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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Posts about Wild game coverage

Wild takes the positives from a heck of a third-period comeback

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: January 20, 2015 - 11:36 PM

If the Wild would have been able to complete the comeback tonight by winning in overtime or the shootout, it would have been the Wild’s first comeback from three goals down to win on the road since March 5, 2009, in San Jose.

I’m pretty sure I had a coronary that night, too.

This was one of the weirdest games I’ve ever covered. The Wild rallying back from three-goal deficits or blowing three-goal leads was so October or November. It seemed to happen every other game or so. It happened a few times last year, too.

But this was a weird one (not as weird as in Dallas earlier this year when the Wild blew a three-goal lead in like five minutes and actually fell behind in the third before coming back and winning). I say it was weird because the Wild trailed 4-1 after two periods yet may have given up six scoring chances.

I say that because for the eighth time in 46 games this season, coach Mike Yeo had to pull his starting goalie, yet nobody with eyes could blame Devan Dubnyk for really any of them. Yet, he was pulled at the 27:25 mark after giving up four goals on 10 shots.

The first goal came off a world-class one-timer from the most prime shooting position there is. The second goal came through a screen. The third and fourth goals were going wide, but Gustav Nyquist perfectly redirected one shot and the other one pinballed off Justin Fontaine’s skate.

Against the NHL’s fourth-best defensive team and a team that has 22 goals during a five-game winning streak, the Wild had the better of the chances and had allowed 13 shots through two periods.

But as is the case so often, the Wild has to work so, so, so, so very hard to score. Take Ryan Carter tonight. He had, by his own admission, two open net attempts just prior to Thomas Vanek scoring an awesome goal in the third period and the second couldn’t lift a puck with Detroit’s goalie on his belly.

But in the third, Zach Parise scored the Wild’s second power-play goal of the game (Mikko Koivu tied the score at 1-1 in the first) and then after Vanek scored a sensational, highlight-reel goal after taking Ryan Suter’s great pinch/exchange and dangling through the slot to score a roof-job, Parise scored the type of goal that exemplifies him.

Standing in front of goalie Petr Mrazek, Parise first went to the right of the cage and stuck his stick horizontally right. He then stood in the center as Jonathan Ericsson took forever to execute a controlled breakout.

Finally, Parise turned his stick and jutted it out left. Ericsson shot it right into the shaft and Parise knocked it down and turned to the net. Ericsson desperately tried to dive. Parise backhanded it over the defenseman, jumped over him and batted at the puck until it finally went in.

Suter told a funny story about how he was part of this once against Atlanta. In Nashville, he said they were so excited about this new breakout and decided to try it one night. He gave the puck to Dan Hamhuis and the same exact thing happened.

He said it’s just a helpless feeling as a defenseman but embodied the type of player Parise is – tenacious.

In the shootout, Pavel Datsyuk and Nyquist scored. Parise and Koivu couldn’t, so Datsyuk’s goal was the deciding one and he actually tied Parise and Koivu with 38 shootout goals for the most in NHL history.

Darcy Kuemper stopped all 14 shots he faced in 37:35 before the shootout. I’m not sure if playing precludes him from a rehab stint that the Wild was hoping he’d actually take after the All-Star break.

He told me he’s open for whatever, but he also feels he worked hard while he was hurt and felt ready tonight.

Obviously, the Wild was bummed to not get the extra point tonight. Parise was a realist and said the Wild can’t afford to be leaving points on the table anymore. But the tone of the rest of the guys for the most part was that while it disappointed, it has to take positives from not quitting when down 4-1 and coming out with a pushback in the third.

Parise and Vanek combined for 14 shots for the second straight road game coincidentally. Parise has goals in four straight now. Suter was plus-2 with two assists. Kuemper played well in relief for the first time since Jan. 6. The Wild, prior to tonight, had scored three goals or fewer in 13 of its previous 14. So, things to build on.

It is amazing how easy so many teams make it when they score and how difficult it is for the Wild. I’ll be writing about that in Thursday’s paper.

All players stuck up for Dubnyk, including Kuemper, who said it was “just kind of weird bounces. We were due for a comeback. We hadn’t had one in awhile.”

