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

Four losses in a row, and Wild's searching for somebody (or someones) to step up

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: November 11, 2014 - 10:22 PM

On Nov. 1, the Wild jumped to the top of the Central Division. That lasted 24 hours. Thanks to four losses in a row since – the latest coming Tuesday, 3-1, at New Jersey, the Wild’s now fifth in the Central – eight points behind Nashville.

“It’s big,” Thomas Vanek said. “It’s November, but you lose the points now, it’s tough to gain them later.”

The Wild has lost its way since the injuries to Zach Parise and Jared Spurgeon, and luckily, they could be coming to the rescue Thursday against Buffalo.

But coach Mike Yeo made clear after tonight’s loss that this slump goes beyond the absence of Parise, Spurgeon and Matt Cooke. He said the Wild has almost forgotten how tough it is to win in this league and it’s getting a good reminder now.

Maybe it’s not a coincidence, but the three young teams who have been hyped and are considered up-and-comers in the division – Minnesota, Colorado and Dallas – are all struggling right now. It’s almost like players think it’ll come easy and forgot how much commitment it takes every game to win in this difficult league.

The Wild certainly has. The Wild’s M.O. at the start of the year was work ethic. Maybe they followed the leader (Parise), which is possible, but whatever the reason, the Wild played pretty complete, hard-working games the first 10 games of the season (OK, forget the third against the Rangers). But that 7-3 start is now officially history as the Wild returns to wintry Minnesota with a very disappointing 7-7 record.

The Wild lauds its depth, yet nobody has stepped up and taken the reins without Parise, Spurgeon and Cooke.

Mikko Koivu: One assist this season. Thomas Vanek: 1 goal. The kids are struggling and have completely dried up. Jason Zucker, who still leads the Wild with five goals, scored them all shorthanded or on the fourth line. He has no goals in seven games since moving to the second line. Charlie Coyle was minus-6 on the road trip, didn’t hit anybody in the first two periods and couldn’t seem to stop pucks on his stick. Mikael Granlund, no assists in six games and passing up shots.

The one great shot he did take tonight hit the post, then almost rolled over the line after it hit Cory Schneider. Almost. That unbelievably bad puck luck was exemplified moments later when Jaromir Jagr skated around Vanek and set up Mike Cammalleri for the eventual winner – a 2-0 lead.

The Wild hasn’t held a lead in 240 minutes. The second period, which was the Wild’s best the first 10 games, has been a disaster the past four. All three games on the road trip were scoreless after the first period only to be unraveled in the second.

The Wild’s power play is still a disaster. 0 for 4 tonight, including one in the third with a chance to tie tonight. And that was to the 30th-ranked overall penalty kill and 30th-ranked home penalty kill, one that had only NOT given up a power-play goal in two previous games this season.

The Wild’s power play is now 2 for 44 this season and 0 for 29 in eight road games.

This Koivu situation is a major problem. One assist for the all-time leading scorer in franchise history. One. In 14 games. This Vanek situation is a major problem. One goal and not scoring goals in moments where the Wild most need him.

He fell on the knife tonight, saying he was awful in the first two periods. But he beat himself up for missing out on that chance late in the second when the puck rolled off his stick. He was happy with the team’s play in the third and how he also brushed off his personal bad two periods behind him to play a better third. But he said by then it was too late, that you’re not going to win in the NHL when you show up for 20 minutes in a 60-minute game.

Yeo didn’t want to single out players when asked about Koivu and Vanek.

Coyle is in a bigtime slump. Not just not scoring (no goals since Oct. 23). He’s just showing little bite right now. Yeo did say he felt it was a lack of confidence just like the team.

“I don’t see a lot of confidence,” Yeo said. “Similar to our entire group. Wins haven’t come. Goals haven’t come. Not scoring has been a huge factor here. You can do a lot of things right and then you’re not scoring goals and then you’re not feeling too good about your game. We got some Grade A chances tonight (Chief among them, Vanek to Haula on a 2-on-0 with 5 ½ left, and Haula was robbed) that don’t go in the net. That gets in your head. We’re going to have to fight through this and earn our confidence.”

Coyle said, “Everyone goes through slumps like this. I had a little lapse like this last year. Same thing I wasn’t scoring, wasn’t putting up points. I just have to get back to playing my physical game. I can’t focus on goals. That’s when you’ll continue to struggle. I’ve got to focus on the process and play to your strengths. Play physical and get my nose dirty.”

