First things first, the Wild lost for the sixth time in eight games tonight (2-0 to the red-hot St. Louis Blues), was shut out for the third time in four games and second consecutive game on home ice and lost defenseman Ryan Suter with an undisclosed injury.
Coach Mike Yeo said he talked with the NHL’s leading minute man after the game and “we’re confident he’ll be fine.”
This is Russo. Technically off tonight, but since I came to the game, I figured I should blog. Rachel Blount covered the game, so please read her gamer and notebook in Friday’s paper.
Suter, pretty much unarguably the Wild's most important player, got hurt on his first shift of the second period. He missed six minutes, returned to the game but never played again after the 17-minute mark of the second. On that first shift of the second, he wasn’t on camera much. The time he is, he did try to peel away from an oncoming David Backes, so if that’s where the injury occurred, maybe it’s a pulled muscle.
The Blues have won six in a row, are one of the best road teams in the NHL, are outstanding defensively, have shut out three teams in a row and are basically a well-oiled machine right now. When Jason Pominville hit the post on his first shift of the game, it basically foretold what the Wild’s puck luck would be the rest of the way.
The Wild controlled the play much of the game, didn’t give up a lot of chances but committed a couple defensive mistakes and couldn’t buy a goal.
Yeo was upbeat in his presser, walking in even with a grin because he pretty much knew what he was going to say off the bat. It was as much an orchestrated message for the fans and media as it was for a fragile locker room that he is trying to keep positive.
“Before the onslaught begins, I’ll start by saying my message to the team and the way that we feel is we have nothing to apologize for and nothing to feel sorry about,” Yeo began. “We played obviously a strong team and we played a good game. I’m not saying we can’t be better in a couple areas, but obviously the complexion of the game changes if we score first. We’ve got to quit giving up the first goal, but right through the lineup we competed hard. We did a lot of good things. Obviously made a couple mistakes but we’ve got nothing to hang our head about that’s for sure.”
Yeo noted they didn’t have very many scoring chances either, saying, “That’s this time of year. I know the chances were even. … Bottom line is we didn’t finish. Again I’m not saying we can’t be better in some areas, we can for sure.
“I know there’s been so much losing around here for so long that it’s almost like we’re waiting for it to happen again. Hey, one thing that we’re learning is that the final push is the hardest. Let’s not be afraid to write that that’s a pretty good team we played tonight. They’re a pretty strong team. We played a good game, we didn’t win it, and certainly we’re not happy about that, but I know what’s going on and we want to write a negative story and we want to feel sorry for ourselves and I’m telling you, it is not happening in the dressing room.”
Still, it’s been three out of four where they haven’t scored. The second line of Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Mikael Granlund and Devin Setoguchi was much better tonight but didn’t get it done. Cal Clutterbuck has one goal in the past 23 games and three in 34. The team’s losing ways may have begun in that first St. Louis game, but it really started in San Jose when Charlie Coyle was taken off the first line.
He was back there by the second period, the Wild quickly rallied to make it 2-2 before the six-turnover shift by Clayton Stoner, Jared Spurgeon, Dany Heatley and Kyle Brodziak gave up the losing goal. Coyle hasn’t been back there since.
I wrote today in this article the reasons Jason Zucker isn’t here right now. But there’s eight games left, and as much as Yeo tried to smartly keep it positive tonight, the Wild’s played itself right onto the playoff bubble.
So how much longer can it wait?
It’s time to get Zucker here, slot him right onto the Granlund-Setoguchi line, reunite Coyle with slumping Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu (I think Yeo should have done it at the start of the third period tonight to perhaps create a jolt) and maybe try Jason Pominville on the right side of Clutterbuck and Brodziak. Maybe that’ll add an offensive spark to break out that line.
But second-liner Pierre-Marc Bouchard has one assist in nine games right now.
All this of course partly depends on how close Matt Cullen is to returning.
I asked Yeo if it’s time to shuffle the lines and get Coyle back to the top line and he said that will be talked about tonight and Friday morning.
