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Postgame: Wild stumbles into holiday break

  • Blog Post by: Michael Russo
  • December 23, 2011 - 12:18 PM

The gleam comes off a seven-game win streak when you follow it up by falling face-first into the Christmas break on a six-game winless streak.

I learned that in hockey writer school back in the mid-90s.

Maybe three days away from the rink is what the Wild needs.

“We have a long way to go to remember and completely ingrain what our identity is and how we have to play the game,” coach Mike Yeo said after an ugly 4-1 loss here in Edmonton tonight. “We have a long way to go to build that culture that we need.”

Yup, the Wild is back to Square One. We’re hearing words like identity and culture again. Next thing you know, we’ll once again be hearing the word “process.”

It’s mind-boggling just how much the wheels have fallen off. The Wild better thank its lucky stars it played so well during a six-week stretch that it has put a bunch of points in the bank.

To me, it’s not so much the 0-4-2 run in which it has scored seven times that is alarming. It’s that I see a team that is a shadow of what it was and now it’s got to work exhaustedly to rediscover that game. This is exactly what I talked about, I think, in the postgame blog after the Islanders’ shootout loss.

All those things the Wild did during that 17 out of 21 stretch that made it win those 17 games in the first place? Disappeared.

Emblematic in this game was the shift Justin Falk took a delay-of-game penalty (“I swear it hit the glass,” Falk said, adding the refs told him they didn’t see it).  Game’s scoreless, but the bad signs that led up to the penalty were unbelievable to witness. The Oilers were hungrier throughout the shift. It beat the Wild to four races to the puck.

And then the one time the Wild wins a race, Brad Staubitz just inexplicably froze. He then turns toward his net instead of the blue line to clear the puck, and by that time, Edmonton smothered him for a turnover. Instants later, Falk takes the penalty. Instants after that, Jordan Eberle picks off Clayton Stoner’s weak backhanded clear, and it’s 1-0 en route to soon being 2-0 on Ryan Smyth’s goal when Nick Schultz was late picking up a wraparound.

“Taking a hit to make a play, winning a race to a loose puck, the way you support the puck, the way you show you want the puck, one-on-one battles, just the details in our game – completely nonexistent,” Yeo said.

Yeo was fiery red after this one. He had to interrupt himself a few times to 1) bite his tongue; 2) make sure he didn’t swear. He used the word, “garbage” to describe his team’s play at one point. And he refuses to let this team use injuries as an excuse.

“I don’t care how many guys we have hurt,” Yeo said. “This is a team that’s going to face adversity the right way. The way we faced it tonight, it’s not the right way. That’s going to change.”

The Oilers are the second straight opponent to snap a four-game losing streak to the Wild. The Wild had no answer for the Eberle-Ryan Nugent-Hopkins-Taylor Hall line.  For the umpteenth time in recent games, Matt Cullen had a few pucks on his stick with the game scoreless and couldn’t convert. He has one goal in the past 17 games.

Dany Heatley had a bunch of point-blank looks tonight and couldn’t score until well after the game was out of hand to spoil Nikolai Khabibulin’s shutout bid. Heatley has two goals in nine games. This was the first time the Wild’s lost this season when he’s scored (9-1).

Kyle Brodziak looks super tired. So does Cal Clutterbuck.

The power play? Atrocious. It has 2 minutes of power-play time to open the second and turn a 2-0 deficit into one goal. It gave up a shorty and for the fifth straight power play in two games didn’t have a shot. It had 7:50 of power-play time, including a major, and couldn’t score.

Jared Spurgeon’s the only one who played glaringly well. Few scoring chances against, plus-1, four shots, an assist.
Stoner, by the way, was lost on his third shift of the second period with a groin injury.

For the Wild’s sake, Mikko Koivu can return Monday against Colorado. I don’t know what his injury is and I obviously don’t know what he’s feeling, but I don’t understand how a player like him in a situation as dire as this can skate every single day this week for a long time and with a lot of effort and not be able to play. But man, they need him. He’s obviously the one irreplaceable piece on this team.

Here’s a weird tidbit: Three straight games on the road trip, the two teams tied in shots: 33-33, 30-30, 31-31. Just thought I’d point that out.

Team Sweden was in the house tonight, so draft picks Jonas Brodin, Johan Larsson and Johan Gustafsson got to watch their first-ever Wild games tonight. Hopefully they don't hold it against the Wild.

That's it from me. The Wild will likely send a few guys down to the minors Friday. [UPDATE: Jeff Taffe and Jed Ortmeyer were sent back.] The team is completely off Friday, Saturday and Sunday, so no blogs from me. Kent Youngblood then has the keys to the blog and the franchise Monday and Tuesday.

So with that, have a happy holidays everybody! Don't let the Wild's play spoil it. Life's too short.

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