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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Posts about Wild game coverage

Postgame: Darcy Kuemper lifts Wild to win over the Toronto Maple Leafs

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: January 2, 2015 - 11:52 PM

A rare home win for the Wild.

Weird to say, but after starting the season 7-1 at home, the Wild had lost seven of its past nine at Xcel Energy Center (2-3-4) and tonight picked up two points in St. Paul for the first time since Dec. 9.

Good evening after the Wild’s 3-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Wild pulled within five points of sixth-, seventh-, eighth- and ninth-place Vancouver, San Jose, Winnipeg and Calgary heading into Saturday’s big game at Dallas. It'll be interesting to see if there's Wild news Saturday. The Wild's in the market for a left-shot defenseman, sources say, and Arizona's David Schlemko is on waivers.

Nate Prosser logged 8:25 there tonight.

It’ll also be interesting to see whom coach Mike Yeo comes back with Saturday night at Dallas because the Wild has beaten the Stars three in a row this year and twice in Dallas with Darcy Kuemper in net. However, despite Niklas Backstrom’s 1-5-3 all-time record at Dallas with a 3.75 goals-against average and .868 save percentage and despite the fact he has been sick for some time with little practice time, Kuemper did see a lot of work tonight AND as of 11:51 p.m., the Wild was still on the ground here in Minnesota because of a mechanical issue with its aircraft.

So the team will arriving way late in Dallas.

So, we’ll see. There will surely be no morning skate, so I’ll let you know after Yeo’s pregame availability around 5 p.m.

Good win for the Wild tonight. In the final minute of the second period two nights ago in Columbus, the Wild’s game took a turn for the worse after it gave up the tying goal. Tonight, with a 1-0 lead against the Maple Leafs and a solid playing Jonathan Bernier, the Wild gave up the tying goal on a Leafs two-man advantage.

Jared Spurgeon, who rarely ever takes a penalty, took his second minor of the season. Thirty-eight seconds later, Ryan Suter sent a 180-foot clear on the PK into the far mesh for a delay of game penalty. The only time I’ve covered something like that was Brian Rolston once on a PK in Dallas.

Making a 5-on-3 look easy, Dion Phaneuf fed Cody Franson for a one-time blast from atop the left circle.

But, Yeo said, “They scored a goal and tied it up and I don’t think that our game was elevated from that point on [in Columbus]. Tonight, from the talk on the bench, leadership-wise, and the way we finished the kill and the way we reclaimed the lead,” it was the opposite.

Kuemper made 34 saves after getting pulled in four of his past six home starts and after being 2-4 in his past eight home appearances with a 4.68 goals-against average and .810 save percentage. Yeo consciously tried not to talk him up after the game just like he wouldn’t in Winnipeg after he made 21 straight saves to end that game Monday.

That’s because Yeo wants consistency from his erratic goalie and he said you could tell he was on top of his game tonight by the way he was reading plays. In Columbus, he played well, but he made a mental mistake when he tried to fish for that lost stick for the tying goal and then didn’t come close to reading the David Savard winning one-timer correctly.

Yeo wants his game to build, and tonight, both Spurgeon and Mikko Koivu both said how much confidence it gives the team when it sees Kuemper playing that way.

Kyle Brodziak also scored tonight and same with Koivu, who one-timed a filthy Thomas Vanek pass that was similar to the one Sergei Bobrovsky robbed two nights ago in Columbus.

“This time it worked,” Vanek said of the Wild’s 12th power-play goal in the past 14 games.

That goal gave the Wild its first two-goal lead since Dec. 3 and for a change the Wild didn’t trail in tonight’s game.

Vanek had a strong game, especially the last two periods. He hustled, shot the puck, made plays.

“I really liked his second and third period, the way he was creating and making plays,” Yeo said. “Since the break, I’ve been very pleased with his game. Subtly behind the scenes, he’s taking on a little bit more leadership role, a lot more vocal on the bench, in the locker room. Some of that is comfort.” But Yeo said the more engaged you are in all game situations, the better you play, and that’s what he’s seeing from Vanek.