On being shut out in three of four games, I asked Yeo what needs to change: “Put the puck in the back of the net. We’ve talked about this many times before, obviously the first goal this time of year is very important. … It’s almost like playoff hockey right now, that first goal is very important. For sure if we’re not going to come right out and score a goal early then we better not give one up. We have to be better there, we can’t make that mistake in that situation.”
The blue line has major holes, especially if Suter is sidelined. Justin Falk was on for two goals tonight, and played big roles in both. He turned the puck over in the neutral zone 30 seconds before the first goal and couldn’t play a bouncing puck before the second.
Tom Gilbert, who had a defensive breakdown with forward Mike Rupp on the first goal, is now a minus-14.
But, regardless of the blue-line issues, it all comes down to scoring. There are just too many passengers on this team, guys that are not stepping up at all and contributing.
“There’s a lot of gripping the stick really tight, and a lot of tension, that’s why I said this is something we’re learning to deal with right now,” Yeo said. “It will make us better. If we think that it’s intense and it’s emotional and it’s tough right now, where we want to get to, the P word, it gets a little bit more. So this is part of it, learning how to deal with it.”
And you can see it on certain faces on the ice. They almost play jittery, and I’m talking about the guys that have been on this team through the non-playoff years. It’s like they sense the wheels are coming off and are afraid to do anything to mess up.
Well, that won’t get it done.
“The effort’s there, we’re working hard, we’re creating some chances,” Pominville said. “We can’t sit here and feel sorry for ourselves. We’ve got to pull up our sleeves, dig deep and find a way. It’s been a little tough go here lately to get on board, but that’s when you have to dig deeper and maybe simplify things and hope to get a bounce and go from there.”
“We’re doing some good things,” the former Buffalo captain continued. “Our execution might not be where it needs to be. But at the same time we’re playing teams that have been going really well, have been on a roll and … have been doing some good things defensively, but we can’t use that as an excuse. We have to find a way to create.”
I asked Parise about the mood in the room: “Pretty frustrated. It’s a game, another one, that we feel we could have come on the other side of. There’s frustration a little bit.”
On the need for guys to step up, Parise said, “You can’t single anyone out right now. It’s a collective thing. We all can play a little better and limit our mistakes. We’ve played against some pretty good defensive teams three out of the last four games, I think probably three of the best defensive teams in the league. And we’ve gotten shut out in each one of those games. We all can do a little more. We’ve given them a few goals and found ourselves playing from behind and that hasn’t been working.”
Niklas Backstrom played well. There were some turnovers right in front of him despite the Wild only giving up 20 shots. The key now is for Backstrom’s game not to fall apart because of the pressure with literally no goal support.
Here is a translated quote he said in Finnish to colleague Samuel Savolainen: “You want to win. That’s why we play. For a goalie, it’s a challenge because there’s only that much I can do. I can only take care of my own part. I can’t let other things affect me. If I do, my own package falls apart. And then I’m not helping the team to its fullest.”
Rachel is covering practice on Friday, so follow her on Twitter (@blountstrib) to get updates on any line changes at practice and Suter updates. What I hear, I’ll tweet, too.
When Suter got hurt tonight, Jonas Brodin moved to the left side with Spurgeon on his right. Stoner played the left and Gilbert moved to the right. So my guess is if Suter can’t play, Falk would play the left side of Nate Prosser. The other option is to call up Marco Scandella, but he has been very inconsistent in the minors and I’m not sure the Wild feels his game is ready to step back in here.
Columbus comes to town next on Saturday, then a three-game trip to Calgary, Edmonton and San Jose. This thing is going to come down to the wire.
More from Russo's Rants
Hockey Day Minnesota was officially announced Thursday and a Stadium Series news conference has been scheduled for next week.
If the sides go through with arbitration and don't settle before a decision, the arbitrator will pick a figure selected by one side -- or something in between.
Eleven of the games are on NBCSN, with the Stadium Series game on NBC. Three of the five Wild-Blackhawks games this season will be on NBCSN.
The Wild and Fox Sports North are expected to announce this week that Hockey Day Minnesota will be at Bayfront Park in Duluth
The alumni game will be played Feb. 20 -- a day before the 2:30 p.m. game vs. the Hawks at TCF Bank Stadium -- and frankly may have some fans more excited than the actual Hawks-Wild game.