Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.
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Mike Yeo was ticked off tonight, although he used a different word than ticked.
The Wild coach was upset with the officiating and accused the Sharks of embellishing all night during a 3-1 victory over the Wild. The Wild, outscored 14-4 during a five-game road skid (0-4-1), fell to 5-8-3 on the road and dropped to ninth in the West. It is now 1-8 in its past nine in San Jose.
The Sharks got four power plays in the first 12:47 of the game to build a 2-0 lead on goals by Joe Pavelski and Tomas Hertl.
Yeo called Brad Stuart’s “embellishment” on a Justin Fontaine high-sticking penalty “embarrassing.” Yeo felt replays showed it wasn’t a high-stick. Nevertheless, the Sharks scored.
In the second, Zenon Konopka was called for a four-minute high-sticking penalty when replays clearly showed he didn’t high-stick Jason Demers. Konopka went to check Freddie Hamilton and Hamilton high-sticked Demers. Regardless, referee Marc Joannette saw it differently and the Sharks made it 3-0.
Read the game story at www.startribune.com/wild for Yeo’s quotes. He had some good ones.
The Wild felt it outplayed the Sharks at even-strength, and it did have a 26-20 shot advantage in that department, but as has been a broken record all season on the road especially, the Wild can’t score. Four goals in five road games is not going to get it done, and the Wild all night whistled shots wide, passed pucks in skates, tried to make an extra play before taking a shot or couldn’t get shots through.
There was one sequence late in the second that completely embodied the game. The Wild pinned the Sharks in their zone for what seemed like an eternity.
But despite the Sharks breaking two sticks, despite the Sharks constantly failing to clear the zone, the Wild barely made Antti Niemi make a save. It basically tired themselves out.
By the time the Wild players got to the bench after not scoring, Ryan Suter logged a 3:07 shift and Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise, Jason Pominville and Jared Spurgeon all logged 2 ½-minute shifts.
So, yes, while the officiating was suspect to say the least tonight and while the Sharks may have been diving all over the ice, it’s up to the Wild to actually score some goals. For a team that talks so much about its improved depth, one Mikael Granlund injury has seemed to mess up all the lines.
Yeo indicated before the game he’s tired of breaking up the first line anytime the other lines can’t score, but the second line continues to be dry, the third line may be in the offensive zone for the most part, but the players on that line haven’t been scoring either. Kyle Brodziak’s drought has reached 22 games.
Fontaine hasn’t scored since Nov. 9. Niederreiter has no goals in the last 10. Coyle has three goals this year (Coyle just hasn’t been hard on pucks lately and as you can read in my notebook on www.startribune.com/wild, he is really pressing right now). Torrey Mitchell has one goal this year.
So “doing a lot of good things” isn’t good enough. Scoring goals is essential and this slip in the standings won’t stop unless a Wild team that always has to work super-hard to score finally figures out a way.
Yeo liked Brett Bulmer’s first NHL game in two-plus seasons tonight. He felt he played with an edge, was solid on the wall and was hard to play against. The second line continues to be an issue, although Jonas Brodin’s goal with 7:24 left in the game came with Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle and Fontaine on the ice.
Anyway, very big game in Denver on Saturday as the Wild needs to stop the bleeding. Right now, I’m not sure what the Wild’s schedule will be Friday in Denver. My guess is a very optional practice at Denver University. Anyway, that’s it for me. Very early flight in the morning.
The Wild’s road winless streak reached four games Wednesday night when the Anaheim Ducks, the only team in the NHL without a regulation home loss, improved to 12-0-2 at the Honda Center with a 2-1 win.
Jason Pominville’s power-play goal early in the third made it a game again, but in reality, the Wild didn’t play nearly well enough in the first 40 minutes to pull this one out.
I know it’s the Ducks. I know they’re bigger and faster and more skilled with a sniper-and-a-half with the great Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf running hot right now, but this was a disconcerting display.