Yeo has subtly mentioned lately that the Wild doesn’t have a very vocal group, that they’re a lead by example type of team. Somebody else mentioned that to me recently, too.

Yeo put together what I dubbed the “Doghouse Line” with Erik Haula centering Nino Niederreiter and Charlie Coyle. Haula, benched in three of the past four games, attempted five shots, had two hits and won 11 of 16 draws. Coyle had two assists, Niederreiter one.

“I thought they were good, and we’ll need them to be good [Saturday], that’s for sure,” Yeo said.

Yeo said this morning there was a big video session where several players were stars.

“Everybody had their moment,” Yeo said.

A couple players kinda let loose what the theme of today’s meeting was: “Whatever everyone can do to make this team better, the guys who get the job done are going to play every night,” Haula said. “These times are really crucial, these 11 games before [the All-Star] break, it’s going to be a tough schedule and we’re going to need everyone on their best.”

Funny moment, but when Coyle sent Spurgeon the pass en route to his winner – his first goal since Nov. 13, Coyle turned to go to the bench for a line change. He was surprised to hear the horn when he got there.

“I was hoping I was hearing it,” Coyle said. “That was nice. It’s a nice sound going back to the bench when you hear that.”

He ended up getting the plus for the goal because Jason Pominville, coming on for Coyle, told him to get back out there to celebrate.

That’s it….I have to get out of here because I have an early flight to catch up to the Wild. Although, heck, I may beat em there.

Wild brings in the New Year in familiar fashion -- a frustrating loss

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: December 31, 2014 - 10:29 PM

Different hockey game – probably – if the Wild could have extended that one-goal lead to two, but the Wild’s disappointing season has been all about “if’s,” so not a shock, the Wild couldn’t take a 2-0 lead and one mistake in the final minute of the second period changed the entire complexion of things as the Wild skated to a 3-1 loss here in Columbus.

Happy New Year everybody!

Another game, more frustration for the team that just can’t kickstart itself into a roll.

Six times now the Wild has failed to turn a modest one win in a row into two and tonight fell to 11th in the West, its worst position in the standings of the season.

If the Wild could get that second win in a row, “that would be nice,” Zach Parise said. “That’s frustrating. You don’t know how much of a difference that would make for us. You feel like none of the teams that we’re chasing are getting on a roll, so you feel if you did, we’d make up some ground. We’re just having a hard time getting that second game.”

The Wild had a chance to pull within five of Winnipeg tonight because the Jets lost to the Islanders, but no dice when Kevin Connauton scored with 46 seconds left in the second, then set up David Savard’s power-play goal early in the third.

It was all Wild the final 14 minutes of the first period and Parise gave the Wild a 1-0 lead after Tyler Graovac, who was one of the rare bright spots tonight, drew a penalty.

After the Blue Jackets won a faceoff, Parise pressured a defender into rushing a clear. Jason Pominville stepped up along the wall from the right point to send it back down to Thomas Vanek.

Vanek fed Mikko Koivu in the slot, who one-touched the puck to Parise to the left of Sergei Bobrovsky (9-1-1 in December) for the goal.

Parise tied Nino Niederreiter for the team-lead with 14 goals and five power-play goals in five fewer games (30).

But the Wild couldn’t make it 2-0, and then in a tight-checking second, the momentum turned when Ryan Suter was called for holding with 5:05 left. The Wild killed the penalty, but the Wild began playing a lot in its own end and Darcy Kuemper had to make some nice saves.

In fact, the maligned goalie had a great first two periods until the final minute when he denied Matt Calvert with a nice save. But he couldn’t freeze the puck and lost his stick. When Christian Folin looked to put the puck out of harm’s way, Kuemper tried to pick up his stick. Problem is Connauton rushed up the wall, got to the puck before Pominville and fired from the boards to catch Kuemper off guard.

