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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Simply, an awful start from the Wild triggered an awful game from the Wild as the fresh team with pretty much its entire healthy lineup got trounced by a Pittsburgh team that play a later-than-normal game on the road the night before.
The Wild was the clichéd “team waiting for us” for a change. It theoretically got a good night sleep in Pittsburgh as the Pens arrived late.
This is a team missing five top-6 defensemen and Evgeni Malkin, among others. Yet, the Pens keep winning because other players are stepping up night after night after night. They have now won six in a row, nine in a row at home and 11 of their last 12 overall. They’re 16-3 at home.
Mikael Granlund was the only skater out of the lineup and has been the only one for some time. The backbone of the team though, Josh Harding, is out at least three games and tonight we saw why that is a big loss.
After the Wild talked on and on about how much faith and confidence it has in Niklas Backstrom, he gave up a terrible goal 49 seconds into the game. Now, Backstrom has got basically zero goal support this year. He has received seven goals of support in his last seven full games he has played and four goals in his last five.
But in two of the past three games he has played, the Wild’s ghastly efforts began after a bad goal. You’re a team that can’t score. You’re a team that struggles winning on the road. You’re come out ready to play on the road, and 49 seconds into the game, you’re down 1-0 because Backstrom couldn’t hang on to two pucks.
It just deflates you. Now coach Mike Yeo said he’s not accepting that as an excuse and the Wild needs to be stronger and respond better than being outbattled the rest of the night.
The Wild couldn’t get to most rebounds being served up by Jeff Zatkoff, but Yeo felt his team was outworked all over the ice.
The Wild is now 6-9-3 on the road with no regulation wins since Nov. 20 on the road and three this season.
“We were not ready to play the game hard enough,” Yeo said. “We have to look ourselves in the mirror – all of us. We did what we did to ourselves tonight.”
For the sixth time this year, the Wild failed to score on a 5-on-3, this one for 1:46 and with a chance to turn a 4-2 deficit that even Yeo said was “smoke and mirrors” to 4-3 or 4-4. To make matters worse, Jonas Brodin hooked Olli Maatta coming out of the penalty box and the 19-year-old stud defenseman scored on the ensuing penalty shot for technically a shorthanded goal to make it 5-2.
It was a crazy sequence of events.
“Generally we’re a team that gets what we deserve and we didn’t deserve to be there,” Yeo said. “It was an opportunity to make something of a game where you haven’t been at your best and we have to recognize that. We haven’t scored one. We have to address it, we have to change something.”
Yeo on Backstrom: “I want to see him win. We want to see him win. This game shouldn’t be about Nik Backstrom. I’m not going to sit here and say he played well or he deserved a better fate. Obviously it’s easy to pick this out as a story in the game, but we stunk tonight. It’s not all on him. I’m not going to say he was nearly good enough, but there were 19 other guys wearing a wild uniform tonight that weren’t either.”
On not pulling him, “He needs to fight through it.”
Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise had poor games. They finished with six shots, but I believe two at even-strength and were each minus-3.
Koivu: “They were ready to play. We just need to be better. That’s the bottom line, starting with myself. I don’t think we were ready to play.”
Backstrom: “Today I could have been better.”
So, the scoring woes continue. So does the inability to win on the road. If the Wild doesn’t improve on the road, it won’t make the playoffs – period.
Talk to you after Friday’s practice, but it may be very late because the Wild practices here in Pittsburgh. I then need to hustle and catch a flight to New York, so my guess is I won’t be able to post blog until I get to New York – maybe from the Rangers-Islanders game, because yes, that’s how I’m spending my night off in New York.
So follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/russostrib for real-time info.
Another game, another come-from-behind shootout win for the Wild as it rallied in the third to snap the Vancouver Canucks’ seven-game winning streak by a 3-2 score.
Jason Pominville scored the lone shootout goal, Josh Harding wasn’t beaten by any of Vancouver’s three shooters (John Tortorella, my favorite, almost-endearing coaching curmudgeon, went on a classic shootout rant after the game about how the Canucks stink in shootouts) and Charlie Coyle scored the tying goal 8:47 into the third to force a frantic overtime.
Honestly, the Wild is 5-4 in shootouts and 0-1 in overtime this season. The previous nine overtimes, I could have popped the tape in my VCR (if I still had one; do they still make VCR’s?) and used the footage in lieu of melatonin.
The previous overtimes this season for the most part have been sleep-inducing. This one, “we had awesome looks,” said Pominville. But the Wild couldn’t seal the deal there, partly because of Roberto Luongo, partly because of missed nets.
Harding was again outstanding when the Wild needed him most. He made 29 saves. Luongo made 30 and was good, although he was angry with himself on the Coyle five-hole equalizer.
