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Posted On Thursday, 02.09.2012 / 1:58 PM

By Dan Myers -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Koivu's return a huge boost for Wild

ST. PAUL -- While one captain looks as though he will continue his ironman streak tonight at Xcel Energy Center, another looks to start a new one.

Minnesota's Mikko Koivu is expected to return after missing the Wild's last eight games with an upper-body injury. Clinging to the eighth and final playoff spot in the west, Koivu's return could be a major boon to a Wild squad kicking off a critical four-game homestand against the rival Canucks, who appear likely to have Henrik Sedin in the lineup tonight.

"I feel good, I feel stronger, the last couple of days have been good," Koivu said.

Koivu skated today between wingers Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi, reuniting a line that had been split up with Koivu out of the lineup. Koivu's return could also help spark a Minnesota offense that has sputtered of late, scoring just three goals total over the Wild's last three games. To its credit, Minnesota has gone 1-1-1 in that stretch.

"As much as anything else, just his leadership, he's a warrior out there. That's contagious with the rest of the group," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "With what he contributes and the role he has with our team, his play and the situations we put him out in and his effectiveness in those situations."

Posted On Thursday, 02.09.2012 / 1:40 PM

By Dan Myers -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Henrik Sedin participates in skate, likely to face Wild

ST. PAUL -- Officially, Vancouver's Henrik Sedin is a game-time decision for tonight against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center, but all signs point to the Canucks captain being ready to go.

"It felt OK, better than yesterday, so that's a good sign," Sedin said. "We'll see, we'll see how it feels before the game. I guess it's a game-time decision."

Asked if he felt tonight like he did at this morning's skate, where Sedin was a full participant, he chucked. "We'll see tonight," he said with a smile.

Sedin did walk through the locker room with a slight limp, but the CT scan taken yesterday on his ailing ankle came back negative, meaning no broken bones. Even if Sedin was held from the lineup after pre-game warmups, there is no serious injury present, big news for a team battling for the top spot in the Western Conference. His presence would certainly be a big lift for a Vancouver locker room that wasn't sure of the captain's condition until today.

"I think when you see a guy go through that and he's out there practicing, he leads by example. He has a lot of respect in this room," Canucks forward Ryan Kesler said. "He has a pretty good streak going, so hopefully he can continue it."

Sedin hasn't missed a game since 2004, and should he play tonight, his consecutive game streak will reach 553 -- second-longest in the NHL. But he said continuing that streak will not weigh into his decision on whether to play tonight or not.

"It's one of those things where if you're able to play, you play," Sedin said. "[The streak] has never been on my mind at all."
Posted On Tuesday, 01.31.2012 / 2:50 PM

By Dan Myers -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Wild set to face red-hot Rinne, Predators

ST. PAUL -- Following a week-long break for both teams, Nashville and Minnesota resume play Tuesday night at Xcel Energy Center.

In many ways, these teams have gone through similar peaks and valleys over the season's first half. The Wild began the season red-hot, winning 17 of 21 games through a stretch that lasted until mid-December. Since then, Minnesota has tumbled, dropping from the top spot in the NHL to eighth in the West.

Nashville, meanwhile, started rather slow but has picked it up lately, winning 12 of 15 since the Christmas break. Included in that run is a 2-1 win against the Wild in their last meeting. That contest was a low-scoring affair, with a goal by each team in the third period sending the game into overtime and shootout, where Colin Wilson netted the winner for the Predators.

Of course, low-scoring games are nothing new to either one of these teams. Minnesota has one of the lowest scoring offenses in the league. And against Nashville, the Wild seem especially snake-bitten. Predators goalie Pekka Rinne has three shutouts against Minnesota in 10 career starts, owning a 7-3-1 record all-time against Minnesota, with a 2.02 goals against and a save percentage north of 92 percent.

"They've got great goaltending and solid defense and so do we," Predators defenseman Shea Weber said. "We expect a tight game."