Yup, a momentum-turning tying goal from the boards in the final minute of the second.

Coach Mike Yeo didn’t blame Kuemper, saying he gave the Wild a chance to win.

“We can’t let one mistake cost us and that’s the way we’re going right now,” he said. “We need more complete effort from every guy who laces up their skates.”

Still, Ryan Carter drew a penalty with 3.5 seconds left in the period, but the Wild didn’t come close to taking a lead on the power play early in the third. Suter was called for a questionable hold a few minutes later when Brandon Dubinsky sold it, and after the Wild couldn’t come up with the clear, bang, 2-1, on the type of one-timer you rarely see on a Wild power play.

Late in the game, with an extra attacker, Koivu, who had a good first half of the game, lost a couple big offensive-zone draws and even after the Wild got the pucks back, it couldn’t come close to penetrating near the net because the Blue Jackets did a great job bottling them up, collapsing down low and denying the Wild any room to make a real threat. In the minutes before that, the Wild did have some good looks on Bobrovsky, but the Wild couldn’t come close.

“That was the first time in the game where I felt like we were starting to get bodies to the net,” Yeo said. “I felt we were very perimeter for most of the night and didn’t really challenge their goaltender at all. There were a lot of play killers tonight. We made one pass and then the next play dies with that person and it was tough to get anything going for a while there.”

So many passengers though on this team right now.

“That was a game that was there for us, but we didn’t dig in deep enough to get it,” Yeo said. “We had taken a couple steps forward. I thought this was a bit of a step back. Doesn’t mean the world is ending, but at the same time, we want to make sure that we’re making progress, so we better be ready to do so next game.

“I hope that we’re a little ticked off after this one. I don’t think we put our best out there tonight and we can’t afford to be going into games not going all-in with everything that we got.”

Please read the gamer and the notebook for the rest of the coverage. Not much more to say. Just a broken record and similar story to every other one you’d read the past month.

Happy and healthy New Year, Wild fans and Star Tribune readers. Thanks for always returning to read about your favorite – albeit frustrating -- team.

3-goal 2nd period, Kuemper, 2 bottom-six forwards, a minor-league journeyman and a pointshot bomb lifts Wild

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: December 29, 2014 - 11:32 PM

I immediately looked at the Wild bench tonight after Winnipeg’s Mathieu Perreault made it 2-0 a mere 20 seconds into the second period.

I just had to see the Wild’s reaction and the response of players because this is a sick, tired and frustrated team that can’t seem to get any breaks or do anything right and here we were in a game the Wild was finally dominating 5-on-5 and it was somehow still down 2-0 because of two very lousy penalty kills.

The first thing I noticed was assistant coach Darryl Sydor clapping his hands to try to jar players from their somberness. I noticed a couple players barking and coach Mike Yeo shouting orders that players said afterward was, “Stick with it. Just stick with it.”

The Wild’s slump the past month has led to a lot of mistrust in each other. Guys start doing their own thing, not playing the system and deficits have quickly turned into bigger ones and eventually losses. You can’t win in hockey when you have no clue what the guys next to you on the ice are going to do.

The Wild has deserved a lot of losses the past month. Tonight, it deserved to win and battled its way back to do just that and get a greasy one for a change – its first regulation win since Dec. 9 and its first win overall in six games to pull within five points of L.A. and seven of the Jets in a 1-0-1 home-and-home series.

“Our guys did a great job staying with it,” Yeo said afterward. “Real happy with the way we played the game. Got contributions from everybody both ends in the rink. That’s another step. … It’s good we were able to bust through.”

The Wild busted through because after that Perreault goal that Darcy Kuemper had no chance of stopping, he didn’t let in another despite 21 more Jets shots. He made several bigtime saves to help win the Wild a game. Kuemper has been much better on the road than at home. He entered tonight with a .920 road save percentage as opposed to an .876 one at home.