Wild looked flat at times in the first two periods, particularly the top line of Zach Parise-Mikko Koivu-Coyle, who had a lot of offensive-zone time, but when it came time to make a play, it just couldn’t execute.
Parise and Koivu said the team as a whole was flat the first two periods. Vancouver struck first for the eighth consecutive game, but Parise tied the score with his 15th goal (tied Pominville for team lead) and eighth power-play goal, which is tied for second in the NHL. Koivu set him up with a beauty after finding the loose puck of Ryan Suter’s blocked shot.
Suter picked up an assist for a fourth straight game after going pointless for eight in a row.
But Suter, who has had some tough games lately, was gassed after a long shift in the offensive zone that didn’t end up with a goal from the second line. Back in the D-zone, Suter didn’t tie up David Booth or the puck on a rebound, and Booth scored the go-ahead goal.
As I mentioned after the Colorado game, Suter is banged up. He’s wrapped like a mummy after every game. I just think he’s playing too much. He logged 32:34 tonight, topping 30 minutes for the third straight game, 12th time in 21 games and 17th time this year.
Marco Scandella, a team-best plus-10, has been fantastic. So has Jared Spurgeon. Yeo said he’s even pleased with the whole D-corps. So I really think, as Yeo likes to say, Scandella should “bite off” more ice time and Suter should be eased back a bit.
It’s a long season. This guy has 46 games left PLUS a trip to Russia to play in the Olympics. Suter is too valuable an asset for this team to flame out this early.
Here’s Yeo on Suter’s ice time, and he
doesn’t does make a good point about how Suter was tremendous in the third period: “For sure, we’ve got to keep an eye on that. I would say yes, but look at his third period, look at his overtime. He accelerates past people, he gets the puck and goes up the ice. He played an awful lot tonight, but that said, when the game’s on the line, he looked great. We have to keep an eye on it.”
He said they’d maybe back him off a little in the first or second, but “when the game’s on the line, and he’s looking like that, it’s hard not to put him out.”
Parise was honest on a lot of subjects after the game:
-- “We’re so comfortable playing here. For whatever reason, we play for the most part pretty solid here. We need to get our swagger back that we had. Right now we’re a little hesitant. We’ve got to get a little more aggressive.”
-- On often giving up the first goal: “We can’t rely on chasing. Mentally, it’s hard always to be doing that, but when you get later in the year, teams are good of putting the clamp down when they have a one-goal lead. We can’t make a habit out of it.”
Wild is 12-2-5 in one-goal games. Nine of its past 11 wins are by the one-goal variety.
Canucks were good in the first two periods limiting the Wild’s time and space. The Wild could barely penetrate the middle of the offensive zone. Then Coyle scored and the Wild pressured the rest of the way, outshooting Vancouver 16-8 in the final 25 minutes.
Once the Wild started shooting pucks, it broke the Canucks down. But the Wild has scored five goals in the past 250 minutes, 6 seconds of hockey (four-plus games) and 20 goals in the past 13 games (1.53 per game).
I liked Brett Bulmer’s game again in the first two periods. He knows the system and is confident. Yeo didn’t play him late, putting Dany Heatley on the line with Matt Cooke and Kyle Brodziak in the second half of the third. Probably a rookie trust issue late in a game, so a lot of coaches would limit him there.
Did I mention Scandella has been awesome?
Was Pominville’s 21st career shootout goal.
Wild’s now 14-3-2 at home but hit the road for four now (three in a row before NHL’s Dec. 24-26 holiday hiatus), where it’s 6-8-3. Wild starts in Pittsburgh, where it’s won six in a row I believe. It’ll be former Pens assistant and Cup winner Mike Yeo’s first regular-season game coached there and former Pen Matt Cooke’s first game back.
Wild has won five of its last six shootouts.
Mikko Koivu had two assists and now leads the team with 20. It was his 98th career multi-point game.
Josh Harding is now 18-5-3 (tied for second in the NHL in wins) and leads the league with a 1.51 goals-against average. He is 14-1 at home with a 1.31 goals-against average and .944 save percentage.
That’s it for moi. Wild has mostly a day off Wednesday before it flies to Pittsburgh. Kent Youngblood will be at the rink and will blog if there’s anything up. I’ll next come to you Thursday from Pittsburgh.
Just like the game in Denver a few weeks ago, it took 56-plus minutes to get one by Semyon Varlamov.
On Nov. 30, it was Matt Cooke and Mikko Koivu leading Minnesota’s comeback before losing in a shootout. Tonight, Nino Niederreiter won a board battle along the half wall, then drove the net and deflected Ryan Suter’s shot for the tying goal with 3:53 left.