Suter said, “Too bad we couldn’t pull it out, but that’s the type of hockey that we need to play. That was a good way to go into break. It would have been easy to just say, it’s over after being down 4-1.”

Some of the other quotes, you can read in the gamer.

I will say, the Wild needs to start taking a page out of the Red Wings’ book with kids like Tyler Graovac and Matt Dumba, who was sent down after the game (maybe temporarily; it’s just to play games during the break, but if he’s recalled, it’s because Yeo wants him in the lineup in Edmonton).

But while the Wild has arguably rushed players into the NHL the past few years, the Red Wings are the kings of finding diamonds in the rough in the mid-to-late rounds of the draft, nurturing them and letting them bake in the minors.

Take Teemy Pulkkinen, who scored his first NHL goal Tuesday. Drafted 111th overall in 2010 (Mikael Granlund, Nino Niederreiter and Charlie Coyle’s draft year), Pulkkinen played his sixth game of the season at age 23. He spent three years playing in Jokerit, then two years in Grand Rapids.

At the time of his recall, Pulkkinen was leading the American Hockey League with 20 goals and riding an eight-game goal scoring streak.

In Detroit, they compare Pulkkinen to Hall of Famer and former Red Wing Brett Hull. The way he scored his goal looked like a carbon copy.

Between the circles, Pulkkinen stepped into a Stephen Weiss drop pass and rocketed a one-timer that looked so much like Hull’s right-shot swing, the Red Wings’ telecast immediately showed a replay of a Hull one-timer side-by-side with Pullinen’s blast.

The Red Wings are littered with home-grown guys who paid their dues like Jason Zucker and Marco Scandella, who may be the Wild’s best surprises this season.

Heck, look at Nyquist. Taken 121st in 2008, spent time maturing in Grand Rapids before breaking out last year.

Lastly, the Iowa Wild signed Ruslan Fedotenko to a pro tryout. The two-time Cup champ wants to make an NHL comeback somewhere and GM Chuck Fletcher is letting the good citizen play in Iowa to mostly be a good influence on the kids. But it seems doubtful that Fedotenko, whose wife is from the area, will be a fit at some point with Minnesota. He hasn’t played all year, but maybe the 36-year-old will latch on somewhere at some point.

That’s it for me. Barring news, there may be no blogs for awhile. I’ll have a story in Thursday’s paper, an enterprise piece in Sunday’s paper, my Sunday Insider and then I’ll pick up the team in Edmonton on Monday.

There could also be news this weekend regarding the stadium series game the Wild is getting next season.

I better get out of here. I have a very early flight and it’s 12:30 in the morning and they’re locking up the press room. Enjoy your All-Star break.

Wild postgame: Two steps forward, one step back

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: January 20, 2015 - 7:30 AM

UPDATE: Russo here, interrupting the start of Rachel's postgame blog. Just wanted to remind you I will be hosting a live chat at www.startribune.com/wild at 1 p.m. CT Tuesday from Detroit. And heeeeeere's Rachel: >>>

Well, that was short, wasn't it? After the Wild put together consecutive victories for the first time in two months, it couldn't make it three in a row on Monday, falling 3-1 to Columbus at Xcel Energy Center.

One winning streak did continue. The Blue Jackets--and former Wild coach Todd Richards--beat the Wild for the fourth time in a row. Monday morning, Wild defenseman Ryan Suter was talking about how his team needs to get all the points it can on home ice as it seeks to climb back into playoff contention. A tight Columbus defense and all-star goalie Sergei Bobrovsky foiled that aim, leaving the Wild to regroup again.

Sunday, Wild coach Mike Yeo warned against reading too much into that itty-bitty winning streak. "Our message is that it's great that we won two games, but we cannot in any way be satisfied,'' he said. "Our next game is the only thing that matters right now. ... We're certainly not in a position to feel too good about ourselves. Our focus heading into the Buffalo game was to rebuild our game. We're getting there, but by no means are we there yet.''

Monday's game bore that out. Yeo was disappointed that his team knew exactly how Columbus would play them, and it still failed to handle the pressure. It didn't start to get pucks in deep until the second period, and when it did start to spend more time in the Blue Jackets' zone, it couldn't cash in. The Wild outshot the Jackets 26-23, but it also had 23 missed shots and a dozen more attempts blocked.