Kuemper said afterward he still wasn’t quite 100 percent and pretty tired from some bad-tasting chicken that caused his stomach to explode and for him to lose eight pounds, but he battled through.

It is impossible to win in the NHL with average goaltending.

“That’s what we need from him,” Yeo said. “If we get that kind of goaltending on a consistent basis, we’re going to be a dangerous team. That’s what he’s capable of. We’re trying to rush a young player along a little bit here, but that’s the reality of where he’s at. He’s good enough to be our starter and to continually play games like that, so we need him to continue to step up.”

In that second, the turning point came when a Jets defenseman made a dimwitted play. Ryan Carter played a puck with a high-stick. The ref had his hand up signifying it. Carter and Paul Postma surrounded the puck, and froze. Instead of letting Carter touch it or waiting for a whistle (nine times out of 10 when two players are doing this, the ref will just blow the play dead), Postma tried to quickly chip the puck out of the zone.

Kyle Brodziak, who was good tonight meaning Erik Haula likely will have to wait to return to the lineup, picked off the clearing attempt, hit Brett Sutter, who hit Carter for a nice deke and roof job goal, his first in 16 games since Nov. 13.

Later, Sutter made a great play along the wall to set up a charging Justin Fontaine for his second goal in the past 24 games and Sutter’s first career multi-point game (57th game in seven seasons).

Yeo praised the Sutter-Brodziak-Carter line bigtime, saying they helped turn momentum by playing physical and playing in the offensive zone. He said the Wild liked Sutter’s game during his previous callup stint and this is what they want from him as long as he’s in the lineup.

Sutter said it’s easy to play with Brodziak and Carter and praised the team game from the Wild tonight, saying, “When you can utilize four lines and all sets of D, it’s a huge for a team to be able to roll, especially on the road.”

Finally, with the game tied, Zach Parise teed a drop pass up for Marco Scandella as they entered the offensive zone. Scandella let it rip for the go-ahead goal with 11.2 seconds left in the second.

It was Scandella’s ninth goal, which is tied for fifth in the NHL among defensemen (second-most though among NHL defensemen). His four winning goals is tied for first among NHL defenseman and his 0.3 goals per game rank first among NHL defensemen.

“In junior I was an offensive threat, and it’s starting to come,” Scandella said.

Ryan Suter struggled tonight. He is minus-8 in nine games since coming back from the mumps and made mistakes on both Jets power-play goals tonight (those don’t count as minuses; even-strength + shorthanded goals vs. even-strength allowed + shorthanded goals allowed).

I asked Yeo if the Wild may consider putting Scandella on the No. 1 power-play unit over Suter (as much as that probably kill Suter). Yeo admitted the Wild coaching staff talked about it between periods.

Yeo said that assistant coach Rick Wilson did point out there that “he’s playing so well in the defensive side and just playing the game the right way, and that’s how his offense is coming. Sometimes when you give players a little bit more on top of that, then it takes away from things, but certainly that’s something that we’re going to look that.”

Technically, the opposite could be said, too. Perhaps taking a little No. 1 unit time away from Suter may help his overall game by lessening his workload. He just hasn’t been the same Suter since returning from the mumps, which ravaged these infected defensemen physically.

Scandella’s cannon would be a welcome threat on the No. 1 unit.

By the way, Scandella and Christian Folin had great games overall. Both were plus-3’s. Scandella gave heavy praise to his partner’s game after this one. It is amazing watching Scandella battle sometimes, by the way. Every shift is 100 percent all octane.

Sutter and Brodziak were plus-2’s. Suter led with five blocked shots. Nino Niederreiter led with three hits. Thomas Vanek had four shots and showed his soccer skills by heading a puck out of the defensive zone.

Speaking of heads, Ben Chiarot head-butted Jason Pominville tonight. Uncalled, but we’ll see if the NHL holds Chiarot to task.

