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

Stop the presses: The Wild's having trouble scoring!

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: March 17, 2014 - 10:29 PM

When you don’t score easily, the room for error is so miniscule, and that was on display again by the Wild in tonight’s 4-1 loss at Boston.

Read the gamer for all the details and the better quotes. Just a quick blog because I need to get some shut-eye before an early flight to New Yawk.

The Wild came out the right way, and as Bruins forward Chris Kelly said, the Wild was handling the puck well, skated well, “they were moving their feet extremely well and we weren’t.”

In a scoreless first, the Wild outchanced the Bruins, but Tuukka Rask put on a display that continued in the second.

But with the Wild taking the play to Boston, Jarome Iginla took a shot that nicked Jonas Brodin’s hip. Darcy Kuemper seemed to lose the puck until it dipped in his crease. By then it was too late.

Eight minutes later, Nino Niederreiter stole the puck near the Wild blue line. He gave it to Kyle Brodziak, but he didn’t get the puck out and Carl Soderberg took the puck right off his stick.

To compound problems, every Wild defender watched Soderberg skate around the net. That left Loui Eriksson wide open, and the prolific third-line connected when Soderberg fed Eriksson for the easy 2-0 lead.

Jason Pominville scored late in the second to make it a game, but the proficient Bruins showed how balanced they are when Reilly Smith scored off Patrice Bergeron’s rebound in the third.

Look at Boston’s balanced scoring, look at the Bruins’ plus-minuses. They just roll line after line at you and any line can contribute.

The Wild is the absolute opposite. The Parise-Granlund-Pominville line has scored 14 goals and 37 points in the past 13 games. The rest of the team has 17 goals in that span.

This team just hasn’t found the right mix since Mikko Koivu’s return from an ankle injury and Matt Moulson’s addition. The Wild is 1-2-3 since Moulson’s arrival, 2-2-3 since Koivu’s return. The offense that was supposed to improve with Moulson and Koivu in the lineup has dipped from 25th to 28th in the NHL.

Tonight, the Moulson-Koivu-Charlie Coyle line had four or five exceptional scoring chances.

The line didn’t score and finished minus-2.

So Yeo, who has kept the lines pretty consistent of late, indicated after this one that the Wild coaching staff will look at the lines tonight and may come up with “one, two, three” new lines Tuesday at the Islanders.

Honestly, one option would be to break apart the prolific Granlund line to spread out the wealth a bit and get a new mix because we have seen the Moulson-Koivu and Cooke-Brodziak duos aren’t scoring with either Charlie Coyle or Nino Niederreiter on the right. It’s really too bad Jason Zucker is hurt. This team could use some speed and energy.

But that would probably be beyond crazy to break apart the only line that’s creating something consistently every game.

“That’s the tricky part because they’ve been going so well,” Yeo said. “It’s up to us to try to figure out the right match.”

I’d start off by flipping Kyle Brodziak and Erik Haula. For a team that wanted to get three lines who can score, it’s not even getting two. At least the Koivu line created a bunch of chances tonight.

“We all have to contribute,” Coyle said. “We all know that. We generate chances, but it comes down to putting the puck in the net.”

Tough game. The Wild certainly worked hard and did a lot of things well. But it wasn’t sustained because when you have so much trouble scoring, I think there’s just a natural dip when the other team scores sometimes so easily.

As usual, the Wild was up against a great goaltending display. Rask made some awesome saves early and late. Sixteen of his 33 saves came in the third.

Onto Long Island. Ilya Bryzgalov should be in goal. This is a must win. The Isles have won twice in regulation at home since January.

The only game going right now that affects the Wild is Phoenix at LA. After 1, Coyotes lead 2-1. I have an early flight. Later.

Said defenseman Keith Ballard, “I don’t know if there’s a formula to score more goals. It always seems to fall back to get people to the net, create traffic and score on your second and third opportunities.”

