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 stuns, shuts out Vancouver

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild game coverage Updated: March 19, 2012 - 11:57 PM

After Sunday’s practice, coach Mike Yeo talked a lot about the Wild’s lack of preparation the past month and how it was losing games before it even started. He said the Wild needed to improve its mental toughness after a few months of being emotionally beaten to a pulp because of how this season has unraveled.
The team also had a meeting where lots of players talked, including captain Mikko Koivu. Players talked about the process of winning games and games can be won and lost by doing or not doing the little things.
We all saw a good example of that with tonight’s 2-0 win over division-leading Vancouver.
It’s easy to see how good the power play moved the puck before Erik Christensen converted his fourth goal in four games and the winner late in the first period.
But the turning point came prior to the power play when Dany Heatley checked Vancouver’s best player, Daniel Sedin, Sedin retaliated by trying to slash Heatley up high, Alex Burrows went after Heatley and Kyle Brodziak and Nick Johnson rushed to Heatley’s defense.
The Wild drew a power play because of the incident.
Three shifts before that – Christensen’s prior shift – the forward, whose confidence has grown since a sitdown with Mike Yeo on March 7 in Phoenix, hustled all over the ice, checked Dan Hamhuis, caused a turnover and a near Stephane Veilleux goal. He then hustled to get the puck and nearly set up another chance if not for Kevin Bieksa dropping to the ice and blocking Christensen’s pass.
The Wild did the little things all over the ice. Tom Gilbert blocking what looked like Daniel Sedin’s sure second-period power-play goal, Jed Ortmeyer getting in a passing lane to break up a one-timer, Marco Scandella wounding his leg by blocking Alex Edler’s shot, Clayton Stoner’s withstanding Alex Burrows’ spear to the groin, etc., etc.
“Our attention to detail was great, our neutral zone was great, our d-zone was great, we weren’t turning pucks over like we’ve had the habit of doing,” Brodziak said. “All over the ice, the little things … we really put it together.”
Brodziak scored an 140-foot empty netter and assisted on Christensen’s goal to give him a career-high 39 points. Christensen was great again, attempting seven shots (three on net), and as I mentioned has four goals in the past four games after having no points in his first 15 games.
He’s making things happening all over the ice and is looking like the player the Wild hoped it was getting when he was traded from the Rangers. Yeo thinks he was trying so hard to score that he forgot what he needed to do to put himself in position to score.
It’ll be interesting to see how the Wild brass evaluates this at the end of the year. Is this the real Christensen, the one who looks like a true player, one with skill and speed and one who warrants a contract for next year? Or, is this just a player without pressure anymore, scoring when games don’t matter anymore and trying to impress simply to earn himself a contract any place but Europe next year?
Josh Harding, who was 2-8-3 in his past 15 appearances with a 3.33 GAA and .897 SP, made 33 saves for his sixth career shutout and first win since Jan. 21. He was good early, and as we know, the Wild needs good goaltending early to settle in.
The Wild had something to cheer about for a change with tonight’s quality effort.
“They were rocking,” Harding said of the loud fans. “I think they might have still been drunk from St. Patrick’s Day. We build off that emotion. We knew we owed it to them to have a good game.”
Christensen said something interesting. He said Yeo was making adjustments throughout the game and it helped players adapt bigtime to what Vancouver was doing. I asked Yeo about that postgame and he said he actually brought that up between periods, saying that because there have been so many games that he has to waste time getting players to focus and show up and do the right things that he loses time to talk about the “finer points,” the “subtleties.”
The Wild was physical, won draws and defended well. The Sedins didn’t get a point against the Wild for the first time since Jan. 16, 2011. Daniel Sedin had a seven-game point streak against Minnesota snap.
The Wild snapped a three-game skid against the Canucks and are 2-6-1 in their past nine against them. The power play is starting the move the puck better and has scored in consecutive games after not scoring in eight. It’s PK was real good and is 8 for 8 the past five games.
Ryan Kesler could face supplemental discipline from the NHL. He attempted a Brad Marchand-esque low-bridge clip aimed at Cal Clutterbuck’s knees in the second period.
“I was surprised,” Clutterbuck said. “I mean, normally you just go shoulder to shoulder, and that’s that.” You be the judge if it's suspendable:


Couple extras: In the Clayton Stoner notebook, I had to trim this.
Stoner can become a free agent after the season. A few months ago, GM Chuck Fletcher planned to negotiate a new contract with Stoner. But that was last his latest 17-game absence with a hip injury.
“We haven’t been talking to them much,” Stoner said. “It’s been a tough season, they made some trades, so we’ll wait to the offseason and figure out my future. I love Minnesota. It’s been a tough season. But I do believe the future is bright here.”
Also, Bemidji’s Joe Fallon, on a pro tryout with Houston from the ECHL Las Vegas Wranglers, was named AHL Goalie of the Week. He went 4-0 with a 1.20 goals against average and .960 save percentage in place of Matt Hackett and the injured Darcy Kuemper.
That’s it for me. I’ll talk to you on Tuesday. The Wild has a 10:30 meeting. Afterward a few guys will go on the ice, but the next full practice should be Wednesday in preparation for Thursday’s game against Calgary. Nighty night.

 

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