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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Many postgame thoughts after the Wild's (dominant) 4-1 loss at Toronto

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild game coverage Updated: October 15, 2013 - 10:31 PM

Evening from Toronto, where the Wild managed to outshoot the Eastern Conference’s first-place team, the Toronto Maple Leafs, 37-14 and lose 4-1.

Frankly, it’s the outcome I thought may happen tonight in the second of back-to-back games, but only because I figured Toronto would dominate against a tired team playing in the second of back-to-backs. Instead, the Wild was full of energy, executed well, flew through the neutral zone, skated so well it kept drawing penalties and generated chances. It controlled every second of this thing and agonizingly peppered the Maple Leafs without anything to show for it.

One goal on 37 shots doesn’t get it done.

Before I get started, Josh Harding. It’s easy to second guess starting Darcy Kuemper after he gave up three goals on seven shots and was pulled at the 32:23 mark of the hockey game.

But I can’t say this any simpler. Harding has been outstanding, but he has multiple sclerosis. He was lost for two months of a three-month season last year with complications.

This was back-to-back nights, would have been four starts in six nights for him and five games in eight nights.

With Harding playing so well, the Wild did not want to risk putting him in a bad spot tonight, especially with Niklas Backstrom working his way back from a knee injury. So Kuemper got the start, which I have written would likely happen since Thursday.

This was the move that needed to be made in my opinion. Second of back-to-back against the best team in the East, you start your backup, hope for the best and return with Harding in Tampa Bay and Florida.

Obviously, Harding wound up having to play anyway and only had to face six shots in the final 27:37 of the hockey game.

The Wild gave up 14 shots in the game – tying a franchise road record for fewest shots allowed in a game. Amazingly, the Wild’s lost each of those games (others at L.A. and the Islanders if my foggy memory is accurate). In fact, the franchise record for fewest shots is 13, and the Wild lost that, too (1-0 loss Jan. 18, 2003 vs. Anaheim).

Just a frustrating night to be a Wild fan. I thought the Wild caught a break by not seeing Jonathan Bernier. He’s shut the Wild out three times out of the seven he has in his career.

But James Reimer made 36 saves – 20 in the last two periods.

“I’ve been part of a few 4-1 losses, but not many of them felt like that,” coach Mike Yeo said. “What can you do? We responded well the last time we saw something like this. We’ve just got to bounce back with a solid effort.”

The lack of finish is aggravating though. Mikael Granlund had two breakaways he couldn’t score on, one with the Wild down 2-1. Torrey Mitchell had a shorthanded breakaway. The Wild couldn’t score on a 50-second 4-on-3. Nate Prosser and Matt Cooke hit pipes. The top line spent the entire night basically in the offensive zone and couldn’t score.

The second line continues to be unproductive. Dany Heatley’s been on the line since the first game of the season, and unless my memory again is foggy, the second line hasn’t scored a 5-on-5 goal this year.

As I wrote in my re-write notebook on www.startribune.com/wild, Heatley has no goals, one assist, 12 shots in seven games. Remember, he wanted 30 this year. Tonight he had a penalty that negated a power play and eventually turned into a 1-0 Toronto lead.

Can Yeo and the Wild continue to let him play through this when he’s clearly not skating well, taking penalties and turning pucks over?

“After every game, we look at our lines and we say what do we need to do going forward, and every game we’ll evaluate it,” Yeo said. “I’m not going to say he’s at his best right now. I’m not, for sure.

“But I also know that he’s capable of more and I also know that we need him right now. It’s easy to say, ‘Let’s just take him out,’ but with who? Who do you put in instead? The easy thing to do is for us to just give up, but that’s not what we’re going to do. We’re going to keep trying to push him and keep trying to get him better and keep trying to work with him because we know what he’s capable of.”

Mikko Koivu also has no goals (five assists) and leads the NHL with 21 shots that have missed the net, but Yeo feels he deserves better and that “every time he was on the ice, there was something great that happened [tonight].”

I keep getting tweets to “release” Heatley. This isn’t the NFL. That’s not allowed. I keep getting tweets to trade him. Other teams see this, and he also has a $7.5 million cap hit.

I keep getting tweets to turn Koivu into the third-line center. Who goes to the first line then? Charlie Coyle’s hurt. Granlund has no goals, too. You want Kyle Brodziak, and then break up a third line with Matt Cooke that has been a bright spot?

The reality again is it’s easy to overreact to a loss like this, but the Wild controlled this game. Seven games into the season, the Wild’s 3-2-2 and in all four losses arguably deserved better.

But as Zach Parise says in the game story, the Wild can’t keep saying that.

Kuemper fell on the knife tonight.

“I feel bad for the kid,” Yeo said. “In fairness to him, that’s a tough situation for a young goalie. … To sit there and watch that game, he’s putting more and more pressure on himself and he’s cold. We’re not pinning this on him by any means.”

What Yeo means by that is there had to come a point in that game where you start to put pressure on yourself that you better stop the next shot that comes at you when your team is dominating a game like this. I even made an out loud joke in the press box midway through a second period – a period Toronto could barely get in Minnesota’s end and got Bronx cheered by the Maple Leafs fans at one point when they actually managed to get in the zone – by saying, “Poor, Kuemper.”

Kuemper said he’s been pulled before in junior and the AHL and “I just got to use it the right way. I’m going to. I know I’m still a very good goalie and I’m going to use this to push to get better.”

Yeo was happy with every part of the game but the score. “Our guys put a lot into that game,” especially in the third when the Wild pushed hard despite being down by two in the second of a back to back.

One area where the Wild must figure out is its lousy penalty kill. It has been scored on eight times on 25 chances, 68 percent.

Anyway, weird game to say the least. Wild dominate and lose 4-1. You don’t see that everyday. On to Tampa and my 3 a.m. wakeup call. The Wild practices at 2:30 p.m. ET on Wednesday. Talk to you after.

Lastly,

MINNESOTA WILD TO HOST HARDING’S HOPE NIGHT OCT. 24
 
    SAINT PAUL, Minn. – The Minnesota Wild of the National Hockey League (NHL) will host Harding’s Hope Night on Thursday, Oct. 24, when the Wild takes on the Carolina Hurricanes. Five dollars of every individual ticket purchased to the game (up to $5,000) benefits Harding’s Hope, a charity launched by Wild goaltender Josh Harding to raise awareness and support those living with multiple sclerosis.
 
    All fans at the Oct. 24 game will receive a Josh Harding Masterton Trophy poster. There will also be autographed memorabilia randomly awarded throughout the game, and fans can take photos with the Masterton Trophy while visiting the Harding’s Hope information table on the lower concourse.
 
    The Wild is offering a Harding’s Hope Ticket Pack for the game. The Pack, which costs $85, includes a lower-level ticket and an authentic autographed Harding poster. Fans can also purchase a limited number of autographed pucks for $25, with all proceeds benefitting Harding’s Hope.
 
    All Harding merchandise sold at the Hockey Lodge on Oct. 24 will have a portion of the proceeds benefiting Harding’s Hope. They will have special t-shirts and pucks on hand, in addition to jerseys, pucks, equipment and Masterton t-shirts.
 
    You can learn more about Harding’s Hope and Josh Harding by watching tonight’s Becoming Wild, presented by Toyota, after the Wild game, on FOX Sports North. More information on Harding’s Hope can be found at http://www.hardingshope.org. Harding won the NHL’s 2013 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy for exhibiting the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey. He became the first Wild player to win an end-of-season individual NHL award.
 

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