It didn't help that Zach Parise lost control of the puck on a penalty shot attempt in the second period. The puck rolled off his stick, ruining a fine opportunity to break a 1-1 tie. The Wild got another big opening with a four-minute power play late in the second, courtesy of a double minor for high sticking on the Blue Jackets' David Savard. That power play was a complete mess, and Richards called that a "pivotal moment'' for his team. That penalty kill, he said, fueled Columbus all the way into the third and helped pave the way for the winning goal.

James Wisniewski scored it from low in the right circle on a bang-bang play. Nick Foligno wheeled away from Suter behind the Wild net and found the unattended Wisniewski, who snapped a quick shot past goalie Devan Dubnyk. Wisniewski had a great game; he assisted on the Blue Jackets' other two goals, and late in the third, he swatted away a loose rebound in the crease before the Wild's Jason Pominville could get his stick on it.

Here are some postgame quotes from Yeo that didn't make it into the game story:

--On whether it is hard mentally for the Wild when it has to battle for every goal: "It is, but if that’s what it is, let's go grind out some more. I know we can do a much better job as far as puck strength, hanging onto the pucks. One-on-one puck battles I thought tonight was an issue, one we have to be better at.

"As the year goes on, it gets tougher to score goals. We have to have that mentality. Some pucks were laying around the crease; we have to find a way to get in there and win those battles. We just have to make sure we're focused on defense. If goals aren’t coming easily to us, then we have to make sure we're not giving up a whole bunch of chances. I thought we did a pretty good job of that tonight, but we've certainly got to find a way to score more than one goal.''

--On whether he was frustrated that the Wild didn't take more shots as it entered the offensive zone: "I'm always a big believer in, you've got to put pucks on the net. It’s the time of year where goals are scored like that. And not just off the initial shot, but make sure guys understand that the puck is going to the net, and so we've got the bodies there to create traffic, to generate secondary opportunities. There definitely wasn’t a lot of secondary opportunities tonight.''

--General thoughts on the game: "In the first period, we weren't sharp. Execution-wise, we had way too many turnovers. They played the way we knew they were going to. They play with good structure and pressure hard; in a lot of ways, they're similar to a lot of the things we're doing. And I thought we didn’t do enough to back them off. In the second period, we started to get things going, we started to back them off. We started to execute a little bit better. We created a little bit more, but as the game went on, I had a feeling it was going to be a one-play type of game.''


Wild has a winning streak for the first time in two months

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: January 18, 2015 - 1:50 AM

Baby steps.

The Wild’s trying to take steps toward rediscovering that effective game we saw in October and the first part of November, the type of play that helped it at one point build a 7-1 home record before the rug started to be pulled from under its season.

For about 35 minutes tonight, fans at Xcel Energy Center saw lots of reminders of what that game looked like.

Playing against a down-and-out Arizona team that is about to begin a major rebuild, the Coyotes are still a hard-working, well-coached team, so there was no way this game was going to be as easy as the Wild’s game at Buffalo a few nights earlier.

The Wild played a strong puck possession game in the first half, looked fast and constantly spent time in Arizona’s zone and probably should have had a three- or four-goal lead if not for the netminding of Mike Smith. It built a 2-0 lead though en route to a 3-1 win.

It wasn't an easy one though. The game's complexion changed when Mikko Koivu made one of those mistakes you typically make when you're tired. Koivu, who had a solid game with the exception of this one shift, was late in his shift, so he was slow to make a decision as to whether to chip a puck out or force an exit pass while his linemates went to the bench. He was pickpocketed, took a penalty and the Wild’s 2-0 lead became 2-1 on the penalty kill.

From there though, the Coyotes pushed hard and Devan Dubnyk, facing his old team from only three days earlier, had to be good. He was, as Dave Tippett called him to me a few hours earlier, “very settling.” He made big saves, froze pucks, alleviated pressure on forechecks by coming out and playing pucks for his D.

He showed his size a few times by making outstretched pad saves that looked like they would be sure goals. He stopped all 11 pucks he saw in the third and 25 in all for his second straight win in a Wild sweater and the Wild’s first two-game winning streak since Nov. 16-20.