That’s it for me. By the way, I mentioned on Twitter and in the paper the other day Iowa’s 9-2 loss and Johan Gustafsson’s eight goals allowed. Nice response by them tonight. They rallied to beat Milwaukee 3-2 in overtime and Gustafsson made 30 saves.

I have a very early flight to Columbus in the morning through Minneapolis. My second flight has no Internet, so I’ll be with you with any news after I land. Yeo was deciding whether or not to scrap practice, have an optional or a full one after the game, so I’ll let you know. Sometimes rest is the best option and the Wild wasn’t expecting to arrive in Columbus until 3 a.m. or so.

Tough day for the Wild: A bad bounce, 2 goalies sick, 1 top scorer sick and 2 big injuries

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: December 28, 2014 - 5:20 AM

Mike Yeo said this morning that the Wild “can’t just snap our fingers and make it reappear. There’s going to be some work involved.”

It is absolutely going to take a lot of work for the Wild to brush off all this negativity and all the frustration and the unbelievable amount of adversity that is engulfing this team to get back into this race.

Things have been going great for the Winnipeg Jets. Their confidence is sky high, they have lost once in regulation now in the past 14 games and when you’re playing with that type of strut in your step, you find ways to win. Things have been going hideously for the Wild for some time. It has lost 10 of 15 games (four in overtime or shootout), its players have lost confidence, frustration is palpable whenever you talk to anybody and when you’re playing while waiting for the next ugly shoe to drop, you almost find ways to lose.

Tonight was a perfect example. The Wild played with more energy and structure and excitement and anger and passion than we’ve seen for some time.

And yet, when it was time to make a play, it couldn’t make that final one to get a victory.

What if Charlie Coyle had scored that goal when he was in all alone in a tie game with 1:09 left? What if Mikko Koivu shot the puck and didn’t turn the puck over en route to the first shortie for the Wild since Oct. 17? What if Koivu hadn’t missed that wide open net a minute before Adam Lowry scored early in the third? What if Jared Spurgeon didn’t have his first goal in 15 or 16 games disallowed because of Zach Parise’s incidental contact (whether you agree with the call or not) that would have put the Wild up 2-1 in the second? What if Kyle Brodziak scored on that first-period shorthanded breakaway or didn’t have a pass broken up on a first-period 2-on-1? What if Marco Scandella didn’t whistle one wide on a 2-on-1 in the first?

And what if Blake Wheeler didn’t have a shorthanded goal go in off his skate? What if BOTH Wild goalies didn’t get sick? What if Jason Zucker also didn’t come down with the plague and could play? What if Mikael Granlund and Jonas Brodin didn’t get hurt in the third period (pretty good chance Justin Falk wouldn’t have been on the ice to turn the puck over before the losing goal tonight)? What if somehow that puck didn’t ricochet off the glass, off the top of the net, off the NAMEPLATE of the Wild’s third goalie and into the cage in overtime?

If any of those things did or didn’t happen, we may be talking right now about a Wild team that made a giant, defining step tonight toward turning things around. Instead, we’re once again talking about a defeated, frustrated team that continues to spin its wheels.

When things are going well, you find a way to shoot a puck off the glass, off the top of the net, off a third goalie’s back. When things are going badly, you can’t find a player to make a play to win a game.

Another game winnable, another loss for the Wild. Another game losable for the Jets, yet they again find their way into overtime and find a way to accumulate points.

Such is life right now for the Jets and Wild, who are going in opposite directions. Another game where the Wild’s hole deepens.

I have said the past few days on radio and I think on the blog if the Wild has any prayer of making the playoffs, it probably has to catch Vancouver or Winnipeg because I’m willing to bet the defending champ Kings figure it out. Well, the Kings won tonight against San Jose to knock Vancouver to the eighth spot.

So, the Wild at least moved within six points of the Canucks but fell nine points behind the Jets heading into Monday’s rematch at the PEG.

