This is Michael Russo's 18th year covering the National Hockey League. He's covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005 following 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. Michael 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.
There weren't too many folks on the ice for Sunday's optional skate at Xcel Energy Center.
Goalies Josh Harding and Darcy Kuemper with a handful of skaters -- Nate Prosser, Justin Falk, Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund, Jason Zucker, Brett Clark.
As they took turns taking shots on goal at one end of the rink, Matt Cullen was at the other, working very hard on battle drills with assistant coach Darby Hendrickson. Cullen was on the ice long before anyone else. And when he came off, he had good news.
"We're getting to the point in the season where you have to be in there," said Cullen, who has missed six games with a lower body injury. "So it was a good day to push it a little bit, see how it feels in the morning, how everything is going. But it was definitely a good day. And it's definitely getting better."
Cullen is going on the trip with the Wild, which plays its next three on the road. And coach Mike Yeo said there was a chance Cullen could be in the lineup Monday night in Calgary.
"He looked really good," said Yeo, who didn't skate Sunday but did make sure to look in on Cullen. "He looked good today. We'll see how it is tomorrow."
Yeo indicated that should Cullen be ready, he'd be inclined to reunite Cullen with Devin Setoguchi, considering how well the two clicked before. The question would be who would be the third man on that line. Yeo said it would be either Jason Zucker or Pierre-Marc Bouchard.
Here are some other items from today:
--Russo blogged earlier that there would be no supplemental discipline from the NHL for his hit on Artem Anisimov early in the game with Columbus. Coyle said he wasn't surprised, that he thought it was a clean hit and that he wasn't trying to hurt anyone. But he disappoint his family, who came a long way to watch him play all of 17 seconds. The good news? His family was also around to watch the Wild game Thursday. Plus, Coyle said his two nephews enjoyed watching him fight Brandon Dubinsky Saturday.
--Yeo said center Zenon Konopka, who was wearing a cast on what is believed to be a broken foot, would not be out an extended period. "I don't think it will be a long time," Yeo said. Konopka did not fly with the team to Calgary, but Yeo said there was a chance Konopka could join them on the road trip should he heal sufficiently.
That's it. Have a good afternoon.
Marian Gaborik, the all-time leading scorer in Wild history, somebody who would have been an original Columbus Blue Jacket and not Rostislav Klesla if the Wild hadn't won a coin flip to allow it to pick 3rd before the 2000 draft, will make his home debut Sunday night (5 p.m. CT).
It comes in the same arena -- Nationwide -- where Gaborik played his final game as a Wild on April 11, 2009. He scored two goals, one assist that game, the same game Jacques Lemaire announced after would be his last behind the Wild bench. Three or four days later, the Doug Risebrough era came to an end, too.
Oh, the memories
Now Gaborik plays for Todd Richards, the former Wild coach who never got to coach Gaborik because he signed a five-year deal with the Rangers. On Wednesday, Gaborik waived his no-trade clause to join the Wild's expansion cousins.
The Jackets, who have played great hockey for awhile behind BOB (Sergei Bobrovsky), are a desperate team right now, so the Wild should expect their best effort. Columbus' loss in St. Louis on Friday night was its third in regulation in the past 19 (11-3-5). The Wild has won six games in history in Columbus, and the Jackets currently have a 12-game home point streak going -- no regulation home losses since Feb. 10 (9-0-3).
This is a hard-working, fast team that became even faster with the acquisition of Gaborik, whom we all know doesn't need too many chances to make you hurt.
You know he'll be jacked (no pun intended) up Sunday to debut in front of the Jackets' faithful.
The Wild, it will be looking to rediscover its game after three consecutive losses and four in the past five. Today at Nationwide, the Wild had its first real practice in 14 days. The legs feel better, the spirits are high and the Wild says it's time to get its act together.
After Sunday, the Wild returns home for a three-game homestand, so a win in a tough arena Sunday could result in a much-needed exhale of relief.
The Wild will be without Dany Heatley and Matt Cullen though. Heatley's injury is not a wrist, by the way, but we'll stick with upper body. But the guess is he'll be out at least a week or more. He did make the trip from California with the team for treatment but coach Mike Yeo said the Wild may send him home to see the doc. Cullen has been home with his lower body injury and Yeo hopes he'll be close to a return when the Wild gets back to Minnesota.
Niklas Backstrom vs. the BOB. Backstrom was yanked after giving up two goals on two shots Thursday in L.A. He is 20-2-4 in his first start after being pulled with a 1.91 goals against average, 16-0-2 since March 26, 2008 with a 1.69 goals against average and .943 save percentage.
Yeo indicated he may tinker with the blue line against the Jackets, so we'll see if that means Justin Falk AND Nate Prosser get in or just one.
Lots of questions lately about why Jason Zucker isn't here. He is tearing it up in Houston again.
I agree with you and my guess is it's coming. There will be 10 games left after Sunday. The only priority should be putting the best lineup on the ice that will help win games, not worrying about hurting feelings.