“He’s made some huge saves,” said Jason Zucker, who scored the winning goal on a second-period brief breakaway that was created by his speed, a nifty chip pass by Justin Fontaine and Dubnyk bypassing a few Coyotes with a clear. “There were definitely a few we thought would go in and somehow he kept them out.”

Dubnyk’s assist on the Zucker goal was the second of his career and the Wild’s first since Niklas Backstrom on Dec. 2, 2011. He is the sixth Wild goalie in history to record an assist. Regardless of the assist, Dubnyk’s puck-handling has been noticeable and a huge plus. He just negates forechecks coming out to play pucks and deeps the defensemen, that you know get hurt often, from getting smashed. Ryan Suter talks about that in my game notebook, which is on the statribune.com/wild page and paper Sunday.

I wrote most my gamer on Dubnyk and how the Wild was able to magically turn his Coyotes mask into a Wild-looking mask so quickly. So check that out if you wonder. He’s also wearing his Coyotes pants only with Wild green on top of his breezers. The pads were also the same Coyotes pads, but the Wild has leather swatches in Wild colors. Assistant equipment manager Rick Bronwell cuts traces of the pattern in the pad and the leather pieces just stick on.

Dubnyk had a bunch of cool stuff to say after the game and you can read that in the gamer.

“It was weird [playing my old team],” he said. “It was more weird being around the hotel and seeing them around there and walking over to the rink and stuff. I had the opportunity to play against Edmonton for the first time this year. I just tried to draw off of that experience and different things I do to just try to make the picture small and not worry too much about the situation and just concentrate on the game.”

Charlie Coyle looked like the Coyle fans want to see. Scored a goal, wiggled down the boards brushing off checks to set up one chance, got into a major-league battle with Michael Stone. Played angry, and coach Mike Yeo sat down with him a few days ago to let me know he wants more.

I loved Jonas Brodin’s game. Obviously was on for the one goal though. Jared Spurgeon was great for a second straight game. I liked Jason Pominville’s game early and how impressive was Marco Scandella?

Doesn’t practice after missing five games and comes in to play 24:48 and be plus-3. He just adds a different dimension.

“I was ready mentally,” Scandella said. “You just got to convince yourself you’re ok. I didn’t practice as much as I liked to, but I felt great.”

On the Coyotes’ push, Dubnyk said, “That’s a great group of guys that work hard over there and at some point they’re going to make a push and they did in the third. It’s how you handle those pushes and we did an incredible job. Lots of stuff from the outside and it’s my job to handle those.”

After the one goal, Antoine Vermette, his old teammate, said something to him. Asked what, Dubnyk, laughing, said, “He wanted me to give him a couple more. I said, ‘Sorry I can’t, maybe another time, not right now.’”

Yeo said the first half of the game was “fantastic, and then it seemed like we were getting a little bit frustrated that we weren’t extending our lead and we started to get away a little bit, which really doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. So there’s some good teaching points in that game.

“Things we were doing early in the game that were leading to chances and that were making it so difficult and frustrating for them we started to get away from. We have to make sure on top of it the full 60 the next game for sure.”

Yeo felt the Wild defended well late and didn’t scramble the way it would have in recent games, but he felt players weren’t completely as composed as they needed to be in the third.

But a few weeks ago, the Wild probably would have lost this game. It won this won and maybe it’s starting to take steps in the right direction. We’ll see if the Wild can build on this in home-road back-to-backs Monday and Tuesday against Columbus and Detroit.

That’s it for me. Check out my Sunday Insider in the paper and startribune.com/wild on tanking, too. Rachel Blount is covering Sunday’s practice and Monday’s game, although I’ll come to the game and tweet away before my Tuesday morning flight to Detroit.

I'll also be on Rosen's Sports Sunday on CCO-TV on Sunday night.

I'll also be doing a live chat on startribune.com/wild at 1 p.m. CT Tuesday from Detroit.

Sure it was the Sabres, but the Wild's 7-0 whipping gave Minnesota a much-needed, feel-good win

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: January 15, 2015 - 10:21 PM

Rex Ryan has a lot more work to do to fix the Buffalo defense than he imagined.

Oh, wrong coach, wrong team.