Like kissing your sister, Wild loses in a shootout for third time in four home games

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: March 16, 2014 - 8:51 AM

In tonight’s 2-1 shootout loss to Columbus, the Wild became the first team this season to have a 2-0 lead in a shootout and lose. In fact, it’s the second straight shootout Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu opened up with consecutive goals and the Wild still lost.

The Wild went 1-0-3 on its homestand and now has a five-point lead on the Stars and Coyotes, who beat Calgary tonight. Calgary rallied from a 2-0 deficit, but then Phoenix had five power plays in the third and scored on one of them. Apparently, according to Twitter, the officiating was dubious to say the least.

By the way, prior to losing three shootouts on this homestand, the Wild had won seven of eight shootouts.

Read the game story for all the details and the quotes about the feelings a 1-0-3 homestand left the Wild with, but tonight, the Wild had the better of the chances in a very exciting hockey game tonight but couldn’t beat Sergei Bobrovsky through 65 minutes other than Jason Pominville’s tying goal early in the third.

Prior to the faceoff, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter whispered to each other. If they won the draw, the plan was for Suter to try to hit Parise with a breakaway pass. The puck just bounced over Parise’s stick and into the zone. Parise beat out the icing and set up Pominville’s 25th. He became the 13th 25-goal scorer in Wild history and the first since Andrew Brunette and Guillaume Latendresse in 2009-10.

Before the shootout, Darcy Kuemper was beaten on one fluky goal with 21.6 seconds left in the second on a double deflection – a point shot hit Matt Cooke’s stick, then Jonas Brodin’s knee.

As I mentioned, Parise and Koivu gave the Wild a 2-0 lead. Artem Anisimov cut it to 2-1. Pominville could have won it but fired over the net. Mark Letestu, whom Kuemper robbed a few times in the game, tied it. Then Matt Moulson missed for Minnesota before Ryan Johansen won it after a deke. The goal was initially waved off because the officials thought Johansen scored on a rebound, but replays showed Kuemper never touched the puck with his attempted poke-check.

Kuemper fell on the knife after, saying all he has to do is make a save up 2-0. Coach Mike Yeo jumped to his defense after the game.

Bobrovsky was unreal. The game was reminiscent of April 13, 2013, when Bobrovsky strutted into Xcel Energy Center and was under assault by the Wild. In a game Minnesota outshot Columbus 41-22, Bobrovsky made 39 saves in a 3-2 shootout win.

But Pominville scored with 3:15 left to force overtime, and that point wound up costing the Blue Jackets a playoff spot. The Wild and Blue Jackets tied in points, but the Wild had the tiebreaker over Columbus and got the eight seed.

“I don’t know what it is, I don’t know if it’s being in Minnesota, or if there’s something in this building, certainly looks like he’s comfortable playing in this building and he’s the main reason why we got two points tonight,” Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards said.

Yeo knows if you lose in a shootout, it “paints an ugly picture.”

But he loved the way the Wild played tonight. Their defensemen were pretty great tonight and despite the better of the chances, they just couldn’t get more than one through 65 minutes past BOB.

“We can’t sit here and let a shootout affect how we feel about the way that we’re playing the game,” Yeo said.

Bottom line though, the Wild, despite the acquisition of Moulson and Mikko Koivu’s return, still have to work sooooo hard to score. In fact, it’s been 11 straight games in which the Wild has scored three or fewer goals.

Koivu had no shots tonight. He has no goals and two assists and nine six shots in six games since returning from a broken ankle. His line isn’t scoring, looks slow and isn’t generating much off the cycle. This is a concern because it’s almost impossible to break up the Zach Parise-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville line.

Granlund had another terrific game. Four shots on goal, eight attempted, won 11 of 18 faceoffs.

Tonight Nino Niederreiter played on that line. I think Charlie Coyle should go back up there to add a little more speed or maybe toss Justin Fontaine back in the lineup. Another option even would be Matt Cooke.

