Rachel Blount here, keeping the Russo seat warm as he wings to the West Coast. Tuesday's optional Wild practice was a "no'' option for most of the roster. Only six skaters, two goalies and three coaches were on the ice, and Matt Cullen's gear was hanging conspicuously in his locker as everyone else packed up for a three-game road trip.
Cullen fell awkwardly near the end of the second period of Monday's 4-1 loss to the Blues. Coach Mike Yeo said Cullen has a lower-body injury and will sit out the next couple of games. Yeo doesn't think it's a serious injury, but at this time of year, he doesn't want to take any chances with a player as important as Cullen.
"I don't see him being ready to go these next two back-to-back games,'' Yeo said, referring to Wednesday's game at San Jose and Thursday's at Los Angeles. "We've got a lot of games coming up. Obviously, we're hopeful he will be back very quickly, that we don't lose him for very much time. Having said that, somebody's going to get an opportunity and a chance to step up.''
Yeo said there was "a good chance'' that the Wild would call up a forward from Houston for Wednesday's game, and later in the afternoon the Wild announced Johan Larsson got the nod. Larsson, 20, has 15 goals and 22 assists in 62 games for the Aeros this season. He was recalled once previously this season, in mid-February, and made his NHL debut against Detroit on Feb. 17.
Yeo said it is "a possibility'' that Cullen could rejoin the Wild for Sunday's game at Columbus, which could be wishful thinking.
With the trade deadline looming (Ryane Clowe, a player the Wild had interest in, was traded to the Rangers), Yeo said he is not distracted at all. He reiterated several times Tuesday how critical it is for the Wild to maintain a tight focus on the task that is immediately before it. That message echoes the comments made by him and by Zach Parise after Monday's game, pointing out that some bad habits have wormed their way back into the team's play.
The Wild has given up 3.8 goals per game over its past five games. Yeo wants his team to learn from its mistakes but not dwell on them, an important distinction. Tuesday, he said, he had let go of the disappointment of Monday's loss.
"Certainly, when we talk about reasons we didn't win (Monday's) game, you hear a common theme,'' he said. "We've gotten away, we started to slip. In large part, it's to do with the way that we execute with the puck. We have to get better going north, getting into the offensive zone and playing there.
"I think it's very important that we only focus on tomorrow. I know we play LA as well, but I think we do ourselves a disservice if we start thinking about (the trip) as a whole and losing sight of what's important. And that's tomrrow's game. ... There's no rest for the wicked. With the schedule, it's one (game) after another. Regardless of what the outcome was, you have to be able to push it aside and be able to focus on the next one. That becomes increasingly important as we move along here.''
In other news Tuesday:
--The Wild signed center Tyler Graovac, a seventh-round draft pick in 2011 who is playing in the OHL. Graovac, 19, has a total of 38 goals and 35 assists in 60 games this season, splitting his season between Ottawa and Belleville after a Jan. 5 trade. He's fourth in the league with eight game-winning goals and leads Belleville with 10 points in six playoff games.
--Yeo praised the Wild's fourth line for its recent work, saying it is playing quality minutes in an important role. He likes the fact that it is drawing penalties and creating some offense while also putting opponents in a "place of discomfort.''
Defenseman Nate Prosser got a taste of that action in Saturday's victory over LA, playing right wing after Torrey Mitchell became ill. Prosser's head still was spinning Tuesday after skating at forward for the first time since his squirt days, which he figured was about 15 or 20 years ago.
"They told me right before going out for warmups,'' Prosser said. "I had to try to get my mind right and know exactly where I should be. I got a call around 5 o'clock saying someone was sick. I didn't know who it was, but even if it was a forward, I thought maybe we'd just go (with) seven (defensemen). Then they said, 'We need a fourth-line right winger.''
"I said, 'I'll go out and keep my legs going the whole time and try and hit everything.' I have to give (the forwards) credit. It's hard going up and down the ice. I was crawling back to the bench a few times, gasping for air.''