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Michael Russo gives you complete coverage of the Minnesota Wild and the NHL

Postgame: Wild takes positives out of latest loss; Jared Spurgeon injured

I know what the understandably ornery fans thought of the quotes I tweeted, so I imagine you’ll have the same reaction to this blog.

But understand, after so much negativity during this 0-3 road trip and stretch of 10 losses in 11 games, five straight losses and 13 in 16 this calendar year, the Wild was bound to try to grasp the positives out of a loss at some point.

Well, guess what? Tonight’s 4-1 loss to the Blues was the one.

I know it’s hard for everybody to stomach that with this season completely off the rails and no evidence that this team is close to breaking out of this funk, but really at this point, what choice do they have?

Before I get into that: Two injury updates, one for the Wild, one for the Blues.

Hours after the Wild announced Jonas Brodin would miss three to six weeks with a broken foot, defenseman Jared Spurgeon left tonight’s game early in the second period 14 shifts into his night. He was high-sticked late in the first, but that’s not the issue.

“I don’t have an update yet, but one thing I know about Spurgeon is when he leaves a game, it’s not something small,” coach Mike Yeo said. “I’m not going to sit here and say he’s going to be out long term, but I will say that I know he was in pain.”

There is no practice Sunday, so that update likely will come Monday.

On the Blues, Charlie Coyle clanked knees with solid Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo in the third period and he was hurt. He left the game in discomfort and limped down the runway. I’m told he has an MRI in the morning, so that won’t be good for the Blues if that’s serious. But this is a team that has overcome injury adversity all season long and has found a way to get points.

The Department of Player Safety, like all incidents like this, will review the play to see if Coyle warrants discipline. As you know, he’s far from a dirty player, and although I saw the replay quickly because I was frantically writing, it did look like Pietrangelo tried to jump out of the way. That sometimes affects the way the league looks at these things.

As for the game, no, Yeo and his players didn’t play the moral victory card, but it did try to grasp all the positives out of this loss with the goal of trying to return home for a three-game homestand (last one went 0-3, by the way) and building off the good things from tonight.

“I don’t think the score was indicative of the play. We knew we weren’t just going to snap our fingers and all the sudden get out of this,” Yeo said.

Understanding full well that they’re about return to an Xcel Energy Center that may be full of anxious, angry fans that’s not about to patiently give the team the benefit of doubt if there are slow starts or bad starts, the Wild’s trying to muster up any kind of good feelings it can.

Tonight, after a scoreless first period, the Wild pressured hard, registered 24 shots in the second, which not only tied a franchise record for most shots in a period, it set a road record and was the most shots the Blues had given up in a period in 12 years and 3-plus months.

At the end of that period, the Wild trailed 3-1.

Par for the course, eh?

During this stretch of five weeks of misery, the Wild has found different ways to lose. Tonight, it was the penalty kill’s turn to stink wholeheartedly. The Wild gave up three goals on five Blues power plays, a Blues’ power play that had gone 0 for 19 since Jan. 12.

It was the first time since Dec. 2013 at San Jose that the Wild gave up three in a game and the 16th time in team history.

Conversely, the Wild’s power play was largely a mess. Yes, it scored for the fifth time in five road games, but it went 1 for 7 (Matt Dumba goal when the Wild trailed 3-0) and was awful at times.

Very surprising to me, with Thomas Vanek scratched, the Wild decided to overhaul both units pretty completely rather than doing a minimal move like putting Coyle or Nino Niederreiter as the net-front guy on the No. 1 unit and finding a replacement for one of them on the second unit.

Yeo explained this by saying they wanted to get Zach Parise, who has one goal, no assists and is minus-11 in the past 10 games, off the flank and closer to the net where he has scored lots of goals. Of course, Yeo said that in Anaheim and that lasted one game, so don’t be surprised if that changes when the Wild plays Tuesday at home.

Parise, Jason Pominville and Mikael Granlund had 21 of the Wild’s 39 shots (seven each), but no goals.