Speaking of Fontaine, I think it’s time for him to return. McCormick’s had five games. He has no points. There haven’t been any big hits, no fights. The fourth line isn’t scoring.

Still, the Wild battled hard tonight, would have won easy if not for BOB and Yeo’s trying hard to make sure a 1-0-3 homestand doesn’t infiltrate the team with negativity. It’s tough right now because with this crazy schedule, there’s been very little practice time.

In fact, with three of four coming up on the road and Yeo sensing tired bodies, he’s canceled practice Sunday. And with back-to-back games Monday and Tuesday in Boston and on Long Island, one of the league-mandated days off will be Wednesday.

So that means all the Wild’s practice time this upcoming week will have to come during morning skates.

No penalties for the Wild in this home game. Third time in Wild history and first since 2004.

Suter picked up his 30th assist. The only other Wild defensemen to hit that mark in history was Marek Zidlicky (twice).

That’s it for now. The Wild plays in Boston on Monday. The Bruins are the best team in the East by far and have won eight in a row. Won’t be easy. The goaltending decision will be interesting. Few teams win in Boston. Would Yeo maybe consider saving his No. 1, Kuemper, for Tuesday’s game against the Islanders (a game the Wild must win) and start Ilya Bryzgalov in Boston?

We’ll see. No practice Sunday. Talk Monday barring news.

Wild played a playoff-like style in Thursday's victory over the Rangers

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: March 13, 2014 - 11:28 PM

Good win for the Wild tonight, hanging on to beat the Rangers, who are similarly desperate in the East, 2-1, in a tight-checking, in-your-face affair.

These are the type of games the Wild must win down the stretch. Wild wins 2-1. Phoenix loses 2-1, and now the Wild can feel a little more breathing room.

Coach Mike Yeo loved that both goals the Wild scored were “the kind of goals that you can score in the playoffs,” one off a hard forecheck by Kyle Brodziak and Matt Cooke to create Nino Niederreiter’s 12th goal of the season and the second in a net-crashing display by the Zach Parise-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville line.

Granlund attacked the net from the side and Talbot turned away three shots by Granlund and Pominville before Parise scored his 23rd goal (10th in the third period) and 46th career game winner 1:03 into the third.

From there, Darcy Kuemper was brilliant. In his 18th start in 19 games, he made 16 of his 29 saves in the third period to bounce back from a rare average game against the Oilers.

One of the subplots tonight was Niederreiter and Charlie Coyle.

The most impressive part of Granlund’s game the past two months has been his consistency. But like most young 20-somethings, we’ve seen large variance in performances from Niederreiter and Coyle. I thought both were real good against St. Louis, I thought both had tough games against Edmonton.

Tonight, Yeo felt Niederreiter was going early, so in the second period, Yeo popped Niederreiter up to the Matt Moulson-Mikko Koivu line and dropped Coyle to the Cooke-Brodziak line. From that point, Coyle was outstanding.

“The switch in lines kind of sparked Charlie,” Yeo said. “Whether he wanted to make a point or I’m not sure what it was, but from that point on , he was really moving his feet and attacking. Nino was a presence right from the start.”

Yeo said when he knows both players are going is when they’re engaged physically, and when that happens, “everything else falls into place.” That was the case for Niederreiter all game, Yeo said, and Coyle the last two periods.

Marco Scandella and Jonas Brodin looked to have a tough start to the game, but they rebounded nicely and rebounded from a tough night Tuesday by being plus-2’s.

Granlund won 11 of 16 faceoffs and has now won 22 of 29 the past two games. The Wild won 40 of 69 tonight. There were a lot of stoppages tonight. The first two periods were tough to watch at times just because both teams checked really well and gave the other very little. These are the type of games the Wild will have to win down the stretch, Yeo said.

