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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What comes next as tension, losses overtake the tumbling Wild?

Posted by: Michael Russo under Wild game coverage Updated: December 31, 2013 - 10:02 PM

Mike Yeo opened his postgame news conference saying this feels like “Groundhog Day.”

It was something I know we can all agree with.

The losses keep mounting, the answers are all the same, we’re running out of questions.

“Winning cures everything,” defenseman Ryan Suter said after Tuesday’s 2-1 loss to St. Louis. “You win games, you build confidence. We have to find a way, any way possible, and then you build off of that.”

The Wild’s now 5-12-1 in its past 18 (11 points out of the last 36 available) and has lost six in a row in regulation for the first time in its 13-year history.

There’s now two games left in the homestand against Buffalo and Washington, which means Yeo’s job security is getting flimsier and flimsier. But there’s no doubt he’s going to keep showing up and working to try to get the Wild out of this until owner Craig Leipold and GM Chuck Fletcher tell him otherwise.

I’m pretty confident Yeo will be behind the bench against the Sabres.

After the game, players like Mikko Koivu and Jason Pominville said the system works, the structure works, and it’s up to the players to execute. Please give those quotes a read, and Yeo’s postgame quotes, in the gamer at www.startribune.com/wild.

The Wild looked like it was getting back to that defensive structure during a scoreless first period tonight, but then a couple mistakes cost the Wild in the second.

First Keith Ballard put a puck in Mikael Granlund’s skates and Granlund was forced into a turnover by T.J. Oshie. He scored a breakaway goal. Then, Koivu centered a shot from the wall meant as a rebound. But Marco Scandella overskated the rebound and Nino Niederreiter wasn’t where he was supposed to be, which led to Blues exploding for an odd-man rush and eventually Jaden Schwartz’s goal.

It reminded me of earlier today when I was talking to an NHL coach that said the thing the Wild better remember if it changes the coach is you still can’t make the 21- to 23-year-olds on the team magically grow up and you still can’t get rid of some of the veterans that the Wild is waiting for the contracts to run out on.

In other words, there are bigger issues going on beyond Yeo.

It’s like the Islanders game when some of the youngsters were terrific and then made critical defensive mistakes that led to the loss. Like I always say, the kids will all be good, but it takes time and they’re still making young mistakes, either with the puck (Granlund the past three games) or in the case of Niederreiter, sometimes away from the puck. Charlie Coyle’s still not producing regularly, Jonas Brodin isn’t as steady.

If Yeo loses his job, the question is whether the Wild makes somebody on the staff like Rick Wilson the interim and waits to see the full group of available coaches this summer or does it hire one of the available coaches now. The smartest thing would probably be to wait because that’s when the full allotment’s available, like last summer with Lindy Ruff, Alain Vigneault, John Tortorella (gulp).

But if the pressure’s to get somebody in place now, the experienced coaches available right now include Peter Laviolette (under contract with Philadelphia through 2014-15 at a salary likely north of $1.5 million), Paul Maurice, Ron Wilson and Guy Boucher.

Laviolette was one of the runners-up when GM Chuck Fletcher hired Todd Richards, and remember, that’s when the Wild wanted an up-tempo, play-on-your-toes, offensive-minded coach. The concern with hiring Laviolette now is I think there’s serious doubt if Laviolette’s offensive-minded system is built for a Wild team that struggles so much to score goals.

And it doesn’t struggle to score goals because of Yeo’s system. The Wild has outchanced opponents many nights this season and just don’t seem to have the horses coupled with the fact that the young horses aren’t consistent enough yet to bury its chances. I think the Wild lacks speed still and definitely size.

There is zero doubt that Fletcher does not want to make a change. He believes in Yeo. Heck, he hired Yeo, and if he fired his second coach in five seasons, that doesn’t exactly say a lot about his ability to hire coaches, especially when he passed over several experienced ones.

But the Wild is sinking like a rock, and at some point, Fletcher may have no choice but to make some type of statement.

As I wrote today, he continues to try to make a trade, too.

The scary thing now is we’ve hit a juncture of this losing streak where confidence is fractured, the mood of the room is down, there’s palpable tension around the organization and everybody just seems to be waiting for a bomb to drop.

And if that’s the case, this thing won’t be able to turn around by itself. Trust me, when I was in Florida and covered the Panthers, I covered almost a dozen coaching changes. I’ve seen teams in turmoil that are just waiting for an external move. Once that happens, it’s like a pall hanging over the entire locker room until something actually does happen.

Yeo said, “It’s been evident in our play that we haven’t been the most composed group right now. Whatever that reason is, we have to figure it out. Guys have to figure out how to come to perform at a high level. We need everybody.”

He added, “There were a lot of things that were much better, but we’re not in a position where we can feel good about those things. Build off them, look at them, but there’s still other things we’re not doing well enough to win hockey games.”

That’s it for me. Give the articles a read in the paper. Happy New Year. Talk to you after Wednesday’s practice.

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