Who plays in that game will be determined Sunday. The Wild lost its No. 1 center and a top-pair defenseman tonight.

Granlund looked to injure his left wrist tonight when he was roughed up by Big Buff, Dustin Byfuglien, who took two huge extracurriculars on Granlund on back-to-back shifts for Granlund. Granlund actually came back with his wrist taped and assisted on Jason Pominville’s tying goal early in the third before leaving the game for good, I’m assuming with the same injury.

Who comes up? Tyler Graovac? Brett Sutter? We’ll find out. At a minimum, Yeo said Granlund will miss Monday’s game, but he called the injuries to Granlund and Brodin indefinite. That’s right, Brodin got hurt, too. He was crushed in the third by Grant Clitsome and he too sustained an upper body injury.

Lots of pressure now on GM Chuck Fletcher to make a trade for a defenseman now that the holiday roster freeze was lifted at 11 p.m. Saturday.

With Brodin hurt, the Wild’s D corps is Ryan Suter, Marco Scandella, Spurgeon, Falk, Stu Bickel, who played pretty well tonight, Nate Prosser and Christian Folin.

But the Wild’s already demanding too much from its top-4 (now 3) D and this team needs a defenseman badly.

This team also needs a goalie.

John Curry, who played Friday night in a win at Rockford, bussed five hours to Grand Rapids, Michigan, after the game, woke up late Saturday morning and got a call to get to the airport to fly to Minnesota because Darcy Kuemper had food poisoning and Niklas Backstrom was still sick from the norovirus or whatever that's desolating this team. It was weird in hindsight this morning when Backstrom left the ice a few moments before Kuemper, the scheduled starter. Typically, the non-starter stays on the ice to work with the scratches.

Of course, this is the Wild, so Curry’s flight was delayed til about 2 p.m. He landed in Minnesota, came to the rink thinking he’d be the backup (he was told it was 50-50) and found out after the long travel day and playing the night before that he’d be making his second career Wild start in a fairly critical game for Minnesota.

So, Curry did as well as could be expected. Tying goal in the second period was a bad one, but he battled in a game where the Wild didn’t give up a ton of chances and probably deserved better.

But this goalie situation is so typical. The players are frustrated, too, that this team can never, ever, ever, ever have a goalie that can stay healthy and carry the load. Injuries, illnesses, it is absolutely remarkable how often this happens. Imagine being the players on this team and what it does to you mentally when you walk in the room before a big game and see the team’s minor-league goalie suiting up to start.

“Not surprised by anything,” Parise said of the goaltending.

“It's something that in the past I've never really seen before,” Pominville added. “Since I've been here it's kind of been that way where there's been unfortunate injuries and guys sick. It's really been unfortunate we can't have somebody that just takes the load, takes the lead and takes the net for awhile. It's adversity. We'll have to battle through it and find a way.”
 

But it’s been the same story for three years now, and really, the entire Fletcher regime. Now, of course, a lot of this has to do with Josh Harding’s unfortunate illness hamstringing the team and then his broken foot this year. Remember, the goal this year was for Kuemper to develop in the minors. Harding got hurt and everything was turned upside down and the second Kuemper passed his waiver threshold, his game took a turn for the worse.

Again, very typical when you’re the Wild.

So, it’ll be 1) interesting if Kuemper or Backstrom can start in Winnipeg (it won’t be Johan Gustafsson since he gave up eight tonight for Iowa) and 2) interesting to see how Fletcher proceeds.

Do you give up something significant to acquire a goalie when there’s no assurances a goalie can even save this season? Or do you wait it out, continue to ride this instability out and make the “correct” long-term move for a goalie? Maybe it’s still Kuemper? Maybe it’s not. But it’s the elephant in the room that is again creating mayhem on the Wild.

But the Wild is not a playoff team unless it either gets a goalie or one of its two goalies takes the reins consistently and starts backstopping this team to wins.