The Wild has played in six straight one-goal games. I joked on Twitter that the Wild is on fire because it now has points in three straight overall (1-0-2) and nine in a row at home (7-0-2). That’s called, fun with numbers, NHL-style.

Nice response from the Wild after Hastings’ Derek Stepan tied the score on a power play in the second. Brodziak has been in the penalty box three times in four games when the opposing team has scored a power-play goal, so he best cut that out. He took a delay of game penalty also with 3:20 left, which caused a frantic last few minutes.

So, the sky isn’t falling after all. The Wild closes its homestand Saturday against very scrappy and very desperate Columbus, which always plays the Wild well home and away, especially under former Wild coach Todd Richards.

The Wild’s now five points up on Dallas and six on Phoenix, which lost tonight to the Bruins, who have won seven in a row. The Wild opens a three-game trip in Boston on St. Patrick’s Day Monday. The Wild’s 6-0 all-time at Boston, but this Bruins team is a true Cup contender and plays a Western Conference brand of hockey.

That’s it for now. Check out the game story for all the quotes and stories from the game, including Mike Greenlay taking a stick to the face during the game. Yeo said Greenlay is day-to-day with an "upper-body injury."

Talk to you Friday from practice.

Wild's mojo is suddenly MIA as it tries to find right mix since trade deadline

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: March 12, 2014 - 9:42 AM

You’re all Wild fans (at least I assume since you read this blog), so you should be well accustomed to this by now.

For as long as I’ve covered this franchise at least (nine seasons), the Wild is absolutely incapable of doing things the easy way.

So there’s just no chance you really believed that when the Wild built a nine-point playoff lead on ninth place eight days ago that it was going to actually soar into the playoffs.

So naturally, the Wild blows two points in Dallas and then gets only two points in its next two games. Sunday was forgivable because it at least outchanced and arguably outplayed one of the best teams in the NHL.

But tonight wasn’t. There’s just no excuse to build a 3-0 lead at home and end up losing in a shootout to one of the worst teams in the NHL, the Edmonton Oilers. The Wild got what it deserved when it couldn’t pick up that extra point.

Up 3-1, the Wild managed one shot on a 1:24 5-on-3. Then, to start overtime, the Wild gained a 1:51 4-on-3 and couldn’t muster a shot.

Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu scored in the shootout, but three of four shooters beat Darcy Kuemper, who gave up a couple regrettable goals in the third, including the tying goal with 4:53 left to Jordan Eberle.

So, the Wild’s lead over Dallas is down to three and lead over Phoenix is down to four.

The Wild better figure out a way to salvage the rest of this homestand with the Rangers and Blue Jackets coming to town Thursday and Friday Saturday because what’s staring the Wild in the face is eight out of 10 games on the road.

Coach Mike Yeo always says he doesn’t care about the teams behind him, that the race is how many points you need to get to make the playoffs. And that’s accurate. But right now, the Stars and Coyotes are flying and the Wild, a team that was on a 9-2-2 run only eight days ago, is 0-1-2 in its past three and coughing up 3-0 leads at home to the Oilers.

The momentum has turned south for the team you care about the is heading north for the other two teams.

The Wild’s chemistry has run afoul. Chuck Fletcher and Craig Leipold made moves at the deadline as a show of faith to the team. But the Wild’s responded by being winless in three since and the mojo that was there is now MIA.

The moves to bring in Matt Moulson and Cody McCormick caused two lines to change, Dany Heatley to drop to the fourth line and 12-goal scorer Justin Fontaine to be removed from the lineup. With seven healthy defensemen, Yeo has also tinkered with his third defense pair for three straight games. Koivu’s also trying to jump into a playoff race after not playing in two-plus months.

So right now the Wild is trying to find the right mix and the right chemistry and better do so fast.

But tonight’s loss wasn’t about cohesion. It was about an alarming amount of players lacking energy and urgency. It was about an alarming amount of players being completely off early. How many times in the first period did Wild players have pucks slide off their sticks or misconnect on passes?