Rinne's stingy nature against the Wild has extended to a League-wide hex of late, as the 6-foot-5 Finn has won each of his last nine starts and has allowed two goals or less in each game. Since winning that game against Minnesota in late December, Rinne is 12-1-0 with a 1.60 goals against and a .947 save percentage -- all three marks among the top-three in the NHL.

"Him playing well against this team, and us playing well against this team, I don't have the answer. Sometimes it's just the team," Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. "Jack Skille, before he got traded [by Chicago], scored like eight goals and I think about six of them were against us. It just happens."

Minnesota has struggled while Rinne has dominated the League, but the Wild entered the All-Star break on a high note, winning two games in a row -- both on the road against Dallas and Colorado and both against teams in a dogfight with the Wild for the final playoff spot in the west. Minnesota heads back onto the road after the game Tuesday and will lead off with the Avs and Stars again.

That makes this contest all the more important – as with Nashville's spot in the tight Central Division standings, every game is critical from here on out.

"It's playoff hockey for us right now, it has been for a long time," Wild winger Cal Clutterbuck said. "We need to respond."

Weber and defensive partner Ryan Suter were the only two players from either team to play in Sunday's All-Star Game in Ottawa. Minnesota representative Mikko Koivu missed the game with injury, although he has skated and practiced each of the last two days. Nick Johnson participated in the skills competition Saturday night.

"Just a good time to get our brains off hockey for a few days," Clutterbuck said. "It's really the division of the ultimate push and the rest of the year, in terms of what is considered crunch time."

Koivu and Guillaume Latendresse are both inching closer to a return for Minnesota, with Koivu likely closer than Latendresse -- who has missed much of the season with a concussion. He has skated and practiced each of the last two days as well, although Wild coach Mike Yeo would not provide a timetable for their returns.

Minnesota will counter Rinne in goal with Josh Harding, who owns a 4-4-1 career mark against Nashville with a 2.64 goals against and a .914 save percentage.

Yeo is hoping either he or Niklas Backstrom, who has struggled mightily of late, can take control of the job between the pipes for the Wild.

"Down the stretch, it's a lot easier for a guy to prepare and get into a groove knowing they are playing," Yeo said. "We're not going to just give it to anybody. Somebody is going to have to step up and take it."

Here is the projected lineups for both teams:

WILD

Devin Setoguchi - Matt Cullen - Cal Clutterbuck
Nick Johnson - Kyle Brodziak - Dany Heatley
Carson McMillan - Warren Peters - Darroll Powe
Matt Kassian - Chad Rau - Jed Ortmeyer

Jared Spurgeon - Nick Schultz
Greg Zanon - Clayton Stoner
Nate Prosser - Justin Falk

Josh Harding
Niklas Backstrom
 
PREDATORS

Colin Wilson - David Legwand - Patric Hornqvist
Sergei Kostitsyn - Mike Fisher - Martin Erat
Jordin Tootoo - Nick Spaling - Gabriel Bourque
Jerred Smithson - Craig Smith - Matt Halischuk
 
Ryan Suter - Shea Weber
Roman Josi - Kevin Klein
Jack Hillen - Ryan Ellis
 
Pekka Rinne
Anders Lindback

Posted On Saturday, 01.21.2012 / 2:22 PM

By Dan Myers -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Long day of hockey in Minnesota for Rau family, CC fans

ST. PAUL -- They could very well have a Colorado College class reunion tonight here in the Twin Cities.

It's "Hockey Day Minnesota" here in the North Star State, a day where, you guessed it, it's nothing but hockey. High school games are on the local Fox Sports North affiliate all day long. The schedule coincides with all levels too. FSN has two high school games on during the morning and early afternoon, the University of Minnesota at 5 p.m. and a late faceoff for the Wild and Stars at 8 p.m.

