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Another Minnesota 'Middle 20 Malaise' destroys Wild in Mile High City

  • Blog Post by: Michael Russo
  • November 28, 2010 - 12:50 AM

Oy, vey, where to begin with this one?

Do I start with the fact that the Wild couldn't handle minor-league journeyman Greg Mauldin?

 

Or that even after the Wild put together a strong first period, responding well to Colorado's first goal, by being all over the puck, winning battles, spending the majority of the time in the offensive zone, creating chances only to emerge predictably with another disastrous middle period? 

Or that it was usually-steady Nick Schultz that played a monster part in turning that momentum Colorado's favor?

Or that Niklas Backstrom gave up a career-high seven goals one game after giving up six and two games after giving up five?

Or that Todd Richards did zip to halt the wave by calling time or pulling Backstrom when it became 4-2 or 5-2? 

Or that it took Kyle Brodziak (first two goals since Oct. 21) being used as a punching bag about a dozen times in the head and helmet by Chris Stewart (who broke his hand) for his teammates to finally wake up and show some pride?

The Wild has put together a few embarrassing second periods this year, but this one was as bad as it's gotten just because of how great I thought they played in the first.

Up 2-1, getting what you think would be a momentum-turned on Matt Cullen's power-play goal with 20.3 seconds left, the Wild gave up four goals by 9:29 of the second. At that time, they were being outshot 14-0. They gave up a season-high 20 in the period. That's now 79-24 in the last 5 second periods and 262-166 in the season's 2nd periods.

Say what you want about Backstrom on this night, but Richards for some strange reason never gave him the mercy pull and he kept the deficit to 5-2. Coulda been 9-2 or 10-2 easy.

Regardless, Backstrom's now given up 18 goals the last 3 games. He's lost his game, which was so stellar. By my quick math on deadline, his goals against average has risen from 1.90 to 2.66 and his save percentage dropped from .938 to .916 the last 3 starts.

And frankly, it's not like the Wild's playing differently. They've put him under siege all season for extended periods. Only in those instances, Backstrom bailed the Wild out like Willie Nelson on a pot charge. When he's unable to save the day, this is what happens: Humiliating second periods.

Great goaltending masks real problems. Average goaltending, or normal goaltending, exposes real problems.

Richards admitted after the game that he'll be replaying in his head why he didn't pull Backstrom to try to stop the momentum. I just don't get it. To me, it was such an obvious coaching move, but I looked at the bench at 4-2 (32 seconds after Milan Hejduk made it 3-2) and 5-2, and Richards never once looked at Jose Theodore.

Brodziak scoring late in the second to make it 5-3 probably kept Backstrom in to start the third, but Richards didn't pull him at 6-3. Finally, 6:49 into the third after he gave up his seventh goal, Backstrom was yanked. Backstrom said it was the coach's move, and after initially looking like he agreed he should have been pulled, Backstrom said to me he never wants to be chased.

Schultz took a swan dive on the sword after the game. His turnover led to the tying goal. Then his turnover led to his taking a scrambling retreating penalty and the go-ahead goal. It was the normal recipe for a bad Wild second -- turnovers, penalties, not being able to stop the flurry.

I hung on to a lot of leftovers from Richards' postgame and the locker room for my Sunday for Monday follow. That's because the Wild is spending the night in Denver and using Sunday as just a travel day, so there's really no access to the team, although I suppose I could get players if I needed.

But Richards talked a lot about the second period trends of dreadfulness, the fact it's the leaders (tonight Schultz, and I'd throw Mikko Koivu in there virtually every game the last month) that are letting the team down in several of these situations and what he thinks is wrong in the second.

Richards said he and the staff will talk about Monday's starting goalie, but I'd suspect we'd see Jose Theodore.

Mauldin was the guy whom the Wild couldn't handle tonight. This is a 28-year-old minor-leaguer, a guy who by the way was Tom Lynn's big trade deadline pickup from Syracuse for the Aeros in 2005. Now he slices and dices the Wild in an NHL game.

I kind of chuckled at this quote. To me, it's an indictment of the Wild: “In Lake Erie we practice so much going to the net and shooting far pad,” Mauldin said. “That’s all I was doing.”

Just reminds ya he's a minor-leaguer.

By the way, Liles got hurt tonight, Winnik bruised his knee tonight and Stewart broke his hands. Not a good night for Minnesota's division rival from that department.

That's it for me. I just looked at the clock and noticed my wakeup call is in 3 1/2 hours and I have to walk 1 1/2 miles in 25 degree temperature back to the hotel. And by the way, I'm connecting to Calgary through Minneapolis, so come to the airport and buy me a coffee.

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