Zach Parise (shootout goal No. 35 in his career) and Mikko Koivu (No. 33) scored in the shootout (Koivu on his patented backhanded roofer, the one Varlamov knew was coming and the same move Varlamov stopped a few weeks ago).
The 2-1 win snapped the Wild’s five-game road losing streak, although the Wild has been outscored 15-5 in the past six road games and has scored 29 road goals in 17 games (1.7 a game, 29th in the NHL).
Still, much-needed win to lower the temperature a bit and stop the bleeding. The Avs were a team that was 17-0 when scoring first, 18-0 when leading after two and the only unbeaten team in overtime or the shootout (5-0), so the comeback took effort.
This was not an easy game. Two goals scored, both off deflections, the Colorado one coming on a shot that was headed wide.
“It was a hard game,” Parise said. “The way they play D-zone, they play man on man and grab onto you and hold you and it’s tough to generate anything.”
Of course, the Wild only got one power play and now has drawn three or fewer in 15 of the past 16 games.
“I don’t how we’re going to draw a few more penalties than we do,” coach Mike Yeo said, shaking his head.
Obviously not a great road trip, scoring three goals in three games in three tough buildings and going 1-2. And it doesn’t get any easier. The Wild is 13-3-2 at home but return there Tuesday to face the Vancouver Canucks, a team John Tortorella has rolling right now. They killed Boston tonight to cap a 5 for 5 homestand. The Canucks have won seven in a row and eight of their past nine.
The Wild then plays four in a row away from St. Paul, where it’s 6-8-3. They go to Pittsburgh, the Rangers, Philly and then Winnipeg after the Christmas break.
Josh Harding had another strong game. He made 26 saves, another two in the shootout and now leads the league with a 1.49 goals-against average and is second with a .939 save percentage. Lots of robberies in the first period.
Brett Bulmer had a real good game on a solid line that included Matt Cooke and Kyle Brodziak. Bulmer had two shots and five hits and as Yeo said “was a pain in the butt.”
Bulmer, who played nine games with the Wild two years ago, earned this second straight game because Yeo said beforehand that he played “hard, physical” and showed “he’s not fun to play against” in San Jose.
Bulmer certainly got under the skin of Avs players all night Saturday.
“That’s me,” said Bulmer, Iowa’s leading goal scorer.
So he should get a third straight game. Erik Haula had some good shifts and some tough ones. He threw a couple up the gut of the offensive zone that resulted in turnovers. Niederreiter looked real good on a line with Jason Pominville.
The top line had some good shifts but no goals. Marco Scandella and Jared Spurgeon had strong games. Jonas Brodin didn’t. Ryan Suter had a good night after a real tough game in San Jose. He is playing hurt right now. He’s wrapped like a mummy everywhere after every game.
In other news that may or may not be in your newspaper's edition (go to www.startribune.com/wild for Dany Heatley notebook):
Yeo called San Jose Sharks coach Todd McLellan on Friday to apologize for accusing the Sharks of embellishing calls during his postgame scrum after Thursday’s 3-1 loss.
“My intention was not to call them out, my intention was not to call the refs out,” Yeo said. “I don’t want to be doing that stuff. At that point, I wanted to stick up for our players. It was emotional after the game. I was ticked off that our guys put a lot into the game and I felt there were a couple things in the game that made it tough on our group.”
McLellan told Sharks reporters he was upset when hearing of Yeo’s comments and appreciated Yeo reaching out.
“He was very professional, the organization was, they reached out, and we’re good,” McLellan said.
With the Wild planning to replace its center-ice scoreboard at Xcel Energy Center, Wild Chief Operating Officer attended Saturday’s game in Denver to see the Pepsi Center’s new state-of-the-art, giant scoreboard and observe the game operations.
Owner Craig Leipold attended October’s game at Tampa Bay to see the Lightning’s new scoreboard and the Wild plans to send a representative to Madison Square Garden to see the Rangers’ new scoreboard and games ops when the Wild plays there next Sunday.
Against Colorado, Yeo scratched rookie Justin Fontaine, who has six goals but none since Nov. 9, for the third time in nine games.
Yeo talked with Fontaine during the morning skate to tell him to keep his head up.
“We just deemed he wasn’t the right fit for this game,” Yeo said. “It doesn’t mean that won’t change next game. He’s got to keep a positive attitude. He’s got to understand that when you’re a young kid, you’re just paying your dues. He’s a first-year player … who’s still trying to prove himself.”
That's it for me. Barring news, no blog Sunday as the Wild has the day off. I'll be back with you Monday after practice in preparation for Tuesday's home game against former Northwest Division rival Vancouver.
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.
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