Before the first goal tonight by New Jersey, the Zucker-Koivu-Coyle line buzzed and buzzed. Again, no goals though and the Devils come right down and score when Seth Helgeson, who made his NHL debut, took a shot that Tuomo Ruutu deflected for the former Gophers defenseman’s first career assist.

“Same thing pretty much,” Coyle said of his line. “Zone time, chances, but we’ve got to be better burying them. It’s as simple as that.”

Coyle said it’s frustrating the way the team is playing, but the players have to stay positive, stay on an even keel and get back to basics. But he did say astutely tonight was a totally missed opportunity, that playing a team that played on the road the night before, if the Wild showed up in the first two periods and forechecked the heck out of them, they probably could have capitalized more in the third.

“We’ve got to get back to outworking teams, outshooting teams and creating chances and burying puck,” Coyle said.

Big game vs. Buffalo to try to get back on track Thursday before it heads to Dallas, where the Wild has won once since I have been the beat writer.

“We’ve lost four in a row. If we’re looking past anything right now, that would be kind of foolish,” Yeo said. “We have to dig deep here. It’s as simple as that. I know that sounds awfully cliché. We’re the only ones that are going to get ourselves out of this. We’re not going to get out of it by trying to make a fancy play or trying to outskill teams. We have skill in the lineup that can be effective if we’re playing a certain way. We have to remember, it’s hard to score in this league. Teams defend well. They all play a system. We have to get some dirty goals, we have to get some pucks to the net, we have to find a way to create more.”

That’s it for now. Early flight for me, so I need to jet out of the rink and get some shut-eye. Rachel Blount has Wild practice Wednesday, so stay tuned to her Twitter account (@blountstrib) to see if Parise and Spurgeon returns may be on the horizon.

Wild drops third straight game and looks like a shell of its early-season self

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: November 8, 2014 - 10:57 PM

Wild’s in a bit of a pickle and now will be desperately trying to grab control of losing streak and attempt to stop a spiral downward.

That 7-3 season-opening record and dominant play is history. The Wild’s 7-6 now thanks to three losses in a row by a combined score of 11-2, the latest coming by a 4-1 score tonight here in Montreal.

The Wild’s struggling to score. It can’t stop giving up goals (23 in the past seven games, which isn’t Wild hockey). And it’s playing without three significant pieces – Zach Parise, the team’s heart and soul and go-to scorer, Jared Spurgeon, who was off to a fabulous start and is so, so, so important to the team’s puck possession game, and Matt Cooke, who plays hard-nosed hockey, kills penalties and was a key contributor to a fourth line that was scoring until the very moment he left the lineup.

The Wild’s also playing two rookie defensemen who two games in a row on the road made significant mistakes that helped turn scoreless games upside down.

The Matt Dumba one tonight was not good. Scoreless. Everything going well. Team’s following the gameplan and trying hard to get that first goal by Carey Price.

Then Dumba, instead of doing the safe thing and getting the puck deep, tried to chip a puck off the wall. It was too soft, so instead of backing up and realizing it was going to be a turnover, he stepped in front of defender Max Pacioretty (1st big mistake) and then dived to try to keep it from getting to Tomas Plekanec (2nd big mistake).

With the Canadiens coming the other way with speed, Dumba was still picking himself off the ice at the top of the right faceoff circle in Montreal’s end. Yes, the Wild wasn’t outnumbered because Mikko Koivu realized Dumba’s error and backed him up, but it seemed to foul up Marco Scandella because his gap was poor, he surrendered the blue line to the super-fast Brendan Gallagher and 1-0 Canadiens.

Dumba played one shift the rest of the game and none in the third period.

The Wild keeps playing Dumba because it’s about development and has to experience intimidating climates like Montreal, but he’s 20 years old and erratic and hasn’t yet played a second of minor-league hockey even though last I checked, that’s the development league.

The question is can the Wild continue to play him when the bad has thus far outweighed the good.

Jonas Brodins don’t grow on trees. The fact that he could step into the Wild at 19 years old was special. Dumba has all the tools to be a real good defenseman, but he is too reckless at times and tonight characteristically tried to turn something into nothing, made a careless play and it led to a goal against.

Like I said, assistant coach Rick Wilson benched him from there, so perhaps a stint in Iowa is coming for Dumba.

