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Russo: Nobody has answers as Wild's losses continue to mount

Of all the losses during this lousy stretch and this lousy calendar year of Wild hockey, this was in my mind the most awful tonight.

This team is just a wreck, and the players have no answers, their under-siege coach has no answers and their GM apparently has no answers because he has so far declined interview requests from the beat writers during this road trip.

In the meantime, the Wild has lost nine of 10 games and 12 of 15 this year and tonight coughed up a 2-0 lead here at Madison Square Garden against the Rangers.

The Wild tried to make it like this was the exact same thing that occurred a couple nights ago against the Islanders, but in that game, the Wild had a 1-0 lead and a season-high 20 shots in a period in the first 20 minutes before caving.

Tonight, the Wild went into a shell right after Matt Dumba made it 2-0. The Rangers began to push and the only two things that kept the Rangers from scoring was Devan Dubnyk in net making four robberies and the refs giving the Wild a respite by calling Viktor Stalberg for a penalty.

The Wild, which had scored its fourth power-play goal in four road games on Dumba’s tally, didn’t score on the power play, and soon after, that 2-0 lead evaporated in 80 seconds on goals by 2007 Minnesota Mr. Hockey Ryan McDonagh and one of the hottest goal scorers in the NHL since mid-December, J.T. Miller.

How bad was the Wild tonight?

After Dumba’s goal 7:57 into the first, the Wild was outshot 25-5 until Erik Haula’s shot 7:45 into the third. That was the second shot all night by a Wild forward and by that point Nino Niederreiter’s ghastly turnover led to Derick Brassard’s eventual winner.

The Wild gave up the first 12 shots in the second, was outshot 17-4 in the period and 30-18 in the game.

Zach Parise, who has one goal, no assists and is minus-11 in the past nine games, registered no shots and had seven attempts blocked or whistle wide. Mikko Koivu, who has no goals and 22 shots in the past 16 games, had no shots. Thomas Vanek had no shots for the fifth time in eight games. Mikael Granlund, who has one empty-net goal in the past 32 games, had no shots. No shots for Niederreiter. Three combined by Jason Zucker, Jason Pominville and Charlie Coyle.

“Way too familiar of a script,” said coach Mike Yeo, who said earlier in the day that he woke up Thursday morning feeling the Wild would be able to overcome any adversity in tonight’s game.

“Good start, and then the other team pushes and we’re not responding the right way. The goals they got, we’re giving them right now. Making a lot of soft plays, and a lot of uncharacteristic plays and it’s just not good enough.”

He should probably stop using the “uncharacteristic” word though. There comes a time where this is just characteristic of his team.

“We’ve been searching for answers for [why this keeps happening] for quite some time,” Yeo said. “We’ve tried some different, whether it’s talks or meetings or whatever, we’re trying a lot right now. What it boils down to, the actors got act. We give a script, but we need guys that want to be out there in every situation. Every moment of the game calls for something different, and good teams and good players react to those situations and if it’s a shift in d zone, if it’s making a hard play, if it’s making a more precise or a more skilled play, whatever it is, you make it. And we’re not doing that.”

Asked why this team is so fragile with a lead, Yeo said, “Because we’re afraid of losing it. We’re hoping to win and afraid of losing. The result is not good. We have to go out and win a game. We’re going to St. Louis and I’m pretty sure they’re not going to give us a gift. Just because you’re up 2-0 doesn’t mean you cling on to that. We have to push harder and push for the next one and we have to fight extremely hard to make sure they don’t climb back into the game like they did.”

Ryan Suter, who turned the puck over for the first goal, said, “It’s difficult to swallow that one again. We can’t put a game together. We couldn’t have had a better first period. They had a push in the second and we weren’t able to get any pushback.

“We’re a very fragile team. They get one and we kind of go into a shell, and that’s a team that has no confidence. We have to figure it out, we have to figure it out fast, or it’s not going to work.”

Suter said they talked between the first and second about “coming out and having a good push, same as the first, get pucks in and get pressure and we were turning pucks over, and that’s what happened.”

Parise is clearly fighting it right now on the ice. This is just not what we’re accustomed to seeing.

“I thought that they had a good push and played a lot better,” he said. “But maybe there’s something that we did. Maybe we’re not pressuring them as much as we should or as much as we need to. Maybe we are sitting back. I don’t know. But it’s starting to happen a little too much.

Asked if this is bad as he’s ever been through, Koivu said, “It’s bad. That’s obvious.”

Good news: Nashville lost!

That probably didn’t make you feel a lot better, but hey, grasping for anything.