The Ducks skated through the neutral zone for the first 40 minutes like the Wild was a bunch of pylons. Defensemen had poor gaps all night. And during the Wild’s rare forechecks, it took a gust of wind to knock forwards off pucks.
That is just unacceptable. This wasn’t just a size differential thing. It honestly took no effort at times by Anaheim for Minnesota to just lose pucks in the offensive zone.
The Wild was soft on pucks all night. Coach Mike Yeo agreed.
“Collectively, we’re not strong enough in those situations,” Yeo said. “We’re getting pucks back and then we’re losing it right away. We need some more puck strength, we need a little more urgency, a little bit harder on that puck. It’s always we’re doing one thing right and we’re not following up with another thing right now.”
Early in the third, the Wild finally exited its zone cleanly, got into the offensive zone, made a good play on the wall and drew a power play because of it. Then Pominville, who has been lost at times without injured Mikael Granlund, scored his team-leading 15th goal.
But for the 13th time in 14 games, the Wild drew three or fewer power plays. That one was Minnesota’s only power play of the game.
There have been instances where the refs don’t seem to give the Wild the benefit of the doubt, but this is more an indictment of how the Wild plays. It’s just no aggressive enough. It doesn’t have the puck enough. It’s not in the offensive zone enough.
“Again, we draw one power play,” Yeo said. “Other teams are [either] extremely disciplined against us or we’re not doing enough to draw penalties. We’ve got to force them into situations where we’re drawing more. It’s tough right now when you’re getting one power play, two power plays every game. This has been an unbelievable streak of this. We have to do more to draw more.”
The second line is giving the Wild no offense since Granlund’s concussion (he is skating on his own and working out, GM Chuck Fletcher says, but he’s not close to returning). Tonight, Nino Niederreiter got to the net but couldn’t score. He also wasn’t hard enough on pucks on the wall. Jason Zucker was largely responsible for the game’s opening goal by defenseman Alex Grant, although it was a bad goal surrendered by Josh Harding, who did play great and did everything he could to give the Wild the cushion to find its game. Zucker just seems lost at times with how the Wild plays in all three zones. And Charlie Coyle finally looked like the old Coyle in the third period. Yeo wants him to take charge and in the third, he resembled the player he hasn’t been for much of his time since returning from a sprained knee. Jonas Hiller made a nice save on him on a breakaway in the third with the Wild down 2-1.
Coyle said he got in too tight and wishes he had it back, although Hiller made a nice save on a nice move after Coyle made a great play to create the breakaway for himself. But Coyle knows he needs to do more offensively and I’ll write about that in Thursday’s paper.
The third line was again good tonight. They can’t score for the life of them, but many shifts in the offensive zone and Matt Cooke was physical, surly and played with attitude all game. The Keith Ballard-Clayton Stoner pair had a tough night. It’ll be interested to see if the super-fresh Nate Prosser draws in at San Jose.
Just not good enough tonight against a great Anaheim team. Perry scored the winner for his 21st goal to extend his goal streak to seven games. He had seven shots.
That’s it for me. I’ll come to you from San Jose, although it’s doubtful they’ll have a morning skate. Niklas Backstrom likely the Thursday starter against a Sharks team that has dropped four in a row and will be looking for payback after losing in Minnesota on Sunday.
As somebody said to me on Twitter a little bit ago, “this is the opposite of former Wild clubs. Used to outshoot teams and lose 4-1.”
I just found it humorous because it’s pretty true.
Tonight, the Wild somehow managed to be outshot 38 (most at home this year)-13 (fewest home or away this year) and take a 3-1 victory from the San Jose Sharks. Wild's actually 6-0 in its past six at home against San Jose.
Good evening from the X, where the Wild bounced back kinda sorta from Friday’s 4-0 loss at Columbus. I say kinda sorta because I’m not sure we can say the Wild’s game returned to form, but a win’s a win in this conference and against a great Sharks team.