Fine night for the Wild to face the Sabres.

As I wrote the other day on the blog, it’s a little eerie that one year ago, the Wild was in the midst of a six-game losing streak entering its 43rd game of the season against the Buffalo Sabres. Mike Yeo’s job was in peril, the Wild’s goaltending was in shambles.

One year later, the Wild was in the midst of a six-game losing streak entering its 43rd game of the season against the Buffalo Sabres. Mike Yeo’s job is in peril, the Wild’s goaltending has been in shambles.

Last January, the Wild beat the Sabres, went on a 23-10-7 the rest of the way for the third-best record in the NHL and stormed into the playoffs.

This January, the Wild’s hoping its easy 7-0 win tonight over the Sabres with new goalie Devan Dubnyk in net was the start of the same turnaround.

The Sabres are awful, are in bottom-out, rebuild, go for Connor McDavid/Jack Eichel mode and it showed tonight. But the Wild got back to basics, defended well with a mishmash blue line and protected Dubnyk bigtime. Yes, it was the Sabres, but man, the Wild needed a game to start feeling good about itself again.

He was barely tested, making only 18 saves to become the first Wild goalie to ever debut with a shutout.

The seven-goal win was not only the largest margin of victory in Wild history, it was the largest margin of defeat for the Sabres since they moved from the Aud to the First Niagara Center in 1996. So, you may discount the win as the Wild beating a peewee team, but as much as the Sabres lose, they have never lost like this, not only this season, but not at home in 18-plus years.

“We’re all embarrassed. I’m speechless,” Sabres coach Ted Nolan said.

Hey, he stole the Wild’s line, at least of late. Usually it's the Wild which says it's embarrassed. But the Wild won for the first time since Jan. 3 and first time on the road since Dec. 29 and most of all sat inside a happy locker room for a change after a game.

Funny Matt Cooke/Dubnyk anecdote to lead my gamer, so read that when the new one gets on at startribune.com/wild, but it’ll give you a good idea of just how much work Dubnyk had in his debut.

“The guys came out and worked so hard for me and allowed me to settle into the game,” he said. “We had a lead and the way we were playing we weren’t about to give it up. I could concentrate when the pucks came across the blue line, which wasn’t too often because of how solid we played.”

Dubnyk admitted he had some nerves, but mostly because his body was a little tired from his red-eye and 8 a.m. Buffalo arrival and the quick turnaround, but he tried not to build it up too big and just focused on making the save.

Zach Parise scored the winning goal 5:13 in, had an assist and six shots. Thomas Vanek had a season-high eight shots and also scored a power-play goal and assist against his longtime team. Kyle Brodziak (shorthanded, real good game) and Erik Haula (real good game) also had a goal and assist and Matt Dumba (plus-3, first pro fight), Jared Spurgeon (plus-4 a game after being minus-4) and Matt Cooke also scored as the Wild outshot the Sabres 37-18.

There were actually too many good games to list tonight.

Mikko Koivu had two assists for the first time since Nov. 24.

Jason Pominville posted his 31st career three-point game with three assists on a night the classy former Sabres captain was welcomed back with a video tribute that bizarrely didn’t happen last season.

He didn’t know it was going on until Parise told him while the team was on a power play. He was very appreciative.

Since Nov. 16, Pominville has 22 assists, tied for first in the NHL with Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf over that span.

He now has 134 career multi-point games and three in his past six games.

Parise said, “We were playing a team that was struggling, too. There was an emphasis on defending and let the other stuff come. We wanted to make sure we were taking care of our own end first and coming up the ice together, but limiting their chances. I thought we did a good job of that.

“When we’re playing well, that’s what we’re doing. We’re really not giving up too many Grade A chances. Throughout all zones, we played more of a five-man unit.”

He said, “When the goals are coming, when guys are talking, supporting each other, you get that excitement. It felt like everything just fell into place.”

Haula said, “We just had the mindset we’re going to put everything just out there and battle.”

Brodziak said, “There’s been a lot of talking lately and I thought everybody was focused on playing the right way. As the game wore on, you see what it does to other teams. Now we just have to bring that every single night and every single period.”