As for the quotes:

Devan Dubnyk: “It’s hard. I mean, I’d love to sit here and tell ya forget about it and move on -- we really don’t have a choice, but it becomes tougher each time. I thought we played a pretty good game today, but it’s just the way it’s going. We’re going to have to work our way out of this. There’s no hiding from it. We’ve got a lot of games coming up against a lot of good teams and it’s not going to get better. It’s going to be us as a group in here that’s going to make it better. There’s no away around it. it’s frustrating. It’s tough to sleep it out, it’s hard to let it go on days off. But this is the situation. It happens sometimes. You’ve just got to stay working and find a way out of it.”

Jason Pominville: “It’s frustrating the outcome, but I think on our side right now, we have to look at the positive. We showed a lot of fight. It’s been a little while since we showed that much fight and pushback and had that many opportunities. They got a couple bounces and sometimes it goes that way, but as long as we keep putting the effort in, we keep fighting and we keep improving our special teams, we’ll find a way to get ourselves out of it. Not worried about it. It [stinks] because we lose, but I still think it’s a step in the right direction, with the way we played, with the way we competed. But we want the results, and it hasn’t gone our way. But to get out of it, we have to look at baby steps and tonight was a good step.”

Mikael Granlund: “Second period it felt like we had a couple really good chances and next thing they get the power play and they score. That’s the way it went tonight. I don’t think we could do anymore. Tonight, I think we actually played a good game. we had our chances. We played hard.”

Jarret Stoll: “Our penalty kill let us down tonight. It’s been pretty good for the last while, but it let us down tonight for sure. I’m part of that. we all take a lot of pride in that. it was one bad bounce, but you work for your bounces and they worked hard for their bounces.”

More Stoll: “We did a lot of good things tonight. You’ve got to start with that and you’ve got to work hard for your bounces. … We just have to stay positive, stay positive anyway you can. There’s games left. We’re definitely not out of it, that’s for sure. Not one guy in here thinks that way. We just have to find a way to get a game. it’s not going to be easy. It’s never easy to get out of these things. It’s hard a league, it’s a tough league. Every team’s good, and you’ve got to play a full game, work for your bounces, bear down on your opportunities, special teams you’ve got to win those and tonight our penalty kill let us down.”

Mike Yeo: “Unfortunately more often than not you end up playing like that and come out of the short side and if we recognize that and see what we put into the game and bring that back home with us, then I think that we’ll have a chance to get this turned around.

On the penalty kill: “Right now we’ve spent enough time talking about some negatives. Certainly pointed out a few in the past couple days. But our penalty kill for the most part has been trending upward lately. Power play obviously would’ve liked to get one or two more there. Bottom line is we’ve been getting a few of those as well. The biggest area of concern for us has been our 5 on 5 play. And that was significantly better tonight.  … We’ve got guys that are good penalty killers and they had an off night. Obviously we’ll have some tough challenges coming up here, but there’s no reason to think they can’t get back on top.

On the players demeanor after another tough loss: “Some of that is up to me, but some of that … you’d probably get a sense that there was a different feeling after the game. Obviously it’s nice to score goals and we need to win hockey games but when you put the right effort and the right attitude into the game, then you bring something that you can take some pride out of. That’s something you can build off of and that’s what we need to do right now.”

That’s it.

Off day Sunday, then Kent Youngblood, I believe, is covering Monday’s practice barring news.

Tuesday, the Russo-Souhan Show returns to Tom Reid’s Hockey City Pub at 4 p.m. Please come on by, and leave your pitchforks at home.
Enjoy the Super Bowl!

Yeo sends loud and clear message: Vanek, Zucker scratched tonight

There are no more double standards anymore.

Since the acquisition of Jarret Stoll in December, there has been a revolving door of fourth liners being taken out of the lineup, from Justin Fontaine to Erik Haula to Chris Porter.

The skilled veterans, the skilled youngsters have gotten off the hook.

Remember in L.A. just a few weeks ago, I asked Yeo after Thomas Vanek’s tough game in Anaheim if he’d ever send a loud and clear message by scratching Vanek or Jason Pominville (although Pominville was coming off a strong game against the Ducks): “Listen, no, I’m not going to take one of our key guys or one of our leaders or one of the guys that we count on to score out.”