I wouldn’t say the Wild got dominated tonight, but the team certainly spent the night mostly defending. Josh Harding made 37 saves, including all 21 in the second period.
Yet, after that period, Harding was outsaving (ripped that off from a Twitter follower too) counterpart Antti Niemi 32-9.
Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu gave the Wild a 2-0 lead, and after Patrick Marleau scored with an extra attacker with 1:41 left, Parise scored an empty-netter for his 14th goal, tying Jason Pominville.
The big story of the night is just how difficult a time the Wild had getting to the offensive zone. The top line spent a good portion of the night there, but Parise said it was hard generating any chances because of the unique Larry Robinson defensive-zone coverage overload the Sharks use.
Robinson coached this in New Jersey when Parise was there and now the Hall of Fame defenseman is associate coach in San Jose. I’d diagram the overload to you, but you should have come to the Star Tribune Chalk Talk before the game to watch Wes Walz actually diagram it.
“It felt like we were defending an awful lot,” coach Mike Yeo said. “Our execution wasn’t good enough. Too many broken plays in the neutral zone, too many turnovers in the neutral zone allowing them just to counter right back.”
Still, everybody from Harding on out to Yeo felt the Wild defended real well and were sharp in its zone, making proper reads on rushes and keeping pucks to the outside. The D also did a great job keeping San Jose’s talented, big forwards at bay when Harding did leave rebounds.
Harding improved to 16-4-3 and was 1:41 away from his second shutout in three starts. His goals-against average is now a league-best 1.50 and his save percentage of .938 is tied for second. His 16 wins are tied for second. Apparently the top guy, Corey Crawford with 17, got hurt tonight for Chicago. That’s huge because Nikolai Khabibulin is also hurt.
Harding is now 13-1 with a 1.25 goals-against average and .945 save percentage at home.
“He made all the saves, played great,” Joe Pavelski said. “But we didn’t do a good enough job getting to him. Shots just hit him. But he was in all the right places.”
Harding really got into a groove though in the second and made some beauties, including two gloves on Pavelski and Tomas Hertl. He was seeing deflections. He was so confident, he twice himself cleared the zone up the gut, one a PK clear actually, one a pass on the Wild’s yucky power play.
But the penalty kill tonight was great and built momentum. Matt Cooke was a stud on it, at one point eating 15 seconds in the offensive-zone corner by outworking three Sharks the way Charlie Coyle did against Philadelphia last week.
The next shift, Parise scored after Marco Scandella, who played well alongside Jared Spurgeon (also was great), saved the zone and shot a puck that deflected off Pominville. Parise, who earlier in the shift slashed the stick out of Justin Braun’s hands, scored on the rebound.
The four refs did huddle to discuss if Pominville inhibited Niemi’s ability to make the save. They decided he didn’t.
“Yeah I think I was bumped. I’m not sure where it happened or if they did it on purpose or not, but it affected the play, for sure,” said Niemi, who said the ref told him he was outside the crease at the time.
A few minutes later, Dany Heatley forced a turnover and Spurgeon set up Koivu.
Heatley was in the middle of a lot of good and bad and Yeo is clearly getting frustrated with the turnovers. He had one turnover that resulted in a near Logan Couture goal then Coyle turnover. He had another turnover that led to an icing. After winning that draw, he put the puck in the Sharks bench. A second after that draw, Clayton Stoner high-sticked Couture.
Yeo met with the entire second line and especially Heatley on Saturday to talk to them about getting pucks deep and not creating momentum for the other team. Heatley needs to start simplifying the game and just dump pucks at this point.
That line actually had some good offensive-zone shifts tonight and Heatley some chances. He also drew a power play after Nino Niederreiter drove the net and Niemi turned him away.
That’s it for now. Matt Dumba, who is away from the team today because of family reasons, will be loaned to Team Canada for the world juniors.
The Wild has the day off Monday before heading to Anaheim on Tuesday for practice. I will be in studio at KFAN on Monday from 10:20-11 a.m.