Anyway, at least the Wild got the point. After Wheeler’s shortie exasperated the fans, Thomas Vanek, with the Wild still on a power play, scored his fourth third-period tying goal since Nov. 28.

Like I said, it’s a shame the Wild couldn’t find a way to make that one extra play to win this one because it was there for the taking and it could have been painted as a defining game.

“We're trying to build our game, we’re trying to be better, we’re trying to improve in different areas, and sometimes you make small steps to end up making big steps," Pominville said. "But we know that this team is a team we’re chasing, a team we want to catch, this is a team we have to beat and it’s unfortunate we weren’t able to do that.”

Parise said, “It is hard to take when you lose. We need the results and we lost the game again. That’s the bottom line. … We’ve got to snap out of it. That’s a team we’re chasing. We needed to get that win.”

Said Vanek, “We need the points right now, we can't wait for them.”

Yeo said, “I’m not disappointed in any way the way we played the game. Just disappointed in the outcome.”

He said he’s disappointed that again the Wild can’t hit the net on all these odd-man rushes, but he felt they built its game and took a step in the right direction, although he knows it needs wins and can’t be giving Winnipeg points.

He praised Curry and said, “We cannot hang our heads right now. It would be real easy to feel sorry for ourselves, but winners don’t do that and we’ve got to make sure we handle this adversity the right way.”

OK, that’s it for now. Real late (1:15 a.m.), and sorry for the late blog. Rachel Blount is covering practice Sunday as I fly up to Winnipeg. There will obviously be news because of the injuries, so I’d expect callups at a minimum. Like I said though, Fletcher’s going to have to address this defenseman situation pretty soon with Keith Ballard and now Brodin hurt.

Postgame: Tension, frustration submerging the Wild as it skids into NHL's holiday hiatus

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: December 24, 2014 - 7:56 AM

When Charlie Coyle scored his first goal in two months to tie Tuesday’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers in the second period, it looked like Dec. 23 would really provide a Festivus Miracle.

Nope.

Instead, Wild fans got to play the part of George Costanza and air their grievances with loud boos and social media condemnation after their favorite team inexplicably sputtered through yet another loss that featured a slow, sloppy start, soft wall play, lots of turnovers, lots of overpassing and shoddy defense by some of the team’s more reliable players.

Evening from Xcel Energy Center, where the slumping Wild skidded head-on into the holiday break in listless fashion during a 5-2 loss.

What have the Wild lacked during a four-game winless streak, 5-6-3 slide and an amazingly bad 2-3-3 home streak that has the team six points behind the defending Cup champs for eighth and eight points behind Winnipeg heading into a mammoth home-and-home against the Jets?

“Winners attitude and teamwork,” coach Mike Yeo said.

Just looked up where the Wild was after 32 games last year. It was 18-9-5 for 41 points (six more than it has now at 16-13-3) and was tied for second in the Central and tied for fifth in the West. It had a four-point lead on ninth-place Phoenix.

Lots of tension after this one. It included a second straight, brief players’ only meeting and more frustration-filled quotes from Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Matt Cooke, who had a lot of interesting things to say.

I’ll do more of a state of the team story in the next couple days, but I got with GM Chuck Fletcher during the second intermission for about 10 minutes. He’s not happy the way the team’s playing, but he made clear he believes in the team he constructed and the gist of the interview is players shouldn’t wait for some roster shakeup or coaching shakeup to get its act together.

It’s up to the players. The chance of some blockbuster seems minimal. He said Yeo is “absolutely safe,” ridiculed the question even being asked and said the coaches are doing everything they can.

Yeo also said after the game that it’s up to the players.

When I asked what his message for the team was heading into the 3-day hiatus, Yeo said, “There’s no message tonight. The door closed and there was some talking [between the players] and that’s what needs to be done. We can talk, we can yell, we can pat on the back. Listen, they’re the ones out there performing. I’m not trying to say that I’m not responsible for this. I always believe that … what you see on the ice is [a coach’s] responsibility, but at the same time, there’s been a lot of attempts, a lot of different ways. At some point it has to come from them, too.”

