Rachel B here, sitting in for Russo, who managed to miss this morning's snow. In a stroke of magnificent timing, he stayed in Florida. I'm hoping he doesn't blog/tweet any more of those beach photos. That's just piling on.
Mike Yeo said he was looking forward to a much-needed practice Monday at Xcel. The Wild stayed on the ice for an hour, giving particular attention to special teams and three-on-three play around the net in a highly focused session. Nearly everyone spent extra time after practice to work on shooting, too.
Yeo reconfigured his lines again, going back to the combinations used for five games before Saturday's 2-1 shootout loss at Florida. Jason Pominville moved back to the second line with Dany Heatley and Mikael Granlund, while Nino Niederreiter shifted back to the top line with Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise. Third and fourth lines remain the same: Matt Cooke-Kyle Brodziak-Justin Fontaine and Stephane Veilleux-Zenon Konopka-Torrey Mitchell.
Yeo said the Wild had the most success with those combos, and he didn't want to focus so much on jump-starting the dormant second line that he risked spoiling the chemistry developing on the others. "You have to look at what it's doing to the rest of the group when we're breaking guys apart,'' he said. "We've seen Mikko, Zach and Nino have some success together, and we saw (Cooke, Brodziak and Fontaine) have success together. Obviously, the parts are there for the rest of the group to be successful, too.''
Parise was glad to get in some practice on play around the net. That, he said, has been perhaps the Wild's biggest failing as it has scored a measly 19 goals in nine games. Yeo said his team has to have "an attack mentality,'' which Parise echoed.
"We have to get better at getting the puck to the net and getting guys around there,'' said Parise, who got 21 shots on the recent four-game road trip and did not score on any. "Right now, we've just got our guy in the high slot waiting for a one-timer, and our other guys on the outside. That's not how you score. We need to get some guys going through the middle and getting around the net, kind of penetrating their defense. I don't think we're doing a good enough job of that.''
Parise also wants to see the Wild be a little more aggressive on its penalty kill, which is ranked second to last in the NHL. The Wild has surrendered more than one power-play goal per game (10 goals in nine games); as Parise pointed out, that's made all the difference. Despite the team's frustration, he urged his teammates to stay relaxed.
"I think everyone's all uptight because we haven't scored a lot lately,'' he said. "Everyone's thinking about it. Everyone goes home thinking about it. You get to the rink, and everyone asks you about it. I think we've just got to relax a little bit. We'll be fine.''
Other notes from today's practice:
--Yeo didn't reveal who will start in goal against Nashville on Tuesday, but it sure sounded like he's sticking with Josh Harding. Harding has given up seven goals in seven games while facing 134 shots.
The coach acknowledged that it's important to make sure both Harding and Niklas Backstrom are ready to play and confident in their games, but winning is the only thing that matters right now. "The bottom line is,'' Yeo said, "the decision has to be made based on what we think for that given night, what's going to give us the best chance to win the game.''
Backstrom said Monday he feels good and anticipates being fully healthy within a couple of days.
--Defenseman Keith Ballard did not skate Monday. He has not played in three games since he was hit in the face by a puck in the Wild's 2-1 victory at Buffalo a week ago. Ballard came out for Saturday's morning skate in Florida but left the ice because he didn't feel well.
"We tried getting him on the ice,'' Yeo said. "So let's just hold him off for a couple of days and see what happens.''
Ballard's absence, Yeo said, will create opportunity for someone. As of Monday, he hadn't settled on the six defensemen who will play Tuesday, and he said Nate Prosser could crack the lineup. Prosser has played only one game this season.
--Winger Mike Rupp is almost ready to go. He's participating fully in practice, but Yeo said Rupp needs "to get another gear into his game.''
A reminder: If you want an up-close and personal look at the undoubtedly well-tanned Mike Russo, you'll have your chance Thursday. Russo and Wes Walz will do a pregame "chalk talk'' before the Wild-Carolina game. Tickets start at $28 and include a game ticket, as well as the chance to meet/chat/get autographs. The one-hour session begins 90 minutes before the game.