I’ll next talk to you on here after practice in Anaheim on Tuesday – barring news. Big road trip coming up to Anaheim, San Jose and Denver.
Michelangelo wouldn’t have been able to sculpt or paint the Wild’s display into anything slightly tonight.
One night after rallying to beat the defending Stanley Cup champ Chicago Blackhawks at home, the Wild walked into Columbus and had the letdown of all letdowns during a 4-0 loss.
The Blue Jackets dominated, setting an early tone by testing the Wild physically, and honestly it was real obvious early that the Wild 1) had trouble finding its legs after playing the night before, wasn’t clean coming out of its own end, had trouble generating anything through the neutral zone and other than the top line, there was just no decent pressure all night.
Read the game story on www.startribune.com/wild for most of Mike Yeo’s quotes (he said it was the worst game of the year and one for the garbage) and some good ones from Keith Ballard and Zach Parise, but here’s a good one that describes the night from Clayton Stoner: “Coming out of our end, it was always chip-chip with them finishing the body. In the neutral zone, we weren’t even that clean there. We had trouble getting any momentum.”
The Wild looked like it may have found its legs late in the first on a couple chances by Jason Pominville and Nino Niederreiter, but nope. Niklas Backstrom gave up a knuckling goal 1:17 into the second and it was all Columbus from there.
The Wild gave up a season-high 41 shots one night after Chicago registered a season-low 19. It was also a season-high shots for Columbus, which has two straight shutouts. But Curtis McElhinney barely had to exert himself tonight in place of injured Sergei Bobrovsky.
The second line of the Wild was lousy tonight. Dany Heatley was minus-3 and is now minus-10 on a mostly plus team. Niederreiter was minus-3 and Charlie Coyle was minus-2. Jared Spurgeon, who turned the puck over for the first goal, and Marco Scandella were each minus-2.
The Wild just lost battle after battle tonight and was so sloppy coming out of its end.
Prior to the game, Yeo talked about how anxious he was to get Backstrom back in the net for his seventh start since Oct. 8.
“The biggest thing for us now is to try to get him into a rhythm, to hopefully get him to play more than one out of every three weeks,” Yeo kidded beforehand.
Backstrom’s performance won’t lessen Josh Harding’s workload. He just isn’t as clean as the Backstrom of yesteryear. He served up rebounds and allowed four goals – two long ones. Yeo said the way the Wild played in front of him, “we didn’t give him a chance.”
Backstrom said, “I feel OK out there. You have to find a way when you get a chance to play to be at your best. I approach it the same way, whether I play every night or every second week.”
On the fact he just doesn’t look like the Backstrom of old (rebounds, not swallowing pucks), he said, “I feel good. Some games it’s tougher to swallow the puck when you don’t see it or they’re tipped. Other nights it’s easier when you see it. It’s always what happens in the game that affects you.”
But Backstrom was hardly the lone culprit on this evening.
The Wild fed right into Columbus’ aggressive gameplan by turning pucks over, which allowed the Jackets to continually get pucks behind the Wild and wear down the defensemen. It just got harder and harder to execute, and it started with retrievals and exits.
Finally with the game out of reach, Ryan Suter was kept on the bench to give him a rare rest. He logged 23:37, his second-lowest ice time of the season by 10 seconds.
“The easiest thing to do is sit here and make that excuse,” Yeo said of a big, emotional win the night before against the Blackhawks. “We’ve all seen games where there are letdowns after emotional wins, we can sit here and point to the fact that we played last night, but I don’t think we should allow that to be an excuse at all for us. We’ve proven in back-to-back games that we have the conditioning and the game where we can be effective.”
Yeo said with and without the puck, “this is the worst game we played this year.”
Yeo praised the top line but said, “We needed a lot more from the whole group tonight.”
Wild has now been down by a 2-0 score in five of the past seven games and six straight losses. The Wild is now 0 for 5 this year on 5-on-3’s. The Wild had a 72-second one tonight with the chance to rally from 2-0 down and didn’t even get a shot on goal.