“I thought we were a little bit lucky to be up 3-0. You could tell we weren’t on it right away,” Yeo said.

The one area where the Wild passed well was the power play. Unfortunately though, it didn’t shoot, and these were the big guns, the go-to guys.

On the two-man advantage, it was Parise, Koivu, Suter, Pominville and Moulson. On the 4-on-3, it was Parise, Koivu, Suter and Pominville.

Pominville said the 5-on-3 was easy to defend because with two lefties at top, the Oilers didn’t have to respect the one-timer.

I know most coaches have to defer to the big guns, the veterans, but it is a shame in a game like this that Mikael Granlund wasn’t used. He set up goals by Parise and Pominville in the first period on terrific passes and looked to be feeling it. Hey, if you’re going to pass all power play, you may as well use your best passer to actually set up a scoring chance.

“We’ll talk about these things for sure,” Yeo said. “In that situation, those guys are leaders on our team and high-skilled guys, so we wanted to give them the opportunity to put it away for us.”

Yeo pointed out how there were questions about not using Parise and Koivu in shootouts or at least fiddling with his shootout order and Parise and Koivu both scored back-to-back in the shootout tonight.

“Sometimes you have to be careful not to overreact and sometimes you have to make hard decisions,” Yeo said.

There were a couple quality efforts. One guy who had a ton of energy and was a constant threats shorthanded was Erik Haula. He also assisted on Jared Spurgeon’s goal. Maybe Haula should have gotten more ice time.

But the Wild just lacked urgency tonight and besides the momentum-killing 5-on-3, the Wild took three minor penalties – two by Charlie Coyle, one by Kyle Brodziak – in the second. The Oilers didn’t score, but it just gave the sense that they were back in the game. And then in the third, they eventually got back in the game.

The Oilers had nothing to lose and didn’t quit.

“We were trying to challenge the group with that,” Yeo said. “And I actually mean it as a compliment to Edmonton, where they don’t care if they win or lose right now. They’re just going to keep playing hard. We knew they were going to keep coming.

“We’ve got to be on our game, doesn’t matter who we play, and we weren’t.”

“This is one game. We can’t overreact. We didn’t lock it up, we weren’t tight enough, we weren’t strong enough, it was the back end of three in four, we have to find ways to win games where we’re not perfect.”

Read the gamer for some of the other quotes. Parise was pretty candid. That’s it for me.

Rachel Blount is actually covering Wednesday’s practice and I’ll be back with you Thursday. I am co-hosting Common’s show on KFAN from noon-3 live from the car show. We’ll be talking some hockey and NFL draft. Some of the hockey guests include Rangers play by play man Kenny Albert and the Wild’s Matt Cooke.

I’ll also try to line one of my reporter pals who covered the GM’s meetings.

Wild finds positives after its shootout loss to powerhouse St. Louis

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: March 10, 2014 - 12:00 AM

I tweeted a bunch of quotes about how positive the Wild was after its 3-2 shootout loss tonight to St. Louis. I was hit back with so many cynical replies, my Twitter followers would make awesome sportswriters.

Read the game story on www.startribune.com/wild for some of the best.

Hey, nobody likes moral victories. You pay $100 for a ticket and your team loses a shootout, you walk out disappointed. But if the Wild pulled that extra point out from tonight’s game by winning the shootout, did that really change anything in regards to how it actually played the game?

No. Obviously, it’s disappointing the Wild couldn’t get the extra point if you’re a fan, but the reality is the locker room was upbeat after the game, the team played quite well and I think any Wild fan would have settled for one point after the Wild fell behind 2-zip early in the first.

Now, a lot of the positivity postgame was them trying to convince themselves that they can play and match up against the Blues, and as a fan, you better pray the Wild truly does believe it can match up against arguably the best team in the NHL because not only does the Wild have two more games this season against the Blues, the Wild could very potentially play St. Louis in the first round.