The Wild beat the Kings that night (the only win in the past 10 games since Jan. 9), but four losses later, things have changed dramatically.

Yeo admitted today that he’s doing “the right thing right now.

“Just looking at the games we’ve been playing, looking at the performances – the reality is some of the guys that have been coming out of the lineup have been probably performing better and playing better than some other guys,” Yeo said.

Tonight in St. Louis, Yeo is sending probably his loudest and clearest message since the first time he scratched veteran Dany Heatley.

Yeo has chosen very intentionally one struggling veteran and one struggling youngster to sit tonight against the St. Louis Blues.

Vanek, who has three goals and six assists in the past 22 games and no shots in five of the past eight games, and Jason Zucker, who has no goals in his past 11 games and one assist in his past 37 games, will not play.

Please read the previous blog, but GM Chuck Fletcher indicated there would be big changes in tonight’s lineup. He wasn’t lying.

Fletcher said the coaches have been “incredibly patient” with certain players.

“I will stand here and say that’s one thing I believe in is standing up for your players,” Yeo said. “I believe in the end that has benefits.”

But Yeo continued, “I think certainly there comes a time though where if we continue down the path that we’re going, we need to make some changes. And we’re at that point right now.”

Both players came into the room and saw their numbers weren’t on the board. Yeo didn’t say a word to them, saying, “I had a meeting with the team this morning and there were enough things said in that.”

After the morning skate, Vanek and Zucker were bag skated by assistant coaches Darby Hendrickson and Andrew Brunette.

“Obviously, not happy about it,” said Vanek, who thinks this will be his first healthy scratch since his rookie year in 2005-06 (this is unconfirmed, and he played 81 games that season). “I think any competitor wants to play, and, that’s just it, just play, but there’s no time for me or this team to pout around … about it.

“You’ve just got to respect it and wait until you get back in there and play better.”

Asked if he felt this was also a grander message to the team, Vanek said, “Well, we need to win, so if he thinks by taking me out it’s a better lineup, I’ve got to respect that, work hard and make sure I get back in there and prove him wrong. We’re losing games, things need to change and tonight I’m the change.”

Said Zucker, “It’s tough. We always want to be in the lineup. You want to help the team anyway you can and tonight we can’t help the team. But we’ve got a lot of really good guys in this room and that can win us a game. We need to win and hopefully tonight we can get that win.”

Zucker’s season has quietly taken a dramatic turn after a solid start. You can see he’s been cheating, probably because he’s so pressing for points. His speed hasn’t been as much of a factor either.

What has happened to Zucker?

“Performance statistically is not there,” Yeo said. “That’s the No. 1 issue. But I think you dig a little bit deeper and the defensive game is not there. If you’re not scoring, you can’t be giving up chances, you can’t be high risk, you can’t be a liability out there. And I think that’s the biggest issue. When I think of Zucker, some of the best hockey that he’s played, he’s been very determined – whether it’s to prove that he belongs a little higher in the lineup or in the lineup. That determination fuels his game and I haven’t seen a lot of that lately.”

Vanek same thing?

“Similar yeah,” Yeo said.

Vanek said, “This is a game of confidence. I didn’t just all of a sudden forget how to play the game. Even the other night against the Rangers, the late pass to Scandy, if that goes in we tie the game and maybe just a little point like that or a play like that gets you going again. I’m not finding it and producing, and a guy in my position, if you don’t produce, you’re out.”

Zucker said, “We haven’t been playing well. That’s No. 1 and I’ll be the first one to tell you I haven’t been on top of my game. That’s just the way it goes. This is the NHL. This isn’t college or juniors where you can just flow through a season. This is the best league in the world for a reason and if you’re not playing well, you’re not going to play.

“I think it’s a lot of things that I haven’t been doing very well, and that’s the reason for today.”

Asked if he’s concerned this could be the last grasp inside of his bag of tricks, Yeo said, “I don’t worry about that stuff. I feel very confident that we handled this morning the right way. And that’s what we need right now is leadership and leadership is doing the right thing first. That’s my job is just to make sure that we keep doing the right thing and eventually people will follow.”