In preparation for the contest tonight, the Wild called up four players from Houston of the American Hockey League on Friday, trying anything at this point to snap out of its month-long funk. Expect Chad Rau, a Colorado College alum, to make his National Hockey League debut tonight. Also called up was defenseman Nate Prosser, another former Tiger.

For Dallas, forward Toby Peterson is expected to be in the lineup and perhaps goaltender Richard Bachman -- both CC alums themselves.

The Golden Gophers opponent across town at Mariucci Arena is … Colorado College. Needless to say, there should be plenty of CC black and gold in both arenas this evening.

Along with Rau, the Wild also called up bruising forward Matt Kassian and veteran Jed Ortmeyer, while reassigning forwards Casey Wellman and David McIntyre. The goal, according to coach Mike Yeo, was to simply get a different look. The Wild have won just twice since Dec. 13 and have lost 15 of their last 17 games.

"We're going to try whatever it takes right now," Yeo said. "These guys should have a positive mind-frame coming into the game, they're going going to be excited to play, which we need right now.

"It's amazing how much of the game is played between the ears."

Without saying so, Yeo has clearly started sending messages to his veterans, especially on the blueline, where Marek Zidlicky and Mike Lundin will both be healthy scratches in favor of a younger, more inexperienced player like Prosser.

"We've worked D-Zone coverage the last couple of weeks like crazy," Yeo said. "Then we get into a game and it's like 'What the heck is going on right now?' Guys know we're making mistakes and they keep happening."

For Rau, making his NHL debut on 'Hockey Day' makes it extra special. His younger brother Kyle is a freshman at the University of Minnesota, meaning plenty of his family will shuttle from one arena to the other between the games, which are about a 15-minute drive from one another.

"It's going to be a long day of hockey," Rau said. "It should work out perfect."

Rau was called up last month when the Wild were in Vancouver, but was a healthy scratch. He was sent back to Houston shortly after. Tonight, he will center Kassian and Ortmeyer on Minnesota's fourth line.

"I'm pretty excited," Rau said. "Especially playing here, it's really special."

Dallas did not skate this morning as the Stars got into the Twin Cities late after playing Tampa Bay at home Friday night. The Lightning won 2-1.

Reports after the game indicated Stars coach Glen Gulutzan was quite unhappy with the effort against Tampa and let his team know about it afterwards.

“The most frustrating part was really the first 30 minutes of getting outworked. That’s always the most frustrating part,” Gulutzan said, according to ESPNDallas.com. “I’ve got no problem if you go in a shootout or you play hard and you just don’t get results. When you only play 30 minutes, some team comes into your building on a Friday night and outplays you for 30 minutes, I have a real big problem with that.”

The Stars, like Minnesota, are battling injury problems. Mike Ribiero and Jamie Benn are both out tonight, although Benn may return as soon as Tuesday.

“You have to work 60 minutes. We have to work 60 minutes every night with everyone in our lineup if we want to play in the playoffs," Gulutzan said. "You have to make them aware that they are not good enough – with or without Jamie Benn and Mike Ribeiro in the lineup – to not be a hardworking team. That’s the message. They are just not good enough.”

The two teams are separated by just a single point in the Western Conference standings, so expect both teams to put forth a blue collar effort tonight at Xcel Energy Center.

Here are the projected lineups:

WILD

Dany Heatley - Kyle Brodziak - Nick Johnson
Devin Setoguchi - Matt Cullen - Cal Clutterbuck
Darroll Powe - Warren Peters - Carson McMillan
Matt Kassian - Chad Rau - Jed Ortmeyer

Nick Schultz - Greg Zanon
Justin Falk - Nate Prosser
Clayton Stoner - Jared Spurgeon

Josh Harding
Niklas Backstrom
 

STARS

Brenden Morrow - Tom Wandell - Loui Eriksson
Eric Nystrom - Vernon Fiddler - Michael Ryder
Steve Ott - Adam Burish - Radek Dvorak
Toby Peterson - Jake Dowell - Tomas Vincour
 
Sheldon Souray - Stephane Robidas
Nicklas Grossman - Trevor Daley
Philip Larsen - Alex Goligoski
 
Richard Bachman
Kari Lehtonen
Posted On Tuesday, 01.10.2012 / 1:30 PM

By Dan Myers -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Wild's Cullen set to skate in 1,000th game

ST. PAUL -- When Moorhead, Minn., native Matt Cullen decided to sign with his hometown Wild two summers ago, he knew playing for Minnesota could perhaps be the final chapter of a solid National Hockey League career.

