By Michael Russo
“Russo Radio” comes again Wednesday night at 6 pm on KSTP, 1500-am. Get some good questions ready and call in.
I don’t see what all this hype about Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby is about. Or maybe the Wild’s just that good defensively and Niklas Backstrom (THE UNSIGNED NIKLAS BACKSTROM) is downright in the zone right now.
Needless to say, this was one of the biggest wins of the season for the Wild.
I won’t insult your intelligence and say the Wild was superb tonight. This team right now couldn’t shoot a puck in the Mississippi River from the Hennepin Bridge (and they didn’t actually score a goal in 65 minutes tonight), but defensively, this team is sick (31 goals allowed in 16 games, four allowed on the penalty kill).
Of course, it starts with the goalie, and coach Jacques Lemaire sang Backstrom’s praises tonight because he was not happy with the way the Wild started, with the way the Penguins won “all the battles” early, with the way the Wild’s got absolutely no prayer of scoring these days. The Wild has scored 39 goals this year (not including the three goals in the standings awarded for shootouts).
To give you a Lemaire taste: (“Our game now, it seems like it’s defense. At a time it’s going to get tougher if we don’t score. We can’t rely on the power play all the time to score. Defensively we did well. But I’d like to get Crosby and Malkin so we can get some offense.”)
Of course, tonight, Crosby was held pointless, as was Malkin, who’s 13-game point streak ended. Of course, it wasn’t helped by his disappearance from the ice late in the second period after he was nailed in the teeth by a puck. Crosby and Malkin each had one shot. The Penguins’ six-game win streak, one in which they scored four or more goals in all six games, ended.
Marek Zidlicky scored another shootout winner, and Backstrom stopped all three Pittsburgh shooters (including Sid the Kid) to improve to 8 for 8 in shootouts and 3-0 this season. The same Backstrom who used to be helpless in shootouts, by the way.
Defensively, Mikko Koivu, Eric Belanger and Kim Johnsson were pretty awesome tonight. On that OT kill, Koivu and Belanger just outworked the Pens. Belanger is so skilled defensively, the way he shrewdly lifts sticks to foil chances, the way he angles his stick to intentionally deflect shots in the crowd.
Johnsson played 29:56. The scouts, whom I was sitting next to tonight, were absolutely raving about Johnsson. This one scout I know quite well, who works for a team that really needs a mobile defenseman, in particular was going on and on about Johnsson to me.
The Wild’s only goal tonight was Mikko Koivu, but he didn’t actually score it. Michael Zigomanis won a draw, it took a bad bounce and squeezed through Dany Sabourin’s pads.
Matt Cooke scored 10 seconds later. By the way, when Cooke actually plays hockey and doesn’t try to dislocate heads from bodies, he’s actually a good player. By the way, also, there’s few better individual rivalries than Cooke vs. Nick Schultz. Those two don’t like each other.
Linesman Steve Miller left this game with a “lower body” injury. OK, bad joke. I hope the guy’s all right because it looked bad, like a knee, and I’m pals with linesman Pierre Racicot, who tore his ACL a few years ago. NHL Director of Officiating Steve Walkom was at the game and he said he’d email me when he’s got an update on Miller.
OK, this was a great trip to Pittsburgh. Always nice to be back in the East since I know just about every scout and everybody in the Penguins’ front office.
Flying back to Minny in the morning and Stensaas is on tomorrow. I’ll let you know after I land whether Mojzis cleared waivers.
Good evening from the Mellon Arena press box. Milestone tonight. I forgot a tie for this game. First time since I’ve been in Minnesota.
Did I tell you how much I can’t wait till that new arena is built? This place is getting pretty decrepit.
Warmups beginning. Craig Weller and Tomas Mojzis are next to me, so they’re scratched. And Derek Boogaard isn’t on the ice, so right as always
Nik Backstrom in the cage. Nolan Schaefer backing him up. And hey, against Pittsburgh, there’s always a chance he makes his Wild debut. Sorry, but it’s true.
Lemaire joked this morning that as the saying goes, you only need one goalie.
Asked jokingly if he’s worried about playing Pascal Dupuis tonight, Lemaire said this morning he’s not first on the list.
Dupuis was looking forward to last year’s Wild-Thrashers game March 7, but Atlanta traded him to Pittsburgh with Marian Hossa on Feb. 26, so he never got to play the Wild.
James Sheppard’s father and sister are at tonight’s game. They were in the process of riving Sheppard’s car from Nova Scotia back to the Twin Cities for him. They left Sunday and decided to make a last-second detour and drive to Pittsburgh. Not a short trip. From start to finish, it’ll be over 2000 miles.
They’re supposed to be interviewed by Bob Harwood on Versus tonight.
Just dawned on me, Mellon Arena has the same exact scoreboard as Rexall Place.
Boy, I’m a wealth of info tonight, eh?
Ok, enjoy the game.
FYI, classy move by Brunette, but during the first TV timeout, he went to the referee, who then went to the scorer’s table to have the goal changed to Koivu. It didn’t touch either’s stick, so technically, Brunette could have kept the goal. For Koivu, it was his third.