On Vanek and Zucker being scratched, Zach Parise said, “It says we have to start playing a lot better. They’re really good players, but that’s the spot we’re in right now. Coaches need to make the decisions they think are the best for us right now, and as a group, we have to start playing better.”

As you can read on the previous blog, Fletcher is standing by Yeo and the coaching staff and as I’ve written and said all along, the way this team is constructed, it’s going to be awfully hard for Fletcher to make an impactful trade before the Feb. 29 trade deadline.

Jonas Brodin’s broken foot doesn’t help matters, and I don’t say that just because he was one of the Wild’s bargaining chips. His injury now hurts the depth of the team, so now it could make it much tougher for Fletcher if he was considering trading a defenseman.

Yeo wants to see the Wild respond tonight.

“I sat here the other [morning in New York] and thought that we were going to be ready to go,” he said. “We were ready to go. And obviously the outcome was not what we were looking for. So we have to find it within ourselves to make sure – for me as I coach, what I’m going to do is make sure I’m ready. I feel like I’ve done my part this morning and I’ll make sure I’m ready to do my part tonight. If we have that same mindset from everybody else, then we’ll be competitive in the game. That’s the first step.

“There’s no easy fix right now. We’re not just going to snap our fingers and all the sudden start winning every night. It doesn’t work like that. We have to build our game back, we have to build our confidence back. The way you do that is you go all-in to our team game.”
Yeo on the other news of the day:

Graovac’s callup from Iowa, Yeo said, he’s “been up and down in his game. Mentally it’s been a little of a tough go for him the way the season started, getting hurt, getting sent down and having a tough time getting back up. I would say that from what we’ve heard, his game is not 100 percent down there but sometimes a little spark coming back up might provide something for him. I haven’t talked with him yet – I’ll talk with him before the game as far as what our expectations are for him.”

On Brodin’s injury: “That’s disappointing. But it’s what we have to deal with. We’ve been very healthy for this last little stretch so now there’s some opportunity for some guys and a chance for some guys to step up.”

Graovac was excited by the callup. He said the first 10 games in Iowa, he was trying to get strength back after the major surgery and get his game up to speed in a league where players were flying at that point in the season. He said right now he’s never felt better and is confident in his game.

“I'm not going to try to be a hero. I'm just going to play my role and hopefully I can be part of the solution,”  Graovac said.

Devan Dubnyk vs. Brian Elliott tonight.


Zach Parise-Mikko Koivu-Charlie Coyle
Nino Niederreiter-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville
Ryan Carter-Tyler Graovac-Justin Fontaine
Chris Porter-Jarret Stoll-Erik Haula

Ryan Suter-Jared Spurgeon
Marco Scandella-Matt Dumba

With Brodin out, Nate Prosser moves to the left side and Christian Folin plays his first NHL game since Nov. 27.

I’ll be on Fox Sports North tonight during the pregame show.

TV Listings

Local Schedule

< >
  • Gophers women's basketball at Northwestern

    2 pm on BTN, 1500-AM

  • New Orleans at Timberwolves

    7 pm on FSN, 830-AM

  • Dallas at Wild

    7 pm on NBCSN, 100.3-FM

  • Toronto at Timberwolves

    7 pm on FSN, 830-AM

  • Michigan at Gophers men's basketball

    8 pm on BTN, 1500-AM

  • Nebraska at Gophers women's basketball

    7 pm on 1500-AM

  • Washington at Wild

    7 pm on FSN, 100.3-FM

  • Gophers men's hockey at Ohio State

    5:30 pm on BTN, 1500-AM

  • Gophers women's hockey at Minnesota Duluth

    7:07 pm

  • Boston at Wild

    1 pm on FSN, 100.3-FM

  • Gophers women's hockey at Minnesota Duluth

    4:07 pm

  • Gophers men's hockey at Ohio State

    6 pm on 1500-AM

  • Gophers men's basketball at Iowa

    6:30 pm on BTN, 1500-AM

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