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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Another slow start for the Wild and another head injury to Mikael Granlund

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild game coverage Updated: November 27, 2013 - 10:59 PM

The Wild lost for the third time in five games tonight thanks to its fifth consecutive awful start.

It survived Ottawa and Winnipeg. It cost them in Montreal, St. Louis and tonight against Phoenix during a 3-1 defeat.

It didn’t help that Mikael Granlund was lost 29 seconds into the game. The Wild wasn’t specific about the upper-body injury that kept him out of the previous two games. This one we don’t need them to be specific. We have eyes.

Granlund sustained a head injury tonight for all to see. He went in to deliver a hit and Coyotes rookie defenseman Connor Murphy met him with a high hit Granlund didn’t expect. Granlund went down hard, was slow to get up and when he did, he skated slowly to the bench looking dazed.

Granlund has a history of concussion and now has taken three hard hits in the past eight games – a Nazem Kadri head shot and a Marc Methot hip check that sent him crashing into the boards, being the other two.

Coach Mike Yeo said Granlund was feeling a little better after the game, but he admitted concern now about his health.

The Granlund loss one shift into his night triggered an absolute mess with the lines. The Wild was excited to reunite the Nino Niederreiter-Granlund-Jason Pominville line. They were together for one shift.

Charlie Coyle, who hasn’t played nearly as well at center as he has at top-line right wing, had to move back to center and then everything got scrambled the rest of the game.

It took until the second period for the Wild to get any flow.

Jason Zucker was sent back to Iowa after the game. He scored twice tonight in a 3-1 win over Chicago and Yeo indicated Zucker will now come back and the Wild was basically forced into sending him back because Keith Ballard and Torrey Mitchell were ready to come off injured reserve. Personally, I would have kept Mitchell on IR for another game after no practices under his belt from his injury more than a week ago.

Regardless, Zucker probably comes back now. That doesn't fill a center need though, so either the Wild feels it has somebody in Iowa that can fill that role, or it'll have to continue to be Coyle.

When the Wild was racking up wins earlier this month, Yeo was able to go with the same lines every single night. In fact, other than Coyle and Mike Rupp (who missed the first 24 games), the Wild hadn’t had an injured forward all season until Mitchell missed the Ottawa game.

So a Wild team that had dealt with consistency with its lines all season is now having to mix and match not only every game, but from shift to shift, period to period, because of the injuries.

It’s clear it’s affecting the team early in these games. The one common denominator in all these slow starts is the Wild usually finds its game, like tonight in the third when it played with more zip and generated, according to Yeo, nine scoring chances. But by that time, it was a 2-0 hole and against a Phoenix team that spent the last 24 hours screaming that it needed to get back to the defensive foundation that Dave Tippett’s teams are known for, it was not easy to rally back on the Coyotes tonight, especially with an undermanned bench lacking Granlund and Zach Parise.

The power play was a mess tonight as well on two chances, and not a shock since the loss of two top-6 forwards resulted in guys like Kyle Brodziak and Justin Fontaine, two guys normally not playing regular power-play shifts, seeing ice time and Keith Ballard playing his first game in the last 10.

But one indicator of the Wild’s slipping game is the lack of power plays lately. It has drawn 18 power plays the past seven games and three or fewer in each. It has drawn three or fewer in 11 of the past 13 games.

Even Yeo said a few days ago it’s hard to draw a power play when “you’re backchecking all game.”

Yeo said the Wild is playing too safe lately, maybe because of the injuries, maybe because it’s almost afraid to lose because of the magnitude of these games. If that’s the case, the Wild better man up fast because this isn’t changing. The race will only tighten and it’ll be a grind in this grind of a conference until Game 82.

“When we’re at our best, we’re playing an aggressive game with and without the puck,” Yeo said. “We seem to be starting these games a little hesitant.”

That’s it for me. Early practice Thursday. Have a Happy Thanksgiving everybody.

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