The pressure is bigtime on Yeo and Fletcher right now. Fletcher said a few weeks ago the answer has to be in the locker room, but one reason for that is he has built a roster with a ton of immovable parts.

That means unless he figures out some way to provide an external start, it’s going to be the current cast that has to get the Wild out of this. And right now, it’s hard to be confident when the leadership and the character of the Wild that Yeo so often lauds and stays loyal to has been incapable to drag the Wild out of the dirt.

Otherwise, Yeo may have to pay the price, although it’s not like there’s any clear-cut replacements inside or outside the organization right now. Fletcher has always remained loyal to Yeo in the past, so one would assume he will again.

But the team’s a hot mess right now, and nobody has any answers and everybody is starting to sound like a broken record. Onto St. Louis. Day off for the team Friday, so I held a bunch of leftovers for a follow.

Yeo sticking with Parise-Granlund-Pominville line ... for now

Devan Dubnyk vs. Henrik Lundqvist tonight at the Garden.

Afternoon from MSG, where the Wild, losers of eight of its last nine, visits the Rangers, 8-8 in their last 16 and in a win-one, lose-one pattern during those 16.

The Wild beat the Rangers, 5-2, in December at home. Left wing Rick Nash and defenseman Kevin Klein are out for the Broadway Blueshirts.

Justin Fontaine, scratched three times in the last four games and six times since Dec. 28, returns and Chris Porter will be scratched. Christian Folin, D insurance on this road trip, will be scratched for a second consecutive game. Coach Mike Yeo said he thought seriously about playing Folin.

Yeo believes his team will be ready tonight.

“Pretty excited about the game tonight,” he said. “For whatever reason waking up this morning, I have a pretty good feeling our team is going to be ready to respond. In this last little stretch, our starts have been fantastic. We’ve played one good period, two good periods every night, but at some point in the game, adversity has struck and we haven’t handled it well. Tonight, I think we’ll be a little more prepared to handle that.”

I’ve gotten a zillion tweets and emails asking why Yeo is so married to the Zach Parise-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville line.

I asked Yeo this morning, and he said, “Not a lot of other options, I guess. We’re trying to go with some familiarity, some semblance of groups that have had success before. They’re generating chances, they just have to put it in and have to stay with it for 60 minutes.

“With that, from line to line, guy to guy, if you’re not scoring, then you have to check really well. And we have a lot of guys that haven’t been scoring, but their checking game hasn’t been as strong.”

The Wild likes Parise playing with Granlund and the feeling is mutual. Last game, Yeo tried to jumpstart the line by moving Thomas Vanek on the line and moving Pominville to the Jarret Stoll-Jason Zucker line.

The first shift after the move, Pominville scored for the first time since Dec. 22. The second shift after the move, Vanek playing a ginormous part in the Islanders scoring a back-breaking goal against less than a minute later.

When I asked if the few options – besides the fact they like Mikko Koivu with Nino Niederreiter and red-hot Charlie Coyle – was due to Vanek’s play of late (although frankly Zucker hasn't been all that great for awhile, too), Yeo said, “None of us are playing well enough. As a team, we haven’t been strong enough. We’ve tried basically every combination in the book. Last game we shuffled lines, and the game before that we shuffled lines. We’ve tried every combination and none of them have worked, and they’re not going to work until we’re all playing at [a better level]. When we’re playing at a level where every individual is going to out there and is strong in their game both offensively and defensively, then we can make switches and they’re going to look right. And right now whatever we try is not working.”

The fact Yeo thought so strongly about playing Folin makes me think he’d play Saturday in St. Louis if things don’t go well tonight.

Yeo hopes Folin’s time in Iowa helps improve his game the way it did last year for Folin and Matt Dumba.

“I think last year when he came back up after spending some time down there, his game was at another level,” Yeo said of Folin. “It was not just the confidence he was playing with, but more than anything, the pace he was playing with, executing at a higher level and I’d like to see some more of that.”

Folin did miss more than a month with a concussion and recently returned. I’ll probably write about him in the next few days.

In Friday’s game notebook, I’ll write about that Parise-Granlund-Pominville line and also about Ryan Carter, who returned last game after missing seven with a broken finger after fighting New Jersey’s Jordin Tootoo.

That's it for now. Not much more going on. Granlund held court with a huge contingent of sponsors from his old IFK-Helsinki game today. I mentioned yesterday that I have requested to talk to GM Chuck Fletcher, but as of now, he has declined the request.
 
That’s it for now. Talk later.

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