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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Wild takes step back in Columbus, returns home

Posted by: Michael Russo under On the road, Wild game coverage Updated: February 7, 2012 - 10:17 PM

Well, that was predictable.
Not kidding. As we say in the biz, that was a trap game.
Not that I ever feel good when the Wild comes to Columbus. They’re usually lousy here, but I never felt good about this one.
1) I don’t like when the Wild returns home in the middle of a road trip. It always seems to take the foot off the gas. It happened after Phoenix in December – its seventh win in a row overall and seventh in a row on the road. It returned home, then went up to Winnipeg and that began the 11-game road winless streak and one-month stumble. 2) The Wild played real well the other night in Dallas, maybe the best it’s played in weeks, yet didn’t get the satisfaction of victory. 3) It has a big game at home Thursday against a bitter rival in Vancouver. 4) Player after player know Mikko Koivu’s return is on the horizon. 5) It’s felt like the Wild’s been on the road for two months (20 out of 29 games starting Nov. 30). Players are all looking forward to finally returning home, getting on an actual homestand for the first time in a century, playing seven of its next 10 there and 18 of its final 29.
This had all the makings of a letdown.
Not that it’s a valid excuse. Want to make the playoffs? You can’t be losing to the worst team in hockey by a large margin.
But the Wild didn’t come close tonight. Just no, how do you say, oomph.
“It’s a game of one-on-one battles, and they got the better of us by a large margin in that department – one-on-one off the rush, one-on-one around the net, one-on-one pucks in the offensive zone,” said coach Mike Yeo.
And the power play? Momentum killer yet again.
The Wild gets back in the game at the end of the first on Nate Prosser’s first NHL goal. In the second, it finally starts to play in the Jackets’ zone, and boom, Devin Setoguchi decides to hustle and draw a penalty.
The power play comes out, lays an egg like many recently against the 30th-ranked penalty kill, and boom, next thing you know, Nick Schultz takes one of four minor penalties he took and seconds later, Antoine Vermette and the 25th-ranked power play makes it 2-1.
“It has to be better. It has to get us goals, has to be a difference in the game,” said Dany Heatley. “It was one of our problems. It wasn’t the only one though. We had trouble coming out. We tried to play run-and-gun against that team. They’re a very skilled team, a lot of quick forwards with a lot of skill.
“Our power play. We’re having trouble getting it in first of all. When we do, it’s one shot and out, and then we’re breaking out again.”
Yeo said with no Mikko Koivu, Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Guillaume Latendresse, “If we don’t understand where we’re at in our power play with what we have and go out with the idea that we absolutely have to outwork the other team, … We’ve got to be hard. We’ve got to go out there and completely outwork the other team and grind out power-play goals.”
He said the lack of willingness to outwork the Jackets on the power play was reflective of the game.
The third line of Darroll Powe-Erik Christiansen-Setoguchi was a minus-2. Powe is now minus-11, Setoguchi, a team-worst minus-12 and played a big part on the third goal. But the Wild’s play in front of its own net was weak all night and Jeff Carter scored on the rebound.
Yeo was not about to go after the third line, saying, “It’s tough to say we had a lot of guys that were going tonight.
“This is just another one of those ones where we say we have to move past it. This is a disappointing loss for us, but we can’t sit here and dwell on it.”
On Schultz’s four penalties, Yeo said, “He took four penalties, which is tough. It shows up on the scoresheet, but the plays leading up to that, I mean our forwards were so weak on the puck in the offensive zone tonight that we put our D in so much trouble.”
On Prosser’s first NHL goal, the defenseman, who signed his first one-way contract Monday and got into his first NHL fight tonight, said, “It doesn’t really mean much when you don’t get the two points. That’s what it’s all about right now. We need to make a better push than that.”
Just not a good effort.
Now the Wild returns home, as I mentioned for 18 of its final 29. But, as we all know, if the Wild just settles on that as the sole reason it’ll make the playoffs, I’ll be playing golf in Boca by April 15. It doesn’t work that way.
Home doesn’t just equal win. Don’t believe that, get a game tape of the third period of the Nashville game.
The Wild has to grind out wins, make the X a tough place to play and not put forth any more efforts like tonight. As Heatley said, the Wild needs points every night, whether it’s against Vancouver on Thursday or Columbus on Saturday.
 

It also better not just assume Koivu will be here to save the day. Don't believe that, get a game tape of all the games between March 14-26 last year. The season began to fall apart last year when Koivu broke his finger, and it officially died with an eight-game losing streak. What people forget? The last six of those eight losses came when Koivu returned and with the captain in the lineup.

Speaking of which, though, here are a couple good stats given to me pregame:

With Koivu, the Wild is 22-13-6 with a 2.37 goals for average, 2.37 goals against average, .152 power-play percentage, .839 penalty-kill percentage and .524 faceoff win percentage.

Without Koivu, the Wild is 3-7-2 with a (the following not updated) 1.73 goals for average, 2.73 goals against average, .120 power-play percentage, .767 penalty-kill percentage and .496 faceoff win percentage.

Also, Niklas Backstrom is one of the best active February goaltenders.

Not updated: His win percentage is .633, second-best to Martin Brodeur's .642, his goals against average is 2.19 (third-best) and his save percentage is .923, second-best to Roberto Luongo.

He was good again tonight. Kept this game from truly being embarrassing.

Chip Scoggins is kind enough to cover practice for me on Wednesday as I travel home. I can't wait.

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