Tonight, that career reaches quite a milestone as the veteran center, who has also skated for five other teams, will play in his 1,000th career NHL game when the Wild host the Sharks.

"It's a fun time to look back," Cullen said. "It's been a long ride, been a lot of fun and I'm pretty lucky to be where I am. It's exciting."

Cullen has been asked a few times in recent days about some of his favorite games. He said one stands out clearly in his mind.

"Oh yeah, Game 7 for sure, Stanley Cup Finals," Cullen said, referring to the Carolina Hurricanes' run to the Cup in 2006. "That's the ultimate for a player, and to win that at home, that's definitely the best memory."

Cullen also remembers his first shift in the League in 1997-98, when the Anaheim Ducks were still the Mighty Ducks.

"It's funny how fast it goes, but I've enjoyed it," Cullen said. "I love the game. It's been good to me. It's been more than I ever could have asked for."

Over his first 999 career games, Cullen has scored 191 goals and added 332 assists. With three shots on goal tonight, Cullen will also record his 2,000th NHL shot.
Posted On Tuesday, 01.10.2012 / 1:12 PM

By Dan Myers -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Burns returns to Minnesota as Sharks face Wild

ST. PAUL -- Tonight's game between San Jose and Minnesota is definitely a tale of two teams heading in opposite directions. The Sharks have won eight of their last 10 games and have captured at least one point in 12 of 14 games since the Wild won 2-1 Dec. 6 at HP Pavilion.

Minnesota has continued to struggle and has yet to win a game in 2012. Exactly one month ago, the Wild defeated Phoenix 4-1 to capture their seventh consecutive win. At the time, Minnesota was the best team in the National Hockey League.

What a difference a month makes.

The Wild have won just once since then, and have tumbled to the precipice of the Western Conference playoff race, just one point ahead of both Colorado and Dallas for the eighth and final postseason spot. Their record over that stretch is a brutal 1-8-3.

"We've watched their game, and I'm not sure their record is indicative of their play," Sharks coach Todd McClellan said. "They're doing some good things as a team, and they still have their identity they are playing towards. The difference is maybe a post that goes against them that used to go in.

"I think we'll have our hands full, especially in the first 10 or 15 minutes of this game."

Tonight's game also marks the return of popular former Wild defenseman Brent Burns to Xcel Energy Center. Minnesota's first round pick in 2003 Entry Draft, Burns spent the first seven seasons of his NHL career with the Wild before being traded to San Jose last offseason for Devin Setoguchi, a prospect and a draft pick.

Burns scored 46 points for the Wild last season, and though he's quite a bit off that pace (he has just 13 points in 38 games), he's offered the Sharks a steady offensive threat from the blue line and a plus-10 rating.

"I'm excited and nervous to come back," said Burns, who still owns a home in the area. "The first one is always going to be tough. Driving through the city, seeing places I used to eat. Staying at the hotel was a little weird. But it's been fun."

Burns, who was a fan favorite and a staple in the community, should receive a warm welcome when introduced this evening.

"It was tough to see him leave," said Wild defenseman Nick Schultz, one of Burns' best friends. "He was a great player for this team and a big part away from the rink too."

Many in Minnesota expected Marco Scandella to be his eventual replacement with the Wild, and after he made the team out of training camp, Scandella was extremely solid over the season's first couple of months. But his play of late has been indicative of the team's, and on Monday, the Wild sent Scandella back to AHL Houston, where he spent a large chunk of last season. A minus-10, Scandella has just six points in 30 games this season.