The Wild did tie the game when Thomas Vanek, who twice earlier in the game and once the previous shift neglected to shoot in an attempt to set up Jason Pominville. Third time was a charm when Vanek saucered a beauty to Pominville circa 2011 for Pominville’s fourth of the season and 11th of his career against his hometown Habs.

But with the Wild less than a minute from getting out of the second, 1-1, rookie Christian Folin’s turnover led to Lars Eller’s go-ahead, momentum-turning goal. There were a lot of mistakes on that shift. Folin’s was just the last, but he also had issues in Ottawa.

By the 6:04 mark of the third, it was 4-1.

The third goal, the Wild had a gripe with and coincidentally I have been working on an article on incidental contact for Monday’s paper.

Jiri Sekac made it 3-1 and Darcy Kuemper was unable to make the save because Brandon Prust pushed him inside the net. However, referee Kelly Sutherland didn’t rule it incidental contact because he was already calling Nino Niederreiter for an interference penalty because he felt Niederreiter checked Prust onto Kuemper.

The Wild was very frustrated because in the previous home game against Pittsburgh, Mikael Granlund was arguably pushed onto Thomas Greiss and Mikko Koivu still had a goal wiped out because of incidental contact. Earlier this season, Jan Hejda pushed Niederreiter onto Semyon Varlamov and Charlie Coyle had a goal waved off for incidental contact.

I’ll get more into this in Monday’s paper, but again, Sutherland didn’t rule incidental contact here because he was calling Niederreiter for a delayed penalty all along.

The Wild was upset. Ryan Suter told the ref, “You’ve got to know the play,” meaning know Prust’s MO.

Yeo in the postgame said, “We’re losing games similarly to the way that we did last year at this time. You’d like to think some of the lessons that we learned that we would use that right now. I feel we have to learn some of those lessons again.”

Yeo was frustrated because the Wild was executing the gameplan well, “it’s a 0-0 game and there’s no reason to change. I felt that we did.”

On the Dumba mistake, Yeo said, “I don’t want to pin this just on him. This is a young kid, he’s learning lessons. But that said, that was similar to our whole group. We want to be aggressive, we want to go after the next goal, but you’ve got to make sure you don’t give up the first one, too. As the game wore on, as we got impatient with our process, we started to get away from [our gameplan]. It’s not good enough.”

On the fact that Parise, Spurgeon and Cooke may not be coming to the rescue, Yeo said, “I’m going to use the night here to sort it out. There’s a couple different directions we can go. I feel we can get very hard on certain individuals right now and take that approach or the other flip side is we have some young kids who are definitely pressing. You can see it in some of our execution, some of the plays – whether it’s nerves or tension. Whatever the approach is we’ll find the right one.”

Pretty sure he’s talking about guys like Mikael Granlund and Charlie Coyle, who was minus-3 tonight.

“We’ll be a better team at the 20-ghame mark than we are right now,” Yeo promised. “This has to be about learning and sometimes when you face this adversity like we saw last year, that makes you better.”

Suter said, “We’ve played a soft game. First period tonight, we played a good north-south hard game the way we need to play. Second period, we got away from that. We made a mistake and then we started not finishing checks. We’re an easy team to play against when we play that way. If you want to have success, you have to stick to the gameplan.”

On the mistakes by Dumba and Folin, Suter said, “It’s a tough game. It takes time to learn. It’s unfortunate, but those plays happen to everybody. It’s not just those guys. We all have to be better. It’s too bad. We had such a good thing going and now we’re kind of getting away from what we were building.”

Koivu said, “It’s on all of us. … They get the goal, and we feel that we’re playing good, but it’s not enough. You’ve got to find another notch. That’s why on the road it’s tough. You have to bear down every single shift. It doesn’t matter what the score is, you have to play the way we need to play to win some hockey games, and right now we’re not doing that.”

The Wild’s got a mess on its hands right now, and it’s up to the healthy players and coaches to get themselves out of it.

That’s it for me. The Wild’s heading back to Minnesota as I write, will take Sunday off, practice at the U on Monday and fly to New Jersey afterward. Rachel will cover Monday’s practice because I’m heading to New York on Sunday to work on two big NHL stories you’ll see in the future, including Sunday night where I’ll be watching the league’s slate of games from the NHL’s Department of Player Safety war-room.