The problem is there's only a couple guys that could come out, so my gut tells me Pierre-Marc Bouchard, whose game has slipped again, best have a good one against Columbus or we could see Zucker up by the homestand. The Wild needs Zucker's speed, energy and goal-scoring ability.
A lot of questions why Mikael Granlund got the call instead of Zucker in the first place. I agree with you there, too. I can only say that without Cullen, the Wild felt it needed a center and the Wild feels Charlie Coyle is best used as a winger. But I wasn't particularly impressed with Granlund's game in L.A, so man, the Wild needs Cullen back bigtime if the Wild feels it doesn't have a better option at center.
For more on the running-hot Jackets and their desperation level, here is the blog of Columbus Dispatch ace beat writer Aaron Portzline.
Talk to you after Sunday's morning skates.
Rarely has anybody been as excited about taking part in an optional practice as Josh Harding was today.
Harding got to Xcel Energy Center early. Warmed up. Waited. Then, in pads, he took the ice with four teammates in a very informal setting and took some shots.
“It was an exciting day,” Harding said.
It was discovered last fall that Harding had multiple sclerosis. It was hoped that it could be contained with proper treatment. But, after his body didn’t react well to his medication, he was put on injured reserve Feb. 12 . That began a weeks-long process of trying to find the right treatment combination. A process that was, for Harding, at times very difficult.
“The slope I was taking, I could feel it,” Harding said. “I think everybody around me was noticing, too. It was going downhill, and a couple days you wonder if you’re going to get better. The scariest thing was when I tried some things that were supposed to help me and they didn’t. And that was when it kind of started getting to me, that this might be serious. And you think about hockey, you think about how your life is going to change. That’s why it’s exciting for myself to feel better this last week and a half.”
Harding is confident in his new treatment regimen. He has been working out hard for a week and a half. He had skated twice before Thursday, but hadn’t taken any shots. That’s why being in net and taking shots was so important.
There is no timetable for his return. That won’t be determined until Harding, the doctors, coach Mike Yeo and general manager Chuck Fletcher all get together and talk about the situation.
But Harding said he feels good.
“I think we kinda got it under wraps here,” he said. “This was a big step for me. Hopefully it just keeps going the right way.”
Here are a couple other notes from today:
--Yeo wouldn’t say whether he plans on having goalie Niklas Backstrom stay in the Twin Cities while the rest of the team goes to Dallas. We will know more later this afternoon, as a move would have to be made if Backstrom stays behind to get some rest. “I haven’t considered it yet,” Yeo said. “Or, maybe I have.”
But Mike Russo is pretty certain Backstrom won't be on the trip, which would mean Matt Hackett would need to get called up later this afternoon. If that is the case, the question is, who will start, Hackett or Darcy Kuemper? Hackett struggled with Houston on Tuesday. Backstrom, who has had a heavy workload of late, would then be rested for Saturday's home game against Los Angeles.
--Yeo wasn’t about to talk about any potential lineup changes. And that includes whether the recent play of defensemen Tom Gilbert and Justin Falk. Brett Clark and Nate Prosser were two of the three skaters at Thursday’s optional skate – Mike Rupp was the other. Might it be time for Clark to make his Wild debut?
--Here is Yeo on the trade of Jarome Iginla to Pittsburgh: “There is a reason why good players want to go play there,” Yeo said. “They’ve created a winning culture there, and players want the chance to win.’’
But won’t it be strange to play Calgary without seeing Iginla in a Flames uniform? “It will be good, that’s for sure,” Yeo said.
That’s about all for now. Russo will be back in the saddle tomorrow.
|Vikings (29)||Gophers injuries (2)|
|Gophers on TV (1)||Gophers coaches (2)|
|Gophers players (7)||Gophers game day (6)|
|Gophers postgame (12)||Gophers awards and honors (1)|
|Gophers post season (1)||St. Cloud State (1)|
|Wild news (404)||Bears (4)|
|Lions (1)||NFL draft (1)|
|Packers (1)||Super Bowl (6)|
|Vikings fans (3)||Ex-players (1)|
|On the road (149)||Rookies (34)|
|Roster moves (12)||The draft (86)|
|Trade talk (3)||Fighting (3)|
|Stanley Cup (28)||Wild coaching (30)|
|Wild game coverage (318)||Wild management (13)|
|Wild off-season news (360)||Wild player moves (105)|
|Wild practice (267)||Wild pregame skate (285)|
|Wild trade news (28)||Wild training camp (90)|
|Adrian Peterson (4)||Ben Leber (1)|
|Bernard Berrian (1)||Brad Childress (3)|
|Brett Favre (5)||Jared Allen (1)|
|Brad Childress (3)||NHL news (1)|
|2010 Winter Games (5)||Olympic hockey (23)|
|Olympic luge (3)||Olympic ski jumping (2)|
|Olympic skiing (2)||NHL draft (7)|
|Gophers sports (3)||Gophers (38)|