The move should free up playing time for the veterans among Minnesota's defensive corps. Greg Zanon and Mike Lundin have been healthy scratches several times over the last week, and coach Mike Yeo has said the numbers game back there has put some undue pressure on all his defensemen.

"Just because he's down doesn't mean we can't bring him right back up," Schultz said. "Guys have to go out and perform and do their job."

Goaltender Josh Harding will earn the start tonight for Minnesota. He started the game a month ago in California and allowed a goal before being knocked from the game just over a minute in after taking a stick to the head.
Posted On Tuesday, 01.10.2012 / 1:10 PM

By Dan Myers -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Concussion symptoms land Wild's Bouchard on IR

ST. PAUL -- The most surprising news out of the Minnesota Wild's morning skate came from general manager Chuck Fletcher, who announced forward Pierre-Marc Bouchard has been placed on injured reserve because of lingering concussion-like symptoms.

Bouchard, who missed Minnesota's game in Calgary on Saturday and sat out practice Monday, was believed to have a groin injury. Fletcher said his groin was a problem, too, but since he took a check from behind from Zach Bogosian in Winnipeg last month, Fletcher said Bouchard has "felt a little pressure from time to time."

Bouchard initially missed a couple of games right after the hit with a broken nose and some facial lacerations. The concussion diagnosis for him is more alarming because of his history with that injury -- Bouchard missed 81 games in 2009-10 with the same injury.

Along with fellow second-liner Guillaume Latendresse, also out indefinitely with a concussion, the slumping Wild are now down two of their best scorers -- not the best news for a team ranked 29th in the NHL in goals scored.

"Our recipe can't change," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "More than anything else, this is our opportunity to get back to that fight. I don't think we've had that lately.

"Looking at the goals we scored [when the Wild were winning], we'd be spearing pucks into the net, guys crashing and falling into the crease. If that's what we need to do, then that's what we need to do. But let's not just say it stinks to have this guy out. Let's get that fight."

Posted On Saturday, 12.31.2011 / 12:58 PM

By Dan Myers -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Coyotes-Wild probable lineups

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Traditionally, Minnesota does not skate before 5 p.m. starts, but its injured guys did go through quite a workout Saturday morning. Guys on the ice included forwards Devin Setoguchi (lower body) and Casey Wellman (upper body) and defenseman Clayton Stoner (lower body). Mike Lundin also skated Saturday morning, but he is not injured and is expected to be a healthy scratch Saturday.

Defenseman Jared Spurgeon skated for a bit as he recovers from his lower-body injury, but he left the ice well before the others.

The Wild have recalled forward Jed Ortmeyer from Houston (American Hockey League) and he should be available for Saturday night's game. Expect Colton Gillies to replace Jarod Palmer in the lineup Saturday after Palmer was injured in Thursday's 4-3 win against Edmonton.

For Phoenix, only defensemen Derek Morris and David Rundblad were skaters on the ice Saturday morning. Morris' presence could indicate the return of veteran Adrian Aucoin to the lineup, who is trying to return from a lower-body injury.

Jason LaBarbera also skated, meaning Curtis McElhinney could be in line to start in goal this evening. If he does, it will be his first start for Phoenix this season and just his second game action after entering for LaBarbera in the third period Monday night in a 4-3 loss to Los Angeles.