Lastly, goose-bump night here at Bell Centre watching the great Guy Lapointe, the Wild’s chief amateur scout, get his No. 5 retired and see his banner reunited with the “Big Three,” Larry Robinson and Serge Savard. I wrote about it in Saturday’s paper but also wrote a column on Lapointe in Sunday’s paper, so please check that out. Here’s the end of tonight’s ceremony.  

Mike Yeo after loss in Ottawa: Some guys are doing the "minimum"

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: November 6, 2014 - 10:27 PM

The Wild’s on a two-game slide and certainly showed signs of a team tonight that has been missing Jared Spurgeon bigtime and could seriously miss Zach Parise.

The Wild outshot the Senators 35-17 yet still lost 3-0 to Ottawa, and even coach Mike Yeo was tossing the shot disparity out the window and saying “our team game” allows that to happen.

He basically said it is absolutely imperative for players to step up their games and stop doing the “minimum” without Parise, Spurgeon and important veteran Matt Cooke.

Mikko Koivu, who has three points this year, had six shots and Thomas Vanek, who has one goal, had seven shots after four in the previous seven games.

Those vets obviously have to step up, but this is also the time to see Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund, Erik Haula and Nino Niederreiter take advantage of the opportunity being given. Coyle and Granlund especially need to take on a bigger role. Neither has impressed lately.

On Wednesday, I was talking with Hall of Famer Guy Lapointe, the Wild chief amateur scout who is having his number 5 retired by the Canadiens on Saturday. I’ll be writing a lot about him in the next few days (in a row yesterday, I talked to Lapointe, Larry Robinson and Scotty Bowman, who have combined to win 28 Cups). Lapointe and I were talking about Parise’s loss and he said this is the time you find out a lot about kids and whether they have got the ability to drive the bus.

“The one thing you don’t want is to be outside the bus pushing,” Lapointe said, laughing.

These kids are lauded and lauded. Now it’s time for them drive the bus, so to speak, with Koivu, Vanek, Jason Pominville and Ryan Suter, of course.

“There’s some guys that are going right now and I do know there’s some other guys that can give us more,” Yeo said. “I feel like there’s some guys that are kind of doing the minimum, like playing the system. That’s expected of everybody, but then you’ve got to bring a little something extra on top of that, and I think that’s one thing missing right now.”

Yeo continued later in his scrum when asked about the young kids and how underwhelming a few of them have been lately.

“That’s what we have to find the answer to,” Yeo said. “Some guys are getting some really big opportunities with Zach and Spurge out.”

Yeo said it’s a fine line between pushing them hard and taking away their confidence or not pushing them enough. He said, “We have to find the right mix right now. These guys are a big part of our team. We need them to deliver.”

Maybe Yeo needs to pull Coyle and Granlund and Niederreiter and Haula in his office again and give them the same time of heart-to-heart (or challenge) he did late last season before Coyle and Niederreiter stepped up bigtime the final eight or nine games and the playoffs.

The Wild played a solid road first period, killing off consecutive minors and getting the better of the offensive-zone play at even-strength. The Wild also outplayed the Senators at 5-on-5 in the second, but the period got off to a terrible start as you can read more about in the game story.

In my eyes, Pominville was hit with a clean check. Pominville cut back to avoid the check, which in my eyes caused Mark Borowiecki to clank knees with Pominville. Yeo felt it should have been a charge or kneeing.

Regardless, Marco Scandella skated right at Borowiecki in response and a fight ensued. Scandella was given a 2-5-10 for instigating. Yeo was fuming during the game and Scandella, too, disagreed with the call.

It was definitely not your classic instigating. Typically a player either has to jump another player or drop his gloves first after challenging an unwilling combatant to get tagged with an instigator.

Yeo felt Borowiecki dropped the gloves first, and at a minimum, he knew it was coming and he was willing. Veteran referees Dave Jackson and Dan O’Halloran disagreed, giving Scandella two, five and 10, and this after a blah fight. Watching the replay in hindsight, I don’t think it should have been an instigating, but in the ref’s mind, it doesn’t happen with Scandella doesn’t skate up to the Ottawa player and challenge him on what the ref’s deemed a clean check.

This was a huge turning point. Scoreless game, and now the Wild’s blue line, which has rookie Christian Folin playing on the second pair without Spurgeon and Nate Prosser and rookie Matt Dumba on the third pair, would be facing 17 minutes and an initial PK without Scandella, who has been so, so good.