Again, #1 in the West plays the second wildcard team, #2 plays the first wildcard team. So, by St. Louis leapfrogging Anaheim tonight for the top spot in the NHL, if the season ended today, the seventh-place Wild would play Anaheim. But if the Wild falls to eighth OR St. Louis falls to 2 and the Wild stays 7, the Wild plays the Blues.

Now, it’s just one game, and in the end, the Blues did, by virtue of that shootout, beat Minnesota for an eighth straight time and has beaten Central Division teams 15 straight times and are 18-0-1 against the Central. It was a team playing on the road and it was a team that, like the Wild, was playing for the second time in two days and it was a team playing without Ryan Miller, although let’s be honest, Brian Elliott was certainly up to the task and usually is against Minnesota (6-0 in his career).

But the Wild certainly had its chances tonight and certainly didn’t cower to the big, bad Blues, even at times taking it to the Blues. The Wild got pucks deep, spent long shifts in their end and hit their defensemen, forcing them into turnovers. The Wild started to pick up the intensity and play fast hockey, and according to coach Mike Yeo, showed that the Blues aren’t “unlike anybody else. You put them under pressure, you take away their options, it’s going to be tough.”

But again, it’s one game. Did the Wild prove once and for all tonight that they match up with the Blues? Uh, no, they didn’t. I still think it’d be a terrible matchup, and frankly, until the Wild shows they can play the Blues well in St. Louis, I’ll still be skeptical.

But, hey, it was an entertaining game and the Wild played well, so it was natural for the Wild to feel as it did after the game. Even when the Wild was down 2-0, it wasn’t getting overwhelmed, and in fact, held St. Louis to one shot through a 23-minute span between the first and second periods.

Jason Pominville and Matt Moulson (first with the Wild) helped the Wild rally in the second. Moulson, in two games with the Wild, has a goal, an assist, seven shots and three drawn penalties.

With the game tied at 2-2 in the third, the Wild lucked out early when Alex Steen looked to score. But referee Brad Watson ruled Ilya Bryzgalov, who made 21 saves in his Wild debut, had the puck covered.

A few minutes later, Elliott robbed Mikael Granlund’s goalmouth shot with a desperation stick save. The Wild drew a power play with 1:29 left in regulation but failed to score for a third straight time. In fact, Pominville’s turnover inside the blue line (very same spot to his boo-boo in San Jose that led to the Sharks’ OT winner in January) led to Steen nearly winning it. But his hit the post shorthanded with seven seconds left.

That would have been absolutely devastating after the blown game in Dallas. But the Wild got the point and is now four up on Dallas and seven up on Phoenix with Edmonton, the Rangers and Columbus coming in the rest of the homestand.

Yeo on Bryzgalov, who looked like he was fighting it at times, “He didn’t need to be exceptional, but I thought he got better as the game went on.”

Yeo on the 0 for 3 PP: He said they’re still trying to find chemistry with two brand new units, but “bottom line is we’ve got the personnel that we have to find a way to get one in.”

On Parise and Koivu being 3 for 10 in shootouts and whether maybe he should change up his shootout list: “We’ve got more guys down the line that have the ability, but usually when I’m back there and we’re making the decisions as coaches, we want those guys having the opportunity to make the difference.”

I liked this quote from Kyle Brodziak, who fought Steve Ott early and got into it again later when Ott got too close to Bryzgalov: “That’s definitely one of the most intimidating teams in the league. They’re big, they play physical. It was a good response by everybody. Maybe early on, we didn’t go all-in with it, but as the game wore on, we started to have a pushback and saw the benefit. Not a single guy shied away.”

Again, please read the gamer for a more comprehensible look at the game and the quotes.

The Wild is having a very optional practice Monday after back-to-back road and home games, so there’s a chance there won’t even be a blog. Reminder, I’ll be hosting a live chat on startribune.com at 2 p.m. Tuesday.

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