Thursday’s practice; Belanger sick; Okposo expected to play; Sundin signs with Vancouver

Posted on December 18th, 2008 – 3:25 PM
By Michael Russo

I just got off the phone with Greg Logan from Newsday (I used to be a paperboy with Newsday). He told me that former Gopher Kyle Okposo is expected to play tomorrow against the Wild. Okposo was supposed to be out until mid-January with a wrist injury. But he’s ready to make his homecoming.

Mike Comrie is also expected back.

Also, Mats Sundin has signed with the rival Canucks. That’s not good news for you Wild fans, unless you’re just a Wild fan sick and tired of all the “Where’s Mats signing?” stories.

Good day. Lively practice down at the X this afternoon.

Everybody practiced but Eric Belanger, who has been putting in a lot of big minutes. Jacques Lemaire said it was just a day off and he won’t miss tomorrow’s game against the Islanders. But it turns out he’s ill and day-to-day, and I hear Krys Kolanos may be called up.

If that’s the case, Owen Nolan will be placed on injured reserve to make room.

Kolanos continues to tear it up in Houston, scoring 15 goals and 22 points in 19 games. Center Corey Locke leads the Aeros with 31 points in 25 games.

Tomorrow will be a battle of the too coldest teams in the NHL. The Wild has lost six in a row and seven of its past eight. The Islanders have lost seven in a row and nine of 10. The Isles – the childhood team for this Long Island boy — have allowed 35 goals in the last seven games.

So just maybe, the Wild, which has scored seven goals in the past six games, scores more than two goals tomorrow?

Actually, two desperate teams usually make for a good game.

Pretty entertaining presser with Jacques Lemaire today. He said there’s a lot of things the Wild needs to work on to become a good team, but he’s trying to deliver his message in a very positive manner because he’s fearful of lowering this fragile team’s already low confidence.

He talked more about having to battle for rebounds, and again talked about driving the net. He used the power play as an example and how when the puck comes to the point, two Wild forwards will be in the corner. Like all hockey coaches preach, he wants to see his players’ sweaters in front of the net.

I asked him about the fact that there are six or seven forwards who have literally offered nothing offensively in the past three weeks. He eventually called out Pierre-Marc Bouchard the most. He said he wants him to pull his sleeves up, realize how good he is and make his teammates better. Bouchard admitted his confidence right now is not high.

Lemaire also brought up Benoit Pouliot and James Sheppard, specifically saying Pouliot “can’t be like this.”

He praised Cal Clutterbuck bigtime, saying the plan is to play him again with Mikko Koivu and Marian Gaborik because Clutterbuck will go to the net, take defenders with him to the net and open up ice for his talented linemates.

Those were the highlights.

I shot the breeze with Derek Boogaard about his colossal hit on Rene Bourque. He asked if I thought it was late. I said I did because the puck was at the other end of the trapezoid. But it is true Bourque was admiring his pass and thus left himself vulnerable and he did just drop the pass.

It was one heck of a hit.

Boogaard also brought up the fact that the refs evened it up anyway because Andre Roy came off the bench, roughed him and tried to fight him. Not only should that have been a penalty, it should be a 10-game suspension for coming off the bench and starting an altercation. That’s something Roy’s got a history of (see his many suspensions), but at least he didn’t make any throat-slashing gestures for a change.

Nick Schultz is already getting flak for his Day in the Life episode that will air tonight at 6 on the NHL Network. A two-minute clip has been running as a teaser, and he’s gotten texts making fun of him from guys like Mark Parrish and some baseball player named Justin Morneau.

Good news: Backstrom’s ACL’s are good a day after Marek Zidlicky and Marc-Andre Bergeron barreled into him trying to save Todd Bertuzzi’s OT goal.

“I didn’t see them coming because I was just watching the puck,” Backstrom said.

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