Well, predictably, the Senators scored on the power play and then 2:24 later on a bad goal by Niklas Backstrom (he said the puck changed direction on his after hitting a player’s stick).

So now you’re down 2-0 and without Scandella for the majority of the rest of the period.

As I said, Yeo didn’t like the call, nor did Scandella. Yeo said Scandella was trying to do the right thing and he wouldn’t be happy with Scandella in that situation if he took a true instigator penalty and left the team that shorthanded. But Yeo basically said he felt it was a bad call and he’s not even sure Scandella was going up to Borowiecki to fight him.

But this is why the old-school mentality of standing up for veterans even after clean runs drives me crazy. THIS is the new NHL, like it or not. Sure, maybe it was commendable that Scandella stood up for Pominville after a few weeks of the Wild seeing some of its important players run. But in today’s NHL, Scandella is lost for 17 minutes and the Senators essentially won a game because of it.

Retaliate every night, and you’ll lose many more games than you win because of it, trust me.

Sure, you can say, just kill the penalty. But that’s still a 20-minute defenseman in the box for 17 minutes on a blue line that can’t afford his loss.

Checking is part of the game. Pominville was fine. That was a case – a scoreless game the Wild was outplaying its opponent – where no response is the right response, in my humble opinion.

Such a frustrating period though. At 14 minutes in, the Wild had eight shots and no goals and the Senators had two shots and two goals. Also, Matt Dumba and Jason Zucker hit pipes on golden chances, the Zucker one coming when he amazingly got his stick on a Ryan Suter setup but equally as amazing hit the post of an entire gaping net.

The Wild’s power play, 0 for 3 and is now a ridiculously bad 2 for 38 this season. Also alarming, the Wild has allowed 19 goals the past six games, and let’s be honest, this is a team that doesn’t give up a whole lot of Grade A chances, so the goalies have to be better, too.

But tonight, a lack of finish was the biggest issue.

That’s it for me. Wild practices in Montreal Friday afternoon. Be with you after, and of course, on Twitter. We’ll see if the Wild makes any lineup/roster adjustments to get a little jolt to a team that has lost two in a row and faces a tough challenge Saturday.

Zach Parise injured in Wild's first home loss of the season

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: November 4, 2014 - 11:36 PM

The Wild dropped its first home game of the season tonight to the Pittsburgh Penguins, and the biggest concern after the game was the status of Zach Parise, the Wild’s leading scorer and heart and soul.

Parise didn’t emerge for the third period after sustaining what coach Mike Yeo called an upper-body injury. There were two big collisions I remember with Parise tonight. One came his first shift when he was bowled over from behind by Robert Bortuzzo. The other came 5:44 into the second when he was cross-checked the ice by Blake Comeau in the slot. Comeau received an interference penalty on the play.

So perhaps the injury stemmed from one of those two hits.

Yeo didn’t reveal the seriousness or nature of the injury postgame. He said he hoped to have a better update after practice Wednesday and said “I sure hope not” when asked if he felt it was serious. The Wild does leave after practice for a trip to Ottawa and Montreal (it’s actually a 3-game trip that also goes to Parise’s old home, New Jersey, but the Wild returns to Minnesota for a day-and-a-half after the Canadiens game), so the hope obviously is that Parise is on that charter to Canada’s capital.

The Wild is already without defenseman Jared Spurgeon (who was sorely missed tonight) and left winger Matt Cooke.

For the first time this season, the Wild had a good amount of trouble playing “fast hockey” in the first two periods. Playing against a team that plays a very similar style when it’s going well, the Wild had trouble getting out of its zone, iced pucks and couldn’t get through the neutral zone.

“They played the way we usually play – on their toes, their D were keeping pucks alive, they were on us, they were quick, they were getting pucks behind us and they made it tough on our D and wingers to break out,” Jason Pominville said. “That’s the way we play when we’re going well.”

The Wild showed so many examples of frustration, the biggest display coming when Nino Niederreiter, after fouling up two rushes on one shift, cracked his stick over the boards and slammed the bench door shut.

The Wild’s breakout was convoluted the first two periods. It didn’t help that Spurgeon was missing and Jonas Brodin missed the last part of the first period with an injury and clearly was playing hurt the rest of the game. Just look at how he couldn’t shoot. Remember, he was already playing hurt and seemed to hurt something else in the first period.

But Yeo said, “The start was not good enough for us. No excuses. I have a couple thoughts maybe why.”

He’s expand on that later in his presser.