This was the first of eight of 10 away from the X for Minnesota. It is now 5-6-3 on the road. One of the rare home games coming up is Sunday’s 5 p.m. date with the high-powered, fast San Jose Sharks. Wild has some regrouping to do during Saturday’s important practice.
I’ll talk to you after that one.
Over the past several days, the Wild has discussed and worked on a number of troublesome issues. It resolved so many of those in Thursday's 4-3 comeback victory over Chicago that coach Mike Yeo joked, 'Anything else wrong with our game?'
He said that with a smile. It was clear that many messages got through, as the Wild looked much sharper on the power play, got scoring from its defensemen, scored a first-period goal for the first time in six games and stuck to its system when the game began slipping away. The result was a victory that fueled enormous pride in the locker room, as the Wild rallied late to beat the NHL's best team.
Yeo said his team can't feel too giddy for too long, with a game at Columbus on Friday. Both before and after the game, Yeo talked about the Wild still being a work in progress, with consistency one of his primary goals. He warned them before that recent four-game winless streak that they couldn't be complacent, and that same theme cropped up after Thursday's dramatic victory over a division rival. But while he didn't want to attach too much significance to this single game, it certainly felt like a big stride forward.
Read the game story here: http://www.startribune.com/sports/wild/234693261.html
Yeo said the team spent a lot of time recently talking about the shortcomings that took some of the shine off a November that started with a 9-1-1 record. "There's parts of our game that we have to work on,'' he said. "Parts of our game are going to be up and down through the course of the year. We know we have a good power play. We know we have defensemen on the back end that can help us create offense. They're not always going to be there, but these are things in your game that through the course of the season, if you're struggling a little bit, you've got to pick them up.
"I've got a lot of confidence every day I come to the rink and have a chance to coach this group of guys. It's ongoing. Every day is a new challenge, and we've just got to stay on top of it.''
Yeo lauded his team's leadership, noting that the top line of Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise and Jason Pominville contributed to the tying goal by drawing a penalty (Pominville was hooked by Chicago's Brent Seabrook). The defensemen did a better job of getting pucks to the net, generating nine shots on goal (at least one from everyone except for Ryan Suter) and scoring the tying and winning goals. The defense was sturdy for most of the game, holding Chicago to a season-low 19 shots on goal (including a paltry four in the third period).
Parise said the Wild had a "good shot mentality'' on the power play and cited shooting the puck and creating traffic around the net as the keys to scoring twice on three opportunities. He also was glad to see the Wild retain its composure when it lost the lead.
"(The Blackhawks) were able to erase a two-goal lead pretty quickly,'' he said. "I don’t think we strayed too far away from what we were trying to do. We didn’t go away from our game plan, and that’s what was working for us. We were able to get back into the game.
"Any time you beat a team like that, it's important. Everyone knows how good they are. It's been a tough stretch for us; some games we didn’t play as well as we need to. I thought we played with a lot more energy, and we handled the puck much better. Coincidentally, we scored more goals. Those two things usually go hand in hand.''
Marco Scandella, who scored the winner with 1:48 left, was particularly proud. "It feels great,'' he said. "We were relentless tonight. We never gave up.''
A few other tidbits:
--The Wild is now 8-0-1 when leading after the first period and 13-0-3 when leading after two.
--Brodin has five goals and five assists through 27 games and is one point off last season's total of 11 points, which came in 45 games.
--Parise has six points in his past seven games. His power-play goal was his seventh this season, tying him for second in the NHL.
--Josh Harding did not allow a goal through the first 39 minutes, 43 seconds. Jeremy Morin's goal 17 seconds before the second intermission ended a shutout streak of 131:36 over three games, the longest of Harding's career. Harding is 12-1-0 at home this season.
That's it for tonight. Russo returns Friday for the festivities in Columbus.
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