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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One-line Wild returns to Minnesota with some big concerns

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild game coverage Updated: January 27, 2013 - 11:39 PM
It’s hard to say a team that was actually ahead 3-1 in a game committed highway robbery, but the Wild should thank its lucky stars it got a point in tonight’s 5-4 overtime loss at St. Louis.
 
Good evening from the Scottrade Center, where again if you were following me on Twitter, I had Internet issues down the stretch. We’re lucky we got a first-edition story in the paper.
 
The Wild melted down bigger than my laptop in the third period tonight and still got a point thanks to Dany Heatley’s tying goal with 4:08 left.
 
Here’s a bad recipe for success: You’re the epitome of a one-line team AND you’re a total disaster in your own end.
 
That about sums up what’s going on with this team as it heads home licking its wounds with a 2-2-1 record for back-to-back home games against Columbus and Chicago. The Wild has a laundry list of issues to resolve and in this crazy season, little time to really do it.
 
Tonight, it held a 3-1 lead, one that was trimmed to 3-2 by the start of the third. Then, the parade to the box. Too many men, then Pierre-Marc Bouchard flips a puck to Pierre McGuire, then Marco Scandella interference.
 
The Wild did a good job killing em off, but it didn’t matter. The Blues were coming hard, the crowd was jacked and it was only a matter of time. A few more turnovers, a couple bad line changes, defensemen not clearing out the front of the net, forwards not getting into shooting lanes, and boom, boom, St. Louis had a 4-3 lead.
 
First of all, offensively: Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Heatley are all they’ve got – at least through five games. Parise registered his 27th career two-goal game (second in a row) and 24th three-point game tonight, Koivu had a goal and an assist and Heatley had a goal and assist.
 
In five games, they’ve combined for 10 of the Wild’s 13 goals and 21 points.
 
Mikael Granlund, Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Tom Gilbert have the others. Matt Cullen, Devin Setoguchi, Cal Clutterbuck and Kyle Brodziak, guys who should be chipping in, aren’t.
 
Up front, the Wild is fast, but it’s got to be concerned at the lack of size. The second line tonight was Bouchard, Granlund and, at least tonight, a very physical Setoguchi, but Yeo just stopped using them down the stretch against the much bigger Blues.
 
Defensively: The Wild’s just a mess in its own zone. The lost battles are alarming. I know the Blues may be the biggest team in the league, they’re certainly ultra-skilled, too, and very deep, but it was alarming tonight that even the big defensemen – guys like Clayton Stoner, Justin Falk and Marco Scandella – were losing constant battles. It’s alarming that guys like Tom Gilbert and Ryan Suter routinely were either getting beat to the net, losing guys or just weren’t attempting to clear guys out from in front of Niklas Backstrom. That happened on Pavel Datsyuk’s winner the other night in Detroit, too. And it’s not good that Cullen looks tired, that good defensive forwards like Cal Clutterbuck and Kyle Brodziak are turning pucks over, not getting in lanes, etc.
 
The defensemen tonight really struggled in its own zone, and sorry, it wasn’t just in the third.
 
“Coming into D zone coverage, we’re not stopping in position. We’re just going for a skate,” coach Mike Yeo said sarcastically. “Bottom line is we can sit here and talk about our potential and the fact that we’ve got a nice team on paper, but winners do things that it takes to win hockey games. … We can’t allow that kind of barrage at our goal and expect to come out on top at the end of night.”
 
I’ve said all along that if I’m the Wild, I’m very concerned after the blue line. But, the Wild’s lack of offense from the other forwards are a concern, too.
 
It’ll be interesting to see how Chuck Fletcher reacts if this continues and how long he can be patient with guys like Jason Zucker, Charlie Coyle and Johan Larsson knocking on the door from Houston.
 
Fletcher made clear at the start of the year he won’t hesitate to tinker with players who aren’t performing. But there’s only so much he can do, too.
 
You can only have 23 players on a roster. Twelve of the forwards on this team are on one-way deals, so if they’re occupying roster spots, they’re occupying roster spots. The Wild’s not about to send a bunch of NHL salaries to the minors.
 
But three forwards have 10 of the Wild’s 12 goals by forwards. That is absurd.
 
The Wild hasn’t won a regulation game in St. Louis, by the way, since Oct. 20, 2007 – a span of 10 games (7-0-3 Blues record in that stretch).
 
Anyways, I’m going to catch my breath, watch this game over again to get a better grasp and I’ll be back with you with a better analysis, hopefully, Monday. I do need to get my laptop issues rectified and I am supposed to be off Monday as Rachel and Chip cover the team, so it may be Tuesday, too.
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