“It just seemed really tough to try to build any kind of momentum. Things just started to unravel a little bit because of our execution. We just couldn’t get any rhythm whatsoever and it started to lead into a little bit of frustration and we really started to get away from our game.

“I don’t know that we were completely ready to execute at the speed that we need to execute at and I don’t think we were ready to battle at the level we needed to battle it. But you’ve got to find it.

“They were able to find out game better than we were.”

Yeo’s reasoning, which he repeated wasn’t an excuse, was that after playing six games in nine nights, the Wild decompressed the past two days and “didn’t amp it back up.” He said the other reason was “we’ve been listening to everybody tell us how good we are at home and maybe we thought it was just going to happen to us. We know that it’s not good enough.”

Ryan Suter, whom I thought was about the only guy playing well tonight for the most part (offensively, the only time the Wild came close to scoring was when he set it up; and he set up the Niederreiter third-period shorthanded breakaway goal), said something similar.

“We took for granted just being at home, Suter said. “We’ve had a lot of success here, and we just came out flat and we thought we just had to show up to get the win.”

Thomas Vanek again was coughing pucks all night. Two turnovers partially led to two goals. He has four shots in his past seven games. Matt Dumba was also a well-earned minus-3. But there were several players that just weren’t good enough again.

Jason Zucker-Mikko Koivu-Charlie Coyle was the only line again to routinely generate chances, although I thought Coyle was off. Just before Pittsburgh’s first goal with 53 seconds left in a scoreless first, Suter came oh-so close to setting up a Zucker goal. That would have been huge. A shift later it was 1-0 Pittsburgh.

The big controversy of the night came with 3:06 left when Koivu scored. The goal was disallowed by referee Francois St. Laurent – replays showed Marcel Goc punched the puck from the other side of the goal line and out.

The NHL Situation Room in Toronto initiated a review, and then after two or three minutes of St. Laurent talking to Toronto, he announces no-goal because it was a non-reviewable play because he ruled incidental contact on Thomas Greiss (Mikael Granlund, aided by Kris Letang and Paul Martin, was on Greiss).

OK, debatable depending on your point of view or fandom. But then why the heck were they reviewing a non-reviewable play for two minutes. It should be as simple as Toronto calling and the referee saying, incidental contact, goodbye.

The Wild has gotten the benefit of I believe three incidental contact wipeout goals by opponents in recent home games. Earlier this season, Niederreiter was pushed onto Semyon Varlamov by Jan Hejda and a Coyle goal was wiped out by the ref. So the Wild has been aided by this incidental contact rule and hurt. I still think this should be a reviewable call. The game is too fast. Too many bodies crash that crease. Clearly, the refs need help because we continue to see night after night in the NHL questionable incidental contact calls throughout the league.

Regardless, Wild was outplayed for the most part, had trouble for the first time at home this season and paid for a bad first two periods.

“They play a lot like us and they were better than us tonight,” Suter said. “We couldn’t get pucks in. We were turning pucks over early. When we have success, we’re playing in their end, getting pucks behind their D and making them try to keep up with us and it was vice versa tonight.”

“At the end of the day, it's our fault. We should have come out for 60 minutes. We only showed up for 20,” said Niederreiter.

Rachel Blount is covering practice Wednesday as I fly to Ottawa, so follow her on Twitter (@blountstrib) for real-time Parise update.

Power play scores twice, Vanek once as division-leading Wild get good team win

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: November 2, 2014 - 1:30 AM

Mike Yeo began his postgame press scrum with a big smile: “Let’s talk about the power play!”

Hey, two goals, and in ONE GAME!!! after none in all of October, it’s safe to say the Wild scoring on the power play was a big, big relief. My tweet to announce the season’s first power-play goal was apparently a popular one, as you can see here:

But the penalty kill got the Wild to that juncture, going 4 for 4 tonight, including an 86-second 5-on-3 disadvantage in a scoreless first.

The Wild, the best second-period team in the NHL (outscored opponents 17-5), then scored three times in the third to take a 4-1 win over the former North Stars.

Evening from the Xcel Energy Center press box. Be sure to read the power-play/Thomas Vanek-centric game story for some good quotes and numbers, but here we go with the blog:

The 7-3 Wild took over the top spot in the Central and is now 5-0 at home.

Yeo called this a good team win, and the Wild has been a pretty good team this season.

How good?

