Lots of Martin Skoula tonight; Nummelin a goner; A need at center

Posted on February 12th, 2008 – 2:04 PM
By Michael Russo

According to coach Jacques Lemaire, defenseman Kim Johnsson will miss tonight’s game at Edmonton because of illness.

That likely means there will be plenty of Martin Skoula, one of the few Wild defensemen Lemaire feels comfortable giving extra ice.

In fact, last season when Johnsson missed four straight January games (including one in Edmonton), Skoula played 28:51, 29:01, 28:38 and 28:55. The Wild went 3-1 and Skoula was plus-8, including a pair of plus-3′s.

I’m laughing right now at what I imagine your reaction is to the above paragraphs.

– Sean Hill will play for Johnsson. Niklas Backstrom, 8-0 lifetime against Edmonton but pulled his last time here with a 3-2 lead after two periods (he got the win because Josh Harding didn’t give up a goal in the third), will start.

– Here’s a little more on the Petteri Nummelin saga.

Remember how last week Nummelin denied to me that he’s signed a long-term deal in Switzerland but said “it’s possible?” Well, I got an email from his agent, Larry Kelly, yesterday telling me that Nummelin’s indeed signed a long-term deal in Switzerland.

So I went up to Nummelin today and asked what gives, and he swears he has not signed a long-term deal in Switzerland but admitted there’s one on the table from Lugano.

Bottom line: Nummelin will be playing in Switzerland next season.

– That James Sheppard experiment between Pavol Demitra and Marian Gaborik the other night, expect more of that in future third periods. 

Lemaire plans to shorten his bench late in tight games, and moving Sheppard up allows him to put Demitra, who gets tired at times according to Lemaire, on wing so he doesn’t have to skate as much.

Lemaire can’t do this early in games because moving Demitra to wing would give him three centers — Koivu, Belanger and Sheppard. This is why the Wild desperately needs to add center by the trade deadline (especially with Belanger on an extremely poor stretch right now).

– I think that’s it, other than Aaron Voros has remarkable accuracy or inaccuracy. I was sitting 18 rows up in the stands during the skate fiddling around on my blackberry when Director of Hockey Ops Chris Snow, from across the aisle, goes “Heads up.”

A puck from the ice landed in the seat in front of me in row 17 (I have to add that Snow didn’t jump to my rescue). I look down at the ice and Voros and assistant coach Mario Tremblay are laughing hysterically.

Voros apologized later, saying, “I didn’t mean to get it so close.” 

It reminded me of Paul Laus once in Greensboro, N.C., when the Hurricanes played there. I was watching the skate behind the photographer’s hole along the glass.

The former Florida enforcer and jokester, trying to scare me, was firing pucks at the glass to get me to flinch. He had such bad aim, he actually — accidentally I think — whistled one right through the hole hitting me in the sternum.

Next thing I know, I’m floored and wound up on the trainer’s table. It was quite the scene.

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