Rupp got a misconduct after the double minor on Whitney when he came together with Roussel and he fell: “Lot of smoke and mirrors with that No. 60. Where I’m from you don’t lay on the ice unless you’re hurt.”
Heck of an effort by Clutterbuck, who couldn’t put any weight on his right leg as he skated off the ice following a violent first-period collision with the net. He returned in the second to assist on two goals. He still was limping badly after the game.
Lastly, here’s some tweets on the game from @mnwildpr (PR stalwart Ryan Stanzel):

Wild with 1st 7 goal outing since 8-4 W 4/10/09 vs NSH. Last time w 7 on road was 11/16/06 in SO win at NSH...

 2nd time in team history with 7 goals in regulation on road, 3/25/04 at CHI an 8-2 win
Wild just the 4th team to score 7 goals in Dallas since 1997-98 season. Chicago did it March 16 of this season
4th all-time Wild win streak of 6-plus games. 1st time w 6 straight in regulation. Team record is 9 wins (3/8-3/24/07)
Wild has 5 straight road wins - 2 off team record. 4 straight in regulation on road ties team record
Stoner/Spurgeon join Salo/Gonchar as lone nhl players at +5 this ssn. 1st teammates at +5 in 1 game since EDM Peckham/Petry vs CHI 11/19/11
Wild had combined to score 7 goals in last 5 trips to North Texas
2nd win for Backstrom since Dec '09 when allowing 4+ goals. Other came 9 days ago in Denver
OK, that’s it for me. Wild doesn’t practice Tuesday. My editor, Chris Miller is covering Wednesday’s 8 p.m. game for moi. Treat him nice. Follow him on Twitter at @cmillstrib. Kent Youngblood has Thursday’s practice and I’ll be back with ya Friday from Dallas.
I plan to make my Sunday column another blog Q and A where you can ask me some questions and I’ll answer those selected in my Sunday column. Look for that blog to enter questions sometime Wednesday.
Anyway, crazy night. Wild win in Dallas for the first time since 2003 and James Sheppard scored his first NHL goal since 2009.

Red-hot Wild keeps growing as a team, climbing the standings

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: March 21, 2013 - 5:23 AM
Don’t look now, but the Wild has won four in a row overall, four in a row on the road, swept a 3+-game road trip for the first time since Jan. 2011 and for the first time in history won three consecutive road games by 2+ goals each.
Big 4-2 win tonight in Detroit. There seemed to be misinformation out there all night that this would be the Wild’s first win in Detroit in 14 games. It was the Wild’s first regulation win in Detroit in 14 (Jan. 3, 2006), but it was actually the Wild’s fourth win here in 14 games.
Nevertheless, the Wild typically doesn’t play well here, just like it didn’t play well in Vancouver before ousting the Canucks 3-1 on Monday. Could this team actually vanquish the 10-year demons in Dallas? That’s right, the Wild hasn’t won in American Airlines Center since 2003. Well, it’ll have two kicks at the can next week (Monday and Friday).
But, as coach Mike Yeo and player after play said after tonight’s win, this is a completely different team than year’s past. It has come together impressively since Feb. 9, going 13-5-1 in the past 19 games to sit atop the Northwest Division. It has won nine of its past 12 and is getting contributions everywhere.
Every line has an identity. It has scored 18 goals in the past four games. The blue line is playing great, especially effortless Ryan Suter and his ice-in-his-veins partner Jonas Brodin. Suter leads all NHL players in ice time, Brodin leads all NHL rookies. The power play has scored 11 times in the past 12 games and has climbed to 14th in the NHL. The penalty kill ranks fifth.
And Niklas Backstrom has just been awesome, going 12-3-1 in his past 16 starts and now sitting tied for second in the NHL with 15 wins. So much for being exhausted.
The best part of this team right now: The been-there, done-that attitude. Suter scores in Colorado? It’s followed up by a tiny little fist pump. Win a big game in Detroit? And player after player essentially says what Backstrom said, “It’s two points tonight. Next game comes fast. We just have to move on.”
Same stuff was said in Vancouver. There was no big party in the locker room after winning in Vancouver for the first time since 2009.
“You’ve got everybody going out and playing our game and playing hard, and that’s a good feeling,” Yeo said.
Asked if the Wild may look back at this road trip as a big breakthough, Yeo said, “I sure hope not because we’ve been doing a real good job at just looking at what’s right in front of us.”
Tonight, Devin Setoguchi scored two goals. He now has goals in four of the last five games, a five-game point streak and 11 goals and 18 points in the past 19 games. He now shares the goal scoring lead with Zach Parise after going scoreless in his first 10 games.
Mikko Koivu scored the eventual winner, Kyle Brodziak scored and Pierre-Marc Bouchard had two assists for his third consecutive multi-point game. Huge turnaround for Bouchard to escape the doghouse. He now has a four-game point streak since being scratched in three straight. Matt Cullen also extended his point streak to six games.
Brodin was great again. Charlie Coyle brushed off a dirty Niklas Kronwall head shot by helping set up Koivu’s winner with a great wall play to trigger a Brodin-led 2-on-1 with Parise. Backstrom made a season-high 36 saves.
The Wild was outshot 38-19, but not indicative, Backstrom said. He went 17 for 17 in the first period and said the shots were to the outside.
A month ago, the Wild would have said its legs were predictably mush after flying across the continent on Tuesday. No more excuses, said Suter. It’s about accountability.
“The main thing is everyone is ready to go from the start of the game no matter who it is,” Setoguchi said. “When you’ve got everyone going and every line jumping, it just makes it that much easier to go out there and play for everyone else.”
On winning in Vancouver and Detroit, Brodziak said, “Over the years, the wins in these two places have been few and far between. We feel really good about our team right now. We feel confident with any line we put out there, any d-man that we put out there, Backy obviously in the net. Everyone seems to be finding their stride. We’re playing the system well, everyone’s battling hard, our confidence is up as well.
“Saying that though, we can’t be satisfied. We’ve got to keep working hard and doing the things that got us to this point. We want to keep growing as a team.”
Anyway, read the game story on www.startribune.com/wild and also the notebook on why the Wild must be cautious adding big contracts the next little while. This, like the trade deadline story in Wednesday’s paper, are must-reads in my opinion if you want to understand as a Wild fan why the Wild can’t go out the next few years and sign and trade for every big name in the NHL.
That’s it for me. The Wild, which by the way had its bus break down on the way to the airport after the game, has the day off Thursday. Kent Youngblood has practice Friday. I’ll talk to you Saturday from the X before and after the San Jose game. And of course, follow me on Twitter please at www.twitter.com/russostrib. You may even see me at the X for the WCHA Final Five. Can’t wait to watch.


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