Dumba was real good for his first NHL game since Nov. 28. He said, “It’s kind of weird. Its didn’t feel like that at all. It just felt like I was very engaged, focused right from the get-go. Once I made a couple good, solid plays, I just played from there.”

Yeo like Dubnyk’s poise and size in net and the way he played pucks to alleviate pressure.

“We needed to give him a good chance and we needed to give our defensive group a good chance to play a solid game,” said Yeo, who loved the Wild’s overall game, the play of the D and the forwards and called it one of the best defensive games in weeks and proof that if you defend well, offense comes from that.

On Dumba, “We want him be impactful. … I like the fact that he’s trying to make a statement every time he’s on the ice.”

He liked Haula’s game a lot and wants him to continue to build his game.

On the win, “We can’t sit around and start feeling really good about ourselves. Unfortunately, we put ourselves in a pretty deep hole here, so as good as this game was, the next game’s more important.”

That’s it for now. The Wild is off Friday as the team will have a hard, emotional day as it supports Parise at his dad’s service. Then, Hockey Day Minnesota on Saturday when Dubnyk will face the Coyotes so soon after being traded from there.

I’ll have a story on that in Saturday’s paper and I’ll also be writing my Sunday Insider on “tanking” for McDavid and Eichel.

I will be doing a Podcast with Star Tribune columnist Jim Souhan on Friday at 5 p.m. at O’Gara’s in St. Paul. Either come on down or listen live or later at souhanunfiltered.com.

Barring news, talk to you Saturday.

Mikko Koivu: "It’s embarrassing and every single guy should feel that;” Suter faces suspension

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: January 13, 2015 - 11:04 PM


Where do they go from here?


Yes, Mike Yeo was expected to be on the plane for all the Twitter folks who asked me if he got left at the building. GM Chuck Fletcher not only was lucky enough to miss the 7-1 display in Dallas 10 days ago in person, he wasn’t at this 7-2 loss at Pittsburgh either because he’s conducting scouting meetings right now with his staff.

So even if Fletcher wanted to pull the plug, he wasn’t here to do so.

In those scouting meetings, just perhaps, the name of a goalie (both professional and amateur) or 10 are on that scouting list because that was again the catalyst of tonight’s meltdown despite Yeo doing everything he could to not pin the loss on Niklas Backstrom. What choice does he have? There’s nobody else with Josh Harding sick, Darcy Kuemper hurt, John Curry obviously not having the team’s faith and Fletcher not yet delivering a goalie.

Yes, the Wild has a gazillion problems and with what’s going on, there’s no simple fix. But there was no bigger problem tonight than goaltending and when your goalie gives up bad goals when you’re fragile as it is, it deflates you as a team and you just don’t play the same way.

Just look at the bench after the second and third goals against tonight. Players just slumped over.

I know this will be hard to believe judging by the score, but if you didn’t watch this game, the score was 3-1 after two periods.

The first period, the Wild had the better of the chances and the more quantity on the shot clock, but Marc-Andre Fleury made 12 saves and swallowed everything. The Wild was causing turnovers and pressuring, but next thing you know, the Wild couldn’t bury pucks (five goals total during a four-game road losing streak) and it was suddenly 2-0 because of two rebounds goals, the second coming off a harmless-looking shot by Christian Ehrhoff that Backstrom let drop and David Perron put in.

In the second, the Wild also came out of the gate looking fine and got a Jonas Brodin goal on a delayed penalty.

The score’s 2-1 at that point. It’s back in the game. But Charlie Coyle takes a tripping minor and it took only five seconds for Chris Kunitz to score after Backstrom couldn’t stop a tough Evgeni Malkin shot, but then just stood there like a statue in his save pose until a reaching Kunitz put in the loose puck that was just sitting in the crease.

That was a back-breaker. The third period, the Wild’s down 3-1, and Backstrom gave up a Brandon Sutter goal past his blocker from atop the right circle after Brett Sutter’s cuz flew past Ryan Suter, then Backstrom coughed up a rebound before Paul Martin made it 5-1. Nothing Backstrom could do on the Kris Letang mini-break and Backstrom, who has allowed 30 goals in his past eight starts and is winless since Dec. 13, was mercifully pulled finally for Curry, who gave up one more after Jared Spurgeon turned it over.