PROJECTED LINEUP

WILD

Cal Clutterbuck - Mikko Koivu - Dany Heatley
Pierre-Marc Bouchard - Matt Cullen - Nick Johnson
Darroll Powe - Kyle Brodziak - Colton Gillies
Matt Kassian - Warren Peters - Brad Staubitz

Nick Schultz - Justin Falk
Marco Scandella - Greg Zanon
Marek Zidlicky - Nate Prosser

Niklas Backstrom
Josh Harding
 

COYOTES

Ray Whitney - Daymond Langkow - Shane Doan
Lauri Korpikoski - Andy Miele - Radim Vrbata
Raffi Torres - Cal O'Reilly - Mikkel Boedker
Taylor Pratt - Kyle Chipchura - Paul Bissonnette
 
Keith Yandle - Adrian Aucoin
Oliver Ekman-Larsson - Michal Rozsival
Rostslav Klesla - David Schlemko
 
Curtis McElhinney
Jason LaBarbera
Posted On Thursday, 12.29.2011 / 2:26 PM

By Dan Myers -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Oilers seek first win against Backstrom at Xcel

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- With one long losing streak against the Minnesota Wild already in the history books, the Edmonton Oilers will look to break another tonight when the two Northwest Division rivals faceoff tonight at Xcel Energy Center.

The game between the Wild and Oilers will be their sixth and final game against one another this season.

In the last game between these two teams in St. Paul, the Oilers defeated the Wild 5-2 to win at Xcel Energy Center for the first time in 17 games. In goal for Minnesota that night was Josh Harding, not the starter for tonight's contest, Niklas Backstrom -- who has never lost to Edmonton in his home building (15-0-0).

The Oilers may receive a bit of help in that regard as winger Ales Hemsky skated this morning and coach Tom Renney said he's a game-time decision. Hemsky hasn't played since being sidelined with a sinus infection. He's missed the last two games.

Renney said Hemsky looked good and he would have an idea before pregame warm-ups whether Hemsky would be available.

"He thinks he can play," Renney said. "He'll take a nap this afternoon, come back to the rink and we'll see how he feels."

Having all the offense the Oilers can find would benefit them tonight against an offensively-challenged Minnesota team which has scored just 10 goals during its current 8-game losing streak. The Wild lost 2-1 in a shootout last night in Nashville and the team did not skate this morning.

Edmonton forward Jordan Eberle will look to continue his red-hot play of late. He's scored 5 goals over his last four games and has a five-game points streak heading into action tonight.

"Even when I hadn't scored in my first seven [games], I was feeling confident," Eberle said. "I knew then it was just a matter of time before the pucks started going in and you get on that roll."

He's also paced an Oiler power play that has scored 8 goals in the team's past seven games. Eberle has scored a power-play goal in 3 straight games, including one in a 4-1 win over the Wild in Edmonton last Thursday.

"Our power play, I think, has been pretty good all year," Eberle said. "We just seem to be clicking right now. And I think if we can get more shots, we can have even more success."

In terms of a game plan tonight, Renney said his team needs a good start to have success.

"They're going to show us right off the bat that they are here to play," Renney said.

KASSIAN IN, DiSALVATORE OUT
-- Following last night's loss in Nashville, the Wild recalled forward Matt Kassian from AHL Houston and reassigned right wing Jon DiSalvatore. Kassian has played in two games for the Wild this season, posting 5 penalty minutes.

Kassian has 32 penalty minutes in Houston this season, scoring 2 goals in 19 games. The 6-foot-5, 247-pounder -- an Edmonton native -- will give Minnesota's lineup more of a physical look.

SETOGUCHI NEARING A RETURN? -- Forwards Devin Setoguchi (lower body), Guillaume Latendresse (head), Casey Wellman (wrist) and defenseman Clayton Stoner (groin) all skated this morning and are still considered day-to-day.

Setoguchi has missed the Wild's last 11 games -- with the team going 2-5-3 over that stretch, falling from the top team in the NHL to sixth best in the Western Conference.

"I'm feeling good, feeling better and better each day," Setoguchi said. "It's a matter of getting to the point where you don't think you're going to hurt yourself if you go out there and play, and getting your legs and your lungs back. But I'm definitely making strides."

Setoguchi said his goal all along has been to be back practicing by the new year. With 2012 just a couple of days away, that timetable is still intact, and Setoguchi said he could be back at practice as soon as tomorrow. That said, the team is in no hurry to rush him back.

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