He said, “What has gone on earlier in the season or last year is completely irrelevant and if we keep sitting around waiting for that to reappear without actually doing the things to make that happen, then we’ll continue to be disappointed.”

He hopes the break comes at the right time.

“Part of me wants some soul searching, part of me wants guys to not think about hockey at all,” Yeo said. “I’m not sure what’s best. Ultimately what we need, we can say whatever we want, guys have to be better and we have to better together as a team. We’re not helping each other right now. For a team that has made a name for itself in the past for playing together, playing a structured game, a systems game, being a good team on both sides of the puck, we’re starting to lose that reputation. And that’s disappointing. I know there’s more pride in the room, but we better get it back.”

Cooke missed seven weeks with a hip injury, so he watched a lot of games from above and completed only his second game back tonight.

He came out to an empty, quiet locker room, pointed to the team mottos plastered on the walls that read, “accountability, character, commitment and work ethic.” He said they better get back to that stat.

“We haven't earned anything yet,” Cooke said. “We're supposed to be a band of brothers that goes out night in and night out and lays it on the line for each other and we found that last year. And just because we had it last year doesn't mean that it's here this year. We have to go out and earn the trust of each other night in and night out to gain that accountability that you can trust night in and night out.”

He said, “Right now it’s time to decompress and enjoy Christmas and not think about hockey and get away from it. I think it’s a blessing that we have these three days right now to just step away.”

On the two Winnipeg games Saturday and Monday, Cooke said it’s cliché, but, “We can’t look further than the 27th. It’s an opportunity to earn back a level of play that we expect from ourselves here at home, and then we can carry that on the road after.

“The best part about it is it’s something we all can control. It’s not systematic. It’s not what someone else is making us do. It’s what we’re allowing ourselves to do.”

Whatever it is, something is missing. Something has to change.

The work ethic that was this team’s identity, the energy, the defensive structure has absolutely disappeared.

Bad D-zone coverage, bad goaltending, no excitement, sporadic work ethic, that has marred many games for a month and is destroying the Wild’s season 32 games in. The hole is deepening, and Yeo and his staff – whether they’re safe or not – better figure it out.

And, it is indeed up to the players.

Yeo said, “Our execution was terrible all night and that led to turnover after turnover and also no willingness whatsoever to shoot a puck. We kept trying to make a prettier play.”

He said the gameplan was to do the right things so they built confidence and momentum in their game heading into the break, and instead Yeo said, they “did the opposite.”

Coyle did score tonight for the first time since Oct. 23 (snapped a 26-game drought), but he said, “I’d rather go through another 25 games without scoring if we’re winning.”

Koivu said, “We’re a very frustrated team. We’re the ones who’s causing that and we have to find our way out of it. It’s literally as simple as that. … I don’t think we were even close to good enough to win a hockey game. That’s all of us.

“We just have to be better. It is as simple as that.”

Parise said, “Same story as it’s been the last while. … I don’t have [many real] answers. Lot of frustration on everyone’s part. … We have to address the issues, otherwise we’re going to be doing this for a long time. We’ve got to figure them out internally.”

That’s it for me. Please check out the game story for more and also the game notebook on tonight’s goalie swap at the last second because of Nik Backstrom’s illness.

I’ll do that state of the team story for Friday or Saturday most likely. I’ll be on KFAN in studio with Paul Allen on Wednesday at 9 a.m. and am hosting for Dan Barreiro on Friday from 3-6 p.m. I’ll also be on Fox 9 with Dawn Mitchell on Friday night at 10:15.

I’ll also put up a fresh blog Wednesday perhaps because I think it’s time for a Sunday Insider Q and A.

Happy Festivus everybody. Air your grievances in the comment section.

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