The Wild has now given up seven goals in two of the past three road games, has now lost six in a row, 12 of 14 and 17 of its past 24.

After the game, a 26-minute player-only meeting.

Yeo, who we usually get second, came out first because the locker-room door was closed.

He said the game was “similar to a lot of our games right now. We unravel.”

He talked about how the team had a good start, good energy, created turnovers and chances and defended well and “something bad happens, and one bad play turns into many.”

On Backstrom’s play, Yeo said, “Tonight I'm not going to pinpoint this on any one person. This is about us. We use the word unflappable and for whatever reason it's not in our vocabulary right now. As a team, we just, for whatever reason, we just fall apart. We start to press and we start to make bigger mistakes. There’s lots of hockey game left, but … things just compound quickly.”

He and Suter mentioned how that Kunitz power-play goal started the deterioration.

Asked if the Wild has quit, Yeo said, “It’s not about quitting. If they had quit, then they wouldn't be in there meeting right now. It's not about that. It's about doing things the right way.”

Again, on Backstrom, whom he said will start in Buffalo, “I’m not going to blame Backy for that. There’s mistakes that lead up to those plays, there’s other people that are involved. I’m not letting anybody off the hook, but now’s not the time to single one person out.

“I don’t believe that we’re giving up. I believe that we’re getting just completely lost.”

Justin Falk sustained an upper-body injury tonight, so Suter played another 29 minutes in a blowout.

Suter and Spurgeon were minus-4, Mikko Koivu was minus-3, four others were minus-2.

Suter is now minus-22 in his past 20 games.

Yeo said, “Plus-minus is a dangerous stat, and I’m not saying that he’s perfect right now. Certainly that’s a topic that’s on his mind right now and he’s putting a great deal of pressure on himself. It’s something that we talked about. I’m not saying that he is perfect, but plus-minus, we keep our own stats and we don’t go by that one.”

Suter tonight also elbowed Steve Downie in the head in the second period and Downie never returned. Suter will have a hearing with the NHL on Wednesday and faces a suspension. If he is suspended and with Falk hurt, Jon Blum will draw in and the Wild will need a defenseman -- I'd assume Matt Dumba.

Suter said it was a fluky play and doesn’t think he will be suspended, that he went to reach for the puck and when he put his hand back on his stick, that’s when Downie skated into his elbow. The video is being inspected by the league and it did look like his elbow jutted out.

I saw Suter talking to Sidney Crosby at the end of the period and he said he was telling Crosby to apologize to Downie, telling Crosby that you know that “I’m not that type of player.”

“I personally never want to see anyone get hurt,” he said.

More quotes:

Koivu on the meeting: “Whatever said here stays here. I’m not going to talk about what’s been said or talked in the room. Like always, that’s going to stay here.”

“The only way is to do a lot of things better,” Koivu said. “It’s not one thing or two things. It’s a lot of things that have to change. The way we play, the way we do things on a daily basis. It’s everything. Every single detail. Everything. It has to be better. With this effort and the kind of game we’ve been playing lately, it’s embarrassing and every single guy should feel that.”

Zach Parise on how they get out of this: “I feel like we’ve been asked that question for the last three weeks now. We’re not getting out of it. We’re so easy to play against. We lose battles, we don’t bump off draws, the details of our game are terrible. We don’t even make it hard on the other team. They tic-tac-toe right around us. Can’t happen.”

Backstrom: “I felt OK out there, but we didn’t win, so you’re not happy. Have to find a way to be better.  …

Well you want to get better every game. I never really look back and try to learn from that. Move on and try to be better.”

Just a mess right now. Like I said, Fletcher’s away from the team. But this is serious. Goaltending is an issue and the team just looks drained from all the losing. It’s fragile, it has no confidence, and because of that, it doesn’t take much for the team to fall apart.

Onto Buffalo.

Yeo has gotten two public votes of confidence from Fletcher recently. The Wild has lost three times since the last one. So, is that enough to change Fletcher’s opinion or owner Craig Leipold? If Yeo loses his job, I don’t buy that things will magically be repaired. This team is completely fractured right now.

But, what’s next?

As always, please check out the gamer and the game notebook. I have a wakeup call in five hours, so bye. Talk to you from Buffalo.


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