It has outshot all 10 opponents this season 350-229.

The Wild ranks first in the NHL in goals allowed (1.8) and shots allowed (22.9) per game and third in goals per game (3.4) and second in shots per game (35). Its penalty kill ranks fourth at 89.3 percent.

Tonight, the Wild got first goals of the season from Mikael Granlund, Matt Dumba and Vanek in the second. Granlund’s came in his 100th game, Dumba’s represented his first career game-winning goal. And Vanek’s represented the Wild snapping an 0 for 28 power-play drought this season.

Then, for good measure, Nino Niederreiter scored a power-play goal in the third. You can’t contain the Wild’s power play!

“I had a feeling when we got one, in that game, we would get more than one,” Yeo said. “The way it’s been going, it definitely relieves a burden, there’s no question.”

Zach Parise assisted on the Dumba and Vanek goals and set the screen on the Granlund goal.

On the power play scoring twice, Parise said, “For everyone in here, it felt really good to get rewarded for doing some good things. I thought the last couple games it’s been better. We’re moving better. We weren’t as stagnant. We went pretty dry for a couple of games where we weren’t even getting chances. But the last couple games I thought it was better and to get one and then get another one, it feels good for us.”

On Vanek scoring, Yeo said, “I was real happy for him. The way his game got better as the game went on, I was happy to see the way that he came out, especially in the second period. … I was never worried about him. What I like, there have been signs that he’s starting to get comfortable, more familiar with our game. This is not going to be an overnight thing where he just comes in and he’s completely familiar with the guys he’s playing with and the game that we’re playing. He’s had chances. He’s been creating some really big goals for us.”

Yeo praised the job the blue line did, especially Ryan Suter and Marco Scandella, who have been so good. Scandella is an even or better in every game and he has 13 blocked shots in the past five. Jonas Brodin did a good job playing hurt, Yeo praised Nate Prosser, calling him a warrior, and he praised Dumba and Christian Folin for the way they managed the game tonight.

Remember, this is a banged up team playing without Jared Spurgeon, Matt Cooke, Ryan Carter and Keith Ballard, who is still sick.

By the way, read the notebook in Sunday’s paper on startribune.com/wild because I have a Josh Harding update in there.

On Scandella, Yeo said, “We were talking about Zuck this morning, when we were talking about these young kids and the process. Marco went through a lot of tough times too when he was going down and he saw himself as a good player, but we saw him as a more than just an NHL player. We saw him as a guy who had a chance to be a real, real strong NHL defender and his game keeps improving. He’s hungry to come to the rink every day and he’s hungry to learn and keep improving and he’s reaping the rewards with that attitude.”

As you can tell from that quote, I’m doing a Zucker story for Monday. He has been so good. Second-most ice time among forwards tonight to only Mikko Koivu, who was good again and had an assist on the Vanek goal.

The Wild will take Sunday off.

Yeo said the Wild hasn’t had a real practice in eight days with six games in nine nights.

“That practice on Monday is going to be real important,” he said. “We have to be fresh to play the type of game that we want to play. We’re a high-energy team. We’re a very aggressive team. We want to go up and down the ice quickly and we want to pressure hard, so you need energy to play that kind of game. So that’s why the energy level has kind of taken priority over practice time lately, but you can see some of the details have started to slip, you can see a little bit of the execution has started to slip, and that’s normal. We have to manage that, but we have the day off, that’ll be really important, that’ll give us an opportunity to have a good practice on Monday and we just have to start making sure that we’re ready for a tough test after that.”

Wild shut down the star-studded Benn-Spezza-Seguin line tonight and held Dallas to 20 shots. Yeo said, “It’s a team effort. That’s what we pride ourselves in. When you’re giving up a chance, you need Kuemps to play the way that he did. But we have to limit those chances and our guys take pride in that. Playing as a unit of five, that’s our mentality. When we’re on the attack, we want to play as a unit of five. When we’re defending, everybody’s got a job to do and there’s a trust factor there and an ownership that you have to be there for your teammates. And our guys are doing a great job of that.”

That’s it for me. Barring news, no blog Sunday as I work on the Zucker story. In Sunday’s paper, game story on Vanek and the power play’s big night, notebook leading on Vanek talking about the gambling situation and Harding and a Jack Jablonski column.

Rachel is covering practice for me Monday as I work ahead on stories for next week. Big test Tuesday as the Wild closes the homestand against Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the Penguins.

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